Current Weather Conditions

 
Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

January 2017

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, August 21, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

BRUNSWICK COUNTY VICTIM/WITNESS CELEBRATES MILESTONE WITH AN EXPANSION IN STAFF

When Lezlie S. Green was elected to serve as the Commonwealth's Attorney for the County of Brunswick one of her priorities was to establish a victim/witness program to serve its citizens.  Having served as an Assistant Commonwealth=s Attorney in Greensville County, Green saw first hand the benefits of the program and wanted to be able to offer the same services here in Brunswick County. 

Green worked for months to secure local support and complete the necessary grant applications  for the state and federal funds needed to establish a program.  In June, 1996,  Brunswick County was notified by the Department of Criminal Justice Services funds had been awarded and on October 1, 1996 the Brunswick County Victim/Witness Assistance Program officially began providing services to our community. 

Betsy Draper has served as the Director of the program since it began.  Having established the victim/witness program in Greensville County in 1989, Draper was familiar with what was needed to promote the office and secure continued funding all the while providing services to victims of crime. While Draper was proud of the work she accomplished in Greensville she was excited to have another opportunity to start a new program.  She accepted the position effective October 1, 1996 and hasn't looked back.

On October 1, 2016, the Brunswick County Victim/Witness Assistance Program celebrated twenty years of service provision in Brunswick County.  In those two decades, the program has assisted  the Commonwealth in securing court ordered restitution claims in excess of four million dollars and has provided assistance to more than eight thousand victims of crime.  

Draper has seen a lot of changes in victim services in her almost thirty years of public service, admittedly not all positive--but the one constant reward is the gratification of knowing you may have assisted someone at a time when they needed it most.  Likewise, the one constant frustration for Draper are the people who may have A fallen through the cracks@ due to her unavailability and a lack of staff.   Fortunately, Draper has recently seen a significant decrease in the level of her frustration.

It may have taken twenty years but the Brunswick County Victim/Witness Assistance Program, in cooperation with the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, is excited to announce the addition of a full-time program advocate to its staff.   Mandy S. Hayes officially began her duties on September 1, 2016.

Mandy brings with her a wealth of criminal justice knowledge having previously been with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office for more than ten years.  During her time at the sheriff's office she gained a working knowledge of the services provided by victim/witness and is looking forward to being able to assist those in our community who unfortunately find themselves in need of victim services.

Panel amends ‘dangerous dog’ description

Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee on Monday approved a bill that would change the description of a “dangerous dog,” possibly putting fewer animals on a state registry.

Del. Matthew Farris, R-Rustburg, wants to give a dog the benefit of the doubt if it bites a person or another animal.

His HB 2381, approved by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, would give animal control officers the option of determining whether a dog should be considered dangerous just because it inflicts a nip, scratch or minor injury on someone, or on another pet.

Current law requires the animal control officer to summon the offending dog’s owner to appear in General District Court to explain why his or her animal should not be considered dangerous.

Virginia Newsome, an animal control officer from Loudoun County, told the Agriculture Subcommittee that she and a group of fellow officers support the bill because they frequently see minor accidents with non-dangerous dogs.

“The intent of this bill was never for animal control officers to have to go out and get summons for every dog that bites,” said Newsome, representing the Virginia Animal Control Association.

“You can accidentally get bit by your puppy; that doesn’t make it a dangerous animal. We want to be able to give officers that discretion to look at the entire totality of each individual situation.

“There are certainly animals out there that do bite, and are dangerous. Those types of situations do deserve to go in front of a court and have a judge make a decision,” Newsome said.

“There are a lot of animals in a lot of situations that are simply just accidents. This bill will give us the ability to have clarification, for the officers and the courts. I also think it gives a much better relationship between animal control officers and the public and to be able to teach the public what the actual criteria is for a dog bite.”

If a court finds a dog is dangerous, the bill would give its owner 30 days to obtain a dangerous-dog registration certificate, which carries a $150 fee. Current law allows a 45-day wait.

The subcommittee heard no opposition from the audience and endorsed the bill with a unanimous vote. It now goes to the full committee for consideration.

Virginia likely to ease rules on marijuana

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia won’t be pulling a Colorado by decriminalizing marijuana this year. But the state might relax its penalties for possessing marijuana and its rules on who can use marijuana products for medical reasons.

Legislators this session introduced more than a dozen marijuana-related proposals. A Senate committee last week killed two bills to decriminalize the substance, and a House bill likely will die this week.

However, lawmakers seem amenable to making marijuana products more available for medical purposes and to being more lenient with Virginians convicted of simple possession of marijuana. Still, those bills have drawn opposition from certain legislators, highlighting a cultural divide within the General Assembly.

That divide was evident in the debate last week over a bill allowing Virginians with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and several other illnesses to use cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil, which are extracted from marijuana. Under current law, only people with intractable epilepsy can use the oils.

Cannabidiol oil and THC-A are non-psychoactive: They cannot be smoked or get users high. Even so, SB 1298 sparked debate; 11 of the 40 senators voted against it.

Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, recalled returning from serving in the Marines in Vietnam in the 1960s.

“Pot was the biggest thing, and we had just simply had a collapse of good order and discipline,” Black told his Senate colleagues. “I know where we’re headed; I can see a slippery slope. I do not want to see this country go back where it was in the ’60s and the ’70s because believe me it was not pretty. It was the worst of all times I have lived through.”

SB 1298 was sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester. She acknowledged there has been opposition to adding a dozen diseases to the list of ailments that qualify for a marijuana-extract oil. But making the treatment available to people with severe diseases doesn’t impose a public safety risk, Vogel said.

“Not only does it lack side effects but it also has really healing properties. There has been some quibbling over the breadth of the list. But if you have someone in your family with a debilitating genetic disorder or is dying a painful death from one of these diseases, which one are you going to pick?” Vogel said.

Three other bills before the General Assembly seek to expand medical uses of marijuana. The most expansive is HB 2135, introduced by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. It would allow a physician to recommend and a pharmacist to distribute marijuana or THC for treatment of any medical condition. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

The other bills are more limited. HB 1637, by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, would let people with Crohn’s disease use cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil. And SB 1452, by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would do the same for people with cancer. Davis’ bill is before a committee. The Senate is voting on Lucas’ measure this week.

Legislators also filed three bills that sought to decriminalize possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Currently, that offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail; defendants also lose their driver’s license for six months.

Under bills filed by Lucas (SB 908) and Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth (HB 1906), simple possession of marijuana would draw a civil penalty up to $250 for a first violation. Under SB 1269by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, a first offender would face a civil fine of no more than $100.

Last week, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously to kill Ebbin’s and Lucas’ bills. The corresponding committee in the House has yet to hold a hearing on Heretick’s bill.

It’s safe to say that Virginia won’t be joining Colorado and seven other states, as well as Washington, D.C., in legalizing recreational marijuana. But it’s likely the General Assembly will lessen the penalties associated with simple marijuana possession.

The Senate already has passed one bill to do that: SB 1091, sponsored by Ebbin. Under the measure, the state would no longer automatically suspend the driver’s license of an adult convicted of marijuana possession. The bill, which the Senate passed 38-2 last week, says juveniles still would be subject to a six-month suspension of their driver’s license.

Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham, is carrying a companion bill (HB 2051) in the House. The House Courts of Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill last week and sent it to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

House OKs carrying concealed switchblades

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians soon may be allowed to carry concealed switchblade knives under legislation moving through the General Assembly.

The House of Delegates voted 57-39 Monday to approve HB 1432 and send it to the Senate for consideration. The bill was sponsored by Republican Dels. Lee Ware of Powhatan and Scott Lingamfelter of Woodbridge.

The bill states, “Any person may carry a switchblade knife concealed when such knife is carried for the purpose of engaging in a lawful profession or recreational activity the performance of which is aided by the use of a switchblade knife.”

Ware said he proposed the bill on behalf of knife collectors such as the Greater Richmond Knife Club. He also said roofers and other workers use switchblade knives in their jobs.

“Look past the shining but disorienting name – switchblade – and look at the actual purpose and the actual words of the legislation, and join me in helping ordinary folks, hobbyists and tradesmen by voting on this bill,” Ware told his colleagues.

In addition to tool and knife groups, the bill has also been supported by Second Amendment rights groups.

Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, spoke against the bill, saying its language is too broad and would allow people with bad intentions to legally conceal carry a switchblade.

He said the bill is well-intentioned but would have bad consequences.

“Switchblades were originally put into the code several times to keep these deadly weapons out of the hands of gangs,” Lopez said. “Dangerous and deadly weapons like these in the hands of a bad actor are not good for our communities to have around.”

Under current law, it is legal to own and open-carry switchblades in Virginia, but it is illegal to conceal-carry certain knives including switchblades, bowie knives and dirks. Dirks are small daggers.

Similar knife legislation has been approved in the Senate:

  • Like HB 1432, Senate Bill 1347 would allow switchblades to be carried concealed. It passed the Senate last week on a vote of 23-16 with one abstention.
  • SB865 allows the transfer of dirks, switchblade and bowie knives from family members to a minor. The Senate approved the bill last week, 21-19.

How they voted

Here is how the House of Delegates voted Monday on HB 1432 (“Switchblade knife; exception to carry concealed”).

Floor: 01/30/17 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (57-Y 39-N)

YEAS – Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Gilbert, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Holcomb, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Miyares, Morris, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yost, Speaker Howell – 57.

NAYS – Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, John J., Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Dudenhefer, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Greason, Hayes, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, LeMunyon, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Mullin, Murphy, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Yancey – 39.

NOT VOTING – Hugo, Minchew, Morefield – 3.

BA Student Wins Essay Contest

Brunswick Academy is pleased to announce that 7th grade student Trey Mitchell of Emporia, was presented a plaque by Governor Terry McAuliffe at the Library of Virginia  for winning Region 7 and the entire State of Virginia for the essay he submitted in the Virginia Municpal League's, "If I were Mayor for a Day" essay contest.

Jerry "Trey" Mitchell, III.  is the son of Jerry Mitchell, Jr. and Paula Anderson of Emporia Virginia.

Trey's Essay is included below:

If I Were Mayor

A mayor has a very important job. If I were mayor, I would take my job seriously. As a community leader, I would oversee all aspects of our city to ensure prosperity and growth. Maintaining a balanced budget will be a top priority. I will make sure that our city spends money wisely and increase our revenue by promoting industry. I will manage our police department, fire department, as well as our transportation and housing departments. I will also make education a priority. I will participate in the events of our city to be an involved leader. I will foster a sense of mutual respect by maintaining open communication with city council members as well as members of the community.

Upon being elected a mayor, I will conduct a meeting of all department heads to determine the strengths and weakness of our municipality. At this meeting, we will determine the required amount of manpower to make the departments run smoothly and continue to be productive. At our city council meeting, we will establish and prioritize our goals that will make our town a great place to live. I will meet with the members of our community to determine the concerns of our citizens. I will  determine our budget, address economic issues, and allocate funding to meet the needs of our city, including funding for city maintenance.  I will also promote the creation of jobs and industry for economical growth.

To ensure the safety of our citizens and our community, I plan to meet with essential persons in the police and fire departments. We will discuss the staffing needs and requirements, as well as equipment needs of each department. Maintaining adequate staff and ensuring proper equipment will assist in keeping the citizens of our town safe. I will encourage active involvement in community awareness activities and programs by public service employees. I will ask that they become more personally involved in our community to foster good relationships, and as a result, make our town safer.

The survival of our town is dependent upon maintaining economic growth and development. I will make this a top priority. I will promote our town to help persuade businesses to choose our town and help current business expand. The types of businesses that I will try to bring to our town include:  restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, bowling alleys and amusement parks. When these businesses choose our town, all parties involved are winners. Our economy is perked, jobs are created, the housing industry will boom, and more people will choose our town. The result will be a cycle of increased growth, increased population and increased revenue.

If I were mayor, every citizen in our community would be my priority. Protecting our community, encouraging growth of our town, ensuring excellent education programs for our youth and prosperity and growth of our city are issues that will take precedence. Great times are ahead for our town!

Delegate Tyler Protects Hunter’s Rights at the General Assembly

Delegate Roslyn Tyler met with the hunters from Sussex, Greensville, Southampton and Dinwiddie County on Capitol Hill advocating on Hunting with Hounds.  Delegate Roslyn Tyler (75th District) is a rural legislator who supports hunting with dogs as part of traditional hunting heritage in Southside Virginia.

Delegate Tyler opposes HB 1900 which would prohibit dog owners from allowing dogs to run at large on property of another landowner and charged with a $100 civil penalty per dog. A bill of this nature is not necessary for law abiding sportsmen. Delegate Roslyn Tyler will continue to protect sportsmen rights and rural Virginia hunting heritage.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact her in Richmond at delrtyler@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1075.

Bills would end license suspension for marijuana possession

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians convicted of marijuana possession would no longer automatically lose their driver’s license for six months under legislation moving through the General Assembly.

Existing state law mandates that when someone is convicted of a drug offense, the defendant’s license is suspended for six months. Under bills approved by the Senate and by a House subcommittee, that provision would no longer apply to adults convicted of simple possession of marijuana on a first offense.

On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the legislation – SB 1091, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and Republican Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin County. The vote was 38 to 2.

That came one day after an identical proposal – HB 2051, introduced by Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham – cleared a subcommittee in the House. The Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously in support of Adams’ bill.

Juveniles convicted of marijuana possession still would be subject to license suspension under the legislation. The bills would leave it up to the judge’s discretion to suspend the driver’s license of adult defendants.

Many people consider Virginia’s penalties for marijuana possession severe. A first offense for possession of less than a half ounce is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine, plus a six-month suspension of the individual’s license to drive a motor vehicle.

A first offender may receive a deferred disposition and dismissal of the charge upon completion of probation and community service. But such defendants still lose their driver’s licenses for six months.

During the Senate debate, Ebbin said that each year, about 39,000 Virginians lose their driver’s licenses because of drug offenses. Most states, including the ones bordering Virginia, don’t automatically suspend the licenses of such defendants, he said.

Stanley said that as an attorney, he has seen young people hurt by the state’s policy of suspending their driver’s licenses. Stanley said the policy stemmed from the “war on drugs” in the 1980s.

“What we’re trying to do with this very good statute is give someone the opportunity of a second chance for making a dumb mistake,” Stanley said.

Similar arguments were made at the House Criminal Law Subcommittee meeting. The panel heard from Ryan Johnson, a Virginia Tech alumnus who was charged with possession of marijuana in college.

“I automatically had my driver’s license suspended for six months, and that was what surprised me the most,” Johnson told legislators. “I said to myself, ‘Why is my license being suspended for something that didn’t involve a car or driving? And how am I supposed to get to school and work?’”

Johnson said the license suspension was the most disruptive part of his sentencing.

HB 2051 and SB 1091 would be contingent upon written assurance from the U.S. Department of Transportation that Virginia will not lose any federal funds for easing its policy on the suspension of driver’s licenses for people convicted of marijuana possession.

Also on Tuesday, after more than 15 minutes of debate, the Senate passed a bill to allow people with documentation from a doctor to carry cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil – products extracted from cannabis. Without such documentation, people who have such substances can be charged with possession of marijuana.

Currently, only Virginians with intractable epilepsy have permission to possess the oils.

SB 1298, sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, would expand the list to include cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses.

Senators voted 29-11 in favor of the bill. Vogel said CBD oil has been “remarkable and transformative” for patients with epilepsy. She said her measure would allow people with other diseases to benefit from the treatment.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Leesburg, said he fears legislation like this is a step toward legalization of marijuana. “Proceeding down this route takes us in that direction,” Black said.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, disagreed. “We’re not going to become a nation of potheads because people with MS and a variety of other ailments are using this type of oil,” he said.

McAuliffe boasts Virginia employment records

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After giving a report at a meeting of the National Governors Association this week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he is proud of how well Virginia is doing economically.

“I just gave the State of the State, and I almost feel bad for those other 49 governors. I don’t know what they do every day because we live in the greatest state in the greatest nation on Earth,” McAuliffe said at the Virginia Municipal League Day at the Capitol.

Virginia has reached its highest level of employment in history, with more than 4.2 million workers in the commonwealth, McAuliffe said.

The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in December, and in 2016, it hit a 40-year low.

“I’m most proud that when I took office, our unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, and we got it all the way down to 3.7,” McAuliffe said. (The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent from May to July in 2016.)

But not every locality has benefited from job growth. While the statewide unemployment rate has been low, areas like Dickenson and Buchanan counties still face jobless rates above 9 percent. Northern Virginia accounts for 37 percent of all employment in Virginia.

A report issued by Old Dominion University in December found that while Virginia’s economy is improving, it has not kept pace with national growth.

McAuliffe said he maintains his commitment to bringing jobs to the state, and there are even jobs that are not being filled. There were 149,000 technology jobs open last year, and currently 36,000 cybersecurity jobs are available.

The governor told parents to guide their children toward the open technology jobs, which have a starting salary of $88,000.

“Next week I have a major announcement, out of a major California corporation that is deserting California and moving their corporate headquarters here,” McAuliffe said in Wednesday’s speech.

He did not reveal the name of the company because of a non-disclosure agreement, but insists it’s a name everyone will know.

Republicans don’t think the governor has done such a good job with the economy. They note that Virginia has fallen on the list of the best states for business. GOP lawmakers have called for legislation that they say would help restore the commonwealth’s No. 1 ranking.

McAuliffe says the key to bringing jobs to Virginia is to ensure that Virginia remains an open and welcoming state.

“I hope we have a good General Assembly session here. I’m going to veto some bills. Obviously I’m going to veto any bill that discriminates anybody. You know there’s an abortion bill – I’m going to veto that,” McAuliffe said.

This is not the first time McAuliffe has vowed to veto discriminatory or divisive bills. He previously stated his commitment to vetoing the HB 1473, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation. The bill is pending before a House committee.

McAuliffe boasts a 71-0 record on vetoes. He said this will not be the year the General Assembly starts overriding his vetoes.

“I will be very clear, folks, you have zero chance of getting a business to come to your state if you put walls up around your state. Leave people alone. Be open and welcoming to everybody,” McAuliffe said.

Alcohol potency bill causes buzz among colleges

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – College administrators remain concerned about legislation that would let the state’s ABC stores sell 151-proof grain alcohol.

Linda Hancock, a member of the Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council, said she and other education professionals fear that such liquors – which are more than 75 percent alcohol – may attract inexperienced college students who tend to pour overly strong drinks.

On Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed HB 1842, which would allow Virginians to purchase 151-proof neutral grain alcohol at their local ABC store.

Hancock is the director of the Wellness Resource Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. However, she emphasized that she was not speaking as a VCU employee.

As a clinician and campus health educator, Hancock said she is not worried about the over-30 adults who are the main consumer base for Everclear, a popular brand of grain alcohol. It comes in two varieties – 151 proof and 190 proof. 

“151 is not a highly purchased item – at least, you would think it would not be. How many people are making limoncello, you know?” Hancock said, referring to Jello shots that some adults mix with grain alcohol at parties.

HB 1842 would amend Virginia’s existing laws, which set the cap of sellable alcohol at 101 proof in 1993. Despite their significantly stronger alcohol content, high-proof neutral grain spirits are tasteless, odorless and colorless, leading University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan to equate the liquor to a “date rape” drug.

The Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council was a vocal opponent of a similar bill during last year’s legislative session before it was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Steven Clarke, then-director of the Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center at Virginia Tech, warned of the potential side effects of allowing high potency alcohols on campuses, including “personal injury, property damage, and academic non-performance.”

William and Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III agreed, calling the bill “really a bad idea.”

A report commissioned by the governor last year included a Gallup poll revealing young adults’ increasing preference for spirits since the 1990s, as well as research that college students tend to put excessive amounts of alcohol in drinks.

The same report, however, emphasized that there is little evidence that the ban on 151-proof products has reduced underage drinking or alcohol misuse on college campuses.

“Most of the research that’s been done on grain alcohol has been done on the 191 proof, and so there’s not as much research on the 151,” Hancock said. “But common sense would lead you to believe that since the drink size of 151 is only seven milliliters smaller than a 191, a lot of the same issues would apply,”  she said. “Most of the evidence is anecdotal, but there’s still concern.”

HB 1842 was passed after the bill’s patron, Del. Barry D. Knight, R-Virginia Beach, added a five-year sunset clause to the bill, with the condition that legislation would revert back to 101 “if issues arise.”

Additionally, Virginia ABC stores will be able to regulate the sale of high-proof neutral grain spirits, meaning the ABC board could choose not to sell it in stores near college campuses. The Virginia College Alcohol Leadership Council announced plans to form a subcommittee to work with ABC regarding product distribution. The main focus for the next five years, Hancock says, is continuing to learn how to keep young alcohol drinkers safe.

“It’s really hard, because it’s odorless and tasteless, to track what’s done with it,” she said.  “The data is going to be hard to collect. But at five years, we’ll be able to see what kind of measures have been installed around it and whether we think they’re protecting college students and young adults. The main thing is that we for sure need more data, state-wise, about this issue.”

Virginia and Vermont are the only two states to ban sales of 151-proof grain alcohol.

Senate Committee Rejects 2 Pro-Choice Bills

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Five days earlier, half a million protesters showed up for the Women’s March on Washington. On Thursday, two pro-choice abortion bills were defeated 8-7 along party lines by a Senate committee.

The Senate Committee on Education and Health rejected SB 1424, which advocates had dubbed the Restoring Dignity to Informed Consent act, and SB 1549, aka the Whole Woman’s Health Act. The panel limited testimony on the bills to two minutes, women’s rights activists said.

SB 1424, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, would have allowed a woman who had received medically necessary information about abortion from her doctor to choose not to receive additional, non-medical information. It also would have ended the requirement that she wait a state-imposed period of time or undergo an ultrasound procedure if she decided to have an abortion.

SB 1549, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would have removed certain state-imposed restrictions on Virginia women seeking an abortion. Those restrictions include the performance of an ultrasound and the requirement that facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month meet the regulatory standards for hospitals.

“First-trimester abortions are among the safest medical procedures performed in the United States,” said Tara Gibson, field director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. “There is absolutely no medical reason why our health centers need to comply with the same requirements on hallway width and parking spaces that a full-service hospital is subject to.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, agreed.“Women just want to be able to access health care when they need it,” she said.

Dozens of women had traveled to Richmond to testify in support of the bills. They included students, medical professionals, mothers, wives and citizens who planned to share personal testimonies before the committee.

The committee chairman, Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, informed the group that they had a total of two minutes to speak, according to supporters of the legislation.

“Coming right off the heels of the massive Women’s March on D.C. and sister marches across the commonwealth, it’s appalling and disappointing that Chairman Newman refused to hear these women’s concerns and allow any meaningful testimony from their constituents before rejecting the bill,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

SB 1424 and SB 1549 were killed on identical votes by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Voting to spike the legislation were Newman and fellow Republican Sens. Richard Black of Leesburg, Charles Carrico of Galax, Amanda Chase of Midlothian, John Cosgrove of Chesapeake, Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico, Mark Peake of Lynchburg and David Suetterlein of Roanoke.

Voting against the motions that the bills be “passed by indefinitely” were Democratic Sens. George Barker of Alexandria, Janet Howell of Reston, Lynwood Lewis of Accomac, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, Chap Petersen of Fairfax and Richard Saslaw of Springfield.

Bills would make presidential candidates release tax returns

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Democrats Blast Immigration Executive Order

By Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia’s top Democratic officials on Saturday condemned President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“On behalf of the people of Virginia, I urge President Trump and leaders in Washington to reverse this policy and restore our nation to its place as a beacon of opportunity for all,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a press conference at Dulles International Airport.

McAuliffe spoke before a Saturday evening rally welcoming immigrants and refugees to the U.S. The rally followed the detention of two Iraqi refugees at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The ban will make the country less safe and contradicts the values that make America great, McAuliffe said. Attorney General Mark Herring, a fellow Democrat, agreed.

“For generations, the United States has been a beacon of hope and a safe harbor for those in need,” Herring said. He and McAuliffe vowed to work together to examine the order and take legal action to oppose the policy.

Trump’s ban prevents citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days. These countries will likely not be the only ones banned. The executive order calls for the secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a 30-day review of countries that do not offer “adequate information” about citizens seeking visas.

Trump signed the order Friday at the Pentagon.

“I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” he said. “We don't want them here.”

Trump added, “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said the order will hurt innocent people.

“This executive order could stop green card holders from these seven countries from returning to the United States if they travel abroad. These Virginians deserve due process, and it is this administration’s priority that they can return home,” Northam said.

Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said Trump’s order is a threat to Virginia and to national security because administering religious tests ignores the contributions and sacrifices of Muslims who have served in the U.S. military. Virginia is home to bases for all four branches of the military.

“There are countless stories of Iraqis and Afghanis who risked their lives to serve alongside our troops as interpreters,” Northam said. “Preventing them from entering the country is an utter disgrace to the commitment to the United States they have shown through their actions abroad.”

Trump’s executive order has also stopped refugees from being admitted to the country over the course of the next four months. Following this ban, Christian refugees fleeing Muslim-majority countries would be given priority over Muslim refugees leaving these countries.

The number of refugees who would potentially be allowed to enter the U.S. under Trump’s administration would be less than half the number admitted under former President Barack Obama.

“President Trump is dimming that light and slamming the door in the face of vulnerable people fleeing unimaginable circumstances,” Herring said.

Northam warned of potentially harmful economic implications in Virginia as a result of the ban. He said it may prevent hundreds of thousands of students, high-tech workers and scientists from re-entering the U.S. after trips abroad.

“In Virginia, we must fight against this type of xenophobia and bigotry. We must continue to be an example to the country of how tolerance and diversity make us stronger,” Northam said. “We must show the world that there are Americans who will stand up for the values that made us a ‘shining city upon a hill.’”

Most Virginia Republican leaders have refrained from issuing public statements regarding Trump’s order. However, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, defended the action.

“After years of increasingly liberal Obama immigration policies, President Trump decided to stop these actions and give his new administration time to study the effects of these policies and implement new ones. It’s a four-month pause to allow the administration to put policies in place that will keep Americans safe,” Wagner, a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said in a statement.

Wagner said Trump’s order would be “an inconvenience to less than 200 people per day from terrorist states. This is a small price to pay to insure that Americans are kept safe.”

Virginians say colleges prepare graduates for jobs

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Most Virginians say high schools don’t effectively prepare students for the workplace but the state’s colleges and universities do, according to a poll by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Commonwealth Education Poll reported that only 36 percent of Virginians believe high school graduates are ready to join the workforce – but almost three-fourths of the respondents said graduates of community colleges and four-year colleges are job-ready.

Virginians believe the state’s institutions of higher education are especially effective at preparing students to work in scientific fields, the survey said.

“This poll shows the trust citizens have in our colleges and universities to prepare students for the careers of the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent.

Trent said that the statewide poll – conducted by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs – indicated that Virginia is on the right path in revamping its high school curriculum. More than three out of four respondents said they want high schools to prepare students for careers.

“Last year, Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe worked in a bipartisan manner with members of the General Assembly to pass legislation that would redesign high school to focus more on workforce skills and provide a variety of rigorous pathways to graduation,” she said. “And this poll clearly shows that the citizens of the commonwealth overwhelmingly support this approach to bring education into the 21st century.”

Trent joined Robyn McDougle, the institute’s interim executive director, at two news conferences at Capitol Square last week to discuss the survey results.

In an interview, McDougle offered an explanation for why Virginians think high school graduates aren’t ready for the workforce: It’s because high schools focus more on college prep than on career skills. Most Virginians believe the state’s high school graduates are ready for college, according to the poll.

K-12 education

The survey found that:

  • Two-thirds of Virginians said the state’s schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs.
  • 69 percent of the respondents are willing to pay more in taxes to keep state funding for public schools at the current level. Partisan differences were evident, however. While 85 percent of Democrats said they’d pay more in taxes, only 52 percent of Republicans felt that way.
  • 54 percent said they prefer that the added funds be used to increase teacher pay.
  • Most Virginians aren’t familiar with dual enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college courses and receive credit toward both a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree.

Higher education

Two-thirds of the respondents say colleges and universities are providing the skills useful in obtaining a job. And more than 60 percent say the state’s institutions of higher education are preparing students to be engaged citizens.

“Colleges and universities in Virginia as a whole are perceived positively by a large majority of the public in terms of outcomes that support the state’s economy and civic life,” said McDougle, an associate professor at the Wilder School.

According to the survey:

  • Virginians are concerned about the cost to attend college, and a narrow majority would be willing to pay higher taxes for need-based financial aid. A strong majority wants college administrators to spend privately raised non-taxpayer sources of funding to reduce tuition and fees.
  • An increasing number of Virginians – more than half – know students can transfer from a two-year to a four-year school, and most of them say the transfer process is easy.

The Commonwealth Education Poll involved interviewing a random sample of 806 adults from across Virginia by landline phones and cellphones between Nov. 8 and 17. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

For the complete poll results and methodology, see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.

Panel Rejects Expansion of Seat-Belt Law

By Rodrigo Arriaza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia auto safety groups are criticizing a House panel after it killed a bill that would have required every passenger in a car to use a seat belt.

“This is a low-hanging fruit in traffic safety, getting people to buckle up,” said Kurt Erickson, president and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a group that fights drunken and irresponsible driving in the D.C. area. “Virginia is constantly below the national rate of people wearing seat belts.”

Erickson said efforts to strengthen Virginia’s seat belt laws go back to the early 1970s. He called the General Assembly’s hesitance a “libertarian defense.”

“There are federal incentives for Virginia to do this, meaning that there’s highway dollars that are at risk if Virginia doesn’t have primary seat belt legislation. But that doesn’t seem to motivate anybody in Richmond,” Erickson said.

“In fact, I’m convinced that when you bring up the federal government in terms of their incentives, that automatically raises Virginia’s flag of sovereignty 5 feet higher.”

WRAP, along with other auto safety groups across the state, supported HB 1558, sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria.

Virginia law requires seat belt use only if the passenger is in the front seat or is under 18 years old. Tina Gill, director of state programs at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the current law is inadequate and puts Virginians at risk.

“Traffic crashes are a public health and safety epidemic, and they are preventable,” Gill said. “We work to pass legislation so we can reduce the number of fatalities and injuries and prevent these horrific losses that have sweeping effects on families and communities.”

Krizek’s bill died last week on a 4-4 vote in a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

The four subcommittee members who voted in favor of the legislation were Republican Del. James Edmunds of Halifax and Democratic Dels. Patrick Hope of Arlington, Sam Rasoul of Roanoke and Roslyn Tyler of Jarratt.

Voting against the bill were Republican Dels. Ben Cline of Amherst, Tony Wilt of Harrisonburg, Israel O’Quinn of Bristol and Christopher Head of Roanoke.

While the legislation would have enhanced Virginia’s safety laws, seat belt use is still a secondary offense in the state. This means police can’t stop drivers just because they aren’t buckled up. People in a vehicle’s front seat can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver has been stopped for a primary offense such as speeding.

Both Gill said primary enforcement of seat belt laws is important.

“Laws that are primary-enforced are much stronger laws and result in much more seat belt use,” she said. “It’s such a simple thing for us to do, and still people are not doing it.”

Erickson agreed.

“Most states have a primary seat belt laws, meaning that law enforcement could stop them for not wearing a seat belt,” he said. “This (HB 1558) wasn’t even that; this was just mandating seat belt use for all passengers in a vehicle.”

According to a 2014 study by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, 87 percent of people nationwide wear seat belts, but only 77 percent of Virginians buckle up.

“It’s vital that everybody buckle up,” Gill said. “It’s the bare minimum action that you can take when you get in a vehicle.”

Democrats and Republicans Join Forces at Capitol Classic

By Tyler Woodall and Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia government officials participated in the ninth annual Massey Capitol Classic Challenge on Tuesday night at Virginia Commonwealth University.

While Democrats and Republicans often are at odds at the state Capitol, members of the Senate and House of Delegates from both sides of the aisle fought for the same cause at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Adding to the night’s light-hearted feel, the legislators were joined by former NBA center Ben Wallace, NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler and former VCU Ram and second round NBA draft pick Calvin Duncan.

The atmosphere was electric, as raucous choruses from VCU’s Peppas pep band and Henrico High School’s Marching Warriors echoed throughout the arena.

However, in the shadow of VCU’s 2011 Final Four banner, the action on the court was far from the level normally seen at The Stu.

Although the night was filled with air balls and turnovers, the sloppy play got the job done, as the night’s festivities helped raise more than $23,000 for VCU’s Massey Cancer Center. The largest donations came from Ben and Chandra Wallace, the CSX Corporation, the Sadler family and Capitol lobbyists.

The night’s festivities kicked off in front of a crowd of several hundred as the governor’s staff took on Capitol lobbyists. The lobbyists ultimately took home the bragging rights after winning 45-34.

Shortly after, the Senate won the night’s All-Star Shootout by a commanding 81-19 final score. However, the senators’ joy was short-lived as they were unable to bring that same lights-out shooting to the night’s premiere event.

The House, led by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, came out of the gates with the hot hand, taking a commanding 16-5 halftime lead. However, the first half’s action was less-than-stellar, and one announcer quipped, “That’s 15 minutes we’ll never get back.”

The second half was much of the same, with the exception of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who came out of the huddle looking to carry his team back from the brink. However, Petersen’s efforts were not enough to carry his Senate colleagues past Sadler and Rasoul-led House.

At the final buzzer, the House came out with a commanding 31-17 victory, with Rasoul being named the game’s MVP.

Rasoul said he was happy to take home the honor in front of the friendly crowd and, for once, to join hands with his opponents across the aisle.

“It was great we got to have a good time and do it all for a good cause,” he said. “The one thing I love about this event is, it’s bipartisan. It’s House vs. Senate, and the more we can do in a bipartisan way, the more fun it is.”

Sadler, who helped Rasoul carry the House to victory Tuesday night, said he relished the opportunity to play at The Stu.

“I could’ve performed a little bit better, but the main thing is it’s for a great cause,” Sadler said. “I’ve been here to watch the Rams play, and it’s neat to be able to come here and play on this floor for such a good cause.”

After taking a moment to let it sink in, he added, “I think I’m undefeated on this floor right now, so that’s pretty cool.”

JOB CORPS PREPARING YOUNG PEOPLE IN GREENSVILLE CO. FOR SUCCESS IN JOB MARKET


Recruitment Drive Now in Progress for Virginia Job Corps Centers

Emporia, VA, — Admissions staff are looking for students to fill career technical training classes at Job Corps, officials announced today. “Students at Job Corps not only learn to excel academically, but also receive career technical training,” said Mark Gilles, Outreach and Marketing Coordinator for Job Corps.

Job Corps is a tuition-free training and education program that connects eligible young men and women, ages 16 through 24, with the skills and educational opportunities they need to establish real careers.

“Job Corps has opportunities for young adults in several areas at each center, such as health care occupations, business, electrical wiring, carpentry, and welding,” Gilles said. “Students can take the first step toward starting a career they enjoy and becoming a competitor in the workforce.”

When students enter the program, they begin working with an advisor to set career goals and devise a plan of action before instructors begin teaching them the essentials of job searching, interviewing, and how to maintain employment.

Job Corps students receive academic and career technical training from qualified instructors, who motivate students to make measurable progress at their own pace. During training, Job Corps provides residential students with room, board, basic medical and dental services, and some spending money.

Training programs are hands-on and take between 8 and 24 months to complete. Students can complete their training areas while studying for a high school diploma or equivalent. Successful students can also enter the Advanced Career Training (ACT) program, which builds on their specialized training. ACT students may enroll in courses at a community college at no cost.

Job Corps offers hands-on training in many career technical areas, including: Carpentry, Certified Nursing Assistant, Painting, Electrical Wiring, Welding, Medical Administrative Assistant, Plumbing, and many more. All training programs are aligned with industry certifications and are designed to meet the requirements of today’s careers.

Students can take advantage of many fun activities at Job Corps, including fitness classes, tennis, movies, dances, and basketball. In addition, the students can take periodic trips to local cultural events and participate in student government.

Job Corps will be holding information sessions in Emporia for young people interested in enrolling in the program. Information sessions are held on the 3rd Monday of each month, at 10:00 AM. These sessions are held at the Virginia Employment Commission, 1300 Greensville County Circle - Suite C, Emporia, VA, 23847.

For more information about Job Corps, call Mark Gilles at (804) 340-5540.

Instead of cooking up laws, legislators enjoy stew

By Maura Mazurowski, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Today is the day!” exclaimed Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk as he made his way into the tent set up outside the General Assembly Building. Behind him, a long line of state legislators exiting their offices repeatedly asked the same question:

“Is the stew ready yet?”

Wednesday was Brunswick Stew Day at the state Capitol, celebrating the signature dish of Brunswick County, a quaint locale along Virginia’s southern border. The stew was free to the public but mostly served state legislators. However, if you wanted your share, you had to get there early: The 80-gallon cast-iron pot was empty in just two hours.

The annual event features the first-place winner from the Taste of Brunswick Festival, held every October in Brunswick County. The winning stew crew cooks its recipe for the General Assembly on the fourth Wednesday in January during the legislative session, an honor enshrined in a resolution passed by lawmakers 15 years ago.

Twenty-four teams competed for the Taste of Brunswick crown last October. Bill Steed and his son Chad came out on top as the stew masters for Brunswick Stew Day 2017. This was their third time competing in the festival.

“Third time’s the charm,” Bill’s wife, Deborah Steed, said proudly.

Steed and his team – which included his daughter-in-law Beverly Steed, his brother Chuck Maitland and his nephew Zach Maitland – arrived at the Capitol just before midnight to start cooking by 2 a.m. The stirring didn’t stop until the pot was empty.

“You cannot let it sit at all,” warned Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge. “It’s always being stirred.”

Born and raised in Brunswick County, Bill Steed has been cooking stew since childhood. While he outlined the recipe’s basic ingredients – chicken, vegetables and a butter base – no one would disclose the “secret ingredient.”

“It’s a Brunswick County secret that makes our stew an absolute art,” Woolridge said.

Woolridge, a Richmond native, has been coming to the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day since being selected as county administrator 10 years ago.

“This is a day to showcase Brunswick County and our diverse people,” Woolridge said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to share something that’s near and dear to us with the legislators by providing them with stew – and they love it.”

Virginia’s love for Brunswick stew dates back to the 1820s. Dr. Creed Haskins, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and a group of friends were on a hunting trip in Brunswick County. Their chef, Jimmy Matthews, slow-cooked everything he could find for the hungry hunters: squirrel, bread crumbs, onions, butter, seasonings and more. The stew has since become a staple at Southern gatherings.

But the Steeds were doing more than serving legislators delicious stew this brilliantly blue morning: They were carrying on a family tradition. According to Deborah Steed, the Steed family members are distant relatives of Dr. Haskins.

For about 30 years, Brunswick County officials have been coming to Richmond each legislative session to dish out their stew to lawmakers. The General Assembly officially established Brunswick Stew Day on the Capitol grounds in 2002 by passing House Joint Resolution 2.

Legislators have been lining up for a bowlful ever since.

“I love seeing people come through the line and say, ‘Thank you, this is so good,’” Wooldridge said. “Brunswick stew makes people feel happy. I just enjoy serving and giving back to the people.”

Disclosure: In the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted that the reporter tasted the Brunswick stew for herself and can agree that it is indeed a work of art.

The Improvement Association Collects Over 300 Pairs of Socks

Lydia Kearney, LPN, Health and Disability Specialist for The Improvement Association, delivered socks to Leslie Moody-Yates, lead teacher for The Improvement Association’s Shiloh Head Start center.

After noticing an alarming amount of children not wearing socks during the winter of 2015, Lydia Kearney, Health and Disability Specialist for The Improvement Association, decided to initiate a sock drive.

“I noticed so many children were coming to school without socks and I really wanted to change that,” Kearney said. “I decided to hold a sock drive to collect socks that we can distribute to each classroom. That way, if the child doesn’t have any socks or doesn’t have warm socks, the teacher will have some on hand.”

Kearney posted flyers and donation boxes at area departments of social services and the Emporia YMCA in October. By December she had collected over 300 pairs of socks. Each of The Improvement Association’s 15 Head Start centers, as well as The Improvement Association’s St. Paul’s Child Development Center received a collection of socks to be used for children in need. Additional donations were provided to The Improvement Association’s Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting initiative (MIECH-V) Parents as Teacher program for children ages birth to five.

Kearney will start the 2017 sock drive in August and will be accepting sock donations for boys and girls from birth to age five. If you would like a donation box for your organization, or more information about The Improvement Association’s initiatives, please call 434-634-2490.

Gifted Students Invited to Apply for Meherrin Summer Regional Governor's School

The 2017 Meherrin Summer Regional Governor’s School sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education for identified gifted students in the General Intellectual Aptitude area in current grades 4-7 will be held at the Greensville County High School on July 10-13 and 17-20, 2017.  Participating counties include Greensville, Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Southampton, and Sussex.  For more information, contact the local gifted education coordinator.  Application Deadline – February 17, 2017

Legislators Seek to Curb ‘Distracted Driving’

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A coalition of Democrats and Republicans called Tuesday for new laws to discourage Virginia motorists from using their cellphones while driving.

The legislators unveiled several bills targeting “distracted driving,” which they said caused thousands of traffic accidents and killed 175 people in the state last year.

HB 1834, sponsored by Del. Rich Anderson, R-Woodbridge, would make it illegal for drivers to “manually select multiple icons or enter multiple letters or text” in a handheld device – meaning they couldn’t check Facebook, send a tweet or view a video on YouTube. Current state law prohibits drivers only from sending emails or text messages.

Anderson’s bill also would create a new offense called distracted driving in the Code of Virginia.

“In partnership with law enforcement, we can make this happen, and that’s what this collective effort is all about,” Anderson said. “This is a bicameral, bipartisan effort.”

Existing law against texting while driving applies only when the vehicle is moving. Anderson’s bill would extend the ban to when the vehicle is stopped on the roadway. It would not apply when the vehicle is legally parked.

Anderson’s bill would not affect drivers using a GPS navigation system or accessing a name or number stored on their cellphone to make a call.

“The real reason we’ve got to do this is simply because, based on reports from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2016, 175 Virginians died on our highways as a result of distracted driving,” Anderson said. “On top of that, 14,700 Virginians were injured.”

Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, and Del. Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls, have introduced legislation to educate young people about the dangers of distracted driving.

Under Villanueva’s proposal, HB 2015, people who use the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system could make a voluntary contribution to the DRIVE SMART Virginia Education Fund. The fund sponsors training and activities to promote roadway safety.

Greason’s bill, HB 1763, would authorize the issuance of special license plates for supporters of highway safety, including awareness of distracted driving. For each plate sold, $10 would be used to promote safe driving.

Greason suggested that the plates be designed by high school students.

“High school students said something interesting to me: ‘You might pass a new law, you might create a new impaired-driving statute, you might increase the penalties, but that’s really not going to make an effect,’” Greason said.

“‘Somehow, you have to get us engaged in the process.’”

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, introduced legislation that would deal with injuries caused by distracted driving. SB 1339says a person who operates a motor vehicle in a careless or distracted manner and causes serious injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The driver’s license would be suspended.

As a lawyer, Surovell said he dealt with this kind of personal injury first hand. He recalled representing a family whose son was killed by a distracted driver.

“That collision opened my eyes to how dangerous texting while driving can be,” Surovell said. “The individual in that case was never convicted of anything.”

A study by Virginia Tech found that 80 percent of all crashes are from driver inattention three seconds before the accident, according to Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART. She said texting while driving makes a person 2,300 times more likely to be in a crash.

Dana Schrade, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the legislation would help clarify, educate and enforce safe driving.

“What we are talking about is something that has become an accepted practice, and that’s that we can multitask. When you get behind the wheel, driving is a full-time job,” Schrade said.

“The more we make a clear message through our legislation with the help of these legislators, the more we put forth a clear message about how this is a No. 1 danger in driving today.”

School Security Gun Bill Passes House

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – School security officers could carry firearms in schools under a bill passed Tuesday by the House of Delegates.

The GOP-controlled House voted 78 to 19, with several Democrats joining Republicans in support, to pass HB 1392. This is the second time in as many years that a version of the bill has made it past the House and into the Senate.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the measure last year.

The bill, introduced by Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, would allow school districts across the commonwealth to employ security officers to carry firearms in school if they meet requirements spelled out in the bill.

According to those requirements:

  • The school employee must be a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chief law-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to develop firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who intend to carry a firearm.

In a statement, Lingamfelter said that he was happy that his bill had passed with bipartisan support. He called it “a common-sense measure to protect our children and teachers from the unthinkable.”

The bill faces another round of hearings in the Senate, which approved the measure last year and has enough Republican votes to pass it on to McAuliffe.

In vetoing similar legislation last April, McAuliffe said he feared that school security officers “do not receive training regarding firearms or the appropriate use of force with juveniles.”

“Allowing additional firearms in schools without appropriate training would create an environment that is less, rather than more, secure,” the governor wrote.

House of Delegates OKs ‘Tebow Bill’

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Tuesday that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill” after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, passed by a 60-38 vote on the House floor Tuesday. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

Bell has introduced similar legislation, which is based on laws from other states, perennially since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s legislation passed both the House and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Opponents say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public school students, so it wouldn’t be right to let them play alongside regular students in high school sports.

McAuliffe cited that rationale when he vetoed Bell’s legislation last spring.

“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Bell counters that this is not the case with his latest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, students who want to participate in their local high school’s athletic programs would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence of progress” in their academic curriculum for at least two years. Bell said the home-schoolers also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public school counterparts.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, shared her concerns about the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

“As a former school board member and parent of a child who spent a significant number of years in private school, I’m always hesitant to see us move in this direction,” McQuinn said.

“Take my nephew, for instance. As a star basketball player, he says he has sacrificed and put many years and extraordinary determination into reaching his current playing level. Yet if a home-schooling (student) is granted the same exposure and resources, it goes without saying that they reap the same benefit after investing a highly disproportionate amount of time.”

Bell argued that his bill simply allows home-schooled students who might not fit the typical public school mold the same freedoms as all other students.

“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the public school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling – except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say, ‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”

McQuinn said the bill was not a matter of equality, but rather the opposite.

“What message does this send to public school parents and students?” she asked. “One of fairness or favorability? While public schools present their own unique challenges, some more difficult than others, I believe the passing of this bill would add another dimension of complication to the public school system.”

Bell said that was not the case. Under the legislation, the decision to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports would come down to the local school district. Each individual school board would be able to decide for itself.

McQuinn countered that allowing the localities to decide brings its own set of problems.

“There are implications with making this a local school board issue as well,” she said. “If a school division allows home-schooled students and another does not, there would be cases where teams would have to make a decision to forfeit a game. This kind of policy breeds division, brings fairness into question and creates inconsistencies across individual schools.”

Virginia Legislators Sound off on Trump Inauguration

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Several members of the Virginia House of Delegates spoke out Monday in regards to the events surrounding the inauguration of Donald Trump over the weekend.

Members from both sides of the aisle made their voices heard, both in support and opposition of the 45th president and the activities that engulfed his inauguration weekend.

Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, alluded to the events as a teachable moment for America’s youth.

“As a government teacher … I had a real passion for my students to understand what an incredibly unique representative democracy this was,” Cox said on the House floor Monday. “I thought of that on Friday when we saw one of the things I think is one of the greatest things we do, and that’s the transition of power.”

However, Cox was quick to voice his displeasure over both Trump’s Democratic opposition and those who took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest over the weekend.

“I’d be less than candid if I didn’t say I was disappointed in the 67 Democratic congressmen that did not attend,” Cox said. “I was probably even more disappointed with some of the violent protests I saw. I thought that it was bad for the country and, frankly, probably kept some of those good folks from various parts of the country from attending.”

Cox also used his platform as a call to action for his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He referred to recent remarks delivered by Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News.

“I was reflecting on a speech that Del. Price gave last week,” he said. “I think we all need to look at other people’s perspectives, and I really took to heart when she said that for her, her grandmother and, I think, for so many others, what President Obama’s presidency meant. I thought that was very well said. And so, having said that, I think it’s crucial that whether you did or did not support President Trump, that he’s our president and we need to pray for his success, success for Americans and Virginia’s success.”

Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, agreed with Cox’s call to support the new president but warned against doing so blindly.

“I, too, share (Del. Cox’s) support for the notion of a smooth transition of political power in this country. I think that’s what distinguishes our country from many other countries around the globe,” Toscano said.

But he added, “Be careful before you walk down the road with President Trump. He is our president, and we have an obligation to support him, but we also have an obligation to tell him he is wrong when he is wrong.”

Toscano cited the administration’s stances on repealing the Affordable Care Act and a reported freeze on federal government hiring as two examples where Americans need to remain vigilant.

“In these two instances – ACA and freezes on federal employment – he is wrong, and we should stand up for those principles,” he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpepper, was quick to address Toscano’s claims.

“I actually agree with some of the comments from (Del. Toscano),” Freitas said, “and I have to say that if President Trump accomplishes nothing more than once again reinvigorating the Democrats’ passion for the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, he will achieve more than I ever thought possible in my lifetime.”

Freitas, like Cox, also expressed his disdain over the weekend’s protests.

“As I looked at the violent riots that broke out – probably by a bunch of people with ‘coexist’ bumper stickers on their cars – at the inauguration, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “These are some of the same people that are constantly lecturing us on tolerance and diversity and getting along, and the moment there’s an election result they don’t like, we’re setting things on fire and throwing bricks through windows.”

Freitas compared the protesters with what he characterized as the oppressive regulations of his opponents across the aisle.

“When it comes to things like Obamacare and when it comes to a lot of these other government-imposed programs that don’t require voluntary cooperation, they use coercion. If it’s such a good idea, why does it always require government force to implement on an otherwise free people?” Freitas asked.

“I think that’s a fair question to ask, because at the end of the day, coexistence is not a bumper sticker you put on your car. Coexistence is resisting the urge to coerce those whom you can’t convince. I think we need to be a little bit more cognizant of that.”

However, Freitas concluded by reiterating Toscano’s point on holding government accountable.

“I, for one, hope this administration will rely more on free people to resolve their problems through voluntary association as opposed to a top-down Washington, D.C., approach for everything,” he said. “I commit to holding the administration, even though it’s my party, accountable to that end.”

Senate Panel OKs Bans on LGBT Discrimination

By Amelia Heymann, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How They Voted

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

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

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

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

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

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

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

NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.

Animal Tethering Bill Tabled By Subcommittee

By Ashley Luck, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to prohibit the tethering of dogs and other animals was rejected Monday by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

HB 1802, filed by Del. John J. Bell, D-Chantilly, would have allowed tethering only if the owner of the animal were outside and within sight of the pet.

The meeting of the committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee brought out both supporters and opponents of the tethering bill.

Supporters included representatives from the Richmond SPCA and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of the cruelty investigations department for PETA, said the organization sees many mistreated dogs tethered on chains.

“We’re in support of the bill because we see thousands and thousands of dogs in the commonwealth who are trapped 24/7 at the end of a chain, without any love, companionship or respect – oftentimes without the very bare minimums of life necessities,” Nachminovitch said.

“Man’s best friend deserves better than that.”

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Alice Harrington, a representative of the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said there were plenty of reasons to safely tether an animal.

“It should be tabled -- that’s what we wanted,” said Harrington. “Tethering is a tool that has been used for thousands of years to keep animals safe. When these kinds of bills come forward, most of them don’t tie to anything having to do with the condition of the dog.”

“There’s all sorts of reasons why people need to tether an animal -- like escape artists, whether they dig under the fence or go over,” Harrington said.

“Something you do when you have dog shows and field events with hunting dogs, the method of containing them is to tether them. You can’t enforce this stuff, especially where it says you have to stand in sight of your dog,” she said.

HB 1802 stated, “No companion animal shall be tethered outdoors unless the owner is outdoors within sight of the animal.” An initial violation would have been a Class 4 misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $250. A second offense would have been a Class 3 misdemeanor, with a fine up to $500.

Bell’s legislation would have amended section 3.2-6503 of the Code of Virginia, in relation to the care of companion animals. The code says owners must provide adequate feed, water, properly cleaned shelter, adequate space for the type of animal and veterinary care when needed.

The provisions of HB 1802 would have applied to anyone who owns or provides foster care to a companion animal, including animal shelters, dealers, pet shops, exhibitors, kennels, groomers and boarding establishments.

Most localities in Virginia do not have restrictions on the tethering of animals. The city of Richmond and a few others have prohibited it.

After hearing testimony for and against the tethering bill, the subcommittee voted to table it on a 7-1 vote.

School Security Officer Gun Bill Gains Ground

By Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates voted Monday to advance to third reading a bill that would allow school security officers to carry firearms.

Under the legislation, school districts could employ security officers to carry a firearm in the performance of their duty if they meet certain requirements.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, told House members that HB 1392 addresses the concerns Gov. Terry McAuliffe raised when he vetoed a similar bill last year.

“In his veto message as I recall, he was worried about the vetting process: Are we going to be picking people who are well vetted to do this important work?” Lingamfelter said.

The bill is expected to receive the House’s final approval later this week.

Under HB 1392, school security officers could carry a firearm if:

  • The school employee is a law-enforcement officer who retired or resigned in good standing.
  • The employee has met additional training and certification requirements set by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.
  • The local school board solicits input from the locality’s chieflaw-enforcement officer regarding the employee’s qualifications.
  • The local school board grants the employee the authority to carry a firearm while on duty.

The bill would also require the DCJS to establish firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who carry a firearm.

House Republicans said the bill is needed because law enforcement officers need more time to respond to emergencies in rural areas of the commonwealth.

“None of us want to contemplate the unthinkable that something horrible can happen in a school,” Lingamfelter said. “Law enforcement, particularly in rural areas, who have to travel greater distances, might be delayed in getting there to stop a calamity, and that is my motivation.”

Del. Michael J. Webert, R-Fauquier, backed the argument by speaking of his own district: “They don’t have a lot of resources, and this is another alternative for that locality to protect their children utilizing their resources.”

Webert said his district faces the struggle of having only one school resource officer to cover three schools. The resource officers are members of police or sheriff’s departments.

House Democrats opposed the bill. Citing grim statistics on teen gun violence, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax said, “School resource officers are sufficient. We don’t need to expand the class of folks that can bring guns into our schools.”

Webert replied, “I don’t understand why the gentlemen would be against protecting children and giving localities the ability to protect our children.”

‘Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally’ Urges Support for Clean Energy

By Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Waving signs declaring “No Fracking Way” and “Beyond Coal,” more than 50 environmentalists gathered Monday for a Ditch Dirty Fuels Rally near the state Capitol, encouraging Virginia legislators to embrace clean energy alternatives.

The Sierra Club sponsored the event, which coincided with Conservation Lobby Day.

“We are here today because we know that climate disruption is already negatively impacting our families and communities here in Virginia,” said Kendyl Crawford, conservation program manager for the Sierra Club. “It’s time for our leaders to get serious about clean energy and take advantage of this exciting opportunity for both public health and our environment.”

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, attended the rally and expressed his support for alternative, renewable energy sources. Keam spoke about his experiences on the House Special Subcommittee on Energy, where he said too many of his colleagues base their decisions on party politics.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of members in the General Assembly who just say anytime it’s coming from the industry, they automatically support it – anytime it’s coming from the environment, they automatically oppose it,” Keam said.

“I’m trying something that we haven’t done in a long time, which is to get members from both sides of the aisle to come together, talk reasonably and see if there’s a way we can come together on core values – values such as clean water.”

Keam recently proposed a bill (HB 2112) that would require the State Corporation Commission to adopt rules for community renewable projects.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, such projects allow customers who don’t have solar panels or other renewable resources of their own to buy or lease a portion of a shared renewable energy system. The money that customers make from these clean energy sources is then credited to their electricity bill, as if they had solar panels on their own roof or a wind turbines in their backyard.

“We don’t want it to just go to the private sector so that they can create more business opportunities. We want it to actually go to the regular folks,” Keam said.

He said his legislation “probably won’t go this year because it’s a new idea, but I think it’s the kind of idea that we need to start talking about so that everyday folks will benefit from the new solar energy, not just businesses.”

Besides supporting renewable energy proposals, the rally also served as a protest against bills sought by fossil fuel interests.

One such bill is HB 1678, which would exclude from public disclosure information about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Essentially, the legislation would make oil and gas companies exempt from reporting the chemicals they pump into fracking wells.

Keam pledged to vote against any bills that would allow more fracking in Virginia.

“Nobody should hide behind our public interest laws and freedom of information laws to be able to prevent us from finding out what their plans are,” he said.

At the rally, representatives of environmental organizations from across the state spoke in support of sustainable energy alternatives and called on Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other elected representatives to protect the environment.

“Both Gov. McAuliffe and the General Assembly has declared solar energy in the public interest – let’s hold them to it,” said Amory Fischer, business development coordinator for Secure Future Solar.

Renewable energy has been growing rapidly in the United States, reducing pollution and creating jobs, advocates say. Moreover, the cost to install solar panels has dropped more than 60 percent over the past decade, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Many states have invested heavily in solar energy – notably California, which last year generated 16,507 megawatts of solar power. In contrast, Virginia generated just 10 megawatts of solar energy in 2015.

Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, a pediatrician from Alexandria, said she supports clean energy on behalf of the next generation.

“Our children deserve to inherit the same beautiful state – its fields, its farms, its mountains with their tops – that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington loved and nurtured at the birth of our country,” said Ahdoot, who also was the lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on climate change and children’s health.

“Our children deserve clean air, our children deserve clean water, our children deserve a safe and stable climate, and our children deserve an affordable and reliable energy.”

The rally was originally scheduled to take place at the Bell Tower on the Capitol grounds, but weather conditions forced participants to relocate indoors to the St Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“I was a little sad that the rain did happen today,” Crawford said.“But I still think that we made sure our message is heard, our voices getting out there.”

Take Politics Out of Redistricting, Citizens Say

By Megan Corsano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Citizens demanding an end to gerrymandering packed a legislative subcommittee hearing Monday as lawmakers and members of the public all voiced concerns over the influence of politics on redistricting.

Critics say the current system, in which the General Assembly redraws the boundaries for legislative districts, allows politicians to choose their constituents instead of the other way around. As a result, many legislators run unopposed in districts that are heavily Republican or heavily Democratic.

The Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee held a 7 a.m. meeting on sixproposed constitutional amendments aimed at addressing the problem. The subcommittee is scheduled to vote on the proposals next week.

Much of the focus was on HJ 763, introduced by Republican Del. Steven Landes of Augusta County. It would “prohibit any electoral district from being drawn in order to favor or disfavor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress or other individual entity.”

Most of the people filling the seats in the subcommittee’s meeting room were from One Virginia 2021, a nonpartisan organization “advocating for fair redistricting of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (2021 refers to the next time redistricting will happen – after the 2020 census.)

Members of the group wore stickers declaring “I’ve Been Gerry-Mandered!” A total of 17 members of the organization testified before the subcommittee about Landes’ constitutional amendment, all of them in favor of the idea.

Gerrymandering refers to drawing electoral districts to favor one political party over the other. Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of this practice. Many say gerrymandering undermines democracy.

“It’s all about fairness,” said Jay Brock, a member of One Virginia 2021. “We talk a lot about equality and the other values that the country was founded on. For me, the most operative way to put that into practice is through fairness, and the current system is patently unfair.”

Brittany Shearer, a volunteer with One Virginia 2021 from Norfolk, was one of the 17 people who spoke in favor of HJ 763.

“Something that I am working really hard on is improving access, particularly among young people, to the democratic system,” Shearer said. “When gerrymandering takes place, we see the furthest extremes of both political parties hold office in order to keep out any challengers.”

One Virginia 2021’s attendance at the subcommittee meeting was part of its “Lobby Day 2017.” Almost 200 members of the group came to the General Assembly Building to lobby for redistricting reform, said Brian Cannon, the organization’s executive director.

At a press conference, Cannon said the biggest challenge in addressing the problem is helping people understand how a complex process like redistricting affects them.

“People aren’t satisfied with the rigged system of our elections,” Cannon said, noting that presidential candidates Barrack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016 both targeted this dissatisfaction and called for systematic change. “I think we can do better. I know we can do better.”

The press conference included a screening of the organization’s video “A Message from Jerry Mandering,” a comedic explanation of the issue.

Redistricting reform measures usually pass the Virginia Senate but die in the House, Cannon said. He and the six state delegates proposing different constitutional amendments to control gerrymandering hope that doesn’t happen this year.

Cannon said he believes the redistricting process should be taken out of the hands of the General Assembly and given to an independent entity, such as a redistricting commission.

In his testimony, Landes said his proposal would put in the Virginia Constitution “language that would make more objective our process related to redistricting.” However, Landes said he does not support efforts to establish a redistricting commission, such as HJ 628, proposed by Democratic Del. Ken Plum of Reston.

Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, noted that it is the prerogative of the General Assembly to draw district lines. “Political favoritism is in the eye of the beholder,” he said – a sentiment that suggests objectivity is hard to prove or disprove.

While testifying for his own proposal, Plum urged the subcommittee to approve at least one of the constitutional amendments on redistricting so it can go to the House floor for a vote.

The Constitutional Subcommittee plans to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments at its next meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. on Jan. 30.

If a constitutional amendment reforming the redistricting process passes this session, implementation would be a long way off. The General Assembly would have to approve the amendment again in 2018, and then it would be placed on a statewide ballot that November.

House Gives ‘Tebow Bill’ Preliminary Approval

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates gave tentative approval Monday to a bill that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports.

HB 1578, widely known as the “Tebow Bill” after former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, would give home-schoolers the ability to participate in high school sports and other interscholastic activities. The bill is on the House calendar for final approval Tuesday.

Sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, the bill is modeled after laws in other states. Bell has perennially introduced the legislation since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills passed the General Assembly and were sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed them.

Virginia High School League rules currently prohibit home-schoolers from participating in high school sports after eighth grade. Bell said he wants to change that.

Bell described his bill as a “chance to try out” the idea. If passed, the law would “sunset” on July 1, 2022, thus requiring the General Assembly to revisit the issue in five years.

Under the proposal, local school boards would get to decide whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in their school’s athletic programs. School districts would not be required to do so.

In addition, Bell said his bill contains several provisions that would prevent it from being abused to circumvent academic ineligibility.

First, students would be required to play for the school in their home district; they could not choose where to play.

Students who want to participate in their local school’s athletics would be required to pass standardized tests and other requirements for at least two consecutive years. They also would have to meet all immunization requirements necessary to play high school sports.

Schools would be allowed to charge students “reasonable fees” to cover the costs of participation, thereby easing the burden on taxpayers, Bell said.

The issue rose to national prominence in 2007 when ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” featured Tebow and several other home-schooled students across the country seeking access to high school athletics.

Thanks to legislation passed in his home state in 1996, Tebow was allowed to play football at Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy and, later, at nearby Allen D. Nease High School, where he was eventually named a high school All-American.

Since then, Tebow and former NFL defensive end Jason Taylor, who also played high school football while being home-schooled in Pennsylvania, have campaigned across the country to advocate for laws allowing home-schoolers to play for their local high schools.

In 2008, Tebow received the Quaqua Protégé Award as an “outstanding home-education graduate” for his work.

Senate Defeats Bill Opposed by ACLU

By Mary Lee Clark,Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate on Monday rejected a bill to increase the penalty for protesters who remain at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly after being told to leave.

The legislation, proposed by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, was defeated on a 14-26 vote, as several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing it. The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill was an overreaction to civil disobedience.

Under Senate Bill 1055, anyone who “remains at the place of any riot or unlawful assembly after having been lawfully warned to disperse” would have been guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months of jail time and a $2,500 fine. Currently, this offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which can draw a fine up to $500 but no jail time.

Stuart said he submitted the bill at the request of the Sheriff’s Department in Westmoreland County.

“As a representative of an area, when you have constituents who ask you to bring bills, we are their vehicle to do that,” Stuart said. “So I typically do.”

The legislation drew opposition from Democratic senators. Many of them cited demonstrations from the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement and Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.

“I find it ironic that Senate Bill 1055, which increases the penalty for unlawful assembly, was passed on the holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an individual who understood the power of nonviolent direct protest and the power of marching,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. It was on Jan. 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate. The committee’s vote was 8-4, with all Republican members voting yes and all Democratic members voting no.

Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, called SB 1055 “one of the worst bills” he has ever seen.

“This is contrary to what we believe in as Americans, what we believe in as Virginians. I think Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he thought we were considering something like this,” Edwards said.

A fellow Democrat, Sen. Barbara Favola of Arlington, agreed.

“This bill exacerbates the divide that already exists among individuals that are trying to express themselves in a peaceful way and our police departments and our police forces,” Favola said. “We should encourage peaceful demonstrations.”

Several Republican senators spoke in support of the bill.

“When demonstrations become riot and become violent, I think we need to have the tools to deal with them,” said Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun.

Stuart said his bill applied only to riots (although the language also included “unlawful assembly”).

“This has nothing to do with peaceful protest,” Stuart said.

The ACLU of Virginia strongly opposed the legislation.

“In Virginia and in a lot of communities, we are supposed to be moving away from putting more people in jail and more people in prison for typically non-violent crimes, and this is the opposite direction,” said Charlie Schmidt, a public policy lawyer for the ACLU.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - January 2017

 

 

 

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 2005-2016
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.)