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Notice – Public Hearing

Greensville County School Board will hold a public hearing on the 2020–2021 School’s Budget. On February 19, 2020 there will be a public hearing at 6:00 p.m. at the Greensville County School Board Office.

Paige Jarratt Barnes

November 18, 1925-February 27, 2020

Graveside Service

2 p.m. Sunday, March 1

High Hills Cemetery
215 North Halifax Rd
Jarratt, Virginia

Mrs. Paige Jarratt Barnes, 94, passed away Thursday, February 27, 2019. She was the daughter of the late Dr. T. F. Jarratt and Elsie Davis Jarratt and was also preceded in death by her husband, Lawrence Y. “Sleepy” Barnes and her sister, Mary Ann Kellogg. Paige was a lifelong active member of Centenary United Methodist Church in Jarratt where she was organist and choir director for over fifty years. She also was the longtime organist at Owen Funeral Home. Some of her favorite pastimes were her church life and dining out with close friends. Mrs. Barnes is survived by two sons, Thomas Y. Barnes and Benjamin J. “Benny” Barnes (Cindy); grandson, Brandon Jarratt Barnes (Amanda); two great-grandchildren, Lucas and Caroline and special niece, Judy Barnes Owen and husband, Ben. A graveside funeral service will be held 2 p.m. Sunday, March 1 at High Hills Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Centenary United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 472, Jarratt, Virginia 23867. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com.

SBA Launches National 2020 SBIR Road Tour to Connect Tech Entrepreneurs with Federal R&D Funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The U.S. Small Business Administration announced today the launch of its 17-state SBIR Road Tour. The Road Tour will stop at cities in the Southeast, Midwest, Rockies and the Central South.  It will connect entrepreneurs working on advanced technology to one of the country’s largest source of early stage funding – the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

  “SBA is focused on helping small businesses grow and expand. The $4 billion in federal early stage funding is often a critical piece to maturing an entrepreneur’s research idea into a product or service. The Road Tours bring the federal managers to the entrepreneur and target areas and individuals that are underrepresented when it comes to receiving federal R&D funding,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. “This tour reflects our continued commitment to ensure those innovators are aware of SBIR/STTR program resources.” 

This will be the sixth year of the SBIR Road Tour, led by the SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation together with 11 participating federal agencies.

NATIONAL SBIR ROAD TOUR SCHEDULE 2020:

The Southeast Tour will run from April 13-17, with stops in Richmond, Virginia; Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; and Atlanta/Athens, Georgia.

The Midwest Tour will run from June 1-5, with stops in Omaha, Nebraska; St. Louis, Missouri; Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and Bloomington, Indiana.

The Rockies Tour will run from August 10-14, with stops in Bozeman, Montana; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Laramie, Wyoming.

Finally, the Central Southern Tour will run from November 2-6, with stops in Jackson, Mississippi; Shreveport, Louisiana; Dallas, Texas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Small technology firms, innovators, scientists or researchers seeking more information on the SBIR Road Tour, including a schedule of stops and participating agencies should visit: https://www.sbirroadtour.com/.

For more information about SBIR/STTR programs, please visit https://www.sbir.gov/ or follow us on Twitter.

Social Security Modernizing its Disability Program Decades Old Rule Updated to Reflect Today’s Workforce

Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul announced a new final rule today, modernizing an agency disability rule that was introduced in 1978 and has remained unchanged.  The new regulation, “Removing the Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category,” updates a disability rule that was more than 40 years old and did not reflect work in the modern economy.  This final rule has been in the works for a number of years and updates an antiquated policy that makes the inability to communicate in English a factor in awarding disability benefits.

“It is important that we have an up-to-date disability program,” Commissioner Saul said.  “The workforce and work opportunities have changed and outdated regulations need to be revised to reflect today’s world.”

A successful disability system must evolve and support the right decision as early in the process as possible.  Social Security’s disability rules must continue to reflect current medicine and the evolution of work.

Social Security is required to consider education to determine if someone’s medical condition prevents work, but research shows the inability to communicate in English is no longer a good measure of educational attainment or the ability to engage in work.   This rule is another important step in the agency’s efforts to modernize its disability programs.

In 2015, Social Security’s Inspector General recommended that the agency evaluate the appropriateness of this policy.  Social Security owes it to the American public to ensure that its disability programs continue to reflect the realities of the modern workplace.  This rule also supports the Administration’s longstanding focus of recognizing that individuals with disabilities can remain in the workforce.

The rule will be effective on April 27, 2020.

General Assembly passes bills to combat human trafficking of minors

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The General Assembly has passed two identical bills intended to help social workers in the fight against minor-involved human trafficking. The bills, introduced by House Majority Leader Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, were recommended by the Virginia State Crime Commission.

“I am thrilled that this bill passed,” Fay Chelmow, president of ImPACT Virginia, an organization that aims to prevent human trafficking, said in an email. “Family controlled human trafficking is so much more common than people think.”

The legislation allows local social services departments to interview the reported child victims or their siblings without the consent and presence of a parent or legal guardian, school personnel or an individual standing in place of a parent.

“This bill not only increases a minor’s chance to access safety but acknowledges their autonomy, resiliency and capacity for self-determination,” Chelmow said. “A minor’s assent is crucially important for their healing from the polyvictimization sustained at the hands of their traffickers and buyers.” 

Human trafficking, considered modern-day slavery, involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sex trafficking is when a trafficker exhibits control over the victim and the victim receives something of value in exchange for performing sex acts. Traffickers recruit at locations such as middle and high schools, courthouses, foster care, group homes, bus stations, shelters, bars, restaurants, shopping malls and social media sites, according to the Virginia State Crime Commission. The agency concludes that child sex trafficking intersects with other problems such as drug addiction, runaway youth, child abuse, domestic violence and gang activity. 

Human trafficking victims are forced into a wide range of labor sectors, ranging from sweat shops and field work to domestic service, according to ICE. By U.S. law, a person under the age of 18 engaged in prostitution is a victim of trafficking, the agency said.

As of June 30, 2019, there were 98 human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline that mentioned Virginia, according to the organization. In 2018, the hotline received 198 human trafficking reports that referenced Virginia, up from 158 cases that mentioned the commonwealth the previous year. The commonwealth’s location along major highways and its international airports make it vulnerable to human trafficking activity, according to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. In 2017, Virginia ranked No. 4 in the top 10 of federal court districts where criminal sex trafficking cases were prosecuted involving children. 

The legislation also changes the name from sex trafficking assessments to human trafficking assessments. This evaluation helps identify potential and existing victims of human trafficking. According to Kristen J. Howard, executive director for the Virginia State Crime Commission, human trafficking is a more accurate word because this assessment also can include evaluation of labor trafficking victims. 

Howard said Herring and Obenshain’s bills change the classication from sex trafficking to human trafficking, to “more accurately describe the assessments since they also involve labor trafficking victims and not just victims of sex trafficking.”

An assessment is conducted to determine the immediate safety needs of the child, the extent of needed protective and rehabilitative services, and risk of future harm to the child.

Howard said she is “very happy” to see the legislation pass both chambers. In 2018, the commission conducted a large, comprehensive study defining sex trafficking, detailing how victims wind up in the sex industry, and making overall recommendations on how Virginia should change legislation to combat human trafficking. 

This study led to a 2019 legislative package of eight bills. Legislators passed a total of seven bills -- two in the Senate and five in the House -- to help tackle sex trafficking. The bills included the establishment of the Virginia Prevention of Sex Trafficking fund, allowed for the use of two-way closed-circuit television in testimony by child victims and witnesses in sex trafficking cases, established class 6 felony charges for sex trafficking offenses involving a minor, and created a sex trafficking response coordinator within the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Spotlight on Jobs by the Virginia Employment Commission

 

LPN-Behavioral Health Services:  Administers nursing care under the supervision of a registered nurse. Participates in the implementation and evaluation of patient care. Ensures the health, comfort and safety of patients. Relies on experience and judgment to plan and accomplish goals. Performs a variety of tasks. Works under general supervision. A certain degree of creativity and latitude is required.  Job Order #1902628

Relationship Teller:  Greeting customers and initiating dialogue to determine their banking needs. Routine accepting of deposits and payments, disbursing cash, and day-end settlement of same. Enhancing customer relationships by understanding all of the bank's products and services, initiating conversations to identify customers' needs and recommending products and services to match those needs. Taking personal ownership of any customer problems to see that they get resolved. Directing customers to various departments of the bank when requests are not normally handle by tellers, etc.  Job Order #1905101

CNA/PCA:  Must provide basic patient care under direction of nursing staff. Performs duties such as feeding, bathing, dressing and grooming, moving patients and changing linens. Must have CNA/NA/PCA certificate.  Job Order #1904929

Heavy Equipment Operator:  Must have a minimum of 12 months experience in the operation of a mini excavator, backhoe and bobcat.   Job Order #1904887

CNA/NA/PCA/COMPANION:  Immediate openings for in home personal care providing care for clients in their home by helping with daily activities, personal care, light housekeeping, meal preparation and companionship.   Flexible shifts.  Work up to 40 hours per week, plus be eligible for benefits.  Job Order #1905090

THESE AND ALL JOBS WITH THE VIRGINIA EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION CAN BE FOUND ONLINE AT

www.vawc.virginia.gov

The Virginia Employment Commission is An Equal Opportunity Employer/Program. Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities.

La Comision de Empleo de Virginia es un empleador/programa con igualdad de portunidades.  Los auxiliaries y servicios estan disponibles a dedido para personas con discapacidades

Groups split over proposed overdose immunity bill

By Joseph Whitney Smith, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Groups, including former drug users, are split over a Senate bill that would give immunity to both someone reporting or experiencing an overdose. 

In a recent unanimous vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 667, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. The bill expands on the current protection offered only to the person reporting the overdose, who can be charged with a crime but has an affirmative defense, which leads to dropped or reduced charges when proven they reported an overdose. 

This new bill would offer immunity to both the person reporting the overdose and experiencing the overdose, meaning no charges would be filed. The bill protects individuals from arrest or prosecution for the unlawful purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol, controlled substances, marijuana or having drug paraphernalia. 

The legislation also states that no officers acting in good faith will be found liable for false arrest if it is later determined the individual arrested was immune from prosecution because they overdosed or reported an overdose.

“In Virginia, friends often do not call for help for fear of being arrested,” Boysko said at the committee hearing for the bill.

Boysko told Senate members that every second matters in an overdose and that data show bystanders are three times more likely to call 911 when there is a safe reporting law such as her proposed bill. She also said that the state needs to stop criminalizing individuals that are attempting to seek urgent help for themselves or others. 

“Virginia's death toll from opioid overdoses continues to rise despite state and local government spending millions of dollars to make naloxone available,” Boysko said. “More than 1,500 died just in 2019 in Virginia from drug overdoses.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, overdose is the leading cause of unnatural death in the state since 2013, followed by motor vehicle related and gun deaths.

“With the new law we’re looking at a healthcare solution for a healthcare crisis,” said Nathan Mitchell, who said he was previously addicted to drugs. Mitchell now serves as the community outreach and advocacy coordinator at the McShin Foundation. Mitchell said the proposed bill does not provide protection for crimes such as distribution or a firearm at the scene of the overdose, only drug and paraphernalia possession. 

According to Mitchell, drug incarceration is inconsistent in the commonwealth. He said after his first drug-related arrest he wasn’t introduced to a recovery program. But, after his second arrest, he received treatment through the help of the McShin Foundation. He said that inconsistency is an example that not all individuals who overdose will have access to the same treatment. 

Drug courts are specialized courts where individuals plead guilty and agree to complete the drug court program. Not every locality in the commonwealth has a drug court, though state law authorizes any locality to establish one with the support of existing and available local, state and federal resources. 

Mitchell said that individuals may not report an overdose to help protect the individual overdosing from being charged with a crime. He said that’s why a bill granting immunity to both parties is important. 

John Shinholser, president and co-founder of the McShin Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on recovery education and recovery, testified in favor of Boysko’s bill.

“This is evidence-based, data-driven proof that this bill will reduce deaths in Virginia during this crisis,” Shinholser said.

Goochland County resident Micheal McDermott spoke in opposition of Boysko’s bill during the Senate committee meeting. McDermott said he’s been in recovery from substance abuse disorder for over 28 years. The bill has good intentions but immunity should only be given to the person reporting, not overdosing, McDermott said. 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. 

There’s no guarantee that an overdose victim treated by paramedics will find recovery, McDermott said. If the person overdosing is on probation, they should receive a probation violation, and perhaps get the needed court-mandated treatment.

Westmoreland County Commonwealth’s Attorney Julia Sichol spoke last month at a House subcommittee in opposition to similar legislation that failed to advance, on behalf of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Sichol said she thinks a bill offering immunity “can also cause harm to lives” because it keeps the person overdosing from being charged with a crime and could possibly prevent them from receiving court-mandated treatment.

“Drug treatment is extremely expensive and sometimes the only way to get the treatment for the individuals is through the court system,” Sichol said. “If you take away the ability for individuals to be charged who have overdosed they are not eligible to participate in drug treatment program, they are not eligible to go through the court system under mandated treatment.”

On Friday, SB 667 was assigned to a House subcommittee.

Bill allows renters to make certain repairs if landlord doesn’t respond

By Will Gonzalez, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill that gives tenants the power to make repairs on their property and deduct the costs from their rent, with conditions, recently passed the Virginia Senate and is expected to advance in the House. 

Senators voted unanimously in committee and on the floor to pass Senate Bill 905, introduced by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, which gives a tenant the right to seek repairs that constitute a fire hazard or serious threat to the life, health or safety of occupants. Such conditions include the infestation of rodents and lack of heat, hot or cold running water, light, electricity, or adequate sewage disposal facilities. 

Tenants would have the right to secure a contractor to fix the issues and deduct the cost from their rent.

First, the tenant would submit a written complaint to their landlord and allow them 14 days to fix the issue before the tenant secures a licensed contractor to complete the repairs. The tenant must provide documentation and itemized receipts of the repair to the landlord. The tenant would be allowed to deduct the costs of the repairs, not exceeding one month’s rent, from subsequent rent payments.

Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, proposed an amendment that was rejected during the Senate committee hearing, requiring the tenant to obtain two repair estimates. 

Currently, state law allows the landlord more time to fix issues that compromise the health and safety of the tenant. The tenant can file a detailed, written complaint and give notice that the rental agreement will terminate on or after 30 days, if the landlord hasn’t fixed the issue within 21 days. If the problem is fixed, the tenant can’t break the lease. 

A tenant, though legally empowered under current law to terminate the rental agreement would still, in most cases, need to have a deposit plus first month’s rent to secure a new place, which can present a roadblock for renters.

The Virginia Poverty Law Center noted its support of the bill and stated that in addition to speeding up the repair process, the proposed bill would reduce the number of cases in Virginia’s courts, because tenants are given the opportunity to handle issues themselves instead of having to take landlords to court. Christine Marra, the group’s director of housing advocacy, said that the bill benefits tenants by allowing them to deduct the cost of donated repairs.

“There are a number of nonprofits across the commonwealth that do home repair for homeowners, but will not do them for renters because they don’t want to unjustly or unduly enrich the landlord,” Marra said. “I hope this will encourage them to start doing repairs for tenants.”

According to Elizabeth Godwin-Jones, a Richmond attorney who represents landlords, the original bill was too vague about what would constitute an emergency condition and how the tenant was allowed to go about getting the work done.

Now that the tenant is required to hire a licensed contractor and provide the necessary documentation, she said there’s little a negligent landlord could do to challenge their tenant in court and force them to pay their rent in full.

 “To me, the landlord already has a bit of a black eye, if it was something really serious and they didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” Godwin-Jones said.

Stanley patroned another renter’s rights bill, one which didn’t advance. The bill would have given tenants the right to use their landlord’s failure to maintain the property as a defense if they were taken to court for failure to pay rent.

Virginia’s eviction rates are among the highest in the country. Princeton University’s 2016 Eviction Lab study showed that five of the 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the U.S. are in Virginia, and Godwin-Jones believes the problem is rooted in poverty more than it is in landlord-tenant legislation.

“To me, the biggest thing to help the eviction problem would be to raise the minimum wage and have more affordable housing options, but that’s terribly underfunded, and the funding hasn’t kept up with the increase in the rent,” Godwin-Jones said.

After making it to the House of Delegates, the bill was assigned to a General Laws subcommittee, which recommended advancing it. A committee on Thursday postponed hearing the bill because Stanley was still in the Senate and could not speak to the bill.

Help Children by Having Fun Golfing

Help children at Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services who suffer from mental health and/or substance use disorders while having fun golfing.

Jackson-Feild will host its 25th Annual Golf Tournament on May 4 at the Golf Club at the Highlands in Chesterfield County.  Over the past 24 years, this tournament has raised $538,520 to meet a variety of operating and capital needs that benefitted its children.

The proceeds this year will be used to improve upgrade much-needed infrastructure projects on campus.

 Jackson-Feild seeks raise $30,000 from the tournament to meet these needs.

The cost to pay is $150 per player, or $600 for a team.  Lunch is provided at noon, and a banquet at the close of play. Play begins at 1:00 p.m.  with shotgun start.

Jackson-Feild’s mission is to provide high-quality evidence-based services for children who have suffered severe emotional trauma, mental illness, and/or struggling with addiction. The goal is to restore wellness so that children can successfully return home to their community.

For more information, call Tod Balsbaugh at 804-354-6929 or tbalsbaugh@jacksonfeild.org.  You may register by phone or on our website at www.jacksonfeild.org.

USDA Reminds Producers of Feb. 28 Deadline for Conservation Reserve Program General Signup

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2020 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds agricultural producers interested in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 2020 general signup that there is less than two weeks before the enrollment deadline of February 28, 2020. This signup is available to farmers and private landowners who are either enrolling for the first time or re-enrolling for another 10- to 15-year term.

Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive yearly rental payments for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees (known as “covers”), which can control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands.

CRP has 22 million acres enrolled, but the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres.

Signed into law in 1985, CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the U.S. It was originally intended to primarily control soil erosion and potentially stabilize commodity prices by taking marginal lands out of production. The program has evolved over the years, providing many conservation and economic benefits. Marking its 35th anniversary in 2020, CRP has had many successes, including:

  • Preventing more than 9 billion tons of soil from eroding, enough soil to fill 600 million dump trucks;
  • Reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to annually tilled cropland by 95 and 85 percent respectively;
  • Sequestering an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road;
  • Creating more than 3 million acres of restored wetlands while protecting more than 175,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers, enough to go around the world 7 times; and
  • Benefiting bees and other pollinators and increased populations of ducks, pheasants, turkey, bobwhite quail, prairie chickens, grasshopper sparrows and many other birds.
     

The CRP continuous signup is ongoing, which enables producers to enroll for certain practices. FSA plans to open the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, a CRP pilot program, in early 2020, and the 2020 CRP Grasslands signup runs from March 16, 2020 to May 15, 2020.

To enroll in CRP, contact your local FSA county office or visit fsa.usda.gov/crp. To locate your local FSA office, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.

McEachin and Spanberger Bring FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks to Central Virginia for a Conversation on Rural Broadband

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) today co-hosted a Conversation on Rural Broadband with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, local officials, community leaders, and broadband advocates to discuss federal solutions to barriers expanding broadband access to unserved areas. Held at Prince George Central Wellness Center in central Virginia, the roundtable was moderated by Jeffrey Stoke, Deputy Administrator of Prince George County, and included leaders from the Prince George Electric Cooperative, VCTA The Broadband Association of Virginia and the Office of the Governor of Virginia.

A member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Congressman McEachin last week led 22 of his committee colleagues in issuing a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai outlining their concerns that last-minute language changes to the commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Order might inadvertently undermine the ability of states, including Virginia, to effectively provide their residents with accessible, reliable broadband infrastructure. Building on that work, today’s roundtable discussion centered around the critical importance of access to high-speed internet and provided participants with the opportunity to voice their concerns and connect on solutions to mitigate communities’ lack of access.

 “The problems we face in Washington working to ensure every community has access to the high-speed internet needed to grow small businesses, create good-paying jobs, and promote digital equity are complex and cannot be tackled successfully in silos,” added Rep. McEachin. “Today’s conversation with rural broadband experts and stakeholders from Prince George County proves the power and possibility of solution-building between federal, state, and local government, and offers a successful blueprint for future collaboration to provide broadband to unserved and underserved communities throughout the country.”

“Access to opportunity in America shouldn’t be dictated by zip code. In the digital age, fast and secure internet access is a necessity for Central Virginia families, students, and businesses—but in many of our rural Virginia communities, unreliable high-speed broadband internet drastically limits the scope of opportunities for growth and success,” said Spanberger. “Today’s conversation on rural broadband in Congressman McEachin’s district was an opportunity to put our heads together and discuss how we can expand broadband access here in Central Virginia. I’d like to thank the many local and state officials who joined for today’s conversation, and I’d especially like to thank Commissioner Starks for coming to our region to share the FCC’s perspective on current broadband issues—like the need for strengthened investment in local infrastructure and updated broadband connectivity maps. At a time when infrastructure remains a key topic of conversation on Capitol Hill and within the administration, these community conversations emphasize the importance of keeping up the drumbeat on connecting our rural communities and closing the digital divide.”

Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural communities, including through the work of the FCC. Last year, Spanberger introduced and passed an amendment to improve FCC broadband internet data. In August 2019, Spanberger hosted her 2019 Rural Broadband Summit in Louisa County to hear about how a lack of reliable broadband internet access is impacting families, farmers, first responders, and small business owners across Central Virginia.

“I was pleased to work with my colleague, Congresswoman Spanberger, to bring together federal, state, municipal and industry leaders for this critical conversation on rural broadband” said Congressman McEachin. “Too frequently, constituents across the country struggle to ensure their voice is heard and their needs are addressed in Washington, and at the same time, Washington acts without engaging with impacted communities. Facilitating connections is where we do our best work,” McEachin continued. “Today’s roundtable discussion is another example of delivering that access for the people of Virginia’s Fourth District.”

Bills advance to expand in-state tuition regardless of citizenship status

A coalition of groups lobbying for immigrant rights at the Virginia State Capitol on Jan. 16, in support of bills to grant driver licenses and in-state tuition to people without documentation. Photo courtesy of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

By Ada Romano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The state Senate and the House have advanced bills to make students living in the U.S. without documentation eligible for in-state tuition. 

SB 935, introduced by Democratic Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Ghazala Hashmi, would require a student to provide proof of filed taxes to be eligible for in-state tuition. A student also must have attended high school in Virginia for at least two years, been homeschooled in the state or have passed a high school equivalency exam prior to enrolling in a college. The bill reported out of the House appropriations committee Wednesday and heads to the floor for a vote.

Submitting income tax returns would be a challenge for students straight out of high school who have not worked or filed taxes before, according to Jorge Figueredo, executive director of Edu-Futuro, a nonprofit that seeks to empower immigrant youth and their families.

HB 1547, introduced by Del. Alfonso Lopez, applies the same provisions as SB 935, except the requirement to file proof of filed taxes. The bill is currently in the Senate Health and Education committee. 

Immigrant rights advocates have openly supported these two bills. Figueredo said he is “thrilled” to see the bill advance.

“This is something that makes a lot of sense. It’s something where we don’t want to have a group of people to get to a point that they cannot reach their highest potential,” Figueredo said. 

Attorney General Mark Herring announced in 2014 that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students would be eligible for in-state tuition. He said Maryland saw an increase in graduation rates after allowing students without documentation to access in-state tuition rates. Maryland officials believe this led less students to drop out of high school because they saw realistic options for continuing education, according to Herring. 

There is uncertainty about the future of the DACA program. A study by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis stated that uncertainty creates a risk for students enrolled in Virginia colleges and universities, who fear they could lose DACA status and access to in-state tuition rates. The institute, which studies issues affecting low-to-moderate income residents, recommended that lawmakers could mitigate the potential impact of that loss by expanding in-state tuition access to Virginia residents regardless of immigration status. The institute said that by doing so the state would also provide more affordable access to colleges for residents whose immigration status does not otherwise fall into the categories currently required for in-state tuition.

Figueredo said that allowing these students to apply for in-state tuition would create more opportunities for undocumented students to become professionals, something that would benefit all of Virginia. 

High school graduates in Virginia earn about $35,000 on average compared to people with a bachelor’s degree who earn about $65,000 a year, according to The Commonwealth Institute.

“A person that has a higher level of education in comparison to a person that has only a high school diploma, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that are not captured in the form of taxes, so that’s a direct benefit right there,” Figueredo said. 

Katherine Amaya is a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College. Her family emigrated from El Salvador when she was 8 years old. Amaya said she pays out-of-state tuition rates as an undocumented student, about $6,000 per semester, compared to classmates who pay about $2,000 for in-state tuition per semester. 

Amaya said she was on the honor roll throughout high school and her first semester in college. She said she was able to apply for scholarships for undocumented students but it was a competitive process. She was awarded a few scholarships and said she was able to use that money for her first semester of college but is afraid she won’t get as much help in the future. 

Amaya said she had many friends in high school that were also having a hard time paying for college or university because they were also undocumented and did not qualify for in-state tuition.

“A lot of them, they couldn’t even afford going to community college, so they just dropped out and started working,” Amaya said. “It’s sad, you know, that they don’t have the money or the help to keep going to school.”

Bill banning handheld cellphone use while driving clears House, Senate

By Andrew Ringle, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The state Senate voted Tuesday in favor of a bill that would prohibit holding a phone while driving a motor vehicle on Virginia roadways and which implements a penalty for the traffic violation.

House Bill 874 will head to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, who has voiced support for prohibiting the use of handheld cellphones while driving. The measure, sponsored by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, would go into effect at the start of 2021.

“I’m happy that HB874 passed 29-9 in the Senate,” Bourne said in an email. “HB874 will make our roadways safer for all Virginians by prohibiting drivers from holding a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle.”

The House of Delegates approved the bill Feb. 5 with a 72-24 vote after incorporating four bills with similar proposals. Violations of the measures in HB 874 would result in a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses. If a violation occurs in a highway work zone, there would be a mandatory fee of $250.

Bourne said the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, of which he is a member, supports making Virginia roadways safer without risking “disparate application of law.”

“We were happy to work with Drive Smart Virginia to improve the legislation to ensure that the new law is applied fairly and equitably,” Bourne said.

Hands-free driving garners bicameral and bipartisan support, according to Brantley Tyndall, director of outreach for Bike Walk RVA. He said the defeat of previous bills with similar measures in past years was deflating, but that Bourne’s latest proposal reworked the language to make it successful.

“Bike Walk RVA is happy to see leadership from our area, namely chief patron Delegate Jeff Bourne, choosing to lead this issue on the House side with his bill HB 874,” Tyndall said in an email.

Tyndall called Bourne’s bill a “commonsense safety measure” and said he was glad to see support for the bill from old and new leadership in the General Assembly.

“We can all feel a part of saving dozens or hundreds of lives over the next few years, including the one out of every six traffic fatalities that is a person walking or biking,” Tyndall said.

Current law prohibits reading or typing messages on a personal communications device while driving. However, holding such a device is legal, except while driving in a work zone.

The bill would not apply to emergency vehicle drivers, such as police officers and firefighters, nor employees of the Department of Transportation while performing official duties. It would also exempt drivers who are parked legally or at a full stop.

Last fall, Richmond City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to ban using mobile devices while driving. With a signature from Northam, HB 874 would make the same policy statewide law.

Senate Bill 932 proposed adding school zones to the list of areas where holding a phone while driving is prohibited, which is more limited than HB 874’s proposal. SB 932 failed to advance from a House subcommittee on Monday. 

Richmond Police Chief Will Smith said during a press conference in January that his department supports HB 874 and that anyone with children shouldn’t be surprised by the proposal.

“One of the very first things that we all talk about with our kids is, ‘make sure that you leave your phone out of your hand and don’t text, don’t call until you get to your destination,’” Smith said. “Yet we, as an adult society, tend not to obey our own advice.”

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Analysis: Over 1,000 Democrat-backed bills pass by crossover, Republican tally trails

By Hannah Eason, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A record number of bills passed in the House of Delegates ahead of the “crossover” deadline, considered the halfway point in the session when a bill has to pass its chamber or it dies.

 Democrat-led efforts like marijuana decriminalization, removal of war memorials, and an assault weapons ban squeezed past in the homestretch. Republican bills, like one that gave the Virginia Lottery Board the ability to regulate casino gambling, also continued to advance.

Delegates filed more than 1,700 bills this session, and 828 bills passed. A Virginia House Democrats release said the House has passed 37% more bills than it did during the 2019 General Assembly session. The release stated the House passed around 600 bills each year from 2016 to 2019.

“We listened to Virginia and are moving together, forward,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said in a press release. “Voters called for major change in the Commonwealth and we are delivering by passing practical, necessary legislation aimed at substantially improving the lives of Virginia residents.”

In the House, Democrats passed 642 bills, more than half of the 1,193 bills they introduced. Republicans filed fewer bills this session — 541 bills were filed and 34% of them passed. These numbers reflect bills, and do not include resolutions or joint resolutions. Bills incorporated into other bills are classified as failing.

Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, filed and passed more legislation than any other delegate. Out of 50 filed bills, 32 have passed in the House. His bills eliminated the co-payment program for nonemergency healthcare services for prisoners, created provisions on conversion therapy, and granted excused absences to students who miss school because of mental and behavioral health.

Other delegates weren’t as fortunate, like Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, who filed two bills which didn’t pass. He passed one House resolution, which does not have the full force of law and does not require the governor’s signature. Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, didn’t file any bills other than a House joint resolution. 

Four Republican lawmakers each only passed one bill: Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford; Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin; Del. Jeffrey Campbell, R-Smyth; and former House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

While Democrats have applauded their party’s success, Republicans have mostly focused on the possible impact of the new majority. Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, said recently passed legislation attacked the Second Amendment, tore down the economy, and made it easier to “take the lives of our unborn.”

“I offered legislation that would have greatly benefited the 23rd House District, specifically allowing people of faith to defend themselves in a place of worship, assisting new hunters be educated in the ways of the craft, and supporting our farmers,” Walker said in an email. “Unfortunately, these items did not fall within the majority’s agenda.”

In the Senate, 60% of the 1,095 bills filed succeeded. Democrats passed 440 bills, 64% of what they filed. Republicans passed 223 bills, 54% of the legislation they filed.

In total, more Democrat bills failed than Republican bills, 243 and 189 respectively.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, filed and passed more bills than any other senator. He filed 60 bills, and was successful in passing 42.

 Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, passed 32 bills in the Senate, and his chief of staff said they are expected to be successful in the House.

“Senator Edwards has been in the Virginia Senate since 1996, and with the Democratic Party in the minority for the bulk of that time, he had a lot of ideas for good legislation that didn't pass in prior years,” said Luke Priddy, Edward’s chief of staff.

Out of 412 bills filed by Senate Republicans, 223, roughly half of them, passed. 

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, did not pass any of her sponsored bills. Her 21 filed bills included the creation of a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have prohibited abortion after 20 weeks unless under extreme medical circumstances. Chase did not respond to a request for comment.

Chase said Wednesday on Facebook, where she often posts to her constituents, that her bills didn’t advance in committees because of her decision in November to leave the Senate Republican Caucus. 

“If you don’t pay thousands (pay-to-play) to join one of their caucuses, they will deny you of committee assignments and suspend your bills, not giving each bill a fair hearing,” Chase wrote.

Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said “it’s very clear there’s a new party in charge” and that Democrats are focusing on legislation that wouldn’t have been considered during a Republican majority.

“Issues that would have been dispensed by a Republican majority in two minutes are now not only getting full hearings, but discussion on the floor of at least one chamber of the legislature,” Farnsworth said. “The people in the previous Republican majority who are used to calling the shots, are now subjected to the same treatment that they themselves dealt out in the past.”

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said bills that include increasing the gas tax, energy requirements, the ability of localities to increase taxes, and $15 minimum wage would make living in Virginia more expensive.

“These policies are not free market, they’re not good for Virginia businesses, but they’re not good for Virginia workers either,” McDougle said Wednesday on WRVA’s Richmond Morning News program. “We want there to be competition. When the economy’s moving up, we want to be able to get jobs.”

House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, called the legislation passed “long overdue,” in a statement released Tuesday.

 “We have kept our promise to truly be the ‘People’s House’ by passing long overdue legislation to protect Virginians from exploitation, discrimination and senseless violence,” Filler-Corn said.

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Senate Advances Bill Expanding Access to Renewable Energy

Residential rooftop solar panels in the Fulton neighborhood in Richmond. Photo by Jeffrey Knight

By Jeffrey Knight, Capital News Service 

RICHMOND, Va. – A bill that would allow state residents, nonprofits and schools to more easily seek and secure alternative energy sources such as rooftop solar recently passed the Senate by a vote of 22-18.

Senate Bill 710, patroned by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, cleared the hurdle on crossover day, the last day for each chamber to advance its own legislation before it dies. 

McClellan’s amended bill helps remove some barriers that make it harder for individuals and organizations to access energy alternatives outside of public utility providers such as Dominion Energy.

One of those barriers makes it difficult for nonprofits to reap the rewards of private renewable energy generation under current law. Nonprofit entities like churches and some schools don’t qualify for a 26% federal tax credit to implement solar systems. This deters some nonprofits and those who don’t qualify for the tax incentive from generating their own renewable energy because of the up-front price of these projects. 

Many of these organizations are opting for third-party solar contracts, to either lease a system or to pay for energy use. A customer can lease a solar energy system from an installer or developer and pays to use it for a period of time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Alternatively, a power purchase agreement allows customers to pay a solar developer an agreed-upon rate for energy use, usually a lower price than what the local utility charges. 

“The beauty of the third-party solar contract is that the third party is not only installing the panels, they are usually helping to finance it too,” said Bob Shippee, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter legislative chair. “This means the schools or governmental agencies do not have to go through the capital budgeting process and they start seeing savings on electricity from day one.”

The current law caps third-party power purchase agreements on renewable energy generation at 50 megawatts in Dominion territory and seven megawatts for Appalachian Power territory. Dominion would have a tenfold increase to 500 megawatts, while Appalachian Power would have a limit of 40 megawatts, according to the bill.

“We support our Virginia customers using more renewable energy and hope any legislation would ensure the fair and equitable distribution of energy cost to consumers across our footprint,” Rayhan Daudani, Dominion Energy spokesman said in an email. 

Consumer solar prices have dropped 36% over the past five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s recent data. Virginia residents get 1% of their power from solar energy, the association said. 

Homeowners have been joining “solar cooperatives” to help households convert to solar power, but churches, schools and other municipal buildings are not allowed to generate their own power outside of energy provided by Dominion -- except on rare occasions such as weather emergencies.

The average monthly consumption of energy for Virginia residents is 1,165 kilowatt hours per month according to a 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A kilowatt hour is the measurement of how much energy is used when a 1,000-watt appliance runs for an hour, according to an OVO Energy article. One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts. 

The proposed legislation would allow non-residential customers to increase their system capacity from one to three megawatts of energy. By law residential customers can generate up to 20 kilowatts. 

Shippee said the current cap on third-party renewable energy generation projects impacted savings and jobs in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. 

“That is savings those taxpayers can’t get until those laws are changed,” Shippee said. “The savings flow right to the taxpayer.” 

The bill also raises the cap from 1% to 6% on the amount of solar or renewable energy that can be net metered in a utility service area. Net metering is when an individual who produces their own electricity from solar power uses less electricity than they generate. The excess electricity is then sold back to the utility grid in exchange for a reduction in the customer’s power bill, according to the SEIA

Some lawmakers also want the State Corporation Commission to regulate third-party renewable energy developers. The current bill does not give the commission jurisdiction to regulate the terms and conditions of third-party power purchase agreements. 

“We are putting a lot of additional costs that we are unsure of on the backs of our ratepayers and this is another one of those costs,” said Sen. William DeSteph Jr., R-Virginia Beach during a Senate floor meeting ahead of the vote. 

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, introduced a similar bill in the House that passed with a 67-31 vote.

Many renewable energy bills survived crossover including the Clean Economy Act (HB1526 and SB851), the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act (HB981 and SB1027) and HB234, which would develop an offshore wind plan.

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Announcing Regional Job Fair

Emporia/Greensville Social Services, Job Assistance Center, and Virginia Employment Commission are sponsoring a Job Fair on Thursday, April 2nd from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm at the Golden Leaf Commons, 1300 Greensville County Circle, Emporia, Virginia. This event will offer Emporia, Greensville County, and the surrounding communities the opportunity to meet with employers and explore employment opportunities. Job seekers should be prepared to complete applications and for on-site interviews.

Employers registered to attend the Job Fair include Halifax Works Healthcare Express, Melvin L. Davis Oil Company, GEO Lawrenceville Correctional, Byrne Acquisition Group, Dinwiddie Health & Rehabilitation, Virginia Linen Services, Vidant North Hospital, Greensville Correction, Greensville Public Schools, Personal Touch Home Care,  Virginia State Police, Integrity Staffing, Holden Temporaries, Peoplelink Staffing, United States Army, Penmac Staffing, Peopleready, VCU Health System, Smithfield Production, Jakafi Behavioral Care, Sussex 1 & 2, Lowes and more.

For employer registration information, please contact Sherry Pearson at spearson@jacinc.net, (804) 445-5710 or suzannedtaylor57@yahoo.com

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