January 2021

Lawmakers Advance Voting Rights Act of Virginia

By Cierra Parks, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the first day of Black History Month, legislators advanced a bill to help ensure voter protection for Virginia citizens. 

House Bill 1890, also known as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, cleared the House in a 55-45 vote. 

Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, modeled the bill after the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Price’s bill aims to eliminate voter suppression, intimidation and discrimination through changes in voting laws and practices by election officials. 

“Though the original Voting Rights Act was passed on the federal level in 1965, there are still attacks on voting rights today that can result in voter suppression, discrimination and intimidation,” Price said during the bill’s hearing. “We need to be clear that this is not welcome in our great commonwealth.”

 The bill prohibits localities from influencing the results of elections by “diluting or abridging the rights of voters who are from a protected class.” The measure defines the protected class as a group of citizens protected from discrimination based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. 

The bill also requires voting materials to be made in languages other than English if certain criteria are met. 

“HB 1890 requires that changes to voting laws and regulations be advertised in advance for public comment and evaluated for impact on Black, Indigenous and people of color communities,” Price said while speaking about the bill. 

The bill allows the attorney general to sue if a locality or official violates election laws. Fees or fines that are won in the lawsuit will go to a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established pursuant to the bill’s passage. The fine for a first offense can not exceed $50,000 and fines for a second offense can not exceed $100,000.

Barbara Tabb, president of the Virginia Electoral Board Association, believes that attaching fines to the bill has the potential to scare off election officers.

“This will result in definitely a much harder time in recruiting our election officials,” Tabb said. "That’s my concern about it.”

Price said this bill is important because the attack on the Voting Rights Act has not stopped since 1965. She said the landmark law was “gutted” on the federal level with the Shelby County v. Holder case in 2013.

“What this [HB 1890] will do is restore some of those protections and allow for Virginia to say, ‘We believe in the full Voting Rights Act and we know that it’s needed,’” Price said 

Legislators have passed a number of recent laws to make voting easier, including making Election Day a holiday, allowing early, in-person voting and permitting no-excuse absentee voting. 

Price said she compiled examples of voter suppression ranging from moving polling places off public transit lines, or from a community center to a sheriff’s office.

“Voter suppression doesn't always look like taking a box of ballots and throwing it out,” she said. “It can be implicit, it can be unintentional.”

Price said she worked with several groups to ensure the bill ends discrimination and voter suppression. In addition to community advocates, she consulted with lawyers currently representing impacted voters, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Advancement Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Senate Bill 1395, the sister bill in the Senate, was introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

First Case of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

DCLS confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”

In the United States, nearly 200 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in 23 states as of January 22, 2021. While scientists are working to better understand its impact on vaccine efficacy, early data suggests currently authorized vaccines are effective against the new variant. VDH continues to work with communities across Virginia to slow the spread of all strains of COVID-19 through widespread adherence to preventive measures, supporting testing and vaccination efforts, and conducting investigations of cases and outbreaks.

As a virus spreads from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Because of these mutations, new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. According to the CDC, multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and around the world. The B.1.1.7 variant contains an unusually large number of mutations.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples tested by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

“Sequencing is one of many tools we have available at the state’s public health laboratory to enable medical and public health officials to quickly identify and respond to threats such as emerging COVID-19 variants,” said Dr. Denise Toney, Director of DCLS. “We share this information not only within the Commonwealth, but with our federal and international partners to gain a better understanding of emerging genetic changes to SARS-CoV-2.”

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.

American Heart Month and Zoom Talk on Heart Disease & Women

South Hill, VA (1/21/21) – Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 655,000 deaths each year. That’s why in 1963 President Johnson declared February American Heart Month, to remind people of the symptoms, risk factors and steps they can take to improve their health, while they are already thinking of heart matters for Valentine’s Day. Tragically, President Johnson died ten years later from a heart attack at the age of 64.

In honor of National Heart Month, cardiologist Bethany Denlinger, MD, FACC, will speak on Heart Disease and Women virtually via Zoom on Tuesday, February 23, at 12:00 noon. This 20-minute talk is open to the public and no registration is required. “I like the problem-solving part of taking care of patients,” explains Dr. Denlinger. “Some patients have typical complaints of chest pain, but sometimes not. Women have atypical symptoms of heart disease and can be more difficult to diagnose.”

Save this link to join the discussion on February 23: vcuhealth.zoom.us/j/95878285734 . This seminar will be recorded. Your presence is your permission to post on VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s website so more people can benefit from hearing this information.

Warning signs tend to differ for men and women but chest pain is the most common complaint. Other signs include discomfort in other areas of the upper body like arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat or lightheadedness. Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain. If you have any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Don’t try to drive yourself or you could pass out and injure yourself and others. Don’t get someone else to drive you because the EMTs can provide time and tissue saving care to help you before you arrive at the hospital. Don’t worry about not being sure because it is better to mistake the symptoms than permanently damage your heart by waiting.

National Wear Red Day® is Friday, February 5, 2021. Wear red to show your support of heart health.

 

 

 

Internet Society Announces $1M in Grant Funding to Expand Internet Access to Underserved Communities in the Southeastern United States

Grant is in Partnership with Truist Cares COVID-19 Relief Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Internet Society today announced a new grant program, Expanding Potential in Communities, or Truist EPIC Grant, to support broadband initiatives that help alleviate disparities in education, employment and social welfare in the southeastern United States. These grants will expand broadband access in communities with complementary Internet connectivity solutions such as community networks.

The grant is part of Truist Cares, a cooperative effort between Truist Financial Corporation, Truist Foundation, Inc., and Truist Charitable Fund to provide communities, organizations and individuals disaster relief and assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. The Internet Society will distribute $1 million in funding through grants between $125,000 to $180,000 to organizations and entities to bring high-speed Internet infrastructure with limited or no Internet access to low-income communities and indigenous populations or communities of color in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role the Internet plays in our daily lives and the vast number of communities unable to access the Internet. The need to connect all communities is urgent as work, school, health care and more continue to shift online.

“The pandemic has shown that the Internet is an essential infrastructure for all communities and, without it, opportunities are lost and inequities are magnified,” said Lynette Bell, president of the Truist Foundation. “We must all work to make high-speed broadband available to everyone who needs it. It’s the engine for building strong and sustainable communities and a resource that requires immediate investment.”

According to Microsoft data, more than half of Americans — nearly 163 million people — don’t have access to high-speed broadband, with rural and low-income urban areas disproportionately affected. In particular, the southeastern United States lags behind the rest of the country in access to the Internet, with 76.9%  of households reporting access compared with the national average of 81.9%.

Community networks are communications infrastructures built, managed and used by local communities or municipalities and are a sustainable solution to address these connectivity gaps in underserved regions. The Internet Society has a long history of working with communities worldwide to fund, build and train people with the skills needed to run and maintain community networks.

“Closing the digital divide and expanding Internet access is vital, creating healthier, safer and more resilient communities. We are excited to partner with Truist to help rebuild and revitalize communities with the essential infrastructure for Internet access,” said Mark Buell, regional vice president, North America of the Internet Society, a global nonprofit promoting the development and use of an open, globally-connected and secure Internet.

The Truist EPIC Grant application will be available starting Jan. 25, 2021, with applications accepted through Feb. 19, 2021. For more information on the grants and to download the application, go to www.Internetsociety.org/grants/epic/.

***ATTENTION MIDDLE SCHOOLERS***Rep. McEachin Announces Second Black History Month Essay Contest

 

RICHMOND, VA  Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today announced his second Black History Month Essay Contest for middle and high school students (grades 6-12) residing in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. Students will write about a current leader or activist whom they believe will become an important figure in Black history.

 

“Last year, I was deeply moved to read what Black History Month meant to participants in our inaugaral Black History Month essay contest,” said Congressman McEachin. “After witnessing a year of historic protests and national conversations about race relations in America fueled by young people, I look forward to reading about the next generation of leaders our students feel are making a lasting impact in the Black community.”

 

Middle school students should submit an essay 350 to 500 words in length and high school students should submit an essay 500-750 words in length, along with their full name, address, school name and grade level to VA04.Projects@mail.house.gov no later than February 15, 2020. Winners will be notified individually and announced on Congressman McEachin’s social media pages in February.

VSU Researcher Receives Meritorious Service Award for Work with Industrial Hemp

Dr. Maru Kipleting Kering, an associate professor at the Agricultural Research Station (ARS) at Virginia State University (VSU), recently received the 2021 Land-Grant University Award from the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

The award was announced at the council’s Vision 2021 Virtual Celebration held Jan. 14. The annual event is a celebration of agriculture in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the event was held virtually this year, and the award presentation will occur later in 2021.

Kering, the lead hemp researcher at VSU, has made significant contributions to industrial hemp research and production in the Commonwealth.

“We are thrilled to award Dr. Maru Kering of Virginia State University the 2021 VAC Land-Grant University Award,” said Sarah Jane Thomsen, director of member services and events for the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

The award goes to an outstanding faculty member or employee of a Virginia land-grant university for meritorious service to the industry of agribusiness during their career, Thomsen said. “Dr. Kering perfectly embodies the award through his work that has generated tremendous interest in the hemp program at VSU and hemp production by Virginia farmers.

Kering, who has a doctorate in agronomy (plant nutrition and physiology) from the University of Missouri, has led hemp research efforts at VSU since 2016. Virginia State University was one of several higher learning institutions authorized to conduct industrial hemp research in the Commonwealth after the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill by the U.S. Congress and the subsequent enactment of the Industrial Hemp Law by the Virginia General Assembly in 2015.

“This award to Dr. Kering shows the significant role Virginia State University is playing in developing and promoting industrial hemp as an alternative crop for Virginia farmers,” said Dr. Wondi Mersie, associate dean and director of the Agricultural Research Station. “We will continue to generate the necessary research-based information that will help make industrial hemp a viable and profitable crop in Virginia.”

The Virginia Agribusiness Council is a Richmond, Virginia based non-profit that advocates for business interests in the agriculture and forestry industry. It serves as a liaison between governing bodies and the industry. Its membership includes farmers, foresters, agricultural producers, industry suppliers, marketers, processors, commodity and industry associations.

For more information about agricultural research at VSU, contact Dr. Wondi Mersie at wmersie@vsu.edu.

Virginia State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, marital status, disability, age, sexual preference, political affiliation or any other bias prohibited by Virginia or federal law. Virginia State University is fully accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate, masters and doctorate degrees.

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Bill Advances to Remove Statue of Segregationist

By Zachary Klosko, Capital News Service

RICHMOND,Va. -- A Virginia House of Delegates committee voted Friday to advance a bill to remove the statue of former state Gov. Harry F. Byrd Sr. from Capitol Square. 

House Bill 2208, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, instructs the Department of General Services to place the statue in storage until its final location is chosen by the General Assembly.

“This statue serves only as a reminder to the overt and institutional racism that has and continues to plague our commonwealth,” Jones said.

The bill’s supporters included Rita Davis, counsel to Gov. Ralph Northam, who described Byrd’s work as preventing African Americans from voting, being seen or being heard.

“Had Mr. Byrd had his way, I would never have the opportunity to be before you, because I'm Black,” Davis said during the committee hearing. “The question is not whether we should remove Mr. Byrd’s statue from Capitol Square, but rather 'Why on earth would we keep it at Capitol Square?'”

 Speaker of the House Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield, indicated during the hearing that the League of Women Voters also supported the bill.

The five Republicans serving on the committee voted against the measure.

Byrd, a Democrat, served as Virginia’s governor from 1926 to 1930 and as a U.S. senator from 1933 to 1965. He strongly opposed desegregation of public schools and led a “massive resistance” campaign in the South against the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, according to documents from Old Dominion University’s Desegregation of Virginia Education collection. His statue was erected in Richmond’s Capitol Square in 1976 after his death in 1966.

Debate around the statue’s removal began last session, when Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, introduced a bill to remove it, though the bill was ultimately stricken from the docket. The General Assembly passed legislation last year allowing local governments to remove Confederate monuments. The removal of statues in Richmond was accelerated following protests after George Floyd died in the custody of a Minneappolis police officer who has since been charged with second-degree murder.

The Department of General Services estimates the removal to cost approximately $250,000, according to the bill’s impact statement. Storage costs are estimated at $7,000 per year until the final home of the statue is determined.

The Rules Committee passed the measure on a 13-5 vote. The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.

William Joseph Bivens, Jr. (Billy Joe),

September 19, 1932 - January 21, 2021

Graveside Services

2:00 PM on Sunday, January 24, 2021

Greensville Memorial Cemetery
1250 Skippers Rd.
Emporia, Virginia

 88 of Emporia, VA, passed away on January 21, 2021.

Billy Joe was born September 19, 1932 to William J. Bivens, Sr. and Mary Bivens Kanipe in Hamlet, NC.  After graduating from Greensville County High School, he attended Virginia Tech where he played football.

He worked for the State of Virginia and the USDA supervising fruit, vegetable and peanut inspections for 43 years.  Billy Joe enjoyed coaching Pee Wee football, watching his children and grandchildren on the ballfield and was known to have played an occasional hand of cards. 

He was preceded in death by his parents, wife Alice Bivens and sons, Joey and Mike Bivens.  He is survived by his daughter Pat Clary (Wilson) of Emporia, VA; step-daughter Amy Lifsey of Roanoke Rapids, NC; grandchildren, Katie Richardson (Allen) of Gasburg, VA, Kelly Clary of Emporia, VA, Kendall Nunnally (Scott) of Sutherland, VA, Heather Barnes (Brooks) of Lucama, NC; five great-grandchildren and special friend Randy Sirles.

A graveside service will be held at Greensville Memorial Cemetery at 2:00 PM on Sunday, January 24, 2021.  The family suggests memorial contributions be made to Greensville County Fire Department, 209 Halifax Street, Emporia, VA 23847.  Online condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com.

COVID-19 Outbreaks in Higher Education

Data Dashboard Includes Information on Virginia Higher Education

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has launched a COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard. This dashboard includes confirmed outbreaks reported to VDH among public and private colleges and universities since August 1, 2020. This dashboard helps to provide awareness of the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in colleges and universities statewide.

Only distinct confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks investigated by VDH local health departments, and the associated cases and deaths related to an outbreak are included. A confirmed COVID-19 outbreak means that there were two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with a particular setting.

VDH collaborates with Virginia colleges and universities to investigate and report outbreaks. Accompanying the VDH COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard is a separate website hosted by college and universities that presents the number of COVID-19 cases reported at their institutions, www.covid19.va.education. VDH is not involved in collection of the data presented or the maintenance of this website hosted by colleges and universities.

For clarification, VDH will present only outbreak-associated COVID-19 cases and deaths on the COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard. The dashboard does not include the total number of cases at the college or university. Some colleges or universities separately track and report the number of cases associated with their school or community and may use different methods than VDH. Therefore, it is not expected that the numbers on the VDH dashboard and numbers reported on individual dashboards created by the colleges and universities will match.

If you have questions about the data on the separate website hosted by the colleges and universities, please direct those inquiries to the specific college or university.

CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT PROCESS

Any person, class or group of persons may file a discrimination complaint with USDA if they believe an FSA administered program or function directly or indirectly results in treatment or services being provided differently because of a person’s age, color, disability, marital, or family status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, political beliefs, reprisal or public assistance status.

Any person alleging discrimination has the right to file a complaint within 180 days of the alleged discrimination action.

Complaint may be filed in writing or orally with the agency head, any designated agency official or the Secretary of Agriculture.

Assistance filing a complaint can be obtained by calling or visiting any local FSA Office.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.

SBA’s dedicated access to community financial institutions helped underserved small businesses

60,000 Paycheck Protection Program Loans Approved in First Week

WASHINGTON –Today, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced that it has approved approximately 60,000 PPP loan applications submitted by nearly 3,000 lenders, for over $5 billion, between the program’s re-opening on Monday, Jan. 11, at 9 a.m. ET through to Sunday, Jan. 17.   Last week, the PPP provided dedicated access to community financial institutions that specialize in serving underserved communities, including minority- women-, and veteran-owned small businesses from Monday through Thursday, joined Friday by smaller lenders.

As of today, Jan. 19, the Paycheck Protection Program is open to all participating lenders.

“The SBA continues to help small businesses across the nation access vital funds through the Paycheck Protection Program. Data from our first week, which first allowed hundreds of community financial institutions to submit applications, then opened wider to small banks, demonstrate that we have helped tens of thousands of businesses,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.

“The PPP is off to another great start helping our nation’s economy. With PPP re-opening today for all First and Second Draw loan applications, the SBA remains committed to keeping small business workers on payroll and their doors open during this challenging time. Moreover, the SBA over-performed operationally, issuing guidance and rules in advance and in alignment with the new law’s requirements,” Carranza added.

First Draw PPP loans are for those borrowers who have not received a PPP loan before August 8, 2020. The first two PPP rounds open between March and August 2020 were a historic success helping 5.2 million small businesses keep 51 million American workers employed.  

Second Draw PPP loans are for eligible small businesses with 300 employees or less and that previously received a First Draw PPP loan. These borrowers will have to use or had used the full amount of their First Draw loan only for authorized uses and demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts between comparable quarters in 2019 and 2020. The maximum amount of a Second Draw PPP loan is $2 million. 

The Paycheck Protection Program remains open for First and Second Draw PPP loans until March 31, 2021, as set forth in the Economic Aid Act, or until Congressionally-appropriated funding is exhausted.

Jessica Nicole Davis

July 10, 2001 - January 6, 2021

Graveside Services

2:00 pm on Saturday, January 23, 2021

Greensville Memorial Cemetery
1250 Skippers Road
Emporia, Virginia

JESSICA Nicole Davis, 19, passed away on January 6, 2021. She was preceded in death by her mother, Kay Gordon Davis. She is survived by her father, Roy Michael Davis and step mom, Tina B. Davis of Capron, VA., maternal grandparents, Linwood Gordon and Daisy Mae Gordon of Emporia VA., step-grandmother, Marlene Holland of Capron, VA., brothers, Jeffrey M. Davis and Joshua M. Davis of Emporia, VA., step brother, Cody J. Henderson of Capron, VA., step sister, Shana Lambert of Franklin, VA., along with numerous nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles. Jessica graduated from Greensville County High School.

A private graveside service will be held, at Greensville Memorial Cemetery with Rev. John Kinsey officiating.

A public memorial service will be held at a later date.

Due to covid-19 regulations, wearing a mask and social distancing will be required.

Online Condolences may be made at www.echolsfuneralhome.com.

SBA Proposes Rule to Eliminate Regulations that Exclude Faith-Based Organizations from Seven SBA Programs

Public Comments Due by February 18, 2021

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Small Business Administration invites public comment on a proposed rule designed to remove regulatory provisions that exclude certain faith-based organizations from seven business loan and disaster assistance programs.  These programs include the Intermediary Lending Program (ILP), Business Loan programs (7(a), Microloan and 504 programs), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL) program and Immediate Disaster Assistance Program (IDAP). 

Because these provisions exclude otherwise eligible applicants based on their religious status, they violate their constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty rights.  By eliminating the provisions, the proposed rule would ensure that SBA’s programs provide equal treatment for faith-based organizations, which the Constitution requires, and would correspond with the President’s Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.

“Today’s proposed rule would remove barriers to SBA loans and disaster assistance that current regulations unfairly impose on faith-based businesses and organizations,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.  “America’s faith-based small businesses and organizations play a vital role in providing employment opportunities, products, and essential educational, training and youth social services that benefit both our local communities and the overall national economy.  Today’s proposed rule would ensure that these businesses and organizations are not forced to choose between their faith and the SBA financial assistance that they need to continue serving the public and employing our neighbors.”

Public comments on this proposed rule can be submitted on or before February 18, 2021 at www.regulations.gov, using the following RIN number: RIN 3245-AH60.  The public may also comment by mail to Valerie Mills, Executive Operations Officer, Office of General Counsel, U.S. Small Business Administration, 409 Third Street, SW, Washington, DC 20416.  

SBA will post all comments on https://www.regulations.gov.

For more information about SBA’s assistance to faith-based communities, click here.

VDH Expands Partnership with Walgreens To Offer Antigen Testing at No Cost

COVID-19 tests to be offered in fifteen Walgreens locations across Virginia

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced today that it has expanded its partnership with Walgreens to provide Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen testing at selected Walgreens locations across the Commonwealth. This arrangement increases the number of Walgreens locations that will operate drive-thru COVID-19 testing at no cost to the public from four to fifteen stores.

“We are pleased to announce the expansion of this public-private partnership following a successful pilot with four Walgreens locations,” said Dr. Parham Jaberi, VDH Public Health and Preparedness deputy commissioner. “Our continued partnership will help ensure increased access to COVID-19 testing at no cost for some of our communities that lack a fixed testing location or have higher rates of vulnerable populations.”

VDH encourages the use of these tests for individuals who are symptomatic, those who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, those at high risk of illness or complications and essential employees such as educators, childcare providers and healthcare providers.

“Walgreens takes pride in offering support to our customers and communities in times of need, and we’re pleased to work in collaboration with Virginia’s health officials on their efforts to broaden access to COVID-19 testing to vulnerable populations,” said Paul Blankenship, Walgreens regional vice president in Virginia.

Walgreens pharmacy teams will oversee the patient’s self-administration of a COVID-19 test, where test results will be processed at the pharmacy and provided to patients within 24 hours.

COVID-19 testing will be available by appointment to adults and children age 3 and older who meet screening criteria to receive a test. Appointments can be made by following the steps at Walgreens.com/COVID19Testing

The fifteen Walgreens COVID-19 testing locations are listed below:

  • Chesapeake: 1168 George Washington Hwy North
  • Collinsville: 3590 Virginia Ave
  • Fairfax (Centreville): 13926 Lee Hwy
  • Giles (Pearisburg): 121 North Main St
  • Lee (Pennington Gap): 5261 US Hwy 421
  • North Dinwiddie: 26036 Cox Rd
  • Northumberland (Callao): 17422 Richmond Rd.
  • Patrick (Stuart): 140 South Main St.
  • Pulaski: 901 Memorial Dr.
  • Pulaski (Dublin): 240 Broad St.
  • Richmond: 4845 Laburnum Ave
  • Rockingham (Timberville): 14111 Timber Way
  • Shenandoah (Woodstock): 120 West Reservoir Rd.
  • South Boston: 3220 Halifax Rd
  • Suffolk: 118 West Constance Rd.

For a list of additional testing options, please visit the VDH website at:
https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-testing/

VDH recommends two tools to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Download the free COVIDWISE app on your smartphone and it will anonymously notify you if you have been exposed to COVID-19. The app does not collect, store, track or use location data. VDH provides a free online risk-assessment tool called COVIDCHECK to check symptoms and connect users with appropriate health care resources.

Recognizing the Importance of Mentors

 

 

By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.

January is National Mentoring Month, an observation led by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, with support from the Highland Street Foundation.

A mentor is defined as a person who serves as a coach, advisor, or trusted counselor to someone with less experience. In college life, a mentor is much more. A mentor recognizes potential, kindles possibilities, and connects students with opportunities. At its most fundamental level, a mentoring relationship provides a personal connection so that mentees know someone cares. They are not alone.

At SVCC, mentoring is an important part of what we do. Formal mentoring programs stand alongside a host of other efforts that provide vital support for student achievement, including tutoring, career counseling, academic advising, and hands-on assistance in areas such as financial aid, disability accommodations, and transfer planning.

Our longest standing mentoring program, Make It Happen, began operating in 1998. This comprehensive effort supports the success of African-American males. In addition to receiving academic help, participants are given the opportunity to attend leadership development events and are encouraged to seek leadership positions in a variety of campus clubs, organizations, and committees. These activities, which promote adjustment to the college environment and encourage the development of a positive self-image, enable participants to consistently meet or exceed anticipated outcomes as measured by grade point average, retention, and persistence toward goals.

The Women in Search of Excellence (WISE) Mentoring Program seeks to address the challenges facing women in higher education by fostering healthy relationships and providing support, guidance, and encouragement. Participants overcome barriers enabling them to achieve personal, professional, and academic growth. With support from their mentors, WISE students set goals, make informed decisions, identify needed resources, discover pathways, cultivate strong relationships with women in business and academia, and develop leadership and self-improvement skills.

Go For It, a pilot program being launched at SVCC’s Center for Information Technology Excellence (CITE) in South Hill, is aligned with the Microsoft Women in Data Centers Pathway Program. Go For It will pair local students with their counterparts in Dublin, Ireland, and Microsoft staff will provide personal mentoring.

These programs and others help students reach education targets and attain personal success. They are especially valuable for students who are returning to an education pathway after time spent in the workforce. For example, people who find themselves unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-related job changes and wish to train for new career options can find the help they need at SVCC. The Re-Employing Virginians (REV) Grants program, originally instituted at the end of last year, has been extended through 2021. By combining this financial assistance with effective mentoring and student support, our College enables student achievement.

REV grants cover community college tuition for Virginians who meet program requirements and wish to train in REV-eligible programs. These span a wide range of options in areas with high job demand and include associate degree pathways, certificate and career studies programs, and short-term FastForward credentialing opportunities. Fields include nursing and other healthcare-related fields, criminal justice, information technology, and hands-on technical programs such as welding, machining, and automotive repair.

If you’re considering a return to higher education, contact SVCC. Visit southside.edu or call 434-736-2046. Ask us about financial assistance, mentoring, and other student support services that can help you reach your goals.


Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at quentin.johnson@southside.edu.

Otis B. Chaffin

March 3, 1934 - January 12, 2021

Otis B. Chaffin passed away at the age of 86 on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. Otis was born on March 3, 1934, in Mississippi. He was a retiree of the Georgia-Pacific plant in Emporia, Virginia. 

Otis is survived by his wife of 39 years, Frances Mitchell Chaffin; daughter Sylvia Chaffin; son, Earl Chaffin; step-daughters, Debra M. Roach (Wayne) and Brenda M. Rieley (Jerry); two grandchildren; four step-grandchildren; one great-grandchild and four step-great-grandchildren. 

A private graveside funeral service will be held on Saturday, January 16 at Greensville Memorial Cemetery officiated by The Reverend Tom Williams of Adams Grove Baptist Church. 

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Adams Grove Baptist Church, 24262 Green Plains Rd, Emporia, VA 23847.

Elective Surgery Update

South Hill, VA (1/12/21) - Due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) precautions established by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Virginia Department of Health, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital ceased performing any elective surgeries as of Tuesday, January 12, 2021, until further notice. All patients with scheduled surgeries will be contacted by VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital. Patients with emergent issues will be treated at VCU Health CMH using COVID-19 protocols. If you have questions, please contact your provider. This change is for elective procedures in the hospital and does not include patient visits to providers in VCU Health CMH’s practice offices in the C.A.R.E. Building, Hendrick Cancer & Rehab Center, Solari Radiation Therapy Center, or at Chase City Primary Care Center, Clarksville Primary Care Center or Tanglewood Family Medicine in Bracey.

Patient and staff safety remain a top priority and preventing the spread of this virus also remains a priority for VCU Health CMH. VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital continues to use control measures to help stem the spread of the virus.

Visitor restrictions remain in place at the hospital, with visiting limited to Labor & Delivery, Pediatrics and end-of-life patients. All visitors entering the hospital and C.A.R.E. Building will be screened for symptoms related to the Coronavirus.

As has been the case since this virus started, VCU Health CMH recommends everyone practice social distancing  - maintaining at least six feet of distance between people and continue with hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds of duration.

 

1.1 Million PPP Loans Worth $100B+ Forgiven So Far

Small borrowers make up vast majority of forgiveness applicants

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Small Business Administration has already forgiven more than 1.1 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for more than $100 billion, providing an extraordinary amount of critical relief to America’s small businesses just three months since the earliest PPP borrowers’ covered periods ended. 
 

The SBA has so far received 1,346,125 forgiveness applications for approximately $170.5 billion.  SBA has made payment on nearly 85% of the applications, forgiving over $100 billion.  For the smallest borrowers with loans up to $50,000, 88% have been approved for forgiveness.

“Today’s news is a key indicator that the PPP is working for all small businesses across our Nation,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. “For any eligible small business continuing to struggle due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Program has re-opened for new and certain existing PPP borrowers, and we encourage you to take advantage of the PPP to keep your workers on payroll, regardless of any local economic restrictions on your operations. SBA is continuing to work around the clock to forgive existing PPP loans and implement the next phase of this vital Program.”

PPP recently re-opened as part of the Economic Aid to Hard Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act, signed into law by President Trump Dec. 27, 2020.  The Act expanded forgivable expenses such as additional operational expenditures, certain property damage costs, supplier costs and worker protection expenditures, such as drive-through areas, ventilation and sneeze guards.

The SBA provides PPP Forgiveness Submission & Payment Metrics, as well as Paycheck Protection Program reports online at www.sba.gov/ppp.

Be a Stroke Hero

Lisa Smith, RN, BSN, CICU, Stroke Program Coordinator at VCU Health CMH.  Yasir Al-Khalili, MD, Neurologist at VCU Health CMH.
Tawny Jackson is the Senior Manager of Quality Improvement,
Quality, Outcomes, Research & Analytics at the American Heart Association.

South Hill, VA (1/13/21) – Stroke kills about 3,300 Virginians each year – that’s 1 out of every 20 deaths. Someone in Virginia has a stroke every 50 minutes. Every 2.5 hours, someone dies of a stroke in Virginia. About 26,000 Virginians have suffered a stroke who had a history of a previous stroke, while 17,000 had a first time stroke. VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) typically sees more than 200 cases of stroke each year.  

Learn the FAST warning signs:
F- Face Drooping
A -Arm Weakness
S -Speech Difficulty
T- Time to call 911 

VCU Health CMH Invites the community to join them for an educational outreach on stroke at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 18, 2021. CMH Stroke Program Coordinator Lisa Smith, RN, BSN, CICU, Neurologist Yasir Al-Khalili with VCU School of Medicine and Tawny Jackson from the American Stroke Association will discuss stroke, its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. In the interest of public safety, they are abiding by the CDC guidelines related to Covid-19. This will be a 100% online experience open to the public from the comfort and safety of your own home using Zoom. You could be a Stroke Hero; join them to find out how. 

Join using Zoom: 

bit.ly/3optGXl

Meeting ID: 990 2812 0279 

Passcode: 300692 

Contact Lisa.E.Smith@vcuhealth.org with any questions. VCU Health CMH has received the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award and is a Primary Stroke Center as deemed by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association. Visit our website for more stroke-related information at: vcu-cmh.org/community-resources/stroke-awareness .

Governor Northam Delivers State of the Commonwealth Address

RICHMOND—Tonight (January 13, 2021), Governor Ralph Northam will deliver the annual State of the Commonwealth address before a virtual joint session of the General Assembly. He will discuss Virginia’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight accomplishments from his third year in office, and share his vision to continue building a stronger, fairer, and more equitable Virginia. He will detail his proposals to support small businesses, give teachers a raise of more than two percent, expand access to early childhood education, legalize marijuana, and abolish the death penalty.

Governor Northam’s remarks as prepared for delivery available below. Watch the live address on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY:

Good evening. Madam Speaker Filler-Corn, Madam President Lucas, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, ladies and gentlemen—thank you for inviting me to speak with you tonight.

To my wife Pam, to Attorney General Herring, Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the State Corporation Commission, and my Cabinet and staff, thank you for your service to our Commonwealth.

We do this every year. This speech is one of our rituals as Virginians, when elected leaders come together, from different branches of government, from different political parties, representing every part of Virginia, and every person who calls our Commonwealth home. It’s part of who we are and what we do, and it’s important to maintain this tradition, even in this most unusual year.

But many things are different this year, of course. Normally, more than 200 people are in this room. Tonight there are fewer than 20.

Another thing that’s different is a part of the ritual that I will miss. In a normal year, when I say something my friends like, they stand up and cheer. That’s a nice feeling! And at the same time, the other side of the room sits quietly. But I know you’re secretly cheering in your hearts!

Here’s some good news: Tonight, you don’t have to be quiet. If you’re watching from home, when I say something you like, feel free to stand up and cheer me on—no one has to know!

During these challenging times, kindness and calmness must prevail. So many things are different, in all parts of our lives right now. The changes are always on our minds and in our hearts. We miss what was comfortable, and we don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like being apart, and we long for the day when we can come together again. We are social people, and we are meant to be together. The separation and the absence remind us of what has been lost. It’s a heavy burden to carry.

More than 5,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19, including Senator Ben Chafin, from Russell County in Southwest Virginia. He was my friend, and I miss him. Whether on the Senate floor or in my office, his presence always brightened my day.

The stories around his initials, A B C, always were entertaining. I hope that fond memories of Ben will help his family through these difficult times. I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to honor Ben, and everyone who has lost their lives to COVID-19.

We’ve all experienced loss this year, and it has made us all stop, and ask ourselves some basic questions: What’s really important? What do I believe in? Am I taking actions that reflect my values? These are some of the most fundamental questions of life.

We need to ask these questions as a Commonwealth too, and that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight. We need to talk about who we are as a state, what we believe in, and the actions we’re taking to live out our values.

I want you to know that my heart is filled with optimism and hope when I think about this. Because while we have just come through a tough year that brought everyone pain and sacrifice, I’ve seen something remarkable.

Over and over again, I have seen you taking care of one another. I’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors. People like Anthony Gaskin, a UPS driver in Chester. He has been delivering packages for 16 years, delivering more than 180 packages a day—always with a smile.  Patti Friedman lives on his route, and she organized her neighbors to thank Anthony.

So one day, as Anthony drove down the street, he saw his route lined with people to thank him with signs and cheers.  Patti said she did it "to show gratitude and appreciation for simple acts of kindness on his part.” When Anthony saw the response, he got emotional. He said, “I was in shock. My heart was overjoyed. In the world, regardless of what’s going on … people still genuinely care.”

Or Emily, who is a nurse who lives in Southwest Virginia, who spoke to us about caring for patients in their dying hours. How painful it is to care for them and how dangerous this virus is. She had the courage to share her story and empathy to care for people who are sick. There are thousands more like her who are health care heroes across our Commonwealth.

Or Katie Gaylord, a school counselor in Williamsburg, who created a T-shirt that said, “Virginia is for Kindness.” She did it to raise money for the local food bank. When people asked why, she said, “when we help someone ... you feel more connected to each other, and I think we feel less afraid.”

Or our National Guard members, who have their own jobs and lives, but have spent months working to help with our pandemic response, helping with testing and—soon—vaccinations.

Here’s my favorite example: the Virginia State Troopers who protected the Capitol of the United States during the insurrection last week. When the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and the leaders of Congress said to me, “send help fast”—these men and women dropped everything and raced to defend our country’s temple of democracy. Our Guard members went there too.

While others hesitated, Virginians were first on the scene. It made me proud to see that line of State Police cars racing across the 14th Street Bridge. Senator Tim Kaine told me that when all 100 senators were evacuated to a secure location during the insurrection, they saw TV footage of Virginia troopers entering the Capitol, and they cheered them on, knowing help was on the way.

But sadly, many were injured because of the coup attempt, and two Virginians died. They were officers in the United States Capitol Police. Please join me in a moment of silence for Officer Brian Sicknick and Officer Howard Liebengood.

While the fact that our help was needed is terrible, I am proud we were able to help avert more tragedy. There is nothing to celebrate about the fact that our nation needed help—especially to defend our Capitol from fellow Americans—but we can all be proud that Virginia stepped up.

That’s what Virginians do. That’s what service means. And this is what it means to live out our values. And that’s how I know—with all my heart and all my soul—that we will get through this pandemic: It’s because of our limitless ability to care for one another. We are one Virginia.

These stories inspire me, and I want you to know that your government is following your lead—taking action to help people. And we’re going to move even faster in this new year.

When we met a year ago, before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, we met in a spirit of celebration. We celebrated new leadership, and the first women to lead the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia. Congratulations again to Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and President Pro Tem Louise Lucas. What a difference their leadership has made.

Together, we embarked on a path that was more progressive and forward-looking than ever before. We took these steps because voters sent us here to take action. So we did.

We passed landmark clean energy legislation.

We passed common-sense gun safety measures.

We raised the minimum wage.

We advanced important criminal justice reforms, such as raising the felony larceny threshold, and ending the practice of taking away someone’s driver’s license because they couldn’t pay court fees. 

We took important steps forward in treating everyone with dignity and respect, becoming the first Southern state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and requiring schools to develop plans for transgender students. 

We repealed nearly 100 instances of racist and discriminatory language from our law books. 

These actions were about living out our values. Virginia is a large and diverse state that welcomes everyone, and we took action to demonstrate that.

We ended last year’s winter session on a high note, having delivered on the commitments we made to you. We were just finishing this historic session when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. It seemed as though one minute we were living our normal lives, and the next those lives were literally turned upside down. Over the months that followed, we all took a lot of hard actions, to protect ourselves, our families, and each other.

I want to thank the General Assembly, our local elected officials across the Commonwealth, and you, Virginia—especially the nurses, doctors, first responders, and volunteers. Nothing about this has been easy.

In the ten months since then, we have learned a lot about this virus. Today, we have more tools to fight it. 

We now have the best tool: vaccines. As a doctor, I can tell you the incredible effort and cooperation it took to develop these vaccines. It shows us what we can do when people work together for the common good. 

The vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. The vaccines, and continuing to follow the guidelines on masks, distancing, and hand washing. Tonight, Virginia, I urge you to get vaccinated when your turn comes. I will do it, and so will my family. 

This is how we get back to a new normal. This is how we reopen our schools and rebuild our economy: through the vaccine. It is the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. And while it is a massive undertaking, and it will take some months to get to everyone, I promise: your turn is coming, and soon.

Here’s where we are. According to the CDC, only nine states have given more doses than Virginia, and each of those states is larger than we are. We are currently receiving initial shipments of about 110,000 vaccine doses each week for Virginia—and we expect to be receiving more soon.

I appreciate the hospitals, the local health departments, and everyone working to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. I’ve set a goal of ramping up to 25,000 vaccinations per day as soon as possible.

Just last week, I called on our federal partners to release all the doses they have. I am pleased that the incoming Biden administration has agreed to do that, and the outgoing administration has agreed as well.

Also yesterday, they authorized states to go ahead and start vaccinating people age 65 and up. We’ll be moving forward with that quickly—I’ll be talking to local health directors and hospitals tomorrow about how we make this happen.

The teams are moving fast. This week some local health districts began vaccinating older people and essential workers like our teachers, our front line workers, law enforcement, and more. Vaccinating teachers and other K-12 staff is an important step forward in getting our schools open—a goal I know we all share.

I’m counting on the people who work in our public health departments to push hard to get this done. You’re not alone. We’re all with you. We have partners in hospitals, businesses, colleges, and universities—everyone in Virginia is ready and willing to help.

Getting everyone vaccinated is the largest deployment of volunteers that we have ever seen, and we need you to help. The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps is already training new volunteer vaccinators. If you have medical experience, you’re a retired doctor or nurse, or you just want to help with the logistics, please reach out to that program.

That’s a message we’ve heard over and over again this past year, in every part of our country: I want to help, and let’s get moving. People sent a clear message throughout the year: Move faster. People are no longer willing to wait for change, and they expect their public officials to act. And this year, we will continue taking actions to help people.

When my team and I wrote the budget that I proposed last month, we focused on two things: helping Virginians who are hurting because of this pandemic, and laying the groundwork to help the economy rebound.

So let’s start with healthcare, and some good news. Virginia is the only state in the nation where the rate of people without insurance actually dropped from 2018 to 2019. That was the first year we had the Medicaid expansion program in place. And thank goodness we took that action. Ahead of the pandemic, we are seeing vast improvements in health metrics. Hospitals seeing fewer uninsured patients. More new mothers with health coverage in the first year after giving birth. Fewer people with medical debts or with unmet medical needs, and a reduction in health disparities.

When we expanded Medicaid three years ago, we could not have foreseen the pandemic, of course. But the pandemic has proven that was the right decision. I am so grateful that when the crisis came, this safety net was in place. 

Just a few weeks ago, we marked 500,000 Virginians who are covered through the expansion program. That’s half a million Virginians who would feel a lot less secure about their health during this pandemic if they were uninsured. I want to thank everyone who came together in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to get this done. It was the right thing to do.

Now it’s time to take further steps, because the pandemic has highlighted the need to modernize the way we fund public health in Virginia. Here’s the issue. In Virginia, both the state and local governments have a role in operating our public health departments. That takes money, of course, but we allocate state money to cities and counties using an outdated formula, written a generation ago. Virginia’s population has nearly doubled since then, and we’ve grown into a much more urban and suburban state.

But the funding plan has stayed the same. In 2021, we’re funding public health like it’s 1980. In lots of places, local communities are paying more than their fair share, because the state is paying less than it should. Counties that thrived a generation ago with the coal economy are now hurting. They’re paying more to the state each year for basic health services like opioid recovery, even as their population decreases.

At the same time, urban areas such as Richmond and Petersburg are paying more too, even as their tax base has changed. This is fundamentally inequitable and wrong. The formula should have been updated all along. But it wasn’t, and that has created winners and losers.

So this year, we’re taking action. I want to thank Delegate Lamont Bagby for sponsoring legislation to address this. We’ll make sure the localities that need more resources get them, and no one will get less. It’s the right thing to do, and now is the time to act.

Our budget proposal also includes funding for doula services for pregnant women. Doulas provide non-clinical support to pregnant women through their pregnancy and after they give birth, and multiple studies show they improve health outcomes for the mother and the baby. I’m grateful to Delegates Cia Price and Lashcrese Aird for their advocacy on this issue. We know it means a better outcome for mothers and babies. And we’re providing dollars to increase access to long-acting reversible contraceptives.

These actions help women control their own reproductive decisions. There is no excuse that a group of legislators, most of whom are men, should be telling women what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their bodies.

But I am glad that more and more women are entering our legislature—a record number of women are serving in our General Assembly now, and I hope that number will only go up.

It’s also time to help people by taking more action on affordable housing. We have made record investments in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund that helps make more affordable housing available, and the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program has put almost $54 million into helping people make their rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic. That program has helped nearly 17,000 families so far.

We’ve also worked to put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for those having trouble paying their rent or mortgage. Now, we need to take action to do more. So we have proposed $25 million new dollars to the trust fund. This record is more than we have ever invested in helping make sure people have stable housing, and we need to get it done this session.

We need to take action to protect jobs, especially in small businesses. We all know our small businesses need a lot of help to make it through the pandemic—the restaurants, the small gyms, the barber shops and thousands of other small businesses that are struggling to keep the doors open.

The Rebuild VA program has given nearly $120 million in grants to more than 2,500 Virginia small businesses and nonprofits, to help them get through this. Two thirds of those grants have gone to businesses that are minority, woman, or veteran owned. More than $40 million has gone to businesses in low-income areas. That money was exhausted fast, but the need is huge. This need won’t be around forever, but for now, it’s urgent.

So I’m proposing to use revenue from the so-called “gray machines” to help small businesses. These gaming machines are in convenience stores, truck stops, and restaurants across Virginia. They bring in a lot of money—upwards of $90 to $100 million in revenue from these taxes.

Last special session we did the right thing and earmarked this money for education in the event that revenues slipped. Well, they didn’t slip, and this money can once again be used for its original purpose—to help our small businesses. That could double the number of small employers who get help, and for many, that could mean surviving instead of going under.

The need is great. Rebuild VA has helped non-profits like the Blue Ridge Discovery Center in Troutdale, restaurants like the Alpine Chef Restaurant in Fredericksburg, and small businesses like the Richmond barber shop A Cut 2 Perfection. More businesses are in line for help, so we need to take action now.

We also need to take action on broadband. Broadband is as critical now as electricity was in the last century. Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office. And the pandemic has highlighted how urgent this is—for workers, for businesses, for students, for telehealth. 

For the past ten months, you have been fortunate if you have a job that can be done from home, and access to a fast Internet connection to make your meetings easier and your child’s virtual education possible. But if you have a job that can’t be done remotely, or you live an area where Internet access is out of reach, then you’ve had a very different experience during this pandemic. You’ve put on a mask and crossed your fingers when you go to work. You’ve driven your child to the public library parking lot so she can get a good enough Internet signal to do her school work. 

Make no mistake, this is about equity. In 2018, we estimated that 660,000 Virginians didn’t have access to broadband. Since then, we’ve cut that number by 20 percent with projects that connected more than 130,000 homes and businesses. And we are far from finished. My budget provides $50 million in each year to maintain our historic level of funding for broadband. We need to get it done.

We need to take action on education. I know that everyone wants to get our schools open and our students back into their desks, and to do it safely. So do I. So we are taking action. Just yesterday, I visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, where teachers and school staff were getting their COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinating teachers is just one way we’re working toward the shared goal of reopening schools and making sure students are getting the support they need.

Education is the best tool we have to make our Commonwealth a better, more equitable place for everyone. Education helps start our smallest Virginians—our littlest learners—off on the right foot. It trains workers for new jobs. And when we do it right, it gives everyone access to opportunity to build the life they want.

In this pandemic, it’s especially important that we continue to invest in education, so that when it’s over, we’re not just in a position to rebuild—we already have a strong foundation, one built not on sand, but on solid rock.

That’s why we’re making sure schools don’t suffer harm from the challenges of this school year. That means putting $500 million into schools to make sure they don’t lose funding from drops in enrollment this year. We’ve proposed more than $26 million to increase the number of school counselors. We also put additional dollars into providing more needed resources for English Language Learners.

Students need counselors now more than ever. School staff and teachers have made great sacrifices this year, and I thank them. But our children have been champions, and I want to thank them as well. They’ve been through a lot these past ten months. They’ve made sacrifices and endured a lot of change. We are all grateful.

Investing in education includes giving teachers a pay bonus. We were all proud in 2018 to give our teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years. Last year, I proposed an additional three percent pay raise. That had to be cut from the budget last year. When I first proposed the bonus for teachers a few weeks ago, I said that if revenues improve enough this month, we should convert that one-time bonus into a permanent raise. Well, tonight I have good news: revenues look good, and we’re going to have more money than we thought. We need to make this teacher bonus a raise, and make it more than two percent. I look forward to working with you all to get that done.

For children who have not yet entered kindergarten, I’m proposing a pilot program to provide three-year-olds access to early childhood education programs, and grants to address pay equity for early childhood educators. We want every child to enter kindergarten ready to learn, and to provide equal opportunities to underserved children. I want to thank my wife Pam, the First Lady, for her work and leadership on early childhood education.

To help people get the skills training or education they need, particularly if they’re out of work because of the pandemic, my budget invests in the G3 program—Get skilled, get a job, give back. That program helps people get tuition-free job skills training in high-need fields, through our community colleges—and provides the financial aid to help them do it.

We also allocated $30 million more for financial aid at public colleges and universities across our Commonwealth, and we’ll increase Tuition Assistance Grants for students at private institutions to $4,000. This helps a wide range of schools, like Hampton University, Virginia Union, and Marymount University—recently designated as the first Hispanic-serving institution in Virginia.

We’re also going to propose additional tuition assistance for our National Guard members. I sat down with Major General Timothy Williams last week, and told him how grateful I am for the work of the Guard. He said one thing we can do to help those Guard members is to provide more access to an affordable education. Our Guard members have been a huge support with the pandemic and now with the threats of violence in Washington, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this done.

We have also proposed additional assistance for our public historically black colleges and universities, Virginia State University and Norfolk State University, which have long been underfunded.

While Virginia is not immune to the economic impacts of the pandemic, we’re doing better than many states. They’ve had to lay off workers, cut services, and borrow money to cover operating costs. But here, our finances are solid, and the actions we have taken have kept our triple-A bond rating secure.

And while those other states are borrowing money or raiding their retirement plans, we’re doing the opposite. Our budget proposes investing $100 million in our retirement plan for public school teachers, the state employee health insurance credit program, and benefits for our first responders through the Line of Duty Act. This is sound fiscal policy, and it means more security for our public servants.

We need to take action to protect the outdoors. The pandemic has reminded us of this too. From the coast to the mountains, Virginia is simply a beautiful state, including our 40 amazing state parks. We’re committed to keeping it that way, and to helping Virginians—and visitors—enjoy all the natural beauty we have to offer.That’s why my budget includes $5 million to develop more regional trails, specifically those more than 35 miles long.

Anyone who lives near the Virginia Capital Trail here in Richmond, or the Virginia Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia, knows that they are great assets to a community. They’re places for locals to walk or ride bicycles, and they attract visitors—and visitor dollars—from all over.

The pandemic has shown us how important it is to be able to get outside. More trails means more opportunity to enjoy nature. I want to thank the General Assembly’s Outdoor Recreation Caucus, and Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate David Bulova, for their work to put a spotlight on outdoors activities.

We’re also putting nearly $12 million into water quality, air quality, and land conservation initiatives at natural resources agencies. This includes DEQ staffing to make sure the permitting process is more robust and thorough. These are important investments to ensure that we don’t fall behind in protecting these critical assets, and ensuring that DEQ can continue to protect our natural areas.

And we’re investing in making it easier to move around the Commonwealth. Our budget invests $50 million in right-of-way to open up more rail service into the Roanoke area. This has been a priority for a generation. We know it’s needed: in the past decade, Amtrak ridership along the U.S. 29 I-81 corridor has increased 77 percent. And the current Roanoke train is the only Amtrak service in Virginia that covers 100 percent of its operating costs through ticket sales. So we need this, and it’s time we do it.

We also need to keep taking action to treat people more equitably. That starts with humility and forgiveness. Those are two words we don’t hear much these days, but they matter. Humility means acknowledging that we may have done wrong ourselves sometimes. We are all human. Forgiveness is welcoming other people back after they have done wrong. We have begun that journey, and we must keep taking action.

If you break the law in Virginia, you’ll be punished. But right now, part of the punishment follows you for the rest of your life—even after you’ve paid your debt to society. You lose your civil rights—like the right to vote—and you don’t get them back unless the governor acts to give them back. 

Virginia is one of just a few remaining states where, if you have a felony conviction, someone has to act to restore your civil rights to vote or run for office. It’s not automatic, but it should be. I’ve made it a priority, restoring civil rights for more than 40,000 people, and I have pardoned more Virginians than any Governor in our Commonwealth’s history. But that shouldn’t be up to one person, and you shouldn’t have to ask for your basic civil rights to be restored.

So I’m proposing to change Virginia’s constitution to make that process automatic. If we want people to return to their communities and participate in society, we need to welcome them back fully. It’s wrong to keep punishing people forever. This is the right thing to do.

It will take a constitutional amendment, and that will take two sessions, so I’m calling tonight on the folks in the General Assembly now, and the people who want to be in my position and in the General Assembly next year, to commit to doing it.

It’s also time to acknowledge ways that our criminal justice system treats different people unfairly. Marijuana is a great example. We know that while White people and Black people use marijuana at similar rates, Black people are three and a half times more likely to be charged with a crime for it. And they’re almost four times as likely to be convicted.

That happens because that’s how the system was set up generations ago. In fact, one of the early leaders of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency was clear that marijuana laws should be written explicitly to target people of color. And so they were, and they’ve been targeting people for years.

It’s time to join 16 other states and make marijuana legal, and end the current system rooted in inequity. We’ve done the research, and we can do this the right way, leading with social equity, public health, and public safety. Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone.

Marijuana has become a cash crop that rivals tobacco—even here in Virginia. But as an illegal crop, it makes no money for Virginia. By legalizing and taxing it, we can use the revenue to help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws. 

For example, just half of the potential annual revenue could pay for two years of quality Pre-K to every one of Virginia's most vulnerable three- and four-year-olds—children who deserve the best start in life.

Rooting out inequities includes expunging the records of people who were convicted of this and certain other crimes in the past. It’s time to act, during this session, to have the robust debate about how to best conduct the process of expunging people’s records. This will make our system more just and equal, and it needs action this session.

Forgiveness is important. But when we all agree that a crime deserves the strongest punishment we can give, it’s still vital to make sure our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably.

We know the death penalty doesn’t do that. But make no mistake—if you commit the most heinous crimes, you should spend the rest of your days in prison. But here are the facts about the death penalty. Virginia has executed more people than any other state—more than 1,300 people. And here’s another truth: a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white, than when the victim is Black.  

Now, some of that is because Virginia is an old state. 400 years of history. But it’s also true that we’re near the top of the list in the modern era too, since federal law allowed executions to resume in the 1970s, after a long moratorium.

Over that time, most countries in the world have turned away from capital punishment. So what parts of the world continue to use capital punishment? Here’s a list, in order: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. But that’s changing. In the U.S., 22 states have said, no longer will the state take a life, even when someone has killed another. There are a lot of reasons. It doesn’t work as a deterrent. It’s expensive. And the drug companies refuse to supply the lethal chemicals.

There’s another important reason: What if the system gets it wrong? If you think it can’t happen, you’re wrong. It can happen, and it has happened, here in Virginia.

Remember the case of Earl Washington. In 1984, he was convicted of capital murder. He spent 18 years in prison in Virginia, including 9 ½ of them on death row. But he didn’t do it.

By the early 2000s, the technology behind DNA evidence showed that he was innocent. In the time it took to get the right people to look at that evidence, this innocent man came within nine days of being executed. Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot do this. If ten days had passed, we would ask ourselves today—How did Virginia execute an innocent man? For all of these reasons, the death penalty is much less common in Virginia than before. Today, only two people are on death row. It’s time to change the law, and end the death penalty in Virginia. We’re taking these actions because we value people, and because we believe in treating people equitably. That matters in policy, and it matters in symbols.

No accounting of the state of our Commonwealth in 2021 would be complete without examining how we are moving away from the burden of our past. Virginia’s history is deeply complicated, and progress has not come without struggle. The Lost Cause has had a long reach here. For 150 years, the Confederate insurrection against the United States has been celebrated in Virginia.

We started changing that last year—ending holidays that celebrate Confederate leaders, giving cities and counties the right to remove monuments, and changing the way that Virginia represents itself in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

It was important progress, and throughout the year, we heard the call to move faster. The people said, it’s past time for these monuments, these echoes of revisionist history, to come down. 

We saw that most clearly in our capital city, and Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will soon come down. But that’s just a first step. Now, it’s time to engage the community and ask, what’s next?

So I have proposed a plan to help our capital city reimagine what the famous Monument Avenue should look like, as Virginia consigns the Confederate cause to the dustbin of history. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the world’s leading museums, and is an ideal partner in this work.

It’s an important step in showing who we are and what we value. Another important step is in another part of our capital city. It’s just outside the windows of this room, at the bottom of the hill, just a few blocks from where I’m standing.

Virginians operated one of the country’s largest slave-trading markets there in the early days of this country. In time, it would become one of the biggest—second only to New Orleans. It was a place where Virginians would sell men, women, and children for profit.

That’s an important part of our history. It’s not pretty, but it’s part of who we are. People need to know about it, and children need to learn about it. That’s hard, because right now there are just a few small plaques around the area. It’s not enough. So I have proposed to work with the city of Richmond and Mayor Levar Stoney to preserve the site known as the Devil’s Half-Acre, or Lumpkin’s Jail, and the African Burial Ground nearby. This project will turn this sacred ground into a heritage site that will tell the story of slavery and the people who experienced it. I want to thank Delegate Delores McQuinn for her advocacy on behalf of this project.

North of here, along the Potomac River, we will restore gravestones that were taken from Columbian Harmony Cemetery, an historic African American burial ground in D.C. People buried there included one of D.C.’s first Black policemen; many Black Union Army veterans; Elizabeth Keckley, confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln; two sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass; and Phillip Reid, who helped create the statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol dome.

In the 1960s, the cemetery was moved to make way for commercial development. The grave markers were dumped or sold for scrap stone, a dehumanizing act—and that was part of the goal. Today, they are being used as “riprap”—rocks to protect erosion on the Potomac River. It’s time to change this, and I thank Senator Richard Stuart for his leadership on this issue.

And in our nation’s Capitol, we have removed the Confederate statue that represented Virginia for more than a century. Soon, civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns—who fought to right the wrongs of racism—will represent Virginia there. That is thanks in large part to the work of Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Jeion Ward. They told me this work was one of the most important experiences of their legislative career. Thanks are also due to Congressman Donald McEachin and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton.

Let’s get that done this year, together. We honor Barbara Johns for her work to integrate public schools in Virginia.

But at the same time, Virginia also continues to celebrate a man who worked against integration—Democrat Harry Byrd, the architect of Massive Resistance, which closed public schools to children like Barbara Johns. It’s time to stop this celebration too, and remove this monument from Capitol Square.

One week from now, this nation will inaugurate our next President, Joe Biden.

And just one week ago, a mob of domestic terrorists stormed our nation’s capital. They were egged on by conspiracy theories and lies from a president who could not accept losing. Their goal was simple: overturn a legal and fair election. Those were scenes I don’t believe any of us ever expected to see in our lifetime. But none of that “just happened.” None of it was an accident, and nothing was spontaneous. Those who want a government that serves only themselves don’t care about democracy. And they will always come with violence to try to end it.

Tonight I say to every elected official in Virginia, you can be part of our democratic institutions, or you can use falsehoods to try to destroy them, but you can’t do both. Words have consequences. Inflammatory rhetoric is dangerous. This is not a game.

When elected leaders purposely reject facts and truth, and fan the flames of conspiracy, all in pursuit of power, they are taking dangerous steps. We have now seen where those steps can lead. God forbid we see anything worse.

We have a duty to tell the truth. Voters deserve the truth, even when it’s hard to hear—not lies that will comfort them. Because as we saw last week, lies do not quell outrage. They encourage it. And that creates real damage. Americans are better than this, and I pray that we all can summon the better angels of our nature in this new year.

I also pray that we take action. People are hurting, and they sent us here to do a job. They are counting on us. We can do a great deal of good this session. I’m excited to get to work with all of you, so we can keep making progress in, and for, this Commonwealth.

A wise man once wrote, “adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” The adversity of the past ten months has revealed a strong, resilient Virginia.

Virginians have lost a great deal—jobs, livelihoods, and unfortunately, loved ones. But we are still here. We are poised and ready to rebound. We have laid a strong foundation for ourselves: sustaining government services that you rely on, using federal pandemic funds to help our neighbors get through this, making targeted investments in our long-term success. 

We are moving past the burden of our history, taking action to shape a Virginia that reflects who we are and what we value. We step into this new year with a lot of hope—that the vaccines will end this pandemic, that we can get back to normal life, and that we can return to a time when government was just part of the background noise of daily life, not the top headlines. 

But I hope we don’t just move back to those times when this crisis is over. I hope we move forward with a new understanding of what’s important. Things like hugging people, sending our children off to school every day, work lunches, concerts, and all the experiences that we miss. We need to remember that we care about each other.

We have learned a lot in this past year, but the main thing is that we are all connected. What I do affects you, and what you do affects me. We are one Virginia, and we need to keep taking care of each other.

I am proud of the state of our Commonwealth, and the foundation we have built to get through this pandemic and recover in a way that is equitable and fair. And I am proud of you, Virginia. You have made this the greatest state in the greatest nation in the world. And together, we are shaping a Virginia that once again leads the nation. So now, let’s get to work!

Thank you all, and may God bless our country and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CREATES CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNIT, EXPANDS EFFORTS TO IDENTIFY AND OVERTURN WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

~ Conviction Integrity Unit will add resources to better identify and overturn wrongful convictions and to implement new changes to Virginia’s “actual innocence” process ~

RICHMOND (January 14, 2021)—Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today that he is creating the OAG’s first Conviction Integrity Unit to expand his efforts to identify and overturn wrongful convictions. The Unit will now be a distinct entity with a singular focus on evaluating and investigating claims of wrongful conviction, taking proactive steps to overturn wrongful convictions, and implementing important changes in the law that will finally allow for more wrongly convicted people to pursue their claims in the courts. The Unit will grow to include three full time attorneys and one investigator dedicated to identifying and correcting wrongful convictions.

“Our goal as a Commonwealth must always be justice and truth, not simply convictions, or preservation and defense of convictions in defiance of logic, facts, or new evidence,” said Attorney General Herring. “To wrongly convict a person is to deny them untold opportunities and the chance to live their life in freedom and to choose their own path. It is a wrong that can never truly be righted.

“In the 2020 legislative session the General Assembly finally took long overdue steps to improve Virginia’s process for identifying and overturning wrongful convictions. With these important changes comes a new opportunity and obligation to ensure the Commonwealth, through its attorney general, is an active partner in the pursuit of justice and truth. For far too long Virginia’s process for securing justice for the wrongfully convicted was hopelessly convoluted, requiring individuals to jump through countless hoops just to get the chance to make their case, and even then they faced a burden of proof so high that it often felt like the system was set up to give the illusion of hope, rather than pursue truth and justice. But now, Virginia has a process that will focus on the heart of the matter: whether someone is actually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted.

“When I joined Keith Harward’s petition to have his wrongful conviction overturned in 2015, I said that when the system gets it wrong, when the system fails to deliver justice, we have to say so and we have to fix it. That is why I have created this unit, which reflects an unprecedented commitment to ensuring justice and to righting wrongs whenever they are found. It will be an important tool of accountability and justice, and a safeguard against prosecutorial misconduct, institutional racism and bias, or mistakes that could cost an innocent person their freedom.”

The work of the Conviction Integrity Unit is expected to grow in light of important changes to Virginia’s laws around wrongful convictions and the issuance of “writs of actual innocence,” which are orders issued by either the Court of Appeals of Virginia or the Virginia Supreme Court after the court finds that an individual did not actually commit the crime for which they were convicted and that they are actually innocent.

The addition of an in-house investigator is a major development that will expand the Conviction Integrity Unit’s ability to follow the facts and independently determine whether a person has been wrongly convicted. Instead of relying on law enforcement agencies who may have been involved in the original investigation, the Unit will now be able to conduct more independent investigations that help get to the truth of someone’s guilt or innocence.

Under legislation that the Office of Attorney General worked on in the last legislative session with chief patron House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring, the General Assembly has expanded the opportunities for wrongfully convicted individuals to pursue their claims, and eliminated many of the unnecessary procedural requirements that too often kept individuals from having their case heard on the merits.

“The creation of Virginia’s first statewide Conviction Integrity Unit is a momentous leap forward in the pursuit of justice, and one that was frankly unimaginable in Virginia just a few years ago,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “It shows a true commitment by the Commonwealth and Attorney General Herring to doing justice in all cases, to writing wrongs, and to ensuring that no one is denied their freedom and liberty for a crime they didn’t commit.”

Maggie Lane Ligon

November 30, 1977 - January 5, 2021

Visitation

Friday, January 15, 2021 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Echols Funeral Home
806 Brunswick Avenue
Emporia, Virginia

Maggie Lane Ligon, 43, passed away peacefully at home on January 5, 2021. She is survived by two sons, Mother Joan Ligon, Father Ray Ligon, Grandmother Bernice Ligon, Sister Cindy Fox, Brothers Lonnie Ligon and David Maitland, five nephews and one neice. She was dearly loved by family and friends.

Visitation will be conducted Friday, January 15, 2021 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Echols Funeral Home, Emporia, Virginia.

Governor Northam Announces New Steps to Accelerate COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program and accelerate the pace of vaccinations across Virginia.

Governor Northam is taking the following steps to help providers increase the rate of vaccinations as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible:

  1. Vaccination goal. Governor Northam set an initial goal of vaccinating 25,000 Virginians each day when supply allows.
  2. ‘Use it or lose it’ model. Medical facilities will be required to put the vaccine they receive into arms as soon as possible, or risk having future vaccine allotments reduced.
  3. Danny T.K. Avula to lead vaccination efforts in Virginia. Governor Northam appointed Dr. Avula, who serves as director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments to coordinate work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals, and private providers.
  4. Expanded priority groups. Governor Northam announced that K-12 teachers and child care workers will be among the next priority groups to receive vaccinations after Group A, and outlined the populations that will be included in Groups B and C.
  5. Elevating the Virginia National Guard. As the Commonwealth receives more doses, the Virginia National Guard will provide logistical support and help local health departments will administering vaccines.

“Getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move our Commonwealth forward,” said Governor Northam. “By setting clear goals and appointing Dr. Avula to spearhead our vaccination program, we will have a clear vision of how this effort—the largest public vaccination campaign in modern history—is progressing. I plan to get vaccinated when my turn comes, and I encourage Virginians to do the same.”

Governor Northam also announced the next priority populations to receive vaccinations, based in part on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations form the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The Virginia Department of Health is developing an online portal to help people understand how to register to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Group B includes frontline essential workers in specific industries, K-12 teachers and staff, childcare providers, adults age 75 and older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps. Additional information about Group B, which is expected to start near the end of January, is available here.

Group C includes other essential workers, adults age 65 and older, and people age 16-64 with certain medical conditions or disabilities that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Additional information about Group C is available here.

SVCC Partners with M.C. Dean for Apprenticeship Program

 

(From left to right): Chris Foster, Instructor of Industrial Technologies, SVCC; David Nelson, Master Instructor, M.C.Dean; and Vincent Brown, Associate Professor of Industrial Technologies, SVCC.

Southside Virginia Community College has partnered with M.C. Dean to pilot an electrical apprenticeship program.

Beginning this spring, M.C. Dean level one employees that are working their way through a four-year apprenticeship program will also become SVCC students.  The apprentices will be able to earn college credit toward an Industrial Electrical Technician Career Studies Certificate.  The program will be housed at the Lake Country Advanced Knowledge Center in South Hill.

The students will also have the option to apply the credits toward an Industrial Technology Degree.  Vincent Brown, Associate Professor of Industrial Technologies, SVCC; and Chris Foster, Instructor of Industrial Technologies, SVCC; will teach the curriculum for the program.

The curriculum for the program is the NCCER Electrical curriculum.  NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curriculum and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s Registry System that allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals.

David Nelson, Master Instructor with M.C. Dean, recently met with SVCC faculty members to discuss learning outcomes important for their apprentices. 

"M.C Dean is excited about this partnership and the opportunity to recruit local talent.  We want these students to have the best training experience possible, that replicates real world applications," said Nelson.  

M.C. Dean is headquartered in Tysons, Virginia and employs more than 3,700 professionals who engineer and deploy automated, secure, and resilient power and technology systems.  The company has employees currently working at Microsoft's data center in Boydton, VA.  

M.C. Dean designs, builds, operates, and maintains cyber-physical solutions for the nation's most recognizable mission-critical facilities, secure environments, complex infrastructure, and global enterprises. The company's capabilities include electrical, electronic security, telecommunications, life-safety, instrumentation and control, and command and control systems.

Anyone interested in starting the apprenticeship program should contact M.C. Dean at (703) 802-6231.

 

Charles I. “Billy Gene” Gregory, Sr.

March 31, 1935-January 6, 2021

Charles I. “Billy Gene” Gregory, Sr., 85, went to be with the Lord on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.

He loved his Lord, his family, his church, and his community and served each one well.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Betty M. Gregory; his children, Donna Gregory, Tammy Gregory Kidd (Garry), and Charles I. (Chuck) Gregory, Jr. (Kim); his grandchildren, Stacy Hardester (Drew), Mark Ferguson (Amanda), Samantha Thomas (Dustin), Charles I. Gregory, III and Claire Gregory; his great-grandchildren, Katie and Darby Hardester, Easton and Gunner Thomas; his step-grandchildren, Megan K. Deal (John), Lovie E. Kidd and his step-great-grandchildren, Ari, Knox and Everlie Deal, Tyler Thompson and Eli Thomas and two sisters, Sandra Comer and Dama Jones.

Billy was a member of the National Guard and a Scoutmaster for many years. He was a member of the Jarratt Volunteer Fire Department and an honorary member until the day of his death. He was a deacon in his church and a member of Jarratt Town Council for many years. Billy retired after 44 years with Georgia-Pacific Corporation as the boiler house supervisor.

A private graveside service is planned.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Main St. Baptist Church, Emporia, Virginia or to Jarratt Volunteer Fire Department. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

Governor Northam Announces Advisory Committee on Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the leadership and members of a new advisory committee charged with making recommendations on culturally relevant and inclusive education practices in Virginia’s public schools.

The Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee, which will hold its first meeting today, Wednesday, January 6, was established under House Bill 916, sponsored by Delegate Mark D. Sickles, and Senate Bill 853, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Boysko during the 2020 General Assembly session.

The legislation directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to select the committee’s members, and tasked the advisory panel with reporting its recommendations to Governor Northam, the Board of Education, and the Chairs of the House Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Education and Health, by July 1, 2021.

“Inclusive and culturally relevant learning environments are vital to creating equitable pathways to success for all Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “The work of this committee will advance our ongoing efforts to tell the complete and accurate story of Virginia’s complex past, improve our history standards, and give educators opportunities to engage in important conversations and lessons with their students.”

“When we teach an honest narrative of our past, students better understand their place in history and are equipped to work toward a better society,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This committee will build on the work of the Commission on African American History Education to ensure the content taught in Virginia classrooms is accurate and inclusive of perspectives which have been historically marginalized.”

The committee will be led by three co-chairs: Senator Boysko, Arlington County Superintendent and Board of Education Member Francisco Durán, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education Dean Andrew Daire.

Other committee members are as follows:

  • Chief Ken Adams, Virginia Tribal Education Consortium, Chief Emeritus, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe
  • Kathryn Adkins, High School History Teacher, Henry County Public Schools 
  • Elena Baum, Director, Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater
  • Seyoum Berhe, State Refugee Coordinator, Department of Social Services, Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Kristin Bolam, Elementary School Principal, York County Public Schools 
  • Maria Burgos, Supervisor of Global Learning and Culturally Responsive Instruction, Prince William County Public Schools and Member, African American History Education Commission
  • Angela Byrd-Wright, Mathematics Curriculum Leader, Hampton City Public Schools
  • Steven H. Cregger, Elementary School Art Teacher, Washington County Public Schools 
  • Amaarah DeCuir, Professor, American University School of Education
  • Colleen Eddy, History and Social Science Content Coordinator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Veleka S. Gatling, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University
  • Rachel Gomez, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education
  • Jennifer Goss, Teacher, Staunton City Public Schools; Teacher Fellow, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Alfred J. Lerner Fellow, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous 
  • Tameshia Grimes, Superintendent, Nottoway County Public Schools and Member, African American Superintendents Advisory Council 
  • Austin Houck, Student, University of Virginia and LGBTQ+ Activist, Homoglobin 
  • Hyun Lee, Member, Virginia Asian Advisory Board and Adjunct Professor, IGlobal University
  • Steve Legawiec, Coordinator of Social Studies, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
  • Divya Lobo, Student, Dominion High School and the Academy for Engineering and Technology
  • Deborah March, Division Administrator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Herbert Monroe, Assistant Superintendent, Caroline County Public Schools 
  • Jared A. Morris, Division Curriculum Innovation Lead, Madison County Public Schools 
  • Jessica Morris, Director of Special Education, Giles County Public Schools 
  • Monica Motley, Member, Virginia African American Advisory Board
  • Kirk Moyers, Social Studies Coordinator, Harrisonburg City Public Schools and Co-Chair, Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium
  • Brenda Muse, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Franklin County Public Schools 
  • Ilham Nasser, Senior Researcher and Director, International Institute of Islamic Thought
  • Megan de Nobriga, Director of Special Education, Bristol Virginia Public Schools
  • Carla Okouchi, Education Subcommittee Chair, Virginia Asian Advisory Board
  • Monica Robinson, K-12 Academic Support Programs Coordinator, Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • Lyons Sanchezconcha, Spanish Teacher, Richmond Public Schools and Member, Virginia Latino Advisory Board
  • Jennifer Santiago, Director of Equity and Excellence, Falls Church City Public Schools 
  • Patty Smith, English Teacher, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology
  • Monica Starkweather, ESL Teacher, New Kent County Public Schools and Member, Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Ghassan Tarazi, Independent Consultant; Member, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights; and Retired, Fairfax County Public Schools
  • The Honorable Schuyler VanValkenburg, House of Delegates and High School History Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools 
  • Emma Violand-Sanchez, Retired Administrator, Arlington County Public Schools 
  • Carolyn Waters, ESL Teacher, Chesterfield County Public Schools 
  • Thelma Williams-Tunstall, Retired Content Specialist, Richmond Public Schools

Specifically, the Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Practices Committee will develop:

  • Recommendations to VDOE for consideration by the Board of Education during the 2021-2022 review of the History and Social Science Standards of Learning;
  • Recommendations for the development of Board of Education guidelines for local school division staff, including teachers and school counselors, on age-appropriate anti-bias education for students; and
  • Recommendations on professional development for school personnel related to culturally relevant and inclusive education practices, including, but not be limited to, considerations for:
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher preparation programs; and
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher licensure and professional development requirements for licensure renewal.

“The instructional, policy and equity staff of the department and I look forward to supporting the committee during the next six months,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to all of the educators and community leaders who graciously agreed to make this substantial commitment of their time and expertise to helping the commonwealth develop standards, practices, policies, and school cultures that support all learners.” 

The committee’s first meeting will take place virtually on Wednesday, January 6 and will be livestreamed on the VDOE You Tube channel, beginning at 2 p.m.

The agenda includes an opportunity for public comment. Members of the public who wish to comment must register in advance online. Speakers will be limited to two minutes each to ensure adequate time for all registered speakers to provide public comment.

Additional information about the committee and meeting materials can be found on the Virginia is for Learners website.

Governor Northam Statement on Violence at United States Capitol

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement today after he deployed members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police to respond to events in Washington, D.C.

“I have been working all afternoon and this evening with leaders in Washington D.C., the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Police, and others in the federal government.

“The violence we saw at the U.S. Capitol today was nothing short of an armed insurrection and a humiliating assault on American democracy. The President incited this mob with his refusal to accept the lawful results of a fair and secure election. And the members of Congress who have enabled him—and who continue to encourage and praise his efforts—bear just as much responsibility.

“This did not come about overnight. When elected leaders purposefully reject facts and fan the flames of conspiracy theories, all in pursuit of power, they are taking dangerous steps. And now we are seeing where those steps can lead. God forbid we experience anything worse.

“I continue to pray for the safety of every member of the House and Senate, all the staff, the journalists, everyone who works in the Capitol. And I commend the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police for quickly stepping up in this time of great need.

“Let me be clear: Virginia will be there for as long as it takes to protect our nation’s capital and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.”

Remarks to the Nation as Prepared for Delivery by President-elect Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware

At this hour, our democracy is under an unprecedented assault. 

An assault on the Capitol itself.

An assault on the people’s representatives, on the police officers sworn to protect them, and the public servants who work at the heart of our Republic.

An assault on the rule of law.

An assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: The doing of the people’s business.

Let me be very clear: The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America. 

This is not who we are. 

What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. 

This is not dissent. It is disorder. It is chaos. It borders on sedition.

And it must end. Now.

I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.

You’ve heard me say this in different contexts: the words of a President matter, no matter how good or bad that president is.

At their best, the words of a president can inspire.

At their worst, they can incite.

Therefore, I call on President Trump to go on national television, now, to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege. 

To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, and to threaten the safety of duly elected officials is not protest. 

It is insurrection. 

The world is watching — and like so many other Americans, I am shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of light, hope, and democracy has come to such a dark moment.

Through war and strife, America has endured much. And we will endure here and prevail now. 

The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy and the recovery of respect for the rule of law, and the renewal of a politics that’s about solving problems — not stoking the flames of hate and chaos. 

America is about honor, decency, respect, and tolerance.

That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.

The certification of the Electoral College votes is supposed to be a sacred ritual in which we affirm the majesty of American democracy. 

Today is a reminder, a painful one, that democracy is fragile. 

To preserve it requires people of good will, leaders with the courage to stand up, who are devoted not to pursuit of power and personal interest at any cost, but to the common good.

Think of what our children who are watching are thinking. Think of what the rest of the world is looking at.

For nearly two and a half centuries, we the people, in search of a more perfect union, have kept our eyes on that common good. 

America is so much better than what we’re seeing today. 

Watching the scenes from the Capitol, I was reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words in an annual message to the Congress whose work has today been interrupted by chaos. 

President Lincoln said: “We shall nobly save or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth….The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”

Our way is plain here, too. It is the way of democracy, of lawfulness, and of honor — respect for each other, and for our nation.

Notwithstanding what we’ve seen today, I remain optimistic about the incredible opportunities. 

There has never been anything we can’t do when we do it together. And this God-awful display today is bringing home to every Republican, Democrat, and Independent in the nation that we must step up.

This is the United States of America. 

President Trump, step up.

May God Bless America.

May God protect our troops and everyone at the Capitol who is trying to protect the order.

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VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital December 2020 Team Member of the Month

Mildred Waye, a care partner in Acute Care, earned the December, 2020 Team Member of the Month award for STAR Service at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital.

South Hill, VA (1/5/20) – Mildred Waye, a care partner in Acute Care, is no stranger to being recognized for her good service. She has earned several awards over the past 40 years and most recently earned the December Team Member of the Month award for STAR Service at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH). A patient nominated her because she meets all four of the qualifications: Safety, Teamwork, Accountability and Relationships.

“She is so funny and I’m glad I got to have her as my care partner. She is one I will never forget,” the patient wrote. Mildred’s supervisor, Mellisa Black, DNP, RN, MS, CCRN, NE-BC, describes her, “Mildred is always a role model to our team on what STAR Service really looks like. She is kind, compassionate and able to connect on a deeper level with her patients and families.”

CEO Scott Burnette awarded Mildred with the STAR Service award, STAR pin, a parking tag that allows her to park wherever she wants for the month of January and a $40 gift card.

Mildred loves to take care of her patients and get them what they need. She also enjoys helping nurses. She has one son and lives with her husband and three dogs in Victoria. Her advice to others is, “Treat others as you want to be treated and just do your best.”

Other nominees included Tracy Evans in Acute Care from Alberta, Magen Long in the ICU from Kenbridge and Samantha Throckmorton in Acute Care from Red Oak.

McEachin, Eshoo Reintroduce Legislation to Make Election Day a Federal Holiday

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) reintroduced the Election Day Holiday Act, legislation to make Election Day a federal holiday.

"As demagogues and bad actors attempt to overturn the will of the American people and undermine a fair, accurate and complete count in the November election, we must insist with renewed fervor that every voter’s voice is heard, starting with improving access to the ballot box,” said Congressman McEachin. “Our vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have to create a more perfect union, and I am pleased to reintroduce the Election Holiday Act to make this cornerstone of our democracy more accessible to everyone.”

“People should not be forced to choose between their job or family in order to exercise their right to vote,” said Rep. Eshoo. “As we see communities nationwide disenfranchised by voter suppression tactics, it’s more important than ever that we reaffirm our commitment to the right to vote and ensure every voice is heard. Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and Congress must make it easier to vote, not harder."

U.S. voter turnout is consistently among the lowest of all established democracies around the world. A 2014 study found that among those who didn’t vote, 35 percent didn’t have time to do so because of work or school.

Reps. McEachin and Eshoo first introduced the Election Day Holiday Act in the 115th Congress with 30 cosponsors.

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