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General Assembly

Senate approval sends ‘Tebow Bill’ to McAuliffe

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Senate narrowly approved a bill Monday that would allow home-schooled students across the commonwealth to play high school sports.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill,” would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

The Senate voted 22-18 in favor of the measure. Democratic Sen. Lynwood Lewis of Accomac joined the 21 Republican senators in voting for the bill, which had been approved by the House last month.

The bill, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, will be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature. Sam Coleman, an aide to the Democratic governor, said McAuliffe plans to veto the legislation.

The bill is nicknamed for former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who was allowed to play football for a high school in Florida while he was being home-schooled. Bell has introduced similar legislation each year since 2005.

In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills were passed by the General Assembly only to be vetoed by McAuliffe. The legislation’s supporters were unable to override the vetoes.

Opponents of HB 1578 say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public-school students, so it would not be right to let them play alongside regular students in high school sports.

McAuliffe cited that rationale when he vetoed Bell’s legislation last spring.

“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Bell counters that this is not the case with his newest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, any student who wants to participate in a local high school’s athletic programs would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence of progress” in their academic curriculum for at least two years. Bell said the students also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public-school counterparts.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, argues that, in his experience, it wouldn’t be fair to students who already participate in their high school’s athletic programs.

“I played high school athletics,” Petersen said. “I know a little bit about it. I know you have to have a certain GPA to play on Friday nights. I know you had to basically comply with classroom conduct rules in order to play, and I think those are good rules. They’re good rules for kids, and that’s what this is about.”

Bell’s bill also states that each local school district would get to decide for itself whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports. Districts that consider such a policy as unfair would not be forced to allow home-schoolers to participate.

Petersen argued that this caveat would create more problems than it would help solve.

“The bottom line is, once Virginia High School League changes its policy, every school division is going to have to match up with it, because nobody is going to want to compete with half a loaf,” he said. “I’ve got some coaches in the audience that are here for state-winning championship teams, and I know what they would say, not on the merits of the bill, but simply that everyone has to play by the same set of rules.”

“You can’t have one set of rules down-state, one set of rules in Northern Virginia and one set of rules in Hampton Roads,” Petersen added. “The bottom line is, if we’re going to have this, it’s got to be a state-wide policy. It can’t be halfway.”

Bell argued his bill would simply allow home-schooled students who might not fit the typical public-school mold the same freedoms as all other students.

“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the public-school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling, except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say, ‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on HB 1578 (“Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs (Tebow Bill)”).

Floor 02/13/2017 Senate: Passed Senate: (22-Y 18-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, Lewis, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner – 22.

NAYS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 18.

Bill lets domestic violence victims carry concealed guns

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Victims of domestic violence would get early access to concealed handgun permits under a bill approved Monday by the state Senate.

HB 1852 would allow those with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun after they apply for a permit. It was introduced by a Republican coalition of delegates including Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County, Nick Freitas of Culpeper, Rick Morris of Suffolk, Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach and Michael Webert of Fauquier County.

The bill was passed by the Senate Monday on a 27-13 vote after approval by the House of Delegates on Feb. 3. It will now be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to seek the governor’s signature. McAuliffe vetoed similar legislation last year and plans to do the same with this iteration, according to Sam Coleman, an aide.

Under current Virginia law, it is illegal to carry concealed handguns until a permit is granted – a process that can take up to 45 days after the application is filed. Gilbert said that, for the victims of abuse, that time can be the difference between life and death.

To address the issue, the bill would allow those with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun for up to 45 days without a permit as long as they have applied for one. Gilbert said this would give victims of abuse a means to defend themselves from their attackers.

“The essence of this is that we want to empower people, especially women, who find themselves in a position where they are in fear of their lives, to be able to protect themselves in a manner that they see fit,” he said.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, argued the bill would lead to unintended circumstances that could put victims in even greater danger.

“We already have a victim who’s vulnerable and very concerned and anxious, and we’re going to allow this person to bypass whatever requirements we might have for concealed handgun permits – one of which is training – to go ahead and get the gun,” she said.

“We should base public policy on evidence-based research. Folks who have studied this issue, folks who have advocated for the rights of women, folks who have spent many years evaluating domestic violence situations tell us that it is not wise to interject more firearms into a situation that is already volatile,” Favola added. “In fact, when a firearm exists in a situation of domestic violence, it’s actually the woman who is five times more likely to die.”

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, argued this bill would not introduce a firearm into a situation where it wouldn’t have already existed, but that it would instead give victims greater freedom to protect themselves by carrying concealed.

“I would just like to point out that in this circumstance, a victim can already open carry if they are lawfully allowed,” she said. “In this case, this would simply allow them, in that window of time where they are most vulnerable, to conceal carry. I just want to make that point because I think sometimes people overlook that piece of this, and I think that’s an important measure.”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on HB 1852 (“Concealed handguns; protective orders”).

Floor: 02/13/17 Senate: Passed Senate with substitute (27-Y 13-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, Dance, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Edwards, Hanger, Lewis, McDougle, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner – 27.

NAYS – Barker, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 13.

Is it gerrymandering – or Democratic clustering?

By Maura Mazurowski and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – David Toscano, the minority leader in the Virginia House, did the math and didn’t like the results.

“All five statewide offices are held by Democrats, and the presidency has been won by Democrats in Virginia for the last three cycles,” he said. “Yet 66 percent of the House of Delegates are Republicans.”

The Democrats do better in the Virginia Senate, where they are outnumbered just 21-19 by Republicans. Almost as lopsided as the state House of Delegates is Virginia’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representative: It has seven Republicans and four Democrats.

Toscano and other Democrats blame that imbalance on gerrymandering – the drawing of political districts to favor the party in power.

“We face a real uphill struggle, and it shows in the legislation that is getting defeated as well as the legislation that they are getting passed,” Toscano said.

Last week, for example, the General Assembly marked “crossover day” – the deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin or be declared dead for the legislative session. Of bills sponsored by Republican delegates, 59 percent have won House approval and are still alive, according to a Capital News Service analysis of data from the Legislative Information Service. Of bills sponsored by Democratic delegates, just 25 percent survived crossover.

However, many legislators dispute the notion that unfair redistricting practices have disadvantaged Democrats and ensured Republican legislative dominance.

“It has nothing to do with gerrymandering. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jeff Ryer, communications director for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus. He said the Republican majority in the General Assembly simply reflects where people live: Republicans tend to live in rural areas while Democrats tend to cluster in more densely populated areas, such as Tidewater and Northern Virginia.

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, agrees. In an op-edthis month in the Richmond-Times Dispatch, he discussed what Democrats see as evidence of manipulated districts: “A state in which Republicans have lost seven statewide races in a row has a majority Republican congressional delegation and legislature.”

McDougle wrote, “That is not the result of gerrymandering, but an easy to understand consequence of Democrat voters living in communities surrounded by other Democrat voters.” In other words, he explained, “Democrat voters often reside in clusters, living in localities that vote overwhelmingly for Democrat candidates.”

Last fall’s presidential election was a case in point, McDougle said. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won only 40 of Virginia’s 133 localities. But by winning the most populous localities, often by “staggeringly large” margins, Clinton captured the statewide vote over Republican Donald Trump.

However, Bill Oglesby, an assistant professor in VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, says gerrymandering explains why Democrats have so little power in the General Assembly.

“Even a conservative editorial page like the Richmond-Times Dispatch has said in a state that votes blue statewide on a consistent basis, there’s no justification for having two-thirds of the House be Republican,” said Oglesby, who recently directed and produced a PBS documentary titled “GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy on Its Head.”

John Aughenbaugh, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said both Democrats and Republicans have used gerrymandering, depending on which party is in the majority when political lines are redrawn every 10 years.

“In Virginia, like a majority of the states in the country, the state legislature controls the redistricting process after every census is taken,” Aughenbaugh said. “It puts a heavy premium on which political party is actually in control of the General Assembly after the census results come out.”

When the Democrats controlled the General Assembly, they drew the lines to benefit their party, Aughenbaugh said. He said no one is innocent, but it is a problem that must be fixed.

“Most political scientists would like to see greater competitive races, whether we are talking about state legislative seats or House of Representatives,” Aughenbaugh said. “We would like to see greater competition.”

The lack of competition is evident in statistics compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. When the 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates were up for election two years ago, 61 of the races were uncontested – with just one name on the ballot.

Despite being in the minority in the House and Senate, Democratic legislators have an ace up their sleeve. They can play it when Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoes legislation, as he has done to 71 Republican-supported bills since taking office in 2014.

Republicans need a two-thirds majority in both chambers – 67 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate – to override a veto. They’ve never been able to muster that. As a result, not one of McAuliffe’s vetoes has been overturned.

But Democrats’ ultimate goal is to change the way political districts are drawn.

At the start of the legislative session, legislators – including some Republicans – introduced 13 bills and proposed constitutional amendments intended to take the politics out of redistricting. All of the proposals originating in the House died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

But three redistricting proposals won approval in the Senate and have been sent to the House for consideration:

  • SJ 290 is a proposed constitutional amendment that states, “No electoral district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or other individual or entity.” It is sponsored by Sens. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, and Janet Howell, D-Reston.
  • SJ 231, another constitutional amendment, would create an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each census. It is sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats.
  • SB 846, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would require Virginia to use an independent commission if a court declares a legislative or congressional district unlawful or unconstitutional.

All of those measures have been assigned to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, the House graveyard for its own bills that would have changed redistricting.

Republicans divided on redistricting reform

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Redistricting reform has Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly divided.

Three redistricting reform proposals that passed the Senate are scheduled to come before the House Elections Subcommittee on Tuesday morning. The measures – SJ 290, SJ 231 and SB 846– gained bipartisan support and passed the Senate with overwhelming majorities last week.

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, who is running for lieutenant governor, co-sponsored SJ 290, a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit electoral districts from being drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or individual. She held a press conference Monday with OneVirginia2021, a non-profit organization that advocates for nonpartisan redistricting.

Vogel said the biggest obstacle to redistricting reform has been lack of public information.

“Once folks truly start to appreciate that perhaps it isn’t them who are selecting their legislators but in fact the legislators who are selecting them, that actually really makes people stop and take a second look,” Vogel said.

Vogel herself represents seven different localities, including slivers of Culpeper County and Stafford County that were added to her district as a result of the 2011 redistricting. She says gerrymandering undermines the ability of legislators to serve their constituents.

“That was deliberately drawn that way, and that doesn’t mean that I’m less engaged, but certainly it dilutes my ability to have an impact,” Vogel said.

District lines in Virginia are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census and are constitutionally required to be composed of “contiguous and compact territory” and to represent the population of the district. Critics of the system have argued that the process is used for political gain and has been corrupted by partisanship.

“Gerrymandering is simply rigging the outcome of an election before the very first vote is cast. Rather than stuffing the ballot box, incumbents are stuffing their districts,” said Chuck McPhillips, a Republican lawyer and Tidewater regional co-chairman of OneVirginia2021.

So far this session, the House has defeated eight redistricting reform bills, most of which were proposed by Democrats. The debate over redistricting comes just a week after the House Privileges and Elections Committee was booed by the audience for refusing to reconsider five redistricting proposals that one of its subcommittees had killed.

“The House has taken a much more aggressive posture than the Senate has vis-a-vis their willingness to entertain these bills, and in my view, I think a fair and open hearing is critical,” Vogel said.

SJ 231, proposed by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, would establish a seven-member bipartisan commission composed of both party leaders and independent public officials to redraw congressional and General Assembly district boundaries after each decennial census. SB 846, which was proposed by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would establish an Interim Redistricting Commission to assume control of redistricting if any state or federal court declared the districts drawn by lawmakers to be unconstitutional.

At least one member of the Elections Subcommittee said he is skeptical about having a special commission redraw political lines.

“I don’t think it is wise to hand over constitutional obligations and duties of elected people to unelected people,” said Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Glenn Allen.

Two of the bills before the House are constitutional amendments, and if passed would alter Article 2 Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution. The executive director of OneVirginia2021, Brian Cannon, criticized House Republicans for assigning these bills to the Elections Subcommittee instead of the Constitutional Subcommittee. He believes the proposed amendments would have a better chance of passing in the Constitutional Subcommittee.

“They’re very deliberate about exactly what they’re doing here,” Cannon said.

Chris West, policy communications director for House Speaker William Howell, said the constitutional amendments were moved to the Elections Subcommittee to “show the wide support that the Republican caucus has against redistricting reform.”

Bill would outlaw female circumcision

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The General Assembly is considering a bill that would make the practice of female genital mutilation a misdemeanor – but that penalty is much less than the sponsors originally intended.

The bill, which has cleared the Senate and is now in the House, would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to perform any circumcision or infibulation of the labia majora, labia minora or clitoris of a minor – or for parents or legal guardians to consent to the procedure for a girl. A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

When the legislation was introduced, it proposed making it a Class 2 felony for parents or guardians to allow a minor to undergo female genital mutilation, or FGM, which is practiced in certain cultures in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Someone who performed the procedure would have faced at least five years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

At the beginning of the legislative session, two bills in the Senate called for the criminalization of FGM: SB 1060introduced by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun County, and SB 1241,by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico County, who is also an obstetrician.

During the committee process, the two bills were merged and went forward as SB 1060. While in committee, the proposed penalties were changed to misdemeanors. And that is how the bill read when it was passed unanimously by the Senate on Feb. 2. The legislation is now being considered by the House Courts of Justice Committee.

No law in Virginia specifically bans the practice of FGM. The offense falls in the category of malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding, both of which are felony offenses.

FGM is common in such countries as Somalia, Egypt, Mali and Nigeria, as well as in parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is also common in some immigrant communities in North America, Europe and Australia.

A common misconception about FGM is that it is practiced by only Muslims. In fact, experts say, the practice is not specific to any religion and is rooted in culture and tradition. According to Human Rights Watch, FGM is practiced by some members of the Islamic, Christian and Jewish faiths.

Under the legislation sponsored by Black and Dunnavant, people charged with practicing or allowing FGM could not claim as a defense that it was “required as a matter of custom, ritual, or religious practice” or that the minor had consented.

Largely because it is home to people from other countries, Virginia is listedas one of the states where women and girls are at the highest risk of being victims of FGM.

FGM has been a crime under federal law since 1996. In 2013, President Obama signed the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act, which outlawed “vacation cutting” – sending a minor abroad to undergo the procedure.

According to the AHA Foundation, which works to oppose violence against girls and women, 24 stateshave laws criminalizing FMG. They include Maryland, Tennessee and Delaware.

In 2016, a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 513,000 females were at risk of, or have experienced, FGM. About 169,000 of those individuals were minors.

In January, Black released a statement calling FGM “barbaric.”

“This physical torture of little girls is a violation of the rights of children,” he said.

Snakehead infiltrates Virginia waters and legislation

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Lurking in the depths of the Potomac River is a wriggly monster that can grow to four feet long. With its sharp teeth, the snakehead devours other fish, and biologists fear it could spread across the country. It may not be the second coming of “Jaws,” but Virginia officials view the invasive species as a possible threat.

To keep the snakehead in check, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, has introduced a bill to increase the penalty for people who introduce the non-native fish into state waters.

Currently, the law only prohibits bringing snakeheads into Virginia; the penalty can be a fine of up to $500. SB 906would make it illegal to take a snakehead that is already in Virginia and introduce it into another body of water. Under the legislation, violators would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Surovell’s bill easily passed the Senate last month and won a unanimous endorsement Wednesday from a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. Now it will go to the full committee and then the House of Delegates.

Surovell said the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries came to him last fall and told him that people were trying to move snakeheads around the commonwealth. VDGIF officials believed the threat of jail time would be a stronger deterrent than a fine.

John Odenkirk, a marine biologist who has studied the effects of the snakehead fish on the Potomac, agrees.

“We convicted someone three years ago, but that was a Class 3 misdemeanor, which was only a $50 fine,” said Odenkirk, who works for the VDGIF.

The snakehead, which is native to Eastern Asia, was first discovered in the U.S. in 1977. In 2004, the species was found in the Potomac River, where it spread to Maryland and Virginia.

Surovell said that so far, the species has not had a negative impact on the Potomac’s ecosystem. They have been feeding mostly on bluegill fish. Raptors, like hawks and eagles, have started hunting snakehead fish for food, coexisting with the invasive species.

“I think snakeheads are a much-maligned fish,” Surovell said. “They’ve got kind of a bad reputation when they first showed up, but they taste pretty good.”

Odenkirk said it’s too soon to determine if the species is benign or a threat to the ecosystem.

“There’s still a big unknown. We are down this road a little ways, but we still have a ways to go,” Odenkirk said. “They are coming into equilibrium, which often happens with a new species. We are hoping they run their course, but we are still not sure. There could be damage to the ecosystem if their numbers increase.”

The main problem, officials said, is people trying to introduce the snakehead into other areas of the state. Many people enjoy fishing for snakeheads because they require different lures and are trickier to catch.

While the species may be able to coexist in a large and busy body of water like the Potomac River, experts worry that it could do a great deal of damage in a smaller river or lake.

“The concern is that snakeheads have been completely untested in much smaller environments,” Surovell said. “So if you put one of these things in Smith Mountain Lake, it has an entirely different (effect) than it does in the Potomac.”

According to a fact sheet by USGS, snakeheads can threaten an ecosystem by eating up the fish population or becoming a direct competitor for food. Additionally, snakeheads can carry parasites and diseases that could kill local species.

Another invasive species that could threaten Virginia waters is the zebra mussel, which is banned under existing law.

According to VDGIF, the zebra mussel is native to Eastern Europe and first appeared in the United States in 1988. It wasn’t until 2002 that the mussels invaded Virginia waters. Odenkirk was the first person to verify that zebra mussels had infested the Millbrook Quarry in Prince William County, where people go scuba diving.

The problem was caught soon enough that zebra mussels were eradicated from the area. It was suspected that the mussels were placed there purposely to make the water clearer for better diving conditions. Odenkirk believes this because there would have been no natural way for the mussels to have gotten into the quarry. The evidence was only circumstantial, and no one was ever convicted.

The zebra mussel is harmful to ecosystems because it filters out microorganisms that smaller fish eat and can cover hard surfaces, including endangered freshwater mussels. Zebra mussels also cling to pipes in electric power plants and municipal water systems and destroy boat rudders.

Town seeks state law to putter around in golf carts

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Not everyone is interested in living life in the fast lane. For some residents of the sleepy town of Jarratt in Southside Virginia, a golf cart is just the right speed. At least it was – until other residents complained to the sheriff.

Now, at the town’s request, state legislators will settle the matter: The House has passed a bill that would allow golf carts on public roadways in Jarratt. HB 2423, sponsored by Del. Roslyn Tyler, a Democrat from Jarratt, passed the House unanimously on Tuesday.

“It seems like a trivial matter, but it is really neat to see a row of golf carts parked at the ballpark on Friday nights where residents have come over to cheer on the local rec league team, or a group of carts parked near the playgrounds and parks with families enjoying play time,” said Kenneth Warf, the mayor of Jarratt.

Whether taking a trip to the playground, visiting a neighbor or running errands, Jarratt residents were using golf carts to cruise around town. At first, that wasn’t a problem. But then other people in Jarratt, which straddles Greensville and Sussex counties, started complaining.

They weren’t trying to ban golf carts; no one in town actually opposes using them, the mayor said. Instead, the concerned citizens wanted to ensure there are rules to protect the safety of cart owners and the public.

Under state law, Jarratt doesn’t have the authority to set such rules. That’s because the town (population 638) doesn’t have a police department. And Virginia law says a town without a police department may not authorize the use of golf carts on its streets.

For law enforcement, Jarratt depends on the sheriff’s offices in Greensville and Sussex counties. The people who complained about golf carts in Jarratt worried about safety when children were driving the vehicles. Others were concerned about golf carts without proper reflective hardware or safety lighting, which made it difficult to see the carts at night, Warf said.

To address the concerns, Greensville County Sheriff Timothy Jarratt (yes, his name is the same as the town’s) attended the Jarratt Town Council meeting on Nov. 8. He reminded residents about the importance of safely operating golf carts and all-terrain vehicles, according to the minutes of the meeting.

After investigating the complaints, Sheriff Jarratt warned residents that law enforcement would begin enforcing the Virginia code that prohibits people from driving golf carts or ATVs on public roadways in Jarratt. Violators would receive a warning for a first offense and a ticket on a second offense, the minutes stated.

The law in Virginia is clear – “No town that has not established its own police department ... may authorize the operation of golf carts or utility vehicles” – but it has a loophole: The law exempts six towns from that provision – Claremont, Clifton, Irvington, Saxis, Urbanna and Wachapreague.

So Jarratt’s mayor, town council and the sheriff asked state legislators to add Jarratt to the list. Tyler, who has represented the 75th House District for more than a decade, obliged by sponsoring the legislation.

If the Senate passes the bill, the state will not be responsible for the costs of legalizing golf carts in Jarratt. The town would have to pay for installing and maintaining the required signs. For Jarratt residents, the costs just might be worth it.

“Life in town moves at a pretty slow pace, and a golf cart is just the right speed to keep up,” Warf said.

Bishops join to pray for unity in the commonwealth

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the General Assembly starts the second half of its 2017 session, Virginia’s two Catholic bishops joined together Thursday to offer an evening prayer for the commonwealth, urging people to treat each other with respect even when they disagree.

On a cold evening, people of all faiths gathered at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for the Virginia Vespers service, which was led by Michael Francis Burbidge, bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, and Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, his counterpart for the Diocese of Richmond.

The evening’s message was unity. Burbridge discussed not only loving thy neighbor but also respecting them.

“No matter how harsh the political climate can get, we are called to recognize the dignity of each other,” Burbridge said.

He said respect includes speaking to each other without “name calling” or “generalizations.” The bishop said one of the most important things that Pope Frances is teaching the world is how to dialogue.

“He’s trying to remind us that it is OK within the church, within politics, to have different opinions,” Burbridge said. “But are we really listening to one another? Do we know how to listen to one another? Do we know how to respect one another? Quite frankly, it’s what our political world is in need of right now.”

That message struck a chord with the audience, which included several state lawmakers and other public officials. This is the second year that the state’s two Catholic dioceses have held the Virginia Vespers, timed with the midpoint of the legislative session.

Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant, R-Midlothian, was one of the legislators in attendance.

“I think it’s doing things like this that help folks come together,” Sturtevant said. “Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, my experience is most people want to find ways where they can compromise. We can always do better to be constructive when we disagree. You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

The evening wasn’t just about state politics. Burbridge also made a reference to President Donald Trump’s ban against admitting refugees as well as visitors and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. Trump has said that the ban is temporary and that it is a necessary step to keep terrorists from entering the United States.

The Arlington bishop quoted Pope Francis as saying, “To change the world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us.”

“The Lord teaches us every man and woman and child, whether they be refugees or immigrants – they all merit our respect,” Burbridge said.

Senate OKs bill to expand concealed handgun permits

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate has approved a bill that would allow members of the military to apply for and receive concealed handgun permits at age 18.

House Bill 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed the Senate by a vote of 24-15 on Wednesday. It originally passed the House of Delegates on a 78-19 vote on Jan. 18.

The bill now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature. McAuliffe has not announced his stance on the legislation. He will review it once the bill reaches his desk, according to Sam Coleman, a press aide.

If signed into law, the bill would allow active-duty members of the military and those with honorable discharges between the ages of 18 and 21 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. Under current Virginia law, no one under the age of 21 is eligible for a permit.

While it is currently illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer, Virginians between the ages of 18 and 21 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill during its discussion on the House floor last month.

“We don’t think it’s smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can’t legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed,” he said when the bill was debated.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed with Simon’s characterization.

“I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom” to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, echoed Lingamfelter’s statements.

“We don’t seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they’re going to go overseas to get shot at,” he said. “So this whole idea that we can’t trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me.”

Campbell also said the bill would increase concealed-handgun permit reciprocity with other states.

Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by “removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia,” thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.

“As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast,” Lingamfelter said.

Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party’s goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.

Simon said he feared that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.

“We’re going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country,” Simon said. “It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator.”

Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials over the past year. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia’s permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.

However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring’s decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced HR 38, otherwise known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, to the 115th Congress.

Hudson’s proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

How they voted:

Here is how the Senate voted Wednesday on HB 1582 (“Concealed handgun permits; age requirement for persons on active military duty”).

Floor: 02/08/17 Senate: Passed Senate (24-Y 15-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Edwards, Hanger, Lewis, Mason, McDougle, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel – 24.

NAYS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McClellan, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 15.

NOT VOTING – Wagner – 1.

Bluegrass program picked as state’s official TV series

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Virginia has square dancing as the state folk dance and milk as the state beverage. Now it may boast “Song of the Mountains” as the state television series. On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill to add the bluegrass concert TV program to Virginia’s official list of emblems and designations.

The measure, approved by the House of Delegates on Jan. 25, now heads to the governor’s desk.

Del. Jeffrey Campbell, who introduced HB 1927, hails from Marion, where “Song of the Mountains” is taped. Nearly every month, country music artists and a live audience converge at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion for bluegrass, old-time and Americana jams.

The concert series is taped live and distributed by PBS to more than 120 public television outlets across the country. The show is on its 13th season and has featured local, national and international guest performers.

The Appalachian Music Heritage Foundation, which owns the rights to “Song of the Mountains,” called the series “a strong attraction for visitors from out of town, an economic engine for Historic Downtown Marion and a significant contributor to downtown Marion’s renaissance – a phenomenon that is the envy of so many small towns throughout Virginia and beyond.”

However, “Song of the Mountains” has faced financial problems in the past. The program was once owned by the Lincoln Theatre, and in 2015, the theater’s board began a restructuring of the show in the face of funding troubles. Tim White, longtime host of “Song of the Mountains,” was fired, leading to an outcry from fans and Marion business owners who expressed fears for the future of the program. Eventually, “Song of the Mountains” was acquired by the Appalachian Music Heritage Foundation, and White was reinstated as host.

“Song of the Mountains” draws tourists to Marion and the Lincoln Theatre every season, but bluegrass aficionados in Virginia say the music genre is not just limited to the southwest region of Virginia.

“You take people like the Seldom Scene, and they were from around Washington, D.C., and they were instrumental in bringing bluegrass a long way,” said Mike Nicely, a bluegrass musician and board member of the Virginia Folk Music Association.

“There’s bluegrass throughout Northern Virginia and D.C., and there’s a lot of roots that come out of that area. I’m not saying it doesn’t come out of Southern Virginia and it doesn’t come out of the mountains, because it does, but it really comes from all over,” Nicely said.

Virginia has two state songs – “Sweet Virginia Breeze” (the official “popular” song) and “Our Great Virginia” (the official “traditional” song). “Song of the Mountains” would be the only representation of bluegrass and country music on the state’s list of “official emblems and designations.”

It would join such symbols of Virginia as the northern cardinal (the state bird) and dogwood (tree) as well as the big-eared bat (Virginia’s official bat), Nelsonite (the state rock) and performances of “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” in Big Stone Gap (the official outdoor drama).

For Nicely, the General Assembly’s designation of “Song of the Mountains” as Virginia’s official television series is part of an upward trend of bluegrass music’s popularity, spurred by the genre’s humble roots.

“A lot of bluegrass music is based on true stories that’ve happened to people over the last couple hundred of years,” Nicely said. “A lot of songs have been written about different things that have happened – tragedies and so on that people have written about. That’s a lot of bluegrass, a lot of storytelling. It’s just an interesting part of history of the nation.”

House Bill 1900 – Hunter’s Fine For Stray Dogs Defeated

House Bill 1900 was a bill that would fine hunters a $100 fee for their dogs straying onto neighboring landowner properties. The legislation was opposed by Rural Legislators and the Hunting Dog Alliance.

Delegate Roslyn Tyler, 75th District House of Delegates Representative, spoke against HB1900 on the General Assembly House Floor wearing a blaze orange hat and vest attire in support of hunter’s rights. With the help of Delegate Tyler, the bill was defeated by 48-47, a party line vote.

Gov. McAuliffe vows to veto anti-LGBT legislation

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe vowed to veto any bill that discriminates against LGBTQ people at a reception hosted Tuesday night by Equality Virginia. McAuliffe has vetoed 71 bills during his two years as governor, none of which have been overturned.

“It’s not about doing the most vetoes of any governor in Virginia history,” McAuliffe said. “We’re stopping people from doing things that discriminate against people’s basic rights.”

The governor said he had slated another 35 bills for veto this session.

“They’ve slipped a few bills through, but they’re not going to slip through the governor’s office. I’m going to veto them,” said McAuliffe, a Democrat in the final year of his term.

Democrats criticized Republicans for approving SB 1324, which passed the Senate on a 21-19 party-line vote Tuesday.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson. Supporters describe it as a religious freedom bill, saying it would protect people and organizations that oppose same-sex marriages. However, Democrats say the measure would give people and organizations the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has absolutely no place in the commonwealth, and I am disappointed that a Republican-majority in the Senate approved SB 1324 today,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year.

“I recently took a seven-city tour across the commonwealth that ended in Salem, where I was proud to welcome the NCAA soccer tournament. That championship was relocated from North Carolina, as was the NBA All-Star game and major businesses. To be economically competitive, we have to be open and welcoming to all. I will continue to advocate for equality for all.”

Clay Xix attended the Equality Virginia reception as a representative of Access AIDS Care and the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads. Earlier during Equality Virginia’s annual Day of Action, Xix tried to persuade legislators to oppose SB 1324 and a companion bill, HB 2025, sponsored by Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper.

“It’s our people who have been constantly discriminated against time and again – barred access to jobs, one wrong hand motion in an interview and you’re out, one ‘hey, girl, hey’ in the office and you’re fired. I mean, this is what we live with,” Xix said.

Twenty-seven members of the Virginia General Assembly attended the reception, including Del. Mark Levine, D-Fairfax, whose bill prohibiting LGBT discrimination in public employment, public accommodations and housing (HB 2129) was recently defeated in the House. This was the second year in a row Levine has proposed the legislation, and he says it won’t be the last.

“I think it’s really important for the people I represent to know I’m out there fighting even when it’s not going to succeed, because if you give up before you try, you never succeed,” Levine said.

As one of two openly gay men in the Virginia House of Delegates, Levine said such bills are important even when they fail because they can change the way LGBT people are thought of and treated.

“It’s not just about the rare lawsuit,” Levine said. “It’s about having people be confident enough that if they do choose to come out, they’re not going to be kicked out in the street, they’re not going to lose their employment, they’re not going to lose their job.”

Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the other openly gay Virginia delegate, also proposed pro-LGBT legislation this session that was defeated in committee. HB 1395would have repealed the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions in the Code of Virginia, and given the public the opportunity to vote on same-sex marriage in 2018.

Even though the laws Sickles is trying to repeal are no longer valid after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, his bill was defeated by the House Courts of Justice Committee.

“The only way we’re going to get fair treatment, gay and lesbian people, is to let the people speak out. And it’s not going to be through this gerrymandering system that we have here. The system is rigged – it truly is,” Sickles said.

Live or recorded in Richmond, it’s ‘On the Lege’

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – There is nothing more entertaining than politicians being snarky to one another, save for maybe a YouTube video of a sneezing panda. Now you too can watch the drama and eye rolls as they happen at Capitol Square.

All committee meetings and floor sessions at the General Assembly are open to the public. However, you don’t have to be in Richmond to watch what is going on. Thanks to the internet, you can view legislative deliberations and debates online.

The Senate of Virginia and Virginia House of Delegates each offer a daily live-stream of their floor sessions, which usually begin at noon. They have been doing that for about a decade. What’s new is that both chambers now are archiving the videos so you can watch the recordings if you miss the live shows.

You can find the links to the House and Senate floor-session videos by going to the General Assembly’s website – http://virginiageneralassembly.gov– and clicking on “Members and Session.”

Since January, for the first time in Virginia, committee meetings also can be viewed online, thanks to the nonprofit group Progress Virginia. It has launched a video service called Eyes on Richmond (eyesonrichmond.org).

On that webpage is a calendar listing the House and Senate committee meetings scheduled on any given day. Eyes on Richmond can broadcast four different live-streams simultaneously. The calendar shows which committee meetings will be on each stream.

The project’s home page displays the live or most recent broadcast on each of the four stream. Archives of all the committee meetings that the project has recorded are available on the service Ustream(ustream.tv).

Alan Gibbs, an intern with Progress Virginia, has been recording legislative committee meetings since Jan. 9 – the week the General Assembly convened.

“When it first started, it was dicey. People were uncomfortable, because they hadn’t been filmed before,” said Gibbs, a political science major at Virginia Commonwealth University. “After the first week, it was normal.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said transparency has always been a priority for the group. She believes legislators are likely to act differently when they know they are being recorded.

Scholl said tens of thousands people have watched the Eyes on Richmond streams, but to her organization, it’s not about numbers. “I think we are always hoping to increase it, but for us to even have five people watching is worth it,” Scholl said.

Republican leaders in the House said transparency is what motivated them to create an online archive of their daily floor sessions this year. The Senate followed suit at the urging of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who had been advocating for such a system for nine years.

“Sometimes things take a long time to get updated around here, but I’m glad we finally got this through,” Petersen said. “Having the video online is all about transparency. Not everyone can come down to Richmond to watch the Senate floor. And not everyone can watch us live. With the online video archive, constituents can hold us accountable, and we can share what’s happening in Richmond with the people back in our districts.”

Before this year, if citizens, journalists or legislators wanted a recording of what had happened on the House or Senate floor, they had to buy a DVD from each chamber for $12 – and it contained the video for just one day. For a 60-day session, it cost more than $1,400 to have videos of every floor session.

For years, Waldo Jaquith, who established the website RichmondSunlight.com, purchased the General Assembly’s DVDs and uploaded them for the public to view. Jaquith tweeted about his relief after the House and Senate decided to archive the videos of their floor sessions.

“It took me nine years, but I am done buying Virginia legislative DVDs,” Jaquith wroteon Twitter. “I’m chalking this up as complete victory.”

Advocates applaud governor’s vow to veto anti-’sanctuary’ bills

 

By Rodrigo Arriaza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Advocates for undocumented immigrants are praising Gov. Terry McAuliffe after his promise to veto Republican-backed legislation prohibiting local governments from becoming “sanctuary cities.”

Progress Virginia and New Virginia Majority, which advocate for the rights of undocumented immigrants, criticized bills passed by the House and Senate on party-line votes this week. The bills state that localities must not restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws and must cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The governor’s spokesman, Brian Coy, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that McAuliffe would veto any measure forcing localities to enforce federal immigration laws. Coy said the governor views the bills as “attempts to divide and demonize people.”

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, praised that statement.

“In the face of attempts from D.C. to divide our communities, it’s more important than ever that we celebrate diversity and remain open and welcoming to immigrants,” Nguyen said.

“People come to America from around the world to seek a better life and flee war, persecution, poverty and so much more. Thank you to Gov. McAuliffe for standing up for every Virginian and pledging to veto these outrageous attacks.”

McAuliffe vowed to veto two immigration-related bills:

  • HB 2000, sponsored by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would prohibit any city in the state from declaring itself as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary cities like New York City, Chicago and San Francisco have promised not to cooperate with ICE in detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants. The House passed the bill, 66-33, on Tuesday.
  • SB 1262, sponsored by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, would make a sanctuary city liable for “tortious injury to persons or property caused by an illegal alien within such locality.” The Senate approved the measure, 21-19, on Monday.

In defense of his bill, Black said that he believes sanctuary policies serve as a “shield” for undocumented criminals.

“Under this bill, if you have a jurisdiction that’s deliberately gone out to harbor whatever murderers, robbers, drunk drivers – people who are subject to deportation by federal immigration law, and they set up a shield for them to avoid federal law – then the victims who suffer from that policy will have the opportunity to be reimbursed by that locality,” Black said.

Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw of Fairfax County disputed Black’s statement.

“The reference that all these counties are harboring all these murderers and armed robbers and rapists and the variety – implying that basically that’s what undocumented people are – to put it mildly is sheer nonsense,” Saslaw said.

Black said the intent of his bill is to make sure federal laws are being enforced.

“What it does is, it prevents the situation that is becoming increasingly common throughout the country, where you have localities that say, ‘We don’t care what the federal law says, we don’t like federal immigration law, and we invite people to come here and we’re going to shield you from legal process,’” Black said.

The governor’s statement to veto such legislation comes days after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, former secretary of the commonwealth under McAuliffe, signed a directive affirming that the Richmond Police Department will not consent to participate with ICE and will not ask suspects and detainees about their immigration status.

“In our interactions as representatives of our city, all employees will focus on the needs and safety of our residents, not on their legal status, and will advocate and promote their wellbeing,” Stoney said in his mayoral directive.

Anna Scholl, executive director for Progress Virginia, said McAuliffe’s promise to veto the anti-sanctuary legislation shows that Virginia will not follow in the footsteps of anti-immigrant policies being put in place by the Trump administration.

“While politicians in D.C. try to slam the door shut on immigrants and refugees, Gov. McAuliffe is clearly standing up to say, ‘You are welcome here,’” Scholl said. “We applaud the governor for rejecting divisive proposals born out of fear that would close our doors to friends and neighbors.”

Democrat Jeff Bourne is elected to Virginia House

 

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

 

 

 RICHMOND – Jeff Bourne, a member of the Richmond School Board, easily won a special election Tuesday for the Virginia House of Delegates. Bourne, the Democratic nominee in the race, will represent the 71st House District, which includes parts of Richmond and Henrico County.

 

 

With all precincts reporting, Bourne received 3,708 votes, almost 90 percent of the ballots cast. The second-place candidate, Libertarian John W. Barclay, got about 7 percent. Regie Ford, an independent candidate, received about 3 percent.

 

 

Bourne fill the seat vacated by a fellow Democrat, Jennifer McClellan, who was elected to the state Senate last month.

 

 

At an election party at Southern Kitchen in Shockoe Bottom, Bourne thanked God. He also thanked Attorney General Mark Herring, among others, for their support, and he expressed gratitude to his wife and children.

 

 

Bourne said his children inspired him to run. He said his goal is to help children who don’t have the same parental engagement his children are lucky enough to have.

 

 

“It is incumbent on us as public servants and as leaders of our community to make sure that they have every opportunity to succeed,” Bourne said. “And so that’s what’s going to be my focus – public education and finding common-sense solutions.”

 

 

As a member of the Richmond School Board for the past five years, Bourne campaigned on a promise of supporting education.

 

 

“It really is a way to address some of the most systemic issues,” Bourne said. “We have some of the most significantly concentrated poverty in our city, and education could help break that up.”

 

 

House Democratic Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville congratulated Bourne on his win. Bourne will be decidedly in the minority in the House of Delegates: Republicans hold 66 seats; Democrats, 34.

 

 

“Republicans this session killed Democratic bills that would have raised the minimum wage, established paid family leave and helped borrowers refinance student loan debt. Meanwhile, the Republican Caucus focused its efforts on divisive social issues that target women and other marginalized populations,” Toscano said. “Jeff’s voice will provide a much-needed breath of fresh air, and I look forward to working with him as he joins us for the remainder of the session.”

 

 

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, also congratulated Bourne.

 

 

“Jeff is a respected community leader who has honorably served as a deputy attorney general and as a member of the Richmond School Board,” Del. Herring said. “He is committed to expanding economic opportunity for all Virginians, and his service to Richmond’s public schools is testament to that commitment. I congratulate Jeff on his win, and I look forward to working alongside him in the House.”

 

 

Bourne will serve the remainder of McClellan’s term, until January 2018. The seat will be up for election again in November.

 

 

The 71st House District stretches from Bryan Park, Scott’s Addition, the Fan and the Virginia Commonwealth University campus on the west, to Church Hill, Fulton Hill, Richmond’s East End and the Ratcliffe area of Henrico County.

Environmentally minded businesses may get tax breaks

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Businesses that operate in energy-efficient buildings or make products that benefit the environment could receive tax incentives under a bill headed toward approval in the General Assembly.

The House has already passed HB 1565, and the Senate Finance Committee unanimously endorsed the measure on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier, said it was requested by economic development officials in his district to attract green businesses.

“The bill would authorize local governing bodies to create by ordinance one or more green development zones inside which localities would be permitted to grant tax incentives and provide certain regulatory flexibility to attract green businesses,” Webert said.

A “green development business” would be defined as a business “engaged primarily in the design, development or production of materials, components or equipment used to reduce negative impact on the environment.”

As incentives, local governments could offer such businesses a reduction in permit fees, user fees and gross receipts taxes.

In addition, localities would be authorized to provide regulatory flexibility within a green development zone. That could mean special zoning, faster permit processing and exemption from certain ordinances. Localities could offer these incentives for up to 10 years.

The bill would expand on Virginia’s existing Enterprise Zone Grant Program. That program allows localities to apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Community Development for an enterprise zone designation that also offers tax and regulatory incentives.

Webert’s bill would apply the same ideas to green development zones. Under the program, as the value of real estate, machinery and tools within a zone increases, a percentage of the rising tax revenues would be used for grants aimed at attracting businesses or enhancing governmental services within the zone.

The legislation is part of a “green agenda” that Republican legislators touted at a news conference last week.

“The word ‘conservation’ and the word ‘conservative’ comes from the same piece of Latin,” said Del. J. Randall Minchew, R-Loudoun. “No conservative should ever be disappointed to call themselves a conservationist.”

Pet lifetime license bill passes in General Assembly

Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill allowing local governments to provide lifetime licenses for cats and dogs has been approved unanimously by the General Assembly.

House Bill 1477, by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline County, would add the lifetime licensing provision to existing state law on dog and cat licenses.

The Senate approved the bill 40-0 on Tuesday, after a nearly identical version cleared the House of Delegates on a 98-0 vote on Jan. 30. The two chambers still must work out minor differences before the legislation can go to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law.

The lifetime license would be valid if the animal’s owner resides in the locality and keeps up the animal’s rabies vaccinations. The bill also states that local ordinances can require an animal to have an identifying microchip.

The bill would remove the minimum annual tax for a dog or cat, making it no more than $10 each year or a maximum tax of $50 for a lifetime license.

In addition, if an animal’s tag is lost, destroyed or stolen, the legislation sets a $1 fee for getting a duplicate tag. To get another tag for the animal, an owner must apply to the treasurer or agent who issued the original license and show the original license receipt. With an affidavit from the owner, the treasurer can then issue another license tag that the owner must immediately put on the animal’s collar.

The time for an owner to pay the required license tax would be changed from before Feb. 1 for the year to within one month after the due date. If the owner fails to pay, the court can order confiscation and disposition of the animal.

Owners must start paying the tax no later than 30 days after their animal has aged four months, or no later than 30 days after they adopt an animal 4 months old or older. The tax is then paid each year during the animal’s life.

Owners with trained guide dogs or service dogs that serve disabled people continue to be exempt from paying the license tax.

Local ordinances may establish different tax amounts for owners with spayed or neutered dogs or cats versus animals that aren’t spayed or neutered. With the amendment, ordinances can’t tax more than $10 a year on either.

House amends description of ‘dangerous dog’

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House has unanimously approved a bill to change the description of a “dangerous dog” in a way that could put fewer animals on a state registry.

Del. Matthew Farris, R-Rustburg, wants to give a dog the benefit of the doubt if it bites a person or another animal. So he introduced HB 2381, which would give animal control officers the option of determining whether a dog should be considered dangerous just because it inflicts a nip, scratch or minor injury on someone, or on another pet.

The House voted 97-0 on Monday to approve the legislation. It now goes to the Senate.

Current law requires the animal control officer to summon the offending dog’s owner to appear in General District Court to explain why his or her animal should not be considered dangerous.

If a court finds a dog is dangerous, the bill would give its owner 30 days to obtain a dangerous-dog certificate, which carries a $150 fee and places the animal on a state registry. Current law allows the owner a 45-day wait.

When HB 2381 was heard by the House Agriculture subcommittee last week, Virginia Newsome, a Loudoun County animal control officer, said that she and a group of fellow officers support the bill because they see minor accidents frequently with non-dangerous dogs.

“The intent of this bill was never for animal control officers to have to go out and get summons for every dog that bites,” said Newsome, who represented the Virginia Animal Control Association.

“There are certainly injuries that occur when you’re playing with your puppy,” she said.

“You can accidentally get bit by your puppy; that doesn’t make it a dangerous animal. We want to be able to give officers that discretion to look at the entire totality of each individual situation. There are certainly animals out there that do bite, and are dangerous. Those types of situations do deserve to go in front of a court and have a judge make a decision,” Newsome said.

“There are a lot of animals in a lot of situations that are simply just accidents. This bill will give us the ability to have clarification, for the officers and the courts. I also think it gives a much better relationship between animal control officers and the public and to be able to teach the public what the actual criteria is for a dog bite.”

Bill seeks to ban outdoor smoking at performances

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians may have to put out their cigarettes before entering an outdoor performance because of a bill that emerged from the state Senate on a tiebreaker vote Tuesday.

Senate Bill 938would allow local governments to designate nonsmoking areas in an outdoor amphitheater or concert venue. It cleared the Senate on the last day bills could be approved in the chamber where they originated.

The bill, proposed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, met opposition and split the Senate, 20-20. Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican from Augusta County, joined the 19 Democrats in voting for the legislation. The other 20 Republican senators voted against it.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician, then cast the deciding vote to pass the bill.

Edwards said he introduced the legislation on behalf of Roanoke city officials who received complaints from parents about people smoking near children in Roanoke’s outdoor amphitheater, Elmwood Park.

The bill originally would have applied to any outdoor public area, including parks and greenways. But the Senate Local Government Committee amended it last week to restrict its reach to outdoor amphitheaters or venues owned by local governments.

Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, spoke against the bill, saying it would open the door for more anti-smoking laws.

“It’s just going to have a rolling effect if we allow this to happen,” Cosgrove said.

Any person violating the proposed law would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $25. It would go into the Virginia Health Care Fund, which assists the state’s uninsured and medically underserved residents.

“The American Lung Association in Virginia is pleased that the Senate has voted to take the first step in protecting the public’s health from tobacco smoke,” said Deborah P. Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

According to State of Tobacco Control, a report issued by the association, $3.1 billion is spent annually on health care costs associated with tobacco use in Virginia.

Edwards’ legislation does not apply to vapes or electronic cigarettes. The Code of Virginia defines “smoke” and “smoking” by “carrying or holding of any lighted pipe, cigar, or cigarette of any kind, or any other lighted smoking equipment.”

The bill will now be considered by the House of Delegates.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate votedTuesday on SB 938 (“Smoking in outdoor public place; locality regulation”).

Floor: 02/07/17 Senate: Passed Senate (20-Y 20-N)

YEAS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 20.

NAYS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner – 20.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yea

After wrongful imprisonment, man will get $1.6 million

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Keith Allen Harward, who served 33 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, will receive nearly $1.6 million from the commonwealth of Virginia under a bill approved Monday by the House of Delegates.

Harward was convicted of a 1982 rape and murder in Newport News. He was released from prison last year after DNA testing proved he was innocent. The House unanimously passed HB 1650 to provide relief to Harward, now 60.

The bill notes that because of his wrongful conviction, Harward “suffers from numerous painful physical injuries, systemic health conditions, and severe mental anguish and emotional distress and has lost countless opportunities, including the opportunity to marry and have children” and that he “is an impoverished man, with no job skills or career prospects and no savings or accumulated pension benefits, and does not qualify for social security benefits.”

Under the legislation, Harward will receive an initial lump sum of $309,688, and then he will get $1,238,751 to purchase an annuity. In exchange, Harward must release the state from any “present or future claims.”

The legislation, sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, also provides Harward up to $10,000 for tuition for career and technical training from the Virginia Community College System.

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed a companion bill, SB 1479, which the same provisions. The House and Senate still must pass each other’s bills before the legislation can be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature.

Harward was convicted of a rape and murder that occurred on Sept. 14, 1982. According to trial summaries, the rape victim was awakened around 2 a.m., by a loud thumping sound as her husband was being beaten by a man.

The woman was thrown out of bed and repeatedly sexually assaulted as her husband lay dying. Her assailant held a diaper over her head and threatened to harm her children if she did not cooperate.

The assailant also bit the woman’s legs. The attack came to be called the “bite-mark case” in light of testimony that Harward’s teeth matched the marks. In 1986, Harward was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Harward had always maintained his innocence.

In late 2015 and early 2016, DNA testing by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science failed to find Harward’s genetic profile in sperm left by the assailant. Instead, the testing implicated Jerry Crotty, a shipmate of Harward’s on the USS Carl Vinson at the time of the attack.

Crotty died in prison in Ohio in 2006. He was being held for attempted burglary, abduction and other charges. Attorney General Mark Herring said the new evidence showed that Harward was not guilty of the crimes that had kept him in prison, and the Virginia Supreme Court agreed.

On April 8, 2016, Harward was released from prison as a free man.

In 1983, Harward was initially convicted of capital murder, robbery, sodomy and rape. In 1985, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that, under state law, he could not be tried for capital murder in the commission of a rape because the murder victim was not the rape victim. Harward was tried again in 1986, convicted of first-degree murder and again sentenced to life.

The rape victim told police that the man was wearing a sailor’s uniform. A dentist reviewed the dental records of Marines stationed to the USS Carl Vinson at the time and initially excluded Harward.

However, he became a suspect six months later when his then-girlfriend, Gladys Bates, reported to police that Harward had bitten her in an altercation. Harward later admitted biting her on the hand and shoulder during the dispute.

Police had the 1982 rape victim attend court when Harward was there for the unrelated case involving Bates to see if she could identify him. The victim could not identify Harward as her attacker then or later during his trial.

According to HB 1560, a shipyard security guard was the only individual to identify Harward at trial. Two forensic odontologists testified that Harward’s teeth matched those of the bites on the woman.

The Virginia Court of Appeals dismissed Harward’s appeal in 1988, “finding the circumstantial evidence sufficient.”

Harward is at least the 25th person to have been wrongfully convicted or indicted based at least in part on bite mark evidence, according to the Innocence Project.

“Despite the fact that for decades courts have permitted forensic dentists to testify in criminal trials, there is a complete lack of scientific support for claims that a suspect can be identified from an injury on a victim’s skin,” the Innocent Project’s websitestates.

Pink is the new orange for female hunters

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia legislators are making a fashion statement for female hunters: Blaze pink is the new orange.

The House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill allowing hunters to wear blaze pink instead of blaze orange hunting apparel.

“Blaze pink is proven to be more visible then blaze orange,” said Del. James Edmunds, R-South Boston. He sponsored HB 1939, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Many female hunters and stores that cater to them already have been considering pink as a camo option. It’s all part of an effort to give women a choice of colors to wear out in the field. Retailers have begun marketing pink hoodies, hats, vests, T-shirts and other clothing for hunters.

For safety reasons, Virginia requires hunters to wear blaze orange during deer hunting season – so they’ll stand out and not get shot by another hunter accidentally.

Edmund’s legislation expands the color palette. It states:

“Every hunter and every person accompanying a hunter shall (i) wear a blaze orange or blaze pink hat ... or blaze orange or blaze pink upper body clothing, that is visible from 360 degrees or (ii) display at least 100 square inches of solid blaze orange or blaze pink material at shoulder level within body reach visible from 360 degrees.”

Virginia is not the only state offering blaze pink as a substitute for blaze orange for hunters. Wisconsin was the first, and since then, New York, Colorado and Louisiana have followed suit.

Some believe the color option will draw more women to hunting. About 13,000 women currently are registered to hunt in Virginia.

“It would be a good thing for women to wear the colors of camo they want, and not be stuck with a male pattern,” said Richard Hill, who works at the Bob Moates Sports Shop in Chesterfield.

One vote defeats bill to fine trespassing dogs’ owners

By Julie Rothey, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to impose fines on hunters whose dogs entered private property was killed on the House floor by a one-vote margin Monday.

HB 1900, introduced by House Speaker William Howell, R-Fredericksburg, would have fined hunters up to $100 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second offense if their dogs trespassed on private property.

For the fines to apply, landowners would have to either post signs to keep dogs out or inform the hunter in writing to keep dogs off their property.

“I feel this bill would unproportionally punish people for the actions of a few,” said Del. Thomas C Wright Jr., R-Lunenburg, during a floor debate. He said the bill would hurt local economies and impede the culture of Virginia.

Del. James P Massie, R-Henrico, said the bill would protect private property.

“Presently, landowners all over Virginia have no recourse to protect themselves when the dogs’ running unduly burdens the owner’s use of the property,” Massie said.

The bill failed on a 48-47 vote on its third reading on the House floor. Approval would have sent it to the state Senate, where a dog-related hunting bill died in committee last week.

During the debate, the bill’s opponents raised concerns over the effect of the law on pets and the potential for civil unrest.

The bill was amended on the floor so it would not apply to localities west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where deer hunting with dogs is already illegal. However, hunters can hunt other game with hounds.

“If this is a property rights bill, then why does it not apply to the west of the Blue Ridge?” Wright asked. “It’s more and more being described as a bill against hunters who happen to hunt deer with hounds.”

Rob Nicholson, a Virginia Beach landowner who supported the bill, said he couldn’t bring his dogs to his farm during rifle-hunting season and was worried about his 18-month-old daughter because “every single day, the dogs ran through my farm.” Nicholson hunts on his property without using dogs.

“Why in the world would someone say we’re trying to take away your ability to hunt when we’re just saying, ‘Please keep your dogs off our property’?” Nicholson asked.

Kirby Burch, CEO of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, defended the current law’s provision allowing hunters the right to retrieve a dog that has crossed a property line.

If a hunting dog strays onto another person’s property, the hunter has the “right to retrieve” the animal, even if the hunter has been previously asked not to trespass.

“The right to retrieve law is an unconstitutional law,” said Donald Wright, a landowner and hunter in the Virgilina community in Halifax County. Wright, who supported the bill, said it would have restored his property rights.

Under the current law, which will remain in effect, it’s a misdemeanor to intentionally release dogs on another person’s land to hunt without the consent of the landowner. However, if a dog is found on another’s property, there usually is not enough evidence to prove the intentional release of that dog.

Audience boos as panel rebuffs redistricting advocates

Megan Corsano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Dozens of people jeered Republicans on a House committee Friday after they declined to revive legislation aimed at changing the way political districts are drawn in Virginia.

More than 100 people gathered for the meeting of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Some of them yelled “Cowards!” and “Shame on you!” after the panel refused a request by Democrats to reconsider five redistricting proposals that a subcommittee had killed earlier in the week.

During the Friday morning meeting, the committee blew through its agenda and did not take up the proposed constitutional amendments addressing redistricting. Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, tried to be recognized by the panel’s chairman, Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, so he could ask for a vote on the amendments. Sickles turned on the light at his seat but was ignored by the rest of the committee.

“I don’t know why they’re afraid to vote on this,” Sickles said. “If you don’t think it’s a good idea, vote no. That’s what we do – vote yes or no. But to prevent the committee with jurisdiction over this very important issue not even to vote at all is shameful.”

Democrats sponsored four of the proposed constitutional amendments. Most of them would have created an independent commission to redraw political lines instead of letting the General Assembly do it.

A Republican, Del. Steve Landes of Augusta County, also offered a proposal – House Joint Resolution 763. It would have prohibited “any electoral district from being drawn in order to favor or disfavor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress or other individual entity,” a practice known as gerrymandering. Landes’ resolution did not include the creation of a redistricting commission.

HJ 763 had the support of One Virginia 2021, a nonpartisan organization “advocating for fair redistricting of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Members of the organization packed the meeting room in the hope of getting committee members to take up the resolution.

The meeting lasted about 20 minutes. As legislators left the room, members of the audience bellowed “Boo” and “Do the right thing.”

“People are responding to this issue because it’s so important,” Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, said afterward. “It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue; this is a power issue.”

Cannon called the committee’s decision to not even vote on the resolution “unfortunate.”

“They’re afraid to have the discussion,”he said.

On Monday, the Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee killed the five redistricting proposals in a 4-3 block vote.

Del. Randy Minchew, R-Leesburg, who chairs the subcommittee, said the panel had no choice as it considered 28 amendments to the Virginia Constitution.

“On Jan. 30, we deliberated on these 28 resolutions and made our recommendations to the full committee,” Minchew said. “In accordance with the chairman’s request, our subcommittee was asked to limit our reported bills for recommendation to not more than three. We honored this request and reported three bills.”

As a result, the other 25 proposed amendments were then placed in a single block and killed simultaneously.

Supporters of the redistricting amendments had hoped the full committee would resurrect at least one of the redistricting-related measures.

Sickles was disappointed that the committee did not bring the proposals up for a vote.

“This issue has overwhelming support everywhere,” Sickles said. “It’s seeping deeper into the public psyche that this is our problem, this is the root of our problem in politics. We want to come down here and compromise. We don’t want to win all the time. We want to debate issues and stand up and vote one way or the other.”

Cannon said Landes’ constitutional amendment “represents the core component of redistricting reform.”

“It is simple: if you think politicians should be able to carve out their political opponents, then you are for gerrymandering and the elimination of competition in our elections,” he said.

Bill would require proof of citizenship to register to vote

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – To register to vote, Virginians would have to prove their citizenship by showing a copy of their birth certificate or their passport, under a bill approved by the House of Delegates on a party-line vote.

“I would’ve made it a requirement for any election,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Del. Mark Cole of Fredericksburg. “However, there’s a federal ruling that says you cannot require proof of citizenship, which really makes no sense to me.”

HB 1598 would require people to provide proof of U.S. citizenship when they register to vote in Virginia beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Applicants who do not provide such proof could still register, but they would be able to vote in federal elections only – not in state and local elections. Each voter’s registration record would indicate whether the individual could participate in all elections or just in federal elections.

The House passed the bill Wednesday, 64-33, as Republicans voted for it and Democrats voted against.

In 2014, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states cannot require citizenship documentation for voter registration applicants using the “federal form.” That means states can mandate the requirement only for state and local elections.

A 1993 law allows states to use their own voter registration forms as long as they also accept the federal form.

Currently, the federal form simply requires voters to swear that they are citizens under penalty of perjury. In Virginia, perjury can be punished by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Cole said it is appropriate to require proof of citizenship because there have been cases of noncitizens registering to vote, either inadvertently or intentionally.

Indeed, President Trump has claimed, without offering proof, that millions of people voted illegally in November’s presidential election. He says that is why he lost the popular vote.

Trump has cited a study by Jesse Richman, an associate professor of political science at Old Dominion University. Richman and colleagues examined data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in 2014 and reported that 6.4 percent of noncitizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent voted in 2010 in national elections.

Critics have questioned Richman’s study, saying it was based on flawed data – surveys in which respondents may have inadvertently checked a box indicating they were noncitizens.

When the bill was debated on the House floor, Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, offered his support. He said he has gone to offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles and witnessed noncitizens being given the opportunity to register to vote.

The federal Motor Voter Act, signed into law in 1993, requires that anyone who applies for a driver’s license must be offered the chance to register to vote.

“If we can only do it for states, I think we should do it,” Marshall said. Referring to Cole, he added, “What the gentleman is doing is necessary. I wish we could go further.”

Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, opposed Cole’s measure. Democrats argue that many citizens may not be able to produce a birth certificate or other documentation that the bill would require – and so they wouldn’t be able to vote in state and local elections.

“When we pass this legislation, we will be saying to a portion of Virginians, ‘You can’t vote,’” Sullivan said. “We will be creating an entire class of second-class citizens.”

Sullivan cited a statistic that 5.7 percent of voting-age residents do not have a copy of their birth certificate or a passport. That would represent more than 320,000 of Virginia’s currently registered voters.

“A – it’s expensive to get a passport,” Sullivan said. “B – they may not do any traveling. And people don’t have copies of their birth certificates.”

Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, said there is no reason to make people prove their citizenship when they register to vote because they must swear that they are citizens under threat of perjury.

“I think that committing a felony to vote in an election is something that no noncitizen in their right mind would do,” Sickles said. “It’s not happened.”

Many news organizations and other groups have looked for incidents of voter fraud and found that they are rare. The Washington Post found 31 credible cases of impersonation fraud out of more than 1 billion votes during elections from 2000 to 2014.

Women may be able to buy a year’s worth of birth control

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia women finally would be able to obtain a year’s worth of birth control at one time if prescribed by a doctor, under a bill going forward in the House of Delegates.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee advanced the Birth Control Access Act (HB 2267), sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The committee unanimously voted for the bill Thursday and sent it to the full House for approval.

The bill states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies generally allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out. Gray said HB 2267 would make birth control more accessible.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at once. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

While Republicans voted to pass this bill, they are also pushing forward a bill to end state funding to Planned Parenthood. HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, would “prohibit the Department of Health from spending any funds on an abortion that is not qualified for matching funds under the Medicaid program or providing any grants or other funds to any entity that performs such abortions.”

Pro-choice activists noted that Cline voted in favor of the Birth Control Access Act and at the same time is working to defund an organization that widely distributes contraception.

The access bill is geared toward hormonal birth control, also called “the pill.” According to a 2011 studyby the University of California, women who receive only three months of birth control at a time are more likely to lapse on taking the pill or stop taking it altogether.

In economic terms, the pill can cost $160 to $600a year, and the cost of a birth is $18,329-$27,866, according to a CNN report in 2013. The cost of raising a child is around $12,500per year per child. Economically speaking, it’s cheaper to give women a year’s worth of birth control rather than have an unintended, increased-risk pregnancy.

Among the access bill’s advocates was Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization with the NLIRH Virginia Latina Advocacy Network.

“Continuous access to contraception helps Latinxs plan their families and their futures, improving their health and well-being,” Del Castillo said in a statement. “This bill will provide a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives for Latinxs in Virginia and help in the fight against the health inequities that currently exist in our community.”

Bill lets domestic violence victims carry concealed guns

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates approved a bill Friday that would allow victims of domestic violence access to concealed handguns before being approved for a permit.

HB 1852 would allow people with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun as long as they apply for a permit. It was introduced by a Republican coalition of delegates including Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County, Nick Freitas of Culpeper, Rick Morris of Suffolk County, Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach and Michael Webert of Fauquier County.

Under current Virginia law, it is illegal to carry concealed handguns until a permit is granted – a process that can take up to 45 days after the application is filed. Gilbert said that, for victims of abuse, that time can be the difference between life and death.

The bill would allow those with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun for up to 45 days without a permit as long as they have applied for one. Gilbert said this would give victims of abuse a means to defend themselves from their attackers.

“The essence of this is that we want to empower people, especially women, who find themselves in a position where they are in fear of their lives, to be able to protect themselves in a manner that they see fit,” he said.

However, Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, argued that the bill would have unintended consequences that could put victims in even greater danger.

“No one wants to protect victims of domestic violence more than I, but one of the things that people tell me that practice in this area is that, increasingly, the abusers are seeking to muck with the system, are seeking to seek protective orders,” Levine said. “The judge issues the protective order, and then, even if it’s prohibited under federal law … the clerk simply sees the order and the guy can now concealed carry and can do a lot of damage.”

Gilbert responded by stating the bill would do little to empower those already set on violence.

“There is this constant fallacy that we see from the anti-gun side of the aisle that people will be deterred by some new misdemeanor or some new rule or some new sign up at one of our state buildings that says, ‘No guns allowed if you mean to do mass murder in here,’” Gilbert said. He added that the bill is “not going to empower those who mean to do other people harm; it’s going to empower people against those who are going to do that very harm.”

Levine argued that the mere presence of a firearm in a domestic violence dispute could lead to disaster for victims.

“I should also note that guns are not the answer to these domestic violence situations,” Levine said. “Studies show that a gun in the home increases the risk of death by 500 percent. Five times. Part of the reason, I think, is that people, particularly women in these situations, are less likely to use guns against someone they love than a stranger. So, unfortunately, they’re often used against themselves.”

Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, said it wasn’t a politician’s place to tell victims how they can or cannot protect themselves.

“What’s extraordinary about the opposition to this bill is the condescension,” Bell said. “All we’re doing is trying to give some women the liberty to use a concealed carry when they get their protective order.

“Now, let’s assume (Del. Levine) is right and that it’s not right for many – maybe even most – maybe 80 percent would not want it, don’t need it, shouldn’t have it. That leaves a huge percentage of women who are saying, ‘Please, let me do it.’ And, with respect, some people are saying, ‘Now listen little lady, we know better than you what’s right for you.’”

Gilbert introduced similar legislation last year that would have allowed victims of domestic violence to receive a concealed handgun permit without the required training. That iteration passed both chambers before it was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe last spring.

HB 1852 was passed by a 64-31 vote on the House floor Friday and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

How they voted

Here is how the House of Delegates voted Friday on HB 1852 (“Concealed handguns; protective orders”).

Floor: 02/03/17  House: VOTE: PASSAGE #2 (64-Y 31-N)

YEAS – Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Heretick, Hodges, Holcomb, Hugo, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Miyares, Morris, Mullin, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Yost, Speaker Howell – 64.

NAYS – Aird, Bagby, Bell, John J., Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Murphy, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts – 31.

NOT VOTING – Collins, Fowler, Greason, Morefield – 4.

Amendment would help surviving spouses of disabled vets

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A constitutional amendment to expand a tax exemption for surviving spouses of disabled veterans cleared the House Privileges and Elections Committee on Friday.

Currently, such spouses get an exemption on the property taxes for the home in which they and their military-veteran partner lived. Under HJ 562, the amendment proposed by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, spouses would continue to get the exemption if they move to another home.

There was no opposition to the proposal. However, Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, vice chairman of the committee, raised some concerns.

“If this amendment passes, we have to come up with corresponding legislation,” Miller said.

“In the corresponding legislation, could it be written that a spouse of a deceased member of our military couldn’t purchase a far more expensive home in the commonwealth of Virginia? Could the legislation say that the tax value of the home would have to be equal to or lesser than the current home?” Miller continued.

“The testimony we kept hearing is people wanted to scale down because they lost a spouse. And when they scale down, they would lose their ability based on the home they are in when their spouse was killed. The concern I have is, someone that would perhaps scale up from a $200,000 house to a million-dollar house and now not paying property taxes.”

The committee voted unanimously – 21-0 – in favor of the amendment. It now goes to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

Support grows for bills to whack bamboo

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Bamboo is known as a symbol of good luck, but many Virginia residents aren’t feeling so lucky about its showing up in their yards.

Golden bamboo, scientifically known as Phyllostachys aurea, is a weed and a force to be reckoned with, especially when it has invaded state parks and other public land as well as private property.

The state Senate and House of Delegates have taken note and are taking a whack at the plant.

The House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee voted 20-0 Friday to approve a bill declaring golden bamboo a noxious weed and authorizing localities to control it. HB 2154 now goes to the full House for consideration.

The Senate already has passed a similar measure, SB 964, by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County.

Bamboo is infamous for wrapping itself around native plants’ roots. Then the rapidly spreading weed quickly dominates the invaded environment, sometimes taking over acres of land.

The vigorous plant is tolerant to drought, and exterminating it is a laborious process. According to experts, to get rid of golden bamboo, you must apply herbicide and dig up the roots, which can extend a foot underground. You can try to mow the plant to death, but it may take a couple of years before it is fully gone.

SB 964 would authorize “any locality to adopt ordinances requiring proper upkeep of running bamboo and prohibiting the spread of running bamboo from a landowner’s property, with violations punishable by a civil penalty of $50.” Property owners who ignore the violations could be fined as much as $3,000 over the course of a year.

The bill includes running bamboo in the category of “other foreign growth” that existing law allows localities to regulate and in some cases to cut.

HB 2154, introduced by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, also targets bamboo. It “designates golden bamboo as a noxious weed and authorizes any locality to adopt an ordinance to prevent, control, and abate the growth, importation, or spread of golden bamboo.”

Rasoul said his constituents have expressed a lot of concern about the weed.

“All of the cases we heard are all across western Virginia,” Rasoul said. “But then there was somebody in the committee that talked about something in Fairfax.”

Invasive species are a major concern in Virginia. The Senate also has passed a bill targeting the snakehead fish and zebra mussels.

SB 906, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would prohibit people from introducing those animals into state waters. Violators would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been sounding the alarm about the snakehead fish since it was discovered in the state in 2004. The fish, which resembles a snake and is native to parts of Asia and Africa, is “very abundant in all of Virginia’s tidal tributaries to the Potomac River,” the DGIF says. Snakeheads also have colonized several creeks in the Rappahannock River system.

The snakehead is a predator that eats other fish, crustaceans, frogs, insects, small reptiles, birds and mammals and can take over a body of water, according to a DGIF factsheet. Since 2002, it has been illegal to own a snakehead fish without a permit from the state agency.

The zebra mussel, named for its striped shell, isan invasive species that clogs up water pipes and harms municipal water treatment systems.

According to the DGIF, zebra mussels, which are native to Eastern Europe, were first found in Virginia in 2002 in an abandoned quarry in Prince William County that was used for scuba diving. State officials fear that the mussels could get into nearby Lake Manassas and the Occoquan Reservoir, the primary water supply for more than 1 million people in Northern Virginia. That could increase the cost of treating the water by as much as $850,000 a year.

“Zebra mussels also represent a significant threat to the Commonwealth’s native ecology and wildlife communities,” the DGIF says. The invaders can kill “many bottom-dwelling species, including our rare and endangered freshwater mussel populations,” and they can damage boat hulls and engines.

Delegate Heretick’s Bill to Remove Corrupt Officials Advances

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia House of Delegates moved forward today on a bill proposed by Delegate Stephen E. Heretick (D-Portsmouth) that would automatically suspend any local or constitutional officer convicted of a felony.  On Friday morning, House Bill 2364 was engrossed and moved to its third reading.  A final vote on passage will take place as early as Monday.

An amendment offered by Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) would expedite the effective date of this legislation, enabling it to come into effect immediately upon the signature of Governor McAuliffe rather than the usual date of July 1st for new laws.  This “Emergency” provision requires a four-fifths supermajority of the members of the House of Delegates in order to pass. Delegate Heretick previously expanded the bill to make it applicable to all local elected officials in the state.  The Constitution of Virginia already provides for the removal process for other officials.

The amended bill is slated for a final vote on the House Floor as early as Monday. The measure will then proceed to the Senate, where approval is expected, and then for execution by the Governor, at which time it will immediately become law.

“We should all be saddened that a bill like this is necessary,” Heretick said.  “Unfortunately, some in elected office abuse the public’s trust.  I introduced this bill because just like every other citizen, I believe it is critical that we close this loophole that allows felons to remain in office pending sometimes lengthy legal appeals,” said Del. Heretick.  “An elected official who is convicted of a felony while in office should not be drawing a salary on the backs of taxpayers, exercising any lawful authority, or abusing the trust placed in them by our communities.”

Senate clears a path for robots to deliver

By: Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Robots soon may be among us on the streets. Those who are homebound, busy or just don’t feel like going to the store gained a victory when SB 1207 passed unanimously through the Virginia Senate this week.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, would allow the use of Electronic Personal Delivery Devices, or EPDDs, on sidewalks, crosswalks and shared-use paths throughout Virginia.

A similar bill in the House of Delegates, sponsored by Del. Ron Villaneuva, R-Chesapeake, is awaiting a floor vote. Villaneuva’s HB 2016received a21-0 approval in the House Transportation Committee.

Statewide approval of the devices would be the first of its kind in the United States, legislators and company officials say.

“Passage of the bill in the Senate demonstrates Virginia’s commitment to innovation and the Commonwealth’s willingness to encourage the use of unmanned systems,” DeSteph said.

A London-based robotics company, Starship Technologies, which backed the legislation, already is building a fleet of delivery robots designed to maneuver high-density urban areas in 15-30 minutes.

The devices would use sidewalks to deliver groceries, parcels and food. They come equipped with a sophisticated obstacle detection system and can travel up to 3 miles from a base location while carrying loads up to 40 pounds and traveling at a pedestrian speed, according to Starship Technologies’ website, www.starship.xyz

The primary aim of the robots is to reduce congestion and pollution in cities and neighborhoods, while providing convenience and reduced costs for customers and businesses.

To date, the robots have traveled tens of thousands of miles, met millions of people and have been tested in over 50 cities around the world, DeSteph said after his bill passed Wednesday.

“Starship Technologies is delighted with the passage of Sen. DeSteph’s legislation from the Senate, and the team are excited about the opportunity to bring this technology to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Allan Martinson, chief operating officer of Starship Technologies.

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