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2018 Capital News Service

 

Career Opportunity

Custodian

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services seeks an energetic, self-motivated individual with an attention to detail to fill the position of Custodian.  The Custodian cleans and maintains all residential units, school buildings, offices and recreational facilities.  The custodian cleans all bathroom facilities and ensures that they are properly furnished with appropriate hygiene items.  The custodian sweeps, vacuums, dusts, mops, cleans, and buffs all areas as applicable.

Custodial experience in a formal business setting is preferred.

Compensation package includes 401(k) retirement plan & employer sponsored health, dental, vision & life insurance.  JfBHS is a Drug Free Workplace.  Successful applicants must pass a pre-employment drug screen and criminal background screening.  EOE.  Positions open until filled.

E-mail or fax cover letter and resume to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Attn: Chris Thompson
Job # 2018-7
E-mail:careers@jacksonfeild.org
Fax:  (434) 634-6237

CAREER OPPORTUNITY

 LICENSED MENTAL HEALTH CLINICIAN

LCSW or LPC

(In-Patient)

Psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescent girls and boys located 15 minutes north of Emporia, Virginia seeks experienced licensed clinician (LCSW or LPC) to provide therapy and case management services on an inpatient basis.  Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling experience and certification preferred.  Population served includes adolescent girls and boys with complex developmental trauma, co-occurring mental illness, and substance abuse issues.  Position provides individual, group, and family therapy within a psychiatric residential setting. 

Virginia license is required.  Two years’ formal experience counseling adolescents is required.  Residential experience is preferred. 

Seeking experienced candidates.  Highly competitive pay & benefits including employer sponsored Health, Dental, Vision & Life Insurance and employer matching 401(k) retirement plan.

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services is an equal opportunity employer and drug free work place.  Post offer criminal background and drug screenings required.  Position open until filled.

Submit resume and cover letter to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Job# 2018-4
Attn: Chris Thompson
E-mail: careers@jacksonfeild.org
Fax: (434) 634-6237


Career Opportunity

Residential Counselors

(Youth Service Workers)

If you are interested in making a positive impact on the lives of Virginia’s youth, then we want you to become part of our Team!  Rural Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility located in Jarratt, Virginia seeks positive role models to work directly with adolescent boys and girls in a psychiatric residential treatment program.  The Youth Service Worker is responsible for role-modeling healthy behavior, teaching life skills, administering a trauma informed behavioral support program, and leading youth in and participating in social, cultural, and recreational activities.  This position supervises youth in the residential unit and on off-campus activities and appointments.

Must possess the availability to work weekends, evenings, holidays, and nights.  Supreme flexibility required.  Seeking candidates with Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology, Sociology or other Human Services field.   Experience will be considered in lieu of a degree.

Compensation package includes 401(k) retirement plan & employer sponsored health, dental, vision & life insurance.  JBHS is a Drug Free Workplace.  Successful applicants must pass a pre-employment drug screen and criminal background screening.  EOE.  Positions open until filled.

E-mail cover letter and resume to:

Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services
Job# 2018-6
Attn: Chris Thompson
E-mail: careers@jacksonfeild.org


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.

From Gun Shows to Capitol Debates, Firearms Are in the Crosshairs

Gun Culture in Virginia

By Kevin Walter Johnson, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Forty days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a day after nationwide rallies organized by student advocates against gun violence, Virginia’s ninth gun show of the year was held at Richmond Raceway. Standing beneath the Pepsi sign in the food court of the exhibition hall, two men with rifles on their backs discussed current events.

“I’ve been deliberately avoiding the news. They’re lying just to attack us,” one man said. The other replied, “There’ll be a war coming if they keep this up; they’re asking for it.”

That conversation reflected the tone of many people attending the Showmasters Gun Show on March 25. Through the sets of double doors and past the state’s most well-defended hot dog stand, the tables of red, white, blue and camouflage stretched to the back of the room. The expo center held more than 750 vendors, according to the event organizers, selling tactical gear, military history and especially firearms. Attendees of all ages shuffled between the collapsible tables that displayed guns of all calibers. These veterans, hunters and gun enthusiasts offered a glimpse of the modern culture surrounding guns in Virginia.

*****

To understand part of the gun culture in Virginia, consider the results of the 2017 gubernatorial election.

Republican candidate Ed Gillespie ran a campaign emphasizing the importance of the Second Amendment, a message reinforced through donations and advertisements from the National Rifle Association.

To counter this, Democratic nominee Ralph Northam supported gun control legislation and spoke out against gun violence after the Las Vegas shooting in October. In the general election, Northam beat Gillespie 54 percent to 45 percent.

After the election, the debate shifted to the Virginia Capitol, the most prominent battleground for gun-related legislation. Dozens of firearm-related bills were introduced in the House of Delegates and state Senate.

Democrats pushed for gun control bills including efforts to establish universal background checks for gun buying and to ban bump stocks and similar gun modifications. Republicans advocated bills to expand gun rights, including a measure to repeal the prohibition on carrying firearms or other dangerous weapons into a place of worship.       

In the end, almost all of the bills failed in what Gov. Northam characterized as a bipartisan legislative session.

On March 2, the friction over guns and gun legislation boiled over in the House and led to a heated speech from Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper. He admonished the Democratic delegates for their criticism of the Republican Party in the wake of the school shooting, furthering the divide between the two parties on the issue. The Democratic response was similarly impassioned, with many representatives calling for an apology from Freitas.

*****

At the March 25 gun show, another symbol of Virginia’s gun culture stood 30 feet from the entryway, behind a table and handing out stickers that read “Guns Save Lives.”

That table, manned by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, was neatly set with pamphlets and flyers carrying the group’s information. The VCDL spokesman at the gun show, who asked not to be identified, described the group as a “grassroots gun rights organization protecting Virginia citizens’ right to the Second Amendment.” The group has received attention from the news media since its founding in 1994 for attacking many Democratic state officials for their positions on gun control.

“We’re here to provide information and a sense of representation for the gun owners of Virginia,” said the spokesman. “While we lobby through grassroots methods, we are totally bipartisan.”

The group’s website proclaims its philosophy to “go on the offensive.” Information on membership and events are placed between articles decrying the “Dangers of Universal Background Checks” and alleging a media bias against firearms.

*****

While Virginia gun culture is most exposed in the public setting of a gun show, a more hyperactive and radical portion of gun enthusiasts live in anonymity online.

On vaguntrader.com, internet servers provide a home base for more than the buying, selling and trading of guns. The online forum plays host to hundreds of topic boards, organizing site visitors into categories ranging from posts about recent Virginia gun legislation to members’ recent fishing trips to blatant political statements.

In a forum post titled “WARNING!!! Our Governor has us in his sights,” anonymous users attack Democratic legislators and officials both in state and national politics for their efforts to enact gun control measures.

When messaged for a comment on these and similar posts, no site moderators responded. The site’s thousands of members create a web of gun owners in Virginia, hidden in internet anonymity and holding an important role in Virginia’s gun culture.

*****

The NRA’s registration table was the first and last thing visitors saw at the Richmond gun show, placed squarely in front of the entrance. For groups like the NRA and the VCDL, visibility plays a crucial role in their establishment of modern gun conventions in Virginia. These groups act as the face of gun culture in the state, while sites like vaguntrader.comcontribute a buried forum for the spread of far more than weapons.

In the parking lot outside the exhibition hall, the sound of conservative radio host Alex Jones’ show “Infowars” projected from the open door of a Dodge pickup, an older man in the driver’s seat with his rifle next to him. When approached, he refused to speak about the event or his personal views on the culture of guns in the state. He shut his door and turned up the volume.

“These are dangerous times for gun owners,” the voice on the radio yelled. “Be prepared to defend yourself and your rights at any cost.”

Virginia Schools Participate in National School Walk-out - a CNS Social Media Story

Monument Reflects ‘Abiding Admiration’ for Native People

INDIAN MEMORIAL

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Indian Commemorative Commission welcomed leaders of Native American tribes at the state Capitol for a ceremony to dedicate “Mantle,” a monument honoring Virginia’s first inhabitants.

Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting celebrated the culture, contributions and significance of Native Americans. Many of the attendees dressed in traditional Indian garments, and each speaker passed to the next an eagle’s feather conveying strength, courage and wisdom.

“It’s apt, I think, that we gather here on Capitol Square – in many ways the very heart of our commonwealth’s diverse, vibrant and engaging civic life – to show our respect, to show our gratitude and to show our abiding admiration for native peoples who have lived in this land for thousands of years,” said Paul Nardo, clerk of the House of Delegates and a member of the commission.

Members of the community joined in celebrating the completion of “Mantle,” for which ground was broken last summer.

“Virginia Indian history goes back thousands of years before those settlers stepped ashore,” Northam said. “For the first time, we will recognize the courage and resilience of Virginia Indians on the same sacred ground where we write the history of tomorrow.”

The governor said the monument was a “long-overdue acknowledgment.”

“My hope is that progress, and the completion of this monument, will begin our journey toward healing,” Northam said. “We also celebrate the accomplishments of future generations who trace their ancestors to Virginia’s native tribes.”

At the ceremony, Frances Broaddus-Crutchfield, a commission member, read a poem she had written, also titled “Mantle.” During the reading, she played an Indian drum to symbolize “the heartbeat of the first Americans.”

The poem described the symbolism of the origin, structure and design of the monument:

Mantle is a chief’s cloak

A pathway, water

A seat for the weary

Strong from the remembrance of the rivers and the people

Strong from the beginning of time, unto eternity

A tribute to the first Americans

The monument was created by Alan Michelson, an installation artist and member of the Mohawk Nation. He described the public art as “a collaborative medium with many moving parts and players bringing their skills and experience to bear.”

“I was fortunate to work with a stellar design team,” Michelson said. “A concept is only as good as its design, and a design only as its implementation.”

Michelson traced his creative journey that led to the creation of “Mantle” as well as the many meanings its name may represent.

The monument has a spiral shape surrounding an infinity pool that lists the rivers in Virginia with Native American names. The name “Mantle” comes from the deerskin cloak reportedly worn by the Native American chief Powhatan.

“I wanted my design to embody not only the landscape past and present but the sacred harmonies underpinning and uniting all life here on Turtle Island,” Michelson said. “In contemplating a title for it, the word mantle seemed to fit.” He said it is a reference to:

  • Geology – the mostly solid layer of the earth between the crust and core.
  • Mollusk anatomy – the layer that forms, maintains and repairs the shell.
  • Leadership – the responsibilities and duties passed from one person to another.

Ken Adams, chief emeritus of Virginia’s Upper Mattaponi tribe, concluded the ceremony by leading a prayer to God and blessing the monument.

“As we celebrate you and celebrate the legacy of Native Americans,” Adams said, “as we place this memorial in your honor on these grounds, we cannot ever thank you enough for bringing us out of the dark ages that we experienced not so long ago.”

After Rally, House OKs Budget Expanding Medicaid


Delegates Mark Levine and Wendy Gooditis pose for a photo with Medicaid expansion supporters on Capitol Hill (Photo credit: George Copeland Jr.)

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates passed a state budget that expands Medicaid in Virginia after advocates for the measure held a rally outside the Capitol.

Meeting in special session, the House voted 67-33 in favor of a budget for the 2018-2020 biennium that provides Medicaid coverage to more low-income Virginians. The legislation now moves to the Senate, which during the regular legislative session opposed Medicaid expansion.

Nineteen Republicans joined 48 Democratic delegates in voting for the House version of the budget.

“Our budget expands health care to 400,000 uninsured Virginians, and it increases funding for our schools, creates jobs and gives raises to teachers and law enforcement,” Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville, the House Democratic leader, and Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a joint statement.

“We are hopeful that our Republican colleagues in the Senate have seen the light and have heard the chorus of voices in support of expansion.”

House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican from Colonial Heights, expressed optimism that delegates and senators can reach an agreement on the budget.

Cox said the House passed “a strong, structurally-balanced two-year state budget that I am confident can serve as the foundation for a bipartisan, bicameral compromise.”

“Virginia has seen extended budget negotiations before, but what sets us apart from Washington is our willingness to work efficiently and directly to adopt a balanced budget before the current fiscal year ends” on June 30, Cox said.

The House vote came after legislators and citizens from across the commonwealth gathered Tuesday afternoon on the Capitol grounds.

Medicaid expansion advocates from Caroline County, Norfolk, Arlington and Charlottesville were joined by Democratic Dels. Mark Levine of Alexandria, Wendy Gooditis of Clarke County and Alfonso Lopez of Arlington.

“I really think our chamber will do what it needs to do, and I have to say, I think some Senate Republicans are coming around,” Levine said.

During the regular session, the House voted 68-32 in favor of a budget that included Medicaid expansion – a priority for Democrats. Expansion would include a Republican-proposed work requirement for those seeking Medicaid coverage.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has expressed his displeasure with the work requirement. (One Democratic delegate, Sam Rasoul of Roanoke, voted against the House budget on Tuesday because of the work requirement.) President Donald Trump signed an executive order earlier this week mandating a similar requirement for food stamp recipients.

Gooditis, who was elected last fall, said her political career was driven in part by her struggle to obtain Medicaid coverage to assist her late brother with post-traumatic stress disorder. She credited the “all-around caregivers” she met during these years for both her election victory and the high spirits she felt going into the special session.

“Keep making noise. It’s how I got here, and it’s how we’ll get it done,” Gooditis said.

Some at the rally are already looking ahead to what policies could follow the proposed Medicaid expansion. They expressed enthusiasm for a single-payer health care system, or “Medicare for All.” Levine said he supports such a system.

“People need to know that these are real people’s lives,” Levine said. “They need to know this isn’t some theoretical question; this is a question of whether people get health care or not.”

Legislators at the rally were critical of the current state of health care coverage in Virginia. While Levine praised the efforts of Doctors Without Borders in providing services in Southwest Virginia and the Northern Neck, he was nonetheless “ashamed” that residents there must rely on an international group that normally serves developing countries.

Lopez discussed the good financial fortune his family had when their newborn baby was delivered prematurely last year, a comfort he stressed wasn’t shared by everyone in his House district. Lopez said the 49th District, which includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties, ranks as “one of the most educated” in the U.S. and yet has the “fourth-highest number of people who could benefit” from Medicaid expansion.

“Think about the family that has a baby born prematurely,” Lopez said. “Think about the family that’s struck down by a horrible disease or in a horrific accident. Health care could be devastating for their finances.”

“We’re going to get this done,” Lopez said. “We have to get this done.”

More Greyhounds May Need Homes if Florida Bans Racing

 

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. — Greyhound rescue organizations in Virginia and elsewhere may see an influx of dogs needing adoption if Florida decides to ban greyhound racing.

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission is considering putting such a ban on a statewide ballot in November. Florida has 12 greyhound racing tracks.

If voters approve the constitutional amendment, Florida would “phase out the racing over the next several years,” said Mark Lane, president of James River Greyhounds, a nonprofit dog-adoption organization, and Greyt Love Retirement, a foster shelter for retired greyhounds awaiting adoption.

Lane said the constitutional amendment being considered in Florida doesn’t address the future of retired racers and “finding a home for the vast number of racing greyhounds that would be without a career.”

Early Life and Racing

Kristen Avent, foster coordinator for James River Greyhounds, said the race dogs are not inhumanely taken from their families to immediately start training.

“Basically, from birth, they’re with their littermates and their mama,” Avent said. “Then, when they go to their kennels, they have all the dogs with them and they have the trainers there.”

James River Greyhounds has formed relationships with racetracks in Alabama and Florida. The organization arranges foster and adoptive homes when racing greyhounds from those tracks are retired.

“We’ve been down to the racetrack facilities in Birmingham, Alabama, and Daytona, Florida. The dogs are well taken care of,” Avent said. “The people at the track absolutely love them, they have dog treats for them and play with them — that sort of thing.”

Florida state Sen. Tom Lee, a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, said many racing greyhounds “live in inhumane conditions” and face mistreatment. However, Avent said the dogs:

● Are let out into the yard at least four times per day

● Practice racing around the track

● Sometimes get to go on car rides around the facilities

● Eat well

● Have constant company

Life After Racing

Avent said greyhounds usually have a smooth transition after their racing days.

“When you get them off the tracks when they retire, they’re sweet and easy to bring into a home because they’re already used to being handled by people,” Avent said.

Greyhounds are made available for adoption as early as 21 months old. But ultimately, the determinant is their racing ability, or lack thereof.

“When you bring them into a house, you just have to teach them, sometimes, how to use steps,” Avent said. “Then they just have to learn about furniture and things like that. But they learn very quickly, and they’re extremely loving. They love to be with you.”

Why Greyhounds?

“When deciding what type of dog that I wanted to adopt, I came across the retired racing greyhound breed and found them to be extremely laid-back, awesome personality and a very regal breed overall,” Lane said. “Once I adopted my first, the rest has been history, and I don’t regret it at all.”

Avent said the dogs’ sweet disposition and gentle nature won her over.

“They’re very affectionate, are eager to go anywhere you want to go — they want to be with you,” she said.

Lane said among his favorite greyhound mannerisms and attributes are:

● The greyhound roo, a sound they make that is a mix of barks, grunts and whines

● Their teeth chattering

● Their relaxed demeanor. Lane said a greyhound is “a 45-mph couch potato” that sleeps for most of the day.

Greyhound Adoption

“The importance of greyhound adoption is that once these athletes are finished their careers, they make awesome pets,” Lane said. “Adoption groups all over the U.S. and Canada fill the need to find appropriate retirement homes for these wonderful retired racing greyhounds.”

Lane started Greyt Love Retirement for two main reasons.

“The first was that I wanted to build a facility to be able to bring more retired racing greyhounds to the Richmond area to continue to educate about, advocate for and adopt out the retired racing greyhound,” he said. “The second was a realization that some potential applicants wanted to touch, feel and connect with their new family member, and JRG (James River Greyhounds) could not facilitate that request without having a foster shelter with potential available hounds.”

Besides the two groups headed by Lane, there is an organization called Around Town Hounds, which holds monthly walks and other events for members of the Richmond greyhound community.

“I have found that once you adopt a greyhound, you are now involved with a tighter knit community of dog owners,” Lane said. “As adopters, we rely on each other for dog sitting, being a knowledge bank of questions and answers, playdates and general camaraderie.”

Legislators, Advocates Show Support for Medicaid Expansion

Panel Discusses Solutions to ‘Bipartisan Problem’ of Gerrymandering

By Zach Joachim, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Leading redistricting reform advocates and Virginia Commonwealth University students explored ways to end gerrymandering at a panel discussion hosted by the VCU Political Science Department.

“Redistricting in Virginia: A Bipartisan Problem” brought together students and experts to discuss the practice in which legislators draw political districts with partisan intent. Panelists expressed optimism regarding the prospects of redistricting reform in Virginia and around the country.

Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, the commonwealth’s leading redistricting reform group, said the current process for redrawing legislative districts lacks transparency.

“It’s like sausage making, but worse, as to how they get these districts. Some of the lines are just abstract works of art that should be in the ICA,” Cannon said, referring to VCU’s new Institute for Contemporary Art.

Dr. John Aughenbaugh, a professor in the VCU Political Science Department, said the U.S. Constitution is not specific about redistricting, and that is the root cause of gerrymandering. The Constitution’s “time, place and manner clause,” Aughenbaugh said, gives states the power to determine election logistics. The panelists agreed that this is the foundational cause of traditional partisan redistricting practices commonly referred to as gerrymandering.

But Cannon argued the constitutional ambiguity can be employed to end the same practice it fostered.

“What works for redistricting in Iowa doesn’t work in California and might not work in Ohio. We can learn from all of them to improve redistricting in Virginia,” Cannon said. He said the Constitution “gives us the laboratory of democracy the states are supposed to be.”

This state-by-state approach to tackling gerrymandering has prompted a national climate in which states are looking to the courts for answers. Pending cases before the U.S. Supreme Court could mandate anti-gerrymandering legislation in states such as Colorado. Cannon said cases such as Bethune-Hill in Virginia, which alleges district lines were drawn based on racial demographics, could come down “any day now” and expedite the process.

Participants in Thursday’s panel discussed possible solutions to gerrymandering, such as having an independent commission draw political boundaries. But Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, said the solutions many reform advocates seek may simply not exist.

“This is complicated, and there is no perfect answer, or else we’d already be there,” Dunnavant said. “If you get voices in the room so that there’s transparency and accountability, that’s the best we can do.”

The panelists urged redistricting reform advocates to conceptualize solutions as approaches and principles in drawing districts, rather than logistical absolutes. Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, emphasized trust and transparency as foundational principles for reforming the redistricting process.

“Trust among the people we represent is extremely important,” Aird said. “Right now they don’t trust that the process includes things like transparency, or the removal of the ‘sausage making.’”

In addition to a collective insistence that a principled approach is the answer, Aird and the other panelists considered the establishment of independent commissions as a viable end goal for redistricting advocates to look toward.

“If moving to an independent structure actually builds that trust among the people we represent, it seems like that would be the thing to do,” Aird said.

The panelists went on to caution those in attendance about setting too much store in the idea of independence and nonpartisanship in the redistricting process. In an inherently political process, there will always be bias, they said.

“You’re not going to get rid of politics. We’re deciding who gets to vote in what jurisdiction,” Aughenbaugh said. “That’s a fundamental element of almost any definition of democratic politics – who gets to hold whom accountable.”

The panelists agreed that any hopes for an absolute solution would be idealistic. Rather, they emphasized the need for institutional accountability and transparency between voters and their representatives in a process long devoid of such principles.

“You want the rules to reflect our communities,” Cannon said. “Some will be blue, some red, some a shade of purple. But what’s important is that the communities are making the decisions.”

Dunnavant added, “There will never be a redistricting map that does not get contested. And so the conversation is a little unrealistic to think we can be

​​

proscriptive enough in law to create something that everyone can agree on.”

Nonprofit Helps Virginia Maintain Lowest Recidivism Rate

By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Over the past 14 years, Richard Walker went from dodging incarceration to running a volunteer organization aimed at helping other ex-offenders stay clean and out of prison. The efforts of groups like his are one reason Virginia has the nation’s lowest recidivism — or reoffense — rate for former inmates, state officials say.

The story of Bridging the Gap in Virginia began more than a decade ago.

“I had a substance abuse problem back then; this was in 2004,” Walker said. “I was a fugitive of justice from Henrico County. They arrested me at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’m hitting golf balls into a quarry in Prince George County after being on a two-day crack binge.”

After making bail at Riverside Regional Jail, Walker absconded to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he was arrested for writing fraudulent checks.

Walker served time at a Virginia Department of Corrections camp in Halifax County. After re-entering society, he found that his criminal record kept him from landing jobs offered through the Richmond Career Advancement Center. Ultimately, he found work selling cars. 

"That was short-lived because I made good money and I hadn’t dealt with my drug problem,” Walker said. “I ended up going into treatment in 2006, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Within three years, Walker created a job for himself.

“We started in 2009 as a direct result of my incarceration,” Walker said. “I started Bridging the Gap in Virginia because I knew there were people with less experience, less credentials than I had, that were having a challenge in Virginia. When I found out the legislation and the laws in Virginia, it just motivated me to make changes.”

Charlotte Gomer, the public information officer for Attorney General Mark Herring, said re-entry programs like Walker’s are valuable resources for ex-offenders.

“Re-entry services have been proven to reduce crime, strengthen communities and ... can reduce violent reoffending by as much as 83 percent,” Gomer said. “The attorney general has made it a real priority to support re-entry, which is why he hired Virginia’s first full-time local jail re-entry coordinator to start and strengthen programs around the commonwealth.”

The efforts of Herring’s office and groups like Bridging the Gap in Virginia seem to be working. For the past two years, Virginia’s re-incarceration rate has been the lowest in the country among states for which data was available,according to the governor’s office.

About 22 percent of inmates released from the state’s prisons and jails end up re-incarcerated within three years. Virginia’s recidivism rate has fallen a full percentage point since the previous year. It’s the lowest among the 45 states that report three-year incarceration rates for felons. Nationally, more than two-thirds of convicted criminals reoffended in the past three years, according to the National Institute of Justice. 

Gainful employment is the key to helping ex-offenders re-enter society — and that is the main focus of Bridging the Gap in Virginia. Lawrence Bibbs III can vouch for that. The nonprofit helped him after he was released from prison on Aug. 29 after 30 years of incarceration.

“Since I’ve dealt with Bridging the Gap, each person has been a specialist in knowing how to focus your skill set into a specific area,” said Bibbs, who works for Amazon and owns a bricklaying company. “This situation where people are saying they can’t get a job — you just didn’t go to the right specialist that could employ you.”

Walker has several legislative allies. He has worked with Del. Delores McQuinn and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, both of Richmond, on issues pertaining to re-entry and criminal justice in general.

“I have always tried to work collaboratively with some organization or group to do that — looking at how do we provide a service to returning citizens so that there is a certain quality of life that they can expect as they exit the prison system,” McQuinn said.

McClellan said re-entry programs help not only ex-offenders but also the community.

“I support any efforts that remove barriers for returning felons resuming their lives,” McClellan said. “Once you get out of jail, if you can’t get a job, you’re more likely to do something to cause yourself to go back to jail.”

Walker, McQuinn and McClellan are behind legislation enabling former felons to find employment more easily.

The “Ban the Box” proposal seeks to remove questions about arrests and convictions from employment applications. In 2015, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that banned the box on state government applications.

During the General Assembly’s 2018 session, attempts to make that executive order a state law failed, although one bill cleared the Senate before dying in the House.

Even though there’s no state law, Walker said 16 cities and counties in Virginia have “banned the box” for ex-offenders.

“They have more of an opportunity to get a one-on-one interview with potential employers in various cities for city employment through ‘Ban the Box,’” Walker said. “People want to work; they don’t want to sit in squalor.”

Walker’s efforts extend beyond legislative changes. His organization also helps ex-convicts rebuild their lives through drug treatment, housing referrals and other services.

“God didn’t put me in here for me to give up, so I’m going to keep on doing what I do, believing that that million-dollar grant is sitting there waiting on me,” Walker said. 

Virginia Governor Declares April as Women and Girls’ Wellness Month

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Eating disorders, stress, alcoholism, addiction and depression are leading medical problems affecting women and girls, but they are often forgotten because of the way breast cancer and intimate partner violence are highlighted with dedicated months.

Miriam Bender, chair of the group Women’s Health Virginia, commends the efforts of what she calls the “disease organizations.” But Bender said there is a need to raise awareness about the overall well-being of women and girls. So more than 15 years ago, Bender helped establish April as Women and Girls’ Wellness Month.

“A lot of days and weeks and months celebrate awareness of diseases, and a lot of issues don’t get highlighted in those individualized months,” Bender said. “They always focus on disease prevention or a problem instead of talking more positively about wellness.”

In July 2002, Bender and other activists pitched Women and Girls’ Wellness Month to 50 health organizations, women’s organizations and other groups.

“It was overwhelmingly positively received,” Bender said. “It was in July, and I thought who was going to show up in the middle of July – and the room was full.”

On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam, like his predecessors, signed a proclamation recognizing April as Women and Girls’ Wellness Month.

“It’s an important day and month,” Northam said at a ceremony at the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond. “We have declared the entire month of April so that we can recognize the important contributions girls and women make to our commonwealth and to help you all keep healthy and get a good education and a good job.”

The ceremony was attended by fifth- through eighth-grade female students from the MathScience Innovation Center. Northam encouraged them to get involved, pointing to the pay gap and the lack of women in health care, policy and STEM-related fields.

“That’s why all the girls and the women need to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough – I want to be equal to everyone else,’” Northam said.

Bender said that once people and organizations bought into the idea of Women and Girls’ Wellness Month., they decided it would best be celebrated in April.

“We wanted to do it at a time when organizations who served women and girls could do something. And if it’s too close to the end of the school year, girls’ groups and university groups wouldn’t be involved,” Bender said.

The MathScience Innovation Center was chosen as the location of the proclamation signing to encourage young girls to enter STEM fields.

“We know that health and wellness are tied to the physical attributes of the body, but they’re also tied to the wellness of the spirit and the soul and how we persevere, overcome adversity and how we deal with trauma,” said Hollee Freeman, executive director at the center.

The governor was joined Thursday by Virginia first lady Pam Northam, Sen. Jennifer McClellan of Richmond and Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson.

Richmond’s New Art Gallery Raises ‘Important but Difficult Topics’


The Mending Project by Lee Mingwei is an interactive project where visitor's can bring their clothes to get stitched and pinned to the wall. (CNS photo by Katrina Tilbury)

Curtis Talles Santiago's "Infinity Series" uses jewelry boxes to depect scenes of violent injustice. (CNA photo by Katrini Tilbury

By Chelsea Jackson and Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – With an inaugural exhibit that challenges the city’s Confederate history and racial divide, Virginia Commonwealth University will open its Institute for Contemporary Art next week, and it’s generating excitement not only in Richmond but also in national and international art communities.

The 41,000-square-feet Markel Center, where the ICA is housed, cost $41 million and sits at the corner of Broad and Belvidere streets – the city’s busiest intersection, with an estimated 60,000 cars passing by every day. The location signifies the impact that officials hope the institution brings to Richmond.

The city’s only stand-alone gallery of contemporary art, which will open to the public April 21, sits between VCU’s Monroe Park Campus and the historic Jackson Ward community – a point that for decades was the divide between black Richmond and white Richmond in the one-time capital of the Confederacy.

Joe Seipel, the interim director of the ICA, said the idea for the project has been around for decades. Seipel and the ICA team say they have worked to ensure that everyone feels welcome to come enjoy the art gallery, a goal he hopes to accomplish by keeping admission free.

During a press preview Thursday, New York-based architect Steven Holl said he looked to Richmond’s deep and complicated history for inspiration and incorporated certain aspects to bridge a gap between the growing presence of VCU and the larger Richmond community. Holl’s firm, known for specializing in educational and cultural projects, was chosen from more than 60 that submitted proposals for the building.

“This may be one of my favorite buildings I’ve been working on because it makes an urban statement, because there is a relationship between the campus and the city, and it also is a statement on the concept of time,” Holl said.

The relationship among time, space and race relation was a strong influence on the ICA’s opening exhibit, “Declaration,” said the institute’s chief curator, Stephanie Smith. She conceived the idea with Lisa Freiman, Seipel’s predecessor.

“After the 2016 presidential elections, myself and Lisa Freiman decided to reshape the ICA’s inaugural exhibition given the climate of our country,” Smith said. “We were inspired to create a project that we would speak and give a platform to a diverse group of artists whose works reflect currents in contemporary arts but also catalyze change, convene people across the divide and to speak to important but often difficult topics that are relevant here as well as our nation more broadly.”

Freiman abruptly stepped down as the institute’s director in January after five years of overseeing the planning phases of the project. In a press release at the time, Freiman stated it was time for her to resume other projects she had put on hold. Despite her absence, Smith continued with the vision that created “Declaration.”

The exhibit includes projects from more than 30 artists, many of whom were commissioned by the ICA and whose work speaks to social issues of the environment, gender inequality, race and sexuality. “Declaration” features a range of mixed media platforms – from audio and film to painting and graphic design.

Expanding on one of his previous exhibits, Paul Rucker, the ICA’s artist in residence, created “Storm in The Time of Shelter” for the ICA. It features Ku Klux Klan robes in urban and contemporary fashions. The life-size figurines wear KKK robes made of colorful fabrics such as African prints and various shades of camouflage.

On the opposite end on the first floor is a massive wall featuring a series of individual screen prints. The piece is the work of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. and was created with the collaboration of local barbershops and salons. Each print is a quote from a conversation overheard in the shops, capturing the role these spaces play in the city’s black neighborhoods.

The diversity of “Declaration” reflects VCU President Michael Rao’s hope that the ICA will make the city an international destination.

“We hope to become through VCUs Institute of Contemporary Art a world-class cultural hub,” Rao said. He said the ICA will help “advance the arts and invoke human senses like they have never been invoked before.”

200 Rally for Gun Rights at State Capitol

The crowd at Saturday's gun rights rally. (CNS photo by Katrina Tilbury)

 

By Katrina Tilbury and DeForrest Ballou, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – About 200 people, some with handguns on their hips and others with rifles slung across their backs, gathered on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol on Saturday for a rally in support of the Second Amendment.

The peaceful crowd assembled at the Bell Tower at Capitol Square with the goal of defending their rights to self-defense and educating the public about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The rally quickly turned political when Republican candidates Ryan McAdams, Corey Stewart and E.W. Jackson took the stage.

“We’re here today because we honor the Constitution and the God-given liberties and rights that have been endowed to us by our creator,” said McAdams, who is running for the 4th Congressional District seat currently held by Democrat A. Donald McEachin of Richmond. “Those same God-given rights are under assault, and they’re being threatened.”

Stewart, who is vying with Jackson and state Del. Nick Freitas for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, spoke after McAdams. He cited a recent op-ed by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens that argued that the Second Amendment should be repealed.

Stewart, who hopes to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, said every time a mass shooting occurs, gun control advocates blame law-abiding Americans, conservatives and President Donald Trump. Stewart said that gun-owning Republicans are also heartbroken when shootings happen and that they are the ones who want to protect their families.

“Unlike the left, who actually enjoys the fact that these tragedies happen because it plays into their narrative. It plays into what they are trying to do,” Stewart said. “They don’t honor life, folks. They disparage it.”

One of the main arguments made by the rally organizers, politicians and speakers was that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Critics dispute this. They point to a Harvard study of the National Crime Victimization Survey showing that fewer than 1 percent of victims defended themselves with a gun between 2007 and 2011.

Stewart said he opposes any compromise on Second Amendment rights; however, he said he supports enforcing existing laws against violent felons, the mentally ill and the potentially dangerous receiving guns.

Stewart, who chairs the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, said he plans to place retired police officers in all of the county’s schools in the coming months.

McAdams and Jackson also said they want to focus on enforcing existing gun laws. They noted that the FBI was notified in advance that Nikolas Cruz posed a threat, but failed to act. Cruz has been charged with the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.

“That young man who killed those 17 people should never have been allowed to get those weapons because he was clearly mentally ill and people knew about it even so much as to call the FBI about him,” said Jackson, a minister from Chesapeake.

Joe Savarese, who attended Saturday’s rally, agreed that the Second Amendment should not be compromised. He said gun control advocates are twisting the words of America’s Founding Fathers.

“They’re putting a 21st-century mindset, No. 1, into 18th-century men, and then they’re not reading their words as they were intended to be read. They meant exactly what they were saying. They weren’t offering opinion,” Savarese said.

The event was organized by the National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans. Richmond Capitol Police Public Information Officer Joe Macenka said authorities weren’t expecting any trouble from the crowd.

Job Fair Thursday!

THE GEO GROUP (LAWRENCEVILLE) IS SEEKING CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS, LPN, SERGEANT OF CORRECTIONS AND A VOCATIONAL INSTRUCTOR (ELECTRICAL).

JOB FAIR WILL BE HELD AT THE VIRGINIA WORKFORCE CENTER
LOCATED AT 1300 GREENSVILLE COUNTY CIRCLE
SUITE C, ROOM 105
EMPORIA, VIRGINIA ON
APRIL 12TH  10AM - 2PM

From Doughnuts to Dancing, ‘The Bachelorette’ Films in RVA Hot Spots

A group of men participate in a group date at the Capitol where they debated why each of them would make the best partner for Becca. April/8 (Credit: Reality Steve)

 

By Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Bachelorette is in town and looking for love – and Richmonders love to look for her.

Fans of “The Bachelorette” have been in a frenzy since photos of the hit ABC reality show filming in Richmond surfaced on social media over the weekend.

Rebecca “Becca” Kufrin, the show’s current love interest, was spotted filming a one-on-one date at Sugar Shack Donuts on Lombardy Street on Saturday. The shop posted that it would be closed to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“She seems super down-to-earth and the kind of person that would live in RVA in real life,” said Peyton Hannon, 23, who attended a taping of the ABC reality show on Monday night at the Carpenter Theatre in the Dominion Energy Center.

Hannon said she and more than 1,000 other fans were told to arrive at the theater at 7:30 p.m., but Kufrin and contestant Leandro Dottavio arrived closer to midnight. The pair danced on a stage surrounded by fans as they were serenaded by Australian country music singer Morgan Evans.

A Twitter account by the name of “TheBachelorTV” invited Virginia “Bachelorette” fans to participate in the show’s taping with a tweet on Thursday: “Virginia #bachelornation it’s your turn! Come on a date with Becca and her men this Sunday 4/8!! Email BachelorRSVP@gmail.com now to save your spot #thebachelorette.”

Kufrin, 28, is originally from Minnesota. She was announced as the next bachelorette after unedited footage was televised showing bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. breaking up with her to pursue a relationship with runner-up Lauren Burnham.

Reality Steve, a “Bachelor” blogger, officially tipped off fans that the cast and crew had arrived when he tweetedphotos of Kufrin and Chris Harrison, host of “The Bachelorette,” filming at the Quirk Hotel on Saturday.

Kufrin was also spotted by fans several times on a private trolley ride around Richmond, making stops at the Veil Brewing Co. and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.

On Sunday, a group date was filmed at the Capitol, where a banner displayed “Beccalection 2018.”

“The group date was essentially an election debate,” said “Bachelorette” fan and VCU nursing student Sarah Daniel.

Daniel said Harrison, Becca and men dressed as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington asked the contestants questions to decide who would be the best partner for Becca.

Harrison has been spotted by many fans trying to guess where he might pop up next.

Melissa Hipolit, a reporter for CBS 6 News (WTVR), said she and her friends decided to eat dinner at Graffiato, an Italian restaurant next to the Quirk Hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of the action. They never thought Harrison would walk through the doors.

“We never expected to be sitting down to eat and have him literally sitting behind us,” Hipolit said.

Sherri Zhang, who was with Hipolit, said she was surprised when Harrison initiated a conversation.

“He saw my friend taking a pic of him, and when he walked by our table to be seated, he actually talked to us first,” Zhang said.

Hipolit said Harrison asked them how the food was and even took an interest in their jobs. She said Harrison told her he watches the local news wherever he travels. “I told him I was a local news reporter, and then one of my promos came on the television and I pointed to it.”

Season 14 of “The Bachelorette” premieres on May 28 on ABC. The Richmond episode is expected to air in July.

Gov. Northam Signs Rear-Facing Car Seat Requirements into Law

By Siona Peterous, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Beginning next year, Virginia will join more than a dozen states that prohibit children under the age of 2, or children who are below the manufacturer's suggested weight limit, to be placed in a forward-facing car seat.

The new law, House Bill 708, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last month, will go into effect July 1, 2019. It was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, after she was approached by AAA about the issue.

“I’m very proud to patron this bill because I have always worked on issues about public safety and kids’ safety,” Filler-Corn said. “How could I not introduce a bill that will save lives and protect our most vulnerable Virginians, our children?”

According to Martha Meade, the public and government affairs manager for Virginia’s AAA’s Mid-Atlantic region, the association has lobbied for issues of public safety on the roads for decades.

“This is an important change for Virginia because it is confusing for many folks who don’t know when the the right time is to switch their child to be forward-facing in vehicles,” Meade said. “All the major traffic safety organizations — AAA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Highway Safety Administration and the Academy of Pediatrics — recommend a child stays rear-facing until age 2, or until they've reached the minimum weight and height requirement.”

Filler-Corn said she was surprised, but not discouraged, by the intensity of the opposition to what she views as a “common-sense safety measure.” Critics of the bill argued that the government should not have a role in how parents choose to raise and protect their children.

The bill went through several rounds of amendments before passing the House 77-23 and the Senate 23-17. Filler-Corn said she received bipartisan support. Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, and Sen Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, were “amazing and very supportive” advocates for the bill.

 “Everyone has the right to raise their children as they see fit, but this really is a safety measure statistically proven to work,” Filler-Corn said. “When I’m faced with opposition, I compare the enforcement of rear-facing child seats to the requirement of everyone having to wear a seat belt. It’s very similar, but one is focused on children who can’t make decisions to protect themselves.”

Students Get a Close-up View of the General Assembly

Taylor Thornhill (right) with Sen. Lewis, D-Accomack, (middle) and staff.

By Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Among the assortment of legislators, aides and staff members who call the Capitol home, 23 Virginia Commonwealth University students experienced a close-up view of the General Assembly’s 2018 session.

The students were a part of the Virginia Capitol Semester program sponsored by VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. The program allows students to witness the legislative process from the inside by interning with legislators and other officials.

“We want our students to be engaged and involved in the legislative process. We want them to see how policy impacts us all, it impacts them, and they can then cause an impact on our community,” said Shajuana Isom-Payne, director of student success at the Wilder School.

Payne directs the internship program and, with the approval of a panel, matches students with legislators. The application process includes a personal essay, list of policy interests and an interview.

“We really try to connect our students with the members who are on committees and doing solid work in those areas that the students have expressed specific interests in,” Payne said.

The program is open to students of all majors – not only those in the Wilder School. Besides devoting 20 hours a week to their internship, students attend a weekly public policy seminar with a former staff member of the Senate Finance Committee, Richard Hickman.

The seminars often feature guest speakers such as House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and the Democratic leader of the House, Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville. Hickman believes it is important for young adults to be engaged and involved in the legislative process because one day they will be the ones in charge.

“It important to give them a real-world-oriented experience as part of their collegiate career so that they’re not coming into the job with no experience of actually how the General Assembly works,” Hickman said.

Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Augusta, said the internship provides invaluable knowledge to the students. Landes echoed Hickman’s belief of the importance of being engaged.

“Our representative democracy would not exist without the participation of members of our society. Being a part of that process is especially important for young adults,” said Landes, a VCU graduate. “In the case of student interns, they are exposed to a learning process from which they can take something away.”

Ryan Kotrch, a junior at VCU, said he learned a lot participating in the Capitol Semester program this semester. He said interacting with legislators and seeing the process firsthand was unparalleled.

“It’s one thing to learn about the process in a course, but to actually be there, hands-on, it’s a totally different thing, a totally different experience,” Kotrch said.

Kotrch said he plans to return next session to serve as an intern again for Del. Gordon Helsel, R-Poquoson. One thing that Kotrch learned was the unique community and collaboration at the General Assembly.

“You think about partisanship in D.C. all the time, and you think in Virginia, it must be the same way. And it is in some aspects, but at the same time they’re all friends,” Kotrch said.

Payne and Hickman agree that the next step in the program is expansion. Both expressed their desire to bring in more students from all fields of study because the skills learned are transferable across disciplines.

“The skills that they will learn from this internship experience are going to be dynamic and are going to take them far in whatever career route that they choose,” Payne said.

Taylor Thornhill, another VCU junior in the Capitol Semester program, interned for Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, during the past session.

“It taught me how to be a woman in the legislative field. My legislative assistant I worked for was a female and she’s only 28 years old. This is her second year being there,” Thornhill said. “She taught me how to be strong and independent and confident.”

Hickman said he has enjoyed seeing how students have grown not only in their practical knowledge of the General Assembly but in their skills such as time management and effective communication. He encourages students with doubts about the program to go for it.

“If you have any interest at all in learning how your government works as opposed to what you read on social media or just hear from other people,” Hickman said, “this is a great way to have an internship and have a face-to-face opportunity to meet the people who really do make the decisions in the General Assembly.”

Northam Vetoes 8 Bills; 1 Would Block Higher Wages

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed a flurry of bills Monday, including one to prohibit local governments from requiring contractors to pay their employees more than minimum wage.

House Bill 375, introduced by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, passed the House and Senate on party-line votes during the General Assembly’s 2018 regular session. Northam said he rejected the bill because he believes employee wage and benefit decisions are best left to individual localities, pointing to differences in the cost of living and workforce factors.

“The ability of local governments to make this choice should be supported, not limited,” the Democratic governor said. “Decisions regarding municipal contacts should be made by local leaders who fully understand local needs and the needs of their workforce.”

HB 375 was one of eight bills Northam vetoed Monday. He also rejected:

  • Senate Bill 521, which would require local voter registrars to investigate the list of registered voters whenever it exceeds the estimated number of people age 18 or older in a county or city. The sponsor, Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham County, called the measure “a critical election integrity bill.” But Northam said it would unduly burden election officials and that Virginia already has a process to ensure accurate voter registration rolls.
  • HB 1167, which would require jury commissioners to collect information from people who are not qualified to serve on juries and present that information to voter registrars for list maintenance purposes. “There is no evidence or data that jury information is a reliable source for voter list maintenance,” Northam said. He said using this information “could endanger the registrations of eligible voters and prevent them from successfully casting a ballot.”
  • HB 158, which would allow the General Assembly to alter legislative districts outside the constitutional process so they correspond with local voting precinct boundaries. Northam said this would allow members of the General Assembly to adjust districts at their own discretion, threatening Virginians’ rights to equal apportionment.
  • HB 1568, which would assign certain functions of the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority. Northam said he believes this is an unnecessary move.
  • HB 1257, which states, “No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” Northam said the legislation “would force local law enforcement agencies to use precious resources to perform functions that are the responsibility of federal immigration enforcement agencies. It also sends a chilling message to communities across Virginia that could have negative impacts on public safety.”
  • HB 1270, which would forbid state participation in adopting regulations on carbon dioxide cap-and-trade programs. Northam said the bill would limit Virginia’s ability to tackle climate change and provide additional clean energy jobs.
  • HB 1204, which would require Arlington County to assess two private country clubs there as land dedicated to open space rather than its current method of highest and best use. “This is a local dispute over a local government’s method of assessing land for property taxation,” Northam said. “As such, the solution to this dispute should be reached on the local level without the involvement of the state.”

The General Assembly will reconvene for a one-day session on April 18 to consider the vetoes and recommendations issues by Northam. It takes a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a veto. Democrats hold enough seats in each chamber to prevent an override.

Virginia Governor OKs Paying ‘Norfolk Four’ $3.5 Million

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation to provide nearly $3.5 million in compensation to the “Norfolk Four,” the U.S. Navy sailors who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a 1997 rape and murder.

Northam last week signed identical House and Senate bills to compensate Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Derek Tice and Eric Wilson, who were wrongly convicted in 1999 of raping and killing 18-year-old Michelle Bosko.

Under the legislation, Williams will receive $895,299; Dick, $875,845; Wilson, $866,456; and Tice, $858,704.

On Thursday, Northam signed the measures containing the compensation package – Senate Bill 772, proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and House Bill 762, proposed by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk.

The legislation notes that the “Norfolk Four” defendants “spent nearly four decades in prison collectively for crimes they did not commit, and another collective 30 years after release from prison under highly restrictive parole and sex offender registry conditions that imposed onerous barriers to their reentry to society.”

The four men were “imprisoned and experienced assaults and other horrific experiences during the imprisonment that irreparably broke them in a manner that no time or money will ever fix,” according to the legislation.

The defendants were convicted because of their coerced confessions, even though the real rapist and murderer, Omar Ballard, confessed in 1999 to committing the crime alone and his DNA was found at the crime scene, bills state.

Ballard is currently an inmate at Sussex II State Prison and serving two life terms plus 42 years for capital murder, two rapes, two counts of malicious wounding, and abduction.

In 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine granted conditional pardons to Williams, Dick and Tice. That action ended their sentences, but the men remained on the sex offender registry. Wilson had already been released from prison in 2005 after serving more than eight years behind bars.

A decade after their convictions, U.S. District Judge John Gibney dismissed the convictions of Dick and Williams.

“Considering the evolution of their admissions, their subsequent recantation and the other physical evidence, the admissions of guilt by Williams, Dick and Tice are far from convincing,” Gibney’s decision stated. “Any reasonable juror considering all of the evidence would harbor reasonable doubt as to whether Williams, Dick, or anyone else, was with Ballard in Bosko’s apartment.”

In March 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted the “Norfolk Four” unconditional pardons, fully restoring their civil rights. However, the legislation signed by Northam states that “all four men have struggled to rebuild their lives and have lived vastly reduced lives due to the strong stigma of their wrongful convictions.”

New Law Puts Focus on Suicide Prevention Efforts in Virginia

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As suicides have risen in Virginia – including a 29 percent increase among children in 2016 – Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation calling on state officials to report how they are addressing the problem.

House Bill 569, introduced by Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to report annually its progress and activities on suicide prevention. The report will go to the governor and General Assembly.

The bill is of special significance to Gooditis, who was elected in November to represent the 10th House District, which includes parts of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties. During the first two weeks of her candidacy, Gooditis lost her brother to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He had a number of suicide attempts. It was part of the reason I was running in the first place. I found him dead two weeks after I announced my candidacy,” Gooditis said. “At that point, I don’t think anyone would’ve penalized me for quitting. But I had met so many who needed help, I couldn’t quit. I had to run and try to get the seat to try to speak for people who need someone to speak for them.”

Northam signed Gooditis’ bill last month – about the time that the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released its latest annual report on causes of death in Virginia.

Compiled by Kathrin Hobron, a forensic epidemiologist, the study provides statistical details on deaths that occurred in 2016, including homicides, suicides, accidents and other causes. The report states that it “reveals several trends of which the citizens and leaders of Virginia should be aware.”

Those trends include a spike in suicide rates for children (defined as 17 and younger) in Virginia. In 2016, the rate was the highest it has been in at least 18 years.

In 1999, the report said, 23 children in Virginia committed suicide – a rate of 1.3 suicides per 100,000 population. In 2015, 35 children committed suicide in the state. In 2016, the number jumped to 45 child suicides – or 2.4 suicides per 100,000 children.

“Child suicides are very similar to adult suicides as they occur more frequently in males (roughly 62 percent) and whites (roughly 78 percent). White males have the highest rate of child suicide,” the report stated.

Twenty-two – almost half – of the 45 child suicides in Virginia in 2016 involved firearms, usually handguns. That was the most common method of child suicide, followed by asphyxiation.

Under Virginia law, it is a misdemeanor to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fourteen.” Even so, some children manage to obtain a gun and commit suicide each year.

Gooditis said in an interview that she was familiar with the medical examiner’s report. It further demonstrates that something must be done, she said.

“It’s just horrific. We have to intervene and teach [children] ways of handling their emotions so those emotions don’t take over,” Gooditis said.

The number of suicides of Virginians of all ages also has increased in recent years. In 2016, it reached 1,156 – up from 1,097 the previous year. By comparison, there were 884 suicides statewide in 2006.

In 2017, the General Assembly passed a bill requiring the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to issue a one-time report about its suicides prevention measures. HB 569 builds on that legislation by having the agency report on its efforts every year.

In its report last year, the department updated the governor and the General Assembly on projects such as the Lock and Talk Virginia Campaign, which aims to reduce suicides by restricting individuals’ access to firearms and poisons when they are in a mental health crisis. The agency also discussed its efforts to educate the public on how to recognize and respond to suicidal warning signs.

Under the bill Northam signed into law March 19, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services must issue such a report by Dec. 1 every year.

Northam Signs ‘Stop Gun Violence’ License Plate Bill

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation Thursday authorizing a “Stop Gun Violence” specialty license plate.

In a session when gun safety proponents failed to make gains despite concern over recent mass shootings in Florida, Texas and Las Vegas, even the license plate bill was controversial.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 287 after one of his constituents, Carol Luten, came up with the idea. Luten is involved in raising awareness about gun violence prevention and gun safety in Falls Church.

“Mostly it was a constituent request that happened to fall in line with one of my priorities anyways,” Simon said. “She said it’s like a moving billboard for her cause.”

The bill was more controversial than Simon expected. What he thought as simple license plate bill turned out to be more, as it drew opposition from the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“The license plate’s proposed wording implies that violence which is not committed with a firearm is somehow acceptable by comparison, or that the inanimate object itself is responsible for human violence,” the league said in its position statement on the bill.

Another controversial portion of the bill came up when Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell, introduced an amendment that would make the plates revenue-sharing rather than simply highlighting an interest. Starting in 2020, the plates will cost $25: $10 will go toward making the plates themselves and $15 will go to the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services

“I am against all gun violence,” Fariss said. “I feel like most gun violence is due to behavioral and mental issues. I wanted to make sure that funding would be directed to and available for the Department of Behavioral Health to help.”

Simon says this was the most controversial portion of the bill.

“Suggesting our gun violence problem is really a mental health problem and a lack of mental health resources really misses the point,” Simon said. “Certainly there are some cases where better mental health care may have prevented certain incidents, but most gun violence doesn't have anything to do with mental health, and most people living with mental illness are not dangerous.”

Simon described the session as a tough year for bills related to guns. More than 70 such measures were filed at the start of the session.

“This is the one piece of legislation on either side that managed to thread the needle and get out of the legislature,” Simon said.

VCU Student-Athletes Lead Campaign To Stop Sexual Assault On Campus

 

 

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia Commonwealth University student-athletes collected more than 300 signatures Wednesday from students, faculty and staff who pledged to do their part to stop sexual assault on campus.

The event was part of the national “It’s On Us” movement that began in 2014 with a goal of changing conversations surrounding sexual assault. Since its launch, the campaign has accumulated almost 300,000 pledges.

Binal Patel, who double majors in chemistry and biology, said she felt empowered and as if she was standing up for something she believed in when she pledged by signing her name on a banner.

“I have had a personal connection to the topic. I believe that anyone who has experienced sexual assault, or knows someone who has, should speak up and tell someone,” Patel said. “Sexual assault is never acceptable, and I believe individuals who have faced it should always be supported.”

Artis Gordon is the Director of Student-Athlete Development. He was one of the key players in organizing this event.

Director of Student-Athlete Development Artis Gordon helped organize the VCU event, which coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the “It’s On Us” Spring Week of Action. Gordon described “It’s On Us” as an initiative to raise awareness that “it’s on all of us to not be bystanders and be part of the solution.”

Alaina Madeline is the president of the VCU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and one of several student-athletes who helped during Wednesday’s event. She said the campaign has been happening on campus annually since 2014 and the banner will be displayed as a reminder to those who made the commitment.

For more information or ways to donate to the national campaign, visit the “It’s On Us” website.

Environmentalists Urge Governor to Oust DEQ Director

By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – An environmental group reiterated its call Wednesday for Gov. Ralph Northam to fire the head of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, saying David Paylor “has regularly sided with polluters over the environment.”

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network made that statement after Northam signed an executive order instructing the DEQ to conduct an internal review. Northam said the review would include updating regulations, strengthening enforcement of environmental standards, identifying the causes of permitting delays and improving transparency.

“We agree with Gov. Northam that the Department of Environmental Quality needs to be seriously reformed, so we commend him for that,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “However, we are highly skeptical that DEQ Director David Paylor can oversee this internal review in a fair and comprehensive manner. The DEQ is a broken agency, and Director David Paylor is the one that broke it.”

Peter Anderson, Virginia program manager for the group Appalachian Voices, expressed skepticism about the DEQ’s ability to conduct the internal review.

“Gov. Northam’s announcement today calls for vital improvements at DEQ for protecting Virginia communities and the commonwealth’s natural resources,” Anderson said. “But it remains to be seen whether any real changes will occur.”

Anderson said the DEQ has a history of aligning with industries over the public interest. “Nonetheless, we hope DEQ seizes this opportunity to revamp its operations and prioritize the public interest over the interests of the companies it regulates,” he said.

Paylor has served as the director of the DEQ since 2006 when appointed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine.

Since 1973, Paylor has spent his career serving with environmental agencies such as the State Water Control Board and the Environmental Research Institute of the States. The Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute recognized Paylor as the recipient of its 2015 Gerald P. McCarthy Award for Leadership in Environmental Conflict Resolution.

However, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network says Paylor is too close to the companies DEQ regulates.

“We believe David Paylor should be replaced as DEQ director,” Tidwell said. “If Gov. Northam keeps him on, however, Paylor should recuse himself from this much-needed agency review. We hope Gov. Northam will consider turning the review over completely to the Secretary of Natural Resources in order to ensure real and substantive changes at the DEQ.”

Tidwell criticized Paylor’s relationship with energy companies and other businesses.

“In 12 years at the DEQ helm, Paylor has consistently sided with polluting industries over environmental advocacy groups,” Tidwell said. “The director has outraged health and environmental leaders by siding with Dominion on the dumping of coal ash in rivers and, most notoriously, the construction of patently harmful pipelines for fracked gas like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline.”

Tidwell commended Northam for taking “several positive steps” to improve environmental protection and advocacy in Virginia. “He has supported joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and has pushed Dominion Energy to invest more in renewable power and efficiency,” Tidwell said.

But he said the governor “dropped the ball” by reappointing Paylor on Monday.

Tidwell said the timing of the reappointment was painful for landowners living along the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Last week, the DEQ gave final approval to begin cutting trees and clearing land for the project, which will run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

‘Safe Virginia’ Task Force Will Address Gun Violence

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia House Democrats announced the formation Tuesday of a “Safe Virginia” task force to address gun violence in communities across the commonwealth.

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria said the initiative is a direct response to House Republicans’ Select Committee on School Safety, which the GOP members said would not take up gun issues. The Democrats have sent a letter to House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, inviting Republican delegates to join the group.

Del. Kathleen Murphy of Fairfax, who will co-chair Safe Virginia with Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, said they commended Cox and Republicans for creating the select committee, which will hold its first meeting April 26. But Murphy said she believes it is important to do more and discuss questions regarding guns.

“It is not possible to separate school safety from gun safety,” Murphy said. “People are focused on the tragedy of gun violence, so now is the time to move forward.”

Republican Del. Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield, a member of the select committee, said its efforts are also borne from the desire to do more. She said panel members want to focus on bipartisan school safety improvements without unduly burdening schools and taxpayers.

“The committee will not consider issues Republicans and Democrats disagree on, such as restricting gun access or arming teachers,” Robinson said. “Rather, it will consider such tactics as adding metal detectors in schools, improving the check-in process for people visiting the school during school hours, and how to safely protect students in the event of an attack.”

Murphy and Filler-Corn said the Safe Virginia task force will focus on gun violence not only in schools but across the state. They hope the recent spike in activism from young people in Virginia and the United States will inspire state lawmakers to take action.

“Three out of the 10 deadliest mass shootings have taken place in our country in the last six months,” Filler-Corn said. “We need to get to work to find common sense, bipartisan solutions to address this crisis.”

The House Democratic Caucus has selected regional chairs for the panel: Del. Delores McQuinn for Richmond, Del. Marcia Price for Hampton Roads, Del. John Bell for Northern Virginia and Del. Chris Hurst for Southwest Virginia.

Safe Virginia plans to hold meetings from May to October across Virginia to hear comments from constituents, law enforcement authorities and state and local leaders.

Virginia Schools Will Teach How to Prevent Child Abuse

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia is taking a step toward teaching children how to recognize and prevent child abuse, abduction, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill to include age-appropriate instruction in those areas in the state’s family life education curriculum.

Current law already requires age-appropriate education on preventing dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence, but child advocates like Patty Hall, the director of community engagement and volunteer services at Hanover Safe Place, have pushed for stronger measures.

“The work that I do with the kids shows that they don’t know often and understand the concept of being able to say no if somebody is touching them or doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Whether it is by a family member, or a friend or a dating partner, many of them do not understand these concepts,” said Hall, who does prevention education with children of all ages in Hanover County.

On Thursday, Northam signed SB 101, which was sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and incorporates proposals by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, and other legislators. Wexton is an advocate for Erin’s Law, a national movement urging states to implement prevention-oriented child sexual abuse programs.

LaTonsha Pridgen, founder of the advocacy group Stomp Out the Silence, also supports Erin’s Law. Pridgen said she was sexually abused from the ages of 8 to 13. Her experience inspired her to start S.O.S., a nonprofit dedicated to preventing childhood sexual abuse through awareness and legislation.

“I know firsthand what it means to be a child and not understand that adults can do you harm – not even know that I could go to my teachers or to another adult outside of my home to report this,” Pridgen said. “So I wholeheartedly support educating our children and giving them the information they need to prevent child sex abuse.”

The final version of SB 101 will create guidelines on age-appropriate programs on the prevention, recognition and awareness of child abuse, abduction, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, but it does not require schools to implement such programs. Still, advocates say it’s a step in the right direction.

“The law gets us one step closer to #ErinsLaw in Virginia,” Wexton stated on her Facebook page after SB 101 passed the House on March 7.

Besides adding child abuse prevention programs, SB 101 clarifies that sexual harassment by digital means will be included in the existing curriculum.

The bill takes effect July 1.

Expanding Medicaid Will Aid Schools, Governor Says

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner are urging the General Assembly to expand Medicaid, saying such a move would free up money to help schools.

On Thursday, the two Democrats sat down with more than 20 teachers, faculty and parents from Richmond Public Schools and surrounding counties to discuss how this would work.

Last week, Northam introduced a new state budget proposal that includes Medicaid expansion and takes a slightly different approach to spending that could shape the debate when lawmakers return for an April 11 special session.

The special session was called because legislators couldn’t reach an agreement on the budget during their regular session. The House of Delegates wants to expand Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans. The Senate opposes that idea.

Because the House’s Medicaid expansion plan would be funded with federal dollars and a new tax on hospitals, budget writers had more money to spend on public education and other services. The Virginia Education Association estimates the House budget allocated $169 million more to K-12 schools than the Senate version.

“We have had the opportunity since January 2014 to expand Medicaid, to give approximately 400,000 working Virginians access to quality and affordable health care,” Northam said at Thursday’s meeting at Albert Hill Middle School. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do in Virginia. No individual, no family, should be one illness away from being financially alive.”

The House version of the budget would increase state aid to $5,617 per student next year and $5,690 in 2020. In the Senate version, state aid per pupil would be $5,583 in fiscal year 2019 and $5,589 in 2020.

“It’s budget time in Virginia, and we, the General Assembly, did work in a bipartisan way,” Northam said. “All of this happened because of folks coming from both sides of the aisle. The most important bill we haven't finished this year is our budget.”

Warner said the commonwealth faces same challenges he encountered as governor in 2002-06.

“Gov. Northam has inherited a challenge that has been around for the last six or seven years,” Warner said. “That is the question of when we talk about education, we also have to talk about health care.”

People at the meeting pointed to numerous funding issues in education, including outdated resources, dilapidated school buildings and overcrowded classrooms. They also said schools don’t have enough full-time staff members such as guidance counselors and nurses,

Northam asked teachers who had full-time nurses at their school to raise their hands. He then asked teachers who did not have full-time nurses. The response was split 50-50.

Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher at the Virgie Binford Education Center, said the lack of guidance counselors and nurses caused some schools to lose accreditation.

“Instead of just being a teacher, we’re now being a social worker, the counselor,” Robinson said. “If we can get those (guidance counselors and nurses) back in the school systems, I can guarantee you’ll see more teachers in those harder-staffed schools because there is less work burden on them.”

Melinda Lawson, an eighth-grade English teacher at Albert Hill, echoed Robinson’s frustration.

“For Richmond, we have a very difficult time creating 21st-century learners when we don’t have the resources to do so,” Lawson said. “I’ve been in this building for 14 years, and I’ve worn many hats in this time. We’re always trying to get there, and everyone else seems to be where we’re not, and we’re aspiring to get there.”

Northam said “providing a world-class education” is a priority for his administration.

“There is power in every child, and we need to make sure every child in Virginia reaches their maximum potential,” he said.

Panelists Discuss Future of Transgender and Nonbinary People

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Zakia McKensey began her male-to-female transition more than 20 years ago. She said she had to travel over 500 miles to Atlanta, Georgia, to find a plastic surgeon willing to perform her sexual reassignment surgery.

“I had to go to Baltimore for hormone therapy,” McKensey said. “There were not any medical providers in Richmond doing that work.”

Now, McKensey works as a certified HIV test counselor and prevention educator and founded the Nationz Foundation, a Richmond organization that provides education and information related to HIV prevention, cancer awareness and overall health and wellness.

McKensey joined a panel of experts at Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday night to discuss how public policy in immigration, health care, criminal justice and emergency management impacts transgender and nonbinary individuals -- people who don’t identify as male or female.

“It’s a huge part of who I am,” said Austin Higgs, a panelist who identifies as genderqueer, meaning neither entirely male nor female.

Higgs, who works as a community engagement officer and special assistant to the president and CEO at Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, said, “It’s been a long journey for me, and I am actually proud of who I am. I want the world around me to recognize who I am.”

Higgs and McKensey were joined on the panel by Shabab Mirza, a research assistant at the LGBT Center for American Progress, and Liz Coston, an instructor in VCU’s Department of Sociology.

Nearly 200 students and other community members attended the event, which was organized by Peter Jenkins, a doctoral student at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Jenkins moderated the event with Khudai Tanveer, an organizing fellow at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance.

Jenkins said that people tend to think the transgender community is small but that 12 percent of the millennial population is openly transgender, according to a 2017 report by GLAAD, which promotes understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

During the discussion, panelists pointed to the problems of proper documentation and refugee placement for transgender and nonbinary people entering the United States. They said that documentation is problematic in many respects.

“For many years, I have questioned why there is any gender on any documentation,” McKensey said. “Does it really matter if I’m male or female to drive a car? I would like to see no gender on any documentation. I don’t think it really matters, as long as it’s you on the ID.”

To provide better healthcare for transgender and nonbinary people, McKensey said it starts with three steps: training, education and conversation.

"Our medical providers are not informed -- not all of them,” she said. “I also think it’s important to build a network, knowing who those affirming doctors are that our community can go to.”

On the topic of incarceration, panelists said that for transgender and nonbinary people, time in the criminal justice system is often more difficult because of their gender/sex/gender expression -- and even more so for people of color.

Some of the challenges they listed include physical violence (specifically sexual assault), wrongful placement in prison based on presumed gender, and denial of access to hormone replacement therapy, appropriate counseling and proper garments.

Higgs ended the panel by saying it is not only cisgender people — individuals who identify with the gender corresponds with their birth sex — who discriminate against transgender and nonbinary individuals. Even members of the LGBTQ community sometimes need sensitivity training as well.

“We have to admit that there is a problem within the community,” Higgs said, citing discrimination on the basis of skin color. “I think a lot of people outside of our community are surprised that this happens. It’s hard to kind of admit those problems when we’re just trying to survive and get the rights we should already have.”

TERMINOLOGY

Genderqueer — A term used by individuals who identify as neither entirely male nor female, identify as a combination of both, or who present in a non-gendered way.

Nonbinary — A term used to describe people who do not identify as a male/man or female/woman.

Sex reassignment surgery — A doctor-supervised surgical intervention. Itis only one part of transitioning from one sex to another. Not all trans people choose to, or can afford to, undergo medical surgeries.

Transgender — A term for those whose gender identity or expression is different than that typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.

Transition — A complex process to alter one’s birth sex that occurs over a period of time. It can include some or all of the following personal, medical and legal steps: telling one’s family, friends and coworkers; using a different name and new pronouns; dressing differently; changing one’s name and/or sex on legal documents; hormone therapy; and possibly one or more types of surgery.

Over 70,000 Sign Petitions Protesting Pipelines Across Virginia

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Environmentalists on Tuesday dropped on Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk petitions signed by more than 70,000 people supporting stricter rules for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines that energy companies plan to build across Virginia.

One petition, signed by 10,000 Virginian residents, demands that the Northam administration immediately halt the tree-felling along the pipeline routes and let the public comment on the companies’ plans to control erosion and stormwater before they are finalized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Activists also gave Northam an online petition signed by more than 62,000 citizens from around the country calling on Northam to stop the pipelines, which they said would threaten the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Appalachian Trail and miles of national forest land. By late Tuesday, the number of signatures on the Change.org petition had topped 65,500.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and other groups held a press conference on the state Capitol grounds the morning after the DEQ approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Outraged by that action, the environmentalists said the DEQ must require the companies to take better precautions when constructing the pipelines. The activists said that will happen only if Northam gets involved.

“It’s time for you to be the leader that we voted for,” LeeAnne Williams, a Virginia Sierra Club volunteer, said, addressing the governor.

Some activists said they have already seen negative effects of the pipeline from the cutting of trees. “The proposed pipelines have altered people’s lives, land value and emotional well-being,” said Lara Mack, Virginia field organizer for Appalachian Voices.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would carry natural gas 600 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline would run more than 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. If built as proposed, the pipelines would cross streams and other bodies of water more than 1,400 times, environmentalists say.

David Sligh, conservation director for Wild Virginia, said the state should review the environmental impact at each of those water crossings. He said pollution from the pipeline could cause “permanent damage to the aquatic systems.”

The companies that want to build the pipelines say the projects are crucial to meeting the energy needs of Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region.

“Demand for natural gas is growing across the region – to produce cleaner electricity and support economic development – but there is not enough infrastructure to deliver the supplies needed to meet this demand,” the consortium that has proposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline says on its website.

The consortium, which includes Dominion Energy, says the pipeline construction would create 17,000 jobs and provide a “major boost to local businesses in every community.”

In a recent monthly newsletter, the company building the Mountain Valley Pipeline said it plans to have the pipeline in service by the end of the year.

Huge Crowd Fills D.C. in ‘March For Our Lives’

By Adam Hamza and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of people from around the country rallied in the nation’s capital Saturday to send a single message to lawmakers: Enough is enough.

David Hogg, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior and event organizer, said it’s time to remove politicians supported by the National Rifle Association because “this isn’t cutting it.”

“To those politicians supported by the NRA, that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say: get your resumes ready,” Hogg said.

The demonstration was the work of Hogg and fellow students at the Parkland, Florida, high school where a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members on Valentine’s Day. Saturday’s March for Our Lives — and more than 800 sister marches around the world — was a response to that massacre.

Georgia native Adam Marx, 27, said he was most impressed by how the students have risen up in this movement.

“These students are leaders,” Marx said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 16, 17 or 27 … age is a number. [Having a] mission, passion or vision for what we want to have for people living here, that’s not restricted to a number. It’s that simple.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sophomores Jorgie Garrido and Anna Bayuk were among many of their fellow students at the nation’s capital. They described the atmosphere in one word — unity.

“To see all the people that came out, the students, and especially the non-students, it’s really reassuring,” Garrido said. “It provides a sense of unity where you can see how many people are standing with you, how many people are supporting you, and how many other people are also demanding change in this country. “

Garrido knew Helena Ramsay, 17, and Carmen Schentrup, 16, and Bayuk knew Jaime Guttenburg, 14, who were killed in last month’s shooting.

“I know that my friends, if they had survived and other children had died, they would be here too,” Garrido said. “They would be fighting for the same things we are. To know that we’re trying to guarantee that no other child ends up like they did, shot dead in a classroom, I think that that’s the best way to pay respect to them.”

Bayuk said she and her classmates will be transitioning back into their routines after they travel home, but they will keep advocating for stricter gun laws.

“We’re going to be moving on and trying to get back to everyday life, but there’s a new normal, and we can’t just sink back into complacency and sink back into being quiet,” she said.

Richmond Students, Community Rally in the Thousands for Gun Control

 

By Irena Schunn and George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Chanting “enough is enough” and “never again,” more than 5,000 students and other demonstrators marched through Richmond on Saturday as part of a nationwide protest against mass shootings and gun violence.

Cheering against the chilly breeze, the Richmond march spanned more than a mile from the lawn of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School to the stairs of the Virginia Capitol. The event featured several student speakers alongside prominent local and state leaders.

At the start of the rally, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine expressed pride in seeing the action taken by students in his home state.

“Congress and the General Assembly – of not just this state but of other states, too – has a hard time finding a way to do anything because of the power of gun manufacturers and NRA leadership, but they’ve never had to come up against high schoolers before,” Kaine said.

The youth-centric nature of the march was present in the speeches and chants heard throughout the day. Once the march reached the Capitol, the younger speakers took the lead as state legislators and Richmond School Board members deferred to their voices in respect. Meanwhile, students repeatedly called on older participants to protect them by doing what they can’t – vote for gun reform.

Maxwell Nardi, a student speaker from Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, was one of many to call for changes in school safety, universal background checks for firearm purchases and the removal of politicians unwilling to support gun control.

“This isn’t a new issue,” Nardi said. “It’s been happening for 19 years in school shootings, and gun violence has been plaguing America for a much longer time.”

Speakers also emphasized the greater impact gun violence has on the African-American community, tying it to historical acts of violence against minorities.

“How many more black families will be devastated by gun violence – threatened or killed by the people whose job it is to serve and protect?” Stephanie Younger, an activist with the Richmond Youth Peace Project, asked the crowd.

“How many more times do my parents have to give me that talk explaining to me that I’m 10 times more likely to become a victim of gun violence because I am black?”

Nardi echoed her words, saying, “We have to look at this both from the perspective of schools, but also from the perspective of communities that have been disproportionately impacted by this.”

Speakers also drew attention to Virginia’s history with guns – in particular, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 as well as the National Rifle Association’s presence in the state, politically and geographically (its headquarters are in Fairfax).

The March for Our Lives, with its main rally in Washington, was a student-led call for action with more than 800 sibling marches worldwide. It was planned in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, when a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 14 students and three staff members. Since then, surviving students launched the Never Again movement and urged lawmakers to impose stricter gun laws.

Calling the message from Richmond’s youth “powerful,” Mayor Levar Stoney said, “I am more inspired walking out than ever before. I think there’s a real possibility for change and I leave here today filled with optimism.”

Virginia Cities to Join Saturday’s March Against Gun Violence

~The March for our Lives in Emporia will form at the Post Offie on South Main Street at 2 pm on Saturday, March 24th and end at the Greensville County Courthouse.~

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Thousands of students and other demonstrators are expected to march in Richmond and in cities across Virginia and the U.S. on Saturday in a nationwide protest calling for stricter gun laws and an end to mass shootings.

The March for Our Lives, with its main event in Washington, is in response to the shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school last month.

The Richmond march has been organized by the Richmond Public Schools, the Richmond Peace Education Center, the local chapters of Moms Demand Action and the NAACP, and other groups.

“We all decided that it was best to join forces and do one big, unifying march in Richmond to help amplify the voices of those most impacted by gun violence here in our city,” said Kelly Steele, a coordinator of the local event and a leader of the Gun Violence Prevention Advocacy Group of the Liberal Women of Chesterfield County.

In Richmond, protesters will meet at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St., at 10 a.m. Saturday and march across the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge to the Virginia Capitol.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, along with several students, are scheduled to speak at the event. More than 2,400 people have registered to attend.

The ride-share app Lyft has pledged free rides for demonstrators in 50 cities including Richmond.

The March for Our Lives was planned in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, when a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 14 students and three staff members. Since then, surviving students have urged lawmakers to restrict the sale of such weapons and take other measures to prevent gun violence.

Saturday’s march in D.C. will begin at noon with a rally on Pennsylvania Avenue between Third Street and 12th Street Northwest. According to the event’s website, about 840 “sibling marches” are planned worldwide.

Marches are planned in several communities in Virginia, including Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Manassas, Chesapeake and Norfolk.

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