2021-4-8

McEachin Announces Nearly $400,000 in School Funding from American Rescue Plan

WASHINGTON – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today announced $398,399 in funding from the American Rescue Plan to support public schools in the district as they reopen classrooms safely for students and staff.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away valuable, in-person learning from our students while leaving many schools struggling to support themselves,” McEachin said. “The American Rescue Plan is an opportunity to help get our students and teachers back in the classroom while also ensuring their safety. I am glad we passed this historic bill so that we may finally turn our attention to restoring our homes, businesses and schools.”

Below is a breakdown of grants received by each district:

Charles City County Public Schools

$1,312

Chesapeake City Public Schools

$49,327

Chesterfield County Public Schools

$57,817

Colonial Heights City Public Schools

$4,689

Dinwiddie County Public Schools

$6,537

Emporia City Public Schools

$3,624

Greensville County Public Schools

$3,967

Henrico County Public Schools

$75,560

Hopewell City Public Schools

$12,121

Petersburg City Public Schools

$23,994

Prince George County Public Schools

$4,820

Richmond City Public Schools

$118,556

Southampton County Public Schools

$4,172

Suffolk City Public Schools

$26,485

Surry County Public Schools

$1,508

Sussex County Public Schools

$3,910

 

Lawmakers okay recreational marijuana possession, cultivation

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia lawmakers signed off on amendments that make the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana and homegrown plants legal in the state in July as opposed to 2024. 

“On July 1, 2021 dreams come true,” Marijuana Justice stated in a tweet.

 The group has worked to legalize the use and possession of marijuana for the past two years but said more work must be done. 

Gov. Ralph Northam proposed changes to House Bill 2312 and Senate Bill 1406, which passed earlier this year during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session. The House and Senate approved the changes Wednesday. The bills legalized marijuana possession and sales by Jan. 1, 2024, but marijuana legalization advocates and Democratic lawmakers lobbied to push up the date for recreational possession. 

Adults 21 years of age or older will be able to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana if they don’t intend to distribute the substance. Marijuana cannot be used in public or while driving, lawmakers said. Virginia decriminalized marijuana last year and reduced possession penalties to a $25 civil penalty and no jail time for amounts up to an ounce. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail. 

Individuals can also cultivate up to four cannabis plants without legal repercussion beginning July 1, with punishments ranging from misdemeanors to jail time if over the limit. The plants would need to be labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of people under the age of 21. Marijuana retail sales still do not begin until 2024. 

The amendments passed along party lines in both chambers. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Two Senate Republicans last week stated their support of the amendments, but voted no Wednesday. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, voted no. The vote was 53-44 in the House, with two abstentions. Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, voted no. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, did not vote. 

“This is an historic milestone for racial justice and civil rights, following years of campaigning from advocates and community groups and a strong push by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,” Marijuana Justice stated in a press release when the amendments were announced. 

Chelsea Higgs Wise, executive director of Marijuana Justice, said last week that legalizing simple marijuana possession now rather than later is important for racial justice. 

“Waiting until 2024 to legalize simple possession and therefore stop the desperate policing is allowing this continued bias enforcement against Black Virginians to continue for three years,” Wise said. 

Accelerating the legislative timeline was key, said Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, one of more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored the House bill. 

“The figures show that it is much more common for a Black or Brown person to be charged with possession,” Kory said. 

A state study released last year found that from 2010 to 2019 the average arrest rate of Black Virginians for marijuana possession was more than three times higher than that of white residents for the same crime—6.3 per 1,000 Black individuals and 1.8 per white people. This is despite the fact that Black Virginians use marijuana at similar rates as white residents. The conviction rate was also higher for Black individuals. Northam stated that people of color were still disproportionately cited for possession even after marijuana was decriminalized.

The legislation establishes the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority as the regulatory structure for the manufacture and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products. 

The governor’s amendments called for the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority to revoke a company’s business license if it interfered with union organizing efforts; failed to pay a prevailing wage as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor; or classified more than 10% of employees as independent contractors. This part garnered heavy opposition. The amendments are the first attempt to dismantle the commonwealth’s right to work laws, Republicans said. However, lawmakers pointed out that several provisions of the bill are subject to reenactment in the 2022 General Assembly session. 

Northam’s amendments called for public health education. The amendments will fund a public awareness campaign on the health and safety risks of marijuana. Law enforcement officers will be trained to recognize and prevent drugged driving with the latest amendments. Legislators approved budget amendments to help fund the initiatives.

Legislators spoke in favor of the governor’s educational campaign. Others worried about an increase of drugged driving. Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, said that law enforcement will not have time to prepare how to identify drugged driving. He cited a study that found 70% of marijuana users surveyed in Colorado said they drive while under the influence of marijuana.

“I think this is another time where we are putting political expediency, political agenda over what is right for the safety and security of our citizens,” DeSteph said.

Northam’s amendments allow for certain marijuana-related criminal records to be expunged and sealed “as soon as state agencies are able” and to “simplify the criteria” for when records can be sealed. The expungement of marijuana-related crimes was originally set for July 1, 2025. 

The law will also allow individuals convicted with marijuana offenses to have a hearing before the court that originally sentenced them, Virginia NORML, a group that seeks to reform the state’s marijuana laws, stated in a post. That portion of the bill must be reenacted in 2022, the organization stated. 

“We are sending a message to our kids that it is okay to do drugs in Virginia now,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield. “As a mom of four young adults I don’t like that message. I think it is selfish. I think it is reckless, and I think it is irresponsible.”

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said later that “the kids are already smoking marijuana.” She called it “a non-starter of an argument against the bill.” 

Howell, a parent of two, spoke in favor of passing the bill.

“If we have to wait another three years, I will be in my 80s before I can do legally what I was doing illegally in my 20s.”

 

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

HERRING PRAISES ENACTMENT OF VIRGINIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT INCLUDING TOOLS FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL TO PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS

RICHMOND (March 31, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following the signing of the Virginia Voting Rights Act, historic legislation that enhances and strengthens voter protections in the Commonwealth and empowers the attorney general of Virginia to enforce the protections included in the Act:
 
“Strengthened, enhanced voter protections are crucial to ensuring that every eligible Virginian who wants to vote can,” said Attorney General Herring. “For too long, Virginia has been on the wrong side of history – implementing restrictive and oftentimes discriminatory voting measures with the goal of disenfranchising whole sections of the population. With the Virginia Voting Rights Act, voters in the Commonwealth can be assured that if they want to vote they can, and that their vote will count.
 
“I’m especially proud that my office will play a role in helping local and state elections officials enforce these new voting protections, as well as investigate any instances of discriminatory conduct.
 
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate as well as the many voting rights advocates for their hard work on getting this historic legislation passed. Voting is a fundamental right that we should always strive to make as easy as possible.”
 
Attorney General Herring and his team worked closely with the two sponsors of the legislation Delegate Marcia Price (HB1890) and Senator Jennifer McClellan (SB1395), as well as voting rights advocates, to include a provision in the legislation making the Office of the Attorney General a main enforcer of the Virginia Voting Rights Act.
 
Protecting Virginians voting rights has been a top priority for Attorney General Herring during his time in office. During the COVID pandemic, Attorney General Herring has worked hard to ensure that all Virginians could vote safely and easily, regardless of how they chose to vote, and protect voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls.
 
Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day 2020, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.
 
Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring's work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.
 
Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.
 
Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person including:
  • An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
  • An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home
 
Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration's drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
 
Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:
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