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Panel Kills Bill Giving Puerto Ricans In-State College Tuition

By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee has killed a bill that would have made residents of any U.S. territory hit by a major disaster – like Puerto Rico – eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

The Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee took the action Monday by rejecting HB 46, proposed by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax.

Krizek urged the subcommittee to envision the devastation still evident in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria in September. It was one of the strongest storms ever to hit the island.

“Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico prepare for hurricanes every year,” Krizek said. “Five months after (Maria), the island is still struggling. The infrastructure damage is unimaginable.”

He said that 38 percent of homes on the island still do not have electricity. As a result, many Puerto Rican college students have had their educational plans disrupted.

President Donald Trump issued a Declaration of Major Disaster for the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 7 and for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico on Sept. 21. Krizek’s bill would have made “Any resident of a United States territory for which a major disaster has been declared by the President of the United States in 2017” eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public institutions of higher education. The proposal would have given such citizens a four-year window to apply for the adjusted tuition opportunity.

“I’m sure these struggling students have good academic credentials and will seek to come here for educational opportunities. We can give them this helping hand up,” Krizek said. “Let’s support them in this time of need by allowing them – for the next four years – to apply as in-state students.”

He added, “I’m sure if the shoe was on the other foot, Puerto Ricans would be giving us that same opportunity.”

Anita Nadal, a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent and Virginia resident for more than 17 years, spoke in support of the bill at Monday’s subcommittee meeting. Nadal is an assistant professor in the School of World Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Education is an investment in our future,” Nadal said. “Many young (Puerto Rican) people are very eager to continue their education, and I know they would be more than happy to come to Virginia Commonwealth. The universities here would be a wonderful way to help our fellow citizens that are living a human crisis at this time.”

The vote to have the Krizek’s bill “passed by indefinitely,” effectively killing it for the legislative session, split along party lines:

·       Five Republicans voted in favor of killing the measure: Dels. Nick Rush of Montgomery County, Steven Landes of Augusta County, Charles Poindexter of Franklin County, Christopher Stolle of Virginia Beach and Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield County.

·       Three Democrats opposed killing the bill: Dels. Luke Torian of Prince William County, Betsy Carr of Richmond and Cliff Hayes of Suffolk.

Despite the final vote, Krizek’s office indicated that the subcommittee gave the matter due diligence and that opponents of the bill were concerned about its costs.

“The House Appropriations Committee didn’t feel like there was enough money to be able to grant in-state tuition to Puerto Rican students over Virginian students,” Krizek’s legislative aide said. “But we think everybody was sympathetic to the cause.”

State Legislators Ask Congress to Improve Interstate 81

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than a dozen members of the Virginia General Assembly urged their counterparts in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to fund improvements in safety and congestion on Interstate 81, which runs from Tennessee to the Canadian border.

The state lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as well as to U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and Barbara Comstock, whose congressional districts include I-81.

The letter was signed by three state senators (Charles Carrico, Creigh Deeds and Mark Obenshain) and 14 state delegates, all from the western part of the state. Fifteen of the legislators are Republicans, and two are Democrats. They asked Congress to support several bills to improve I-81.

“I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for common sense solutions for our pressing safety problems on I-81,” Obenshain, a Republican from Harrisonburg, said in a press release. “We are coming together as a bipartisan group of Senators and Delegates urging our Congressional delegation to fight for funding for I-81.”

Obenshain has two bills on this issue before the General Assembly:

  • Senate Bill 561 would direct the Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program to establish zones on I-81 where tractor trucks would be required to travel in the right lane. SB 561 has been referred to the Committee on Transportation.
  • SB 971 would direct the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop an I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan that may include tolling heavy commercial vehicles to finance the improvements. SB 971 has been referred to the Committee on Rules.

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, who also signed the letter, has proposed creating a joint subcommittee to study the possibility of adding lanes to I-81 between Wytheville and Bristol.

“There are real safety problems that need real solutions,” Obenshain said, “and I am confident that these legislative proposals will present these solutions.”

Year After Ruling, 1 in 6 Drivers Still Has Suspended License

Manassas resident Greg Ballou was charged with a misdemeanor when he was 19. As a result, Ballou, 28, has had his driver's license suspended for nine years. (Photo courtesy of Greg Ballou)

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Manassas resident Greg Ballou was charged with a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana when he was 19, and he didn’t have enough money to pay the fine. As a result, his driver’s license was suspended.

Nine years later, Ballou, now 28 and working in construction, is thousands of dollars in debt, and his license has been permanently suspended.

“Everything’s a barrier, and it’s incredibly impossible to have a life at all without a license,” Ballou said.

Under Virginia law, when somebody is convicted of violating state or federal law and does not immediately pay the fine, the court suspends the defendant’s driver’s license.

After he lost his license, Ballou said, life went “all downhill.”

“What’s the point?” he asked. “I couldn’t find a job to keep me out of trouble, and from there, I was bored and had no money.”

Ballou is one of more than 15 percent of Virginia drivers whose licenses have been suspended due to court debt, according to a report released last week by the Legal Aid Justice Center.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Last year, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the General Assembly to discard the automatic suspension plan, but legislators rejected his request. Last February, though, the Virginia Supreme Court required all courts to offer all defendants unable to pay court fines within 30 days deferred or installment plans before automatically suspending their license.

Now Republican Sen. William Stanley Jr. from Franklin County is pushing SB 181 to eliminate such license suspensions.

It would repeal “the requirement that the driver’s license of a person convicted of any violation of the law who fails or refuses to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs be suspended. The bill provides that the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles shall return or reinstate any person’s driver’s license that was suspended solely for nonpayment of fines or costs.”

Stanley said he was seeing a lot of people lose their licenses – not because of driving violations but because they weren’t able to pay their fines.

“And because of that, it was threatening their ability to work, take their kids to school or [travel for medical reasons], and they were getting arrested basically for trying to survive,” he said.

Ballou said he has no choice but to be flexible in his line of work. He said he purposely designs his life to be able to walk to work and care for his family.

“You really have to battle up hills,” Ballou said. “How the hell am I going to get to work? How the hell am I going to actually get a job that’s worth going to work for? How are you going to do all this without a license?”

The Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit group that provides legal services for low-income Virginians, reported that as of December, there were 974,349 suspended licenses in the state due at least in part to court debt. Almost two-thirds of the suspensions were solely for court debt.

“What we can do is ramp up our collection efforts on these fines rather than continually hurting people who can’t drive and lose their job, and the next thing you know, they’re not going to be able to pay those fines,” Stanley said. “We’re perpetuating a cycle of nonpayment instead of encouraging payment or seeking payment.”

The number of Virginians with suspended licenses due to court debt has not changed much in the past year despite the Supreme Court’s order. In September 2016, there were 977,891 suspended licenses in the state, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

“It appears that these reforms have done little, if anything, to stem the breathtaking current of Virginians losing their licenses,” the justice center’s report said. It said that from November 2016 to last October, an average of 835 more driver’s licenses were suspended each day due to court debt.

Proposal Would Boost Suicide Prevention Efforts in Schools

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – While campaigning door to door, Del. Danica Roem met a constituent who had lost her only child to suicide. The mother had one request – make suicide prevention training available to all school employees.

Now Roem, D-Manassas, has introduced HJ 138, a joint resolution that would request all Virginia school boards provide every employee with resources or training on how to identify students at risk of suicide.

“This is something that is incumbent upon all of us at the General Assembly, regardless of party label, to make sure that we are working together to take care of our kids and working together to make sure that the caretakers of our children, from maintenance professionals all the way up to the principals, are able to see our kids for the lives they are living and identify the struggles that they have,” Roem said.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of deaths for people age 10 to 18. In 2015, 1,097 people in Virginia died by suicide, and 35 of those suicides were carried out by children under 18, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

While school districts would not be required to comply with the resolution, it is meant to motivate them to take steps toward suicide prevention.

“This provides as much flexibility at the local level as possible,” Roem said. “This is allowing the people who are on the ground there to identify and figure out what works best for them.”

The resolution would expand on SB 1250, a 1999 law that required all licensed school personnel to report a child they suspect might be suicidal. However, it did not require those professionals be trained on how to identify students at risk.

When it was passed, SB 1250 also mandated that the Board of Education and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services create a Code of Virginia Suicide Prevention Guidelines.

“An ideal set of training and guidelines for suicide prevention incorporates many aspects of mental health and mental health awareness,” said Dr. Adam Kaul of the Psychiatric Society of Virginia. “Suicide itself is not a source of disease or a specific condition; it is often an end product of mental illness and distress.”

HJ 138 has been assigned to a House Rules Subcommittee and is scheduled to be considered on Friday. Roem’s resolution is co-sponsored by 10 Democrats and one Republican – Del. Matthew Fariss of Appomattox County.

“Anything that would make us smarter about suicide as a society, I think, is something we need to try to do,” Fariss said.

Democrats Vow to Push for Gun Control Laws

Del. John Bell talks about enforcing gun control laws in Virginia. (CNS photo by Aya Driouche)

By Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic legislators said Tuesday they will continue to fight for gun control laws as Republicans continued to kill bills to restrict firearms.

Six Democratic delegates held a press conference to discuss proposals such as banning weapons from public libraries. Del. Roslyn Tyler of Sussex County said gun violence has been endangering Virginians for years.

“We cannot allow this problem to get worse,” Tyler said. “We cannot stay idle as gun violence leads to more and more empty seats at the dinner tables across the country.”

Del. John Bell of Loudoun County touted his bill to require applicants for a concealed weapons permit to show in-person “competence with a handgun.” Currently, applicants can get a permit by completing a video or online training course.

Bell called HB 91 a “very common-sense bill.” Last week, a House subcommittee killed it on a 4-2 vote.

Bell, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 26 years, noted that he went through extensive training to be able to carry a weapon. He said civilians also should receive adequate training in front of a certified instructor before obtaining a concealed carry permit.

“The current online training is far inadequate,” Bell said. “It doesn’t have eyes on from qualified instructors to know if that holster is properly fitted. You have to watch those things in real life, in real time.”

Groups such as the National Rifle Association opposed Bell’s measure. He said they should support it.

“I believe the groups like the NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League who oppose this bill are missing a tremendous opportunity to provide low-cost frequent training and to do a public good,” Bell said.

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I’m a gun owner. But I think responsible gun ownership is important, and I believe every gun owner should have a background check and should show they were properly trained before they’re given a concealed carry permit.”

So far this session, Republicans have defeated several gun control bills sponsored by Democrats, including one to require background checks on all gun purchases. On Monday, the Republican majority in the House rejected a resolution to ban firearms from the chamber’s gallery while delegates are in session.

Shortly after the Democrats’ news conference, Republican legislators held one of their own. They argued that citizens should be able to carry weapons in places of worship.

Virginia law prohibits guns in churches and other religious settings. But last week, the Senate voted 21-18 along party lines to repeal that law.

Just as politicians are protected by armed security, members of a congregation should be allowed to arm themselves for self-defense, said Del. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County.

He stood next to a poster of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam speaking to an interfaith group about gun violence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church last week. LaRock pointed out that the governor’s security detail was nearby.

LaRock said it is not fair that the governor gets treated differently than Virginia citizens who are barred from carrying weapons in places of worship. He said it appears to be a double standard.

“The law that’s on the book says that weapons are prohibited in church without good and sufficient reason, which is vague,” LaRock said. “And we don’t believe laws that are vague should be on the books.”

He said Northam signaled that he would veto SB 371, which would rescind that law, if it passes the General Assembly.

“We pose the question,” LaRock said. “He deserves armed protection in church, but others don’t? We’re just asking him to fill in the blank and explain to us why.”

Black Caucus, Bipartisan Group of Legislators Fighting ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus was joined Monday by a bipartisan group of state legislators supporting  bills to combat  the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Expulsion and suspension policies are the targets of several pieces of legislation, including a bill by Del. Jeffrey Bourne, D-Richmond. HB 1600 caps long-term suspension at 45 days instead of the current 364.

“We cannot keep using access, or lack thereof, to education as a punishment and continue to expect positive results,” said  Bourne, a former Richmond School Board chairman.

Bourne also endorsed legislation by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, whose SB 170 prohibits expulsion and suspension for students between pre-kindergarten and third grade. Stanley said the reforms sought were a “human issue,” and not partisan.

The Black Caucus said it wanted to highlight how legislators are crossing party lines on the issues. The process of separating students from their environment and ultimately sending them into the criminal justice system has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  A 2015 Study from the Center for Public Integrity said that on average, Virginia refers more students to law enforcement than any other state.

First-year Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge,  described the problem as  “the No. 1 civil rights issue of our modern time.” She has introduced HB 445, which would allow school systems to discipline students who commit certain misdemeanors instead of being required to report those crimes to police.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said she has proposed budget amendments  to support school programs for  at-risk students, and also to set aside almost $700 million to end a cap on state-funded school support positions.

“If we don’t put our money where our mouth is we will lose an entire generation of students to the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said. “Policy is only one side of the coin.”

Standing beside these legislators  was Stacey Doss, a mother of two boys in Lynchburg’s public school system. Her older son, who is autistic, drew national attention and the focus of the Center for Public Integrity after being charged with a felony in 2014 as an 11-year-old.

He had struggled with a school resource officer who had grabbed him after he had left class with other students. The same officer had earlier accused him of  a misdemeanor for kicking a trash can. The charges were dropped after an outcry over the case.

Doss said her 5-year-old has speech problems, and both sons have been ostracized and suspended.  The younger boy was currently under suspension for disorderly behavior, she said.

“He asked me, ‘Why can’t I go to school? I really want to go to school. I miss my friends,’” Doss said. “He doesn’t understand what is happening, but he does know that he is being kept away from something he enjoys.”

House Committee Unanimously Kills ‘Netflix Tax’

By Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill nicknamed the “Netflix tax” was unanimously defeated Monday in the House Finance Committee, ending the possibility of taxing streaming services in Virginia in 2019.

Introduced by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, HB 1051 would have applied the state’s 5 percent communications sales and use tax not just to Netflix but to all online streaming services – among them Hulu, Spotify and HBO Go – that have skyrocketed in popularity, especially among millennials.

While the current communications tax applies to cable TV, satellite radio, landlines, cell phones and even pagers, streaming services are not included.

Watts said her bill was needed to modernize the state’s communications tax. “Obviously, the way we have continued to communicate has changed,” she said.

Watts told the committee that her bill would apply equal taxes to all forms of communication. “The best we can hope for is a fair tax structure,” she said.

According to the bill’s impact statement, the tax would generate nearly $8 million in revenue for the state – potentially allowing Virginia to become less dependent on other forms of taxes, like those collected through income and real estate levies.

The bill is not the first of its kind: Pennsylvania and Florida have passed laws that tax internet transactions and digital streaming services. But the tax has faced opposition from taxpayers, streaming services and industry trade groups.

The Finance Committee voted 22-0 against the bill. Watts voted against her own legislation, acknowledging that while the measure was not ready to be passed, she wanted to spur a larger conversation about Virginia’s tax structure.

Republicans said they were opposed taxing the heavily used services.

“Let’s be real clear in what we’re talking about here,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, chairman of the House Republican Caucus. “This is a Netflix tax. This is a Hulu tax. If you’re under 30, this is a tax on how you get your information, how you watch your TV, how you consume everything every day.”

Representatives from T-Mobile, Verizon and Sling TV attended the meeting and spoke against the bill, while the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties were in favor.

Neal Menkes of the Municipal League commented that he had “yet to hear a pager go off,” echoing Watts’ sentiments about the need to modernize tax law around a quickly changing communications landscape.

Salamander Wriggling Its Way Into State Law

 

By Sarah Danial and Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill slithering through the legislative process would designate the red salamander as Virginia’s official state salamander. If the amphibious creature gets the honor, it can thank a group of young nature conservationists.

The Salamander Savers is a 4-H Club based in Fairfax whose members, age 8 to 18, are determined to find solutions for environmental problems. The club started in 2015 when three children wanted to save salamanders from a local lake.

“When our lake was dredged and my kids asked me questions that I could not answer, as a home-schooling mother, I made it my mission to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the club’s adult leader and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

Her children asked what would happen to the animals living in or near the lake. They were concerned to learn that dredging can disrupt their environment, which could eventually lead to possible extinction. Jonah’s mother recalled her son’s words.

“He once told me that he wanted to give a voice to the animals who couldn’t speak for themselves,” Anna Kim said.

As a result, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring HB 459, which would add the red salamander (officially, Pseudotriton ruber) to the state’s list of official designations. The list currently includes 35 items, from the official beverage (milk) and rock (Nelsonite) to the official television series (“Song of the Mountains,” a PBS program showcasing Appalachian music).

Filler-Corn hopes her bill will inspire the 4H Club members to get involved politically.

“I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn said. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

The bill was approved by a subcommittee on a 6-2 vote last week. The House General Laws Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday.

Jonah Kim and his fellow 4-H’ers thought carefully about which salamander species should represent Virginia.

“We chose the red salamander because it lives in a variety of different habitats throughout Virginia,” he said. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

He said the club hopes the legislation will help raise awareness of salamanders, a species less tolerant of environmental disruptions than frogs and other amphibians. The Salamander Savers are encouraging the public to write a letter to their legislators stating their support.

 

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Republicans Kill Top-Priority Bills Sought by Women’s Advocates

By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Women’s rights advocates are disappointed after legislative panels this week killed bills on some of their top-priority issues -- mandating equal pay, reducing restrictions on access to abortion and requiring employers to provide paid medical leave.

The votes, called “anti-woman” by one advocacy group, continued on Friday with  a House Courts of Justice subcommittee defeating the Whole Woman's Health Act. Sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax,  HB 1231   stated that, “A pregnant person has a fundamental right to obtain an abortion.”      

The subcommittee also killed a bill by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, to remove what Democrats see as  medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access. HB 450 sought to repeal the statutory requirements that a physician obtain a woman’s written consent and perform a transabdominal ultrasound before an abortion.

On Thursday, a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines against advancing Boysko’s HB 1089, which required equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

Voting to kill the bill were Republican Dels. Kathy Byron of Bedford; R. Lee Ware, Chesterfield; Israel O’Quinn, Grayson; Margaret Ransone, Westmoreland; and Michael Webert, Culpeper. Supporting the bills were Democratic Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax; Lamont Bagby, Henrico; and Michael Mullin, James City.

“By voting against equal pay for equal work, the message to Virginia women is loud and clear: Our lawmakers in Richmond do not consider us first-class citizens,” said Patsy Quick, co-president of the American Association of University Women of Virginia.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that in 2016, Virginia women working full time made 80 cents for every dollar made by men—a pay gap of 20 percent. As bad as this is, it is even worse for women of color,” Quick said.

For every dollar earned by a white man, black women make  about 63 cents, Latinas 54 cents and white women 78 cents, according to a news release from Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group.

Progress Virginia and other advocates also criticized lawmakers for killing two bills introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun:

  • SB 709, which sought to eliminate such requirements as a waiting period and an ultrasound before undergoing  abortions.  The Senate Health and Education Committee killed the bill last week at the sponsor’s request -- a move sometimes made when a bill has little or no chance at passage.

  • SB 421, which would have required private employers with 50 or more workers to give full-time employees paid medical leave. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed the bill Monday on an 11-4 party-line vote.

Propelled by #MeToo, Groups Seek to Remove ‘Tampon Tax’

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With momentum from the #MeToo movement, several women’s rights groups are supporting legislative calls to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Planned Parenthood, the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition and other organizations have been posting on social media, circulating petitions and attending General Assembly meetings to show their support for the idea.

“It’s frustrating that such common-sense legislation is struggling to survive,” said Holly Seibold, a member of the coalition.

Three bills before the General Assembly would exempt products such as tampons, menstrual cups and sanitary napkins and pads from the sales tax:

  • HB 152, introduced by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax
  • HB 24, sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who dubbed it “The Dignity Act”
  • HB 448, filed by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico

Boysko also is sponsoring HB 25, which would add menstrual supplies to Virginia’s three-day, back-to-school “sales tax holiday” each August.

Kory said she believes women should not have to pay taxes for a necessity item. All of the bills have been referred to the House Finance Committee.

This is not the first time a “tampon tax” bill has appeared in the General Assembly. But the issue may have more momentum in light of the national conversation about sexual harassment, gender equity and other issues. Moreover, the House of Delegates now has 28 women members – up from 17 last year.

Those factors have generated optimism that the General Assembly may remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

“This is a fairness issue,” Boysko said. “These products need to be more affordable.”

Last year, she introduced a similar measure – HB 1593. In 2016, Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, also sponsored a bill to remove the “tampon tax” – HB 952. Each year, the proposal was tabled by a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee.

Opponents of the legislation worry that it will cost government coffers millions of dollars.

The sales tax rate is 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and 5.3 percent elsewhere in the state. Many retail items – including medicine, eyeglasses and firewood – are exempt from the tax.

With stores charging up to $9 for a box of 36 tampons, women will spend more than $2,000 on feminine hygiene products during their lifetimes. Removing the sales tax would save Virginia women at least $100. However, it would cost the state at least $4.5 million the first year and more than $5.5 million in 2024, the Virginia Department of Taxation said.

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, 14 states do not tax feminine hygiene products. Nine specifically exempt them – Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Connecticut will join this list July 1. The other five – Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon – do not have a sales tax.

Making Tampons Available in Schools and Prisons

The sales tax isn’t the only concern regarding feminine hygiene products. Legislators have introduced bills to address these other issues:

  • HB 1434, sponsored by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, would ensure that students in grades six through 12 have access to free tampons and pads in school.
  • HB 83, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, would provide feminine hygiene products to female prisoners and inmates for free.

On Wednesday, supporters of those proposals met with legislators. Holly Seibold, a member of the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition, said the meeting was “well received with bipartisan support.”

But school officials expressed concerns about HB 1434. Officials of Fairfax County Public Schools fear the requirement would cost the district $500,000 a year, Seibold said.

Senate Republicans Reject Medicaid Expansion

By Chris Wood, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Republicans in the Virginia Senate on Thursday tabled legislation that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of lower-income residents of Virginia.

Voting along party lines, the Senate Education and Health Committee indefinitely postponed action on the proposal. The eight Republicans on the panel voted to kill the measure; the seven Democrats voted to keep it alive.

The federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid. Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw of Fairfax noted that Virginia’s neighboring states – including West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky – have done so.

Saslaw said the federal government has promised to pay most of the costs of Medicaid expansion.

“If someone came up to me and said, ‘Saslaw, we’ll pick up 90 percent of your medical insurance costs if you pay the other 10, and we think we have a way around that 10,’ I would have to be a lunatic to turn down that offer,” Saslaw said.

However, Republican senators said they fear that Medicaid expansion would put a hole in the state budget.

“The federal level, they can just raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County. “We can’t do that at the state level.”

She said the state has limited resources. As Medicaid takes up more of the state budget, others services would have to be cut back, Chase said.

“It doesn’t take long to see we have major infrastructure needs,” Chase said. “We have bridges in my district that you can’t even drive ambulances over or fire trucks over because of the crumbling infrastructure.”

A fellow Republican, Sen. Richard Black of Loudoun County, said Medicaid costs are escalating out of control.

“I think it’s premature to move forward on this and potentially get ourselves stuck in a situation where we’ve expanded, and all of a sudden we’re having to do this thing on our own dime,” Black said.

The legislation at hand was SB 572, sponsored by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. A similar measure – SB 158, filed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke – had been folded into Hanger’s bill.

Democrats, including newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam, have made Medicaid expansion a top priority. It was also a priority for many of the people who attended Thursday’s committee meeting. They included Julien Parley, who has a son with autism. She said Medicaid expansion would help mothers like her.

“There was a time that I worked three jobs, and I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor,” Parley said. “I resorted to going to the emergency room, which racked up bills and it also was a hardship on my credit.”

People without health coverage often resort to the emergency room, said Julie Dime of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“Countless Virginians that don’t have access to health care find their only option to be the hospital emergency room,” Dime said.

Democrats Tout Bills They Say Would Help Workers

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic lawmakers are urging passage of legislation to boost wages paid on state construction projects, increase overtime pay for public and private employees, and prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

Those proposals were among a slew of bills discussed at a news conference held by the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the bills concern “one of the core issues that defines us as Democrats – our commitment to jobs and the people who need those jobs, who man those jobs.”

He is sponsoring HB 667, which would require contractors and subcontractors on public works projects to pay the “prevailing wage” set by the federal government. He said the measure would increase the supply of apprenticeships and skilled workers and keep jobs in the community.

Many Republicans oppose laws mandating prevailing wages on government-funded projects. They say such requirements inflate construction costs. Krizek disputed that, saying higher wages are usually offset by greater productivity, better technologies and other employer savings.

Krizek’s bill is pending in the House Rules Committee.

Also at the news conference, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, discussed his bill to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their salary history. Under HB 240, an employer could not obtain an applicant’s pay history from current or previous employers, either.

Rasoul said employers use applicants’ salary histories to lowball the salaries they offer. “Both young workers and those workers that are in a career transition are experiencing real discrimination because of this,” he said.

Under his proposal, Rasoul said, employers could ask applicants their minimum salary requirement but not how much money they previously earned. The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

That committee also is considering legislation by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, to increase overtime pay for workers in Virginia. Under HB 1109, employees would be entitled to twice their regular pay in certain circumstances. That is more than what the U.S. Department of Labor requires.

“This bill ensures that workers are fairly compensated for overtime if they work more than 12 hours a day, 40 hours a week or 7 consecutive days a work week,” Tran said.

Virginia Republicans Announce Election Review Panel

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In the wake of a tied contest and other issues in last fall’s elections, Republican leaders in the General Assembly announced Thursday that they will form a panel to address such situations at the polls in the future.

“There were numerous questions raised during the 2017 elections,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, who made the announcement alongside Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment. “This subcommittee will have the ability to broadly review these questions and determine what, if any, steps should be taken.”

Cox and Norment said the joint subcommittee will deal with concerns such as absentee ballots, the assignment of voters in split precincts and recount law and procedures.

“These issues are not about who wins or loses elections but about the confidence of the public in our elections,” Norment said. “We never go through an election without a contentious result in a closely fought contest. Citizens expect us to protect and ensure the integrity of the process.”

The subcommittee will be co-chaired by two Republicans – Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County. Cole chairs the House Privileges and Elections Committee, and Vogel chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

“We need to examine these issues comprehensively, using a process that takes all viewpoints into account,” Vogel said.

The announcement did not include how many Democrats would be on the subcommittee. Republicans hold a slim majority in both the House and Senate.

Some Democrats have their own ideas how to address the election issues. Backed by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, introduced a bill that called for a special election in the case of a tie vote.

A House subcommittee killed that proposal, HB 1581, on a 4-2 vote early Thursday morning. The panel was split along party lines, with Republicans in favoring of killing the measure and Democrats against.

Gun Control Bills Die in Virginia House of Delegares Subcommittee

The Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates considering and killing the banning of bump-stocks and training for carriers of concealed carry permits, both of which are supported by a majority of Virginians, including Republicans.

 

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee shot down multiple gun control bills Thursday despite a tear-filled statement from a survivor of last fall’s Las Vegas shooting who urged legislators to ban bump stocks.

Cortney Carroll of Henrico County was one of several citizen lobbyists who attended the meeting of the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee. She urged delegates to support HB 41, which aimed to ban the sale of bump stocks, devices that significantly increase the number of rounds that can be fired per minute.

Carroll had been at the country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when Stephen Paddock, using rifles fitted with bump stocks, killed 58 people and injured about 550.

“I believe in guns, but I just don’t think these are necessary,” Carroll said. “Think of your children, your family, your friends. Please don’t let [Las Vegas] happen again, not in our state.”

The subcommittee chairman, Republican Del. Thomas Wright of Amelia County, said that while he empathized with Carroll’s perspective, he did not think banning bump stocks was the answer.

“Until the evil in people’s hearts changes, the laws we pass cannot fix that,” he said.

The subcommittee also heard from supporters of HB 602, which would have required people applying for concealed carry permits to demonstrate competence with a gun in person. Applicants can currently complete National Rifle Association or state-certified online courses.

Jonathan Romans, a local gun safety activist, said the training could reduce accidents, which he called a public safety issue.

“Having training for people who want to carry outside the home is not an infringement on constitutional rights,” Romans said. “Gun activists have called this a gun-grabbing scheme, but that’s just not the case.”

Lori Haas, Virginia’s state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also urged the committee to support the bill.

“We require law enforcement to undergo hundreds of hours of training,” Haas said. “The average citizen could certainly benefit from this training.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, countered: “But we’re not police officers. We don’t need the same amount of training to carry a gun.”

The subcommittee also rejected HB 596 and HB 927, which would have prohibited the sale or transfer of certain magazines and firearms. Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, said she introduced the bill because her constituents were concerned by the abundance of gun violence in their communities.

All of the bills were killed on 4-2 party-line votes.

Meet the Democratic Socialist Who Ousted a Top Republican from the House

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2015, Lee J. Carter, an information technology specialist from Manassas, was shocked by 245 volts during a work assignment in Peoria, Illinois, when an electrician had incorrectly wired a panel.

He wound up injuring his back; for the next three months, he could not walk more than 50 feet at a time. Yet Virginia rejected Carter’s claim for workers’ compensation, and his employer cut his hours after he got better. That ordeal inspired Carter to run for the Virginia House of Delegates.

Few people thought he stood a chance of carrying the 50th House District, which includes Manassas and part of Prince William County. He was a little-known outsider challenging a powerful incumbent – Republican Del. Jackson Miller, the House majority whip. Though running as a Democrat, Carter said he did not get a lot of formal support from the state Democratic Party.

But on Nov. 7, Carter shocked the naysayers: Like David against Goliath, he won the House race by nine points, unseating Jackson, who had represented the district since 2006.

How did he pull off the upset? For almost two years, Lee said, he went into the community and talked to residents all day, every day. In the end, they decided they wanted him to come to Richmond and represent them.

Carter is a member of the Democratic Party, but he describes himself as a democratic socialist. He is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America; the group endorsed him in his 2017 election.

“One of the things I came to understand very early in the campaign is, if you’re to the left of Barry Goldwater, they’re going to call you a socialist anyway,” Carter said. “So I figured there is no point in hiding it. I am who I am. I believe worker-owned businesses are better for the community than investor-owned businesses.”

Still, the word “socialist” can raise eyebrows in Virginia politics. Scott Lingamfelter, another Republican who lost his House seat last fall, used the label in his final newsletter to constituents on Jan. 5.

“Last November, the state took a sharp turn to the left, electing people who truly do support a socialist agenda. Republicans were routed, including me,” wrote Lingamfelter, who was beaten by progressive Democrat Elizabeth Guzman in the neighboring 31st House District, which includes parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties.

“I believe that in the months and years to come, Virginians will conclude that this election of far-left candidates was not helpful to families, small businesses, and constitutional governance, the things I stood for when I served in the House.”

Carter, who served five years in the U.S. Marines, said he will look out for workers – and that is why he won by such a large margin.

“I just went out there with the help of hundreds of volunteers with a message of ‘I’m a working-class guy,’ and I’m going to go there [Richmond] and represent working-class issues. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and brought that message directly to people at their homes,” he said.

Since the election, Carter has been deluged with phone calls from constituents and supporters with requests and ideas. He said the constant flood has continued to this day.

One of Carter’s supporters, and the top individual donor to his campaign, is Karl Becker, who works in the defense industry in the Washington area. Becker worked with Carter on Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

“Lee is very passionate about the inability of the government to serve folks,” said Becker, who contributed $6,750 to Carter’s House campaign.

“He experienced a workplace injury and discovered that workers’ compensation was not working for people. That got him involved in looking into other aspects of politics, and he is very much of the opinion that he can make a difference.”

Becker said he admires both Carter and Sanders for supporting universal health care, also known as “Medicare for all.” Carter is sponsoring a resolution to have state officials study the cost of implementing such a system. The resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Also this session, Carter introduced legislation to more than double the sales tax on watercraft and to provide more protection for workers in the workers’ compensation system – an issue “near and dear to my heart.” One of his bills was aimed at covering Virginia workers who are injured out of state, as Carter was.

All of his workers’ compensation measures, as well as his sales tax proposal, were killed at the subcommittee level in the House.

For his House race, Carter put together a coalition of groups, including Let America Vote, which fights gerrymandering; the Sierra Club, an environmental organization; the Sister District Project, a Democratic effort focusing on swing districts; and Swing Left, a support group for progressive candidates.

Carter said the Democratic Party is in the midst of change.

“I think right now, it is a party that is torn between two visions of what it is supposed to be,” he said.

“I view it as a party that is supposed to be advocating for the issues of working people exclusively. There are a lot of people at the same time who view the party as one that should advocate for compromise between the interests of working people and the interests of their employers.”

Carter, who graduated from the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, said having a party of compromise would be fine in a political system with multiple parties.

“But in our current system, you have the Republican Party, which is unabashedly for the interests of the big corporations. So you need a party that is unabashedly for the workers to balance that out. Otherwise, things don’t function.”

Carter quoted former Lt. Gov. Henry Howell, an independent Democrat nicknamed “Howlin’ Henry” for his progressive populist views: “‘An eagle can’t fly with two right wings.’ We need a left wing.”

Virginia Lawmakers Stir the Pot on Brunswick Stew Day

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Carroll Tucker stuck the long, wooden stirring paddle into the 85-gallon pot of stew. He let it go, and it didn’t move.

“Do you know what it means if the paddle can stand up by itself?” said Tucker, longtime friend of this year’s Brunswick stewmaster and member of the “stew crew.”

“It’s ready.”

Senators, delegates and hungry residents lined up outside a tent on the Capitol grounds Wednesday to get a taste of this year’s stew. Legislators declared the fourth Wednesday of January Brunswick Stew Day nearly 20 years ago, and it’s the county’s most celebrated tradition.

“It’s been a cherished endeavor for many years,” said Tracy Clary, this year’s stewmaster. “The first Brunswick Stew was cooked in 1820 in Brunswick County right on the banks of the Nottoway River.”

Clary has lived his entire life in the county, which borders North Carolina, and has participated in the Taste of Brunswick Festival for years. Of the seven years he’s competed in the cook-off, he’s placed in the top four six times, winning for the first time in October.

The winning dish, which Clary served again Wednesday, is a chicken-based stew with pork, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, butter beans, corn and a seasoning consisting of just four ingredients – salt, sugar, black pepper and ground red pepper.

Clary and his crew cooked the mixture from midnight until the last spoonful of the 340 to 350 quarts of stew was served just before noon.

“Once you start the pot to get cooking, you’ve got to constantly stir it so it doesn’t burn,” said Tucker, a member of the crew. “We’re constantly adding ingredients, sitting around talking, just having good fellowship and cooking the stew.”

The long hours tending the pot were rewarded when around 10:30 a.m. senators, representatives and other lawmakers lined up to grab a bowl. By 11 a.m., the stew was running low.

“The governor’s not going to have anything to stir if he doesn’t come down here soon,” said a member of the stew crew.

Shortly after, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Roslyn Tyler, who is from Brunswick, made their way to the tent just in time to get their fix. They gathered around the steel pot, which was almost as tall as the stewmaster himself, to take pictures with Clary and the stew crew. Then they took turns stirring the pot.

“It’s like paddling my boat,” Northam called out as he grasped the paddle and stirred the remaining stew.

Brunswick County administrator Charlette Woolridge said she hasn’t missed a Stew Day in the 11 years she’s held the position. She said Stew Day is an important event in the county’s history because it’s an opportunity for locals to showcase Brunswick County, interact with elected officials and Virginia residents and share their beloved stew.

“We’re just happy and proud to host this event annually,” she said. “We get great enjoyment and fulfillment out of this, and we look forward to doing this for years to come.”

Bill Calls for a Special Election if a Recount Ends in a Tie

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called for a law requiring a special election if an election recount ends in a tie – as it did in the state’s 94th House District last fall.

That tied election in Newport News between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds was decided by a lottery – film canisters pulled out of a bowl. That is what prompted Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, to propose House Bill 1581.

“When it was announced that the winner of the 94th District House race was to be determined by lot – by drawing a name out of a bowl – there was an instant reaction,” Price said at a news conference attended by the caucus chair, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, and other legislators.

Yancey, the incumbent delegate, won the lottery held by the State Board of Elections on Jan. 4. Price said that regardless of party, Virginians deserve a better way of settling deadlocked elections.

Price said she was holiday shopping for her nephew in December when both Republican and Democratic residents of the 94th House District approached her about the upcoming lottery. Price recalled one man saying, “I know we don’t agree on much, but tell me you agree that this just isn’t right.”

“So HB 1581 takes into account the feelings of disenfranchisement and serves as a fix. It says if the court finds that each party to the recount has received an equal number of votes, it shall issue a writ promptly ordering a special election be held to determine which candidate is elected to office,” Price said.

The proposed rule would apply to all elected offices except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Virginia Constitution says the General Assembly must settle any tied election for those statewide offices.

Price’s idea to hold a special election received support at the news conference from Dawnn Wallace, who lives in the 94th House District.

“I was one of the 23,891 people who cast a vote on Nov. 7, 2017, in the House of Delegates election for the 94th District,” Wallace said. In that election, after a recount and a court hearing, officials determined that Yancey and Simonds each got 11,608 votes, with the rest going to a Libertarian and write-in candidates.

Wallace said she makes sure to vote in every election. When she learned that her state delegate would be chosen by picking a name out of a bowl, she said she was flabbergasted.

“Many of my family members, neighbors and friends who live in the 94th District felt the same way,” Wallace said. “And our immediate concern moved from who would prevail to how that person was going to win.”

As a sports fan, Wallace said it was like having a football game decided by a coin flip. Just as games tied at the end of regulation go into overtime, Wallace said a recount that ends in a tie should be decided by a special election.

A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear Price’s bill on Thursday.

Bill Would Exempt Trade Secrets from FOIA

Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

By Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Open government and environmental advocates are once again battling bills they say that would limit public-information access by creating a Freedom of Information Act exclusion for trade secrets.

HB 904 by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, would create general exclusions from FOIA for trade secrets submitted to a public body. It passed its initial hearing in a House General Laws subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill is similar to four others Robinson introduced last year that would have allowed FOIA exemptions for chemical names and concentrations used in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. All failed to pass.

The new bill is supported by the Freedom of Information Advisory Council. Alan Gernhardt, the council’s executive director, said the bill simplifies the way FOIA treats trade secrets.

He said that over the past few years, FOIA exemptions have been issued based specifically on the type of record as well as the agency. This means each time an exception is sought, an individual exemption must be crafted.

“The problem is more and more agencies are holding or receiving trade secrets, and so they’re asking for more exemptions every year,” Gernhardt said. “We want to get the one general exemption everybody can use and remove the language that’s specific for each agency.”

Opponents of the bill countered that the exclusions are too broad and carry significant unintended consequences – mainly, keeping more information from citizens.

Emily Francis, representing the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized what she termed a sweeping exemption. She said the legislation doesn’t address the center’s concerns from Robinson’s earlier bills, including the need to provide public access to the names of chemicals used in fracking.

“The public would like access to this information. As of today, they do have access to this information, and they would like (continued) access to that information,” she said.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, expressed objections similar to those of the law center.

“We do want to point out that, yes it has been worked on for four years, and the bill that came – nobody was happy with it,” Rhyne said.

Corrina Beall, political director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and Daria Christian, assistant director of the Friends of the Rappahannock, also spoke in opposition.

Trade secrets in the legislation are based on the definition in Virginia’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, according to the bill summary.

A trade secret, according to the act, “means information, including but not limited to, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: 1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and 2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”

The subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines to send the bill to the full committee:

  • Republican Dels. Keith Hodges of Middlesex, Hyland Fowler of Hanover, James Leftwich of Chesapeake and Jason Miyares and Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach voted for the bill.
  • Democratic Dels. Betsy Carr of Richmond, Patrick Hope of Arlington and Kathleen Murphy of Fairfax voted against it.

Workers’ Compensation Bills Die in Subcommittee

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Legislation aimed at protecting and improving employees’ worker compensation rights were struck down Tuesday by a House subcommittee.

Freshman Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, proposed three bills in an effort to reform the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act after he was inspired by his own experience filing a claim. All three bills were passed by indefinitely by a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, effectively killing them for the session.

One of the bills, HB 460, would have prevented employers from firing someone based on the belief that the employee had filed or was planning to file a claim for workers compensation. Currently, Virginia law only protects employees from being fired solely because they have made or are planning to make a claim. However, this bill would have protected employees from being fired for any reason that was motivated by the knowledge or belief that the employee was planning to file a claim.

Ryan Dunn from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the bill was too general.

“This is really a golden ticket to allow somebody, even after they are fired for due cause or decide to quit, (that) they can at any point come back and say that this was related to their workers’ comp claim that they put in in 1985,” Dunn said.

The second measure, HB 461, known as the timely notice bill, would have required employers to respond to a workers’ compensation claim within 10 days of the initial claim and explain why it was denied. The bill would cut employers’ response time in half; Joe Leahy of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia said that is not enough time to investigate a claim.

Carter’s third bill, HB 462, would have ensured that Virginia employees injured while working outside the state could still file for compensation from their employer in Virginia, increasing their employers’ liability.

Again this bill was met with opposition. Subcommittee Chairman Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, agreed with Carter that “our system is not super-claimant friendly,” but disagreed with the proposed solution.  

“I believe that there are some changes that Virginia could make to the benefit of the claimants that would be more than reasonable,” he said. “I just don’t think this is one of them.”

Carter was not available for comment after the subcommittee meeting.

Stricter Seat-Belt Laws Shelved for 2018 Session

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia legislators have rejected all bills expanding seat-belt requirements in privately owned vehicles this session. The last two bills, requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts, were dismissed by a House subcommittee vote Tuesday.

“With the demise of this year’s major seat-belt bills, it is clear that Virginia lawmakers don’t have an appetite for advancing the single most effective measure to reduce crash-related deaths and injuries,” said Kurt Erickson, the president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program and an advocate for expanding seat belt requirements in Virginia.

Expanding seat belt laws to include rear-seat passengers could save several lives each year. In 2017, at least 94 Virginia lives might have been saved if vehicle occupants had been buckled up, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Back-seat passengers in general are three times more likely to die when unfastened during a collision, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Drivers under the influence and teens are some of the least likely to wear seatbelts. In 2013, 68 percent of drivers who had been drinking and died in a car accident were not wearing a seat belt, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. In the same year, 49 percent of teens under the influence involved in a fatal crash were unrestrained. Even without alcohol, teens are particularly careless when it comes to wearing seat belts. In 2015, more than half of all teens who died in a crash were unbuckled during the collision, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, questions were raised over whether the driver would be responsible for the ticket if a rear-seat passenger remained unbuckled. As services like Uber and Lyft gain in popularity, the answer is especially pertinent for ride-sharing drivers.  Neither HB 1272 sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, nor HB 9 sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, guarantees any protection for taxi drivers or ride-sharing services.

Last week, a Senate committee rejected a similar bill that additionally would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense. Current Virginia law only requires front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, and dictates that a seat-belt violation can be ticketed only when the driver is pulled over for a separate traffic violation. Currently, the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine.

Delegates Tout Bills to Improve Prison Workers’ Jobs

By Yasmine Jumaa and Brandon Celentano,Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Correctional officers from across Virginia watched Tuesday as a state lawmaker urged support for legislation aimed at reducing turnover among prison guards and making it easier for them to get workers’ compensation.

“I think currently we have a tremendous injustice going on,” said Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun. “Out of the 14 [categories of] peace officers in Virginia, the only peace officer who does not get the presumption of disability is our correctional officer.”

Bell is sponsoring House Bill 107, which would add correctional officers to the list of public safety employees entitled to receive workers’ compensation under the presumption that hypertension, heart disease and other ailments may stem from their stressful jobs. Bell said some correctional officers develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The stress levels on officers is very high, which could lead to a variety of different heart diseases over prolonged periods of time,” Bell said. “It’s a tough and hazardous job where officers have been measured with PTSD that far exceeds combat veterans.”

Bell has also introduced HB 108, which would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to conduct an exit survey of correctional officers who quit. The survey would ask them about work conditions and other concerns that may contribute to high turnover.

Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, said low salaries may be a factor.

“You have to work two, three jobs sometimes to address your needs and your family’s because your salaries aren’t up to par to make a living,” said Tyler, who is co-sponsoring the two bills. “That is just totally unreasonable.”

According to the Department of Corrections, 1,164 DOC employees, including 698 correctional officers, have salaries so low that they may be eligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

A 2017 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said correctional officers’ difficult jobs and low salaries may hurt attracting and retaining employees. Virginia prison guards had a 17 percent turnover rate over the past two years, and 16 percent of the positions have been vacant, the study said.

HB 107 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. On Tuesday, the subcommittee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill.

HB 108 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

While Governor Decries Gun Violence, Senate OKs Guns in Church

By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Lamenting the fact that more than 900 Virginians were killed by guns last year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state should do more to restrict the proliferation of firearms.

“We do not need these weapons on our streets and in our society,” Northam told a multi-faith congregation at St. Paul’s Church.

The governor spoke at an event organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Just hours later, however, the Senate passed a bill allowing people to bring guns and knives to churches and other places of worship.

Split along party lines, senators voted 21-18 in favor of SB 372, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County.

Currently, state law provides that “If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

SB 372 would repeal that prohibition against bringing weapons to a house of worship. Supporters of the bill say congregants may need weapons to defend themselves from an attack. They point to incidents such as the mass shooting at a Baptist church at Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, when 26 people were killed by a gunman.

Officials of the Virginia Interfaith Center issued a news press release saying they are “absolutely opposed” to the bill.

Northam did not specifically address SB 372 in his remarks at St. Paul’s, where the center was holding its “Day for All People,” an occasion for residents from across Virginia to come to Richmond and meet with legislators.

Rather, the Democratic governor discussed his concerns about gun violence. He recalled the shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people were murdered by a gunman during a country music festival on Oct. 1. In less than 50 hours after the shooting, 58 more Americans would die from gun violence, Northam said.

“It took 49 hours – 58 more Americans lost their lives, but you never heard about them, did you? Nor did I,” Northam said. “When are we, as a society, going to stand up and say enough is enough?”

After graduating from Virginia Military Institute, Northam attended Eastern Virginia Medical School. Afterward, he served eight years in the Army as a doctor. Northam has seen the effects of firearms firsthand.

Northam began practicing pediatric neurology after the Army. As a children’s neurologist, he has treated young victims of gunshot wounds.

Northam said he supports the Second Amendment but is willing to think outside the box. “We have ‘smart gun’ technology; this is 2018,” the governor said. “So I will do everything I can to address that issue.”

In an interview, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, questioned Northam’s statistics on gun deaths in 2017. He said the numbers include tragedies such as suicides.

Van Cleave said he would support “smart guns” – weapons that fire only if held by an authorized user – if the technology were 100 percent effective. However, he said, it currently is not reliable. Someone who is bleeding or wearing gloves may not be able to fire a “smart gun” in self-defense, Van Cleave said.

Businesses May Get Tax Credits to Train High School Students

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Juniors and seniors in Richmond City Public Schools would receive paid apprenticeships and training with local businesses, and participating employers would get tax credits from the state, under legislation filed by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.

Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant and Democratic Del. Jeffrey Bourne, who both represent the city in the General Assembly, are seeking to establish a pilot program for the 2018-19 or 2019-20 academic year.

Under the program, up to 25 Richmond students would receive “competitive compensation” while being trained in high-demand fields.

Sturtevant and Bourne say it is important to help students who do not pursue traditional college degrees prepare for the workforce.

“This pilot program will provide a great opportunity for bright and hardworking students to get hands-on experience,” Sturtevant said.

Participating local businesses would receive a $2,500 tax credit per student per semester. Student compensation would equal “no less than the value” of that credit. The total tax credits awarded by the state could not exceed $125,000 a year under the legislation.

Sturtevant and Bourne previously served together on the Richmond School Board for four years.

The lawmakers have submitted companion bills to create the apprenticeship program. Sturtevant has introduced SB 937 in the Senate; Bourne is carrying HB 1575 in the House. Both measures are awaiting committee hearings.

Disappointed by Norment bill, marijuana law reform advocates refocus agenda

By Fadel Allassan and Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Marijuana law reform advocates are refocusing their agenda after Virginia’s Senate majority leader introduced a bill that eliminates jail time for first-offense possession but falls short of decriminalization — a concept he earlier said he would support.

Under the bill by Sen. Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, first-time marijuana possession offenders would be fined but also have a chance to have their records expunged. It isn’t the decriminalization bill Norment told The Virginian-Pilot he supported last November. But a spokesperson for the majority leader now says such a bill, which could have made first-time possession a civil offense, would have little chance of passing the House of Delegates.

“It’s a disappointment to thousands of Virginians and particularly to his constituents, who were looking for him to be the leader on this issue.” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, a marijuana reform advocacy group.

Reform advocates, who gathered at the Virginia 2018 Cannabis Conference in Richmond on Sunday and Monday, said they support the bill despite it not going far enough, but are now focusing their attention on legislation including a measure by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, that would expand the use of medical cannabis in Virginia.

Decriminalization, however, isn’t dead yet in the assembly, and advocates said they support legislation including SB111 by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and HB 1063 by  Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth. But the bills face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled legislature. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said he favors decriminalizing simple first-possession charges.

In Virginia, people charged with pot possession as a first offense are typically eligible for a probationary program that gives the chance for a judge to dismiss the charge. Norment’s legislation would make that practice law and instead of dismissal, allow expungement.

“We were expecting a bill that was more analogous to decriminalization, but instead what we see is an expungement bill,” Pedini said.

On another front, advocates said they support Dunnavant’s bill, which would allow medical practitioners to issue certifications to allow patients to use cannabis oil. It has been assigned to the Education and Health Committee and has the backing of the legislature’s Joint Commission on Health Care.

“Those health care decisions should be made by a licensed practitioner, not senators and delegates in Richmond,” Pedini said.

Last year, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law a bill that allows pharmacies to make and sell cannabis oils for treating intractable epilepsy. Dunnavant’s bill allows health care professionals to determine which illnesses can be treated.

Advocates at the conference – which was organized by the advocacy groups Virginia NORML, Cannabis Commonwealth and Virginia Cannabis Group – are also making phone calls and lobbying against a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to strip search people at traffic stops if there is reasonable cause to believe they may possess controlled substances.

The law is intended to battle opioid and fentanyl possession, Pedini said, but could trap  those who legally use marijuana to treat epilepsy.

“What we don’t want to see is a mother and her child driving home to be stopped and strip searched,” Pedini said.

Senators Suggest Charging Tolls on Trucks on I-81

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Two state senators are calling for a study on the feasibility of imposing tolls on large trucks using Interstate 81.

The potential toll revenue would fund safety improvements on the highway, according to Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham and Bill Carrico of Grayson, who filed a bill Friday to launch such a study.

“We need to focus our efforts and money on improving I-81. It has been overlooked for too long, and Virginians in Southwest Virginia and the Valley deserve better,” said Carrico, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “This bill is an innovative approach, and I look forward to seeing the results of this study.”

Kansas and Rhode Island have similar truck-tolling programs. In 2017, revenue from commercial vehicle tolls in Kansas totaled $48 million. In Rhode Island, such tolls may generate $60 million in annual revenue for transportation needs, according to an economic impact study.

I-81 runs 855 miles from Tennessee to the Canadian border. The Virginia segment is 325 miles long, from Bristol to Winchester.

Obenshain said that I-81 carries nearly half of statewide truck traffic and that about a fifth of the traffic collisions on the interstate involve a heavy truck.

“With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem,” Obenshain said.

The bill would set several stipulations for the proposed tolling program. Under the stipulations, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would:

• Identify how to improve specific parts of I-81.

• Develop a tolling policy that minimizes effects on local traffic and the diversion of truck traffic from I-81.

• Use all funds generated by the tolls for the benefit of I-81.

No matter what the study might find, tolls on I-81 may be a long way off. Any tolling program on the highway would require approval from the General Assembly, Obenshain noted.

“I believe that a willingness to explore innovative and unconventional funding sources can be a part of a bipartisan solution to the problems faced by those who travel Interstate 81 every day,” he said.

Obenshain has filed another bill aimed at truck safety on I-81. SB 561 calls for the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program requiring tractor trucks to travel in the right lane only.

More than 1,000 Attend Women’s March in Richmond

By Ryan Persaud and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Demonstrators took to the streets of Carytown on Saturday for the second annual Women’s March, recalling the demonstrations a year ago when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington and cities around the world to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the GOP’s stance on issues such women’s rights and immigration.

Hundreds of demonstrators held up signs that ranged from mocking the president to promoting equality. They chanted phrases such as “This is what democracy looks like,” “Women’s rights are equal rights” and “Coexist.”

Kim Young, a demonstrator who missed the Women’s March last year due to health issues, said she was excited to attend Saturday’s event.

“It’s about freedom, choice, ‘Love is Love,’ [and] showing the president that not all Americans in the United States are in agreement with him,” Young said.

The Richmond demonstration was one of many across the country Saturday. Brigette Newberry, a demonstrator who attended last year’s Women’s March in D.C. and a counterprotest against the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue in September, said it is necessary to resist the current administration.

“I feel like it’s important that women unite together,” Newberry said.

Kathe Wittig, a retired Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member who participated in anti-war protests in the 1970s, said she worries that Trump’s policies will set society back decades.

“We have to let the world know that we’re not going to sit back,” Wittig said. “He is a disaster.”

Gov. Ralph Northam also joined event organizers in leading the march. Northam helped carry a banner that read, “Women’s March RVA.”

Mary Leffler, one of the organizers of the event, attended the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. As the anniversary approached, she looked for whether others locally were commemorating that demonstration.

“I sought out to see if there was already a march happening, and there wasn’t. So I made a few phone calls, called the city manager’s office, helped decide this location and then just started spreading the word,” Leffler said.

Leffler said she was surprised at the size of the crowd.

“We’ve had estimates of a little over 3,000 – some more like 1,500,” Leffler said. “We’re thrilled.”

Mark Loewen, a children’s book author, brought his family with him, including his 5-year-old daughter.

“We talked about girls can do anything that boys can do, and that girls should be making the same amount of decisions that boys make,” Loewen said. “We’re so excited about women’s voices getting stronger, and we need them to be stronger.”

Members of the National Organization for Women, which advocates for equality for all women, were also in attendance. Andrea Lancaster, president of NOW’s Richmond chapter, said she was pleasantly surprised by the event’s turnout.

“A few of our board members, me included, went up to the march in D.C. last year, which was overwhelmingly huge, so we didn’t know what to expect from Richmond,” Lancaster said. “It’s exciting to see how much momentum the movement still has.”

NOW and other groups are urging the Virginia General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA would explicitly state that women have the same rights as men in the U.S.

ERA supporters believe that if two more states ratify the amendment, it will be added to the Constitution. There is a legal debate about that because the deadline to ratify the ERA has passed.

According to Lancaster, Virginia has become a focus of ERA proponents because Democrats have gained power in the General Assembly. Last fall, the Democratic Party picked up 15 seats in the House; however, Republicans still hold a 51-49 majority.

Lancaster said there is a need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equal rights.

“If you ask a lot of people in the streets, they think we already have that,” Lancaster said. “But we don’t, and there is no constitutional protected equality.”

Bill Would Bar Asking Job Applicants About Criminal History

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – State government could not ask most job seekers criminal history questions on employment applications under a bill passed by the Virginia Senate.

The Senate approved the “ban the box” bill Friday on a 23-16 vote. All of the Democrats in the Senate voted for SB 252; they were joined by four Republicans.

Until recently, job applications forms used by state agencies included a box that asked whether the applicant had ever been arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

In a 2015 executive order, Gov. Terry McAuliffe had those questions removed from the form. SB 252 essentially would make the executive order a state law. It also would authorize local governments to follow the same policy.

The bill would not apply to law-enforcement agencies and jobs with criminal history inquiry requirements.

SB 252 would allow state agencies to ask prospective employees about previous arrests, charges and convictions after a conditional job offer has been made. The agency could withdraw the offer if the convictions relate directly to the job.

Democratic Sens. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond sponsored the bill.

Dance said the criminal history questions on job application forms hurt the employment prospects of people who have run afoul of the law.

“Every Virginian should have the peace of mind of knowing that their application will not be rejected based off of a past mistake,” Dance said.

She said the bill is “about getting people back to work” and reducing recidivism rates for people who have been convicted of crimes.

Ebbin said the measure “gives everyone a fair chance at employment.”

“Those people who have paid their debts to society should be given a second chance,” Ebbin said.

SB 252 now goes to the House for consideration. Two Democratic delegates are sponsoring companion bills in the House: HB 600, by Del. Betsy Carr of Richmond; and HB 1357, by Del. Lashrecse Aird of Petersburg. Those bills have been referred to the House General Laws Committee.

Last year, the General Assembly considered two “ban the box” bills – HB 2323 and SB 1171. Both died in the House General Laws Committee.

Bill Would Boost Minimum Wage for Restaurant Workers

By Caitlin Barbieri and Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The unstable nature of relying on tips to make a living is reflected in the paychecks of restaurant servers like Connor Rhodes, who has been serving Richmond’s restaurant goers for four years and says it’s not unusual for his paycheck to be zero dollars.

That’s because he earns $2.13 an hour – a “subminimum wage” – which, after taxes, can result in an empty wallet if tips are weak and shifts are sparse.

“Depending on business, there’s no guarantee that we’ll get shifts that can pay the bills,” Rhodes said, explaining that servers typically have to save their wages from peak seasons to survive during the slower months.

But two state legislators have proposed a bill, HB 1259, that would do away with the “subminimum wage,” which is paid to workers like Rhodes who are exempt from receiving the federal minimum.

That $2.13 an hour, along with tips, makes up the entire income of these workers. As long as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is met through tips received, employers are not required to pay their employees more than the subminimum.

If customers neglect to tip their server after their meal, it can end up costing the server money to have served the table at all.

“At the end of the night, the servers have to tip out the food runners, the bartenders and the bussers based on our food and alcohol sales. So say someone orders $50 bottle of wine; I tip the bar 5 percent of that $50. I need at least $2.50 to break even from taking care of a customer, and sometimes the costs can go a lot higher. It’s rare that the restaurant will compensate us,” Rhodes said.

According to a 2014 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the median hourly wage for U.S. restaurant workers, tips included, was $10 an hour – compared with $18 an hour for workers in all other industries. After accounting for demographic differences, the report said restaurant workers earned 17 percent less than similar workers in other industries.

Under HB 1259, servers and certainother employees who are exempt from the minimum wage would no longer have to rely on the generosity of others, through tips, in order to meet the minimum wage.

HB 1259 was introduced by Dels. Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko of Fairfax. Eight other Democrats are co-sponsoring the measure. The bill would also make it illegal for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries traditionally held by African-Americans – like shoe-shiners and doormen – less than minimum wage.

Krizek said the legislation would “put everybody on the same minimum-wage playing field.”

Bill Seeks to Repeal ‘Racist’ Wage Law

By Caitlin Barbieri and Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than half a century after the end of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, legislators are finding remnants of racism in Virginia law.

The Code of Virginia makes it legal for employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, caddies on golf courses, babysitters, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and cashiers in theaters.”

The common thread among those professions? When the law was written in 1975, they were all considered low-income, low-skill jobs overwhelmingly occupied by African Americans who were systematically denied advanced employment opportunities.

Now, two members of the Virginia House of Delegates – Paul Krizek and Jennifer Boysko, both Democrats from Fairfax – are sponsoring legislation to delete such outdated language from state law.

“This is a list that has Jim Crow written all over it,” Krizek said. “There’s a lot of old language that was obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

The language was originally pulled verbatim from North Carolina’s legal code, which was written a decade earlier, in 1965.

“There is some fairly widespread agreement and research supporting the conclusion that a lot of these exemptions were based on race,” said Ann Hodges, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

The wage discrimination doesn’t stop at race. Virginians with mental, intellectual and physical disabilities also may receive subminimum wage because their “earning capacity is impaired,” according to the state code.

According to Hodges, at the time the law was written, many people believed that individuals with intellectual, physical and mental disabilities could not be as productive and generate as much labor as able-bodied workers.

“There was a sense that if you couldn’t pay them less, they probably wouldn’t be employed at all,” Hodges said.

Under HB 1259, it would no longer be legal in Virginia for employers to pay laborers in certain service industries less than minimum wage. (The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and Virginia has not adopted a higher level. However, Krizek, Boysko and other Democrats are pushing to raise it to $9 an hour this year and to $15 an hour by 2022.)

The bill would affect other employees, such as restaurant servers, in addition to the positions the sponsors say are directly connected to race.

“While doing research for a $15 minimum wage bill, I was angry and disappointed to learn that the Virginia Code includes exceptions to its minimum wage law that are clearly racist, meant to exclude jobs that have been mostly held historically by minorities,” Boysko said.

“As we continue to build our new Virginia economy, we must ensure that all people are treated fairly and have the same opportunities.”

HB 1259 has been assigned to the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

Panel OKs Bill Targeting Child Abusers in School

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2013, a loophole allowed an Arlington County teacher accused of sexual abuse to find a job as an assistant principal in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he worked for more than three years before his license was revoked last May.

In hopes of closing that loophole, a committee in the Virginia House of Delegates has unanimously approved legislation aimed at identifying alleged sex offenders who have worked in the state’s public schools so they can’t move to another school system.

“Unfortunately, what happened during the summer revealed that there were several gaps in Virginia law,” said Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the measure. “As a result, the person was able to hold on to his teaching license for another four years without anybody realizing that there was a problem.”

Under existing law, local departments of social services must notify the relevant school district of any founded allegations of child abuse or neglect against a current school employee.

But that didn’t happen in Arlington because the teacher resigned before Child Protective Service agents finished their investigation, according to a report by the News4 I-Team at the NBC4 television station in Washington. As a result, the teacher’s license wasn’t challenged – and he went on to land a job at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County, the station reported.

So Bulova filed HB 150, which would require child protection officials to notify school authorities even if the subject of the investigation is no longer employed by the school district. Moreover, such notification must be made “without delay,” the bill says.

“What the current law says is, at the time that the local child protective services determines that an incident is a founding case for child abuse, then they let the school system know if the person involved is employed as a teacher,” Bulova said. “In this case, because the person had already resigned, that didn’t happen.”

The Virginia Commission on Youth brought the issue to Bulova’s attention.

“The Commission on Youth pulled together information on the process of child abuse reporting as it relates to teachers and education,” said Amy Atkinson, the agency’s executive director. “We presented related findings and recommendations at our November meeting, and in December, our commission voted on those recommendations, and one of them was Del. Bulova’s bill.”

Bulova also is sponsoring HB 196, which would limit how many extensions somebody accused of child abuse or neglect by a local department of social services could get during the appeals process.

The bill says accused individuals can request to extend their hearing twice for a total maximum of 90 days. After that, they would have to provide good cause to the hearing officer before being granted more extensions.

“It makes sure that you’re not dragging this out for a long time,” Bulova said.

He said the bills would help ensure that information flows smoothly during a child abuse or neglect investigation and that licensure issues are taken care of in a timely manner.

“The great vast majority of teachers are absolutely wonderful people and do extraordinarily beautiful jobs,” Bulova said. “These are really ways to go ahead and tighten up the code so you don’t have outliers that will fall through the cracks. And while they are few and far between, they’re a big deal for the families and children that have to deal with them.”

On Thursday, the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions voted 22-0 in favor of both bills. They now go to the full House for consideration.

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