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Madison Manske

New Takeout Food Concept in Scott’s Addition

BIG KITCHEN

By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A renovated diesel engine repair shop is home to a new food concept in Scott’s Addition. The Big Kitchen opened its takeout and delivery-based business on Wednesday, with the vision of creating meals from scratch that people can enjoy at home.

Restaurant co-owner Susan Davenport said they’ve been working on the space for a little over a year now.

The renovations include a storefront where customers can come in and pick up their order, as well as a walk-in cooler and a smokehouse in the back.

“This was the original bay where the semis would come through and drop their engines to be repaired,” Davenport said.

Customers can choose to drive through the covered garage to pick up their order from an employee or peruse the storefront options inside.

The menu offers a variety of items ranging from nacho kits and wood-fired frozen pizzas to bottles of wine and packs of beer.

“We have a really great team of chefs behind it,” Davenport said. “We have a lot of great sourcing with local purveyors, whether it’s our cheese or our meats, or especially in the growing season, the farms that we work with.”

The four partners behind The Big Kitchen formed Big Kitchen Hospitality, a local group that also operates Tazza Kitchen in the West End along with an outpost in Scott’s Addition.

The group said it has a staff of more than 300 employees working in its six full-service restaurants, three which are located in the Carolinas. Davenport said the online ordering technology and experienced food staff distinguishes The Big Kitchen from other carry-out concepts.

“You can order ahead and order several meals for a few days or some sides or frozen pizzas, and when you select your time for it to be ready, all you have to do is pull into our bay and we bring your order out,” Davenport said.

The Big Kitchen plans to launch food delivery service next month and will use refrigerated vans to keep the food fresh. Each item comes with heating instructions on the top label.

Jeff Grant, a BKH partner, said numerous people were involved in many trial runs to test recipes, along with the process of packaging and heating the prepared meals.

“Wood-fired cooking is still prominent, and we’ve included a few Tazza favorites, but we are excited about the new dishes and flavors that this team has put together,” Grant said.

Davenport said The Big Kitchen will offer customers the option to bring back used packaging for the staff to compost.

“I hate plastic, and so most of our packaging is compostable, and we actually compost everything organic here at this kitchen,” Davenport said. “Every month, we compost almost two tons of materials.”

The grab-and-go style market in the storefront offers freshly prepared items including sandwiches, smoked meats and salads. Storefront hours are 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 2:30-6:30 p.m. on Sunday. The Big Kitchen is located at 1600 Altamont Ave.

Bill Seeks Insurance Coverage for More Virginians with Autism

By Kathleen Shaw and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Legislation introduced by Del. Robert Thomas, R-Stafford, would expand autism insurance coverage to nearly 10,000 Virginians and lift the cap that excludes those over the age of 10.

Under current law, individuals with autism can get insurance only from ages 2 through 10. Autism is the only medical condition that has an age-based coverage limit, Thomas said. His bill, HB 2577, would eliminate the restriction.

“No other health impairment including asthma, diabetes or cancer has such age limits imposed on them,” Thomas said Tuesday at a press conference about the bill. “And we believe that coverage for all of these health conditions is based on medical necessity, and autism should be treated no differently.”

House Speaker Kirk Cox joined Thomas at the event and expressed his support for the bill.

“This announcement has been a long time coming in Virginia,” Cox said. He noted that according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “autism impacts 1 in 59 children in our country. This number is growing 15 percent a year.”

A 2013 report from the Autism Center of Excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University said that on average, children are diagnosed as having autism at 6 or 7 years old. As a result, those families have only about four years of access to affordable insurance.

After a child with autism turns 11, individuals can access affordable care only if they receive a “Developmentally Disabled Waiver” from the state. But there aren’t enough waivers to meet the demand, parents say.

The “Fighting Fletchers,” a Midlothian family with three autistic sons, joined advocates from the Virginia Autism Project at the press conference. Kate Fletcher, the boys’ mother, said the Developmentally Disabled Waiver waitlist of nearly 13,000 has left her family feeling abandoned by the state.

“All three of my boys are on that waitlist. Matthew’s been in the most urgent category for seven years now,” Fletcher said. “If we can’t access waiver supports, and we can’t access insurance past the age of 10, the state has effectively shut doors in our face the whole way.”

Individuals with autism who can get the insurance receive pharmaceutical, psychological and therapeutic care.

“Our children did not choose to be born with autism, and we feel that we should do everything we can to continue to learn about the causes of autism, but more importantly, to provide the treatment that we know is having a meaningful effect for these children regardless of their age,” Thomas said.

State officials estimate that it would cost about $237,000 a year to extend autism insurance coverage to nearly 10,000 more people. But advocates said the future benefits far outweigh the costs.

By having insurance and receiving treatment, a person with autism will require less in social services later on. The insurance “will save the state $1-2 million per person covered over their lifetime,” Fletcher said.

Lawmakers Call for Improvements in Foster Care


Delegate Emily Brewer (R) and Senator Monty Mason (D) chaired the first-ever Foster Care caucus. Photo by Madison Manske.

By Kathleen Shaw and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — The first-ever bipartisan foster care caucus convened Tuesday to provide legislators the opportunity to learn about the various demanding issues in child welfare.

Nine bills and two budget amendments before this year’s General Assembly session seek to improve Virginia’s foster care services. The co-chairs of the caucus — Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and Sen. Montgomery ‘Monty’ Mason, D-Williamsburg — said the group is committed to putting the commonwealth’s children first.

“It’s going to be a long-term solution through legislation, through advocacy and working through partnership groups to make sure that we’re making every single Virginia foster care youth have the most normalized experience, achieving normalcy as part of our goal,” Brewer said.

The urgent focus on Virginia’s foster care system comes after a report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s research arm, ranked the state’s social service policies as among the worst nationally. Virginia spends $500 million annually on the 5,300 children in foster care. The budget amendments call for another $3 million, which sponsors believe would reduce the number of youths in the Virginia Department of Social Services system by encouraging families to take over guardianship after children are removed from their primary home.

In terms of legislation, Brewer is sponsoring measures such as HB 2208, which would make it easier for relatives to adopt children. AndMason has introduced SB 1678 and SB 1679, which would align the Code of Virginia with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018.

Some legislators have personal ties to the issue: Brewer and Del. Christopher Collins, R-Frederick, were adopted; and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince Williams, is a foster parent. Carroll Foy has filed HB 2162, which would ensure that families are notified when a child enters the Virginia Department of Social Services system.

“Virginia has one of the lowest kinship placements of only 6 percent while nationally it’s 30 percent,” Carroll Foy said. “And we all know that when a child is placed with family, that lessens the amount of trauma and instability that that child has to encounter.”

When children are removed from their first familial residence, their options include foster care or going to a relative in a practice called kinship divergence. HB 2162 is a move toward increasing familial guardianship. Kinship divergence in Virginia is at a low because the families do not receive any financial assistance, while foster families receive a maintenance payment of $700 a month.

The Family First Prevention Services Act was adopted last year as part of the federal Bipartisan Budget Act. The law’s goals are keeping children safe, strengthening families and reducing the urgency for foster care when needed. Virginia would be the first state to implement the act.

Voices for Virginia’s Children is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group concerned about the foster care system. The group conducted a kinship care tour across Virginia last year to hear what kind of issues foster care families encounter.

“We learned that the majority of children who are going to live with a relative are doing so because of substance abuse,” said Allison Gilbreath, a policy analyst for the organization. “I know that we see the statistics, but it was one thing to see almost every single family that raised their hand said that their child was using opioids.”

Youth in foster care face various obstacles, including financial assistance, mental health services and legal restrictions such as access to an attorney. It can be difficult, for example, for young adults in foster care to get a driver’s license — a problem Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, hopes to address with her bill, SB 1139.

“We want our children when they age out of foster care to be able to have a normal experience and to have opportunities for jobs and education, and part of that is really gaining a driver’s license,” Favola said.

Advocates Seek More Access to Medical Marijuana

By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As other states have relaxed their laws against marijuana, citizens across Virginia gathered here Saturday to discuss how to persuade the General Assembly to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the commonwealth.

About 150 people, including health care providers and attorneys, attended the Virginia 2019 Cannabis Conference, held by the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Virginia NORML advocates decriminalizing possession of marijuana and regulating medical and recreational-use production and sales of the substance.

Members of NORML are hopeful after Gov. Ralph Northam voiced support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana during his State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday, the first day of the General Assembly’s 2019 session.

“We want to keep people safe. But we shouldn’t use valuable law enforcement time, or costly prison space, on laws that don’t enhance public safety,” the governor said in his speech. “Current law imposes a maximum 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession.”

So far, lawmakers have proposed six bills to decriminalize simple marijuana possession. For example, HB 2371, sponsored by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, and HB 2373, by Del. Lee Carter, D-Prince William, would legalize marijuana for Virginians 21 and older and have the state operate retail marijuana stores. Under such proposals, Virginians under 21 who are caught with marijuana would have to pay a civil penalty.

Most attendees at the conference, held at the Delta by Marriott hotel, seemed particularly interested in medical marijuana and how to access it without traveling to another state.

Lorene Davidson of Richmond works in anesthesia as a nurse practitioner. She came to the conference because of her ongoing struggle with antidepressants, which she found were bad for her liver.

“I’m looking mostly for a way to find out more about getting a medical card and furthering getting that taken care of,” Davidson said.

As a speaker at the event, Melanie Seifert Davis of Richmond shared the story of her 10-year-old daughter Madison, who was diagnosed with ependymoma brain cancer in 2014.

“Although I’m not new to the world of cannabis, I’m brand new to the world of cannabis reform,” Davis said.

Madison is on four different cannabis-based products including CBD, THC, THCA and FECO (full extract cannabis oil) to help with seizures and the cancer itself, Davis said.

“Today and for every tomorrow I’m given, I will fill seven capsules with high doses of four different cannabis medications and watch as Madison swallows each one,” Davis said. “Science, research and experience in my heart all know that it can and will and has helped her.”

At the conference, Davis said the family recently received good news about Madison’s cancer: Four of the five tumors were gone.

“Cannabis is an important and essential part of why she is still here and still her, five years into this battle for her life,” Davis shared. “Cannabis is why she has never, not even once, suffered from the nausea, vomiting or seizures that are expected side effects of her chemo.”

Not only does Davis’ daughter suffer from cancer, but her son, Aiden, has Crohn’s disease. Aiden also uses cannabis to ease the pain of everyday life, Davis said.

“I fight because when I told my son about today, the first thing he said with legitimate fear in his voice was, ‘Mom, you can’t tell them those things. You can’t tell them about Maddie’s medicine. Cannabis is illegal. I need you; you can’t go to jail,’” Davis said.

Madison has been on cannabis products since June 2017. Davis said she gets Madison and Aiden’s cannabis from a licensed doctor in California.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director for Virginia NORML, said progress had been made in getting the state to expand access to medical cannabis.

According to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, patients and their legal guardians can register to obtain such products if they have a certification issued by a physician.

“In 2016, we passed a bill that let us go forth and write a regulatory program that was based on Connecticut’s then-program, which was also low-THC, extraction-based products only and served to a small set of patients,” Pedini said.

In 2018, the General Assembly passed a law allowing practitioners to issue certifications for the use of cannabis-based products to alleviate symptoms “of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.”

The Board of Pharmacy has given approval to pharmaceutical companies to open five dispensaries across the state where CBD and THC-A oils will be sold to authorized patients.

Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, has filed a bill (HB 2245) to double the number of medical cannabis dispensaries.

Faculty Members Lobby Legislators on Higher Education Issues

By Emily Holter and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Faculty members from colleges and universities across Virginia converged on the Capitol on Thursday, urging legislators to provide more funding for higher education and ensure affordable college degrees for future generations of students.

Higher Education Advocacy Day drew professors like Brian Turner, who chairs the political science department at Randolph-Macon College. He noted that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has developed a plan to guide the colleges and universities in the commonwealth.

“The Virginia Plan for Higher Education’s goal for Virginia is to be the best-educated state by 2030,” Turner said.

To make that a reality, faculty members asked members of the General Assembly to allocate money for salary increases, boost tuition assistance and increase student access to higher education.

In December, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed amending the state budget by giving $1 billion to higher education, including increasing tuition aid. Many public institutions in Virginia are hoping that with higher salaries, they will be able to offer a higher-quality education to students.

Low salaries make it hard to compete for prominent faculty members with other well-known institutions, Turner said.

As a group, Virginia’s college and university faculty members said they support a bill by Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, to increase transparency on gifts that public institutions receive from donors that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Turner said House Bill 2386 would help ensure that donations enhance the curriculum and provide more accountability on how institutions spend their money.

Speaking with delegates and senators, some faculty members also expressed their concerns over Title IX policies. Some have questions about legislation sponsored by Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, pertaining to accusations of sexual violence on campus.

Lindsey has introduced two bills (HB 1830 and HB 1831) that would allow students to have attorneys present at any campus disciplinary hearing or sexual assault hearing.

Another higher education issue is a bill proposed by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from asking student applicants about their criminal history. Under HB 2471, schools could not “deny admission to any applicant on the basis of any criminal history information.”

“Your criminal history should not be deterring you from being able to pursue education. And in my bill, there’s a line that says this is really about the application,” Aird said. “If they do get admitted and let’s say, for some instance, you have a student that wants to live in on-campus housing, the institution can then request their criminal history.”

In making the rounds at Capitol Square, participants in Higher Education Advocacy Day spoke with Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Fredericksburg, about his bill to give students a voice on tuition increases.

Under SB 1204, “No increase of undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees approved by a governing board of a public institution of higher education shall take effect unless such increase receives an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of undergraduate students enrolled in such institution.”

Faculty members fear that would make it impossible to raise tuition.

“I don’t think you could round up two-thirds of the student body to vote for free beer,” Turner said.

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