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General Assembly

Senator is ‘shocked’ to think money buys influence

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Everybody at the state Capitol saw this coming: the death of a bill to prohibit Dominion, the single largest corporate donor in Virginia politics, from giving campaign contributions to legislators, the governor and other public officials.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, filed SB 1593 on Jan. 25 because, he said, state lawmakers shouldn’t take money from public utilities that are regulated by the General Assembly and other state agencies.

“Monopolies like Dominion or Appalachian Power have an undue influence on the political process,” Petersen said.

Because he introduced his bill after the filing deadline, Petersen needed the unanimous consent of the Senate to proceed. After two senators objected to the legislation, Petersen officially withdrew the proposal Tuesday. He plans to reintroduce the bill next year, according to Alex Parker, Petersen’s political director.

SB 1593 sought to forbid any candidate for the General Assembly or statewide office from accepting donations from “public service corporations” – such as power and telephone companies regulated by the State Corporation Commission.

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Petersen said those corporations use political donations to influence legislative decisions.

“I happen to believe that public policy should be decided on the merits and not based on donations,” he said.

But the bill stood little chance from the start. Attempts to alter Virginia’s campaign finance system, which allows unlimited donations from people and corporations as long as politicians publicly disclose the contributions, have been unsuccessful.

The closest the state has come to ethics reform was in 2015 when the General Assembly passed legislation to put a $100 limit on gifts and travel from lobbyists or those with business before the state.

Petersen filed SB 1593 after losing a fight over another bill (SB 1095) to increase regulation of electric utilities in Virginia.

Until 2015, the State Corporation Commission conducted biennial rate reviews of power companies. If the SCC found that a company was making excessive profits, it could order the utility to lower its rates.

But in 2015, the General Assembly passed legislation to suspend the rate reviews for Dominion and Appalachian Power for five years because the companies said they were facing uncertain costs of complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which ordered states to cut carbon emissions.

Because of a lawsuit, the Clean Power Plan was never implemented, and the Trump administration intends to dismantle it.

SB 1095 sought to roll back the 2015 legislation and let the State Corporation Commission resume conducting rate reviews of Dominion and Appalachian Power.

“I think rate review will show that utilities have made a financial windfall off the legislation we passed in 2015,” Petersen said.

His rate review bill died on Jan. 16 on a 12-2 vote in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

The bill’s defeat prompted Petersen to file his measure to prohibit legislators from taking campaign donations from regulated monopolies – and to deliver a “personal privilege” speech on the Senate floor.

“Now I know, and in one of those ‘gambling at Rick’s’ moments, I decided, or some people mentioned to me, that maybe donations made within this body or any body, does have some impact on public policy,” Petersen told his colleagues.

“Now I know, I’m shocked myself to hear that, but I thought it was worth putting forward legislation that would limit, if not prohibit, donations made by public service corporations, which are the very same monopolies that were subject to the jurisdiction of the State Corporation Commission in setting their prices, that would limit and prohibit those donations, to not only members of this body, but also to the third floor, and public officials that sit in judgment of those bodies.”

The “third floor” was a reference to the governor’s office.

Dominion has given more than $1.3 millionto Virginia political campaigns since 2015 and about $14.4 millionsince the late 1990s, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Supporters of the 2015 legislation suspending the rate reviews say it was a good deal for consumers. Under that law, Dominion agreed to freeze its base rates, which make up over half of customers’ electric bills, for five years.

Dominion officials have criticized Petersen’s proposal to ban the company from making political donations, saying it would violate free speech rights. They also have criticized Petersen’s stand on other energy-related issues.

“Not only has Sen. Petersen introduced legislation to roll back advancements in solar energy and payment assistance for low-income families, but now he’s against the First Amendment,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins.

“Our 16,200 employees – 9,000 of whom work in Virginia – are proud of the role we play in helping the commonwealth grow and improve. We believe our democracy works best when all participate, not when government chooses who can speak and who cannot.”

According to VPAP data, the 12 members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee who voted to kill the bill to resume reviewing Dominion’s rates received a total of more than $729,000 in donations from the company.

The two committee members who voted against killing the bill also received contributions from Dominion, totaling about $30,000.

Petersen himself has accepted $22,519in campaign donations from Dominion since 2001, according to VPAP.

“If Dominion makes a written demand – in writing – I’ll write a check and give back the money,” Petersen said.

Dominion donations to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee

Here are the 12 senators who voted to kill SB 1095, which sought to resume reviewing Dominion's electric rates.

 

Senator

Total donations from Dominion

Since

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell County

$10,500

2013

Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake

$23,150

2001

Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg

$25,692

2001

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth

$34,450

1998

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover

$47,250

2001

Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg

$107,740

1998

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg

$51,000

2003

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax

$298,008

1998

Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin County

$19,500

2011

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland

$20,750

2009

Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian

$4,000

2016

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach

$86,985

1997

Total

$729,025

 

 

The two senators who voted against killing the bill are:

 

Senator

Total donations from Dominion

Since

Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun

$9,750

1999

Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Bedford

$20,500

1999

House panel shelves bill to help ‘suitcase children’

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – They call them the “suitcase children” – youngsters who are shuttled back and forth between their parents’ homes amid messy divorce and custody battles. Regardless of which parent finally emerges victorious in court, the child loses time with friends, involvement in school activities and a sense of stability at home.

Two Chesterfield residents, with support from Del. Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, have been fighting for a new law to protect these “suitcase children.” Roy Mastro and Stella Edwards drafted a bill that would amend the state code and hold guardians ad litem to greater accountability.

Attorneys who are appointed guardian ad litem in child custody cases are responsible for crafting a report on the child’s circumstances, including parent interviews and home and school visits. Sometimes, custody courts are manned by substitute judges – and when this happens, that report is the only information the court consults to decide a child’s fate.

HB 1957 would have required the guardian ad litem to complete a certification checklist and collect signatures of interviewed parties to be submitted alongside the report.

The bill is dead for this legislative session. The House Civil Law Subcommittee, which reviewed the bill, has decided to wait for a Supreme Court of Virginia work group study that will review the policies and procedures for a guardian ad litem.

“They keep bringing that up every year. Every year that we’ve brought this up, here comes that work study group,” said Mastro, who backed a similar bill that also failed to pass last year.

“I worked for Honeywell for 40 years, and my boss, when they had a study group or something, he said they spend too much time studying and not enough time with action. And that’s what you find, and Riley [Ingram] feels the same way.”

Mastro and Edwards don’t plan to stop fighting for children caught in parental court battles.

Edwards chairs the legislative committee of the National Parent Teacher Association. Besides being a PTA leader, she is a radio host on WVST-FM, where she speaks about civic engagement. Edwards says the evidence of trauma on “suitcase children” is becoming more and more evident.

“Folks see things, but they don’t say anything till someone else brings it to light, and then they jump on the bandwagon and say, “Yes, I can attest that this is happening.’ Teachers are broken-hearted seeing it every day in their classrooms and not being able to really do anything,” Edwards said.

“In many cases, even when a guardian ad litem is supposed to talk to a teacher or a guidance counselor, they don’t do that.”

It’s a sore subject for many parents, Mastro says, but not an uncommon story. He’s seen friends spend upward of $200,000 to challenge custody rulings that have placed their child with an unfit parent. Such money and time could be saved and children would be safer, he says, if guardians ad litem did their jobs right.

For now, Mastro, Edwards and fellow advocates are waiting for the Supreme Court of Virginia study, which is expected to be completed this May. Their priority is making sure a guardian ad litem certification checklist is included in the study. If it’s not, they’re ready to return to the General Assembly session next year with a fresh bill in hand.

“We’ll have to keep following this issue and putting it in the paper, and make sure people are aware of what’s happening,” Edwards said. “Otherwise, these are the kind of things that will very easily fall through the cracks. Whatever we can, we will continue to do.”

Senate OKs bill allowing warrantless inspections of farms

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill approved by the Senate would allow state inspectors to carry out warrantless inspections of hundreds of Virginia produce farms to ensure compliance with federal regulations.

“It’s one of those bills you don’t like, but someone’s got to carry it,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland County. He said that if the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services doesn’t conduct the inspections, “then the federal government will come in and do it for us.”

But some farming representatives argued that the inspections would violate their constitutional rights. “If the government has free access to your property, that’s in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” Richard Altice of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association told legislators. “You are mandated to kill this bill.”

Despite such protests, the Senate voted 25-15 Wednesday to pass SB 1195, which would give state inspectors free access at all reasonable hours to any farm subject to regulation under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act. The inspectors could seize any produce they suspect may be in violation of federal regulations or state law.

Any farmer found out of compliance with the regulations would be subject to a civil fine of up to $1,000.

In September, the U.S. Drug and Food Administration awarded Virginia funding to implement the Produce Safety Rule, part of theFood Safety Modernization Act  signed into law in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

Under the rule, states were given the choice to enforce the regulations themselves or have the FDA do it.

“It’s a question of whether we do the inspections or the FDA,” said Sandra Adams, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Adams said there would be no inspections during the first two years of the state law’s implementation. Instead, VDACS will focus on education and outreach to the farmers affected by the federal rules to help them come into compliance.

“We know we are going to have to comply with this law,” said Kevin Kirby, a fourth-generation farmer from Mechanicsville. “We’d much prefer VDACS – when we get involved with the FDA, all we get is a hammer thrown at us.”

Katie Frazier, president of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, criticized the FDA’s enforcement procedures. She said the FDA has put a stop-sell order on a suspect farmer’s produce, only to lift it days later, leaving what was good produce rotted and unfit for sale.

The federal rule sets standards for sanitation, processing and transportation of produce. The standards do not apply to farmers who grow only produce that is rarely consumed raw, such as asparagus, black beans and potatoes.

Moreover, farmers who grow produce exclusively for their own consumption, or have made less than $25,000 from produce sales during the preceding three years, are exempt from the federal rule.

“Of the 2,300 produce farmers in Virginia, only 400 would be affected by this legislation,” Frazier said.

FDA officials say the federal regulations will help prevent people from getting sick from eating produce.

“The Produce Safety Rule, along with other FSMA-mandated rules to regulate food production, importation and transportation, will better protect consumers from foodborne illness,” the FDA’s website states.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Republican Sen. Richard Black of Leesburgopposed Stuart’s state inspections bill. He noted that California and other states had opted out of instituting their own inspection programs.

“The bill doesn’t say when the Department of Agriculture can come onto their (farmers’) property,” Black said. “They’d have rights to come onto their farm daily if they wanted. There’s no due process for the farmers. There’s no protection.”

The bill was recommended for approval by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

During a committee hearing, Altice said the state inspections law may be unnecessary because the Trump administration likely will withdraw the Produce Safety Rule along with other federal regulations. During his successful presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to roll back regulations by what he called the “FDA food police.”

According to Stuart’s bill, if federal funds to enforce federal regulations are cut, the state inspections program would be, too.

“If the current administration decides to eliminate the law, this program will cease as well,” Stuart said.

Bill to defund Planned Parenthood advances

By Megan Corsano and Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia could lose their federal Title X funding under a bill that cleared the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee on Thursday.

HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, was reported by the Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions in an 11-7 vote. It happened during the committee’s final meeting before “crossover day” – Tuesday’s deadline for bills to clear their chamber of origin. Cline’s proposal now goes to the full House of Delegates.

The committee’s swift decision was accompanied by no comments from Cline or members of the audience about the bill.

The bill 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,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

Title X funding is vital to organizations like Planned Parenthood because it is the only federal program that provides grants for reproductive and family planning services. Republicans on the state and national level have been trying to stop Planned Parenthood from receiving this fund because the organization provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials say abortions make up about 3 percent of the group’s services. Most of its services are for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and cancer screening and prevention.

During a subcommittee meeting earlier in the week, Cline said his bill would give priority to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. He said the bill would make sure that money is sent to “health clinics that meet the needs of those populations they serve in the most comprehensive manner possible,” instead of to clinics that provide abortions.

While Cline’s bill is moving forward, Democratic-sponsored bills regarding women’s health care have been having a hard time even getting heard, Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, said at a press briefing held by the Women’s Equality Coalition on Thursday.

One such bill is HB 2186, called the Whole Woman's Health Act, which Boysko filed to give women easier access to abortions services.

Boysko’s bill was assigned to the House Courts of Justice Committee, chaired by Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax. The panel has not held a hearing on HB 2186.

Albo wrote a letter to Boysko saying the committee had only one meeting left before crossover. “The Committee historically kills bills associated with liberal politics,” the letter said. “If we did spend effort in hearing these bills, then we would have much less time to review the bills that actually have a chance to become law.”

Many speakers at the news conference were outraged that Albo didn’t let the bill have a hearing.

“Quite frankly, it is ridiculous and it is offensive for Del. Albo or any legislator to claim that they are simply too busy to do the job,” said Anna Scholl, executive director for Progress Virginia.

“Del. Albo wasn’t too busy to spend many hours of this legislature’s time regaling us with his tails of trying to resell his Iron Maiden tickets, and insisting that the legislature find time to fix that particular problem of his,” Scholl said. “If Del. Albo can find time to write laws to make sure he can resell his concert tickets, he can certainly find the time to hold a hearing on issues that impact more than half of the population.”

Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also criticized Albo.

“Virginia women are workers. We sometimes hold down multiple jobs, we raise families, we take care of elderly family members, and we’re active members of our society,” Castillo said. “Women already do so much with the 24 hours that we have in a day. Our legislators here in Richmond are here full time … It seems that Del. Albo and the House GOP leadership could take a lesson from the women in Virginia on time management.”

Presidential candidates won’t have to release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns to get on the ballot in Virginia died in a legislative subcommittee Thursday.

Democratic Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria submitted HB 2444after Donald Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee’s successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax returns; candidates had done so for 40 years.

“It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know,” Levine said.

Under his bill, in the paperwork to get on the ballot on Virginia, a presidential candidate would have had to “attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election.”

The bill was considered Thursday morning by a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

When no one stood to speak in favor or opposition the bill, Del. Nick Rush, chairman of House Subcommittee on Campaigns, expressed his disapproval of the legislation.

“I’ll have to say Del. Levine, you had a very good bill this morning at Appropriations,” said Rush, a Republican from Montgomery County. “It was well thought out; it would help your constituents and help the commonwealth. This bill is not that. This bill is partisan in nature; it’s really wasted this committee’s time.”

Despite such feelings, Levine says polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president’s business interests are important to know about.

Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump is “not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.

A petitionposted on the White House website suggests that some people do care about the issue. The petition, which asks Trump to release his tax returns, has received more than 475,000 signatures.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg,said he believed Levine’s bill addressed an issue the U.S. Congress should deal with. In fact, such a bill is pending before Congress.

The hearing on Levine’s bill lasted only about three minutes before the subcommittee decided on a voice vote to kill it.

Dog hunters and landowners argue over trespassing bill

By Julie Rothey, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hunters may have to pay a fine if their dog enters private property under a bill in front of the House of Delegates.

A revised version of HB 1900, introduced by House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford County, passed the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The bill springs from tension between landowners and hunters who use dogs to chase deer.

Hunters could be fined up to $100 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second offense if their dogs trespass 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 his or her land. The law would be enforced by animal control officers, conservation police, and other law-enforcement officers.

“This is an agenda to outlaw hunting with dogs,” said Kirby Burch, CEO of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance. Its members held a rally at the Capitol last month to protest the bill.

Burch told the Rules Committee that according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, dogs were involved in only about 5 percent of hunting complaints in Virginia from July 2014 to June 2015.

“Where’s the beef?” Burch asked, if such a small percentage of complaints have to do with dogs.

Rob Nicholson, a landowner who supports the bill, said the beef is that he couldn’t bring his dogs to his farm during rifle-hunting season, and he 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.

The bill also would allow a landowner to stop a trespassing dog long enough to confirm its identification. Dog owners argue that the dogs are just pursuing deer and don’t intentionally trespass and that landowners should not interfere with the hunt.

“To say that a dog in pursuit cannot be stopped is absolutely the most ludicrous thing,” Nicholson said.

Burch said the hunting dog alliance’s main concern is landowners potentially having the right to restrain dogs to identify them.

“Who’s going to do that identification?” Burch asked, arguing that sheriffs and game wardens don’t have the resources to answer calls to identify dogs. He said hunters are worried that landowners would be able to hold dogs until a law enforcement official was available.

Nicholson responded that he would only restrain a dog to take a picture for future identification.

Burch also defended the current law’s provision allowing hunters the right to retrieve a dog that has crossed a property line.

“This (bill) negates the right to retrieve,” Burch said.

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 “restores property rights to people like me.”

Under the current law, 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.

While the House Rules Committee approved HB 1900 on an 11-4 vote, it awaits action on the House floor. If approved there, it would go to the Senate.

A Senate committee killed a hunting-with-dogs bill Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1545 would have held hunters liable for damages to the property their dog entered, if they let them onto private property intentionally.

The bill, introduced by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax County, would have made it a Class 3 misdemeanor if a hunter or dog trainer knew, or should have known, about an imminent trespass while hunting or training.

The Senate Committee for Courts and Justice voted unanimously to table SB 1545.

‘Left-lane bandits’ may face $250 fine

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates has approved a bill that would impose a mandatory $250 fine for driving too slowly in the left lane on highways.

HB 2201was introduced by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, and co-sponsored by Democrats Del. Kaye Kory of Falls Church and Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax to show bipartisan support for the measure. O’Quinn said this is something that affects all Virginians, regardless of which side of the aisle they align themselves with.

“It doesn’t matter which corner of the commonwealth you come from,” he said when addressing the bill on the House floor Monday. “It doesn’t matter which interstate or four-lane highway that you have going through the districts you represent. I guarantee you are going to encounter this many times, even if you’re on the highways for just a few minutes.”

“Left lane bandits,” as they are often known, have become a “particularly pervasive and ever-growing problem” on Virginia roadways, O’Quinn said.

Under current Virginia law, driving in the left lane is illegal except when passing or when it is deemed “otherwise impractical,” but there is no fine for failing to obey the law. O’Quinn said that, for the safety of all Virginian drivers, he hopes to change that.

“I consulted with a lot of law enforcement officers, first responders, et cetera, about this, and every single one of them, without fail, had some sort of story where they ran up on a car who’s going grossly under the speed limit in the left lane, which then required them to have to attempt to pass on the right, which is not legal nor safe,” O’Quinn said. “A number of close calls and a few accidents, in fact, have occurred from that.”

O’Quinn also said that, in addition to helping curb dangerous high-speed accidents, the bill would help decrease road rage incidents on Virginia’s highways.

“This is also something that is one of the leading causes of road rage – which certainly, I am not condoning by any stretch – but it’s something that law enforcement officers many times can point back to as the root of a number of road rage incidents,” O’Quinn said.

He added that he and his co-sponsors are not trying to change traffic laws, but rather help drivers understand the dangers of disobeying lane rules.

“I’m not trying to mess with the definition of what it means to pass on the left or stay in the right lane or any of that stuff,” he added. “But, simply put, a penalty behind it shows that we understand the seriousness behind it and that we’re going to be serious about actually enforcing it.”

The House voted 66-31 for final passage of the bill on Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

How they voted

Here is how the House voted Tuesday on HB 2201 (“Failure to drive on right side of highways or observe traffic lanes; increases penalties”).

Floor: 01/31/17 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (66-Y 31-N)

YEAS – Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, John J., Bell, Richard P., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Hayes, Head, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hodges, Holcomb, Hope, Ingram, James, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Krizek, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lindsey, Lingamfelter, Lopez, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Morris, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Plum, Ransone, Rasoul, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Watts, Webert, Wright, Yancey, Yost, Speaker Howell – 66.

NAYS – Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Cole, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Hugo, Keam, Kory, Levine, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Pogge, Poindexter, Price, Robinson, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Wilt – 31.

NOT VOTING – Fariss, Morefield – 2.

Rally calls for state help for brain injuries

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Forty-two ... I think I’m 42,” Mike Drury of Leesburg, Virginia, said with a smile. A car accident in 2011 left Drury with a traumatic brain injury that affects his cognitive abilities.

But that didn’t stop him from traveling to the state Capitol for the 14th annual Brain Injury Awareness Day. After meeting with legislators, dozens of survivors, advocates and caretakers of people with brain injuries held a rally Wednesday to call for improvements in services for disabled Virginians.

Because of a budget deficit, in October the state cut $375,000 in funds for brain injury services, the rally’s organizers said.

“There are still so many unserved areas that don’t have any brain injury services at all in Virginia,” said Krystal Thompson, executive director of Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia. “We need a lot more funding to reach the scope of the problem.”

Several lawmakers have introduced budget amendments to help people with brain injuries:

  • Sen. Janet Howell of Fairfax County and Del. Brenda Pogge of James City County have proposed restoring the $375,000 that was cut last year.
  • Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke and Del. Nick Rush of Montgomery County want to provide an additional $1 million to expand and support brain injury services in Virginia.
  • Pogge and Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax County have called for improvements in collecting and analyzing data about Virginians with brain injuries and the services they need.

“There’s a lot of data of brain injury that’s sort of scattered all over the place,” said Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia. “We’d like it to be consolidated in one place so we can make some plans for the coming wave of individuals that are going to need care.”

Nearly 168,000 Virginians are disabled as a result of a traumatic brain injury, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With more funding, McDonnell hopes to provide care for more people with such injuries.

“It’s a rare privilege to watch a brain come back online,” McDonnell said.

Among the people at the rally was 15-year-old Maya Simbulan. In 2009, she was getting ready for a school play when she fell down a flight of stairs at home and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Simbulan, a sophomore at Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County, said she owes her recovery to Brain Injury Services, a nonprofit organization based in the Springfield. The group helps residents of Northern Virginia find rehabilitation resources, manage the effects of their injuries and connect with people with similar problems.

“Sky’s the limit. We want Maya to get every opportunity everyone else gets, and that’s what we’re here to do,” said Simbulan’s case manager, Brooke Annessa.

Annessa has been with Brain Injury Services since 2009. In 2011, she adopted her daughter, Addie, who had suffered anoxic brain damage, which is caused by a lack of oxygen. Wednesday was Addie’s fifth birthday.

“So I’m either the best mom ever, or the worst mom ever,” Annessa joked.

Addie doesn’t talk yet. Shortly after her injury, Annessa brought Addie to Brain Injury Services. There, the girl was handed an iPad with Proloquo2Go, a symbol-based “augmented alternative communication” app to help her express herself.

Within the first day of using the iPad, Addie was speaking through the app. A month later, she was constructing sentences.

“That little bit of hope, that little bit of proof, is what got me more services at school for her. I was able to show she is smart, she is understanding – she just can’t explain that to you,” Annessa said.

Immigration advocates win and lose

By Rodrigo Arriaza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia colleges won’t be forced to give federal authorities sensitive details about students who may be undocumented immigrants, after a legislative subcommittee killed a bill opposed by immigration advocates.

However, another panel killed legislation that immigration advocates had wanted: It would have allowed eligible undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition.

The House Higher Education Subcommittee voted Tuesday to kill HB 2001and HB 2004, which were aimed at gathering personal information about undocumented college students. Both measures were sponsored by Del. Charles R. Poindexter, R-Franklin County.

The subcommittee also voted to refer HB 1857, the in-state tuition proposal, to the House Appropriations Committee. On Wednesday, an Appropriations subcommittee killed the bill, which was sponsored by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington.

HB 2001 would have required college and university officials and faculty members to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in identifying and detaining undocumented students. HB 2004 would have required state colleges and universities to file annual reports to the governor and General Assembly on the number of undocumented students enrolled in their institutions.

Dozens of opponents of Poindexter’s legislation attended the subcommittee’s meeting, filling the seats in the room and spilling out into the hallway. They included pro-immigrant activists, professors and young people protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

DACA was the Obama administration’s 2012 executive order allowing young undocumented immigrants to work, pay taxes, drive and attend college with in-state tuition. The Trump administration has vowed to overturn the policy.

“By requiring that professors and other employees at public institutions cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, you force DACA students to go back into hiding,” said Allison Esquen-Roca, a DACA student at the College of William and Mary. “You also force us to lose one of the last lines of support that we have, and create a hostile environment not conducive to learning.”

Catherine Carey, a Williamsburg resident who started an online petition that has garnered more than 2,640 signatures against HB 2001, also spoke against the legislation. She said the bills would ruin any trust between professors and students.

“If we have teachers enforcing immigration law, that is going to destroy the relationship between students and teachers,” Carey said. “No one wants a teacher acting as a policeman in the classroom.”

At the start of the meeting, Poindexter asked that HB 2004 be stricken, essentially withdrawing it. But he defended HB 2001, saying he wanted to make sure colleges follow federal law.

“I heard a statement that was very disturbing, and I think it should disturb everyone in the room: ‘We don’t want the law enforced.’ That is incomprehensible in the United States of America,” Poindexter said. “I understand opposition to the bill, but to say that we don’t want the law enforced in incomprehensible.”

The subcommittee also decided to refer Lopez’ proposal, HB 1857, to the House Appropriations Committee. That bill seeks to ensure that DACA recipients can continue paying in-state tuition in Virginia.

According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, there are 1,280 undocumented students enrolled in colleges throughout Virginia, Lopez said. He said college would not be a realistic option for many of these students if they had to pay out-of-state tuition.

“States are required to provide all students with a K-12 education regardless of immigration status,” Lopez said. Unless the state takes action, “we will essentially be putting up a stop sign to these children, saying, ‘Thank you for your hard work, thank you for doing well in school, but your dreams need to stop.’ This is devastating for future social and economic mobility.”

Lopez said denying in-state tuition to undocumented students would be a waste of the money that the state has invested in their primary and secondary education.

“To nurture and educate these students from elementary to high school, only to turn them away when they reach higher education, is not only a waste of money, but also a waste of great talent and potential,” Lopez said.

Del. James Massie, R-Richmond, opposed Lopez’s bill. He said the panel should wait for the federal government’s decision on DACA.

“They are already getting the in-state tuition, so I think my position is that we ought to wait and see what the federal government does,” Massie said. “Let’s wait and see what they do, and in a year we can take another look at it.”

Jacky Cortes Nava, a DACA student attending the University of Virginia, said living in fear of losing her in-state tuition has affected her studies and emotional well-being.

“It’s not fair that we have to get distracted almost every single day from our studies,” she said. “It’s not good for our emotional or mental health that we have to wake up every day, fearing that the next day we’re not going to be able to continue with our studies.”

Democrats call for vote on redistricting reforms

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic delegates Tuesday called on Republican House Speaker William Howell to revive legislation that supporters say would help take politics out of redistricting.

The Democrats tried to put pressure on Howell a day after a Republican-dominated subcommittee voted to kill five redistricting proposals in one swoop with little discussion.

At its meeting Monday morning, the Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee ignored a request from a Democratic member to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments individually. The panel then tabled the redistricting measures on a single 4-3 vote.

Republican Dels. Randy Minchew of Leesburg, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Tim Hugo of Centreville and Jackson Miller of Manassas all voted to table the resolutions. Opposing the motion were Republican Del. Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach and Democratic Dels. Joseph Lindsey of Norfolk and Marcia Price of Newport News.

Democrats in the House of Delegates on Tuesday blasted the subcommittee’s action.

“In 2015, every single one of the General Assembly’s 122 incumbents who sought re-election won,” House Minority Leader David Toscano said in a news release.

“House Republicans have now killed every single redistricting amendment this session, including their own. We call upon the speaker to revive these amendments for a full floor vote, as Virginians deserve to know where their leaders stand on this issue.”

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said, “Gerrymandering has distorted election results and diluted the power of individual voters. A system in which incumbents can choose their voters and draw political opponents out of districts is undemocratic. We need a full floor vote on a redistricting amendment now.”

Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, an advocacy group, condemned the subcommittee’s decision to kill HJ 763, which was proposed by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta County.It sought to prohibit any electoral district from being drawn “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress, or other individual or entity.”

“This 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,” Cannon said.

“This was particularly disappointing given that Delegate Minchew has previously supported redistricting reform and today he cast the deciding vote in his subcommittee to kill even the most modest efforts to stop gerrymandering.”

Minchew opened Monday’s subcommittee meeting by saying there would be no testimony on the 28 items on the agenda, unless there was a question from a committee member. He noted that the subcommittee had held a three-hour meeting the previous week.

When the redistricting proposals came up, Price requested to have them voted on separately. She was denied.

Then, with one vote, the subcommittee killed:

  • Landes’ resolution and a similar proposal (HJ 581) sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington.
  • Three resolutions to create an independent redistricting commission. Those measures were HJ 628, sponsored by Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax County; HJ 651, sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond; and HJ 749, sponsored by Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun County.

Group hopes to curb DUIs on Super Bowl Sunday

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

To many Americans, Super Bowl Sunday means football, partying and plenty to eat and drink. For the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, it means an increase in traffic deaths caused by drunken driving.

From 2011 through 2015, according to federal data, 37 percent of all fatal crashes on the day of and morning after the Super Bowl involved driving under the influence.

“With over a third of all U.S. traffic deaths being caused by drunk drivers during Super Bowl Sunday, it’s important to have a game plan to beat this opponent,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of WRAP, a nonprofit group that advocates safe driving.

WRAP has a list of tips to prevent drunk driving. It includes assigning a designated driver, using a taxi or ride-sharing service, drinking and serving non-alcoholic beverages, and wearing your seat belt.

“Wearing a seat belt may not be widely viewed as a tool in this effort, but the wearing of a seat belt may be your best defense against a drunk driver,” Erickson said. “The routine wearing of seat belts is the single most effective measure to reduce crash related deaths and injuries.”

The Falls Church-based organization also encourages people to report suspected drunken drivers they see to the police. Dialing “#77” on a mobile phone will connect you to the Virginia State Police.

For more information and tips on how to prevent drunken driving, visit the organization’s website, www.wrap.org.

To combat drunken driving on Sunday, the Virginia State Police is having a “Trooper Bowl” – a traffic safety enforcement campaign.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is never a smart play, which is why our troopers will be out specifically patrolling for impaired drivers,” said Craig Worsham, commander of the Virginia State Police Appomattox Division.

Panel OKs bill to defund Planned Parenthood

By Megan Corsano and Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill seeking to defund Planned Parenthood cleared a House subcommittee Tuesday on a 4-1 vote.

HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, “would prohibit the Virginia Department of Health from granting funds or entering into contracts with certain health care providers that perform abortion.”

More specifically, it would cut off Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, which supportsfamily planning services, long-term contraception and educational programs.

“It’s just another effort to cripple the organization,” said David Timberline, director of communications for the Planned Parenthood League of Virginia.

Planned Parenthood has clinics in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Charlottesville and Roanoke. Timberline said most people come to the clinics for family planning, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Last year, 18,000 people visited Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia.

Timberline believes that many of the people who oppose Planned Parenthood think that once it is shut down, other clinics can pick up providing the family planning services that the organization provides. “That is completely false,” he said.

Supporters of the bill said it would ensure that taxpayer money is spent on “fully comprehensive health clinics” to provide services to women. Addressing the subcommittee of the House Committee of Health, Welfare and Institutions, Cline said the legislation “ensures that hospitals, federally qualified health clinics and rural health clinics are funded prior to abortion centers.”

He said the bill would give priority to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. Cline said the bill would make sure that money is sent to “health clinics that meet the needs of those populations they serve in the most comprehensive manner possible,” instead of to clinics that provide abortions.

Cline introduced an identical bill in the 2016 legislative session. It passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The House was one vote short of overriding the governor’s veto.

Several women addressed the subcommittee in opposition to the bill. They included Dr. Serina Floyd, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Northern Virginia. Floyd said the bill would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on Planned Parenthood’s comprehensive services.

“The fact is that Virginians, particularly low-income Virginians, need more access to health care and not less,” she said. “Hospitals that provide abortions have been exempted from the bill, which means that only health centers like Planned Parenthood are being targeted.”

Supporters of the bill include the Family Foundation of Virginia. According to its website, the group believes that “human life, from fertilization until natural death, is sacred, and the right to life is fundamental to all other rights.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of the organization Progress Virginia, believes the bill would violate the rights of women.

“It is none of Delegate Cline’s business where a woman decides to get her health care. Every woman in Virginia deserves access to safe, high-quality health care at a family planning clinic of her choice,” Scholl said.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood means that the full range of family planning options will be unavailable to the individuals, families, and communities that are most medically underserved in the commonwealth.”

Timberline plans to continue to rally community support to fight attacks on Planned Parenthood.

“We’re trying to get the word out that people who are fired up about what’s happening on the national level can have their voice heard on the local,” Timberline said. “They can speak at community hearings. That’s what we did this morning, and that’s what we plan to do with anything that comes along that tries to deny the services that we provide to our patients.”

The bill will advance to the full House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions. The panel will consider the legislation on Thursday.

Committee kills bill meant to close wage gap

By Jesse Adcock, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill intending to remedy wage discrimination by prohibiting employers from asking interviewees for their salary history was killed Tuesday by the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

“There is convincing evidence that sex discrimination in the workplace continues to be a problem,” said Leslie Tourigny, vice president of public policy for the Virginia branch of the American Association of University Women. “That’s not a myth – that’s math.”

HB 2190was introduced by Democratic Del. Jennifer Boysko of Herndon. The bill proposed to make it illegal for employers to require applicants to disclose past salaries. It sought to make obtaining an employee’s salary history from previous employers illegal as well.

Each violation would have been punishable by a civil penalty of up to $100 per violation.

Boysko said employers should base the salary of prospective employees on their ability and knowledge rather than what they’ve made in the past. This would be a valuable step in closing the pay gaps that exist between demographics, said the delegate, who represents the 86th House District, which includes parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties.

“Women of color, older women and moms experience an even larger pay gap,” Tourigny said. “It doesn’t just impact women – it impacts families, it impacts business, and impacts the economy.”

According to the AAUW, women in Virginia made 78 percent of what men made in 2015. A recent study by the AAUW found that one year after graduation, women who were working full time made 7 percent less than their male counterparts.

In April 2016, the Joint Economic Council found that at the current rate, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059.

According to Tourigny, using prior salary to calculate future pay only compounds the problem, hurting women and people of color.

“If we rely on salary history to set future salary, that assumes prior salaries were fairly established in the first place,” Tourigny said. “It just continues bias and discrimination.”

Opponents of the bill said it would backfire and hurt employees.

“We think employers ought to have flexibility to ask these questions. Particularly for small business owners, it helps to understand the market for the position they’re trying to fill,” said Nicole Riley, Virginia director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

According to Riley, this would lead to employers lowballing the salaries of new employees.

“To make it a one-size-fits-all, I think you carry with it unintended consequences,” said Del. Kathy Byron, R-Forest, the vice chair of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. “What can happen is, by demanding things out of business you can put us at a disadvantage for getting hired.”

The committee tabled the bill on a voice vote.

Legislation similar to Boysko’s is being considered in other states and at the federal level.

Last year, Massachusetts adopted such a law. It will take effect in 2018.

In September, H.R. 6030, called the “Pay Equity for All Act of 2016,” was introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Eleanor Norton Holmes, who represents Washington, D.C. It would make it illegal at the federal level for employers to ask for salary histories.

Panel amends ‘dangerous dog’ description

Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee on Monday approved a bill that would change the description of a “dangerous dog,” possibly putting 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.

His HB 2381, approved by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, 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.

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.

Virginia Newsome, an animal control officer from Loudoun County, told the Agriculture Subcommittee that she and a group of fellow officers support the bill because they frequently see minor accidents 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, representing the Virginia Animal Control Association.

“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.”

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

The subcommittee heard no opposition from the audience and endorsed the bill with a unanimous vote. It now goes to the full committee for consideration.

Virginia likely to ease rules on marijuana

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia won’t be pulling a Colorado by decriminalizing marijuana this year. But the state might relax its penalties for possessing marijuana and its rules on who can use marijuana products for medical reasons.

Legislators this session introduced more than a dozen marijuana-related proposals. A Senate committee last week killed two bills to decriminalize the substance, and a House bill likely will die this week.

However, lawmakers seem amenable to making marijuana products more available for medical purposes and to being more lenient with Virginians convicted of simple possession of marijuana. Still, those bills have drawn opposition from certain legislators, highlighting a cultural divide within the General Assembly.

That divide was evident in the debate last week over a bill allowing Virginians with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and several other illnesses to use cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil, which are extracted from marijuana. Under current law, only people with intractable epilepsy can use the oils.

Cannabidiol oil and THC-A are non-psychoactive: They cannot be smoked or get users high. Even so, SB 1298 sparked debate; 11 of the 40 senators voted against it.

Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, recalled returning from serving in the Marines in Vietnam in the 1960s.

“Pot was the biggest thing, and we had just simply had a collapse of good order and discipline,” Black told his Senate colleagues. “I know where we’re headed; I can see a slippery slope. I do not want to see this country go back where it was in the ’60s and the ’70s because believe me it was not pretty. It was the worst of all times I have lived through.”

SB 1298 was sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester. She acknowledged there has been opposition to adding a dozen diseases to the list of ailments that qualify for a marijuana-extract oil. But making the treatment available to people with severe diseases doesn’t impose a public safety risk, Vogel said.

“Not only does it lack side effects but it also has really healing properties. There has been some quibbling over the breadth of the list. But if you have someone in your family with a debilitating genetic disorder or is dying a painful death from one of these diseases, which one are you going to pick?” Vogel said.

Three other bills before the General Assembly seek to expand medical uses of marijuana. The most expansive is HB 2135, introduced by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. It would allow a physician to recommend and a pharmacist to distribute marijuana or THC for treatment of any medical condition. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

The other bills are more limited. HB 1637, by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, would let people with Crohn’s disease use cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil. And SB 1452, by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would do the same for people with cancer. Davis’ bill is before a committee. The Senate is voting on Lucas’ measure this week.

Legislators also filed three bills that sought to decriminalize possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Currently, that offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail; defendants also lose their driver’s license for six months.

Under bills filed by Lucas (SB 908) and Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth (HB 1906), simple possession of marijuana would draw a civil penalty up to $250 for a first violation. Under SB 1269by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, a first offender would face a civil fine of no more than $100.

Last week, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously to kill Ebbin’s and Lucas’ bills. The corresponding committee in the House has yet to hold a hearing on Heretick’s bill.

It’s safe to say that Virginia won’t be joining Colorado and seven other states, as well as Washington, D.C., in legalizing recreational marijuana. But it’s likely the General Assembly will lessen the penalties associated with simple marijuana possession.

The Senate already has passed one bill to do that: SB 1091, sponsored by Ebbin. Under the measure, the state would no longer automatically suspend the driver’s license of an adult convicted of marijuana possession. The bill, which the Senate passed 38-2 last week, says juveniles still would be subject to a six-month suspension of their driver’s license.

Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham, is carrying a companion bill (HB 2051) in the House. The House Courts of Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill last week and sent it to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

House OKs carrying concealed switchblades

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians soon may be allowed to carry concealed switchblade knives under legislation moving through the General Assembly.

The House of Delegates voted 57-39 Monday to approve HB 1432 and send it to the Senate for consideration. The bill was sponsored by Republican Dels. Lee Ware of Powhatan and Scott Lingamfelter of Woodbridge.

The bill states, “Any person may carry a switchblade knife concealed when such knife is carried for the purpose of engaging in a lawful profession or recreational activity the performance of which is aided by the use of a switchblade knife.”

Ware said he proposed the bill on behalf of knife collectors such as the Greater Richmond Knife Club. He also said roofers and other workers use switchblade knives in their jobs.

“Look past the shining but disorienting name – switchblade – and look at the actual purpose and the actual words of the legislation, and join me in helping ordinary folks, hobbyists and tradesmen by voting on this bill,” Ware told his colleagues.

In addition to tool and knife groups, the bill has also been supported by Second Amendment rights groups.

Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, spoke against the bill, saying its language is too broad and would allow people with bad intentions to legally conceal carry a switchblade.

He said the bill is well-intentioned but would have bad consequences.

“Switchblades were originally put into the code several times to keep these deadly weapons out of the hands of gangs,” Lopez said. “Dangerous and deadly weapons like these in the hands of a bad actor are not good for our communities to have around.”

Under current law, it is legal to own and open-carry switchblades in Virginia, but it is illegal to conceal-carry certain knives including switchblades, bowie knives and dirks. Dirks are small daggers.

Similar knife legislation has been approved in the Senate:

  • Like HB 1432, Senate Bill 1347 would allow switchblades to be carried concealed. It passed the Senate last week on a vote of 23-16 with one abstention.
  • SB865 allows the transfer of dirks, switchblade and bowie knives from family members to a minor. The Senate approved the bill last week, 21-19.

How they voted

Here is how the House of Delegates voted Monday on HB 1432 (“Switchblade knife; exception to carry concealed”).

Floor: 01/30/17 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (57-Y 39-N)

YEAS – Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Gilbert, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Holcomb, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Miyares, Morris, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yost, Speaker Howell – 57.

NAYS – Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, John J., Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Dudenhefer, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Greason, Hayes, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, LeMunyon, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Mullin, Murphy, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Yancey – 39.

NOT VOTING – Hugo, Minchew, Morefield – 3.

Delegate Tyler Protects Hunter’s Rights at the General Assembly

Delegate Roslyn Tyler met with the hunters from Sussex, Greensville, Southampton and Dinwiddie County on Capitol Hill advocating on Hunting with Hounds.  Delegate Roslyn Tyler (75th District) is a rural legislator who supports hunting with dogs as part of traditional hunting heritage in Southside Virginia.

Delegate Tyler opposes HB 1900 which would prohibit dog owners from allowing dogs to run at large on property of another landowner and charged with a $100 civil penalty per dog. A bill of this nature is not necessary for law abiding sportsmen. Delegate Roslyn Tyler will continue to protect sportsmen rights and rural Virginia hunting heritage.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact her in Richmond at delrtyler@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1075.

Bills would end license suspension for marijuana possession

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians convicted of marijuana possession would no longer automatically lose their driver’s license for six months under legislation moving through the General Assembly.

Existing state law mandates that when someone is convicted of a drug offense, the defendant’s license is suspended for six months. Under bills approved by the Senate and by a House subcommittee, that provision would no longer apply to adults convicted of simple possession of marijuana on a first offense.

On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the legislation – SB 1091, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and Republican Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County. The vote was 38 to 2.

That came one day after an identical proposal – HB 2051, introduced by Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham – cleared a subcommittee in the House. The Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously in support of Adams’ bill.

Juveniles convicted of marijuana possession still would be subject to license suspension under the legislation. The bills would leave it up to the judge’s discretion to suspend the driver’s license of adult defendants.

Many people consider Virginia’s penalties for marijuana possession severe. A first offense for possession of less than a half ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, plus a six-month suspension of the individual’s license to drive a motor vehicle.

A first offender may receive a deferred disposition and dismissal of the charge upon completion of probation and community service. But such defendants still lose their driver’s licenses for six months.

During the Senate debate, Ebbin said that each year, about 39,000 Virginians lose their driver’s licenses because of drug offenses. Most states, including the ones bordering Virginia, don’t automatically suspend the licenses of such defendants, he said.

Stanley said that as an attorney, he has seen young people hurt by the state’s policy of suspending their driver’s licenses. Stanley said the policy stemmed from the “war on drugs” in the 1980s.

“What we’re trying to do with this very good statute is give someone the opportunity of a second chance for making a dumb mistake,” Stanley said.

Similar arguments were made at the House Criminal Law Subcommittee meeting. The panel heard from Ryan Johnson, a Virginia Tech alumnus who was charged with possession of marijuana in college.

“I automatically had my driver’s license suspended for six months, and that was what surprised me the most,” Johnson told legislators. “I said to myself, ‘Why is my license being suspended for something that didn’t involve a car or driving? And how am I supposed to get to school and work?’”

Johnson said the license suspension was the most disruptive part of his sentencing.

HB 2051 and SB 1091 would be contingent upon written assurance from the U.S. Department of Transportation that Virginia will not lose any federal funds for easing its policy on the suspension of driver’s licenses for people convicted of marijuana possession.

Also on Tuesday, after more than 15 minutes of debate, the Senate passed a bill to allow people with documentation from a doctor to carry cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil – products extracted from cannabis. Without such documentation, people who have such substances can be charged with possession of marijuana.

Currently, only Virginians with intractable epilepsy have permission to possess the oils.

SB 1298, sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, would expand the list to include cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses.

Senators voted 29-11 in favor of the bill. Vogel said CBD oil has been “remarkable and transformative” for patients with epilepsy. She said her measure would allow people with other diseases to benefit from the treatment.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, said he fears legislation like this is a step toward legalization of marijuana. “Proceeding down this route takes us in that direction,” Black said.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, disagreed. “We’re not going to become a nation of potheads because people with MS and a variety of other ailments are using this type of oil,” he said.

Alcohol potency bill causes buzz among colleges

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – College administrators remain concerned about legislation that would let the state’s ABC stores sell 151-proof grain alcohol.

Linda Hancock, a member of the Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council, said she and other education professionals fear that such liquors – which are more than 75 percent alcohol – may attract inexperienced college students who tend to pour overly strong drinks.

On Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed HB 1842, which would allow Virginians to purchase 151-proof neutral grain alcohol at their local ABC store.

Hancock is the director of the Wellness Resource Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. However, she emphasized that she was not speaking as a VCU employee.

As a clinician and campus health educator, Hancock said she is not worried about the over-30 adults who are the main consumer base for Everclear, a popular brand of grain alcohol. It comes in two varieties – 151 proof and 190 proof. 

“151 is not a highly purchased item – at least, you would think it would not be. How many people are making limoncello, you know?” Hancock said, referring to Jello shots that some adults mix with grain alcohol at parties.

HB 1842 would amend Virginia’s existing laws, which set the cap of sellable alcohol at 101 proof in 1993. Despite their significantly stronger alcohol content, high-proof neutral grain spirits are tasteless, odorless and colorless, leading University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan to equate the liquor to a “date rape” drug.

The Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council was a vocal opponent of a similar bill during last year’s legislative session before it was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Steven Clarke, then-director of the Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center at Virginia Tech, warned of the potential side effects of allowing high potency alcohols on campuses, including “personal injury, property damage, and academic non-performance.”

William and Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III agreed, calling the bill “really a bad idea.”

A report commissioned by the governor last year included a Gallup poll revealing young adults’ increasing preference for spirits since the 1990s, as well as research that college students tend to put excessive amounts of alcohol in drinks.

The same report, however, emphasized that there is little evidence that the ban on 151-proof products has reduced underage drinking or alcohol misuse on college campuses.

“Most of the research that’s been done on grain alcohol has been done on the 191 proof, and so there’s not as much research on the 151,” Hancock said. “But common sense would lead you to believe that since the drink size of 151 is only seven milliliters smaller than a 191, a lot of the same issues would apply,”  she said. “Most of the evidence is anecdotal, but there’s still concern.”

HB 1842 was passed after the bill’s patron, Del. Barry D. Knight, R-Virginia Beach, added a five-year sunset clause to the bill, with the condition that legislation would revert back to 101 “if issues arise.”

Additionally, Virginia ABC stores will be able to regulate the sale of high-proof neutral grain spirits, meaning the ABC board could choose not to sell it in stores near college campuses. The Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council announced plans to form a subcommittee to work with ABC regarding product distribution. The main focus for the next five years, Hancock says, is continuing to learn how to keep young alcohol drinkers safe.

“It’s really hard, because it’s odorless and tasteless, to track what’s done with it,” she said.  “The data is going to be hard to collect. But at five years, we’ll be able to see what kind of measures have been installed around it and whether we think they’re protecting college students and young adults. The main thing is that we for sure need more data, state-wise, about this issue.”

Virginia and Vermont are the only two states to ban sales of 151-proof grain alcohol.

Senate Committee Rejects 2 Pro-Choice Bills

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Five days earlier, half a million protesters showed up for the Women’s March on Washington. On Thursday, two pro-choice abortion bills were defeated 8-7 along party lines by a Senate committee.

The Senate Committee on Education and Health rejected SB 1424, which advocates had dubbed the Restoring Dignity to Informed Consent act, and SB 1549, aka the Whole Woman’s Health Act. The panel limited testimony on the bills to two minutes, women’s rights activists said.

SB 1424, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, would have allowed a woman who had received medically necessary information about abortion from her doctor to choose not to receive additional, non-medical information. It also would have ended the requirement that she wait a state-imposed period of time or undergo an ultrasound procedure if she decided to have an abortion.

SB 1549, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would have removed certain state-imposed restrictions on Virginia women seeking an abortion. Those restrictions include the performance of an ultrasound and the requirement that facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month meet the regulatory standards for hospitals.

“First-trimester abortions are among the safest medical procedures performed in the United States,” said Tara Gibson, field director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. “There is absolutely no medical reason why our health centers need to comply with the same requirements on hallway width and parking spaces that a full-service hospital is subject to.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, agreed.“Women just want to be able to access health care when they need it,” she said.

Dozens of women had traveled to Richmond to testify in support of the bills. They included students, medical professionals, mothers, wives and citizens who planned to share personal testimonies before the committee.

The committee chairman, Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, informed the group that they had a total of two minutes to speak, according to supporters of the legislation.

“Coming right off the heels of the massive Women’s March on D.C. and sister marches across the commonwealth, it’s appalling and disappointing that Chairman Newman refused to hear these women’s concerns and allow any meaningful testimony from their constituents before rejecting the bill,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

SB 1424 and SB 1549 were killed on identical votes by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Voting to spike the legislation were Newman and fellow Republican Sens. Richard Black of Leesburg, Charles Carrico of Galax, Amanda Chase of Midlothian, John Cosgrove of Chesapeake, Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico, Mark Peake of Lynchburg and David Suetterlein of Roanoke.

Voting against the motions that the bills be “passed by indefinitely” were Democratic Sens. George Barker of Alexandria, Janet Howell of Reston, Lynwood Lewis of Accomac, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, Chap Petersen of Fairfax and Richard Saslaw of Springfield.

Bills would make presidential candidates release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In a slap at President Donald Trump, two Democratic legislators are pushing for a state law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to get on the ballot in Virginia.

Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria and Sen. Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge filed their legislation after Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee’s successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax filings; candidates had done so for 40 years.

“It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know,” Levine said.

Under current state law, to get on the presidential ballot in Virginia, a candidate must submit to the State Board of Elections petitions signed by at least 5,000 qualified voters, including at least 200 qualified voters from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.

Levine’s bill (HB 2444) says the candidate “shall also attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election.”

McPike’s measure (SB 1543) would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns for the previous five years. “The official ballot shall not contain the name of any candidate who did not submit the federal tax returns and income tax returns filed in any state,” the bill says. It would apply to primaries as well as general elections.

Similar legislation is before by the U.S. Congress. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is sponsoring the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. According to the committee’s website, the bill was introduced to get Trump, who was inaugurated last week, to release his tax returns.

“The fact that the president-elect refuses to release his tax returns is a tragic failure of transparency, and it needs to be corrected,” Wyden said when filing the proposal.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate, helped write Wyden’s bill.

Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.

Levine said that polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president’s business interests are important to know about.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, discussed Trump’s tax returns.

“The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.

Levine said he is “not optimistic” about the bill passing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. However, he said, he is “always hopeful.”

HB 2444 has been assigned to the Campaigns Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Levine believes the subcommittee will vote on the bill next week.

SB 1543 has been referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

Virginia Democrats Blast Immigration Executive Order

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia’s top Democratic officials on Saturday condemned President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“On behalf of the people of Virginia, I urge President Trump and leaders in Washington to reverse this policy and restore our nation to its place as a beacon of opportunity for all,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a press conference at Dulles International Airport.

McAuliffe spoke before a Saturday evening rally welcoming immigrants and refugees to the U.S. The rally followed the detention of two Iraqi refugees at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The ban will make the country less safe and contradicts the values that make America great, McAuliffe said. Attorney General Mark Herring, a fellow Democrat, agreed.

“For generations, the United States has been a beacon of hope and a safe harbor for those in need,” Herring said. He and McAuliffe vowed to work together to examine the order and take legal action to oppose the policy.

Trump’s ban prevents citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days. These countries will likely not be the only ones banned. The executive order calls for the secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a 30-day review of countries that do not offer “adequate information” about citizens seeking visas.

Trump signed the order Friday at the Pentagon.

“I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” he said. “We don't want them here.”

Trump added, “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said the order will hurt innocent people.

“This executive order could stop green card holders from these seven countries from returning to the United States if they travel abroad. These Virginians deserve due process, and it is this administration’s priority that they can return home,” Northam said.

Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said Trump’s order is a threat to Virginia and to national security because administering religious tests ignores the contributions and sacrifices of Muslims who have served in the U.S. military. Virginia is home to bases for all four branches of the military.

“There are countless stories of Iraqis and Afghanis who risked their lives to serve alongside our troops as interpreters,” Northam said. “Preventing them from entering the country is an utter disgrace to the commitment to the United States they have shown through their actions abroad.”

Trump’s executive order has also stopped refugees from being admitted to the country over the course of the next four months. Following this ban, Christian refugees fleeing Muslim-majority countries would be given priority over Muslim refugees leaving these countries.

The number of refugees who would potentially be allowed to enter the U.S. under Trump’s administration would be less than half the number admitted under former President Barack Obama.

“President Trump is dimming that light and slamming the door in the face of vulnerable people fleeing unimaginable circumstances,” Herring said.

Northam warned of potentially harmful economic implications in Virginia as a result of the ban. He said it may prevent hundreds of thousands of students, high-tech workers and scientists from re-entering the U.S. after trips abroad.

“In Virginia, we must fight against this type of xenophobia and bigotry. We must continue to be an example to the country of how tolerance and diversity make us stronger,” Northam said. “We must show the world that there are Americans who will stand up for the values that made us a ‘shining city upon a hill.’”

Most Virginia Republican leaders have refrained from issuing public statements regarding Trump’s order. However, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, defended the action.

“After years of increasingly liberal Obama immigration policies, President Trump decided to stop these actions and give his new administration time to study the effects of these policies and implement new ones. It’s a four-month pause to allow the administration to put policies in place that will keep Americans safe,” Wagner, a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said in a statement.

Wagner said Trump’s order would be “an inconvenience to less than 200 people per day from terrorist states. This is a small price to pay to insure that Americans are kept safe.”

Virginians say colleges prepare graduates for jobs

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Most Virginians say high schools don’t effectively prepare students for the workplace but the state’s colleges and universities do, according to a poll by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Commonwealth Education Poll reported that only 36 percent of Virginians believe high school graduates are ready to join the workforce – but almost three-fourths of the respondents said graduates of community colleges and four-year colleges are job-ready.

Virginians believe the state’s institutions of higher education are especially effective at preparing students to work in scientific fields, the survey said.

“This poll shows the trust citizens have in our colleges and universities to prepare students for the careers of the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent.

Trent said that the statewide poll – conducted by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs – indicated that Virginia is on the right path in revamping its high school curriculum. More than three out of four respondents said they want high schools to prepare students for careers.

“Last year, Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe worked in a bipartisan manner with members of the General Assembly to pass legislation that would redesign high school to focus more on workforce skills and provide a variety of rigorous pathways to graduation,” she said. “And this poll clearly shows that the citizens of the commonwealth overwhelmingly support this approach to bring education into the 21st century.”

Trent joined Robyn McDougle, the institute’s interim executive director, at two news conferences at Capitol Square last week to discuss the survey results.

In an interview, McDougle offered an explanation for why Virginians think high school graduates aren’t ready for the workforce: It’s because high schools focus more on college prep than on career skills. Most Virginians believe the state’s high school graduates are ready for college, according to the poll.

K-12 education

The survey found that:

  • Two-thirds of Virginians said the state’s schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs.
  • 69 percent of the respondents are willing to pay more in taxes to keep state funding for public schools at the current level. Partisan differences were evident, however. While 85 percent of Democrats said they’d pay more in taxes, only 52 percent of Republicans felt that way.
  • 54 percent said they prefer that the added funds be used to increase teacher pay.
  • Most Virginians aren’t familiar with dual enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college courses and receive credit toward both a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree.

Higher education

Two-thirds of the respondents say colleges and universities are providing the skills useful in obtaining a job. And more than 60 percent say the state’s institutions of higher education are preparing students to be engaged citizens.

“Colleges and universities in Virginia as a whole are perceived positively by a large majority of the public in terms of outcomes that support the state’s economy and civic life,” said McDougle, an associate professor at the Wilder School.

According to the survey:

  • Virginians are concerned about the cost to attend college, and a narrow majority would be willing to pay higher taxes for need-based financial aid. A strong majority wants college administrators to spend privately raised non-taxpayer sources of funding to reduce tuition and fees.
  • An increasing number of Virginians – more than half – know students can transfer from a two-year to a four-year school, and most of them say the transfer process is easy.

The Commonwealth Education Poll involved interviewing a random sample of 806 adults from across Virginia by landline phones and cellphones between Nov. 8 and 17. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

For the complete poll results and methodology, see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.

Panel Rejects Expansion of Seat-Belt Law

By Rodrigo Arriaza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia auto safety groups are criticizing a House panel after it killed a bill that would have required every passenger in a car to use a seat belt.

“This is a low-hanging fruit in traffic safety, getting people to buckle up,” said Kurt Erickson, president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a group that fights drunken and irresponsible driving in the D.C. area. “Virginia is constantly below the national rate of people wearing seat belts.”

Erickson said efforts to strengthen Virginia’s seat belt laws go back to the early 1970s. He called the General Assembly’s hesitance a “libertarian defense.”

“There are federal incentives for Virginia to do this, meaning that there’s highway dollars that are at risk if Virginia doesn’t have primary seat belt legislation. But that doesn’t seem to motivate anybody in Richmond,” Erickson said.

“In fact, I’m convinced that when you bring up the federal government in terms of their incentives, that automatically raises Virginia’s flag of sovereignty 5 feet higher.”

WRAP, along with other auto safety groups across the state, supported HB 1558, sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria.

Virginia law requires seat belt use only if the passenger is in the front seat or is under 18 years old. Tina Gill, director of state programs at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the current law is inadequate and puts Virginians at risk.

“Traffic crashes are a public health and safety epidemic, and they are preventable,” Gill said. “We work to pass legislation so we can reduce the number of fatalities and injuries and prevent these horrific losses that have sweeping effects on families and communities.”

Krizek’s bill died last week on a 4-4 vote in a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

The four subcommittee members who voted in favor of the legislation were Republican Del. James Edmunds of Halifax and Democratic Dels. Patrick Hope of Arlington, Sam Rasoul of Roanoke and Roslyn Tyler of Jarratt.

Voting against the bill were Republican Dels. Ben Cline of Amherst, Tony Wilt of Harrisonburg, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol and Christopher Head of Roanoke.

While the legislation would have enhanced Virginia’s safety laws, seat belt use is still a secondary offense in the state. This means police can’t stop drivers just because they aren’t buckled up. People in a vehicle’s front seat can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver has been stopped for a primary offense such as speeding.

Both Gill said primary enforcement of seat belt laws is important.

“Laws that are primary-enforced are much stronger laws and result in much more seat belt use,” she said. “It’s such a simple thing for us to do, and still people are not doing it.”

Erickson agreed.

“Most states have a primary seat belt laws, meaning that law enforcement could stop them for not wearing a seat belt,” he said. “This (HB 1558) wasn’t even that; this was just mandating seat belt use for all passengers in a vehicle.”

According to a 2014 study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 87 percent of people nationwide wear seat belts, but only 77 percent of Virginians buckle up.

“It’s vital that everybody buckle up,” Gill said. “It’s the bare minimum action that you can take when you get in a vehicle.”

Democrats and Republicans Join Forces at Capitol Classic

By Tyler Woodall and Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia government officials participated in the ninth annual Massey Capitol Classic Challenge on Tuesday night at Virginia Commonwealth University.

While Democrats and Republicans often are at odds at the state Capitol, members of the Senate and House of Delegates from both sides of the aisle fought for the same cause at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Adding to the night’s light-hearted feel, the legislators were joined by former NBA center Ben Wallace, NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler and former VCU Ram and second round NBA draft pick Calvin Duncan.

The atmosphere was electric, as raucous choruses from VCU’s Peppas pep band and Henrico High School’s Marching Warriors echoed throughout the arena.

However, in the shadow of VCU’s 2011 Final Four banner, the action on the court was far from the level normally seen at The Stu.

Although the night was filled with air balls and turnovers, the sloppy play got the job done, as the night’s festivities helped raise more than $23,000 for VCU’s Massey Cancer Center. The largest donations came from Ben and Chandra Wallace, the CSX Corporation, the Sadler family and Capitol lobbyists.

The night’s festivities kicked off in front of a crowd of several hundred as the governor’s staff took on Capitol lobbyists. The lobbyists ultimately took home the bragging rights after winning 45-34.

Shortly after, the Senate won the night’s All-Star Shootout by a commanding 81-19 final score. However, the senators’ joy was short-lived as they were unable to bring that same lights-out shooting to the night’s premiere event.

The House, led by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, came out of the gates with the hot hand, taking a commanding 16-5 halftime lead. However, the first half’s action was less-than-stellar, and one announcer quipped, “That’s 15 minutes we’ll never get back.”

The second half was much of the same, with the exception of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who came out of the huddle looking to carry his team back from the brink. However, Petersen’s efforts were not enough to carry his Senate colleagues past Sadler and Rasoul-led House.

At the final buzzer, the House came out with a commanding 31-17 victory, with Rasoul being named the game’s MVP.

Rasoul said he was happy to take home the honor in front of the friendly crowd and, for once, to join hands with his opponents across the aisle.

“It was great we got to have a good time and do it all for a good cause,” he said. “The one thing I love about this event is, it’s bipartisan. It’s House vs. Senate, and the more we can do in a bipartisan way, the more fun it is.”

Sadler, who helped Rasoul carry the House to victory Tuesday night, said he relished the opportunity to play at The Stu.

“I could’ve performed a little bit better, but the main thing is it’s for a great cause,” Sadler said. “I’ve been here to watch the Rams play, and it’s neat to be able to come here and play on this floor for such a good cause.”

After taking a moment to let it sink in, he added, “I think I’m undefeated on this floor right now, so that’s pretty cool.”

Legislators Seek to Curb ‘Distracted Driving’

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A coalition of Democrats and Republicans called Tuesday for new laws to discourage Virginia motorists from using their cellphones while driving.

The legislators unveiled several bills targeting “distracted driving,” which they said caused thousands of traffic accidents and killed 175 people in the state last year.

HB 1834, sponsored by Del. Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge, would make it illegal for drivers to “manually select multiple icons or enter multiple letters or text” in a handheld device – meaning they couldn’t check Facebook, send a tweet or view a video on YouTube. Current state law prohibits drivers only from sending emails or text messages.

Anderson’s bill also would create a new offense called distracted driving in the Code of Virginia.

“In partnership with law enforcement, we can make this happen, and that’s what this collective effort is all about,” Anderson said. “This is a bicameral, bipartisan effort.”

Existing law against texting while driving applies only when the vehicle is moving. Anderson’s bill would extend the ban to when the vehicle is stopped on the roadway. It would not apply when the vehicle is legally parked.

Anderson’s bill would not affect drivers using a GPS navigation system or accessing a name or number stored on their cellphone to make a call.

“The real reason we’ve got to do this is simply because, based on reports from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2016, 175 Virginians died on our highways as a result of distracted driving,” Anderson said. “On top of that, 14,700 Virginians were injured.”

Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls, have introduced legislation to educate young people about the dangers of distracted driving.

Under Villanueva’s proposal, HB 2015, people who use the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system could make a voluntary contribution to the DRIVE SMART Virginia Education Fund. The fund sponsors training and activities to promote roadway safety.

Greason’s bill, HB 1763, would authorize the issuance of special license plates for supporters of highway safety, including awareness of distracted driving. For each plate sold, $10 would be used to promote safe driving.

Greason suggested that the plates be designed by high school students.

“High school students said something interesting to me: ‘You might pass a new law, you might create a new impaired-driving statute, you might increase the penalties, but that’s really not going to make an effect,’” Greason said.

“‘Somehow, you have to get us engaged in the process.’”

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced legislation that would deal with injuries caused by distracted driving. SB 1339says a person who operates a motor vehicle in a careless or distracted manner and causes serious injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The driver’s license would be suspended.

As a lawyer, Surovell said he dealt with this kind of personal injury first hand. He recalled representing a family whose son was killed by a distracted driver.

“That collision opened my eyes to how dangerous texting while driving can be,” Surovell said. “The individual in that case was never convicted of anything.”

A study by Virginia Tech found that 80 percent of all crashes are from driver inattention three seconds before the accident, according to Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART. She said texting while driving makes a person 2,300 times more likely to be in a crash.

Dana Schrade, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the legislation would help clarify, educate and enforce safe driving.

“What we are talking about is something that has become an accepted practice, and that’s that we can multitask. When you get behind the wheel, driving is a full-time job,” Schrade said.

“The more we make a clear message through our legislation with the help of these legislators, the more we put forth a clear message about how this is a No. 1 danger in driving today.”

School Security Gun Bill Passes House

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – School security officers could carry firearms in schools under a bill passed Tuesday by the House of Delegates.

The GOP-controlled House voted 78 to 19, with several Democrats joining Republicans in support, to pass HB 1392. This is the second time in as many years that a version of the bill has made it past the House and into the Senate.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the measure last year.

The bill, introduced by Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, would allow school districts across the commonwealth to employ security officers to carry firearms in school if they meet requirements spelled out in the bill.

According to those requirements:

  • The school employee must be a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chief law-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to develop firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who intend to carry a firearm.

In a statement, Lingamfelter said that he was happy that his bill had passed with bipartisan support. He called it “a common-sense measure to protect our children and teachers from the unthinkable.”

The bill faces another round of hearings in the Senate, which approved the measure last year and has enough Republican votes to pass it on to McAuliffe.

In vetoing similar legislation last April, McAuliffe said he feared that school security officers “do not receive training regarding firearms or the appropriate use of force with juveniles.”

“Allowing additional firearms in schools without appropriate training would create an environment that is less, rather than more, secure,” the governor wrote.

House of Delegates OKs ‘Tebow Bill’

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Tuesday that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill” after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, passed by a 60-38 vote on the House floor Tuesday. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

Bell has introduced similar legislation, which is based on laws from other states, perennially since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s legislation passed both the House and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Opponents say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public school students, so it wouldn’t 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 latest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, students who want to participate in their 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 home-schoolers also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public school counterparts.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, shared her concerns about the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

“As a former school board member and parent of a child who spent a significant number of years in private school, I’m always hesitant to see us move in this direction,” McQuinn said.

“Take my nephew, for instance. As a star basketball player, he says he has sacrificed and put many years and extraordinary determination into reaching his current playing level. Yet if a home-schooling (student) is granted the same exposure and resources, it goes without saying that they reap the same benefit after investing a highly disproportionate amount of time.”

Bell argued that his bill simply allows 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.’”

McQuinn said the bill was not a matter of equality, but rather the opposite.

“What message does this send to public school parents and students?” she asked. “One of fairness or favorability? While public schools present their own unique challenges, some more difficult than others, I believe the passing of this bill would add another dimension of complication to the public school system.”

Bell said that was not the case. Under the legislation, the decision to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports would come down to the local school district. Each individual school board would be able to decide for itself.

McQuinn countered that allowing the localities to decide brings its own set of problems.

“There are implications with making this a local school board issue as well,” she said. “If a school division allows home-schooled students and another does not, there would be cases where teams would have to make a decision to forfeit a game. This kind of policy breeds division, brings fairness into question and creates inconsistencies across individual schools.”

Senate Panel OKs Bans on LGBT Discrimination

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment and housing cleared a Senate committee on Monday and now will go to the full Senate for consideration.

SB 783, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would prohibit public employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 12-3 in favor of the bill.

SB 822, filed by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would prohibits public housing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identification. The committee approved the proposal, 11-3.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, praised the committee’s approval of the bills.

“No Virginian should be pushed out of their home or their job because of who they are or who they love,” Northam said. “I applaud the Senate committee for advancing policies to ensure Virginia is open and welcoming to all.”

Organizations in support of the bills included Equality Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia.

Organizations in opposition to the bill were the Family Foundation and the Virginia Catholic Conference. They argued that the bills would infringe on people’s religious freedom.

John Hetzler, legislative counsel for the Family Foundation, said SB 783 was unnecessary because there were only 12 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation reported since 2009.

In response, Ebbin said, “To those 12 people, there’s an issue, and further to LGBT members of the state workforce. Personally, as someone who’s been discriminated against in employment because of my sexual orientation, it does happen, and it’s not only people who report it, but people who keep silent about it.”

SB 783 seeks to codify as state law an executive order issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Executive Order 1 prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national
origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise
qualified persons with disabilities” in state employment.

Similarly, the Virginia Fair Housing Law already protects individuals from being discriminated against because of race, ethnicity, country of origin, familial status and religion. SB 822 would simply add sexual orientation and gender identification to the list.

Helen Hardiman, policy director for HOME, defended SB 822. She said that HOME did testing in three areas of the state, sending a gay couple and a straight couple to search for housing. In 44 percent of the cases, the straight couple was treated better, Hardiman said.

Bills like SB 822 have come before the General Assembly in the past but have failed.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said he expected the bills to win approval from the Senate this year. The legislation is more likely to get voted down in the House of Delegates.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 783 (“Public employment; prohibits discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (12-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Suetterlein, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 12.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Here is how the committee voted on SB 822 (“Virginia Fair Housing Law; unlawful discriminatory housing practices, sexual orientation and gender”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (11-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 11.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Animal Tethering Bill Tabled By Subcommittee

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to prohibit the tethering of dogs and other animals was rejected Monday by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1802, filed by Del. John J. Bell, D-Chantilly, would have allowed tethering only if the owner of the animal were outside and within sight of the pet.

The meeting of the committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee brought out both supporters and opponents of the tethering bill.

Supporters included representatives from the Richmond SPCA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of the cruelty investigations department for PETA, said the organization sees many mistreated dogs tethered on chains.

“We’re in support of the bill because we see thousands and thousands of dogs in the commonwealth who are trapped 24/7 at the end of a chain, without any love, companionship or respect – oftentimes without the very bare minimums of life necessities,” Nachminovitch said.

“Man’s best friend deserves better than that.”

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Alice Harrington, a representative of the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said there were plenty of reasons to safely tether an animal.

“It should be tabled -- that’s what we wanted,” said Harrington. “Tethering is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to keep animals safe. When these kinds of bills come forward, most of them don’t tie to anything having to do with the condition of the dog.”

“There’s all sorts of reasons why people need to tether an animal -- like escape artists, whether they dig under the fence or go over,” Harrington said.

“Something you do when you have dog shows and field events with hunting dogs, the method of containing them is to tether them. You can’t enforce this stuff, especially where it says you have to stand in sight of your dog,” she said.

HB 1802 stated, “No companion animal shall be tethered outdoors unless the owner is outdoors within sight of the animal.” An initial violation would have been a Class 4 misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $250. A second offense would have been a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.

Bell’s legislation would have amended section 3.2-6503 of the Code of Virginia, in relation to the care of companion animals. The code says owners must provide adequate feed, water, properly cleaned shelter, adequate space for the type of animal and veterinary care when needed.

The provisions of HB 1802 would have applied to anyone who owns or provides foster care to a companion animal, including animal shelters, dealers, pet shops, exhibitors, kennels, groomers and boarding establishments.

Most localities in Virginia do not have restrictions on the tethering of animals. The city of Richmond and a few others have prohibited it.

After hearing testimony for and against the tethering bill, the subcommittee voted to table it on a 7-1 vote.

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