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Katrina Tilbury

200 Rally for Gun Rights at State Capitol

The crowd at Saturday's gun rights rally. (CNS photo by Katrina Tilbury)

 

By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – About 200 people, some with handguns on their hips and others with rifles slung across their backs, gathered on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol on Saturday for a rally in support of the Second Amendment.

The peaceful crowd assembled at the Bell Tower at Capitol Square with the goal of defending their rights to self-defense and educating the public about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The rally quickly turned political when Republican candidates Ryan McAdams, Corey Stewart and E.W. Jackson took the stage.

“We’re here today because we honor the Constitution and the God-given liberties and rights that have been endowed to us by our creator,” said McAdams, who is running for the 4th Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat A. Donald McEachin of Richmond. “Those same God-given rights are under assault, and they’re being threatened.”

Stewart, who is vying with Jackson and state Del. Nick Freitas for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, spoke after McAdams. He cited a recent op-ed by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens that argued that the Second Amendment should be repealed.

Stewart, who hopes to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, said every time a mass shooting occurs, gun control advocates blame law-abiding Americans, conservatives and President Donald Trump. Stewart said that gun-owning Republicans are also heartbroken when shootings happen and that they are the ones who want to protect their families.

“Unlike the left, who actually enjoys the fact that these tragedies happen because it plays into their narrative. It plays into what they are trying to do,” Stewart said. “They don’t honor life, folks. They disparage it.”

One of the main arguments made by the rally organizers, politicians and speakers was that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Critics dispute this. They point to a Harvard study of the National Crime Victimization Survey showing that fewer than 1 percent of victims defended themselves with a gun between 2007 and 2011.

Stewart said he opposes any compromise on Second Amendment rights; however, he said he supports enforcing existing laws against violent felons, the mentally ill and the potentially dangerous receiving guns.

Stewart, who chairs the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, said he plans to place retired police officers in all of the county’s schools in the coming months.

McAdams and Jackson also said they want to focus on enforcing existing gun laws. They noted that the FBI was notified in advance that Nikolas Cruz posed a threat, but failed to act. Cruz has been charged with the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.

“That young man who killed those 17 people should never have been allowed to get those weapons because he was clearly mentally ill and people knew about it even so much as to call the FBI about him,” said Jackson, a minister from Chesapeake.

Joe Savarese, who attended Saturday’s rally, agreed that the Second Amendment should not be compromised. He said gun control advocates are twisting the words of America’s Founding Fathers.

“They’re putting a 21st-century mindset, No. 1, into 18th-century men, and then they’re not reading their words as they were intended to be read. They meant exactly what they were saying. They weren’t offering opinion,” Savarese said.

The event was organized by the National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans. Richmond Capitol Police Public Information Officer Joe Macenka said authorities weren’t expecting any trouble from the crowd.

Virginia Schools Will Teach How to Prevent Child Abuse

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia is taking a step toward teaching children how to recognize and prevent child abuse, abduction, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill to include age-appropriate instruction in those areas in the state’s family life education curriculum.

Current law already requires age-appropriate education on preventing dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence, but child advocates like Patty Hall, the director of community engagement and volunteer services at Hanover Safe Place, have pushed for stronger measures.

“The work that I do with the kids shows that they don’t know often and understand the concept of being able to say no if somebody is touching them or doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Whether it is by a family member, or a friend or a dating partner, many of them do not understand these concepts,” said Hall, who does prevention education with children of all ages in Hanover County.

On Thursday, Northam signed SB 101, which was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and incorporates proposals by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, and other legislators. Wexton is an advocate for Erin’s Law, a national movement urging states to implement prevention-oriented child sexual abuse programs.

LaTonsha Pridgen, founder of the advocacy group Stomp Out the Silence, also supports Erin’s Law. Pridgen said she was sexually abused from the ages of 8 to 13. Her experience inspired her to start S.O.S., a nonprofit dedicated to preventing childhood sexual abuse through awareness and legislation.

“I know firsthand what it means to be a child and not understand that adults can do you harm – not even know that I could go to my teachers or to another adult outside of my home to report this,” Pridgen said. “So I wholeheartedly support educating our children and giving them the information they need to prevent child sex abuse.”

The final version of SB 101 will create guidelines on age-appropriate programs on the prevention, recognition and awareness of child abuse, abduction, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, but it does not require schools to implement such programs. Still, advocates say it’s a step in the right direction.

“The law gets us one step closer to #ErinsLaw in Virginia,” Wexton stated on her Facebook page after SB 101 passed the House on March 7.

Besides adding child abuse prevention programs, SB 101 clarifies that sexual harassment by digital means will be included in the existing curriculum.

The bill takes effect July 1.

Bill to Restrict Tethering Pets Is Killed for 3rd Time

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill to specify when an animal can be tethered outdoors was killed in the House on Wednesday after passing the Senate with a substitute on Tuesday. The Senate substitute on House Bill 889 was the third attempt to pass the legislation.

When HB 889 passed the House in February, the bill would have allowed localities to pass ordinances restricting how long or in what weather conditions a dog can be tethered outside. The Senate passed a substitute making the bill a statewide ban on tethering in certain weather conditions.

Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Caroline, sponsored the original version of HB 889. He spoke against passing the substitute on the House floor Wednesday. He said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lobbied for the Senate substitute to be accepted.

“There was a bill that would’ve allowed PETA to achieve all of their objective we saw in their legislation this session,” Orrock said. “But they would’ve had to go through local government ordinances to effect that change.”

Orrock said the PETA lobbyist claimed the substitute was germane, or relevant to the original, but Orrock disagreed. He then asked House Speaker Kirk Cox for his opinion. Cox ruled the substitute was not germane, thus killing the bill.

The substitute made HB 889 the same as SB 872, which made it through the Senate only to be killed in the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources on Feb. 27. SB 872 was a watered-down version of HB 646, which died in the same committee in January.

The bill would have banned tethering animals in temperatures 32 degrees and below and 85 degrees and above, during a heat advisory or when the National Weather Service issued a severe weather warning.

Along with the restrictions on weather conditions, the bill would have restricted the tether itself. The substitute stated tethers had to be at least 15 feet long, or four times the length of the animal, and limited the weight to less than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight. In addition, weights could not be attached to the tether.

Democrats Urge Republicans to Reconsider Gun Control Bills

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia House Democrats called on the Republicans who control the General Assembly to revive several guns control bills that they killed earlier this legislative session.

At a press conference Thursday, the Democrats said they want lawmakers to reconsider proposals that would require background checks on all gun purchases, prohibit people under 21 from buying semi-automatic weapons, ban “bump stocks” and allow authorities to take firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.           

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, called for responsible action against gun violence. She said it is time to take responsibility and provide a secure environment to protect children and the community.

“As a minister and former City Council person and legislator, there have been far too many crime scenes that I’ve found myself attending, and I’ve eulogized so many young people that I’ve lost count of that, all due to gun violence,” McQuinn said.

Over the years, Del. Kenneth Plum, D-Fairfax, has unsuccessfully sponsored legislation requiring background checks at gun shows. This year, he introduced House Bill 1373, which called for required background checks no matter where a gun is purchased. It was killed in the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

“People back home are going to be saying, ‘well, what a terrible crisis we went through in our country with the gun issue. What did you guys do about it?’” Plum said. “I’ll tell you what we did about it. We killed at least 35 bills that were common sense, gun control, safety legislation.”

Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, said she wants to hold semi-automatic weapons to the same standard as handguns. She called for an increase in the age requirement to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21. Delaney said this is a sensible and practical solution that needs to be recognized.

“An individual who is seen as too young to purchase a handgun can gain access to an assault weapon, like an AR-15, which can wreak mass havoc on the victims of their choosing,” Delaney said. “This is senseless.”

Delaney said the Democrats are not asking for a ban on guns or to strike anyone’s Second Amendment rights. She said they are asking the House to support legislation that has bipartisan support nationwide.

Working with Brian Moran, the secretary of public safety, Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, filed a bill to ban bump stocks — devices used to make semi-automatic rifles fire faster. The bill, HB 819, also died in the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.

“Unfortunately, gun safety is a political issue, it’s a partisan issue, and it shouldn’t be,” Kory said. “Our neighbors, our friends, our families, our children deserve better. If we can’t even ban bump stocks, what can we do?”

After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump suggested arming teachers. Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, a middle school teacher and president of the Hampton Federation of Teachers, said something must be done to secure schools, but arming teachers isn’t the answer.

“It takes a special kind of person to be a teacher, and the first instinct a teacher has is to protect everyone, protect the children, and not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger,” Ward said. “It would make our classrooms less safe. Classrooms would become armed fortresses instead of a place of learning and a place to explore.”

Ward brought up other questions about arming teachers, including where the guns would be kept, what risks they might pose for students and who would pay for the guns, ammunition and training.

“Right now we have schools that are still looking for school nurses, they need more guidance counselors, they need more resource officers, and there are hundreds of other needs of schools, but we want to use this [money] to arm all teachers?” Ward said.

Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 198, which would allow law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant to remove firearms from a person who poses a threat to themselves or others. Friends and family members can report concerns of a potential threat, and officers could then request a risk warrant from a judge. The individual could request the firearms be returned in court. HB 198 was referred to the House Committee for Courts of Justice, where it was never heard.

“What haunts you about HB 198, is that a bill like this, in Florida, just might have stopped Parkland,” Sullivan said. “And a bill like this, in Virginia, just might stop the next one.”

Tethering Bill Moves Forward From Senate.

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A bill specifying when an animal can be tethered outside passed the Senate on Wednesday with changes aimed at increasing its chances of winning approval in  the House.

The bill, SB 872, is the companion legislation to HB 646, which was killed in a House subcommittee.

Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, the bill’s sponsor, noted that changes had been made in the bill and that he hoped a measure would emerge that could protect animals, especially dogs.

Feedback from animal control officers led to the removal of requirements that prohibited tethering between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., or when the owners aren’t home. A ban on using metal-link chains was also removed.  Critics of the legislation won exemptions for animals while they are working on farms and dogs actively being used in hunting.

Matthew Gray, Virginia state director of The Humane Society of the United States, said earlier the changes were needed for the bill to emerge from the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

But Alice Harrington, legislative liaison for the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders, said after the committee vote that the animal neglect laws currently in place are sufficient.

“If the aim is to just get something passed, then how legitimate is what they’re trying to pass? If it’s really about the animals, it’s really about their welfare, then how can you negotiate all that away?  Then it becomes just about a win,” she said.

“They’re not in bad shape because they’re tethered....  They’re in bad shape because they’re being neglected.” Harrington said.

Kimberly Hawk, a volunteer for the Houses Of Wood and Straw Project, said the legislation would help save the lives of animals, like one dog who she said froze to death two weeks ago after he became tangled in his chain and wasn’t able to reach his shelter. Hawk’s group is a non-profit serving nine counties in central Virginia. The organization provides wooden dog housing as well as straw and bedding.

“We believe that it’s going to help the animal control officers be able to enforce the law better because it’s very tangible,” Hawk said.

The version of the bill that passed the Senate 33-7 is focused on preventing tethering animals in certain weather conditions, including, when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees, and when severe weather warnings are issued by the National Weather Service. The restrictions in the bill do not apply to animals loose in a yard or in a pen. The bill does not specify the type of animal, instead referring to animals and companion animals generally.

SB 872 states tethers must be at least 15 feet long, or four times the length of the animal, and limits the weight to less than one-tenth of the animal’s body weight.

Bipartisan Senate Committee OKs Anti-tethering Bill

By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – On a 9-5 bipartisan vote, a Senate committee Thursday endorsed a bill specifying when an animal can be tethered outside. The bill, SB 872, is the companion to HB 646, which was killed in a House subcommittee Monday.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted in favor of SB 872, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.

Matthew Gray, Virginia state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said changes had to be made to the Senate version for the legislation to pass. The Senate bill removed previous requirements that prohibited tethering between10 p.m. and 6 a.m. or when the owners aren’t home. Additionally, exemptions were added for animals actively working in the agricultural field and dogs actively engaged in hunting activities.

Now the bill focuses on preventing tethering animals in certain weather conditions – namely, when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees.

“My wife and I foster rescue dogs, and have seen time and time again how tethering [in cold weather] hurts and sometimes kills perfectly innocent animals,” Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who introduced HB 646, said after his bill was killed Monday. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources voted 5-3 to shelve the measure for this legislative session.

“I carried HB 646 because I believe that the voiceless animals need a voice in the Virginia General Assembly, and I will continue this fight until animals are protected.”

Kimberly Hawk, who attended both hearings on the issue, is a volunteer for the Houses of Wood and Straw Project, a nonprofit serving nine counties in central Virginia. The group provides wooden housing to outside dogs in the region, as well as straw and bedding.

Hawk said she was relieved that the committee approved the Senate bill. She said the legislation would help save the lives of animals, like one dog that she said froze to death last week after it got tangled in its chain and wasn’t able to reach its shelter.

However, organizations like the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders are wary of new pet laws. Alice Harrington, their legislative liaison, said the animal neglect laws in place are sufficient.

Harrington said one problem with more laws is that animal control officers can’t effectively enforce them because they receive insufficient training. Officers in Virginia are required to meet 80 hours of training, including 24 hours are basic law enforcement unrelated to animal care. Harrington said more training would be necessary for officers to learn the complexities surrounding what type of shelter is considered adequate for different breeds in various weather conditions.

“I’ve been doing this work for over 10 years; I haven’t seen a whole lot accomplished by law,” Harrington said.

But Hawk said she thinks the added limitations on tethering in weather below 32 degrees and above 85 degrees would be easier to enforce than existing animal cruelty laws that can be vague.

“We believe that it’s going to help the animal control officers be able to enforce the law better because it’s very tangible,” Hawk said.

Harrington disagreed. She said organizations like the HOWS Project have already figured out the solution by helping pets without separating them from their owners. She said she fears the enforcement of new laws would flood animal shelters.

Next, SB 872 will be heard by the full Senate. If it passes, the bill will be sent to the House subcommittee that killed HB 646.

After a Paws, Delegate Is Back With Pet Protection Bill

By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As temperatures across Virginia plunged to the single digits, many pets no doubt have been left in the cold.

The frigid weather in recent weeks prompted Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch to send a memo instructing animal control officers how to respond to calls regarding animals left outside. Pet owners have three options: They can bring the animal inside the house, surrender it to the animal control officer indefinitely or let the officer take temporary custody of the animal.

“They don’t get to let their dogs freeze to death,” Welch said in the memo.

Del. John Bell, D-Fairfax, has introduced a bill to clarify when pet owners could tie up an animal outside. His legislation would prohibit tethering pets outdoors when the temperature drops to 32 degrees or below or rises to 85 degrees or above. The restrictions would not apply to farm animals.

Bell, a dog owner whose wife, Margaret, is an avid animal rescuer, said he worked with more than 20 groups, including agricultural and farm bureaus, to find a solution that works for everyone, including farmers, who traditionally keep their working animals outside. The result was House Bill 646, which he filed on Jan. 9.

Last year, Bell introduced a similar bill that was shot down in the General Assembly for being too strict. Planning for this session’s bill began last April when animal advocate Gary Sweeney started a petition on Change.org to introduce a bill that would specify when the weather is considered too extreme for dogs to be left outside.

Sweeney launched the petition after he reported a short-haired dog left outside in Henrico County and was told by Henrico County Animal Control that the pet owner was not breaking the law.

“I went back and read the existing laws thoroughly; I realized that there was nothing in place in Virginia’s law that had anything to do with extreme weather,” Sweeney said. “It does have an adequate shelter provision – but it doesn’t specify by what type of (dog) house is adequate enough.”

The Humane Society of the United States caught wind of Sweeney’s petition after tens of thousands of supporters quickly signed it. The Humane Society worked with Sweeney and Bell to draft something similar to the delegate’s 2017 bill.

Robin Starr, CEO of the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said this bill is a measured approach to a subject that has long troubled animal welfare advocates.

“It is, I think, impossible to disagree with the idea that people should not tether dogs outside in severe weather conditions,” she said.

Midlothian resident Jamie Ericksen’s neighbors know to call her when they encounter an animal in need. Recently, she reunited a family with their cat that had been missing for two years. Currently, she said she is trying to help a dog that is left outside at all hours in a small pen.

“I just hope that this bill gets passed because I know that the animals suffer,” Ericksen said. “It’s hard to understand how someone can leave their animal outside in extreme temperatures and think that they’re OK or they enjoy it.”

HB 646 has been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources – the same panel that killed Bell’s legislation last year. The committee is also considering HB 889, introduced by Del. Robert Orrock, R-Caroline. Instead of establishing a statewide law, Orrock’s bill would empower local governments to restrict tethering dogs outside.

The subcommittee is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon.

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