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Amelia Heymann

Virginia ABC stores register record profits

 

By Amelia Heymann and Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – It’s Saturday night, and it’s busy at the Oxbridge Square ABC store on Hull Street Road. Alone and in groups, shoppers are picking up libations for the evening.

For some customers, this is a once-in-a-blue-moon trip; for others, it’s a regular occurrence. Nadia Goldman says she goes about once a month, while Nicole Booth says she goes every weekend for herself and others.

“My purpose is to party and to get ripped,” Booth said.

Thanks to customers like her, Virginia’s state-owned liquor stores rang up record profits in 2016, according to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Last year, the 359 ABC stores across the commonwealth had gross sales of about $895 million – $106 for every resident of Virginia. The stores sold 11.4 million gallons of alcoholic beverages, or 1.4 gallons per capita.

For Virginia officials, what counts most is how much money the stores produce in net profit and state taxes. In 2016, the total was $315 million. That represents a profit margin of more than 35 percent of gross sales.

The amount that the ABC stores funneled into the state treasury has increased by more than one-third over the past five years. (In 2011, the stores’ net profits plus state taxes totaled $235 million.)

Valerie Hubbard, a public relations specialist for the ABC, said an increase in stores might have boosted sales during fiscal year 2016, which ended on June 30.

During the fiscal year, the ABC opened eight new locations across the commonwealth, including one in Floyd County, which had been dry until 2014. In addition, the agency remodeled eight stores and relocated 10 others.

ABC sales may see another increase this year. Since July, stores across the commonwealth began opening at noon on Sundays rather than 1 p.m. Longer hours, of course, mean more opportunity to make a profit.

Which stores sold the most in 2016?

To see how much your local ABC store sold in 2015 and 2016, click on the map

The ABC stores in Fairfax County sold the most alcohol beverages – nearly 1.3 million gallons. Then came Virginia Beach with about 830,000 gallons. But that is to be expected: Fairfax County has 40 ABC stores and a population of about 1.1 million people; Virginia Beach has 14 stores and more than 450,000 residents.

In terms of sales per capita, the top locality was Lexington. The city’s lone ABC store sold a modest 43,340 gallons of alcoholic beverages – but that represented 6.2 gallons for each of Lexington’s 7,045 residents. (Caveat: Lexington is surrounded by Rockbridge County, which doesn’t have an ABC store. Many Rockbridge County residents no doubt buy liquor from the Lexington store, inflating the per-capita statistic.)

Emporia, in Southside Virginia, and Norton, in the state’s southwest corner, had ABC sales of more than 5 gallons per capita. Then came the cities of Williamsburg and Franklin, at about 4 gallons per capita, followed by Charlottesville at 3.8 gallons per capita.

Astute observers may detect a pattern: Lexington is home to the Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University; Williamsburg, to the College of William and Mary; and Charlottesville, to the University of Virginia.

The 10 ABC stores with the highest gross sales last year included one near U.Va. and another near Virginia Tech:

  • 1612 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach – $9,202,992 in gross sales
  • 405 30th St., Virginia Beach – $8,399,650
  • 3333 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach – $7,699,741
  • 8413 Old Courthouse Road, Fairfax County – $7,621,199
  • 4312 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria – $7,133,652
  • 10 N. Thompson St., Richmond – $6,979,359
  • 1902 Emmet St., Charlottesville – $6,617,752
  • 2400 Cunningham Drive, Hampton – $6,442,135
  • 1332 S. Main St., Blacksburg – $6,428,867
  • 4320 S. Laburnum Ave., Henrico County – $6,126,451

Virginia has 360 ABC stores. State officials say 92 percent of Virginia’s population lives within 10 minutes of an ABC store.

Fourteen localities in Virginia don’t have an ABC store; several of them are dry, meaning they prohibit the retail sale of distilled spirits. However, such “wet” localities as Rockbridge County (population 22,000) and Manassas Park (population 16,000) don’t have an ABC location.

How does state-controlled liquor affect prices?

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, in 2015 Virginia had the third-highest distilled spirits tax in the United States. The Virginia tax averaged $19.18 per gallon of spirits. The tax was higher only in the states of Washington ($35.22 per gallon) and Oregon ($22.72).

All of Virginia’s border states have lower spirit taxes. North Carolina’s tax is $12.30 per gallon; the other neighboring states tax spirits at less than $5 a gallon – and just $1.89 in West Virginia.

In Virginia, revenues from liquor sales go into the state government’s general fund, which supports schools, law enforcement and other public services. In 2016, the ABC transferred over $24 million more revenue into the general fund than during the previous year.

Money made by ABC stores also goes toward the agency’s education and training programs to help prevent alcohol abuse and underage drinking.

As lucrative as ABC operations have been for Virginia, some Republican officials have wanted to privatize the sale of alcohol. Virginia is one of only nine states where the government controls liquor stores.

In 2012, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed that the state sell off the ABC stores. The attempt failed because many legislators weren’t willing to lose the revenue that the liquor monopoly generated for the government.

In contrast, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has used his tenure to increase ABC revenues. During his administration, the ABC has opened 19 new stores. Moreover, McAuliffe signed legislation allowing ABC stores to sell 151-proof alcohol such as Everclear. (The existing limit is 101-proof.) The law will take effect July 1.

The ABC projects that during the 2017 fiscal year, alcohol sales will rise more than 4 percent.

Convenient store locations, such as the Hull Street Road shopping center, make liquor shopping easy for Nicole Booth and her friends.

“I actually shop at the closest one to me at the time,” Booth said. “Oxbridge Square is the closest to my house. I buy Hennessy, or Grey Goose vodka.”

More Virginians have health insurance, data show

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The percentage of Virginians without health insurance fell by 2 percentage points in 2015, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. All but two localities in Virginia saw a drop in the number of uninsured residents.

The uninsured population of Virginia fell from 12.4 percent in 2014 to 10.4 percent in 2015, the data showed. Nationwide, the proportion of Americans lacking health insurance went from 13.5 percent to 10.9 percent.

Health insurance has been the subject of political debate at the federal and state levels. The goal of the Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare, was to get more people insured. Republicans say the law has been a disaster; Democrats say it’s working but needs improvement.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Virginia ranked No. 28 in its percentage of uninsured residents in 2015. Massachusetts had the lowest uninsured population (3.2 percent); Texas had the highest (19.2 percent).

From 2014 to 2015, the uninsured population dropped in all states except South Dakota, where the percentage rose 0.2 percent.

Among Virginia localities, the city of Lexington showed the biggest decrease in uninsured residents: Its percentage fell from 15 percent to 10.2 percent. The uninsured rate also dropped significantly in Highland County, Cumberland County and Roanoke.

The city of Richmond also had a sizable decline: Its proportion of uninsured residents declined from 18.4 percent in 2014 to 14.5 percent the following year.

Despite the improvements, more than 15 percent of the population was uninsured in a dozen localities in Virginia, including Harrisonburg, Accomack County and Manassas Park.

In many states, the reason for the decrease in uninsured residents could be the expansion of Medicaid, the government-funded health program for lower-income Americans. The Affordable Care Act offered states federal funding to expand Medicaid. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have done so, according to the Census Bureau.

Other states, including Virginia, declined to expand Medicaid for fear that they would be saddled with the costs down the road.

On Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe again urged Virginia legislators to expand Medicaid.

“Failing to expand Medicaid has cost Virginia $10.4 billion and has left 400,000 of our residents without health care,” McAuliffe said. “President Trump’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, and even Speaker (Paul) Ryan has said that Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future. The time has come for us to bring our taxpayer dollars back to serve the individuals who need them the most.”

Republicans, who control the Virginia General Assembly, are likely to reject McAuliffe’s request.

Limit handgun purchases to 1 a month, McAuliffe says

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proposed an amendment to restore Virginia’s “one handgun a month” law. The amendment would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone other than a licensed firearms dealer to purchase more than one handgun within a 30-day period.

Virginia limited handgun purchases to one a month in 1993 when Democrats controlled the General Assembly and Douglas Wilder was governor. Back then, McAuliffe said, Virginia had the reputation of being “the gun-running capital of the East Coast.”

The law was repealed in 2012 when Republicans controlled the House and Senate and Bob McDonnell was governor. As a result, McAuliffe said Monday, “Virginia is once again becoming the go-to state for criminals to purchase weapons in bulk.”

Earlier this month, 24 people, including 22 from Virginia, were arrested on gun-smuggling charges. They transported more than 200 weapons north on Interstate 95 to New York, law enforcement officials said.

According to prosecutors, one of the suspects was recorded as saying, “There’s no limit to how many guns I can go buy from the store. I can go get 20 guns from the store tomorrow. . . . I can do that Monday through Friday. . . . They might start looking at me, but in Virginia, our laws are so little, I can give guns away.”

New York officials have urged Virginia to take action.

“When you hear a trafficker boasting about the weak gun laws in Virginia, it is crystal clear that this needs to be addressed,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez told The New York Times.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said he supports reinstating the “one handgun a month” law.

“This is a great step to restore a common-sense measure that never should have been repealed in the first place,” Herring said. “Virginia’s weak gun laws make it too easy for guns to get into the hands of criminals, making our families, communities, and especially our law enforcement officers less safe, not to mention the heartbreak and damage these guns cause in neighboring states.”

McAuliffe proposed amending Senate Bill 1023 to include a one-a-month limit on handgun purchases in Virginia. The bill would prohibit Virginia from sharing information about its concealed handgun permit holders with states that do not recognize Virginia’s permits as valid within their borders.

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, sponsored SB 1023. He called the governor’s amendment disingenuous.

“He’s just making a game out of it,” Stuart told The Washington Post. “It’s disheartening to me that the governor is more concerned about the people in New York City than he is about Virginia citizens who are actually . . . playing by the rules.”

The General Assembly will reconvene on April 5 to consider McAuliffe’s vetoes and recommendations. Republicans control the House and Senate and are unlikely to agree to the “one handgun a month” proposal, Stuart said.

Hello Kitty Truck rolls into Richmond on Saturday

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hello Kitty fans, rejoice. On Saturday, the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck, described as “a mobile vehicle of cuteness,” will make its first visit to Richmond.

The truck will be at Short Pump Town Center, 11800 W. Broad St., from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. The vehicle will be near the mall’s main entrance by Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.

The Hello Kitty Cafe Truck has been traveling nationwide since its debut at the 2014 Hello Kitty Con, a convention for fans of the iconic character produced by the Japanese company Sanrio. The truck has made stops in major cities from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles.

The mobile cafe will be selling sweets and other items, including macarons, mini cakes and bow-shaped water bottles. According to Yelp reviews, treats cost around $15. Besides food, you can purchase souvenirs such as a Hello Kitty Cafe Truck T-shirts and mugs.

Because of the success of the truck, Sanrio opened the Hello Kitty Pop-Up Container in Irvine, California, last July. The pop-up store, which will be there only for a year, was founded to spread “a message of happiness, friendship, and fun through yummy goodies and beverages featuring Hello Kitty and other Sanrio friends.”

For updates about the truck’s visit to Richmond and other cities, you can follow the venture’s postings on Facebook, Twitterand Instagram.

Walk seeks to raise awareness about eating disorders

 

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Bayan Atari, a public relations major at Virginia Commonwealth University, has spent nine months in treatment for an invisible ailment. Two of her friends have died from the disorder. Atari is one of 30 million Americans struggling with an eating disorder.

Despite the prevalence and severity of the condition, Atari and others have had trouble getting help. That’s because many people have misconceptions about eating disorders, experts say.

“If you’re not underweight, they might not take you seriously. At my sickest, I was still at a normal weight, and that was enough to be like, ‘Well, you’re not dying, you have an electrolyte imbalance, but you’re not dead,’” Atari said. “Even in the medical system, I’ve known people whose kidneys were failing, but because they were overweight or normal weight, they were not given the care they needed.”

Efforts are underway to bring attention to eating disorders.

On Saturday, the National Eating Disorders Association will hold its first NEDA Walk in Richmond in hopes of raising awareness about the problem. The walk will begin at 10 a.m. at the VCU Commons Plaza.

Kristen Tully, the organizer of the walk, expects 200 to 300 people to participate.

Tully decided to organize the walk because she herself is in recovery. When she was in the throes of her eating disorder, Richmond didn’t have an eating disorder clinic or other resources to help.

However, in the last five years, more resources have popped up. One is Stay Strong Virginia, which has compiled lists and maps of treatment programs and support groups for people with eating disorders. Stay Strong Virginia helped Tully organize Saturday’s walk.

Another resource is Veritas Collaborative, a treatment center for eating disorderson Broad Street. Veritas is a sponsor of the NEDA Walk.

It’s important to get someone with an eating disorder into treatment because the illness can be fatal. Someone dies from their eating disorder every 62 minutes, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition.

The main kinds of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia, or restricted eating. This can lead to severe dehydration, which sometimes results in kidney failure.
  • Bulimia, or binging and purging. This can cause inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from repeated vomiting.
  • Binge eating, or eating to excess. This can cause high blood pressure, diabetes and other health problems.

Meredith Kerley, a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, said getting treatment is important, but recovery involves more than that.

“I always say the work really begins when someone leaves treatment,” Kerley said. “Treatment is a kind of way to break the pattern and get one’s body into a healthy place. Once they leave that bubble, there’s the pressure of doing all these things whether or not someone tells them to. It’s far from cured when someone leaves treatment.”

Tully agreed. She said recovery is never linear. “It’s hills and valleys, and recovery isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing you will ever do.”

Not everyone with an eating disorder is lucky enough to get treatment. Only one-third of people suffering from anorexia receive treatment – and only 6 percent of those suffering bulimia.

Part of this may be due to the stigma of an eating disorder. According to a 2010 study, 12 percent of people surveyed believed eating disorders are related to vanity. Kerley said that notion is patently false.

“There’s always emotion underlying it (the eating disorder),” Kerley said. “It’s not about the food, and it’s not the vanity, but that’s how it manifests.”

For Atari, the trigger was personal issues rather than her body image.

“I was miserable,” Atari said. That is when she turned to using bulimia. “The terrible part is that it works. You need to cope with something, and it works, and I couldn’t see anything else working as well.”

Eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety.

“Sometimes, eating disorders do develop as a way to cope with anxiety or depression,” Kerley said. “Other times, malnutrition can certainly affect the brain and cause depression.” She said it can be hard to tell which mental illness comes first.

It also can be impossible to tell who has an eating disorder and who doesn’t. Kerley has had 20 to 30 patients over the years, ranging in age from 12 to 50. Many have been of normal weight, and the patients include men.

“There’s kind of a stigma it’s an adolescent girl’s issue, but I see the whole range, and again, it is males and females,” Kerley said.

More about Saturday’s NEDA Walk

You can register for the walk on the NEDA website. Online registration ends Friday, but that’s to guarantee getting a T-shirt. People also can register in person at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the VCU Commons Plaza, 907 Floyd Ave., Richmond. If you can’t walk, you can sponsor a walker or make a donation on the NEDA website.

‘Ambassador of the Arts’ views poetry as activism

James Ragan 2

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 1985, James Ragan and three other poets from Western countries were invited to perform before 10,000 Russians at the first International Poetry Festival in Moscow.

“I still remember how I’m thinking the audience is looking at the stage and they’re saying ‘Oh, my God, there’s Bob Dylan. Oh, my God, that’s Seamus Heaney, Robert Bly … Who the hell is that?’ That was me – the ‘who the hell is that?’” Ragan said.

Ragan managed to make himself stand out by speaking Russian. He told the audience in their native tongue that his parents were born in Czechoslovakia and that his translator, who was born in Siberia, was “my brother.”

“The place went crazy. ‘The American is speaking Russian to us!’” Ragan said. “I could have whispered my poem after that.”

Ragan is back on center stage in a new documentary, ““Flowers and Roots, James Ragan, An Ambassador of the Arts.” The film, which explores how Ragan’s poetry and writing provided an outlet for his social activism, was featured on Sunday, the last day of the weeklong Richmond International Film Festival.

When the documentary producers first approved Ragan in 2014, he had no idea why they wanted to make a movie about him. After all, he is not a household name, even though Ragan has read his poetry for seven heads of state, published nine books and had several internationally produced plays.

“It was amazing how they were looking in at me, and seeing this as all being spectacular, whereas I was looking out and saying, ‘We were supposed to be doing this back in the ’60s and ’70s – we didn’t see it as spectacular,’” Ragan said. “And they immediately liked that response.”

The movie navigates the Cold War era through Ragan’s own life. Born into a Czechoslovakian immigrant family in Philadelphia as one of 13 children, Ragan said that growing up speaking Slovakian got him into a lot of physical fights.

“As I learned English, I learned to fight less,” Ragan said. “I had a huge respect for the language, and a huge respect for the arts. I just loved that you could win fights with words and not fists.”

When Ragan grew older, his personal experiences continued to shape his use of language and art as a means of addressing issues. In college, Ragan received multiple bones spurs in his legs from playing basketball. The doctor treating him gave him radiation therapy to heal the spurs, but ending up giving Ragan an overdose that caused cancer.

Rather than simply writing about the pain his cancer caused him, Ragan used his pain to discuss “the cancers of the world,” such as the injustices that triggered the civil rights movement and communism.

To this day, Ragan uses his work to reflect “the truth of the times” – for example, in the poem “The Dumbing Down Finale,” which will debut in an upcoming book. In the poem, he explores his belief that American society is devolving with the increase of social media, reality TV and “alternative facts.” Ragan fears that a lack of respect for education and the arts will destroy America.

Despite his harsh commentary on society, Ragan calls himself an optimist. From seeing young people protesting as their counterparts did in the 1960s and ’70s, to seeing Americans treating each other kindly, Ragan believes there is hope for the moral foundation and future of the country.

“I’ve seen beautiful things happen with people who wouldn’t normally want to help that neighbor and they do,” Ragan said. “Recently someone had leveled the headstones in a Jewish cemetery, and the Muslims came to help the backup, as well as Protestant and other religions.”

Ragan has often used his work to speak out about communism, and his writings were banned in one country. When he was studying under a Fulbright scholarship in Slovakia, the U.S. Embassy asked him to distribute 10 copies of Newsweek and Times magazine at one of his candlelight readings. Ragan said the people in attendance were eager to receive the publications and were “grabbing at the truth.”

“Journalists have also played a very important part in that history, and especially now we need that,” Ragan said. “To see these people that had very much so been the victim of propaganda and also oppression, that one moment of truth I was giving them through a poem on the stage or through these magazines brought a great sense of responsibility to me, of what I could do. The power of language, the power words.”

Ragan said Americans sometimes take freedom of speech for granted – a freedom many people in the world don’t have. He thinks it’s important to use this freedom to stand up and speak out.

People must make “a moral decision to stand up or lay down,” Ragan said. “And I’ve never been one not to stand up

Richmond Film Festival kicks off with musical acts

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With an electric six-string cellist and an orchestra playing a fusion of classical-jazz and hip-hop, the sixth annual Richmond International Film Festival kicked off and will run through Sunday, featuring more than 150 films from more than 35 countries as well as more than 50 bands and other musical performers.

The diverse lineup and competitive nature evoke the South by Southwest festival that will be held next week in Austin, Texas. Heather Waters, founder and producer of the Richmond event, says this year is different from the past. In its premiere, the festival featured only 15 films. This week, it will show 10 times as many and offer a full range of musical acts.

“This is the year I decided to go full blown with the music festival side,” Waters said.

Waters has performed in film and music since she was a child in Nashville, Tennessee. When she moved to Richmond seven years ago, she noticed that the city lacked a competitive film festival, such as Sundance in Utah. As a member of the Virginia Producers Association, which has brought film productions such as “Lincoln” to the commonwealth, Waters wanted to help showcase Richmond’s talent.

“I absolutely love working with other creatives and promoting them, developing them, so really I was inspired by that,” Waters said. “Richmond has so many things going for it. This is something that can help really support the development of artists here and economic development through tourism.”

Waters isn’t the only one looking forward to working with other artists.

In a crescendo of heavy beats and brasswind notes, Ryan Easter rapped along with the other members of the Trap Music Orchestra for their debut in Richmond. The performance was the festival’s opening act on Monday night.

“We’re incredibly excited,” Easter said. “It felt cool to do a musical act in a space that doesn’t entirely focus on music – to really get a better feel of what the community of the arts is like in Richmond.”

Events are being held all over the city at locations such as the Byrd Theatre, Bow Tie Movieland at Boulevard Square and The Broadberry. Most events are open to the public and range from professionally led workshops to live music.

Tuesday was the premiere of “The Last Punch,” a film based on the last fight of Muhammad Ali. The director, Jesse Vaughan, held a workshop before the film. Karon Riley, the actor who plays Muhammad Ali, also was at the festival.

On Wednesday evening, Smoothe da Hustler and Trigger tha Gambler will perform at the Broadberry. Smoothe just finished a feature film with fellow rapper and actor Ice-T. Waters said Smoothe is coming to Richmond to complete the soundtrack to the film, which includes hit artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce.

French actress Irene Jacob will be in Richmond to attend the Thursday screening of the film “Tales of Mexico,” in which she stars. That evening, she will perform jazz with her brother, Francis Jacob, at the Hofheimer Building in Scott’s Addition.

Friday evening is the VIP Gala at the Hofheimer. The late-night party will have musical performances by hip-hop musicians from the U.S. and internationally. Despite the exclusivity implied by the event’s name, the general public can buy tickets to the Gala.

On Saturday, the Byrd Theatre will host “Women in Film Spotlight,” featuring three short films by female directors. “‘Year of the woman’ is a theme we are wrapping into some of our events,” Waters said.

On Sunday, the festival will end with a Red Carpet Awards Ceremony. Awards will be given to films, filmmakers and musicians.

Like South by Southwest, the Richmond International Film Festival is competitive. Unlike curated film festivals, all movies and music must be submitted to be featured. Then at the festival, all films and performances compete for honors. Some of the winners are selected by the audience and others by a jury of professionals.

Tickets can be purchased online at rvafilmfestival.com. Prices generally range from $10 to $15 for tickets to individual events and $25 to $400 for multiple-event access passes. While most of the events are open to the public, some are exclusive to filmmakers, musicians, full-access pass holders or VIP pass members.

‘Hidden Figures’ discuss their pioneering work in mathematics

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – When Dr. Christine Darden was growing up, African American women like herself had limited career prospects. “Most black females got jobs as teachers or nurses or in someone’s house,” she said.

But in school, Darden found a passion for geometry, and that made her “fall in love with math.” This led to a job as a “human computer” and later the leader of the Sonic Boom Team at NASA – and a key figure in the best-selling book “Hidden Figures,” the precursor to the highly acclaimed movie.

On Sunday, Darden and another pioneer – Estelle Amy Smith, a mathematician at Dahlgren Naval Base – discussed their careers at an event hosted by the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.

The discussion at the Ebenezer Baptist Church next to the museum was moderated by Michael Paul Williams, a journalist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I feel so out of place,” Williams said. “A guy who could never figure out geometry is next to two geniuses.”

Darden has watched the movie “Hidden Figures” 10 times since its release. She said certain scenes in the film weren’t true to life.

In the movie, for example, the mathematician Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) cannot use the bathroom in the building where she works because it is for whites only – and so she must run across the Langley Research Center grounds to the “colored ladies room.” But Darden said that didn’t really happen: Johnson never worked in a building without a bathroom.

Moreover, in the film, NASA’s first African-American manager, Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) steals a book from the library so she can teach herself the programming language Fortran. Vaughan’s grandchildren have come out saying that she never stole the book, Darden said.

Darden encourages people to read the “Hidden Figures” book because it provides historical context that the movie does not. That, and “I’m in the book, and I’m not in the movie,” Darden said.

Like the women in the movie, Darden dealt with issues of discrimination based on her race and gender. It bothered Darden that women with the same qualifications as male mathematicians were put in a separate room, where they would solve equations for their male counterparts. Darden said that sometimes she would not know what the equation she was figuring out was being used for. She confronted a boss “several levels up” about this issue.

The supervisor answered, “‘Well, no one ever asked that question before’ – I must have caught him on a good day,” Darden recalled, adding that she subsequently received a promotion into the male-dominated department.

One reason Darden believes that women like herself went for so long as hidden figures is because there was no one they could talk to about their work.

“So if I went home and said, ‘I’m working on so and so,’ no one would know what I was talking about,” Darden said. “No one dug enough to know what you were talking about.”

Unlike Darden, Smith knew from a young age that she had a talent for math. In elementary school, teachers would ask her how to solve math problems, so they could see how Smith did it, and then explain the method the class.

Darden and Smith believe that there are many other women whose stories have gone untold. Darden said more women like Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of “Hidden Figures,” should write these stories down to educate the public.

“It’s not only black history but American history,” said Adele Johnson, interim executive director of the Black History Museum. “It made me wonder what else I don’t know.”

Pranks ensue on Senate floor on last day of session

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The floor of the Virginia Senate is notorious for its strict rules. Even in the state Capitol’s remote viewing room, a sign warns “No Food or Drink.” However, the end of the legislative session was more like the last day of a school year.

Upon entering the Senate floor on Saturday, you could tell something was amiss. It was probably the stuffed dog at the desk of Sen. William Stanley of Franklin County. Around its neck was a sign that said “Senate hunting dog” – a reference to dog-hunting legislation that Stanley had opposed.

During a break in the proceedings on Saturday, Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar brought down a large stuffed rabbit to play-fight with Stanley’s dog.

“This is why they say ‘idle hands are the devil’s plaything,’” Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier said with a laugh.

As per usual, the speaker’s gavels had been stolen from the podium. This year, they ended up in the desk of Sen. Mark Peake of Lynchburg, who was elected on Jan. 10 – the day before the General Assembly convened. Peake accused Stanley of placing the gavels in his desk.

“If he did not see me place them there, how can he accuse me of placing them there?” Stanley asked in defense. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

The scandal ended with Peake returning the gavels to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Senate’s presiding officer, while various senators chanted “shame” at Peake.

Sen. Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake made a short speech thanking his colleagues for their kindness. Spruill served in the House of Delegates from 1994 until 2016 before being elected to the Senate.

“At the House, you have a lot of fun and can act crazy, but you can’t be crazy over here most of the time,” Spruill said. He said he told himself, “‘Lord, you have to help me have some fun over here.’ Sen. Stanley was my savior. He pops up and I say, ‘thank God.’”

The fun did not stop Saturday’s session from ending promptly before noon. Senators were told to make sure all food was removed from their desks – “especially cookies.” Hugs were exchanged, photos taken and so ended the 2017 meeting of the Senate of Virginia.

House upholds veto of bill to defund Planned Parenthood

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – On a party-line vote Saturday, the House of Delegates upheld Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto of a Republican bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

On the final day of the 2017 legislative session, the House voted 62-33, with five members not voting, to override the veto of HB 2264. The motion failed because an override requires a two-thirds majority.

The bill, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, sought to “prohibit the Virginia Department of Health from granting funds or entering into contracts with certain health care providers that perform abortion.” It would have removed Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, which providesfamily planning, contraception, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings as well as abortions.

Earlier this month, Cline’s bill passed 60-33 in the House and 20-19 in the Senate. McAuliffe then vetoed the measure, saying it “would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers, by denying them access to affordable care.”

“Attempts to restrict women’s access to health care will impede the goal of making Virginia the best place to live, work, and run a business,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, issued a statement saying, “I thank Gov. McAuliffe for standing by his promise to be a brick wall against attacks on a woman’s access to reproductive health care, and I applaud members of the House of Delegates for standing with him and sustaining his veto today.”

For years, Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups such as the Family Foundation of Virginia have been pressing to cut off government funding for Planned Parenthood and divert the money to health clinics that they say offer more comprehensive services. McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill last year.

Also Saturday, the General Assembly approved a revised state budget that includes a 3 percent pay raise for state employees as well as increased funding for K-12 education and mental health services. Legislators managed to plug a $1.26 billion shortfall in the two-year budget – the top priority when the legislative session began on Jan. 11.

“We adjourned on time, adopted an amended balanced budget ahead of schedule and offered positive solutions on the issues that matter most to Virginians,” Republican leaders in the House said in a statement. “Our amended budget reflects the priorities facing the Commonwealth. The budget is conservative and responsible, reduces borrowing, eliminates new fees and charts a responsible course.”

McAuliffe also issued a statement, saying the legislative session “was marked by bipartisan cooperation on issues that are important to the people of Virginia.”

“We have had our differences, but we have found ways to work together on important issues that grow our economy and create opportunity for the people we serve,” said McAuliffe, who is serving his last year as governor.

“As our final session working together draws to a close, I want to express my sincere gratitude and admiration for the work the men and women of the Virginia General Assembly do every year. Sessions are grueling experiences that require you to leave your loved ones and your jobs. I know that work will not end when you return home.”

How they voted

Here is how the House voted Saturday on a motion to override Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto of HB 2264 (“Department of Health; restrictions on expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning”).

Floor: 02/25/17 House: VOTE: SUSTAINED GOVERNOR’S VETO (62-Y 33-N)

YEAS – Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Byron, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Holcomb, Hugo, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Miyares, Morefield, Morris, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Speaker Howell – 62.

NAYS – Aird, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bourne, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Mullin, Murphy, Plum, Price, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts – 33.

NOT VOTING – Campbell, Dudenhefer, Rasoul, Yancey, Yost – 5.

Assembly poised to OK state budget on Friday

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Finishing a day early, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a budget Wednesday that includes employee pay raises and more money for K-12 education and mental health.

The negotiators presented their budget to their fellow lawmakers in time for the required 48-hour review, which could be completed by Friday night with a chance to adjourn their 2017 session before Saturday’s target date.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate praised the spending plan’s conservative fiscal policies.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “This conference report responsibly addresses the challenges facing the commonwealth, prioritizes funding for our schools and public safety professionals, and is fiscally conservative.”

The budget was approved early for the third consecutive year, which is a stark contrast to the U.S. Congress, which has been notoriously slow at approving federal spending plans.

“While Washington drowns in debts and is mired in gridlock, the Republican-led General Assembly has produced a conservative budget ahead of schedule for the third time in a row,” said Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta County, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We continue to chart a prudent fiscal course for Virginia. The investments in education, health care and public safety will improve the lives of our citizens and make Virginia a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The new budget allocates $83.1 million for a 3 percent pay raise for state employees and college faculty, in contrast to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal for a one-time, 1.5 percent bonus to employees. The budget also sets aside funds to implement House Speaker William Howell’s Commission on State Employee Retirement Security and Pension Reform.

This means $200,000 will be set aside for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to complete a total compensation study of all state employees, and $140,000 for state agencies to incorporate succession planning and re-hiring in their strategic plans.

This year’s agreed-upon budget exceeds the governor’s investment in K-12 education by approximately $18 million, as well as investing $15 billion for direct aid to public education.

Before the 2010 budget, 35 percent of lottery proceeds were given to local schools. This year’s budget re-establishes that practice, and lottery proceeds will send $191.3 million back to localities to help with public education.

The budget also helps higher education by reducing the governor’s cuts by $20 million. This is part of the General Assembly’s continued effort to make higher education more affordable. The budget will also restore full funding to the Virginia Tech Extension Service, as well as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. In addition, there will be no reductions in funding to Norfolk State University and Virginia State University.

In the health sector, the conference budget invests $32.2 million to build a stronger healthcare safety net, including funding for substance abuse treatment. It also increases eligibility for the Governor's Access Plan, which is a program that helps provide behavioral health forVirginia's uninsured adults.

The conference budget does not include the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which might not end up having much of an impact anyway if the Trump administration’s proposal to replace Medicaid with federal block grants to each state is adopted.

The budget also restores the Stanley amendment, which doesn’t let the governor expand Medicaid without approval from the General Assembly.

The conference budget was created to decrease general-fund spending by 5 percent over 10 years when adjusted for population and inflation.

Loudoun vineyard wins Virginia’s top wine award

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – While wines from the Trump Vineyard Estates in Charlottesville didn’t make it into the governor’s cabinet, Loudoun County was the big winner at the 35th Governor’s Wine Cup.

Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards won the 2017 Governor’s Cup for its 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the first time a winery from Loudoun County has won the award.

“We are honored to be among the Virginia wineries who have won the Governor’s Cup in previous years,” said Andrew Fialdini, the owner of the Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards. “After years in government service, my wife and I were looking to start a second career where we could work the land. This experience has surpassed all our expectations.”

Fialdini said that he and his wife Maryann weren’t looking to expand the vineyard in the future and that they wanted to keep their operation small.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe congratulated the couple. “The Barns at Hamilton Station Cabernet Sauvignon – one of many great products helping to make Virginia the preeminent East Coast destination for wine and winery tourism.”

During the ceremony at the John Marshall Hotel, McAuliffe bragged about the quality of Virginia wine. The governor said he told Californians their wine tasted like automotive fluid in comparison.

“By the time I’m done, they’re going to think Napa is an auto parts company,” McAuliffe said to a laughing crowd.

This year’s other winners were:

  • Barboursville Vineyards, 2013 Paxxito
  • Breaux Vineyards, 2012 Meritage
  • Horton Vineyards, 2015 Viognier
  • Ingleside Vineyards, 2014 Petit Verdot
  • Jefferson Vineyards, 2014 Petit Verdot
  • King Family Vineyards, 2014 Loreley
  • King Family Vineyards, 2014 Petit Verdot
  • Michael Shaps Wineworks, 2014 Meritage
  • Valley Road Vineyards, 2014 Petit Verdot
  • Veritas Vineyard and Winery, 2014 Petit Manseng
  • Veritas Vineyard and Winery, 2014 Petit Verdot Paul Shaffer 6th Edition

At the gala, the 12 highest-ranking white and red wines were showcased. The winners were decided by 40 “world-class” judges in blind tastings. Winners were ranked based on their average score for appearance, aroma, flavor, overall quality and commercial suitability. The preliminary judging went over the span of four weeks in Washington, D.C., with the final tasting the last week of January at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

Virginia officials said the Governor’s Wine Cup is one of the nation’s most stringent competitions, with 429 wine entries from 102 Virginia wineries. Only 23 wines won a gold medal this year. None of them, however, from President Trump’s winery.

Also during the gala, the Gordon W. Murchie Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to David King of the King Family Vineyards in Crozet. In his acceptance speech, King reminded the audience that there are challenges in growing a vineyard. They can include unpredictable weather and the difficulties selling wine directly to customers.

“There are still battles to come this year,” King said. “The one thing about the wine industry is, afterward we can have a glass of wine.”

Richmond restaurants eat up awards at 2017 Elbys

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND– Women in beaded dresses and feathered headbands sipped Buskey cider alongside men in suits and the occasional top hat. While one might think they’ve stepped into Prohibition-era Richmond, it was the scene for Richmond Magazine’s sixth annual Elby Awards show.

Restaurant workers and foodies from all over the city gathered Sunday to celebrate the finest in Richmond’s food industry. Some came to rep their favorite restaurants, such as “Joanne The Scammer,” who wore a possum neck scarf in support of L’Opossum, a popular eatery in the Oregon Hill neighborhood.

“Everyone in our community comes to celebrate each other and for the cocktails,” said Reann Ballslee, a drag queen and guest at the Elbys. “Mainly the cocktails.”

L’Opossum and its head chef and owner, David Shannon, were the evening’s big winners. Shannon was named Chef of the Year, and L’Opossum was honored as Restaurant of the Year. In his acceptance speech for Restaurant of the Year, Shannon thanked his boyfriend as well as “this whole cast of bad-a** mother-f*****s,” aka his staff.

Other winners were:

  • Best New Restaurant: Nota Bene
  • Rising Star: Trevor Knotts of East Coast Provisions
  • Best Everyday Casual: Perly’s Restaurant and Delicatessen
  • Employee of the Year: Michael Smith of Laura Lee’s
  • Brewery of the Year: Triple Crossing Brewing Co.
  • Cocktail Program of the Year: The Roosevelt
  • Wine Program of the Year: Secco Wine Bar
  • Local Food Purveyor of the Year: Tomten Farms
  • Local Food and/or Beverage Product of the Year (excluding beer): Reservoir Distillery Rye Whiskey
  • RVA Dine Philanthropist of the Year: Aline Reitzer
  • Culinary Students of the Year (determined by their instructors): Renne Comstock of J. Sargeant Reynolds and Anne Head of Culinard

The evening ended with a reception in the basement of the Altria where food was prepared by student chefs. Guests enjoyed everything from shrimp and grits to frog legs.

Along with food and drinks, guests were treated to entertainment during the award show. The ceremony was opened with a neo-burlesque performance by Deanna Danger Productions, featuring feathered fans and food shaped cut-outs. The entertainment also included a bartending “Jeopardy!” parody, as well as songs and dances and a slam poem.

The Elbys represented an event of appreciation. Rachelle Roberts, one of Perly’s co-owners, dedicated her restaurant’s award to her Jewish immigrant grandfather. “Without him, Perly’s would not be what it is,” Roberts said. “He taught me how to love food, how to be a good Jew and half of the recipes on our menu.”

Even employees whose restaurants were not nominated for awards spoke endearingly of their establishments. Casey McDeshen, for example, works at Kitchen on Cary with head chef Michael Macknight.

“Our chef is amazing – he’s the best person to work under,” McDeshen said. “He makes me proud to work there.”

Bill lets women get 1 year of birth control pills

By Amelia Heyman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate on Thursday passed legislation allowing pharmacists to provide women a full year of birth control pills at once if prescribed by a doctor.

HB 2267, was sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The bill, titled the Birth Control Access Act, will now be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law.

Women’s right activists praised the measure’s passage. Many insurance policies currently limit women to a 90-day supply of birth control pills.

“Passing the Birth Control Access Act is a huge victory for women. Women lead busy lives, and going back and forth to the pharmacy every few weeks to get the birth control they need isn’t necessary, so we’re thrilled that the General Assembly has passed this common-sense solution,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia. “Everyone in a community benefits when women are able to take control of their own bodies, and passing this bill is a step in the right direction.”

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam agreed.

“I applaud the Senate for supporting expanded access to contraception for Virginia women. Extending oral contraceptive prescriptions to 12 months will ensure that more women have reliable access to reproductive health care,” Northam said.

“As a doctor, I know that having prescription options is important for the best patient care. Moving forward, I would urge members of the General Assembly to support measures to promote access to the full-range of reproductive health care services for all Virginia women.”

The bill states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

The bill – which had been approved by the House, 94-1, on Feb. 7 – passed the Senate on a vote of 34-6.

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at once. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

Research has shown that women who receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives are more likely to continuously and consistently use contraceptives than women who get only a one- or three-month supply.

Studies show that unintended pregnancy is reduced by 30 percent and abortion is reduced by 46 percent when women have access to a full year’s supply of birth control, according to Progress Virginia.

The group noted that the average cost to an insurer of birth control for one year is $160-$600. A birth can cost an insurer between $18,000 and $28,000.

Attorney general praises injunction blocking travel ban

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark Herring praised a federal judge for issuing a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s temporary ban prohibiting people from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

Herring said the ruling suggests that he will win his lawsuit alleging that the ban violates the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

The injunction issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of Alexandria will last until the case goes to trial. Herring said people affected by the ban “can have a lot more confidence knowing that the commonwealth will likely win at trial.”

In granting the motion for a preliminary injunction, Brinkema cited Herring’s argument that President Trump’s executive order violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

“The Commonwealth has produced unrebutted evidence supporting its position that it is likely to succeed on an Establishment Clause claim,” Brinkema wrote. “The ‘Muslim ban’ was a centerpiece of the president’s campaign for months, and the press release calling for it was still available on his website as of the day this Memorandum Opinion is being entered.”

Trump said he issued his executive order to ensure national security. He said he was putting a temporary halt on admitting visitors from seven countries that the Obama and Bush administrations had identified as terrorist threats.

“It is the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and to prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes,” the executive order said. It put a 90-day ban on people coming to the U.S. from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

In a telephone conference call with reporters Monday night, Herring said the Trump administration had “no evidence to support the bald claim that it was about national security.”

Herring said the Virginia case differed from other cases challenging the executive order. The states of Washington and Minnesota also sued over the issue and received a temporary injunction to block the executive order. A three-judge federal appeals court panel last week refused to toss out the injunction and reinstate the travel ban.

“While Washington and Minnesota alleged other violations including the Establishment Clause, the court was really focusing on due process – where in Virginia, the judge really went to the heart of the Establishment Clause case,” Herring said.

Herring, a Democrat, called Trump’s travel ban “unlawful, unconstitutional and un-American.”

“The overwhelming evidence shows that this ban was conceived in religious bigotry and is actually making Americans and our armed forces less safe at home and abroad,” Herring said.

On Twitter, Trump criticized the injunction, saying, “The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is very real, just look at what is happening in Europe and the Middle-East. Courts must act fast!”

Rally at City Hall demands ICE leave Richmond

By Amelia Heymann and Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids led to nearly 700 arrests nationwide, about 100 Richmond residents held a rally in front of City Hall on Monday to demand that ICE stay out of Richmond.

The rally was called to support immigrants who fear they may be the next target of ICE. People at the event represented several human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Southerners On New Ground.

Speakers at the demonstration called for Richmond to be an “intersectionally” inclusive sanctuary city. Their words were translated into either Spanish or English so that all audience members could understand what was being said.

“What intersectionality means is we all have multiple complex identities, and those identities cannot be dissected,” said Rebecca Keel, a former candidate for the Richmond City Council. “We are coming here as whole people. We are fighting as whole people. We are fighting to create a sanctuary city for all people.”

“Our fight does not end right here at City Hall,” added Montigue Magruder, also a former City Council candidate. “Our fight also goes right down the street to that General Assembly there, because right now the General Assembly is considering a bill that would criminalize any city that tries to become a sanctuary city.”

Magruder was referring to SB 1262, proposed by Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg. The bill would make any sanctuary city liable for injuries and damages caused by an “illegal alien.”

“A sanctuary city shall be jointly and severally liable for the tortious injury to persons or property caused by an illegal alien within such locality,” the bill states.

“The funny thing about these people are that the people considering this bill are the same people that would say ‘all lives matter,’” Magruder said. “Now, how can they say all lives matter if they’re going to sit there and criminalize a city for trying to protect all lives?”

“All Lives Matter” emerged as a counter to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is generally considered a critique of the movement by people who say the Black Lives Matter movement neglects other groups of people, including police, who are victims of violent deaths.

The rally followed a directive signed by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney that said the city would protect and promote inclusion for all residents regardless of, but not limited to, national origin, immigration or refugee status, race, creed and sexual identity.

The directive did not officially designate Richmond as a sanctuary city, but it said Richmond police would not inquire about the birthplace or immigration status of individuals officers detain.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said a major part of the movement was to get the police on the side of the people, not just having them there to prosecute them.

“Until we stop prosecuting people for what are called ‘nuisance offenses’ – loitering, trespassing, drunk in public – we are going to have a policing system that disproportionately affects poorer communities,” Gastañaga said.

Last week, advocates for undocumented immigrants gave Stoney a petitionwith about 1,400 signatures asking him to take action against President Donald Trump’s executive order that blocks certain funding to sanctuary cities – jurisdictions that limit law enforcement cooperation with ICE.

On Monday, opponents of the sanctuary movement started circulating a counter petition, sponsored by the Virginia Free Citizen, a website aimed at “Americans who cherish freedom and believe in the common good gleaned from limited government at all levels.”

“Richmond, VA is hardly a place of sanctuary. It has a rate of violent crime and property crime greater than state and national average,” the petition states. “The Virginia Senate is working on legislation to stop sanctuary cities from consuming the state for this very reason – they are illegal and dangerous.”

The petition, which calls Stoney’s directive “alarming,” had received fewer than 100 signatures as of Monday night.

Many immigrants and people of immigrant parents attended Monday’s rally. They included Hector, a Richmond resident whose parents came from El Salvador. He declined to provide his last name.

“A lot of the people who have been picked up aren’t criminals. They’re just people who are here to work, people who are here to get away from unsafe situations in their own country – and they’re people who’ve been here for decades being taken away from their families,” Hector said. “I don’t approve of that.”

Hector attended the rally with his young son. He said his son decided on his own that he wanted to attend.

“I think all of us need to own the word sanctuary,” Guthrie Gastañaga said. “The administration in Washington wants to define it as a negative word. If sanctuary means anything, it means peace. That means peace in your home, peace in your streets, peace in your schools, peace everywhere you go.”

Snakehead infiltrates Virginia waters and legislation

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Lurking in the depths of the Potomac River is a wriggly monster that can grow to four feet long. With its sharp teeth, the snakehead devours other fish, and biologists fear it could spread across the country. It may not be the second coming of “Jaws,” but Virginia officials view the invasive species as a possible threat.

To keep the snakehead in check, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, has introduced a bill to increase the penalty for people who introduce the non-native fish into state waters.

Currently, the law only prohibits bringing snakeheads into Virginia; the penalty can be a fine of up to $500. SB 906would make it illegal to take a snakehead that is already in Virginia and introduce it into another body of water. Under the legislation, violators would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Surovell’s bill easily passed the Senate last month and won a unanimous endorsement Wednesday from a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. Now it will go to the full committee and then the House of Delegates.

Surovell said the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries came to him last fall and told him that people were trying to move snakeheads around the commonwealth. VDGIF officials believed the threat of jail time would be a stronger deterrent than a fine.

John Odenkirk, a marine biologist who has studied the effects of the snakehead fish on the Potomac, agrees.

“We convicted someone three years ago, but that was a Class 3 misdemeanor, which was only a $50 fine,” said Odenkirk, who works for the VDGIF.

The snakehead, which is native to Eastern Asia, was first discovered in the U.S. in 1977. In 2004, the species was found in the Potomac River, where it spread to Maryland and Virginia.

Surovell said that so far, the species has not had a negative impact on the Potomac’s ecosystem. They have been feeding mostly on bluegill fish. Raptors, like hawks and eagles, have started hunting snakehead fish for food, coexisting with the invasive species.

“I think snakeheads are a much-maligned fish,” Surovell said. “They’ve got kind of a bad reputation when they first showed up, but they taste pretty good.”

Odenkirk said it’s too soon to determine if the species is benign or a threat to the ecosystem.

“There’s still a big unknown. We are down this road a little ways, but we still have a ways to go,” Odenkirk said. “They are coming into equilibrium, which often happens with a new species. We are hoping they run their course, but we are still not sure. There could be damage to the ecosystem if their numbers increase.”

The main problem, officials said, is people trying to introduce the snakehead into other areas of the state. Many people enjoy fishing for snakeheads because they require different lures and are trickier to catch.

While the species may be able to coexist in a large and busy body of water like the Potomac River, experts worry that it could do a great deal of damage in a smaller river or lake.

“The concern is that snakeheads have been completely untested in much smaller environments,” Surovell said. “So if you put one of these things in Smith Mountain Lake, it has an entirely different (effect) than it does in the Potomac.”

According to a fact sheet by USGS, snakeheads can threaten an ecosystem by eating up the fish population or becoming a direct competitor for food. Additionally, snakeheads can carry parasites and diseases that could kill local species.

Another invasive species that could threaten Virginia waters is the zebra mussel, which is banned under existing law.

According to VDGIF, the zebra mussel is native to Eastern Europe and first appeared in the United States in 1988. It wasn’t until 2002 that the mussels invaded Virginia waters. Odenkirk was the first person to verify that zebra mussels had infested the Millbrook Quarry in Prince William County, where people go scuba diving.

The problem was caught soon enough that zebra mussels were eradicated from the area. It was suspected that the mussels were placed there purposely to make the water clearer for better diving conditions. Odenkirk believes this because there would have been no natural way for the mussels to have gotten into the quarry. The evidence was only circumstantial, and no one was ever convicted.

The zebra mussel is harmful to ecosystems because it filters out microorganisms that smaller fish eat and can cover hard surfaces, including endangered freshwater mussels. Zebra mussels also cling to pipes in electric power plants and municipal water systems and destroy boat rudders.

Bishops join to pray for unity in the commonwealth

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As the General Assembly starts the second half of its 2017 session, Virginia’s two Catholic bishops joined together Thursday to offer an evening prayer for the commonwealth, urging people to treat each other with respect even when they disagree.

On a cold evening, people of all faiths gathered at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart for the Virginia Vespers service, which was led by Michael Francis Burbidge, bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, and Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, his counterpart for the Diocese of Richmond.

The evening’s message was unity. Burbridge discussed not only loving thy neighbor but also respecting them.

“No matter how harsh the political climate can get, we are called to recognize the dignity of each other,” Burbridge said.

He said respect includes speaking to each other without “name calling” or “generalizations.” The bishop said one of the most important things that Pope Frances is teaching the world is how to dialogue.

“He’s trying to remind us that it is OK within the church, within politics, to have different opinions,” Burbridge said. “But are we really listening to one another? Do we know how to listen to one another? Do we know how to respect one another? Quite frankly, it’s what our political world is in need of right now.”

That message struck a chord with the audience, which included several state lawmakers and other public officials. This is the second year that the state’s two Catholic dioceses have held the Virginia Vespers, timed with the midpoint of the legislative session.

Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant, R-Midlothian, was one of the legislators in attendance.

“I think it’s doing things like this that help folks come together,” Sturtevant said. “Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, my experience is most people want to find ways where they can compromise. We can always do better to be constructive when we disagree. You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

The evening wasn’t just about state politics. Burbridge also made a reference to President Donald Trump’s ban against admitting refugees as well as visitors and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. Trump has said that the ban is temporary and that it is a necessary step to keep terrorists from entering the United States.

The Arlington bishop quoted Pope Francis as saying, “To change the world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us.”

“The Lord teaches us every man and woman and child, whether they be refugees or immigrants – they all merit our respect,” Burbridge said.

Gov. McAuliffe addresses Virginia Jewish Advocacy Day

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Members of Jewish communities from across the state gathered in Richmond on Wednesday to talk to their elected representatives about issues such as religious freedom, anti-Semitism and support for Israel.

It was the 15th year that the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond has hosted Virginia Jewish Advocacy Day. As part of the event, Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave an afternoon speech to the group at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“Our legislators thank us each year for voting and for caring about our system of governance in Virginia,” said Frances Goldman, co-chair of the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee.

“We are proud to continue this tradition with the current administration in Virginia, which has been very supportive of the matters of concern to the metropolitan Richmond Jewish community.”

McAuliffe used the opportunity to boast of his successes as a governor, such as reducing the state’s unemployment rate from 5.4 percent to 3.7 percent. He said the commonwealth would remain welcome and opening.

“I will not tolerate any discrimination against any individual based on religion, sexual orientation – nothing will be tolerated,” McAuliffe said. The governor said his position was not just about acceptance but also about the economy.

“I say this because as a key job creator for the commonwealth, you can’t bring jobs in if you discriminate,” McAuliffe said. “I just got back from the West Coast. I met with Apple, I met with Google, I met with Facebook. I’m going to be clear, folks: They are not bringing a facility to a state that discriminates.”

McAuliffe probably wanted to mention his work against discrimination because it falls within the four primary issues of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. Those issues are:

  • Promoting religious freedom and the separation of church and state
  • Supporting a democratic, strong and peaceful Israel as the homeland and nation-state of the Jewish people
  • Eradicating all forms of racism and anti-Semitism
  • Ensuring the safety and well-being of Jewish agencies, organizations and individuals in the Richmond community and environs

McAuliffe is a supporter of the American Jewish Committee’s Governors United Against BDS campaign. (BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions – economic pressures that some critics of the Israeli government advocating applying on Israel.) In 2016, the governor made a trip to Israel to promote business relations between the commonwealth and the nation-state.

In his speech, McAuliffe criticized President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning people from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

“It’s not good for Virginia, and it’s clearly not good for Israel,” McAuliffe said. “Discrimination breeds hatred. You can color it any way you want, but when you do that, ISIS is now using this as a recruiting tool.”

However, the day wasn’t all speeches and one-sided listening. Jewish Advocacy Day is about members of the Jewish community meeting one on one with their governmental representatives.

“Overwhelmingly, the day is focused around discussion and cooperation – making sure we have a voice and a relationship that’s a two-way street,” said Doni Fogel, director of Jewish Community Relations and Israel and Overseas Programming for the JCFR.

Jewish Advocacy Day was organized by four groups: the JCFR, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the Virginia Office of the Jewish Relations Council of Greater Washington and the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula. The event was co-hosted by JCFR and the local Richmond chapter of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

“I’d like to stress the cooperation that exists between the different communities across Virginia,” Fogel said. “There’s a certain impact that 50 people make when they attend meetings, but there’s a different impact when 200 people come together to support advocacy in a united way.”

Live or recorded in Richmond, it’s ‘On the Lege’

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – There is nothing more entertaining than politicians being snarky to one another, save for maybe a YouTube video of a sneezing panda. Now you too can watch the drama and eye rolls as they happen at Capitol Square.

All committee meetings and floor sessions at the General Assembly are open to the public. However, you don’t have to be in Richmond to watch what is going on. Thanks to the internet, you can view legislative deliberations and debates online.

The Senate of Virginia and Virginia House of Delegates each offer a daily live-stream of their floor sessions, which usually begin at noon. They have been doing that for about a decade. What’s new is that both chambers now are archiving the videos so you can watch the recordings if you miss the live shows.

You can find the links to the House and Senate floor-session videos by going to the General Assembly’s website – http://virginiageneralassembly.gov– and clicking on “Members and Session.”

Since January, for the first time in Virginia, committee meetings also can be viewed online, thanks to the nonprofit group Progress Virginia. It has launched a video service called Eyes on Richmond (eyesonrichmond.org).

On that webpage is a calendar listing the House and Senate committee meetings scheduled on any given day. Eyes on Richmond can broadcast four different live-streams simultaneously. The calendar shows which committee meetings will be on each stream.

The project’s home page displays the live or most recent broadcast on each of the four stream. Archives of all the committee meetings that the project has recorded are available on the service Ustream(ustream.tv).

Alan Gibbs, an intern with Progress Virginia, has been recording legislative committee meetings since Jan. 9 – the week the General Assembly convened.

“When it first started, it was dicey. People were uncomfortable, because they hadn’t been filmed before,” said Gibbs, a political science major at Virginia Commonwealth University. “After the first week, it was normal.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said transparency has always been a priority for the group. She believes legislators are likely to act differently when they know they are being recorded.

Scholl said tens of thousands people have watched the Eyes on Richmond streams, but to her organization, it’s not about numbers. “I think we are always hoping to increase it, but for us to even have five people watching is worth it,” Scholl said.

Republican leaders in the House said transparency is what motivated them to create an online archive of their daily floor sessions this year. The Senate followed suit at the urging of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who had been advocating for such a system for nine years.

“Sometimes things take a long time to get updated around here, but I’m glad we finally got this through,” Petersen said. “Having the video online is all about transparency. Not everyone can come down to Richmond to watch the Senate floor. And not everyone can watch us live. With the online video archive, constituents can hold us accountable, and we can share what’s happening in Richmond with the people back in our districts.”

Before this year, if citizens, journalists or legislators wanted a recording of what had happened on the House or Senate floor, they had to buy a DVD from each chamber for $12 – and it contained the video for just one day. For a 60-day session, it cost more than $1,400 to have videos of every floor session.

For years, Waldo Jaquith, who established the website RichmondSunlight.com, purchased the General Assembly’s DVDs and uploaded them for the public to view. Jaquith tweeted about his relief after the House and Senate decided to archive the videos of their floor sessions.

“It took me nine years, but I am done buying Virginia legislative DVDs,” Jaquith wroteon Twitter. “I’m chalking this up as complete victory.”

House OKs letting women buy a year’s worth of birth control

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation allowing pharmacists to provide women a full year of birth control pills at once if prescribed by a doctor.

The House voted 94-1 in favor of HB 2267, sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The bill, titled the Birth Control Access Act, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Women’s right activists praised the measure’s passage. Current insurance policies in Virginia generally limit women to a 90-day supply of birth control pills.

“Expanding access to birth control just makes sense, and we are thrilled that the House has passed this bill,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of the advocacy group Progress Virginia. “Women lead busy lives, and there’s no medical reason to make them go back and forth to the pharmacy every month to get the medication they need.”

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, cast the only vote against the bill. Four Republicans – Dels. Matthew Fariss of Campbell County, Nicholas Freitas of Campbell County, James Morefield of Tazewell County and Charles Poindexter of Franklin County – did not vote.

The legislation states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at one time. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

Research has shown that women who receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives are more likely to continuously and consistently use contraceptives than women who get only a one- or three-month supply.

Studies also show that unintended pregnancy is reduced by 30 percent and abortion is reduced by 46 percent when women have access to a full year’s supply of birth control, according to Progress Virginia.

The group noted that the average cost to an insurer of birth control for one year is $160-$600. A birth can cost an insurer between $18,000 and $28,000.

Women may be able to buy a year’s worth of birth control

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia women finally would be able to obtain a year’s worth of birth control at one time if prescribed by a doctor, under a bill going forward in the House of Delegates.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee advanced the Birth Control Access Act (HB 2267), sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The committee unanimously voted for the bill Thursday and sent it to the full House for approval.

The bill states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies generally allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out. Gray said HB 2267 would make birth control more accessible.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at once. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

While Republicans voted to pass this bill, they are also pushing forward a bill to end state funding to Planned Parenthood. HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, would “prohibit the Department of Health from spending any funds on an abortion that is not qualified for matching funds under the Medicaid program or providing any grants or other funds to any entity that performs such abortions.”

Pro-choice activists noted that Cline voted in favor of the Birth Control Access Act and at the same time is working to defund an organization that widely distributes contraception.

The access bill is geared toward hormonal birth control, also called “the pill.” According to a 2011 studyby the University of California, women who receive only three months of birth control at a time are more likely to lapse on taking the pill or stop taking it altogether.

In economic terms, the pill can cost $160 to $600a year, and the cost of a birth is $18,329-$27,866, according to a CNN report in 2013. The cost of raising a child is around $12,500per year per child. Economically speaking, it’s cheaper to give women a year’s worth of birth control rather than have an unintended, increased-risk pregnancy.

Among the access bill’s advocates was Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization with the NLIRH Virginia Latina Advocacy Network.

“Continuous access to contraception helps Latinxs plan their families and their futures, improving their health and well-being,” Del Castillo said in a statement. “This bill will provide a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives for Latinxs in Virginia and help in the fight against the health inequities that currently exist in our community.”

Tuesday’s election will fill Richmond-area House seat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RICHMOND – Voters in parts of Richmond and Henrico County will go to the polls Tuesday to elect one of three candidates to a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

 

 

The three candidates are vying to fill the 71st House District seat vacated by Democrat Jennifer McClellan, who was elected to the state Senate last month. The candidates are:

 

 

  • Jeff Bourne, a Democrat and member of the Richmond School Board
  • John Barclay, a Libertarian and teacher in the Richmond Public Schools
  • Regie Ford, an independent and Air Force veteran

 

 

The district is considered so Democratic that the Republicans did not nominate a candidate. In presidential and statewide election, the precincts that make up the 71st House District typically cast more than 80 percent of their votes for the Democratic nominee, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

 

 

The district stretches from Bryan Park, Scott’s Addition, the Fan and the Virginia Commonwealth University campus on the west, to Church Hill, Fulton Hill, Richmond’s East End and the Ratcliffe area of Henrico County.

 

 

All of the candidates have education as a top issue.

 

 

Barclay is an eighth-grade math and science teacher. He has seen firsthand the issues with Virginia’s education system. He believes schools put too much emphasis on standardized testing. He says Virginia is forced to do that because it receives funding from the federal government.

 

 

“Virginia should look into not taking the money from the federal government so that we can be free from the culture of standardized testing,” Barclay said. “Our classrooms should be preparing our students to be thinkers and citizens, not test takers.”

 

 

Barclay separates himself from his rivals with his position on legalizing marijuana “rather than filling our prisons with marijuana users.”

 

 

Barclay’s campaign platform also includes restoring the voting rights of people who have been convicted of a felony and have served their sentence. “We need a constitutional amendment that allows any felons in the commonwealth who have completed their jail time to automatically regain their right to vote.”

 

 

Furthermore, Barclay wants the state to “deregulate industries that currently require excessive licensing in order to practice,” such as barbers and hairdressers.

 

 

Bourne says education is key to fighting poverty in Richmond. He said it is important to improve not only the school system but also workforce training for adults.

 

 

“It really is a way to address some of the most systemic issues,” said Bourne, who has been endorsed by U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. “We have some of the most significantly concentrated poverty in our city, and education could help break that up.”

 

 

Bourne says his two children motivated him to get involved in politics.

 

 

“They not only drive this decision, they also influence and drive my desire to be a public servant and help our city and our state,” Bourne said. “I’ve been on the School Board for five years now. I want to build an education system that provides the tools and skills they need to be productive in life.”

 

 

Bourne’s other top issues are addiction and domestic violence. “My father was sober for 20 years before he died,” Bourne said. “Seeing the effects that addiction can have is both personal to me but also affects so many Virginians.”

 

 

Ford says his community activism started in high school when he was a member of the Urban League. He has continued public service into his adult life through his service in the United States Air Force and as president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters.

 

 

Ford wants to tackle the issue of Richmond’s food deserts. He noted that it’s hard for many residents of the 71st House District to get fresh food because of a lack of grocery stores or reliable public transportation.

 

 

“So education, crime, unhealthiness – all of that starts with food deserts. We have to make sure all students and parents have the proper nutrition,” Ford said.

 

 

He also has declared his support for House Bill 1444, which would increase the minimum wage of Virginia from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour – and eventually to $15 an hour by 2021.

 

 

Moreover, Ford supports restoration of rights for felons who have served their time, “sensible gun control laws” and term limits for elected officials.

 

 

Whoever wins Tuesday’s election will serve the remainder of McClellan’s term, until January 2018. The seat will be up for election again in November, meaning Tuesday’s winner might be on the ballot again in nine months.

 

 

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Go to richmondgov.com or http://www.elections.virginia.gov/voter-outreach/where-to-vote.html to find your polling place.

 

 

 

More on the web

 

 

Here’s where you can find more information about the candidates:

 

 

·         John Barclay – http://barclay4delegate.weebly.com/

 

 

·         Jeff Bourne – https://www.facebook.com/JeffMBourneVA/

Regie Ford – https://www.facebook.com/Regie-Ford-for-71st-Delegate-207715256361991/

African-inspired art exhibit opens in Richmond

 

black_history_museum1

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – To kick off Black History Month, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia is exhibiting four decades of work by Murry DePillars, an artist known for his vivid colors and geometric shapes as well as his political commentary and African-inspired patterns.

“Murry DePillars: Double Vision,” which features 37 pieces of artwork, opens Friday and runs through June 3 at the museum, 122 W. Leigh St. in Richmond. While DePillars did everything from crayon illustration to quilting, most of the exhibit shows off his acrylic paintings.

DePillars’ career spanned four decades, from the 1960s to the early 2000s. His early work, such as the illustration “Aunt Jemima,” deals with socio-economic and political commentary. Unlike his later work, those illustrations used little color. The drawings were created while DePillars was studying art in Chicago and later Pennsylvania.

DePillars was dean of the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University from 1976 to 1999. Tasha Chambers, director of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, said DePillars was integral in turning VCU into one of the largest art schools in the country. He lived in Richmond until his death in 2008.

Even as a dean at VCU, DePillars continued his own artistic pursuit and travels. On his trips, he carried a suitcase full of art supplies so he could easily work on his art wherever he went. The suitcase he used and two unfinished paintings are featured in the exhibit.

DePillars’ late work contrasts with his early illustrations. Stepping into the upstairs gallery, visitors are greeted by an array of vivid colors and patterns that mimic traditional African beadwork. Within the mixture of geometric shapes are hidden figures and objects.

Chambers said DePillars did extensive research in creating his art and often looked at how Africa as well as the current environment influenced African-American traditions.

The exhibit takes its name from Michael D. Harris, an artist and art historian who applied the term “double vision” in describing the process by which black artists look back to Africa and compare its culture to that of contemporary society. Chambers said the museum also chose this name for the exhibit because it explores not only DePillars’ artistic career but also his role as an educator.

The exhibition coincides with a host of Black History Month events. Chambers said the museum is celebrating black Americans’ contributions to “life, love and liberty” – and also fighting for those values.

“We are celebrating,” Chambers said. But given the current political environment, “we are also still participating in the movement to bring awareness to these things that may now be in jeopardy.”

To find out more about the museum’s events for Black History Month, visit blackhistorymuseum.org.

Bill to defund Planned Parenthood advances

By Megan Corsano and Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia could lose their federal Title X funding under a bill that cleared the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee on Thursday.

HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, was reported by the Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions in an 11-7 vote. It happened during the committee’s final meeting before “crossover day” – Tuesday’s deadline for bills to clear their chamber of origin. Cline’s proposal now goes to the full House of Delegates.

The committee’s swift decision was accompanied by no comments from Cline or members of the audience about the bill.

The bill would “prohibit the Department of Health from spending any funds on an abortion that is not qualified for matching funds under the Medicaid program or providing any grants or other funds to any entity that performs such abortions,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

Title X funding is vital to organizations like Planned Parenthood because it is the only federal program that provides grants for reproductive and family planning services. Republicans on the state and national level have been trying to stop Planned Parenthood from receiving this fund because the organization provides abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials say abortions make up about 3 percent of the group’s services. Most of its services are for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception and cancer screening and prevention.

During a subcommittee meeting earlier in the week, Cline said his bill would give priority to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. He said the bill would make sure that money is sent to “health clinics that meet the needs of those populations they serve in the most comprehensive manner possible,” instead of to clinics that provide abortions.

While Cline’s bill is moving forward, Democratic-sponsored bills regarding women’s health care have been having a hard time even getting heard, Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, said at a press briefing held by the Women’s Equality Coalition on Thursday.

One such bill is HB 2186, called the Whole Woman's Health Act, which Boysko filed to give women easier access to abortions services.

Boysko’s bill was assigned to the House Courts of Justice Committee, chaired by Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax. The panel has not held a hearing on HB 2186.

Albo wrote a letter to Boysko saying the committee had only one meeting left before crossover. “The Committee historically kills bills associated with liberal politics,” the letter said. “If we did spend effort in hearing these bills, then we would have much less time to review the bills that actually have a chance to become law.”

Many speakers at the news conference were outraged that Albo didn’t let the bill have a hearing.

“Quite frankly, it is ridiculous and it is offensive for Del. Albo or any legislator to claim that they are simply too busy to do the job,” said Anna Scholl, executive director for Progress Virginia.

“Del. Albo wasn’t too busy to spend many hours of this legislature’s time regaling us with his tails of trying to resell his Iron Maiden tickets, and insisting that the legislature find time to fix that particular problem of his,” Scholl said. “If Del. Albo can find time to write laws to make sure he can resell his concert tickets, he can certainly find the time to hold a hearing on issues that impact more than half of the population.”

Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also criticized Albo.

“Virginia women are workers. We sometimes hold down multiple jobs, we raise families, we take care of elderly family members, and we’re active members of our society,” Castillo said. “Women already do so much with the 24 hours that we have in a day. Our legislators here in Richmond are here full time … It seems that Del. Albo and the House GOP leadership could take a lesson from the women in Virginia on time management.”

Presidential candidates won’t have to release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to require presidential candidates to release their tax returns to get on the ballot in Virginia died in a legislative subcommittee Thursday.

Democratic Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria submitted HB 2444after Donald Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee’s successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax returns; candidates had done so for 40 years.

“It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know,” Levine said.

Under his bill, in the paperwork to get on the ballot on Virginia, a presidential candidate would have had to “attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election.”

The bill was considered Thursday morning by a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

When no one stood to speak in favor or opposition the bill, Del. Nick Rush, chairman of House Subcommittee on Campaigns, expressed his disapproval of the legislation.

“I’ll have to say Del. Levine, you had a very good bill this morning at Appropriations,” said Rush, a Republican from Montgomery County. “It was well thought out; it would help your constituents and help the commonwealth. This bill is not that. This bill is partisan in nature; it’s really wasted this committee’s time.”

Despite such feelings, Levine says polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president’s business interests are important to know about.

Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump is “not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.

A petitionposted on the White House website suggests that some people do care about the issue. The petition, which asks Trump to release his tax returns, has received more than 475,000 signatures.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg,said he believed Levine’s bill addressed an issue the U.S. Congress should deal with. In fact, such a bill is pending before Congress.

The hearing on Levine’s bill lasted only about three minutes before the subcommittee decided on a voice vote to kill it.

Group hopes to curb DUIs on Super Bowl Sunday

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

To many Americans, Super Bowl Sunday means football, partying and plenty to eat and drink. For the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, it means an increase in traffic deaths caused by drunken driving.

From 2011 through 2015, according to federal data, 37 percent of all fatal crashes on the day of and morning after the Super Bowl involved driving under the influence.

“With over a third of all U.S. traffic deaths being caused by drunk drivers during Super Bowl Sunday, it’s important to have a game plan to beat this opponent,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of WRAP, a nonprofit group that advocates safe driving.

WRAP has a list of tips to prevent drunk driving. It includes assigning a designated driver, using a taxi or ride-sharing service, drinking and serving non-alcoholic beverages, and wearing your seat belt.

“Wearing a seat belt may not be widely viewed as a tool in this effort, but the wearing of a seat belt may be your best defense against a drunk driver,” Erickson said. “The routine wearing of seat belts is the single most effective measure to reduce crash related deaths and injuries.”

The Falls Church-based organization also encourages people to report suspected drunken drivers they see to the police. Dialing “#77” on a mobile phone will connect you to the Virginia State Police.

For more information and tips on how to prevent drunken driving, visit the organization’s website, www.wrap.org.

To combat drunken driving on Sunday, the Virginia State Police is having a “Trooper Bowl” – a traffic safety enforcement campaign.

“Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is never a smart play, which is why our troopers will be out specifically patrolling for impaired drivers,” said Craig Worsham, commander of the Virginia State Police Appomattox Division.

Panel OKs bill to defund Planned Parenthood

By Megan Corsano and Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill seeking to defund Planned Parenthood cleared a House subcommittee Tuesday on a 4-1 vote.

HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, “would prohibit the Virginia Department of Health from granting funds or entering into contracts with certain health care providers that perform abortion.”

More specifically, it would cut off Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, which supportsfamily planning services, long-term contraception and educational programs.

“It’s just another effort to cripple the organization,” said David Timberline, director of communications for the Planned Parenthood League of Virginia.

Planned Parenthood has clinics in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Charlottesville and Roanoke. Timberline said most people come to the clinics for family planning, cancer screening and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Last year, 18,000 people visited Planned Parenthood clinics in Virginia.

Timberline believes that many of the people who oppose Planned Parenthood think that once it is shut down, other clinics can pick up providing the family planning services that the organization provides. “That is completely false,” he said.

Supporters of the bill said it would ensure that taxpayer money is spent on “fully comprehensive health clinics” to provide services to women. Addressing the subcommittee of the House Committee of Health, Welfare and Institutions, Cline said the legislation “ensures that hospitals, federally qualified health clinics and rural health clinics are funded prior to abortion centers.”

He said the bill would give priority to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. Cline said the bill would make sure that money is sent to “health clinics that meet the needs of those populations they serve in the most comprehensive manner possible,” instead of to clinics that provide abortions.

Cline introduced an identical bill in the 2016 legislative session. It passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The House was one vote short of overriding the governor’s veto.

Several women addressed the subcommittee in opposition to the bill. They included Dr. Serina Floyd, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Northern Virginia. Floyd said the bill would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on Planned Parenthood’s comprehensive services.

“The fact is that Virginians, particularly low-income Virginians, need more access to health care and not less,” she said. “Hospitals that provide abortions have been exempted from the bill, which means that only health centers like Planned Parenthood are being targeted.”

Supporters of the bill include the Family Foundation of Virginia. According to its website, the group believes that “human life, from fertilization until natural death, is sacred, and the right to life is fundamental to all other rights.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of the organization Progress Virginia, believes the bill would violate the rights of women.

“It is none of Delegate Cline’s business where a woman decides to get her health care. Every woman in Virginia deserves access to safe, high-quality health care at a family planning clinic of her choice,” Scholl said.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood means that the full range of family planning options will be unavailable to the individuals, families, and communities that are most medically underserved in the commonwealth.”

Timberline plans to continue to rally community support to fight attacks on Planned Parenthood.

“We’re trying to get the word out that people who are fired up about what’s happening on the national level can have their voice heard on the local,” Timberline said. “They can speak at community hearings. That’s what we did this morning, and that’s what we plan to do with anything that comes along that tries to deny the services that we provide to our patients.”

The bill will advance to the full House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions. The panel will consider the legislation on Thursday.

Bills would make presidential candidates release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In a slap at President Donald Trump, two Democratic legislators are pushing for a state law requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to get on the ballot in Virginia.

Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria and Sen. Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge filed their legislation after Trump refused to make his tax returns public during the Republican nominee’s successful presidential campaign last fall. It had been a tradition for presidential hopefuls to disclose their tax filings; candidates had done so for 40 years.

“It had been done not as required by law, but because the presidential candidates felt that the voters had a right to know,” Levine said.

Under current state law, to get on the presidential ballot in Virginia, a candidate must submit to the State Board of Elections petitions signed by at least 5,000 qualified voters, including at least 200 qualified voters from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts.

Levine’s bill (HB 2444) says the candidate “shall also attach a statement, signed under penalty of perjury by the person seeking the nomination, that he has disclosed (i) his federal tax returns from each year of the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election and (ii) any payments or remuneration exceeding $1,000 received from any foreign source during the 10-year period immediately preceding the general election.”

McPike’s measure (SB 1543) would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns for the previous five years. “The official ballot shall not contain the name of any candidate who did not submit the federal tax returns and income tax returns filed in any state,” the bill says. It would apply to primaries as well as general elections.

Similar legislation is before by the U.S. Congress. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is sponsoring the Presidential Tax Transparency Act. According to the committee’s website, the bill was introduced to get Trump, who was inaugurated last week, to release his tax returns.

“The fact that the president-elect refuses to release his tax returns is a tragic failure of transparency, and it needs to be corrected,” Wyden said when filing the proposal.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s running mate, helped write Wyden’s bill.

Trump, a Republican, has been under pressure to disclose his tax returns because critics say that his business enterprises may present a conflict of interest. Some think Trump has avoided releasing his tax returns to hide certain business interests – in Russia, for example.

Levine said that polls show most Americans, including Republicans, believe the president’s business interests are important to know about.

On ABC’s “This Week,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, discussed Trump’s tax returns.

“The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care. They voted for him,” she said.

Levine said he is “not optimistic” about the bill passing in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. However, he said, he is “always hopeful.”

HB 2444 has been assigned to the Campaigns Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Levine believes the subcommittee will vote on the bill next week.

SB 1543 has been referred to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

Senate Panel OKs Bans on LGBT Discrimination

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

RICHMOND –Legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment and housing cleared a Senate committee on Monday and now will go to the full Senate for consideration.

SB 783, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would prohibit public employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 12-3 in favor of the bill.

SB 822, filed by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would prohibits public housing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identification. The committee approved the proposal, 11-3.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, praised the committee’s approval of the bills.

“No Virginian should be pushed out of their home or their job because of who they are or who they love,” Northam said. “I applaud the Senate committee for advancing policies to ensure Virginia is open and welcoming to all.”

Organizations in support of the bills included Equality Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia.

Organizations in opposition to the bill were the Family Foundation and the Virginia Catholic Conference. They argued that the bills would infringe on people’s religious freedom.

John Hetzler, legislative counsel for the Family Foundation, said SB 783 was unnecessary because there were only 12 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation reported since 2009.

In response, Ebbin said, “To those 12 people, there’s an issue, and further to LGBT members of the state workforce. Personally, as someone who’s been discriminated against in employment because of my sexual orientation, it does happen, and it’s not only people who report it, but people who keep silent about it.”

SB 783 seeks to codify as state law an executive order issued by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Executive Order 1 prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, sex, color, national
origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise
qualified persons with disabilities” in state employment.

Similarly, the Virginia Fair Housing Law already protects individuals from being discriminated against because of race, ethnicity, country of origin, familial status and religion. SB 822 would simply add sexual orientation and gender identification to the list.

Helen Hardiman, policy director for HOME, defended SB 822. She said that HOME did testing in three areas of the state, sending a gay couple and a straight couple to search for housing. In 44 percent of the cases, the straight couple was treated better, Hardiman said.

Bills like SB 822 have come before the General Assembly in the past but have failed.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said he expected the bills to win approval from the Senate this year. The legislation is more likely to get voted down in the House of Delegates.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 783 (“Public employment; prohibits discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (12-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Suetterlein, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 12.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Here is how the committee voted on SB 822 (“Virginia Fair Housing Law; unlawful discriminatory housing practices, sexual orientation and gender”).

01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (11-Y 3-N)

YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 11.

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

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