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Summer 2017 Capital News Service

360-degree river maps: Tool for travelers, environmentalists

By ALEX MANN, Capital New Service

UPPER MARLBORO, Maryland - After firing up the onboard computer, the burly and bearded Minnesota native yanked the pull starter cable on his 6-horsepower Tohatsu motor.

He twisted the the tiller-throttle into gear, lurching the custom-built 16-foot long, 8-foot wide cataraft boat up the Patuxent River and away from the pier at Jackson’s Landing in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

As the boat puttered along, passing marshes and piers — dilapidated and pristine — Ryan Abrahamsen, founder of 360-degree mapping company Terrain 360, pointed out a faint clicking overhead.

“If you listen really close, you can hear it.”

Abrahamsen pointed up at the six Canon cameras circularly mounted to a 13-foot stainless steel tower extending from the center of the boat. He designed a computer to track GPS and, as the boat travels, simultaneously shoot six cameras every 40 feet.

River mapping went on as planned Sept. 26 for Abrahamsen.

“If we map all day,” he said, the system records approximately 4,800 panoramic images. He then uses the snapshots to create virtual tours.

In collaboration with the Chesapeake Conservancy, Terrain 360 is making virtual riverview tours for the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail — the Patuxent is the 11th waterway mapped to date in the region.

The Google Street View-esque tours can be useful for adventurers and nature-goers, but also with an eye toward conservation.

Virtual tours are an innovative way to connect with nature, Jody Couser, spokeswoman for the Conservancy, wrote in an email to the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

“Nurturing and cultivating that connection with the public is really important to inspire people to care about the health of the Chesapeake and find ways they can make a difference.”

The James River was the first waterway mapped by Terrain 360 and James River Association conservation manager Justin Doyle said the virtual tours are a way to connect people to the river and the environmental goals associated with it.

“People want to protect what they love,” Doyle said. “If people aren’t familiar with it, they probably won’t want to protect it.”

The Richmond, Virginia-based Terrain 360’s images could be pivotal in documenting environmental changes, like erosion.

If we go back to the same waterways to map them years later, Abrahamsen said, “it will be tangible evidence of change.”

In 2018 he hopes to remap the James River, which he photographed in 2014 — a milestone for Abrahamsen, as it was the first time his operation took to the water, having focused on hiking trails for about two years.

He said he looks forward to seeing “how the river has eroded the shoreline or created new islands.”

Meanwhile, Doyle looks forward to using the 2014 images as a baseline for the James’s riparian buffers — wooded areas immediately adjacent to the river — to compare with future river conditions.

The buffers, he explained, “provide critical habitat for numerous species and absorb pollution.”

Couser said that the Conservancy sees the riverview tours serving a supplemental role, pairing the tours with their High Resolution Land Cover Project, a mathematical approach to documenting environmental change.   

Abrahamsen said he considered the potential environmental conservation impact from the start.

He likens viewing old tours to experiencing history first hand.

“From the beginning,” he said, “I wanted the ability to time travel.”

Terrain 360 mapped the Potomac River in 2016; the tour is available online and serves as a  window into the past.

Each click of a computer mouse takes the viewer 40 feet down the river:

Tree-covered hills and sheer-rock-face riverbanks flank the broad, blue waters of the Potomac River as it twists and turns from the mountains of West Virginia to the tidal waters of Southern Maryland.  

Each 360-degree composition reveals more of the Potomac’s geographical features. Viewers can turn, zoom and adjust the viewing angle. Every snapshot provides important navigational details: rocks beneath the surface of cascading rapids, grass-covered islets, branches protruding from calm water.

Nature-goers can use the Chesapeake Conservancy’s riverview virtual tours “to prepare for a boating trip or park visit, getting a sense of the land and water, boat ramps and access sites before (they) go,” Couser said.

The James River Association hosts an endurance paddle race, The James River Rundown, every year. They provide the contestants maps, but encourage paddlers to check the 360 virtual tours so that they can pick their lines of passage down the river and its class three and four rapids, Doyle said.

Justin Mando, an assistant professor of English and science writing at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, could speak to the virtual tours’ effectiveness for outdoorsmen and adventurists.

Mando said he fishes a lot, and recently moved to the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, area. He doesn’t know the Susquehanna River intimately yet. The tour, he said, is “pretty good for scouting out locations to go fishing.”

He uses Google Maps to mark spots he’s fished, but he said, “it’s tough to figure out access spots with Google Maps.”

Mando added: “(the tour) made my own experience on the river better.”


Terrain 360 and the Chesapeake Conservancy have mapped the following rivers:

-- The Elk

-- The James

-- The Nanticoke

-- The Northeast

-- The Patapsco

-- The Potomac

-- The Rappahannock

-- The Sassafras

-- The Susquehanna

-- The York

-- The Patuxent

View the 360 tours of waterways at:

CARITAS to open recovery program for women

By Carolanne Wilson, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – CARITAS, a nonprofit that strives to end homelessness, plans to start a long-term recovery program for women in Richmond after the success of its program for men, The Healing Place. The women’s facility is tentatively scheduled to open in late 2017 or early 2018.

In the midst of what federal and state officials call an opioid epidemic, the new program will allow CARITAS to offer residential treatment for addiction to Richmond-area women for the first time.

Since 2005, The Healing Place for men – a 214-bed residential recovery facility in Southside Richmond – has a success rate of 70 percent of graduates staying sober for more than one year and becoming taxpaying citizens, according to CARITAS.

“In the past, we’ve had to send women to Louisville or Raleigh from Richmond for help. And when they got on their feet, they contributed to those communities and economies,” says CARITAS onsite volunteer coordinator Todd Weatherless. “Now they will be able to get that help here locally and contribute to the communities and local economy they come from.”

The Healing Place is free to Richmond-area residents. For people from out the area, the cost remains minimal especially in comparison with private rehabilitation facilities and detox centers.

Funded through taxes and contributions, a bed at The Healing Place costs $7,200 per year, while the alternative for many clients – imprisonment – can cost taxpayers up to $45,000 a year. A short-term private treatment program can cost $50,000.

“One of the benefits we will see by having a program locally is that we will be returning functional members of society back into the Richmond community,” says Weatherless, himself an alumnus of the Healing Place.

Those who have graduated from the program and those who work there believes the structure of the program, a self-paced, peer-led recovery model, goes beyond just “sobering up.” The facility strives to give dignity back to those who have fallen most vulnerable to addiction.

“They try to stretch and pull you … it’s behavioral modification,” says James, a 2014 graduate of The Healing Place. (Because he is in recovery, CNS is using only James’ first name.) “It’s just not telling you, ‘Don’t drink, don’t get high.’ It’s saying, ‘How do we change your behavior to a point where you’re able to be a productive member of society?’”

James says the Healing Place has taught him more than just how to stay sober, especially with help from continuation programs like CARITAS Works Workforce Development. He benefited from courses ranging from using computers to practicing compassion during his time there.

“At the Healing Place, every single rule, every single time they have you get up, everything is thought out, and there is a reason behind it – and that’s why it is so successful,” James said.

He credits a lot of his achievements to his time in the facility. He has since gone on to work in Richmond-area real estate.

The Healing Place model exists in other cities. Louisville, Kentucky, for example, has a facility for men and a separate facility for women – just as CARITAS hopes to create in Richmond.

Louisville has found that the programs have been equally successful for both men and women. The structure is the same, but women are given, over time, the option to interact with their children at the facility.

Heather Gibson, who oversees all The Healing Place programs in Kentucky, stresses that healthy relationships and confidence are issues that may need more attention for women clients than male ones. As a result, the process for women may take a little longer.

“Men and women are different in a certain way, and they need recovery in a little bit of a different way,” Gibson says. “When women enter our type of recovery process, they’ve probably been out a little bit longer than men, a little more beat up than men, and have a lot of trauma in their background that can’t be ignored.”

The general structure of The Healing Place is a five-phase program, where certain privileges are granted further along each phase. Each phase is self-paced, but clients are held accountable by their peers.

CARITAS is waiting for its Southside building to qualify for both historic and new market tax credits to start renovations. With architectural plans completed, the new CARITAS center will house not only the women’s program but also a furniture bank, a 47-unit sober living complex, a community laundromat and other projects.

More about CARITAS and The Healing Place



Phone: 804-358-0964


The Healing Place


Address: 700 Dinwiddie Ave., Richmond, VA 23224

Phone: 804-358-0964, ext. 114; or 804-230-1217


Colleges must provide counseling after a student suicide

By Mai-Lan Spiegel, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – When a college student commits suicide, it can shake the campus to its core, as other students struggle with grief, perhaps guilt and a range of emotions.

Beginning next school year, public colleges and universities in Virginia will have to offer counseling and other services to students after such tragedies. The requirement is the result of Senate Bill 1430, which was unanimously passed by the General Assembly this year.

“The board of visitors of each baccalaureate public institution of higher education shall develop and implement policies that ensure that after a student suicide, affected students have access to reasonable medical and behavioral health services, including postvention services,” the bill states.

It defines “postvention services” as “services designed to facilitate the grieving or adjustment process, stabilize the environment, reduce the risk of negative behaviors, and prevent suicide contagion.”

SB 1430 was proposed by Sen. Bryce E. Reeves of Fredericksburg. Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed it into law in March. It will take effect July 1.

Existing law requires colleges to have procedures to identify and help students who may be suicidal. The new law goes a step further by mandating what schools should do to help other students after a suicide.

Virginia Commonwealth University, among other schools, already offers postvention services after a student death. Last fall, for example, two VCU students died after falling from the Towers on Franklin apartment building. Jordan Bowman, 18, died in September, and Emma Pascal, 19, in October.

Authorities have not ruled the deaths suicides. However, some news outlets initially reported that the students had “jumped” to their death, implying self-infliction. Experts say that such gossip can lead to suicide contagion or “copycat suicides.”

This phenomenon is also known as the Werther effect, after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 18th-century novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” David Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego,coined the term in 1974. In his research, he found that suicides seemed to rise after a well-publicized suicide.

“Hearing about suicide seems to make those who are vulnerable feel they have the permission to do it,” Phillips said.

An associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, Dr. E. David Klonsky, said that when a suicide happens nearby, it can make other people see suicide as an option.

“Learning that someone from one’s community has died by suicide, especially when the person is a peer or colleague, can make suicide seem more realistic and attainable, especially if the method of suicide has been publicized and is available to others,” Klonsky said.

Emma Pascal’s mother, Cindy Pascal, who is a mental health counselor, said she supported Reeves’ bill.

“Even if it is a death that is questionable, there should be counseling provided to kids because the adolescent brain is amazing and brilliant but it also very fragile,” Pascal said.

Dr. Jihad Aziz, the director of Student Counseling Services at VCU, said the bill won’t affect the university greatly because it already provides postvention services.

“If the death of a student is on campus or near campus, we go to the site for support, and it’s part of our postvention and intervention services,” Aziz said. “We will also go to the classrooms and faculty. Students who are grieving come in without having to fill out paperwork, and they always have access to our crisis line.”

Aziz said VCU has a range of suicide prevention services and activities. For instance, every year, the university holds an Out of Darkness Walk, aimed at raising suicide awareness. Also, resident assistants and other dormitory staff members receive “Question, Persuade, Refer” training to recognize when a student is showing signs of distress.

Help is available to prevent suicide

If you or somebody you know is struggling with self-harm or has suicidal thoughts, contact a counselor. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. VCU also has a hotline at 804-828-3964.

Brat, McEachin highlight importance of bipartisanship

By Coleman Jennings, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Though they come from different sides of the aisle, two Virginia congressmen came together for a moderated discussion on entrepreneurship and economic growth. U.S. Reps. Dave Brat, a Republican from Glen Allen, and A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Richmond, highlighted the importance of bipartisan cooperation in moving Virginia and the nation forward.

While Brat and McEachin disagreed over issues such as health care, they found common ground in supporting broadband service in rural areas and deregulation that will stimulate business growth.

“If you don’t have internet, you can forget about bringing jobs in,” McEachin, who was elected last fall, told the approximately 80 people who attended Thursday’s forum, which was sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals.

Brat, a tea party stalwart who advocates for limited government, agreed that expanding infrastructure is important for business growth. “I’m trying to be as pro-business as I can on every policy I’m for,” he said at the event, held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch building.

Although the officeholders were cordial and friendly to each other, such sentiments were not shared by some members of the audience. About a dozenmembers of the audience jeered at Brat, frequently interrupting his answers with scoffs. A small group in attendance continually raised red index cards every time Brat said something they didn’t like.

The topics for discussion were prepared beforehand and presented by the moderator T. Otey Smith, a principal of RLJ Equity Partners in Bethesda, Md. Each congressman was given about three minutes to give his take on the given question.

The two men may not often see eye to eye on certain issues. But on Thursday night, they frequently agreed on certain aspects of the discussion and exchanged encouraging words on topics where they shared similarities.

The discussion was not without its disagreements. One that stood out was health care. McEachin supported former President Barrack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. “Obamacare didn’t do everything right, but all the problems in the health-care system were not created by Obamacare either,” McEachin said.

He criticized President Donald Trump and other Republican officials for their vow to repeal and replace Obamacare. “They don’t have a lot of places to go to fix our health-care system and make it look different from Obamacare.”

Brat started off by calling Obamacare “in the ditch,” saying it “focused on coverage up front and paid no attention to price – prices have gone up 105 percent under Obamacare.” Brat is in favor in delegating health-care coverage to the states rather than having the federal government issue mandates.

“Politicians are not good at running things. Let’s bring that power down to the state level,” he said.

Brat represents Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Chesterfield County to Culpeper. As an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, he won the seat in 2014 by upsetting House Minority Leader Eric Cantor.

McEachin represents the 4th Congressional District, which includes Richmond, Petersburg and parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties. An attorney, he previously served 17 years in the Virginia General Assembly.

After the hourlong discussion, both men shook hands and stayed around to talk to constituents. Some attendees said the respect Brat and McEachin showed for each other provided a model for other members of Congress.

“I think bipartisanship is key, especially in a time like this,” said Mark Stafford, a resident of Brat’s district. “I don’t want to watch my country waste away.”

Law requires mental health training for school counselors

By Will Thomas, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND — More than 20 percent of children in the U.S. have or have had depression or other serious mental disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Soon, school counselors in Virginia will be in a better position to help identify students with such problems. Beginning July 1, a new state lawwill require school counselors to receive more training in the recognition of mental health disorders and behavioral distress.

“Mental health can get better with intervention. Without identifying it, it will only get worse,” said Dr. Donna Dockery,the director of clinical practice in the counseling and special education department at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Senate Bill 1117 was sponsored by two Democrats from Northern Virginia – Sen. Jeremy McPikeof Prince William County and Del. Vivian Wattsof Fairfax County. It states that anyone “seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license with an endorsement as a school counselor shall complete training in the recognition of mental health disorder and behavioral distress, including depression, trauma, violence, youth suicide, and substance abuse.”

The law strengthens the Virginia Department of Education’s existing regulations for school counselors. Dockery said it’s important that counselors be able to recognize the signs of mental illness.

“We treat the physical pain; let’s treat the mental pain,” she said.

Dockery said young people today often have a lot of anxiety and must deal with traumatic events. With the help of counselors and families recognizing these situations, students can get the help they need.

McPike’s legislative assistant, Devin Cabot, said that under the new law, the state will establish guidelines for the mental health training that school counselors must complete.

“We are very focused on the new trends of bullying and teen suicide,” Cabot said.

In the past, Cabot said, school counselors in different school districts might have received different training. McPike’s legislation will provide a more uniform approach, she said.

Local school officials are taking measures to educate themselves about the new law.

Chris Whitley is the public information officer for Hanover County Public Schools. Hanover school officials are waiting on guidance from the Virginia Department of Education before moving forward, Whitley said.

School districts will be affected by more than a dozen bills that were approved by the General Assembly during its 2017 session and signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The Virginia Department of Education is working to ensure that school divisions are aware of the new laws.

Veterans center will be named for 2 war heroes

By Coleman Jennings, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A veterans health-care center planned for Virginia Beach will be named for two war heroes from the area, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Wednesday during a ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial. The facility will be called the Jones & Cabacoy Veterans Care Center.

“I am proud to announce that we are naming the new veterans care center after two Tidewater natives who served Virginia and our nation,” McAuliffe told a crowd of about 100 people. The facility – a long-term nursing care center that will be the first of its kind in Hampton Roads – will carry the names of:

  • Col. William A. Jones III, a Norfolk native who received the Medal of Honor for rescuing a fellow pilot in Vietnam in 1968. He died in an airplane accident near Woodbridge in 1969.
  • Army Staff Sgt. Christopher F. Cabacoy, a Virginia Beach native who died in 2010 when insurgents in Kandahar, Afghanistan, attacked his vehicle with a homemade bomb.

The veterans care center will sit on a 26-acre site next to the planned extension of Nimmo Parkway. The land for the site was donated by the city of Virginia Beach. The 128-bed facility will feature all private rooms, organized into households and neighborhoods that surround a central community center.

The center will specialize in caring for patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other chronic illnesses. It will provide both long-term nursing care and short-term rehabilitation.

The center will be operated by the Virginia Department of Veteran Services, which already runs similar facilities in Richmond and Roanoke.

The Jones & Cabacoy Veterans Care Center is expected to open in late 2019. At about the same time, the state plans to open the Puller Veteran Care Center in Fauquier County, which will offer similar services.

Also at Wednesday’s ceremony, McAuliffe signed four bills aimed at helping veterans and their families:

The new laws will take effect July 1.

New law lets schools help diabetic students

By Sean Boyce, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia students afflicted by diabetes may receive additional support in schools thanks to a new state law.

Senate Bill 1116, which takes effect July 1, will allow school nurses to help diabetic students reinsert the tube that connects their insulin pump to their body if it becomes dislodged at school.

“This bill is for kids who need help inserting or reinserting their insulin pump,” said Devon Cabot, legislative aide for Sen. Jeremy McPike, who proposed the measure.

McPike, who represents the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park and part of Prince William County, decided to sponsor the bill after numerous parental complaints about diabetic children being forced to leave school early or parents having to leave work to help reattach their child’s insulin pump.

“Kids knock their insulin pump out and then need to go home for it to be reinserted,” Cabot said.

The new law authorizes only certain school personnel to assist with a student’s insulin pump. The school employee must be a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse or certified nurse aide who has been trained in the administration of insulin and insulin pumps.

Such employees may assist the diabetic student only after receiving prescriber authorization and parental consent.

“This bill is geared towards younger pump users,” Cabot said. “When they reach high school age, most kids are able to reinsert the pump themselves without assistance.”

Sam Wagner, a sophomore at Godwin High School in Henrico County, knows the day-to-day difficulties of being a diabetic student firsthand. Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 14.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune system mistakenly targeting the beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Without insulin, the body cannot properly convert food into energy, which can be fatal.

To manage his Type 1 diabetes, Sam must take insulin for the rest of his life.

He had to wait more than six months to receive his first insulin pump. Before the pump, Sam gave himself periodic injections of insulin by syringe just as his grandfather did decades ago.

“The insulin pump changed my life,” said Sam, now 16.

That’s because the pumps are unobtrusive – they’re about the size of a cellphone. Sam’s device provides a continuous supply of insulin to the user, is easily adjusted by touch screen and has a rechargeable battery life of one week.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 1 million diabetics use insulin pumps worldwide.

Sam’s biggest concern about using his insulin pump at school is when he needs to charge the device.

While every insulin pump varies in the tubing and cartridge size it uses, all pumps use the same cord – a micro USB – to charge. “One time I had to ask another student to borrow his phone charger in the middle of class so I could charge my pump,” Sam said.

Sam praises his school for accommodating class time he has missed because of his diabetes. “I’ve never really had an issue with making up assignments for any of my classes,” he said.

Reporters provide insights from ‘Behind the Bylines’

By Will Thomas, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND –An anonymous tip about a death in a Virginia jail brought out the best in Richmond Times-Dispatch enterprise reporters Katy Burnell Evans and Sarah Kleiner.

“It fuels you to bring justice and find out what really happened,” Evans said.

Evans and Kleiner received the Virginia Press Association’s Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service for their reporting on the death of Jamycheal Mitchell, a mentally ill inmate who died in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth while awaiting transfer to a state hospital.

Evans and Kleiner were on a panel of six RTD reporters who took the stage at the Virginia Historical Society last week. “Behind the Bylines” gave the audience an in-depth view of the RTD reporters’ everyday work. The editor of the Times-Dispatch, Paige Mudd, said the purpose of the event was not just to generate revenue but also to expand the newspaper’s audience.

Kleiner and Evans both cover stories involving mental illness. They told the audience the back story of their award-winning coverage of Mitchell’s death amid their frustrations with criminal justice agencies in Virginia.

“I think one of the things that stuck with me through all this early on was not what they were telling us maybe so much as what they weren’t,” Evans said.

Evans and Kleiner filed numerous requests for documents and were repeatedly denied. But they never let up and eventually obtained documents that showed Mitchell had fallen through the cracks of the justice system.

The role of reporters is to help people who do not have a voice, said RTD crime and courts reporter Ali Rockett. “There are some times where you have to be a human first–you’re a reporter second.”

With their stories, journalists shine a spotlight on developments that have a big impact on the lives of Richmond residents, Rockett said.

Also speaking at the panel discussion was the RTD’s newest member and its first meteorologist, John Boyer. He said engaging with the audience is key to good journalism.

“People will ask me questions about things that I really don’t know the answers to,” Boyer said. For example, some may wonder about pollen counts, “but I didn’t study plants.” So Boyer does research to find the answers.

With the prevalence of weather in television news and mobile apps, Boyer has had to find different ways to appeal to his audience.

“I don’t want to be just more noise in a room of all these different forecasts,” he said. Instead, Boyer tries to “come at my coverage in a way that helps you see what’s important about this forecast.”

Tammie Smith has been a staff member of the RTD since 2000. Although she started as a health-care reporter, she is now the newspaper’s retail reporter.

“I think I covered health care for more than 20 years, and I just felt like I need to try something different,” Smith said.

She chuckled as she asked the audience who had been to the grocery store or the mall that day. “It’s another beat that touches consumers in just about every aspect of their life,” Smith said.

Another member of the panel was government reporter Michael Martz. “I tend to focus on policy that affects people,” he said. “It’s about knowing who your readers are.”

“Behind the Bylines” was the last event of the season for the RTD’s speaker series. The newspaper plans to resume the series in the fall.

Schools to help curb human trafficking

By Carolanne Wilson, VCU Capital News Service

Virginia ranked 15th in the United States for the most reported cases of human trafficking in 2016. Last year, the state reported 148 cases with 59 involving minors, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

In response to the issue, Virginia is enacting a new law to the decrease crimes of this nature and help its youngest victims.

House Bill 2282, which will take effect July 1, requires the Virginia Board of Education to develop guidelines for training school counselors, school nurses and other relevant school staff on the prevention of trafficking of children.

Groups fighting human trafficking applauded the move. Creating awareness through education is a tactic many of these advocates have found effective in combating trafficking.

“We are grateful for any new legislation that helps this issue,” said Patrick McKenna, co-founder of the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative. “Having the Department of Education require it helps push the effort forward.”

Virginia is home to several nonprofits that fight human trafficking. Many of these groups and individuals were instrumental in persuading the General Assembly to adopt the legislation. McKenna, an attorney, worked with Del. James Leftwich of Chesapeake to draft the bill.

“We are willing to help with extra manpower and extra information for no cost,” said McKenna, whose group works to prevent human trafficking and to identify and assist victims in Hampton Roads.

HB 2282 is essentially an extension of a 2012 law, Senate Bill 259. That legislationrequired the state Board of Education, with assistance from the Department of Social Services, to provide awareness and training materials for local school division staff on human trafficking. The new law specifies which school professionals must be trained and creates an actual training program, not just materials.

HB 2282 is only a small step, however. McKenna noted that the bill does not set a timeframe for developing the guidelines or explain what the training must cover.

“How the law is implemented is just as important as it being passed,” said Jessica Willis, executive director of the Richmond Justice Initiative, a group related to McKenna’s.

The Richmond Justice Initiative’s national award-winning program, the Prevention Project, has helped over 10,000 youths nationwide since its start in 2012. The project is taught in seven states and has grown from 18 to 60 schools in the past two years. It helps young people recognize and resist the lures of trafficking and develop character and leadership skills.

“The power of education is what can prevent trafficking,” Willis said. “Traffickers prey on those that don’t know.”

Willis hopes schools sincerely follow the guidelines set by the Virginia Board of Education – and not just go through the motions.

“Education with this bill has to be taken with all seriousness. It can either save lives or exacerbate the issue, if not,” Willis said.

Like the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative, Willis said her group is “happy to help” the Board of Education implement HB 2282. She described the Prevention Project’s curriculum as “thorough and schedule-friendly for busy faculty.” The curriculum was developed by survivors, advocates, law enforcement and educators.

Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline show why the Prevention Project focuses on students. Nationwide, the number of cases against minors has doubled within last four years. In the U.S., 1,016 cases involving minors were reported in 2012 and 2,387 last year.

In Virginia, there was a 168 percent increase in child trafficking cases over the four-year span. There were 22 reports involving minors in 2012 but 59 in 2016.

Victims of trafficking are most commonly forced into sex services. According to the hotline, of the 148 total cases of human trafficking in Virginia last year, over 70 percent fell into that category.

On the Web

For more information on human trafficking, visit:

·         National Human Trafficking Hotline Website

·         The Prevention Project

·         Virginia Beach Justice Initiative Website

·         Richmond Justice Initiative Website

New law will expand business development sites

By DeForrest Ballou, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The commonwealth, and especially its rural areas, may get an economic boost under legislationsigned into law this week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

At a ceremony with the legislation’s sponsors and the state’s secretary of commerce, McAuliffe signed two bills reducing the size of industrial sites that qualify for assistance from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

Currently, such plots of land must be at least 250 acres, which can be a challenge to find particularly in Virginia’s rural areas and the Appalachian region. The size requirement will drop to 100 acres under Senate Bill 976 and House Bill 1591, which McAuliffe signed Thursday at the state Capitol.

“Our goal is that every part of Virginia experiences Virginia’s job renaissance,” McAuliffe said.

Under the new law, which will take effect July 1, the number of sites that the VEDP can develop will increase from about 80 to more than 250.

“This opens up all the communities. The more sites we have ready, the more businesses we can bring in,” McAuliffe said.

The bills are part of the New Virginia Economy Initiative that McAuliffe introduced in 2014. At Thursday’s ceremony, Virginia Secretary of Commerce Todd Haymore boasted of the program’s successes.

So far, the initiative has brought in almost $16 billion in capital investment and almost 190,000 jobs to Virginia, Haymore said. Moreover, the state’s unemployment rate stands at 3.8 percent. That is the lowest since 1973, Haymore said. The national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in April.

The governor’s goal is for capital investment to reach $20 billion before his term ends in January. The resulting economic development projects will benefit the state for years to come, McAuliffe said.

The bills had bipartisan support: HB 1591was sponsored by Democratic Del. Matthew James of Portsmouth, and SB 976was carried by Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. Both measures won unanimous approval from the General Assembly during its 2017 session.

“This bill is what we should have been doing a long time ago, and it really puts us in a proactive stance,” James said, adding, “We’re not done yet.”

While the legislation may spur economic development in rural areas, that is not its sole purpose. McAuliffe said he hopes the state’s incentives will draw companies like Nestlé, which will be moving operations to Rosslyn, in Northern Virginia, and bringing 750 jobs.

The bills changed just one number and one word in existing law, including fixing a typo (turning “esource” into “resource”).

“It was a very short piece of legislation, so I’ll make short remarks,” Hanger said. “Sometimes the short pieces of legislation that senators and delegates read are the hardest to get through, because they know what they’re voting for.”

He hopes the new law will promote the growth of small businesses in Virginia.

“When we look at economic development in the commonwealth, we see that year in and year out, and where we really put our bread and butter, is small development – not the bigger sites, but those small entrepreneurs,” Hanger said.

In need or a scam? Video sparks debate over panhandlers

By Devon Eifel, VCU Capital News Service

A video of a woman seeking handouts at an intersection in Henrico County has sparked a national debate over whether panhandlers’ pleas for help can be trusted.

In the Facebook Live video, two men accused Micha Dominguez, 40, of falsely portraying herself as disabled and homeless. The video, titled “Fake Homeless Woman,” has received hundreds of thousands of views on social media. Many people have posted comments accusing Dominguez of scamming potential donors.

“She’s playing on people’s emotions and getting money under false pretenses!” one woman wrote on Facebook.

But advocates for the homeless caution that people shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Although some panhandlers may be scams, it’s impossible to know by looking at someone on the street, Kelly Horne said.

Horne is the executive director atHomeward, a collaborative organization whose mission is to get homeless people off the streets of Richmond by locating affordable housing, reuniting people with their families and assigning case managers to those in need of services.

Asked how the Dominguez video might shape the perception of those already skeptical of giving money to panhandlers, Horne replied, “It’s important to remember not all panhandlers are homeless, and not all homeless people are panhandlers.”

Homeward conducts a census and collects data on the demographics of Richmond’s homeless population twice a year. TheJanuary snapshot found that only 20 percent of the city’s homeless reported participating in some form of panhandling.

Horne suggests that if you are uncomfortable giving money, there are other ways to help people on the street. “A good place to start is by simply acknowledging their existence.”

She said offering to buy a bus ticket or meal is just as beneficial. Ultimately, Horne said, if you feel guilty for not giving money to panhandlers, consider supporting local agencies that focus on serving the homeless.

“Panhandlers are very much human like the rest of us,” Horne added. She citedChris Parker, 33, a homeless man who was panhandling outside the arena in Manchester, England, at the time of the terrorist bombing following an Ariana Grande concert on Monday.

Parker was hailed as a hero after dashing into the arena to help victims of the explosion, which killed 22 people. More than £90,000, the equivalent of $115,000, has been raised through online fundraising websites to support Parker.

The videoof Dominguez received the opposite reaction, which was overwhelmingly unsympathetic.

The video, taken on Sunday, shows Dominguez holding a sign and asking for money in the median at an intersection on Broad Street. She then returned to her car, a late-model Fiat, in the parking lot of a nearby fast-food restaurant. There, the men shooting the video confronted her. “Stop stealing people’s money,” one man told Dominguez. “You’re not homeless.”

On Monday, in a separate altercation, a motorist told police that Dominguez had thrown three full bottles of Gatorade at a vehicle. As a result, Dominguez was arrested and charged with three felony counts of launching missiles into traffic.

David Stock, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney for Henrico County, has been assigned to prosecute Dominguez. Stock said county ordinances do not prohibit panhandling. However, if the person asking for money is being aggressive or threatening others, it becomes a public safety issue.

Dominguez was being held in the Henrico County Jail. Bail has been set at $3,000. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 10.

Planned Parenthood honors Gov. McAuliffe with award

By Mai-Lan Spiegel, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia League of Planned Parenthood honored Gov. Terry McAuliffe this week for supporting reproductive rights and vetoing legislation that would have defunded the nonprofit organization.

McAuliffe received the Mary Anne Rennolds Award, named after the VLPP’s first board chair, at a ceremony Wednesday night at the Glave Kocen Gallery in Richmond.

“The governor has been a champion for reproductive rights and protecting women’s health from the very beginning of his time in office,” said Allison Cooper, Planned Parenthood’s current board chair. “This award represents our appreciation for his unwavering commitment to ensuring access to affordable and high-quality health care for everyone who walks through our doors.”

In February, for the second year in a row, McAuliffe vetoed a billthat would have prohibited the state from providing grants or contracts to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions. Republicans wanted to channel the money to other health clinics that they say provide more comprehensive services.

In accepting the award, McAuliffe said laws and regulations restricting women’s health affect the state’s economy.

“We are a different state today than we were three years ago,” he said. “Women are treated with dignity and respect, and that is how we’ve been able to create so many jobs – by being open and welcoming to everyone.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who gave the keynote address at the award ceremony, echoed that message.

“To start throwing roadblocks and obstacles for women, it will change our ability to attract the best and the brightest to the city,” the mayor said.

Stoney said he knows the importance of Planned Parenthood because he himself was once a client.

“My first year in Richmond after I graduated from James Madison, I also used Planned Parenthood,” Stoney said. “I wasn’t making a lot of money, and I needed health care.”

Stoney reflected on his time at James Madison University when, as student body president, he was introduced to Planned Parenthood. He rallied opposition to efforts by state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, to discontinue the distribution of the morning-after pill on campus.

“They got their way that day, but we were persistent. We waited it out till (then-Gov.) Mark Warner appointed some new members to the Board of Visitors. And sure enough, we re-enacted the engagement of the morning-after pill, and we called that a win.”

In his address, Stoney listed some of the VLPP services that he learned about during his first visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“From the women who can now afford regular checkups, to the men who receive life-saving prostate exams, to the children who benefit from proper prenatal care – our community needs Planned Parenthood,” Stoney said.

According to the current president and CEO of the VLPP, Paulette McElwain, the number of people who use Planned Parenthood’s services continues to grow.

“In March, we had a record number of 3,300 visits,” she said. “And this year, we are expected to see over 36,000 visits.”

McElwain congratulated the organization’s sex education program in the Newport News public school system. Since the program started in 2012, Newport News has seen a decrease of 40 percent in its teen pregnancy rate, she said. The program is expected to expand to the Suffolk area in the next three years.

During the awards ceremony, Stoney congratulated McAuliffe on being “a brick wall” against legislation that would roll back abortion rights.

Earlier in the week, the governor received the Brick Wall Award from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, an abortion rights advocacy group.

New law paves way for delivery robots

By Alexander P. Crespo, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Having your groceries delivered by a robot sounds like something out of The Jetsons, but that prospect is not as futuristic as you may think.

For the second year in a row, the Virginia General Assembly has passed a law to legalize the operation of autonomous vehicles. Beginning July 1, “electric personal delivery devices” will be allowed to operate on sidewalks and other shared-use paths throughout Virginia.

A leading manufacturer of EPDDs is Starship Technologies, a robotics company started by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis of Estonia. Starship is testing its robots in a number of European countries including England, Germany and Switzerland. In March, the company opened an office in Washington, D.C., and is operating the vehicles there.

State Sen. Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach says he saw an opportunity to update existing Virginia laws to accommodate Starship’s delivery robots after being contacted by one of the company’s lobbyists.

“I did some research … and I told her, ‘I would love to make some legislation. This is cool,’” DeSteph said. Other members of the General Assembly must have thought the technology was cool, too: The Senate billand its House counterpartpassed with near-unanimous votes.

The new law is a continuation of efforts DeSteph began in the 2016 legislative session. That year, motivated by the rapid pace of technological advancements, he sponsored a lawto allow for the operation of autonomous vehicles on roads.

“In the ’70s, you had cruise control,” DeSteph said. “In the ’90s, you had dynamic cruise control that wouldn’t let your car crash into the car in front of you.” He called autonomous vehicles “just another evolutionary step in these technologies.”

According to a recent press release, Starship’s EPDDs are designed to deliver goods during the last few miles in both urban and suburban areas.

The robots resemble a cooler on wheels. They can hold up to 22 pounds, have a two-hour battery life and operate within a three-mile radius of their home location. They are approximately 27 inches long, 22 inches wide and 22 inches tall and are limited to speeds of 4 mph.

To avoid running into people and other obstacles, a delivery robot uses a combination of nine cameras mounted on its body, GPS and computer vision to see where it’s going.

Because they move relatively slowly, Starship’s robots won’t operate in the streets. Instead, they will instead use sidewalks to get around. The company says its EPDDs will adjust their speed to match the walking speed of pedestrians. However, some people are worried that the delivery robots will clutter the pavement.

“My concerns are, who else uses the sidewalk?” says Harry Hylan, a maintenance supervisor in Richmond for Weinstein Properties. “People, dogs, wheelchairs, bicycles, skateboarders – that’s my only issue.”

At the same time, though, Hylan says he’s interested in what the technology has to offer. “I order a lot of stuff on Amazon, and I’ve just recently been considering ordering food items from them, too.”

If Starship can make sure its robots aren’t hogging the sidewalks, Hylan says he would definitely make use of their delivery services.

With the legal barrier to operation out of the way, Starship can now begin more extensive testing and deployment of its EPDDs in Virginia.

“I don’t know where they’ll go or when,” DeSteph said. “But Virginia’s ready for them.”

Hundreds attend service for slain officer

By Coleman Jennings, VCU Capital News Service

POWHATAN, Va. – Hundreds of people, including the governor and police officers from across the country, attended a “celebration of life” Saturday for Virginia State Police Special Agent Michael Timothy Walter, praising his work with disadvantaged youth.

The service for Walter, who was shot and killed while investigating a suspicious vehicle in Richmond last week, drew a large crowd to Powhatan High School. Walter was a Powhatan County resident and active in the community.

“I’ve never seen this many people for a funeral,” said Larry Kessler, a friend of Walter’s. More than half of the attendees were fellow law enforcement officers and first responders from as far away as Colorado and Maine.

The tearful crowd packed into the school gymnasium to hear from some of Walter’s closest friends, as well as from Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“We’re here today to offer our gratitude and compassion for Special Agent Mike Walter,” McAuliffe said. He noted that this is the fourth funeral in his tenure that he has attended for a slain state trooper.

Walter, who was 45 years old and an 18-year veteran of the Virginia State Police, was fatally shot May 26 in Mosby Court, a public housing project in Richmond’s East End, following an altercation. Walter was taken to VCU Medical Center, where he died around 5 a.m. the following morning.

Walter served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a combat veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He is survived by his wife, Jamie, and their three children.

Besides working for the Virginia State Police, Walter was a wrestling coach and started a nonprofit organization – the Powhatan Youth Wrestling and Community Development Corp. – to serve disadvantaged youths in Powhatan. Friends and associates from the Blackhawk Gym, where the nonprofit is based, spoke at the service.

“He had a God-given gift,” said Richard Fitzsimmons, holding back tears. He recalled Walter’s drive and determination to inspire those around him to achieve success.

“Mike’s motives were pure. He wanted to be the best at everything, and he sought to bring those around him to the same level,” added Rob McMillin, a board member of Blackhawk Gym. “He pursued excellence with a manic discipline.”

Capt. Steven Chumley of the Virginia State Police gave the eulogy for Walter and offered closing remarks. “This is the hard part for us,” he said. “We must finish what Mike started.”

Authorities have arrested Travis Ball, 27, in connection with Walter’s death. He is being held at the Richmond City Jail.

Slain officer’s nonprofit organization

On its website, the Powhatan Youth Wrestling and Community Development Corp. explains that it is “dedicated to promoting, fostering and mentoring kids involved in our club and community to become solid citizens. We achieve this stated goal by teaching and demanding high standards of character, integrity, and making the right choices in life. We strive to instill physical health, sportsmanship, self-confidence, self-esteem and strong values of dedication, persistence, hard work, and honesty.”

“As a community we realize that young kids make mistakes and require parents and community organizations, such as ours to assist in teaching kids the values and skills necessary to overcome mistakes,” the organization’s mission statement reads. “We in Powhatan Youth Wrestling and Community Development Corporation strive to help kids reach their full potential in life, school and in competition.”

How to help

You can make a donation to the Walter family by contributing to the Virginia State Police Association’s Emergency Relief Fund( Put “Walter’s Family” in the memo section.

The Powhatan Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization is collecting donations for Jaime Walter, the slain agent’s widow. A list of items that you can donate is on the Powhatan Elementary PTO’s Facebook page.

State will help clean up historic black cemeteries

By Chelsea Jackson, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hollywood Cemetery flaunts pristine iron gates, beautiful mausoleums and monuments, and majestic views of the James River. This gorgeous scenery is sorely lacking at two other historic cemeteries less than 15 minutes down the road.

When created in the 1800s, Evergreen and East End cemeteries were envisioned as high-end resting places for important African-American figures, just as James Monroe, Jefferson Davis and other prominent Caucasians were buried at Hollywood Cemetery.

But today, the African-American graveyards are far from high end. They are marred by cracked headstones, broken fences and overgrown vegetation stretching to the tops of the trees. At Evergreen and East End, rest in peace is more like rest in distress.

The condition of these gravesites could change when House Bill1547 takes effect July 1. Introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond, the new law will distribute funds to organizations to assist with the cleanup of “historical African-American cemeteries and graves.”

McQuinn has long had an interest in the cemeteries; she has relatives buried there. She said she appreciates the efforts of volunteers who have worked to spruce up the gravesites.

“I am grateful for the many volunteers and interest that people have taken into helping to maintain to the point that it’s presentable,” McQuinn said.

HB 1547 will benefit cemeteries that were established before 1900 for the interment of African-Americans and are owned by a governmental entity or nonprofit group. Under the law, the state will help cover the cost of maintaining such sites. Eligible cemeteries will receive at least $5 for each grave, monument or marker for an individual “who lived at any time between January 1, 1800, and January 1, 1900.”

East End Cemetery in Henrico County has 4,875 graves that qualify for assistance; Evergreen Cemetery in Richmond has 2,100.

John Shuck is the site coordinator for the East End Cemetery Cleanup and Restoration Project and the assistant coordinator for a similar effort at Evergreen Cemetery. Shuck had come across the cemeteries while exploring his interest in genealogy more than nine years ago.

Shuck said beautifying the cemeteries is a long-term commitment.

“The first thing you do when you go in there is clear it, but then you have to maintain what you clear. That’s what we’re hoping some of these funds will do,” Shuck said.

The two cemeteries hold the remains of African-Americans who had a significant impact on Richmond, Virginia and the nation. They include pioneering business leaders Maggie Walker and Hezekiah F. Johnathan and crusading newspaper editor John Mitchell.

Given the stature of such figures, how did the cemeteries fall into a state of neglect?

Shuck attributed the lack of attention to the migration of black families up north for jobs during the Depression, leaving no one to care for the graves.

But many people believe race also was a factor.

“I don’t think that the interest nor the commitment was made to that cemetery like Hollywood Cemetery received,” McQuinn said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe made that point when he signed HB 1547 on May 17. He said the new law will remedy a long-standing injustice. “Unlike Confederate cemeteries, black gravesites have gone centuries without state funds allocated for their maintenance and preservation,” he said.

McAuliffe said the state has made annual payments to maintain Confederate gravesites. In addition, in 1914, the General Assembly appropriated $8,000 – the equivalent of $190,000 in today’s dollars – to improve Hollywood Cemetery. And in 1997, the state provided $30,000 to restore Confederate graves at Oakwood Cemetery, less than two miles from the dilapidated African-American cemeteries.

Under the new law, Evergreen and East End cemeteries finally will receive financial help, too. McQuinn has hopes of creating a “garden of reflection” where people can come to learn and connect with their history. That will take money, but McQuinn is optimistic it will materialize.

“I don’t have any doubt that we will get there,” she said.

Want to help? Here’s how

Evergreen and East End cemeteries need volunteers to help with cleanup and maintenance. If you want to volunteer or would like more information, contact Marvin Harris at or John Shuck at jshuck

Law updates vision screenings in schools

By Taylor Mills, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – If students can’t see well, they can’t learn well. So Virginia has adopted a new state law to improve student vision screenings. The law will allow schools to partner with nonprofit groups and use digital technology in testing students’ eyesight.

The law is the result ofHouse Bill 1408, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe earlier this year. The legislation, sponsored by Del. Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, will take effect July 1.

“The amendments fortify our efforts to modernize the code regarding vision screening and to deploy modern technology to benefit our schoolchildren,” Ware told his colleagues before the House of Delegates unanimously approved the bill in February.

Under existing law, schools must test students’ eyesight. Ware’s bill updates the law to reflect advances in screening technology and to allow nonprofit groups to perform the tests.

“The bill was amended to allow, but not require, vision screening through digital photo screening by a qualified nonprofit vision health organization,” Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, said in an email. “The bill was also amended to allow other screening methods by such organizations, provided that they comply with Department of Education requirements.”

Under the bill, school districts are allowed to use qualified nonprofit vision health organizations, such as the Lions Club and Conexus for Healthy Vision, for mandated vision screenings. Students’ vision must be tested in kindergarten, in second or third grade, and in seventh and 10th grade.

Conexus officials worked with Ware on revising the current law.

“It really hadn’t been updated for, like, 30 years, so we were kind of involved early on in just trying to modernize the code and put in some definitions,” said Tim Gresham, CEO of the Richmond-based group. “Just kind of bring the code up to today’s standard; to include permissive language, to allow for the use of technology that is available today.”

Gresham said Ware had been involved with Conexus in the past and had observed what the organization, formerly called Prevent Blindness Mid-Atlantic, was doing in Virginia schools.

“So he was aware of the impact that we were having in public schools all across Virginia with our programs and as we modernized our vision screening process,” Gresham said. “It sort of stood in stark contrast with what a lot of school divisions were doing with traditional, old-school screenings.”

Modern testing methods include digital photo screening, in which a camera takes images of a child’s undilated eyes. It can detect who is at risk for amblyopia (lazy eye) and other problems.

Vision screenings can be critical to a student’s success in school.

“If a child is not seeing well, they are just not going to perform well in a traditional classroom,” Gresham said. “A fourth of the public-school-age children in Virginia have a vision problem.”

Ware’s bill gives schools more options to meet the state’s existing requirement to test students’ vision.

“It really is giving these localities the permission to use an outside organization like ours,” Gresham said. “So over time, I would hope that most localities would move away from the old, traditional way of screening into a modern use of technology that is out there today.”

New laws seek to enhance driver safety

By Yasmine Jumaa, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2015, a driver with severe vision problems hit and killed a bicyclist in Hanover County. The motorist was “basically legally blind,” recalled Del. Hyland “Buddy” Fowler, who represents the county in the Virginia House.

Now the state is about to implement two new laws to help prevent such tragedies. One will require motorists to have a wider field of vision, and the other will encourage health-care professionals to report motorists who have medical problems that may impair their driving. Fowler sponsored both bills, which will take effect July 1.

“The folks at the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons took a look at the vision requirements and came to me and said, ‘You need to do better for the public safety issue,’ and wanted to know if I’d carry a bill in the House, which I told them I’d be glad to do,” said Fowler, whose district includes parts of Hanover, Caroline and Spotsylvania counties.

House Bill 1504sets new standards for obtaining and keeping a driver’s license or learner’s permit. It will increase the minimum field of vision that a driver must have in Virginia from 100 degrees to 110 degrees. That means drivers must have a greater ability to see what is on the periphery as well as what is in front of them.

“Being able to see properly and being able to scan the roads is a very important part of safe driving,” said Brandy Brubaker, public relations and media liaison for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

HB 1514,alsocarriedbyFowler, gives doctors and other health-care professionals civil immunity if they report patients who have vision or other medical problems that may impair their ability to drive safely.

The law will protect health-care practitioners from legal action if they tell DMV that they believe someone has a disability or impairment and shouldn’t be driving. For instance, the motorist could not sue the physician for violating practitioner-patient confidentiality.

“With that act of good faith, if they report somebody to the DMV to be examined, and if they suspect that the person shouldn’t be driving for legitimate health reasons, they will be protected from a legal situation,” Fowler said. He believes the law will foster “a greater reporting of folks that probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel.”

DMV officials said they already protect the identity of people who tell the agency that somebody may be an unsafe driver because of vision or health concerns.

“We get these reports from law enforcement, family members, maybe even neighbors, and we are prohibited to release information on the source for those medical reports that we receive,” Brubaker said.

When DMV receives such reports, she said, “We review cases of drivers who may have health or medical conditions that would impair or hinder their safe driving.”

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico County sponsored companion bills to Fowler’s legislation: SB 1229was identical to HB 1504,andSB 1024wasthesameas HB 1514. The General Assembly approved all four bills during its 2017 session.

Schools must test for lead in water

By Ben Burstein, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, safe drinking water is a high priority nationwide, especially for children. Beginning July 1, schools in Virginia will be required to test their potable water for lead.

Senate Bill 1359, which Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law on March 20, seeks to ensure that local school boards test the drinking water in schools and that it meets federal guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that the level of lead not exceed 15 parts per billion.

Del. Kaye Kory of Falls Church is especially concerned about the water in older school buildings that may have lead pipes.

“The water that comes to the school from the water supplier can be fine, and still, because of the pipes inside the school, there will be lead in the water that children drink,” said Kory, who co-sponsored the bill. (The chief patron was Sen. Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge.)

The new law requires testing in all schools but puts an emphasis on schools built before 1986. Each school board must decide how to implement the law. Currently, schools are not required to test for lead.

Testing could be especially important for older school districts in lower-income areas with a deteriorating infrastructure, Kory said.

Testing for lead is complex: The tests must be conducted multiple times and at multiple locations, such as drinking fountains and faucets. If tests find high levels of lead, the school may have to replace pipes and take other actions, including providing bottled water for students and teachers. The problem cannot be fixed overnight.

Kory believes the new law is a step in the right direction to make sure the next generation of Virginians grows up healthy.

As seen in Flint, lead can be harmful to the human body, especially in children. Low levels of lead do not affect the body immediately, but prolonged exposure can damage the nervous system and cause other problems, including learning disabilities and hearing impairment.

Dr. Rutherfoord Rose, a toxicologist and professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, said lead poses a particular problem for young children whose nervous system is still developing.

“The critical point of lead exposure, even though you don’t want it in anybody, is really before they get to school,” Rose said. Most cases of lead poisoning come not from drinking water but from products that contain concentrated levels of lead, such as paint.

Whether the risk is marginal or not, parents are still concerned about lead exposure in their child’s school. Parents naturally want their children to have safe drinking water.

Thomas Amrhein’s 6-year-old daughter attends kindergarten at R.C. Longan Elementary School in Henrico County’s West End. Amrhein is glad for the new law requiring water testing.

“I think it’s urgently important since the problem has been uncovered,” Amrhein said. He said he is happy the testing is being done because the safety of children in public schools is crucial.

If the tests find lead in the drinking water at R.C. Longan, Amrhein is confident that the school will take immediate action to resolve the issue. “I believe they would rectify it in a timely manner.”

Memorial Day ceremony honors fallen soldiers

By Alexander P. Crespo, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – About 1,000 people attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial, honoring members of the military who gave their lives in service to the United States.

The ceremony Monday morning began in the E. Bruce Heilman Amphitheatre with music, followed by remarks from Clay Mountcastle, director of the Virginia War Memorial.

“Memorial Day, at its core, is about more than appreciation,” Mountcastle said. “It’s the most valuable reminder that the freedoms we enjoy and sometimes take for granted in this country come at a tremendous price.”

The theme of solemn reverence for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation was prevalent throughout the ceremony. The keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, spoke fondly of the War Memorial’s significance in his own life by recalling a childhood trip to the site with his grandfather.

“My grandfather pointed up on the east wall of the memorial to a name and began to tell us the story of his brother,” Williams said. His grandfather’s brother had enlisted in the Air Corps and eventually flew a B-26 Marauder over Europe for nearly two dozen missions before being shot down and killed over Frankfurt, Germany, on March 20, 1944.

Hearing this story, Williams said, gave him a new appreciation for both the memorial and the veterans who served and died before him.

“Many times I catch myself thinking how I wish I could take a page out of history, go back and talk to those veterans, tell them how much I appreciate what they did and how much that I love them,” Williams said.

Many veterans both old and young from all branches of service attended the event. One of them was Sammy Rutledge of Ashland, Virginia.

Rutledge is among the dwindling number of World War II veterans still alive. He said he was drafted at age 18 during the final years of the conflict, fought on the European front and was in Berlin when Nazi Germany surrendered.

On Monday, the 90-year-old veteran was scanning the thousands of names inscribed in the Shrine of Memory, looking for the entry for his older brother, James. He said James was killed during the Allied invasion of France in 1944.

Visiting the memorial “brings back a lot of old memories,” Rutledge said. Two other brothers died the year after the war ended from injuries they had sustained while fighting. Their names are not inscribed in the memorial’s shrine.

After all these years, why does Rutledge still attend Memorial Day commemorations?

“I like to see the people and those of us veterans still left,” he said.

The event featured music from St. Andrew’s Legion Pipes and Drums and the Benedictine Cadet Pipes and Drums. Then retired Col. Terence W. Singleton led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “Thirty-one powerful words,” Singleton said.

Another speaker was Al Hillman, commander of the 11th District of the American Legion. “No one willingly gave their life, but they willingly went into danger,” he said.

This year’s Memorial Day ceremony coincided with several military milestones, including the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I and 75th anniversary of America’s entry into World War II.

The commemoration concluded as 25 wreaths were placed at the foot of the Statue of Memory inside the shrine. That was followed by a 21-gun salute, taps and closing remarks by Mountcastle.

“Find a name,” he told the attendees. “Pick it out, take it home. Think about that name for the rest of the day, for the rest of the month and for the rest of the year.”

CNS reporter Sean Boyce contributed to this report.

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