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Rodney Robinson

House OKs Letting Parents Review School Materials

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Thirteen Democratic delegates split from bipartisan support of a House bill that allows parents to review anti-bullying or suicide prevention materials at their children’s school that may include graphic sexual or violent content.

HB 2107, carried by Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland, “requires local school boards to develop and implement policies that ensure parents the right to review any audio-visual materials that contain graphic sexual or violent content used in any anti-bullying or suicide prevention program,” according to the bill summary.

Parents could excuse their children from viewing the materials. The school would be required to provide written notice of a parent’s right to review the material and their right to excuse their child from participating in that part of the program, the bill says.

The bill heads to the Senate after passing the House, 86-13, on Tuesday.

Willie Deutsch, a member of the Prince William County School Board, supported the bill, saying, “Parental involvement is essential to a child’s academic success.”

“We need more parents involved in their children’s education,” Deutsch stated in a press release.

Deutsch used the opportunity to blast Del. Lee Carter of Manassas, who voted against the bill along with a dozen fellow Democratic delegates. “Sadly, Del. Carter made it clear that he opposes the important role of parents in their children’s education,” Deutsch said.

Carter declined to respond to Deutsch’s statement.

In 2016, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill that passed the House and Senate. That legislation required schools to notify parents of any sexually explicit teaching material used in the classroom. If parents chose not to allow their children to view the material, teachers would have to provide alternative assignments.

The House fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to override McAuliffe’s veto.

Bill Would Allow ‘Medical Aid in Dying’ for Terminally Ill

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, has firsthand experience witnessing a loved one battling a terminal illness: her father.

Kory said she wants to give patients and their families options to deal with the harsh realities of a terminal sickness. She said that is why she has introduced a bill that she calls the “Death with Dignity Act.”

Under the measure, an adult “who has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal condition and has voluntarily expressed his wish to die may request medication for the purpose of ending his life in a humane and dignified manner.”

“The ability for an individual to decide when suffering becomes unbearable should be a basic human right,” Kory said. “We should respect the wishes of terminally ill adults who have weeks or days to live.”

Kory filed HB 2713 on Jan. 15. The bill has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee. However, that panel has not assigned the bill to a subcommittee or scheduled a hearing on it. If the proposal does not win approval from the House of Delegates by Tuesday, it will be dead for the legislative session.

Under Kory’s bill, a terminally ill patient’s request for life-ending medication must be given orally on two occasions and in writing, signed by the patient and two witnesses. The patient also must have an opportunity to rescind the request.

Such laws are called “medical aid in dying” statutes. Currently, MAID is legal in seven states and Washington, D.C.

At Kory’s request, the Joint Commission on Health Care, a study group created by the Virginia General Assembly, looked at how MAID is working in those states. According to the commission’s research, MAID has had a small impact on the total number of deaths.

For example, Oregon had 37.2 MAID deaths per 10,000 total deaths in 2016. That is about one-third of 1 percent of all deaths.

Oregon and the neighboring state of Washington each have had fewer than 200 MAID deaths per year.

For Virginia, “it is likely that the number of people requesting MAID would be quite small for the first few years, gradually increasing to approximately 242 individuals dying from MAID medications,” the health care commission’s study said.

Jud Richland, Kory’s legal assistant, said the legislator is a “strong believer that people have a right to decide themselves how to address their own pain and suffering in their final days.”

MAID laws have stirred controversy. Opponents equate them with assisted suicide and say the laws can be abused, resulting in the deaths of people who are not terminally ill.

The Virginia Catholic Conference, which represents the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Arlington on public-policy matters, strongly opposes assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Jeff Caruso, the conference’s executive director, said he believes that if the General Assembly approves a MAID law, Virginians will be more inclined to think of suicide.

On Nov. 7, after receiving nearly 3,000 public comments, the Joint Commission on Health Care voted 10-6 to take no action concerning physician-assisted suicide, according to Caruso. Comments against assisted suicide outnumbered those in favor 8 to 1, he said.

“Government should prevent — not promote — suicide,” Caruso said. “The purpose of the medical profession is to heal lives, not end them.”

Democratic-Socialist Lawmaker Wants to Repeal Right-to-Work Law

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The General Assembly’s self-described socialist member is sponsoring legislation to repeal the state’s right-to-work law, which says employees can’t be forced to join a labor union.

Del. Lee Carter, a democratic socialist inspired by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has filed House Bill 1806, which could force workers in Virginia to become union members and pay union dues as a condition of their employment.

Virginia is among 27 right-to-work states — a fact that business leaders often point to with pride. Carter’s bill aims to change that.

“Repealing it is bigger than just the actual technical changes that it would make,” said Thomas McIntire, Carter’s legislative aide. “It sends a signal to workers in Virginia saying that your voice matters.”

In right-to-work states, a workplace where employees are represented by a union is considered an “open shop”: People can work there without joining the union, and they can cancel their union membership at any time.

Critics of right-to-work laws say this allows freeloading: Non-union employees don’t pay union dues, but they benefit from the collective bargaining agreements and higher salaries that the union negotiates.

Carter ran as a Democrat in winning the 50th House District seat representing Manassas and part of Prince William County in 2018. He wants to repeal the state law that says, “No person shall be required by an employer to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.”

HB 1806 would allow “agency shops” or “union shops,” where all employees must pay the union either dues or a service fee.

“A collective bargaining agreement may include a provision establishing an agency shop or a union shop,” the bill says. “If such a provision is agreed to, the employer shall enforce it by deducting from the salary payments to members of the bargaining unit the dues required of membership in the labor union, or, for nonmembers thereof, a fee equivalent to such dues.”

McIntire said the fees would help the union provide better support to employees in the workplace.

Supporters of right-to-work laws say they are good for the economy.

States without such laws tend to have higher unemployment and a higher cost of living, said Scott Mayausky, commissioner of the revenue in Stafford County, Virginia. That’s because compulsory union membership drives up the cost of goods and services, he said.

In such situations, a company’s costs can increase — and that worries Mayausky the most.

“Statistically, if you look at a lot of the Rust Belt states that are big union states, those are the ones that have been struggling economically, and a lot of their companies are leaving,” Mayausky said.

Mayausky had two grandfathers who were coal miners, so he understands the good that unions can bring. But he believes this isn’t the time for repealing the right-to-work law in Virginia.

“We’re doing very well,” Mayausky said. “I don’t understand the push to change the right-to-work law when things seem to be headed in the right direction.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia has about 176,000 union members — approximately 4.6 percent of wage and salary workers in the state.

McIntire said it was important for Carter to file the bill, which is pending before the House Rules Committee.

“This is at the core of what Del. Carter stands for when it comes to worker rights,” McIntire said. “It’s important to get this in now as early as possible.”

Panel Kills Bill to Shield Older Kids from Secondhand Smoke

By Rodney Robinson and Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A legislative subcommittee has killed a bill intended to shield older children from the effects of secondhand smoke.

Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted 5-3 to indefinitely postpone consideration of HB 2091, which sought to outlaw smoking in a motor vehicle containing minors under age 16. Currently, it’s illegal to smoke in a car if there are passengers under 8.

The five Republicans on the subcommittee voted in favor of killing the measure; the three Democrats on the panel voted against killing it.

The bill was sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William.

“As a mother, it was of great surprise to me to learn that children over the age of 8 can be exposed to secondhand smoke in vehicles,” Guzman said in a press release when she introduced the bill on Jan. 7. “Virginia needs to update its code to reflect the evidence-based results of medical studies.”

According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke is the cause of more than 41,000 deaths per year, and about 37 percent of children in the U.S have been exposed to such smoke.

Guzman’s bill would have applied not only to tobacco smoking but also to vaping.

“Children under the age of 16 should also be protected from the smoke originated from vaping,” she said. “It is so popular right now in high schools.”

Current state law does not address protecting minors from nicotine vapor emitted through the use of electronic cigarettes.

As a social worker and a mother of four, Guzman said protecting children is her No. 1 priority. She said teenagers 16 and older can speak up or remove themselves from a car where the driver or passengers are smoking. However, younger children do not have that power, Guzman said.

Other states have changed their laws on secondhand smoke.

In Kansas, it’s illegal to smoke in a vehicle with minors under 14, and in Louisiana, under 13.

Changing the law could reduce smoking, she said.

“In Kansas, for example, in 2011, 27 percent of adults say that they were smoking,” Guzman said. “In 2016, after this law passed, the amount of adults smoking reduced to 23 percent.”

Guzman said smokers “need to understand that secondhand smoke is the most dangerous part. And it is not fair that children are voiceless, that they cannot do anything to protect themselves.”

Although Guzman’s bill is likely dead for the session, Virginia legislators will have another chance to consider the issue. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, is sponsoring a bill similar to Guzman’s.

Rasoul’s proposal, HB 1744, would make it illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle in the presence of minors under 18. It also has been assigned to Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Courts of Justice Committee.

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