January 2020

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING CONTINUES TO FIGHT FOR VIRGINIA STUDENT BORROWERS

~ Herring joins bipartisan coalition in asking Secretary DeVos to extend federal student loan forgiveness to all former Dream Center Students, including students of schools previously operated by Education Management Corporation ~

RICHMOND (February 4, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 26 attorneys general in requesting that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos use her authority to discharge the federal student loans of all students who were enrolled in now-closed schools operated by Dream Center Education Holdings, LLC (DCEH). Attorney General Herring and his colleagues previously called on Secretary DeVos in October 2019 to extend the timeframe for student loan forgiveness for schools that were operated by DCEH. DCEH took over Virginia schools previously operated by Education Management Corporation (EDMC) following a $2.9 million settlement EDMC reached with Attorney General Herring.

“Virginia student borrowers are the victims of DCEH’s misconduct and mismanagement and they deserve to have their student loan debt forgiven,” said Attorney General Herring. “Secretary DeVos should do the right thing and make sure that all Virginians who were cheated out of an education by this deceitful organization are made whole again.”

Dream Center, a California-based nonprofit, went into receivership in January 2019. Under the federal “closed school discharge” regulation, former students may be eligible for a 100 percent discharge of their federal student loans if they were unable to complete their program because their school closed. Closed school discharge is only allowed for students who were enrolled at the time the school closed; were on an approved leave of absence when the school closed; or withdrew within 120 days of the school’s closure, unless Secretary DeVos approves a longer period.

In a letter sent to Secretary DeVos in October 2019, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues asked Secretary DeVos to exercise her legal authority to expand the group of students eligible for “closed school discharge” to account for Dream Center’s extraordinary misconduct and mismanagement. In November 2019, Secretary DeVos announced that she would extend the closed school discharge only for a very small number of former Dream Center students who were not previously eligible.

In today’s letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge Secretary DeVos to go further and provide debt relief to all Dream Center students unfairly strapped with burdensome debt for which they have little to show. The coalition again outlined Dream Center’s misconduct and mismanagement that prevented students from obtaining degrees and unfairly left them to repay federal student loan debt that they contracted to attend the failed schools.

DCEH took over schools that had previously been operated by Education Management Corporation (EDMC) following a 2015 settlement EDMC reached with Attorney General Mark Herring and other state attorneys general over their alleged deceitful practices. Under the terms of the settlement, EDMC forgave more than $2.29 million in loans for approximately 2,000 former students in Virginia. EDMC operated four education systems including Argosy University, The Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College, and South University, offering programs both online and at branch campuses in Virginia cities including Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Arlington.

Joining Attorney General Herring in sending today’s letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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Ricky Lee Simmons

 

Visitation Services

Thursday, February 6th from 7 until 8:30pm

Wrenn Clarke and Hagan Funeral Home
1015 West 5th Street
Roanoke Rapids, NC 27870

Friday, February 7th 2020 at 2:00 P.M

Doors of Praise and Worship Church
Bay Street
Gaston, North Carolina

 

On the warm Sunday of February 2, 2020, Ricky Lee Simmons, of Skippers, Virginia met his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the gates of Heaven.  Ricky spent his final days and hours surrounded by his beautiful wife, Lisa Simmons, cherished daughter, Elizabeth Simmons, beloved family and friends at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, Virginia.  

Ricky was born to Ray and Marie “Snookie” Simmons in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina on September 19, 1954.  He grew up on Bay Street in Gaston, North Carolina alongside his loyal siblings, Angela, Tina, Pam, Patrick and Mark.  Ricky graduated from Gaston High School in 1972 and was captain of the Midget Football Team.  

Later in life, Ricky worked in the auto parts industry and loved the friends he gained there.  He most enjoyed spending time with his family, petting his dog Gigi, cooking and above all, camping on Kerr Lake with his best friend and brother, Dave Moody.  

Ricky sits with and awaits in Heaven many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, a son in law and many friends.  Although Ricky is no longer here on earth, he lives eternal life in a new body, in a glorious place.  His memory will carry on in the hearts, minds and souls of all that knew him, as he was deeply loved.  

Visitation will be held at Wrenn Clarke and Hagan Funeral Home on Thursday, February 6th from 7 until 8:30pm.  Services will be at the Doors of Praise and Worship Church, located on Bay Street in Gaston, North Carolina, on Friday, February 7th 2020 at 2:00 P.M. with Rev. Russ Collins officiating. Burial will follow at Cedarwood Cemetery.

Online condolences may be sent to the family at wrennclarkehagan.com.

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Bill fails that would award electoral votes to popular vote winner

By Zach Armstrong, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Legislation seeking to guarantee the presidency to candidates who earn the popular vote in national elections has again failed to advance in the General Assembly. 

Senate Bill 399, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would’ve joined Virginia into the National Popular Vote Compact and awarded its electoral votes to the presidential ticket that receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Ebbin withdrew the bill from consideration Tuesday without identifying the reason. 

House Bill 177, introduced by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, was defeated Friday in the Privileges and Elections committee by a 10-12 vote, despite narrowly clearing subcommittee. The bill incorporated HB 199, introduced by Del. Marcia “Cia” Price, D-Newport News. Three Democrats joined Republican members to vote no.

“The people of the United States should choose the president of the United States, no matter where they live in each individual state,” Levine said when questioned during the committee hearing. “It gives every American equal weight under the law.”

Opponents disagree over his premise.

 “One of the things that was in place was to try to ensure that certain large states like California and New York, now, don’t have all the control in making a decision for president,” Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, told ABC 8 News last week. 

Levine tried to pass similar legislation the past three consecutive sessions.

“The Electoral College is an outdated institution that creates an undemocratic system for deciding who holds the most important office in the land,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, a co-patron of HB 177. “Call me crazy, but I think the person who wins the most votes is the person who should win an election.”

Under the Electoral College, each state is granted a number of electoral votes based on their representation in the U.S. House and Senate. A majority of states award electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes in their respective states. The candidate receiving at least 270 electoral votes wins the election. 

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote, numerous states signed the NPVC. The NPVC would ensure the candidate who wins the popular vote becomes president when states possessing 270 electoral votes sign onto the pact and give their electoral votes to the candidate through presidential electors. 

The compact has been adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia, which equal 196 electoral votes, according to National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that advocates for the compact. The pact will go into effect once states with at least 74 more electoral votes enact it. At least one chamber in eight additional states with 75 more electoral votes have passed the bill. 

“It is really hard to predict how campaigns would respond to this change,” said Alex Keena, assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “We would probably see less campaigning in the smaller swing states and there would be less emphasis on winning states, per se.”

Americans have historically opposed the Electoral College method and prefer naming winners based on the popular vote, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.

“They favor an amendment to the Constitution to make that happen, but are more reluctant to have states make changes to how they award their electoral votes,” Gallup said in a summary of its finding. 

Five presidential candidates have won the electoral college without receiving a majority of the popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harris in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. 

Without the compact, a constitutional amendment is required to switch from the Electoral College to the popular vote. 

In 1969, Rep. Emanuel Celler introduced House Joint Resolution 681 to abolish the Electoral College and instead require a president-vice president pair of candidates to win at least 40% of the popular vote. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support but failed on the Senate floor, according to congressional records.

“The compact does not require a constitutional amendment, so that route is obviously a lot easier than going through the amendment process,” Keena said.

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House bill protecting student journalists advances, Senate bill tabled

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By Jeffrey Knight, Capital News Service 

RICHMOND, Va. – Students, faculty and advocates lined up at the podium Wednesday to voice support and concern for a bill that would extend free speech protection to student journalists. Some students traveled from Northern Virginia and Culpeper to snag a spot in the crowded House subcommittee room in support of First Amendment rights and to meet with legislators on National Student Press Freedom Day. 

House Bill 36, patroned by former WDBJ journalist Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, advanced out of subcommittee on a 5-3 vote. The bill grants student journalists in school-sponsored media at public middle, high and higher education institutions the right to exercise freedom of speech and the press. The bill also protects advisers working with the student journalists. 

Hurst’s bill would allow schools to intervene and exercise restraint only in situations of slander, libel, privacy, danger or violations of federal or state law. 

“We’ve been very lucky,” said Joseph Kubicki, a senior at Colonial Forge High School in Stafford. “Our current principal, school board and superintendent have been very supportive of the student press.” 

Margaret Vaillant, former student and editor in chief of Madison County High School’s newspaper, shared her reasons for supporting the bill. 

“The lesson I learned as a high school newspaper editor is that facts only matter when it’s not embarrassing to the people in charge,” Vaillant said at the podium. 

Vaillant wrote an editorial in 2011 about the disrepair of Madison County High School’s facilities, which she said led to the newspaper adviser’s ouster.  

Stacy Haney, chief lobbyist of the Virginia School Boards Association, voiced opposition to the bill.

 “I want to point out to the committee that this legislation also applies to students who are in middle school,” Haney said. “I ask that you think about the maturity level and where we need to be with middle school students.”

Haney referenced the landmark 1969 case of Tinker v. Des Moines which allows students First Amendment rights as long as it does not disrupt learning. 

“Tinker already applies,” said Haney. “Student are protected in their speech under the Tinker standard.”  

 Still, some public school boards have been able to censor school-sponsored student media.

Last year, the Frederick County School Board approved a policy that designates the principal of the school as the editor of student publications. The board declared that school publications must have “curriculum approved by the school board” and are not “intended to provide a public forum for students or the general public.”

Betsy Edwards, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, commended student journalists for their work.

“I think student journalists play the same role that professional journalists play and that is to hold people in power accountable and to make sure that tax dollars get spent the way they should,” Edwards said in a phone interview.

She added that middle and high school student journalists “are more mature than we probably give them credit for.” The maturity level of middle and high school student journalists was a major opposition point during the meeting. 

The bill is similar to several across the country known as “New Voices” bills that aim to protect student media from censorship. New Voices is a student-led grassroots movement that aims to negate the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier which ruled that schools may censor student media to an extent. 

Currently 14 states have passed New Voices legislation and 11 have bills in motion, according to the Student Press Law Center.

Senate Bill 80, a companion bill, patroned by Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, was recently tabled to the 2021 session in a 1-13 vote.

Hurst was optimistic his bill will move forward during this session. He first introduced the bill in the 2019 session with co-patron Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, but the bill died in a subcommittee vote, 3-5. 

“I think the fate of this bill will be good,” said Hurst. “The General Assembly will see that this is an important provision to put into our code to protect journalists whether you are in high school, college or a professional.”

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SUPER BOWL FANS DON’T LET FANS DRIVE DRUNK IN VIRGINIA

RICHMOND – Whether a 49ers or Chiefs fan, a guaranteed game-day loser is anyone who chooses to drive drunk on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 2). The Virginia State Police is reminding all Virginians that if your game plan includes drinking as part of the Super Bowl festivities, then add a designated driver to your lineup.

In 2018, there were 7,181 alcohol-related crashes that claimed 278 lives on Virginia’s highways.* The costs can be financial, too: If you’re caught drinking and driving, you can face jail time, lose your driver’s license and your vehicle, and pay up to $10,000 in attorney’s fees, fines, car towing, higher insurance rates, and lost wages.

“Not only does an impaired driver put lives at risk on our highways, but also runs the very likely risk of getting arrested for DUI,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “On Sunday, Virginia troopers will be stepping up patrols during and following the Super Bowl in order to deter, detect and arrest drunk drivers. No game or drink is worth losing a life over, so please be responsible and Drive to Save Lives.”

If attending a Super Bowl party or watching the game at a sports bar or restaurant:

  • Designate your sober driver, or plan another way to get home safely before the party begins.

  • If you don't have a designated driver, then ask a sober friend for a ride home; call a cab, friend, or family member to come and get you; or just stay in for the night.

  • Use your community's sober ride program, reserve a rideshare such as Uber or Lyft, or take public transportation.

  • Never let friends drive if they have had too much to drink.

  • Always buckle up – it's still your best defense against drunk drivers.

If hosting a Super Bowl party:

  • Remember, you can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served ends up in a drunk-driving crash.

  • Make sure all of your guests designate their sober drivers in advance, or help arrange alternate transportation.

  • Serve lots of food and include lots of non-alcoholic beverages at the party.

  • Stop serving alcohol at the end of the third quarter of the game and begin serving coffee and dessert.

  • Keep the numbers for local cab companies handy, and take the keys away from anyone who has had too much to drink.

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Who Do I contact - social security or medicare

By Jacqueline Weisgarber, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist in Richmond, Virginia

Social Security offers retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.  Medicare provides health insurance. Because these services are often related, you may not know which agency to contact for help.  The list below can help you quickly figure out where to go. Please share this list with family and friends.

You can do much of your Medicare business with Social Security online.

Medicare also offers many online services where you can find out:  

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Nonprofit Urges Lawmakers to Protect Domestic Worker Rights

By Zobia Nayyar, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- After a 15-hour work day, Lenka Mendoza is tired but she prepares to do it all over again the next day.

 Mendoza spoke Tuesday at a Care in Action press conference in support of several General Assembly bills, dubbed the Virginia Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The nonprofit advocates for fairness and dignity for U.S. domestic workers, including 60,000 domestic workers in Virginia, according to director Alexsis Rodgers. The bills would increase the quality of life for a group of workers that includes house cleaners, cooks, waiters, nannies and caregivers who provide services in a private home.

“Virginia is actually dead last when it comes to workers’ rights across the country,” Rodgers said. “I would say we're not even on the list.”

Care in Action announced its support of Senate Bill 804, introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. The bill guarantees domestic service workers to not be excluded from employee protection laws, laws regarding payment of wages and other laws regarding the workforce.

“It is time for us to cut the last vestiges of Jim Crow by expanding worker protections to the best workers,” McClellan said. “Laws that ensure minimum wage, safe workplace and protection and against discrimination currently are not extended to domestic workers due to minimum employee thresholds, as well as specific exclusions from wage compensation and workplace saving laws.”

Currently under the Virginia Minimum Wage Act, minimum wage laws do not apply to employers with less than four employees at any given time. McClellan’s bill removes this exemption. It also allows an employee to bring an action against their employer if they are in violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act, regardless of the number of people employed.

McClellan cited statistics from the Economic Policy Institute that 17% of domestic workers live in poverty. In Virginia, personal care aides make an average of $21,240 a year, while home health aides earn an average of $23,440 per year, according to the same data.

“While we have the opportunity to create new jobs, we need to ensure that those jobs come with protections that those workers so desperately need,” McClellan said.

Del.Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, introduced House Bill 1730, which is similar to McClellan’s bill. She says it’s time to care for the people who have cared for others over the years.

Gooditis said she decided to introduce a bill focused on domestic workers because of a personal experience. Both her parents have dementia, and they are taken care of by two "amazing women," Gooditis said. She said domestic workers deserve minimum wage protections and other benefits. 

HB 1200, introduced by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, also may help domestic workers. The bill says no employer can discriminate against workers based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, childbirth, age or pregnancy or related medical conditions.

Mendoza has been a domestic worker for the past 18 years. With a Spanish translator by her side, Mendoza said she lives without the benefits for which she now fights. 

“We are here to petition to our legislators to support the domestic labor laws,” she said.

She said domestic workers don’t get the luxury of having sick days or being able to go to doctor’s appointments, because they are there to care for others.

“Not only are we caring for your children, older people in your homes and preparing your food, we're also a pivotal point in education for those young people who will eventually grow to be very active members and contributors to our society,” Mendoza said. 

Both bills have yet to advance to the House or Senate floor.

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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING SUES TO RECOGNIZE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT IN U.S. CONSTITUTION

~ On January 27th, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA immediately making it part of the U.S. Constitution ~

RICHMOND(January 30, 2020) – Following Virginia’s historic vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today has filed suit to recognize that the amendment has been added to the U.S. Constitution, enshrining equal rights for women. On January 27, 2020, the Virginia General Assembly voted to pass and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, making it the 38th and final state needed to immediately make it part of the Constitution. As the complaint states: “after generations of effort, the women of this country are entitled to their rightful place in the Constitution”. Joining Attorney General Herring in filing this landmark civil rights lawsuit today are Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford.

“I am so proud that Virginia was the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA, finally pushing us over the edge and enshrining gender equality in our nation’s founding document. For nearly 150 years, the Constitution did not acknowledge the existence of women. Now, 231 years since our country was founded and on the centennial anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, the American people have shown that they are as committed as ever to true equality by adopting the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Attorney General Herring. “For too long, women have not been afforded the same protections as men under the Constitution. Our history is full of strong, amazing women, who faced countless barriers in order to accomplish their dreams and goals. Without their perseverance and tireless hard work we would not be in the position we are today.

“I was raised by a single mother and I saw first-hand the discrimination that she faced in the workplace and in other areas of her life. She was even forced to quit her job as a flight attendant because she got engaged and they had a ‘no marriage policy’. “We now have this historic opportunity to ensure that equal rights regardless of sex are properly recognized as part of the Constitution. Virginians have made it clear that it is their will that the ERA be ratified and I now have the great honor of continuing that fight to make sure that gender equality is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing equality for generations of women to come.”

The Equal Rights Amendment states that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”. Though an equal rights amendment was proposed as early as 1923, the ERA was not adopted by Congress until 1972, when it passed with broad, bipartisan support. Virginia’s historic vote on January 27th made it the 38th and final state to pass and ratify the ERA, immediately adding it to the Constitution.

Under the Equal Rights Amendment, the U.S. Constitution finally provides an explicit guarantee of protection against discrimination based on sex. Once these protections are recognized as part of the Constitution they cannot be changed as easily as other laws can. Additionally, the ERA provides clear judicial standards for deciding cases involving gender discrimination.

In the complaint, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that “under Article V, a proposed constitutional amendment automatically becomes ‘valid to all intents and purposes, as part of th[e] Constitution’ as soon as it is ‘ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states’. The complaint further argues that the U.S. Archivist does not have any discretionary authority over which amendments are added to the Constitution and which are not, and must therefore certify the amendment as part of the Constitution.

The complaint also explains why the Equal Rights Amendment remains valid for several reasons. As the Complaint states, “Article V does not empower Congress to dictate when a state may consider – much less ratify – a proposed amendment” and “nothing in Article V suggests – much less clearly requires – that States take action on proposed constitutional amendments within any particular amount of time”. The complaint also explains that “States have no power to rescind prior ratifications”.

“Equal rights are not contingent upon a person’s gender or sex, which is why I was proud to vote in support of the Equal Rights Amendment as an Illinois state senator, and I am committed to continuing to fight for the ERA to be recognized as the 28th Amendment,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said. “It is past time that we ensure women across the country have the constitutional equality to which they are entitled, and I look forward to my daughter — who aspires to study law — being able to one day, when sworn into the bar, take an oath to promise to support a constitution that recognizes her right to equality under the law.” ​

“Women have always been endowed with equal rights, even though our country has wrongly failed to recognize them,” said Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford. “These rights are entitled to their rightful place in the Constitution, and I am committed to ensuring they are permanently written into our nation’s history and its future. Advancing civil rights is one of my Administration’s main areas of focus. The gravity of this movement should not be underplayed—today we are advocating for women’s rights here in Nevada and all over the country, and we are taking an essential stride towards inclusivity.”

“This country is ready for Constitutional equality for women,” said Carol Jenkins, Co-President and CEO, ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality. “Our research shows that 94% of all Americans believe in it. We have worked tirelessly for nearly 100 years. This movement cannot be stopped. We need the equal rights amendment in the Constitution.”

Attorney General Herring has been a strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. Earlier this month, he issued a statement condemning the Trump Administration’s memo that opposed the passage of the ERA and committing to ensuring that the ERA is properly recognized as part of the Constitution when Virginia ratified the amendment.

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Wednesday Morning Crash Claims Two Souls

At approximately 4:24 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, January 29, the Virginia State Police Communications Center received a call of a two vehicle accident in the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 at the 25mm. Upon troopers arriving to the scene it was determined that a sedan and a tractor trailer had been involved in the accident and both driver and front seat passenger of the sedan were deceased.

Preliminary investigations reveal that a 2019 Mitsubishi Mirage was traveling in the right lane of Interstate 95 when it experienced possible mechanical problems. The driver stopped in the right lane of travel with no hazard light illuminated. While stopped in the lane of travel, a 2006 Volvo tractor trailer was traveling in the right lane and struck the Mitsuibishi in the rear, pushing the Mitsuibishi onto the shoulder. The tractor trailer lost control, slid off onto the shoulder and overturned. 

The driver of  the Mitsuibishi and front seat passenger both died upon impact. The third passenger, rear seat, was taken to the Medical College of Virginia, with non-life threatening injuries.  The driver of the tractor trailer suffered minor injuries. 

Notification has been made to family members. The driver is 57 year old Melanie Tapper of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, and the front seat passenger is a female minor.

Both driver and passengers were wearing their seatbelts at the time of the crash. Alcohol was not a contributing factor.
 

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Solar Jobs Training at SVCC

In just two weeks, you can train to be an Installation Technician in the Utility Solar Panel field.  The first offering of this training meets in Blackstone at Pickett Park weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning February 17.  

After completing the two weeks of classes, the program will set up job interviews with solar developers and solar construction companies for the students. There is an immediate need for solar workers in Virginia as many large projects are being constructed in the near future with well-paying jobs.

Offered through Southside Virginia Community College, the class teaches Solar System Installation, OSHA 10, CPR/First Aid and NCCER Basic Construction.  Funds are available to help pay for this training. For information, call Courtney Starke at 434-949-6614.

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Bill to allow physician-assisted suicide sparks discourse

By Andrew Ringle, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Opponents of assisted suicide held a press conference Wednesday to reject legislation allowing patients with terminal conditions to request a life-ending substance from a physician.

While supporters of the proposal say the choice to end one’s own life is a human right, speakers at the event called the practice unethical.

“Suicide is incredibly sad,” said Dr. Mary Lopez during the press event held at the Pocahontas Building. “As a nation, we do not want to see our people killing themselves, unless you’re one of those who’s so passionate we fight for bills to allow doctors and others to prescribe deadly drugs to their patients.”

Lopez is the executive director of the Independence Empowerment Center, a nonprofit dedicated to providing options for people with disabilities. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992, and she spoke with others in opposition to House Bill 1649. 

The bill, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, would allow adults with terminal conditions that will result in death within six months to request from a health care provider a self-administered, controlled substance for the purpose of ending the patient’s life. Such a request would need to be made twice orally by the patient, along with a statement signed by the patient and a witness.

Kristen Hanson, a community relations advocate for Patients’ Rights Action Fund, spoke first.. Her organization is a nonprofit which aims to “oppose efforts to make suicide a legal medical treatment option,” according to the group’s website.

She said her husband, J.J., lived three and a half years after doctors diagnosed him with terminal brain cancer. If assisted suicide had been legal at the time of J.J.’s diagnosis, Hanson said her husband could have accessed a life-ending substance “during his darkest days.”

“Thankfully, J.J. didn’t end his life,” Hanson said in her statement. “But if he had suicide pills with him, he said he might have taken them. And you can’t undo that. There’s no going back.” 

Hanson said allowing suicide as a medical treatment could subject families to government pressure and the decisions of insurance companies, and that the state should improve other health care options instead.

Dr. Tom Eppes, a 40-year family practitioner from Lynchburg, said pain medication and hospice care are good alternatives. He spoke on behalf of the Medical Society of Virginia, of which he is a former president. 

Eppes criticized the bill, saying assisted suicides are “impossible to study” and not always successful. He said it “stretches credulity” to ask that physicians and nurse practitioners, as the bill proposes, be able to make such a judgement.

“Predicting death is not easy,” Eppes said. “Six months to live would include untreated Type 1 diabetes.”

He also criticized a policy outlined in the bill that would prohibit death certificates for patients who receive the treatment from listing suicide or homicide as the cause of death, saying it would allow “false reporting.”

“Assisted suicide is like cut flowers,” Eppes said. “They look beautiful on the base, but they wither because they have no roots. Physicians need a code of ethics like the original one that was written 2,500 years ago that includes a promise not to purposely take the life of the patient.”

Kate Vasiloff attended the press conference as a volunteer for Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group dedicated to educating the public about end-of-life options.

Vasiloff said she “absolutely” believes the choice to take one’s own life is a human right. She referenced her father, who she said had Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which attacks motor neurons and cells that control muscles. What kept him up at night, she said, was how the disease was going to end.

ALS received national attention when the “ice bucket challenge” went viral in 2014. Vasiloff said that trend, which involved pouring ice on one’s self to promote awareness for the disease, didn’t show people the reality of ALS. 

“You either asphyxiate from not being able to swallow properly, you suffocate because your lungs stop working, or you starve to death because the feeding tube has to be removed.”

She agrees with the policies outlined in HB 1649 because the bill is backed by advocates in the medical community and because similar legislation has found success in Oregon and other states.

“I think we owe people who serve our country and our families and our communities a better option,” Vasiloff said. “If they want to have one sliver of control over a situation where they’ve been dealt the worst hand possible, I don’t think that it’s our businesses to stand in the way of that.”

Sara Stern said her husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and he wished to receive a life-ending treatment while in hospice care. But because his caretakers were against the idea, Stern said her husband opted to voluntarily stop eating and drinking.

Stern watched as her husband died of thirst over the course of two weeks. After this, she said she wanted to advocate for end-of-life options like that in the House proposal.

“My promise to him was to take up this cause,” Stern said, “so that other people would not have to elect that same route if that was their strong wish.”

HB 1649 is currently in the Courts of Justice Committee, which next meets Friday.

Kory did not respond to multiple requests for further comment on the proposal.

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Tethering bill adds new protections for animals kept outside

By Ada Romano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Animal rights advocates want lawmakers to advance legislation that expands on a tethering bill passed last year by the General Assembly. The new legislation would increase the minimum length of a tether and adds conditions that include temperature, severe weather and require the animal to be brought inside when the owner isn’t home.

Senate Bill 272, introduced by Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, would increase the required length of the tether from 10 feet or three times the length of the animal to 15 feet or four times the length of the animal. Under the bill, pets can’t be tied during a heat advisory or if a severe weather warning has been issued, including hurricane, tropical storm or tornado warnings. The bill outlaws tethering in temperatures 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower or 85 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and when an owner is not home. Last session, a bill expanded the law from a 3-foot tether to 10 feet. That bill, introduced by Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, originally carried the same language as Bell’s current bill, but it was amended by a Senate committee.

Robert Leinberger, animal control supervisor for Richmond Animal Care and Control, said that some parts of the bill may be difficult to enforce. Still, if the legislation gets passed, Leinberger said, it will make a difference because people will be forced to be more aware of the law. He said more people will call to report instances of animals being improperly tethered.

“For example if it’s inclement weather, when it’s really super cold or really super hot, then we do occasionally see more calls for service because of the animals left out,” Leinberger said.

Kate Riviello, a New York-based animal rights activist who also works in Virginia, supports that the bill outlaws outdoor tethering when the temperature is below 32 degrees. Virginia law currently requires that an animal must have access to water, but the water doesn’t make a difference if it freezes, she said.

Riviello also supports “Tommie’s Law,” legislation passed last year that made animal cruelty a felony in Virginia. The law is named after a pit bull that died after he was set on fire. Riviello said she is happy to see the changes Virginia is making to protect the rights of animals but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to continue in the right direction.

“With ‘Tommie’s law,’ I think it was really tremendous that they took that step,” Riviello said. The key also is to enforce animal rights’ laws, Riviello said, which isn’t always the case.

Leinberger said implementing animal rights’ legislation is important because it enables people to better care for their pets. Tethering is just one issue that needs to be addressed, he said.

The bill is awaiting action by the Senate’s Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

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Subcommittee advances bill allowing voters to choose multiple candidates

By Macy Pressley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill allowing Virginia voters to choose more than one candidate on the ballot narrowly advanced through subcommittee Monday.

House Bill 1103, introduced by Del. Sally Hudson, D- Charlottesville, would open a pilot program for ranked-choice voting in local elections, such as city council or school board contests.

 “Rank choice voting is a small change to ballots that makes a big difference for democracy,” Hudson said. “In a ranked-choice election, you don't just vote for one candidate, you get to rank them from most to least favorite.”

According to Hudson, after the votes are ranked, they are counted in a process similar to a traditional election. If one candidate wins more than half of the first choice votes, they win the election. If no candidate emerges as the majority winner in the first round, the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated and the losing candidate’s votes are transferred to the voters’ second choice. The elimination process continues until a candidate earns more than half of the votes.

Hudson said diverse groups of people want to run for office, but that can sometimes lead to overcrowding in elections and a winning candidate who does not have much support, but who was able to eke out a win. She thinks this bill is the answer to that problem.

“It makes sure that we can have a leader who represents a broad swath of the community, no matter how many candidates run,” Hudson said.
Ranked-choice voting is not new, at least 20 cities in the United States have adopted it. In 2018, Maine began using it for federal elections. Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, is the chief co-patron for the bill.

“We have found that in other places where this is practiced, it leads to more positive campaigns,” Hope said. “It means that candidates are working, so if they can't be a voters’ first choice, they can be their second choice, and not the negative campaigning that we've seen lately.”

Localities opt to use the voting method, and according to Hope, it would be up to them to fund it as well.

“We've worked that out, the locality will bear the cost, not the state,” he said.

While Hope does not believe ranked-choice voting will happen at a state level, he said Arlington residents are excited about this measure.

 “I know that there's also a bill floating around to do this statewide,” Hope said. “I thought if the rest of the state is not ready for that, I know Arlington certainly is.”

Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, is a Republican co-patron for HB 1103. He said he supports the legislation because it gives localities more freedom to govern.

 “I always believe that localities should have the option to run elections the way that they think are most efficient, and create the most involvement from the voters,” Davis said. “A lot of studies have shown that voters are more involved when there's more opportunity for the candidates, when there's a ranked election system.”

“So if there are localities out there that would like to try it in Virginia, they should be allowed to give it a shot,” he added.

Davis said that legislation had worked well in other districts and he signed on to encourage voter participation and make the electoral process better.

“I think any way that we can run elections that provide more information, more access to voters in manners that get them more engaged, the better off our our democratic process is,” he said.

HB 1103 reported out of subcommittee, 4-3. Delegates voting yes include: Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach; Mark Levine, D-Alexandria; Marcia Price, D-Newport News and Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax.

Delegates voting no include: Dawn M. Adams, D- Richmond; Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania and Chris Runion, R-Augusta.

The bill will now move to the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, which meets Friday.

Another bill that deals with ranked-choice voting proposed an open primary for all state-wide elections. A single ballot would list all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, and the four most popular candidates would continue to the general election. The vote on HB 360 was continued to 2021, and will not be heard this year in the General Assembly.

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Hundreds rally at Virginia Capitol for education reform

Crowd Picture

By Emma Gauthier, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Bells chiming through Capitol Square were drowned out Monday as hundreds of education advocates dressed in red chanted for lawmakers to “fund our future.” 

The Virginia Education Association and Virginia American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations organized the rally to restore school funding to pre-recession levels, increase teacher pay and reinstate collective bargaining. The VEA is made up of more than 40,000 education professionals working to improve public education in the commonwealth. Virginia AFL-CIO advocates for laws that protect current and retired workers. 

An estimated 600 to 800 people attended the rally, according to The Division of Capitol Police. Participants wore red in support of Red for Ed, a nationwide campaign advocating for a better education system. 

Speakers took to the podium, including VEA President Jim Livingston and Vice President James Fedderman.

“We do this for our children, they are the reason we are here,” Livingston said. “They are the reason we put our blood, sweat and tears into this profession that we call public education.”

 Stafford Public Schools Superintendent Scott Kinzer and Fairfax County School Board member Abrar Omeish also spoke along with teachers from multiple counties.

Richmond Public Schools announced last week that it would close for the rally after a third of teachers, almost 700, took a personal day to participate. 

“We are proud that so many of our educators will be turning out to advocate for RPS and all of Virginia’s public schools,” RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras stated in a press release.

The 2020 budget puts average RPS teacher salary projections back near the 2018 level of $51,530. Richmond teachers had a 22% salary bump to $63,161 in 2019. They are projected in 2020 to earn on average $51,907, an almost 18% decrease from the previous year. 

“Last year we demonstrated our power to tell the General Assembly that it is time, it is past time, to fund our future,” Livingston said.

A rally held last year called for higher teacher salaries and better school funding. Legislators announced that teachers would receive a 5% salary increase in the state budget.

The Virginia Department of Education stated that the budgeted average salary for teachers statewide in 2020 is $60,265; however, teachers in many counties and cities will be paid less than that, with the lowest average salary in Grayson County Public Schools at $39,567. Arlington County Public School teachers will have the highest average salary in the state at $81,129, with other Northern Virginia schools close behind. 

The VDE report showed that in 2017, Virginia ranked 32nd in the country with an average teacher salary of $51,994, compared to the national average of $60,477. 

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“We are often putting our own money into things and we need help,” said Amanda Reisner, kindergarten teacher at E.D. Redd Elementary School. “We have buildings that are falling apart, we don’t have enough supplies, we don’t have enough technology.”

The Commonwealth Institute, a Richmond-based organization that analyzes fiscal issues, reported that state funding per student has dropped 7.6% since 2009, from $6,225 to $5,749. In addition, public schools in Virginia since 2009 have lost over 2,000 support staff and over 40 counselors and librarians, while the number of students has increased by more than 52,000. 

HB 582, patroned by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, proposes the reinstatement of collective bargaining for public employees. According to the VEA, Virginia is one of three states that does not allow collective bargaining, the power to negotiate salaries and working conditions by a group of employees and their employers. 

The bill would also create the Public Employee Relations Board, which would determine appropriate methods of bargaining and hold elections for representatives to bargain on behalf of state and local government workers. 

“Collectively we bargain, divided we beg,” said AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays. “The Virginia AFL-CIO and the VEA, we stand hand in hand together.”

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Subcommittee Advances Bill Prohibiting LGBTQ Discrimination

By Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A General Assembly subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday that would prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit applications.

Lawmakers suggested expanding the focus of a bill introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, that would update the Virginia Fair Housing act to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing.

McQuinn’s bill was rolled into HB 1663, patroned by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax. Sickles’ bill, called the “Virginia Values Act,” includes additional protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians in employment, public spaces and credit transactions and also outlines a process for civil action in a discrimination case.

The Virginia Fair Housing Law currently prevents housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status and disability. Sickles’ bill would add “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity” or status as a veteran, to current law.

“As an African American woman, I have personally been subjected to discrimination all my life because of my race and my gender,” McQuinn said in an email interview with Capital News Service. “This will be another step toward dismantling systematic discrimination and creating fairness and equal opportunities for all citizens.”

Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the legislation is a step in the right direction and praised the delegates’ work.

“These protections are long overdue and an important step forward for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement.

Similar bills have been introduced by both chambers in previous sessions. Though praised by the ACLU and LGBTQ advocacy groups, such bills passed the Senate with support from some Republican senators, but never could advance out of Republican-led House subcommittees.

Capital News Service reached out to Republicans who voted against previous legislation to gauge their support for the current bill, but none responded.

Earlier this week the Senate passed a bill to allow a person who changed their sex to receive a new birth certificate. Introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, SB 657 aims to eliminate problems for the transgender community that occur when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition, such as renting a home or applying for a credit line.

The Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia is a nonprofit that works to end transgender homelessness by providing individuals with resources to find emergency shelter, food and referrals to housing programs. De Sube, chairperson of the organization, said any nondiscrimination bill will help the transgender community.

The resource is needed, Sube said, because many clients are kicked out of their homes after they tell family, loved ones or roommates that they are transgender. Then they run into discrimination while seeking housing.

“Many transgender people apply for housing, apartments, rental homes, etc., and they’re just denied because of their transgender identity,” Sube said.

Sickles said in a statement that discrimination has no place in Virginia.

“All Virginians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ people,” Sickles said.

Advocates expect HB 1663 to be heard in committee Tuesday. The companion bill sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, is expected to be heard in a Senate committee the following day.

"In Virginia, although a gay couple can get married on Sunday, the sad reality is they can get fired on Monday, evicted on Tuesday morning and denied a hotel room Tuesday night,” Ebbin said in a press release. “This isn’t a theoretical issue, discrimination is happening today.”

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Pain Management Class

Community Out-Reach Education

South Hill – VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital will be hosting a free class on managing pain.  This course is designed for those experiencing consistent pain for three months or longer and/or have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  If you are interested in learning more about how pain actually works and helpful strategies to better manage pain then you should attend.

This FREE class will be on Tuesday, February 18th at 11:00 a.m. in the Healthy Body Fitness Studio located inside the Thomas W. Leggett Center at 300 East Ferrell Street in South Hill.

Brandon Poen, PT, DPT, Cert DN, CF-L1, CMP will be the speaker for the program.  Brandon received his Bachelor’s Degree in Health Sciences and a Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy from Northern Illinois University. He also obtained a Minor in Spanish from Northern Illinois University. He has completed numerous continuing education courses within orthopedics and sports physical therapy.  He is Mulligan trained in treatment of extremity and spinal pain conditions, certified in LSVT-BIG for Parkinson’s Disease, has gone through special training in persistent pain as well as running and weightlifting movement assessment and rehabilitation.

This class is limited to only 30 participants.  For more information or to register to attend, please call (434) 447-0895.

 

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League of Women Voters push lawmakers for criminal justice reform

By Maia Stanley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Every Wednesday during the legislative session, the Virginia chapter of the League of Women Voters hosts a roundtable featuring legislators and speakers before members head to the State Capitol and lobby lawmakers. 

Deb Wake, president of the Virginia chapter, considers education a priority for the nonpartisan political organization and utilizes the member’s experience and knowledge to cultivate different perspectives.

“We’re always trying to learn and take advantage of the power of our membership,” Wake said. 

The group started with a discussion of gun control bills, citing the recent massive gun rights rally as a wake-up call to create stricter legislation.

“There's the right to gun ownership, but there's also the right to be free from intimidation by the people who show up with their firepower for the express purpose of intimidation,” Wake said.

The league was joined this week by the American Civil Liberties Union and the groups promoted criminal justice reform legislation. Both want lawmakers to eliminate the use of solitary confinement, calling it “inhumane.”

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring state prisons to report data on prisoners placed in solitary confinement, including information on their sex, ethnicity, race, age, mental health and medical status. Prisons also must report why and how long a prisoner has been placed in solitary confinement and the security level of the confinement. The ACLU feels that it is not enough. 

“Solitary confinement jeopardizes public safety, wastes taxpayer dollars, and can cause serious lifelong psychological harm and trauma,” the ACLU stated. 

Justin Patterson, a correctional officer at Sussex 1 State Prison in Sussex County, said the mental health effects of solitary confinement depends on the situation.

“I've seen offenders who have been in solitary confinement for years thriving in population now. I've seen people who have been in there for weeks and start to lose it,” Patterson said. “It's a case by case basis in my experience.”

House Bill 1284, introduced by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, would “prohibit the use of isolated confinement in state correctional facilities and juvenile correctional centers.” It is currently sitting in a subcommittee.

According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, short-term solitary confinement was reduced by 66% from January 2016 to June 2019 as a part of their Restrictive Housing Pilot Program. 

Patterson argues that solitary confinement is necessary within the prison system.

“We are dealing with very dangerous individuals in an environment which breeds violence,” Patterson said. “Solitary confinement isn't just used as a disciplinary procedure, it's also used for safety purposes.”

The ACLU also wants to change the definition of petit larceny, thefts less than $500, which they said is one of the lowest in the country. It wants to raise the threshold to $1,500, according to Ashna Khanna, legislative director. A House bill proposing that change died last year in a committee. 

“We're seeing this entire system of how people are becoming disenfranchised, how people are becoming incarcerated, and we know that it disproportionately is black or brown people,” Khanna said.

Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, and Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, proposed HB 101, which would increase the grand larceny minimum to $750 but a Courts of Justice subcommittee voted down the measure Friday. 

Gov. Ralph Northam has voiced support for current legislation to raise the grand larceny threshold to $1,000, doubling the threshold that it was raised to in the previous session.

The League of Women Voters and the ACLU also are working on reforming the pretrial system, which the ACLU said largely affects communities of color who may not be able to afford bail. Other topics discussed at the round table included no-excuse absentee voting and legalization of marijuana. The ACLU has voiced opposition to current legislation proposing the decriminalization of marijuana, in favor of legalization.

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VCU Health CMH Earns ACR Reaccreditation

(L to R)  Wendy Lenhart, Director of Radiology; Dr. Albert Mungo, Radiologist;  Tammy Richardson, Technologist;  Judy Newman, Supervisor; Allison Beagle, Technologist; Amanda Vick, Technologist; Nikki Evans, Technologist;  Miranda Curry, Technologist; and Todd Howell, Vice President of Professional Services.

(South Hill, VA) — VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital has been awarded a three-year term of reaccreditation in breast ultrasound and general ultrasound as the result of a recent review by the American College of Radiology (ACR). Ultrasound imaging is a noninvasive medical test that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of internal body parts to help physicians diagnose and better treat medical conditions. Ultrasound imaging of the breast produces a picture of the internal structures of the breast.

The ACR gold seal of accreditation represents the highest level of image quality and patient safety. It is awarded only to facilities meeting ACR Practice Parameters and Technical Standards after a peer-review evaluation by board-certified physicians and medical physicists who are experts in the field. Image quality, personnel qualifications, adequacy of facility equipment, quality control procedures and quality assurance programs are assessed. The findings are reported to the ACR Committee on Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report that can be used for continuous practice improvement.

The ACR, founded in 1924, is a professional medical society dedicated to serving patients and society by empowering radiology professionals to advance the practice, science and professions of radiological care. The College serves more than 37,000 diagnostic/interventional radiologists, radiation oncologists, nuclear medicine physicians, and medical physicists with programs focusing on the practice of medical imaging and radiation oncology and the delivery of comprehensive health care services.

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Virginia Senate Passes Bill for Schools to Provide Menstrual Products

By Maia Stanley, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday requiring public schools to include free menstrual products in their bathrooms. 

Senate Bill 232 applies to schools that educate fifth-to-12th graders. According to the Virginia Department of Education, this encompasses 132 school districts and almost over 630,000 female students

“I would like to see that the supplies are available, just like other supplies that we keep in the bathroom,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, the legislation’s chief patron.

An earlier version of the bill applied the stipulation to the aforementioned schools where at least 40% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch. 

Boysko introduced the bill to make it more convenient for students to access menstrual products and help them avoid accidents.

“This is a necessity and girls can't carry out their school day without it,” Boysko said. “Some girls are missing school time and end up going home and missing classes because of these kinds of challenges.”

According to Boysko, school budgets currently cover menstrual product expenses, but they are often kept in the nurse’s office, making it inconvenient for students. 

Karen Keys-Gamarra believes menstrual products need to be more accessible at Fairfax County Public Schools, where she is a school board member.

“We typically provided menstrual supplies in the nurse's office, which was, in my opinion, inappropriate in that we were treating this bodily function as something you need to see a nurse for,” Keys-Gamarra said. 

The district began a pilot program last fall providing free menstrual products in school bathrooms to improve access to menstrual products. 

Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Dignity Act sponsored by Boysko, which standardized taxes on hygiene products, such as pads, tampons and diapers to 2.5% statewide, in effort to make feminine hygiene products more affordable. The tax previously varied from 2.5% to 7%, depending on the part of the state.

“The essential nature of personal health care products is not up for debate and I commend the General Assembly for coming together to ensure these savings for Virginians,” Northam said at the time in a press release.

Boysko also introduced a bill this session to eliminate the tax on menstrual products. 

“Women don't have a choice about these products. They've been treated just like any other luxury product,” Boysko said. “There are a lot of people who feel like it's actually an unfair taxation on women.”

Menstrual products are not covered by government grocery assistance programs, and some families can't afford sanitary products.

“There are students here in Virginia, and all over the world, who are not able to get to school because they don’t have the products, they can’t afford them,” Boysko said during the committee meeting. 

Four states, California, Illinois, New York and New Hampshire, currently require schools to provide free menstrual products in women’s bathrooms. Boysko hopes to make Virginia the fifth state to have that requirement. 

Boysko believes the House will pass the bill. Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, sponsored a similar House bill.

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Virginia Lawmakers Break For Brunswick Stew

People line up for Brunswick stew

Legislative pages transport stew

By Conor Lobb, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The aroma of meat and vegetables beckoned state legislators Wednesday to a tent at the foot of the Capitol for Brunswick Stew Day.

Scores of legislative pages -- young aides who assist lawmakers -- wheeled carts laden with styrofoam containers of stew back toward the State Capitol for legislators who couldn’t get away.

“There’s no cooking supper when you come home with Brunswick stew,” said Del. Thomas C. Wright, R-Victoria. Wright was the legislative “chef” responsible for the official resolution designating the fourth Wednesday in January as Brunswick Stew Day. 

“The legislators love it. At first, they didn’t even know what Brunswick stew was,” Wright said. 

Brunswick stew is a mixture of beans, chicken, corn and other vegetables. In 1988 the Virginia General Assembly named Brunswick County the “birthplace” of Brunswick stew -- though the designation hasn’t gone unchallenged by Brunswick, Georgia. 

For 18 years, stew masters have brought their award-winning recipes to the Capitol. This year, the honor belongs to the Danieltown Stew Crew. The group won the 2019 World Champion Brunswick Stew Cook-off, held last fall at the Lawrenceville-Brunswick Municipal Airport.

Inside the steamy, white tent where the stew cooked, a three-man team stirred the stew pots, weighing 50 and 75 gallons, respectively. Clark Bennett, the Danieltown Stew Master, told Capitol News Service that his 75-gallon pot is over 100 years old.

“Some people call them cauldrons,” Bennett said.

Bennett was using two massive cast iron cauldrons to brew his version of the Brunswick tradition. The stew crew used a wooden paddle to constantly stir the hearty mixture.

“I do a figure eight. You don’t want it sticking to the pot,” said Kyle Gee, a member of the stew crew.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring said that Brunswick Stew Day is a great tradition in Brunswick County and rustic parts of the state. She also called it an opportunity to educate legislators about rural communities.

Brunswick County Administrator Charlette Woolridge said Brunswick Stew Day helps promote the county and reach legislators.

“It’s important that they understand issues that impact Brunswick County and rural communities,” Woolridge said, highlighting the importance of increasing rural broadband and stimulating economic development.

Del. Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Jarratt, represents Brunswick. She said broadband is imperative “to promote economic development and attract businesses.” 

Two duplicate bills were introduced this legislative session, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would grant a locality the authority to establish telecommunication services such as internet and broadband.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, asked for her bill to be removed and the other bill, introduced by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, failed to pass a subcommittee Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the bowls of steaming stew had no problem being passed around.

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US 460 in Sussex Sounty Closed Briefley Wednesday After Fatal Accident

Currently the Virginia State Police is conducting an investigation on a single vehicle accident that has resulted in a fatality in Sussex County.

The Communications center was notified at approximately 3:18 p.m. of a vehicle off the road way on Route 460, east of Cabin Point Road (Route 602). The driver of the vehicle died upon impact, and the female passenger was flown to the Medical College of Virginia with serious injuries.

The eastbound lanes of Route 460 will be shut down for an unknown amount of time as Troopers investigate the scene. VDOT has incorporated a detour onto Cabin Point Road for eastbound traffic.

Preliminary investigations reveal that a 2019 Toyota Rav4, driven by, 73 year old, Carl Bernard Thorne, when he lost control, ran off the road and struck a tree. Thorne, of the 3000 block of Middle Ridge Road, Hampshire, West Virginia, died upon impact. His female passenger was flown to VCU with serious injuries. Thorne was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. Alcohol was not a contributing factor. Family members have been notified.

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Bill Defining Milk Aims To Give Dairy Farmers Supermarket Advantage

By Will Gonzalez, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As people drink less dairy milk and some turn to plant-based alternatives such as oat, soy and almond milk, dairy farmers say they're struggling. That’s why Virginia is the latest state to advance legislation restricting the use of the word milk for marketing purposes.

Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, introduced House Bill 119, which defines milk as the lacteal secretion “obtained by the complete milking of a healthy hooved animal.” The bill prohibits plant-based milk alternative products from marketing their products as milk. Knight, a pig farmer, said agriculture is the largest private industry in Virginia, and the state government has to protect it. The bill reported out of the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee Wednesday, and heads to the House floor.

Virginia produced about 1.6 billion pounds of dairy milk in 2018, and the number of permits issued to dairy farmers is on the decline, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau.

“We’re losing about one dairy farm a week in the state of Virginia, and farmers are struggling hard,” Knight said. “I thought, ‘well, maybe these plant-based fluids are capitalizing on the good name of milk.’”

HB 119 was amended to say that 11 out of the following states need to pass similar legislation for the law to go into effect: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. A bill that passed the North Carolina legislature carried a similar stipulation.

Michael Robbins, a spokesperson from the Plant Based Foods Association, believes the bill is unnecessary, and the dairy industry has created a “bogeyman” in plant-based milk, instead of addressing the tangible issues the dairy industry faces.

“We view these bills as a solution in search of a problem,” Robbins said. “There is no consumer confusion on plant-based dairy alternatives versus dairy coming from a hooved animal. Consumers know exactly what they’re purchasing.”

Mississippi and Arkansas passed their own “truth in labeling” laws for plant-based meat alternatives such as tofu dogs and beyond burgers, which were challenged and overturned on the grounds that they violated the First Amendment. Robbins said if milk labeling bills become law, the plant-based food industry will fight them in court.

“Right now, because none of those bills are in effect, there’s no standing to challenge them in court, but step one would be to file an appropriate lawsuit,” Robbins said.

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Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

By Rodney Robinson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect the a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual's transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similair process is required to obtain a passport after change of sex, according to the State Department.

 Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state."

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with a bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Republican-backed gun bills fizzle on heels of massive rally

By Hannah Eason, Capital News Service

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.

One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.

House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.

Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.

“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can't protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.

Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.

“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, said. “If you are in a gun free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self defense.”

During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.

HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to not require a permit for a concealed handgun.

Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm. 

“But the reason I needed it isn't because I was going to do anything crazy. It's because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you're committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in a place of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.

Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill. 

Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.

“There are some synagogues that don't even want paid security, because they don't like firearms, they don't always want off-duty officers, they don't want to pay for security, and that's their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they're on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”

One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.

The subcommittee tabled HB 596, HB 373 and HB 1486, all in a 5-3 vote. The bills would have allowed guns in places of worship. 

HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace. 

Other bills tabled Tuesday include :

  • HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.

  • HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.

  • HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.

  • HB 1485 said that no locality shall adopt or enforce any workplace rule preventing an employee from carrying a concealed handgun if the employee has a valid concealed handgun permit.

  • HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.

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Bills to make voting easier advance in Virginia General Assembly

By Zach Armstrong, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday. Other legislation that would extend citizen access to voting -- part of the 11-point “Virginia 2020 plan” put forward by Gov. Northam -- has yet to clear committees.

Senate Bill 601 designates Election Day as a state holiday to give more citizens the chance to cast their ballot. The bill also would strike from current law Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the birthdays of Confederate generals. The legislation, introduced by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the Senate Tuesday.

“Even on Election Day, people have to go to work, people have to handle childcare, people have to go to class and often it can be hard to make it to the polls,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon. “It just makes sense that those folks should be given the opportunity to come out and vote in a time window that works for them.”

A bill that removes the need for an excuse to cast an absentee ballot passed the Senate Monday. SB 111, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote.

Several other bills that facilitate ease of absentee voting are SB 46, removing the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot provide a reason to receive the ballot; SB 455, extending the deadline when military and overseas absentee ballots can be received; SB 617, authorizing localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; and SB 859, making absentee voting easier for people who have been hospitalized.

Legislation in the House includes a bill that would also allow for no excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. In the Senate, a bill would pre-register teens 16 years old and older to vote and one bill in the House would reduce the period of time registration records must be closed before an election. All House bills are in an Elections subcommittee.

“Restrictive voting provisions almost always disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals because those are the groups that move more frequently, work multiple jobs and have less spare time,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The House and Senate also introduced bills that would remove requirements that voters present a photo ID when voting. Under the legislation, voters can show voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Neither bill has made it past committee.

Virginians currently must present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, to vote in person. According to a 2012 study by Project Vote, an organization that works to ensure all Americans can vote, approximately 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID. This is especially true of  lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Voters can provide their social security number and other information to get a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification Card, but some legislators said that service is unknown to many.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed SB 1256 into law mandating voters have a form of ID with a photograph. Virginia is one of the 18 states with such voting requirements, according to the National Conference of Legislature.

In 2016, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement after attorneys for the state Democratic Party challenged the law, arguing it had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority voters.

“People are fed up with our overly restrictive and racist voting policies, and the legislature is finally getting rid of some of the biggest roadblocks to progressive reform,” said Glass. “This has been a long time coming.”

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Virginia State Police investigate Fatal Brunswick County Accident

Accident occurred at approximately 12:27 a.m. this morning (Jan. 20) on Reedy Creek Road, east of Old Stage Road, Brunswick County. Tyrone Parham, 61 YOA, of the 25000 block of Sawmill Road, Carson, Virginia, was driving a 2006 Chevrolet HHR, when he ran off the road, struck a tree and overturned. Parham was transported to Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center in Emporiawhere he later died of his injuries. 

Parham was not wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident, and alcohol was a contributing factor.

Family members have been notified.

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‘The end is in sight’: ERA moves closer to ratification in Virginia

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By Zobia Nayyar, Capital News Service

ERA introduced

RICHMOND, Va. -- Resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment swiftly passed the General Assembly Wednesday. The House version passed 59-41 and the Senate bill cleared with a 28-12 vote. The next step will be for each resolution to pass the other chamber, sometime in February.

“As the House sponsor of the bill, it is an honor to lead the effort in this historic moment for women,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, in a released statement. “This vote demonstrates how greater female representation in government can significantly improve the lives of women across the country. We are here and will be heard.”

VAratifyERA, a campaign focused on the state’s ratification tweeted shortly after passage of the resolutions: “The end is in sight!”

First lady Pam Northam and daughter Aubrey Northam appeared at the House gallery to witness the moment. They joined a crowd of mostly women who cheered loudly when the measure passed.

The governor and Democratic legislators have championed the ERA as a legislative priority, promising this year the amendment wouldn’t die in the House as it has in past years.

“Today is an absolutely historic day for our Commonwealth and a major milestone in the fight for equality in this nation,” said Attorney General Mark Herring in a statement.  “Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution and Virginians should be proud that we will be the state that makes it happen.”

Though Virginia passage of the ERA is seen as a symbol of the new Democratic leadership, the effort may be too late. The Department of Justice announced last week that the ERA can no longer be ratified because its deadline expired decades ago.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel agreed that the deadline cannot be revived.

“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA, and because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the states,” Engel said.

Carroll Foy said in an interview last week that she believes the DOJ legal counsel’s opinion will not stop the ERA’s progress.

“I am more than confident that this is just another effort by people who want to stop progress and who don't believe in women's equality,” Carroll Foy said. “This is another one of their concerted efforts to deny us fundamental rights and equal protections. But the time has come; we are unrelenting. We will not be deterred, and we will have our full constitutional equality.”

The amendment seeks to guarantee equal rights in the U.S. Constitution regardless of sex. It passed Congress in 1972 but could not collect the three-fourths state support needed to ratify it. Efforts to ratify the ERA gained momentum in recent years when it passed in Nevada and Illinois.

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Five states --Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota -- have stated their intent to rescind their ratification, which ERA opponents say could prevent it from being added to the constitution, according to VAratifyERA. The ERA organization said that “Article V of the Constitution authorizes states to ratify amendments but does not give states the power to rescind their ratification.” The organization points out that the 14th, 15th and 19th amendments were added to the Constitution despite some state efforts to rescind ratification.

Herring said that he is “preparing to take any steps necessary to ensure that Virginia is recognized as the 38th ratifying state, that the will of Virginians is carried out, and that the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be.”

Female-led groups united at the General Assembly last week, urging representatives not to pass legislation ratifying the ERA. Groups such as The Family Foundation of Virginia, Eagle Forum, Students For Life of America and Concerned Women for America said they oppose ERA ratification because the amendment does not explicitly support women’s equality.

“The ERA does not put women in the Constitution,” said Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, a conservative and pro-family group. “It puts sex in the Constitution, and sex has a lot of different definitions.”

President of the Virginia chapter of the The Family Foundation Victoria Cobb believe women have already achieved equality.

“Today I am different than men and yet equal under the U.S. Constitution, and Virginia Constitution and Virginia laws,” Cobb said.

A statement released last week by the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency that certifies ratification of amendments, indicated that the agency will follow DOJ guiERA its about timedance that the deadline to ratify has passed "unless otherwise directed by a final court order."

Still, enthusiasm was palpable Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“The people of Virginia spoke last November, voting a record number of women into the House of Delegates and asking us to ratify the ERA,” said Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring in a released statement. “It is inspiring to see the amendment finally be considered, voted on, and passed – long-awaited recognition that women deserve.”

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Marijuana reform advocates divided between decriminalization or legalization

By Emma Gauthier, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Advocates dressed in black stood Wednesday at the base of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial to voice their support of marijuana legalization, repeating a variation of, “the time is now,” in each of their statements. 

Participants dressed in black “in order to stand in solidarity with the black and brown bodies that have been criminalized for decades here in the commonwealth,” said Chelsea Higgs Wise, co-founder of Marijuana Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit organization that aims to educate people on the history of cannabis criminalization in the U.S. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, along with Marijuana Justice and RISE for Youth, a campaign committed to promoting alternatives to youth incarceration, held a press conference promoting House Bill 1507, patroned by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William. 

“Lean on your legislators and make sure that they understand the effort to legalize marijuana is here and we’re bringing it to your front door because now is the time to fully have criminal justice reform in a meaningful way,” Carroll Foy said. 

The bill wants to exclude marijuana from a list of controlled substances that are illegal to possess. Under current law, less than half an ounce of marijuana is considered a class one misdemeanor.

A “first offender’s rule” is offered on first convictions in lieu of class one misdemeanor penalties. The rule includes probation, drug testing and community service. Subsequent convictions are punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.

Possession of more than half an ounce of marijuana is by law considered an intent to distribute and is charged as a felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison. 

Capital News Service reported that in 2018, the only offenses more common than marijuana possession were traffic-related, such as speeding or reckless driving. Marijuana arrests that year were at their highest level in at least 20 years, with nearly 29,000 arrests. 

“Arrests for marijuana possession are significantly higher for blacks and people of color, even though data has shown that there is no higher rate usage with people of color than there are with white people,” said Del. Joshua Cole, D-Stafford, chief co-patron of HB 1507. “But yet we are constantly the ones that are taking the brunt of this.” 

Virginia State Police arrested more white people (25,306) for drug violations in 2018 than African Americans (20,712). While African Americans make up 19% of Virginia’s population, they consisted of nearly half of all marijuana convictions in 2018, according to a Capital News Service analysis of court records. Carroll Foy said that African Americans are three times more likely than any other race to be stopped, arrested and convicted for possession of marijuana. 

Nine other bills have been introduced this session relating to the possession of marijuana. Some propose legalization, while others propose decriminalization. Although the terms are used interchangeably at times, the two carry dramatically different meanings. 

Bills similar to HB 1507, like HB 87 and HB 269, propose the legalization of marijuana, which would lift existing laws that prohibit possession of the substance. 

Senate Bill 2, patroned by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, HB 972, patroned by Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and several other bills propose the decriminalization of marijuana. These bills would impose a $50 fee for consuming or possessing marijuna. Ebbin’s bill would raise the threshold amount of marijuana subject to distribution or possession with intent to distribute from one-half ounce to one ounce. Herring’s bill would impose a $250 fee if the offender was consuming marijuana in public. However, the drug would remain illegal.

The ACLU said last week at a press conference that decriminalization and civil offenses still hold and create a number of issues — someone who wants to contest the citation would have to do so without a lawyer, and those who cannot afford to pay upfront would have to go to court, which usually includes more costs and fees. The group instead wants to see a full repeal of the prohibition on marijuana.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took part in a cannabis conference Sunday and voiced his support for marijuana reform. 

“It's clear time for cannabis reform has come,” Herring said. “Justice demands it, Virginians are demanding it, and I’m going to make sure we get it done.”

Ashna Khanna, legislative director of the ACLU of Virginia, said they have confirmed Herring’s support of HB 1507. The organization, along with 11 others, sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam requesting support of legislation to legalize marijuana and hope that he will be open to meeting with them soon.

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January 2020 An Update from Congressman McEachin

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were peaceful and blessed, filled with family and friends. 

Last month we ran a photo contest where I asked constituents to take pictures of our beautiful fourth congressional district. We received many entries, with a range of subjects, from beautiful scenes to stunning animal shots. I am thrilled to announce Ann Jacobson from Chesapeake was our grand prize winner with an amazing water scene. I certainly wanted to get out on the water after seeing it!

Second Place was Steven White of Suffolk, Third Place was Roan Tierney from Richmond and the People’s Choice Award went to Caleb Thompson, also of Richmond. I want to thank all the wonderful constituents who entered. I was so impressed with the quality and range of photographs. 

On a more serious note, next month is Black History Month and we need to make sure all our children are learning about diverse people and cultures that contribute to our community, our Commonwealth and our country. With that in mind, I am hosting a Black History Month essay contest.  The Contest is open to middle and high school students (grades 6-12) residing in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. Students should submit their completed essays to VA04.Projects@mail.house.gov. The deadline for submissions is February 6, 2020. Middle school students (grades 6-8) should submit an essay 350-500 words in length. High school students (grades 9-12) should submit an essay 500-750 words in length. Essays should answer the question, “What Black History Month Means to Me.” Winners will be notified individually and announced on social media in February, and I will enter the winning essays into the Congressional Record. 

I look forward to reading each of these essays. I am sure I will be inspired and will learn new things.

Please let my office know about any events in which we can participate and be helpful. The nature of the job is that I spend significant time in Washington, DC, but when possible, I want to be in the district, meeting and interacting with residents. Please request my attendance or invite a staff member by filling out this form: https://mceachin.house.gov/contact/request-appearance.

I am interested in and eager to hear your opinion on topics of the day. Please feel free to contact me at this link: https://mceachin.house.gov/contact/email. I promise I will get back to you, but please be patient. We receive hundreds of emails and calls on many days. I want to make sure I provide timely, informative answers.

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Truck Driving Training Classes Being Offered by SVCC in January

Coming in January to Southside Virginia Community College. Truck Driving Training will be offered at Pickett Park in Blackstone as well as South Boston. Train now for a great well-paying job. The class will begin on January 13, 2020 in Blackstone, and January 21, 2020 in South Boston. These classes will run for six weeks, Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. at each facility. 

SVCC's program is an excellent school turning out qualified drivers that are in high demand.  Pre-registration is required so contact the school in Blackstone at 434 292 3101, or the school in South Boston at 434-575-8388, or visit our website at www.southside.edu for more information.  There is assistance with tuition so call soon to register for this exciting program to put you on the road to success. 

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