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Greensville County Schools Closed Tuesday, December 11 (12 Month Employees report at 10 am)

Brunswick County Public Schools

Brunswick Academy

Appamattox Regional Governor's School

Government

Brunswick County - Opening at 10 am Tuesday, December 11

If your destination is not listed here, please call ahead and ensure that they are open.

This list updated from WRIC, WWBT and WTVR Monday at 17:2o

 

Career Opportunity

Guidance Counselor

Brunswick Academy is seeking an experienced Guidance Counselor certified in Guidance beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. Brunswick Academy is a PreK-12 independent school located in Lawrenceville, VA.

Requirements: Possession of a Master’s Degree in School Counseling, Guidance Counseling, or School Guidance and Counseling from an accredited college or university; possession of or eligible for a Virginia Department of Education professional teaching certificate with a guidance endorsement and preferred 3 years experience in guidance or related field.

Job duties include but not limited to the following:

  • Provides academic, personal/social, and career counseling • Coordinates comprehensive school counseling program • Communicates with parents and agency representatives • Coordinates teacher and parent conferences as needed • Interprets test data and student records for parents and teachers •  Scheduling of classes • Engaged and on task • Performs other duties as required • Must have a thorough knowledge of the curriculum, instruction and counseling/guidance theory and practice • Communication skills, both oral and written, must be highly developed to meet the diverse needs of the clientele, professional staff and other community agencies • Must be able to organize and carry out student activity programs; or any equivalent combination of experience and training which would provide the required knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Health insurance and 403(b) retirement program available.

Brunswick Academy is an equal opportunity employer and a drug free work place.  Brunswick Academy does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, national origin, race, religion, or sex in employment or education.  Applicants considered for employment must successfully complete the following background investigations/tests: • State Police Criminal History Investigation • Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation • Tuberculosis Screening/Test.  This position is open until filled.

Please e-mail cover letter and resume to:

Brunswick Academy
Attn:  Kristine Thompson
Guidance Counselor
E-mail:  thompsonk@brunswickacademy.com

Virginia Communities, Legislators Breathe New Life into Preserving Black Cemeteries

BLACK CEMETERIES

By George Copeland Jr. and Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – On a hot Saturday in April, volunteers work under a bright sun and the noise of buzzing insects to find and remove unchecked nature and neglect from the graves of thousands of African-Americans, from everyday citizens to some of the most important leaders in local, state and national history.

The neighboring Evergreen and East End cemeteries serve as the final resting place of Maggie Walker, the first female bank president in the U.S.; John Mitchell, a newspaper publisher who risked his life to crusade for civil rights; and Rosa Dixon Bowser, founder of the Virginia State Teachers Association.

“When Black Richmond was the ‘Harlem of the South,’ when Jackson Ward was known as ‘Black Wall Street,’ these are the people who made those places,” said Brian Palmer of the Friends of East End Cemetery volunteer group.

But the state of the burial grounds can be a stark contrast to the stature of the prominent figures buried there. Over the years, Evergreen, East End and many other black cemeteries across Virginia have fallen into disrepair, uncared for and unacknowledged. More recently, concerned residents have rallied to restore, record and maintain the history of the many laid to rest.

“It is not, shall we say, stunningly beautiful to someone who is more familiar with cemeteries like Hollywood [where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, is buried], or the Confederate section of Oakwood, but to us, it is remarkable,” Palmer said of the work accomplished in East End since community efforts increased in 2013.

Across the commonwealth, volunteers like Palmer labor to restore the state’s African-American cemeteries, shining a light on a part of Virginia’s history often overshadowed by the legacy of the Confederacy. In recent years, these volunteers have seen support from a new source: the Virginia General Assembly, which has approved state funding for cleaning up and maintaining several of these cemeteries.

East End and Evergreen, on the line between Richmond and Henrico County, were the first African-American cemeteries in Virginia to receive help from the state government. In 2017, House Bill 1547 was signed into law. It allowed qualifying charitable organizations to collect maintenance funds for the two cemeteries – $5 annually for every person interred who lived between January 1800 and January 1900.

This led to a wave of similar legislation in 2018, with five bills passing the General Assembly. Most of the bills focused on African-American cemeteries in specific locales – CharlottesvilleLoudoun County and Portsmouth. In addition,HB 284 will extend state funding to every African-American cemetery established before 1900 and allow the caretakers of those sites to receive maintenance funds from the state.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, who introduced both pieces of legislation, said HB 284 was meant to clear up any ambiguities in HB 1547.

“This year,” McQuinn said, “we came back to say, ‘Let’s be clear: Localities have access to these funds.’”

Palmer remains ambivalent about the legislation; his group has made several attempts to reach out to and meet with McQuinn to discuss it in greater detail. In addition, Friends of East End Cemetery, a nonprofit organization, had applied to receive state funding under HB 1547 before HB 284 was filed, and a final decision from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is still pending.

Even without state support, members of the group remain focused on their work, a process of renewal where the number of volunteers can top 200, a donated wheelbarrow can be a huge boon and new discoveries are spotlighted on sites like FindAGrave.com.

Palmer first stepped into East End Cemetery in the summer of 2014 with his wife Erin while making a documentary. There, they encountered an armed hunting group who said they had permission to use the grounds. (Later, Palmer said he contacted the previous owner, who contradicted this claim.)

The following year, the Palmers joined in the volunteer efforts, helping to rediscover and archive the names of people buried there more than a century ago. State officials say East End Cemetery has nearly 4,900 graves that qualify for assistance and Evergreen has 2,100.

“We’ve had quite a few groups out here,” said John Shuck, a volunteer at East End and Evergreen since 2008. The two cemeteries have received help from college students, churches and Henrico County government. “Get people coming back out, you know, in ones and twos, but it all helps.”

Similar signs of progress are evident in Evergreen Cemetery, which covers more area than East End. Evergreen’s larger scale is matched by both the size of its volunteer force and signs of disrepair.

While the grounds are visited by both tour groups and mountain bikers, Dr. Ted Maris-Wolf of the EnRichmond Foundation, Evergreen’s new owner, emphasizes the work done so far remains “a shoestring operation.” Visitors can see support for that statement: A number of memorials are broken or obscured by overgrowth, and piles of decades-old detritus, collected by workers, line some of the paths in the lower areas of the cemetery.

Maris-Wolf, formerly a professor at Virginia Union University, Randolph-Macon College and the University of Louisiana, described the potential effect of extra revenue as a “game changer, not only for us but for all the cemeteries that will receive state funding.”

Before 2017, there were attempts in the General Assembly to provide equity in state support for graveyard maintenance, but they failed. However, success has come at the municipal level, thanks largely to community organizing.

In 2015, the city of Charlottesville gave $80,000 to the Preservers of the Daughters of Zion Cemetery to support their work in the city-owned burial grounds. The group hopes to “restore the extant markers, to attempt to identify the many unknown burials and to share information about the known individuals buried at the historic cemetery,” alongside videos,audio tours and an active presence on social media.

“We are very encouraged by recent legislation to provide funding for the preservation” of their cemetery and other African-American burial grounds, the group wrote. “We are hopeful that everyone will have the opportunity to tell their stories of our shared history.”

The struggle to maintain this aspect of Virginia has been long and fraught, even as the state’s black cemeteries remain unknown to most residents of the commonwealth.

Dr. Michael Blakey, an anthropologist and professor at the College of William & Mary, describes cemeteries as “the first archaeologically observable symbolic behavior, a language of memorialization, at the origins of Homo sapiens.”

“Thus, especially in slavery but for all people, cemeteries and mortuary ritual assert our humanity – human dignity – just as their desecration represents its denial.”

This is echoed by Dr. Lynn Rainville in a 2013 article published in the Journal of Field Archeology. Documenting her research into the topic in Albemarle County, Rainville described multiple black burial grounds throughout the area, neglected and overlooked due in part to housing development, racial shifts in local demographics leading to an absence in maintenance, vandalism and “inconsistencies in state laws.”

The result of this lack of care and gap in public awareness is evident even among the volunteers.

Robyn Young, along with her husband James Atkins and their daughter Cameron, continues to help reclaim East End as part of the Midlothian chapter of Jack & Jill of America. But she was struck by the fact “that I can’t find family members buried in these cemeteries for either of us,” despite being Richmond natives.

“I didn’t even know about this cemetery until today,” said Atkins, who has family buried at the nearby Oakwood Cemetery.

Palmer has encountered this juxtaposition in occasional interactions with the public.

“We still talk to people that come through and do the ‘Tsk, tsk – it’s a shame that the black community can’t take care of this place,’” Palmer said.

“The black community, through its tax dollars, has been sustaining every Confederate monument on public property in this city.”

These problems persist at a time when Virginia’s relationship with its Confederate history has grown more contentious. Legislation seeking to remove memorials to the Confederacy has repeatedly failed, while efforts to find alternative solutions have been met with criticism and outrage.

More monuments are still to come. This summer, construction will likely begin at the state Capitol on the Virginia Women’s Memorial, which will feature Confederate Capt. Sally Louisa Tompkins among a racially diverse group of notable women.

Pastor Michele Thomas of the Loudoun Freedom Center, a group that works to spotlight and protect multiple burial grounds against corporate interests and obscurity, declared historic preservation to be “one of the key civil rights issues of our time, because it’s still governed under Jim Crow laws.”

“Separate but equal is more pronounced in death than it is in life, and you can see that clearly with these properties,” Thomas said. “And so when it is our society has not evolved in our law, we’ve not evolved as a society.”

Despite such obstacles, work on African-American cemeteries continues across Virginia. The EnRichmond Foundation has partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University and other organizations in developing new techniques to improve Evergreen for both visitors and those interred, while the Friends of East End Cemetery, with help from VCU and the University of Richmond, unveiled a digital mapping of the cemetery last month.

While Palmer and his fellow volunteers still see signs of disrespect of East End from time to time, there’s a clear joy in seeing the families of those laid to rest come to the site to help ensure their ancestors’ memories are acknowledged and maintained.

“It’s inspiring, most definitely,” Palmer said, “because I think it can be kind of easy to be overwhelmed, but when you see people actually investing energy and time ...”

Visiting her parents’ and grandparents’ graves for the first time since 1994, Doris Smith described the work done so far as “fantastic.”

“Last time we were here, we couldn’t even get back here, you couldn’t even see their graves,” Smith said. “I think it’s really beautiful that people are getting out, doing and keeping it up.”

The 5 Laws Focused on Virginia’s Historically African-American Cemeteries

At the start of the 2018 legislative session, members of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates introduced five bills that would provide funding for the state’s historically African-American cemeteries. All five passed the General Assembly and have been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

This follows the passage in 2017 of a bill to assist two black cemeteries in Richmond and Henrico County. Until then, legislators regularly rejected attempts to address the unequal treatment of American-American grave sites and burial grounds in comparison to white-majority cemeteries and Confederate memorials.

In a 2013 article in the Journal of Field Archeology, Professor Lynn Rainville discusses this lack of equity: “Even though we have just elected an African-American president, our racially sensitive society unequally values the contributions of some individuals and communities. In the case of historical, black cemeteries, the voices of descendants and concerned residents are often ignored if a burial ground stands in the way of economic development or new construction. Conversely, it is taken as a given that ‘culturally valued’ graveyards, such as that of 19th-century presidents or white elites, will not be disturbed.”

In a statement sent to Capital News Service, a spokesperson for Northam echoed those sentiments and said the new laws “will help to expand upon the Commonwealth’s efforts to highlight, steward, and preserve additional African American cemeteries.”

Here are the new laws set to assist Virginia’s African-American cemeteries. All of them will take effect July 1:

  • House Bill 284, introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond. It adds any locality or person who owns an African-American cemetery established between January 1800 and January 1900 to the list of historic organizations qualified to receive funding for the preservation of the burial grounds. The cemetery owners may receive $5 for every person interred who lived between 1800 and 1900.
  • Senate Bill 198, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and HB 527, filed by Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. These identical bills add Mount Calvary Cemetery in Portsmouth to the list of historic cemeteries qualified to receive funding.
  • HB 360, introduced by Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville. It adds the Daughters of Zion Cemetery in Charlottesville to the list.
  • SB 163, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun. It adds the African-American Burial Ground in Belmont to the list.

Dr. Ted Maris-Wolf of the Evergreen Cemetery and the EnRichmond Foundation, reflecting on the swift passage of the bills through the General Assembly, said, “That was a great day, a tangible sign of progress.”

“These are sacred sites of history and memory, and for the state to help dignify them in that way, I think was an honor for everyone associated.”

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.”

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.”

‘We Value Work’: Richmond Employers Recognized for Backing Living Wage

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

 RICHMOND – Richmond community and business leaders gathered Thursday at the Washington NFL team’s training center to celebrate and discuss efforts to ensure a living wage for workers.

In a room overlooking snow-covered training fields, the introduction of the Richmond Living Wage Certification Program was mostly an hour of food and celebration for those present. Ten businesses and organizations – including Altria, the University of Richmond and the Better Housing Coalition – were recognized for going beyond the $7.25 minimum required by state and federal governments.

“Yes, jobs are important,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney told the gathering. “But jobs that are worked full-time and still leave those workers below the poverty line may help a corporate bottom line, but it will not help someone up from the bottom.”

The living wage program, a joint project of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, is the first of its kind in the state. Reggie Gordon, director of the wealth building office, stressed the importance of ensuring that workers are compensated enough to lead a full life with economic stability.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that the people employed by the companies recognized today have a better chance to succeed in this community,” Gordon said.

The Richmond initiative uses calculations from institutions including MIT and the Economic Policy Institute to create a three-tier structure. The highest tier includes businesses that pay a minimum of at least $16 an hour (or $14.50 with health-care coverage). Six of the honorees met that “Gold Star” standard. Employers who have pledged to pay a living wage but aren’t able to yet were also acknowledged.

Richmond Living Wage also encourages the public to patronize employers that pay a living wage. Moreover, the initiative challenges employers that could provide higher compensation but don’t by promoting ethical labor practices like the abolishment of wage theft.

While Stoney praised all involved, the mayor lamented Virginia’s continuing adherence to the federal minimum wage, even as 29 states and the District of Columbia have raised their starting wages.

Stoney said Virginia’s adherence to the Dillon Rule, which prohibits localities from enacting policies that haven’t been authorized by the state, prevents Richmond from raising the minimum wage for all businesses and employers.

Citing his childhood in a “working poor” family and past experience in retail work, Stoney said, “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty is the moral challenge of our time.”

Stoney also noted his proposed biennial budget comes with measures to raise the living wage for all city employees from the current $11.66. If adopted, the proposal would take effect in January. Richmond’s city government was certified at the event as a “Silver Star” employer ($12.50 per hour or $11 with health care).

“Eleven dollars an hour is a good start,” Stoney said. “But $16 an hour is an even greater difference maker.”

Virginians Rally Statewide Against Pipeline Construction

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND — A coalition of activist groups throughout Virginia rallied Thursday against natural gas pipelines scheduled for construction across the western part of the state, North Carolina and West Virginia.

While rallies were held in Blacksburg, Floyd, Roanoke and Franklin County, 10 members of the coalition made their presence known outside the gates of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Square, singing songs and chanting. They were led by Jessica Sims and Stacy Lovelace of the Virginia Pipeline Resisters.

Sims described the rally as a way of showing “solidarity with those communities being affected by the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines as tree felling has begun.”

The two pipelines would span multiple state lines, carrying natural gas to public utilities in the three states. The protesters focused on the West Virginia activists sitting in trees, blocking the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s 300-mile clearing efforts in the Peters Mountain area of Monroe County. The tree dwellers intend to stall the clearing efforts because if the tree felling isn’t completed by March 31, construction will be delayed until November to accommodate the local bat population, buying activists more time to halt the projects.

Saying the tree sitters were “doing the work” federal and state organizations hadn’t done, Lovelace called on West Virginian law enforcement to refrain from arresting the activists or property owners “under threat of charges of trespassing for being on their own land.”

The Richmond protest was part of the group’s continued efforts to sway Gov. Ralph Northam’s position on the pipelines. While Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has openly opposed their construction, Northam remains undecided.

“He didn’t really say yea or nay; he said he’d rely on the science,” Sims said, “and if that’s the case, he shouldn’t be supporting them.”

While the full scope of the pipelines’ environmental effects aren’t known yet, similar construction has led to complications. State regulators ordered those installing the Rover Pipeline, also running through West Virginia, to stop construction on Tuesday, following multiple water pollution violations. That same day, the Norfolk City Council voted to let the Atlantic Coast Pipeline run under two Suffolk reservoirs containing most of the city’s water supply.

The companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — Dominion Energy, Duke Energy and Southern Co. — have stressed the economic benefits the pipeline could bring to the three states. Calling it a “game changer,” they estimate that construction of the project will generate 17,000 temporary jobs and over $2 billion in “economic activity.” They also say the pipeline would help with service shutoffs caused by high demand during cold weather, and lower electricity costs overall.

However, independent research from the Applied Economics Clinic disputes these promises. Locals affected have also criticized the contractor chosen for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Spring Ridge Constructors, because it consists of companies based in states outside of the American Southeast. Another analysis from industry expert Gregory Lander, given to the State Corporation Commission, used Dominion’s own data to project a $2.3 billion increase in customer billing because of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Calling the company’s estimates “greenwashing” and “a falsehood,” Sims said, “even by their own commissioned reports, the number of permanent jobs is less than 100.”

Dominion has worked to ease the process of construction in affected communities since 2014, three years before any public hearings or formal documentation about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. These efforts have included grants totaling $2 million to various towns in the pipeline’s 600-mile path, and using eminent domain — typically a government power — to force landowners into allowing trees on their property to be removed. The developers have also hinted that the pipeline mayexpand into South Carolina.

The Virginia Pipeline Resisters plan to continue their efforts to raise awareness of this issue every Wednesday from10 to 10:45 a.m. behind the Office of the Governor, and Sims urged the public to voice their concern to legislators.

“Let them know that you’re concerned about Virginia’s water and you want them to act in the best interest of Virginia.”

Gov. Northam Signs 300 Bills on Issues From Taxes to Child Abuse

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Before adjourning on Saturday, the General Assembly passed more than 870 bills, and about 300 of them – on subjects ranging from taxes and criminal justice to education and government transparency – have already been signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The first bill signed by Northam, a pediatric neurologist who took office on Jan. 13, fit his medical career: Senate Bill 866 will reauthorize a license for a hospital in Patrick County, allowing the facility to reopen. SB 866 took effect immediately – on Feb. 16. Unless a bill contains such an emergency clause, it takes effect July 1.

Here is a rundown of other bills the governor has approved, as well as legislation awaiting action.

Bills Already Enacted

House Bill 154 and SB 230 took effect as soon as the governor signed them in on Feb. 22 and 23. Both conform Virginia’s tax system to changes in the federal tax code that the U.S. Congress approved last year.

Like the GOP-created federal law, both state laws were introduced by Republicans. Unlike the federal legislation, both bills saw bipartisan support in Virginia’s House and Senate.

The state legislation provides tax incentives to fund relief to areas struck by hurricanes. The two bills also feature the first amendments that Northam recommended as governor.

Bills Taking Effect July 1

Northam signed several bills tackling child abuse. They include HB 150 and HB 389, which will require local social service departments to alert schools found to have employed anyone accused of child abuse or neglect at any time.

Young people also will be helped by HB 399 and SB 960, which seek to create new work opportunities for students. The House bill requires school systems to notify students about internships and other work-based learning experiences. The Senate measure will promote partnerships between public high schools and local businesses on internships, apprenticeships and job shadow programs.

HB 35 will add a layer of oversight to the process that puts more violent juvenile offenders in adult detention faculties for the safety of other juveniles. It also will separate these juveniles from adult offenders when confined in adult facilities.

SB 966 will allow monopoly utilities like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to use their “over-earnings” – revenues that state regulators consider as excess profits – to modernize the energy grid and promote clean energy. The bill also removes a rate freeze made law in 2015, restoring some regulatory power to the State Corporation Committee.

HB 907 and 908 will allow greater transparency through public access to government meetings through the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, Northam approved bills creating more FOIA exemptions: for records relating to public safety (HB 727), certain police records (HB 909) and select financial investment documents held by board members of the College of William and Mary (HB 1426).

Bills on the Governor’s Desk

In criminal justice, HB 1550 would raise the threshold amount of money stolen that would qualify for grand larceny from $200 to $500. The current state threshold, which determines whether the crime is a felony, is one of the lowest in the United States.

Immigration saw the passage of HB 1257, which would bar the creation of sanctuary cities in Virginia by enforcing federal immigration standards on all localities. Its passage in the Senate, like the House of Delegates, came down to votes split along party lines. Northam has already made clear his intention to veto the legislation.

Last year, the General Assembly passed HB 1547, which provides state funding to renovate select historically black cemeteries in Richmond. This year, legislators approved bills focusing on African-American cemeteries in Loudoun County (SB 163), Charlottesville (HB 360) and Portsmouth (SB 198 and HB 527). A fifth, HB 284, would cover every black cemetery in the state while broadening the groups able to receive state funds.

Also awaiting Northam’s signature is HB 1600, which would reduce the maximum length of a long-term school suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill provides exceptions in extreme cases.

HB 50 would prohibit teachers and other school employees from “lunch shaming” students who can’t afford school meals by making them do chores or wear a wristband or hand stamp.

Northam has until April 9 to sign, veto or recommend changes to the bills sent to him by the General Assembly. Lawmakers will then return to Richmond on April 18 for a one-day session to consider vetoes and recommendations.

One piece of legislation that isn’t on Northam’s desk is a state budget for the 2018-2020 biennium. Legislators adjourned Saturday without reaching agreement on the budget because the Senate rejected the House of Delegates’ plans to expand Medicaid.

So Northam, who supports Medicaid expansion, must call a special legislative session for lawmakers to approve a budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Hundreds of Virginians Rally for Medicaid Expansion

A crowd of protesters raising their posters and banners at the rally for Medicaid expansion on Capitol Square (photo credit: George Copeland Jr.)

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Under the shadow of the Bell Tower on Capitol Square, hundreds of people from across Virginia rallied on a rainy Thursday in support of a state budget that would expand Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income residents.

Medicaid expansion is included in the budget approved by the House of Delegates. It also would add a work requirement for those seeking coverage. The budget passed by the Senate would not expand Medicaid. The two chambers must work out their differences and pass a budget before the legislative session ends March 10.

Speaking at the rally, Gov. Ralph Northam said, “Health care is a right. Morally the right thing to do is to expand coverage.”

Northam and other Democrats note that the federal Affordable Care Act encouraged states to expand Medicaid with the promise that the federal government would pick up most of the cost. Neighboring states such as Kentucky, West Virginia and Maryland have expanded Medicaid. Northam said Virginia is losing more than $5 million a day by failing to follow suit.

Northam was joined at the rally by a number of fellow Democrats including Attorney General Mark Herring and Sens. Jennifer Wexton of Loudoun, David Marsden of Fairfax, Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake, John Edwards of Roanoke and Jeremy McPike of Prince William.

More than 100 groups were represented at the rally, including the Healthcare for All Virginians Coalition, Planned Parenthood, the Young Invincibles and Progress Virginia.

Health Brigade Executive Director Karen Legato pointed to the bipartisan support for Medicaid expansion in the House. She said the state’s charitable clinics are no substitute for Medicaid expansion. Collectively, the clinics can serve only “152,000 of the 505,000 uninsured eligible for our services,” she said.

“We need our government to stand with us – to work with us side by side,” Legato said. “The time is now to ensure that the commonwealth is pro-health and pro-people.”

Christopher Rashad Green of New Virginia Majority, an advocacy group for working-class communities of color, discussed his experience being “trapped in the gap” between access to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. He also said he was encouraged to see people at the rally working for “equity and justice and access to affordable health care.”

“I didn’t believe any of this would happen, but now I actually see it happening, and you are proof of that,” Green said. “We have to remain hopeful and vigilant and do uncomfortable things like speaking truth to power. Keep fighting the fight.”

The Rev. Jeanne Pupke spoke on behalf of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and “thousands of faith leaders.” She called for an increase in activism from communities and individuals in the days to follow.

“We can do it if we all go home today and work hard to make our voices heard,” Pupke said. “Our interfaith voices, our unfaith voices, for the commonwealth that is our voice.”

After the rally, members of the crowd walked to legislators’ offices in the nearby Pocahontas Building to urge lawmakers to support Medicaid expansion.

“Keep your energy up, keep your enthusiasm up,” Northam told the people at the rally. “And let’s make sure that in the next week, we expand coverage and make sure that all Virginians have access to affordable and quality health care.”

Bill Banning Sanctuary Cities Heads to Senate Floor on 7-6 Vote

By George Copeland Jr.,Capital News Service
 
RICHMOND -- A bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia advanced to the Senate floor Tuesday on a 7-6 committee vote that split along party lines.
 
Introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, House Bill 1257 would restrict localities from passing sanctuary policies, which limit cooperation with national immigration enforcement efforts to improve relations with immigrant communities.  The legislation would require localities to follow immigration standards set by federal law, including collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
 
When the bill was under consideration in the House of Delegates, it was nearly struck down due to a tie vote.  However, reconsideration led to a second vote, with the bill passing 51-49, sending it to the Senate Committee on Local Government.
 
Gov. Ralph Northam is opposed to the bill and has said that sanctuary cities have not been a problem in the state; similar legislation last year was vetoed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
 
Sens. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, and Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, voiced concerns over how ICE’s presence would impact future business opportunities, state autonomy and the ability and community trust of local law enforcement.
 
Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Grayson, who supported the bill, cited the presence of violent gangs in the state  including MS-13.
 
“Without a law such as this,” Carrico said, “if a locality wants to create a sanctuary city, then what you’re doing, in essence, is protecting those gang members from ever being deported.”
 
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, countered that the legislation is “a message bill.”  She said there are already laws to check the immigration status of those jailed or imprisoned.
 
“This bill is not about MS-13,” McClellan said, “although I know that is what gets trotted out all the time as the boogeyman.” She added, “This bill sends a message to certain people: ‘You’re not welcome here.’”
 
There were no comments from the public in support of the bill.  Among those opposed were representatives from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond, the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
 
"It would increase the policing in our communities, it would make police officers quasi-federal immigration agents, which we don't want, right," said Diego Arturo Orbegoso, an immigrant from Peru and a member of the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.  
 
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brain Moran cited the “many unintended and even intended” effects of the bill in reiterating the governor’s opposition.
 
Voting in favor: Charles Carrico Sr., R-Grayson; Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield; William DeSteph Jr., R-Virginia Beach; Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico; Emmett Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), William Stanley Jr., R-Franklin; and Glen Sturtevant Jr., R-Richmond.
 
Opposed: Barbara Favola, D-Arlington; Lynwood Lewis Jr., D-Accomack; David Marsden, D-Fairfax; Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William; and Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax.

Dr. Grace Harris Is Remembered for ‘Her Spirit of Hope’

By George Copeland Jr and Adam Hamza, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Dr. Grace Harris, whose life and career stretched from the roads of rural Halifax County to the halls of the Virginia State Capital, was celebrated Saturday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Nearly 200 people, including family, friends, legislators and educators, assembled to remember Dr. Harris, who died Feb. 12 at age 84. She was praised as a “thoughtful, forward-thinking leader” by Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao. Dr. Harris remains the highest-ranking African-American woman in the college’s history.

Rao cited her 48-year tenure at the school, where she served as a dean, provost and acting president, as fundamental to VCU’s community and culture.

“I’ve talked a lot about VCU and its commitment to public good. That’s Grace,” Rao said. “VCU is committed to excellence and inclusion. That’s Grace.”

Rao also made clear that those present “must never forget” how racism initially barred Dr. Harris from attending VCU (the Richmond Professional Institute at the time) during her college years. As a result, Harris had to start graduate school out of state – at Boston University, where her classmates included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Members of the Harris family shared memories and personal stories of how they viewed her legacy.

In the course of their life together, Dr. Harris and her husband, James W. “Dick” Harris, had two children – James and Gayle. James Harris described the work ethic his mother instilled in him growing up in a letter read by his wife, Noelle Harris.

“She showed me what hard work, talent and dedication can do,” James Harris wrote. “And I’m glad to say and show her that I listened.”

Gayle Harris reminisced about the openness, kindness and respect her mother showed her throughout their life together.

“How wonderful it has been to have such support, encouragement, acceptance and love,” she said.

Recalling his time working with Dr. Harris on VCU’s Board of Visitors, Roger Gregory, chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, remembered the “prescription of life” she brought during her tenure.

“She gently wove her spirit of hope into the tapestry of every professional endeavor she had and every professional encounter,” Gregory said.

A number of political leaders, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, attended the service. U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner were unable to attend but wrote letters sending their regards. Dr. Harris served on Warner’s transition team for his term as Virginia governor in 2001. When Kaine was governor, she helped him choose appointees to university boards of trustees.

Former Gov. Douglas Wilder noted the challenges Dr. Harris faced and overcame as a woman of color in a racially segregated state and society. He also spoke of the importance of her legacy at a time of national upheaval and change for women.

Quoting Dr. Harris directly, Wilder left the audience with words of inspiration: “I will persist until I succeed, for I was not delivered into this world in defeat.”

That inspiration was evident in those in attendance. Leon Sankofa, president and founder of Family and Youth Foundations Counseling Services in Hampton, said Dr. Harris’ outreach efforts led him to enroll in VCU’s School of Social Work, where she served as assistant professor from 1967 to 1976.

“She was my idol,” Sankofa said. “She still is.”

Dr. Harris’ legacy of compassion extended beyond the funeral’s speakers and audience. Band leader Rudy Faulkner, during the opening musical selection, briefly mentioned the kindness the Harris family showed him one Christmas many years ago.

It was this compassion and kindness that Jullian Harrison, Dr. Harris’ grandson, saw as her greatest quality.

“Yes, she was smart. Yes, she was kind. But also, she was empathetic,” he recalled. Harrison said that is what made his grandmother so special.

“In a day and age when leadership and power is so synonymous with the focus on self, the fact that she could build a legacy and foundation based on kindness and to have it be successful is what made her.”

At Session’s Midpoint, 40% of Bills Are Still Alive

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

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly’s 2018 session has reached its midpoint, with more than 1,000 bills passing between the House and Senate, including potential changes to health care, criminal justice and transportation.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, was pleased with what his party has accomplished this session.

“From measures that will make healthcare more accessible and affordable, to meaningful legislation to grow our economy, Republican senators have been unified in their commitment to improving the lives of all Virginians,” Norment said.

But more than 1,500 pieces of legislation on issues like marijuana decriminalization and gun violence have failed, having never made it out of committee.

Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax, criticized the GOP majority in the House for killing legislation such as his proposal to create a legal process to temporarily remove the firearms of someone who, according to family members or friends, is a risk to himself or others.

"These bills never received a subcommittee assignment, let alone a hearing,” Sullivan said.

Tuesday was “crossover day,” the deadline for bills to clear their house of origin:

●      Of the 1,609 House bills, delegates passed 589, or 37 percent. They now will be considered by the Senate.

●      Of the 994 Senate bills, senators approved 469, or 47 percent. They have been sent to the House for consideration.

Here is a rundown on the status of key legislation:

Bills that have ‘crossed over’ and are still alive

Immigration: HB 1257 would require Virginia to follow the immigration laws set by the federal government, potentially prohibiting so-called sanctuary cities. The measure was briefly defeated in the House on a tie vote. But then delegates reconsidered and voted 51-49 to send the bill to the Senate.

Education: HB 1419 would increase students’ recess time at school “to develop teamwork, social skills, and overall physical fitness.” HB 50 targets “lunch-shaming” by teachers — an unofficial practice in which students who can’t afford or owe money for school meals must do work or wear a special wristband or stamp.

African-American cemeteries: Several bills would allow qualifying groups to collect state funds for maintaining historically black cemeteries in Loudoun County (SB 163), Charlottesville (HB 360) and Portsmouth (SB 198 and HB 527). Last year, the General Assembly approved such funding for select Richmond cemeteries. Another proposal (HB 284) would cover every black cemetery in Virginia.

Medical Marijuana: HB 1251 would allow wider certification for medical marijuana usage, and increases the amount of medical marijuana dispensed by providers from a 30-day to 90-day supply.

Energy conservation: SB 894 would establish the Virginia Energy Efficiency Revolving Fund. It would give no-interest loans to public institutions for energy conservation and efficiency projects. Its passage comes after several bills focused on expanding solar energy and capping carbon dioxide emissions in the commonwealth failed in the House and Senate.

Transportation: HB 1539 and HB 1319 would create a reform commision for the Washington Metro and provide more money for mass transit in Northern Virginia. SB 583 would raise the motor vehicle fuels tax by 2.1 percent in the western part of Virginia to fund improvements on Interstate 81.

Economic development: HB 222 would offer tax breaks to companies that create jobs paying at least twice the minimum wage in certain localities. The localities are mostly rural areas in southern and western Virginia and along the Chesapeake Bay but also include Petersburg.

Criminal justice: HB 1550  and SB 105 aim to raise the threshold for grand larceny from $250 to $500. The new limit would keep people who steal amounts under it from being branded as felons. The current threshold, implemented in 1980, is one of the lowest in the country.

Health care: HB 338 could open the door to Medicaid expansion in Virginia — an issue championed by Democrats but historically opposed by Republicans. The bill, which outlines work requirements for Medicaid recipients, made it through the House in the final days before crossover.

Government transparency: SB 592 would prohibit the personal use of any campaign funds. Candidates guilty of converting campaign assets for personal use would be forced to repay the amount exploited to the State Board of Elections and could face additional fines.

Prisons: Under HB 83, correctional facilities would have to ensure that female inmates have free access to feminine hygiene products. The bill comes less than a year after Congress passed similar legislation for federal prisons.

Bills that have failed for this session

Bump stocks: A bill banning the use of bump stocks — mechanical devices that increase the rate of fire of rifles — failed in a House subcommittee. HB 41 was introduced in response to the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people died and over 500 were injured.

Civil Rights: Attempts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in SJ 4HJ 2 and HJ 4 failed to advance beyond their original chambers.

Childbearing: HB 67 would have prohibited any employer in Virginia from discharging an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition, including lactation. The bill was killed by a House subcommittee. Existing law applies only to employers with five to 15 employees.

Tampon tax: Feminine hygiene products will continue to be taxed after HB 152 died in the House.

Marijuana decriminalization: SB 111, which aimed to allow simple possession, was rejected in a 6-9 vote by a Senate subcommittee. HB 974, which would have legalized the possession and distribution of medical marijuana, also failed.

Mental health: HB 252 would have required at least one mental health counselor for every 250 students in each high school in Virginia. HB 174 would have established protocols for police officers when communicating with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.

In a press release, Gov. Ralph Northam commended the General Assembly’s efforts, calling the 2018 session “the most productive period I have seen since I came to the General Assembly in 2008.”

“I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans in the legislature to continue this progress and meet the challenges our fellow Virginians have asked us to solve.”

Richmond City Council Votes 7-2 to Increase Meals Tax

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service
 
RICHMOND -- Richmond restaurant, fast food and movie theater customers will pay an extra 1.5 percent with their food starting in July, following the City Council's decision to raise the meals tax to help fund school construction and improvement.
 
Over the course of a five-hour meeting, the council voted 7-2 Monday to approve increasing the local meals tax from 6 percent to 7.5 percent.  Combined with the sales tax, this will bring the total tax on a restaurant check to 12.8 percent.
 
Tessa McKenzie, one of the citizens who supported the increase, called its passage "one step in a larger solution towards a more equitable system" for Richmond's public schools.
 
“This seems like a great, low-hanging fruit to really galvanize excellent movement for our students,” said McKenzie, who works for Bridging Richmond, a group that advocates for improvements in education and workforce development.
 
Councilman Parker Agelasto, 5th District, voted for the tax increase but expressed concerns.  He promised greater scrutiny of financial issues as the council drafts the next city budget.
 
“Million-and-a-half subsidies for Main Street Station? Gone!” Agelasto said.  “The Redskins training camp?  They want to renegotiate and renew this by July 1?  Well, you know what, Redskins? Go!”
 
The action capped a contentious evening, one set in place after Mayor Levar Stoney rallied his City Council allies to push for the vote last week.  Stoney has said that the increase will raise $9 million a year, eventually allowing the city to borrow $150 million for the construction and improvement of Richmond's public schools over the next five years.
 
While council deliberation over the vote was long and passionate, the loudest voices came from Richmond residents who spoke.  Comments supporting and opposing the tax increase extended well past the 30-minute limit allowed for both. They represented a diverse mix of citizens, including parents, movie theater owners, restaurant managers, teachers and students.  The latter two made up a significant part of the comments urging passage of the tax increase.
 
Thomas Jefferson High School student Alexis Gresham said that the higher tax would help her younger sister’s school environment without straining the family’s budget.
 
“As an RPS student, I can’t wait,” Gresham said. “Please vote for the meals tax.”
 
Opponents of the tax increase offered several reasons, including a lack of trust in the council and School Board. Some said the tax hike represented "economic discrimination" against restaurants and movie theaters. A few even felt the increase didn't go far enough and would only succeed in keeping the public schools "afloat" in their current state.
 
“I’m for the schools,” said Jason Thrasher, owner and operator of The Local Eatery and Pub.  “If this doesn’t go into effect until July 1st, why can’t you take another 30 days to sit down, plan it out, map it out and give the city and its citizens and taxpayers a way to see that you’re actually going to use the money for its purpose?”
 
Councilwoman Kristen Larson, 4th District, objected to what she saw as a lack of transparency and accountability expected of a body that served "as a check and balance to the mayor."  
 
"If we don't honor the duty given to us by the voters and the Virginia Constitution, we have no purpose in this process," Larson said.
 
Larson and Councilwoman Kim Gray, 2nd District, voted against raising the meals tax.
 
Earlier in the meeting, Larson called for a delay to the vote; her request was rejected 8-1.  A second attempted delay was made by Agelasto and was rejected 5-4.
 
Several opponents of the tax increase cited legislation approved earlier Monday by the Virginia Senate as part of their objections.
 
Senate Bill 750 would require Stoney to present to the council by Jan. 1, 2019, a plan “to modernize the city's K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards” without raising taxes -- or else the mayor must “inform city council such a plan is not feasible.”
 
The bill was introduced by Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant, a former member of the Richmond School Board. It passed the Senate 40-0 and now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.

Trailblazing Educator Dr. Grace Harris Dies at 84

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Dr. Grace E. Harris, the highest-ranking African-American and highest-ranking woman in the history of Virginia Commonwealth University, died Monday at age 84, leaving a legacy that stretches throughout and beyond the state of Virginia.

In an email to the VCU community, university President Michael Rao called Harris “a giant in legacy and in character, a woman whose contributions to VCU and to the countless lives we touch are truly immeasurable.”

“She was one of the wisest, kindest, and most generous people I have ever met,” Rao wrote.

Harris was born Grace Victoria Edmondson on July 1, 1933, in Halifax County to a family of preachers and educators in segregation-era Virginia. Harris had five siblings. One sister, Mamye BaCote, went on to become a member of the Virginia House of Delegates; another, the late Sue E. Wilder, was a NASA data analyst referenced in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Graduating as class valedictorian from Halifax Training School in 1950, Harris attended several institutions of higher education, including Grinnell College in Iowa as an exchange student. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and graduated with highest honors from Hampton University, then named Hampton Institute.

When Harris was a graduate student in 1954, Virginia Commonwealth University – then known as Richmond Professional Institute – refused to admit her because of her race. Undeterred, Harris spent two years at Boston University, alongside classmates such as Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1960, she returned to the newly named VCU to complete a master’s degree in social work. She served as an assistant professor in VCU’s School of Social Work from 1967 to 1976. For the next 30 years, Harris was a rising presence in the school’s ranks, becoming a dean in 1982, provost in 1993 and acting president in 1995.

Along the way, Harris earned accolades and awards. In 1999, the VCU Board of Visitors established the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute in her honor. In 2007, VCU renamed the former School of Business building as Grace E. Harris Hall.

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a longtime friend, celebrated Harris’ achievements, saying in a statement that her “connection to the needs of the community and its citizens had a dramatic impact on the identity of VCU and the way it engaged people.”

Though she retired from VCU in 2016, Harris’ social work never stopped. She assisted nonprofit organizations across the commonwealth, including serving on the advisory board of the Virginia Health Care Foundation. Deborah Oswalt, executive director of that group, described her as “small in physique, but she was a giant in all other respects.”

“Grace helped the Virginia Health Care Foundation flourish during a time of transition and fiscal uncertainty,” Oswalt said. “She brought a thoughtful, intelligent, kind approach to everything she did and to all with whom she engaged.”

Harris was vice chair for Mark Warner’s transition team after he was elected governor in 2001. The following year, Warner appointed her to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia praised the “keen insight into university administration” Harris provided when he appointed members of Virginia’s public college boards during his governance.

“Dr. Harris used her lifetime of groundbreaking service to help cultivate and elevate emerging leaders,” Kaine said.

She is survived by her husband, James W. “Dick” Harris; her two adult children, Gayle and James; and her grandson, Jullian, who earned a master’s degree in sociology from VCU in 2016.

Herring Joins 11 State Attorneys General in Opposing Offshore Drilling

By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Twelve attorneys general, including Virginia’s Mark Herring, called on the federal government Thursday to halt its plans for gas and oil drilling off their coasts.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the attorneys general said the offshore drilling proposal “represents disregard for vital state interests, economies, and resources.”

Drilling off Virginia’s coast would pose a risk to the state’s marine environment, industries, revenue and military assets, Herring said.

"The Commonwealth of Virginia and our coastal communities have made it abundantly clear that we are not interested in putting our economy and citizens at risk as part of President Trump's giveaway to oil and gas companies," Herring said in his statement accompanying the letter.  “The federal government should not force this risk upon us.”

The letter follows Gov. Ralph Northam’s call last month that Zinke exempt Virginia from the drilling plans.  Like Herring, Northam, a fellow Democrat, cited ecological and financial costs.  Northam also noted that Zinke had exempted Florida at the request of that state’s Republican governor,  Rick Scott.

The language used by the attorneys general is more forceful, promising to challenge the proposal “using appropriate legal avenues.”

In addition to Herring, the letter was signed by attorneys general from North Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Oregon.

The letter also follows comments made by Herring and five other attorneys general to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement on Monday.  The group criticized the proposed revisions to the Interior Department’s regulation of safety systems for offshore gas and oil production.  

These regulations were put in place in 2016 after the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig led to the deaths of 11 people and the spilling of 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Groups Team Up to Count Richmond Area’s Homeless

Organizations talk and offer service to homeless visitors at the free lunch program in St. Paul's Episcopal Church

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – As part of a statewide assessment, a nonprofit group is taking its annual census of the city’s homeless, aiding and aided by a coalition of outreach programs.

The group, Homeward, began its 20th annual Winter Count last week. With a team of about 200 volunteers, the organization collected survey data for two days across several locations, from shelters throughout Richmond to lunch and dinner programs at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First Baptist Church.

Besides counting the number of homeless people, the volunteers cataloged where each person last slept as well as the participant’s race, gender and other information. That data is essential to Homeward’s goals of helping other outreach groups in the region, Executive Director Kelly King Horne said.

“Homeward was created so that this could be a regional approach,” said Horne, who has worked in the 20-year-old organization for more than 14 years. She sees the Winter Count as an opportunity for outreach workers to “ground ourselves in conversations with people in crisis and understand directly from them what it would take to solve this crisis, what are the issues.”

The census will help those involved to “really start to understand better what we’re seeing and what we need to do going forward,” Horne added.

The count also is necessary to maintain a “continuum of care” for the homeless. The data collection is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Any state that fails to conduct the count within the last 10 days of January won’t receive federal funding.

Homeward coordinates homeless services throughout Richmond, from Charles City County to Powhatan County and including Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties.

The census used voluntary survey forms, passed out to those 18 and older across five sites and events. In addition, assessments were conducted in smaller counties like Goochland and New Kent, where homeless individuals are less likely to gather in camps.

This year’s census included some new techniques, as volunteers reached out to panhandlers and asked questions focused on elderly individuals.

Homeward worked not only with its affiliated outreach programs but also with groups such as Spread the Vote, United Healthcare and the U.S. Social Security Administration. Elizabeth Graham, a social worker with Virginia’s Veteran Affairs office, called the collaboration “very successful.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” Graham said. “I think it’s great to have all these resources in one place for folks to come to.”

Those who work to end homelessness know that the endeavor comes with many difficulties. Vivian Bagby, who works with the Richmond Food Bank to feed the poor, said it is a “tragedy” that the city lacks centralized locations where the homeless can congregate and receive care. As a result, homeless people are scattered throughout the city.

“They used to go to Monroe Park,” said Bagby, who now does her outreach near Abner Clay Park after Monroe was closed for construction last year. “And it’s far less than what would gather at Monroe Park. So I’m not sure where the homeless go now.”

While lack of a central location and erratic weather patterns pose challenges in helping Richmond’s less fortunate, Horne said the biggest obstacle is the lack of investment in affordable housing for low-income families. The Richmond area also suffers from a lack of resources for emergency shelters, in her view.

“As a community, as a state, as a country, it’s really difficult,” Horne said. “That’s always a challenge every day, regardless of everything else.”

The completed data will be available in mid- to late February. Horne said she is confident the census will continue to serve the city well.

“There’s so many great ways to connect to this issue,” she said. “Richmond’s really fortunate that we have so many awesome agencies working to end homelessness. Whatever your interests or passions are, there’s a way to connect and make a difference.”

Virginia Swears In Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A new voice formally joined Virginia’s government Saturday afternoon as Justin Fairfax was sworn in as lieutenant governor, and a familiar figure, Mark Herring, took the oath of office to continue his role as attorney general.

The two, alongside newly instated Gov. Ralph Northam, headlined an inaugural ceremony attended by approving guests.

Rita Williams, who had worked with Fairfax’s campaign when he lost the Democratic nomination for attorney general to Herring in 2013, said she was proud of his accomplishments.

“He is a very, very intelligent young man, a gifted young man, and he will make an excellent lieutenant governor,” she said.

Fairfax is the second African-American elected to a Virginia state position, following Douglas Wilder as governor in 1989. He was sworn in by former U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee. Before retiring, Lee oversaw a number of high profile cases, including the convictions of Brian Patrick Regan for espionage and Ahmed Omar Abu Ali for conspiracy to assassinate then-President George W. Bush.

Thomas Horne, a former judge and commonwealth’s attorney from Loudoun County, returned to administer the oath of office for Herring as he had done four years ago. Herring spent his previous career as a lawyer in Horne’s Loudoun County courtroom.

Mia Masten, director of advocacy and professional relations for Pfizer in Washington, D.C., attended the event. She said she was unfamiliar with the two politicians but was enthusiastic about Virginia’s future with “the new influx of new energy, new blood, new excitement.”

Charles Cockrell, communication and business director at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, was also optimistic.

“I think we have great leadership in Virginia,” he said.“We see a lot of progress in technology and what we’ve done to foster economic growth in the Commonwealth. We look forward to seeing that continue in the next administration.”

Senate Panel Rejects Bill Banning Utility Campaign Donations

By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A senator’s repeat attempt to prohibit campaign donations from Dominion Energy and other regulated monopolies was struck down by a Senate committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 10 would have banned candidates from soliciting or accepting donations from any public service corporation, and any political action committees those corporations created and controlled.  The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee effectively killed the bill by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, on a 12-2 vote.  Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, opposed.

Petersen’s bill, co-patroned by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, was nearly identical to legislation the Fairfax lawmaker filed last year.

 "Sen. Petersen will continue the fight to keep monopoly money out of Virginia politics," said Alex Parker, the senator’s political director.

In his statement to the committee, Petersen said he sought the ban because of the electricity-rate freeze approved by the General Assembly in 2015 that resulted in “transferring several hundred million dollars in wealth from rate-payers to the profits, the shareholders of these companies.” On Monday, Petersen's attempt to roll back the freeze, which applied to Dominion and Appalachian Power Co., also failed in committee -- though the issue could be pushed in legislation by other lawmakers this session.

 “I felt like one of the root causes why my legislation was not successful, why we passed these underlying bills, was money had corrupted the process,” Petersen said.

Petersen didn’t name any specific corporations during his statement, but the legislation’s largest impact would have been on the role of Dominion, the largest corporate donor to Republican and Democratic legislators, governors and other elected officials in Virginia.

Several committee members critiqued Petersen’s bill and its potential effects.  Petersen himself admitted the bill wasn’t perfect, and was resigned to its failure. But he also made clear that he believed the legislation had broad public support.  Recalling a 2017 town hall meeting where he discussed the bill, Petersen said, “It remains the only time that I’ve been in politics, 20 years, that I’ve gotten a standing ovation.”

He added, “Until you take the money from public service corporations out of this body, you will continue to get flawed legislation like the rate freeze.”

Hundreds Celebrate Legacies of Dr. King, VUU

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and hundreds of other people gathered Friday morning for Virginia Union University’s 40th Annual Community Leaders Breakfast, praising the school’s mission and legacy while urging Virginians toward acts of public service.

Along with figures including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, the event also celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which has its 50th anniversary on Monday.

Despite the heavy rain outside the Marriott Hotel, guests were in high spirits about Virginia Union – founded in 1865 to serve newly freed slaves – and the future of the state in general. Corshai Williams, president of the VUU Student Government Association, was honored at the event, while the school’s choir performed.

“I think it’s an awesome reflection on the legacy of Martin Luther King,” said Joseph L. Lyons, associate director of career services for Virginia State University, a historically black school in Petersburg. “I think the fusion of educators and persons in the community, as well as students together will continue the dream.”

Pamela Tolson Turner, director of communications for VSU, agreed.

“I look forward to this event each year,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to honor the legacy of such a great man, a man that stood for all.”

Former Varina High School teacher Reginald Bassette Sr. was enthusiastic about the state’s prospects in the coming year: “I think Virginia is moving forward in more ways than we know. The good things that are happening are generally overshadowed by the things that are not as positive as they could be.”

Less positive topics nonetheless found their way into the celebration through the speakers’ remarks. Among the topics was last year’s neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.

Northam condemned the “white supremacists” responsible for the event, which led to the death of activist Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police officers. Northam promised support for “inclusivity and diversity” throughout the state under his administration.

McEachin made repeated references to President Donald Trump’s administration when talking about King’s philosophies and the opposition he faced.

“The trouble that we have now is because we have leaders who do not keep the needs of the people holy,” McEachin said. He listed such developments as the failed attempts to expand Medicaid in Virginia, Congress’ failure to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and passage of a federal tax bill that many believe will hurt the poor.

McEachin summarized his thoughts on the current state of the country with: “Indeed, these are troubled times.”

But the speakers and guests made an effort to keep the breakfast centered on a more positive outlook.

Accepting an MLK Lifetime of Service award from the group he helped create, the Rev. Taylor C. Millner Sr. of Morning Star Holy Church said, “This breakfast is not just about Trump. This breakfast is also reminding you that when you go out of that door at 9 o’clock, you have to live the dream. You have to fight for justice. You have to make an opportunity for everyone else. Go after the gold, but also serve somebody!”

Mr. Lyons, when asked for his thoughts on Richmond and Virginia’s place in 2018, said “I think we are survivors, I think we persevere, I think we move forward. So regardless of the climate, regardless of the political outlook, I think we’re always going to move forward and be optimistic.”

Like Florida, Virginia Seeks Offshore Drilling Exemption

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov.-elect Ralph Northam asked Thursday that Virginia be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to open almost all of America’s offshore waters to drilling.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Northam cited his childhood growing up on the Eastern Shore as testament to the region’s worth to Virginia and the country at large.

“The Chesapeake Bay and the Commonwealth’s ocean and coastal resources are every bit as ecologically and economically valuable as those of Florida,” Northam said.

Last week, Zinke proposed allowing offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all coastal waters of the United States. But on Tuesday, following objections from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke said Florida would be exempt from the plan.

Northam’s letter asked “that the same exemption be made for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The letter follows Northam’s previous statement condemning the Trump administration’s drilling proposal. Governors of other East Coast states – including Maryland and North and South Carolina – have also voiced objections.

Northam said offshore drilling would pose financial risks to Virginia. He said he was concerned about military assets in Hampton Roads, which account for “nearly half” of the region’s economy, and about the tourism and seafood industries. Northam said Virginia is “the leading seafood producer on the East Coast, the third largest producer in the country, and the national leader in hard clam aquaculture.”

Zinke has called the drilling plan part of “a new path for energy dominance in America.” In a press release last week, he said oil and gas drilling would have vast financial benefits, providing “billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”

The Trump administration will take public comment on its proposals from Jan. 16 through March 9.

Northam called on the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold public hearings in Hampton Roads and on the Eastern Shore. He noted that the bureau has scheduled a public meeting for the proposal in Richmond, “nearly 100 miles from the coastal communities that would most feel its impacts.”

Legislative Black Caucus aims to help disadvantaged

By George Copeland, Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus pledged their commitment Wednesday to legislation that would help underprivileged Virginians by bringing improvements in education, health care, the economy and the criminal justice system. 

Outlining their agenda on the first day of the 2018 General Assembly session, caucus members said at a news conference that increased Democratic representation in the House of Delegates and the election of Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor were a boon for the group’s goals.

“We are in a great position to pass some legislation that will benefit all Virginians,” said Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg, who presented the caucus’ policies for health care.  “Not only is Medicaid expansion the right thing to do, but it will save Virginians money. Right now, we have the opportunity to be on the right side of history.”

Newly elected  Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, announced 10 criminal justice bills stemming from her experience as  a public defender to ensure a state that was “smart on crime” rather than punitive.

Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, emphasized the importance of  healthy and affordable food for marginalized communities.She pledged the caucus’ support for the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund, which she said would also create jobs in the private sector.

“We know that it works; it has worked across the country,” said  McQuinn, “and we are pushing this as one of the ways of bringing economic prosperity and wellness to the various communities.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, summarized the caucus’ slate of education policies. She said caucus members “would fight any legislation that diverted public school funds to private schools.”

Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said caucus-backed voting rights bills would make voting a constitutional right for non-violent felons and lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. The caucus is also supporting redistricting reform, and said that ballot confusion in the 28th District led to an “injustice” in the defeat of Democratic hopeful Joshua Cole.

“We want to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again, said Del. Rasoul.  “We firmly believe that voting is not a privilege, rather that it’s our due as Americans and Virginians.”

Near the start of the conference, new Caucus Chair Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, introduced Lt. Gov.-elect Fairfax as the “21st member” of the caucus.  Fairfax highlighted the caucus’ part in the November Democratic victories and described his future role in the Senate as “breaking ties in favor of progress.” Fairfax said he was looking forward “to working with every single one of these brave leaders.”

Governor Declares Emergency As Snowstorm Nears

By George Copeland Jr., Capital News Service

RICHMOND – State officials on Wednesday urged Virginians to prepare for a winter storm that could dump up to a foot of snow on parts of the commonwealth over the next few days.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday, authorizing state agencies, including the National Guard and Virginia State Police, to assist local governments in responding to the storm, which may impact roads and bridges.

The sudden cold snap follows temperature drops across the Southeastern United States, including a rare snowfall in South Carolina. Parts of Eastern Virginia, including Hampton Roads, the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, are expected to receive the most snowfall – up to 12 inches.

“With this forecast in mind, all Virginians should take the necessary precautions now to ensure they are prepared for the travel disruptions, power outages and other threats to health and safety that could arise during this significant weather event,” McAuliffe said in a press release.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is already at work, according to Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.

“VDOT has already taken measures to pre-treat roads and preposition equipment, crews and materials to treat roads in advance of the storm and will work throughout the storm to plow roads,” Layne said. “Driving conditions during the storm are expected to be hazardous, and motorists are urged to stay off the roads until the storm passes.”

State officials encouraged residents to keep track of road conditions by accessing the 511virginia.org website, using the free VDOT 511 mobile app or calling 511. VDOT also has a Snow Plow Tracker that shows the location of most plows.

Other help and assistance during the storm can be reached by dialing 211 or #77 on mobile phones for vehicular emergencies. Virginians with hearing impairments can call 711 for the Virginia Relay Center and then 1-800-230-6977.

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