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Matt Chaney

Clinton, Trump Win in Virginia

By Diana DiGangi, James Miessler, Matt Chaney and Margaret Carmel, Capital News Service

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton trounced Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Virginia’s Democratic presidential primary election on Tuesday, and billionaire businessman Donald Trump narrowly defeated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican contest.

With almost all precincts reporting, Clinton received more than 64 percent of the 780,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary. Sanders got 35 percent.

More than 1 million Virginians voted in the Republican primary. Trump got nearly 35 percent of the votes, followed by Rubio at almost 32 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at about 17 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich at about 9 percent.

Interviews at polling places in Richmond underscored the issues and other factors that motivated voters to support or oppose certain candidates.

Young and old voters turned out in droves at the Randolph Community Center polling place (Precinct 504), about 10 minutes from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park campus. Several voters cited fear of a Trump nomination as their reason for coming out to vote.

“Honestly, as a woman, I’m terrified of Donald Trump or Ted Cruz becoming president,” said Kirsten Schlegel, a VCU senior who voted for Clinton. “I’m terrified of our rights being taken away.”

Paula Johnson voted for Clinton as well, and said it was important to her to “select someone who’s going to represent us well, like when it comes to picking the new Supreme Court justice.”

At the Dominion Place polling station (Precinct 206), also near the VCU campus, many young people supported Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist.

“It’s my first time being able to vote, and so I wanted to come out because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Brianna Frontuto, a VCU student, said. “I voted for Bernie Sanders because his policy platform lines up exactly with what I believe in. He’s defending students, and that’s hard to find in candidates.”

Among Republican voters at the Dominion Place, several young people came out in support of Rubio.

“Rubio is the only one I feel morally conscious to support,” Adam Stynchula said. “He’s a safe bet.”

Voters at the Tabernacle Baptist Church polling location (Precinct 208) voiced similar sentiments.

Chelsea, a woman in her 20s who declined to give her last name, said, “I voted for Marco Rubio because he’s a very optimistic candidate. He’s very articulate about a lot of values that I believe in and I hate Donald Trump. And so, I really wanted to get my voice out there for a positive candidate who has a real vision for America’s future.”

Some voters said they usually cast ballots in the Democratic primary, but they participated in this year’s Republican election because of their dislike for Trump.

“I normally vote Democratic, but I actually voted Republican in this because I wanted to make sure that Donald Trump is not on the ballot,” said a student named Jamie. “I just think it’s kind of tight this year with the way things are playing out ... At first I started out thinking, that’s kind of a joke, Donald Trump. But now it’s looking close.”

Statewide, however, Trump topped Rubio by winning Hampton Roads and the southern and southwestern parts of the state.

Virginia Republican leaders gathered in Old Town Alexandria just outside of the nation’s capital as the votes rolled in. As a battleground state that has voted blue in the last two election cycles, all eyes are on Virginia.

“Republicans cannot win the White House without winning Virginia,” said John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. “We’re looking at how our candidates performed tonight to see how they turned out voters, what the enthusiasm is, and what their ground game looks like. We’re going to have to fight to win Virginia.”

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who made a stab at running for president himself, said this election will set the tone that the Republican Party will take moving forward.

“The leading candidates are going to have to demonstrate to the American people that they can govern,” Gilmore said. “Or maybe not. Maybe this year they’ll just have to demonstrate that they can be a voice for anger or resentment.”

Regardless of how they voted, many Virginians said it’s important for people to exercise their voice at the ballot box.

“Honestly, it’s just every vote counts,” VCU student Sean Barnett said at the Dominion Place polling station. “People think that because so many people are voting at one time that your vote is insignificant because it’s such a small percentage. If everyone’s thinking that, there’s a lot of people that aren’t getting their voice heard. It does seem insignificant, but it does count.”

At Tabernacle Baptist Church, Kyle, a doctor in her early 30s, said, “I don’t think you can complain unless you pick a choice.”

After casting his vote at Dominion Place, William Smith added, “It’s a privilege and a pleasure. I feel it’s my duty as an American.”


Elections Board Removes GOP’s ‘Loyalty Oath’

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – State officials agreed Thursday to honor the Republican Party of Virginia’s request to remove a requirement that voters sign a “loyalty oath” before voting in the March 1 presidential primary.

The State Board of Elections voted 2-0 to remove the requirement despite objections from the Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Much as we decry and dispute the original decision to implement an affirmation requirement, simply said, two wrongs don’t make a right,” Hope Amezquita, staff attorney and legislative counsel at ACLU-VA, told the board.

The ACLU initially opposed the requirement that voters in the GOP primary sign a statement that “I am a Republican.” However, now that the pledge has been in place for absentee voters, removing it would be illegal, Amezquita said.

“The Republican Party is before this board asking to have a voter requirement rescinded after an election has begun and ballots have been cast,” Amezquita said. “Voters have a constitutional right to experience the election process uniformly and equally. If there is an affirmation requirement, it must be equally applicable to all voters regardless of when they vote.”

According to the State Board of Elections, more than 1,300 absentee ballots have already been cast.

Meanwhile, in the General Assembly, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, has proposed a bill to make it illegal for parties to require voters to “sign any pledge” when voting in a primary. His measure, Senate Bill 686, is currently before the Senate. The bill cleared the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on an 11-1 vote Tuesday.

Committee members voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester, Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg, Ben Chafin of Lebanon, Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach, Amanda Chase of Midlothian and Glen Sturtevant of Midlothian, as well as Democratic Sens. Janet Howell of Reston, John Edwards of Roanoke, Donald McEachin of Richmond, John Miller of Newport News and Adam Ebbin of Alexandria.

Voting against SB 686 was Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County. Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, abstained.

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Business Leaders Support Bill to Boost International Trade

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, along with business leaders from across Virginia, promoted a bill Tuesday afternoon that they say will make it easier for businesses in Richmond and elsewhere in the state to export goods internationally.

“This could really be a game changer for Virginia; promoting our exports and getting international companies to come into Virginia and do trade with us,” Landes said at a press conference in the General Assembly Building.

Landes’ proposal, House Bill 858, would create the Virginia International Trade Authority. It would be formed by reorganizing existing programs within the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, another state agency. Thus, the proposal would not affect the state budget, according to Landes and leaders from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Manufacturers Association and the Virginia Maritime Association.

As a result, Landes said, the new authority would not cost taxpayers anything, while devoting more resources toward helping state businesses sell their products abroad.

According to a press release distributed by an alliance of more than 100 Virginia businesses and trade associations, the proposed International Trade Authority will help Virginia meet its goals of adding “14,000 international trade-supported jobs and increase Virginia exports of products and services by $1.6 billion by 2020.”

Van Wood, a professor of marketing at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business, said creating an authority devoted to expanding international trade will “help businesses expand overseas, generate more revenue, and put the Virginia brand name out into the world.”

“I want when people to walk into a grocery store in France, and they see French wines, South African wines, Napa Valley wines … I want them to say, ‘We got Virginia wines.’ You got to be out there. That’s what we’re doing,” Wood said in an interview after the press conference.

Wood has a great deal of experience working within the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. He is one of several Virginia college professors who have been asked by the governor to help local businesses find an international market for their products.

“There’s a small distillery located in Richmond, Virginia, in Scott’s Addition called Reservoir Distillery. It makes excellent rye whiskey and bourbon – $150 a bottle,” Wood said. He said that with globalization, such products might find a demand in emerging markets such as India, China, Brazil and Turkey.

“They have a middle class now that these prestige products like American bourbon are going to resonate with,” Wood said.

Landes’ bill has been assigned to the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Commerce, Technology and Natural Resources.


Attorney General Targets Patent Trolls

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Matthew Osenga, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and patent prosecution, said that in all his years of practicing law, he has had only one case in which somebody came to him fearing a lawsuit about a fraudulent patent claim. What happened?

“We chose to not do anything, and nothing came of it,” Osenga said Monday from his office at the Richmond law firm of Goodman, Allen and Donnelly.

But some experts say fraudulent claims filed by so-called “patent trolls” are a major problem. That’s why Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring recently created a “Patent Troll Unit” to go after people who try to extort money by fraudulently claiming that someone has stolen their patent.

According to a studycited by Herring’s office, patent trolls cost the U.S. economy about $29 billion a year, with individuals and companies bearing the brunt of the loss. At this point, it is unclear how much patent trolls cost the Virginia economy.

“One of the things that could be really valuable about the Patent Troll Unit is that by having a more centralized unit working on the issue, we can get a better feel for which businesses are at risk, and how much of a problem this is in the commonwealth,” said Michael Kelly, the director of communications for Herring’s office.

“Right now, there’s no one really looking at this issue in a coordinated way to establish the scale or impact of patent trolls at the state level.”

Kristen Osenga, a University of Richmond law professor who specializes in patent law, said there are a few problems with establishing a “Patent Troll Unit.”

“By calling it a ‘Patent Troll Unit,’ basically [Herring is] saying, ‘Hey, let’s go after these people who are bad because they don’t make anything,’ ” said Professor Osenga, the wife of attorney Matthew Osenga.

Osenga said she understands there are people who send letters falsely alleging that a company or individual has committed patent infringement. But at the same time, she said, there are other people who have a solid legal basis for suing for copyright infringement. She cited the company Conversant.

“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, they developed, manufactured and sold semiconductor chips. They were a real company, manufacturing and selling real things,” Professor Osenga said. “In the ’90s, it turned out that the semiconductor industry was full of rampant infringement … So they were losing significant amounts of market share to all of these infringers, until they faced the choice: Do we sue all these people, or go out of business?”

According to Osenga, the company eventually began licensing its patents to the infringing companies, which were better at manufacturing products. Conversant then became a research and development firm that licensed its patents instead of selling them. As a result, the company became known for its patent lawsuits and developed a bad rap among some people in the patent community.

Osenga said she fears that Herring’s office might unfairly prosecute similar companies that look like patent trolls but don’t do anything unethical. Herring’s office found her concerns unwarranted.

“Of course the Unit will not pursue action against companies that make legitimate claims of patent infringement,” Kelly said in an email response. “In fact, these efforts will strengthen the overall patent system by weeding out some of the bad actors that are abusing it.”

Regardless, as a result of legislation passed last year, Herring’s office now has the power to investigate and prosecute patent trolls and impose financial penalties for misdeeds.

In an open invitation to the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business advocacy group, Herring asked business people who think they may have been victims of patent trolling to report it by:

“Because my office is authorized to seek injunctions against that kind of behavior,” Herring said, “we can identify and bring action against a few of these bad actors and really send a strong message that these kind of abusive tactics will not be tolerated in Virginia.”

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Senate Panel OKs Bill Legalizing Fireworks Sales

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Despite concerns about fire safety, a Senate committee has recommended approval of a bill to legalize the sale of fireworks in Virginia.

The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology voted 8-5 in favor of the legislation proposed by one of its members, Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville. He said the bill could generate millions of dollars in sales taxes on a product he says is used illegally throughout the state anyway.

“Indiana opened the sale of consumer-grade fireworks, and in one year they created an $80 million impact on state revenue. They created about 2,000 full-time jobs, and they created about 8,000 seasonal jobs,” Garrett said during the committee’s meeting on Monday.

“Virginia is a bigger economy” than Indiana and could benefit even more, he said.

Garrett said his proposal – Senate Bill 208 – would also allow local governments in Virginia to decide for themselves if they want to allow the sale and use and sale of “consumer fireworks,” defined as “small fireworks devices containing restricted amounts of pyrotechnic composition designed primarily to produce visible or audible effects by combustion.” This category includes bottle rockets, Roman candles, air bombs and firecrackers, according to online retailers.

“The reality that no one can deny is we have these consumer-grade fireworks in Virginia already,” Garrett said. “People are already using these in Virginia. Why not bring the jobs and revenue to Virginia as localities decide?” Garrett said.

This is the third consecutive year the bill has come up in the Senate. The opposition centers on concern for public safety.

“During the past 10 years, 692 fires and 515 fireless explosions have been attributed to fireworks in the state of Virginia, as well as more than $1.5 million in total fire loss,” Melvin D. Carter, executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, told the committee.

He said the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission found that in 2014, 11 deaths and more than 10,000 injuries occurred as a results of fireworks-related accidents nationwide.

“Nearly half of all injuries were to people younger than 20 years of age,” Carter said.

More than a dozen other representatives of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs attended the meeting. State Fire Marshall Charles Altizer testified against the bill.

“What we’re proposing to allow will make [fireworks] much more readily available and make us more susceptible to misuse than you currently see … When you look nationwide, it’s still a critical issue,” Altizer said.

“The Consumer Products Safety Commission has said that fireworks are the most dangerous consumer product on the market.”

SB 208 would legalize the sale and possession of consumer fireworks in Virginia unless the local government decides otherwise. The bill would “prohibit any person younger than 18 years of age from purchasing fireworks and shall prohibit person younger than 18 years of age from possessing or using fireworks without adult supervision.”

Ultimately, eight members of the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology voted in favor of the bill. Besides Garrett, they were Republican Sens. Frank Ruff of Clarksville, Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester, Richard Stuart of Montross, Richard Black of Leesburg, Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg and David Suetterlein of Roanoke, as well as Democratic Sen. George Barker of Alexandria.

Five committee members voted against the bill. They were Democratic Sens. Mamie Locke of Hampton, Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, Jennifer Wexton of Leesburg and Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge, as well as Republican Sen. William DeSteph of Virginia Beach.

Two committee members – Democratic Sens. J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax and Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon – abstained.

SB 208 is now before the full Senate. If it passes, the bill will move on to the House of Delegates, where similar proposals have stalled the past two years.


Republicans Decry Virginia as ‘Soviet Union of Health Care’

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A group of Virginia lawmakers called for legislation to reform Virginia’s “monopolistic” and “inefficient” health care system.

“With the Affordable Health Care act taking place several years ago, we’re hearing outcries from people about the high deductibles and the out-of-pocket costs,” Del. Kathy Byron, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Commerce and Labor, said during a press conference Wednesday.

“And although we have our hands tied as to being able to do much with the federal legislation, there are things we can do on a state level to have policy in place that creates competition and choice for the patients of Virginia that will ultimately result in lower costs for them,” said Byron, R-Lynchburg.

According to Byron and other Republican lawmakers, including Del. John O’Bannon of Henrico and Sens. Stephen Newman of Forest and Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach, Virginia’s Certificate of Public Need laws represent a major cause of this inefficiency.

“COPN always is a hurdle,” said Dr. John Bowman, the chief medical officer for OrthoVirginia, one of the largest medical practices in the state. “We have experienced firsthand how expensive it is, how cumbersome it is and how time-consuming it is.”

“By reforming COPN, we can reduce the amount of red tape that medical providers like OrthoVirginia have to face. And the less red tape, the more time we have to deal with our patients’ urgent clinical problems – and I’m sure we can do that while still lowering their costs,” he continued.

Newman agreed with Bowman, while raising his own concerns.

“There’s been so much consolidation in health care to where you end up with a single entity that owns so many of the practices and doctors’ facilities. And you really have something close to the Soviet Union of Health Care being developed here in the commonwealth without a method of having relief.”

However, hospital officials said the COPN laws serve an important purpose.

According to Julian Walker, vice president of communications for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, the COPN program exists to “review the process by which health care providers start new facilities, add new equipment or add additional services.”

Walker said the longstanding program exists to prevent the overexpansion of health care markets.

“Health care is not a free market. Because of Medicare and Medicaid, patients often pay less than cost for health care … In addition, since EMTALA, a federal law passed in 1986 under the Reagan administration, hospitals have been required to treat people when they come to the emergency room, regardless of whether they can pay,” Walker said.

“So, in effect, the government has been telling hospitals what services they can provide for some time. It’s hard to think of other businesses in which the government does that.”

In addressing GOP members’ comments about the cost of health care, Walker said, “If you noticed, nobody today said anything specific about costs. The reason for that is Virginia has lower health care costs than the states without COPN.”

According to Walker, without COPN to regulate markets to ensure that all necessary health care options are available in any given community, only conditions that are profitable will be treated.

O’Bannon, a practicing surgeon in the Richmond area, disagreed.

“The proposals that we have will have clear specific obligations for anyone who comes out from under COPN to do charity care at the same rate as any existing facility within that same area,” O’Bannon said. “So there are clear provisions in these bills for charity care that have the exact same rules as current hospitals.”

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Gov. McAuliffe Touts ‘New Virginia Economy’

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe told an optimistic story about the state of Virginia’s economy, while emphasizing the need to improve education, before a crowd of more than 275 business people from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

McAuliffe said more Virginians today have better-paying jobs than before he was elected. Some statistics he quoted implied that the state’s economy is stronger than it has ever been. He said:

  • 568 new economic development projects have occurred during his tenure.
  • $9.34 billion in new capital has come to the state in that time – nearly double the amount under any other governor in Virginia history.
  • Virginia has enjoyed 21 consecutive months of year-over-year job growth.
  • 96,500 new jobs have been created in the past few years.
  • 3,856,100 jobs exist in the state, the most in Virginia history.
  • The state’s unemployment rate is 4.2 percent, the lowest in the Southeast United States and the lowest in Virginia since the recession in 2008.
  • As a result, unemployment claims are the lowest they’ve been in 41 years in Virginia.
  • Personal income per capita over the past 12 months has increased 3.4 percent.

“I’m willing to work with anybody, anytime,” McAuliffe told attendees at the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Day at the Capitol.

“I tell folks when they come in my office, does it create a job, does it create economic activity? If it doesn’t, then I really don’t have too much time to waste on it, because I’m driven about growing and diversifying the economy.”

While the governor spoke at length about the current state of the economy, he also discussed the need to improve education and ensure that Virginia has a well-trained workforce to keep up with the demands of a changing economy.

McAuliffe emphasized the need to better fund community college job training programs, while citing the relatively low figure of $5 million a year that Virginia currently spends on such programs. By comparison, North Carolina, one of Virginia’s closest economic competitors, spends $92 million a year on such programs.

“Over the next decade, two thirds of the 1.5 million jobs we will have to fill, here in Virginia, will require the skills and knowledge demonstrated by industry certifications, occupational licenses and other workforce credentials. Not necessarily a four-year degree. But a two-year degree,” he said. “We have to get in the game on this.”

He also emphasized the need to improve K-12 education, through funding and higher standards.

“If you look at my budget, education, I talk about the investment we’ll make, $1 billion to put 2,500 teachers back in the classrooms that had been cut. We’ve got money in it for our community colleges … $800 million for our higher education schools, $200 million for our community colleges.”

McAuliffe was among several state officials who addressed the annual Chamber Day gathering.

At the event, the Chamber of Commerce elected Tom Palmer of Wells Fargo & Company to serve as chairman of the organization’s board of directors. Palmer served as first vice chair of the board in 2015. He succeeds 2015 chairman Stacy Mendler, chief operating officer of Alion Science and Technology.

Palmer is a senior vice president and regional vice president for the Central Virginia regional commercial banking office of Wells Fargo, based in Richmond. He also oversees the Eastern Virginia commercial banking office.

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House Passes ‘Tebow Bill’ to Help Home-Schoolers

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – For the third year in a row, the Virginia House of Delegates has passed a version of the “Tebow bill,” opening the door for home-schooled students to participate in after-school sports and other activities sponsored by their local public schools.

The House on Wednesday voted 58-41 in favor of the legislation, nicknamed for star quarterback Tim Tebow, who excelled playing high school football in Florida in the early 2000s while being home-schooled.

House Bill 131, sponsored by Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, would prohibit Virginia public schools from joining interscholastic organizations that ban home-schoolers from participating. This would put pressure on the Virginia High School League to allow home-schooled students. The bill does not require local school boards to let home-schooled students participate in sports or other activities.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers supports such initiatives.

“There is a group of young, hardworking, disciplined, American citizens, who are discriminated against because they choose to home educate,” Joshua Pratt, a Campbell County resident and father of a home-schooled ninth-grader, said in testimony on the group’s website.

According to Pratt, his son Micah can’t compete in state cross country competitions, despite excelling in the sport in privately held competitions. “This is wrong and should be changed.”

Bell said HB 131 would apply only to home-schooled students who meet age and academic requirements. It would not guarantee that those who try out will make the cut. Bell emphasized that the bill would allow students to play sports only within the school district that they would have attended if they were in public school.

He also said that it will be up to localities to determine if they want to let home-schoolers participate.

“If Madison County said, ‘We want our home-schoolers; we need them for the team,’ and Greene County said, ‘We don’t want ours,’ Greene County would have none and Madison County would have theirs,” Bell said.

Moreover, the bill would authorize school divisions to charge home-schoolers reasonable fees to participate.

HB 131 would sunset, or expire, after five years – in 2021. So if it were enacted and state legislators later determined that they made a mistake, the law could be changed. Bell found this scenario unlikely.

“I will tell you that no state that has taken this step, and a majority of states have, have ever reversed themselves,” he said. “The parade of horribles we hear every year has never turned out to be the case, and I predict that in five years from now, we would pass it without any objection.”

HB 131 still has a long way to go. Similar versions of the bill have been kicked around the General Assembly for years. Last year, the assembly passed such legislation, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it.

Much of the opposition to the bill has to do with the “choice provision” of the bill. Some fear the law may be used unequally by different districts, thereby creating an unequal playing field.

“The fact that it’s described as local option doesn’t assure that everybody can play by the same rules,” said Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax.

“What this bill says is that [school districts] may not participate … in the Virginia High School Athletic League, unless they change their policies to allow home-school kids because we in the General Assembly don’t like the policies that the VHSL has set up.”

The bill next goes to the Senate. An identical bill – SB 612, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, is awaiting action by the Senate Committee on Education and Health.

How They Voted

Here is how the House of Delegates voted Wednesday on HB 131 (Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs).

Floor: 01/27/16 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (58-Y 41-N)

YEAS – Adams, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Miyares, Morefield, Morris, O'Bannon, O'Quinn, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Taylor, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker – 58.

NAYS – Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, Hugo, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Mason, McClellan, McQuinn, Murphy, Orrock, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Spruill, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Villanueva, Ward, Watts, Yost – 41.

NOT VOTING – Anderson – 1.

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Mixed Views about Bills to Increase Alcohol Sales

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia restaurant owners have mixed perspectives on legislation that would allow their establishments to sell more alcoholic beverages.

Two Republican lawmakers from Virginia Beach – Sen. Bill DeSteph and Del. Scott Taylor – have proposed changing the 20-year-old requirement that restaurants and caterers with liquor licenses limit their alcohol sales to 55 percent of their total revenue. This means that under the current law, a little less than half of all sales in restaurants must come from food. Wine and beer sales are not considered in this ratio.

The bills proposed by DeSteph and Taylor would raise the maximum percentage of revenue from liquor sales to 75 percent of total sales per restaurant. Many restaurateurs believe they would benefit from such an increase.

“There’s a lot of things out there that people are doing wrong, just so they can stay ahead of that law, so they can maintain their bills as a restaurant or bar or nightclub,” said Johnny Giavos, owner of Richmond mainstays Stella’s and Kuba Kuba as well as the recently opened Continental Westhampton.

“Just let people open a bar and charge them more for the liquor license. Just let them be bars ... The state makes more money, nobody has to fudge their numbers or steal money to make their numbers work, and everybody benefits from it,” Giavos said.

Terrence O’Neill, owner of Penny Lane Pub in downtown Richmond, agreed.

“I don’t understand why that’s a big deal,” he said. “If you go to other states, they seem to manage fine just having bars … I think it’s time to lower [the required percentage of food sales] again. I think that’s the right move.”

Other interested parties – like the Downtown Business Group, a confederation of hotels, restaurants, retailers and apartments in Richmond – disagree. They feel that such a rule change would cut into profits at other restaurants by opening up a market for businesses to promote cheap alcohol as their main source of revenue.

“They’re trying to fundamentally change the way the entire state of Virginia works from a hospitality standpoint,” said Michael Byrne, director of operations at the Tobacco Company Restaurant and Properties and a leader in the business group. “They’re putting alcohol center stage, because you make more money off of liquor than you do anything else. If all you need to sell is liquor, why would you worry about selling food?”

When asked about the creation of a specific license for bars, as Giavos suggested, Byrne said, “The nightclub-only license is a dangerous license. Look at the places that operate as bars, and you’ll find the highest amount of crime, the highest number of visits from the police department … So it definitely is a public safety issue.”

Other business owners are still on the fence.

“I could go either way. I own a restaurant, not a bar. I have a bar in the restaurant, said Ron Joseph, owner of Strawberry Street Cafe in Richmond’s Fan neighborhood.

He said the legislation “won’t hurt me. It may open up more opportunities for somebody that may want to open up a [music] venue. But I don’t think it will do any more damage than the breweries do to restaurants.”

This is not the first time such legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly. Just last year, when DeSteph was a member of the House, he sponsored an almost identical bill. It failed, largely as a result of lobbying by the Downtown Business Group.

In an interview at the General Assembly this week, DeSteph said he believes the measure has a better chance of passing during the current legislative session.

“Before, there were about eight restaurants opposed to the bill, with three different owners,” he said. “This year, on the other side, we have the Fan Restaurant Group and about 600 different restaurants in support of the bill.”

DeSteph is carrying two proposals – SB 488 and SB 489 – to change the food-beverage ratio for Virginia restaurants. The bills have been assigned to the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services.

Taylor’s bill – HB 219 – has been assigned to Subcommittee 3 of the House Committee on General Laws.

DeSteph said he expects the committees to take up the legislation in the next week or two.


Judge OKs GOP’s ‘Loyalty Oath’ for Now

By Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A federal judge Thursday denied a request by African American community leaders for an injunction preventing the Virginia Board of Elections from mailing out absentee ballots for the Republican presidential primary that require a so-called “loyalty oath.”

U.S. District Judge Hannah Lauck said in her ruling that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to allow the injunction. However, she said a trial still must be held to rule on the constitutionality of the requirement.

The decision to deny the injunction, which the plaintiffs plan to appeal, concerns a new requirement that Virginians interested in voting in the Republican primary on March 1 sign a pledge of affiliation to the GOP. This is especially relevant to voters who support the nomination of Donald Trump for president but don’t self-identify as being members of the Republican Party.

Lauck called the requested injunction “an extraordinary remedy.” She said the “plaintiffs did not present evidence sufficient to show a likelihood of success on the merits on their constitutional claims.”

The lawsuit was filed after the Virginia Board of Elections last month approved a request by the state GOP that voters in the Republican presidential primary be required to sign a statement saying, “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.”

In the suit, three Virginia ministers and leaders in the African American community argued that the requirement would violate minority voters’ civil rights by discouraging people who don’t typically vote as Republicans from casting ballots in the state’s normally open primary.

While some states register voters by party and allow only party members to vote in primaries, until now Virginia has not done so.

“To be Republican ... the Republicans are considered racist. Anyone [in the African American community] who would sign this, great persecution would fall on them,” said Stephen Parson, one of the plaintiffs.

Parson also said such a requirement would create delays in voting. In his opinion, many people would be caught off guard about the requirement and hesitate or abstain from voting entirely.

The defense disagreed.

“Dr. Parson admitted that, other than himself and perhaps his fellow plaintiffs, he was unaware of any voter who did not intend to vote in the Republican Party presidential primary because of the RPV’s decision to require execution of the voter statement,” the defendants said in a brief filed Wednesday.

The brief argued that Parson’s testimony was hearsay and that it “simply repeated” allegations contained in the initial complaint.

“They offered no more than naked, conclusory statements that such detrimental effects might occur, and provided no evidence (or even well-pleaded factual allegations) that any of these hypothetical injuries plausibly would occur as a result of the Republican Party of Virginia’s voter statement,” the brief said.

Lauck agreed with the defense in issuing her decision.

However, in a ruling filed late Thursday, she said that the case “does raise concern as to the State Board of Elections duties to avoid voter confusion and to preserve the integrity of, and order in, the electoral process.”

Lauck said the in-person voting procedure remains poorly organized, citing the Board of Elections’ recent disclosure that the in-person voting procedure will include the use of a provisional ballot. While this is not inherently illegal, it would potentially create confusion for unaffiliated voters who did not want to declare their affiliation with the Republican Party.

The judge concluded that the parties involved should make preparations to schedule the forthcoming court case. It remains unclear how these proceedings will affect the Republican primary results in the state.

Artículos deportivos para niños

Legislative Session Begins by Ousting Media from Senate

By Sarah King and Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia General Assembly opened Wednesday, introducing 18 novice legislators, squabbling briefly across party lines and courting a fight with the media.

Curiously, the press tables located on the Senate floor as recently as Tuesday afternoon were no longer available for use by the press. According to published reports, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City County, made the decision to relegate the press to the upper balcony.

“You’ll get used to this refrain during this session: I have no comment,” Norment told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Little mention was made by legislators about the unusual decision to restrict the media’s access, except by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

“We need more transparency in the General Assembly, not less,” Northam, a Democrat who serves as the Senate’s presiding officer, said in a statement. “Removing members of the press from the floor only makes their jobs more difficult and, in the end, is a disservice to Virginians.”

Another dispute also emerged in the Senate over rules governing committee appointments, presented by the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover.

According to Democrats, the new rules would allow the majority party in the Senate to stack committees with its members. The Senate currently has 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

As a result, Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, presented Senate Resolution 22, which would have based committee assignments on merit and given the minority party more representation.

Norment opposed the resolution, saying “areas of expertise are already considered” in committee assignments. Senate Resolution 22 was voted down along party lines, 21-19.

Apart from the squabbles over committee appointments, the mood in the Senate remained light.

Seven new senators took their oaths of office:

  • Republicans Amanda Chase and Glen H. Sturtevant of Chesterfield County, Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico County, William DeSteph of Virginia Beach and David Suetterlein of Roanoke
  • Democrats Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge and Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon

The Senate voted unanimously to make Sen. Stephen B. Newman, R-Lynchburg, its president pro tempore. Susan Clarke Schaar was re-elected as clerk of the Senate.

Howell Re-elected as House Speaker

In the House, proceedings ran incredibly dry until Democratic Del. Mark Sickles of Fairfax, nominated Republican Del. William Howell of Stafford to continue as speaker of the House.

Republican outnumber Democrats in the House, 66-34. So it was a foregone conclusion that the GOP would hold the most powerful position in the chamber. Sickles and other delegates seemed intent on making light of the partisanship that often plagues the legislature.

“It can seem like we’re always waiting for the body on the other side of the hall to do something -- to do anything, really,” Sickles said in his introduction, which on several occasions garnered laughs from both sides of the aisle.

Sickles said the House has a responsibility to serve the commonwealth in a fiscally responsible manner. He urged his colleagues to push the “green button” for Howell, who he said would forge a “dynamic plan” and work with “bipartisan spirit.”

“We may not be able to resolve our differences, but our future is as bright as we make it,” Sickles concluded.

Howell was re-elected with a 99-0 vote and a standing ovation. Donald Lemons, chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, administered the oath of office.

“I’m humbled by the trust you’ve placed in me to lead this distinguished body again,” Howell said, adding, “None of us are entitled to the seats we hold.”

Howell reiterated that his position, as well as any other elected office, comes with significant responsibilities and duties to not just one party, but the people of the commonwealth.

He then welcomed 11 new House members to “Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol,” and alluded to James Madison and Patrick Henry as “constant reminders” of the legislative body’s responsibilities.

Howell then turned his remarks toward the House’s priorities this session, beginning with the budget.

Republicans have ideological differences with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other Democrats over health care, gun laws, gay marriage and abortion. But Howell chose to focus on issues on which the left and right share common ground.

“We need to be focused on real solutions to our fellow citizens,” Howell said, before he addressed the importance of the state economy, business and entrepreneurial opportunities.

He also stressed the importance of a “strong education system and providing flexibility and choice to parents and students,” before tipping his hat to President Obama’s support of charter schools empowering students of all backgrounds.

Howell noted that twice, McAuliffe has been shot down by the General Assembly for trying to expand Medicaid in Virginia. However, the speaker stressed that the legislature should aim to improve access to health care and strengthen the mental and behavioral health systems in a “fiscally responsible” manner.

“We’re not always going to agree, but we will exchange lengthy dialogue on how to move Virginia forward,” Howell said, “We have a long road ahead, and I’m confident we will find success.”

Black Friday 19

Legislative Showdown Looms Over Guns

By Rachel Beatrice and Matt Chaney, Capital News Service

The political battle over guns in Virginia is shifting to the state Capitol as the General Assembly convenes Wednesday for its 2016 session.

The state’s leading Democrats fired the latest shots: In October, Gov. Terry McAuliffe banned weapons from state buildings. Then last month, Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the commonwealth would no longer recognize concealed handgun permits issued by 25 states that he said do not meet Virginia’s standards.

Those moves outraged Republican legislators. Del. Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah, for example, accused Herring of having a “partisan, political goal of denying law-abiding citizens the right to protect and defend themselves.”

So it’s no surprise that the General Assembly will take up the issue. As of Tuesday, legislators had filed almost 70 bills about firearms, guns or other weapons.

Republicans are sponsoring several measures to expand Virginians’ right to carry weapons. For example, with House Bill 593, Del. Robert Marshall, R-Manassas, seeks to invalidate McAuliffe’s Executive Order 50, which prohibits the carrying of firearms in buildings occupied by executive branch agencies.

Marshall also is carrying HB 83, which would prevent Virginia state employees from enforcing new federal firearms laws, including criminal background checks in gun sales or other transactions.

And Marshall’s HB 79 would allow full-time faculty members at public colleges and universities carry a handgun on campus if they have a concealed weapons permit.

Along the same lines, newly elected Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, is sponsoring HB 761, which “prohibits public institutions of higher education from adopting or enforcing any rules prohibiting a female who possess a valid Virginia concealed handgun permit from carrying a concealed handgun on campus.”

Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Hadensville, is taking aim at Herring’s decision to reject the concealed handgun permits of more than two dozen states. Under Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Garrett, the General Assembly – not the attorney general – would determine whether Virginia should honor other states’ concealed carry permits.

Democratic legislators, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, also are sponsoring a bevy of gun-related measures. Generally, they want to make it harder for people to buy or carry firearms.

For instance, Del. Kaye Kory of Falls Church has filed HB 482, which would require background checks on firearms sales at gun shows. Currently, gun-show vendors don’t have to perform such checks unless they are federally licensed gun dealers.

Newly elected Del. John Bell, D-Chantilly, wants to tighten the rules for getting a concealed handgun permit in Virginia. Current law allows applicants to complete an online or video course in firearms training or safety; Bell’s HB 617 would require that the course be taken in person.

Under SB 214, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, and HB 425, by Del. Marcus Simon of Falls Church, Virginians who are in the federal Terrorist Screening Database could not buy or possess guns. (At the federal level, Republicans have opposed such proposals because they say the database is flawed.)

To a large extent, the gun debate at the Virginia Capitol echoes the controversy over firearms in the nation’s capital.

Last week, President Obama, with tears in his eyes, gave a speech lamenting gun violence. He said he was taking executive actions to address the problem by requiring all businesses that sell guns – including at firearms shows – to be licensed and conduct background checks.

Herring, who attended Obama’s announcement, called the president’s action “important steps to promote public safety, prevent gun violence and keep guns away from criminals and other dangerous people.”

Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia’s 1st Congressional District, criticized Obama’s speech.

“We are all touched by attacks like the one in San Bernardino, and we all grieve for those who have lost so much as a result. But to end this kind of violence, we need to address the real, underlying causes of these attacks,” Wittman said on Facebook.

“Limiting our constitutionally guaranteed rights is never the answer. That is why it’s so important for us to affirmatively protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens by advancing legislation like the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015.”

That federal legislation would allow anyone with a valid concealed weapons permit from any state to carry firearms “in accordance to restrictions within that state.”


More on the Web

To track or comment on legislation involving firearms or other issues, visit the Richmond Sunlight website:

Here is a list of all bills before the Virginia General Assembly whose descriptions mention guns, firearms or weapons:





Concealed handgun permits, out-of-state; photo identification.



Weapons other than handguns; purchase by certain officers.



Concealed handguns; authorization and training for persons designated to carry on school property.

Marshall, R.G.


Concealed handguns; possession by full-time faculty members at higher educational institutions.

Marshall, R.G.


Federal firearms laws; enforcement.

Marshall, R.G.


Virginia National Guard; possession of handguns by members at certain facilities.



Virginia National Guard; possession of handguns by members.



Weapons; possession prohibited in state legislative buildings, penalty.



Risk management plan; coverage for injury or death on state property, concealed handgun prohibition.

Marshall, R.G.


Risk management plan; coverage for injury/death on college property, concealed handgun prohibition.

Marshall, R.G.


Concealed handgun permits; individuals on federal Terrorist Screening Database.



School board employees; possession of firearms by employees who are former law-enforcement officers.



New public school buildings; plans or blueprints, indoor active shooter gunshot detection and alert.



Firearms, certain; identification requirement.



Firearms; law-enforcement certification of transfer.



Transfer of certain firearms; identification requirement.



Concealed handgun permit; judges exempt.



Firearms; disposition of those acquired by localities.



Felons; restoration of firearms rights, report to State Police.



Firearms; control by state agencies, etc.



Firearms businesses; local regulation of dealers in proximity of schools.



Firearms; possession in school zone, penalty.



Firearms; possession in school zone; regulation by locality.



Firearms; prohibits person in Terrorist Screening Database to purchase, etc.



Concealed handguns; revocation of permit.



Firearm; use or display while committing a felony increases penalty.



Carrying a concealed handgun; permit not required.



Transfer of firearms; criminal history record information check; penalties.



Brandishing a firearm; intent to induce fear, etc., penalty.



Firearms; disposition by locality, licensed dealer right of action.



General Services, Department of; regulation of firearms.

Marshall, R.G.


Transfer of firearms; criminal history record information check; penalties.



Concealed handgun permit; demonstration of competence.

Bell, J.J.


Transfer of firearms; criminal history record information check, penalties.

Bell, J.J.


Protective orders; possession of firearms; penalty.



Possession of concealed handguns; females at public institutions of higher education.



Carrying concealed handguns; protective orders.



Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.



Brandishing a firearm; law-enforcement officer; penalty.



Possession of firearms by persons adjudicated delinquent; military service exception.



Reporting lost or stolen firearms; penalty.



Sale of firearms; persons not lawfully present in United States; penalty.



Transfer of assault weapon; proof of citizenship.



Concealed handgun; person may carry concealed without permit if otherwise eligible to obtain permit.



Protective orders; prohibits person who is subject to order from possessing firearms, penalty.



Use of firearm in commission of crime; civil liability.



Protective orders; possession of firearms; penalty.



Handguns; establishes limitation on purchases, penalty.



Firearms retailers; local regulation, proximity to schools.



Concealed handgun permit; family member who resides with applicant may submit statement to court.



Concealed handgun permits; sharing of information.



Concealed handgun permits; reciprocity with other states.



Firearms magazines, certain; prohibition of sale, transfer, etc., penalties.



Firearms, loaded; prohibits carrying certain firearms in public places, exception.



Concealed handgun permits; proof of competence, training courses.



Transfer of firearms; permit required.



Concealed weapons; adds any employee with internal investigations authority designated by DOC.



Transfer of firearms; criminal history record information check, penalties.



Handguns; purchase by certain officers.



Firearms; Terrorist Screening Database check prior to purchase.



Firearm or pneumatic gun; allowing access by children, penalty.



Firearm transfers; penalties.



Concealed handgun permit; disqualifications, residential mental health or substance abuse treatment.



Firearms; purchase by persons intending to commit act of terrorism, penalty.



Firearms; alcohol; penalties.



Transfer of firearms; criminal history record information check; penalties.



Firearms; access by children; penalty.



Possession or transportation of firearms; protective orders; penalty.


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