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Megan Schiffres

Before they vote, Virginia legislators pray

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “May your will be done, dear Lord, this day and each day by these, your servants,” said the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley.

“I pray that at the conclusion of this gathering that all matters whether confirmed, completed or channeled will have been divinely directed while also being considered by your judgment as good and as acceptable,” said the Rev. Carlos Jordan.

“We ask you Lord this day to guide this body in respecting human life from the moment of conception until natural death,” said the Rev. Dennis Di Mauro.

You might expect to hear such religious intonations in a church setting. But Adams-Riley, Jordan and Di Mauro weren’t directing their words to congregants; they were addressing members of the Virginia General Assembly.

Each meeting of the General Assembly begins with a prayer led by a religious leader. The practice dates back to colonial Virginia, and it is common throughout the United States. Almost all state legislatures use an opening prayer as part of their tradition and procedure, and the custom has operated on the federal level since the first Congress convened under the Constitution in 1789.

You may be thinking: Doesn’t this practice violate the separation of church and state? Some people believe it does, but the courts have ruled otherwise.

The First Amendment of the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Those provisions, known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, were written to protect the religious liberties of Americans and prohibit the state from endorsing one religion over another. But they don’t specify what constitutes the establishment of a state religion.

“There’s a pretty robust history of government institutions in this country engaging in practices that one could very plausibly argue is suggestive of, denotes, is the equivalent of establishing a religion,” said Dr. John Aughenbaugh, professor of constitutional law at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Official symbols and rhetoric often blur the line separating religion and government. Examples include our national currency (which reads “In God We Trust”) and the oath of office taken by elected officials (who place a hand on a Bible and end with “So help me God”).

The constitutionality of legislative prayer was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1983 decision in Marsh, Nebraska State Treasurer v. Chambers. The high court ruled that legislative prayer did not violate the First Amendment because it “has become part of the fabric of our society.”

The issue re-emerged more recently when some residents of the town of Greece, New York, sued the town council for opening its meetings with a predominantly Christian prayer. The lawsuit said such prayers discriminated against people of minority religions and non-religious citizens. However, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying the town council had not violated the First Amendment.

Like the town of Greece, prayer in the Virginia General Assembly is overwhelmingly led by Christian faith leaders, who invoke Christian ideas about the will of God and the role of government in addressing legislators.


During the 2017 legislative session, Christian ministers led 95 percent of the prayers that opened the House and Senate, according to an analysis by VCU Capital News Service.

Fewer than three-fourths of adults in Virginia identify as Christian, according to the Pew Research Center. However, about 90 percent of Virginia legislators identify as Christian, and that is reflected in the religious leaders chosen to address the General Assembly.

The only other faiths invited to address the General Assembly were Judaism, Unitarian Universalism and Islam – the only other religions to which legislators belong.

The largest group excluded from leading the daily invocation at the General Assembly was non-religious people, atheists and agnostics, who make up 20 percent of adults in the state, according to the Pew study.

Over the course of the 2017 legislative session, the General Assembly spent a total of 1 hour, 53 minutes, and 43 seconds praying. Each invocation lasted an average of 1 minute, 38 seconds. To some, this is time well spent.

“I’m glad that it’s a part of our state government,” said Rabbi Dovid Asher, one of two rabbis to lead the General Assembly in prayer this session. “If I’m going to put somebody in office and vote for somebody, I want them to have a moment of reflection, of introspection during the course of the day.”

Other people, like Patrick Elliott, staff attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state, view prayer in the General Assembly as an inappropriate and inefficient use of time.

“The legislators have a lot better things to put their energy and efforts into. It’s a waste of time. And if they were to want to pray or engage in religious practice, they should do so on their own time, not on taxpayers’ time,” Elliott said.

Meet the men running for Governor

Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia will elect a new governor this year.

The governor’s position is one of great power and influence, as the current officeholder, Terry McAuliffe, has demonstrated by breaking the record for most vetoes in Virginia history.

However, during the last gubernatorial race in 2014, the voter turnout was less than 42 percent, compared with 72 percent during last year’s presidential election.

While not as publicized as the presidential campaign, the governor’s race will have just as much, if not more, influence over the everyday lives of Virginians. That’s why it’s important to stay informed about who is running and what they stand for.

The state Democratic and Republican parties will each hold a primary on June 13 to choose a nominee for governor. The general election will be Nov. 7.

Here is a brief summary of each candidate’s qualifications. We also have developed a quiz to help determine which candidate best reflects your political views.



Democrats Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello

Ralph Northam is lieutenant governor of Virginia and a pediatric neurologist at the Children’s Specialty Group in Norfolk. He served in the U.S. Army and as state senator for the 6th Senate District, before joining McAuliffe’s gubernatorial ticket in 2013. Northam hopes to continue the work he started with McAuliffe and is focusing his campaign on economic progress. He said his priorities are affordable health care and education and has introduced a plan to make community colleges and workforce training free for what he calls “new-collar” jobs in high-demand fields like health care, cybersecurity and skilled construction trades.

Tom Perriello, a former congressman, is a lawyer whose early career focused on prosecuting atrocities in Africa. He was special adviser to the prosecution of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and served as special envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo under the Obama administration. Perriello’s campaign has focused on his resistance to what he calls the hateful politics of President Trump. He has proposed a plan to make community college debt-free for two years. Perriello has been endorsed by former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.



Republicans Ed Gillespie, Corey Stewart and Frank Wagner

Ed Gillespie is a political strategist and former chair of the Republican National Committee. He is deeply connected in both national and Virginia politics and has spent his career working for high-profile Republicans including presidential candidate John Kasich, George W. Bush and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. He served as counselor to President Bush during Bush’s second term of office, co-founded a bipartisan lobbying firm and in 2014 narrowly lost a bid for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat to Democratic incumbent Mark Warner. Gillespie vows to pursue “timeless conservative principles,” including a 10 percent cut in state income tax rates.

Corey Stewart is a self-proclaimed “Trump before Trump was Trump.” He co-chaired Virginia’s Trump for President campaign and currently chairs the Board of Supervisors in Prince William County, where he implemented “the nation’s toughest crackdown on illegal immigration” and helped remove local fees for getting a concealed weapons permit. Stewart said he is running for governor “to take back Virginia from the establishment and political elites in Richmond.” An international trade attorney, he has vowed to protect Confederate monuments such as statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. “I’m proud to be next to the Confederate flag,” he said.

Frank Wagner portrays himself as the only Republican candidate who “has built multiple successful, manufacturing businesses in Virginia” and has significant legislative experience. Wagner has represented the 7th Senate District (Virginia Beach and Norfolk) since 2002 and was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1992-2001. He is a Navy veteran and until recently owned two ship repair firms. Wagner supports reducing regulations on businesses and wants to focus on career technical education for high school students and college affordability. A top priority for him is infrastructure development, including transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion in Virginia.


Editor's Note: This story, which originally sent by the Capital News Service on Monday, erred in listing Emmanuel Peter as a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor; he did not make the ballot for the primary. The CNS deleted that information from the article and adjusted the quiz.

Activists, lawmakers demand attorney general resign

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Bearing signs that read “No Concessions for Sessions!”, “Perjury = Prison” and “Nyet Paid,” more than 50 protesters in downtown Richmond demanded the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday.

Calling him racist and unfit, the protesters gathered outside the SunTrust building on Main Street, where Sessions addressed law enforcement officers on combating violent crime and restoring public safety. “President Trump gave us a clear directive. It’s the policy of this administration to reduce crime in America,” he said.

Sessions was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last month despite previously being denied a federal judgeship because of accusations that he had made racist remarks. He has also been in hot water regarding allegations that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential race.

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions denied having communications with the Russian government, but The Washington Post recently revealed that he had met twice last year with the Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. As a result, Sessions has had to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into whether Russia tried to influence the election.

The protesters marched around the perimeter of the SunTrust building, led by an enthusiastic woman rhythmically banging a pan with a wooden spoon and chanting, “No bans, no walls, sanctuary for all” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Jeff Sessions has got to go.” Many of the demonstrators objected to Session’s alleged involvement with Russia, his record on civil rights and his stance on immigration.

“He’s the person who’s supposed to hold other people accountable for their incongruities and their unlawfulness, and I’m very concerned about those characteristics and those qualities in our attorney general,” said Rev. Jay McNeal, executive director of United Faith Leaders, an interfaith interdenominational group that helped organize the protest.

A number of progressive organizations including the Sierra Club, Indivisible Richmond, Equality Virginia, and ICA Out of RVA collaborated to organize Wednesday’s rally. The American Civil Liberties Union was not involved in organizing the protest, but legal observers from the group were there to ensure that no one’s First Amendment rights to free speech and to organize were violated.

Charlie Schmidt, public policy associate for the ACLU of Virginia, said he is concerned that the top prosecutor for the country will negatively impact civil rights in the U.S.

“The administration has a lot of leeway to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to hire any more staff attorneys for the Office of Civil Rights; we’re not going to investigate police when there’s misconduct.’ They have a lot of discretion and a lot of power,” Schmidt said.

Last month, in his first speech as attorney general, Sessions said the Justice Department will pull back its monitoring of police departments with civil rights abuses. He said that the authority of police departments had been undermined by scrutiny from the Justice Department, and scaling back on federal oversight would improve their effectiveness.

“We want the Justice Department to continue to root out corruption and racism in our police department, instead of falling into the false narrative that police are the victims,” said Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

A few minutes before the protest, Swecker and several members of the General Assembly held a press conference and called on Sessions to resign for misleading the Senate. The legislators, all of them Democrats, included Dels. Delores McQuinn, Jeff Bourne and Betsy Carr of Richmond and Sen. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg.

While in Richmond, Sessions praised Project Exile, which imposes a mandatory five-year prison sentence on felons convicted of possessing firearms.

While crime rates have been at historic lows nationwide, Sessions said violent crime has been increasing in some cities, including Richmond. He blamed the increase in part on the growing opioid epidemic, saying, “We have too much of a tolerance for drug use.”

State building renamed for civil rights activist

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A state government building that once served as headquarters of the “Massive Resistance” campaign against racial integration of Virginia’s public schools was renamed Thursday in honor of Barbara Johns, a student activist who played an important and often overlooked role in the civil rights movement.

Johns was only 16 when she led a student protest that would one day become part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Like most segregated schools at the time, the all-black high school Johns attended in Farmville, Virginia, was overcrowded, underfunded and dilapidated in comparison to the white schools in the Prince Edward County. On April 23, 1951, Johns persuaded all 450 of her classmates to stage a strike, and some went downtown to meet with education officialsto protest the school’s substandard conditions.


“When she took a stand like that, it was a dangerous time, and I was the one who was worried about what might happen to us. She didn’t seem to have any fear at all,” said Barbara Johns’ sister, Joan Johns Cobb, who marched alongside her.

Johns enlisted the help of the NAACP, which filed a suit on behalf of 117 students against Prince Edward County, challenging Virginia’s laws requiring segregated schools.

“This was before Little Rock Nine, this was before Rosa Parks, this was before Martin Luther King. This was a 16-year-old girl who said that we will not tolerate separate but not equal,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who announced in January that the newly renovated Ninth Street Office Building would be renamed in Johns’ honor.

Located at 202 N. Ninth St., the building was once known as the Hotel Richmond. During the 1950s, members of the General Assembly stayed at the hotel when they came to the capital for the legislative session. The building became the unofficial headquarters of the Byrd Organization, the dominant pro-segregation political machine at the time.

The attorney general at that point, James Lindsay Almond, originally defeated Johns’ case by claiming that segregation was a way of life for Virginians. Now the building, which houses the state attorney general’s office, has been christened the Barbara Johns Building. Current Attorney General Mark Herring said the renaming will serve as a reminder to him and his staff that the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated.

“She saw an injustice for exactly what it was, and she stood up for what was right. She demanded that which the constitution guaranteed her, and which the commonwealth denied her,” Herring said.

The case, Davis v. School Board of Prince Edward County, was appealed to the Supreme Court and combined with four similar segregation suits under Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On May 17, 1954, the court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.

Powerful members of the General Assembly then met in the very building that now bears Johns’ name to plot against the desegregation of Virginia’s public schools.

Led by U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd and his political machine, the state engaged in a campaign of “Massive Resistance” against desegregation. This led to the shutdown of schools across Virginia when lawmakers decided they would rather see them close than integrate. It wasn’t until 1968, when the Supreme Court ruled their plan unlawful, that large-scale desegregation took place in Virginia.

On Tuesday, the House of Delegates joined the Senate in passing a resolution declaring April 23, the anniversary of the strike, as Barbara Johns Day in Virginia.

“The fact that the very General Assembly that passed laws to prevent school desegregation is naming a day for Barbara Johns is a really powerful testament to how far we’ve come,” said Dr. Larissa Smith Fergeson, professor of history at Longwood University. “In many ways, these are symbolic acts, but symbolic acts matter.”

House panel rejects redistricting reform bills

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Republicans on a House subcommittee killed three redistricting reform bills Tuesday that advocates had hoped would curtail gerrymandering in Virginia.

At a 7 a.m. meeting, the Elections Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee voted 5-2 that each proposal be “passed by indefinitely,” effectively ensuring that the issue is dead for the legislative session.

More than 50 supporters of OneVirginia2021, which advocates for nonpartisan redistricting, attended the subcommittee’s meeting. The crowd murmured its displeasure when the panel voted against the measures, and one woman shouted “Shameful!”

Democrats also were disappointed.

“There ought to be a full House vote on these bills,” said House Minority Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville. “They’re so important they shouldn’t be bottled up in a small subcommittee with a very small number of people making big decisions on big issues.”

The House Elections Subcommittee considered three measures thathad passed the Senate with Republican support last week:

  • SJ 290, a constitutional amendment that states, “No electoral district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or other individual or entity.” It was sponsored by Sens. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, and Janet Howell, D-Reston.
  • SJ 231, a constitutional amendment that would create an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each census. It was sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats.
  • SB 846, a bill requiring Virginia to use an independent commission if a court declares a legislative or congressional district unlawful or unconstitutional. It was sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.

The five Republicans on the Elections Subcommittee voted to kill the proposals. They are Dels. Les Adams of Pittsylvania, Mark Cole of Spotsylvania, Buddy Fowler of Hanover, Chris Jones of Suffolk and Margaret Ransone of Westmoreland.

The two Democrats on the subcommittee – Dels. Mark Sickles of Fairfax and Luke Torian of Prince William – voted to keep the redistricting bills alive.

Howell urged the subcommittee to support the amendment that she introduced with her Republican colleague, Vogel.

“Gerrymandering is undercutting our representative form of government. It’s making the public feel disenfranchised, and it’s polarizing unnecessarily our political system,” Howell said. “We will keep coming back until you see the wisdom in our amendment.”

Cole, who chairs the Elections Subcommittee, questioned whether the amendment would be necessary until 2021, the next time the General Assembly is scheduled to redraw legislative and congressional districts.

Cole said the General Assembly should delay considering the issue because pending court cases could change the redistricting laws before the amendment is enacted.

District lines in Virginia are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The Virginia Constitution requires that districts be composed of “contiguous and compact territory” and fairly represent the population. Critics of the system have argued that the process is used for political gain and has been corrupted by partisanship.

SJ 231 – proposed by Republican Sens. Emmett Hanger of Augusta and Glen Sturtevant of Chesterfield and Democratic Sens. Creigh Deeds of Bath and Lynwood Lewis of Accomack – attempted to take the power to draw districts away from politicians and give it to an independent, bipartisan commission. The seven-member commission would have been composed of two nominations from Republican leaders, two nominations from Democratic leaders, the auditor of public accounts, the state inspector general, and the executive director of the Virginia State Bar.

Republicans on the Elections Subcommittee criticized the proposed amendment, saying it would not solve the problem of partisanship in redistricting because most members of the commission would be appointed by party leaders.

Sickles, who supported SJ 231 and the other redistricting proposals, complained of his Republican colleagues: “I think the majority opinion up here is that you can’t take the politics out of this.”

Although he voted to kill all three of the redistricting reform measures before the subcommittee, Fowler said he won’t support political gerrymandering in 2021.

“If I am around, my commitment is to come up with a redistricting bill that is not gerrymandered with respect to political party as the primary goal,” Fowler said.

Eight redistricting reform bills introduced by House members died earlier in the session. They never made it out of committee.

Tuesday morning’s actions by the House Elections Subcommittee prompted sharp comments in the afternoon on the House floor.

“It’s clear the powers of a few are frustrating the powers of the many,” Toscano said. He urged House Speaker William Howell to let the full House of Delegates vote on the issue to “show your constituents where you stand on redistricting.”

“All Virginians want is a vote,” Toscano said. “The Senate gave them a vote, and Mr. Speaker, I hope we in this House body give them a vote.”

Jones, one of the Elections Subcommittee members who voted to kill the redistricting bills, defended the existing process for drawing political lines. “We will do like we did in 2010 and have a series of public hearings across the commonwealth,” Jones said. He said legislators “will solicit input from citizens” and use that input in revising districts.

CNS reporter Tyler Woodall contributed to this report.

Republicans divided on redistricting reform

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Redistricting reform has Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly divided.

Three redistricting reform proposals that passed the Senate are scheduled to come before the House Elections Subcommittee on Tuesday morning. The measures – SJ 290, SJ 231 and SB 846– gained bipartisan support and passed the Senate with overwhelming majorities last week.

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, who is running for lieutenant governor, co-sponsored SJ 290, a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit electoral districts from being drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or individual. She held a press conference Monday with OneVirginia2021, a non-profit organization that advocates for nonpartisan redistricting.

Vogel said the biggest obstacle to redistricting reform has been lack of public information.

“Once folks truly start to appreciate that perhaps it isn’t them who are selecting their legislators but in fact the legislators who are selecting them, that actually really makes people stop and take a second look,” Vogel said.

Vogel herself represents seven different localities, including slivers of Culpeper County and Stafford County that were added to her district as a result of the 2011 redistricting. She says gerrymandering undermines the ability of legislators to serve their constituents.

“That was deliberately drawn that way, and that doesn’t mean that I’m less engaged, but certainly it dilutes my ability to have an impact,” Vogel said.

District lines in Virginia are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census and are constitutionally required to be composed of “contiguous and compact territory” and to represent the population of the district. Critics of the system have argued that the process is used for political gain and has been corrupted by partisanship.

“Gerrymandering is simply rigging the outcome of an election before the very first vote is cast. Rather than stuffing the ballot box, incumbents are stuffing their districts,” said Chuck McPhillips, a Republican lawyer and Tidewater regional co-chairman of OneVirginia2021.

So far this session, the House has defeated eight redistricting reform bills, most of which were proposed by Democrats. The debate over redistricting comes just a week after the House Privileges and Elections Committee was booed by the audience for refusing to reconsider five redistricting proposals that one of its subcommittees had killed.

“The House has taken a much more aggressive posture than the Senate has vis-a-vis their willingness to entertain these bills, and in my view, I think a fair and open hearing is critical,” Vogel said.

SJ 231, proposed by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, would establish a seven-member bipartisan commission composed of both party leaders and independent public officials to redraw congressional and General Assembly district boundaries after each decennial census. SB 846, which was proposed by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would establish an Interim Redistricting Commission to assume control of redistricting if any state or federal court declared the districts drawn by lawmakers to be unconstitutional.

At least one member of the Elections Subcommittee said he is skeptical about having a special commission redraw political lines.

“I don’t think it is wise to hand over constitutional obligations and duties of elected people to unelected people,” said Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Glenn Allen.

Two of the bills before the House are constitutional amendments, and if passed would alter Article 2 Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution. The executive director of OneVirginia2021, Brian Cannon, criticized House Republicans for assigning these bills to the Elections Subcommittee instead of the Constitutional Subcommittee. He believes the proposed amendments would have a better chance of passing in the Constitutional Subcommittee.

“They’re very deliberate about exactly what they’re doing here,” Cannon said.

Chris West, policy communications director for House Speaker William Howell, said the constitutional amendments were moved to the Elections Subcommittee to “show the wide support that the Republican caucus has against redistricting reform.”

Documentary reveals life in solitary confinement

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The desperate screams of inmates and the thundering sound of bodies thrown against locked doors echo disturbingly through the cavernous halls of Red Onion State Prison in HBO’s new documentary, “SOLITARY: Inside Red Onion State Prison.”

The film shines a light into the lives of both prisoners and guards at one of Virginia’s largest supermax prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union hosted a screening of the documentary Wednesday night at the Virginia Historical Society, followed by a panel discussion featuring the movie’s director, a man who was held in solitary confinement, and a woman whose son is imprisoned at Red Onion.

“Long-term solitary confinement, we believe, is cruel and unusual punishment, and that violates the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution,” said Hope Amezquita, staff attorney and legislative counsel for the ACLU of Virginia.

At Red Onion State Prison, inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours of every day in a cell measuring 8 by 10 feet, according to the film.Their rooms hold only the basic necessities, and the windows facing the outside are frosted over.

There, inmates are left alone with their thoughts and the disembodied screams of their fellow prisoners. Their only human contact is shouting at corrections officers on the other side of the door and whispering through the air vents to prisoners in nearby cells.

“The film was tough to watch, to be honest. There were so many pieces of the film that I honestly left back with me in some of those prisons,” said Marcus Bullock, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for a carjacking at age 15. Marcus said hewas held in isolation for several months during his incarceration at Fairfax County Jail. “I remember yelling through the vent – that was our telephone system.”

About 67,500 people – more than 5 percent of all prisoners in the U.S. – are being held in solitary confinement, according to a 2016 national report by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School.

Virginia is one of the 44 states that uses solitary confinement, through the Virginia Department of Corrections prefers the term “segregated housing.” Last year, the state reported holding 854 people, or about 3 percent of the incarcerated population of Virginia, in segregated housing.

The HBO documentary puts a human face to these statistics by focusing on the personal stories of a handful of prisoners and corrections officers at Red Onion State Prison. Their stories are hard to watch and difficult to comprehend, because viewers find themselves sympathizing with criminals and with the people who keep them locked up at the same time.

The film addresses the deep psychological toll that the environment at a supermax prison like Red Onion has on prisoners and guards alike. In one interview, Dennis Webb, a prisoner who was sent to Red Onion for stabbing his former warden, said he didn’t have any mental problems until he was put in segregation.

“When I don’t take my medication, I cut all over myself. That’s what segregation did to me,” Webb said. “Keeping me in segregation the rest of my life is a death sentence.”

Correctional officers at the prison are shown to be under enormous stress because of the dangerous nature of their work. Several officers spoke about becoming gradually desensitized to the prison environment and looking at their work as “just a job.”

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Red Onion State Prison opened in 1998 to house the increasing number of inmates the Virginia Department of Corrections had been placing in administrative segregation. For years, the overwhelming majority of the prison’s population were held in segregation, until state officials began to recognize the challenges that long-term administrative segregation posed, including the deterioration of inmates’ mental health, negative effects on staff morale and high costs.

In 2011, the Department of Corrections began implementing reforms at Red Onion that shifted the goal of the facility from keeping prisoners locked up to providing them with the means to leave segregation. The Step-Down program is a therapeutic and educational program that requires inmates to keep journals and attend classes on critical thinking, anger management and substance abuse, with the goal of returning to the general prison population.

“I don’t think there’s an issue with the Step-Down program,” said Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass, whose son Kevin is incarcerated at Red Onion. “I think it’s an issue the way it’s been administered.”

Since its inception, the Step-Down program has reduced the number of inmates in segregation at Red Onion from 511 to 160, according to Scott Richenson, deputy director for the division of programs, education and reentry at the Virginia Department of Corrections.

She said that while mistakes have been made in the past, the procedures outlined in the Step-Down program are largely followed.

The documentary was criticized by some who attended the discussion panel for not addressing reform efforts like the Step-Down program at Red Onion. But director Kristi Jacobson said the film was meant to tell a more universal story about solitary confinement and not focus on one specific reform program.

“I think the documentary was more a portrayal of solitary confinement rather than Red Onion in particular, and I appreciate the filmmaker pointing that out,” said Clifton Cauthorne, chaplin at Red Onion State Prison. “The institution is trying to move people to not being in confinement, but as for a portrayal of what it is like to be in solitary, I think she did a good job.”

“SOLITARY: Inside Red Onion State Prison” is available on HBO for the next 30 days.

More on the web

For more information about “SOLITARY: Inside Red Onion State Prison,” including a clip from the documentary, visit

Gov. McAuliffe vows to veto anti-LGBT legislation

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe vowed to veto any bill that discriminates against LGBTQ people at a reception hosted Tuesday night by Equality Virginia. McAuliffe has vetoed 71 bills during his two years as governor, none of which have been overturned.

“It’s not about doing the most vetoes of any governor in Virginia history,” McAuliffe said. “We’re stopping people from doing things that discriminate against people’s basic rights.”

The governor said he had slated another 35 bills for veto this session.

“They’ve slipped a few bills through, but they’re not going to slip through the governor’s office. I’m going to veto them,” said McAuliffe, a Democrat in the final year of his term.

Democrats criticized Republicans for approving SB 1324, which passed the Senate on a 21-19 party-line vote Tuesday.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson. Supporters describe it as a religious freedom bill, saying it would protect people and organizations that oppose same-sex marriages. However, Democrats say the measure would give people and organizations the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has absolutely no place in the commonwealth, and I am disappointed that a Republican-majority in the Senate approved SB 1324 today,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year.

“I recently took a seven-city tour across the commonwealth that ended in Salem, where I was proud to welcome the NCAA soccer tournament. That championship was relocated from North Carolina, as was the NBA All-Star game and major businesses. To be economically competitive, we have to be open and welcoming to all. I will continue to advocate for equality for all.”

Clay Xix attended the Equality Virginia reception as a representative of Access AIDS Care and the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads. Earlier during Equality Virginia’s annual Day of Action, Xix tried to persuade legislators to oppose SB 1324 and a companion bill, HB 2025, sponsored by Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper.

“It’s our people who have been constantly discriminated against time and again – barred access to jobs, one wrong hand motion in an interview and you’re out, one ‘hey, girl, hey’ in the office and you’re fired. I mean, this is what we live with,” Xix said.

Twenty-seven members of the Virginia General Assembly attended the reception, including Del. Mark Levine, D-Fairfax, whose bill prohibiting LGBT discrimination in public employment, public accommodations and housing (HB 2129) was recently defeated in the House. This was the second year in a row Levine has proposed the legislation, and he says it won’t be the last.

“I think it’s really important for the people I represent to know I’m out there fighting even when it’s not going to succeed, because if you give up before you try, you never succeed,” Levine said.

As one of two openly gay men in the Virginia House of Delegates, Levine said such bills are important even when they fail because they can change the way LGBT people are thought of and treated.

“It’s not just about the rare lawsuit,” Levine said. “It’s about having people be confident enough that if they do choose to come out, they’re not going to be kicked out in the street, they’re not going to lose their employment, they’re not going to lose their job.”

Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the other openly gay Virginia delegate, also proposed pro-LGBT legislation this session that was defeated in committee. HB 1395would have repealed the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions in the Code of Virginia, and given the public the opportunity to vote on same-sex marriage in 2018.

Even though the laws Sickles is trying to repeal are no longer valid after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, his bill was defeated by the House Courts of Justice Committee.

“The only way we’re going to get fair treatment, gay and lesbian people, is to let the people speak out. And it’s not going to be through this gerrymandering system that we have here. The system is rigged – it truly is,” Sickles said.

Richmond mayor renews city’s protection of illegal immigrants

By Mary Lee Clark and Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Richmond is joining a national movement to protect immigrants and refugees in light of recent presidential executive actions.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney signed a mayoral directive Monday reaffirming his commitment to protect and promote the safety of all members of the community regardless of their immigration or refugee status.

The directive is a response to protests and a petition with about 1,400 signatures asking Stoney to take action against President Trump's executive order issued Jan. 25 that blocks funding to sanctuary cities, which are jurisdictions that limit law enforcement cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“America is a nation of immigrants,” Stoney said. “Unless you are Native American, all of us are from somewhere else. This is not – as some have suggested – a weakness. Rather, it is our strength. It is what makes us great. It is why so many from so many parts of the world want to make this country their home.”

Trump's executive action was signed the same day he ordered the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the United States, in efforts to combat undocumented immigration.

“We’re in the middle of a crisis on our southern border,” Trump said. “A nation without borders is not a nation.”

The presidential order also directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to release a weekly list of criminal acts committed by aliens in sanctuary jurisdictions, to “better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions”.

This action against undocumented immigrants is reminiscent of Trump’s controversial campaign statement in 2015, in which he said “ The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

Stoney avoided using “sanctuary city” to describe Richmond, instead stressing the city’s existing policy of being inclusive to illegal immigrants.

"Today, by this directive, Richmond reaffirms its position – where it has been since Day One on this issue. That we stand with all our residents as a Welcoming city, inclusive and diverse. That we are ONE RICHMOND,” Stoney said.

The directive says, “The Richmond Police Department will not consent to participate with the Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) agreements” and will focus on residents’ well-being, not their legal status.”

Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) authorizes the director of ICE to enter into agreements with local law enforcement to train and perform immigration law functions. Currently the only 287(g) agreement in Virginia involves the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.

The Richmond Police Department already has a policy of not reporting undocumented residents to the immigration authorities unless they have committed certain criminal offenses.

"At no time during any citizen interaction does the RPD ask any person about their immigration status,” said Police Chief Alfred Durham.

Stoney’s action could be met with criticism from members of the General Assembly, who are currently voting on bills to block sanctuary cities in Virginia.

Stoney issued the mayoral directive on the same day the Virginia Senate passed a bill to hold sanctuary cities liable for certain injuries and damages caused by illegal aliens. For example, if an illegal immigrant were to get into a fender-bender with a resident, the state would be responsible for paying the damages. The bill, SB 1262, sponsored by Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, was met with heavy criticism by Democrats in the Senate who argued that it was impossible to enforce and a burden on taxpayers.

House Bill 2000, by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, and HB 2236, by Del. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, both prohibit sanctuary policies. House Bill 1468, sponsored by Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, would prohibit government officials from releasing incarcerated aliens for whom ICE has issued a detainer.

“We need to keep our country, and our city, safe from those who would do us harm, and no one, citizen or not, is exempt from justice if they commit crimes against their neighbors,” Stoney said. “But actions such as those taken by the 45th President through these executive orders – actions like those embedded in several bills currently before our General Assembly, do not make us stronger. They peddle fear. They are ill-informed and misguided attempts to protect us, that arguably make us less safe in our communities. Some are unconstitutional, and others are just un-American. That is not the country we are, and it is not the city we will be.”

In the Virginia General Assembly, no anti-sanctuary bill has yet passed its house of origin and could be dropped by “crossover day”, the Tuesday deadline for bills to be approved by their house of origin.

Other states, such as Texas, are also seeking harsher penalties for cities that take up sanctuary policies in their states.

According to the Immigration Legal Resource Center, four states have statewide laws that limit how local police cooperation with ICE. They include Oregon which officially became a sanctuary state just three days ago.

The center also identified 364 counties and 39 cities that have similar policies.

Protesters urge senators to block Supreme Court nomination

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Clustered outside the offices of Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, more than 50 activists rallied against the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday night.

Led by representatives of progressive organizations from across Virginia, the protesters demanded that Virginia’s U.S. senators vote against confirming Gorsuch, who they say doesn’t represent their values.

Tuesday night, President Trump nominated Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge, to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated when Justice Antonin Scalia died a year ago. Since Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court has been split evenly between conservatives and liberals. If Gorsuch is confirmed by the Senate as the court’s ninth member, his presence on the bench would tip the balance of ideology toward the right, analysts say.

“He would represent a tie-breaking vote on numerous issues at a critical time in our nation’s history including several possible upcoming decisions on clean air and water, endangered species, public land use and climate action as well as women’s health, voting rights and basic protections of our civil liberties,” said Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, came to America as a refugee when she was 6 months old. She spoke at the rally about her experiences, and about Trump’s recent executive order suspending new refugee admissions for 120 days.

“President Trump’s executive order over the weekend was deemed unlawful by four federal courts. We need a Supreme Court justice who recognizes the unconstitutionality of what this man has done,” Nguyen said.

Several of the speakers criticized Gorsuch for his support of Hobby Lobby in a case that tested the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage clause, which required businesses to provide their employees access to contraceptive insurance.

Gorsuch in 2013 and the Supreme Court in 2014 sided with Hobby Lobby, which argued that the contraceptive clause violated religious freedoms.

“We cannot have a judge who thinks corporations trump people,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We stand here in Richmond – in the place where our religious freedom was invented, was created for our society and for societies all around the world – and we have a nominee who believes that religious freedom really means a license to discriminate.”

In response to Gorsuch’s nomination, Kaine tweeted last night, “I intend to carefully scrutinize Judge Gorsuch’s temperament and record, particularly on civil rights and other Constitutional guarantees.”

Warner released a statement that praised Gorsuch’s experience and said he looks forward to “carefully reviewing Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications before deciding whether I believe he is fit to serve on our nation’s highest court.”

A separate demonstration was held outside Warner’s D.C. office Wednesday morning by students and other concerned citizens, demanding that he vote against the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be U.S. secretary of state.

A few hours later, Warner became one of three Democratic senators to vote in favor of Tillerson’s nomination. In a statement released after the vote, Wagner said, “I believe that he will bring a more experienced, measured voice to an Administration that has so far struggled to demonstrate any rational approach to foreign policy.”

‘Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally’ Urges Support for Clean Energy

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Waving signs declaring “No Fracking Way” and “Beyond Coal,” more than 50 environmentalists gathered Monday for a Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally near the state Capitol, encouraging Virginia legislators to embrace clean energy alternatives.

The Sierra Club sponsored the event, which coincided with Conservation Lobby Day.

“We are here today because we know that climate disruption is already negatively impacting our families and communities here in Virginia,” said Kendyl Crawford, conservation program manager for the Sierra Club. “It’s time for our leaders to get serious about clean energy and take advantage of this exciting opportunity for both public health and our environment.”

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, attended the rally and expressed his support for alternative, renewable energy sources. Keam spoke about his experiences on the House Special Subcommittee on Energy, where he said too many of his colleagues base their decisions on party politics.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of members in the General Assembly who just say anytime it’s coming from the industry, they automatically support it – anytime it’s coming from the environment, they automatically oppose it,” Keam said.

“I’m trying something that we haven’t done in a long time, which is to get members from both sides of the aisle to come together, talk reasonably and see if there’s a way we can come together on core values – values such as clean water.”

Keam recently proposed a bill (HB 2112) that would require the State Corporation Commission to adopt rules for community renewable projects.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, such projects allow customers who don’t have solar panels or other renewable resources of their own to buy or lease a portion of a shared renewable energy system. The money that customers make from these clean energy sources is then credited to their electricity bill, as if they had solar panels on their own roof or a wind turbines in their backyard.

“We don’t want it to just go to the private sector so that they can create more business opportunities. We want it to actually go to the regular folks,” Keam said.

He said his legislation “probably won’t go this year because it’s a new idea, but I think it’s the kind of idea that we need to start talking about so that everyday folks will benefit from the new solar energy, not just businesses.”

Besides supporting renewable energy proposals, the rally also served as a protest against bills sought by fossil fuel interests.

One such bill is HB 1678, which would exclude from public disclosure information about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Essentially, the legislation would make oil and gas companies exempt from reporting the chemicals they pump into fracking wells.

Keam pledged to vote against any bills that would allow more fracking in Virginia.

“Nobody should hide behind our public interest laws and freedom of information laws to be able to prevent us from finding out what their plans are,” he said.

At the rally, representatives of environmental organizations from across the state spoke in support of sustainable energy alternatives and called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other elected representatives to protect the environment.

“Both Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly has declared solar energy in the public interest – let’s hold them to it,” said Amory Fischer, business development coordinator for Secure Future Solar.

Renewable energy has been growing rapidly in the United States, reducing pollution and creating jobs, advocates say. Moreover, the cost to install solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent over the past decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Many states have invested heavily in solar energy – notably California, which last year generated 16,507 megawatts of solar power. In contrast, Virginia generated just 10 megawatts of solar energy in 2015.

Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, a pediatrician from Alexandria, said she supports clean energy on behalf of the next generation.

“Our children deserve to inherit the same beautiful state – its fields, its farms, its mountains with their tops – that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved and nurtured at the birth of our country,” said Ahdoot, who also was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on climate change and children’s health.

“Our children deserve clean air, our children deserve clean water, our children deserve a safe and stable climate, and our children deserve an affordable and reliable energy.”

The rally was originally scheduled to take place at the Bell Tower on the Capitol grounds, but weather conditions forced participants to relocate indoors to the St Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“I was a little sad that the rain did happen today,” Crawford said.“But I still think that we made sure our message is heard, our voices getting out there.”

Senate Panel Rejects Plastic Bag Tax

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Senate Finance Committee has killed a bill to impose a 5-cent tax on disposable plastic bags that stores give their customers. But the proposal’s sponsor says he isn’t giving up.

The tax would have applied to grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which encompasses most of Virginia. As an incentive to collect the tax, the bill would have allowed retailers to keep 1 cent of the 5-cent levy.

Revenue from the plastic bag tax – estimated at as much as $18 million a year – would have been used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, which works to reduce pollution in the bay and the region’s streams, creeks and rivers.

The bill (SB 925) was introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who says that despite its defeat, he will continue to fight for a tax on plastic bags.

“We need to limit the amount of trash that goes into the bay, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to tax goods like plastic bags which are frankly unnecessary and create an environmental hazard,” Petersen said.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is the largest estuary in the United States and contains more than 100,000 rivers and streams that filter in from six states.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that excessive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment were impairing the bay’s water quality. The EPA told the states whose waters empty into the Chesapeake to limit the pollution entering the bay and associated waterways.

The greatest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is not plastic bags, but agricultural runoff, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. However, plastic bags are destructive to the bay and the environment overall because they kill wildlife, clog landfills and are not biodegradable. The Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based environmental research group, says Americans throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags every year.

In Virginia, all land from the Washington suburbs to Virginia Beach drains unto the Chesapeake Bay. Only the southernmost localities and far Southwest Virginia aren’t part of the watershed.

“It’s our environmental legacy here in Virginia,” Petersen said. “The bay is what makes Virginia the unique place it is to live.”

Previous attempts to tax plastic bags in Virginia also have died in committee in the General Assembly.

Several other state and local governments have enacted laws dealing with the issue. For example, Hawaii and California have banned plastic bags, and the District of Columbia has imposed a 5-cent tax on each bag issued to store customers.

The plastic bag tax was opposed by the retail merchant lobby, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Petersen said.

Nile Abouzaki manages a family-owned business in Richmond called Shawarma Shack. He says a tax on plastic bags may be well intentioned but would be a burden on small businesses.

“We already have plenty of taxes in Richmond, especially the meals taxes that are somewhat overboard compared to other cities,” Abouzaki said.

Sara Vaughan, general manager of the Virginia Book Company and daughter of the owner, says businesses should decide for themselves whether to be environmentally conscious.

“I think it is up to businesses to be eco-friendly and not get taxed because we have a hard time as it is,” Vaughan said. “But I think we definitely need to be part of the solution as opposed to just sending a bunch of plastic bags out into the environment.”

The Senate Finance Committee considered Petersen’s bill on Wednesday. The panel voted 10-4 along party lines that SB 925 be “passed by indefinitely,” meaning it is dead for this legislative session. All of the Republicans on the committee supported the motion to kill the measure; all of the Democrats opposed it.

According to the Virginia Department of Taxation, the proposed tax on plastic bags would cost state government about $110,000 to implement and enforce the first year, but it could generate between $14 million and $18 million annually for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.

The tax would not have applied to:

  • Durable plastic bags with handles that were designed to be reused
  • Plastic bags used to carry ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, leftover restaurant food, newspapers or dry cleaning
  • Bags used to carry alcoholic beverages or prescription drugs
  • Bags sold in packages for use as garbage, pet-waste and leaf-removal bags

McAuliffe Vows to Veto Anti-Abortion Bills

By Jessica Nolte and Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe spoke Thursday in support of legislation proposed by members of the Women’s Health Care Caucus and vowed to veto bills he believes would endanger women’s reproductive rights.

McAuliffe said legislators should learn from controversies in North Carolina following the passage of what he called “socially divisive bills.” McAuliffe said he told the General Assembly not to send him these types of bills because they have no chance of becoming law.

“I have sent a strong message already. They have an abortion bill, a 20-week abortion bill, that was signed on by, I think, eight members of the General Assembly. I have made it very clear I will veto it. That bill has zero chance of becoming law in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe also criticized the “Day of Tears” resolution, passed by the House on Wednesday, to make the anniversary of Roe v. Wade a day of mourning in Virginia.

The governor said the resolution signals that Virginia is not open or welcoming. He said it alienates women and sends a message around the United States that Virginia does not treat women with respect. The Day of Tears resolution is not a law so it cannot be vetoed by the governor.

Members of the Women’s Health Care Caucus thanked the governor and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, for their continued support of women’s health care rights.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, recalled when Republican legislators proposed a bill requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound exam before having an abortion. Favola said it was Northam, a physician, who gave senators a health lesson and helped show that the bill met the state’s definition of rape.

“It sure is terrific to have a wall in the governor’s mansion, but we can’t be sure that’s going to continue so we have to do everything we can now,” said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax.

The Virginia General Assembly has proposed more than 75 restrictions on women’s reproductive health care since 2010, said Democratic Del. Jennifer Boysko, who represents Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

“Laws that restrict a woman’s access to abortion harm the very women they claim to help,” Boysko said.

Safe and legal abortions are vital to comprehensive reproductive health care for women and must be protected, Boysko said.

“Virginia laws restricting access to abortion create sharp disparities in access to care that are troubling, reminiscent of the time before Roe v. Wade,” Boysko said. “A time when access depended on a woman’s economic status, her race, where she lives or her ability to travel to another state.”

The caucus has proposed several bills to protect women’s reproductive health, including:

  • HB 1563, which would remove classifications that require facilities that perform at least five first-trimester abortions a month to comply with minimum standards for hospitals.
  • HB 2186, which would ensure that women have a fundamental right to a lawful abortion and that no statute or regulation would prohibit an abortion prior to the fetus’ viability or to protect the health or life of the woman.
  • HB 2267, which would require health benefit plans to cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives to be dispensed at one time.

Republicans are pursuing measures reflecting their pro-life stance. The House is considering a bill (HB 1473) that generally would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks. The 20-week cutoff was chosen because that’s approximately when a fetus begins to feel pain, said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

“I know that there’s always an attempt to frame this as purely a women’s health issue, but for those of us who are adamantly pro-life, this is also a baby’s health issue,” Gilbert said.

The bill provides exceptions only for a medical condition that could cause death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment, not including psychological or emotional conditions.

When asked about the bills supported by the Women’s Health Care Caucus, Jeff Ryer, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, said that he could not comment without knowing the specifics of the legislation.

“All that being said, generally speaking the 21 members of the Senate Republican Caucus are pro-life and vote accordingly,” Ryer said.

Gov. McAuliffe to Join March on Washington

By Jessica Nolte and Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe plans to attend the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, when thousands of people are expected to protest Donald Trump’s presidency.

McAuliffe said that he will not attend Trump’s inauguration on Friday but that he has written a letter to the incoming U.S. president and looks forward to working with him on issues that matter to Virginia.

“I will be here working all day doing what the taxpayers are paying me to do, and on Saturday I do have a little free time in the morning, so I will use that time to go up to Washington to do the march,” McAuliffe said Thursday.

McAuliffe said he hopes his presence at the march will send a strong signal to everyone that Virginia is open to everyone. He hopes it will encourage people to move their businesses and their families to the commonwealth.

“Women’s rights have been something that have been fundamental to the core of my being,” McAuliffe said.

His announcement came during a press conference for the Women’s Health Care Caucus. At the event, the governor vowed to veto any bill that he believes would undermine the reproductive rights of Virginia women. McAuliffe criticized Republican proposals that would restrict abortion rights and a resolution passed by the House to declare a day of mourning in Virginia on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

McAuliffe said he will be marching in Washington alongside his wife Dorothy, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington say they hope to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”The permit application for the march estimated that the event would draw about 200,000 participants.

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