October 2020

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Charles Ruffin Sykes

Graveside Services

Monday, January 4, 2021 at 11:00 A.M.

Hollywood Cemetery
Middlesex, NC

Charles Ruffin Sykes, 92, passed away on December 7, 2020. He was the husband of Betty Brantley Sykes. He was the son of the late Garland Reid Sykes and Annie Lou Marshbourne Sykes. He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers, J.G. Sykes, Alvin Johnson Sykes, sisters, Alice Edwards, Julie Sykes Upchurch, Pauline Sykes. He is survived by his daughters, Debra Day (Jimmy) of Emporia, VA., Gail Kansler (Mike) of Raleigh, NC., brother, Everett Sykes (Sallie Ann) of Reidsville, NC., along with two grandchildren, Jamie Poythress (Jason) of Emporia, VA., Alexandra Kansler of Raleigh, NC. Charles was a longtime member of Calvary Baptist Church. He worked for many years in HVAC and Plumbing Supplies business but his true love was farming, gardening, and sharing his produce with his neighbors. He was a man of integrity, character, and strong work ethics.

Charles and Betty were married for 67 years and are now together in their heavenly home.

A graveside service will be held on Monday, January 4, 2021, for Charles and Betty Sykes, at Hollywood Cemetery, Middlesex, NC., at 11:00 A.M.

Memorial Donations may be made to Calvary Baptist Church, 310 North Main Street, Emporia, VA., 23847.

Online Condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

Alternate: Advocates, inmates want more from DOC as COVID-19 spikes

 

By Joseph Whitney Smith and Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va -- Prisons are divided into “zones.” Inmates have been given personal protective equipment. Visitation is canceled. Testing has ramped up. Still, the positive COVID-19 cases continue to climb within Virginia prisons.

The Virginia Department of Corrections reported on Dec. 10 that there are 593 active cases among inmates and 227 among staff, which includes employees and contractors. There have been over 5,200 positive COVID-19 cases and 35 deaths reported among inmates since late March. More than 1,250 staff cases have been confirmed since the spring.

The recent spike in cases came after a dip in October and November, which followed a flurry of positive cases in September. Outside of prisons, COVID-19 is rippling through the state with a new high daily record reported this week. 

Advocates question the safety of inmates and why the virus has spread so quickly in prisons that are removed from day-to-day activities that contribute to spread. 

Eden Heilman, the legal director of the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, said that Coffeewood Correctional Center in Culpeper County has received multiple complaints from inmates regarding the facility’s handling of the virus. Almost 600 inmates at Coffeewood have tested positive for COVID-19—the prison ranks third in the state with the most cases. 

“I know the department is working really hard and the state is working really hard to address these issues,” Heilman said. “That being said, I think that there are a lot of problems with the way that the Department of Corrections and the state have handled the spread of COVID-19.”

Keith Hill, an inmate at Buckingham Correctional Center located outside of Dillwyn, informed the Coalition for Justice that there have been issues with proper isolation within cells and that individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 have not been properly isolated from inmates who haven’t contracted the virus. The Coalition for Justice is a Virginia-based nonprofit that seeks to drive positive social change. 

However, VADOC said prisoners with COVID-19 are separated from others. Offenders who test positive are placed in medical isolation so they don't infect others and treatment follows the department's COVID-19 medical guidelines, according to Lisa Kinney, VADOC spokesperson. 

Prisons are divided into three “zones” to help mitigate the spread of the virus, according to VADOC spokesperson Greg Carter. The red zones are COVID-19 areas, yellow zones are quarantined areas or busy areas with undifferentiated patients, and green zones are low traffic areas and places with no known COVID-19 cases and no symptomatic offenders. 

Christopher Wright, an inmate of over five years at Coffeewood, contacted a Capital News Service reporter by phone. He said the facility was doing a good job until they took in transfer prisoners from Buckingham Correctional at the end of September. Wright said he tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 4.

Wright said that in order to create more social distancing at Buckingham, inmates were sent to Coffeewood. There are three active COVID-19 cases currently at Coffeewood. The facility has reported a combined 590 positive cases among inmates. Buckingham currently has 118 positive cases on site and reported a total of 345 positive cases. Both facilities rank within the top five for most combined cases among inmates.

VADOC suspended facility-to-facility transfers in March. Carter said that transfers remain suspended except “under special circumstance,” warranted by medical or security issues. He did not have information on which transfers have been completed. 

VADOC provides inmates with masks, gloves, gowns and face shields, Kinney said in an email. Inmates and employees are required to wear personal protective equipment at all times, Kinney said. The department also provides oxygen on-site and inmates are transported to hospitals if necessary, she said.

Kinney said VADOC spent approximately $2.7 million through June 30 on PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning and sanitation supplies. The department anticipates it will spend an additional $2.5 million from July 1 through Dec. 31.

VADOC is also manufacturing masks for use by staff and inmates at its four apparel plants. The agency said in March that they hoped to produce 15,000 masks per day. 

Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said during a Nov. 15 press conference that close to 50,000 tests had been administered in prisons. Moran said that roughly 3,812 inmates recovered from the virus. In November, VADOC said it began weekly testing of infirmary staff.

Bryan Lewis, an epidemiology expert at the University of Virginia, said although he doesn’t closely follow the number of cases or distribution of protective equipment within prisons, that “clearly there have been sizable outbreaks in the prison system.”

 “So one could conclude that perhaps the current levels of PPE and the stringency of infection control measures have not been sufficient to keep disease at bay,” Lewis wrote in an email. “In some ways this is an impossible situation, either you have to cut off visitors and institute very strict screening etc. on employees, and even if you do, eventually the disease will get in somehow.”

VADOC did not respond to an inquiry asking how effective the zones are given the spikes in new cases. VADOC was asked to elaborate on what could be contributing to the increase in cases, and if it was planning to change anything about its procedures, such as the zone management of inmates. 

VADOC has issued guidance on food service for inmates and staff throughout the pandemic.

Margaret Breslau, a chair of the Coalition for Justice, said she has received multiple letters containing complaints by inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“They’re shutting kitchens down, so they developed an emergency menu,” Breslau said.

VADOC created an emergency two-week menu in March to be used in the event of reduced staff. The menu consisted of items such as boiled eggs, hotdogs or chicken patties for lunch, served with chips and MoonPies or a fruit snack. Whether or not it was implemented, Breslau said, “no one in the administration is saying so, but given what is being reported, it sure seems to be the case.” Breslau said that in some places this menu has lasted for a long time.

VADOC did not respond to two CNS inquiries asking if the emergency menu was still in place, or if food service was operating as normal.

Multiple prisons within the state have reported outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Five prisons with the most confirmed total cases and deaths include: Deerfield (835 cases), Greensville (690), Coffeewood (590), Dillwyn (350) and Buckingham (345). Deerfield has the state’s largest population of older inmates, and an assisted living unit on site. Many have physical disabilities or medical issues, according to VADOC.

VADOC reports daily the cases from 40 state prisons. Jails in Virginia are run locally and overseen by the Board of Local and Regional Jails. More than 230 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Chesapeake Correctional Center in Chesapeake County as of November, according to a news release. 

The Virginia General Assembly approved a measure earlier this year that allows VADOC to release inmates with less than one year left to serve in their sentence while the COVID-19 emergency declaration is in effect, according to a press release. Offenders convicted of a Class 1 felony or a sexually violent offense are not eligible for consideration. The exact number of individuals eligible for early release consideration will change depending on the length of the emergency declaration order. Part of the criteria considered for early release also includes that the inmate has a low recidivism risk ranking and an approved home plan, according to VADOC’s website

Regarding early release for inmates with COVID-19, VADOC is moving incredibly slow and is tied up in a “bureaucratic review process,” Heilman said. As of Dec. 8, 786 inmates had been issued early release, according to VADOC. Almost 430 inmates have been released from local jails whose cases fell under VADOC jurisdiction.

Wright, who said he is serving an 8.5-year sentence for robbery that ends in three years, is frustrated by the pandemic and the lack of attention to issues in the prisons. He said “nobody really cares about us.”

“We're the bottom of society,” he said.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Governor Northam Signs Revised State Budget That Makes Key Investments, Provides Critical Relief During COVID-19 Pandemic

Budget includes eviction moratorium, support for utility customers

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today signed House Bill 5005, Virginia’s revised biennial budget. The Governor called the General Assembly into special session on August 18 and has worked with legislative leaders to enact a spending plan that protects key priorities, preserves the Commonwealth’s financial options, and addresses critical challenges that Virginians are facing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This budget gives us the tools we need to contend with the challenges brought on by the ongoing pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “I am grateful to our partners in the General Assembly their work in crafting a revised spending plan that protects the most vulnerable Virginians, stays true to our shared values, and puts the Commonwealth in a strong position to weather this public health crisis.”

The signed budget finalizes previously announced funding allocations that Virginia received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, including:

  • Vaccination Program: $22 million for the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccination preparation and planning through the end of 2020
  • K-12 Schools: $220 million for COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts in K-12 public schools, with all 132 school districts receiving at least $100,000
  • Higher Education: $116 million to support ongoing COVID-19 response at public colleges, universities, and medical schools and $22 million for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to provide payments to private institutions of higher education
  • Child Care: $65.8 million to increase access to child care and continue child care incentive grant program established in April
  • Small Business Assistance: $70 million to establish the Rebuild VA economic recovery fund providing grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic and $30 million in additional funds to continue the program
  • Broadband Accessibility: $30 million to fast-track broadband projects in underserved localities
  • Home Health Workers: $73 million to provide hazard pay to home health personal attendants who served high-risk populations during the early months of the pandemic
  • Workforce Training for Unemployed Virginians: $30 million to established the Re-Employing Virginians initiative providing scholarships to individuals who enroll in programs in high-demand fields
  • Rent and Mortgage Relief: $12 million to expand the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program launched in June
  • Food Banks: $7 million to help Virginia food banks meet increased demand for food assistance
  • Medicaid Day Support Providers: $25 million to fund monthly retainer payments for day support programs that provide services for Virginians with developmental disabilities.
  • Free Clinics: $3 million to reimburse members of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics for COVID-19 expenses

Utility Shutoff Protections

The budget signed today includes $100 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to support jurisdictional and municipal utility customers facing financial hardship due to the public health crisis. It also directs the State Corporation Commission to establish an application process for distributing the funds to utilities so they can efficiently provide direct assistance to eligible customers.

The budget also puts in place a moratorium on utility disconnections, including water and electricity, which will remain in effect until the Governor determines that the economic and public health conditions have improved such that the prohibition does not need to be in place or until at least 60 days after the declared state of emergency ends. The budget includes protections for utility providers dealing with revenue shortfalls and establishes a repayment plan to give customers the opportunity to pay off back debt over a longer period.

Eviction Protections

The budget prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent through December 31, 2020, which is stronger than current federal protections. Landlords and tenants must cooperate and apply for rental assistance through the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development. After January 1, 2021, the budget requires landlords and tenants to work together to access rent assistance, including through the RMRP, before proceeding with an eviction.

A full list of legislation signed by the Governor during the special session can be found here.

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SOCIAL SECURITY Spouses’ Benefits Explained

By Jacqueline Weisgarber, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Richmond, Virginia

Understanding how your future retirement might affect your spouse is important.  Here are a few things to remember when you’re planning for your retirement.  Your spouse’s benefit amount could be up to 50 percent of your full retirement age benefit amount.  If you qualify for a benefit from your own work history and a spouse’s record, we always pay your own benefit first.  You cannot receive spouse’s benefits unless your spouse is receiving their retirement benefits (except for divorced spouses).

If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to reach retirement age, your own retirement portion remains reduced.  When you add spouse’s benefits later, the total retirement and spouses benefit together will total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more about this at www.ssa.gov/OACT/quickcalc/spouse.html.

If your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, your survivor benefit will be reduced, but may be higher than what your spouse received.

If your deceased spouse started receiving reduced retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a special rule called the retirement insurance benefit limit may apply to you.   The retirement insurance benefit limit is the maximum survivor benefit you may receive.  Generally, the limit is the higher of:

  • The reduced monthly retirement benefit the deceased spouse would have been entitled to if they had lived, or
  • 82.5 percent of the unreduced deceased spouse’s monthly benefit if they had started receiving benefits at their full retirement age (rather than choosing to receive a reduced retirement benefit early).

Knowing about these benefits can help you plan your financial future.  Access a wealth of useful information and use our benefits planners at www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement.

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Thomas Benjamin “Ben” Mitchell

May 11, 1931-November 15, 2020

Visitation Graveside Services

 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday, November, 18, 2020

Independence United Methodist Church
4438 Independence Church Road
Emporia, Virginia

3:00 P.M. on Wednesday, November, 18, 2020

Independence United Methodist Church
4438 Independence Church Road
Emporia, Virginia

Thomas Benjamin “Ben” Mitchell, 89, passed away on November 15, 2020 at Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center. He was the vice president of Sadler Brothers Oil Company for many years. He also served in the Army during the Korean War. He was the son of the late, Clarence Wilson Mitchell and Daisy Daniel Mitchell.

He is preceded in death by his parents, brothers, Clarence W. Mitchell, Jr., William R. Mitchell, Horace Mitchell, sisters, Virginia Mitchell Hobbs, Mary Mitchell Norwood, Lillian High, Daisy Edwards, Jane Rodgester Mitchell.

He is survived by his wife, Betty Whitby Mitchell, sister, Emma Mitchell Powell.

The family will receive friends at Independence United Methodist Church at 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday, November, 18, 2020. A graveside service will follow at 3:00 P.M. at the Independence United Methodist Church Cemetery with Pastor R. Shaw Smith officiating.

Memorial donations may be made to Independence United Methodist Church, in care of Evangeline Taylor, 5066 Dry Bread Road, Emporia, VA., 23847.

Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

Governor Northam Announces Support for Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana in Virginia

Governor says, “The time has come to legalize marijuana in our Commonwealth, and Virginia will get this right.”

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will introduce and support legislation to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The announcement comes as the Northam Administration prepares to release a report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana, which was compiled with robust input from government officials, policy experts, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.

“It’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to be the first state in the South to take this step, and we will lead with a focus on equity, public health, and public safety. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this right.”

The Northam Administration is working closely with lawmakers to finalize legislation in advance of the 2021 General Assembly session. Today, Governor Northam made clear that any legislation to legalize adult-use marijuana will need to address the following five principles.

  • Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition has historically been based in discrimination, and the impact of criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities as result. A report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) issued today found that Black Virginians are arrested and convicted for marijuana use at more than three times the rate of white Virginians. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
  • Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities.
  • Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation include protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns.
  • Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator.
  • Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.

In 2020, Governor Northam signed legislation that decriminalized simple marijuana possession in Virginia. The legislation also required the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security to convene a Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group to study the impact on the Commonwealth of legalizing the sale and personal use of marijuana and report the recommendations of the work group to the General Assembly and the Governor by November 30, 2020.

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Voters worry about voter suppression despite recent legislative changes

By Brandon Shillingford, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Despite the commonwealth recently passing a number of laws to make it easier to vote, some Virginians are concerned over voter suppression.

Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor of political science at Howard University in Washington, said political campaigns have a long history of trying to suppress Black voters.

“I think it happens in every election,” Fauntroy said. “The extent to how sophisticated an operation it is will depend on the sophistication of the campaign and the resources they have to go out and identify voters and try to discourage them from voting.” 

Carlette Bailey, a Richmond resident, said she fears ballots will be lost, stolen, or disappear before they have a chance to be counted.

“My main concern is the mail-in votes and making sure they're there on time,” Bailey said. “The votes have to come from our mailbox and be where they have to be on Election Day so they can be counted.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia recently sued the Richmond General Registrar, J. Kirk Showalter, over an effort to get a list of names whose absentee ballots  were rejected because of ballot errors. The organization said they wanted to inform voters of the ballot errors and that other localities had provided similar lists.

Tony Whitehead, another Richmond resident, said he is concerned about the possibility of ballots being stolen from mailboxes by groups who want the opposing party to win.

In early October six outdoor mailboxes were broken into in Henrico and Chesterfield counties and Richmond. The United States Postal Service and Virginia Department of Elections are currently investigating the incident, but it is unknown if the mailboxes contained ballots. 

“You can’t really point the finger as to who's doing it, but if my ballots are stolen, that's voter suppression right there,” Whitehead said. “That one vote that’s been suppressed could be the difference between who you want in office and who I want in office, and that's just not right.”

Bailey and Whitehead are not alone. A number of Americans are concerned about their votes being accurately counted this election. Democrats are more concerned than Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty-six percent of Democrats believe the election will be conducted fairly and accurately, while 75% of Republicans share the same sentiment. 

Fauntroy said Black voters in Virginia will be subjected to less suppression than Black voters in states such as Georgia and Florida with majority Republican leadership.

“The Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, and other leadership in Virginia have been drawing enough attention to this that voters will know what's at stake,” Fauntroy said.

The Virginia General Assembly has recently taken steps to make it easier to vote, including laws that allow no-excuse absentee voting, early voting that starts 45 days prior to an election and making Election Day a state holiday. 

Legislators also passed a bill that repeals a 2013 Republican-backed law requiring a photo ID to vote. The new law also makes additional forms of identification acceptable, such as a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter. 

Fauntroy said that photo ID bills are an example of Black voter suppression.

Fauntroy said voter suppression has occurred more frequently since the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County V. Holder, which found part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. The decision struck down a formula that required certain states which had discriminatory laws, such as requiring tests to vote, to obtain federal approval before changing voting laws. 

Fauntroy said that almost immediately after the ruling North Carolina moved forward with voter ID laws that would not have passed if the preclearance provisions had remained. 

“In the 2014 elections, we saw a number of Republicans winning seats because of redrawn districts and voter ID laws that they would not have won,” he said.

Fauntroy said national voter suppression in this election will be a multifaceted effort coming from different levels. This could include litigation, reducing the amount of early voting locations, and moving or eliminating polling locations that could make it harder for people of color to vote. 

With no formula dictating which states obtain federal review, communities or individuals who feel they are being targeted by discriminatory voting laws must file lawsuits themselves or rely on ones filed by outside advocates or the Justice Department, according to an opinion piece in The Atlantic. This happens often after laws have been passed.

Federal legislators have introduced bills to establish new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain federal approval before changing voting laws, but the measures haven’t advanced. 

Local Majority, a progressive political action committee, said common voter suppression strategies include restricting absentee voting, reducing the number of polling places in a jurisdiction and disenfranchising citizens with past criminal records.

A joint resolution introduced in the 2019 General Assembly session that would allow felons to vote was continued until the 2021 session.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, noted that the challenges the country faces aren’t new. The fate of the country is on the line and with that, Black voters and voices matter now more than ever, McClellan said.

“When we have gained social, political, and economic power, there has always been a swift and violent backlash, but we cannot and have not been deterred,” McClellan said. “We owe it to our ancestors, our children, and their children, to vote and help shape the future of our country because democracy and our very existence are on the ballot.”

VDH Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers to Help Local Officials Encourage Safe Voting Practices on Election Day

(RICHMOND, VA) – Hundreds of Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers throughout the Commonwealth have volunteered with the state to help provide Election Day support for in-person voting during Virginia’s COVID-19 public health emergency. MRC volunteers will help local election officials safely conduct in-person voting in their communities by encouraging appropriate COVID-19 precautions.

“We are very proud of Virginia’s residents who have volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corps during the COVID-19 pandemic response. These trained and dedicated professionals have helped care for residents of nursing homes, tested people for COVID-19, worked countless hours at call centers and served in many other ways,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We recognize the importance of voting, and the MRC will be there to help protect the health of our residents exercising that important right at polling places.”

Virginia Department of Health (VDH) State Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Freeland and MRC staff have been making plans for Election Day efforts since the spring. “The Governor’s Office activated the Virginia MRC to ensure that voters could vote safely during the elections in May.  Since then, MRC volunteers have eagerly stepped up to serve for early and in-person voting.  Our teams are prepared and ready to make the November Election Infection Prevention deployment a safe experience for voters and poll workers,” said Freeland.

Statewide, 50 localities have asked for MRC assistance at more than 1,000 polling locations for Election Day, November 3. The Medical Reserve Corps expects to provide nearly 900 trained volunteers across the state to assist with the general election. Training has jointly been provided by the Virginia Department of Elections and VDH.

MRC volunteers will staff local polling places to encourage voters to use masks and hand sanitizer and to help staff and voters remember to maintain at least six feet of physical distance. They are also trained to spot opportunities to reduce transmission of germs, such as keeping doors propped open where possible to minimize the number of surfaces voters may touch, increase area ventilation and to safely enter and exit the building. Tips for Voting During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  1. Make a plan. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website for more information on options for voting in Virginia.
  2. Wear a cloth face covering/mask, if you are able, at all times while voting.
  3. Exercise proper social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet of separation from other voters and poll workers. Consider staying more than 6 feet away from people who are not wearing cloth face coverings.
  4. Practice good hygiene.
    1. Do not use physical greetings, such as handshaking.
    2. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after voting. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
    3. Avoid touching your face and face covering.

For more information, see the Vote Safely section of this web page.

The issues guiding first-time Gen Z presidential voters

By Hunter Britt, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Election Day draws near, people are on the edge of their seats, especially those voting in the presidential election for the first time. 

Generation Z makes up 10% of eligible voters in the 2020 election, according to the Pew Research Center. This percentage is expected to continue to rise at the same rate as more Gen Zers become eligible to vote. Some of the oldest members of this generation became eligible to vote in the 2016 election. Anyone born between 1997 and 2012 is considered a member of Gen Z, according to Pew

In addition to COVID-19, there are many issues motivating young voters to the polls. Gen Z voters say they’re concerned with police violence, prison reform, mental health issues, immigration and reproductive rights. 

Millennials and members of Gen Z tend to be more liberal, even those who identify as or lean Republican, according to a 2018 Pew survey. This survey also says that 43% of Gen Z Republicans are “more likely than older generations of Republicans to say blacks are treated less fairly than whites in the U.S. today.”

“Gen Zers are progressive and pro-government, most see the country’s growing racial and ethnic diversity as a good thing, and they’re less likely than older generations to see the United States as superior to other nations,” the survey found. 

Below are key concerns for Gen Z voters. 

THE ISSUES

Kendal Ferguson, a 20-year-old student studying criminology, law and society at George Mason University in Fairfax, cares about prison reform and combating police brutality. She wants all prisons to be government funded and said “private prisons are morally wrong” because they profit off people who break laws. 

“As for police brutality, there definitely needs to be more training for officers,” Ferguson said.

Selena Johnson, a 20-year-old student studying computer science at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, is concerned with police violence, reproductive rights and climate change.

“I want to see some sort of regulation on the big companies that are contributing to like 70% of the world’s pollution,” she said. She believes that these companies should be “in the front of our minds” when combating climate change.

The recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barret as a Supreme Court justice has drawn concern from pro-choice advocates due to her past comments on abortion. Johnson said that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned and police officers “need to face consequences for their actions.”

Jessica Callahan, a 21-year-old Republican voter from Dinwiddie, said that Barrett is a “great fit” for her position on the Supreme Court due to her educational background at Notre Dame Law School. She also believes that more racial tension will inevitably come out of this election.

“It’s going to be a bunch of name-calling and finger pointing until some sort of civil unrest occurs,” Callahan said. 

Callahan is also worried about the future of healthcare in the U.S. if Democrats win the election, as well as Second Amendment rights. She thinks health care would “go down considerably” and that “they would push even harder for restrictions” on firearms. 

Ada Ezeaputa, a 20-year-old student majoring in business at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, is passionate about ensuring abortion access and ending police brutality.

“I don’t think the police need to be abolished, but I do think the whole system needs to be reformed,” she says. “When you look at countries like the U.K., their police officers don’t even carry weapons, so that already decreases the amount of incidents that happen all over the world.”

In addition to police reform, she is pro-choice and believes that women should have full autonomy over their bodies.

Alyssa Tyson, a 20-year-old recent graduate of Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, wants to protect personal freedoms and mental health care.

“Mental health care is something that doesn’t get addressed a lot,” she said. “I think a lot of the problems we’re trying to address as a nation start with dealing with mental health issues and providing affordable or even free mental health care to people who need it.” 

Tyson also said she is passionate about social justice issues, and that the government should not regulate reproductive rights or make laws that hinder LGBTQ rights.

Emily Wrenn, a 20-year-old student majoring in psychology at Sweet Briar College in Amherst County, considers her political views to be liberal. Wrenn describes herself as pro-choice, and said the main issues she cares about are women’s rights and dismantling racism.

“One of the biggest reasons why I am swaying more to the Democratic side is that I am very much in favor of women’s rights,” she said. “We need to make sure we are on the right track in seeing that women and men receive equal pay.”

Wrenn also said that this is “the most debate on the quality of our president that I’ve ever seen,” and that “this is one of the most significant elections we’ve had in a long time.”

THE IMPACT

Despite the encouragement to vote, first-time, Gen Z voters are divided on whether they can sway the election.

Johnson said she knows many people her age will vote third party or not at all because they are disinterested in either major presidential candidate, but she thinks the youngest generation of voters has a lot of power in this election.

“I believe that we have the most diverse population of eligible voters in America’s history,” she said. “I’m voting for who I view as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ but many people my age don’t want to vote at all because the lesser of two evils is still an evil.”

In 2016, young voters ages 18 to 29 were the only age group to report increased turnout compared to 2012, with a reported turnout increase of 1.1%, according to the U.S. Census. 

Ferguson, however, doesn’t believe that Gen Z has the power to sway this election.

“Our generation is still very apathetic about voting despite how vocal we are on social media and through other means,” Ferguson said. “I honestly think not a lot of people our age will bother to vote.”

Wrenn, however, believes that Gen Z could help secure a Democratic win.

“I think because we are so seemingly liberal that that will make a huge difference,” Wrenn said.

Governor Northam Signs Sweeping New Laws to Reform Policing in Virginia

Measures ban no-knock warrants, strengthen officer decertification process, limit use of neck restraints

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced he has signed new laws that will significantly advance police and criminal justice reform in Virginia. Governor Northam has been working closely with legislators on these measures since early summer, when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor led to a national reckoning on racial bias in policing.

“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Governor Northam. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I am grateful to the legislators and advocates who have worked so hard to make this change happen. Virginia is better, more just, and more equitable with these laws on our books.”

Governor Northam took action on the following bills that reform policing:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5030, sponsored by Senator Locke, omnibus police reform legislation, which incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates:
    • House Bill 5099, sponsored by Delegate Aird, prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing a no-knock search warrant. With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants.
    • House Bill 5049, sponsored by Delegate Helmer, reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. Governor Northam amended this bill to clarify that law enforcement agencies can seek a waiver to use restricted equipment for search and rescue missions.
    • House Bill 5109, sponsored by Delegate Hope, creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. Governor Northam made technical amendments to this bill to align it with Senate Bill 5030.
    • House Bill 5104, sponsored by Delegate Price, mandates law enforcement agencies and jails request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.
    • House Bill 5108, sponsored by Delegate Guzman, expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.
    • House Bill 5051, sponsored by Delegate Simon, strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.
    • House Bill 5069, sponsored by Delegate Carroll Foy, limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.
    • House Bill 5029, sponsored by Delegate McQuinn, requires law enforcement officers intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.
    • House Bill 5045, sponsored by Delegate Delaney, makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” someone they have arrested or detained, an inmate, parolee, probationer, pretrial defendant, or post trial offender, if the officer is in a position of authority over such individual.
  • Governor Northam signed House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, sponsored by Leader Herring and Senator Hashmi, respectively, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.
  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5014, sponsored by Senator Edwards, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers complete crisis intervention training.

Governor Northam also took action on the following bills that make Virginia’s criminal justice system more equitable:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5018, sponsored by Senator Bell, which allows individuals serving a sentence for certain felony offenses who are terminally ill to petition the Parole Board for conditional release.
  • Governor Northam amended House Bill 5148 and Senate Bill 5034, sponsored by Delegate Scott and Senator Boysko, respectively, which allow for increased earned sentencing credits. The Governor proposed a six-month delay to give the Department of Corrections sufficient time to implement this program.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery woke Americans to a longstanding problem that has existed for generations—and we know Virginia is not immune,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “These are transformative bills that will make Virginians’ lives better, and I’m so proud to see them signed into law.”

“Today is about progress,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “After generations of work on this issue, we are finally taking steps to hold police accountable and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It’s a new day in Virginia.”

Governor Northam also signed measures to support COVID-19 relief. A full list of legislation signed by the Governor from the Special Session can be found here.

Governor Northam Invites Small Businesses and Nonprofits to Apply for Up to $100,000 from Rebuild VA Grant Fund

Program allotted additional $30 million, eligibility expanded

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Rebuild VA, a grant program to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, will expand eligibility criteria and increase the amount of grant money businesses receive.

Rebuild VA launched in August with $70 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Governor Northam is directing an additional $30 million to support the expansion of the program. Businesses with less than $10 million in gross revenue or fewer than 250 employees will be eligible under the new criteria, and the maximum grant award will increase from $10,000 to $100,000.

“We started Rebuild VA to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “These changes to the program will ensure that we can provide additional financial assistance to even more Virginians so they can weather this public health crisis and emerge stronger.” 

Rebuild VA will now be open to all types of Virginia small businesses that meet size and other eligibility requirements, from restaurants and summer camps, to farmers and retail shops. Businesses that previously received a Rebuild VA grant will receive a second award correlated with the updated guidelines.

Rebuild VA is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD) in partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Eligible businesses and nonprofits must demonstrate that their normal operations were limited by Governor Northam’s Executive Orders Fifty-Three or Fifty-Five, or that they were directly impacted by the closure of such businesses. In September, the program expanded eligibility to supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the pandemic. 

Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:

  • Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
  • Employee salaries;
  • Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
  • Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
  • Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.

For additional information about Rebuild VA and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.

 

How Biden and Trump plan to face the COVID-19 pandemic

By Anya Sczerzenie, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va.-- Both major presidential candidates hope to convince voters they have plans in place to protect the health of Americans and the economy as COVID-19 cases rise nationally. 

As of Oct. 28, there have been almost 8.8 million total coronavirus cases in the United States and 176,754 in Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the past week, the country has reached a record high level of daily new cases, according to The New York Times.

Candidates addressed their plans to address the COVID-19 crisis during the final presidential debate held earlier this month. President Donald Trump criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for wanting to “shut down the country” and said that a vaccine will come soon. 

“I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden responded, adding that there need to be “standards,” or response protocols, in place for when rates increase in a community. 

Below are more details on Trump and Biden’s plans for handling the pandemic. 

Trump’s Plan

Samantha Zager, Trump’s deputy national press secretary, said that the president’s administration will continue to respond to the virus as they have been.

“When reelected, the President will continue his work on developing a vaccine to achieve his vision of a return to normal life and a roaring, post-COVID economy where all Virginians can achieve their version of the American Dream,” Zager wrote in an email. 

Zager also criticized Biden’s proposed response to the virus.

“Joe Biden has actively demeaned a coronavirus vaccine for political purposes, and he would surrender to the virus, hurting Virginia’s small businesses and families with another draconian shutdown of our economy,” Zager said. 

Under Trump, Congress passed an over $2 trillion dollar coronavirus stimulus package—the CARES Act—that gave money to every eligible adult in the country, as well as small businesses and healthcare facilities. Legislators recently failed to advance another stimulus package. 

Trump has stated that the U.S. is the world leader in testing, having performed 100 million COVID-19 tests. The U.S. however, does not have the highest number of tests per capita, which some health experts say is a more useful metric, according to PolitiFact, a fact checking project run by the nonprofit Poynter Institute.

 Trump said the U.S. has led the “largest mobilization since World War II” to combat the coronavirus and that no American who needed a ventilator has gone without one. Additionally, his administration has launched “Operation Warp Speed” to fast-track vaccine production. In July, Trump hoped to have 300 million doses of vaccines available by early 2021. The administration announced agreements just weeks before the election with CVS and Walgreens to provide COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities with no out-of-pocket costs.

Trump has also stated that the U.S. will withdraw from the World Health Organization to hold the organization “accountable for mismanagement of the coronavirus.” 

Biden’s Plan

Biden's campaign did not answer direct questions but referred to the candidate’s website which outlines ways that Biden plans to fight the virus. If elected, his administration would “spend whatever it takes, without delay, to meet public health needs and deal with the mounting economic consequences.”

He has accused Trump of having “no comprehensive plan” to curtail the pandemic that has killed over 225,000 Americans. Biden also said he backs the accelerated development of a vaccine, something that has also been a priority for Trump’s administration. 

Biden promotes swift and aggressive action from the federal government to protect families, small businesses, first responders and caregivers. Biden said helping individuals and small businesses is essential. Corporations shouldn’t be bailed out. 

Biden states that if elected he will make COVID-19 tests “widely available and free” by establishing at least 10 mobile testing sites per state and expanding programs which offer tests to people who may not know how to ask for a test, such as nursing home residents. He also plans to amend the Public Health Service Act and the Social Security Act to make sure individuals aren’t charged for COVID-19 tests, treatment or vaccines. 

Biden has also called on every state governor, as well as local authorities like mayors, to pass a mask mandate.

The Biden administration plans to provide up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave for U.S. workers. Biden promotes the passage of an emergency paid leave program that would require 14 days of paid leave for individuals who get sick from the virus or have to quarantine. 

Biden’s plan also includes helping “vulnerable nations” treat coronavirus outbreaks. 

What should the next president do?

Dr. Bill Petri, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, said that the next president needs to focus on finding a vaccine for the disease and producing those vaccines within the U.S.

“First, the federal government needs to support fundamental research on immunization and vaccines,” Petri said. “We should be leading the world in providing COVID-19 vaccines, we don’t want China or Russia doing that.”

Petri also said that the federal government should be more involved in coordinating the COVID-19 responses of individual states, which have differed depending on individual governors. 

“What one state does affects us all,” Petri said. 

Many Democratic state governors have criticized the federal government for providing a slow-paced COVID-19 response. Some state governors have coordinated their COVID-19 responses with other states. The governors of Virginia and Maryland, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C, have attempted regional cooperation in battling the pandemic. 

Petri said that the next president should continue to support the CDC as well as individual state departments of health, including the Virginia Department of Health. 

In a recent Pew Research poll, 57% of registered voters surveyed said they are “very or somewhat” confident in Biden’s ability to handle the impact of the coronavirus, while 40 percent say they are “very or somewhat” confident in Trump’s ability to do so.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Statewide Pumpkin Contest Aims to Keep Youth and Teens Safe on Halloween Night

SALEM, VA—Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety (YOVASO) is joining with the Virginia State Police (VSP), Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office, and State Farm to encourage youth and teens to make good choices and celebrate responsibly as part of the statewide Halloween Safety Campaign and Pumpkin Carving Contest. The campaign’s focus is to prevent a tragedy on what is supposed to be a fun night for youth.

The peer-to-peer campaign traditionally involves activities planned through school and youth group programs across the Commonwealth, however, this year students will participate from their homes. YOVASO is taking the campaign virtual with the #ProtectYourPumpkin Pumpkin Carving Contest. The only requirement for participation is to include a safety message (i.e. Buckle Up, Slow Down, etc.) and “YOVASO” on the pumpkin, and tag @_yovaso_ on social media with #ProtectYourPumpkin. Those who do not have social media can submit their entry to YOVASO by completing a simple entry form.

All are welcome to participate, but only youth ages 11-20 are eligible for prizes. Pumpkin entries are due to YOVASO by October 31, 2020 at midnight. YOVASO will pick 10 pumpkins for public voting November 2-4, 2020. Voting will close at noon on the 4th. The five entries with the most votes will each receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card.

Schools and youth groups that plan to participate in trunk-or-treats or other Halloween safety events may request activity books, safety banners, and posters with the message: Staying Safe is the Trick, Having Fun is the Treat. Buckle Up, Be Seen, and Make Good Choices.

Nationwide, between 2014 and 2018, there were 145 drunk-driving fatalities on Halloween night (6 p.m. October 31 – 5:59 a.m. November 1).* According to NHTSA, 41% of all people killed in motor vehicle crashes on Halloween night from 2014 to 2018 were in crashes involving a drunk driver.

“Halloween falls on a weekend this year and that typically means more celebrations and an increase in risk for drivers and young trick-or-treaters,” said Mary King, YOVASO program manager.  “Poor decisions behind the wheel, such as texting and driving, underage drinking and drug use, speeding, and forgetting to buckle up can ruin what is supposed to be a fun occasion. Help keep this Halloween safe for all by celebrating responsibly and using extra caution when driving in neighborhoods.”  

Here Are Some Suggested Safety Tips for Teens to Follow for a safe Halloween:

  • Avoid driving during “Halloween Rush Hour” from 5:30-9 p.m. when children are trick–or-treating.

  • Drive below the speed limit in residential neighborhoods and use alternate routes when possible.

  • Scan ahead for trick-or-treaters and yield to pedestrians.

  • Use caution around stopped vehicles in neighborhoods and proceed slowly.

  • Drive distraction-free.

  • Celebrate responsibly and resist any peer pressure to celebrate Halloween with alcohol and/or drugs or to drive while impaired—it’s illegal.

  • Do not ride with any drivers who may have used alcohol and/or drugs.

  • Be on the alert for drivers who could be under the influence of something other than sweets.

  • Remember to always buckle up.

Safety Tips for Youth to Follow for a Fun and Safe Halloween:

  • Avoid distractions and leave electronic devices at home while walking or biking

  • Wear reflective clothing

  • Carry a flashlight or glow stick

  • Walk on sidewalks when possible

  • Only trick-or-treat in well-lit neighborhoods

  • Older students should always travel in pairs or large groups and let parents know where you      are going

  • Younger students should always trick or treat with a parent or adult supervision

  • Never approach a stranger’s car

  • Make good decisions and avoid any mischief that could ruin a fun night

  • Stay alert and Be Seen on Halloween in case motorists are not be watching out for you

 For more information on the Pumpkin Carving Contest and safety tips, visit the YOVASO website.

 

YOVASO is Virginia’s peer‐to‐peer education and prevention program for teen driver and passenger safety. Through YOVASO, teens work to advocate for safer driving among their peers and to develop positive prevention strategies for their schools and communities. The program, which currently has 115 active member schools and youth groups across Virginia, is administered by the Virginia State Police and funded through a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. YOVASO also receives support from State Farm.

Martha Huskey Pearson

October 31, 1941 - October 27, 2020

Graveside Services

Thursday, October 29, 2020, at 2:00 P.M.

Emporia Cemetery
Brunswick Avenue
Emporia, Virginia

Martha Huskey Pearson, 78, passed away on October 27, 2020. She was the daughter of the late Willard E. Huskey and Louise Edwards Huskey. Martha was preceded in death by her parents, and brother, Willard Huskey, Jr. She is survived by her daughters, Lisa G. Pearson, Julia P. Mitchell (Pete), brother, Jimmy W. Huskey (Diane), sister, Carolyn H. Darden, grandchildren Matthew T. Mitchell, Allison N. Mitchell, former husband, Thomas H. Pearson, along with several nieces and nephews.

A graveside service will be held at Emporia Cemetery on Thursday, October 29, 2020, starting at 2:00 P.M. with Rev. Bob Pipkin officiating.

The family would like to send a special thanks to the Greensville Health and Rehabilitation Center for the excellent care that they gave to Martha.

Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

VIRGINIA CELEBRATES FARM TO CACFP WEEK

Activities Encourage Increased Awareness of Virginia Agriculture

(Richmond, VA) – Food is a foundation of living well, which is more important now than ever. This year, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will recognize Virginia Farm to Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week October 18 through 24, with virtual activities throughout the Commonwealth. Farm to CACFP connects participants to nutrition education, Virginia grown foods, and gardening opportunities. Through these activities, CACFP participants will learn about Virginia agriculture while building knowledge of and interest in healthy foods.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a critical need for the provision of nutritious meals and snacks in the Commonwealth. Farm to CACFP is an innovative approach to prioritizing access to healthy food and nutrition education, while also supporting Virginia agriculture,” said Director of the Division of Community Nutrition Paula Garrett. CACFP provides reimbursement for meals served to children, older adults and chronically impaired or disabled persons enrolled at participating care centers.

In recognition of the week, VDH encourages day care facilities and families at home to conduct activities that bring awareness to Virginia agriculture and seasonal food. “We are hoping day care centers, and families learning at home, take advantage of this free opportunity to celebrate Virginia agriculture and healthy, seasonal food. Our website provides a virtual toolkit filled with activity ideas, printable posters, and links to register for some fun, free virtual events for all ages,” said Garrett.

Virtual events include cooking classes, informational webinars, and educational videos. For more information on the week and to register for a free virtual activity toolkit, visit VirginiaCACFP.com/FarmtoCACFP. VDH also encourages everyone to promote activities and share your participation on social media using #VAFarmtoCACFP.

For information about these activities, contact Taya Jarman at 804-864-7299 or email taya.jarman@vdh.virginia.gov.

Jane Mitchell Rodgester

October 1, 1935 - October 24, 2020

Jane Mitchell Rodgester, 85, of Emporia, VA, departed this life on October 24, 2020. Jane was preceded in death by her husband of forty-three years, Rufus Rucker Rodgester, daughter, Kathy Ann Rodgester Lucy, great-grandson, Lyle Hayes Grizzard, four sisters, and three brothers. Jane is survived by her daughters, Connie R. Grizzard, Karen R. Watkins (Hardee), and Kimberly R. Edwards (Calvin); grandchildren, Ashley Lucy Wrenn (Dustin), Michael Lee Grizzard II (Kristen), Matthew Grizzard (Alison), and Dylan Edwards; great-grandchildren, Kellan Michael Grizzard, Violet Jane Grizzard, Alden Lee Grizzard, Linden Joah Grizzard and Emersyn Paige Wrenn; sister, Emma M. Powell and brother, Thomas B. Mitchell (Betty).

Jane was a life-long member of Independence United Methodist Church and was a devoted mother and grandmother.

A private graveside service will be held at Round Hill Cemetery with Rev. Shaun Smith and Rev. Jeaux Simmons officiating.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Independence United Methodist Church, ℅ Evangeline Taylor, 5066 Dry Bread Rd, Emporia, VA 23847.

Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

Emporia-Greensville GOP Committee to Host Meet & Greet at Johns-Manville Clubhouse

Emporia- - -The newly reinvigorated Emporia-Greensville Republican Committee will host a Meet & Greet gathering on Wednesday, Oct. 28 starting at 7 p.m. at the Johns-Manville Club House in Jarratt with Leon Benjamin as the guest speaker.

“This casual event is a chance for local residents to taste and purchase homemade goodies and chat with folks about the upcoming elections”, according to Chairman Fred Maldonado.  It is also an opportunity to donate to the ‘Benjamin For Congress’ campaign. 

Republican Leon Benjamin is running against incumbent Democrat Congressman Donald McEachin for Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District. 

According to Maldonado, this event is an opportunity for local residents to show off their baking skills by bringing their favorite goodies to the event, and maybe even sharing a few recipes.   Free samples will be available.  In addition to the baked goodies, there will also be free coffee, hot apple cider and iced-cold water.  There is no charge to attend.

The wearing of masks and practicing social distancing will be encouraged.

Yvonne Weiss Tripp Slagle

June 10, 1931 - October 24, 2020

Graveside Services

Monday, October 26, 2020 at 2:00 P.M.

Emporia Cemetery
Brunswick Avenue
Emporia, Virginia

Yvonne Weiss Tripp Slagle, 89, passed away on Saturday, October 24, 2020. She was the daughter of the late William L. Tripp, Sr., and Lila B. Weiss. Mrs. Slagle was the Office Manager at the local Independent Messenger in Emporia, VA.

 She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, W.L. Slagle, sister, Carol Lambert. She is survived by her son, Kelly Slagle (Lelia) of Emporia, VA., brother, William L. Tripp, Jr. (JoAnne) of Littleton, NC., sister, Beverly Ethridge (Cecil) of Roanoke Rapids, NC., grandchildren, Bryan Slagle (Dawn) of Chesterfield, VA., Christopher Link (Cristina) of Emporia, VA., Jonathan Link (Ashley) of Lakeland, FL., great-grandchildren, Jacob Slagle, Austin Link, Jackson Link, Hudson Link.

A graveside service will be held Monday, October 26, 2020 at Emporia Cemetery starting at 2:00 P.M. with Rev. Bob Pipkin officiating.

The family would like to give a special thanks to friends, Treva Pernell, Betty Harrell, Ruth Koch, Bonnie Sykes, as well as the Bloom Center, Southern Virginia Regional Home Health especially Alexa and Jordain, and Crater Hospice for all the wonderful care she received.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Calvary Baptist Church, 310 North Main Street, Emporia, VA., 23847.

Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com

Students Say Protests Motivating Them to the Polls

 

By Hunter Britt, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Voters are more divided now than they were in the 2016 election, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. Many young Virginians believe the passion could translate to the polls on Election Day.

Rickia Sykes, a senior at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, said that her political views have grown stronger since protests erupted globally in late May. The death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis Police Department officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 8 minutes, inspired months of protests.

Sykes said that her political views line up with her faith. She considers herself pro-life, believes in advocating for the working class, and supports law-enforcement.

“The protests have shown me we need to keep God first, but it has also shown me that good cops are important to help keep law and order,” Sykes said in a text message. “I do realize that there are bad cops, but in order to make a change, I believe we need to work together with the good cops.”

Sykes said that now she researches politicians more thoroughly before deciding which candidate gets her vote. She looks at voting records to see if they vote in a way that “will help us middle and lower-class families.”

Erik Haugen, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond who considers himself a Libertarian, said his political views haven’t changed much since the protests started.

“I just see the stronger push for equality, and I think it’s a good step in our nation so long as it proceeds peacefully,” Haugen said.

Equality is at the center of issues that student voters are concerned about this election. From racial injustice to prison reform to healthcare concerns, many students say they want to enact positive change.

Students have varying opinions on whether or not the importance of voting has become more significant in recent years. Sykes said that she has always found voting significant, but she believes the importance of it has grown for others. Haugen said that while his political views haven’t changed, he believes voting has become more important in general and especially for the younger generations as tension in the U.S. grows and protests become more prominent.

Sarah Dowless, a junior at William & Mary in Williamsburg, said that voting has always been important, but the protests have made voting more prominent, “like people encouraging folks to vote and making information about voting accessible, especially among young people." Dowless said the recent protests have reinforced her progressive beliefs. 

“If anything, the protests have only amplified my concern for racial injustice in America and my concern about police brutality,” she said. “It’s a fundamental issue about freedom and it calls into question the very principles on which this country was founded and continues to claim.”

The protests also influenced a host of legislation in the recent special legislative session of the General Assembly that ended last week. Virginia legislators passed numerous bills focused on police and criminal justice reform.

According to the United States Census Bureau, voter turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds jumped 15.7% between 2014 and 2018. This was the largest percentage point increase for any age group. Turnout is expected to be high this year as well, but there are no final numbers for age groups. Voter registration in Virginia set a record this year with almost 5.9 million voters  registering. During the last presidential election a little more than 5.5 million people registered to vote.

Sykes is also concerned about the economy and health care.  She wants a political leader who will increase the odds that people have a stable source of income to afford medical treatment. 

“As a graduating senior, I want and need a good paying/stable job for when I graduate,” she said. “I need someone who will make sure we have a strong and reliable economy.”

Dowless wants U.S. prisons, which she describes as currently being “more punitive than rehabilitative,” to undergo major reform. Haugen would like police academy programs to be longer and implement de-escalation training. 

“I first and foremost care about the safety of the American people,” Haugen said. 

Early voting and no-excuse absentee voting are currently underway throughout the state. The deadline to request to vote absentee by mail is Oct. 23. Early voting ends the Saturday before Election Day, or Oct. 31.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND COVID RESPONSE BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW

~ This afternoon, two of Herring’s special session bills were signed into law by Gov. Northam – one gives the OAG the ability to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations and the other strengthens Virginia’s anti-price gouging statute ~

RICHMOND (October 21, 2020) – This afternoon, two of Attorney General Herring’s special session bills were signed into law by Governor Northam – one bill gives the Office of the Attorney General the ability to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations and the other strengthens Virginia’s anti-price gouging statute.
 
“Enabling the Office of the Attorney general to conduct ‘pattern and practice’ investigations will give my office the ability to help identify and put a stop to police misconduct and other unconstitutional policing practices,” said Attorney General Herring. “We used to be able to count on the federal government to be a reliable partner in these kinds of investigations, but under the Trump Administration they have all but ceased, which is why it’s so important that my office can do these kinds of investigations at the state level.
 
“It’s unfortunate that a business or an individual will take advantage of a public health crisis or a state of emergency and make more money by raising prices on necessary goods like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, or even PPE. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many shortcomings in our laws and I’m glad that we were able to fix one of those by strengthening Virginia’s price gouging statute.
 
“I want to thank my partners in both the House and the Senate, as well as the many advocacy groups, including the Center for American Progress, for all their hard work and dedication to helping get my bills passed and onto the Governor’s desk during this productive special session.”
 
House Bill 5072 (Delegate Alfonso Lopez) and Senate Bill 5024 (Senator Louise Lucas) enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. 
 
Virginia is one of the first states in the country to give this investigative power to their Office of the Attorney General and the first state to include a provision that says any police department that fails to comply with the findings of a “pattern and practice” investigation could be deprived of funding.
 
 
This legislation was part of Attorney General Herring’s larger package of criminal justice and police reform legislative priorities that he announced ahead of the special session.
 
“The federal government has failed to provide this kind of oversight when a police department may be violating citizens’ rights and it’s important for the state to have a backstop that can conduct these kinds of investigations,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “Now that the bill enabling the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct ‘patterns and practice’ investigations of local police departments has passed, communities around Virginia will finally get the due process that they deserve.”
 
“After years of the Trump Administration refusing to be a reliable partner in identifying and ending policing practices where there was a history of misconduct, my legislation (HB 5702) will finally enable the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations of law enforcement agencies to investigate, identify, and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, or racially biased policing,” stated Delegate Alfonso Lopez. “I’m so happy that this important criminal justice reform that will help ensure compliance with constitutional policing standards has been signed into law by the Governor.”  
 
House Bill 5047 (Delegate Kathleen Murphy) expands protections against price gouging for PPE and other necessary items during an emergency. This bill will ensure that existing price gouging prohibitions also apply to manufacturers and distributors that charge unconscionable prices for necessary goods or services during a state of emergency declared by the Governor or President.
 
Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section has received more than 500 consumer complaints and inquiries regarding suspected price gouging by businesses during the COIVD-19 state of emergency and sent out more than 150 letters to businesses demanding that they cease any illegal price gouging.
 
Investigation of these complaints has revealed that many retail businesses claim that price increases occurred further up the supply chain with manufacturers or distributors, making it more difficult to address the problem at the retail level.
 
The legislation will amend the Virginia Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act (“Anti-Price Gouging Act”), Va. Code §§ 59.1-525 through 59.1-529.1, to also apply to manufacturers and distributors that charge unconscionable prices for necessary goods or services during a state of emergency declared by the Governor or President.
 
In April, Attorney General Herring led a national effort to address price gouging in the PPE supply chain, urging 3M as one of the largest manufacturers of PPE, particularly masks, to do more to address price gouging within its supply and distribution chains that was causing hospitals and healthcare providers to pay exorbitant prices for PPE.

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Good Dental Hygiene Makes A Big Difference

By Natasha Grover, DDS, VCU Health CMH Family Dental Clinic

Maintaining your teeth isn’t only about looking good.  Poor dental hygiene can lead to problems that are much bigger than an unpleasant smile. Tooth decay and gum disease can affect other parts of your body, including your heart.

Why is it important to practice good dental hygiene?

Good oral/dental health translates to good health overall. Dental problems such as cavities or gum disease can impair your ability to eat and speak properly, cause pain and bad breath. And what many people may not realize, is that poor dental health can have a profoundly, negative affect on areas outside of the mouth, including your heart, diabetes, pregnancy and chronic inflammation, such as arthritis — to name a few.

Some studies suggest that the bacteria in gum disease can travel to your heart and cause heart disease, clogged arteries or stroke. Gum infections, such as periodontitis, have been linked to premature births and low-birth weight in pregnant women. Diabetics should be especially careful about dental health because diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, making the gums more susceptible to infection, which can adversely affect blood sugar.

Practicing good dental hygiene is so important because it can prevent these type of oral disease and dental problems. And prevention should be the primary focus. I advise the following:

1. BRUSH YOUR TEETH TWICE A DAY

Brushing at least twice a day for good oral health. If you get the chance, it can be good to brush after every meal. Make sure you floss daily, too. Floss can clean crevices even the most thorough brushing might miss.

2. USE PRODUCTS WITH FLUORIDE

Fluoride is super important to healthy teeth. Fluoride is a salt that is shown to prevent tooth decay. It is so important, fluoride is even added to our water. When choosing dental hygiene products, make sure to choose products that contain fluoride. This helps reduce your chance of getting cavities.

3. REPLACE YOUR TOOTHBRUSH REGULARLY

An old toothbrush might feel like it’s doing the job, but your toothbrush should be replaced about every three months. The bristles soften over time, and bend out of shape. Both of these things mean they do their job less well. Also, toothbrushes get dirty. Bacteria can collect in your toothbrush over time. It is important to replace your toothbrush before those bacteria can damage your teeth or make you sick.

4. MAINTAIN A GOOD DIET

You might be surprised how much of an affect what you eat can have on your teeth. Of course we all know that sugary foods like candy and soda can cause cavities. Some foods can also do your teeth a world of good. Dairy products are high in bone-healthy calcium to strengthen your teeth. Crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples and celery can scrape food particles off of teeth and also stimulate saliva production to clean your mouth.

5. SCHEDULE REGULAR PROFESSIONAL CLEANINGS

Even the most diligent tooth-brusher can’t get the same clean that a dental professional can. Many people think it is unnecessary to visit the dentist, but a hygienist can reach places it can be hard to clean on your own. Specialized tools can also get teeth cleaner than a toothbrush can. Your regular dental visit also includes an exam, so we can keep an eye out for any signs of decay or developing problems. For most patients, we recommend visiting the dentist’s office every six months.

What are the signs of a serious dental problem?

You should see your dentist if you experience pain, bleeding gums, swelling, both inside and outside the mouth, tenderness, blisters and ulcers that don’t heal, or noticeable changes in color or texture of the soft tissues. These could all be indications of a serious, or potentially serious condition, such as mouth cancer or chronic gum disease.

The CMH Family Dental Clinic is able to see patients who do not have the ability to pay for dental care in part because of a grant the clinic received from the Virginia Health Care Foundation.

The CMH Family Dental Clinic is accepting new patients. If you need a dentist, please call 434-584-5590.

Rep. McEachin Hosting Virtual Education Listening Session with Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni

 

RICHMOND, VA – On Wednesday, October 21 at 6:30PM, Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) will host a Virtual Education Listening Session on Zoom. Congressman McEachin and Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni will hear from parents and teachers from Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District about their experiences with virtual education this school year.

“I have heard from parents and teachers across my district about both the difficulties and unexpected advantages they are experiencing with virtual learning this school year,” said Congressman McEachin. “I am eager to hear more from educators and parents about their needs and to find additional opportunities for me to help at the federal level.”

     Who: Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04)
                 Secretary Atif Qarni, Virginia Secretary of Education
                 Parents and Teachers from VA04

      What: Virtual Education Listening Session

      When: Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 6:30PM

      Where: Zoom, Register at: https://bit.ly/VA04VELS

Virginia lawmakers pass legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session. 

Juneteenth marks the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, which was the last state to abolish slavery. The companion bills were introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the legislation on Oct. 13.

“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” Northam said during a press conference held that day. “It’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginia, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”

Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, introduced a bill in the legislative session earlier this year to recognize Juneteenth, but the proposal didn’t advance. 

Northam proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday in June during a press conference that included musician and Virginia-native Pharrell Williams. Northam signed an executive order that gave executive branch employees and state colleges the day off. Some Virginia localities, such as Richmond and several places in Hampton Roads, also observed the holiday this year.

“I think it is overdue that the Commonwealth formally honor and celebrate the emancipation and end of slavery,” Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, a co-patron of the bill, said in an email. “It was a step towards fulfilling the promise of equality contained in our founding documents.” 

The Elegba Folklore Society, a Richmond-based organization focused on promoting African culture, history and arts, is one of the groups that has been celebrating the holiday for decades. The celebration usually is a three-day weekend event that looks at the history of Juneteenth. A torch-lit walk down the Trail of Enslaved Africans in Richmond is also held, said Janine Bell, the society’s president and artistic director. 

“We take time to just say thank you to our ancestors, their contributions, their forfeitures, their trials and tribulations,” Bell said. “We invite people to Richmond’s African burial ground so that we can go there and pay homage from a perspective of African spirituality.”

Juneteenth should not be used as another holiday to look for bargains in stores, Bell said. It should be a time for reflection about liberty, as well as for celebration and family strengthening.

“It’s a time for optimism and joy,” Bell said. 

The Elegba Folklore Society broadcasted its Juneteenth event online this year due to the coronavirus. Although there were still around 7,000 views, Bell said that it is usually much larger and has international influence. 

Cries for police reform and social justice continue to increase, Bell said. More attention is being drawn to the racial disparities across America. With this, people have been changing their priorities concerning issues such as discrimination.

“This was a step towards equity,” Bell said about the bill. “A symbolic step, but a step nonetheless.”

State workers will be off during Juneteenth. If the job requires individuals to come in to work, then they will be compensated with overtime or extra pay, said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a patron for the bill. 

The General Assembly wrapped up the agenda last week for the special session that began Aug. 18. Northam called the session to update the state budget and to address criminal and social justice reform and issues related to COVID-19.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

“Bird Feeder Time”

I have birds at all my feeders
But I’m funning short on my supply
It looks like a trip to the store
For some more seed to buy.
 
Since the weather has been so erratic
They don’t know what to do
All are about in search of food
I’ve seen them at fast food too.
 
Yes the wind, rain and snow at times
Pose a challenge they must meet
It’s a must that they must leave their shelter
In search of food to eat.
 
Whatever you and I can do for them
I’m sure they’ll appreciate
Yes, put up some feeders in your yard
Then just sit back and wait.
 
First comes one, then maybe two
In time many more will find
The food and goodies you’ve displayed
By being oh so kind.
 
Now it isn’t that much trouble
And a bag of seed lasts quite a while
The pleasure of watching at the feeders
Will even lake the old folks smile.
 
                         - Roy E. Schepp

Virginia legislators advance police and criminal justice reform measures

By Will Gonzalez, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia General Assembly wrapped up the agenda this month for the special session that began Aug. 18. Legislators introduced over 50 police and criminal justice reform bills during the session. 

Gov. Ralph Northam called the session to update the state budget and to address criminal and social justice and issues related to COVID-19. The governor still has to approve the budget and make amendments or veto bills. 

Among the police and criminal justice reform measures were proposals that would change policing methods, impose new disciplinary actions for law enforcement and reduce penalties of certain crimes. Both parties introduced legislation that seemed to be inspired by months of protests across Virginia.

Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the organization supports several criminal justice reform bills except the legislature’s approval of bills that make certain traffic violations secondary offences and the ban on no-knock search warrants.

“The way it was [the no-knock search warrant bill] delays the issuance of a search warrant that could lead to deaths, injuries and destruction of evidence,” Schrad wrote in an email. “We plan to seek [the] governor’s amendments to make final corrections to the bill to ensure the safety of officers and potential victims.”

Some Republican-backed bills aimed to increase penalties for certain crimes, including pointing a laser at a law-enforcement officer and for an assault on an officer, and to criminalize the act of cursing at an officer while on duty.

Below is a sample of the police and criminal justice related legislation that were approved by both chambers.

PASSED LEGISLATION

Mental health response. House Bill 5043, introduced by Del. Jeffrey Bourne, D-Richmond, and Senate Bill 5038, introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Dale City, establishes an alert system when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. 

Marijuana charge prepay. SB 5013, introduced by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, gives people charged with marijuana possession the option to prepay a fee.

Crisis intervention. SB 5014, introduced by Sen. John S. Edwards, D-Roanoke, requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to establish standards and update policies for law enforcement concerning sensitivity and awareness of racism.

Civilian oversight. SB 5035, introduced by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Midlothian, allows localities to establish a civilian oversight body for their police department. The civilian oversight body can investigate incidents involving law enforcement as well as complaints from citizens, and make binding disciplinary decisions, including termination, in the event that an officer breaches departmental and professional standards. 

Sentencing reform. Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, called his bill SB 5007 “the most transformative criminal justice reform legislation” to pass in two decades. The measure allows for defendants to be tried by a jury but sentenced by a judge.

“It has long been the practice in Virginia to be sentenced by a jury after selecting a jury trial, which has led to excessive sentences far beyond what sentencing guidelines state,” Morrissey posted online.

Conditional release. SB 5034, introduced by Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko, D-Fairfax, grants consideration for conditional release for certain qualifying terminally ill prisoners. 

Marijuana and certain traffic offenses. HB 5058, introduced by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, prohibits an officer from stopping a motor vehicle for operating without a license plate, with defective equipment such as a brake light, window tinting materials, a loud exhaust system or hanging objects inside the vehicle. It also prohibits officers from searching a vehicle solely on the basis of the odor of marijuana.

Earned sentence credits. HB 5148, introduced by Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, establishes a four-level classification system for earned sentence credits. The system allows a range of 3.5 days to 15 days to be deducted from an inmate’s sentence for every 30 days served, with exceptions based on severity of crime. The bill directs the Department of Corrections to convene a work group by next July to study the impact of the sentence credit amendments and report its findings to the General Assembly by Dec. 1, 2022. Parts of the bill have a delayed effective date of Jan. 1, 2022.

Criminal justice board. HB 5108, introduced by Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Prince William, makes changes to the Criminal Justice Services Board and its Committee on Training. The board, currently made up exclusively of members with backgrounds in law enforcement and private security, will be required to add representatives from civil rights groups, mental health service providers and groups that advocate for the interests of minority communities. Guzmán said she got the idea for this bill while she was visiting the Criminal Justice Services Board with fellow legislators.

“We only have law enforcement voices at the table,” Guzmán said. “So, how can you learn about what is going on in the community if you don’t have their voice at the table?”

Guzmán said the bill will improve crisis intervention training and help police officers who may experience traumatic events while on the job. 

Misconduct and termination. HB 5051, introduced by Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, requires a police department authority figure to notify the Criminal Justice Services Board if an officer is terminated for serious misconduct, as defined by the board, within 48 hours of the department becoming aware of it.

Disclosure of information. HB 5104, introduced by Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, requires sheriff, police chief or police department directors to disclose to a potential law enforcement or jail employer information regarding the arrest, prosecution or civil suit filed against their former officers seeking employment. The applicant would have to sign a waiver to allow that information to be disclosed. The bill also may require an officer to undergo a psychological evaluation before taking a job in a jail or police department. 

Ban no-knock warrants. HB 5099, introduced by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, bans law enforcement officers from executing a search warrant without giving notice of their identity or purpose before entering a residence.

“The use of no-knock search warrants have long been a controversial practice, since the beginning of their use during the Nixon administration in the 70’s,” Aird said in an email. “The tragic loss of Breonna Taylor renewed the concern regarding the use of this search warrant, the risk to residents and officers and their disproportionate application in minority communities.” 

Unlawful use of excessive force. HB 5029, introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, requires that a law enforcement officer intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force while on duty. 

Carnal knowledge of detainees. HB 5045, introduced by Del. Karrie K. Delaney, D-Centreville, closes a loophole within the state law and makes it a Class 6 felony for a law enforcement officer to have sexual relations with a detainee, pre-arrest.

Prohibition of the use of neck restraints. HB 5069, introduced by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, prohibits a law enforcement officer to use a neck restraint or chokehold while on the job. New York has had a ban on chokeholds since 1993, but the effectiveness of the law was called into question in 2014 when Eric Garner died after an apparent chokehold was used during his arrest by a New York City Police officer. The officer involved was not indicted, but was later fired.

Guzmán said that even though some of these bills may not be perfect, it’s better to improve civil rights in Virginia one piece of legislation at a time rather than to be dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I would say that inaction is enabling, and if we don’t act, in a way we are saying we are OK with what is going on in today’s society,” Guzmán said. “We recognize the struggles, we recognize that there are problems, and we need to start tackling those issues and try to improve the lives of communities of color.” 

Below are some pieces of legislation that didn’t make it through the House or Senate.

ABANDONED OR KILLED BILLS

Record expungement. SB 5043, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and HB 5146, sponsored by Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, sought to expand the current expungement process. Police and court records are currently only expunged if an individual is acquitted, a case is dismissed or abandoned. Legislators did not reach a compromise in the conference committee over proposed substitutes to the bills. 

“This is a very important issue,” Herring said at the close of Friday’s session. “It will change the lives of so many people who have served their time and have turned their lives around.”

Parole notification. SB 5050, Introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would require the Department of Corrections to release a paroled prisoner no sooner than 21 days after the date of notification by the Virginia Parole Board.

Qualified immunity. HB 5013, introduced by Bourne, would have ended qualified immunity for police officers. Guzmán, who voted for the bill, was disappointed it didn’t pass, but said she feels good about the House Democrats’ bills and is looking forward to the next General Assembly session in January.

Virginia led the way during the special session where others haven’t, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn said in a press release.

“Together with our colleagues in the Senate, Virginia is now a national leader in the effort to pass necessary improvements to policing and criminal justice,” Filler-Corn said. 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

VCU announces spring semester changes as other colleges mull options

By Joseph Whitney Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia Commonwealth University announced Thursday that the spring semester will start one week later and spring break will be canceled to help mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

The start date will move from Jan. 19 to Jan. 25. After the conclusion of winter break the university will implement a phased re-opening similar to the fall semester. That means classes will be a combination of in-person, hybrid and online.

Spring break was removed from the university's academic calendar and two reading days were added on Feb. 23 and March 24. The last day of classes will now be on May 5 for the Monroe Park Campus and May 7 for the MCV Campus.

“Our public health response team, which includes medical and infectious disease

experts, recommended eliminating spring break to mitigate the risk of COVID-19,” VCU President Michael Rao said in a press release.

Rao said the university’s priority is to be able to conduct classes while maintaining the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and other members of the community.

“Flexibility remains critical in addressing evolving situations presented by COVID-19, including changes in the prevalence of infection in our community, as well as changes in requirements, guidelines and best practices,” Rao said.

Other university officials across the state are also exploring options in regard to the spring opening and semester.

Michael Stowe, spokesman at Virginia Tech, said in an email that he expects the school will announce plans about the spring semester by Monday. The spring semester starts at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19.

McGregor McCance, spokesman for the University of Virginia, said in an email that the university will announce any plans about its spring semester later this month. The spring semester is currently scheduled to begin at Virginia on Jan. 20.

Other Virginia universities have various start dates for the 2021 academic year. James Madison University is scheduled to start classes on Jan. 11. The University of Richmond will begin classes on Jan. 19. George Mason University begins the spring semester on Jan. 25.

Final examinations for VCU’s Monroe Park Campus will be held May 6-13, while the MCV Campus final examinations will be held May 10-14.

“We will update you soon on COVID-19 testing and other measures we will be taking as we conclude the fall semester and prepare for our return to campus for spring semester,” Rao said.

Peter Jung is Brunswick Academey October 2020 Student of the Month

Peter Jung, a Senior at Brunswick Academy, is from South Korea and currently resides with Rev. James Kim’s family in Alberta.

Since the 9th grade, Peter has focused on earning an Academic diploma from Brunswick Academy. His dedication to his academic success has resulted in achieving the ultimate level of all A’s. While remaining steadfast to high academic standards, Peter is a proud member of Brunswick Academy’s chapter of the National Honor Society; he thoroughly enjoys reading to the Elementary and Lower School students as part of the chapter’s school-wide literacy program.

Peter is also a member of Red Oak Ruritan Club where he serves the local community through a variety of activities. He participates in cooking and selling Brunswick Stew and Boston Butts for fundraisers for the town. In addition to serving his local community,

Peter stays busy with his church; he has been a member of the church choir for the past three years and is an active participant in the Youth Group. Furthermore, Peter devotes time to his church by fulfilling its technological needs to include broadcasting Zoom meetings, setting up of microphones for services, and creating PowerPoint presentations.

After graduating from Brunswick Academy in May of 2021, Peter is planning to major in Aviation at North Dakota University.

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Governor Northam Announces Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance to Build Wind Energy Workforce in Virginia

New College Institute, Centura College, and Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy will join forces to position Virginia as leader in offshore wind industry training

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the formation of Virginia’s first offshore and onshore wind workforce training collaborative, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance. The program will offer industry required certifications that are critical to the operations and long-term maintenance of wind projects. The Governor made the announcement addressing the 2020 Offshore WINDPOWER Virtual Summit hosted by the American Wind Energy Association.

The New College Institute, which will serve as the host institution, is joining forces with Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy to create the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance (the Alliance). This partnership will bring courses certified by the Global Wind Organization and National Center for Construction, Education, and Research wind technician training to onshore and offshore wind projects to Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Building a strong wind energy workforce will give the Commonwealth a significant competitive advantage in attracting onshore and offshore wind projects,” said Governor Northam. “There is currently massive potential for offshore wind up and down the East Coast, and we look forward to working with our partners across Virginia and in neighboring states to grow this industry and reap the tremendous economic benefits for our communities, especially those that have been historically disadvantaged.”

The Alliance represents an important first step in what will be a much larger workforce development effort to support the renewable energy industries in Virginia. Course offerings will span a wide variety of wind energy related disciplines and provide students with a customizable portfolio of training options. Programs will range from specific certifications to a year-long wind turbine technician program that bundles several industry-recognized certifications and prepares students to serve as certified installation technicians, inspectors, and maintenance technicians. The Alliance plans to start offering programs in early 2021. 

“Virginia is actively working to welcome new and expanding business in the offshore and onshore wind sector,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “These companies require a skilled workforce to reach their highest potential, and fortunately, because of our deep maritime roots, that workforce is here.”

The wind industry in the United States continues to experience exponential growth, supporting 120,000 American jobs in 2019, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The AWEA also estimates that the wind industry has invested more than $208 billion in wind projects across the country with the capacity to produce at least 109 gigawatts of power to date. Dominion Energy and Avangrid Renewables have nearly 400 offshore wind turbines under development off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.

“Clean energy jobs in construction and operations will serve as a catalyst for delivering clean, renewable energy to the Commonwealth,” said Josh Bennett, Vice President of Offshore Wind for Dominion Energy. “The formation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance is a critical step to developing a talented offshore wind workforce here in Virginia.”

“As Avangrid Renewables builds the future of clean energy offshore, establishing the workforce that will maintain and operate these projects for decades will be critical,” said Eric Thumma, Interim Vice President of Offshore Wind for Avangrid Renewables. “The Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance will facilitate the development of that workforce and the success of the offshore wind industry.”

“Virginia is taking important steps forward in harnessing the significant economic and job opportunities of American wind power,” said Tom Kiernan, American Wind Energy Association CEO. “Wind turbine technicians are America’s fastest growing career and today’s foresighted move to train additional workers in this field shows that the Commonwealth continues to lead our nation toward a cleaner and more prosperous energy future.”

Located in Martinsville, the New College Institute is a Commonwealth Higher Education Center that partners with industry and academia to provide post-secondary education, industry relevant workforce development and training opportunities in cutting-edge industries.

Centura College has seven education centers across eastern Virginia, including Tidewater Tech, which is home to the largest welding training center in the Commonwealth, with 100 welding booths. Centura is also parent to Aviation Institute of Maintenance, which has 13 aviation technician training centers nationwide and focuses on the repair and maintenance of aircraft including engineering fiberglass and composites.

Located in Norfolk, the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) is the largest training center for United States Coast Guard (USCG) certifications on the East Coast. MAMA is certified by the USCG to teach 90 deck and engineering courses that are critical to the safe operation of the United States commercial fleet.

For more information on the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance, please visit vaoffshorewind.org/workforce.

Social Security Announces 1.3 Percent Benefit Increase for 2021

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 1.3 percent in 2021, the Social Security Administration announced today.

The 1.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2021.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2020.  (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits).  The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $142,800 from $137,700. 

Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount.  Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account.  People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.    

Information about Medicare changes for 2021, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov.  For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2021 are announced.  Final 2021 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

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