The Emporia Police Department has received what they are calling a "Credible Threat" of violence at this year's Virgninia Peanut Festival. The EPD, assisted by other law enforcement agencies, will have multiple tents and an increased presence. Festival attendees are asked to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. If you see something, say something.

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January 2018

CApital News Service Returns for 2018

Now that the General Assembly is back in session, the VCU Capital News ServiceThe Capital News Service allows Emporia News readers to follow the highlights of the Virginia General Assembly.

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South. This year there are 28 Student Journalists and new advisors.

CNS operates as a three-credit course (formally listed as MASC 475) during spring semesters, when the General Assembly is in session. Each CNS student is assigned to serve one or more clients. Students must devote substantial time outside class to CNS — at least 10 hours a week. The students in MASC 475 meet twice a week to discuss and plan stories and work on reporting and writing skills.

During the fall semesters, the CNS system occasionally is used to distribute stories students do for other courses, such as MASC 404 (Specialized/Projects Reporting). Throughout the year, CNS can help newspaper editors find VCU students who can do freelance stories, internships and other assignments.

Wilma Wirt, who has since retired from the mass comm faculty, established CNS in 1994 for two reasons:

  • To give VCU’s journalism students an opportunity to actively cover and write about the Virginia General Assembly.
  • To give the state’s weekly, twice-weekly and thrice-weekly newspapers better access to the legislature — something Wirt deemed important in the everyday lives of all Virginians.

All stories sent by CNS will be published by Emporia News, but not all will be promoted to the front page. To read the stories that do not make the front page, click on the Capital News Service link in the top menu.

Groups Team Up to Count Richmond Area’s Homeless

Organizations talk and offer service to homeless visitors at the free lunch program in St. Paul's Episcopal Church

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As part of a statewide assessment, a nonprofit group is taking its annual census of the city’s homeless, aiding and aided by a coalition of outreach programs.

The group, Homeward, began its 20th annual Winter Count last week. With a team of about 200 volunteers, the organization collected survey data for two days across several locations, from shelters throughout Richmond to lunch and dinner programs at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church.

Besides counting the number of homeless people, the volunteers cataloged where each person last slept as well as the participant’s race, gender and other information. That data is essential to Homeward’s goals of helping other outreach groups in the region, Executive Director Kelly King Horne said.

“Homeward was created so that this could be a regional approach,” said Horne, who has worked in the 20-year-old organization for more than 14 years. She sees the Winter Count as an opportunity for outreach workers to “ground ourselves in conversations with people in crisis and understand directly from them what it would take to solve this crisis, what are the issues.”

The census will help those involved to “really start to understand better what we’re seeing and what we need to do going forward,” Horne added.

The count also is necessary to maintain a “continuum of care” for the homeless. The data collection is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Any state that fails to conduct the count within the last 10 days of January won’t receive federal funding.

Homeward coordinates homeless services throughout Richmond, from Charles City County to Powhatan County and including Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties.

The census used voluntary survey forms, passed out to those 18 and older across five sites and events. In addition, assessments were conducted in smaller counties like Goochland and New Kent, where homeless individuals are less likely to gather in camps.

This year’s census included some new techniques, as volunteers reached out to panhandlers and asked questions focused on elderly individuals.

Homeward worked not only with its affiliated outreach programs but also with groups such as Spread the Vote, United Healthcare and the U.S. Social Security Administration. Elizabeth Graham, a social worker with Virginia’s Veteran Affairs office, called the collaboration “very successful.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” Graham said. “I think it’s great to have all these resources in one place for folks to come to.”

Those who work to end homelessness know that the endeavor comes with many difficulties. Vivian Bagby, who works with the Richmond Food Bank to feed the poor, said it is a “tragedy” that the city lacks centralized locations where the homeless can congregate and receive care. As a result, homeless people are scattered throughout the city.

“They used to go to Monroe Park,” said Bagby, who now does her outreach near Abner Clay Park after Monroe was closed for construction last year. “And it’s far less than what would gather at Monroe Park. So I’m not sure where the homeless go now.”

While lack of a central location and erratic weather patterns pose challenges in helping Richmond’s less fortunate, Horne said the biggest obstacle is the lack of investment in affordable housing for low-income families. The Richmond area also suffers from a lack of resources for emergency shelters, in her view.

“As a community, as a state, as a country, it’s really difficult,” Horne said. “That’s always a challenge every day, regardless of everything else.”

The completed data will be available in mid- to late February. Horne said she is confident the census will continue to serve the city well.

“There’s so many great ways to connect to this issue,” she said. “Richmond’s really fortunate that we have so many awesome agencies working to end homelessness. Whatever your interests or passions are, there’s a way to connect and make a difference.”

Proposal Would Boost Suicide Prevention Efforts in Schools

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – While campaigning door to door, Del. Danica Roem met a constituent who had lost her only child to suicide. The mother had one request – make suicide prevention training available to all school employees.

Now Roem, D-Manassas, has introduced HJ 138, a joint resolution that would request all Virginia school boards provide every employee with resources or training on how to identify students at risk of suicide.

“This is something that is incumbent upon all of us at the General Assembly, regardless of party label, to make sure that we are working together to take care of our kids and working together to make sure that the caretakers of our children, from maintenance professionals all the way up to the principals, are able to see our kids for the lives they are living and identify the struggles that they have,” Roem said.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of deaths for people age 10 to 18. In 2015, 1,097 people in Virginia died by suicide, and 35 of those suicides were carried out by children under 18, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

While school districts would not be required to comply with the resolution, it is meant to motivate them to take steps toward suicide prevention.

“This provides as much flexibility at the local level as possible,” Roem said. “This is allowing the people who are on the ground there to identify and figure out what works best for them.”

The resolution would expand on SB 1250, a 1999 law that required all licensed school personnel to report a child they suspect might be suicidal. However, it did not require those professionals be trained on how to identify students at risk.

When it was passed, SB 1250 also mandated that the Board of Education and Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services create a Code of Virginia Suicide Prevention Guidelines.

“An ideal set of training and guidelines for suicide prevention incorporates many aspects of mental health and mental health awareness,” said Dr. Adam Kaul of the Psychiatric Society of Virginia. “Suicide itself is not a source of disease or a specific condition; it is often an end product of mental illness and distress.”

HJ 138 has been assigned to a House Rules Subcommittee and is scheduled to be considered on Friday. Roem’s resolution is co-sponsored by 10 Democrats and one Republican – Del. Matthew Fariss of Appomattox County.

“Anything that would make us smarter about suicide as a society, I think, is something we need to try to do,” Fariss said.

Democrats Vow to Push for Gun Control Laws

Del. John Bell talks about enforcing gun control laws in Virginia. (CNS photo by Aya Driouche)

By Aya Driouche, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic legislators said Tuesday they will continue to fight for gun control laws as Republicans continued to kill bills to restrict firearms.

Six Democratic delegates held a press conference to discuss proposals such as banning weapons from public libraries. Del. Roslyn Tyler of Sussex County said gun violence has been endangering Virginians for years.

“We cannot allow this problem to get worse,” Tyler said. “We cannot stay idle as gun violence leads to more and more empty seats at the dinner tables across the country.”

Del. John Bell of Loudoun County touted his bill to require applicants for a concealed weapons permit to show in-person “competence with a handgun.” Currently, applicants can get a permit by completing a video or online training course.

Bell called HB 91 a “very common-sense bill.” Last week, a House subcommittee killed it on a 4-2 vote.

Bell, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 26 years, noted that he went through extensive training to be able to carry a weapon. He said civilians also should receive adequate training in front of a certified instructor before obtaining a concealed carry permit.

“The current online training is far inadequate,” Bell said. “It doesn’t have eyes on from qualified instructors to know if that holster is properly fitted. You have to watch those things in real life, in real time.”

Groups such as the National Rifle Association opposed Bell’s measure. He said they should support it.

“I believe the groups like the NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League who oppose this bill are missing a tremendous opportunity to provide low-cost frequent training and to do a public good,” Bell said.

“I believe in the Second Amendment. I’m a gun owner. But I think responsible gun ownership is important, and I believe every gun owner should have a background check and should show they were properly trained before they’re given a concealed carry permit.”

So far this session, Republicans have defeated several gun control bills sponsored by Democrats, including one to require background checks on all gun purchases. On Monday, the Republican majority in the House rejected a resolution to ban firearms from the chamber’s gallery while delegates are in session.

Shortly after the Democrats’ news conference, Republican legislators held one of their own. They argued that citizens should be able to carry weapons in places of worship.

Virginia law prohibits guns in churches and other religious settings. But last week, the Senate voted 21-18 along party lines to repeal that law.

Just as politicians are protected by armed security, members of a congregation should be allowed to arm themselves for self-defense, said Del. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County.

He stood next to a poster of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam speaking to an interfaith group about gun violence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church last week. LaRock pointed out that the governor’s security detail was nearby.

LaRock said it is not fair that the governor gets treated differently than Virginia citizens who are barred from carrying weapons in places of worship. He said it appears to be a double standard.

“The law that’s on the book says that weapons are prohibited in church without good and sufficient reason, which is vague,” LaRock said. “And we don’t believe laws that are vague should be on the books.”

He said Northam signaled that he would veto SB 371, which would rescind that law, if it passes the General Assembly.

“We pose the question,” LaRock said. “He deserves armed protection in church, but others don’t? We’re just asking him to fill in the blank and explain to us why.”

Vondrenna Smithers Cool Job Helps Students Reach Career Goals

Vondrenna Smithers’ job is cool because, in her own words, “I help potential students, both traditional and non-traditional, connect to the best training for their career goals at SVCC.” As Southside Virginia Community College’s (SVCC) Advanced Manufacturing Career Coach and Recruiter, she also gets to talk with high school students about Advanced Manufacturing jobs that they may not have considered.  

Smithers became familiar with the great opportunities at SVCC during high school. As a native of Southside Virginia, Smithers attended Brunswick County Public Schools. There, she took college credit while still in high school through the SVCC Dual Enrollment Program.  By completing dual enrollment classes, Smithers was able to attend SVCC and to obtain her Associate’s degree in General Studies in just one year on campus before transferring to the University of Virginia to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

She came back to SVCC as an employee in 2009 and worked in various roles including Adjunct Instructor, Academic Advisor, Student Activities Coordinator and currently as the Advanced Manufacturing Career Coach and Recruiter. As the recruiter, she is able to use her personal experiences to help prospective students begin their path to success at SVCC. Working closely with students from six area high schools, she also helps them explore advanced manufacturing careers as well as academic and training opportunities.

“I have the chance to meet one-on-one with students, provide classroom presentations, and expose students to various career possibilities through holding special events such as the Dream It Do It Advanced Manufacturing Camp we had this summer in Emporia,” she said. Through this 4-day summer camp, local middle and high school students participated in tours and guest lectures from local industry and learned about blueprint reading, 3D design, programming for CNC machines, and use of manual mill and lathe machines.

A career highlight for Smithers at SVCC has been becoming the co-creator/advisor of the Student Ambassadors program. This group of students are tasked with representing the student body of the college at events and conferences, serving on various college committees and taking an active role in recruiting for the college.  

Besides working diligently at the college, Smithers has been back to school herself.  She completed her Masters in Professional Counseling from Liberty University in December  Her husband, Quentin, has been busy with school as well and will complete his Master’s in Christian Leadership from Liberty University.

Having had the opportunity to experience dual enrollment and attending SVCC as a student, Smithers has the experience and expertise to guide others to success…and a Cool Job like hers.

Black Caucus, Bipartisan Group of Legislators Fighting ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus was joined Monday by a bipartisan group of state legislators supporting  bills to combat  the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Expulsion and suspension policies are the targets of several pieces of legislation, including a bill by Del. Jeffrey Bourne, D-Richmond. HB 1600 caps long-term suspension at 45 days instead of the current 364.

“We cannot keep using access, or lack thereof, to education as a punishment and continue to expect positive results,” said  Bourne, a former Richmond School Board chairman.

Bourne also endorsed legislation by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, whose SB 170 prohibits expulsion and suspension for students between pre-kindergarten and third grade. Stanley said the reforms sought were a “human issue,” and not partisan.

The Black Caucus said it wanted to highlight how legislators are crossing party lines on the issues. The process of separating students from their environment and ultimately sending them into the criminal justice system has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  A 2015 Study from the Center for Public Integrity said that on average, Virginia refers more students to law enforcement than any other state.

First-year Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge,  described the problem as  “the No. 1 civil rights issue of our modern time.” She has introduced HB 445, which would allow school systems to discipline students who commit certain misdemeanors instead of being required to report those crimes to police.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said she has proposed budget amendments  to support school programs for  at-risk students, and also to set aside almost $700 million to end a cap on state-funded school support positions.

“If we don’t put our money where our mouth is we will lose an entire generation of students to the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said. “Policy is only one side of the coin.”

Standing beside these legislators  was Stacey Doss, a mother of two boys in Lynchburg’s public school system. Her older son, who is autistic, drew national attention and the focus of the Center for Public Integrity after being charged with a felony in 2014 as an 11-year-old.

He had struggled with a school resource officer who had grabbed him after he had left class with other students. The same officer had earlier accused him of  a misdemeanor for kicking a trash can. The charges were dropped after an outcry over the case.

Doss said her 5-year-old has speech problems, and both sons have been ostracized and suspended.  The younger boy was currently under suspension for disorderly behavior, she said.

“He asked me, ‘Why can’t I go to school? I really want to go to school. I miss my friends,’” Doss said. “He doesn’t understand what is happening, but he does know that he is being kept away from something he enjoys.”

House Committee Unanimously Kills ‘Netflix Tax’

By Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill nicknamed the “Netflix tax” was unanimously defeated Monday in the House Finance Committee, ending the possibility of taxing streaming services in Virginia in 2019.

Introduced by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, HB 1051 would have applied the state’s 5 percent communications sales and use tax not just to Netflix but to all online streaming services – among them Hulu, Spotify and HBO Go – that have skyrocketed in popularity, especially among millennials.

While the current communications tax applies to cable TV, satellite radio, landlines, cell phones and even pagers, streaming services are not included.

Watts said her bill was needed to modernize the state’s communications tax. “Obviously, the way we have continued to communicate has changed,” she said.

Watts told the committee that her bill would apply equal taxes to all forms of communication. “The best we can hope for is a fair tax structure,” she said.

According to the bill’s impact statement, the tax would generate nearly $8 million in revenue for the state – potentially allowing Virginia to become less dependent on other forms of taxes, like those collected through income and real estate levies.

The bill is not the first of its kind: Pennsylvania and Florida have passed laws that tax internet transactions and digital streaming services. But the tax has faced opposition from taxpayers, streaming services and industry trade groups.

The Finance Committee voted 22-0 against the bill. Watts voted against her own legislation, acknowledging that while the measure was not ready to be passed, she wanted to spur a larger conversation about Virginia’s tax structure.

Republicans said they were opposed taxing the heavily used services.

“Let’s be real clear in what we’re talking about here,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, chairman of the House Republican Caucus. “This is a Netflix tax. This is a Hulu tax. If you’re under 30, this is a tax on how you get your information, how you watch your TV, how you consume everything every day.”

Representatives from T-Mobile, Verizon and Sling TV attended the meeting and spoke against the bill, while the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties were in favor.

Neal Menkes of the Municipal League commented that he had “yet to hear a pager go off,” echoing Watts’ sentiments about the need to modernize tax law around a quickly changing communications landscape.

1.4 Billion Stolen Credentials Uncovered by University

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – During a security sweep, the University of Richmond’s information security staff discovered a website containing a list of stolen account credentials – a list with approximately 1.4 billion pieces of private account information such as email addresses and passwords.

“From what we’re able to tell, it’s very, very deep within the web,” Cynthia Price, the university’s director of media and public relations, said of the recent discovery. “It’s a concealed website.”

To put the list’s enormity into perspective, the largest internet-era data breach occurred in 2013 when 3 billion Yahoo users were affected by a hack, according to CSO Online, a technology news website. The next biggest was in 2014 when eBay asked 145 million users to reset their passwords after hackers accessed accounts through stolen information.

According to the Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, a breach is defined as the “unauthorized acquisition of computerized data that compromises the security, confidentiality, or integrity of personal information.”

The list on the website discovered by the University of Richmond may be related to previous data breaches.

In an email to students and staff on Friday, the university wrote that the list was “compiled from several data breaches that have occurred over the past several years, such as LinkedIn®, Adobe®, Yahoo®, and other domains,” and that “included in the list were credentials associated with approximately 3,000 richmond.edu email accounts.”

After university emails had been discovered on the list, UR sent its message to inform students and staff about the incident so they could check their accounts. Also attached was a video on creating strong passwords.

UR’s information security staff confirmed that the website acquired the information from emails tied to external sites and made it clear that the school’s information system had not been compromised.

“There is no breaching of our system whatsoever,” Price said, “but because (the website’s list) still contained emails linked to us, we wanted to make sure we alerted people to check their accounts.”

This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be concerned. The individuals who collected this information likely did so with ill intent. As Price explained, “unscrupulous people will collect that data and hold it in hopes that they can somehow use it elsewhere.”

With more than 1.4 billion credentials to sift through, the extent of the list’s information isn’t yet fully known. Attempts were made to contact the Virginia Attorney General’s office for comment on whether an investigation was underway, but the office has not responded.

Salamander Wriggling Its Way Into State Law

 

By Sarah Danial and Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill slithering through the legislative process would designate the red salamander as Virginia’s official state salamander. If the amphibious creature gets the honor, it can thank a group of young nature conservationists.

The Salamander Savers is a 4-H Club based in Fairfax whose members, age 8 to 18, are determined to find solutions for environmental problems. The club started in 2015 when three children wanted to save salamanders from a local lake.

“When our lake was dredged and my kids asked me questions that I could not answer, as a home-schooling mother, I made it my mission to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the club’s adult leader and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

Her children asked what would happen to the animals living in or near the lake. They were concerned to learn that dredging can disrupt their environment, which could eventually lead to possible extinction. Jonah’s mother recalled her son’s words.

“He once told me that he wanted to give a voice to the animals who couldn’t speak for themselves,” Anna Kim said.

As a result, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring HB 459, which would add the red salamander (officially, Pseudotriton ruber) to the state’s list of official designations. The list currently includes 35 items, from the official beverage (milk) and rock (Nelsonite) to the official television series (“Song of the Mountains,” a PBS program showcasing Appalachian music).

Filler-Corn hopes her bill will inspire the 4H Club members to get involved politically.

“I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn said. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

The bill was approved by a subcommittee on a 6-2 vote last week. The House General Laws Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday.

Jonah Kim and his fellow 4-H’ers thought carefully about which salamander species should represent Virginia.

“We chose the red salamander because it lives in a variety of different habitats throughout Virginia,” he said. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

He said the club hopes the legislation will help raise awareness of salamanders, a species less tolerant of environmental disruptions than frogs and other amphibians. The Salamander Savers are encouraging the public to write a letter to their legislators stating their support.

 

How Well Do You Know Virginia’s Official State Animals?

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Republicans Kill Top-Priority Bills Sought by Women’s Advocates

By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Women’s rights advocates are disappointed after legislative panels this week killed bills on some of their top-priority issues -- mandating equal pay, reducing restrictions on access to abortion and requiring employers to provide paid medical leave.

The votes, called “anti-woman” by one advocacy group, continued on Friday with  a House Courts of Justice subcommittee defeating the Whole Woman's Health Act. Sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax,  HB 1231   stated that, “A pregnant person has a fundamental right to obtain an abortion.”      

The subcommittee also killed a bill by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, to remove what Democrats see as  medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access. HB 450 sought to repeal the statutory requirements that a physician obtain a woman’s written consent and perform a transabdominal ultrasound before an abortion.

On Thursday, a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines against advancing Boysko’s HB 1089, which required equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

Voting to kill the bill were Republican Dels. Kathy Byron of Bedford; R. Lee Ware, Chesterfield; Israel O’Quinn, Grayson; Margaret Ransone, Westmoreland; and Michael Webert, Culpeper. Supporting the bills were Democratic Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax; Lamont Bagby, Henrico; and Michael Mullin, James City.

“By voting against equal pay for equal work, the message to Virginia women is loud and clear: Our lawmakers in Richmond do not consider us first-class citizens,” said Patsy Quick, co-president of the American Association of University Women of Virginia.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that in 2016, Virginia women working full time made 80 cents for every dollar made by men—a pay gap of 20 percent. As bad as this is, it is even worse for women of color,” Quick said.

For every dollar earned by a white man, black women make  about 63 cents, Latinas 54 cents and white women 78 cents, according to a news release from Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group.

Progress Virginia and other advocates also criticized lawmakers for killing two bills introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun:

  • SB 709, which sought to eliminate such requirements as a waiting period and an ultrasound before undergoing  abortions.  The Senate Health and Education Committee killed the bill last week at the sponsor’s request -- a move sometimes made when a bill has little or no chance at passage.

  • SB 421, which would have required private employers with 50 or more workers to give full-time employees paid medical leave. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed the bill Monday on an 11-4 party-line vote.

Propelled by #MeToo, Groups Seek to Remove ‘Tampon Tax’

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With momentum from the #MeToo movement, several women’s rights groups are supporting legislative calls to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Planned Parenthood, the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition and other organizations have been posting on social media, circulating petitions and attending General Assembly meetings to show their support for the idea.

“It’s frustrating that such common-sense legislation is struggling to survive,” said Holly Seibold, a member of the coalition.

Three bills before the General Assembly would exempt products such as tampons, menstrual cups and sanitary napkins and pads from the sales tax:

  • HB 152, introduced by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax
  • HB 24, sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who dubbed it “The Dignity Act”
  • HB 448, filed by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico

Boysko also is sponsoring HB 25, which would add menstrual supplies to Virginia’s three-day, back-to-school “sales tax holiday” each August.

Kory said she believes women should not have to pay taxes for a necessity item. All of the bills have been referred to the House Finance Committee.

This is not the first time a “tampon tax” bill has appeared in the General Assembly. But the issue may have more momentum in light of the national conversation about sexual harassment, gender equity and other issues. Moreover, the House of Delegates now has 28 women members – up from 17 last year.

Those factors have generated optimism that the General Assembly may remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

“This is a fairness issue,” Boysko said. “These products need to be more affordable.”

Last year, she introduced a similar measure – HB 1593. In 2016, Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, also sponsored a bill to remove the “tampon tax” – HB 952. Each year, the proposal was tabled by a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee.

Opponents of the legislation worry that it will cost government coffers millions of dollars.

The sales tax rate is 6 percent in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads and 5.3 percent elsewhere in the state. Many retail items – including medicine, eyeglasses and firewood – are exempt from the tax.

With stores charging up to $9 for a box of 36 tampons, women will spend more than $2,000 on feminine hygiene products during their lifetimes. Removing the sales tax would save Virginia women at least $100. However, it would cost the state at least $4.5 million the first year and more than $5.5 million in 2024, the Virginia Department of Taxation said.

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, 14 states do not tax feminine hygiene products. Nine specifically exempt them – Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Connecticut will join this list July 1. The other five – Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon – do not have a sales tax.

Making Tampons Available in Schools and Prisons

The sales tax isn’t the only concern regarding feminine hygiene products. Legislators have introduced bills to address these other issues:

  • HB 1434, sponsored by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, would ensure that students in grades six through 12 have access to free tampons and pads in school.
  • HB 83, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, would provide feminine hygiene products to female prisoners and inmates for free.

On Wednesday, supporters of those proposals met with legislators. Holly Seibold, a member of the Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition, said the meeting was “well received with bipartisan support.”

But school officials expressed concerns about HB 1434. Officials of Fairfax County Public Schools fear the requirement would cost the district $500,000 a year, Seibold said.

William Martin “Marty” Mozingo

William Martin “Marty” Mozingo, 66, passed away Thursday, January 25, 2018. He was a son of the late Durwood and Martha Mozingo and was also preceded in death by two brothers, Durwood Mozingo, Jr. and Gene Victorin and sister, Minnie Sue Mozingo. Marty is survived by his wife, Deborah H. Mozingo; son, Martin Mozingo, Jr. and wife, Carol, son, Brian Mozingo; grandchildren, Samantha Mozingo and Courtney Mozingo; mother-in-law, Betty Harrell; sisters-in-law, Pam Whitehead and husband, Jerry, Tammy Harrell, Sharon Otten and Beulah Mozingo and a number of nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Saturday, January 27 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia where the family will receive friends 1-2 p.m. prior to the service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Emporia-Greensville Humane Society, 113 Baker St., Emporia, Virginia 23847. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

Senate Republicans Reject Medicaid Expansion

By Chris Wood, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Republicans in the Virginia Senate on Thursday tabled legislation that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of lower-income residents of Virginia.

Voting along party lines, the Senate Education and Health Committee indefinitely postponed action on the proposal. The eight Republicans on the panel voted to kill the measure; the seven Democrats voted to keep it alive.

The federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid. Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw of Fairfax noted that Virginia’s neighboring states – including West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky – have done so.

Saslaw said the federal government has promised to pay most of the costs of Medicaid expansion.

“If someone came up to me and said, ‘Saslaw, we’ll pick up 90 percent of your medical insurance costs if you pay the other 10, and we think we have a way around that 10,’ I would have to be a lunatic to turn down that offer,” Saslaw said.

However, Republican senators said they fear that Medicaid expansion would put a hole in the state budget.

“The federal level, they can just raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County. “We can’t do that at the state level.”

She said the state has limited resources. As Medicaid takes up more of the state budget, others services would have to be cut back, Chase said.

“It doesn’t take long to see we have major infrastructure needs,” Chase said. “We have bridges in my district that you can’t even drive ambulances over or fire trucks over because of the crumbling infrastructure.”

A fellow Republican, Sen. Richard Black of Loudoun County, said Medicaid costs are escalating out of control.

“I think it’s premature to move forward on this and potentially get ourselves stuck in a situation where we’ve expanded, and all of a sudden we’re having to do this thing on our own dime,” Black said.

The legislation at hand was SB 572, sponsored by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. A similar measure – SB 158, filed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke – had been folded into Hanger’s bill.

Democrats, including newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam, have made Medicaid expansion a top priority. It was also a priority for many of the people who attended Thursday’s committee meeting. They included Julien Parley, who has a son with autism. She said Medicaid expansion would help mothers like her.

“There was a time that I worked three jobs, and I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor,” Parley said. “I resorted to going to the emergency room, which racked up bills and it also was a hardship on my credit.”

People without health coverage often resort to the emergency room, said Julie Dime of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

“Countless Virginians that don’t have access to health care find their only option to be the hospital emergency room,” Dime said.

Editorial - Why don't we Expand Medicaid?

In the Capital News Service article above this Editorial, Republicans in a Senate Committee killed Medicaid Expansion. It is no surprise that this has happened - it has happened in each of the four years that I have been publishing Emporia News.

This year one of the bills to Expand medicaid was offered by a Republican, and the committee still killed it. Also this year one Republican, Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) cited the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Our infrastructure does need work. We have a great many rural communities that have insufficient Broadband Access; we have roads and bridges that need repaired; All interstate highways in the Commonwealth could use a few more lanes in places; Exit 11 is horrible, and needs to be colmpetely reworked to include acceleration and deceleration lanes (lets face it, getting from I-95 south to US58 East is sometimes a quite harrowing experience). With all of these needs, seemingly no major bills or budget amendments have deen offered. Infrastructure is a bit of an arbatrary term when speaking of legislation, but a quick glance at the LIS website shows no major bills of budget amendments for Transportation and the only place where Broadband Communications Infrastructure is mentioned seems to be a bill about how to mark highways during construction of those projects. Even with as random as the term infrastructure is, none of the bills where Senator Chase is listed as Chief Patron or Co-patron will have any impact on crumbling infrastructure.

Here is the impact of Medicaid Expansion in Colorado, my home state: "A new report examining the economic and budgetary impact of Medicaid expansion in Colorado reveals that, in the two years since implementation, expansion in the state has had a significant positive effect on the economy at no expense to the General Fund. According to the preliminary independent analysis, 'Assessing the Economic and Budgetary Impact of Medicaid Expansion in Colorado: FY 2015-16 through FY 2034-35,' Colorado has added 31,074 jobs, increased economic activity by $3.8 billion and raised annual household earnings by $643 due to the state Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. By fiscal year (FY) 2034-2035, Colorado is projected to add a total of 43,018 new jobs, increase economic activity by $8.5 billion and raise average annual household earnings by $1,033."

The Affordable Care Act included the funding to expand Medicaid, and by not accepting that funding, the hard-earned money of Virginia Taxpayers is being used to fund Medicaid Expansion in all the other states that have expanded their program.  Virginians gave states like New York 5 MILLION DOLLARS EACH DAY ($2,839,000,000 - that is Two Billion, Eight-Hundred Thirty-Nine Million Dollars) in the first year alone. Those losses in tax dollars are in addition to the lost economic activity mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

Expanding Medicaid in Virginia, which the Federal Government would pay for (100% now, 90% after 2020), would bring that money back to the Commonwealth, help rural hospitals and help poor families live better lives. Expanding Medicaid is the only Fiscally Responsible - the only Fiscally Conservative - option available to the General Assembly.

Don't read too much into my opinion here. I am not calling for completely re-inventing our current system, I am not saying that we need our own National Health Service like the one in the United Kingdom. All I am saying in this Editorial is that medicaid Expansion would be good for the Virginia Economy. By providing care via Medicaid we are, not only, helping our friends and neighbors get the care that many of them need but helping the Economy. Virginia has a larger population than Colorado (by about 3 Million people), so we stand to benefit even more than Colorado.  Even if there were only 100-150 jobs created in Emporia-Greensville and our economy were to expand by $10-15 Million, our community would be better off with Medicaid Expansion.

At a Town Hall Meeting here in Emporia, hosted by Senator Louise Lucas, a representative from Southampton Memorial Hospital, whose parent company also owns SVRMC, said that Medicaid Expansion would be a good thing for hospitals like SVRMC and that every hospital in the Commonwealth was in favor of Medicaid Expansion. At that August, 2014, meeting it was said that CHS would lose $1.7 Million over two years between Southampton Memorial and Southside Virginia RMC and would most likely see cuts in staffing and services - both of which we are seeing now. Monies that the Federal Government used to Expand Medicaid came from other indigent care programs. Without Expanding Medicaid, hospitals now absorb the cost of that indigent care, raising the cost of care for everyone else in the community, cut back services like birthing centers and surgical care - even sending patients to other hospitals for those services, or close up completely for lack of positive cash flow.

Expanding Medicaid would help more people than you think. In the spirit of full disclosure, I would, most likely) be one of them, as would anyone that makes less than $16,000 each year. Medicaid Expansion would help the "working poor" like those Restarurant Servers (who make $2.13 per hour, plus tips). Perhaps that fear the Republicans have, that feeling that the Federal Government would renege and suddenly stop paying for Medicaid stems from the fact that Republicans in the General Assembly did just that to every locality with a State Prison. The General Assembly agreed to a program called "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" to help those localities that lost parts of their property tax base (since the Commonwealth of Virginia does not pay Real Property Tax); The Republicans in the General Assembly broke their word to those communities (including Greensville County, Southampton County, Sussex County, Brunswick County, Nottoway County and Mecklenburg County) and stopped making those "Payments in Lieu of Taxes" after only one year.

Democrats Tout Bills They Say Would Help Workers

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic lawmakers are urging passage of legislation to boost wages paid on state construction projects, increase overtime pay for public and private employees, and prohibit employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

Those proposals were among a slew of bills discussed at a news conference held by the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the bills concern “one of the core issues that defines us as Democrats – our commitment to jobs and the people who need those jobs, who man those jobs.”

He is sponsoring HB 667, which would require contractors and subcontractors on public works projects to pay the “prevailing wage” set by the federal government. He said the measure would increase the supply of apprenticeships and skilled workers and keep jobs in the community.

Many Republicans oppose laws mandating prevailing wages on government-funded projects. They say such requirements inflate construction costs. Krizek disputed that, saying higher wages are usually offset by greater productivity, better technologies and other employer savings.

Krizek’s bill is pending in the House Rules Committee.

Also at the news conference, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, discussed his bill to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their salary history. Under HB 240, an employer could not obtain an applicant’s pay history from current or previous employers, either.

Rasoul said employers use applicants’ salary histories to lowball the salaries they offer. “Both young workers and those workers that are in a career transition are experiencing real discrimination because of this,” he said.

Under his proposal, Rasoul said, employers could ask applicants their minimum salary requirement but not how much money they previously earned. The bill has been assigned to the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

That committee also is considering legislation by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, to increase overtime pay for workers in Virginia. Under HB 1109, employees would be entitled to twice their regular pay in certain circumstances. That is more than what the U.S. Department of Labor requires.

“This bill ensures that workers are fairly compensated for overtime if they work more than 12 hours a day, 40 hours a week or 7 consecutive days a work week,” Tran said.

Virginia Republicans Announce Election Review Panel

By Chelsea Jackson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In the wake of a tied contest and other issues in last fall’s elections, Republican leaders in the General Assembly announced Thursday that they will form a panel to address such situations at the polls in the future.

“There were numerous questions raised during the 2017 elections,” said House Speaker Kirk Cox, who made the announcement alongside Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment. “This subcommittee will have the ability to broadly review these questions and determine what, if any, steps should be taken.”

Cox and Norment said the joint subcommittee will deal with concerns such as absentee ballots, the assignment of voters in split precincts and recount law and procedures.

“These issues are not about who wins or loses elections but about the confidence of the public in our elections,” Norment said. “We never go through an election without a contentious result in a closely fought contest. Citizens expect us to protect and ensure the integrity of the process.”

The subcommittee will be co-chaired by two Republicans – Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County. Cole chairs the House Privileges and Elections Committee, and Vogel chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

“We need to examine these issues comprehensively, using a process that takes all viewpoints into account,” Vogel said.

The announcement did not include how many Democrats would be on the subcommittee. Republicans hold a slim majority in both the House and Senate.

Some Democrats have their own ideas how to address the election issues. Backed by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, introduced a bill that called for a special election in the case of a tie vote.

A House subcommittee killed that proposal, HB 1581, on a 4-2 vote early Thursday morning. The panel was split along party lines, with Republicans in favoring of killing the measure and Democrats against.

Gun Control Bills Die in Virginia House of Delegares Subcommittee

The Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates considering and killing the banning of bump-stocks and training for carriers of concealed carry permits, both of which are supported by a majority of Virginians, including Republicans.

 

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee shot down multiple gun control bills Thursday despite a tear-filled statement from a survivor of last fall’s Las Vegas shooting who urged legislators to ban bump stocks.

Cortney Carroll of Henrico County was one of several citizen lobbyists who attended the meeting of the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee. She urged delegates to support HB 41, which aimed to ban the sale of bump stocks, devices that significantly increase the number of rounds that can be fired per minute.

Carroll had been at the country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when Stephen Paddock, using rifles fitted with bump stocks, killed 58 people and injured about 550.

“I believe in guns, but I just don’t think these are necessary,” Carroll said. “Think of your children, your family, your friends. Please don’t let [Las Vegas] happen again, not in our state.”

The subcommittee chairman, Republican Del. Thomas Wright of Amelia County, said that while he empathized with Carroll’s perspective, he did not think banning bump stocks was the answer.

“Until the evil in people’s hearts changes, the laws we pass cannot fix that,” he said.

The subcommittee also heard from supporters of HB 602, which would have required people applying for concealed carry permits to demonstrate competence with a gun in person. Applicants can currently complete National Rifle Association or state-certified online courses.

Jonathan Romans, a local gun safety activist, said the training could reduce accidents, which he called a public safety issue.

“Having training for people who want to carry outside the home is not an infringement on constitutional rights,” Romans said. “Gun activists have called this a gun-grabbing scheme, but that’s just not the case.”

Lori Haas, Virginia’s state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also urged the committee to support the bill.

“We require law enforcement to undergo hundreds of hours of training,” Haas said. “The average citizen could certainly benefit from this training.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, countered: “But we’re not police officers. We don’t need the same amount of training to carry a gun.”

The subcommittee also rejected HB 596 and HB 927, which would have prohibited the sale or transfer of certain magazines and firearms. Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, said she introduced the bill because her constituents were concerned by the abundance of gun violence in their communities.

All of the bills were killed on 4-2 party-line votes.

Meet the Democratic Socialist Who Ousted a Top Republican from the House

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2015, Lee J. Carter, an information technology specialist from Manassas, was shocked by 245 volts during a work assignment in Peoria, Illinois, when an electrician had incorrectly wired a panel.

He wound up injuring his back; for the next three months, he could not walk more than 50 feet at a time. Yet Virginia rejected Carter’s claim for workers’ compensation, and his employer cut his hours after he got better. That ordeal inspired Carter to run for the Virginia House of Delegates.

Few people thought he stood a chance of carrying the 50th House District, which includes Manassas and part of Prince William County. He was a little-known outsider challenging a powerful incumbent – Republican Del. Jackson Miller, the House majority whip. Though running as a Democrat, Carter said he did not get a lot of formal support from the state Democratic Party.

But on Nov. 7, Carter shocked the naysayers: Like David against Goliath, he won the House race by nine points, unseating Jackson, who had represented the district since 2006.

How did he pull off the upset? For almost two years, Lee said, he went into the community and talked to residents all day, every day. In the end, they decided they wanted him to come to Richmond and represent them.

Carter is a member of the Democratic Party, but he describes himself as a democratic socialist. He is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America; the group endorsed him in his 2017 election.

“One of the things I came to understand very early in the campaign is, if you’re to the left of Barry Goldwater, they’re going to call you a socialist anyway,” Carter said. “So I figured there is no point in hiding it. I am who I am. I believe worker-owned businesses are better for the community than investor-owned businesses.”

Still, the word “socialist” can raise eyebrows in Virginia politics. Scott Lingamfelter, another Republican who lost his House seat last fall, used the label in his final newsletter to constituents on Jan. 5.

“Last November, the state took a sharp turn to the left, electing people who truly do support a socialist agenda. Republicans were routed, including me,” wrote Lingamfelter, who was beaten by progressive Democrat Elizabeth Guzman in the neighboring 31st House District, which includes parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties.

“I believe that in the months and years to come, Virginians will conclude that this election of far-left candidates was not helpful to families, small businesses, and constitutional governance, the things I stood for when I served in the House.”

Carter, who served five years in the U.S. Marines, said he will look out for workers – and that is why he won by such a large margin.

“I just went out there with the help of hundreds of volunteers with a message of ‘I’m a working-class guy,’ and I’m going to go there [Richmond] and represent working-class issues. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and brought that message directly to people at their homes,” he said.

Since the election, Carter has been deluged with phone calls from constituents and supporters with requests and ideas. He said the constant flood has continued to this day.

One of Carter’s supporters, and the top individual donor to his campaign, is Karl Becker, who works in the defense industry in the Washington area. Becker worked with Carter on Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

“Lee is very passionate about the inability of the government to serve folks,” said Becker, who contributed $6,750 to Carter’s House campaign.

“He experienced a workplace injury and discovered that workers’ compensation was not working for people. That got him involved in looking into other aspects of politics, and he is very much of the opinion that he can make a difference.”

Becker said he admires both Carter and Sanders for supporting universal health care, also known as “Medicare for all.” Carter is sponsoring a resolution to have state officials study the cost of implementing such a system. The resolution has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

Also this session, Carter introduced legislation to more than double the sales tax on watercraft and to provide more protection for workers in the workers’ compensation system – an issue “near and dear to my heart.” One of his bills was aimed at covering Virginia workers who are injured out of state, as Carter was.

All of his workers’ compensation measures, as well as his sales tax proposal, were killed at the subcommittee level in the House.

For his House race, Carter put together a coalition of groups, including Let America Vote, which fights gerrymandering; the Sierra Club, an environmental organization; the Sister District Project, a Democratic effort focusing on swing districts; and Swing Left, a support group for progressive candidates.

Carter said the Democratic Party is in the midst of change.

“I think right now, it is a party that is torn between two visions of what it is supposed to be,” he said.

“I view it as a party that is supposed to be advocating for the issues of working people exclusively. There are a lot of people at the same time who view the party as one that should advocate for compromise between the interests of working people and the interests of their employers.”

Carter, who graduated from the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, said having a party of compromise would be fine in a political system with multiple parties.

“But in our current system, you have the Republican Party, which is unabashedly for the interests of the big corporations. So you need a party that is unabashedly for the workers to balance that out. Otherwise, things don’t function.”

Carter quoted former Lt. Gov. Henry Howell, an independent Democrat nicknamed “Howlin’ Henry” for his progressive populist views: “‘An eagle can’t fly with two right wings.’ We need a left wing.”

Virginia Lawmakers Stir the Pot on Brunswick Stew Day

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Carroll Tucker stuck the long, wooden stirring paddle into the 85-gallon pot of stew. He let it go, and it didn’t move.

“Do you know what it means if the paddle can stand up by itself?” said Tucker, longtime friend of this year’s Brunswick stewmaster and member of the “stew crew.”

“It’s ready.”

Senators, delegates and hungry residents lined up outside a tent on the Capitol grounds Wednesday to get a taste of this year’s stew. Legislators declared the fourth Wednesday of January Brunswick Stew Day nearly 20 years ago, and it’s the county’s most celebrated tradition.

“It’s been a cherished endeavor for many years,” said Tracy Clary, this year’s stewmaster. “The first Brunswick Stew was cooked in 1820 in Brunswick County right on the banks of the Nottoway River.”

Clary has lived his entire life in the county, which borders North Carolina, and has participated in the Taste of Brunswick Festival for years. Of the seven years he’s competed in the cook-off, he’s placed in the top four six times, winning for the first time in October.

The winning dish, which Clary served again Wednesday, is a chicken-based stew with pork, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, butter beans, corn and a seasoning consisting of just four ingredients – salt, sugar, black pepper and ground red pepper.

Clary and his crew cooked the mixture from midnight until the last spoonful of the 340 to 350 quarts of stew was served just before noon.

“Once you start the pot to get cooking, you’ve got to constantly stir it so it doesn’t burn,” said Tucker, a member of the crew. “We’re constantly adding ingredients, sitting around talking, just having good fellowship and cooking the stew.”

The long hours tending the pot were rewarded when around 10:30 a.m. senators, representatives and other lawmakers lined up to grab a bowl. By 11 a.m., the stew was running low.

“The governor’s not going to have anything to stir if he doesn’t come down here soon,” said a member of the stew crew.

Shortly after, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Roslyn Tyler, who is from Brunswick, made their way to the tent just in time to get their fix. They gathered around the steel pot, which was almost as tall as the stewmaster himself, to take pictures with Clary and the stew crew. Then they took turns stirring the pot.

“It’s like paddling my boat,” Northam called out as he grasped the paddle and stirred the remaining stew.

Brunswick County administrator Charlette Woolridge said she hasn’t missed a Stew Day in the 11 years she’s held the position. She said Stew Day is an important event in the county’s history because it’s an opportunity for locals to showcase Brunswick County, interact with elected officials and Virginia residents and share their beloved stew.

“We’re just happy and proud to host this event annually,” she said. “We get great enjoyment and fulfillment out of this, and we look forward to doing this for years to come.”

2018 Flu Season

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital is currently receiving a higher than usual volume of patients in the Emergency Department.  This is causing extended wait times and in some cases diversion to other area hospitals.  This is not just an issue for VCU Health CMH, but for other hospitals across central Virginia.  A principle reason for the high volume is from a very active flu season that is occurring in Virginia and all across the United States.

Gayle Sutton, RN, BSN, CIC, Infection Preventionist at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital, stated, “I think it is important first for the public to understand the difference between the flu and a cold. A cold often presents with a sore throat that lasts up to 48 hours, followed by a runny nose, cough and congestion.  Fever is not usual in adults but more common in children.  The symptoms usually last about a week and the person is contagious for the first three days.”

She continued, “Flu also presents with a sore throat, but other symptoms include fever, head and muscle aches, congestion and cough.  Vomiting and diarrhea are also associated with some strains of flu.  These symptoms usually improve after a few days, but the person may feel a general malaise for some time.  Flu can be dangerous for people who have a weakened immune system or people who are very young or elderly. It also poses a risk for people with pulmonary or heart problems.”

Sutton recommends people who expect they may have flu to follow up with their primary care physician first and as soon as possible.  Sutton explained that if they come through the Emergency Department at VCU Health CMH, they are put on droplet precaution. The flu is a wet molecule that travels three feet and drops, so anyone entering their room is required to wear a mask. 

Hospital visitation is discouraged if a family member or friend has the flu.  Masks are available upon entry into the Hospital/Emergency Department as well as hand sanitizer.  VCU Health CMH's incidence of flu admission this year has been high. 

She recommends people who believe they have the flu should stay home, get plenty of rest and follow physician orders regarding returning to work, resuming school, etc. 

Good hand washing is still considered the most important defense against the flu; while the vaccine has been proven to have only 10% effectiveness against the strains this season it is still recommended and takes at least two weeks to be effective.  It is still not too late to receive a flu shot. The CDC recommends vaccination prior to the flu season in October, but states that it’s not too late and urges people to receive the vaccine through January.

SRMC FIRST IN TRI-CITIES TO OPEN AN ELECTROPHYSIOLOGY LAB

New Technology Supports Less Invasive Treatments for Patients

Petersburg, VA– Doctors at Southside Regional Medical Center are now able to use an advanced digital X-ray imaging system to see extremely detailed, real-time images of patient anatomy during procedures that require exacting precision.

They just opened their Electrophysiology Laboratory this December. This new equipment will help electrophysiologists and cardiologists at Southside Regional Medical Center treat a variety of medical disorders including diseases of the heart and blood vessels like heart arrhythmias and bradycardia as well as implanting devices to combat heart failure.

The advanced digital X-ray imaging system provides advanced capability for visualizing delicate procedures, such as placing a tiny wire mesh tube (stent) in a patient’s artery to sustain or recover blood flow.

“It is critical for our medical staff to see the anatomy very clearly while guiding catheters, stents and other medical devices to areas needing treatment,” says Debbie Nelson RN, MSN/MHA, EP Lab Director. “Because the new system produces high quality images our staff can perform delicate procedures like balloon angioplasty and blood vessel interventions with accuracy and confidence.”

The new system has a large digital detector, 12 inches square for excellent anatomical coverage. This gives doctors the potential to see more anatomy in a single exam, and as a consequence, complete studies with fewer X-ray images, less X-ray dose and fewer injections of contrast dye than with smaller detectors.

“We are very excited about adding the advanced X-ray system to our technology offering at Southside Regional Medical Center,” says Ms. Nelson.  “By putting this advanced system in the hands of our medical experts, it helps us make significant improvements in the patient care in the communities we serve.”

Bill Calls for a Special Election if a Recount Ends in a Tie

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday called for a law requiring a special election if an election recount ends in a tie – as it did in the state’s 94th House District last fall.

That tied election in Newport News between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds was decided by a lottery – film canisters pulled out of a bowl. That is what prompted Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, to propose House Bill 1581.

“When it was announced that the winner of the 94th District House race was to be determined by lot – by drawing a name out of a bowl – there was an instant reaction,” Price said at a news conference attended by the caucus chair, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, and other legislators.

Yancey, the incumbent delegate, won the lottery held by the State Board of Elections on Jan. 4. Price said that regardless of party, Virginians deserve a better way of settling deadlocked elections.

Price said she was holiday shopping for her nephew in December when both Republican and Democratic residents of the 94th House District approached her about the upcoming lottery. Price recalled one man saying, “I know we don’t agree on much, but tell me you agree that this just isn’t right.”

“So HB 1581 takes into account the feelings of disenfranchisement and serves as a fix. It says if the court finds that each party to the recount has received an equal number of votes, it shall issue a writ promptly ordering a special election be held to determine which candidate is elected to office,” Price said.

The proposed rule would apply to all elected offices except governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Virginia Constitution says the General Assembly must settle any tied election for those statewide offices.

Price’s idea to hold a special election received support at the news conference from Dawnn Wallace, who lives in the 94th House District.

“I was one of the 23,891 people who cast a vote on Nov. 7, 2017, in the House of Delegates election for the 94th District,” Wallace said. In that election, after a recount and a court hearing, officials determined that Yancey and Simonds each got 11,608 votes, with the rest going to a Libertarian and write-in candidates.

Wallace said she makes sure to vote in every election. When she learned that her state delegate would be chosen by picking a name out of a bowl, she said she was flabbergasted.

“Many of my family members, neighbors and friends who live in the 94th District felt the same way,” Wallace said. “And our immediate concern moved from who would prevail to how that person was going to win.”

As a sports fan, Wallace said it was like having a football game decided by a coin flip. Just as games tied at the end of regulation go into overtime, Wallace said a recount that ends in a tie should be decided by a special election.

A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear Price’s bill on Thursday.

Bill Would Exempt Trade Secrets from FOIA

Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

Delegate Roxann Robinson, R - Midlothian, before the General Laws subcommittee, reading her proposed bill creating general rules exempting trade secrets from Freedom of Information Act requests (photo by Adam Hamza)

By Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Open government and environmental advocates are once again battling bills they say that would limit public-information access by creating a Freedom of Information Act exclusion for trade secrets.

HB 904 by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, would create general exclusions from FOIA for trade secrets submitted to a public body. It passed its initial hearing in a House General Laws subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill is similar to four others Robinson introduced last year that would have allowed FOIA exemptions for chemical names and concentrations used in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. All failed to pass.

The new bill is supported by the Freedom of Information Advisory Council. Alan Gernhardt, the council’s executive director, said the bill simplifies the way FOIA treats trade secrets.

He said that over the past few years, FOIA exemptions have been issued based specifically on the type of record as well as the agency. This means each time an exception is sought, an individual exemption must be crafted.

“The problem is more and more agencies are holding or receiving trade secrets, and so they’re asking for more exemptions every year,” Gernhardt said. “We want to get the one general exemption everybody can use and remove the language that’s specific for each agency.”

Opponents of the bill countered that the exclusions are too broad and carry significant unintended consequences – mainly, keeping more information from citizens.

Emily Francis, representing the Southern Environmental Law Center, criticized what she termed a sweeping exemption. She said the legislation doesn’t address the center’s concerns from Robinson’s earlier bills, including the need to provide public access to the names of chemicals used in fracking.

“The public would like access to this information. As of today, they do have access to this information, and they would like (continued) access to that information,” she said.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, expressed objections similar to those of the law center.

“We do want to point out that, yes it has been worked on for four years, and the bill that came – nobody was happy with it,” Rhyne said.

Corrina Beall, political director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, and Daria Christian, assistant director of the Friends of the Rappahannock, also spoke in opposition.

Trade secrets in the legislation are based on the definition in Virginia’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, according to the bill summary.

A trade secret, according to the act, “means information, including but not limited to, a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: 1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and 2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”

The subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines to send the bill to the full committee:

  • Republican Dels. Keith Hodges of Middlesex, Hyland Fowler of Hanover, James Leftwich of Chesapeake and Jason Miyares and Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach voted for the bill.
  • Democratic Dels. Betsy Carr of Richmond, Patrick Hope of Arlington and Kathleen Murphy of Fairfax voted against it.

Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, Civil Rights Giant, Dies

By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, a civil rights icon who worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., died Tuesday morning at an assisted-living facility in Chester, south of Richmond.

Numerous public officials, including Virginia’s two U.S. senators, expressed their condolences over the death of Wyatt, whoraised heaven as pastor at Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg and hell as a civil rights activist.

“The Commonwealth and our country are a better place because of his leadership in the struggle for civil rights,” Sen. Mark Warner said. Sen. Tim Kaine called Wyatt “a man I’ve known and admired for many years.”

Wyatt’s death at age 88 was announced by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who described him as “atrue giant and irreplaceable leader.”

Added the Rev. Jesse Jackson: “One of the tallest trees of the civil rights movement has fallen.”

Walker was born to the Rev. John Wise and Maude Pinn Walker, both graduates of Virginia Union University, on Aug. 16, 1929, in Brockton, Massachusetts. He grew up in a home full of books but struggling with poverty during the Great Depression.

In 1950, Walker followed his parents’ path to Virginia Union University, receiving Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1953. Soon after, he moved to Petersburg.

During his seven-year tenure at Gillfield Baptist, Walker vitalized the struggle for civil rights in that city south of Richmond. He served as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded the Petersburg Improvement Association and sued the city in federal court for access to the public but segregated swimming pool in Lee Park. The city responded by temporarily closing the pool rather than integrate it.

For his efforts, Walker was arrested 17 times. He had many notable achievements, including the desegregation of lunch counters at restaurants at the bus terminal.

In 1958, Walker co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality and served as its state director.

In 1960, Walker moved to Alabama at King’s behest. Serving as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1960 to 1964, he improved the organization’s fundraising, structure, strategy and publicity.

Discussing his leadership in the SCLC, Walker once described himself as someone “who didn’t care about being loved to get it done – I didn’t give a damn about whether people liked me, but I knew I could do the job.’’

After resigning from the SCLC in 1964, Walker became vice president and then president of the Negro Heritage Library, a publishing venture aimed at increasing black history and literature in public school curriculums. He also became pastor of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem.

King spoke to Walker’s congregation in 1968, describing him as ‘‘a tall man – tall in stature, tall in courage.’’

At the church in Harlem, Walker hosted numerous African leaders active in opposing apartheid and colonization of the continent, including Nelson Mandela.

Walker was no stranger to danger. He braved constant threats campaigning for civil rights in the Jim Crow south and continued daring death in Harlem, campaigning and preaching against the drug trade. The mobster Frank Lucas once allegedly put a bounty on Wyatt’s head.

After suffering a stroke in 2004, Walker left Canaan Baptist and moved back to Virginia to live near relatives. Walker is survived by his wife of 68 years, Theresa Edwards Walker; his daughter, Patrice Powell; three sons – Robert, Earl, and Wyatt Jr.; his sister, Mary Holley; and two granddaughters.

Workers’ Compensation Bills Die in Subcommittee

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Legislation aimed at protecting and improving employees’ worker compensation rights were struck down Tuesday by a House subcommittee.

Freshman Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, proposed three bills in an effort to reform the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act after he was inspired by his own experience filing a claim. All three bills were passed by indefinitely by a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, effectively killing them for the session.

One of the bills, HB 460, would have prevented employers from firing someone based on the belief that the employee had filed or was planning to file a claim for workers compensation. Currently, Virginia law only protects employees from being fired solely because they have made or are planning to make a claim. However, this bill would have protected employees from being fired for any reason that was motivated by the knowledge or belief that the employee was planning to file a claim.

Ryan Dunn from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the bill was too general.

“This is really a golden ticket to allow somebody, even after they are fired for due cause or decide to quit, (that) they can at any point come back and say that this was related to their workers’ comp claim that they put in in 1985,” Dunn said.

The second measure, HB 461, known as the timely notice bill, would have required employers to respond to a workers’ compensation claim within 10 days of the initial claim and explain why it was denied. The bill would cut employers’ response time in half; Joe Leahy of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia said that is not enough time to investigate a claim.

Carter’s third bill, HB 462, would have ensured that Virginia employees injured while working outside the state could still file for compensation from their employer in Virginia, increasing their employers’ liability.

Again this bill was met with opposition. Subcommittee Chairman Gregory Habeeb, R-Salem, agreed with Carter that “our system is not super-claimant friendly,” but disagreed with the proposed solution.  

“I believe that there are some changes that Virginia could make to the benefit of the claimants that would be more than reasonable,” he said. “I just don’t think this is one of them.”

Carter was not available for comment after the subcommittee meeting.

Stricter Seat-Belt Laws Shelved for 2018 Session

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia legislators have rejected all bills expanding seat-belt requirements in privately owned vehicles this session. The last two bills, requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts, were dismissed by a House subcommittee vote Tuesday.

“With the demise of this year’s major seat-belt bills, it is clear that Virginia lawmakers don’t have an appetite for advancing the single most effective measure to reduce crash-related deaths and injuries,” said Kurt Erickson, the president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program and an advocate for expanding seat belt requirements in Virginia.

Expanding seat belt laws to include rear-seat passengers could save several lives each year. In 2017, at least 94 Virginia lives might have been saved if vehicle occupants had been buckled up, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Back-seat passengers in general are three times more likely to die when unfastened during a collision, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Drivers under the influence and teens are some of the least likely to wear seatbelts. In 2013, 68 percent of drivers who had been drinking and died in a car accident were not wearing a seat belt, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. In the same year, 49 percent of teens under the influence involved in a fatal crash were unrestrained. Even without alcohol, teens are particularly careless when it comes to wearing seat belts. In 2015, more than half of all teens who died in a crash were unbuckled during the collision, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, questions were raised over whether the driver would be responsible for the ticket if a rear-seat passenger remained unbuckled. As services like Uber and Lyft gain in popularity, the answer is especially pertinent for ride-sharing drivers.  Neither HB 1272 sponsored by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, nor HB 9 sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, guarantees any protection for taxi drivers or ride-sharing services.

Last week, a Senate committee rejected a similar bill that additionally would have made failing to wear a seat belt a primary offense. Current Virginia law only requires front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, and dictates that a seat-belt violation can be ticketed only when the driver is pulled over for a separate traffic violation. Currently, the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is a $25 fine.

Delegates Tout Bills to Improve Prison Workers’ Jobs

By Yasmine Jumaa and Brandon Celentano,Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Correctional officers from across Virginia watched Tuesday as a state lawmaker urged support for legislation aimed at reducing turnover among prison guards and making it easier for them to get workers’ compensation.

“I think currently we have a tremendous injustice going on,” said Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun. “Out of the 14 [categories of] peace officers in Virginia, the only peace officer who does not get the presumption of disability is our correctional officer.”

Bell is sponsoring House Bill 107, which would add correctional officers to the list of public safety employees entitled to receive workers’ compensation under the presumption that hypertension, heart disease and other ailments may stem from their stressful jobs. Bell said some correctional officers develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The stress levels on officers is very high, which could lead to a variety of different heart diseases over prolonged periods of time,” Bell said. “It’s a tough and hazardous job where officers have been measured with PTSD that far exceeds combat veterans.”

Bell has also introduced HB 108, which would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to conduct an exit survey of correctional officers who quit. The survey would ask them about work conditions and other concerns that may contribute to high turnover.

Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, said low salaries may be a factor.

“You have to work two, three jobs sometimes to address your needs and your family’s because your salaries aren’t up to par to make a living,” said Tyler, who is co-sponsoring the two bills. “That is just totally unreasonable.”

According to the Department of Corrections, 1,164 DOC employees, including 698 correctional officers, have salaries so low that they may be eligible for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

A 2017 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said correctional officers’ difficult jobs and low salaries may hurt attracting and retaining employees. Virginia prison guards had a 17 percent turnover rate over the past two years, and 16 percent of the positions have been vacant, the study said.

HB 107 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. On Tuesday, the subcommittee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill.

HB 108 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

While Governor Decries Gun Violence, Senate OKs Guns in Church

By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Lamenting the fact that more than 900 Virginians were killed by guns last year, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state should do more to restrict the proliferation of firearms.

“We do not need these weapons on our streets and in our society,” Northam told a multi-faith congregation at St. Paul’s Church.

The governor spoke at an event organized by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Just hours later, however, the Senate passed a bill allowing people to bring guns and knives to churches and other places of worship.

Split along party lines, senators voted 21-18 in favor of SB 372, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ben Chafin of Russell County.

Currently, state law provides that “If any person carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon, without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship while a meeting for religious purposes is being held at such place he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”

SB 372 would repeal that prohibition against bringing weapons to a house of worship. Supporters of the bill say congregants may need weapons to defend themselves from an attack. They point to incidents such as the mass shooting at a Baptist church at Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, when 26 people were killed by a gunman.

Officials of the Virginia Interfaith Center issued a news press release saying they are “absolutely opposed” to the bill.

Northam did not specifically address SB 372 in his remarks at St. Paul’s, where the center was holding its “Day for All People,” an occasion for residents from across Virginia to come to Richmond and meet with legislators.

Rather, the Democratic governor discussed his concerns about gun violence. He recalled the shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people were murdered by a gunman during a country music festival on Oct. 1. In less than 50 hours after the shooting, 58 more Americans would die from gun violence, Northam said.

“It took 49 hours – 58 more Americans lost their lives, but you never heard about them, did you? Nor did I,” Northam said. “When are we, as a society, going to stand up and say enough is enough?”

After graduating from Virginia Military Institute, Northam attended Eastern Virginia Medical School. Afterward, he served eight years in the Army as a doctor. Northam has seen the effects of firearms firsthand.

Northam began practicing pediatric neurology after the Army. As a children’s neurologist, he has treated young victims of gunshot wounds.

Northam said he supports the Second Amendment but is willing to think outside the box. “We have ‘smart gun’ technology; this is 2018,” the governor said. “So I will do everything I can to address that issue.”

In an interview, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, questioned Northam’s statistics on gun deaths in 2017. He said the numbers include tragedies such as suicides.

Van Cleave said he would support “smart guns” – weapons that fire only if held by an authorized user – if the technology were 100 percent effective. However, he said, it currently is not reliable. Someone who is bleeding or wearing gloves may not be able to fire a “smart gun” in self-defense, Van Cleave said.

Businesses May Get Tax Credits to Train High School Students

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Juniors and seniors in Richmond City Public Schools would receive paid apprenticeships and training with local businesses, and participating employers would get tax credits from the state, under legislation filed by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.

Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant and Democratic Del. Jeffrey Bourne, who both represent the city in the General Assembly, are seeking to establish a pilot program for the 2018-19 or 2019-20 academic year.

Under the program, up to 25 Richmond students would receive “competitive compensation” while being trained in high-demand fields.

Sturtevant and Bourne say it is important to help students who do not pursue traditional college degrees prepare for the workforce.

“This pilot program will provide a great opportunity for bright and hardworking students to get hands-on experience,” Sturtevant said.

Participating local businesses would receive a $2,500 tax credit per student per semester. Student compensation would equal “no less than the value” of that credit. The total tax credits awarded by the state could not exceed $125,000 a year under the legislation.

Sturtevant and Bourne previously served together on the Richmond School Board for four years.

The lawmakers have submitted companion bills to create the apprenticeship program. Sturtevant has introduced SB 937 in the Senate; Bourne is carrying HB 1575 in the House. Both measures are awaiting committee hearings.

‘Beltway Sniper’ Lee Boyd Malvo Seeks Re-sentencing

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A three-judge federal appeals court panel heard arguments Tuesday on whether Lee Boyd Malvo, who was convicted of murder in the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, is entitled to a new sentencing under a U.S. Supreme Court decision that made life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges listened to arguments from Malvo’s lawyer, Craig Cooley, and Virginia’s deputy solicitor general, Matthew McGuire.

“There are real serious considerations in re-sentencing dangerous criminals – which no one can argue Mr. Malvo isn’t,” McGuire said in court.

Malvo was 17 when he and John Allen Muhammad, then 41, killed 10 people in Virginia, Maryland and Washington during September and October of 2002.

Muhammad was sentenced to death and executed in Virginia in 2009. Malvo was given four life terms and is an inmate at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a juvenile could not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, except in the rarest of cases. Even then, a sentencing judge must make an individualized and focused evaluation before sentencing, the high court said.

Last year, citing the Miller decision, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson of Norfolk ordered a new sentencing for Malvo, now 32.

The state of Virginia appealed Jackson’s ruling. As a result, lawyers for both sides presented arguments to 4th Circuit Judges Paul Niemeyer, Robert King and Albert Diaz.

Cooley argued that in Malvo’s case, when given the option of life without parole or death, the jury voted unanimously to sentence him to life without parole – the lowest sentencing option at that time.

“It is possible, given the option, that they would have gone lower than life without parole,” Cooley told the court.

McGuire presented his counterargument.

“Lee Boyd Malvo is a serial murderer,” one of his documents states. “Lee Boyd Malvo and John Muhammad terrorized people living along the I-95 corridor between Virginia and Maryland for nearly a month in the fall of 2002, randomly killing 10 innocent people going about their daily activities and wounding numerous others, including a child.”

The appeals panel did not indicate when it might rule.

Malvo has been convicted and given life sentences in Maryland as well. Last year, a judge ruled that he will not receive a new sentencing hearing there.

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