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Ralph Northam

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will hold its regular meeting Thursday, November 15th, 2018, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.

GREAT OPPORTUNITIES IN TECHNOLOGY AND ENGINEERING CAREERS (GO-TEC) GRANT

GO TEC PROGRAM COORDINATOR

FOR THE EASTERN REGION LOCATED AT SOUTHSIDE VA COMMUNITY COLLEGE

#R0001

Please visit the employment page of our web site at http://www.dcc.vccs.edu/Employment/employment.htm for details.

Danville Community College is committed to becoming a model higher education institution for diversity and inclusion and invites multicultural professionals from all backgrounds to contribute to its aspiration for building an inclusive community where everyone is given equal opportunity to reach their full potential.  Employment will be contingent upon the results of a background check.         

Virginia Delegation Calls on President Trump to Issue Federal Emergency Declaration Ahead of Hurricane Florence

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with U.S. Reps. Rob Wittman (VA-01), Scott Taylor (VA-02), Bobby Scott (VA-03), A. Donald McEachin (VA-04), Tom Garrett (VA-05), Bob Goodlatte (VA-06), Dave Brat (VA-07), Don Beyer (VA-08), Morgan Griffith (VA-09), Barbara Comstock (VA-10), and Gerry Connolly (VA-11), called on President Donald Trump to issue a federal emergency declaration ahead of Hurricane Florence, a tropical storm which was recently upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane and is expected to make landfall somewhere on the southeast or Mid-Atlantic coast Thursday night. Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote to the President in support of a request from Gov. Ralph Northam in advance of the storm’s potentially devastating effects on the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“The health and well-being of my constituents is my top concern, which is why I joined the entire congressional delegation of Virginia to call on President Trump to give full consideration to Governor Northam’s request to issue a federal emergency,” said Congressman Donald McEachin. “If this storm continues as predicted, making federal resources available will help us achieve a speedy recovery.”

“A federal emergency declaration would ensure the full availability of federal resources to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to guarantee public safety and rapid recovery from the direct and indirect effects of Hurricane Florence. Thank you for your consideration of Governor Northam’s request. We look forward to working with you, FEMA, and other relevant federal agencies to ensure that the Commonwealth of Virginia has the resources available to ensure the safety of our constituents,” wrote the Virginia Congressional Delegation.

On September 8, 2018, Gov. Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia in preparation for Hurricane Florence, which is projected to have a significant impact on the Commonwealth in the coming days. It is increasingly likely that Virginia will face damaging winds, heavy rainfall, and potentially life-threating storm surge flooding. Many localities have already ordered mandatory evacuations to prevent potential physical harm or loss of life.

The full text of the letter can be found below.

Dear Mr. President:

We write today to express our support for Governor Ralph S. Northam’s request for a federal emergency declaration in advance of Hurricane Florence’s potentially devastating effects on the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As you may know, on September 8, 2018 Governor Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia in preparation for Hurricane Florence, which is projected to have a significant impact on the Commonwealth in the coming days. It is increasingly likely that Virginia will face damaging winds, heavy rainfall, and potentially life-threating storm surge flooding due to Hurricane Florence. Many localities have already ordered mandatory evacuations to prevent potential physical harm or loss of life.

Governor Northam’s emergency declaration ensures a fully coordinated state response to support local recovery efforts. The Commonwealth has activated the Virginia Evacuation Coordination Team for Operational Response to assess the storm’s potential effects and the Virginia Emergency Operations Center is already coordinating the state’s response with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

A federal emergency declaration would ensure the full availability of federal resources to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to guarantee public safety and rapid recovery from the direct and indirect effects of Hurricane Florence.

Thank you for your consideration of Governor Northam’s request. We look forward to working with you, FEMA, and other relevant federal agencies to ensure that the Commonwealth of Virginia has the resources available to ensure the safety of our constituents.

 

 

Virginians Should Prepare Now for Hurricane Florence Impacts

Please note that while the projected path of Hurricane Florence has changed, the path is still probable. Our area could still be impacted with several inches of rain and wind gusts in the 40 mph range.

Virginia Governor Declares April as Women and Girls’ Wellness Month

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Eating disorders, stress, alcoholism, addiction and depression are leading medical problems affecting women and girls, but they are often forgotten because of the way breast cancer and intimate partner violence are highlighted with dedicated months.

Miriam Bender, chair of the group Women’s Health Virginia, commends the efforts of what she calls the “disease organizations.” But Bender said there is a need to raise awareness about the overall well-being of women and girls. So more than 15 years ago, Bender helped establish April as Women and Girls’ Wellness Month.

“A lot of days and weeks and months celebrate awareness of diseases, and a lot of issues don’t get highlighted in those individualized months,” Bender said. “They always focus on disease prevention or a problem instead of talking more positively about wellness.”

In July 2002, Bender and other activists pitched Women and Girls’ Wellness Month to 50 health organizations, women’s organizations and other groups.

“It was overwhelmingly positively received,” Bender said. “It was in July, and I thought who was going to show up in the middle of July – and the room was full.”

On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam, like his predecessors, signed a proclamation recognizing April as Women and Girls’ Wellness Month.

“It’s an important day and month,” Northam said at a ceremony at the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond. “We have declared the entire month of April so that we can recognize the important contributions girls and women make to our commonwealth and to help you all keep healthy and get a good education and a good job.”

The ceremony was attended by fifth- through eighth-grade female students from the MathScience Innovation Center. Northam encouraged them to get involved, pointing to the pay gap and the lack of women in health care, policy and STEM-related fields.

“That’s why all the girls and the women need to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough – I want to be equal to everyone else,’” Northam said.

Bender said that once people and organizations bought into the idea of Women and Girls’ Wellness Month., they decided it would best be celebrated in April.

“We wanted to do it at a time when organizations who served women and girls could do something. And if it’s too close to the end of the school year, girls’ groups and university groups wouldn’t be involved,” Bender said.

The MathScience Innovation Center was chosen as the location of the proclamation signing to encourage young girls to enter STEM fields.

“We know that health and wellness are tied to the physical attributes of the body, but they’re also tied to the wellness of the spirit and the soul and how we persevere, overcome adversity and how we deal with trauma,” said Hollee Freeman, executive director at the center.

The governor was joined Thursday by Virginia first lady Pam Northam, Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond and Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

Gov. Northam Signs Rear-Facing Car Seat Requirements into Law

By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Beginning next year, Virginia will join more than a dozen states that prohibit children under the age of 2, or children who are below the manufacturer's suggested weight limit, to be placed in a forward-facing car seat.

The new law, House Bill 708, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last month, will go into effect July 1, 2019. It was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, after she was approached by AAA about the issue.

“I’m very proud to patron this bill because I have always worked on issues about public safety and kids’ safety,” Filler-Corn said. “How could I not introduce a bill that will save lives and protect our most vulnerable Virginians, our children?”

According to Martha Meade, the public and government affairs manager for Virginia’s AAA’s Mid-Atlantic region, the association has lobbied for issues of public safety on the roads for decades.

“This is an important change for Virginia because it is confusing for many folks who don’t know when the the right time is to switch their child to be forward-facing in vehicles,” Meade said. “All the major traffic safety organizations — AAA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Highway Safety Administration and the Academy of Pediatrics — recommend a child stays rear-facing until age 2, or until they've reached the minimum weight and height requirement.”

Filler-Corn said she was surprised, but not discouraged, by the intensity of the opposition to what she views as a “common-sense safety measure.” Critics of the bill argued that the government should not have a role in how parents choose to raise and protect their children.

The bill went through several rounds of amendments before passing the House 77-23 and the Senate 23-17. Filler-Corn said she received bipartisan support. Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, and Sen Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, were “amazing and very supportive” advocates for the bill.

 “Everyone has the right to raise their children as they see fit, but this really is a safety measure statistically proven to work,” Filler-Corn said. “When I’m faced with opposition, I compare the enforcement of rear-facing child seats to the requirement of everyone having to wear a seat belt. It’s very similar, but one is focused on children who can’t make decisions to protect themselves.”

Northam Vetoes 8 Bills; 1 Would Block Higher Wages

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed a flurry of bills Monday, including one to prohibit local governments from requiring contractors to pay their employees more than minimum wage.

House Bill 375, introduced by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, passed the House and Senate on party-line votes during the General Assembly’s 2018 regular session. Northam said he rejected the bill because he believes employee wage and benefit decisions are best left to individual localities, pointing to differences in the cost of living and workforce factors.

“The ability of local governments to make this choice should be supported, not limited,” the Democratic governor said. “Decisions regarding municipal contacts should be made by local leaders who fully understand local needs and the needs of their workforce.”

HB 375 was one of eight bills Northam vetoed Monday. He also rejected:

  • Senate Bill 521, which would require local voter registrars to investigate the list of registered voters whenever it exceeds the estimated number of people age 18 or older in a county or city. The sponsor, Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham County, called the measure “a critical election integrity bill.” But Northam said it would unduly burden election officials and that Virginia already has a process to ensure accurate voter registration rolls.
  • HB 1167, which would require jury commissioners to collect information from people who are not qualified to serve on juries and present that information to voter registrars for list maintenance purposes. “There is no evidence or data that jury information is a reliable source for voter list maintenance,” Northam said. He said using this information “could endanger the registrations of eligible voters and prevent them from successfully casting a ballot.”
  • HB 158, which would allow the General Assembly to alter legislative districts outside the constitutional process so they correspond with local voting precinct boundaries. Northam said this would allow members of the General Assembly to adjust districts at their own discretion, threatening Virginians’ rights to equal apportionment.
  • HB 1568, which would assign certain functions of the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority. Northam said he believes this is an unnecessary move.
  • HB 1257, which states, “No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” Northam said the legislation “would force local law enforcement agencies to use precious resources to perform functions that are the responsibility of federal immigration enforcement agencies. It also sends a chilling message to communities across Virginia that could have negative impacts on public safety.”
  • HB 1270, which would forbid state participation in adopting regulations on carbon dioxide cap-and-trade programs. Northam said the bill would limit Virginia’s ability to tackle climate change and provide additional clean energy jobs.
  • HB 1204, which would require Arlington County to assess two private country clubs there as land dedicated to open space rather than its current method of highest and best use. “This is a local dispute over a local government’s method of assessing land for property taxation,” Northam said. “As such, the solution to this dispute should be reached on the local level without the involvement of the state.”

The General Assembly will reconvene for a one-day session on April 18 to consider the vetoes and recommendations issues by Northam. It takes a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a veto. Democrats hold enough seats in each chamber to prevent an override.

Northam Signs ‘Stop Gun Violence’ License Plate Bill

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation Thursday authorizing a “Stop Gun Violence” specialty license plate.

In a session when gun safety proponents failed to make gains despite concern over recent mass shootings in Florida, Texas and Las Vegas, even the license plate bill was controversial.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 287 after one of his constituents, Carol Luten, came up with the idea. Luten is involved in raising awareness about gun violence prevention and gun safety in Falls Church.

“Mostly it was a constituent request that happened to fall in line with one of my priorities anyways,” Simon said. “She said it’s like a moving billboard for her cause.”

The bill was more controversial than Simon expected. What he thought as simple license plate bill turned out to be more, as it drew opposition from the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“The license plate’s proposed wording implies that violence which is not committed with a firearm is somehow acceptable by comparison, or that the inanimate object itself is responsible for human violence,” the league said in its position statement on the bill.

Another controversial portion of the bill came up when Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell, introduced an amendment that would make the plates revenue-sharing rather than simply highlighting an interest. Starting in 2020, the plates will cost $25: $10 will go toward making the plates themselves and $15 will go to the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services

“I am against all gun violence,” Fariss said. “I feel like most gun violence is due to behavioral and mental issues. I wanted to make sure that funding would be directed to and available for the Department of Behavioral Health to help.”

Simon says this was the most controversial portion of the bill.

“Suggesting our gun violence problem is really a mental health problem and a lack of mental health resources really misses the point,” Simon said. “Certainly there are some cases where better mental health care may have prevented certain incidents, but most gun violence doesn't have anything to do with mental health, and most people living with mental illness are not dangerous.”

Simon described the session as a tough year for bills related to guns. More than 70 such measures were filed at the start of the session.

“This is the one piece of legislation on either side that managed to thread the needle and get out of the legislature,” Simon said.

Environmentalists Urge Governor to Oust DEQ Director

By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – An environmental group reiterated its call Wednesday for Gov. Ralph Northam to fire the head of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, saying David Paylor “has regularly sided with polluters over the environment.”

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network made that statement after Northam signed an executive order instructing the DEQ to conduct an internal review. Northam said the review would include updating regulations, strengthening enforcement of environmental standards, identifying the causes of permitting delays and improving transparency.

“We agree with Gov. Northam that the Department of Environmental Quality needs to be seriously reformed, so we commend him for that,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “However, we are highly skeptical that DEQ Director David Paylor can oversee this internal review in a fair and comprehensive manner. The DEQ is a broken agency, and Director David Paylor is the one that broke it.”

Peter Anderson, Virginia program manager for the group Appalachian Voices, expressed skepticism about the DEQ’s ability to conduct the internal review.

“Gov. Northam’s announcement today calls for vital improvements at DEQ for protecting Virginia communities and the commonwealth’s natural resources,” Anderson said. “But it remains to be seen whether any real changes will occur.”

Anderson said the DEQ has a history of aligning with industries over the public interest. “Nonetheless, we hope DEQ seizes this opportunity to revamp its operations and prioritize the public interest over the interests of the companies it regulates,” he said.

Paylor has served as the director of the DEQ since 2006 when appointed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine.

Since 1973, Paylor has spent his career serving with environmental agencies such as the State Water Control Board and the Environmental Research Institute of the States. The Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute recognized Paylor as the recipient of its 2015 Gerald P. McCarthy Award for Leadership in Environmental Conflict Resolution.

However, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network says Paylor is too close to the companies DEQ regulates.

“We believe David Paylor should be replaced as DEQ director,” Tidwell said. “If Gov. Northam keeps him on, however, Paylor should recuse himself from this much-needed agency review. We hope Gov. Northam will consider turning the review over completely to the Secretary of Natural Resources in order to ensure real and substantive changes at the DEQ.”

Tidwell criticized Paylor’s relationship with energy companies and other businesses.

“In 12 years at the DEQ helm, Paylor has consistently sided with polluting industries over environmental advocacy groups,” Tidwell said. “The director has outraged health and environmental leaders by siding with Dominion on the dumping of coal ash in rivers and, most notoriously, the construction of patently harmful pipelines for fracked gas like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

Tidwell commended Northam for taking “several positive steps” to improve environmental protection and advocacy in Virginia. “He has supported joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and has pushed Dominion Energy to invest more in renewable power and efficiency,” Tidwell said.

But he said the governor “dropped the ball” by reappointing Paylor on Monday.

Tidwell said the timing of the reappointment was painful for landowners living along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Last week, the DEQ gave final approval to begin cutting trees and clearing land for the project, which will run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

Virginia Schools Will Teach How to Prevent Child Abuse

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia is taking a step toward teaching children how to recognize and prevent child abuse, abduction, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill to include age-appropriate instruction in those areas in the state’s family life education curriculum.

Current law already requires age-appropriate education on preventing dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence, but child advocates like Patty Hall, the director of community engagement and volunteer services at Hanover Safe Place, have pushed for stronger measures.

“The work that I do with the kids shows that they don’t know often and understand the concept of being able to say no if somebody is touching them or doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Whether it is by a family member, or a friend or a dating partner, many of them do not understand these concepts,” said Hall, who does prevention education with children of all ages in Hanover County.

On Thursday, Northam signed SB 101, which was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and incorporates proposals by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, and other legislators. Wexton is an advocate for Erin’s Law, a national movement urging states to implement prevention-oriented child sexual abuse programs.

LaTonsha Pridgen, founder of the advocacy group Stomp Out the Silence, also supports Erin’s Law. Pridgen said she was sexually abused from the ages of 8 to 13. Her experience inspired her to start S.O.S., a nonprofit dedicated to preventing childhood sexual abuse through awareness and legislation.

“I know firsthand what it means to be a child and not understand that adults can do you harm – not even know that I could go to my teachers or to another adult outside of my home to report this,” Pridgen said. “So I wholeheartedly support educating our children and giving them the information they need to prevent child sex abuse.”

The final version of SB 101 will create guidelines on age-appropriate programs on the prevention, recognition and awareness of child abuse, abduction, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, but it does not require schools to implement such programs. Still, advocates say it’s a step in the right direction.

“The law gets us one step closer to #ErinsLaw in Virginia,” Wexton stated on her Facebook page after SB 101 passed the House on March 7.

Besides adding child abuse prevention programs, SB 101 clarifies that sexual harassment by digital means will be included in the existing curriculum.

The bill takes effect July 1.

Expanding Medicaid Will Aid Schools, Governor Says

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner are urging the General Assembly to expand Medicaid, saying such a move would free up money to help schools.

On Thursday, the two Democrats sat down with more than 20 teachers, faculty and parents from Richmond Public Schools and surrounding counties to discuss how this would work.

Last week, Northam introduced a new state budget proposal that includes Medicaid expansion and takes a slightly different approach to spending that could shape the debate when lawmakers return for an April 11 special session.

The special session was called because legislators couldn’t reach an agreement on the budget during their regular session. The House of Delegates wants to expand Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans. The Senate opposes that idea.

Because the House’s Medicaid expansion plan would be funded with federal dollars and a new tax on hospitals, budget writers had more money to spend on public education and other services. The Virginia Education Association estimates the House budget allocated $169 million more to K-12 schools than the Senate version.

“We have had the opportunity since January 2014 to expand Medicaid, to give approximately 400,000 working Virginians access to quality and affordable health care,” Northam said at Thursday’s meeting at Albert Hill Middle School. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do in Virginia. No individual, no family, should be one illness away from being financially alive.”

The House version of the budget would increase state aid to $5,617 per student next year and $5,690 in 2020. In the Senate version, state aid per pupil would be $5,583 in fiscal year 2019 and $5,589 in 2020.

“It’s budget time in Virginia, and we, the General Assembly, did work in a bipartisan way,” Northam said. “All of this happened because of folks coming from both sides of the aisle. The most important bill we haven't finished this year is our budget.”

Warner said the commonwealth faces same challenges he encountered as governor in 2002-06.

“Gov. Northam has inherited a challenge that has been around for the last six or seven years,” Warner said. “That is the question of when we talk about education, we also have to talk about health care.”

People at the meeting pointed to numerous funding issues in education, including outdated resources, dilapidated school buildings and overcrowded classrooms. They also said schools don’t have enough full-time staff members such as guidance counselors and nurses,

Northam asked teachers who had full-time nurses at their school to raise their hands. He then asked teachers who did not have full-time nurses. The response was split 50-50.

Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher at the Virgie Binford Education Center, said the lack of guidance counselors and nurses caused some schools to lose accreditation.

“Instead of just being a teacher, we’re now being a social worker, the counselor,” Robinson said. “If we can get those (guidance counselors and nurses) back in the school systems, I can guarantee you’ll see more teachers in those harder-staffed schools because there is less work burden on them.”

Melinda Lawson, an eighth-grade English teacher at Albert Hill, echoed Robinson’s frustration.

“For Richmond, we have a very difficult time creating 21st-century learners when we don’t have the resources to do so,” Lawson said. “I’ve been in this building for 14 years, and I’ve worn many hats in this time. We’re always trying to get there, and everyone else seems to be where we’re not, and we’re aspiring to get there.”

Northam said “providing a world-class education” is a priority for his administration.

“There is power in every child, and we need to make sure every child in Virginia reaches their maximum potential,” he said.

Over 70,000 Sign Petitions Protesting Pipelines Across Virginia

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Environmentalists on Tuesday dropped on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk petitions signed by more than 70,000 people supporting stricter rules for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines that energy companies plan to build across Virginia.

One petition, signed by 10,000 Virginian residents, demands that the Northam administration immediately halt the tree-felling along the pipeline routes and let the public comment on the companies’ plans to control erosion and stormwater before they are finalized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Activists also gave Northam an online petition signed by more than 62,000 citizens from around the country calling on Northam to stop the pipelines, which they said would threaten the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail and miles of national forest land. By late Tuesday, the number of signatures on the Change.org petition had topped 65,500.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and other groups held a press conference on the state Capitol grounds the morning after the DEQ approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Outraged by that action, the environmentalists said the DEQ must require the companies to take better precautions when constructing the pipelines. The activists said that will happen only if Northam gets involved.

“It’s time for you to be the leader that we voted for,” LeeAnne Williams, a Virginia Sierra Club volunteer, said, addressing the governor.

Some activists said they have already seen negative effects of the pipeline from the cutting of trees. “The proposed pipelines have altered people’s lives, land value and emotional well-being,” said Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer for Appalachian Voices.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. If built as proposed, the pipelines would cross streams and other bodies of water more than 1,400 times, environmentalists say.

David Sligh, conservation director for Wild Virginia, said the state should review the environmental impact at each of those water crossings. He said pollution from the pipeline could cause “permanent damage to the aquatic systems.”

The companies that want to build the pipelines say the projects are crucial to meeting the energy needs of Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region.

“Demand for natural gas is growing across the region – to produce cleaner electricity and support economic development – but there is not enough infrastructure to deliver the supplies needed to meet this demand,” the consortium that has proposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline says on its website.

The consortium, which includes Dominion Energy, says the pipeline construction would create 17,000 jobs and provide a “major boost to local businesses in every community.”

In a recent monthly newsletter, the company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline said it plans to have the pipeline in service by the end of the year.

Governor Visits SVCC Power Line Worker Training Program

Governor Ralph Northam spent time at the Southside Virginia Community College Power Line Worker Training Program at the Occupational/Technical Center at Pickett Park.  Among those attending are (Left to Right) Andrew Vehorn, Director of Governmental Affairs for Virginia, Maryland, Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives(VMDAEC), Dr. Al Roberts, SVCC President, John Lee, CEO of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Governor Northam, Jeffrey Edwards, CEO of Southside Electric Cooperative, and Brian Mosier, Vice President of Member and Governmental Relations for VMDAEC.

Virginia’s new Governor, Ralph Northam, spent part of a cold, snowy and blustery day touring the field where power line worker students train for jobs in the Commonwealth.  His visit to the Southside Virginia Community College Occupational Technical Center at Pickett Park wasarranged by Virginia Maryland and Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives and Andrew Vehorn, Director of Governmental Affairs for VMDAE. 

The Governor spent time watching power line students climb, saw truck driving activity on the range and met the head of the diesel tech program. He also sat down with the CEOs of Mecklenburg and Southside Electric Cooperatives, John Lee and Jeffrey Edwards respectively, and SVCC President Dr. Al Roberts and VP of Workforce Dr. Keith Harkins to learn more about the impact these programs have on the economy of Virginia. Dr. Megan Healy, Chief Workforce Development Advisor to the Governor was also in attendance.       

Governor Northam was at the Blackstone facility to see firsthand the benefits of the Workforce Credentialing Grant Programand discuss issues facing rural Virginia; including broadband deployment and workforce development. Leepresented Governor Northam with a letter, signed by CEOs from all 12 electric cooperatives headquartered in Virginia pledging unified commitment to collaboratively work on a comprehensive solution to rural Virginia’s lack of broadband availability.         

Now in its third year of operation, this 11-week line worker pre-apprentice program provides Level 1 certification from NCCER (the National Center for Construction Education & Research), as well as commercial driver’s licenses, CPR/First Aid certification and OSHA safety training. At the recommendation of its advisory committee, the PLW program recently expanded to include chainsawsafety, with training provided by Penn Line.         

“We’re proud to help launch these young people into a vital career that will enable them to stay in their rural communities,” said Harkins.

For more information about the Power Line Worker Training School, visit https://southside.edu/events/power-line-worker-training-schoolor call SVCC’s Susan Early at (434) 292-3101.  Next Class begins June 4, 2018.

Final Hearing on Carbon Bill; Northam to Veto GOP Measure

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Proposed regulations on power plant carbon emissions to help lower pollution 30 percent by 2030 drew a variety of responses from citizens and environmental advocates at a public hearing by the state Air Pollution Control Board.

The draft was proposed in November, following then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive directive in May to instruct the Department of Environmental Quality  to develop a cap-and-trade proposal. The Republican-majority General Assembly opposed  Gov. Ralph Northam’s bid to make Virginia the first Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and instead narrowly backed HB 1270, which would block such action. Northam’s office said Tuesday he would veto that bill, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Citizens at the hearing  on Monday were split on whether they believed Virginia should join the initiative, with some expressing concern about its impact on the state’s economy. There was also  debate over biomass regulation. While some said biomass is carbon neutral, others countered that it should be regulated if it is co-fired with other fuels.

Janet Eddy, a member of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, supported joining the initiative. She said that her patients feel the negative effects of climate change and that health statewide would improve by reducing the emissions under the pact. She said Abt Associates, a social change organization, conducted a study between 2009 and 2014 that estimated the greenhouse gas initiative has averted at least 300 deaths and 35 heart attacks.

Michael Stone of Richmond said he opposes the initiative because the state should focus on creating renewable energy sources rather than finding a way to continue using fossil fuels with less negative effects. He said, however, that he favors reducing carbon.

“I don’t see how we can develop any new fossil fuel infrastructure in Virginia and say that we’re really keeping an eye on the future,” Stone said.

The meeting came after a rally by the Sierra Club, which supports the proposed draft.

“Virginia is taking a step forward while on the federal level, the Trump administration is doing a dangerous dance, reducing lifesaving safeguards,” Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, said in a news release.

But Harrison Wallace, Virginia policy coordinator and coastal campaigns manager for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said at the rally that the draft doesn’t go far enough.

He said the state should limit carbon emissions to a total of 30 million tons by 2020 and make continued reductions beyond 2030. The current proposed goal is between 33 to 34 million tons. Wallace also complained that the initiative fails to include biomass as a power-producing carbon fuel that needs to be restricted. He said that gives Dominion Energy “an unfair economic advantage.”

Virginia Governor Calls Special Session to Tackle Budget

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After adjourning last week without passing a budget, members of the Virginia General Assembly will reconvene April 11 for a special session to complete their work on a biennial spending plan.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a proclamation Tuesday calling the special session.

“After a legislative session that was marked by bipartisan progress on issues that matter to people’s lives, I remain disappointed that the General Assembly was unable to extend that spirit of cooperation to its work on the budget,” Northam said in a press release.

The House budget bill, introduced by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, passed in the House 68-32. The Senate insisted on amendments. The bill went to a conference committee, but negotiators could not reach agreement before the session concluded Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, introduced the Senate’s budget bill, which passed the Senate 25-15. It was sent to the House but never made it out of the Appropriations Committee.

The major sticking point is over Medicaid, the health program for low-income Americans. The House wants to expand Medicaid on grounds that the federal government will pick up most of the cost. The Senate opposes that idea because it fears the state may be stuck with the tab.

Like the House, Northam wants to expand Medicaid.

“Virginians sent us to Richmond to work together to make life better for every family, no matter who they are or where they live. We can live up to that responsibility by passing a budget that expands health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it,” he said in Tuesday’s statement.

“Expanding coverage will also generate savings that we can invest in education, workforce training, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and a healthy cash balance to prepare for fiscal downturns.”

The General Assembly convened on Jan. 10 for a 60-day session. By the end of the session, more than 870 bills had passed — but none on the budget.

By April 9, Northam must sign, veto or recommend changes on the approved bills. The General Assembly already was scheduled to meet on April 18 to consider the governor’s vetoes and recommendations.

Gov. Northam Signs 300 Bills on Issues From Taxes to Child Abuse

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Before adjourning on Saturday, the General Assembly passed more than 870 bills, and about 300 of them – on subjects ranging from taxes and criminal justice to education and government transparency – have already been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The first bill signed by Northam, a pediatric neurologist who took office on Jan. 13, fit his medical career: Senate Bill 866 will reauthorize a license for a hospital in Patrick County, allowing the facility to reopen. SB 866 took effect immediately – on Feb. 16. Unless a bill contains such an emergency clause, it takes effect July 1.

Here is a rundown of other bills the governor has approved, as well as legislation awaiting action.

Bills Already Enacted

House Bill 154 and SB 230 took effect as soon as the governor signed them in on Feb. 22 and 23. Both conform Virginia’s tax system to changes in the federal tax code that the U.S. Congress approved last year.

Like the GOP-created federal law, both state laws were introduced by Republicans. Unlike the federal legislation, both bills saw bipartisan support in Virginia’s House and Senate.

The state legislation provides tax incentives to fund relief to areas struck by hurricanes. The two bills also feature the first amendments that Northam recommended as governor.

Bills Taking Effect July 1

Northam signed several bills tackling child abuse. They include HB 150 and HB 389, which will require local social service departments to alert schools found to have employed anyone accused of child abuse or neglect at any time.

Young people also will be helped by HB 399 and SB 960, which seek to create new work opportunities for students. The House bill requires school systems to notify students about internships and other work-based learning experiences. The Senate measure will promote partnerships between public high schools and local businesses on internships, apprenticeships and job shadow programs.

HB 35 will add a layer of oversight to the process that puts more violent juvenile offenders in adult detention faculties for the safety of other juveniles. It also will separate these juveniles from adult offenders when confined in adult facilities.

SB 966 will allow monopoly utilities like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to use their “over-earnings” – revenues that state regulators consider as excess profits – to modernize the energy grid and promote clean energy. The bill also removes a rate freeze made law in 2015, restoring some regulatory power to the State Corporation Committee.

HB 907 and 908 will allow greater transparency through public access to government meetings through the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, Northam approved bills creating more FOIA exemptions: for records relating to public safety (HB 727), certain police records (HB 909) and select financial investment documents held by board members of the College of William and Mary (HB 1426).

Bills on the Governor’s Desk

In criminal justice, HB 1550 would raise the threshold amount of money stolen that would qualify for grand larceny from $200 to $500. The current state threshold, which determines whether the crime is a felony, is one of the lowest in the United States.

Immigration saw the passage of HB 1257, which would bar the creation of sanctuary cities in Virginia by enforcing federal immigration standards on all localities. Its passage in the Senate, like the House of Delegates, came down to votes split along party lines. Northam has already made clear his intention to veto the legislation.

Last year, the General Assembly passed HB 1547, which provides state funding to renovate select historically black cemeteries in Richmond. This year, legislators approved bills focusing on African-American cemeteries in Loudoun County (SB 163), Charlottesville (HB 360) and Portsmouth (SB 198 and HB 527). A fifth, HB 284, would cover every black cemetery in the state while broadening the groups able to receive state funds.

Also awaiting Northam’s signature is HB 1600, which would reduce the maximum length of a long-term school suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill provides exceptions in extreme cases.

HB 50 would prohibit teachers and other school employees from “lunch shaming” students who can’t afford school meals by making them do chores or wear a wristband or hand stamp.

Northam has until April 9 to sign, veto or recommend changes to the bills sent to him by the General Assembly. Lawmakers will then return to Richmond on April 18 for a one-day session to consider vetoes and recommendations.

One piece of legislation that isn’t on Northam’s desk is a state budget for the 2018-2020 biennium. Legislators adjourned Saturday without reaching agreement on the budget because the Senate rejected the House of Delegates’ plans to expand Medicaid.

So Northam, who supports Medicaid expansion, must call a special legislative session for lawmakers to approve a budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Governor Signs Bill Reshaping How Energy Giants Operate

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Friday reshaping the way the state’s monopoly utility companies, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, are allowed to spend revenues received from customers.

In approving the bill, the governor turned back late-session pleas by opponents who fear the bill will allow the electric companies to regulate themselves.

Northam, on Twitter, described the legislation as “ending the freeze on energy utility rates, returning money to customers, and investing in clean energy and a modern grid. I am proud that my team and I improved this bill significantly and thank the General Assembly for its continued work on the measure.”

Senate Bill 966, also known as the Grid Transformation and Security Act, was introduced by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, and changes the way utilities are allowed to collect and spend “over-earnings” -- what state regulators consider to be excessive profits. The bill also removes a rate freeze imposed by a 2015 law, which made the State Corporation Committee unable to order customer refunds and set utility rates.

The legislation states that utilities may spend excess profits toward modernizing the state’s energy grid as well as for projects focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Before the 2015 rate freeze, ratepayers would have received a percentage refund for over-earnings.

However, legislators opposed to the bill fear it is worded in such a way as to lessen the SCC’s regulating power on the utilities, allowing them to use the excess profits in other ways.

Northam’s signature comes two days after Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, sent the governor a letter urging him to amend sections of the legislation.

The two senators said they believe that the bill “takes power away from the SCC, and places it into the hands of the General Assembly” and that it deems “a variety of projects, ‘in the public interest,’ including various transmission, generation, and energy storage projects, without full review by the SCC.”

Dominion Energy released a statement thanking the legislation’s supporters.

“We appreciate the hard work put in by the broad coalition of supporters, the governor’s office, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reach consensus on creating a smarter, stronger, greener electric grid with tremendous customer benefits,” said Dominion Energy spokesman Rayhan Daudani.

Gov. Northam Gives a ‘Whoot’ about Reading

By Aya Driouche, Capital News Service
 
RICHMOND -- Gov. Ralph Northam sat down with first-graders at Woodville Elementary School on Friday morning and read Dr. Seuss’ “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” in celebration of Read Across America Day.
 
The national event, created by the National Education Association in 1997, falls on the birthday of the late Theodor Geisel, best known for writing more than 60 children's books under the pen name Dr. Seuss.
 
Teachers, politicians, athletes and celebrities across the nation participate in Read Across America by taking part in activities to encourage children to read.
 
“These babies are the leaders of tomorrow. We want them to learn at an early age that it is important to read because you can’t function in a society if you can’t read or write,” said Shannon Washington, principal of Woodville Elementary.
 
At the school, staff members sported Dr. Seuss hats and costumes and volunteers welcomed parents and family members who joined the students. Visitors were handed Dr. Seuss books as they signed in.
 
Northam joined Tawnya Jones’ first-grade class. The children were excited to share their dreams and goals with Northam, who stressed the importance of reading before starting in on  “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”
 
Washington said that at Woodville, reading is celebrated by students and teachers. “The kids come to my office as a principal for reading, and it’s not punishment– the kids are excited about reading, and they want people to hear them read,” she said.
 
 
“We celebrate reading, and we promote it and encourage students to share their love for reading and the adults to share their love for reading,” Washington said. “We want children to see the importance of literacy. As the adults, we have to show kids our love for reading.”

Lawmakers, Northam, lobbyists go to court — for a good cause

CAPITAL CLASSIC

Use buttons on each side to scroll forward/back through slideshow.

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Bragging rights were on the line as the Virginia governor’s office played the lobbyists and the state Senate took on the House of Delegates in the 10th annual Massey Capitol Classic Challenge basketball games.

Among the team of government officials was Gov. Ralph Northam, who recorded just two points and a reboundMonday night but maintained high spirits.

“It’s great to see everyone here tonight to support a great cause. Thank you all so much for supporting it,” Northam said.

The event at the Virginia Commonwealth University Siegel Center raises money for the VCU Massey Cancer Center. This year’s game raised more than $34,653 — over $1,000 more than last year. The House of Delegates led the fundraising efforts, raising $12,853 through personal and family donations.

According to the Massey website, the cancer center is one of two in Virginia, designated by the National Cancer Institute. Of the 1,500 cancer centers in the United States, 69 have earned an NCI designation, placing Massey in the top 4 percent of cancer centers nationwide.

To prepare for the Capitol Classic, team members have been practicing on Tuesdays since the legislative session began in January, said Laura Bryant, an intern for Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. Their hard work, however, may not have been noticeable to the hundreds of fans in attendance.

The first game was a showdown between the Northam administration representatives and lobbyists. The first half was full of sloppy passes and missed open shots. The second half proved to be more fruitful for both sides, but the lobbyists ultimately fell to the governor’s team by a final score of 52-48.

The winning team included Northam aide Seth Opoku-Yeboah and Director of Communications Brian Coy.

Following the governor’s victory, the House and Senate took the court. After a slow 15-minute first half the House held an 18-13 lead.

The game featured some local celebrities, such as former VCU basketball guard Doug Brooks, class of 2017, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. However, even Brooks couldn’t lift the Senate to a victory. In the Senate, Fairfax only votes in case of a tie. On the basketball court, he helped the House seal a 40-31 victory.

Gov. Northam Calls for Raising Teachers’ Salaries

By DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam told the Virginia School Boards Association on Monday that the state needs to raise teacher pay to attract and keep top talent in the commonwealth’s public schools.

Speaking to the association’s annual Capital Conference, Northam said the state’s teachers make $7,500 less than the national average.

“There are some things that I think need attention, and some of them sooner than later,” he said. “The first is, we need to be able to recruit and retain the best talent out there to teach our children.”

The governor said he also wants to close the skills gap by reaching children earlier in their development. Northam said one way to do that is to build on the STEM acronym of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by adding art and health care.

Northam drew on his experience as a child neurologist when discussing the need to evaluate school start times. He said he understands that adolescents go to sleep later and wake up later than adults.

“We’re asking our teenagers – we’re not asking them, we’re telling them – to start school at 7, 7:30 in the morning. So, if you talk about issues like conduct problems or attention problems or learning disabilities, a lot of those can be related to not getting enough sleep at night,” he said.

The VSBA’s conference represented an early opportunity for the governor to meet with Virginians involved in education.

“I think what’s important with this particular group is you have superintendents as well as school board members,” said Jared Cotton, the superintendent of schools in Henry County, on the North Carolina line.

An educator from another rural area said his region faces different economic challenges than populated areas that make up much of the state’s school spending.

 “When you are living in a rural county, there is not a great deal of economic development with business and industry to help offset,” said Christopher Smith, a member of the Southampton County School Board for more than 32 years. “I think one of the main issues confronting most localities is, how can the state help especially rural areas to develop economically?”

Activists Protest Gov. Northam’s Position on Pipelines

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – About 25 environmental activists demonstrated at Gov. Ralph Northam’s inauguration Saturday to protest his refusal to oppose two natural gas pipelines that energy companies want to build across Virginia.

The demonstrators unveiled a banner saying “our water > pipelines” and waved other signs as they chanted “water is life” through megaphones.

The protesters were with Virginia River Healers and a coalition called “Water is Life. Protect it.” They were demonstrating against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would cut across the western part of the state.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Dominion Energy and other companies that have proposed the pipelines say they are important for meeting the region’s energy needs and will create jobs.

Tom Burkett, the lead organizer of Saturday’s protest, complained that the pipelines would carry gas extracted from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into the ground – a process that opponents say damages the environment.

“In doing this, there is a lot of water contamination concerns because of the millions of gallons of chemicals that the process uses,” Burkett said. “There is also the concern that with these pipelines being constructed, the fracking companies will have a better infrastructure and will then get a business incentive to continue fracking even more.”

Burkett noted that Northam has accepted campaign contributions from Dominion Energy. He said he wished politicians would pledge to not accept money from energy companies that have a stake in pipelines.

Northam has given mixed signals on whether he approves of the pipeline projects.

During the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Northam avoided taking a firm stand for or against the pipelines – drawing criticism from his opponent, Tom Perriello, and environmentalists.

Northam has said he supports the pipelines if they can be constructed in an environmentally safe way and the rights of property owners are not violated. Last week, Northam said he supports U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s proposal that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reconsider its vote to approve the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

About 10 of the demonstrators at Northam’s inauguration were immigrants’ rights supporters. Wearing their signature orange beanies, they were showing their support for undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children.

Dreamers had been protected against deportation by an Obama administration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Trump has indicated he may end that policy.

Cold Temperatures Fail to Deter Inauguration Crowd

By Logan Bogert and Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –  Virginians had a lot of reasons to endure biting cold temperatures Saturday to witness Ralph Northam's inauguration as governor. Some of the estimated 5,000 spectators came with a plea of help. Some wanted to witness democracy in action. And others had dedicated themselves to the Northam campaign.

“I’m here to celebrate our way ahead,” Christine Payne of Williamsburg said, referring to Northam’s inaugural theme. “I worked hard for him since his primary, and I am here to continue that support. I hope to see his campaign promises come to fruition, from the environment all to the economy.”

Sophin Sok, a Richmond resident from Cambodia, said she came to the inaugural ceremony in hopes of getting Northam’s attention to pardon her fiance, who has been detained for three months and faces deportation.  

“He  came here at the age of 3, and he’s the biological father to three of my kids.” Sok said. “About a decade ago, he plead guilty to a charge, but he served his time, paid his debt to society and he turned his life around and pretty much put his family as a priority.

“They didn’t prepare him for anything, they just took him. They didn’t allow us to prepare ourselves -- so now it’s kind of hard for me because he is the main provider also and he’s a great father,” Sok said.

Sok said she and her fiance have children ages 1, 2 and 6. They  want Northam to write a pardon letter so he can come home and get a second chance to stay in America.

For Kevin Miller of Danville, the inaugural parade brought a special family meaning. He came to watch his son perform with the George Washington High School marching band. “It’s a great honor for them and an opportunity for them to do something they don’t get to do very often,” Miller said.

The ceremony and parade showcased Virginia's diversity.

The day opened with the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Boy and Girl Scouts from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center. And it closed with the blessing of the grounds by representatives of Virginia's Indian tribes.

Universities from across the state took part in the parade, as did such groups as Equality Virginia, the Cultural Center of India and the Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team.

Inauguration Attendees: ‘I’m Proud of My State’

 

 

 

 

 

By Adam Hamza and Christopher Wood, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Traveling from all parts of the state, thousands of Virginians came to watch Ralph Northam take the gubernatorial oath of office on Saturday. Many traveled to show their support for the new governor – and others to reflect on what the future holds.

‘I’m proud of my state’

Mark and Elizabeth Martin drove 85 miles from Stanardsville to see their son march in the parade with the Virginia Military Institute. Before Northam’s inaugural address, Mark Martin said he believed Virginia was regressing in its politics.

“In the 2016 election, we had the backlash of nationalism and small mindedness, and this was a move in the other direction,” he said.

Both Mark and Elizabeth said they believe Northam will have a progressive impact in Virginia.

“I’m proud of my state for doing the right thing,” Elizabeth Martin said. “Partisan politics aren’t the way to go; we need to look at each issue individually and see what’s best for everyone.”

 

First-time to attend an inauguration

Jaylen Green, a student at the University of Virginia, said she and a friend came to support other friends who had worked for Northam’s campaign. She said she has seen how politics affect people locally, and that she voted for Northam in the gubernatorial primary elections.

“Neither of us had been to an inauguration before,” Green said.

Jill Caiazzo of Arlington attended the inauguration for the first time as well.

“I’m just excited to see Ralph Northam inaugurated. I think he’s going to do great things for this state,” she said.

 

A supporter of women’s rights

Northam’s inaugural address covered a range of issues including Medicaid expansion, gun regulation, women’s rights and the need to end partisan politics.

Elizabeth Martin, a pro-choice supporter, said she thought it was important that the new governor specifically mentioned women’s rights.

 

 

“I’m so happy he hit on women’s rights and is stressing that, and rights for all people,” she said.

 

 

A focus on other issues

 

 

Some attended to voice their causes and gauge what Northam’s goals are. Sheba Williams is the executive director of Nolef Turns, a charity that helps men and women who have been convicted of a felony. She said she went to the inauguration to better understand the direction the administration is taking.

 

 

“We just want to see what the goals are for this administration, and see who they will be focusing on,” Williams said.

 

 

Sam Barker, a student at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, said he came to the inauguration to see a friend, Justin Fairfax, take the oath of office as the state’s lieutenant governor. He said he hopes Northam keeps a strong stand on his environmental policy.

 

 

In the past, Northam has worked to preserve water quality and management in the Chesapeake Bay. He has also rejected the idea that environmental regulation and economic growth are mutually exclusive.

 

 

“I just really hope he puts a stop to offshore drilling in Virginia,” Barker said, referring to a recent action by President Trump. “Trump has reinstated offshore drilling on the East Coast, which has been banned since at least the ’70s.”

Northam inaugural ball showcases Virginia regions

By Siona Peterous and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Temperatures in the 20s didn’t deter a steady stream of hundreds of people dressed in fine suits and glamorous gowns from arriving at Main Street Station for Gov. Ralph Northam’s inaugural ball.

The ball opened its doors at 8 p.m. Saturday and was the first event held in the station’s newly renovated 47,000 square-foot and 500-foot long train shed.

“I’m happy to see the renovations are done and this is such a great, exciting event. It makes politics a little more fun, you know,” said Margaret Clark, a Henrico resident who teaches high school and works with a local non-profit.

The ball featured a Motown-influenced funk band, Mo’ Sol, whose high-energy twists on classics by Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and dozens more helped create a lively crowd that danced in the 90 minutes between when doors opened and the governor and first lady of Virginia, Pamela Northam, appeared on stage for their first dance.

In keeping with the theme of the Motown glory days, the couple’s first dance was to Otis Redding’s, “A Change is Gonna Come.”

Foods and drinks distinct to the Commonwealth's regions were featured at tables set against the hall’s massive glass windows. Diners could sample coastal Virginia’s raw bar, pot pie from the Blue Ridge, charcuterie from Northern Virginia and an apple dessert from the Shenandoah Valley.

The ball’s open bar included a specially made beer, Inaugural-ALE from the  Ashland-based Center of the Universe Brewing Company.

“By brewing this beer with 100-percent Virginia grown ingredients, we hope to show the synergy between the Virginia craft beer manufacturers and our Virginia agricultural partners,” company founder Chris Ray said in a news release.

According to Laura Bryant, who campaigned with Northam, the focus on Virginia’s agriculture is  in line with the new governor’s promise to continue former Gov. Terry McAuliffe's work on showcasing regions outside of the economic powerhouses of Northern Virginia.

“As you can see there is a celebration of areas outside of NOVA -- Southwest Virginia, Blue Ridge Virginia and Richmond,” Bryant said. “I’m just excited because there are voices represented that would usually not be present in an inaugural setting.”

Immigrant-Rights Supporters Protest at Inaugural Ball

By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- About a dozen immigrant-rights supporters protested outside Gov. Ralph Northam’s inaugural ball, calling on Virginia politicians to back federal legislation protecting many undocumented young adults from deportation.

The protesters urged U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to support a bill to help immigrants who qualified for protection under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. President Trump has indicated he will end the DACA policy unless Congress acts.

The demonstrators shouted their pleas Saturday night outside Main Street Station, where Northam’s inaugural ball was being held.

The protests were organized by CASA in Action, a nonprofit organization operating in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The organization says it has more than 96,000 members and is the largest electoral organization focused on immigrant rights in the mid-Atlantic region.

The president of CASA in Action, Gustavo Torres, said that the protests focused on pressuring Kaine and Warner to require a “clean” DACA bill as part of congressional negotiations over the federal budget. Such a bill would allow DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, to stay in the United States.

The activists have been following Kaine and Warner at various events to protest their previous votes against putting the DACA law in the budget legislation. Congress must take budget action by Friday to avert a government shutdown.

The fate of DACA protections has become a critical issue in reaching a bipartisan deal on a federal budget. Many Democratic leaders have announced they will not support a budget without guaranteeing the security of DACA recipients, Torres said.

“We are still very optimistic based on people’s reactions against the deportation of DACA recipients,” Torres said. “But we have to do our homework. Doing our homework is knocking on doors; it's talking to people. They (Kaine and Warner) say they are our friends, but right now we need them to be our champions. There is a strong difference.”

Luis Aguilera, a DACA recipient and an immigrant rights activist, said it’s not surprising that DACA is under attack.

“Using immigrants is a convenient political tool; however it’s not just Trump,” Aguilera said. “So we are asking Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner to back up their claims that they are supporters of DACA.”

Though the conversation about DACA is heavily focused on Latinos, Dreamers of other nationalities also are affected.

Esther Jeon, a DACA recipient, is an immigrant rights fellow with the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.

“I don't think many people know how many Asian Americans are affected by DACA. One in six in our Korean-American community have DACA,” Jeong said.

 “We’re all here to let the government know how widespread the effects (of ending DACA protections) are -- because it’s not just Latinos, it’s Asians, and there is even a number of undocumented black immigrants in this country as well.”

As the protest was being held at the inaugural ball, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced some good news for DACA recipients: On Saturday evening, the department said it would continue to process DACA renewals in light of a ruling last week by a federal judge in San Francisco. However, that does not mean DACA is protected for the long term.

Governor Northam Emphasizes Democratic Priorities, Diversity

By Ryan Persaud, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In an address Monday night to members of the General Assembly, newly inaugurated Gov. Ralph Northam outlined his vision for the legislative session, calling on lawmakers to expand Medicaid, protect abortion rights, increase funding for education and pass gun control measures.

“If we take these steps, we will answer the charge our voters gave us to make Virginia work better for everyone – no matter who they are or where they are from,” Northam said.

The governor called attention to the diversity of his cabinet – which contains more women than men – and to the growing diversity of the House and Senate. Twelve women were elected to the House last fall.

“This cabinet is led by women,” Northam said. “And like this new General Assembly, it is also one of the most diverse in our history … When people say, ‘We can’t find enough women or enough diverse candidates for leadership roles,’ I say — you’re not looking hard enough.”

Northam also touched on expanding voting rights, such as no-excuse absentee voting, restoring the voting rights of felons who have served their time and raising the threshold for felony larceny.

“There is no excuse for the criminal act of theft,” Northam said. “But a teenager who steals one used iPhone or a pair of boots should not have her entire life defined by that one mistake.”

Democratic issues – such as Medicare expansion, abortion rights and gun control – were met with applause and standing ovations by Democrats, while Republicans largely remained seated and silent during the address.

Despite focusing on partisan issues for most of his speech, Northam cited the need for bipartisanship and for both parties to work together.

“Bipartisanship has been the watchword of the first few days of this session,” Northam said. “For that I am thankful.”

The Republican response to Northam’s address was delivered by newly elected Del. Emily Brewer of Suffolk and Sen. Glen Sturtevant of Chesterfield.

They emphasized the GOP’s priorities of crafting a balanced budget, fixing what they see as a broken health-care system, and improving education in the state.

“Virginia Republicans are committed to a cooperative and collaborative approach to considering legislation and passing a responsible budget,” Sturtevant said. “We will continue our long-standing emphasis on fiscally responsible, conservative budgeting, looking for cost savings and efficiencies to ensure your family gets the greatest possible value out of every tax dollar you send to Richmond.”

Brewer highlighted the need to deliver practical economic solutions to meet citizens’ needs.

“From measures that will protect and provide for the women and men who serve in law enforcement, to long-overdue changes that will grant family leave to state employees who adopt a child,” Brewer said, “we will be advancing changes that will make the commonwealth an even better place to live, to work and to raise a family.”

Gov. Northam Delivers Message of Hope in Inaugural Address

By Deanna Davison and Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Ralph Northam took office as Virginia’s 73rd governor on Saturday and urged citizens to maintain the strong “moral compass deep in our hearts” to help guide the state forward.

In his inaugural address to a crowd of about 5,000 outside the state Capitol on a day of stinging cold, Northam reflected first on his childhood on the Eastern Shore, the time he spent fishing and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay and the advice he received from his father.

“If things get dark or foggy, if you can’t find your way,” his father said, “keep your eye on the compass. It’ll always bring you home safely.”

Northam, 58, said Virginians can likewise rely on their inner compass.

“We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts, and it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do,” said the former lieutenant governor and state senator.

Northam also spoke about transparency and the need for government officials to bridge the political divides. His core policy platforms as governor, he said, are those he believes are nonpartisan: expanding health care, reducing gun violence and ensuring equal access to education.

“Virginians didn’t send us here to be Democrats or Republicans,” Northam said. “They sent us here to solve problems. The path to progress is marked by honest give and take among people who truly want to make life better for those around them.”

Northam was sworn in after fellow Democrats Justin Fairfax took the oath as lieutenant governor and Mark Herring was sworn in for a second term as attorney general.

The inauguration drew a pair of demonstrations: About two dozen people protested the controversial natural gas pipelines, shouting “water is life” during a moment of silence. A smaller group, United We Dream, demonstrated on behalf of immigrants.

Capitol Square officially opened to the public at 9:30 a.m., and by 11:30 a.m., the stands were full. Spectators came prepared with heavy coats and gloves to brave the cold. Hot apple cider was served in blue Northam cups that said, “The Way Ahead.”

After the swearing-in ceremonies, representatives of Virginia’s Indian tribes gave a “Blessing of the Ground” for the new administration. Then the inaugural parade began, featuring dozens of groups from across the commonwealth. Cadets from Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, marched across the grounds, saluting the new governor.

Northam’s first executive order was signed immediately after the parade. It “prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities in Virginia state government.”

Among the parade participants with a connection to Northam was the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. Northam served as a pediatric neurologist at the Norfolk hospital for 25 years. He said the lessons he learned there, including the importance of hope, will stay with him during his four years as governor.

“I have recognized the incredible power of hope and my responsibility to preserve it in the people I serve,” Northam said. “Hope is not just a source of comfort for the afflicted – it is a wellspring of energy to fight for a better tomorrow, no matter the odds. I am committed as your governor to fight every day for the hope that tomorrow will be better – for all of us, not just some of us.”

Like Florida, Virginia Seeks Offshore Drilling Exemption

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov.-elect Ralph Northam asked Thursday that Virginia be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to open almost all of America’s offshore waters to drilling.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Northam cited his childhood growing up on the Eastern Shore as testament to the region’s worth to Virginia and the country at large.

“The Chesapeake Bay and the Commonwealth’s ocean and coastal resources are every bit as ecologically and economically valuable as those of Florida,” Northam said.

Last week, Zinke proposed allowing offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all coastal waters of the United States. But on Tuesday, following objections from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke said Florida would be exempt from the plan.

Northam’s letter asked “that the same exemption be made for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The letter follows Northam’s previous statement condemning the Trump administration’s drilling proposal. Governors of other East Coast states – including Maryland and North and South Carolina – have also voiced objections.

Northam said offshore drilling would pose financial risks to Virginia. He said he was concerned about military assets in Hampton Roads, which account for “nearly half” of the region’s economy, and about the tourism and seafood industries. Northam said Virginia is “the leading seafood producer on the East Coast, the third largest producer in the country, and the national leader in hard clam aquaculture.”

Zinke has called the drilling plan part of “a new path for energy dominance in America.” In a press release last week, he said oil and gas drilling would have vast financial benefits, providing “billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”

The Trump administration will take public comment on its proposals from Jan. 16 through March 9.

Northam called on the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold public hearings in Hampton Roads and on the Eastern Shore. He noted that the bureau has scheduled a public meeting for the proposal in Richmond, “nearly 100 miles from the coastal communities that would most feel its impacts.”

A Last-Minute Guide to Governor’s Inauguration

By Christopher Wood and Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

Richmond is buzzing in anticipation of the gubernatorial inauguration that will take place Saturday at the Virginia Capitol.

The swearing-in of Ralph Northam as the commonwealth’s 73rd governor is a historic event with a turnout predicted in the thousands. Though tickets for special seating are no longer available, attending the inauguration is free and open to the public.

Here’s a guide to help you get in on the action or simply to better prepare for what the day might bring.

Schedule of Saturday’s events

9:30 a.m. – Gates open to the public at Capitol Square.

Noon – The inauguration ceremony begins on the South Portico of the Virginia State Capitol, as Northam takes the oath of office. Also, Justin Fairfax will be sworn in as lieutenant governor, and Mark Herring will take the oath of office for a second term as attorney general.

1 p.m.– The inaugural parade begins. The parade route will move east from Grace Street and will circumnavigate Capitol Square.

2-4 p.m. – Open House at the Executive Mansion. Pamela Northam said the first family is “looking forward to welcoming Virginians into our new home for the first time.”

8 p.m.– The inaugural ball will begin at Main Street Station (ticket required).

What to expect

About 4,000 people are expected to attend the inauguration and parade, according to the Northam Inaugural Committee. If you don’t plan on attending, stay away from the Capitol as several streets will be closed starting Friday.

For attendees, several portable toilets will be placed in various locations on the Capitol grounds.

Where to take in the action

The last chance to get tickets for the inauguration was Tuesday, but you can still get a good view of the event. Capitol Square – southeast of Ninth and Broad streets – will be open to the public. Two screens streaming the event will be set up on either side of the Capitol.

About the parade

The parade will feature organizations from across Virginia including NASA, SemperK9 Assistance Dogs, Virginia Teachers of the Year, Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team, the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail Fiddlers and Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters (where Northam, a native of the Eastern Shore, is a pediatric neurologist).

The Corps of Cadets from Virginia Military Institute, the incoming governor’s alma mater, will march in the parade as well.

There’ll even be a national and international star: Deborah Pratt, Virginia’s fastest oyster shucker who again will represent the U.S. in the International Oyster Opening Championship in Ireland.

Weather

The bad news is that it’s supposed to rain on Saturday. The good news is that the National Weather Service predicts the rain will end by 8 a.m., giving way to partly sunny skies and highs in the mid-50s.

Security

When gearing up to go the Capitol, pack light. Security screenings will be set up at each of the two entrances to Capitol Square. Though most prohibited items come as no surprise, some banned objects, such as umbrellas or plastic bottles, are not so obvious.

Although it probably won’t rain during the event, if you want to come prepared for wet weather, opt for a raincoat – not an umbrella.

Here is a list from the inaugural committee’s websiteof items banned from the event: weapons of any type, hazardous materials, pepper spray or mace, umbrellas, glass or plastic bottles, coolers, laser pointers, tripods, sticks or poles, aerosol containers, air-horns, tools, scissors, needles, razor blades and fireworks.

Traffic, transportation and parking

Parking for the inauguration will be open to the public at the parking decks at 14th and Main streets, Seventh and Franklin streets, and Seventh and Marshall streets.

A complimentary shuttle service provided by the Northam Inaugural Committee will be available for public use. The shuttle will run from the Quirk, Omni and the Jefferson hotels directly to Eight and Broad streets. The shuttle will drop off passengers every 10 minutes between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. After the parade, the shuttle will reroute, taking passengers from the drop-off point back to the hotels.

Road closures might pose a problem for motorists trying to drive through downtown. Ninth Street and Bank Street bordering the Capitol grounds will be closed from 7 p.m. Friday through 6 p.m. Saturday. West of the Capitol, about 10 blocks will be closed from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The closures include Grace and Franklin streets from Eighth Street to Adams Street.

2018 Inaugural Committee Leadership Announces Theme for the 73rd Inauguration: “The Way Ahead”

Alongside Theme, 2018 Inaugural Committee Launches Website and Logo

Virginians Can Receive Updates Online at vainauguration2018.com

Richmond -- Today, the 2018 Inaugural Committee announced the theme for the 73rd Virginia gubernatorial inauguration: “The Way Ahead.”

The Way Ahead articulates a vision for leading a Virginia with bipartisan, commonsense solutions that lifts up all of its people. Whether its taking advantage of new economic opportunities, finding oneself in serving others, or educating Virginia’s children with boundless potential, Governor-elect Northam believes the best way forward is by working together.

“The Way Ahead is a celebration of the prosperity possible through a unified Commonwealth honoring its diversity and inclusivity,” said Governor-elect Ralph Northam. “Our inauguration will launch an exciting new area of progress for all Virginians -- one in which commonsense solutions, service to others and boundless opportunities for our children’s future rises above all else. By working together as one Commonwealth, Virginians will come together during these troubling times for our country and lift each other up -- no matter who you are or where you’re from.”

Alongside the launch of the theme, the Inaugural Committee also released the logo and 2018 Inauguration website -- vainauguration2018.com -- which will include forthcoming details on events, logistics and ticketing information. 

The 2018 Inaugural logo was designed by Andy Lynne, a native of Ashland.

Northam vows to protect LGBT rights

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who’s running for governor, vowed to protect gay and lesbian people during a news conference Tuesday that commemorated the anniversary of the Bostic v. Rainey decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Three years ago, Virginia's statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage were deemed unconstitutional by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and soon afterward same-sex marriage came to the commonwealth.

Standing alongside the plaintiffs from the case, Northam said he would not allow Virginia to persecute LGBT residents and suffer economic hardships the way North Carolina did after passing that state’s controversial House Bill 2.

“Just before the holidays I completed a seven-city tour that ended in Salem, Virginia, where I was pleased to welcome the NCAA soccer tournament,” Northam said.

"That championship was relocated from North Carolina after the state passed anti-LGBT legislation, as was the NBA All-Star game and major businesses,” Northam said. “As long as I’m here, as long as Governor (Terry) McAuliffe and Attorney General (Mark) Herring are here, Virginia will be inclusive. We will not be like North Carolina.”

Northam spoke not only of the financial impact of anti-LGBT legislation but of his own moral perspective on the issue, placing himself and his wife, Pam, in the shoes of LGBT residents.

“What really distresses me is if someone came to me and said, ‘Ralph, you can’t love Pam for whatever reason.’ Or they came to me and said, ‘You and Pam can’t have children because of whatever reason.’ Or they came to me and said, ‘You’re going to be discriminated against in the workplace’ ,” Northam said. “That is not the America, that is not the Virginia that we want.”

Carol Schall, one of the plaintiffs from the Bostic v. Rainey case, also spoke at the news conference, highlighting the effect the court’s decision three years ago has had on family. She also discussed Del. Mark D. Sickles’ HB 1395, which would have repealed no-longer-valid language the Virginia code and constitution that declared marriage is between a man and a woman. The bill died in a House committee.

“Names matter. Names like ‘mom’ and ‘wife’ make all the difference in the world,” said Schall. “In past years such as this year, Delegate Sickles proposed to repeal outdated constitutional amendment encoding discrimination in our great constitution.”

Sickles, D-Fairfax County, spoke on HB 1395 and how it was struck down in a House committee as it has been in previous years. Sickles called for a full House vote on the issue and spoke on another piece of legislation he filed this session, HJ 538, which would allow voters to repeal a constitutional amendment passed in 2006 that defined marriage as being between ‘one man and one woman.’

“If this constitutional were passed and it passed again next winter, by the time it got to the voters in November of ‘18, 1.2 million people in our state will have come of age,” Sickles said. “They want to speak to this. They do not want the people of the 2006 cultural and societal milieu to speak forever.”  Constitutional amendments require approval in two General Assembly sessions before they can be offered to voters on a November ballot.

Sickles’ HB 1395 and HJ 538 were not the only pro-LGBT legislation to die in House committees this session. Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, who was present at the conference, also saw his legislation--HB 2129--die early on.

Levine’s bill would have protected employees from being fired based on their sexual orientation, and died in the same subcommittee meeting that approved a religious freedom bill  from Del. Nicholas J. Freitas, R-Culpeper.

Freitas’ HB 2025 says no one can be penalized for refusing to participate in a marriage ceremony, and is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

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