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2018-1-10

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CApital News Service Returns for 2018

Now that the General Assembly is back in session, the VCU Capital News ServiceThe Capital News Service allows Emporia News readers to follow the highlights of the Virginia General Assembly.

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South. This year there are 28 Student Journalists and new advisors.

CNS operates as a three-credit course (formally listed as MASC 475) during spring semesters, when the General Assembly is in session. Each CNS student is assigned to serve one or more clients. Students must devote substantial time outside class to CNS — at least 10 hours a week. The students in MASC 475 meet twice a week to discuss and plan stories and work on reporting and writing skills.

During the fall semesters, the CNS system occasionally is used to distribute stories students do for other courses, such as MASC 404 (Specialized/Projects Reporting). Throughout the year, CNS can help newspaper editors find VCU students who can do freelance stories, internships and other assignments.

Wilma Wirt, who has since retired from the mass comm faculty, established CNS in 1994 for two reasons:

  • To give VCU’s journalism students an opportunity to actively cover and write about the Virginia General Assembly.
  • To give the state’s weekly, twice-weekly and thrice-weekly newspapers better access to the legislature — something Wirt deemed important in the everyday lives of all Virginians.

All stories sent by CNS will be published by Emporia News, but not all will be promoted to the front page. To read the stories that do not make the front page, click on the Capital News Service link in the top menu.

Incoming and Outgoing Governors Outline Priorities

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (CNS photo by Lia Tabackman)

By Lia Tabackman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As a priority for the legislative session that begins Wednesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Gov.-elect Ralph Northam are calling for universal background checks for gun sales.

“These measures are crucial for the safety of our communities,” McAuliffe said, citing a 51- percent increase in gun homicides in Virginia over the past five years.

Currently, only federally licensed firearms dealers must administer background checks. Under the proposed legislation, the background check requirement would be expanded to all dealers, including gun shows and private sales.

The Democrats held a joint press conference Tuesday to outline their priorities for the 2018 session of the General Assembly, in which Republicans have a narrow majority in both chambers.

Northam, who will be inaugurated as governor on Saturday, urged lawmakers to approve “no excuse” absentee voting. Under the proposed legislation, any registered voter could cast an absentee ballot, in-person, within 21 days of Election Day.

“Why would we make it more difficult for people to vote on Election Day?” McAuliffe asked. He called the proposal non-partisan and said it would simplify the voting process and decrease lines and waiting times on Election Day.

Northam and McAuliffe also advocated expanding access to Medicaid for 400,000 Virginians currently without health coverage. The two officials expressed support for language in the 2018-20 budget to provide Medicaid to Virginians who make too much to qualify under the program’s current income limits but can’t afford private health care.

During the 60-day legislative session, Northam also plans to pursue proposals to:

  • Ensure that campaign contribution funds donated to candidates and elected officials cannot be spent for personal use.
  • Raise the threshold for felony larceny from $200 to $1,000.
  • Implement a Borrower’s Bill of Rights and create a state ombudsman for student loans.
  • Have Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program to reduce carbon emissions. Virginia would be the first Southern state to join RGGI.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, called the RGGI proposal “historic.”

“This announcement is likely the boldest single legislative commitment ever made by a Southern governor in the fight to reduce global warming pollution,” Tidwell said. “It marks a new era for Virginia and the nation. Even as federal efforts tragically shrink on climate change, state efforts are heroically growing – and Ralph Northam is now proof of that.”

Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Plans

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Senate Democrats said Tuesday they are excited to work with Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and continue Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s progress in this year’s General Assembly session.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke of Hampton said Virginia generated more than 200,000 new jobs and has enjoyed a “thriving economy” under McAuliffe.

“Virginians want economic security,” Locke said. “We must keep trends moving in the right direction. It is incumbent upon us to ensure no Virginian is left behind.”

She spoke at a telephone press conference during which the caucus outlined its agenda for the 2018 legislative session, which begins Wednesday. The agenda’s theme is “building safe, secure communities.”

Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said the Democrats plan to continue to push to expand Medicaid, the health care program for low-income people funded by the federal and state governments.

Barker said that under Medicaid expansion, Virginia’s savings would outweigh the state’s share of the cost.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, emphasized the Democrats’ commitment to improving conditions for working women and families by fighting to close the gender pay gap and achieve paid family leave.

“Parents should never have to choose between caring for a sick child and earning a day’s wages,” Ebbin said. “Access to paid family leave is not only the right thing to do – it makes good business sense.”

Sens. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg highlighted issues like ensuring quality education and voting rights and decreasing the incarceration recidivism rate. Lucas emphasized the achievement gap for students of color and disabled students. The Democrats said they plan to fight for universal pre-K and 21st-century job training, giving more Virginia students the opportunity to succeed.

Dance said the Democrats will continue McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights to released inmates who served their sentences. She also mentioned implementing “no excuse” absentee voting, especially for the elderly.

“Every Virginian should have an opportunity to succeed, regardless of mistakes they have made in the past,” Dancesaid. “These people need to know their votes matter. Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.”

The senators also discussed plans to reform mental health and substance abuse treatment, citing long wait times. Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said Virginia must reform the system and ensure quality, affordable services for those who need help.

“We have to do these things this year, and I am confident we will,” Barker said.

New Immigrant Rights Legislation Aims to Protect Undocumented Virginians

IMG_3346

Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. (CNS photo by Adam Hamza)

 

By Caitlin Barbieri and Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights called on the General Assembly Tuesday to pass legislation to provide driver's licenses and in-state college tuition to certain undocumented immigrants

Coalition members and student supporters spoke at a news conference advocating for legislation that would improve the lives of undocumented immigrants. Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon, attended to show her support.

“While Virginia cannot create a path to citizenship for undocumented students, Virginia does have the power to create opportunities for them,” Boysco said. 

Boysco plans to propose legislation that will give undocumented immigrants access to a state driver’s license. Virginia resident Gustavo Angels spoke at the meeting to express his support for such a bill.

“Drivers will be more likely to stay at the scene of an accident, aid police or other emergency workers and exchange insurance information with other drivers,” he said. “It would allow many community members to feel more comfortable reporting a crime or involving the police when they need help.”

Jung Bin Cho is a recent Virginia Tech graduate and registered as an undocumented immigrant through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012. Because of DACA, he was able to work and go to school as an undocumented immigrant. Cho said his own access to a driver's license allowed him greater access to jobs. 

“It’s important [to have a driver's license] in Virginia because, I think, you need that to be successful,” Cho said.

Boysco has proposed HB 343, which expands eligibility for in-state tuition to students who have applied for legal residence or intend to apply.

“All Virginians benefit when each of our young people fulfill their greatest potential,” Boysko said.

“There are thousands of unfilled jobs in Virginia that require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. We need an educated workforce to continue to build a new Virginia economy. These students are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers, and family. I believe in building a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”

When asked about the obstacles to the bill, Boysko said, “Some members of the House of Delegates believe that undocumented immigrants should not benefit from in-state tuition.  Clearly there are those at the federal level of government who hold those views.

“I hope that in Virginia we can do better.  The economic benefits of an educated workforce and the moral imperative of treating all of our young people fairly is the right choice for Virginia.”

Women’s Equality Coalition Releases Legislative Agenda

By Sarah Danial and Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Women’s Equality Coalition is supporting  a legislative agenda focusing on issues  ranging from Medicaid expansion and birth control to redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting.

Coalition representatives from Progress Virginia, Community Mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and their supporters called on lawmakers to advance rights and programs for women and families. 

Coalition members said they are focusing on three umbrella issues in legislation they hoped to see filed and considered this session -- women’s health, economic justice and democratic participation.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, no-cost birth control and ensuring a right to abortion, the group supports workplace and economic reforms. It backs legislation to raise  the minimum wage in Virginia to $15 an hour, establish pay equity  and combat employment discrimination. The group additionally wants improvements in paid family and medical leave.

The coalition also supports the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At its news conference Monday, the group also called for non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting.

‘“Every citizen has the right to make their voice heard, but in too many parts of Virginia, women don’t have a say in choosing their representatives because the election outcome has already been rigged,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.

 “Non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting would allow women to more fully participate in our democracy and give responsible Virginians across the Commonwealth the ability to have their voice heard, even if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.”

Joyce Barnes,  a home health care worker and a member of the Service Employees International Union, spoke in support of the coalition.

“I work for minimum wage, and I currently have two jobs. I don’t get home until 10 p.m.and I miss time with my family and friends. I never get a vacation or time off  because I have to put food on my table and pay my rent,” she said. “We need to pass these bills so that women like me can live like everyone else and get the compensation they deserve.”

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, noted that Virginia is one  of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has said that Medicaid expansion will be a priority in the coming legislative session.

Keene said legislation that would confirm abortion as a fundamental right and prioritize birth control said it is “a common sense bill which makes Virginia lives better.”

Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Virginia General Assembly. A spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus declined to comment on the coalition’s goals. Requests for comment to the Family Foundation, which seeks to “empower families in Virginia by applying a biblical worldview” to public policy. were not returned.

More information about the Women’s Equality Coalition and its legislative agenda is at vawomensequalitycoalition.org.

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