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2018 Capital News Service

Career Opportunity


Residential Treatment Facility for youth located fifteen minutes north of Emporia, Virginia seeks Virginia licensed LPN. Substance abuse treatment experience is a plus.   Full-time position.  Twelve hour first shift (8AM to 8PM).

Compensation package includes employer matching 401(k) retirement plan & employer sponsored health, dental, vision & life insurance.  JFBHS is a Drug Free Workplace.  Successful applicants must pass a pre-employment drug screening and criminal background screening.  Position open until filled. EOE.

E-mail, fax, or mail cover letter & resume to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Job# 2018-3
Attn: Chris Thompson
Fax: (434) 634-6237





Psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescent girls and boys located 15 minutes north of Emporia, Virginia seeks experienced licensed clinician (LCSW or LPC) to provide therapy and case management services on an inpatient basis.  Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling experience and certification preferred.  Population served includes adolescent girls and boys with complex developmental trauma, co-occurring mental illness, and substance abuse issues.  Position provides individual, group, and family therapy within a psychiatric residential setting. 

Virginia license is required.  Two years’ formal experience counseling adolescents is required.  Residential experience is preferred. 

Seeking experienced candidates.  Highly competitive pay & benefits including employer sponsored Health, Dental, Vision & Life Insurance and employer matching 401(k) retirement plan.

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services is an equal opportunity employer and drug free work place.  Post offer criminal background and drug screenings required.  Position open until filled.

Submit resume and cover letter to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Job# 2018-4
Attn: Chris Thompson
Fax: (434) 634-6237



CApital News Service Returns for 2018

Now that the General Assembly is back in session, the VCU Capital News ServiceThe Capital News Service allows Emporia News readers to follow the highlights of the Virginia General Assembly.

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South. This year there are 28 Student Journalists and new advisors.

CNS operates as a three-credit course (formally listed as MASC 475) during spring semesters, when the General Assembly is in session. Each CNS student is assigned to serve one or more clients. Students must devote substantial time outside class to CNS — at least 10 hours a week. The students in MASC 475 meet twice a week to discuss and plan stories and work on reporting and writing skills.

During the fall semesters, the CNS system occasionally is used to distribute stories students do for other courses, such as MASC 404 (Specialized/Projects Reporting). Throughout the year, CNS can help newspaper editors find VCU students who can do freelance stories, internships and other assignments.

Wilma Wirt, who has since retired from the mass comm faculty, established CNS in 1994 for two reasons:

  • To give VCU’s journalism students an opportunity to actively cover and write about the Virginia General Assembly.
  • To give the state’s weekly, twice-weekly and thrice-weekly newspapers better access to the legislature — something Wirt deemed important in the everyday lives of all Virginians.

All stories sent by CNS will be published by Emporia News, but not all will be promoted to the front page. To read the stories that do not make the front page, click on the Capital News Service link in the top menu.

Virginia Cities to Join Saturday’s March Against Gun Violence

~The March for our Lives in Emporia will form at the Post Offie on South Main Street at 2 pm on Saturday, March 24th and end at the Greensville County Courthouse.~

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Thousands of students and other demonstrators are expected to march in Richmond and in cities across Virginia and the U.S. on Saturday in a nationwide protest calling for stricter gun laws and an end to mass shootings.

The March for Our Lives, with its main event in Washington, is in response to the shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school last month.

The Richmond march has been organized by the Richmond Public Schools, the Richmond Peace Education Center, the local chapters of Moms Demand Action and the NAACP, and other groups.

“We all decided that it was best to join forces and do one big, unifying march in Richmond to help amplify the voices of those most impacted by gun violence here in our city,” said Kelly Steele, a coordinator of the local event and a leader of the Gun Violence Prevention Advocacy Group of the Liberal Women of Chesterfield County.

In Richmond, protesters will meet at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St., at 10 a.m. Saturday and march across the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge to the Virginia Capitol.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, along with several students, are scheduled to speak at the event. More than 2,400 people have registered to attend.

The ride-share app Lyft has pledged free rides for demonstrators in 50 cities including Richmond.

The March for Our Lives was planned in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, when a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 14 students and three staff members. Since then, surviving students have urged lawmakers to restrict the sale of such weapons and take other measures to prevent gun violence.

Saturday’s march in D.C. will begin at noon with a rally on Pennsylvania Avenue between Third Street and 12th Street Northwest. According to the event’s website, about 840 “sibling marches” are planned worldwide.

Marches are planned in several communities in Virginia, including Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Chesapeake and Norfolk.

‘We Value Work’: Richmond Employers Recognized for Backing Living Wage

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

 RICHMOND – Richmond community and business leaders gathered Thursday at the Washington NFL team’s training center to celebrate and discuss efforts to ensure a living wage for workers.

In a room overlooking snow-covered training fields, the introduction of the Richmond Living Wage Certification Program was mostly an hour of food and celebration for those present. Ten businesses and organizations – including Altria, the University of Richmond and the Better Housing Coalition – were recognized for going beyond the $7.25 minimum required by state and federal governments.

“Yes, jobs are important,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney told the gathering. “But jobs that are worked full-time and still leave those workers below the poverty line may help a corporate bottom line, but it will not help someone up from the bottom.”

The living wage program, a joint project of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, is the first of its kind in the state. Reggie Gordon, director of the wealth building office, stressed the importance of ensuring that workers are compensated enough to lead a full life with economic stability.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that the people employed by the companies recognized today have a better chance to succeed in this community,” Gordon said.

The Richmond initiative uses calculations from institutions including MIT and the Economic Policy Institute to create a three-tier structure. The highest tier includes businesses that pay a minimum of at least $16 an hour (or $14.50 with health-care coverage). Six of the honorees met that “Gold Star” standard. Employers who have pledged to pay a living wage but aren’t able to yet were also acknowledged.

Richmond Living Wage also encourages the public to patronize employers that pay a living wage. Moreover, the initiative challenges employers that could provide higher compensation but don’t by promoting ethical labor practices like the abolishment of wage theft.

While Stoney praised all involved, the mayor lamented Virginia’s continuing adherence to the federal minimum wage, even as 29 states and the District of Columbia have raised their starting wages.

Stoney said Virginia’s adherence to the Dillon Rule, which prohibits localities from enacting policies that haven’t been authorized by the state, prevents Richmond from raising the minimum wage for all businesses and employers.

Citing his childhood in a “working poor” family and past experience in retail work, Stoney said, “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty is the moral challenge of our time.”

Stoney also noted his proposed biennial budget comes with measures to raise the living wage for all city employees from the current $11.66. If adopted, the proposal would take effect in January. Richmond’s city government was certified at the event as a “Silver Star” employer ($12.50 per hour or $11 with health care).

“Eleven dollars an hour is a good start,” Stoney said. “But $16 an hour is an even greater difference maker.”

Census Data Shows Growth in Northern Virginia, Decline in the South

By Ryan Persaud, Capital News Service

Numbers from our region:


Virginia locality 2010 census 2016 estimate 2017 estimate Absolute pop. change, 2010-2017 Percent pop.
change, 2010-2017
Absolute pop. change, 2016-2017
Brunswick County 17,425 16,275 16,244 -1,181 -6.80% -31
Chesapeake City 222,306 237,621 240,397 18,091 8.10% 2,776
Chesterfield County 316,239 338,815 343,599 27,360 8.70% 4,784
Dinwiddie County 28,014 28,025 28,208 194 0.70% 183
Emporia City 5,925 5,375 5,282 -643 -10.90% -93
Franklin City 8,580 8,228 8,176 -404 -4.70% -52
Goochland County 21,694 22,475 22,685 991 4.60% 210
Greensville County 12,245 11,551 11,679 -566 -4.60% 128
Hampton City 137,384 135,332 134,669 -2,715 -2.00% -663
Hanover County 99,846 104,347 105,923 6,077 6.10% 1,576
Henrico County 306,868 326,147 327,898 21,030 6.90% 1,751
Hopewell City 22,602 22,619 22,621 19 0.10% 2
Mecklenburg County 32,721 30,786 30,686 -2,035 -6.20% -100
Newport News City 180,963 180,388 179,388 -1,575 -0.90% -1,000
Norfolk City 242,823 245,532 244,703 1,880 0.80% -829
Nottoway County 15,852 15,510 15,434 -418 -2.60% -76
Petersburg City 32,437 31,850 31,750 -687 -2.10% -100
Poquoson City 12,157 11,947 12,053 -104 -0.90% 106
Portsmouth City 95,527 94,997 94,572 -955 -1.00% -425
Powhatan County 28,062 28,398 28,601 539 1.90% 203
Prince Edward County 23,357 23,023 22,703 -654 -2.80% -320
Prince George County 35,706 37,807 37,809 2,103 5.90% 2
Richmond City 204,271 225,288 227,032 22,761 11.10% 1,744
Richmond County 9,254 8,784 8,939 -315 -3.40% 155
Southampton County 18,570 18,019 17,750 -820 -4.40% -269
Suffolk City 84,570 89,294 90,237 5,667 6.70% 943
Surry County 7,065 6,570 6,540 -525 -7.40% -30
Sussex County 12,070 11,426 11,373 -697 -5.80% -53
Virginia Beach City 437,907 451,404 450,435 12,528 2.90% -969

RICHMOND – Population is booming in Northern Virginia and shrinking in many rural localities in the southern and southwestern parts of the state, according to data released Thursday by the U.S Census Bureau.

The population of the city of Falls Church grew 5.2 percent between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, the data showed. That was more than any U.S. county with at least 10,000 residents. (The Census Bureau puts Virginia’s cities in the same geographic category as counties.)

Three other Virginia localities grew more than 3 percent over the past year: Loudoun County and Manassas Park near D.C., and New Kent County east of Richmond.

Since 2010, Loudoun County’s population has increased more than 27 percent, to more than 380,000. That percentage increase ranks fourth among all U.S. counties with at least 200,000 people.

The growth in Northern Virginia is largely due to large employers located there and in Washington, said Hamilton Lombard, research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, which worked with the U.S. Census Bureau on the population estimates.

“A lot of that is still commuters to D.C., but you have big job centers now in Northern Virginia by itself,” Lombard said. “Fairfax has more people in it than D.C. does.”

Since the census in April 2010, the population of Fairfax County has grown more than 6 percent, to almost 1.15 million, the Census Bureau’s estimates show. The District of Columbia has about 694,000 residents; however, its population has increased more than 15 percent since 2010.

Like the nation’s capital, Virginia’s state capital has shown robust growth after decades of population decline.

Since 2010, the population of the city of Richmond has increased more than 11 percent – more than the suburban counties of Chesterfield (less than 9) percent, Henrico (almost 7 percent) and Hanover (6 percent).

Lombard said Richmond’s turnaround reflects a national trend of more investment in cities.

“It had a higher vacancy rate, a lot of empty homes – it was losing population for decades,” Lombard said. “You get around to the time of the housing crisis, and a lot of people couldn’t buy; they had to rent. That also made Richmond more attractive, because they had more rentals. It’s quite remarkable how it’s turned around and started growing.”

Lombard attributed part of the growth to the redevelopment of historic properties.

“Virginia has a very generous tax credit system that encourages redeveloping historical buildings,” Lombard said. “That’s created a lot of new residential units and really pristine historic areas.”

Of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities, 78 gained population over the past year – and 71 have more residents now than in 2010. Fifteen localities have grown by more than 10 percent since 2010 – including Fredericksburg (17 percent), Prince William County (15 percent), James City County (12 percent) and Charlottesville (11 percent).

In contrast, 62 of Virginia’s localities – mostly in the south and southwestern regions of the state – have seen a decrease in residents since 2010. The population has fallen about 9 percent in Bath and Tazewell counties and almost 11 percent in Buchanan County and the City of Emporia.

August Wallmeyer, author of “The Extremes of Virginia,” which focuses on the economic development of the state’s rural areas, said there are many reasons for the population decrease, such as a lack of economic opportunity and a decline in “low tech” industries such as coal mining, tobacco farming and textile manufacturing.

“The principal reasons are lack of jobs and economic opportunity,” Wallmeyer said. “The jobs part, I think, is related primarily due to the poor public education system that has not prepared people in these areas for modern-day, information-centered, technological-type careers.”

Wallmeyer said younger people are fleeing these areas due to what he sees as poor public education systems that lag far behind the schools in the wealthier areas of the state.

“I quoted in my book the chancellor of Virginia’s community college system as saying that if you looked at the poorer areas of the state, and considered those areas as a state by themselves, in terms of educational attainment, they would be dead last in the nation,” Wallmeyer said, “while the rest of Virginia – the urban quarter, the wealthier part of Virginia – would rank No. 2 in the nation.”

Wallmeyer said efforts by federal and state governments and regional coalitions to improve the economy in these poorer, rural areas have been largely unsuccessful.

“There are some people I have talked to in my research, some public officials, who say, only half-jokingly, ‘In my little county, the last person to leave, please cut off the lights, because there’s nothing left,’” Wallmeyer said.

According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, Virginia remains the 12th most populous state with about 8.47 million residents. That is an increase of less than 6 percent since 2010 and less than 1 percent over the past year – about the same as the U.S. as a whole.

Lombard said one big takeaway from the new data is how much slower Virginia has grown this decade.

“We’re getting close to eight and a half million, but the growth rate we’re hitting annually is really the lowest it’s been since before the Great Depression,” Lombard said. “The country’s population has been gradually slowing down a little bit just because of the population aging, but Virginia has slowed down a lot more quickly than the rest of the country.”

As for predictions, Lombard expects more people will be living in Northern Virginia.

“By our projection, by 2040, half of Virginia’s population should live in Fredericksburg, or north of it,” Lombard said.

New Law Would Lower GED Age Requirement

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — It will be easier for Virginians who drop out of high school at 16 or 17 to earn their high school equivalency diploma if Gov. Ralph Northam signs a bill approved by the General Assembly.

House Bill 803, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, would reduce from 18 to 16 the age for taking the General Educational Development tests. Supporters say the measure could save some teenagers time and money in pursuing a GED diploma.

“There’s been young people who have dropped out of school in our region at 16 or 17, and they’ve realized, ‘Hey, shouldn’t have done that. I’d like to get my high school diploma so I can go to work,’ and they’ve had to wait until they were 18,” said Jacob Holmes, O’Quinn’s legislative director.

 “It kind of put them off for a year or two. [O’ Quinn] was trying to find an avenue to allow those kids who’ve made that mistake to get back on the right track.”

Under current law, a GED certificate is available only to:

●      Adults who did not complete high school

●      Students granted permission by their division superintendent

●      Students who are home-schooled and have completed home-school instruction

●      Students released from compulsory attendance for religious or health reasons

●      People required by court order to participate in the testing program

 According to existing law, Virginians as young as 16 can earn a GED diploma if they are housed in adult correctional facilities or have been expelled from school for certain reasons.

If granted permission by their division superintendent, students must complete an Individual Student Alternative Education Plan before they are allowed to take the GED tests.

According to Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, to complete an alternative education plan, a student must:

●      Receive career counseling

●      Attend a high school equivalency preparation program

●      Earn a Career and Technical Education credential as approved by the Virginia Board of Education

●      Complete a course in economics and personal finance

●      Receive counseling on the potential economic impact of failing to complete high school along with procedures for re-enrollment

 HB 803 would allow an individual who is at least 16 years old to take the GED exam without having to complete an alternative education plan.

However, the legislation does not mean students can quit high school the day they turn 16. It “does not amend the commonwealth’s compulsory education statute, which requires attendance in school up until the 18th birthday and describes the circumstances under which a person under the age of 18 can be excused from attending school,” Pyle said.

Holmes added that O’Quinn “was not intending to have an incentive for people to drop out of high school.”

O’Quinn’s bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. Northam has until April 9 to decide whether to sign it into law. Rebecca Blacksten, a 10th-grader at McLean High School in Fairfax County, said she hopes he does.

“I personally feel like it’s a wonderful idea,” Blacksten said. “I think that in a country where education is of the utmost importance, everyone should have the ability to get a GED, even if it is earlier than 18 because of needs they might have.”

Ex-Gov. Wilder Sues VCU Over Assistant’s Harassment Claims

By Fadel Allassan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder is suing Virginia Commonwealth University and its government school, which bears his name, claiming his administrative assistant was the subject of verbal harassment.

The complaint was filed in Richmond’s Circuit Court on Monday. It asserts that the dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, John Accordino, verbally assaulted and abused Angelica Bega, Wilder’s administrative assistant, last November.

Accordino called Bega “obscene names,” threatened to fire her, accused her of violating human resources rules and “questioned and insulted her intelligence,” according to the complaint.

The complaint says VCU President Michael Rao refused to properly address Accordino’s actions. It says the university’s vice president and provost, Gail Hackett, conducted a “farcical and corrupt investigation” after Wilder met with her and Rao to notify them about Bega’s allegations. Rao and Hackett are both named as defendants.

When Wilder met with Rao, Hackett and Kevin Allison, Rao’s senior assistant, Hackett assured everyone present that Bega did not want to report Accordino to the university, according to the court document. However, the lawsuit says, Bega later denied to Wilder she had ever told Hackett that and stated “unequivocally” that she wanted to move forward with a complaint to the university.

“Upon being confronted with Ms. Bega’s statement, it was conceded Ms. Bega had never stated that she did not wish for her complaint to move forward,” the court document says.

The lawsuit says Wilder told Rao and Hackett that the provost’s office was “compromised and unable to faithfully process” Bega’s complaint. Wilder then reported Accordino’s actions to VCU’s Office of Human Resources as sexual harassment and racial and sexual discrimination.

The suit says Wilder, who holds the rank of distinguished professor at VCU, was not present when the incident between Accordino and Bega occurred, but Kristine Artello, an assistant professor at the Wilder School, notified Wilder of the incident.

Accordino has been the dean of the Wilder School for one year. Before that, he held the position on an interim basis since July 2016.

A spokesperson for VCU refused to comment but said the university has not been served with a lawsuit.

Virginia Health Rankings Reveal Disparities Among Regions

View the entire StoryMap at

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The affluent suburbs of Northern Virginia are the healthiest communities in the state, and lower-income localities, especially in the southern and western parts of the commonwealth, have the most serious health problems, according to a recent study.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that for the third year in a row, Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington are the healthiest counties in Virginia. They share low rates of premature death and a high percentage of adults with education beyond high school.

But Petersburg, Emporia and Martinsville ranked lowest in the foundation’s eighth annual county health report. Those three localities all had high unemployment and high rates of child poverty – factors associated with poor health.

The rankings are based on health outcomes and health factors. Health outcomes include the length and quality of life; health factors include behaviors such as smoking, access to care, social and economic conditions and physical environment.

“A lot of it has to do with things we call social determinants of health,” said Bob Hicks, Virginia’s deputy commissioner for community health services. “Where there is high unemployment and where there are schools not performing and the kids aren't educated to a certain level, we see these trends continuing in poor health outcomes.”

Hicks and his team at the Virginia Department of Health use the statistics from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to start conversations about communities’ health needs and to work with residents to best utilize resources.

“We require each of the local health directors to be involved in doing a community health assessment,” Hicks said. “Resources are always limited so the assessment results in a ranking by the stakeholders [in the community] of what they would like to see addressed.”

In Petersburg, the community health assessments have led to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. In 2011, the city’s teen pregnancy rate was 101 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-19. According to the most recent report, the rate has dropped to 87 pregnancies per 1,000 females in that age category.

However, not every locality is showing progress. In 2016, Hopewell was ranked 118th in Virginia. But in the most recent report, Hopewell dropped to 126th among the state’s 133 counties and cities. Among the factors: Thirty percent of Hopewell residents live in poverty, and more than half of the children there live in single-parent households.

“You’ll find those [inequities] all over the place,” said Chris Gordon, chief of staff for community and health services. “Even if you look at the high-ranking countries like Loudoun and Fairfax, you’re going to find disparities in equity.”

Seven percent of people living in Fairfax are in poverty. While that is a small percentage, more than 1 million people live in Fairfax – and so nearly 80,000 of them are living in poverty

Hicks said he hopes the data will lead to improvement in health across the state. “That is really the goal – to give people the opportunity to live in a healthy community.”

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.”

International rugby to make history in Washington in June

By JUAN HERRERA, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — South Africa and Wales are set to face off in a historic rugby match at RFK Stadium this spring, highlighting the growth and popularity of the sport in the nation’s capital.

The one-off match is scheduled for June 2 and is part of a trio of test matches South Africa and Wales will play during the month across North and South America.

According to World Rugby’s most recent rankings, South Africa is the fifth-ranked team in the world, while Wales is seventh. This will be the first time RFK Stadium has ever hosted a rugby match between two international powerhouses.

Gregory O’Dell, the president and CEO of Events DC, the company that owns and manages RFK Stadium, said the venue has already started working closely with USA Rugby, the national governing body of the sport in the United States, ahead of the match.

The two sides have collaborated to coordinate the grassroots market outreach for the match by contacting local rugby teams, restaurants and the diplomatic community.

“As DC’s first showcase of international rugby, the Wales versus South Africa match will provide an engaging and memorable experience for attendees,” O’Dell said. “Not only will this epic match-up grow our region’s rugby fan base, but it will also inspire future rugby athletes, both youth and adults, to participate.”

While rugby is still a long way from reaching the popularity of sports like basketball and football in the District, O’Dell said he believes the sport has already grown significantly in the area over the years at nearly every level.

“In terms of USA Rugby membership alone, the greater Washington, D.C. metro area is the second-largest region, per capita, in the country,” O’Dell said. “D.C. itself is home to 23 USA Rugby clubs, but there are 230 total clubs in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, making our region both the No. 1 metropolitan area for growth in women's rugby and the No. 2 area for overall adult participation.”

Joe Chapman, the team captain of the division III side of the Washington Renegades, a men’s rugby union football club, has played rugby in the District since 2013. The Renegades player said he has personally seen the number of players on the team growing.

Along with a rise in participation, Chapman also believes the leagues in the area have developed well. The Renegades are part of the Capital Rugby Union that Chapman said has put together some really competitive sides nationally.

Chapman attributes much of this growth and development to USA Rugby. The Renegades player believes the organization has taken the right steps by creating a professional rugby league in the United States and promoting it across the country.

“While we don’t have one of the new Major League Rugby teams,” Chapman said. “I really think that the D.C. area is primed to sort of explode onto the rugby scene in the U.S.”

With the South Africa-Wales match coming up in the spring, Chapman said he and his teammates on the Renegades are excited to see such a high-profile match in the nation’s capital. Chapman also mentioned that he and his teammates are planning on buying a block of tickets. He hopes the other rugby teams in the area will do the same.

“We’ve had folks travelling to Philadelphia and Chicago in the past to see matches, so to have one in our own backyard is just fantastic.”

Virginians Rally Statewide Against Pipeline Construction

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A coalition of activist groups throughout Virginia rallied Thursday against natural gas pipelines scheduled for construction across the western part of the state, North Carolina and West Virginia.

While rallies were held in Blacksburg, Floyd, Roanoke and Franklin County, 10 members of the coalition made their presence known outside the gates of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Square, singing songs and chanting. They were led by Jessica Sims and Stacy Lovelace of the Virginia Pipeline Resisters.

Sims described the rally as a way of showing “solidarity with those communities being affected by the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines as tree felling has begun.”

The two pipelines would span multiple state lines, carrying natural gas to public utilities in the three states. The protesters focused on the West Virginia activists sitting in trees, blocking the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 300-mile clearing efforts in the Peters Mountain area of Monroe County. The tree dwellers intend to stall the clearing efforts because if the tree felling isn’t completed by March 31, construction will be delayed until November to accommodate the local bat population, buying activists more time to halt the projects.

Saying the tree sitters were “doing the work” federal and state organizations hadn’t done, Lovelace called on West Virginian law enforcement to refrain from arresting the activists or property owners “under threat of charges of trespassing for being on their own land.”

The Richmond protest was part of the group’s continued efforts to sway Gov. Ralph Northam’s position on the pipelines. While Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has openly opposed their construction, Northam remains undecided.

“He didn’t really say yea or nay; he said he’d rely on the science,” Sims said, “and if that’s the case, he shouldn’t be supporting them.”

While the full scope of the pipelines’ environmental effects aren’t known yet, similar construction has led to complications. State regulators ordered those installing the Rover Pipeline, also running through West Virginia, to stop construction on Tuesday, following multiple water pollution violations. That same day, the Norfolk City Council voted to let the Atlantic Coast Pipeline run under two Suffolk reservoirs containing most of the city’s water supply.

The companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Co. — have stressed the economic benefits the pipeline could bring to the three states. Calling it a “game changer,” they estimate that construction of the project will generate 17,000 temporary jobs and over $2 billion in “economic activity.” They also say the pipeline would help with service shutoffs caused by high demand during cold weather, and lower electricity costs overall.

However, independent research from the Applied Economics Clinic disputes these promises. Locals affected have also criticized the contractor chosen for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Spring Ridge Constructors, because it consists of companies based in states outside of the American Southeast. Another analysis from industry expert Gregory Lander, given to the State Corporation Commission, used Dominion’s own data to project a $2.3 billion increase in customer billing because of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Calling the company’s estimates “greenwashing” and “a falsehood,” Sims said, “even by their own commissioned reports, the number of permanent jobs is less than 100.”

Dominion has worked to ease the process of construction in affected communities since 2014, three years before any public hearings or formal documentation about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. These efforts have included grants totaling $2 million to various towns in the pipeline’s 600-mile path, and using eminent domain — typically a government power — to force landowners into allowing trees on their property to be removed. The developers have also hinted that the pipeline mayexpand into South Carolina.

The Virginia Pipeline Resisters plan to continue their efforts to raise awareness of this issue every Wednesday from10 to 10:45 a.m. behind the Office of the Governor, and Sims urged the public to voice their concern to legislators.

“Let them know that you’re concerned about Virginia’s water and you want them to act in the best interest of Virginia.”

Cancer Center Would Honor ‘Immortal’ Henrietta Lacks


By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The year was 1951. The place: Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Henrietta Lacks, a native of Halifax County, Virginia, sought treatment for cervical cancer.

Doctors made a remarkable discovery about Lacks’ tumor: The cells remained alive and multiplied outside her body, creating the first immortal cell line. Since then, her cells have helped researchers develop the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, in vitro fertilization and other medical breakthroughs.

Lacks was never compensated for her contribution to science. She died in 1951 and was buried in an unmarked grave in her hometown.

Now, Virginia plans to recognize Lacks by establishing a cancer research and treatment center in her name in Halifax County. The General Assembly recently approved legislation authorizing the project to honor the woman who gave the medical world the immortal HeLa cell line.

It is a fitting tribute, said Adele Newson-Horst, vice president of the nonprofit Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group.

“Her cells were and continue to be an astronomical asset to the scientific and medical world,” Newson-Horst said. “The significance of her contribution to the world – not Virginia, not just Maryland, but the world – cannot be overstated.”

The General Assembly unanimously passed two bills – House Bill 1415 and Senate Bill 171 – to create the Henrietta Lacks Commission, which will have nine members, including state officials, representatives of the Lacks family and local officials from Halifax County.

The commission’s goal will be to establish a public-private partnership to create the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center in Halifax County. The center would use biodata tools to conduct cancer research, provide cancer treatment to rural Southside Virginia and incubate biotech businesses in the region.

Del. James Edmunds, R-Halifax, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, sponsored the legislation at the request of the Halifax Industrial Development Authority. Edmunds called the project “a great economic driver for Halifax County” and said it “will hopefully bring some answers as to why the cancer rate is so high.”

“I would love to see new technology and techniques developed in a new center here,” Edmunds said.

Science has advanced significantly since Lacks’ treatment at Johns Hopkins. In recent years, attention has focused on the ethics surrounding her case: Cells were taken from her body without her consent. Some said that was wrong; others said it reflected medical ethics of the time. Moreover, Lacks was an African-American woman from a poor family, and some wondered whether race was a factor.

Those issues were explored in a 2010 book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the basis for an HBO movie that came out last year. Last week, The New York Times published a belated obituary about Lacks, who the newspaper said had been overlooked when she died 66 years ago.

Belated recognition is what the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority had in mind when it proposed the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center.

“She left Halifax County … in the 1940s because of the lack of economic opportunities for African-American women. We’re trying to change that and bring her legacy back,” said Matt Leonard, the authority’s executive director.

He said the agency ran the idea by two of Lacks’ grandchildren and members of her legacy group.

“We got an immediate, very positive response from the family which we’re absolutely and imminently grateful for, because without their support, their championing this to their family and to other members of the community, we couldn’t do this project,” Leonard said.

Henrietta Lacks’ granddaughter Jerri Lacks said the family wholeheartedly supports the effort.

“Words can’t explain how excited I am just to be part of the commission and to know that our grandmother is being honored in such a great way,” Lacks said. “What I hope it will accomplish is that people will be more aware of her contributions to science, and her legacy can continue to give people hope for a better life.”

Virginia Will Offer New Specialty License Plates

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians are likely to see a handful of new specialty license plates this summer, including one aimed at those who support an end to gun violence.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill authorizing the plate with the legend “Stop Gun Violence.” House Bill 287, which bounced between the House and Senate before legislators reached an agreement, is waiting for Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.

Northam has already signed into law speciality license plates for supporters of Virginia’s electric cooperatives, theAlzheimer’s Association and the Virginia Future Farmers of America Association.

Last year, the Virginia FFA Association was given the opportunity to have its own plate available for purchase if it could get 1,000 people to register for the plate by the end of the year. Although the organization did not receive enough applications for the plate, its members still have hope; Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, proposed Senate Bill 446 to give the group another chance this year.

“I look forward to having the FFA Commemorative License Plate on my car and seeing them on cars in our great commonwealth,” Scot Lilly, former chair of the state’s FFA Association, said in a press release.

During their 2018 session, legislators in Virginia considered 15 new specialty plate bills. The state Department of Motor Vehicles website already offers more than 310 choices. Beginning July 1, motorists can order the newly approved plates. The plates will then be permanently available if they reach the 1,000-plate registration minimum before the year ends.

Specialty plates generally cost $25 above the regular vehicle registration fee. The DMV then gives $15 of that amount to the nonprofit group or cause associated with the plate.

About 14 percent of Virginians have a specialty plate. Virginia offers four categories of plates — special interest, college and university, military and other.

Although the “other” classification has the fewest number of plate options, its scenic plate has led the past two years with 214,332 total purchases.

Of the collegiate plates, Virginia Tech’s athletic “Go Hokies” plate is the most purchased with a total of 7,530 plates registered as of 2017.

The General Assembly carried over until its 2019 session proposed specialty plates for Parents Against Bullying, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (focused on increasing the elk population and advocating for hunters), supporters of Virginia’s women veterans, and the American Legion, another veteran organization.

VCU Gun Violence Panel Gets ‘Beyond the Politics’

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Addressing gun violence in America often leaves gun control supporters and Second Amendment advocates at an impasse, a panel of experts said at a town hall-style discussion of the issue at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t come with an operating manual; there is no guide to how amendments should be interpreted,” said John Aughenbaugh, a VCU political science professor. “Reasonable regulations are allowed by the government, but it gets complicated: What is a reasonable regulation?”

Aughenbaugh was joined on Friday’s panel by Lori Haas, Virginia’s director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Jessica Smith, former public safety initiatives coordinator at the Office of the Attorney General and a doctoral candidate at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

About 50 students and others attended the event, which was organized by the VCU Student Media Center and The Commonwealth Times, the student newspaper. The title of the discussion was “Beyond the Politics.”

The idea behind the panel was that even in times of harsh partisan discourse, citizens with differing perspectives should be able to have civil discussions about public issues and work toward solutions. Panel moderator Fadel Allassan, the paper’s managing editor, reminded attendees that although gun violence is a tense and emotional issue, this was not a debate; it was a respectful discussion.

Panelists agreed that discussing gun violence, and particularly mass shootings, can get muddied because of the terminology involved.

Haas said that while some public health experts may disagree, the FBI defines a “mass shooting” as four or more people killed in a single incident.

Part of what makes implementing public policy on mass shootings so difficult and unique to the U.S. is the Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.

“I think it’s a part of the American identity that being able to own and carry guns is a right we have,” Smith said.

But people often disagree on what exactly that means and how it should be regulated.

Van Cleave said gun control regulations are often unfair and give the government too much power. He said while he worries about guns ending up in the wrong hands, he believes individuals should be able to defend themselves, their families and their homes.

“I was a deputy sheriff for six years,” Van Cleave said. “I was able to see the importance of people protecting themselves before we could arrive.”

“When we can identify people at risk of violent behavior and we do nothing to disarm them, I think we are culpable,” said Haas, whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. “I don’t think it’s about legal gun ownership at all.”

Panelists agreed on the struggles of moving forward on addressing gun violence without a clear universal goal, which makes it even more difficult to reach consensus on what solutions look like.

Smith said it is important for people on all sides of the issue to keep it in perspective.

“We are a system based on incrementalism,” Smith said. “If we pass regulations, that doesn’t mean everyone’s guns will be taken away, but it also doesn’t mean all gun violence will stop.”

“A complete and utter victory is not going to happen,” Aughenbaugh said. “Policy-making requires compromise. Listen to what the other side wants. We’re not going to have a conversation if we’re not willing to listen to each other.”

In Walkout Over Guns, Richmond-area Students Say ‘Enough’

Photos of victims from the Parkland massacre were placed in remembrance around a rock at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg. (Photo by Amelia Heymann, Virginia Gazette)

By Sarah Danial and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – One month after the massacre that killed 17 students and staff at a Florida high school, Richmond-area students joined their peers across the country and walked out of their schools at 10 a.m. Wednesday to protest gun violence.

The international protest was promoted by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March. Students around the world participated in #NationalWalkoutDay by leaving their classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost when Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

“We’re taught from Day One to stand up for ourselves. That’s what we’re doing,” Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas. S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, wrote in an essay published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We’re walking out of school to say we’ve had enough. We’re walking out for our lives.”

More than 20 Richmond-area schools participated in the walkout. At Freeman High School, students gathered on the baseball field with signs stating, “Enough is Enough.”

National Walkout Day

Karen Allen, a mother of three Freeman High School graduates, stood outside the high school holding a sign that read, “In solidarity with the students!” Allen, who has grandchildren in grades ranging from kindergarten to middle school, said she and her children worry about their safety.

“People have stopped listening to adults,” Allen said. “Maybe if the kids come out and say what they think – they’re the ones in danger right now, and they’re having an impact on this nation right now.”

The nation will have another chance to echo their message on March 24 in Washington D.C. at the March for Our Lives, organized by Parkland survivors. So far, about 740 marches have been registered worldwide.

The Richmond March for Our Lives will begin at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St., and go across the MLK bridge to the state Capitol grounds before ending at the Bell Tower.

Time to Go Green – St. Patrick's Day Is Saturday

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Green beer, Irish music and people dressed up as leprechauns: Residents can experience all this and more at a number of events celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday.

Although people of all ancestries celebrate the holiday, about one in 10 Virginians claims Irish heritage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Scott Nugent is one of them, and he hopes partygoers will recognize the holiday’s not-so-festive roots as they celebrate.

“St. Patrick’s Day to me means a chance to inform people of the Irish people and how they overcame their struggles,” said Nugent, the president of Richmond’s Major James H. Dooley Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America, a Christian charity. “Someone only needs to hear the stories of ‘Irish Need Not Apply’ signs in store windows to get a feel for what the Irish had to overcome when coming to America.”

Nugent will celebrate by attending the AOH special St. Patrick’s Day mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 213 N. 25th St., in Church Hill. Afterward, he will be doing an annual pub crawl to the various Irish pubs in the Richmond area.

“It’s always a good time,” he said.

Others can have a good time at a number of events in and around Richmond:

·       The Rosie’s St. Patrick’s Day Back Lot Party starts at 10 a.m. at Rosie Connolly’s Pub, 1548 E. Main St.Attendees will hear live music from the Cary St. Ramblers, Andy Cleveland and Glenn Sutor, the Greater Richmond Pipes and Drums and the Metro Richmond Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. Irish dancing will be performed by the Baffa Academy of Irish Dance. Guinness and Jameson will be plentiful.

  • At O’Toole’s Restaurant & Pub, 4800 Forest Hill Ave. Music will start at 11:30 a.m. Artists include thePressGang, Danovic’s, Pugh’s Mahoney and the Hullabaloos.
  • St. Patrick’s Day with the Donnybrooks starts at noon at the Rare Olde Times Public House, 10602 Patterson Ave. in Henrico County, and will include a performance by a Celtic string band, the Donnybrooks.
  • St. Patrick’s Day at The Circuit, an arcade bar at 3121 W. Leigh St., starts at 1 p.m. Attendees can participate in a guitar hero tournament, enter a raffle for prizes and hear live music with artists F1NG3RS, 8-Bit Mullet and Don Chirashi.
  • St. Patrick’s Day Turn-Up with Vibe Riot starts at 7 p.m. at the Castleburg Brewery and Taproom, 1626 Ownby Lane. The bands Vibe Riot and Jaewar will provide an uplifting concert featuring a funk rock soul band and special guests.
  • St. Patrick’s Day celebration starts at 10 a.m. at Keagan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, 2251 Old Brick Road in Glen Allen. Musicians are performing live. The artists will include the Greater Richmond Bagpipes and Drums, Bobby Baine and DJ Lix. Green beer will be served.
  • Silly Supper St. Patrick’s Day starts at 5 p.m. at Hutch Bar + Eatery, 1308 Gaskins Road in Henrico. The gathering will offer rainbow crafts and green food for kids and cocktails and green beer for adults.

There are also events outside the Richmond area:

St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival in Fredericksburg starts at noon at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. The 16th annual Jeff Fitzpatrick St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set to include fire trucks, classic cars, a high school marching band, community organizations, Irish dancers, horses, military equipment and local pageant winners.

The Alexandria St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been rescheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and will be held at the intersection of King and St. Asaph streets. Participants will march down King Street to Lee Street and continue west on Cameron Street to Royal Street.

Next weekend, Richmond residents will celebrate the 33rd Church Hill Irish Festival, a street festival in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Patrick Shea, the webmaster for the AOH State Board, said the St. Patrick’s Church Hill Festival will be a great way to cut loose.

The festival starts off at 10 a.m. on March 24 with a parade and concludes on March 25 with the annual AOH Dooley Division raffle drawing at 5 p.m. Three city blocks will be closed off. Booths, live entertainment and Irish spirits will be available for everyone to enjoy.

Bill Halpin, president of the Virginia State Board of the AOH, said he celebrates not only St. Patrick’s Day but also Irish Heritage Month in its entirety.

“Wearing some green on St. Patrick’s Day is insufficient for a true Irish-American. I celebrate Irish custom, tradition music and dance in a public way and encourage my Hibernian brothers to do the same,” Halpin said.

Richmond Council Approves Funding for Apartment Targeting Artists

By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Richmond City Council has agreed to issue $20 million in bonds to fund the development of 159 low-income housing units on Jefferson Davis Parkway – apartments aimed at appealing to artists.

The council unanimously passed a resolution Monday authorizing the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to issue the bonds. The money will help Richmond developer Tom Wilkinson renovate the American Tobacco building, at 716 Jefferson Davis Highway. The residential rental housing project will be known as Richmond ArtistSpace Lofts.

The resolution was sponsored by Councilwoman Reva Trammell, 8th District.

“This is something that is really going to restart the Jefferson Davis corridor,” Trammell said.

Wilkinson agreed.

“In 2015, the city of Richmond participated in a market study looking at housing for artists who don’t make millions of dollars a year, but make a living wage … There is a significant demand for that type of housing,” Wilkinson said. “Of the 150 units or so that will be there, roughly half of them will be targeted for artists.”

Wilkinson expects move-ins to begin this summer. He echoed Trammell’s optimism regarding the project’s impact on the surrounding area.

“We should be able to start putting people in the first 66 units in July, with the remaining 68 or 69 units available for occupancy in December,” Wilkinson said. “My belief is it will be an excellent way to get started with redevelopment for the Jeff Davis corridor.”

Richmond has a thriving community of artists, and that was reflected at Monday’s City Council meeting. Toni-Leslie James, director of costume design in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Theater, received an award for her work with students.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and a costume tells much of the story,” Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, 2nd District, said in presenting the award to James. “You’re changing lives here in Richmond.”

James thanked Gray and other members of the council. “I don’t know what to say, except I am proud to reside here in Richmond,” she said.

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.

2018 General Assembly Scorecard

Below is an infographic showing how many bills each legislator passed as a percentage of the number of bills submitted. This infographic was created by Capital News Service reporter Adam Hamza.


Foster Care Teens Soon Can Ask to Reunite With Birth Parents

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Teenagers in foster care in Virginia will be able to express their preference on restoring their birth parents’ parental rights under a law that will take effect July 1.

The General Assembly passed and Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation allowing foster care children ages 14 and older to tell a judge whether they want their birth parents to regain custody of them.

HB 1219 was introduced by Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, who as a child lived in a foster home and was adopted.

“If parents had issues and had to give up their child, the judge asks the guardian ad litem or social worker if the child has expressed a preference,” Reid said.

The guardian ad litem is a lawyer appointed to look after the interests of a child or other people unable to represent themselves.

Reid was born and raised in Rockbridge County outside Lexington, Virginia. When he was 6, Reid said, his mother left the family. His father tried his best to raise Reid, his sister and two brothers, the legislator said. The children ended up being taken to United Methodist Family Services.

“When I went to UMFS, I had indoor pumping, hot water and a bathroom,” Reid said.

When he turned 16, Reid was adopted from the children’s home and moved to Oklahoma with his adoptive parents. In Oklahoma, Reid said he was able to finish high school and thought about going to college for the first time.

“My dad got a ninth-grade education. I was the first person ever in my family to get a college education,” Reid said.

Reid attended Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah – “the capital of the Cherokee” – and graduated with a degree in political science in 1984.

“My junior year was when I reflected back on the last 10 years of my life. That’s when it dawned on me that I was living the American dream, which prompted me to get into the Navy Reserve,” Reid said.

Reid served in the Navy Reserve for 23 years as an intelligence officer and in other positions, while also working in Northern Virginia. He earned his master’s degree in 2002 from the Joint Military Intelligence College in Washington.

Reid, 55, is the chief strategy officer for Axiologic Solutions, an engineering company based in Fairfax. He was elected last fall to the Virginia House of Delegates.

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.

As Gun Bills Fail, Virginia Legislators Look Ahead to 2019

By Charlotte Rene Woods, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Three months before the start of Virginia’s 2018 legislative session, a gunman killed 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas. Midway through the session, 17 people died in a mass shooting at a high school in Florida. But by the time the session ended on Saturday, the Virginia General Assembly had passed just one bill on the subject.

Virginia lawmakers introduced more than 70 gun-related bills this session. But with Republicans and Democrats sharply divided on the issue, the General Assembly approved only a measure to restrict the firearm rights of people who had mental health problems as teenagers.

In comparison, Florida’s legislature fast-tracked a GOP-backed bill that raises the firearm purchase age to 21, bans bump stocks and requires a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases. The National Rifle Association — headquartered in Virginia, a state with its own historical mass shooting — has since filed a lawsuit arguing  that raising the purchase age is unconstitutional.

During Virginia’s legislative session, the vitriol flew: Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, sent his constituents an email with the headline, “How the GOP Makes it Easy to Commit Mass Murder.” Levine blasted Republicans for supporting assault weapons similar to guns “created by Nazi Germany.” In response, Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, delivered a floor speech that went viral, saying Democrats were intent on “gutting the Second Amendment.”

“We’re talking past each other,” Levine said.

Levine sponsored a bill to ban bump stocks, the device Stephen Paddock used on his rifles to fire so rapidly in theOct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas. The bill failed despite testimony from Henrico County  resident Cortney Carroll, who survived the massacre.

“It was such a minor bill that could make a huge impact on saving lives in mass shootings like Vegas,” said Carroll, a Republican. “Bump stocks are not needed to hunt with or for self-defense, so why are we going to continue to make it so easy for people to get them?”

The gun bill that passed was sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County. It would treat minors 14 or older similarly to adults in regard to purchasing firearms after receiving mental health treatment. Deeds is no stranger to gun-related violence and actively advocates for initiatives to improve mental health.  In 2013, his son stabbed him before committing suicide with a firearm.

For this bill, Deeds said he was inspired by a call from one of his constituents whose son once had a temporary detention order yet purchased a gun to commit suicide at 18.

Presently, state law prohibits minors as well as adults who have been committed or detained for mental health treatment from purchasing a firearm. Such adults would not be able to purchase until certified mentally competent, while currently a juvenile who had been previously detained could buy a gun when of legal age.

“We were able to talk to enough legislators — even people who are adamantly opposed to most restrictions on firearms — and convince them that this was a loophole,” Deeds said. “I think for a lot of people, they thought this was already the law.”

Opposing initiatives take action beyond the session

Three days before the session ended, House Speaker Kirk Cox appointed a select committee of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to focus on school safety. While the forthcoming committee will work in a bipartisan fashion to address school safety, some feel the committee isn’t enough because it will not discuss gun violence. Instead, it will address “emergency preparedness,” “security infrastructure,” and the possibilities of “additional security personnel.”

Though Minority Leader David Toscano feels it’s a good step in school safety, he said it falls short of addressing the larger issue — gun violence.

Therefore, Toscano launched a Democratic initiative to address gun violence specifically. The group will tour the state and hold town hall meetings to discuss the subject and solicit proposed solutions. 

“I think we need to pay much more attention to this issue,” Toscano said. “I’m hopeful that with time, we will be able to pass some good legislation for gun safety.”

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, has personal ties to tragedy. While working as a TV journalist, his girlfriend and coworker were shot during work in 2015. One of his bills this session dealt with workplace violence.

The freshman delegate said the conversation about guns is not ending just because the session came to a close. Hurst said his party will continue to listen and investigate what causes gun violence while seeking solutions.

As for the select committee on school safety, Hurst said he doesn’t have much faith in it.

“We don’t need to continue to turn our schools into Army barracks,” Hurst said of the proposed ideas to incorporate more security personnel into schools. “We need to make sure we look at whom we are allowing to purchase guns. I think the broad public would acknowledge that there are some people at certain points in their lives that shouldn’t have access to firearms because of the high likelihood that they would commit an act of violence against someone else, or themselves.

Parties remain divided on guns

Hurst said he is not surprised that just one firearm-related bill survived the legislative session. He said he believes his Republican counterparts oppose gun reform in part due to campaign donation influences like the NRA.

Meanwhile, Freitas, who is vying for the Republican nomination to  challenge Democrat  Tim Kaine for his U.S.  Senate seat, bristles at that insinuation.

“Take a look at how much money the NRA spends and how much Planned Parenthood spends,” he told Democrats in his floor speech on March 2. “When I get up there and I talk about abortion, I don’t assume that you’re all bought and paid for by Planned Parenthood. I don’t assume you’re horrible people because I disagree with you on a policy position; I assume you have deep convictions that we can have an argument and debate about.”

Freitas said he feels Republicans have been the target of “inflammatory” comments, such as being compared to Nazis, for “having a different opinion.”

“Try having an honest debate with someone who has already started off the conversation telling you how evil you are. It’s almost impossible,” he said.

Freitas said he thinks that the two political parties can agree on some policies  and that legislators can make more progress toward safer communities. He said the debate is a fair one, but he is not without his reservations.

“I think what’s missing in this one [debate] is that it’s not simply a philosophical debate; it’s also a practical debate,” Freitas said. “We [Republicans] don’t see gun control policies achieving the kind of results that maybe some of our colleagues assume that they will.”

Freitas feels too much emphasis is placed on guns rather than the “greater conversation about security, or all of the other behaviors that lead to somebody deciding one day that they’re going to go into a school and target a lot of innocent people.”

With the committee on school safety and Toscano’s initiative, state legislators are setting sights on more strides in the next session. While almost all gun reform bills failed this year, Toscano is pleased with some of the progress he has seen because some pro-gun bills failed as well.

“That’s basically because we have 49 Democrats standing up to those issues,” Toscano said.

There may be a Republican majority, but the 2017 general election saw the House of Delegates become closer to even in its composition of party members.

As for future elections, Toscano says he doesn’t think “the blue wave has crested yet.”

General Assembly concludes session, but work remains

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly gaveled the 2018 session to a close on Saturday but remained divided over the state budget and Medicaid expansion, forcing a special session to resolve its differences.

Gov. Ralph Northam said after adjournment that he plans on dealing with the issue “sooner rather than later” by calling a meeting to set the special session, which could take days or weeks. He did not give a specific time for setting the meeting or the special session.

“We’ve left one of our largest missions unfinished,” Northam said to legislative leaders. “As you all know, I want to be done with health-care expansion.”

Northam, who took office in January, ran on a campaign that included expanding Medicaid. But as the legislature wound to a conclusion in its final days, it became apparent that a special session would be needed.  

Northam expressed pleasure over the resolution of a number of issues, including the increase of the grand larceny threshold, strengthening the Metro system that operates in Northern Virginia and reform on policy with Dominion Energy.

 On Medicaid, while the Senate budget has no provisions for such expansion, the House spending plan allows for increased federal funding — which the administration of President Donald Trump opposed earlier this month. Republicans control both chambers by two-member margins, but there were bitter differences over Medicaid.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said he is optimistic about the special session.

“We are all committed to completing work on a state budget long before July 1,” said Cox, completing his first session as speaker.

Senate Democratic leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax and caucus chair Mamie Locke of Hampton blamed Senate Republicans for “holding up the entire budget process for political reasons.”  

Senate Republican leader Thomas Norment Jr. of James City responded that his colleagues continued to oppose Medicaid expansion in the budget.

“Senate Republicans remain unanimously committed to passing a clean budget without Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and we will continue to work towards that goal in the special session,” Norment said in a statement.

The House and Senate met from 9 a.m. until just before 2 p.m. on their final day, which included action on major legislation to assist the troubled Washington-area Metro system, which is critical to populous Northern Virginia.

Conference reports on Senate Bill 856, which was sponsored by Saslaw, and House Bill 1539, proposed by Del. Timothy Hugo, R-Fairfax, are both multifaceted, containing multiple provisions to improve Metro. These provisions include a dedicated funding stream of  $154 million a year from multiple existing sources, including transportation taxes and revenue from the North Virginia Transportation Authority. They also include the creation of a Metro Reform Commission, and a requirement to send a financial report on the performance of bus and Metro systems to the General Assembly. Neither bill will be enacted unless Maryland and the District of Columbia adopt similar provisions.

“From the start, my position was that a funding package for Metro had to go hand-in-hand with meaningful reforms without raising taxes,” Hugo said in a news release.

The legislature concluded its work the day after Northam signed one of the most-discussed bills of the session. Despite lingering opposition, the governor approved SB 966, which lifts a rate freeze that had been in effect for Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company, but allows the utilities’ broad discretion in reinvesting customer revenue. Critics claimed the bill, developed with heavy involvement from Dominion, favors utility interests over those of consumers.

In another utility-related action earlier this session, lawmakers approved SB 807 by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, which extended the moratorium on the closure of ponds where Dominion Energy stores its coal ash, allowing the state and utility another year on reaching agreement over how to address environmental concerns.

Legislators left Richmond without approving any of the numerous gun control bills that were submitted after recent mass shootings in Florida, Texas and Las Vegas. Among the gun-related bills only one passed — SB 669, which restricts access of weapons to minors 14 and older who had received involuntary mental health treatment. Cox formed a select committee to study school safety, but said the panel would not take up gun issues, angering Democrats.

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.

Virginia Makes Play Time a Priority in Elementary Schools

By Irena Schunn,Capital News Service
RICHMOND -- The Virginia Senate approved legislation Friday that defines recess as instructional time, responding to concerns from parents worried about a lack of unstructured play over a long school day.
“Our children need unstructured play time, preferably outside. Cutting recess to 10 or 15 minutes a day is just not enough for young learners,”  said Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.
SB 273 came back for a vote on conference committee changes by the House and Senate negotiators. The Senate also approved HB 1419. Both were sent to Gov. Ralph Northam on 39-1 votes.
“The elementary years are a time of immense social and emotional growth and allowing for adequate unstructured play both enables development of these skills, as well as provides a healthy energy outlet for younger students who are not ready to sit still for a full academic day,” Favola said.
If approved by the governor, the legislation would require local school boards to count unstructured play time toward the minimum instructional hours public schools must meet each school year, giving an incentive to provide more recess time.
The legislation addresses the concerns of parents like Barbara Larrimore, a mother in Prince William County. Larrimore became concerned when her 5 year-old began biting holes into his shirts while at school. After discovering he received only 15 minutes of recess time during a school day of 6 hours and 45 minutes, she co-founded the “More Recess for Virginians” coalition and began pushing for change with the help of bill sponsors Favola; Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax; and Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax.
“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with them from the beginning,” said Larrimore. “We wanted it done a very specific way so that it wouldn’t affect the school schedule like art, music and PE because those are important and also part of a healthy diet of education for kids.”
Virginia is one of only eight states that require elementary schools to provide daily recess, according to the 2016 Shape of the Nation Report. Though the time allotted for recess varies among districts, Virginia mandates that elementary school students participate in at least 100 minutes of physical activity every week or 20 minutes every day. However, those minutes don’t necessarily go to recess time. Physical education class allows students to exercise in a structured environment and can account for a large amount of required exercise time.
But critics say physical education does not have the unstructured play benefit of recess, which allows “elementary children to practice life skills such as conflict resolution, cooperation, respect for rules, taking turns, sharing, using language to communicate, and problem solving in real situations,”  according to the Council on Physical Education for Children and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
The Senate bill co-sponsored by Favola and Petersen calls for recess to be counted under instructional time specifically in elementary schools. HB 1419, sponsored by Delaney, allows recess to be counted under instructional time that can come from reductions in the core areas of English, math, science and social studies.
“As a mom, I know the benefits our children receive when they are provided time to be active and play. I cannot wait to see how our children will benefit from this new provision,” said Delaney.

Bay Advocate, Omega Proteins Differ Over Menhaden Cap

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A Chesapeake Bay advocate says the General Assembly's failure to place a cap on Virginia's lucrative menhaden catch leaves unanswered questions about key elements of the region’s ecology.

Menhaden are a small fish harvested mostly for the production of oil and fish meal, but they also play a role in the ecosystem as food for other species like striped bass and osprey. Virginia harvests the majority of menhaden on the Atlantic Coast, accounting for 80 percent of the total harvest according to the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission.

About 70 percent of that 80 percent is harvested by Omega Protein, a company based in Reedville since the early 20th century.

Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, tried twice during the 2018 legislative session to reduce the menhaden harvest in the Chesapeake Bay from its current limit of 87,216 metric tons.

Initially, Knight introduced HB 822, which proposed a limit of 51,000 tons. But that bill died in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 13.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration then asked that the issue be reconsidered. So Knight introduced HB 1610, which also sought to cap the menhaden harvest in the bay at 51,000 metric tons but also increase allowable total of the fish caught in the Atlantic by 2,000 tons.

“I personally view this as a little bit more friendly to the industry to mitigate some of their concerns,” Knight said.

On Feb. 28, the committee voted 11-10 in favor of HB 1610, clearing it for a vote by the full House. However, on Tuesday, the bill was sent back to the committee, effectively killing it for the session.

The bill would bring Virginia within limits set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissions, a compact of 15 coastal states that agree to protecting and better utilizing fisheries.

Ben Landry,  Omega Protein’s public affairs director, said the company opposes the commission’s limits. He said the caps advocated  by the organization and Knight’s legislation unfairly targeted the company without scientific evidence.

“We have been in business for a long time, and we think that we should be fighting against the ASMFC cooperatively,” Landry said. “Virginia was targeted and disadvantaged by this, and we shouldn’t have to take it.”

Landry was referring to the  commission increasing its total quota for fishing menhaden by 8 percent in November but cutting Virginia’s allocation of the total harvest.

Environmental groups including  the Chesapeake Bay Foundation considered  the legislation as a way of protecting menhaden. Reducing the cap by 36,000 metric tons would have had little effect on Omega Protein, said  Chris Moore, a senior scientist for the foundation.

Even with the limit, Moore said, the company “would actually be able to catch a little bit more than their average for the last five years” in the Chesapeake Bay.

Landry said  setting the cap based on the company’s current average yield of menhaden is shortsighted. He said Omega Protein pulled  109,000 metric tons in 2006.

Moore said the impact of the menhaden fishery is wide-ranging and ultimately affects many businesses and communities that depend on the bay in different ways. Moore said, for example, that certain studies have indicated that striped bass had been in danger of starving without a healthy menhaden population, which also provides food for flounder and bluefish.

Virginia Offers Salute to Women Veterans

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than 100,000 women veterans live in Virginia, and in observance of Women’s History Month, the General Assembly has decided to honor them by designating the third week of March each year as Women Veterans Week.

On Monday, the Senate joined the House in passing House Joint Resolution 76, sponsored by Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax.

Murphy, a self-described “military brat,” said Virginia has one of the highest populations of women veterans in the country. “We put together Women Veterans Week to honor them,” she said.

A member of the Board of Veterans Services and head of its Women’s Veterans Committee, Murphy will hold a series of discussions around the commonwealth during Women Veterans Week. The goal is to inform women veterans about the resources available to them and discuss their concerns.

“Women are the fastest growing segment of the veteran population, and they face unique challenges both in the military and when they transition to civilian life,” Murphy said. “We’re going to hold a series of roundtables so we can actually hear from these women veterans about what it is they need to ensure that they come back into our workforce and are successful.”

U.S. Army veteran Jeanne Minnix said it’s important to recognize the contributions of women veterans.

“Women have often been underrepresented, often under-acknowledged if you will, but it’s changing, thankfully,” Minnix said. “Anything to bring women’s issues to the forefront is always good.”

Women Veterans Week will be March 18-24. Information about the week’s events can be found on the website of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

International Women’s Day Ralliers Say ‘Women’s Time Has Come’

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Dozens of local activists and community members gathered Thursday for the 109th International Women’s Day rally and march to celebrate solidarity with women across the U.S. and worldwide. This year’s theme was “Press for Progress.”

The International Women’s Strike was organized by the Richmond chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and supported by numerous social justice groups such as Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Fight for 15.

The rally began at Abner Clay Park in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. Event leaders ignited the crowd, inviting everyone to sing the “Battle Hymn of the Women,” a feminist rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which dates to the 1860s. Its message resounded: “Women’s time has come.”

Rally speakers highlighted the importance of women of all backgrounds and experiences.

“If all women and femmes went on strike, the world would fall apart,” said Vanessa Bolin, a Native American activist who served as a medic at North and South Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation. “The world needs us. My hope is that each of you will find your voice and use it to change the world.”

Rebecca Keel, a community organizer and 2016 Richmond City Council candidate, called rally attendees to action.

“It is a core tenet of feminism that the personal is political,” Keel said. “Let’s examine not only our movements but ourselves. Let’s vote with our dollars in supporting candidates we believe in that will make our path to liberation easier.”

Some speakers focused on specific political issues such as the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines. Jamshid Bakhtiari, Virginia’s field organizer for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, invited community members to send letters to Gov. Ralph Northam to urge him to take action against the pipelines.

After speeches concluded at the park, rally attendees marched as a group to Richmond City Hall and then to the Bell Tower on the grounds of the state Capitol, where Democratic Dels. Elizabeth Guzmán of Prince William and Debra Rodman of Henrico spoke, echoing the messages of unity.

New law tightens bail restrictions for human trafficking defendants

By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam has signed into law a bill that will make it more difficult for people charged with human trafficking crimes to post bail.

House Bill 1260, which will take effect on July 1, was sponsored by two Democratic delegates, Mike Mullin of Newport News and Dawn Adams of Richmond. Mullin said they were motivated by their professional experiences handling sexual-based crimes, like trafficking.

“Delegate Adams works as a professional nurse who has seen individuals that have been harmed both mentally and physically through sex trafficking, so this is something near and dear to her heart,” Mullin said.

Mullin is an assistant commonwealth attorney in Suffolk, where he focuses on sexual assault and gang-related cases as a member of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations team. He said the law reflects a recommendation of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force and creates a presumption against bond for defendants being tried for sex trafficking crimes.

According to a 2017 report from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Virginia ranked 15th in the United States for the most reported cases of human trafficking. Among cities, Richmond is ranked ninth in the country with the highest number of calls to the hotline per capita.

“In Virginia, we have a number of things where we presume you’ll be a flight risk and a danger to the community — like, we assume if you’re charged with murder that you will run,” Mullin said. “So what we [the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force] did is create a presumption against bond. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get bond; it just means you have to show a higher standard of why you’re not going to run, whether it’s that you have a relationship with family in the area or that you’ve been living in the area for 15 years.”

Michael Feinmel, a deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Henrico County, said trafficking is a crime requiring constant movement. Efforts to curb that movement are necessary since many times defendants use false addresses and traffickers may use the freedom of bond to contact their victims.

“The bonded pimp can contact the commonwealth’s witness and lay on the guilt trip thick: ‘They are trying to send me to prison, and it’s your fault,’” Feinmel stated in an email. “Even those victim/survivors who have acknowledged that the sex trafficker was taking advantage of them still feel some sort of emotional bond to their trafficker, and it makes things even more difficult for them to continue to want to cooperate.”

Though Feinmel said HB 1260 is an important step in addressing human trafficking crimes, not everyone thinks the legislation will do enough.

Natasha Gonzalez, a clinician at the Richmond-based non-profit Gray Haven, which focuses on comprehensive care of human trafficking survivors, said there is more work to be done.

“My role with Gray Haven is being a first point of contact. When we get a call of a potential trafficking victim it’s my job to decide whether or not it’s trafficking, which can be difficult because, for example, domestic relationships and trafficking can sometimes go hand in hand,” Gonzalez said.

A larger issue, according to Gonzalez, is that sex trafficking victims are not likely to contact police because they often fear law enforcement and sometimes are not aware they are being trafficked.

In the Capitol, however, Mullin said he is hopeful that human trafficking will receive more legislative attention in upcoming years.

“There are only a few things that we handle here in the Capitol that are partisan by nature, and this certainly is not one of them. I’ve worked very closely with Republicans and Democrats on this, and the bill came through the House and Senate without a single no vote,” Mullins said. “This is a bipartisan issue and something everyone seems to agree we need to work on.”

Coal Ash Pond Closure Moratorium Bill Heads to Governor

By Kirby Farineau, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A bill extending the moratorium on the permanent closure of coal ash ponds has won House approval and awaits the signature of Gov. Ralph Northam to become the only legislation on the issue to survive the 2018 session.

The House on Tuesday unanimously voted in favor of SB 807, sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and co-sponsored by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. Surovell said he was happy for the extension and hopes the bill, which has been supported by Dominion Energy and environmental groups, is a “net positive for everyone.”

“We can come up with a coal-ash solution which not only resolves the problem forever but also creates jobs to clean the environment at the same time,” said Surovell, referring to the positions that would be created to recycle the coal ash.

Robert Richardson, a spokesman for Dominion, said the utility will provide the state with information on coal ash recycling costs.

“We are fully committed to closing these ponds in a manner that is protective of the environment,” Richardson said.

Coal ash is a toxic byproduct of coal-burning power plants.

Among its provisions, the bill requires Dominion to file an RFP, or a request for proposal, to assess the costs of recycling ash in the ponds. Though Dominion already recycles a portion of its total coal ash, it remains in favor of “cap-in-place” measures of permanent closure. This method of closing the ponds with a protective seal has been targeted as unsafe by environmental organizations concerned about groundwater contamination.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, which has opposed “cap-in-place” policies, supported the bill. Lee Francis, the league’s communications manager, said the organization has worked with Surovell and that the bill gives legislators the tools needed to make a decision.

“I think this bill will help give us clarity on how to start going forward, and hopefully lawmakers will have more information when we address final closure options,” Francis said.

Lawmakers tried addressing the coal ash issue from many angles this session, but ultimately settled on extending the moratorium as a way to get more information before acting.

Bill Would Let Energy Giant Regulate Itself, Senator Warns

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — As the General Assembly begins to wind down, a key opponent to legislation involving Dominion Energy is continuing to warn that a bill that has reached the governor’s desk will tilt the scales in the utility’s favor.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said the legislation may limit the State Corporation Commission’s regulatory power over utilities — and give Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power “a license to overcharge customers for the foreseeable future.”

The legislation consists of two nearly identical bills: SB 966, sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, andHB 1558, sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County. With amendments, each bill has grown to 29 pages. The bill’s summary alone is more than 1,850 words. A typical bill’s summary in the Legislative Information System is less than 100 words.

The provisions in the latest version that are raising the most eyebrows concern how much profit state-approved monopolies, such as Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, may earn.

“Typically, the SCC is charged with making sure that rates are not more than is necessary to recover costs plus an allowable return on equity, which is usually 10 percent above costs,” Petersen said. “Normally, Dominion would give refunds based on that excess. This bill would take away that jurisdiction.”

For example, if Dominion made $1.2 billion in revenue in one year, and the company’s expenses were $1 billion, Dominion would have $200 million in profit. Previously, customers would have received a percentage refund for those “over-earnings.”

Under HB 1558, Dominion could keep all over-earnings provided it spends the money on designated projects — such as the Grid Transformation Project, a potentially multibillion-dollar project that includes burying power lines — as well as on investments in renewable energy, such as solar power or wind farms, according to Petersen.

The bill includes some complexities, however. Under the legislation, for example, the SCC would still have the power to review the Grid Transformation Project but would not be allowed to reject Dominion’s proposal, according to Steve Haner, a lobbyist for the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

“Dominion basically has written the law in such a way that it will never have to pay refunds, and it will never have to lower its rates,” Petersen said. “That’s why I called them out on it.”

Rayhan Daudani, senior communications specialist at Dominion, said many of these worries are unfounded.

“Environmental groups, like the League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as the governor’s office, all agree that this bill is good for Virginians, for the environment and for our customers,” Daudani said.

Haner said the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income Virginians, is neutral toward the bill. However, personally he said he thinks the bill may not do what it says.

“It does not really return us to regulation. It leaves the SCC bound up with some very strict accounting rules and gives the utility ways to manipulate its profit margins and manipulate its spending so it will never be found to be excessive. It’ll never be ordered to refunds. It’ll never be ordered to cut its rates,” Haner said. “They’re directed to spend a certain way based on a bill they wrote.”

Dominion’s influence in the General Assembly is well known, according to Corrina Beall, the legislative and political director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter.

“Dominion is always the gorilla in the room. They are tremendously effective within the building, and their influence within the General Assembly cannot be overstated,” Beall said. “They are the No. 1 corporate campaign contributor to elected officials in the state of Virginia.”

However, Petersen said he believes the tides may be changing in the General Assembly, with Dominion receiving pushback from both Democrats and Republicans.

“This is the first time in my history that Dominion really got a lot of pushback from a diverse array of people, in terms of their agenda,” Petersen said. “Whether or not that will continue over the next couple years — new candidates will push back on Dominion and demand more consumer rights and more accountability, and less sort of a blank check — that remains to be seen. That’ll take three or four years to play out.”

SB 966 initially passed the Senate, 26-13, on Feb 9. The House then passed a substitute bill, 65-30, on Feb. 26. The Senate then agreed to the House substitute, 26-14, on Feb. 28. Now, the governor is expected to act on the bill by midnightFriday.

HB 1558 was approved by the House of Delegates on a vote of 63-35 on Feb. 13. A modified version of the bill then passed the Senate, 27-13, on Thursday. The measure is now back before the House.

Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, had mixed feelings about HB 1558 but voted for it last month. In an email to constituents, he called it an “imperfect (but greatly improved) bill better for Virginia consumers and the environment than current law.”

The current law, adopted by the General Assembly in 2015, froze Dominion’s electric rates because the company said it faced uncertain costs of complying with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants. However, the courts and the Donald Trump administration have since blocked the plan’s implementation.

SB 966 and HB 1558 would lift the rate freeze and allow state officials to see if Dominion is making excessive profits — and, if so, order the company to reduce its rates. That is one reason Gov. Ralph Northam has said he supports the legislation.

Northam said he brought together various groups to help craft a compromise on the issue — one that would “give Virginians as much of their money back as possible, restore oversight to ensure that utility companies do not overcharge ratepayers for power, and make Virginia a leader in clean energy and electrical grid modernization.”

However, Petersen fears that the bill won’t do that, and that it will prevent state regulators from doing their job.

“We took away from the State Corporation Commission their very skill set, which is evaluating the utilities and making sure that rates are fair and customers are not overcharged,” Petersen said.


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