Current Weather Conditions

 
Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

Community Calendar Sponsored By...

 

General Assembly

ATTN: GREENSVILLE COUNTY TAXPAYERS

Greensville County Business, Professional and Occupational Licenses for 2019 are now due.  To avoid penalties, please secure your 2019 license from the Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office on or before March 1st.  We are located in the Greensville County Government Building at 1781 Greensville County Circle, Rm 132 on Highway 301 North – Sussex Drive.  Our office hours are from 8 to 5 Monday thru Friday.


Martha S. Swenson
Master Commissioner of the Revenue
Greensville County, Virginia

Virginia Lawmakers Increase Animal Abuse Penalty to Felony

The memorial for Tommie, a dog that was tied to a pole and set on fire in Richmond.

Adrian Teran Tapia and Mario Sequeira Quesada, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Every state in America, and at least nine countries. That is how far the story of Tommie, a dog tied to a pole and set on fire, traveled as people rallied for his survival and donated money for his treatment. Tommie suffered burns on 40 percent of his body after he was doused in an accelerant and set on fire in a Richmond park. Despite round-the-clock care, he died five days after rescue.

If the dog had survived the attack, under current law the person responsible could have faced only a Class 1 misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

That’s why the crowd following Tommie’s story turned its attention to SB 1604, introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. The bill would increase the penalty for animal abuse from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, which can draw up to five years in prison.

Five days after Tommie’s death, the House passed the bill unanimously Wednesday. It cleared the Senate unanimously on Feb. 5.

Under current law, a person can only be charged with a felony if the cat or dog dies. DeSteph’s bill would make the penalty of torturing a cat or dog a Class 6 felony regardless of whether the animal survives. DeSteph said he introduced the bill after a dog named Sugar was attacked by her owner with a machete. Because the dog did not die, the owner was only charged with a misdemeanor. DeSteph said that the act alone should warrant the felony charge, not the outcome of it.

"People who torture a dog, or any animal like this, their next step is to go after a human," DeSteph said. "They're truly a threat to public safety and to society and should be dealt with severely."

House co-sponsor Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, said Tommie’s story helped the bill gain more support. She said some members of the Animal Welfare Caucus even suggested the legislation be named “Tommie's Bill.”

Robert Leinberger is an animal control supervisor with Richmond Animal Care and Control, the city shelter that led Tommie’s rescue and recovery efforts. He said donations poured in from around the world for Tommie, which boosted the reward to $25,000 to help find and convict his attacker, who is still at large.

Tabitha Treloar, with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said SB 1604 empowers the SPCA’s mission to protect more animals.

“There is a big gap in the current law. It does not consider the advances of veterinary medicine,” Treloar said.

Treloar said that veterinarians can often save animals from critical injuries, which helps the attacker avoid felony charges. That could have happened in Tommie’s case.

“It was sickening what happened to him,” she said. “The bill is a big step that I think the commonwealth can take to demonstrate that this type of cruelty will not be tolerated.”

Leinberger, who has worked in animal control for 27 years, called Tommie’s case “by far one of the worst cases of cruelty” he had ever seen. “What is really scary is what will be next, or even worse -- who will be next.”

He encouraged people to report the first sign of cruelty.

“If you even think of mistreating an animal, don’t,” Leinberger said, adding that there are many ways to find a pet a new and safe home.

Shaun McCracken agreed. She rescued her 7-year-old dog Pippin, who was suffering from a severe joint illness.

“The SPCA changed my life,” the theater professor said at a recent “Dog Kissing Booth” fundraiser. “She is better because of the care, time and effort they put in her.”

McCracken said Tommie’s case really affected her and that something must be done to avoid future tragedies.

“I think this person should never be allowed near any animal, or any human being,” she said.

DeSteph said that party lines don’t and shouldn’t matter when it comes to animal welfare legislation. “We have great laws in place regarding animal protection, but I think this is one that had gaps to fill.”

RACC receives one or two cases of negligent animal cruelty a week, Leinberger said. He hopes the passage of SB 1604 will help reduce the number of attacks.

“It has been a roller coaster of emotions, almost every single emotion you can think of,” he said.

More than 6,000 people signed up to attend a memorial service for Tommie. As a result, RACC has been holding open houses for members of the public to pay their respects to the dog.

An open house will be held 2-7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and noon-5 p.m. on Saturday at the city shelter, 1600 Chamberlayne Ave.

Anyone with information about the crime can contact Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers at 804- 780-1000.

Assembly OKs Bills to Address Housing and Eviction Issues

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A flurry of bills addressing affordable housing and high eviction rates in Virginia cities moved forward in the House and Senate this week.

Three bills on those issues have passed both chambers and have been sent to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law. Several other measures have passed one chamber and are awaiting a floor vote in the other.

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for solutions to the affordable housing crisis since the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, found that of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the United States, five are in Virginia: Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Charles City. He is sponsoring HB 2229, which would allow localities to waive building fees for affordable housing developments.

“By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates,” Bagby said.

The Eviction Lab found that the problem of evictions disproportionately impacts minority communities. Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the country.

“Housing eviction rates in our commonwealth are a disgrace,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. “It is no secret that the laws and regulations around eviction in Virginia are intentionally vague and disproportionately target our most vulnerable communities.”

Of eight bills introduced in the House and Senate, three have passed both chambers:

  • HB 2054, introduced by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, requires landlords to provide a written rental agreement to tenants.
  • HB 1681, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, expands eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit to low-income communities in Hampton Roads.
  • SB 1448, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, changes the terminology from writ of possession to writ of eviction for the writ executed by a sheriff to recover real property pursuant to an order of possession. The bill specifies that an order of possession remains effective for 180 days after being granted by the court and clarifies that any writ of eviction not executed within 30 days of its issuance shall be vacated as a matter of law.

Five other affordable housing bills are awaiting a floor vote in the House or Senate with about a week left in the session. Virginia House Democrats said in a press release Wednesday that they are committed to implementing affordable housing reform and protecting vulnerable communities from evictions.

“The displacement of vulnerable communities is not the nationwide record we want to be setting in the commonwealth,” said Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond.

Assembly Repeals ‘Jim Crow’ Minimum Wage Exemptions

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A Democratic bill to repeal a Jim Crow era-law that legalized wage discrimination against many African-Americans is headed to the governor’s desk after being approved by the House of Delegates.

The bill, SB 1079, rescinds the law that allows employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and theater cashiers” — jobs to which many African-Americans were relegated decades ago.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, said the exemptions were rooted in Virginia’s history of discrimination against African-Americans.

“It’s clear that this law was put into place to keep African-American Virginians from advancing,” Spruill said. “Hardworking Virginians deserve wage protections, regardless of the job that they do. I am proud to champion this long overdue legislation and to witness its bipartisan passage in the General Assembly.”

Spruill’s bill also eliminates the minimum wage exemption for babysitters if they work more than 10 hours per week.

The measure passed the Senate, 37-3, on Jan. 18. Last Wednesday, the House voted 18-14 in favor of a modified version of the bill. And on Friday, the Senate unanimously approved that version and sent it to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law.

In 2018, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, carried a bill with the same intent, and it died in committee. Krizek said the minimum-wage exemptions were “obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

Law Would Protect Elderly Against Financial Crimes

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — With bipartisan support, legislation headed toward approval in the General Assembly may help protect elderly residents and other vulnerable adults against financial exploitation by giving financial institutions more tools to help prevent this crime.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of SB 1490, but the two chambers must resolve their differences over the measure. “This bill addresses the issue of financial exploitation of older Virginians, which has been on the rise in recent years,” said the sponsor, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham.

Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, is sponsoring HB 1987, the companion bill in the House. That measure was unanimously approved by the House last month and, in a slightly different version, by the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Friday.

“I think it’s important for people to pay close attention to elderly folks and how they may be financially exploited. We’re all getting older, there are more of us and we’ve got to watch out for each other,” said Toscano, the House minority leader.

“This bill helps encourage banking institutions to do that.”

Toscano’s and Obenshain’s proposals would give financial institutions the ability to “refuse to execute a transaction, delay a transaction, or refuse to disburse funds” if the institutions believe in “good faith” that the “transaction or disbursement may involve, facilitate, result in, or contribute to the financial exploitation of an adult.”

“What we’ve been finding is that sometimes, elderly people are exploited by their caregivers or some relative by taking them to the bank and removing cash from their accounts. Once the cash is removed, it’s hard to get it back,” Toscano said.

“So this gives lending institution some more teeth to make sure that they’re not giving away the money of folks who are being exploited and can essentially stop it before it happens.”

The legislation also would grant the financial institution’s staff immunity from civil or criminal liability for refusing to process transactions or for reporting suspicious financial activity as long as these actions are taken with due cause.

“Often the tellers at bank branches are in the last position to identify and stop these crimes, but too often they feel helpless because they cannot stop or delay suspicious transactions,” Obenshain said. “This bill will empower these bank employees to help protect vulnerable older Virginians.”

The financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is a widespread yet hidden problem.

The National Adult Protective Services Association identifies vulnerable adults as anyone who is “targeted due to age or disability, isolation, reliance on caregivers, or decreased physical or mental capacity.”

According to the association, 1 in 9 seniors has been “abused, neglected or exploited,” and 1 in 20 cases involves financial exploitation. About 90 percent of abusers are family members, caregivers or other individuals in a position of trust.

The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services reported 1,016 substantiated cases of financial exploitation in fiscal year 2015. But because most cases go unreported, the agency estimated there were more than 44,000 incidents of exploitation that year, costing elderly or incapacitated victims potentially more than $1.2 billion.

The average financial loss per victim was about $28,000, state officials found.

State lawmakers have been trying to address the problem since 2013, but legislation has failed in previous years. In 2016, for example, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill nearly identical to HB 1987; it died in a House subcommittee.

Toscano is confident that the legislation will pass this year after House and Senate members iron out their relatively minor differences.

“I think that we will resolve the technical differences, and it will pass,” he said.

How to report elder abuse

To report suspected adult abuse, neglect or exploitation, call your local Department of Social Services or the 24-hour, toll-free Adult Protective Services hotline at 888-832-3858.

Assembly OKs Bills to Address Housing and Eviction Issues

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A flurry of bills addressing affordable housing and high eviction rates in Virginia cities moved forward in the House and Senate this week.

Three bills on those issues have passed both chambers and have been sent to Gov. Ralph Northam to be signed into law. Several other measures have passed one chamber and are awaiting a floor vote in the other.

Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Virginia since RVA Eviction Lab found that of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the United States, five are in Virginia.

“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” said Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Charles City. He is sponsoring HB 2229, which would allow localities to waive building fees for affordable housing developments.

“By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates,” Bagby said.

Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake have the highest rates of eviction in the state, according to a recent report published by Eviction Lab, a problem that disproportionately impacts minority communities. Richmond has the second-highest eviction rate in the country.

“Housing eviction rates in our commonwealth are a disgrace,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. “It is no secret that the laws and regulations around eviction in Virginia are intentionally vague and disproportionately target our most vulnerable communities.”

Of eight bills introduced in the House and Senate, three have passed both chambers:

  • HB 2054 - Introduced by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Chesterfield, requires landlords to provide a written rental agreement to tenants.

  • HB 1681 - Introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, expands eligibility for the housing choice voucher tax credit to low-income communities in Hampton Roads.

  • SB 1448 - Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, changes the terminology from writ of possession to writ of eviction for the writ executed by a sheriff to recover real property pursuant to an order of possession. The bill specifies that an order of possession remains effective for 180 days after being granted by the court and clarifies that any writ of eviction not executed within 30 days of its issuance shall be vacated as a matter of law.

Five other affordable housing bills are awaiting a floor vote in the House or Senate with just under two weeks left in the session. Virginia House Democrats said in a press release Wednesday that they are committed to implementing affordable housing reform and protecting vulnerable communities from evictions.

“The displacement of vulnerable communities is not the nationwide record we want to be setting in the commonwealth,” said Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond.

Critics Say Tax Relief Legislation Would Widen Racial Inequities

By Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Members of progressive groups are seeking to hold Gov. Ralph Northam to his promise to focus the remainder of his term on racial equity and to help reconcile Virginia’s long history of racial inequity.

That is why advocacy organizations said the major tax relief deal crafted by Virginia lawmakers — on the heels of a scandal over a racist picture in Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook — would hurt low-income minority groups if the governor signs it into law.

Northam has faced demands to resign since the yearbook photo surfaced on Feb. 1. The governor has said he does not plan to quit and will focus instead on improving opportunities for black Virginians.

Representatives of Progress Virginia, which has called for Northam’s resignation, said the tax plan “falls short of this professed new goal.”

Progress Virginia and other organizations made that point at a press conference this week to discuss the bills passed by the House and Senate to revise the 2018-2020 state budget. The governor has expressed support for the legislation.

“We call upon state lawmakers to seize this opportunity to strengthen these bills to make them so that they do not widen inequities in our state but take needed steps to address them,” said Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

Republicans who control the General Assembly have touted the budget bills as giving nearly $1 billion in tax relief to Virginia taxpayers. On Monday, the legislation passed 95-4 in the House and 35-5 in the Senate — large enough majorities to take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The legislation would provide tax rebates of $110 for individual filers and $220 for married couples. And it would raise the standard deduction by 50 percent, the first such change for individual filers since 1989. The legislation also would conform Virginia tax law to the newly revised federal tax law, ensuring that Virginians can file their state taxes without complications this May.

“I am proud of the hard work that has gone into crafting this bipartisan legislation that will put more money in the pockets of hard-working Virginians,” House Speaker Kirk Cox said. “This legislation represents the most significant tax relief package in the commonwealth in at least 15 years.”

However, the groups at Monday’s press conference said the budget bills would cut funding for programs that disproportionately affect minority communities.

For example, the legislation would cut $133 million in support to public schools and specifically for programs serving at-risk youth, according to James Fedderman, vice president of the Virginia Education Association.

“The greater the proportion of students of color a school division has, the more they stand to lose from the funding provisions,” Fedderman said. “Unless these budget provisions are corrected, many of the school divisions with the highest need will lose out.”

Funding to support the 2020 census would also be cut, according to Alexandria Bratton, program manager at the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, a nonprofit group that focuses on economic justice and other issues.

The national headcount, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years, determines the number of congressional seats each state gets and the amount of federal money allocated for public assistance and other programs.

The budget approved by the General Assembly last year included $1.5 million for efforts to encourage Virginians to participate in the census. The bills to revise the budget would eliminate that funding.

Welfare programs for low-income residents could be impacted if the census undercounts the population, Bratton said.

“A representative census is critical to advance racial equity in Virginia,” she said. “The decision to eliminate [census participation] funds demonstrates a concerning apathy on behalf of our elected leaders toward overcoming our history of racial discrimination to build a Virginia that works for all of us, no exceptions.”

Advocates urged state officials to revise the tax bills to address such issues.

“Our state lawmakers have said they want to tackle issues of racial inequity, and now is the time for them to roll up their sleeves and do so,” Cassidy said.

New Law Would Protect Students Who Use CBD and THC-A Oils

By Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Legislation to protect Virginia students who use cannabidiol oil is still making its way through the House after being unanimously passed by the Senate.  

SB 1632, sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, requires local school boards to implement policies that keep students from being suspended or expelled if they have “valid written certification” to use CBD and THC-A oil. While both oils are derived from the cannabis plant, neither have an intoxicating effect on those who use it to manage pain and other ailments.

Parents are required to provide written consent, along with details on the reason for use from the practitioner who issued the certificate and pharmaceutical processor that issued the oil. Schools must also be notified of the authorized dosage amount, and when and how it needs to be administered.

CBD and THC-A oils have grown in popularity in recent years with many using them to  treat chronic pain, anxiety, attention disorders and seizures.

In Virginia, doctors and nurse practitioners can prescribe cannabis-based products. The Board of Pharmacy gave approval to pharmaceutical companies to open five dispensaries across the state to sell CBD and THC-A oils to authorized patients. Last week, legislators killed a House bill to double the number of medical cannabis dispensaries.

Stephanie Anderson, whose son takes ADHD medication, said she is looking into how CBD oil might help him. She said she would want him to be allowed to use the medication at school if it benefits him.

“If we find CBD to be beneficial, I'd want it to be just as easy for him to take at school as the Adderall,” she said.

Two other bills related to medical cannabis cleared the state legislature Wednesday, both with 98-0 votes.

SB 1557, sponsored by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, expands the amount tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive component in cannabis, in a CBD or THC-A dose from five to 10 milligrams. Advocates have said that the increase will serve patients turning to the oil for therapeutic purposes. The bill also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry to recommend how a state medical marijuana program will be managed.

SB 1719, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, allows patients receiving CBD or THC-A oil to designate a registered agent to pick up on their behalf, and that person cannot be charged with possession of an illegal substance. The bill establishes a limit on how many patients an agent can represent.

Music Therapy Remains an Uncertified Medical Practice in Virginia

By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Patients who rely on music therapy to overcome trauma may remain susceptible to receiving unqualified care after a House subcommittee watered down a bill by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel.

Vogel, a Republican from Fauquier County, introduced Senate Bill 1547 in early January. It unanimously passed the Senate last week and was considered Tuesday by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Vogel’s bill aims to create one year of registration through the Board of Medicine for music therapists to ensure the practice is only administered by trained professionals.

Music therapy as medical practice is recognized in nine states through a board of certification. Currently, there are 227 board-certified music therapists in Virginia, but the service can be provided without qualifications.

Becky Watson, owner of Music for Wellness in Norfolk, was in the Navy for 25 years and now treats a variety of patients, including veterans, at her music therapy clinic. Watson said allowing untrained musical therapy practices can have harmful effects on patients.

“Music is made up of many elements ... There are many benefits of using rhythm as a therapeutic intervention,” Watson said. “Music also has the potential to be harmful by causing extreme anger, irritability, physical violence and depression as the music selected can be connected or a reminder of a traumatic effect.”

Del. Robert Orrock Sr., R-Caroline, is a member of the subcommittee who opposed SB 1547 as originally written. He said the Virginia Department of Health Professions needed time to develop a certification process for the industry.

The subcommittee approved a substitute bill that directs the department to “evaluate whether music therapists and the practice of music therapy should be regulated and the degree of regulation to be imposed.” The board would have to report its findings to legislators by Nov. 1.

The subcommittee adopted the substitute bill on a 6-0 vote. It now will go to the full committee and, if approved, to the entire House of Delegates.

“The department is going to come back with a recommendation which may be adverse or it may be requiring more than just a registration, true certification. The intent is not to do harm to the underlying premise that the profession has merit in the service,” Orrock said.

Virginia native Forrest Allen suffered brain injuries from a snowboarding accident when he was 18. Doctors predicted he could remain in an indefinite coma with major physical and cognitive trauma. Within three years, Allen had made large strides in his recovery through music therapy, which was the subject of a story in The Washington Postand the documentary “Music Got Me Here.

Vogel said state oversight is important in ensuring that music therapists are qualified to help people.

“Music therapy has a clinical setting, a school setting, a rehabilitation setting — sometimes life-changing, life-saving impacts,” she said.

New Law Seeks to Treat Pets More Humanely

tethered-puggle

By Mario Sequeira Quesada, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — The saying goes “a dog is man’s best friend” — and that’s exactly what Sen. Lionell Spruill said he wanted when he was a boy. When he couldn’t have a pet, he began to notice how some dogs in his neighborhood were mistreated — left out overnight and in extreme weather.

The Democratic senator from Chesapeake said those memories prompted his bill to regulate the tethering of animals and improve their shelter conditions. SB 1025passed the Senate, 29-11.

On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee heard the bill and referred it to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources for consideration.

Under the bill, companion animals could not be tied up during a heat advisory or if a severe weather warning has been issued, including hurricanes, tropical storms or tornado warnings. Spruill proposed specific temperature regulations — under 32 degrees and over 85 degrees — but they were removed when the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources amended the bill.

Under existing state law, the rope, chain or other tether restraining an animal outside can be as short as 3 feet. Spruill’s bill would change the minimum tethering length to 15 feet or four times the length of the animal — whichever is greater. The measure would prohibit attaching weights or other heavy objects to the tether.

“It is the wrong thing to do to keep an animal and don’t treat it properly,” Spruill said. “If you have an animal, treat it as you would treat a person.”

Calls from people concerned about animals left outside usually spike at Richmond Animal Care and Control during extreme temperatures. Animal control supervisor Robert Leinberger said the bill would be a step toward protecting animals, but he is uncertain how well it would work across the state.

“Localities count, with different needs and possibilities. They should have the right to decide their own tethering rules,” Leinberger said.

The main problem is that each locality would have different resources to deal with these issues, he said.

The bill would authorize local governments to adopt ordinances that parallel or are tougher than state law. It also exempts animals involved in agriculture or huntingfrom the rules on tethering and extreme weather.

Many pet owners support efforts to ensure that animals are treated humanely.

“There should be rules to keep the animals inside and in well-conditioned shelters,” said Jonathan Winebrenner, a Falls Church resident who owns two dogs. He said protection from severe winter elements is key, but people don’t consider how harsh summer can also be.

“I am more worried about when it’s hot,” Winebrenner said. “The pavement can ruin their paws, and the dogs can dehydrate.”

Spruill says people should follow the Golden Rule in treating a pet. “Treat it as how you treat yourself. If you are cold, you come inside. Do the same for the animal.”

He said getting the bill through the Senate was a difficult journey.

“You would be surprised by the amount of challenges I’ve faced to get this bill passed,” he said. “I ask them [delegates] to have compassion and don’t vote the bill down.”

The House of Delegates has indicated that it may support legislation to require a longer tether for animals.

Like Spruill’s bill, HB 1827, proposed by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline, sought to mandate that tethers be 15 feet long or four times the length of the animal. Orrock’s bill won approval from the House but was killed last week in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

Virginia Expresses ‘Profound Regret’ for History of Lynchings

By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Outlining a “dark and shameful chapter of American history,” state legislators have unanimously passed resolutions to “acknowledge with profound regret the existence and acceptance of lynching” in Virginia, where more than 80 people — mostly African-American men — were killed by mobs in the decades after the Civil War.

HJ 655, approved by the House, and SJ 297, passed by the Senate, “call for reconciliation among all Virginians” regarding the racial terror, segregation and other discrimination faced by African-Americans during the Jim Crow years.

According to the identical resolutions, the state will document the lynchings online and with historic markers. The goal is to “develop programming to bring awareness and recognition of this history to communities across the state, that such awareness might contribute to the process of healing and reconciliation in Virginia’s still-wounded communities and for families and descendants affected by lynchings.”

The resolutions note that more than 4,000 lynchings took place throughout the South between 1877 and 1950. At least 80 lynchings — some scholars say more than 100 — occurred in Virginia.

“African American men, women, and children lived in fear that their lives and the lives of loved ones could end violently at any time and in any place,” the resolutions stated. The lynchings were often public events, drawing thousands of spectators, “and many leaders and authorities and much of society denied and enabled the illegal and horrific nature of the acts.”

The General Assembly passed an anti-lynching law in 1928, which made such killings a state crime. But “the extreme racial animus, violence, and terror embodied in the act of lynching did not die with the criminalization of the act, and few, if any, prosecutions occurred under the measure,” the resolutions stated.

Del. Delores McQuinn introduced HJ 655, and a fellow Richmond Democrat — Sen. Jennifer McClellan — filed SJ 297. Both resolutions were co-sponsored by more than 30 other legislators, including Republicans and Democrats.

The resolutions, which passed last week, come during a public debate over racial insensitivity in state politics. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have been under fire for wearing blackface as college students during the 1980s. And Sen. Thomas Norment, the majority leader in the Senate, was an editor of his 1968 college yearbook, which included racist images.

According to the resolutions, the state’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will document each lynching in the commonwealth as completely as possible. The details will include the victim’s name and the location and circumstances of the lynching.

In recent years, historians have put a more intense focus on lynching in the United States.

The nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative documented more than 4,000 lynchings in the South and last year opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial is “dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.”

Gianluca De Fazio, an assistant professor of justice studies at James Madison University, created a website documenting more than 100 lynchings in Virginia.“Racial Terror: Lynching in Virginia, 1877 to 1927” has details on each lynching. While 85 of the victims were black, 24 were white. Almost all were men, but two were female.

De Fazio said lynching was a form of state-sanctioned terrorism.

“Many stereotypes of black people that justified the illegal execution of people suspected of committing certain crimes, or in certain cases of just violating some racial etiquette, are still alive,” De Fazio said. “Mass incarceration, especially of young African American men, is in part the legacy of this tradition of controlling black bodies through coercion.”

Shawn Utsey, who chairs the Department of African-American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, believes that the General Assembly resolutions do not go far enough because they do not explicitly apologize for lynching.

“They need to apologize — otherwise, I doubt their sincerity,” Utsey said.

The resolutions use the word apology in this context: “The most abject apology for past wrongs cannot right them; yet the spirit of true repentance on behalf of a government and, through it, a people can promote reconciliation and healing and avert the repetition of past wrongs and the disregard of manifested injustices.”

The resolutions go on to state: “The legacy of racism that outlived slavery, enabled the rise and acceptance of lynching, facilitated segregation and disenfranchisement, and denied education and civil rights to African Americans has yet to be uprooted in Virginia, the South, and the nation, and this dark and shameful chapter of American history must be understood, acknowledged, and fully documented and the seemingly irreparable breach mended.”

Four Bills Target Nicotine Products and Underage Smoking

By Alexandra Zernik, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Legislature Makes Moves to Keep Tuition Down

By Adrian Teran-Tapia, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia’s General Assembly hopes to address rising college tuition costs by offering public universities incentives to cap tuition rates and ensuring that the public can comment on proposed tuition increases.  

State budget amendments proposed by the House Appropriations Committee include an additional $45 million in funding for universities that decide not to raise tuition.

 Under the proposal, each university that freezes tuition rates for the year would receive a share of the $45 million. Large universities, like Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, would receive $5 million to $6 million in extra funding.

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, proposed HB 2476 last month to cap tuition increases for institutions that have raised their tuition more than the state average over the preceding 10 years. His bill was killed Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

Reid, who has been working on college affordability for the past two years, expressed hope rather than disappointment and said the budget proposal is a step in the right direction.

"There are different ways to approach [college affordability], and the members of the Appropriations Committee took a different approach," Reid said. "It may be that they already had this in the works, but I'm glad that we've at least gotten partially a good solution for the students and families of Virginia."

Reid applauded his colleagues and their efforts toward affordable higher education but said more needs to be done.

"I'm really pleased that we have this one-year solution in place, and it acknowledges that we as a state need to do more to make sure college remains affordable," Reid said. "However, so long as universities can opt out, this agreement does not go far enough. I'll continue to seek solutions that work for Virginia families."

In the Senate, Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, also has introduced legislation to help families with the rising cost of college. SB 1118, the "Tuition Transparency Act," would require universities to inform the public of any proposed increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees and allow for public comment. Petersen’s bill passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday and was referred to the House Committee on Education.

"I'm about transparency. Period," Petersen said. "Here at the General Assembly, and in towns and cities across Virginia, public officials are required to have public meetings prior to increasing your taxes. Tuition shouldn't be any different."

Senate OKs Bill Requiring Daycare Facilities to Test Water for Lead

By Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Over 5,000 child care facilities around the state must start testing their drinking water for lead or use bottled water under a bill approved by the Virginia Senate.

SB 1622, introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, would require licensed child care facilities and other programs that serve preschoolers to implement a plan to test their potable water to ensure lead levels do not exceed 15 parts per billion. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday and has been sent to the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

The high priority sources of lead come from drinking fountains and various sinks and faucets, according to the bill.

Older infrastructure has a higher risk of lead contamination due to lead pipes that were used until the 1980s. The bill also outlines the testing and follow-up process, in addition to establishing a method of reporting information to parents and state authorities.

Facilities would be required to test every six months in accordance with state and federal standards. They could opt out by using an alternate water source that meets U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards, such as bottled water. Child care centers are required to notify parents of children if they decide not to perform testing.

Facilities would have to notify the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services and the Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water if they went that route.

Initial testing results and proof of remediation would be reported to the same departments. According to the bill, once lead is brought under 15 parts per billion, facilities continue to test the water every six months.

More than 5,850 child care facilities statewide could be impacted by the legislation, state officials said. The Virginia Department of Health estimated that each facility has three to 15 water sources to test. The VDH also estimated that 50 percent of facilities would choose not to test and instead use an alternate source, such as bottled water.

Water containing lead can be especially harmful to developing children. High levels of lead in blood or prolonged exposure can affect the nervous system and cause developmental problems and learning disabilities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

State outreach has cranked up in recent years to help raise awareness about lead in drinking water. The EPA created the “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities “to guide school officials to “train, test, and take action” if lead is detected in the water.

Maribeth Brewster, director of the office of communications for VDH, declined to provide comment for this story, citing the ongoing legislative process.

A bill introduced by McPike was signed into law in 2017, requiring Virginia schools — with special emphasis on schools built before 1986 — to test potable water

Advocates Still Pushing for Virginia to Ratify ERA

By Kal Weinstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- You would never know from the gathering of more than 50 ERA advocates this week that resolutions to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment died in a House of Delegates committee last month.

Despite opposition to the ERA from House Republicans, legal and business experts are still making the case that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to guarantee that women are treated fairly.

At the head of a large conference room in the law offices of Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP,  attorneys from the advocacy group VARatifyERA and the solicitor general’s office held a panel discussion titled “The Equal Rights Amendment: Law and Policy.”

“There are a lot of laws currently protecting women, but those are subject to change,” said Deputy Solicitor General Michelle Kallen. “It’s a lot easier to change laws than it is to change the Constitution.”

Confronting objections to the ERA head-on, Kallen cleared up the misconception that the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War to address the citizenship rights of former slaves, provides equal protection from sex-based discrimination.

“There is a difference between the level of protection that we have with discrimination on account of sex versus discrimination on account of other protected groups,” Kallen said. She  argued that the Reconstruction-era amendment places the classes of race and national origin above classes of sex and gender with regard to scrutiny under the law.

Patricia Wallace, an attorney working closely with VARatifyERA, said she wanted to become involved after examining discrepancies between the prison systems for men and women. As a member of the panel, she explained the role of attorneys in replacing the current “male-centric model” with a “rights-based model.”

“Our responsibility as attorneys is to consider this seriously,” Wallace said. “We have this whole 200 years of court cases built on a premise that is male-centric so we need to be able to think creatively as attorneys and help courts.”

Much of the hour-long discussion was permeated with legal language and terminology, but members of the audience showed up prepared to listen and engage with the panel.

Ben Barkin-Wilkins, who drove from Charlottesville with his wife, said he learned a lot from Tuesday’s event.

“As I was growing up, the idea of an ERA seemed redundant,” Barkin-Wilkins said. “Why would you need a special amendment to protect women’s rights when everybody’s rights are protected in the Constitution?”

Barkin-Wilkins said the point the panel made that resonated with him the most was that not everyone interprets the Constitution the same.

“People have idiosyncratic readings of the Constitution,” he said. “So it’s important to make things like this very explicit.”

The ERA says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

With the General Assembly still in session, ERA advocates remain hopeful that the issue will be brought to the House floor for a full vote.

The Senate passed a resolution to ratify the ERA on Jan. 15. This week, that resolution -- along with three similar House proposals -- died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

However, ERA proponents say it may be possible for House Speaker Kirk Cox to have the full House of Delegates vote on the Senate measure. Others say it is unclear whether Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, has the authority to direct such a vote.

Kati Hornung, a campaign coordinator for VARatifyERA, asked ERA supporters to call their legislators.

Hornung noted that Virginia’s image has taken a tumble from a rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2018 and, during the past week, a furor over a racist photo on Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his medical school yearbook.

“We’ve been known nationally and internationally through the Charlottesville events, and now through our governor’s yearbook picture,” Hornung said. “Right now, given the narrative, it’s time for Virginia to step out of the past and move toward the future.”

On Thursday, nine days before the legislative session ends, VARatifyERA will host a rally at the Virginia Capitol in a final plea for the General Assembly to approve the ERA.

    Virginia would be the 38th state to approve the ERA -- the number needed for ratification.

However, the deadline to ratify the amendment has passed, and experts disagree whether the ERA can be ratified at this point.

Virginia Lawmakers Pass Bill Allowing Happy Hour Ads

By Caitlin Morris, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia bar patrons might soon see a slew of new advertisements from their favorite hangouts — ads that include prices for happy hour specials.

Legislation moving through  this year’s General Assembly would allow restaurants and bars to include drink prices in their happy hour advertisements.

Currently, restaurants and bars can advertise in a number of ways that they have a happy hour — such as posters, social media and websites — but they can’t advertise the drink prices outside their buildings. The ads can convey only the time of the special and the type of drink or brand being offered. The current law applies even to a recorded answering machine message.

The House of Delegates this week joined the Senate in passing legislation to loosen the rules. The House voted 94-2 in favor of SB 1726, which was approved unanimously by the Senate in January. The bill now goes to the governor to be signed into law.

The legislation would now permit  happy hour ads to include the prices of drink specials and other creative marketing techniques “provided that such techniques do not tend to induce overconsumption or consumption by minors.”

In 2018, restaurant owner and chef Geoff Tracy sued the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, saying the current law violated the First Amendment. Tracy contended that the restrictions on happy hour advertisements infringed on his right to free speech, making them unconstitutional — and hurting his business in Northern Virginia.

Tracy also owns restaurants in Maryland and Washington, D.C., where he faces no such restrictions.

“Virginia has some antiquated ideas about what people should be allowed to do socially,” said Darin Pilger, the general manager of Bandito’s Burrito Lounge in Richmond.

Bar patrons might be surprised by the number of laws restricting drink specials. For example, two-for-one drink specials are illegal and happy hour is forbidden from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Promotions for discounts are limited to being called “happy hour” or “drink specials”  — there’s no room for “margarita Mondays” under current law. Businesses that don’t comply could face suspended or revoked liquor licenses.

“You put up with all the laws, and you honor them, but you’re always just shaking your head,” Pilger said.



Virginia Moves to Raise Age to Buy Tobacco Products

By Serena Fischer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Legislation making its way through the General Assembly would raise the legal age for purchasing and possessing tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21, drawing mixed reactions from young adults who would be affected by the new law.

The House and Senate have passed similar bills to increase the age to buy or possess products containing tobacco or nicotine. Each chamber is now working on the other’s measure.

In the state that gave birth to the tobacco industry, not everybody is happy about the legislation. William Bechtle, a 20-year-old computer science major at Virginia Commonwealth University, believes it would infringe on people’s rights.

“If an 18-year-old who is legally an adult wants to make the horrible choice to start smoking, they have that right,” said Bechtle, who smokes cigarettes. “If they don’t, then why is the age of adulthood 18 and not 21?”

Other young smokers do not seem to view the bills as a threat — only as an inconvenience.

“I can get older friends, people at that age limit, to get it for me,” said Katie Breighner, a freshman at Centreville High School in Fairfax County. “Regardless of your age, someone can find a way to get it.”

Some lawmakers also oppose the proposals to raise the smoking age — but apparently not enough to derail the legislation.

On Tuesday, the House voted 67-31 in favor of its bill, HB 2748. That measure has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

The Senate passed its bill, SB 1727, on a 32-8 vote on Jan. 29. On Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Committee approved that measure, 9-6, and sent it to the full House for consideration.

If the legislation becomes law, Virginia would join six other states in raising the tobacco purchase age to 21.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City. Thirteen Republicans and all 19 Democrats in the Senate supported the measure; eight Republican senators opposed it.

The House bill was introduced by Del. Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Forty-six Democrats and 21 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 29 Republican delegates and two Democratic delegates voted against it.

Among the opponents was Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania.

“I have no problem with raising the age to purchase tobacco products up to 21, but I think it should be done in a step process, because there are, whether we like it or not, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who are using these products now,” Cole said. “While I applaud the intent of this legislation, I think it has problems.”

The legislation targets all tobacco and nicotine products, not just cigarettes. A primary goal is to combat the recent trend of teen vaping, which the U.S. surgeon general has called an “epidemic.”

The number of teens who have vaped in the past 30 days has almost doubled since 2017, including children as young as eighth grade. While some may argue that vaping is healthier than smoking cigarettes, many are unaware that one Juul pod (a popular method of vaping) contains as much nicotine as 20 cigarettes.

That’s why students like Reem Alul view the legislation before the General Assembly as a sign of progress. Alul, a biology major at VCU, hopes new laws will help curb youth addiction to nicotine.

“As someone who’s been smoking for over a year now, I know how addictive and toxic nicotine is to my quality of life,” Alul said. “Although minors will still have access to these products, it’ll be much harder to get a hold of it on short notice.”

How they voted

Here is how the House voted Tuesday on HB 2748 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

Floor: 02/05/19 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (67-Y 31-N 1-A)

YEAS — Adams, D.M., Aird, Austin, Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bourne, Carr, Carroll Foy, Convirs-Fowler, Davis, Delaney, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Garrett, Gooditis, Guzman, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hodges, Hope, Hugo, Hurst, Ingram, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Landes, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Orrock, Peace, Plum, Pogge, Price, Rasoul, Reid, Robinson, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Stolle, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Watts, Yancey, Mr. Speaker — 67.

NAYS — Adams, L.R., Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Brewer, Bulova, Byron, Campbell, J.L., Campbell, R.R., Carter, Cole, Edmunds, Fariss, Freitas, Gilbert, Head, Kilgore, LaRock, McGuire, McNamara, Morefield, O'Quinn, Pillion, Poindexter, Ransone, Rush, Thomas, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright — 31.

ABSTENTIONS — Collins — 1.

Here is how the Senate voted on Jan. 29 on SB 1727 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

Floor: 01/29/19 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (32-Y 8-N)

YEAS — Barker, Black, Boysko, Chafin, Cosgrove, Dance, Deeds, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Spruill, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel, Wagner — 32.

NAYS — Carrico, Chase, DeSteph, McDougle, Peake, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein — 8.

Here is the House Courts of Justice Committee voted Wednesday on SB 1727 (Tobacco products, nicotine vapor products, etc.; purchase, possession, and sale).

02/06/19 House: Reported from Courts of Justice with substitute (9-Y 6-N)

YEAS — Leftwich, Miyares, Watts, Toscano, Herring, Mullin, Bourne, Simon, Carroll Foy — 9.

NAYS — Bell, Robert B., Gilbert, Adams, L.R., Campbell, J.L., Ransone, Campbell, R.R. — 6.

ABSTENTIONS — Collins — 1.

NOT VOTING — Kilgore, Hope — 2.

Hundreds of Anti-abortion Activists Rally at Virginia Capitol

By Andrew Gionfriddo, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Among a sea of strollers and picket signs on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol, hundreds of people demonstrated Thursday against abortion — and especially against Democratic proposals to ease restrictions on late-term abortions.

Activists filled the landing of the Capitol steps, flooding down the hill towards Bank Street. Signs declaring “Equal rights for pre-born people” and other anti-abortion slogans poked out of the crowd as children played and their parents watched.

The Commonwealth for Life: March on Richmond featured General Assembly members, anti-abortion activists and representatives of Christian organizations. Chris and Diana Shores organized the rally in just a week after legislation sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, came into the national spotlight.

Questioned by a Republican about her bill, Tran said it technically would allow a woman about to give birth to have an abortion. After critics accused her of endorsing infanticide, Tran said she misspoke. However, conservative commentators — including President Donald Trump in Tuesday’s State of the Union address — slammed Tran, Gov. Ralph Northam and other Virginia Democrats for supporting the measure.

Chris Shores said he and his wife have been in the political arena for years. When news of Tran’s bill broke, they received a slew of calls asking them what they were going to do about it.

“We threw up a Facebook post last week, and within 24 to 48 hours, we had hundreds of people interested in the post,” Shores said. “It was truly organic.”

The rally was the first time the couple has put on an event of this scale. Speakers included Republican Sens. Dick Black of Loudoun County and Bill Stanley of Franklin County; Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper; and E.W. Jackson, a Protestant minister and lawyer who was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2013.

While the event featured Republican figures and Christian leaders, Chris Shores said the aim of the March on Richmond was outside party and religious lines.

“I didn’t want this to become a Republican pep rally. That wasn’t the point of the event,” he said.

A central theme to the event was denouncing Tran’s proposal, HB 2491. The bill was tabled by a subcommittee and is dead for this legislative session.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, came under fire from anti-abortion groups after defending the bill on a radio show on Jan. 30. Northam said third-trimester abortions are done “in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s non-viable.”

In such instances, the governor said, “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

Jackson excoriated Northam for that comment.

“Anybody who is prepared to allow a child to die after that child has been born alive does not deserve to be called a pediatrician,” Jackson said. “He doesn’t deserve to be called a governor either.”

Other speeches at the rally criticized efforts in Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Black, who has opposed abortion in the General Assembly for the past 20 years, said the ERA would be a blow to the anti-abortion movement.

“The ERA is a method that the abortionists want to use,” he said. “If that gets into the Constitution, we will not have any chance to roll back abortion.”

After Trump mentioned the controversy over abortion in Virginia in his nationally televised speech this week, Chris Shores hopes the conversation doesn’t stop.

“We’re going to continue to mobilize and organize and call on pro-life Virginia to stand up,” he said.

General Assembly Bans Holding Cellphones While Driving

By Andrew Gionfriddo, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates on Tuesday each passed bills prohibiting motorists from touching their cellphones while driving.

The Senate approved SB 1341 on a vote of 34-6, and the House passed HB 1811, 69-27. The bills would explicitly ban using a hand-held communication device, unless it is in hands-free mode, while operating a vehicle.

State law currently prohibits only reading email or text messages or manually entering letters or text in a hand-held personal communications device while driving. The legislation would extend that ban to using the device for making phone calls, checking social media and other purposes.

“It is unlawful for any person, while driving a moving motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth, to hold a handheld personal communications device,” the bills state.

Drivers would still be able to operate their phones if they are lawfully parked or stopped or are reporting an emergency.

The legislation passed five days after Bartley King, who was severely injured in a distracted driving accident in 2007 when he was a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke to senators in favor of the proposals.

In a Facebook post, King recalled his car hitting a tree at 55 mph while he was texting. The crash put him in the VCU Medical Center and left him in a coma for 28 days. He then spent 16 months in a wheelchair relearning to walk.

“I can’t give up and allow others to be hurt as badly as I was,” King wrote. “I made my beloved mother cry and I owe it to her to protect all the other mothers from having to cry for their babies the way that mine did.”

The chief sponsors of the House bill were Republican Dels. Christopher Collins of Frederick County and Michael Webert of Fauquier County and Democratic Del. Michael Mullin of Newport News.

Speaking as a former police officer, Collins said the existing law needed improvements.

“Our current texting while driving statute has just not been enforced,” he said. “The enforcement numbers went way down during the last several years.”

The penalty for a first offense is a $125 fine that rises to $250 for a second or subsequent violation.

“This is going to be straight up — if you have your phone in your hand, you are in violation of a law,” Collins said.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Republican Sens. Richard Stuart of King George County and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax.

Under the legislation, the ban on using hand-held devices would not apply to citizens band radios. The bills also would exempt hand-held communication devices that are physically connected to the vehicle and used for navigation or audio transmissions.

Although the House and Senate bills are identical, the legislation still hasn’t cleared the final hurdles. Now, the House must pass the Senate bill, or the Senate must pass the House bill, and then the governor must sign the legislation.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted on SB 1341 (Handheld personal communications devices; use while driving).

Floor: 02/05/19 Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (34-Y 6-N)

YEAS — Barker, Boysko, Carrico, Chase, Cosgrove, Dance, Deeds, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McDougle, McPike, Norment, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Saslaw, Spruill, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Surovell, Vogel, Wagner — 34.

NAYS — Black, Chafin, Newman, Obenshain, Ruff, Suetterlein — 6.

Here is how the House voted on HB 1811 (Handheld personal communications devices; use while driving).

Floor: 02/05/19 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (69-Y 27-N)

YEAS — Adams, D.M., Adams, L.R., Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bell, Robert B., Bourne, Brewer, Bulova, Byron, Carr, Carter, Cole, Collins, Convirs-Fowler, Delaney, Filler-Corn, Fowler, Gooditis, Guzman, Head, Heretick, Herring, Hope, Hugo, Hurst, Ingram, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Landes, Leftwich, Levine, Lopez, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Orrock, Peace, Plum, Poindexter, Price, Ransone, Rasoul, Reid, Robinson, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Thomas, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Ware, Watts, Webert, Wilt, Yancey — 69.

NAYS — Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bloxom, Campbell, J.L., Campbell, R.R., Davis, Edmunds, Fariss, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Hayes, Helsel, Hodges, Kilgore, LaRock, Lindsey, McGuire, McNamara, Morefield, O'Quinn, Pillion, Pogge, Rush, Stolle, Wright, Speaker Cox — 27.

Bills Push to Hide Lottery Winners’ Identities

By Alexandra Zernik and Benjamin West, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Bill Requires Ethics Training for Local Officials

By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Local governments that rely on commonwealth's attorneys for legal advice can breathe a sigh of relief: State legislators have discarded a provision that would have prevented commonwealth's attorneys from serving as county, city or town government attorneys.

The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved two bills that require training for local elected officials. Both bills originally included clauses that would restrict the commonwealth’s attorney position, but the clauses were removed before the Senate passed the legislation.

SB 1430 and SB 1431, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, would require conflict of interest training and freedom of information training every two years, respectively.

Virginia enforces a law called the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act, which prohibits conflicts and requires economic interests be disclosed for public officers and employees. Conflicts of interest can result when a person:

  • Accepts money, gifts, or services outside of their compensation that influences their official duties

  • Has a relative or spouse with a financial interest in a situation

  • Uses confidential information for economic benefits

Under SB 1430, conflicts and ethics training would be required for all government officials, at least once every two years.

SB 1431 would implement a similar training for government officials regarding the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which mandates Virginia citizens and members of the press have access to all public records of employees, officials and organizations.

As Redistricting Plans Advance, Advocates Slam House GOP Bill

By Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As the General Assembly’s session enters its second half, both the House and Senate have passed competing plans on how to redraw legislative districts. But groups that have been fighting gerrymandering prefer the Senate’s proposal, saying it would do more to take politics out of the process.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned that without the proper provisions, the General Assembly may be doomed to repeat mistakes made in 2011 when legislators gerrymandered several Virginia districts for their own benefit by diluting the voting power of African-Americans. Those districts were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and had to be redrawn.

Some legislators say there’s an easy fix to make sure it doesn’t happen again: Create an independent commission to redraw the lines, and take the process out of the hands of politicians.

At the start of the legislative session, lawmakers offered nine different proposals to establish independent redistricting commissions. They have now been narrowed down to two.  

Senate Joint Resolution 306, sponsored by Democratic Sen. George Barker of Alexandria, sailed through the Senate last week with unanimous support. House Joint Resolution 615, sponsored by Republican Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County, was narrowly approved by the House on Monday on a party-line vote, 51-48.

Both resolutions would amend the Virginia Constitution to create bipartisan commissions tasked with redrawing district lines in 2021, but the plans have some key differences:

  • SJ 306 would create a 16-member commission made up of eight General Assembly members and eight citizen members. Of the eight legislative members, four would come from the Senate, and four would come from the House, with equal representation given to each political party. Any plan drawn up by the commission would have to be agreed upon by at least six of the eight legislators and six of the eight citizen members. The plan would then be sent to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. The General Assembly would not be able to make any amendments to the plan.

  • HJ 615 would create a 12-member commission consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans, none of whom could be members of the General Assembly or U.S. Congress. The members would be selected by the speaker of the House, the Senate Rules Committee and the governor, and any plan drawn up by the commission would have to be agreed upon by at least eight of the 12 members. The plan would then be introduced in the General Assembly as a bill, and legislators would vote on the plan. The governor would be removed from the process and would not have the power to approve or veto the bill.

Barker’s amendment has garnered support from fair redistricting advocates, but they have concerns about Cole’s commission.

Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan redistricting group based in New Jersey, issued a statement Sunday saying that Cole’s constitutional amendment could “backfire” and increase the possibility of partisan gerrymandering in the commonwealth -- the opposite of its intended effect.

“It’s sold as nonpartisan reform. But we find that it’s more likely to entrench whatever party is already in control,” director Sam Wang wrote.

Voting rights advocacy groups Progress Virginia and New Virginia Majority issued a joint statement slamming Cole’s amendment after it was sent to the House floor last week: “The GOP’s proposal simply replaces one bad system with another,” said Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl.

The editorial board of Lynchburg newspaper The News & Advance has come out in support of Barker’s amendment. In an op-ed published Thursday, the board wrote that, while both plans signal the General Assembly’s willingness to change the current system, SJ 306 was “far preferable” to HJ 615.

Advocacy group One Virginia 2021, which has pushed for a nonpartisan approach to redistricting in Virginia, has also expressed support for SJ 306, as has former Virginia Gov. George Allen, a Republican. Allen and One Virginia 2021 have teamed up for a five-city town hall tour to highlight the need for bipartisan redistricting reform.

Advocates are watching anxiously as the two amendments head off to the House and Senate. If either is approved by the General Assembly, it will face a long road to be added to the Virginia Constitution. Constitutional amendments must pass in two legislative sessions and then be approved by voters in a statewide election.

Lawmakers will have to act quickly to ensure that an independent commission is in place by 2021 when the U.S. Census Bureau releases new population and demographic data. If not, the same process used in 2011 will be used again in 2021.

House OKs Letting Parents Review School Materials

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Thirteen Democratic delegates split from bipartisan support of a House bill that allows parents to review anti-bullying or suicide prevention materials at their children’s school that may include graphic sexual or violent content.

HB 2107, carried by Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland, “requires local school boards to develop and implement policies that ensure parents the right to review any audio-visual materials that contain graphic sexual or violent content used in any anti-bullying or suicide prevention program,” according to the bill summary.

Parents could excuse their children from viewing the materials. The school would be required to provide written notice of a parent’s right to review the material and their right to excuse their child from participating in that part of the program, the bill says.

The bill heads to the Senate after passing the House, 86-13, on Tuesday.

Willie Deutsch, a member of the Prince William County School Board, supported the bill, saying, “Parental involvement is essential to a child’s academic success.”

“We need more parents involved in their children’s education,” Deutsch stated in a press release.

Deutsch used the opportunity to blast Del. Lee Carter of Manassas, who voted against the bill along with a dozen fellow Democratic delegates. “Sadly, Del. Carter made it clear that he opposes the important role of parents in their children’s education,” Deutsch said.

Carter declined to respond to Deutsch’s statement.

In 2016, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar bill that passed the House and Senate. That legislation required schools to notify parents of any sexually explicit teaching material used in the classroom. If parents chose not to allow their children to view the material, teachers would have to provide alternative assignments.

The House fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to override McAuliffe’s veto.

Bill Would Allow ‘Medical Aid in Dying’ for Terminally Ill

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, has firsthand experience witnessing a loved one battling a terminal illness: her father.

Kory said she wants to give patients and their families options to deal with the harsh realities of a terminal sickness. She said that is why she has introduced a bill that she calls the “Death with Dignity Act.”

Under the measure, an adult “who has been determined by the attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal condition and has voluntarily expressed his wish to die may request medication for the purpose of ending his life in a humane and dignified manner.”

“The ability for an individual to decide when suffering becomes unbearable should be a basic human right,” Kory said. “We should respect the wishes of terminally ill adults who have weeks or days to live.”

Kory filed HB 2713 on Jan. 15. The bill has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee. However, that panel has not assigned the bill to a subcommittee or scheduled a hearing on it. If the proposal does not win approval from the House of Delegates by Tuesday, it will be dead for the legislative session.

Under Kory’s bill, a terminally ill patient’s request for life-ending medication must be given orally on two occasions and in writing, signed by the patient and two witnesses. The patient also must have an opportunity to rescind the request.

Such laws are called “medical aid in dying” statutes. Currently, MAID is legal in seven states and Washington, D.C.

At Kory’s request, the Joint Commission on Health Care, a study group created by the Virginia General Assembly, looked at how MAID is working in those states. According to the commission’s research, MAID has had a small impact on the total number of deaths.

For example, Oregon had 37.2 MAID deaths per 10,000 total deaths in 2016. That is about one-third of 1 percent of all deaths.

Oregon and the neighboring state of Washington each have had fewer than 200 MAID deaths per year.

For Virginia, “it is likely that the number of people requesting MAID would be quite small for the first few years, gradually increasing to approximately 242 individuals dying from MAID medications,” the health care commission’s study said.

Jud Richland, Kory’s legal assistant, said the legislator is a “strong believer that people have a right to decide themselves how to address their own pain and suffering in their final days.”

MAID laws have stirred controversy. Opponents equate them with assisted suicide and say the laws can be abused, resulting in the deaths of people who are not terminally ill.

The Virginia Catholic Conference, which represents the Diocese of Richmond and the Diocese of Arlington on public-policy matters, strongly opposes assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Jeff Caruso, the conference’s executive director, said he believes that if the General Assembly approves a MAID law, Virginians will be more inclined to think of suicide.

On Nov. 7, after receiving nearly 3,000 public comments, the Joint Commission on Health Care voted 10-6 to take no action concerning physician-assisted suicide, according to Caruso. Comments against assisted suicide outnumbered those in favor 8 to 1, he said.

“Government should prevent — not promote — suicide,” Caruso said. “The purpose of the medical profession is to heal lives, not end them.”

Legislators and Victims Plead for Expansions on Distracted Driving Bill

Katja Timm, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Teary-eyed parents and supporters of legislation to curb distracted driving filled a small room at the Capitol, some wearing neon yellow traffic vests in solidarity as they offered emotional testimony.

Others held framed pictures of loved ones who died in distracted driving crashes. The press conference was to advocate for HB 1811, introduced by Del. Christopher Collins, R-Frederick. Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, is sponsoring a companion bill, SB 1341, in the Senate.

On Wednesday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved Stuart’s bill on a 13-2 vote with bipartisan support. A co-sponsor of that measure, Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, also attended Thursday’s press conference.

Jennifer Smith, whose mother died in a traffic accident caused by a distracted driver, was among the speakers. Smith tearfully read a letter aloud from another mother whose young son was killed when a driver ran over his stroller.

“Every day, I watch drivers too busy on their smartphones to pay attention to their surroundings,” Smith read from Mindy Schulz’s letter. “Each time I see them, I feel the impact of that SUV ripping my son’s stroller out of my hand as I was helpless to stop one from killing my baby.”

Other stories shared were from a father who suffered brain trauma in a crash and a mother who lost her 19-year-old son.

Collins’ bill would expand current state laws regulating the use of a handheld device while driving. The current law prohibits only the reading of any email or text message and manually entering letters or text in the device as a means of communication, according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

The legislation promotes a “hands-free” approach and would make it illegal for a driver to use any handheld device while operating a vehicle unless the device is specifically designed to allow hands-free and voice operation, such as using the speaker option on a cellphone. The measure would also require driver’s license examinations to include questions on distracted driving.

“As a former police officer, what’s so hard about enforcing the laws we have now is that I don’t know if you’re texting or Facebook-ing,” Collins said. “I can’t write you for Facebook-ing, but I can write you for texting.”

Advocates encouraged members of the House and Senate to pass the legislation in order to “defend and protect” Virginians.

A subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee last week recommended approval of Collins’ bill. The full committee has scheduled the measure for consideration Friday.

Stuart’s bill may go to the Senate floor on Monday.

If neither bill wins approval in the Senate or House by Tuesday, the issue likely will be dead for the legislative session.

Republicans, Democrats Clash Over ‘Disturbing’ Abortion Bill

By Kathleen Shaw and Daniel Berti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia Republicans voiced outrage Thursday to a failed proposal by Democrats that would have expanded abortion rights -- even moments before birth -- as one GOP legislator shed tears and another called the proposal “extremely disturbing.”

“I didn't quite arrive on time, but I lived. Had this legislation been in place, who knows how things could have turned out,” said Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk.

Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, sponsored HB 2491, which would have eliminated certain requirements before undergoing an abortion, such as approval from three physicians and an ultrasound. At Monday’s subcommittee hearing on the bill, a Republican lawmaker asked Tran whether the bill would allow for an abortion to occur when a woman is in labor and about to give birth; Tran said yes. The subcommittee voted 5-3 to table the measure.

On Thursday, Tran corrected herself. “I should have said: ‘Clearly, no because infanticide is not allowed in Virginia, and what would have happened in that moment would be a live birth.’”

Republicans seized on Tran’s initial comments -- and Gov. Ralph Northam’s support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion -- as evidence that the Democrats would allow infanticide.

In an unorthodox move on Monday, House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, stepped down from the House chamber dais to speak in opposition to Tran’s legislation. Cox, who has advocated anti-abortion legislation since 1990, said 61,012,997 abortions have been performed since 1973.

“It was extremely disturbing that essentially you have legislation that does not protect the unborn at all, that you can have an abortion up to the point of birth. And I guess what truly disturbed me was that the other side almost seems to be celebrating that position,” Cox said.

Originally, 23 Democrats co-sponsored Tran’s bill, but some, including Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond, said they would pull their support. The controversy has made national headlines and drawn widespread condemnation from Republicans. President Donald Trump criticized Northam for speaking in favor of Tran’s bill.

Northam and Democratic legislators held a press conference of their own Thursday to respond to the Republicans and to reiterate support for abortion rights.
“We believe legislators, most of whom are men, should not be making decisions about women’s choices for their reproductive health,” Northam said. “We can agree to disagree on this topic, but we can be civil about it.”

Northam said some Republicans were attempting to use the issue to score political points.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who also spoke at the press conference, called Republican efforts to discredit Democrats “desperate” and “ugly.”

“Their political games have exposed a member of the House of Delegates to violent personal threats,” Herring said. “And now, Kirk Cox has taken his caucus completely off the deep end accusing Gov. Northam of supporting infanticide.”

The House minority leader, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, said Virginia women wouldn’t be intimidated by House Republicans’ scare tactics.

“House Republicans have used their majority to try to shame women -- to try to bully and dictate to women what we can and cannot do with our bodies,” Filler-Corn said. “Virginia women are watching, and Virginia women are paying attention.”

Abortion rights groups such as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and Progress Virginia continue to support Tran. Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said that Tran was a champion for women and that Republican legislators are taking her remarks out of context.

“We trust women to make decisions about their health care needs. Shame on politicians like Todd Gilbert and Kirk Cox for trying to distract us from the real issue here: getting politics out of the doctor’s office,” Scholl said.

Del. Gilbert, a Republican from Shenandoah County, is the House majority leader. At the Republicans’ press conference, he equated abortion to murder. Gilbert said Democrats would allow late-term abortions out of concern not just for a woman’s physical health but also for her mental health.

“It has nothing to do with saving a woman's life. A mental health concern could include anything that you can name that has an identifiable mental health issue -- depression, anxiety, feelings that one gets when one is about to have to care for a child,” Gilbert said.

Brewer co-chairs the Foster Care Caucus and is an outspoken advocate for improving Virginia’s adoption and foster care systems. She received a tissue and support from Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, while tearing up at the news conference. Brewer said her birth-mother could have chosen to abort her but instead saved her life and fulfilled the life of her adoptive parents.

“61,012,997. How many of those were delegates that never had a chance to serve? How many of those were precious children who would’ve made an adoptive parent like mine -- a first-time mom or dad?” Brewer said.

Legislators Shift Gears to Test Drive ‘Green’ Vehicles

By Kathleen Shaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Midway through this bustling General Assembly session, legislators shifted gears from cruising through bills to testing out electric vehicles on Conservation Lobby Day.

Drive Electric RVA and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter hosted the second annual Electric Vehicle Ride & Drive event at the Capitol, where the fleet featured EVs like the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt and Tesla Model X.

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, took a joyride Wednesday in a Tesla Model 3. Last session, he proposed a bill offering tax credits to EV drivers. Reid said such legislation would benefit both the environment and the economy.

“I believe there’s opportunity for Virginia to demonstrate that we are electric vehicle friendly, and that can be done through a tax credit and installing the infrastructure. I’d like us to be a destination for manufacturers,” Reid said. “Really one of the main objectives is to create new electric vehicles jobs here in Virginia.”

Currently, only private entities can charge for the electricity to power EVs. Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, introduced House Bill 1934 to encourage electricity sales by any state agency, which he said would help normalize EV driving.

“The industry is ready to grow significantly, and we need to make sure they are able to do that, so we can let market forces get out there and spawn the innovation,” Bulova said.

Robin Mackay, an Arlington resident, has owned Tesla EVs since June 2015. The latest eco-friendly ride is equipped with radar and visual sensors for the Tesla’s Autopilot feature. Mackay said he enjoyed the transition from his 14-year-old Nissan pickup truck to the Tesla Model S.

“It was like going from Sputnik to the space shuttle; I get in my car and I love to drive,” Mackay said.

Those who oppose the EV industry say the vehicles are no more environmentally conscious than fuel-dependent vehicles because the electricity to power them may be generated from burning coal.

Mackay said nuclear power stations and coal plants run constantly regardless of any changes in demand, so increases in overnight charging for EVs — while average consumption is lower — could actually be environmentally efficient. With a deal from Dominion, EV drivers receive discounted electricity during off-peak hours, which Mackay said allows him to fuel his car on 90 cents per day.

“To encourage people to absorb demand in the middle of the night when there’s not much load from, like, residential or industrial customers, they put electricity on sale. They sell me electricity at half price,” Mackay said.

Advocates want an increase in EV sales because large-scale production would lower the cost per unit. Standard market price for a Tesla Model 3 is $44,000, but manufacturers hope to reduce the price to $35,000 and make it a more feasible option for all income brackets.

HB 1934 awaits the House floor after receiving approval from the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday on an 18-4 vote.

“I’m very happy that we have a strong coalition of environmental groups but also industry groups that are coming together and making sure that we remove barriers to electric vehicles,” Bulova said.

Bill Allowing Removal of Confederate Monuments Dies In House

By Rosemarie O’Connor, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Tension filled the room Wednesday as a House subcommittee voted to kill a bill that would have let localities decide whether to remove or modify Confederate monuments in their jurisdictions.

Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, introduced House Bill 2377, which sought to change the current law that makes it illegal to disturb or interfere with war monuments. His bill would have given cities and counties authority to remove Confederate or Union monuments. This is the second year Toscano has sponsored such legislation.

“We give localities the ability to control the cutting of weeds. But we haven’t yet given them the control over monuments that might have detrimental effects on the atmosphere and the feeling of the community,” Toscano said. “If you weren’t in Charlottesville in August of 2017, it would be hard to understand all of this.”

He said people across Virginia want the ability to decide what to do with the monuments in their towns.

Toscano said the monuments were erected during the “lost cause” movement, which viewed the Confederacy as heroic and the Civil War as a conflict not over slavery but over “states’ rights.”

He addressed a subcommittee of the House Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. The subcommittee’s chair, Del. Charles D. Poindexter, R-Franklin, gave those on each side of the debate five minutes to state their case. With a packed audience filling the small committee room, each person had little more than one minute to speak.

Supporters of Toscano’s legislation held up blue signs with messages such as “Lose The Lost Cause” and “Local Authority for War Memorials” printed in black ink.

Lisa Draine had tears in her eyes as she spoke of her daughter, Sophie, who was severely injured when a white supremacist, James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car into a crowd of people demonstrating against racism in Charlottesville.

Fields, who was sentenced to life in prison last month for killing Heather Heyer, was part of the “Unite the Right” rally protesting the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a local park.

“I couldn’t imagine that a statue had brought this to our town,” Draine said. “My daughter could have been your daughter.”

A member of the Charlottesville City Council, Kathy Galvin, spoke in favor of the bill, citing the need for local legislators to have authority over the monuments.

Matthew Christensen, an activist from Charlottesville, said it was an issue of “basic human decency” and the right of local governments. “They own the land, they own the statue, they should be able to decide what to do with it,” he said.

Ed Willis, an opponent of Toscano’s bill, said it violates provisions in the Virginia Constitution prohibiting discrimination. “It’s painfully clear discrimination based on Confederate national origin is the basis of this bill,” he said.

Like other opponents, Willis said his ancestors served in the Civil War. Some spoke of their families’ long heritage in Virginia and opposed what they felt was the attempt to sanitize or alter their history.

Frank Earnest said he blamed the “improper actions” of the Charlottesville city government for the mayhem that took place in August 2017.

“Just like the other socialist takeovers,” Earnest said, “it’ll be Confederate statues today, but don’t think they won’t be back next year to expand it to another war, another time in history.”

The subcommittee voted 2-6 against the bill. Dels. John Bell and David Reid, both Democrats from Loudoun County, voted to approve the bill. Opposing that motion were Democratic Del. Steve Heretick of Portsmouth and five Republicans: Dels. Poindexter, Terry Austin of Botetourt County, Jeffrey Campbell of Smyth County, John McGuire of Henrico County, and Robert Thomas of Stafford County.

Supporters of the bill met with Toscano in his office after the meeting. He said he knew the bill’s defeat was a “foregone conclusion.” HB 2377 was heard last in the meeting, giving little time for debate or discussion.

People who want to remove the monuments asked Toscano, “How do we make this happen?”

Toscano picked up a glass candy dish from his desk and placed a chocolate coin wrapped in blue foil in each person’s hand. This represented his desire for a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold 51 of the 100 seats.

Toscano said he fought for years to get from 34 Democratic delegates to the 49 now serving. He urged the group to vote for those who share their concerns this November.

“It’s all about the General Assembly,” he said.

Legislative Proposals Address Costs of College

By Adrian Teran-Tapia, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Since 2007, tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities has increased an average of 80 percent, with schools like Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William & Mary more than doubling their tuition.

The rising cost of a college education prompted Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, to file a bill to cap increases in tuition and mandatory fees at state institutions. Reid, the first college graduate in his family, which has lived in Virginia since the 1700s, said he is worried about young people and their future.

“I want to make sure that college remains affordable for other students and they have the same opportunities,” Reid said. “I know that having a college degree was instrumental in breaking the cycle of poverty that my family had lived in for generations.”

Reid’s bill, HB 2476, would prohibit tuition increases by schools that have raised their tuition more than the state average over the preceding 10 years. At other schools, tuition could not increase more than the inflation rate. The House Education Committee approved Reid’s measure and sent it to the House Appropriations Committee for a look at the financial impact.

That proposal is among about 20 bills filed this legislative session to hold down the cost of college for students in general or for specific groups of students or to ensure that Virginians have more notice about proposed tuition increases.

Republican Sens. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Glen Sturtevant of Richmond both filed measures like Reid’s to limit tuition increases. And Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, proposed that public colleges and universities be required to set a four-year fixed tuition rate for incoming freshmen.

Those Senate bills all have been shelved, but still alive are proposals to require schools to give more notice and take public comment about tuition increases. That is the focus of legislation introduced by Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta.

Miyares’ bill, which the House unanimously approved on Tuesday, would require the governing board of each public institution of higher education to establish policies for the public to comment during a board meeting on any proposed increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees.

Under Landes’ measure, which won a unanimous endorsement Wednesday from the House Education Committee, governing boards would have to explain the reasons for a proposed tuition increase and take comments at a public hearing at least 30 days before voting on whether to raise tuition.

Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, also has a bill stating that “the governing board of each public institution of higher education shall permit public comment on the proposed increase at a meeting.” His legislation has been approved by the Senate Education and Health Committee and is before the Senate Finance Committee.

Also moving forward are bills to offer reduced tuition to students from the Appalachian region who are enrolled in the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, is sponsoring this legislation in the House, and Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, has a companion bill in the Senate.

Kilgore’s measure, HB 1666, passed the House unanimously and has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee. Carrico’s bill is awaiting action by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Miyares also proposed a bill to give tuition grants to students coming from the foster care system. A subcommittee unanimously endorsed the bill, and it is pending before the House Appropriations Committee.

A bill by Del. Paul Krizek, D- Fairfax, would offer in-state tuition for foreign service officers and their dependents. It has passed the House unanimously and been sent to the Senate.

In addition, several bills were filed to offer in-state tuition to college students who are in the process of applying for permanent residency in the United States. The House bills on this issue -- by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, and by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington -- were killed in a subcommittee. But a Senate bill by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, is still alive. It’s awaiting a decision by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Virginia Sports Betting Bills Advance

By Andrew Gionfriddo and Ben Burstein, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The odds of Virginia legalizing professional sports betting are improving as bills to authorize sports gambling are advancing in the Virginia General Assembly.

However, legalizing online sports betting may need a little push from companies that wish to bring their business to the commonwealth.

Senate Bill 1238, which would establish the Virginia Sports Betting Department and authorize sports betting, cleared the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Tuesday and is now heading to the Senate Finance Committee.

Also making its way to the Finance Committee is Senate Bill 1356, which would change the name of the Virginia Lottery Board to the Virginia Lottery and Sports Wagering Commission. The department would be allowed to accept sports betting wagers.

SB 1238 would prohibit betting on youth and collegiate sports, while SB 1356 would allow betting on youth and collegiate sports outside of Virginia.

The Virginia Sports Betting Department established in SB 1238 would allow for betting entities to apply for a three-year license if a locality votes to approve gambling facilities.

The Virginia Lottery and Sports Wagering Commission of SB 1356 would operate its own facility. While SB 1356 would create an online platform operated by the Lottery, neither bill would legalize private online sports betting.

Still, the push for online sports betting remains alive and well.

Last week, sports betting websites FanDuel and DraftKings lobbied the General Assembly to legalize mobile gambling in addition to sports betting, saying the move would generate millions in tax revenue and help curb illegal gambling in Virginia. Mobile gambling is done on a cellphone, tablet or a remote device with a wireless internet connection.

Sarah Koch, director of government affairs for DraftKings, and Cory Fox, counsel for policy and government affairs for FanDuel, detailed the benefits of sports betting to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Jan. 18.  

Both companies currently operate mobile and web-based fantasy sports, allowing the sites to operate legally as a game of skill, not chance. That’s an important distinction in Virginia, where there’s more flexibility built into the Code of Virginia for games of skills than games of chance. Since there are a number of facets for players to consider, such as statistics or injuries, the operators contend that fantasy sports gambling is more about finesse than luck.

If online and mobile gambling were legalized, DraftKings and FanDuel would be able to open up their sportsbook facets of their websites and apps in Virginia. Both FanDuel and DraftKings sportsbooks act as traditional Vegas style gambling entities and operate in all states where sports betting is legal.

According to Koch, legalizing mobile gambling would help curb illegal sports gambling in the commonwealth.

“Mobile betting allows for advanced age and identity verification, tracking of bet activity, and the ability to restrict or exclude bettors to a greater degree,” Koch said.

Supporters also said the state could get a financial boost if such laws are passed. Fox said Virginia could match New Jersey’s success. He said over $94 million in revenue was generated in the first six months since electronic and in-person sports betting was legalized in New Jersey.

SB 1238 states that 50 percent of the revenue would go to the locality in which it was generated, whereas in SB 1356, 95 percent of the revenue generated from sports gambling would go into the state’s general fund.

Fox said fair tax rates could also assist in the decrease of illegal betting.

“Reasonable tax rates also help attract illegal betters to legal platforms because it allows the operators access to a viable marketplace, while also providing bettors more favorable payouts, further dis-incentivizing betting on illegal platforms,” he said.

Those who oppose sports betting, such as the Family Foundation, have voiced concerns about gambling addiction and collegiate sports betting. Both SB 1238 and SB 1356 aim to mitigate fears of facilitating gambling addiction by funding programs to help compulsive gamblers.

A study was recommended to be completed prior to the passing of any gambling bills. Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne spoke about the study last week, stating it would be about the public policy and regulatory structure of such bills.

“We have significant questions to answer regarding financial impacts,” he said. The study would look into the revenue sharing between state and local governments and what social impacts legalizing such gambling could bring.

Panel OKs Rules for Using ‘Dangerous’ Room Dividers at Schools

By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — On an afternoon last spring, Wesley Lipicky, a third-grader at Franconia Elementary School in Fairfax County, was helping his teacher in the gymnasium when he became caught between a motorized room partition and a gym wall. The 9-year-old boy suffered traumatic head injuries and died that night.

On Monday, a legislative subcommittee unanimously approved a bill calling for additional safety measures on using mechanized room dividers in public schools in hopes of preventing similar accidents in the future.

“Children’s lives are precious, and we as a society must do everything in our power to protect them,” said Kathy Cole, who runs a business that specializes in gymnasium equipment for schools. “These tragic situations can and must be prevented.”

House Bill 1753 would require schools across the commonwealth to take precautions when using motorized room partitions. These mechanisms, also called electronic partitions or doors, are used in schools to divide rooms into smaller spaces. They are heavier and larger than garage doors and most commonly used in school gymnasiums.

Sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, HB 1753 would give public schools that use motorized room partitions one of two options:

  • Install safety sensors that automatically stop the partition if a body passes between the partition and the edge of the wall

  • Or operate the partition only when there are no students in the building

Wesley’s death prompted Sickles to sponsor the legislation.

“These dangerous dividers that are in a lot of our schools,” Sickles said, “need to have technology applied to them that will prevent this kind of thing from occurring.”

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the full committee and then to the House of Delegates for consideration.  

Putting safety sensors on a motorized room partition could cost $3,000 to $6,000, Sickles estimated. He said such sensors would be a useful investment for partitions that must be used multiple times a day, such as in the gymnasium.

Mindful of the costs, the subcommittee suggested that schools have the option of using the partitions only when students aren’t around.

The legislation also would require annual training for school employees on operating the room dividers.

Wesley’s death on May 18 is not the sole case of a student or teacher killed by an electronic partition.

“Unfortunately, this kind of thing has happened before,” Sickles said, citing deaths in 1973, 1991 and 2001, as well as several injuries caused by partitions.

New York is the only state that requires safety devices on motorized room partitions and training for school staff to operate the doors. That state passed its law after two deaths caused by electronic partitions.

“History has taught us that these accidents happen more frequently than most people realize,” Cole said. “No parent should have to lose his or her beautiful son or daughter due to this safety error ever again.”

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - General Assembly

Emporia News

Stories on Emporianews.com are be searchable, using the box above. All new stories will be tagged with the date (format YYYY-M-D or 2013-1-1) and the names of persons, places, institutions, etc. mentioned in the article. This database feature will make it easier for those people wishing to find and re-read an article.  For anyone wishing to view previous day's pages, you may click on the "Previous Day's Pages" link in the menu at the top of the page, or search by date (YYYY-M-D format) using the box above.

Comment Policy:  When an article or poll is open for comments feel free to leave one.  Please remember to be respectful when you comment (no foul or hateful language, no racial slurs, etc) and keep our comments safe for work and children. Comments are moderated and comments that contain explicit or hateful words will be deleted.  IP addresses are tracked for comments. 

EmporiaNews.com serves Emporia and Greensville County, Virginia and the surrounding area
and is provided as a community service by the Advertisers and Sponsors.
All material on EmporiaNews.com is copyright 2005-2019
EmporiaNews.com is powered by Drupal and based on the ThemeBrain Sirate Theme.

Submit Your Story!

Emporia News welcomes your submissions!  You may submit articles, announcements, school or sports information using the submission forms found here, or via e-mail on news@emporianews.com.  Currently, photos and advertisements will still be accepted only via e-mail, but if you have photos to go along with your submission, you will receive instructions via e-mail. If you have events to be listed on the Community Calendar, submit them here.

Contact us at news@emporianews.com
 
EmporiaNews.com is hosted as a community Service by Telpage.  Visit their website at www.telpage.net or call (434)634-5100 (NOTICE: Telpage cannot help you with questions about Emporia New nor does Teplage have any input the content of Emporia News.  Please use the e-mail address above if you have any questions, comments or concerns about the content on Emporia News.)