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SaraRose Martin

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

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

Racial disparities in marijuana arrests seen across Virginia

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hanover County, just north of Richmond, has about 88,000 white residents, and in an average year, 246 whites are arrested there for marijuana possession. That represents a rate of 280 white arrests for every 100,000 white residents.

About 9,600 African-Americans also live in Hanover County, and in an average year, 171 blacks are arrested there for marijuana possession. That represents a rate of 1,779 black arrests for every 100,000 black residents.

Statistically, that means African Americans are more than six times as likely as whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana in Hanover County.

That is an extreme example of a pattern throughout Virginia: Statewide, blacks are about three times as likely as whites to be arrested on marijuana charges, according to a Capital News Service analysis of data from the Virginia State Police.

The analysis looked at records on more than 160,000 arrests by local and state law enforcement agencies from 2010 through 2016. It found that the racial disparity in marijuana arrest rates has increased over the years: In 2010, the arrest rate for blacks was 2.9 times the arrest rate for whites; in 2016, blacks were 3.2 times as likely as whites to be arrested on marijuana charges.

The statistics suggest that in many localities, the enforcement of marijuana laws has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans – even though studies show that blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rates.

Previous studies by other groups also found differences in marijuana arrest rates between blacks and whites. In 2015, for example, the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports legalizing marijuana, issued a report on “racial disparities in marijuana arrests in Virginia” between 2003 and 2013.

“Black Virginians have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana law enforcement despite constituting only 20% of the state’s population and using marijuana at a similar rate as white Virginians,” the study found.

The report was written by Jon Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, and a researcher and analyst of marijuana policy issues. In explaining the racial disparities, he said marijuana possession is a crime of indiscretion, meaning people get arrested because they’re at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“It’s not necessarily that the minority group of blacks are targeted for increased arrests but that the areas where they live have a lot more police patrols and a lot more police activity,” Gettman said. “I think it may have a lot to do with where police patrols are more frequent and where policing is more aggressive – and that may very well be because there’s more crime in particular regions.”

Arresting disproportionate numbers of blacks

The Virginia localities with the biggest differences between black and white arrest rates for marijuana were communities with relatively few African-Americans, such as Carroll County in the southwestern part of the state and the city of Poquoson, north of Hampton.

In those localities, a handful of arrests of blacks can make the arrest rate seem astronomical. In Colonial Heights, for example, the marijuana arrest rate for blacks was more than 7,000 per 100,000 population – compared with less than 800 per 100,000 residents for whites.

But even in Virginia’s more populous localities with sizable African-American populations, blacks were much more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana charges:

  • In Fairfax County, for every 100,000 African-American residents, 861 were arrested for marijuana possession during an average year. In contrast, for every 100,000 white residents, 265 were arrested. This means that the black arrest rate was 3.2 times the arrest rate for whites.
  • An even larger disparity exists in Arlington, where blacks were arrested at a rate of 1,173 per 100,000 population, while whites were arrested at a rate of just 145 per 100,000 population. There, the black arrest rate is eight times the white arrest rate.
  • In Lynchburg, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Alexandria and Newport News, the black arrest rate was four to five times the white arrest rate.

In Hanover County, where the black arrest rate for marijuana possession was 6.4 times the white arrest rate, officials from the local NAACP have met with representatives of the county sheriff’s department and the Ashland police to discuss various issues – but not marijuana law enforcement.

“The last time we met, we had a complaint that African-Americans are being stopped on (Route) 360 more so than whites, and they do acknowledge that more African-Americans are stopped based on profiles that they’re looking for,” said Robert Barnette, who chairs the political action committee of the Hanover County branch of the NAACP.

“We are on the (Interstate) 95 corridor for drug traffic ... Hanover is between Richmond and D.C. The typical person that may go on to travel on 95 going north to D.C will get on Highway 301 or 295 and try to avoid some of the attention.”

The apprehension of people from out of town may explain the disparity in arrest rates, law enforcement officials say.

Lt. Kerri Wright of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Department noted that not everyone arrested in the county is a Hanover resident. The state of Virginia as a whole, in addition to the Hanover County area, is often seen as a drug corridor with its placement between New York and Florida, Wright said.

She said she couldn’t give an opinion on any racial disparities in marijuana arrests in the county.

“Our community is very supportive of us, and that’s one thing we’re very proud of,” Wright said. “There’s no push (to crack down on marijuana), but the law is the law. So we cannot state what laws we’re going to enforce and what laws we’re not going to enforce. If there’s a law and we know there’s a violation of a law, then we need to take appropriate law enforcement action.”

Some people who have been arrested for marijuana possession suspect that socioeconomic factors may influence where marijuana laws are enforced.

Gray Marshall, 19, was arrested on marijuana charges twice while attending Varina High School in the east end of Henrico County. Although Marshall is white, the school’s population is predominantly black. He said being a young person in a “bad” part of town might increase the chances of being arrested.

“The second time I was in a bad area, and the cops said I just stuck out like a sore thumb. I was in a Honda sitting in an apartment complex. I got possession with intent to distribute,” Marshall said. “I feel like I was definitely more likely (than blacks) to talk a cop out of something whenever we would get in a situation. But it felt pretty much the same.”

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws that legalize marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join them – but not Virginia, where the General Assembly recently rejected most proposals to liberalize marijuana laws.

While marijuana possession arrests have decreased nationally, Gettman found that arrests in Virginia increased steadily from 2003 to 2013. He said this might have been a reaction from Virginia law enforcement because of more liberal marijuana laws around the country. They may want to send a message to counterbalance the idea that marijuana is acceptable.

It was the arrests of blacks that made up most of the overall increase in marijuana arrests, Gettman said.

“It’s sort of now an accepted fact that there’s a tremendous disparity in arrests between whites and blacks. In some respects, it doesn’t matter why there’s a racial disparity. The numbers show us that there is one, and consequently it’s clear that we’re not able to enforce these laws evenly, equally, fairly – and that’s a problem, and people are upset about it,” Gettman said.

“We can all have opinions about why this is the case, but the reality is this is the case.”

Assembly reconvenes Wednesday for ‘veto session’

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Legislators will return to the state Capitol on Wednesday to consider 39 bills that Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed during the General Assembly’s 2017 session.

To override a veto, the Republican-controlled Assembly must muster a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate. Because the Democrats hold 34 seats in the House and 19 in the Senate, McAuliffe should have the votes to sustain his vetoes.

Legislators will vote on the governor’s vetoes of legislation covering a range of topics, including whether to impose more requirements on voter registration, restrict absentee voting and expand access to handguns.

McAuliffe vetoed a record 40 bills during the legislative session that ended Feb. 25. On the session’s final day, the General Assembly dealt with one of the vetoes – McAuliffe’s rejection of HB 2264, which would have cut off state funds for Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions. The veto was sustained by a 62-33 vote in the House.

McAuliffe warned at the beginning of the session that he would veto any social-issue bills that he believed may harm the rights of women or the LGBTQ community. Republican leaders in the House have said that McAuliffe has reneged on his pledge to be bipartisan and that his office has been “the most disengaged administration we have worked with.”

Among legislation vetoed are six education-related bills, such as SB 1283, which would allow the state Board of Education to create regional charter schools without the permission of local school boards.

McAuliffe also vetoed bills to allow a freestanding agency to offer online education programs to Virginia students (HB 1400) and to require schools to notify parents of sexually explicit material (HB 2191). McAuliffe said these bills collectively would “undermine” the state’s public schools.

The governor also rejected legislation to expand access to weapons. He vetoed HB 1582, which would allow 18-year-old active members of the military to apply for concealed handgun permits, and SB 1347, which would allow concealed carry of a switchblade knife.

McAuliffe also turned down bills that Republicans say would prevent voter fraud but the governor said would be obstacles to voting. They included SB 1581, which would require voter registrars to verify with the Social Security Administration that the name, date of birth and Social Security number of voter registration applications. Another vetoed bill, SB 1253, would require electronic poll books to contain photo identification of registered voters.

Lawmakers will also consider recommendations that McAuliffe made to 74 bills. Notably, the governor has proposed an amendment to the state budget (HB 1500) that would allow him to expand Medicaid, an optional provision of the federal Affordable Care Act. McAuliffe said this has become an urgent issue since Congress rejected President Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act last month.

Virginians in the coverage gap held a press conference Monday to urge legislators to vote for Medicaid expansion. This expansion would mean 400,000 Virginians who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford health insurance will be able to get covered.

“Republicans no longer have an excuse for not passing Medicaid expansion in Virginia,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia. “All Virginians deserve to be able to see a doctor when they need one, regardless of income.”

Republican leaders said that their opposition remains the smart move and that they will reject McAuliffe’s proposed budget amendment. They fear that if Virginia expands Medicaid, the state will get stuck with the bills in the future.

Agenda for Wednesday’s reconvened session

McAuliffe vetoed 40 bills from the 2017 legislative session. The General Assembly will take up 39 of those vetoes during Wednesday’s session. They are:

     

Bill number

Description

Sponsor

HB1394

Franchisees; status thereof and its employees as employees of the franchisor.

Head

HB1400

Virginia Virtual School Board; established, report.

Bell, Richard P.

HB1428

Absentee voting; photo identification required with application.

Fowler

HB1432

Switchblade knife; exception to carry concealed.

Ware

HB1468

Incarcerated persons, certain; compliance with detainers, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Marshall, R.G.

HB1578

Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs (Tebow Bill).

Bell, Robert B.

HB1582

Concealed handgun permits; age requirement for persons on active military duty.

Campbell

HB1596

Virginia Public Procurement Act; public works contracts, prevailing wage provisions.

Webert

HB1605

Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts; established, report.

LaRock

HB1753

Local government; prohibiting certain practice requiring contractors to provide compensation, etc.

Davis

HB1790

Administrative Process Act; development and periodic review of regulations, report.

Lingamfelter

HB1836

Spotsylvania Parkway; VDOT to maintain a certain segment beginning in 2020.

Orrock

HB1852

Concealed handguns; protective orders.

Gilbert

HB1853

Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.

Gilbert

HB2000

Sanctuary policies; prohibited.

Poindexter

HB2002

Refugee and immigrant resettlements; reports to Department of Social Services.

Poindexter

HB2025

Religious freedom; solemnization of marriage.

Freitas

HB2077

Emergency Services and Disaster Law of 2000; reference to firearms, emergency shelter.

Wilt

HB2092

Application for public assistance; eligibility, review of records.

LaRock

HB2191

School boards; procedures for handling sexually explicit instructional materials, etc.

Landes

HB2198

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

Kilgore

HB2207

Food stamp program; requests for replacement of electronic benefit transfer card.

Robinson

HB2342

Public schools; Board of Education shall only establish regional charter school divisions.

Landes

HB2343

Voter registration list maintenance; voters identified as having duplicate registrations.

Bell, Robert B.

HB2411

Health insurance; reinstating pre-Affordable Care Act provisions.

Byron

SB865

Furnishing certain weapons to minor; exemption.

Stuart

SB872

Absentee voting; applications and ballots; photo identification required.

Chase

SB1105

Registered voters and persons voting; reports of persons voting at elections.

Obenshain

SB1240

Virginia Virtual School Board; established, report.

Dunnavant

SB1253

Voter identification; photograph contained in electronic pollbook.

Obenshain

SB1283

Public schools; Board of Education shall only establish regional charter school divisions.

Obenshain

SB1299

Concealed handguns; protective orders.

Vogel

SB1300

Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.

Vogel

SB1324

Religious freedom; definitions, marriage solemnization, participation, and beliefs.

Carrico

SB1347

Switchblade knife; person may carry concealed, exception.

Reeves

SB1362

Concealed weapons; nonduty status active military personnel may carry.

Black

SB1455

Voter registration; monetary payments for registering for another.

Black

SB1470

Coal tax; limits aggregate amount of credits that may be allocated or claimed for employment, etc.

Chafin

SB1581

Voter registration; verification of social security numbers.

Peake

     

On the last day of the regular session, the House tried but failed to override the veto of one bill:

     

HB2264

Department of Health; restrictions on expenditure of funds related to abortions and family planning.

Cline

     

 

On Wednesday, lawmakers also will consider recommendations that McAuliffe made to 74 bills. The most important is the budget bill (HB 1500). Other legislation cover topics ranging from education and health care to tow trucks and government transparency.

     

Bill number

Description

Sponsor

HB1411

Privately retained counsel; rules and regulations, client’s failure to pay.

Albo

HB1491

Background checks; exceptions, sponsored living and shared residential service providers.

Hope

HB1500

Budget Bill.

Jones

HB1525

Driver’s licenses; revocation or suspension, laws of other jurisdictions.

Albo

HB1532

Fire Programs Fund.

Wright

HB1539

Virginia Freedom of Information Act; public access to records of public bodies.

LeMunyon

HB1663

Northern Va. Community College, et al.; computer science training, etc., for public school teachers.

Greason

HB1671

Natural gas utilities; qualified projects, investments in eligible infrastructure.

Morefield

HB1691

Widewater Beach Subdivision; DCR to convey certain real property.

Dudenhefer

HB1708

Standards of Accreditation; industry certification credentials obtained by high school students.

Filler-Corn

HB1721

Community Colleges, State Board for; reduced rate tuition and mandatory fee charges.

Anderson

HB1791

Conspiracy, incitement, etc., to riot; penalty when against public safety personnel.

Lingamfelter

HB1829

Teacher licensure; certification or training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Dudenhefer

HB1846

Death certificates; filing.

Cox

HB1851

Assault and battery against a family or household member; deferred disposition, waiver of appeal.

Gilbert

HB1854

Conflicts of Interests Acts, State & Local Government & General Assembly, lobbyist; filing.

Gilbert

HB1855

Court-ordered restitution; form order, enforcement, noncompliance, etc.

Bell, Robert B.

HB1856

Restitution; supervised probation.

Bell, Robert B.

HB1960

Tow truck drivers and towing and recovery operators; civil penalty for improper towing.

Hugo

HB2014

Standards of quality; biennial review by Board of Education.

Keam

HB2016

Electric personal delivery devices; operation on sidewalks and shared-use paths.

Villanueva

HB2017

Virginia Public Procurement Act; bid, performance, and payment bonds, waiver by localities.

Villanueva

HB2026

Property and bulk property carriers; regulation, combines authorities.

Villanueva

HB2053

Direct primary care agreements; the Commonwealth’s insurance laws do not apply.

Landes

HB2101

Health care providers; data collection.

Byron

HB2105

Investment of Public Funds Act; investment of funds in Virginia Investment Pool Trust Fund.

Byron

HB2149

Aircraft; defines ‘unmanned aircraft’ and requires aircraft to be registered with Dept. of Aviation.

Knight

HB2163

Buprenorphine without naloxone; prescription limitation.

Pillion

HB2168

Virginia Coal Train Heritage Authority; established.

Pillion

HB2201

Failure to drive on right side of highways or observe traffic lanes; increases penalties.

O’Quinn

HB2245

Virginia Research Investment Committee; expands role of Committee.

Jones

HB2289

Divorce or dissolution of marriage; award of life insurance.

Leftwich

HB2297

Oyster planting grounds; Marine Resources Commission to post.

Miyares

HB2324

Jurors; payment by prepaid debit card or card account.

Yost

HB2336

Law-enforcement officer; report of officer involved in accident.

Miller

HB2367

Virginia Port Authority; removal of members on Board of Commissioners.

Lindsey

HB2383

Combined sewer overflow outfalls; DEQ to identify owner of outfall discharging into Chesapeake Bay.

Lingamfelter

HB2386

Unpaid court fines, etc.; increases grace period for collection.

Loupassi

HB2390

Renewable energy power purchase agreements; expands pilot program.

Kilgore

HB2442

Collection fees, local; an ordinance for collection of overdue accounts.

Ingram

HB2471

Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority; membership, powers and duties.

Jones

SB800

Direct primary care agreements; the Commonwealth’s insurance laws do not apply.

Stanley

SB812

Asbestos, Lead, and Home Inspectors, Board for; home inspections, required statement.

Marsden

SB854

Unpaid court fines, etc.; increases grace period for collection.

Stanley

SB864

Electoral board appointments; chief judge of the judicial circuit or his designee make appointment.

Stuart

SB898

Combined sewer overflow outfalls; DEQ to identify owner of outfall discharging into Chesapeake Bay.

Stuart

SB962

Sales and use tax; nexus for out-of-state businesses.

Hanger

SB1008

Barrier crimes; clarifies individual crimes, criminal history records checks.

Hanger

SB1023

Concealed handgun permits; sharing of information.

Stuart

SB1073

Bridgewater, Town of; amending charter, sets out various powers typically exercised by towns, etc.

Obenshain

SB1102

FOIA; records of completed unattended death investigations, definition, mandatory disclosure.

Surovell

SB1116

Public school employees, certain; assistance with student insulin pumps by register nurse, etc.

McPike

SB1178

Buprenorphine without naloxone; prescription limitation.

Chafin

SB1239

Child day programs; exemptions from licensure, certification of preschool or nursery school program.

Hanger

SB1258

Virginia Solar Energy Development and Energy Storage Authority; increases membership.

Ebbin

SB1282

Wireless communications infrastructure; procedure for approved by localities.

McDougle

SB1284

Court-ordered restitution; form order, enforcement, noncompliance, etc.

Obenshain

SB1285

Restitution; supervised probation.

Obenshain

SB1296

County food and beverage tax; referendum.

Vogel

SB1303

Voter registration; deadline for registration by electronic means.

Vogel

SB1312

Conflicts of Interests Acts, State & Local Government & General Assembly, lobbyist; filing.

Norment

SB1315

Foster care; possession of firearm.

Carrico

SB1364

Property and bulk property carriers; regulation, combines authorities.

Newman

SB1371

Virginia Research Investment Committee; expands role of Committee.

Saslaw

SB1398

Coal combustion residuals unit; closure permit, assessments required.

Surovell

SB1415

Virginia Port Authority; removal of members on Board of Commissioners.

Spruill

SB1416

Investment of Public Funds Act; investment of funds in Virginia Investment Pool Trust Fund.

Newman

SB1418

Electric utilities; costs of pumped hydroelectricity generation and storage facilities.

Chafin

SB1486

Law-enforcement officer; report of officer involved in accident.

Stuart

SB1492

Water utilities; retail rates of affiliated utilities, definitions, etc.

Stuart

SB1493

Northern Va. Community College, et al.; computer science training, etc., for public school teachers.

McClellan

SB1574

Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority; membership, powers and duties.

Ruff

 

Gov. McAuliffe expected to sign marijuana reforms

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia probably will ease up a bit in its laws against marijuana by making it easier for epilepsy patients to obtain cannabis extract oils and by relaxing the penalty for people caught with small amounts of marijuana.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to sign the handful of marijuana-related bills passed by the General Assembly during its recent session. They include SB 1027, which will allow Virginia pharmacies to make and sell marijuana extract oils for treating intractable epilepsy, and HB 2051andSB 1091,which will eliminate the state’s punishment of automatically suspending the driver’s license of adults convicted of simple marijuana possession.

Currently, it is illegal in Virginia to purchase THC-A or CBD oils. In 2015, the General Assembly carved out one exception – for people who suffer from intractable epilepsy. Epilepsy patients and their caregivers are allowed to possess the marijuana extract oils. But they face problems buying the medication.

SB 1027, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, will allow “pharmaceutical processors” – after obtaining a permit from the state Board of Pharmacy and under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist – to grow low-THC cannabis, manufacture the oil and then provide it to epilepsy patients who have a written certification from a doctor.

“Virginia will only be the second state in the nation that has this type of program, the first being Missouri,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates liberalizing marijuana laws.

“It’s a far cry from an effective medical marijuana program, but it’s still a step in the right direction.”

Ellinger-Locke said 28 states and the District of Columbia have full-fledged programs in which people with cancer, glaucoma and other diseases can get a prescription to use marijuana.

Marsden’s bill includes an emergency clause. So when the governor signs it, the law will take effect immediately.

Del. Les. Adams, R-Chatham, and Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, carried the measures regarding driver’s licenses. Under the legislation, which would take effect July 1, judges will have the discretion to suspend the license of an adult convicted of marijuana possession – but the penalty would not be automatic. Juveniles would still be subject to an automatic six-month suspension of their driver’s license.

Ellinger-Locke said the laws are in step with reforms happening across the country.

“We are optimistic,” she said. “The polling shows that Virginians desperately want their marijuana policy changed and laws reformed in some capacity, and I think that lawmakers are starting to hear the call in Virginia as well as throughout the U.S.”

Those calls went largely unheeded during the 2017 legislative session, as about a dozen proposals, ranging from establishing a medical marijuana program to decriminalizing marijuana possession, failed.

For example, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester introduced bills to make marijuana products available to people with cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and several other diseases (SB 1298) and to create a pilot program for farmers to grow hemp (SB 1306). Both bills cleared the Senate but died in the House.

Marijuana likely will be an issue in statewide elections this year. Vogel, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, has vowed to be an advocate for medical marijuana.

“It has no psychotropic effects, and no one is dealing it on the illicit market. For the people that are sick and really wanted the bill to pass, it was heartbreaking,” Vogel said. “I think this is a little bit of bias and a little bit of lack of education ... The overwhelming majority of the voting public believes having access to that kind of medication is very helpful.”

Medical marijuana bills faced opposition from legislators afraid that expansion may become a slippery slope. Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, recalled returning from serving in the Marines in Vietnam in the 1960s when, he said, marijuana use caused a collapse of “good order and discipline.”

McAuliffe vetoes legislation to defund Planned Parenthood

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed legislation Tuesday that sought to remove state and federal funding for women’s health providers such as Planned Parenthood and any other groups that perform abortions in Virginia.

In this veto statement, McAuliffe said the bill, HB 2264, “would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers, by denying them access to affordable care.”

Planned Parenthood held a veto ceremony on the steps of the Governor’s Mansion. According to the organization, more than 22,000 people in Richmond, Hampton, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and Roanoke rely on Planned Parenthood for health care, including cancer screenings, birth control, testing for and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, well-woman exams and legal abortions.

“We are proud to have a governor in Virginia who stands with the women of our commonwealth,” said Paulette McElwain, president and CEO of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. She said McAuliffe “understands how vitally important access to comprehensive reproductive health care provided by Planned Parenthood is for women.”

Pro-life activists lined the steps of the Governor’s Mansion bearing signs reading “All Lives Matter” and “Say No to Planned Parenthood.” In a press release, the Family Foundation of Virginia rejected the assertion that women would no longer have access to health care if the bill had been enacted.

The foundation said the legislation would have redirected non-Medicaid taxpayer funding from organizations that provide abortions to hospitals and health centers that provide more comprehensive services for women.

“Nothing in Virginia right now is more predictable than Terry McAuliffe doing all that he can to ensure that taxpayers are forced to prop up the abortion industry,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation. “If there’s one issue on which Gov. McAuliffe has been ideologically rigid, it is his unwavering support and protection of the same $1 billion abortion industry that contributed nearly $2 million to his election.”

Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, sponsored HB 2264. He introduced identical legislation in the General Assembly’s 2016 session. Last year’s bill passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by McAuliffe. The House fell one vote short of overriding the governor’s veto.

HB 2264 passed the House 60-33 on Feb. 7 and the Senate 20-19 on Feb. 14.

For women’s rights advocates, McAuliffe’s veto comes as a relief. Republicans would have to muster a two-thirds majority in each chamber – 67 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate – to override the veto.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood is a blatant attempt to deny women access to the full range of reproductive health care services, and Virginia women won’t stand for it,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group.

“Politicians in Richmond don’t get to decide where women get their health care and what kind of services they receive, and we’re glad that Gov. McAuliffe agrees.”

Environmentally minded businesses may get tax breaks

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Businesses that operate in energy-efficient buildings or make products that benefit the environment could receive tax incentives under a bill headed toward approval in the General Assembly.

The House has already passed HB 1565, and the Senate Finance Committee unanimously endorsed the measure on Tuesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Del. Michael Webert, R-Fauquier, said it was requested by economic development officials in his district to attract green businesses.

“The bill would authorize local governing bodies to create by ordinance one or more green development zones inside which localities would be permitted to grant tax incentives and provide certain regulatory flexibility to attract green businesses,” Webert said.

A “green development business” would be defined as a business “engaged primarily in the design, development or production of materials, components or equipment used to reduce negative impact on the environment.”

As incentives, local governments could offer such businesses a reduction in permit fees, user fees and gross receipts taxes.

In addition, localities would be authorized to provide regulatory flexibility within a green development zone. That could mean special zoning, faster permit processing and exemption from certain ordinances. Localities could offer these incentives for up to 10 years.

The bill would expand on Virginia’s existing Enterprise Zone Grant Program. That program allows localities to apply for grants from the Department of Housing and Community Development for an enterprise zone designation that also offers tax and regulatory incentives.

Webert’s bill would apply the same ideas to green development zones. Under the program, as the value of real estate, machinery and tools within a zone increases, a percentage of the rising tax revenues would be used for grants aimed at attracting businesses or enhancing governmental services within the zone.

The legislation is part of a “green agenda” that Republican legislators touted at a news conference last week.

“The word ‘conservation’ and the word ‘conservative’ comes from the same piece of Latin,” said Del. J. Randall Minchew, R-Loudoun. “No conservative should ever be disappointed to call themselves a conservationist.”

Virginia likely to ease rules on marijuana

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislators Seek to Curb ‘Distracted Driving’

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fauquier Teacher Gives Daughters a Civics Lesson

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By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – Mert Cook teaches students at Coleman Elementary School in the town of Marshall in northwestern Fauquier County. But on this rainy Saturday morning, she had a lesson for her own children. She had organized a carpool to Washington, D.C., and brought along two of her daughters. They were about to learn about democratic protesting.

“I felt it was really important to show the power of women together,” Cook said. “Setting the example for my girls that our voice matters is incredibly important. We can’t just talk – we have to walk!”

Cook was among a contingent of Northern Virginia educators who joined other citizens from across the state and across the country for the Women’s March on Washington. Many of the participants came to protest incoming President Donald Trump.

“I had a student share with me with tears falling how scared she was for Trump because her family is illegal,” Cook said. “I assured her not to worry. I truly believed people were better than to allow this to happen. I was crushed when it did.”

Co-worker and teacher Mirae Daly joined Cook because she is concerned about the effect she believes Trump’s presidency may have on young people.

“My biggest concern is for young people, who stand to have your lives affected more so than mine,” Daly said. “My hope is that future generations can live in a world that has clean air to breathe, appreciation of differences and equality under law.”

The march originally obtained a permit for 200,000 attendees, but the turnout in D.C. exceeded that, and there were rallies and marches in cities around the country as well. Minority groups, people of color, the LGBTQ community and men and women of every variety chanted and held signs denouncing what they believe to be lewd, sexist or offensive comments and beliefs of Trump.

Barbara Dollison is a substitute teacher in Northern Virginia, and her daughter worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Her daughter explained to Dollison that the march was both a way to stand up for women’s rights and a statement to the Trump presidency that attempts to undermine women’s rights will be opposed.

“We spend a lot of time teaching about respecting others. Then the children are exposed to an adult leader who models bad behavior such as bullying and extreme disrespect,” Dollison said. “That’s going to take a lot of explaining.”

Cook said the march renewed her faith in the ability of people to work together.

“I truly believe kindness matters. We will make a difference together,” Cook said. “And we have to keep all children safe. I really wanted to get as many people together – to make the difference together.”

Democrats Seek to Protect Reproductive Rights

By SaraRose Martin, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In an effort to protect and expand women’s health care in Virginia, House Democrats said Tuesday they have introduced three bills to ensure easier access to abortion and contraceptives.

The bills represent a contrast to Republican measures such as the “Day of Tears” resolution that encourages Virginians to mourn abortion, Democratic legislators and their allies said at a news conference.

Progress Virginia Executive Director Anna Scholl said the General Assembly has seen more than 75 proposals to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care since 2010. She urged legislators to stop making women’s health care political.

“A woman who has decided to have an abortion should be treated with dignity and respect, not subjected to medically unnecessary rules and laws pushed by politicians who wish to shame and stigmatize women,” Scholl said. “Women deserve no less than full autonomy over their healthcare and reproductive care decisions.”

Participants in the news conference included NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, and Progress Virginia. They endorsed three pending bills involving women’s health and birth control.

Introduced by Del. Jennifer B. Boysko, D-Herndon, the Whole Women’s Health Act (HB 2186) provides that a woman has a fundamental right to a lawful abortion and forbids statutes that may place a burden on this access. The bill would eliminate all the procedures and processes, including the performance of an ultrasound, that are required for a woman’s informed written consent to an abortion.

Del. Jeion A. Ward, D-Hampton, introduced the Patient Trust Act (HB 2286), which would allow women to waive their right to a mandatory waiting period before seeking an abortion.

“These bills recognize that after receiving medically appropriate counseling and information from a healthcare provider, it is not in a woman’s best interest to force her to receive additional non-medical information,” said Janice Kraft, director of policy and government affairs for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

“Laws that require a woman to hear or receive information that she does not want or need and that her physician believes is irrelevant to her care, biased, misleading or outright false violate the basic tenets of informed consent and the standards of medical ethics,” Kraft said.

The Birth Control Access Act (HB 2267), introduced byDel. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax County, allows women to receive a full 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives at one time. The bill is expected to face opposition from insurance companies.

Dr. Wendy Klein, a Richmond physician, spoke on behalf of the bill as a clinician and scholar in women’s health.

“As a physician, I can tell you that interruptions in birth control supply are a huge impediment to birth control actually working and preventing unintended pregnancies. That’s why having the ability to pick up a full year’s supply of hormonal contraceptives is such a big deal, and there’s no medical reason to restrict access to it,” Klein said.

According to a Pew research poll, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the age of 45 and 7 in 10 women support the right to have an abortion. The speakers urged members of the General Assembly to pass the bills as soon as possible.

“When a woman has to travel hours away from home, spend the night in a hotel, get childcare for her children, and lose hours at work, all to have an extremely safe, simple medical procedure, something is wrong,” said Dr. Mark Ryan, a family practice doctor in Richmond.

“Legislators belong in the legislature, not forcing themselves between my patient and me as we work together to determine the best steps for my patient’s health.”

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