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March 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SECURES PRO-CONSUMER PROTECTIONS IN SETTLEMENT OVER T-MOBILE, SPRINT MERGER

~ The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees ~

RICHMOND (March 11, 2020) – Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced a settlement with T-Mobile, resolving the Virginia’s challenge to the company’s merger with Sprint. The agreement includes terms to protect low income subscribers, extend access to underserved communities, and protect current T-Mobile and Sprint employees. T-Mobile also will reimburse Virginia for the costs and fees of its investigation and its litigation challenging the merger. This agreement resolves the legal challenge brought by Attorney General Herring and several other states, which alleged that the merger was unlawful and would lead to reduced competition and increased prices for consumers. 

“My colleagues and I vigorously challenged the T-Mobile/Sprint merger because we were concerned that it would leave consumers with higher prices and less choices and would lead to reduced innovation in the telecom industry,” said Attorney General Herring. “I take my responsibility to protect Virginia consumers very seriously and strongly believed in our case. While I disagree with the Court’s decision to approve the merger, it still emphasized the importance of local market competition in mergers and the importance of state enforcers. This agreement will protect existing jobs in Virginia, give price protections for low-cost plans, and extend broadband access to our lower-income households with children."

As required by the settlement, the merged company is required to:
  • Make low-cost plans available in Virginia for at least 5 years, including a plan offering 2 GB of high-speed data at $15 per month and 5 GB of high-speed data at $25 per month;
  • Extend for at least an additional two years the rate plans currently offered by T-Mobile pursuant to its earlier FCC commitment, ensuring Virginians can retain T-Mobile plans held in February 2019 for a total of five years;
  • Offer 100 GB of no-cost broadband internet service per year for five years and a free mobile Wi-Fi hotspot device to 10 million qualifying low-income households not currently connected to broadband nationwide, as well as the option to purchase select Wi-Fi enabled tablets at the company’s cost for each qualifying household;
  • Protect Virginia jobs by offering all Virginia T-Mobile and Sprint retail employees in good standing an offer of substantially similar employment. T-Mobile also commits that three years after the closing date, the total number of new T-Mobile employees will be equal to or greater than the current total number of employees of the unmerged Sprint and T-Mobile companies;
  • Increase diversity by increasing the participation rate in its employee Diversity and Inclusion program to 60 percent participation within three years; and
  • Reimburse Virginia and other plaintiff states up to $15 million for the costs of the investigation and litigation challenging the merger.
Joining Attorney General Herring in this agreement are the attorneys general of Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

 

 

 

Bill to manage wildlife collision rate passes General Assembly

By Macy Pressley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The General Assembly recently passed a measure that will create a plan to reduce wildlife-related vehicle accidents, though opponents tout the bill as an example of wasteful government spending.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, directs the Virginia departments of Game and Inland Fisheries, Transportation, and Conservation and Recreation to conduct a study to identify areas where wildlife habitat is fragmented by human development and roads with a high wildlife collision rate. 

Marsden said the measure, known as the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan, is intended to help prevent wildlife related car accidents. There were 61,000 such collisions reported in 2016, according to VDOT.

“People get killed in wildlife collisions, mostly with deer,” Marsden said. 

There were 211 deaths from such collisions in the United States, according to State Farm, which tracks deer-related insurance claims across the nation.

The bill would give the DGIF two years to complete a study. Marsden said that after the study is done, the General Assembly will look into building wildlife overpasses along roads identified as problem areas. He said wildlife overpasses were successfully implemented in Charlottesville. 

“They tried this on I-64 in Charlottesville and reduced wildlife collisions by 98%,” Marsden said. 

Ryan Brown, DGIF executive director, said the bill addresses a complex issue and is intended to protect wildlife in two ways. 

Brown said his department will work with other agencies to identify places where development has fragmented wildlife habitats and address the work needed to avoid human and wildlife conflict.

“Wildlife moves around and they don't read road signs,” Brown said. 

The agencies will identify wildlife corridors and study migration routes of native, game and migratory species using existing state data. They will assess human barriers such as roads, dams, power lines and pipelines and determine areas with a high risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The study will contain maps to detail such wildlife corridor infrastructure, as well as recommendations for creating safe wildlife crossings. Brown said options might include fencing along problem roads and bridge-like structures to assist wildlife with safe crossing.

Brown said this issue is likely to get worse over time. 

“As wildlife habitat becomes more and more fragmented in an urbanizing Virginia, that makes it difficult in terms of management of wildlife population,” he said. 

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, voted against the bill. He said the measure would be too costly. 

“ I do not believe the legislation is needed and it will end up creating another bureaucratic process that will cost time and money for no real benefit,” Cole said in an email. “The government is very good at establishing needless bureaucratic hurdles.”

Marsden said the legislation is worthwhile, considering Virginia is one of the top states for wildlife collisions. In 2018, Virginia ranked 12th for deer collisions, with drivers facing a 1 in 99 chance of hitting a deer, according to data from State Farm.

“It’s good for the animals and the drivers,” Marsden said. “It’s worth the effort to save property and save lives.”

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

Walmart provides funds to Jackson-Feild for an Online Curriculum

 

 

The Emporia Walmart store celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020 serving Emporia and its environs. In recognition of this special milestone a special ceremony was recently held where checks were presented to local charities. Jackson-Feild was one of the beneficiaries.

The funds from Walmart will be used to purchase a one-year license to use ICEV for online vocational education training in a wide range of vocations.  The courses are designed to educate students for career readiness from a wide range of vocational education courses. The goal of this effort is to complete the course and help them pass certification tests from nationally recognized certification bodies to attest to their knowledge in a specific trade to prepare them to enter the working world.

The use of these online courses is a game changer for the students and teachers at Jackson-Feild. The program provides for automatic grading giving student’s instant feedback in real-time to help them adjust and modify their work. It also allows teachers to track student’s proficiency and identify areas that need attention and improvement.

ICEV is a national leader in online vocational education. The students, faculty and staff of the Gwaltney School at Jackson-Field are very grateful to the Walmart Foundation and to management and associates of the Emporia Walmart store for supporting vocational education at Jackson-Feild

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SHUTS DOWN DECEPTIVE HOMELESS VETERANS CHARITY

~ Settlement involves Center for American Homeless Veterans, Inc., Circle of Friends for American Veterans and Brian Arthur Hampton, will shut down the organization and $100,000 will be distributed to help homeless veterans; the charity allegedly misused more than $13 million that was supposed to go to homeless veterans ~

RICHMOND (March 5, 2020) – As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he has shut down an allegedly deceptive organization that exploited goodwill towards those in the military and misused more than $13 million that was supposed to go towards homeless veterans. The settlement involves Center for American Homeless Veterans, Inc. and Circle of Friends for American Veterans, two Virginia-based organizations, and their founder Brian Arthur Hampton that raised funds across the country through telemarketers ostensibly to provide education and assistance for homeless veterans, but a majority of which actually went towards paying telemarketers and the salaries of the founder and staff. The settlement shuts down the organizations, permanently bars Brian Hampton from soliciting charitable contributions and holding a fiduciary position with any charitable organization, and requires the organization to distribute $100,000 to charities that provide real assistance to homeless veterans including Virginia Supportive Housing in Richmond, the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation, and Homes for our Troops.
 
Following an extensive investigation, Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section found that the organizations had violated the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions (VSOC) law by misleading donors into believing that the funds they collected would be used for veterans’ assistance programs and organizations. Additionally, the organizations made other false statements in state and federal filings.
 
“It is despicable that there are organizations out there that will deceive kind-hearted Virginians who just want to help homeless veterans in our communities,” said Attorney General Herring. “My office will vigorously go after these bad actors who take advantage of the kindness of Virginians to benefit themselves. I would encourage Virginians to remain vigilant when donating to charities and make sure you are donating to trustworthy, legitimate organizations.”
 
The Attorney General’s complaint, filed in Circuit Court in Falls Church, alleges that both organizations engaged in a number of acts and practices in violation of the VSOC law. Through telemarketers that generally retained 90% of funds raised, the enterprise allegedly led donors to believe that their donations would help homeless veterans with food and shelter or job training and support, when in reality, only tiny amounts of donated money benefitted homeless veterans. Funds that ultimately made their way to the organization primarily went to salaries for the founder and other staff, among other things not related to programming. Millions of dollars remained with the telemarketers that the organization hired.
 
Additionally, solicitation literature and other materials from the organization led donors to believe that it provided direct services to veterans, and that it gave funds to transitional facilities that get veterans off the streets and into productive lives. Attorney General Herring’s complaint alleges that the organization did not operate any transitional facilities, and provided only the smallest amount of direct funding for that purpose. Literature from the organization claimed that donated funds would help provide “our hungry and homeless war heroes food and shelter,” when that was not the case. Appallingly, the cost of the organization’s telemarketing campaigns with the problematic solicitation scripts was misleadingly characterized in the charities’ financial disclosures as program expenses to inflate those numbers and lead prospective donors to believe that the organization was providing more support to homeless veterans than it actually was. Moreover, the organization allegedly also had a host of troubling internal processes and business practices with no real board oversight.
 
The settlement includes:
  • Dissolution of the entities
  • A monetary payment in the amount of $100,000 to be provided to three charities which provide real support and assistance to homeless veterans. The three charities that will receive funding are:
  • Virginia Supportive Housing - $33,333.33
  • Bob Woodruff Family Foundation - $33,333.33
  • Homes for our Troops - $33,333.34
  • Injunctive relief in the form of a ban on the founder from engaging in charitable solicitations or holding any fiduciary position with any charitable organization
  • Suspended judgments of $10,000 for civil penalties, $10,000 for attorneys’ fees, expenses in investigating this matter, and costs, and $3,711,965.17 for the use and benefit of charities assisting homeless veterans, and as disgorgement of funds solicited nationwide over a period of time by one of CAHV’s professional solicitors, which can be enforced if the other terms of the settlement are not complied with
 
Virginia’s settlement is in the form of a Consent Judgment, which has been filed for approval with the Falls Church Circuit Court.
 
Tips to remember when donating to charities and other organizations:
  • On crowdfunding sites:
    • Check the creator or page owner's credentials and try to confirm its authenticity and seriousness
    • Look for indicators of endorsement or legitimacy that the page is actually collecting donations for a particular victim or organization. Some sites offer verification and transparency measures for campaigns. Look for those markers of authenticity, and check out the site's fraud protection measures
  • Be cautious, and if you feel uneasy, contribute to a more established charity in the community
  • Be wary of charities that spring up overnight in connection with a current event or natural disaster. They may make a compelling case for you to make a donation but even if they are legitimate, they may not have the infrastructure or experience to get your donation to the affected area or people
  • Only give to charities and fundraisers you can confirm are reliable and legitimate. Scrutinize charities with consumer advocates or friends and find out how much of your donation will go to the charity's programs and services
  • Beware of "copy-cat" names that sound like reputable charities. Some scammers use names that closely resemble those of respected, legitimate organizations
  • Be especially cautious if you do not initiate the contact with the charity
  • Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately
  • Ask for written information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean your contribution is tax-deductible
  • Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation. For security and tax record purposes, you may wish to pay by credit card
  • If contributing over the Internet, be sure the web site you are visiting belongs to the charity to which you want to donate. See if other legitimate web sites will link to that web site. Make sure the web site is secure and offers protection of your credit card number
  • If a charity is soliciting contributions in Virginia, verify its registration with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs ("OCRP") at (804) 786-1343, or by searching OCRP's Charitable Organization Database online
  • While a legitimate charity should be registered with OCRP to solicit contributions in Virginia, registration alone does not mean that the organization will be effective
 
Who to Contact
You can report charitable solicitation fraud to the Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs (OCRP) and the Office of the Attorney General at the following addresses and telephone numbers:
 
P.O. Box 1163
Richmond, Virginia 23218
(804) 786-1343
(804) 225-2666 (fax)
 
OCRP administers the provisions of the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions ("VSOC") law, Virginia Code §§ 57-48 through 57-69, and registers charitable organizations soliciting in Virginia. OCRP investigates complaints where there is an alleged violation of the VSOC law by a charitable organization or its professional fundraiser while soliciting contributions in Virginia. If it has reason to believe violations have occurred, OCRP can make an investigative referral to the Attorney General's Office and/or other agencies for a possible law enforcement action.
 
  
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Consumer Protection Section
202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(800) 552-9963 (if calling from Virginia)
(804) 786-2042 (phone) (if calling from Richmond area)
(804) 225-4378 (fax)
 
The Virginia Attorney General has authority under state and federal consumer protection statutes to investigate and prosecute charitable solicitation and other consumer fraud and misrepresentation. If an action is brought, the Attorney General can seek injunctive relief to halt fraudulent or deceptive conduct in Virginia and obtain restitution for injured consumers. 
 
Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Form

Bill removing race requirement in marriage records passes

By Zach Armstrong, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- When William Christiansen married his college sweetheart, he was disturbed that they had to disclose their race to the registrar, considering they are an interracial couple. 

“It reminded me and my wife of a time when interracial couples were unable to get married,” said Christiansen. “It's an unneeded reminder of the discriminatory practices that dominated the South during Jim Crow.”

Both chambers of the General Assembly passed legislation to eliminate the race requirement on the marriage license application. Under Senate Bill 62, married couples will not have to disclose their race when filing marriage records, divorce and annulment reports to the state registrar. 

The bill was introduced by Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke. The legislation moved through every committee and legislative chamber without opposition from any lawmaker. 

“Asking for race seems completely unrelated to whether a state should recognize a marriage,” Christiansen said. “It sends a signal that those in charge of policy related to marriage applications care little about removing the legacy of discriminatory practices of their predecessors.”

Under current law, the race of the marrying parties along with other personal data is filed with the state registrar when a marriage is performed in the commonwealth. 

A lawsuit filed in September 2019 sparked the bill after three Virginia couples refused to declare their race while applying for marriage. The lawsuit resulted in Attorney General Herring declaring that couples applying for marriages would not be forced to disclose their race to the registrar.

“This is another Jim Crow law that should have been out of the books and I’m so grateful that the younger generation isn't judging people based on color of skin,” said Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake.

In October 2019, a federal judge struck down the race requirement as unconstitutional. Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. found that the law violated due process under the 14th Amendment. Alston said the law didn’t hold scrutiny against the U.S. Constitution.

“This new generation is much different,” Spruill said. “During my time, whites and blacks were thought of more differently.”

Other measures to repeal antiquated state laws were introduced during the 2020 General Assembly session. The General Assembly passed legislation that removes the crime of premarital sex, currently a Class 4 misdeameanor. 

“We are looking at old laws created by an older white establishment and just removing those,” Spruill said. “It's another step to say whites and blacks have the right to do what they want to do.”

Virginia is home to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia that overturned laws banning interracial marriage. In 1958, a judge sentenced Richard and Mildred Loving to a year in prison for marrying each other. He suspended the sentence for 25 years if the couple moved to the District of Columbia. After the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld their sentences, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned their convictions. The court found that the law violated equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment. 

“This made both of us curious why questions like this were still on the application,” Christiansen said. “If people are of age, they should only need to identify them via Social Security number or something similar.”

Richmond’s Falcon Cam Is Live

High-Speed Internet Connection from Comcast Business Allows Nature Lovers to Follow the Falcons Via a Live Video Feed

RICHMOND, VA — It’s that time again – when a pair of peregrine falcons return to the 21st floor of the Riverfront Plaza building in downtown Richmond to nest. Comcast Business is providing the connectivity that will allow nature lovers to follow the falcons via a live video feed of the nest that is available for viewing at dgif.virginia.gov/falcon-cam/.

This is the fourth year that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), which manages the threatened birds, is collaborating with Comcast Business to provide connectivity for the live broadcast, which is managed by HDOnTap.

“We have confirmed that last year’s new male, identifiable by his bands, is back again with an unbanded female,” said Sergio Harding, Nongame Bird Conservation Biologist for DGIF. “In the past two years, there has been a lot of turnover in falcons at this site and unfortunately, no nesting, although the birds did appear on camera quite a bit. The return of the male is a sign of some stability, and we are hopeful and optimistic that this pair will breed successfully.”

Each year, the viewing public from around the country has grown fonder of watching the drama of the fast-flying birds — the first egg being laid, chicks emerging from their shells and, during ‘fledge watch,’ the nail-biting reports of the initial flight of the falcon chicks. Like any TV nature show, there is real-life drama: sometimes the chicks thrive and sometimes the nest fails.

March is typically a busy month as falcons tend to nest during this time following a period of courtship, with the first egg laid around mid- to late-March. 

“Comcast Business is proud to again partner with DGIF to provide fast, reliable and secure Internet service that enables nature lovers throughout the Greater Richmond Area and beyond to watch the peregrine falcon video stream,” Juan Dominguez, Vice President of Comcast Business in Comcast’s Beltway Region.

The falcon cam will remain live until July 2020.

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Legislature approves mental health training for Virginia teachers

By Joseph Whitney Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The General Assembly passed a bill that will require full-time teachers to complete mental health awareness training, though some advocates are split on how the training should be implemented.

Del. Kaye Kory, D- Fairfax, sponsored House Bill 74, which incorporated HB 716 and HB 1554. Kory, a former school board member, said teachers and faculty may be better able to understand and help prevent related issues if they are trained properly to recognize signs of mental health problems. The bill requires school boards to adopt and implement policies for the training, which can be completed online. School boards may contract the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, a community services board, a behavioral health authority, a nonprofit organization, or other certified trainer to provide such training. 

Kory said the bill was requested by several teacher groups in last year’s General Assembly. 

“My intention is that the training provides the ability to ask the right questions at the right time,” Kory said via email. “As substance abuse becomes more common in young people, the need for early detection and response becomes more and more clear.”

The intent of the bill is good, said 4th District Richmond City School Board Member Jonathan Young, but there are potential flaws with the online training program..

“It often ends up being nothing more than a check in the box,” he said. “I’m not interested in another check in the box, I’m interested in real mental health training for our teachers.”

Young said teachers need professional development opportunities “to increase their awareness and develop some new skill sets.”

Schools currently offer online training programs with modules tackling cyber security and conflict of interest training, Young said. He said learning about something as important as mental health through a computerized training module may not be effective enough to combat the current mental health crisis. 

Mental health training needs to be scaled up in schools and the solution has to be legitimate, Young said. 

Only 7% of expenditures for mental health go to children under 18, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia, an advocacy and education group. Studies show that early intervention might reduce the prevalence of serious mental health cases, according to the organization.

Approximately 130,000 children and adolescents live with a serious mental illness and only 1 out of 5 children get the help that they need,according to the advocacy group Voices for Virginia’s Children. 

Bruce Cruser, the executive director of Mental Health America of Virginia, said the youth suicide rate has gradually increased in the state. He said that usually the people who need mental health services are people that have experienced trauma, for example, any youth that has been abused or lost their parents at a very young age.

The General Assembly also recently passed an amended bill that will allow K-12 students excused absences for mental health issues. The bill gives the Virginia Department of Education until Dec. 31 to establish guidelines for public school districts to grant students excused absences if they are dealing with mental or behavioral health issues.

Martha Earline Bowen Matthews

Visitation Services

1:00 p.m. Thursday, March 5, 2020

Independence United Methodist Church
4438 Independence Church Rd

Emporia, VA

2:00 p.m. Thursday, March 5, 2020

Independence United Methodist Church
4438 Independence Church Rd
Emporia, VA

Martha Earline Bowen Matthews, age 91, of Lawrenceville, Va. passed away March 3, 2020.  She is the daughter of the late Curtis and Martha Bowen and is preceded in death by her husband, Thomas William Matthews, Sr. of 67 years; and her daughter, Linda Jones.  She is survived by her daughter, Judy Egeland and husband Ray; her son, Thomas William Matthews, Jr. and wife Kimberly; her grandchildren, Paula Jones, Marty Lewis (Dave), Melissa Egeland and Michelle Mavis (Tony); her great grandchildren, Haley, Ethan, Hannah, Kylie and Michael; and many nieces and nephews.  Funeral services will be conducted 2:00 p.m. Thursday, March 5, 2020 at Independence United Methodist Church, Emporia, VA with interment in the church cemetery.  The family will receive friends Thursday from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., prior to the service at the church.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Brunswick County Cancer Association, P.O. Box 522, Lawrenceville, VA  23868.  Online condolences for the family may be made at www.williamsfuneralhomeva.com.

Joe Garnet “Jody” Whitley, Jr.

July 11, 1949-March 1, 2020

Joe Garnet “Jody” Whitley, Jr., of Emporia, VA passed away on March 1, 2020, after a short illness.

He was born in Page, VA., on July 11, 1949 to the late Joe Garnet and Julia Wallace Whitley, Sr. He was preceded in death by his sister, Irene “Pat” Whitley Pearson. He is survived by his sister, Brenda Whitley Klassen of Placentia, California; nephew Martin (Ari) Klassen and niece, Michelle Klassen (T.R.) Lind; his brother, Reese J. (Bonnie) Whitley of Bedford, VA.; nephew Reinor Jay (Patricia) Whitley of Brambleton, Virginia and niece Jennifer Whitley (Rob) McCarthy of Tampa, Florida.

Jody graduated from Garden High School in 1967, and attended two years of Diesel Mechanic School in Abingdon, VA. He spent the majority of his working years in Ford-Mercury-Lincoln dealerships and heavy duty truck and earth moving equipment dealers.

While he described himself as “Just an auto mechanic”, Jody, throughout his life, loved building engines for professional race cars. He enjoyed years of friendship with people involved in NASCAR racing. As a hobby, he enjoyed rebuilding old cars to the point where they appeared to have just rolled off the assembly line. His favorite “rebuild” was a 1967 Mustang “Boss” model, painted candy apple red and white. When something broke around the house, be it a lawn mower, the washing machine, a stove, or even a watch, Jody could fix it. He also enjoyed reading and spending time with “Fuzz”, his cat.

In keeping with Jody’s wishes, there will be no funeral services. There will be a private family burial service later at the family burial site in Bluefield, VA.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING ENCOURAGES VIRGINIANS TO KNOW THEIR RIGHTS DURING NATIONAL CONSUMER PROTECTION WEEK

~ Throughout the week, Attorney General Herring will have a special focus on consumer education and enforcement actions by his Consumer Protection Section ~

RICHMOND(March 1, 2020)—From March 2-6, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his Consumer Protection Section will mark National Consumer Protection Week with a weeklong campaign to help Virginians understand their rights as consumers, and to help Virginia businesses understand their responsibilities to their customers. Each day, Attorney General Herring will highlight a common consumer protection challenge and ways that Virginians can protect themselves and their hard-earned money:
 
  • Monday – What can the OAG Consumer Protection Section do for you?
  •  Tuesday – Student debt; AG Herring’s ongoing fight to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid crisis
  •  Wednesday – Veterans' consumer protection issues; News on deceptive charity that purported to help veterans
  •  Thursday – Predatory lending including payday loans, online, car title, and open-end loans
  •  Friday – Scams and frauds, in-person, online, or on the phone
 
“Consumer protection has been one of my top priorities as your attorney general, whether that’s warning consumers about a current scam, protecting veterans from illegal debt collection, protecting student borrowers from fraudulent for-profit schools, or warning financially vulnerable Virginians about the dangers of predatory loans,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, we have seen the Trump Administration continue to shirk its responsibility to protect consumers on the federal level, making it even more important for my team and me to pick up the slack at the state level. I will continue to make sure that Virginia consumers have all the tools and information they need in order to protect themselves from fraudulent, abusive, or illegal business practices.”
 
During Attorney General Herring's administration, his Consumer Protection Section has recovered more than $323 million in relief for consumers and payments from violators and transferred more than $55 million to the Commonwealth's General Fund.
 
In November 2016, Attorney General Herring announced the completion of a reorganization of his Consumer Protection Section to more efficiently and effectively enforce Virginia's consumer protection laws, provide exceptional customer service in resolving complaints and disputes, and provide robust consumer education to keep Virginians from being victimized by fraud, scams, or illegal or abusive business practices.

Virginians who have a question, concern, or complaint about a consumer matter should contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section:
 

 

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Jackson-Feild Recognizes and Applauds its Residential Staff

At Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services (JFBHS), the residential counselors, coordinators and supervisors devote tremendous amounts of time, energy and patience to the youth in their care.  On any given day, they bear the behavior of adolescents who are inordinately angry, impatient, and – in many cases – sad.  Their work is vital, but all-too-often thankless. For that reason, JFBHS would like to recognize and applaud several members of its staff.

Every day, recently promoted Residential Coordinators Shenda Cooke, Shanika Morgan, Tiffany Moses, Stacy Tann, and Rhondell White work with the youth and the Residential Counselors to ensure that treatment plans are followed and benchmarked. While maintaining professional boundaries, they serve as role models of healthy behavior, teach life skills, lead recreational activities, and supervise youth in the cottages as well as during off-campus activities and appointments.

Also deserving of praise and recognition are Residential Supervisors Katrinka Phillips, Myra Pugh, Michael Stokes, Kisha Tucker, and Sophelia Wyche-Harrison.  In their role, these five staff members provide overall leadership and management of their cottages. They teach, coach, and empower the Residential Counselors and Coordinators to develop their skills and maximize their potential in their work with the youth. They also collaborate with Senior Residential Supervisor Shadhri Stith to develop and maintain JFBHS’ mission, philosophy, goals, and objectives. Michael was recently promoted from Residential Coordinator to Residential Supervisor.

JFBHS is fortunate to have such a dedicated team of staff members with the skills, determination, and compassion to work with mentally ill children. It is thanks in great part to them that the boys and girls find wellness.

Legislature passes bill to extend kindergarten hours

By Zobia Nayyar, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Senate bill that almost doubles the instructional hours of kindergarten classes required for school accreditation from 540 hours to 990 hours passed its final hurdle in the House Thursday with a vote of 94-6.

 Senate Bill 238, introduced by Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, directs the Board of Education to adopt regulations by July 1, 2022, along with the requirement that the standard school day for kindergarten students average to at least 5.5 instructional hours in order to qualify for full kindergarten accreditation. Local school boards may approve a four-day weekly calendar, so long as a minimum of 990 hours of instructional time is provided.

Not every school system currently offers a full day of kindergarten. Supporters of the bill said this legislation helps establish standards of quality.

“We're down two school systems in the state that are not yet at a level where all students go for full day kindergarten, one of those Virginia Beach, the other is Chesapeake,” Barker said in front of a House subcommittee meeting. “Virginia Beach has a plan where they're moving forward on it and Chesapeake is also increasing the number of students.”

Barker said that a full day of kindergarten benefits students’ academic performance, social interaction and involvement with teachers and other adults. “There are significant benefits to it,” he said. 

According to the bill’s 2020 Fiscal Impact Statement, the additional 450 hours would not affect funding paid from the state to local school divisions based on attendance. School divisions that do not currently provide the 990 hours of instructional time may experience additional costs to add classroom space and hire new staff. The fiscal impact to local school divisions cannot be determined.

“Ironically we are already paying them as if they had full-day kindergarten,” Barker said. 

Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Fairfax, inquired about the timeliness of the bill during the House meeting. She asked why the bill will be enacted in 2022 and not next year.

“What I tried to do was to be sensitive to some of the issues that some of those school systems might encounter or in some cases will encounter, but I would certainly be happy if they move faster,” Barker said.

Chesapeake and Virginia Beach are already taking steps to establish a full day of kindergarten for their schools. A representative of Chesapeake schools told the House panel that the school district had to gradually implement full days due to space limitations. Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, asked why the legislation was needed if the districts were already implementing the changes.

Loudon County representatives have said they might in the future reverse the full day format, Barker said, and his legislation would guarantee all school systems are meeting the full day standard. 

Director of Government Relations at the Virginia Education Association Kathy Burcher said the VEA supports Barker’s bill, and the organization looks forward to the progress the bill will make.

“Putting it in code, ensuring that the requirement is there, will make sure that no school division slides off, particularly as we're looking at that continuum from birth through entering the workforce,” Burcher said. “We want to make sure there's no child that can possibly fall through the cracks in part-time kindergarten because it's a tremendous impact on their ability to stay on track for graduation.”

The bill now moves to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for approval.

Legislature approves excused absences for student mental health

By Will Gonzalez, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The General Assembly passed an amended bill that will allow K-12 students excused absences for mental health issues and create uniformity for how Virginia school districts address emotional and mental health needs within its schools.

House Bill 308, introduced by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, would give the Virginia Department of Education until Dec. 31 to establish guidelines for public school districts to grant students excused absences if they are dealing with mental or behavioral health issues.

Charles Pyle, director of media relations at the DOE, said it’s too early to know what guidance the DOE would issue, including whether a student would be required to provide a written doctor’s note and if a limit would be instated on the amount of time or consecutive number of absences from school.

Virginia currently has no standard for addressing mental health in schools, and each school approaches it differently.

“There are some high schools and middle schools that have mental health clubs, so to speak, where they are trying to provide more peer support,” said Bruce Cruser, executive director of Mental Health America of Virginia. “There is at least one teacher who is involved in helping recognize symptoms of mental health problems and can direct kids to the appropriate resources. In other places, it’s not in the open like that.”

The House worked closely with the DOE on several bills this year. There are three other House bills in which the department has been tasked with drafting standards or guidelines. HB 753 requires the DOE to establish a definition of social-emotional learning and develop standards for social-emotional learning across public schools from grades K-12. HB 836 requires the DOE to develop a plan to adopt and standardize microcredentials of teachers in STEM fields. HB 817 requires the DOE, in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Health, to develop health and safety best practice guidelines for the use of digital devices in schools.

Pyle said when the General Assembly passes legislation that tasks the DOE with drafting standards or guidelines, the organization combines its expertise with contributions from the public.

“The Department of Education is always happy to support legislators by answering their questions and providing information about related statutes or board regulations,” Pyle said.

Mental health issues among young people in the U.S. have become more prevalent over the past few decades. Fifty percent of people with mental illnesses start showing symptoms by age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. According to the organization, 16.5% of Americans ages 6-17 -- or 7.7 million people -- experienced a mental health disorder in 2016. Only half of those people received treatment.

Cruser said it’s important to take the mental health of young children and teens seriously, especially with mental illness as stigmatized as it is.

 “The suicide rate of youth in Virginia continues to increase and the number of children with serious emotional disturbances continues to increase, so it’s definitely a serious issue,” Cruser said. “The sooner any kind of emotional or behavioral disturbances can be identified, the better the treatment is.”

Sanders urges voters to participate in ‘most consequential and important election’

By Ada Romano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of supporters greeted the Democratic presidential candidate and front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders in Richmond Thursday, just days ahead of Super Tuesday. 

Hopefuls were turned away despite the venue change from a 1,500-occupancy music hall to the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center which holds 6,000 people. The bleachers roared as supporters held up signs, chanted and stomped with excitement. 

Hometown musicians Lucy Dacus and No BS! Brass warmed up the crowd before activists, community members and one of the state’s first-elected Latina legislators stumped for Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont. 

The crowd cheered as Charlottesville City Councilman Michael Payne called for a political revolution.

“The reason I am here this afternoon is the same reason that each and every one of you are here,” Payne said. “Because you see in yourselves, in your families and in your communities that every single day that goes by where we do not challenge and change the status quo means homelessness, it means rationing insulin and medicine, it means choosing between rent and healthcare.”

Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Prince William, took to the stage, asking: “Are you guys feeling the Bern?” 

“He has a consistent message of progress,” Guzmán said, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2017 as part of the state’s blue wave. “We had a base here in Virginia in 2016 that believed in his message and voted for him.”

Sanders’ platform includes providing a path to citizenship for immigrants without documentation, medical care for all and free public college for all. These ideas have been considered radical by some, but Sanders argues that these are basic human rights.

“We know that our immigration needs fundamental reform,” Sanders said. “We’re going to sign an executive order that ends all of Trump’s racist immigration policies. As the son of an immigrant, I take this issue personally.” 

Since his 2016 campaign, Sanders has called for free college education for all and to eliminate student debt in the U.S.

“The world has changed. The economy, technology have changed,” Sanders said. “Public education from K-12 is no longer good enough. We need to make our public colleges and universities tuition free.” 

Sanders, who supports universal healthcare, has long criticized the U.S. healthcare system. He told the crowd about traveling to Canada with a group of diabetics. According to Sanders, the cost on insulin went down to one-tenth of the U.S. market price.

“Together we are going to end the international embarrassment of the U.S. being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people everywhere,” Sanders said. 

The crowd cheered as Sanders promised to legalize marijuana by executive order. Sanders said he would expunge the records of those previously convicted of marijuana possession.

Protesters like George Paton stood outside and voiced opposition to Sanders’ political ideology.

“I am a capitalist; I think Bernie is a socialist and a communist,” Paton said. “If there is a communist in Richmond, I want to be there on the sidelines.” 

Sanders ranks No. 1 in an average of national polls for the Democratic nomination; a frontrunner with twice the lead over Joe Biden in second place. After a slim victory in the recent New Hampshire primary, Sanders easily clinched a win in Nevada.

The Virginia Democratic primary will take place on Tuesday, March 3. In the 2016 primary, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received 64% of the Democratic votes to Sanders’ 35%. Sanders garnered the most votes in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Richmond ranked No. 4, with just over 14,000 votes cast for Sanders. 

Sanders encouraged the crowd to go out and vote. 

“This primary takes place in the midst of the most consequential and important election in the modern history of America,” Sanders said. “I am asking of all of you, please come out to vote.”

Legislature OKs bill allowing new birth certificate for transgender people

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The state legislature recently passed a bill that will allow transgender individuals to receive a new birth certificate, something advocates said will help transgender people acquire documentation in alignment with their identity.

Senate Bill 657, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, will allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect the change of sex without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change. 

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a standard approach for an individual's transition. Treatment could include counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similar process is required to obtain a passport after change of sex, according to the State Department. Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health's vital records department.

“Having your documentation accurately reflect your identity and match your other documentation is huge for transgender people,” Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side, said in email. 

Side by Side is an advocacy group whose primary work involves creating supportive communities for LGBTQ youth. Lewis believes that this bill removes the “unnecessary and costly requirement of surgery,” and it would allow transgender people “to have documentation of who they are.” 

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents when leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

“This bill removes an unnecessary hurdle for transgender people,” Lewis said.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced this bill. In 2018 Boysko introduced  HB 407, and last year she introduced SB 1643. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee. Boysko said that it’s “really heartening” to see the legislation passed. 

“It’s going to make a difference for folks, and I’m really happy about that,” Boysko said. 

By law an individual can only receive a birth certificate from the state where they were born. An amended version of Boysko’s bill allows a person residing in Virginia to apply for the new document, but if it is approved by a judge, they still have to file for the new certificate from their home state. “Virginia doesn’t give you a birth certificate, you take the information from the courts here in Virginia and take that back to the place where you were born to get the new birth certificate,” Boysko said.   

Lawmakers also recently passed Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools. 

Senate Bill 657 now goes to the Governor’s desk for approval.

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