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Hannah Eason

Analysis: Over 1,000 Democrat-backed bills pass by crossover, Republican tally trails

By Hannah Eason, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A record number of bills passed in the House of Delegates ahead of the “crossover” deadline, considered the halfway point in the session when a bill has to pass its chamber or it dies.

 Democrat-led efforts like marijuana decriminalization, removal of war memorials, and an assault weapons ban squeezed past in the homestretch. Republican bills, like one that gave the Virginia Lottery Board the ability to regulate casino gambling, also continued to advance.

Delegates filed more than 1,700 bills this session, and 828 bills passed. A Virginia House Democrats release said the House has passed 37% more bills than it did during the 2019 General Assembly session. The release stated the House passed around 600 bills each year from 2016 to 2019.

“We listened to Virginia and are moving together, forward,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said in a press release. “Voters called for major change in the Commonwealth and we are delivering by passing practical, necessary legislation aimed at substantially improving the lives of Virginia residents.”

In the House, Democrats passed 642 bills, more than half of the 1,193 bills they introduced. Republicans filed fewer bills this session — 541 bills were filed and 34% of them passed. These numbers reflect bills, and do not include resolutions or joint resolutions. Bills incorporated into other bills are classified as failing.

Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, filed and passed more legislation than any other delegate. Out of 50 filed bills, 32 have passed in the House. His bills eliminated the co-payment program for nonemergency healthcare services for prisoners, created provisions on conversion therapy, and granted excused absences to students who miss school because of mental and behavioral health.

Other delegates weren’t as fortunate, like Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, who filed two bills which didn’t pass. He passed one House resolution, which does not have the full force of law and does not require the governor’s signature. Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, didn’t file any bills other than a House joint resolution. 

Four Republican lawmakers each only passed one bill: Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford; Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin; Del. Jeffrey Campbell, R-Smyth; and former House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

While Democrats have applauded their party’s success, Republicans have mostly focused on the possible impact of the new majority. Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, said recently passed legislation attacked the Second Amendment, tore down the economy, and made it easier to “take the lives of our unborn.”

“I offered legislation that would have greatly benefited the 23rd House District, specifically allowing people of faith to defend themselves in a place of worship, assisting new hunters be educated in the ways of the craft, and supporting our farmers,” Walker said in an email. “Unfortunately, these items did not fall within the majority’s agenda.”

In the Senate, 60% of the 1,095 bills filed succeeded. Democrats passed 440 bills, 64% of what they filed. Republicans passed 223 bills, 54% of the legislation they filed.

In total, more Democrat bills failed than Republican bills, 243 and 189 respectively.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, filed and passed more bills than any other senator. He filed 60 bills, and was successful in passing 42.

 Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, passed 32 bills in the Senate, and his chief of staff said they are expected to be successful in the House.

“Senator Edwards has been in the Virginia Senate since 1996, and with the Democratic Party in the minority for the bulk of that time, he had a lot of ideas for good legislation that didn't pass in prior years,” said Luke Priddy, Edward’s chief of staff.

Out of 412 bills filed by Senate Republicans, 223, roughly half of them, passed. 

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, did not pass any of her sponsored bills. Her 21 filed bills included the creation of a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have prohibited abortion after 20 weeks unless under extreme medical circumstances. Chase did not respond to a request for comment.

Chase said Wednesday on Facebook, where she often posts to her constituents, that her bills didn’t advance in committees because of her decision in November to leave the Senate Republican Caucus. 

“If you don’t pay thousands (pay-to-play) to join one of their caucuses, they will deny you of committee assignments and suspend your bills, not giving each bill a fair hearing,” Chase wrote.

Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said “it’s very clear there’s a new party in charge” and that Democrats are focusing on legislation that wouldn’t have been considered during a Republican majority.

“Issues that would have been dispensed by a Republican majority in two minutes are now not only getting full hearings, but discussion on the floor of at least one chamber of the legislature,” Farnsworth said. “The people in the previous Republican majority who are used to calling the shots, are now subjected to the same treatment that they themselves dealt out in the past.”

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said bills that include increasing the gas tax, energy requirements, the ability of localities to increase taxes, and $15 minimum wage would make living in Virginia more expensive.

“These policies are not free market, they’re not good for Virginia businesses, but they’re not good for Virginia workers either,” McDougle said Wednesday on WRVA’s Richmond Morning News program. “We want there to be competition. When the economy’s moving up, we want to be able to get jobs.”

House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, called the legislation passed “long overdue,” in a statement released Tuesday.

 “We have kept our promise to truly be the ‘People’s House’ by passing long overdue legislation to protect Virginians from exploitation, discrimination and senseless violence,” Filler-Corn said.

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Republican-backed gun bills fizzle on heels of massive rally

By Hannah Eason, Capital News Service

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.

One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.

House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.

Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.

“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can't protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.

Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.

“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, said. “If you are in a gun free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self defense.”

During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.

HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to not require a permit for a concealed handgun.

Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm. 

“But the reason I needed it isn't because I was going to do anything crazy. It's because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you're committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in a place of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.

Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill. 

Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.

“There are some synagogues that don't even want paid security, because they don't like firearms, they don't always want off-duty officers, they don't want to pay for security, and that's their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they're on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”

One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.

The subcommittee tabled HB 596, HB 373 and HB 1486, all in a 5-3 vote. The bills would have allowed guns in places of worship. 

HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace. 

Other bills tabled Tuesday include :

  • HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.

  • HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.

  • HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.

  • HB 1485 said that no locality shall adopt or enforce any workplace rule preventing an employee from carrying a concealed handgun if the employee has a valid concealed handgun permit.

  • HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.

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Sex Ed Is Key to Reducing Teen Pregnancy, Advocates Say

By Hannah Eason and Emma North, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — In the early 2000s, Martinsville, a city of about 13,000 near the North Carolina line, had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Virginia. In a typical year, nearly 75 of every 1,000 teenage girls got pregnant.

More than a decade ago, the school opened a teen health clinic, which provides birth control and treats sexually transmitted infections. Since then, the city’s teen pregnancy rate has plummeted.

“It’s just been amazing because I’ve seen success,” said Beth Holyfield, the clinic’s health coordinator. “I think everybody was a little nervous about it because it was Bible Belt area, you know, offering birth control for children.”

Under the federal Title IX program, the Martinsville High School Teen Health Clinic can treat STIs and provide birth control without notifying the student’s parents. Holyfield and two nurse practitioners don’t discuss abortion, but they do routine checks on student weight and blood pressure and administer prescriptions.

According to new data from the Virginia Department of Health, among the state’s 133 localities, Martinsville ranked 16th in teen pregnancy rates in 2018. For every 1,000 teen girls, there were about 21 pregnancies.

Martinsville’s increased access to sex education and contraception coincided with the drop in the city’s teen pregnancy rate. Experts say preaching abstinence over other methods — Virginia’s official policy — has been ineffective. States with more schools teaching contraceptive methods tend to have lower teen pregnancy rates.

Localities vary widely in teen pregnancy rates

Virginia’s teen pregnancy rate in 2017 was 15 pregnancies for every 1,000 teenage girls, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirteen states had a lower teen pregnancy rate than Virginia’s. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut all had fewer than nine pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls.

Within Virginia, the rates vary widely, according to data obtained by Capital News Service from the Virginia Department of Health through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The data showed the number of pregnancies for every 1,000 adolescent girls in each city and county of Virginia. That way, it’s possible to compare localities regardless of population.

Petersburg, 30 miles south of Richmond, had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state in 2018: about 44 pregnancies for every 1,000 teenage girls.

Norton, a city at the southwest tip of Virginia, was second with 35 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls. Lancaster County, along the Chesapeake Bay, followed at about 30 pregnancies per 1,000 adolescent girls.

The cities of Roanoke, Richmond and Hopewell all had rates around 25 pregnancies for every 1,000 teen girls.

Sex education is optional in Virginia

Under the Virginia Standards of Learning, the state’s public school curriculum, schools in the commonwealth may teach sex education but are not required to do so. State law requires an emphasis on abstinence, but the SOL curriculum also includes recommendations for teaching about contraception and condom usage.

More than 90% of Virginia schools teach abstinence. Fewer than 40% of the state’s high schools teach contraceptive methods recommended by the CDC, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS.

Virginia Department of Education spokesperson Charles Pyle says the curriculum is designed to promote parental involvement and help students cope with peer pressure during developing stages.

Pyle said classes “include age-appropriate instruction in family living and community relationships, abstinence education, the value of postponing sexual activity, the benefits of adoption as a positive choice in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, human sexuality and human reproduction.”

Dr. Samuel Campbell, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Virginia Physicians for Women health-care service, says pregnant teens need more than that.

Pregnant teenagers encounter a specific set of problems because of limited resources and support, Campbell said.

“They have difficulty with transportation. They frequently will seek care later because they are afraid to tell their parents (or) family. They have to continue with their schooling,” Campbell said. “And they have to deal with the social stigma of being a teen mom.”

Most states require sex ed

Thirty-two states require schools to teach sex education, according to the most recent statistics from SIECUS. Eighteen states — including Virginia — do not.

There are seven types of recommended contraception: the birth control pill, patch, ring and shot; implants; intrauterine devices; and emergency contraception. In 2017, no states reported that all of their schools were teaching about all seven methods as well as how to properly use a condom.

According to SIECUS, 19 states reported more than half of school districts teaching students about a variety of contraceptive methods. Fifteen of those states had teen pregnancy rates below the national average of 18 pregnancies per every 1,000 adolescent girls.

Of the 10 states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates, eight required sex ed in all school districts. They include New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which had pregnancy rates under 15 per 1,000 teenage girls.

The six states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Rhode Island — reported that three quarters of their schools taught students how to use a condom.

On the other hand, of the 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rate, seven do not require sex ed in schools. Those states include Arkansas, Texas and Alabama.

Nationwide, 89% of school districts teach abstinence, which recommends that teens put off having sex until marriage. Many schools teach both abstinence and contraceptive methods. That is the case in New Jersey and New Hampshire, where teen pregnancy is below the national average.

Dr. Elizabeth Broderick, a pediatrician in Newport News, calls abstinence education “insufficient information.”

“Abstinence is an excellent way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” Broderick said. “But eventually, many people choose to become sexually active, and they should have accurate and complete information so they can make the best decision that fits their beliefs and values.”

Broderick says long-acting and reversible contraceptives are generally best for adolescents, but they can be hard to get.

“Access to contraception is difficult for most teenagers,” Broderick said. “Education about anatomy, physiology, contraception, sexually transmitted infections and consent is appropriate at school and at home.”

‘Educate them on the facts’ to make good decisions

The CDC’s teen pregnancy prevention guidelines say implants and intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are the most effective and reversible birth control methods. Broderick says these are more difficult to obtain than condoms or spermicide because they require a trip to the doctor and a prescription.

Dr. Natalie Dogal, an OB-GYN with Virginia Physicians for Women, said talking about contraception is important for preventing teen pregnancy. She said she discusses contraceptive options with all her teen patients.

“They tend to have heard good or bad stories from friends, parents or from reading online, and I like to educate them on the facts to help them make good contraceptive decisions,” Dogal said.

According to SIECUS, about 40% of male and female high school students nationwide report having had sexual intercourse.

Nationally, the teen pregnancy rate has decreased in recent decades. According to data from the CDC, the rates dropped by 50% from 2005 to 2017.

Nearly a third of teen moms reported not using contraceptives because they didn’t think they could get pregnant. Another quarter of teen moms reported that their partners did not want to use contraception.

“Many teenagers think they are invincible,” Dogal said. “That includes thinking they will never be the one who gets pregnant or gets an STI.”

Resources for Teen Mothers in Virginia

The Virginia Department of Health has resources for first-time teen mothers. In the “Resource Mothers” program, a community health worker develops a supportive mentoring relationship with the teen and her family. The free resources include information about prenatal care and health care, assistance finishing school and tools to avoid drugs and alcohol. Mothers can also sign up for free text messages on prenatal and infant care.

The Healthy Teen Network has a variety of resources for teen parents across the country, including #NoTeenShame, “Mom, Dad — I’m Pregnant” and Healthy Families America.

To find a health assistance program near you, call 1-800-311-BABY. This will connect you to the nearest health department. For information in Spanish, call 1-800-504-7081.

The U.S. Bureau of Maternal and Child Health has resources for women nationwide. The programs and initiatives include home visiting, which provides at-risk pregnant women tools for mother and child health, raising children and preventing neglect. The bureau seeks to promote child development and encourage positive parenting.

Planned Parenthood has a webpage for teens to get information about sex, puberty, pregnancy and birth control as well as a private chat function for additional questions.

Planned Parenthood has health centers in Charlottesville, Richmond, Hampton and Virginia Beach. There are also two health centers in the Washington, D.C., area.

How We Got and Crunched the Data

For this report, we downloaded teen pregnancy rates for each state from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, we needed the teen pregnancy rates for each city and county in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health posts such data on its website; however, at the time, the most recent statistics available were for 2017.

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the VDH, asking for the 2018 data. The department emailed us the file we requested and then posted it online.

The VDH provided the data as PDFs. We exported the data as an Excel file and cleaned up column headings and other formatting. We have posted all of the data we obtained from the VDH and CDC.

One question we wanted to explore was whether there was a relationship between teen pregnancy rates and the sexual education curriculum taught in schools. To examine this on the national level, we used 2017 data from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

We compared the council’s data, which explains how comprehensive sex ed is in each state, with the pregnancy rates from the CDC.

JUNIOR

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