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Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

Haley Winn

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, October 19, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

This Paid Political Advertisement does not represent an endorsement by Emporia News. Emporia News does not endorse candidates for any political office.

35 million pounds of toxic chemicalss released into Virginia’s environment

By Julia Rothey, Dai Ja Norman and Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Factories, power plants and other facilities in Virginia released about 35 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the state’s water, air and land in 2015, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. More than half of the pollution came from just five facilities, the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory showed.

Most of the pollution in Virginia involved nitrate compounds released into the water and ammonia, hydrochloric acid and methanol released into the air, an analysis of the TRI data found. The releases included more than 1 million pounds of carcinogens – cancer-causing chemicals such as acetaldehyde, styrene and lead.

The TRI database details which chemicals are released by which facilities, how much is released and where the pollution goes. The latest data is for 2015.

The Radford Army Ammunition Plant, located along the New River in Montgomery County, emitted more toxic chemicals into the environment than any other facility in Virginia. The plant, the U.S military’s primary gun and rocket propellant provider, released more than 10 million pounds of pollutants, mostly nitrate compounds going into nearby waters.

Prolonged exposure to nitrates can lead hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, birth defects and headaches, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Radford plant was the second biggest water polluter in the nation in 2015, the data showed. Only the AK Steel Corp. operation in Rockport, Indiana, emitted more toxins into the water – over 13 million pounds. In terms of total on-site releases (including air and land), the ammunition facility ranked 35th nationwide.

According to the TRI data, after the Radford plant, the Virginia facilities with the most on-site releases in 2015 were:

·         MeadWestvaco’s paper plant in Covington – 3 million pounds of chemicals.

·         Honeywell International’s chemical plant in Hopewell – more than 2.3 million pounds.

·         The Chesterfield Power Station in Chester – almost 2 million pounds.

·         International Paper’s mill in Franklin – 1.3 million pounds.

Two other facilities – Jewell Coke Co. in Buchanan County and the Clover Power Station in Halifax – also had on-site emissions exceeding 1 million pounds.

Ladelle McWhorter, who chairs Virginia Organizing, which advocates for a clean environment and other issues, said she finds the amount of pollution deplorable.

“It kills people,” McWhorter said. “It sickens and disables people. It causes birth defects. It decreases property values, so it impoverishes people. And it makes our surroundings ugly and depressing.”

Virginia Organizing has participated in an array of campaigns to combat pollution and climate change.

The group helped get CSX to stop parking train cars filled with hazardous materials near a low-income neighborhood in Fredericksburg. Currently, the organization is working with other groups to oppose the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which McWhorter said would threaten water supplies.

“We have been working and are continuing to work on reducing air pollution, and of course that has benefits beyond reduction of greenhouse gases,” McWhorter said. Her organization tries to practice what it preaches: The group’s central office runs on solar power and uses hybrid fleet cars.

Details from the TRI database

The Radford Army Ammunition Plant released 10 different chemicals into the environment. Although nitrate compounds going into the water made up more than 95 percent of the emissions, the plant also reported air releases of hydrochloric acid (283,000 pounds), sulfuric acid (75,000 pounds), nitroglycerin (58,000 pounds) and ammonia (24,000).

The ammunition facility’s 2015 emissions were up 9 percent from the previous year but down 19 percent from 2010.

The MeadWestvaco plant in Covington released more than 20 chemicals into the environment. The most prominent was methanol, with 1.6 million pounds emitted into the air from a smoke stack.

Methanol can take a toll on the nervous system if ingested, the CDC says. Side effects include brain fog, difficulty breathing, visual impairment, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

The paper plant also released into the air more than 370,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid and about 221,000 pounds of ammonia, the TRI data indicated. It said the emissions included two carcinogens: nearly 54,000 pounds of acetaldehyde and 20,000 pounds of formaldehyde, released mostly into the air.

The 2015 releases from the MeadWestvaco plant were down 16 percent from 2014 and 8 percent from the emissions in 2010.

Honeywell International’s Hopewell plant produces nylon for carpets and chemicals used in fertilizer. It released more than 2 million pounds of ammonia into the air in 2015. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause difficulty in breathing, eye irritation, burning of skin, visual impairment and loss of consciousness, according to the CDC.

The facility also released more than 13,000 pounds of acetaldehyde and about 8,700 pounds of benzene, another carcinogen.

The Hopewell plant was owned by Honeywell until October, when it was spun off to another company called AdvanSix. According to Debi Lewis, the communications officer for AdvanSix, the plant has spent more than $50 million on health, safety and environmental improvements since 2010.

“AdvanSix takes all environmental compliance matters seriously, and our team focuses on these issues every day,” she said in an email.

The Honeywell plant in 2015 released 29 percent more than it emitted in 2010. However, emissions dropped 21 percent from 2014 to 2015.

“We are focused on decreasing pollutants in the air. The plant is spending $110 million in projects to be completed by 2019 designed to reduce overall air emissions and to cut some air emissions by 50 percent from 2014 levels,” Lewis said.

About half of the Chesterfield Power Plant’s releases were air emissions – mostly hydrochloric and sulfuric acids. The other releases involved substances such as barium, vanadium and manganese compounds found in coal ash. Dominion Resources, which owns the power station, stores the coal ash in surface impoundments.

Excessive amounts of barium may cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness, as well as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulties in breathing and other problems, the CDC says.

According to the TRI, on-site releases at the Chesterfield Power Plant jumped about 8 percent from 2014 to 2015; however, they were 44 percent lower than in 2010.

International Paper’s plant in Franklin and Isle of Wight County released 17 chemicals. The main one was methanol (800,000 pounds), followed by hydrogen sulfide and ammonia – all released into the air. The plant released two carcinogens: acetaldehyde (about 27,000 pounds) and formaldehyde (12,000).

Emissions from the paper plant tripled from 2010 to 2015. However, emissions dropped 10 percent during the most recent year.

Overall, facilities in Virginia have made progress in reducing toxic emissions. Statewide, on-site releases have fallen from more than 49 million pounds in 2010 to about 38.5 million in 2014 and 35 million in 2015. That is a 29 percent drop during the five years – and a 9 percent reduction from 2014 to 2015.

Since 2010, several facilities have slashed their on-site releases dramatically, such as the Tyson Farms operation in Accomac County (down 97 percent) and Perdue Farms’ Accomac Processing Plant (down 82 percent). Emissions also plunged at the Philip Morris USA’s Commerce Road site in Richmond (down 93 percent), at Dominion Resources’ Yorktown Power Station (down 85 percent) and at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico (down 73 percent).

Fined for violating environmental rules

The TRI database includes reports on 440 facilities in Virginia. They provided information on more than 140 toxic chemicals. Almost all of the chemicals are legal in certain amounts under certain circumstances under the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other regulations enforced by the EPA.

However, the agency has fined Virginia companies for violating environmental rules. The EPA lists all inspections, violations and fines on its Enforcement and Compliance History Onlinedatabase. The EPA rates violations as high-priority violations, significant violations or noncompliance, based on the violation and the applicable regulation.

For example, the Honeywell International in Hopewell has been in high-priority violation of the Clean Air Act for particulate matter and other pollutants since July 2014.

“The Hopewell plant is currently in compliance for particulate emissions, and issues in previous years were related to specific equipment malfunctions,” Lewis said. “AdvanSix has invested a significant amount of capital to address these issues, and we will continue to evaluate and invest as appropriate.”

In the past five years, the Hopewell plant has received 10 informal notices of violations and has paid more than $700,000 in fines for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. After a lawsuit in 2013, Honeywell International paid $3 million in penalties, plus millions more to bring its facility into compliance.

The Radford Munitions Plant has been in high-priority violation of the Clean Air Act since October 2015 for visible emissions and intermittently in violation of the Clean Water Act for biologic oxygen demand.

Biological oxygen demand is not a measure of one chemical, but of the dissolved oxygen in water. Aquatic plants and animals need oxygen dissolved in water to survive. Certain chemicals reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, which reduces the amount of aquatic life.

The Radford Munitions Plant was fined almost $270,000 in 2016 for violations of the Clean Air Act and has received two informal letters of violation so far this year.

The Chesterfield Power Station has not paid fines in the last five years. However, Virginia Power, a Dominion subsidiary, paid more than $5 million in penalties to the federal government in connection with a 2003 lawsuit that involved alleged violations at the Chesterfield generating station and eight other facilities. EPA records say a final order in the case was entered in 2016; as a result, the fine is listed in the five-year history of the Chesterfield power plant. However, Dominion officials said the case actually was settled and the fine paid in 2003.

The International Paper Franklin Mill paid almost $11,000 in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act in 2014 for a discharge without the proper permit but has no recent violations.

Daniel Carr, a professor in the environmental studies department at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that it is often easier for companies to pay the fines than bring their factories into compliance.

If meeting regulations could lead to bankruptcy but companies can cover the fines associated with violations, there may be no motivation for them to comply, he said.

New Munitions Facility May Reduce Pollution

By Julia Rothey, Dai Ja Norman and Haley Winn, Capital News Service

After 80 years of service, the U.S. Army Radford Ammunition’s nitrocellulose facility is set to retire, and a more modern facility will take its place.

In 2015, the Radford plant was the 35th biggest polluter in the United States, with more than 10 million pounds of on-site releases of chemicals, according to the federal government’s Toxic Release Inventory.

The vast majority of the plant’s releases involved nitrate compounds disposed of into bodies of water. Only one other facility nationwide – a steel mill in Indiana – reported more water emissions.

The Radford facility is located on the New River in Montgomery County. Despite the chemical emissions, local bodies of water were classified as safe by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in a 2015 report.

Over the years, the Army facility has run afoul of environmental regulators. One of the plant’s violations was exceeding capacity on biological oxygen demand – the amount of oxygen dissolved in nearby streams. Certain chemicals reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen, which aquatic plants and animals need to survive.

The plant has continued to be in violation of the Clean Air Act for visible emissions since October 2015, and no action has been taken by the state or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While Radford’s releases have decreased by 19 percent since 2010, the plant still has by far the most chemical emissions in Virginia.

Congress passed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act about four decades ago, noted Ladelle McWhorter, who chairs the governing board of Virginia Organizing, an activist group for the environment and other issues. “Companies know by now what they must do to comply with the law and have internal systems for doing so,” she said.

The Radford plant hopes to reduce its toxic releases with the new nitrocellulose facility. It is expected to be more compact and better for the environment, a change Lt. Col. Alicia Masson, the commander of the plant, thinks is long overdue.

Masson took command of the plant in 2015, and in interviews with the media, she has voiced concerns about the pollutants released from the facility. Her goal is to make sure it is more environmentally friendly.

Besides releasing chemicals into the water, the Radford plant also burns toxic wastes. In 2015, the facility’s air emissions – including hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, nitroglycerin, ammonia and lead compounds – totaled about 480,000 pounds.

While she describes herself as an environmentalist at heart, Masson also recognizes that completely eliminating open burning as means of disposal at the plant is impossible.

The current plant has been operational since 1941. It was first created to support war efforts in the United States and hired more than 23,000 people to help produce ammunition at the peak of the plant’s manufacturing during World War II. The plant is still the only North American manufacturer and seller of nitrocellulose, a highly flammable compound used in the production of ammunition and explosives.

This year, the Army received a $100 million grant to complete a new nitrocellulose facility at the Radford plant. It has been in planning since 2012 after an initial contract of $240 million.

The new facility is set to be fully operational by the end of 2018 and will completely replace the current nitrocellulose facility by 2019.

You have until Tuesday to file federal taxes

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

Usually, April 15 is the filing deadline hanging over the heads of U.S. taxpayers. But this year, Americans have been granted a slight reprieve: They have until April 18 – this Tuesday – to submit their federal income taxes.

By law, individual tax returns are typically due on April 15. But when that falls on a weekend or holiday, as it does this year, the deadline is automatically extended.

In this case, it has been extended to Tuesday because Monday is a holiday in Washington, D.C.: That’s when the district observes Emancipation Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.

The Internal Revenue Service offers a number of tips for people still working on filing their 2016 federal taxes. These tipscan help taxpayers avoid errors and ensure that refunds are received as quickly as possible.

Last-minute filers who still need more time have the option to request a tax-filing extension to avoid late-filing penalties. While this gives taxpayers more time to file their federal taxes, it does not give them more time to pay what they owe.

State taxes are still due as scheduled on May 1. The Virginia Department of Taxation has online advicefor filing state returns.

In 2014, the most recent year for which the IRS has provided data, Virginians filed nearly 3.9 million individual federal tax returns. The total amount of income reported was about $284 billion – or approximately $73,000 per return.

In Virginia, the average income per return ranged from less than $35,000 in Petersburg and Emporia to more than $130,000 in Falls Church and Goochland County.

 

Virginia sees slower population growth

 

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia’s population is increasing only half as fast as it was at the start of the decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

From 2010 to 2011, the commonwealth’s population grew by more than 1 percent. But data released Thursday showed that the state’s population increased only about 0.5 percent between mid-2015 and mid-2016.

Nationwide, the U.S. population rose by 0.7 percent last year. Among the 50 states, Virginia ranked in the middle in its one-year growth rate, sandwiched between Alaska and Oklahoma.

Utah had the biggest increase in population last year – 2 percent. Nevada, Idaho, Florida and Washington were fractions of a percentage point behind.

Eight states lost population, with West Virginia losing the most (0.5 percent).

Since the start of the decade, Virginia’s statewide population has grown about 5 percent, similar to states such as California and Hawaii. Washington, D.C., with a 13 percent increase, grew faster than any state during those six years. Then came North Dakota (just under 13 percent) and Texas (almost 11 percent).

Virginia is home to some of the fastest-growing localities, as well as some with the steepest declines in population.

New Kent and Loudoun counties were among the fastest growing localities in the United States from 2015 to 2016. Jumping more than 700 people, New Kent’s population rose 3.5 percent; that ranked 36th among the nation’s 3,142 counties.

From 2015 to 2016, Loudoun County’s population grew by 3 percent. Although that is slower than in the past, Loudoun has grown almost 24 percent since 2010. Of the 211 counties with at least 300,000 residents, Loudoun County is the third fast-growing locality this decade (behind Fort Bend and Williamson counties in Texas).

Among U.S. counties with more 300,000 residents, Prince William County was No. 17 in population growth since 2010. Its population has increased more than a 13 percent growth since the beginning of the decade.

In 2016, for the first time, Prince William County (population 455,210) surpassed Virginia Beach (population 452,602) as Virginia’s second most populous locality. Fairfax County remains No. 1 with more than 1.1 million residents. Fairfax County has grown 5.3 percent since 2010 but registered just a tiny increase last year.

While many Virginia localities are growing, 63 have seen their population decline this decade. Emporia, for example, has lost 10.5 percent of its population since 2010, including 3.5 percent in the past year.

About 1,700 counties across the U.S. have seen a decline in population since the start of the decade. Only 27 of them have had a bigger decrease than Emporia.

Buchanan County has also experienced a significant decline since 2010, losing 8 percent of its population. It was among the 100 counties where, percentage-wise, population has dropped the most this decade.

Tazewell County, also in the western part of the state, lost more than 2,900 residents – about 6.5 percent of its population – since 2010.

Richmond – both the city and the metro area – continued to show steady growth. (The Census Bureau treats Virginia’s “independent cities” as if they were counties and included them in the data release.)

The city of Richmond grew 1.6 percent in the past year and 9.3 percent since 2010. Its population stands at 223,170 – the 10th most populous locality in Virginia.

The Richmond metro area – which consists of the city of Richmond, the counties of Henrico and Chesterfield, and 14 other localities, including New Kent County – now has a population of 1,281,708. It remains the 45th largest metropolitan area in the U.S.

The Richmond area’s population grew 0.9 percent last year and 6.1 percent since 2010.

An interactive map is available at https://tinyurl.com/va-pop-map-2016

Local Population Data
Emporia City
2016 Population: 5,305
Change Since 2010: -620
Percent Change: -10.5%
Births Since 2010: 334
Deaths Since 2010: 545
Natural Change: -211
International Migration: 18
Domestic Migration: -438
Net Migration: -420
Greensville County
2016 Population: 11,706
Change Since 2010: -539
Percent Change: -4.4%
Births Since 2010: 724
Deaths Since 2010: 743
Natural Change: -19
International Migration: 34
Domestic Migration: -604
Net Migration: -570
Brunswick County
2016 Population: 16,243
Change Since 2010: -1,182
Percent Change: -6.8%
Births Since 2010: 914
Deaths Since 2010: 1,245
Natural Change: -331
International Migration: 21
Domestic Migration: -855
Net Migration: -834
Southampton County
2016 Population: 18,057
Change Since 2010: -513
Percent Change: -2.8%
Births Since 2010: 1,043
Deaths Since 2010: 1,209
Natural Change: -166
International Migration: 16
Domestic Migration: -399
Net Migration: -383
Franklin City
2016 Population: 8,306
Change Since 2010: -274
Percent Change: -3.2%
Births Since 2010: 656
Deaths Since 2010: 743
Natural Change: -87
International Migration: 75
Domestic Migration: -273
Net Migration: -198
Sussex County
2016 Population: 11,504
Change Since 2010: -566
Percent Change: -4.7%
Births Since 2010: 646
Deaths Since 2010: 823
Natural Change: -177
International Migration: 27
Domestic Migration: -426
Net Migration: -399

Legislative highlights: What passed and what didn’t

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – During their 46-day session, the Virginia General Assembly passed 880 bills and myriad resolutions ranging from constitutional amendments to the designation of Taekwondo Day. Many more pieces of legislation were tossed out before lawmakers adjourned on Saturday. Here are some key issues and laws that legislators addressed in 2017.

Bills that passed and are likely to become law:

Airbnb Regulation

SB 1578 would require most people renting out their homes on short-term rental sites, like Airbnb, to pay a registration fee in an attempt to regulate these rentals. Failure to do so would result in a fine.

Alcohol Sales

HB 1842will allow the state’s ABC stores to sell 151-proof grain alcohol, increasing the proof from 101. Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the bill into law last week. Like most legislation, it will take effect July 1.

Birth Control

HB 2267would allow doctors to prescribe women 12 months’ worth of contraceptives.

Driver’s License Suspension for Possession of Marijuana

HB 2051, SB 784and SB 1091would revoke the current law requiring a six-month suspension of a driver’s license when a person is convicted of marijuana possession. While adults would no longer face that punishment, juveniles will still be subject to license suspension.

Laser Hair Removal Regulation

HB 2119would limit the practice of laser hair removal to someone under the supervision of a doctor or trained health professional. Virginia and New York are currently the only two states that allow non-licensed professionals to perform laser hair removal.

Opioids

Several bills created to fight against opioid abuse and fatal overdoses were passed. HB 2165will mandate all opioid prescriptions be electronically submitted to pharmacies, while two other bills call for community organization training to treat opioid overdoses.

Bills that failed:

Animal Tethering

HB 1802and HB 1877would have created laws involving how long and when an animal could be tethered outside. HB 1802 would have made tethering a criminal offense.

Electoral College

HB 1425and SB 837would have allocated Virginia’s electoral votes in presidential races by congressional district.

Felon’s Voting Rights

SJR 223would have required convicted felons to pay restitution before they were allowed to vote again. The restitutions would have included the fines and charges associated with their charges.

Hunting Dogs

HB 1900would require hunters to pay a fine if their dog trespasses on private property.

Marijuana Bills

Bills allowing the use of marijuana in Virginia failed. HB 1906, SB 908 and SB 1269called for the decriminalization of simple possession, while HB 1637, HB 2135, SB 841, SB 1298and SB 1452involved the legalization of medical marijuana.

Minimum Wage Legislation

Five bills were killed early on in the session that would have increased the minimum wage in Virginia.

Redistricting

Several bills calling for redistricting in an attempt to end gerrymandering were killed.

School Calendar

HB 1983 would have ended a rule nicknamed the “Kings Dominion Law,” which requires schools to start classes after Labor Day unless they get a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education. SB 1111 attempted to expand the reasons districts could apply for the waiver.

School Suspensions

Bills such as HB 1534 and SB 995 would have limited schools’ use of long-term suspensions to punish students. HB 1536 would have prohibited students in preschool through grade three from being suspended for more than five school days or being expelled except for serious crimes.

Bills that passed but have been (or may be) vetoed:

Anti-Sanctuary Bill

HB 2000would prohibit local governments from designating themselves as “sanctuaries” for illegal immigrants. The bill says localities cannot adopt ordinances that would restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Coal Tax

Identical bills HB 2198and SB 1470would have reinstated the Virginia coal employment and production incentive tax credit. It was vetoed for the third year in a row.

Explicit School Materials

The governor plans to veto a bill (HB 2191) that would require parental notification before explicit material was shown in classrooms.

Guns

McAuliffe has vetoed HB 1582, which sought to allow active duty or discharged military service members between the ages of 18 and 20 to apply for a handgun permit.

Planned Parenthood Defunding

The governor vetoed HB 2264, which called for defunding Planned Parenthood. The House tried to override the veto but failed because an override requires a two-thirds majority.

Religious Freedom/Solemnization of Marriage bill

HB 2025and SB 1324would protect religious organizations and ministers who refuse to marry same-sex couples, stating that no person should be required to participate in the solemnization of any marriage.

Tebow Bill

HB 1578, already vetoed by McAuliffe, would have allowed home-schooled students to play sports at their local public high school.

 

Bills that passed but the governor may want to amend

Fines for “Left-Lane Bandits”

HB 1725would impose a fine on drivers going too slowly in the left lane. The bill suggested a $250 fine; McAuliffe suggested making it to $100.

State Budget

HB 1500revised the state budget for 2016-18. It closes a budget shortfall, increases funding for education and gives pay raises to state employees, teachers and law enforcement officers. McAuliffe praised legislators for doing that but said, “I remain concerned that the state budget includes no additional funding to provide local and regional jails with the tools and training to perform mental health screenings and assessments.”

Groups laud Virginia for outlawing female circumcision

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –International groups that work to combat violence against women and girls are praising the Virginia General Assembly for approving legislation that makes female genital mutilation a crime.

“Passing a law that explicitly outlaws the practice sends a clear message that this is human rights abuse and is not acceptable in the U.S.,” said Amanda Parker, interim executive director of the AHA Foundation. The group, based in New York, was founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist who was subjected to FGM while growing up in Somalia.

According to the AHA Foundation, 24 states have laws criminalizing FGM. Virginia is poised to join the list after lawmakers approved SB 1060. Under the bill, it would be a Class 1 misdemeanor to perform a circumcision or infibulation of the labia majora, labia minora or clitoris of a minor – or for parents or legal guardians to consent to the procedure for a girl in their care.The crime would be punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The bill passed unanimously in the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday. It now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“I would like to see (this legislation) in all 50 states,” said Shelby Quast, policy director for Equality Now, an advocacy group for gender equality.

SB 1060, sponsored by Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, was one of two bills this legislative session calling for the criminalization of FGM. The other was SB 1241, introduced by Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, an obstetrician in Henrico County. During the committee process, the two bills were merged and went forward as SB 1060.

No law in Virginia bans the specific practice of FGM. The offense falls in the category of malicious wounding, which is a felony.

Black and Dunnavant originally proposed that performing or allowing a female circumcision be a felony punishable by at least five years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

However, incarcerating someone costs money, and the General Assembly has been trying to close a budget shortfall. Because of the fiscal impact of making FGM a felony, the bill’s supporters feared it might fail, according to Mallory McCune, Dunnavant’s legislative assistant. So they agreed to reduce the penalty to a misdemeanor.

Quast said she wished SB 1060 “matched the federal penalty,” which calls for five years in prison. However, she noted that still can happen under Virginia law.

Under the legislation, Quast said, a person charged with performing a female circumcision could also be charged with malicious wounding, resulting in harsher penalties than a misdemeanor conviction allows. “It makes it very clear that this law that has just been passed does not preclude prosecution under any other statute,” she said.

Parker isn’t so sure. She said the legislation is a step in the right direction, but Virginia would have the weakest penalty of any state to outlaw the practice of FGM.

But a criminal charge isn’t the only action that can be taken under SB 1060. The bill allows a girl who has been circumcised to sue the person who did it. McCune said Virginia will be one of only two states where victims of FGM have civil recourse. Quast said that is significant.

“It allows the victim of FGM, up to 10 years after her 18th birthday, to actually sue those that subjected her to FGM or did the cutting,” Quast said. “It gives more rights to somebody who may not recognize the violation at the time.”

FGM is common in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It is also prevalent in some immigrant communities in North America, Europe and Australia.

A report last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 513,000 females in the United States – including 169,000 minors – were at risk of or have experienced FGM.

“Educating communities about the lifelong psychological and health consequences associated with this practice, as well as its illegality, is needed,” Parker said.

Parker and Quast said teachers, doctors, law enforcement officers and social service providers need training on how to recognize and respond when girls have been subjected to female circumcision.

“We see the law more as a prevention tool than a prosecution tool with regard to FGM,” Quast said.

Kirk Cox to succeed Bill Howell as House speaker

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Republican delegates on Wednesday are expected to designate Majority Leader Kirk Cox as the next speaker of the House, following William Howell’s decision to retire.

Republican House members will caucus to select Cox, a retired government teacher from Colonial Heights, as the speaker-in-waiting, according to reports published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post and other news outlets.

Cox, 59, will succeed Howell, a Republican from Stafford, who announced that he will not seek re-election this fall to the 28th House District seat that he has held since 1988. Next January, Howell will conclude his term as the 54th speaker of the House of Delegates.

Cox has served in the House of Delegates since 1989 and has run unopposed in the past eight House elections. He is a resident of the 66th House District, which includes the city of Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County.

A graduate of Colonial Heights High School, Cox earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and general social science from James Madison University in 1979. He then taught government for 30 years.

Cox lives in Colonial Heights with his wife, Julie Kirkendall Cox. They have four sons.

In his role as majority leader, Cox serves on the House Appropriations Committee and on the conference committee that will help negotiate the state budget with his counterparts from the Senate.

Cox also serves with other senior lawmakers on the House Rules Committee and is a member of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

As speaker, Cox would replace Howell, who was lauded this week by both Republicans and Democrats for his dedication to public service.Howell has served as speaker since 2003.

The Senate majority leader, Sen. Thomas Norment of James City, issued a congratulatory statement calling Howell’s retirement “well-deserved.”

“Speaker Howell’s legacy of accomplishment is extraordinary, as he repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to conservative principles and reform,” Norment said. “On behalf of the entire Senate Republican Caucus, I wish the speaker, Mrs. Howell and their entire family a blessed and prosperous future.”

House Democrats also expressed their respect for Howell.

“Having dedicated the last three decades of his life to the Virginia House of Delegates, Speaker Howell is truly a historic figure in this chamber,” said Katie Baker, the communications director of the House Democratic Caucus. “He has always valued and worked to preserve the integrity of the body.”

In a statement released Monday, Howell thanked his colleagues for almost 30 years of service, describing the House of Delegates as a truly historic institution that he loves dearly.

“I believe [the House] represents the hope, enduring strength and resiliency of our exciting and ongoing experiment in representative self-government,” Howell said.

After retirement, Howell plans to spend his free time with his wife, Cecelia, and their family.

“We are blessed to have two good sons and seven energetic grandkids,” Howell said. “We have our youth. And we cannot wait to take some time together to travel, spend more time with our family and, frankly, just to relax together.”

Delegates offered tributes to Howell in speeches on the House floor. Cox himself said he was “honored to serve with one of the all-time greats.”

Cox declined to comment on speculation that he was in line to replace Howell. “This is the speaker’s day,” he told the Times-Dispatch.

All 100 House seats are up for election this fall. The new speaker would be officially chosen in early 2018. The choice will rest with the Republicans, who currently hold 66 House seats to the Democrats’ 34.

Cox may be well positioned to help Republican candidates in this year’s elections. In his own campaign treasury, he has nearly $400,000, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. In addition, Cox has a political action committee called the Majority Leader PAC with a balance of about $60,000. This money would be available to help House Republican candidates who may be facing Democratic opponents in upcoming elections.

Legislators designate Suicide Prevention Week

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Joshua Alburger grew up in a large, supportive family in Goochland, Virginia, says his sister, Marcie Allen. “We were nurtured, loved, respected and made to feel safe.”

Their parents had five children of their own while raising an additional five, Allen said. She said that later in life, Alburger developed a mental illness and struggled with suicidal thoughts. In 2013, at age 32, he died by suicide, leaving behind a wife of 10 years and three children.

“Joshua’s death broke my heart,” said Allen, who now works to raise awareness about how to prevent suicide.

The General Assembly will be joining her in that effort. Legislators have passed resolutions to designate the week of Sept. 10 as National Suicide Prevention Week in Virginia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, taking more than 43,000 lives each year. The CDC estimates that more than 1 million Americans attempt suicide annually.

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Virginia, resulting in more than 1,100 deaths a year.

Two identical resolutions on the subject are moving through the General Assembly:

●     HJR 548, which was approved by the House last month and passed the Senate on Tuesday.

●     SJR 251, which was approved by the Senate on Feb. 3 and is awaiting approval in the House.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, was the only House member to vote against HJR 548. He did so because the House refused to incorporate his proposed amendments about the relationship between suicides and guns.

“Almost 50 percent of all successful suicide attempts involve a firearm, such attempts being successful more than 82 percent of the time, making suicide by firearm the most common and most lethal means nationwide,” one of Simon’s amendments stated.

The other amendment noted that “the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention endorses incorporating suicide prevention education as a basic tenet of firearm safety and responsible gun ownership.”

“I don’t think you can have an honest conversation about suicide prevention without acknowledging the dangers of improperly stored and secured firearms,” Simon said.

Although the House rejected Simon’s amendments, the House and Senate resolutions both recognize the stigma associated with mental illness. The stigma is “discouraging persons at risk for suicide from seeking life-saving help and further traumatizes survivors of suicide loss and people with lived experience of suicide.”

Del. Richard Bell, R-Augusta County, sponsored the House resolution at the request of a constituent who had a sibling commit suicide. Bell said he believes establishing a week each year to focus on the issue will help prevent suicide.

“Raised awareness will hopefully help provide some folks who might be at risk with a way to manage their suicidal thoughts and seek help,” Bell said. “I also hope it will raise general awareness across the commonwealth that this is a form of mental illness that is often untreated and undiagnosed.”

The resolutions aren’t the General Assembly’s only efforts to curb suicides. The House has unanimously passed HB 2258, which would order a study about Virginia’s suicide prevention efforts. On Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously voted in favor of the bill.

In addition, both chambers have passed and sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe HB 1777, which would require hospital psychiatric units to speak to a patient’s referring physician before denying services for the patient. However, HB 2042, which sought to make suicide prevention a part of continuing education for health care workers, died in committee.

When Joshua Alburger struggled with mental illness, his family did everything they could to help, his sister said.

“Some would say in order to have a heart for others, or at all, you have to have your heart broken – broken wide open,” Marcie Allen said. She said her brother’s death“allowed me to love beyond where I could before.”

Now, Allen makes a point of talking to others who may be at risk of suicide.

“I ask if that person is speaking with a therapist,” she said. “I tell that person the impact he or she has on me and my life. I let that person know he or she is not alone – he or she is loved and wanted. I listen when someone says he or she is struggling. I will let that person talk.”

Suicide prevention resources

If someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, support is available.

The American Foundation for Suicide Preventionhas resources online at https://afsp.org. The phone number for the foundation’s Virginia chapter is 646-632-5189.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifelineis 1-800-273-8255. Or text “HELLO” to 741-741.

Bill would outlaw female circumcision

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Job to Live on $7.25 an Hour

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Athena Jones is the first person her clients see at the start of the day. She gets them out of bed, changes their clothes and makes them breakfast. Her workday consists of providing emotional and physical support, assisting clients with bathing and bathroom visits, and helping them be as independent as possible.

As a home-care worker, this is Jones’ job. She does it for minimum wage – $7.25 an hour.

An advocate for people who struggle to live on minimum wage, Jones traveled from Portsmouth to Richmond this week to speak to legislators about bills to raise the state minimum wage above the federally mandated rate. She said a raise would help her save money and give back to her community.

Jones said she can’t make ends meet on her salary as a home-care worker, so she has taken on a second job as a community organizer. When she is not caring for her clients, she is helping Portsmouth residents register to vote or solve neighborhood problems.

People at the bottom of the pay scale, Jones said, must make choices that others don’t – like deciding between paying the electricity bill and requesting an extension on their gas bill.

A single woman in her 40s, Jones lives a frugal lifestyle. She doesn’t have a car, and vacations aren’t a luxury she can afford. (She has gone 10 years without one.) Her biggest expenses are utilities and medical bills – expenses that she said keep her from “exhaling financially.”

Jones said living on minimum wage is like having a “cloud of need” hovering overhead, and it never seems to go away.

Others may argue that people living on minimum wage “need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” Jones said. But she added: “What if there isn’t a bootstrap? What if there aren’t shoes? Then what are you supposed to do?”

David Broder, president of the Virginia 512 local of the Service Employees International Union, supports workers like Jones.

“Raising the minimum wage means Virginia families will have more money to grow the economy and help their kids have a better future,” Broder said. “No one who works full time should be forced to live in poverty because of low wages. As states and localities across the country raise the minimum wage for millions of Americans, it’s past time that Virginia did the same.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 29 stateshave raised their minimum wage above $7.25 per hour. Some members of the General Assembly want Virginia to join the list.

Three bills before the House of Delegates would boost the minimum wage in Virginia. They are:

  • HB 2309, sponsored by Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church. It would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour this July and eventually to $15 per hour by 2019.
  • HB 1444, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, and 18 other Democrats. It would increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour this July 1 and then gradually to $15 per hour by 2021.
  • HB 1771, sponsored by Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Reston, and 17 other Democrats. It would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2018. Under the legislation, beginning in 2020, Virginia’s minimum wage would be adjusted every two years to reflect increases in the consumer price index.

Those bills face an uphill battle. The Senate already has killed two bills aimed at raising the minimum wage.

Opponents of boosting the minimum wage fear that such laws will put a burden on businesses, prompting employers to lay off workers and raise prices. Indeed, that is what business representatives told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Monday before the panel spiked legislation to increase the minimum wage in Virginia.

“Raising the minimum wage does not solve the problem – it only creates new problems,” said Ryan Dunn, a representative of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “There is no silver bullet for poverty.”

For years, academic researchers have debated whether boosting the minimum wage would hurt the economy.

In a 2014 book, Dale Belman of Michigan State University and Paul Wolfson of Dartmouth College concluded that a “moderate” increase in the minimum wage “has little or no effect on employment and hours.” They were unable to conclude if that holds true for a large increase in the minimum wage.

Several researchers compared states that raised the minimum wage with bordering states where the minimum wage stayed the same. In a seminal paperreleased in the 1990s, Princeton economists Alan Kreuger and David Card found that raising the minimum wage did not cause a loss of jobs in fast-food restaurants but the prices of meals increased.

In 2013, David Neumark of the University of California and William Wascher of the Federal Reserve Board published a paperfor the National Bureau of Economic Research challenging previous research methods. They said their evidence “still shows that minimum wages pose a tradeoff of higher wages for some against job losses for others.” An increase could help families get out of poverty but could cause other families to fall into poverty, Neumark and Wascher wrote.

While academics and legislators debate the issue, Jones continues doing her job. She said she has been a home-care worker for 12 years and takes great satisfaction in helping her home-bound clients live as independently as possible.

“God allowed me to be born into this profession, and I would have it no other way,” she said. “I could be president of the United States, and I would still want to be a home-care worker.”

Faculty Members Push For College Funding

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than 30 students and faculty members from Virginia colleges and universities gathered in Richmond to urge legislators to protect funding for higher education.

Virginia Higher Education Advocacy Day, an annual event sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Faculty Senate, aimed to deliver a basic request to lawmakers: make fewer cuts and add more funding for state colleges and universities.

Pat Cummins, a member of the VCU Faculty Senate, said, “We have one major event of the year, and this is it.”

Brian Turner, who launched Advocacy Day in 2003 with colleagues in the American Association of University Professors, said Thursday’s turnout of students and professors was larger than he expected.

Faculty members expressed concern about the impact students would feel directly as a result of more budget cuts. The effects could include shorter library hours and fewer tutoring services, along with higher tuition fees to make up for money the schools aren’t receiving from the state.

The benefits of funding for colleges and universities go beyond the classroom, experts say. According to a report published in 2014 titled “Addressing the Cost of Public Higher Education in Virginia,” those benefits include greater economic growth and reduced societal health-care costs.

Gerard Sherayko, a professor at Randolph College in Lynchburg and president of the Virginia Conference of the AAUP, said a better educated population is a healthier population. Sherayko said the entire state benefits when people have the ability to make more money, pay more taxes and do more things with their money.

“I teach at a private school,” Sherayko said, “but these issues matter to all of us.”

While the main goal of Thursday’s event was to urge legislators to resist calls to cut higher education funding, faculty members also highlighted bills before the General Assembly that they support or oppose.

According to Cummins, some of those bills would impose on academic freedom by requiring specific courses as part of a student’s curriculum. Another bill would require faculty members to ask students for documentation that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Del. Kory Honored For Supporting Higher Education

By Haley Winn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, accepted the American Association of University Professors’ Michael S. Harris Award on Thursday for her “exemplary service in support of higher education.”

The award is presented each year in memory of Col. Harris, who served as president of the Virginia Conference of the AAUP.

The AAUP recognized Kory for her efforts to promote inclusivity in academe, as well as her support of bills to protect minorities and immigrants. This legislative session, Kory is sponsoring bills defending the public’s right to speakat open government meetings and prohibiting workplace discrimination.

In 2016, the award was presented to Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville.

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