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Sunday Hunting Bill Signed into Law

By Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians will have the right to hunt on Sunday beginning July 1, 2014 according to a bill signed into law this week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

House Bill 1237, introduced by Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, gives private landowners and their family members lawful authority to hunt and kill wild birds and nuisance species on their property, provided the land is not within 200 yards of a “place of worship.”

An exemption in the law gives landowners and their family members the right to hunt outside of 200 yards of a place of worship “any wild bird or wild animal, including any nuisance species, on the landowner’s property.” That exemption means deer and bear may be hunted on Sunday in addition to wild birds and nuisance species.

However, HB 1237 specifically prohibits hunting deer or bear with “with the assistance or aid of dogs, on Sunday.”

Non-landowners also may hunt on Sundays, with the written permission of the landowner.

Lee Walker, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said biologists with the Bureau of Wildlife Resources need to examine game species affected by the additional hunting day and make recommendations for when hunting seasons should begin and end.

“The Bureau of Wildlife Resources will recommend setting (season) dates that will make sure additional hunting days will not negatively impact those hunted species (mentioned in the legislation),” Walker said. “We’re trying to make as few changes possible.”

Walker said the new hunting regulations should be posted on the department’s website by July 1. The new regulations also will be included in the new hunting and trapping handbook, which will be released Aug. 1, 2014.

Student Power Descends Upon General Assembly

By Lauren McClellan and Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- College students from across Virginia met at the General Assembly this past week to lobby legislators about progressive issues, such as Medicaid expansion, women’s reproductive rights and education for undocumented students.

University of Virginia alumna Clair Wyatt founded the Virginia Student Power Network in fall 2013 after she saw a need for students across the state to organize and come together to discuss and act on issues important to the state’s higher education students.  “The main student coordinators of the Virginia Student Power Network decided last fall that we wanted to have a statewide student lobby day during the 2014 General Assembly session,” Wyatt stated in an email. “We went to the General Assembly to tell our legislators to prioritize educational access, as well as social, economic, and environmental justice, because they need to be beholden to the interests of Virginian citizens – particularly us as the next generation – not private and corporate interests.”

Grassroots movements can have a significant influencing effect on issues, says Kate Miller, a University of Virginia student.  “It’s really easy to be bogged down and feel like you can’t do anything once you realize how many problems the communities are facing,” Miller said. “Just reaching out to other people and finding a way to work with the system and to help fix some of these issues and just generally make a difference is a really, really wonderful thing.”

Former student Jordan Gregory of Petersburg said healthcare issues are what attracted him to participate with Virginia Student Power Network.  “I fall in that percentile that doesn’t have healthcare,” Gregory said. “If I was to break my leg right now, I would have to pay out of pocket and that’s steep.”

Around 15 students from Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Virginia State University and Virginia Commonwealth University met up in Richmond to talk with their respective legislators.  The day started with a training session in the Capitol where Cathy Woodson from Virginia Organizing, a progressive grassroots advocacy organization, led the students in a roleplaying exercise.  Students had the chance to learn how to best go about speaking to their local legislators.  Addie Alexander, an event organizer, played different legislators to help prepare the students.

After the role-playing exercise, Delegate Alfonso Lopez, D- Arlington, talked to the students about issues he has been working on this General Assembly session. His talking points included women’s reproductive health, Virginia’s proposed version of the DREAM Act and environmental conservation.  “Virginia should be the leader in renewable energy,” Lopez said. “but we’re not.”

Students then were given schedules for their meetings with legislators and went to watch the session.  Rachel Sine, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, met with aides for Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D- Richmond, and Sen. John Watkins, R- Midlothian.

McClellan legislative aide Abbey Philips said McClellan shared similar position with the students on higher education, Medicaid expansion and reproductive health issues.   Philips also said McClellan supports Medicaid expansion because it would afford coverage to many people who live in her district.  “She (McClellan) has close to 30,000 constituents in her district that are currently uncovered,” Philips said. “There is a possibility that we will be holding some educational forums about Medicaid for our constituents so they know about it, and so they know what their options are with the health exchange.”

Sine said she thought her meetings with legislators went well.  “They (the legislators) agreed with us on the policies we went in there to talk about,” Sine said, “and they were open to have a discussion with us and hear us out.”

Virginia Tech student Claire Wicklund met with an aide from the office of Sen. John Edwards, D- Roanoke, and Delegate Joseph Yost, R- Pearisburg.  “We knew going in that Edwards would be really supportive, so it was cool going in to talk about how we can work together in the future as a student group with a legislator,” Wicklund said. “We were kind of surprised talking with Yost because we actually did have his support in some of the issues we were talking about up to an extent.”

Miller met with aides for Sen. Creigh Deeds, D- Charlottesville, and Delegate David Toscano, D- Charlottesville.  “The two of them were very supportive,” Miller said.  “Both of them were mindful of the issues we talked about, which were reproductive rights, the environmental legislation on solar energy and the DREAM Act.”

David Brown, the special assistant to Democratic Leader Toscano, said he and the students discussed a wide range of issues.  “It was very interesting and helpful to get the input of students who are very concerned about contemporary issues,” Brown said. “I think it’s really important for him (Toscano) to understand where all of his constituents stand on issues including students.”

The students said they were happy with their experience and thought it helped them to get a better prospective of Virginia’s legislature.  “Engaging within that system was really interesting because you read about it in textbooks in class and you hear about how it works, but it’s very different up close and personal,” Miller said. “It was quite interesting to see how everything was shifting around.”

No Snow Days For Virginia Legislators

By Lauren McClellan and Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Despite multiple days of slushy snow and freezing temperatures, the General Assembly still has held session without taking any days off this winter.  Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced this past week that Virginia was under a state of emergency because of Wednesday’s snowstorm. According to the National Weather Service’s website, Richmond saw around 4 inches of snow.  Many area schools and local government offices closed because of the inclement weather. 

Delegate Matthew James, D-Portsmouth, said members of the General Assembly still have been coming to work despite the weather conditions.  “We’ve had sessions go on,” James said.  “We don’t take days off.”

However, the snow made it more difficult for constituents to come to Richmond to meet with General Assembly members.  “I try to meet with as many constituents as I can while I’m in Richmond so I can hear their voices. So I think the biggest impact that I can see is that (the snow) has maybe made it harder for constituents to get to Richmond,” James said.  “They’re worried about traveling on the icy roads, or they’re worried about getting back home and taking care of their family and friends. I think that’s been the biggest impact that I can see.”

Delegate Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, also said snowy or icy conditions could make it difficult for those without professional interests to attend session. “(Snow) may impact people coming to Richmond to testify, but all of the professional lobbyists and groups with interests in the General Assembly are here,” Mason said, “and we didn’t miss a beat,”. 

Mary Beth Washington, legislative assistant for Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D- Jarrat, said the General Assembly has not been very busy this past week.  “It’s the beginning of the crossover, and we’re gearing up for that,” Washington said. “So there’s not that many meetings being held right now.  Next week we’ll be in full force, but this week there’s not that much going on right now.”

Washington also said that the despite the snow, aide staff still showed up to work.  “It took (some of the aides) who live locally in the Richmond area longer to get to work because the streets were not clear in their communities,” Washington said, “but they all showed up, the ones that could get here.”

Mason said the General Assembly meets “regardless of circumstances.”  “(Inclement weather) doesn’t affect the inner workings of the General Assembly in the least,” Mason said. “This really is a show-must-go-on situation. The toughest part for me was the four blocks between the (downtown) Marriott and here, but once you’re in the door it’s business as usual.”

The last time the General Assembly was closed because of inclement weather was February 2010.

Photographs courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth University's Capital News Service.

Bill Aims to Prorate Waste Disposal Fees

By Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill allowing Southampton County residents to pay monthly waste disposal fees as part of their electric bills is awaiting a hearing in the Counties, Cities and Towns Committee of the House of Delegates.

House Bill 62, introduced by Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, would allow Southampton County to enter contractual agreements with light and power companies for the fee collection.  The bill would amend Section 15.2-2159 of the Code of Virginia to give Southampton County the same billing options that Accomack, Augusta, Floyd, Highland, Pittsylvania and Wise counties currently have.   “If the legislation is passed -- and if the county and the light and power companies may enter into contractual agreements -- consumers will pay (the waste disposal) fee in installments as opposed to a one-time annual fee,” Tyler stated in an email.

Only residents who dispose of their solid waste at a county landfill or solid waste collection site would be charged the fee.

Southampton County Board of Supervisors member S. Bruce Phillips, who represents the Capron District, said amending the code is not a hard push to impose any legislation on Southampton’s residents.  “This bill (HB62) is asking the General Assembly for authorization to give Southampton County the ability to enter agreements (with the power companies),” Phillips said. “It allows the board of supervisors to ask the people if they prefer monthly fees to an annual fee.”

If the measure were passed, a monthly waste disposal fee of $16.67 would be added to Southampton County residents’ electric bill in lieu of an annual waste fee of $200.

“The legislation does not obligate or require any light or power company to collect the fee,” Tyler stated. “It only provides that they may.”

Two-Term Amendment Shelved Until 2015

Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – An amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that would allow the governor to serve two consecutive terms was put off until 2015, when the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates will consider it.  Senate Joint Resolution 7, introduced by Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, states, “The authorization to serve two terms in succession shall be applicable to persons first elected to serve as Governor in 2017 and thereafter.”  Miller says postponing the legislation was a matter of practicality.  “Constitutional amendments have to be voted on and there has to be an intervening election,” Miller said. “Then they have to be voted on a second time. So, it just makes sense in the process to hold it (the amendment) over to 2015”

The Virginia Constitution requires that amendments must be approved by a majority of the members of each house prior to and after an election. If the amendment were passed by the succeeding legislature, the measure would then be sent to voters.  Amendments such as SJR7 are introduced frequently in both legislative houses. Del. Harry R. Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, offered similar legislation every year of his delegacy (from 1994-2012). During the 2013 session, Senate Joint Resolution 276, introduced by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, passed through the Senate but later died in House committee.  Virginia is the only state in the country that still limits governors to a one-term limit.

John Aughenbaugh, Ph.D., a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says imposing term limits on the governor is based on a combination of reasons.  “In part, it (the restriction is based on) culture and history,” Aughenbaugh said. “It reflects many of Virginia’s founding fathers’ belief that if government was going to have power, it (the power) should be in the legislative branch.  “(The other) part of it is the rather current fear by some that there is no good reason to change,” Aughenbaugh said. “They’ll (legislators) say, ‘Give me some solid administrative reasons and maybe I’ll consider it.’ ”

Miller says the House of Delegates is jealous of the appointive powers of the governor.  “I think (tradition) is part of it,” Miller said. “We’re a citizen legislature, because (Thomas) Jefferson wanted us to go home at the end of session and be with people and not become a professional legislature.  So part of it is tradition, but we’re in the 21st century, and I think we ought to join the rest of the country and have governors that can serve consecutive terms.”

Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, has been a long-term opponent of such legislation. He says allowing the governor to a second term would distract them (the governor) from fulfilling the duties of the executive branch.  “If we allow governors a second term, they would spend the first one maneuvering for their second term instead of focusing on their chief priorities,” Marshall said.

Miller says he thinks a second term would give governors an opportunity to accomplish more of their agenda.  “I think if you get a good (governor), you ought to be able to keep him for a second term for continuity,” Miller said. “Trying to come in and form an administration and get the things you want to do done in a four year time span is difficult.”  Delegate Marshall disagreed.  “(The voters) elected you to be a good guy now,” Marshall said. “Not later.” 

For the amendment to succeed, Aughenbaugh said he thinks the membership in the House of Delegates will need to change.  “With the current membership of the House of Delegates, I don’t think the chances (of passing an amendment like this) are that good, largely because those who are opposed tend to be small-government Republicans,” Aughenbaugh said. “Those people do care about this.”

Miller says negotiations will have to continue in order for the measure to pass.  “If past history is any indication,” Miller said, “there’s going to have to be a discussion between the governor’s staff and House folks about what they’re willing to give up – if anything – and what they’re willing to accept.  “Sometimes around here, you just have to keep banging on the door until people catch up and see the wisdom of it,” Miller said.

Committee Assignments Shape Mason’s Focus

By Jackson McMillan, Capital News Service


RICHMOND — New delegate Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, said education was his top priority coming into office, but his committee assignments have broadened his focus, as shown by the legislation he has introduced.  Mason was appointed Wednesday to the committees of House Courts and Justice and Counties, Cities and Towns. “I’m essentially going to be getting a master’s degree in legal education over the next 60-70 days,” Mason said. “I think that the participation on committees -- particularly one as important as Courts -- will help shape the direction of my focus.”  According to Mason, while education is important, he wants to use this opportunity to cement his new legislative role.  “I’m going to have to focus a lot of time just towards trying to be a smart, competent member of (the Courts) committee,” Mason said.

Mason also said he stands by his belief in early childhood education partly because of his own personal experience.  “I’m the father of a 5-year-old daughter who started kindergarten this year, and upward of 20 percent of her class came to school with no foundational education,” Mason said. “I think children of all levels in society (should have) access to early childhood education.” In addition to early childhood education, Mason is addressing issues ranging from scamming seniors online to mental health with his proposed bills this session.

Delaying individual school grading

Mason has introduced House Bill 618. A summary of the bill states that its passage would   delay the “dates by which the Board of Education is required to implement the A-to-F individual school performance grading system.”  He says his intent is to amend and improve the way schools collect and quantify performance data.  “Rather than trying to start a big fight and throw (the legislation away),” Mason said, “my goal is to just delay it for a few years. (The Board of Education) just changed the testing standards. So, let’s get three years of data and get the superintendents to sit down with the board and come up with formulaic ideas that will adequately grade our schools.”

Protecting seniors from web fraud

A risk sales specialist at Visa, Inc., Mason explained how his own experience influenced other bills he has introduced in the House.  House Bill 619 would increase the penalty for computer fraud of $200 or more from a Class 5 felony to a Class 4 felony if the victim is 65 or older. The increase would allow judges to impose the offender with a minimum prison term of two years instead of just one year. “While my background has some bearing, (HB 619) really came as much as anything out of the campaign,” Mason said.  Mason says he spoke with many seniors in his district who he said he believed were victims of online scams. “Twenty years from now, most seniors will have been on computers all their life,” Mason said. “Now we’re in that gray area where seniors are getting exposed to the Internet but are not quite as savvy as someone who has grown up with it.”

During the 2012-2013 fiscal year, only 10 offenders were convicted of felony computer fraud. Currently, victim age cannot be identified by available data.  The Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission issued a fiscal impact statement in December that stated, “while the impact on community corrections resources cannot be quantified, any impact is likely to be small.”

HB 619 was referred to the House Courts and Justice Committee.

No excuse absentee voting

Another bill Mason introduced is House Bill 622, which would allow in-person absentee voting without providing an excuse. “I think our goal should always be more people participating in the process,” Mason said. “Not fewer.”

Emergency custody orders

House Bill 621 would allow a magistrate to execute a 48-hour emergency custody order for a person suffering from -- or is suspected of suffering from -- mental illness. Mason says introducing this legislation is not an attempt to seize on the Creigh Deeds tragedy. (Sen. Deeds, D-Bath, was attacked in November by his son after unsuccessful attempts to have him committed to a mental hospital. His son then committed suicide.)  “What I want to do is help our community service boards who have to deal with these people that need our help,” Mason said.

(Editor's Note:  While Mr. Mason is not our Delegate, this article was included here as many of these bills would effect us here in Emporia-Greensville should they be passed into law.)

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