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Alexandra Zernik

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will hold its regular meeting Thursday, June 20, 2019, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.

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Governor Signs Law Banning All Tobacco Products at School

By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — School boards must ban any tobacco or other forms of nicotine products from all school property and school-sponsored events under legislation signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Northam signed HB 2384 and SB 1295, which expands existing law to include:

·A wider variety of nicotine products, such as vapes and e-cigarettes in addition to tobacco

·A broader range of school property, such as school buses and school-sponsored events off campus.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, will require all local school boards to develop and implement comprehensive tobacco-free policies.

“The recent and dramatic rise in youth smoking and vaping represents a serious public health crisis that requires our attention and action,” Northam said. “We have a responsibility to prevent our children from being exposed to all types of tobacco or nicotine-containing products.”

Northam noted that when he was a state senator, he led efforts to enact a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants. He sees HB 2384, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, and SB 1295, introduced by Sen. Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake, in the same way.

“As governor, I am proud to sign this legislation that will make Virginia schools and communities safer and healthier,” Northam said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that use of tobacco products by American youth is on the rise — largely because of the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes.

Nationwide last year, more than 27 percent of all high school students used a tobacco product within the past 30 days, according to a survey by the CDC. About 21 percent of the students had used e-cigarettes, and 8 percent regular cigarettes. (Some survey respondents used both types of products.)

That represented a big increase in vaping: In the 2017 survey, fewer than 12 percent of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Northam noted that as of fall 2017, about 12 percent of Virginia high school students were using e-cigarettes — almost twice the proportion of teenagers smoking traditional cigarettes.

The U.S. surgeon general and the federal Food and Drug Administration have declared the sudden increase in e-cigarette use an epidemic. They fear a new generation of young people may become addicted to nicotine if actions aren’t taken to prevent it.

Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources, Daniel Carey, praised the legislation signed by Northam.

“This law will not only protect Virginia’s children from exposure to second-hand smoke, it will also help to establish a tobacco-free norm, allowing students to make better choices about their health when it comes to saying no to tobacco products outside of school,” Carey said.

According to State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, a statewide survey found that 84 percent of adults in Virginia — including 75 percent of smokers — agree that all nicotine products should be banned from school grounds and activities.

“While 40 school districts in Virginia already have established this type of policy, the new law will expand protection to children in all of our public schools,” Oliver said.

Northam previously signed into law legislation raising from 18 to 21 the age to buy tobacco and nicotine products.

Four Bills Target Nicotine Products and Underage Smoking

By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Today’s teenagers are less likely to smoke cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean they’ve given up nicotine. Vapes, Juuls and other alternative nicotine products have taken over the industry and sparked an increase in the rate of young people addicted to nicotine at epidemic levels, health officials say.

Virginia legislators are looking to navigate this uncharted territory by passing laws that define and regulate the newly prevalent industry. Last week, the House passed HB 2384, requiring school boards to ban all tobacco and nicotine vapor products from school buses, school property and on-site and off-site school-sponsored events. Current law only regulates e-cigarettes.

The House also unanimously approved HB 1881, requiring public elementary and secondary schools to add the dangers of vaping products and the negative health effects of “alternative nicotine” to all curriculums.

“We want to make sure the kids learn about this,” said Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax. “It’s not just the fact that vaping is now so prevalent and kids can buy it online and what have you, which is supposed to be illegal. It’s the fact that kids just think, ‘Ah, it’s not a big deal. All I’m doing is vaping air. Why should that be bad?’ Well, there’s a lot we don’t know about.”

Keam is the chief sponsor of HB 1881 and a chief co-sponsor of HB 2384. They target the growing use of alternative nicotine products -- a trend that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently called an epidemic. The FDA said the spike in e-cigarette use could “reverse the substantial public health gains” made by reducing tobacco use.

“It’s clear we have a problem with access to, and appeal of these products to kids, and we’re committed to utilizing the full range of our regulatory authorities to directly target the places kids are getting these products and address the role flavors and marketing are playing in youth initiation,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Gottlieb also criticized Altria of backing away from its earlier promise to help combat teen vaping, after the Richmond-based tobacco giant purchased a 35 percent share of JUUL for $12.8 million.

According to the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending tobacco use, 63 percent of users don’t know JUULs always contain nicotine. And lawmakers like Keam say they can be physically dangerous, citing a recent e-cigarette explosion.

“We don’t even know how dangerous it is because people are dying from ways that we didn’t even anticipate. Kids need to understand, these are not toys that they can play around with,” Keam said

SB 1371, which passed the Senate and is working its way through the House, would define the products that are taxed like cigarettes to include “alternative nicotine product, heated tobacco product, liquid nicotine, and nicotine vapor product.”

“Because the technology is changing so rapidly and industries are developing around this, we decided that it would make sense to have some clear definitions of what these products are,” Keam said. “We want to make sure that we use the latest and most comprehensive definition because the definition by itself is changing while we’re sitting here.”

A fourth bill targeting tobacco products, HB 2748, unanimously passed the House last Tuesday. The bill would raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to buy not only tobacco products but also nicotine vapor products and alternative nicotine products as well. Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, has credited Altria for their support of the legislation.    

The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth is promoting a “Tobacco-Free Spirit Day” Wednesday, in which the organization will celebrate Virginia school divisions with “100 percent comprehensive tobacco-free and e-cigarette-free policies.”

“While all school divisions in Virginia have policies prohibiting tobacco use,” the organization stated in a press release, “only 40 out of 132 school divisions in Virginia currently have 100 percent comprehensive policies that prohibit the use, possession, and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, by anyone, anytime, anywhere on school property or at school events.”

Bills Push to Hide Lottery Winners’ Identities

By Alexandra Zernik and Benjamin West, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The General Assembly is moving to protect the privacy of people who win the Virginia Lottery — a proposal open-government advocates fear may threaten transparency.

Currently, the lottery must disclose the name of anybody who wins more than $600. The Senate passed a bill, SB 1060, allowing any lottery winner to ask that their name be kept secret. The House also approved legislation, HB 1650 — but it would shield the identity only of individuals who won more than $10 million.

This week, the House General Laws Committee changed SB 1060 to read like HB 1650 — protecting the privacy of only big winners — and approved it. The revised SB 1060 now goes to the full House of Delegates. HB 1650 is pending before the Senate General Laws Committee.

Both bills seek to protect lottery winners from public exposure and potential pressure or even assaults by friends, relatives or strangers when their financial situation is broadcast.

“There’s been reasonable concerns based on what’s happened in other places,” said Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, a sponsor of HB 1650. “The goal here is not to reduce government transparency but to protect winners.”

One concern from legislators is that lottery winners will be harassed or put in other danger after their winnings become public knowledge.

Under the legislation before the General Assembly, the names and personal information of certain winners would be entirely unattainable to the public — even if requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

That worries people like Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

“That’s kind of the conventional wisdom, but I don’t know that there are actually all these stories about people’s lives being ruined,” Rhyne said.

According to Rhyne, the names of lottery winners play a key role for transparency.” The public relies quite a bit on public records laws to be able to monitor their government and help keep them accountable,” Rhyne said.

The coalition testified against both House and Senate bills. The group believes that the names of lottery winners are essential for journalists or other members of the public to identify and weed out corruption, Rhyne said.

“It hampers their ability to investigate possible fraud or kickbacks at a lottery unit,” Rhyne said.

This fall, The Virginian-Pilot made waves with a report investigating fraud in the Virginia Lottery. The newspaper found that certain people have won a statistically improbable number of times, cashing in hundreds of tickets over a relatively short period of time. The paper also reported that the lottery doesn’t investigate frequent winners unless they are reported for wrongdoing.

The Pilot’s investigation was conducted using public records showing the identities of winners.

Freitas said the legislation contains provisions “to make certain information public if necessary.”

“But the idea of we’re not going to proactively advertise someone as a winner, I think that’s an appropriate step to ensure the safety of the person that’s won,” he said.

Panel Takes Step Toward Legalizing Casino Gambling

By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee approved legislation this week to allow casino gambling in five cities in Virginia. Next stop: the Senate Finance Committee.

The General Laws Committee modified SB 1126 to allow the possible establishment of a casino not just in Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville but also in Richmond and Norfolk. The panel then voted 9-3 in favor of the measure, which supporters say would increase jobs and tax revenues in economically distressed areas.

But the bill won’t go immediately to the full Senate for consideration. Instead, the General Laws Committee sent the legislation to the Finance Committee for a look at its fiscal impact.

Under SB 1126, a city could have a casino if it meets certain criteria of economic need, such as high unemployment and poverty levels. Bristol, Portsmouth and Danville meet those criteria.

The General Laws and Technology Committee incorporated into SB 1126 aspects of two other bills -- SB 1503 and SB 1706. SB 1706 said cities with more than 200,000 residents also could have a casino if it is operated by a federally recognized Indian tribe. The Virginia Pamunkey tribe has expressed interest in establishing a casino and could consider Portsmouth, Norfolk or Richmond under the bill.

“The one thing I’ve pushed for the most is that it puts the ultimate decision in the hands of the people in the jurisdiction directly impacted, including those associated to the Pamunkeys,” said Sen. Charles Carrico Sr., R-Grayson.

Under the bill, local voters would have to approve a casino gaming establishment in a referendum before it could get a license from the Virginia Lottery Board. The measure that emerged from the General Laws and Technology Committee also specifies that only one license can be issued per city.

Gov. Ralph Northam previously called for a study on casino gambling. The committee’s substitute bill adopted that idea and said a “review of casino gaming laws in other states” would be conducted concurrently with local efforts toward possible referendums. No casino license could be issued until July 1, 2020, according to the legislation.

“It doesn’t look like it’s a study to me. It looks like it’s just a first step in a few-year process to making it happen,” said Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, a member of the General Laws and Technology Committee. “This is a gambling bill that has a small provision for a study in it, so that’s why I will be against advancing the bill at this time.”

SB 1126 would require that counseling and other services be made available for problem gamblers. It would also create a “voluntary exclusion program" in which people could sign up for a list to be barred from casinos.

As outlined in the bill, Virginia would collect a casino tax of 10 percent --  a lower tax rate than in every state but Nevada and New Jersey, according to Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. That’s an issue the Finance Committee will discuss.

“MGM has been sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of this state up in Maryland, right across the river from my house, for four or five years now,” Surovell said. “I’ve been saying for four years, since I’ve gotten to the Senate, supporting my colleague from Portsmouth, that we need to do something about it.”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 1126 (Lottery Board; regulation of casino gaming, penalties).

01/21/19  Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology with substitute (9-Y 3-N 1-A)

YEAS--Ruff, Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Surovell, McPike, Dunnavant, Mason--9.

NAYS--Black, Reeves, Suetterlein--3.

ABSTENTIONS--DeSteph--1.

ERA Clears Senate Committee, Faces Uncertainty in House

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment gather to greet legislators Wednesday afternoon

By Georgia Geen and Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — An 8-6 vote by a Senate committee Wednesday brought the federal Equal Rights Amendment one step closer to passing the General Assembly — which could make Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted to approve a resolution that Virginia ratify the ERA, which was proposed by Congress in 1972 and would prevent federal and state governments from passing laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.

The six Democrats on the committee were joined by two Republicans — Sens. William DeSteph of Virginia Beach and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier — in voting for the resolution. The other six Republicans on the panel voted against it.

The resolution — SJ 284 — was sponsored by a bipartisan group of 15 senators and three House members.

The committee’s decision will send the resolution to the Senate floor for a vote. While supporters are optimistic about bipartisan support in the Senate — which has passed similar proposals five times since 2011 — the same isn’t true in the House.

A co-sponsor of the resolution, Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, said it will face Republican opposition. If it clears the full Senate, SJ 284 would go to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, where such resolutions have traditionally died.

Every Democrat on the House panel has signaled support for ratifying the ERA, but no Republican has followed suit. The lack of GOP support in the House committee represents the biggest hurdle for the resolution, said Candace Graham, co-founder of Women Matter, a group dedicated to ratifying the ERA.

“We feel very confident that if we can get those couple of votes on the [House] committee that we need for it to go to the floor, then it will pass on the floor,” Graham said.

When first introduced in 1923, the ERA did not pass in Congress. Renewed interest in 1972 pushed the amendment through Congress, and it was ratified by 35 states within the 10-year period before the 1982 deadline.

An amendment needs approval from three-fourths of the states — or 38 — for ratification.

A conservative movement led by political activist Phyllis Schlafly — who said the amendment would make all laws “sex-neutral” and subject women to the draft — played a role in leaving the ERA three states short of the 38 it needed for federal ratification at the time.

In recent years, there has been a revived push toward ratification. In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, followed by Illinois the next year.

Because the deadline has expired, some say the ERA can’t be ratified. But other experts disagree. The 27th Amendment, which regulates congressional salaries, was ratified more than 200 years after its 1789 introduction, though it was never given a time limit, unlike the ERA.

“There are very smart and reasonable people on both sides who disagree over whether Congress has the constitutional authority in the first place to put a time limit on the ratification of a constitutional amendment,” said Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, who also is a chief co-sponsor of the resolution.

Further complicating the matter is that five states have since rescinded their ERA ratifications. But the U.S. Constitution does not specifically allow states to do that, and previous rescissions have been deemed invalid.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, also co-sponsored SJ 284. He said the recent ratification by Nevada and Illinois has improved the outlook in Virginia and contributed to a new wave within the movement.

“Nevada and Illinois showed us that there are other legislatures in this country that are moving the ball forward,” Surovell said. “I think the urgency and the historical importance of being the state that puts us across the top really sort of changes the political and emotional dynamic of the issue.”

Unlike other recent efforts in Virginia, this year’s resolution is supported by several Republicans — including Sens. Sturtevant, DeSteph and Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico.

“We haven’t [previously] had a Republican who’s been willing to step up and actually carry this bill,” Surovell said.

Advocates also see renewed momentum in the form of 20,000 signatures on a petition and a poll showing that more than 80 percent of Virginians favor ratification.

“So we’re hopeful that all those things combined are going to make this year a different year,” Surovell said.

Opponents of the ERA fear it could result in integrated prisons and sports teams and fewer specific protections for women and could threaten female-only universities and organizations.

Colleen Holcomb, a lawyer and lobbyist representing the Family Foundation — which opposes the ERA — referred to it as a “fundraiser cause.”

“Regardless of what your position with regard to gender identity, we have biological men competing with women, and that's impending their ability to get academic scholarships and to be able to succeed in their areas of choice,” Holcomb said.

But advocates for the amendment view specific constitutional protections based on sex as necessary for gender equality.

“When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression. They say, ‘You want special privileges.’ We don’t want special privileges. We just want what everyone else enjoys,” said Eileen Davis, co-founder of Women Matter. “Race, religion, national origin all have strict constitutional scrutiny — sex does not.”

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