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Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

Mary Lee Clark

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, July 20, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

Illegal voting in Virginia? Yes. Massive? Doubtful.

By Mary Lee Clark and Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – For years, Republicans have loudly proclaimed that voter fraud is widespread in U.S. elections – and just as adamantly, Democrats have insisted that such allegations are nonsense.

Last fall, a pair of groups supported by conservatives released a report with the sensational title “Alien Invasion in Virginia: The discovery and coverup of noncitizen registration and voting.” It said illegal voting is a “massive problem”:

“In our small sample of just eight Virginia counties who responded to our public inspection requests, we found 1046 aliens who registered to vote illegally,” the study said.

“The problem is most certainly exponentially worse because we have no data regarding aliens on the registration rolls for the other 125 Virginia localities. Even in this small sample, when the voting history of this small sample of alien registrants is examined, nearly 200 verified ballots were cast before they were removed from the rolls. Each one of them is likely a felony.”

The report’s startling claims gained traction on some conservative websites as evidence of a rigged election system but were dismissed by Democrats as fiction from the far-right. The study made a splash in Virginia media but was quickly lost in the partisan noise of the presidential election.

In recent weeks, Capital News Service attempted to replicate the study’s methods and found that some noncitizens have indeed voted in Virginia, though not on a massive scale. Using the Freedom of Information Act, voter registration records and voter history data, CNS found that:

  • About 240 people who weren’t citizens had been registered to vote in 10 localities, mostly in Northern Virginia and the Richmond area.
  • 28 of these noncitizens actually voted in an election before they were removed from the voter registration rolls.
  • They cast a total of more than 100 ballots.

CNS did not find evidence that noncitizens voted in massive numbers or tipped an election, as some Republicans have alleged. Indeed, half of the noncitizens who voted in a party primary voted in a Republican primary. However, the records seem to contradict Democrats’ assertion that voter fraud is nonexistent.

Origins of the ‘Alien Invasion’ report

The “Alien Invasion” study was produced by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm based in Indiana, and the Virginia Voter Alliance, which describes itself as a nonpartisan group “dedicated to free and fair elections.”

Logan Churchwell is the foundation’s communications director and founding editor of Breitbart News Texas, a division of the far-right news network. In an email, Churchwell explained the process the foundation used in its study to determine whether noncitizens had voted.

Citing the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the foundation requested documents on people who were registered to vote but later pulled off the voter rolls after officials discovered they were not citizens.

“Once we knew that more than 1,000 voters fit this description, and knew their names, we were able to see in voter files that roughly 200 ballots had been cast from this sample,” Churchwell said.

He believes that is just the tip of the iceberg, since the study covered only a handful of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities.

“After our first survey of 10 jurisdictions, we’re now sweeping statewide,” Churchwell said. “We’re finding more voter registrations that were swept under the rug without calling the cops. We’ll be releasing an update to our study this year.”

To replicate the investigation, CNS sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the 10 localities mentioned in the foundation’s report: the counties of Prince William, Loudoun, Stafford, Bedford, Hanover, Fairfax and Chesterfield and the cities of Alexandria, Roanoke and Manassas.

The requests asked for the names of individuals who were taken off the voter registration rolls since 2015 after it was determined that they were not citizens.

The FOIA requests yielded names and other information on 243 individuals who were removed from the voter rolls because their citizenship had been questioned. Four of them were later reinstated, resulting in a final list of 239 noncitizens who had been registered voters.

But did these individuals actually vote? The answer lies in the state’s voter history database, which shows whether someone has cast a ballot in a particular election.

Reporters do not have access to that database. However, it is available to political campaigns and groups. One such group is NGP VAN, which manages data for Democrats. CNS asked a contact with access to the organization’s database to look up the voter histories of the individuals who had been dropped from Virginia’s voter rolls for not being citizens.

Of the 239 individuals, the voter history database indicated that 28 had voted in an election. In fact, 26 of them voted in last year’s general election.

For about half of these individuals, 2016 was the only election they voted in. But others had been voting for years – including one with a voting history back to 1996. In all, the 28 noncitizens were recorded as having cast a total of 120 ballots.

The CNS research did not corroborate the contention in the “Alien Invasion” report that “nearly 200 verified ballots” were cast by noncitizens before they were removed from the voter rolls. However, it seemed certain that some noncitizens have voted.

Can a noncitizen accidentally register to vote?

It’s possible for noncitizens to get on the voter registration roll by mistake. It can happen when they go to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license or register an automobile.

Under the federally mandated “motor voter” system, people who go to DMV have an opportunity to register to vote. They receive a form with two checkoff questions:

  1. “Are you a citizen of the United States?”
  2. “Will you be 18 years of age on or before the next General Election day?”

People who answer “yes” to either question and fill out of the rest of the form will automatically have their name put on the voter rolls. Forms obtained by CNS show that some people who checked the “no” box on the citizenship question but completed the remainder of the form were added to the voter registration rolls.

“When it comes to registration, it’s mostly an honor system whether it’s at the DMV or not,” said Edgardo Cortés, commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections. “There is no comprehensive list of U.S. citizens that is available anywhere.”

Thus, getting on the voter registration rolls is fairly easy. If election officials later learn that someone’s citizenship is in question, they send the person a written warning. The individual then has 14 days to verify his or her citizenship.

Cortés said law enforcement and other government agencies keep in close touch with the Virginia Department of Elections. 

Some statistics suggesting fraud seemed false

Most of the “Alien Invasion” report focused on assertions that noncitizens have registered to vote and actually voted. But the study included another alarming statement: “In some Virginia jurisdictions, the number of people registered to vote exceeds the number of citizens eligible to vote.”

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, highlighted that claim in February in a press release to promote legislation requiring Virginians to show additional identification in order to vote. Echoing fellow Republicans at the state and national level, Obenshain said such laws are needed because voter fraud may be widespread.

“There are actually eight localities where the total number of registered voters is greater than the voting age population – the total number of Virginia citizens 18 and older – according to the census data just updated in June of 2016,” stated Obenshain, a Harrisonburg attorney. “Moreover in fifteen other localities, the number of registered voters exceeds 95% of the voting age population of those jurisdictions. Something is clearly wrong.”

It’s the purported statistics that are wrong, according to a researcher at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia, the state’s official source of population and demographic data.

Kathryn Piper Crespin, a research and policy analyst for the Weldon Cooper Center, compared the population data for the U.S. Census Bureau to voter registration data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

“I could find no instance where voter registration in a locality exceeded that locality’s adult population,” Crespin said.

Trump claims there’s voter fraud in Virginia

Obenshain, who lost a 2013 election for attorney general to Democrat Mark Herring by 165 votes of more than 2.2 million cast, isn’t the only government official alleging voter fraud in Virginia. President Donald Trump has tweeted about the issue.

“Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California – so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias – big problem!” Trump tweeted on Nov. 27.

Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by roughly 2.8 million votes last fall. However, Trump administration officials say that’s because 3 million to 5 million noncitizens voted. (Clinton beat Trump by 212,000 votes in Virginia.)

“We know for a fact, you have a massive number of noncitizens registered to vote in this country,” White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Last week, Trump signed an executive order creating a commission to investigate voter fraud. The panel will review “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”

Vice President Mike Pence will chair the commission. As vice chairman, Trump named Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. Critics say Kobach’s agenda is to suppress the vote of minorities and other people who tend to vote Democratic.

Others have praised Virginia’s voter registration system

It is somewhat ironic that Virginia should find itself in the crosshairs over alleged voter fraud. The commonwealth has been called a model in terms of elections. According to the Election Performance Index developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Virginia is one of the top five states in the country for keeping complete voter registration rolls.

“We have a really comprehensive system in place in Virginia to help identify people who have moved or have died, people who are no longer eligible,” Cortés said. “We spend a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of effort maintaining clean and accurate registration lists here. I think Virginia has been a model in those respects.”

Despite such record-keeping, Republican politicians and groups such as the Virginia Voter Alliance say the system is rife with fraud. While it seems clear some noncitizens have illegally cast votes, there’s no evidence yet of widespread fraud. But in the meantime, Republicans will continue to push for voter ID laws and other requirements that they believe would prevent noncitizens from voting.

Political parties at odds over voter ID laws

By Tyler Hammel and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Voter identification laws are a hot issue in Virginia and across the country. Republicans say such laws combat voter fraud, which they insist is widespread. Democrats say the laws discourage voting by minority and elderly citizens who may be less likely to have a photo ID.

 

The debate has played out in Virginia, where Republicans control the General Assembly and a Democrat is governor, with few signs of a compromise.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1256, which required Virginia voters to present a driver’s license, passport or other photo ID in order to cast a ballot. The bill – which was signed into law by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican – also provided free photo IDs to citizens who needed one.

Democrats challenged the law, but in December, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it. “Not only does the substance of SB 1256 not impose an undue burden on minority voting, there was no evidence to suggest racially discriminatory intent in the law’s enactment,” the Richmond-based appellate court ruled.

However, the ruling was hardly the last word on the subject.

During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers introduced 11 bills concerning voter ID. Democrats submitted six measures to roll back the ID requirements or expand the types of IDs acceptable to election officials. Republicans sponsored five bills to make the requirements stricter, including proving citizenship before voting.

Of the bills, four Republican proposals passed. Those measures were all vetoed by the current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and Republican legislators could not muster the two-thirds majority vote to override any of the vetoes.

The vetoed bills were:

Senate Bill 1253, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham. It sought to require electronic pollbooks to include photographs of registered voters. In rejecting the bill, McAuliffe cited administrative and privacy concerns.

House Bill 2343, by Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville. It would have made the Virginia Department of Elections provide local registrars with a list of voters registered in multiple states. McAuliffe said this bill also would create an administrative burden.

HB 1428, filed by Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Glen Allen, and SB 872, by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian. They sought to require voters applying for an absentee ballot to submit a copy of a photo ID.

When a House subcommittee held a hearing on HB 1428, Fowler said it was an effort to plug a hole in the existing voting system.

“We require folks to have a photo ID to cast a ballot here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Of course, we do not require that for an absentee ballot,” Fowler said. “I think that kind of seems like a hole in the wall, and I think with the number of people who vote absentee, we should also require a photo ID for voting absentee.”

Opponents of the legislation said it would unfairly target localities where a lot of people vote absentee, like Falls Church.

“The city had the largest turnout of absentee voters in the state in the presidential election at 25 percent. So I come here with some knowledge of how the implementation of this bill would affect us,” David Bjerke, voter registrar for Falls Church, told lawmakers. “It would do more to discourage absentee voting by mail than it would do to protect a vote.”

Not everyone involved in the election process agreed.

Clara Belle Wheeler, the vice chair of the Virginia Board of Elections, supported Fowler’s bill. She also opposed legislation that would add IDs from out-of-state colleges and state-run nursing homes to the list of identification cards acceptable at the polls.

Wheeler would like to see people present a photo ID and proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. That is the only way for registrars to verify whether the person filling out the application is a citizen, she said.

“Voter registration is based on the honor system. So if someone fills out an application and they mark that they are a citizen, the general registrar has no means of checking whether or not that person is a citizen,” Wheeler said.

She noted that photo IDs provide a means to verify citizenship because most of the documents accepted by the State Board of Elections cannot be obtained by noncitizens.

HB 1428 subsequently won approval on party-line votes in the House, 65-31, and the Senate, 21-19. But in March, McAuliffe vetoed the bill.

“The requirement would not in any way deter fraudulent voting since it provides no means of verifying the identity of the individual depicted in the submitted photograph,” McAuliffe said in his veto message.

“The right to vote is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, and we should be doing all we can to facilitate eligible citizens’ access to the ballot. This bill would undoubtedly result in the disenfranchisement of qualified eligible Virginian voters and increase the potential for costly and time-consuming litigation.”

Governor vetoes Republicans’ ‘educational choice’ legislation

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday vetoed several bills that Republicans say would have increased school choice but McAuliffe said would have undermined public schools.

Two bills, House Bill 1400 and Senate Bill 1240, would have established the Board of Virginia Virtual School as an agency in the executive branch of state government to oversee online education in kindergarten through high school. Currently, online courses fall under the Virginia Board of Education.

“In establishing the Virginia Virtual School outside of the jurisdiction of the Board of Education, and most importantly, local school boards, this legislation raises significant constitutional concerns,” McAuliffe stated in his veto statement.

HB 1400 was sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, and SB 1240 by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. The bills were identical to legislation the governor vetoed last year.

McAuliffe also vetoed HB 2342 and SB 1283, which would have authorized the State Board of Education to allow local school boards to collaborate in establishing regional charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently and are exempt from certain policies regular schools must follow.

“In establishing regional governing school boards that remove authority from local school boards and their members, this legislation proposes a governance model that is in conflict with the Constitution of Virginia,” McAuliffe wrote in his veto statement. “Public charter school arrangements are already available to divisions at the discretion of the local school board.”

HB 2342 was sponsored by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta. Sen Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, sponsored SB 1283. Obenshain was disappointed in the Democratic governor’s decision.

“Florida has upwards of 500 charter schools; Virginia has just nine that serve 2,000 students,” Obenshain said. “If we’re serious about providing families with meaningful educational choices when faced with failing schools, then that has to change.”

Obenshain said charter schools provide parents with a choice when their local schools are failing.

McAuliffe also vetoed:

  • HB 1605, sponsored by Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun. It which would have established “Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts.” The governor said such savings accounts would divert state funds from public schools and redirect them for educational services outside of the public school system.
  • HB 2191, introduced by Landes. It would have required school boards to notify parents of any material assigned to students that could be deemed as sexually explicit. Schools would have had to provide substitute materials if the parents requested.

Ed Gillespie, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in this year’s election, criticized McAuliffe for vetoing the bills.

“I’ve never seen a governor so proud of everything he didn’t get done for the Commonwealth,” Gillespie said. “Unfortunately for Virginians, he’s added to his record by vetoing four pieces of legislation to expand opportunities in education. These were common-sense bills that would have helped all Virginia students.”

Law ensures Virginians can resell tickets

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In a defeat for Ticketmaster, a new state law will allow Virginians to resell tickets they’ve bought for concerts, football and basketball games, and other public events.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed two bills that would protect people involved in reselling tickets – a practice critics call scalping. The law also says you can’t be turned away if you show up at an event with a ticket you received from someone else.

One of the measures – House Bill 1825– was sponsored by Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax. He had a personal reason for proposing the legislation. It stemmed from a secret that, for a while, he kept even from his wife, Rita.

“One thing she did not know about me when we got married is, she figured Republican, lawyer – you know, straight guy. She does not know I am a metalhead,” said Albo, 54.

One of his favorite bands is Iron Maiden. And when Albo found out they were coming to Virginia to play at Nissan Pavilion (now called JiffyLube Live) in Bristow, he bought two $200 tickets as soon as sales opened up on Ticketmaster.

Rita Albo later broke it to her husband that the Iron Maiden concert was the same week as the family’s vacation. Del. Albo decided he needed to bite the bullet and try to resell the tickets.

But he couldn’t do that on the Ticketmaster website because the show wasn’t sold out. And Ticketmaster prohibits reselling its tickets anywhere else.

Albo said he couldn’t even give the tickets to a friend because Ticketmaster’s policies require the concert-goer to show an ID or credit card of the original ticket purchaser.

After Albo told legislators about his ordeal, the General Assembly passed House Bill 1825 and Senate Bill 1425, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin. The bills state that:

  • Tickets to any professional concert, sporting event or theatrical production cannot be sold “solely through a delivery method that substantially prevents the purchaser of the ticket from lawfully reselling the ticket on the Internet ticketing platform of the ticket purchaser’s choice.”
  • “No person shall be discriminated against or denied admission to an event solely on the basis that the person resold a ticket, or purchased a resold ticket, on a specific Internet ticketing platform.”

McAuliffe signed the bills March 3. The law will take effect July 1. Violators could be fined up to $5,000.

Critics say the legislation opens the door for ticket scalping or “touting,” in which people, sometimes using computer software, buy tickets only with the intention of reselling them at a higher price to make a profit.

Ticketmaster did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment about Virginia’s new law. However, when Albo’s bill came before the House of Delegates in January, the company issued a statement saying, “This scalper friendly legislation is harmful to every sports and music fan in the Commonwealth, and the bill should be rejected just as it has been in other states across the country.”

Two other states – New York and Colorado – have adopted laws similar to Virginia’s.

On the other hand, ticket vendors like StubHub, a website owned by eBay designed for people to resell and buy second-hand tickets, applauded the new state law.

“This legislation protects Virginia fans and ensures an open and unrestricted ticket marketplace,” said Laura Dooley, senior manager of government relations at StubHub. “We are proud to advocate in support of legislation like the Virginia bills on behalf of our users.”

Future public servants observe lawmaking firsthand

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – For the past two months, they showed up every day at the state Capitol, dressed in matching blazers and carrying pen and paper at the ready – the next generation of public servants carefully observing their superiors.

These young adults are known as pages. They are middle school and high school students from around Virginia who assist in everyday tasks at the General Assembly to experience firsthand how the legislative process works.

The program dates as far back as 1850, when the one page who worked was paid $2 a day. Now the combined total of House and Senate pages is 85 individuals, all age 13 or 14. Virginia is one of a handful of states that offer this type of program.

“It gives them exposure to the legislative process in a way that is not taught in the classroom,” said Bladen Finch, director of the Senate Page Leadership Program. “We do a little classroom-like instruction, but a lot of it is learned by actually observing the process.”

Many pages said they didn’t know much about how the General Assembly works before becoming a page.

Senna Keesing, an eighth-grader from Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax County, learned about the page program from her sister. She said that she made herself flashcards with the names and faces of senators so she could identify them during the session.

“I learned about it (the General Assembly) in seventh grade. I probably just memorized the steps for the test, and then forgot about it,” said Abbey Rice, a ninth-grader from Jefferson Forest High School near Lynchburg. “This is something I’ll never forget because I got to live it every day.”

Pages carry out tasks throughout the day such as fetching items from the legislators’ offices, assisting at the Capitol’s information desk, and getting lunch for the senators and delegates while they’re in session.

Although these may seem like simple tasks that lawmakers can do themselves, the pages know this is an important duty because constituents depend on their legislators being completely focused on business during the session. That can be especially true in the Senate, where the Republicans hold only a slight edge over the Democrats.

“With the majority being 21-19, every vote counts. We have to have people ready to do things for the senators they can’t do for themselves,” Senna said. “Putting something in their office, or taking something from their office, takes a really long time. Which is why they have us do it.”

On most days, the session starts at noon and typically lasts a few hours.

“Would you rather them getting lunch, or would you have them voting on a very contentious bill?” said Stephen Wiecek, an eighth-grader from Chickahominy Middle School in Hanover County.

Even with the time-consuming job of being a legislative page, the students still don’t get off the hook from homework.

“It’s basically like having a full-time job and a full-time school career, all in one day,” Abbey said.

In addition to helping at around the Capitol and keeping up with their homework, pages help out in the community in various ways. This year, they volunteered at the Central Virginia Food Bank, Feedmore. Collectively, the pages put in 154 volunteer hours.

The pages also raised about $7,000 in donations from parents, former pages and legislators. This year, the pages collected items from lawmakers’ offices that were being left behind in the General Assembly Building, which is to be demolished and replaced starting in June. The items were sold at a yard sale, raising about $450.

“As young leaders, and young possible politicians, we have to remember that everything we do is for the service of others,” Abbey said.

Now experts on the state legislative process, all the children have been inspired to work in some form of public service, even if it’s not in politics.

Senna, who before the page program had no plans for politics, found inspiration in the diverse background of Virginia’s political leadership.

“I am really interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), which is probably my future career. That’s why the lieutenant governor is so inspiring to me because he is a pediatric neurologist,” Senna said. “He’s a doctor and the lieutenant governor of Virginia. I find that really cool, and that’s definitely a possibility for me.”

On Friday, the pages held a graduation ceremony. After the legislative session ended on Saturday, the pages prepared to return home, taking along educational experiences and lifelong friendships.

“Trust me, some of these people are going to do great things, and I’m going to want to know them when I grow up,” said Lilly Hallock, an eighth-grader from Tuckahoe Middle School in Henrico County.

A lot of the kids do go on to do great things. Finch, who himself is a former page, said many children who graduate the program go on to careers in public service or politics.

A former page, Thomas Cannella, last year won a seat on the Poquoson Central District City Council at the age of 19. He was part of the page program in 2011.

“This is not a one-time experience. This is something they carry with them forever,” Finch said.

More on the web

For information on how to apply to the page program, see:

http://capclass.virginiageneralassembly.gov/PagePrograms/PagePrograms.html

Governor signs bills to fight Virginia’s opioid crisis

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Capping off a signature issue of the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed five bills Thursday to help arm the fight against opioid abuse and fatal overdoses in Virginia.

The bills address the crisis in various ways. They include SB 848and HB 1453, which allow community organizations to dispense and train individuals to use naloxone, a drug that can treat an opioid overdose in emergency situations.

“We recognize that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing,” McAuliffe said. “Our proposals for this General Assembly session focused on preventing addiction and providing treatment for those who suffer from it.”

The governor also signed HB 2165, which will mandate all opioid prescriptions be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020. It will also create a workgroup to study how to best implement the change.

“The fight against the national opioid abuse epidemic gained more momentum today as Virginia became the most recent state to mandate that care providers use electronic prescribing for controlled substances,” said Dr. Sean Kelly, who is a practicing emergency physician and the chief medical officer of Imprivata, a health care information technology company.

Kelly said that electronic prescribing for controlled substances, or EPCS, helps the health care industry to reduce prescription fraud, drug diversion and drug abuse. Virginia is joining three other states – New York, Minnesota and Maine – in mandating EPCS.

“This is a real ‘all hands on deck’ moment,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “The heroin and opioid crisis is touching families who never imagines they would confront something like this, and yet now are fighting something that feels so overwhelming.”

In November 2016, McAuliffe joined State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine in declaring the Virginia opioid addiction crisis to be a public health emergency.

Although final numbers are not available, the Virginia Department of Health projects that more than 1,000 people died in Virginia from fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. That would be a 33 percent increase from the previous year.

Here are more details on the bills McAuliffe signed into law:

SB 848, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, and HB 1453, by Del. David LaRock, R-Loudoun, allow community organizations to possess and dispense naloxone to people whom the groups have trained to administer the life-saving drug.

HB 2317, by Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico, allows local health departments to administer harm reduction programs in parts of the state with high rates of HIV and hepatitis. These programs will exchange dirty syringes for clean ones, offer testing for hepatitis C and HIV, and connect people to addiction treatment.

HB 1786, by Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, initiates a family assessment and plan of care from local social services if a child is found to have been exposed to substances in utero. This connects the mother to treatment if necessary and provides services to ensure the safety of both the mother and the child.

HB 2165, by Del. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, mandates that all opioid prescriptions will be transmitted to pharmacies electronically by 2020 and creates a workgroup to study how to implement this policy.

Is it gerrymandering – or Democratic clustering?

By Maura Mazurowski and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – David Toscano, the minority leader in the Virginia House, did the math and didn’t like the results.

“All five statewide offices are held by Democrats, and the presidency has been won by Democrats in Virginia for the last three cycles,” he said. “Yet 66 percent of the House of Delegates are Republicans.”

The Democrats do better in the Virginia Senate, where they are outnumbered just 21-19 by Republicans. Almost as lopsided as the state House of Delegates is Virginia’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representative: It has seven Republicans and four Democrats.

Toscano and other Democrats blame that imbalance on gerrymandering – the drawing of political districts to favor the party in power.

“We face a real uphill struggle, and it shows in the legislation that is getting defeated as well as the legislation that they are getting passed,” Toscano said.

Last week, for example, the General Assembly marked “crossover day” – the deadline for bills to pass their chamber of origin or be declared dead for the legislative session. Of bills sponsored by Republican delegates, 59 percent have won House approval and are still alive, according to a Capital News Service analysis of data from the Legislative Information Service. Of bills sponsored by Democratic delegates, just 25 percent survived crossover.

However, many legislators dispute the notion that unfair redistricting practices have disadvantaged Democrats and ensured Republican legislative dominance.

“It has nothing to do with gerrymandering. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Jeff Ryer, communications director for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus. He said the Republican majority in the General Assembly simply reflects where people live: Republicans tend to live in rural areas while Democrats tend to cluster in more densely populated areas, such as Tidewater and Northern Virginia.

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, agrees. In an op-edthis month in the Richmond-Times Dispatch, he discussed what Democrats see as evidence of manipulated districts: “A state in which Republicans have lost seven statewide races in a row has a majority Republican congressional delegation and legislature.”

McDougle wrote, “That is not the result of gerrymandering, but an easy to understand consequence of Democrat voters living in communities surrounded by other Democrat voters.” In other words, he explained, “Democrat voters often reside in clusters, living in localities that vote overwhelmingly for Democrat candidates.”

Last fall’s presidential election was a case in point, McDougle said. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won only 40 of Virginia’s 133 localities. But by winning the most populous localities, often by “staggeringly large” margins, Clinton captured the statewide vote over Republican Donald Trump.

However, Bill Oglesby, an assistant professor in VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, says gerrymandering explains why Democrats have so little power in the General Assembly.

“Even a conservative editorial page like the Richmond-Times Dispatch has said in a state that votes blue statewide on a consistent basis, there’s no justification for having two-thirds of the House be Republican,” said Oglesby, who recently directed and produced a PBS documentary titled “GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy on Its Head.”

John Aughenbaugh, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said both Democrats and Republicans have used gerrymandering, depending on which party is in the majority when political lines are redrawn every 10 years.

“In Virginia, like a majority of the states in the country, the state legislature controls the redistricting process after every census is taken,” Aughenbaugh said. “It puts a heavy premium on which political party is actually in control of the General Assembly after the census results come out.”

When the Democrats controlled the General Assembly, they drew the lines to benefit their party, Aughenbaugh said. He said no one is innocent, but it is a problem that must be fixed.

“Most political scientists would like to see greater competitive races, whether we are talking about state legislative seats or House of Representatives,” Aughenbaugh said. “We would like to see greater competition.”

The lack of competition is evident in statistics compiled by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. When the 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates were up for election two years ago, 61 of the races were uncontested – with just one name on the ballot.

Despite being in the minority in the House and Senate, Democratic legislators have an ace up their sleeve. They can play it when Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoes legislation, as he has done to 71 Republican-supported bills since taking office in 2014.

Republicans need a two-thirds majority in both chambers – 67 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate – to override a veto. They’ve never been able to muster that. As a result, not one of McAuliffe’s vetoes has been overturned.

But Democrats’ ultimate goal is to change the way political districts are drawn.

At the start of the legislative session, legislators – including some Republicans – introduced 13 bills and proposed constitutional amendments intended to take the politics out of redistricting. All of the proposals originating in the House died in the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

But three redistricting proposals won approval in the Senate and have been sent to the House for consideration:

  • SJ 290 is a proposed constitutional amendment that states, “No electoral district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or other individual or entity.” It is sponsored by Sens. Jill Vogel, R-Winchester, and Janet Howell, D-Reston.
  • SJ 231, another constitutional amendment, would create an independent commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each census. It is sponsored by a group of Republicans and Democrats.
  • SB 846, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, would require Virginia to use an independent commission if a court declares a legislative or congressional district unlawful or unconstitutional.

All of those measures have been assigned to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, the House graveyard for its own bills that would have changed redistricting.

Bill seeks to ban outdoor smoking at performances

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians may have to put out their cigarettes before entering an outdoor performance because of a bill that emerged from the state Senate on a tiebreaker vote Tuesday.

Senate Bill 938would allow local governments to designate nonsmoking areas in an outdoor amphitheater or concert venue. It cleared the Senate on the last day bills could be approved in the chamber where they originated.

The bill, proposed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, met opposition and split the Senate, 20-20. Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican from Augusta County, joined the 19 Democrats in voting for the legislation. The other 20 Republican senators voted against it.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician, then cast the deciding vote to pass the bill.

Edwards said he introduced the legislation on behalf of Roanoke city officials who received complaints from parents about people smoking near children in Roanoke’s outdoor amphitheater, Elmwood Park.

The bill originally would have applied to any outdoor public area, including parks and greenways. But the Senate Local Government Committee amended it last week to restrict its reach to outdoor amphitheaters or venues owned by local governments.

Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, spoke against the bill, saying it would open the door for more anti-smoking laws.

“It’s just going to have a rolling effect if we allow this to happen,” Cosgrove said.

Any person violating the proposed law would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $25. It would go into the Virginia Health Care Fund, which assists the state’s uninsured and medically underserved residents.

“The American Lung Association in Virginia is pleased that the Senate has voted to take the first step in protecting the public’s health from tobacco smoke,” said Deborah P. Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

According to State of Tobacco Control, a report issued by the association, $3.1 billion is spent annually on health care costs associated with tobacco use in Virginia.

Edwards’ legislation does not apply to vapes or electronic cigarettes. The Code of Virginia defines “smoke” and “smoking” by “carrying or holding of any lighted pipe, cigar, or cigarette of any kind, or any other lighted smoking equipment.”

The bill will now be considered by the House of Delegates.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate votedTuesday on SB 938 (“Smoking in outdoor public place; locality regulation”).

Floor: 02/07/17 Senate: Passed Senate (20-Y 20-N)

YEAS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 20.

NAYS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner – 20.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yea

Richmond mayor renews city’s protection of illegal immigrants

By Mary Lee Clark and Megan Schiffres, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Richmond is joining a national movement to protect immigrants and refugees in light of recent presidential executive actions.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney signed a mayoral directive Monday reaffirming his commitment to protect and promote the safety of all members of the community regardless of their immigration or refugee status.

The directive is a response to protests and a petition with about 1,400 signatures asking Stoney to take action against President Trump's executive order issued Jan. 25 that blocks funding to sanctuary cities, which are jurisdictions that limit law enforcement cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“America is a nation of immigrants,” Stoney said. “Unless you are Native American, all of us are from somewhere else. This is not – as some have suggested – a weakness. Rather, it is our strength. It is what makes us great. It is why so many from so many parts of the world want to make this country their home.”

Trump's executive action was signed the same day he ordered the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the United States, in efforts to combat undocumented immigration.

“We’re in the middle of a crisis on our southern border,” Trump said. “A nation without borders is not a nation.”

The presidential order also directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to release a weekly list of criminal acts committed by aliens in sanctuary jurisdictions, to “better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions”.

This action against undocumented immigrants is reminiscent of Trump’s controversial campaign statement in 2015, in which he said “ The Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

Stoney avoided using “sanctuary city” to describe Richmond, instead stressing the city’s existing policy of being inclusive to illegal immigrants.

"Today, by this directive, Richmond reaffirms its position – where it has been since Day One on this issue. That we stand with all our residents as a Welcoming city, inclusive and diverse. That we are ONE RICHMOND,” Stoney said.

The directive says, “The Richmond Police Department will not consent to participate with the Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) agreements” and will focus on residents’ well-being, not their legal status.”

Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) authorizes the director of ICE to enter into agreements with local law enforcement to train and perform immigration law functions. Currently the only 287(g) agreement in Virginia involves the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.

The Richmond Police Department already has a policy of not reporting undocumented residents to the immigration authorities unless they have committed certain criminal offenses.

"At no time during any citizen interaction does the RPD ask any person about their immigration status,” said Police Chief Alfred Durham.

Stoney’s action could be met with criticism from members of the General Assembly, who are currently voting on bills to block sanctuary cities in Virginia.

Stoney issued the mayoral directive on the same day the Virginia Senate passed a bill to hold sanctuary cities liable for certain injuries and damages caused by illegal aliens. For example, if an illegal immigrant were to get into a fender-bender with a resident, the state would be responsible for paying the damages. The bill, SB 1262, sponsored by Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, was met with heavy criticism by Democrats in the Senate who argued that it was impossible to enforce and a burden on taxpayers.

House Bill 2000, by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, and HB 2236, by Del. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, both prohibit sanctuary policies. House Bill 1468, sponsored by Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, would prohibit government officials from releasing incarcerated aliens for whom ICE has issued a detainer.

“We need to keep our country, and our city, safe from those who would do us harm, and no one, citizen or not, is exempt from justice if they commit crimes against their neighbors,” Stoney said. “But actions such as those taken by the 45th President through these executive orders – actions like those embedded in several bills currently before our General Assembly, do not make us stronger. They peddle fear. They are ill-informed and misguided attempts to protect us, that arguably make us less safe in our communities. Some are unconstitutional, and others are just un-American. That is not the country we are, and it is not the city we will be.”

In the Virginia General Assembly, no anti-sanctuary bill has yet passed its house of origin and could be dropped by “crossover day”, the Tuesday deadline for bills to be approved by their house of origin.

Other states, such as Texas, are also seeking harsher penalties for cities that take up sanctuary policies in their states.

According to the Immigration Legal Resource Center, four states have statewide laws that limit how local police cooperation with ICE. They include Oregon which officially became a sanctuary state just three days ago.

The center also identified 364 counties and 39 cities that have similar policies.

Virginia takes legal action against Trump’s immigration order

By Mary Lee Clark and Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark Herring, flanked by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, announced Tuesday that Virginia is taking legal action against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Herring called the order “unconstitutional and unlawful.”

He said Virginia is already being hurt by the immigration ban. Herring said it affects the state’s businesses, schools and communities. He said the executive order prevents students who have visas to study at American universities from continuing their education.

“The commonwealth is compelled to intervene in the case pending in the Eastern District of Virginia challenging that executive order,” Herring said.

The case, Aziz v. Trump, was filed Saturday by Tareq Aqel Mohammed Aziz, Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz, Aqel Mohammed Aziz and John Does 1-60 as a civil action after the individuals were detained at Dulles International Airport.

The plaintiffs believe they were targeted because they are Muslim. They are alleging denial of due process and violation of constitutional rights regarding religion as well as a breach of the Immigration and Nationality Act and other laws.

“We have been working around the clock since Friday to examine this executive order before reaching this conclusion,” Herring said. “This is not an action I take lightly, but it is one I take with confidence in our legal analysis, and in the necessity of intervening to both protect the commonwealth’s own sovereign interests and vindicate its residents’ civil rights.”

McAuliffe said many companies have told him they are worried about their employees not being able to return to the U.S. He said he supports Herring’s legal action because of the commonwealth’s belief in religious freedom.

On Friday, Trump signed the executive order barring immigration from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The president said he took the action to protect the nation from potential terrorists. Trump’s order prevents citizens from the seven countries from entering the U.S. for three months.

In addition, Trump said the U.S. would not admit any refugees for four months. He suspended the entrance of refugees from Syria indefinitely.

After signing the order, Trump said it was not “a Muslim ban.”

“You see it in the airports, you see it in security. It’s working out very nicely,” Trump said. “We’re going to have a strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”

The action has sparked protests across the United States.

On Saturday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a temporary restraining order blocking the enforcement of portions of the executive order. The restraining order allowed permanent residents of the U.S. being detained at Dulles access to lawyers and prevented them from being deported.

However, the restraining order was ignored by the Customs and Border Protection Agency and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, according to advocates for the detainees. They said customs and airport authorities refused to give the detained individuals access to lawyers.

House OKs carrying concealed switchblades

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similar knife legislation has been approved in the Senate:

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

How they voted

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

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

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

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

NOT VOTING – Hugo, Minchew, Morefield – 3.

Senate Defeats Bill Opposed by ACLU

By Mary Lee Clark,Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Several Republican senators spoke in support of the bill.

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

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

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

The ACLU of Virginia strongly opposed the legislation.

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

Bartenders May Help Prevent Sexual Assaults

By Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia bars might be stepping up their game in combating sexual assault under legislation making its way through the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 1150, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, would encourage bartenders and other employees who “otherwise sell, serve, or dispense alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption” to undergo “bar bystander training.”

On Friday, the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services unanimously approved the bill. It now goes to the full Senate.

Bar bystander training would inform employees how to recognize and intervene in situations that might lead to sexual assault. The bill says bar employees should be taught “intervention strategies to prevent such situations from culminating in sexual assault.”

“Studies have been done that actually show that in areas where they have this bar bystander training, they have had an 11 percent lower rate of sexual assault and victimization,” Favola said.

The training would be optional.

The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control already offers online training such as Responsible Sellers & Servers (RSVP), which advises employees to follow state laws and how to deal with intoxicated customers.

Favola also suggested signs be posted to let customers know which bars have trained employees.

According to a report on alcohol and sexual assault by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately one-half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking alcohol. And more than one-half of sexual assault victims reported that they were drinking alcohol at the time of the assault.

Many bars have created their own policies to combat sexual assault. Most notably, the Iberian Rooster in St. Petersburg, Florida, posted signs in the women’s restroom that instructed women to order an “angel shot” if they needed to discreetly notify the staff about an uncomfortable date.

Other bars have followed that lead and posted similar signs.

General Assembly Convenes, Welcomes New Members

By Megan Corsano and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia General Assembly opened its 2017 session on Wednesday, welcoming new members while pondering the work ahead.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, addressed the looming issue of the state budget, which faces a shortfall of more than $1.2 billion. Hanger said legislators must grapple with the “limited resources and uncertainties in the budgeting process” during the session, which will end Feb. 25.

The House and Senate each convened at noon to start the 45-day legislative session and begin laying the groundwork for decisions on the state budget to be determined in the coming weeks.

In special elections on Tuesday, voters chose two new senators – Democrat Jennifer McClellan of Richmond and Republican Mark Peake of Lynchburg. However, neither was sworn in Wednesday because the election results have not been certified by the Virginia Board of Elections. The board isn’t scheduled to certify the results until Jan. 18.

Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg, noted the “exuberance and excitement” of the two senators-elect. Peake was in attendance in the Senate gallery with his family.

Norment indicated that he wished Peake and McClellan could join the Senate sooner. “I am very hopeful on reflection that the State Board of Elections will reflect on the decision to delay the certification of our new senators,” Norment said.

The House started its session by swearing in a new member – Republican N. D. “Rocky” Holcomb III of Virginia Beach. He won a special election Tuesday in the 85th House District.

Unlike the Senate, the House does not require a certification from the Virginia Board of Elections before new members can be sworn in.

Holcomb, a captain of the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, won the special election against Democrat Cheryl Turpin.

The House adjourned to remember the late Sen. Charles “Chuck” Colgan, D-Manassas. Colgan had been the longest serving member of the Virginia Senate before his retirement in 2015. He died Jan. 3 at age 90.

While the two chambers were convening, Gov. Terry McAuliffe met with the reporters to discuss his vision for the 2017 legislative session.

McAuliffe, who is in the final year of his four-year term, said the commonwealth has made progress on transportation and economic development. Looking to the future, the Democratic governor said he wants to focus on issues of mental health and the opioid crisis in Virginia.

“You want to do what’s in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s what we have really leaned in on,” McAuliffe said.

The governor also mentioned the decline in the state’s unemployment rate, emphasizing his mission to “diversify the Virginia economy.”

McAuliffe ended with a message for legislators to adjust their focus away from socially divisive issues.

“Don’t waste my time on the socially divisive,” he said. “Leave women alone; leave members of the LGBT community. Let’s spend our time here on an agenda that brings people together and helps every corner of the commonwealth.”

McClellan Wins, But GOP Still Controls Senate

By Jesse Adcock and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democrat Jennifer McClellan of Richmond easily won a seat in the Virginia Senate in a special election Tuesday, but Republicans retained control of the chamber by holding on to a district west of the capital city.

As expected, McClellan won the 9th Senate District race, receiving 91 percent of the votes against her opponent, Libertarian Corey Fauconier.

McClellan, an attorney who currently serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, will advance to the Senate as the General Assembly convenes for its 2017 session, which began Wednesday. During the session, balancing the state budget will be a priority, McClellan said Tuesday night.

“The big thing is to make sure that as we address the budget shortfall, we don’t make any cuts to education,” McClellan said. “We made some historic investments in this budget, and we just need to protect them.”

McClellan also said she would work to break up what critics call the school-to-prison pipeline – the suspensions and expulsions that may lead students into the criminal justice system. McClellan said she would do this by taking aim at disciplinary measures in school that unfairly target minority students and students with disabilities.

McClellan will fill the Senate seat vacated by a fellow Democrat, Donald McEachin, who was elected in November to the U.S. House of Representatives. The 9th Senate District includes Charles City County, parts of Henrico and Hanover counties, and part of the city of Richmond.

By holding onto the district, the Democrats have 19 of the 40 Senate seats. The Republicans will continue to hold 21 seats by winning the 22nd Senate District on Tuesday.

Republican Mark Peake defeated Democrat Ryant Washington and Independent Joe Hinesin that district, which includes the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna and Goochland, as well as parts of Louisa County and the city of Lynchburg.

“I look forward to representing everybody – not just Republicans – but Democrats and everybody in the 22nd District,” Peake said. “I look forward to working with Republican senators and think it’s important that we kept the majority in the state Senate.”

Peake served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board under former Gov. Bob McDonnell. He is a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and ran for Senate advocating “more freedoms and less government in our lives.”

Peake received 53 percent of the votes, while Washington got about 40 percent and Hines 7 percent.

Peake will replace Republican Tom Garrett in the state Senate. Garrett was elected to the U.S. Congress in November.

It was a tough loss for Democrats, because it means that Republicans will maintain control over both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.

If the Democrats had captured the 22nd Senate District seat, the Senate would have been evenly divided between the two parties. But the Democrats effectively would have controlled the Senate, because the lieutenant governor – currently Ralph Northam, a Democrat – gets to cast tie-breaking votes in that chamber.

Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said it would have been significant in many ways if the Democrats had won the 22nd Senate District race.

“It would force House Republicans to deal with pieces of legislation that they otherwise might not want to deal with, and if they had control of both chambers, they wouldn’t have to deal with,” Kidd said.

McClellan said being in the minority in the Senate is “not any different than what I’m used to.”

“I’ve been in the House of Delegates for 11 years where I was in the minority,” she said. “The Senate majority flipped back and forth. I’m very used to working across the aisle, but standing up on progressive values when I need to.”

A special election now will be called for the 71st House District seat, which McClellan had held for more than a decade. That district includes parts of Henrico County and the city of Richmond.

Also on Tuesday, Republican N. D. “Rocky” Holcomb III won the 85th House District race in Virginia Beach against Democrat Cheryl Turpin. Holcomb received 53 percent of the votes to Turpin’s 47 percent. Holcomb will replace Scott Taylor, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

Holcomb is a captain in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, where he heads the Criminal Intelligence Unit. He previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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