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Seven Day Forecast for Emporia, Virginia
 

Tyler Hammel

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.

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.”

A Guide to Richmond Music

​Richmond is quickly becoming known as a music town, but for those new to the area or to the scene, knowing where to look can be a bit daunting. This map shows some of the best venues and record stories in the city and is great for newbies. Theaters and bars that often feature live music, as well as thrift stories that sell vinyl, were left off to avoid confusion. (Map by Tyler Hammel of VCU Capital News Service)

​​http://tinyurl.com/rva-music-map

Endorsed by Sanders, Perriello campaigns in Richmond

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, Tom Perriello says he would make community college free, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and confront the Trump administration over its policies on immigration and other issues.

Perriello – who has won an endorsement from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – discussed those topics Monday night at a town-hall style meeting at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Promising to combat President Donald Trump’s administration and help create a “community of conscience,” the Charlottesville native received consistent applause from the crowd.

He touted his support of the Affordable Care Act when he served in the U.S. Congress in 2009-11. Trump, who succeeded Barrack Obama as president in January, has vowed to repeal and replace the ACA. Perriello gave credit to demonstrations such as the Women’s March on Washington for preventing that from happening.

“Five months ago, people could have curled up on the couch and cried, and I’m sure all of us did. But instead, people decided to say, ‘No, this isn’t who we are as a commonwealth; this is not something we are going to stand by passively and watch,’” Perriello said. “Because of these efforts, because of the marches, because of the protests, because of the stories, today the Affordable Care Act remains in place.”

Perriello also discussed his hope to provide free community college to Virginia residents, calling it a good investment. He said trickle-down economics – the notion that tax cuts for the wealthy will generate benefits for poorer people – doesn’t work.

“What the evidence does show you is when you actually increase wages and invest in people, then you do get growth locally, and more growth for small business,” Perriello said. “This is not something we’re doing out of the goodness of our hearts. We’re doing this because it’s a good investment strategy.”

A big part of Perriello’s speech was establishing himself as a viable candidate in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Perriello announced his candidacy in January, when it appeared that Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam would be uncontested in seeking the nomination.

Perriello encouraged supporters to knock on doors and volunteer on his behalf to spread the word about his campaign. That was a critical strategy at the time: Only one in five Virginians even knew his name, according to a poll published in February by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

Last week, a survey by the center showed that Perriello and Northam were tied: Each had support from 26 percent of Democratic-leaning voters; almost half of the people polled were undecided.

At the event at Virginia Union University, Perriello had few critical things to say about Northam. Instead, he mentioned issues on which the two candidates agreed – but Perriellosaid he was the first to take those positions.

“We came out and led the way on standing up for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. A few weeks later, we saw Ralph and others court that decision,” Perriello said. “Same thing with criminal justice reform and debt-free community college. I think what we need right now is someone who’s actually leading a policy agenda.”

Perriello echoes many of the positions that Sanders espoused during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. On Tuesday, Sanders issued a statement endorsing Perriello.

“We need to elect progressives at every level of government if we are going to beat back the dangerous agenda of the Trump Administration and its Republican allies,” the statement said. “Tom is committed to fighting the rigged economy and income inequality. He was the first major statewide candidate in Virginia to run on a $15 minimum wage and the first to say two years of community college should be tuition-free.”

Perriello will face off against Northam in the Democratic primary election on June 13. Northam has the support of outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe and most Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation.

On the Republican side, three candidates are vying for the GOP nomination for governor: Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee; state Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach; and Corey Stewart, who chairs the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

McAuliffe seeks funding for mental health screenings in jails

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged Virginia legislators on Friday to include in the state budget funding to conduct mental health screenings in jails and to hire investigators to examine suspicious jail deaths.

In a meeting with reporters, McAuliffe addressed a topic that many law enforcement and mental health experts say is critical: About 16 percent of Virginia’s jail inmates were “known or suspected to be mentally ill,” according to a study last June.

“We need someone in those jails who can determine if someone has an issue with mental health,” McAuliffe said at a news briefing. In a letter to legislative leaders, he called on the General Assembly to approve his budget request for $4.2 million “to provide for training of jail staff in mental health screening and to provide grants to jails for mental health assessments.”

McAuliffe also asked for $200,000 for the Virginia Department of Corrections to hire two investigators “to review deaths and other major situations in local and regional jails.”

The request for the investigators was spurred by the death of Jamycheal Mitchell in 2015. Mitchell, who suffered from schizophrenia, was placed in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth after stealing about $5 of snacks from a 7-Eleven. Although a judge ordered that Mitchell, 24, be sent to a psychiatric hospital, he ended up staying in the jail for four months, losing 40 pounds, until he was found dead in his cell.

McAuliffe had asked for money for jail death investigators and mental health services in jails in the proposed budget that he submitted to the General Assembly in December. Both the House and Senate eliminated the money for mental health screenings. The House eliminated both investigator positions; the Senate kept one.

To fund the requests, McAuliffe proposed cutting funding for an upcoming commemoration of historical events at Jamestown. In 2019, the state will mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of the House of Burgesses at Jamestown, as well as the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies.

The budgets being prepared by the House and Senate would provide $10 million for promoting and hosting the commemorative activities. McAuliffe suggested cutting that amount in half, to $5 million.

McAuliffe generally praised House and Senate leaders on the budgets they have crafted. Lawmakers still must work out differences in a conference committee and have both chambers approval a final budget before the legislative session ends Feb. 25.

Legislators must revise the second year of the $105 billion budget that the General Assembly adopted in 2016. That’s because tax revenues fell short of projections, causing a shortfall of more than $1 billion.

Both legislative bodies and McAuliffe agree that state employees and teachers deserve more compensation; however, they have proposed different ways to achieve this.

McAuliffe suggested a one-time, 1.5 percent bonus for state employees. The House and Senate proposed a 3 percent pay raise for state employees, with a targeted increase for state police, Capitol police and sheriff’s deputies.

The Senate budget sets aside about $83 million to give K-12 teachers a 2 percent raise. In contrast, the House proposed taking $62 million from the state lottery and giving to local school boards to use for teacher pensions or salaries.

“While each chamber has chosen its own method for addressing teacher compensation, I applaud both for keeping our teachers in the mix for discussion during conference,” McAuliffe wrote in his letter.

He said education was another area of agreement.

I am especially pleased to see that we agree on the need to protect public education from any programmatic reductions in funding,” McAuliffe’s letter said. “Public education is the backbone of a growing economy and our collective actions have demonstrated its priority and our shared commitment to protect public education from the effects of slow revenue growth.”

In his session with reporters, McAuliffe said Virginia’s budget situation is complicated by uncertainties in Washington over federal funding for Medicaid, the health care program for low-income Americans.

The federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid. But President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the ACA. This might involve replacing Medicaid with block grants to the states.

Virginia did not expand Medicaid under the ACA. The non-expansion states might receive smaller block grants than the states that expanded Medicaid, McAuliffe said.

“If they block-grant Medicaid, that is very problematic for the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

Northam vows to protect LGBT rights

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who’s running for governor, vowed to protect gay and lesbian people during a news conference Tuesday that commemorated the anniversary of the Bostic v. Rainey decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Three years ago, Virginia's statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage were deemed unconstitutional by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and soon afterward same-sex marriage came to the commonwealth.

Standing alongside the plaintiffs from the case, Northam said he would not allow Virginia to persecute LGBT residents and suffer economic hardships the way North Carolina did after passing that state’s controversial House Bill 2.

“Just before the holidays I completed a seven-city tour that ended in Salem, Virginia, where I was pleased to welcome the NCAA soccer tournament,” Northam said.

"That championship was relocated from North Carolina after the state passed anti-LGBT legislation, as was the NBA All-Star game and major businesses,” Northam said. “As long as I’m here, as long as Governor (Terry) McAuliffe and Attorney General (Mark) Herring are here, Virginia will be inclusive. We will not be like North Carolina.”

Northam spoke not only of the financial impact of anti-LGBT legislation but of his own moral perspective on the issue, placing himself and his wife, Pam, in the shoes of LGBT residents.

“What really distresses me is if someone came to me and said, ‘Ralph, you can’t love Pam for whatever reason.’ Or they came to me and said, ‘You and Pam can’t have children because of whatever reason.’ Or they came to me and said, ‘You’re going to be discriminated against in the workplace’ ,” Northam said. “That is not the America, that is not the Virginia that we want.”

Carol Schall, one of the plaintiffs from the Bostic v. Rainey case, also spoke at the news conference, highlighting the effect the court’s decision three years ago has had on family. She also discussed Del. Mark D. Sickles’ HB 1395, which would have repealed no-longer-valid language the Virginia code and constitution that declared marriage is between a man and a woman. The bill died in a House committee.

“Names matter. Names like ‘mom’ and ‘wife’ make all the difference in the world,” said Schall. “In past years such as this year, Delegate Sickles proposed to repeal outdated constitutional amendment encoding discrimination in our great constitution.”

Sickles, D-Fairfax County, spoke on HB 1395 and how it was struck down in a House committee as it has been in previous years. Sickles called for a full House vote on the issue and spoke on another piece of legislation he filed this session, HJ 538, which would allow voters to repeal a constitutional amendment passed in 2006 that defined marriage as being between ‘one man and one woman.’

“If this constitutional were passed and it passed again next winter, by the time it got to the voters in November of ‘18, 1.2 million people in our state will have come of age,” Sickles said. “They want to speak to this. They do not want the people of the 2006 cultural and societal milieu to speak forever.”  Constitutional amendments require approval in two General Assembly sessions before they can be offered to voters on a November ballot.

Sickles’ HB 1395 and HJ 538 were not the only pro-LGBT legislation to die in House committees this session. Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, who was present at the conference, also saw his legislation--HB 2129--die early on.

Levine’s bill would have protected employees from being fired based on their sexual orientation, and died in the same subcommittee meeting that approved a religious freedom bill  from Del. Nicholas J. Freitas, R-Culpeper.

Freitas’ HB 2025 says no one can be penalized for refusing to participate in a marriage ceremony, and is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

Democrat Jeff Bourne is elected to Virginia House

 

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

 

 

 RICHMOND – Jeff Bourne, a member of the Richmond School Board, easily won a special election Tuesday for the Virginia House of Delegates. Bourne, the Democratic nominee in the race, will represent the 71st House District, which includes parts of Richmond and Henrico County.

 

 

With all precincts reporting, Bourne received 3,708 votes, almost 90 percent of the ballots cast. The second-place candidate, Libertarian John W. Barclay, got about 7 percent. Regie Ford, an independent candidate, received about 3 percent.

 

 

Bourne fill the seat vacated by a fellow Democrat, Jennifer McClellan, who was elected to the state Senate last month.

 

 

At an election party at Southern Kitchen in Shockoe Bottom, Bourne thanked God. He also thanked Attorney General Mark Herring, among others, for their support, and he expressed gratitude to his wife and children.

 

 

Bourne said his children inspired him to run. He said his goal is to help children who don’t have the same parental engagement his children are lucky enough to have.

 

 

“It is incumbent on us as public servants and as leaders of our community to make sure that they have every opportunity to succeed,” Bourne said. “And so that’s what’s going to be my focus – public education and finding common-sense solutions.”

 

 

As a member of the Richmond School Board for the past five years, Bourne campaigned on a promise of supporting education.

 

 

“It really is a way to address some of the most systemic issues,” Bourne said. “We have some of the most significantly concentrated poverty in our city, and education could help break that up.”

 

 

House Democratic Leader David Toscano of Charlottesville congratulated Bourne on his win. Bourne will be decidedly in the minority in the House of Delegates: Republicans hold 66 seats; Democrats, 34.

 

 

“Republicans this session killed Democratic bills that would have raised the minimum wage, established paid family leave and helped borrowers refinance student loan debt. Meanwhile, the Republican Caucus focused its efforts on divisive social issues that target women and other marginalized populations,” Toscano said. “Jeff’s voice will provide a much-needed breath of fresh air, and I look forward to working with him as he joins us for the remainder of the session.”

 

 

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, also congratulated Bourne.

 

 

“Jeff is a respected community leader who has honorably served as a deputy attorney general and as a member of the Richmond School Board,” Del. Herring said. “He is committed to expanding economic opportunity for all Virginians, and his service to Richmond’s public schools is testament to that commitment. I congratulate Jeff on his win, and I look forward to working alongside him in the House.”

 

 

Bourne will serve the remainder of McClellan’s term, until January 2018. The seat will be up for election again in November.

 

 

The 71st House District stretches from Bryan Park, Scott’s Addition, the Fan and the Virginia Commonwealth University campus on the west, to Church Hill, Fulton Hill, Richmond’s East End and the Ratcliffe area of Henrico County.

Democrats call for vote on redistricting reforms

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic delegates Tuesday called on Republican House Speaker William Howell to revive legislation that supporters say would help take politics out of redistricting.

The Democrats tried to put pressure on Howell a day after a Republican-dominated subcommittee voted to kill five redistricting proposals in one swoop with little discussion.

At its meeting Monday morning, the Constitutional Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee ignored a request from a Democratic member to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments individually. The panel then tabled the redistricting measures on a single 4-3 vote.

Republican Dels. Randy Minchew of Leesburg, Mark Cole of Fredericksburg, Tim Hugo of Centreville and Jackson Miller of Manassas all voted to table the resolutions. Opposing the motion were Republican Del. Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach and Democratic Dels. Joseph Lindsey of Norfolk and Marcia Price of Newport News.

Democrats in the House of Delegates on Tuesday blasted the subcommittee’s action.

“In 2015, every single one of the General Assembly’s 122 incumbents who sought re-election won,” House Minority Leader David Toscano said in a news release.

“House Republicans have now killed every single redistricting amendment this session, including their own. We call upon the speaker to revive these amendments for a full floor vote, as Virginians deserve to know where their leaders stand on this issue.”

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said, “Gerrymandering has distorted election results and diluted the power of individual voters. A system in which incumbents can choose their voters and draw political opponents out of districts is undemocratic. We need a full floor vote on a redistricting amendment now.”

Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, an advocacy group, condemned the subcommittee’s decision to kill HJ 763, which was proposed by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta County.It sought to prohibit any electoral district from being drawn “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress, or other individual or entity.”

“This amendment represents the core component of redistricting reform. It is simple: If you think politicians should be able to carve out their political opponents, then you are for gerrymandering and the elimination of competition in our elections,” Cannon said.

“This was particularly disappointing given that Delegate Minchew has previously supported redistricting reform and today he cast the deciding vote in his subcommittee to kill even the most modest efforts to stop gerrymandering.”

Minchew opened Monday’s subcommittee meeting by saying there would be no testimony on the 28 items on the agenda, unless there was a question from a committee member. He noted that the subcommittee had held a three-hour meeting the previous week.

When the redistricting proposals came up, Price requested to have them voted on separately. She was denied.

Then, with one vote, the subcommittee killed:

  • Landes’ resolution and a similar proposal (HJ 581) sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington.
  • Three resolutions to create an independent redistricting commission. Those measures were HJ 628, sponsored by Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax County; HJ 651, sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond; and HJ 749, sponsored by Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun County.

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.

Subcommittee Kills Transgender ‘Bathroom Bill’

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill that would have told transgender individuals which bathroom they must use died in a General Assembly subcommittee Thursday.

The panel took a non-recorded vote to table the bill, much to the chagrin of its sponsor, Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County. By tabling the bill through a voice vote, the subcommittee members were able to keep their records hidden from the public.

The House General Laws Committee also killed another Marshall-sponsored bill, and killed another delegate’s bill dealing with sexual identity.

House Bill 1612, as originally proposed by Marshall, would have required people in public schools and government buildings to use the restroom for the sex shown on their original birth certificate. The bill also would have required the principal of a public school to notify the parent or guardian if a child asked to be identified by a name, pronoun or treatment “inconsistent with the child’s sex.”

Marshall spoke on the legislation, dubbed the Physical Privacy Act, Thursday in the subcommittee and amended the bill from applying to the gender on an individual’s original birth certificate to the gender on their current birth certificate. This amendment would have allowed transgender individuals who have gone through the legal process of changing their gender with the state to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to the gender approved by a circuit court.

The issue has generated controversy. The Obama administration has told public schools to allow transgender students – who are born as one sex but identify as the other – to use the bathroom of their choice. North Carolina has faced business boycotts after passing a law similar to HB 1612.

LGBT advocates say that for fairness and safety, transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom of the sex with which they identify. Opponents fear that such policies would allow men to enter a women’s restroom and could lead to sexual assaults.

After the bill was tabled by the unrecorded voice vote, effectively killing it, a visibly angry Marshall called for an on-the-record vote, “...so the Virginians know what you’re doing.”

“You campaign one way and come down here and vote another,” Marshall said.

A second Marshall-sponsored bill also failed in the subcommittee. HB 2011 would have said it’s not discriminatory to decide separation of the sexes based on “...the biological characteristics or qualities that distinguish an individual as either male or female as determined at birth.” The bill died for lack of a motion.

“I’m going to pray you that you all get courage,” Marshall said after the committee chairman, Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, declared the bill dead.

A bill that would have prevented discrimination in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation also died in the subcommittee.

Proposed by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, HB 2129 mirrored a bill Levine proposed last year that was also voted down.

Levine compared the bill to protections already in existence that prevent discrimination based on gender identity, race, national origin, age, disability, pregnancy and religion.

“When you hire or fire someone it should be based on their ability, not on their sexual orientation,” Levine said.

A religious freedom bill, HB 2025, proposed by Del. Nicholas Freitas R-Culpeper, was approved by the committee. The bill protects an individual who refuses to perform a marriage based on religious beliefs from criminal or civil liability. Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a virtually identical bill last year under claims that it was unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Bill Would Exempt Fracking Chemicals from FOIA

By Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Open government advocates are alarmed at a legislative subcommittee’s approval of a bill that would hide from the public record the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said House Bill 1678 would violate the public’s right to know about possible environmental and health hazards posed by fracking, in which liquids are injected into the ground to extract oil or gas.

“They would shield information from the public and local government and would jeopardize their ability to monitor public health,” Rhyne said.

Last week, a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the bill, which was sponsored by Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Midlothian. If the full committee agrees, the measure will go to the House floor for consideration.

Robinson, who introduced a similar bill last year, said the bill is intended to protect trade secrets of companies that use hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground to break open rock formations containing natural gas and oil.

The bill would exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act “chemical ingredient names, the chemical abstracts number for a chemical ingredient, or the amount or concentration of chemicals or ingredients used to stimulate a well.”

Robinson noted that her measure includes exceptions for health care providers and first responders in the event of an emergency. They would be able to access the information about chemicals from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

“The industry has been fracking in Virginia for decades without any disclosure requirements and with a remarkable record of safe natural gas production,” Robinson said.

At last Thursday’s subcommittee meeting, Miles Morin, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, spoke in favor of the bill. He said it strikes a balance between protecting the industry’s secrets while maintaining full disclosure to regulators.

“With this protection, Virginia would still have one of the strongest chemical disclosure requirements in the country,” Morin said.

Fracking has attracted attention in recent years for potential pollution in places such as Pavillion, Wyoming, where former EPA scientist Dominic DiGiulio published a report connecting contaminated water to fracking waste.

Opponents of Robinson’s bill, including Travis Blankenship of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said the measure would prevent landowners from knowing about chemicals that could affect their well water.

“We feel this legislation goes far beyond protecting the competitive trade secrets the legislation attempts to get at and actively prevents landowners from knowing chemicals affecting their drinking water,” Blankenship said.

Another opponent, Emily Francis of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the bill would put trade secrets in a black box hidden from citizens and could pose dangers for local governments.

“Specifically, we are concerned that localities would not have access to this information ahead of time in order to prepare for any potential accident,” Francis said.

The bill contains language that would allow for emergency personnel and first responders to be informed of the chemicals used in fracking in the event of an emergency. But Rhyne fears this would not give first responders enough time to prepare and would put them at risk.

“This is not quite the same, but in 9/11 there were so many people exposed to the chemicals in fluorescent light bulbs that exploded during the towers’ collapse,” Rhyne said. “You’re exposed to chemicals, and then you develop illnesses later.”

Robinson has a similar bill, HB 1679, scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

HB 1679 would require fracking chemicals exempted under HB 1678 to be disclosed to the director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. It would allow the director to disclose the chemical information to state and local officials assisting in an emergency but would prevent further dissemination.

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, has filed two virtually identical bills in the Senate. SB 1291 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, and SB 1292to the Senate Committee General Laws and Technology.

Delegate Defends Bathroom Privacy Bill

Del. Bob Marshall speaking in support of his proposed Physical Privacy Act (Photo by Jessica Nolte)

By Tyler Hammel and Jessica Nolte, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A state lawmaker and his supporters Thursday defended legislation telling transgender individuals which bathroom they must use – a proposal that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has vowed to veto.

House Bill 1612, proposed by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, would require people in public schools and government buildings to use the restroom for the sex shown on their original birth certificate.

The bill also would require the principal of a public school to notify the parent or guardian if a child requests to be identified by the name, pronoun or treatment “inconsistent with the child’s sex.”

Marshall discussed the proposal, known as the Physical Privacy Act, at a news conference with members of the Virginia First Foundation, a citizens group that supports “limited Constitutional government supported by a strong Judeo-Christian, Conservative culture.”

“This bill ensures that parents are included when a student requests accommodations when they are gender uncertain,” Virginia First Foundation board member Travis Witt said.

He said HB 1612 would be a way to respect everyone while preserving the privacy and safety of others. “It’s time to put our children’s interest ahead of special interests.”

The issue has generated controversy in recent years. The Obama administration has told public schools to allow transgender students – who are born as one sex but identify as the other – to use the bathroom of their choice. North Carolina has faced boycotts after passing a law similar to HB 1612.

LGBT advocates say that for fairness and safety, transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom of the sex with which they identify. Opponents fear that such policies would allow men to enter the women’s restroom and could lead to sexual assaults.

At the news conference, Mary McCallister of the Liberty Counsel said the Obama administration was trying to redefine sex to include sexual orientation, sexual identity and gender expression.

Two women, Jeannie Lowder and Terry Beatley, spoke in support of Marshall’s bill.

“We can look at other options, we can work together to make this happen, but we do not need to do this at the expense of our children and those who have experienced sexual trauma,” Lowder said.

Beatley compared the movement to allow transgender individuals to use public restrooms to efforts to legalize abortion in the 1960s. She said women were lied to during the movement, which led to “a culture of 60 million dead babies.”

“This is about being fair to other people. Aren’t we tired of being such a divisive country?” Beatley said.

After the press conference, the organizers opened the floor to questions.

“Where would you like me to go to the bathroom?” Theodore Kahn, a transgender man, asked.

“Not here,” Marshall said above the uproar of the other speakers.

Kahn is no stranger to people questioning which bathroom he should use. He said it didn’t matter which bathroom he tried to use – he was still hassled.

“I’m not a thing. I’m a person, and I deserve to pee in peace,” Kahn said.

Marshall said he filed the bill because his constituents are concerned about privacy in public restrooms. “I have introduced HB 1612 to simply preserve the status quo,” he said.

Marshall’s bill faces opposition from LGBT advocates and Democratic leaders. Gov. Terry McAuliffe addressed the bill in his State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday night.

He said North Carolina’s law, called HB 2, has cost that state millions in economic activity and thousands of jobs.

“North Carolina remains mired in a divisive and counterproductive battle over laws its legislature passed that target the rights of LGBT citizens. As we have seen in that state and others, attacks on equality and women’s health care rights don’t just embarrass the states that engage in them – they kill jobs,” McAuliffe said.

“I want to make it very clear that I will veto any legislation that discriminates against LGBT Virginians or undermines the constitutional health care rights of Virginia women.”

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