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Sarah Danial

GREENSVILLE/EMPORIA DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

LOCAL BOARD MEETING

The Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services Administrative Board will meet on Thursday, October 18, 2017, at 3:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Greensville/Emporia Department of Social Services located at 1748 East Atlantic Street.  The public is welcome to attend.

Pathways to Prevention: Measures to Curb Gun Violence

(Editor's Note: This is the final installment of an in-depth series by the Student Journalists of the VCU Capital News Service)

By Claire Comey and Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Lori Haas’ daughter is pregnant with her second child. That might sound like an exciting but somewhat mundane life event for most adults, but for Haas, it means more. Eleven years ago, her daughter, Emily, sat in a French class at Virginia Tech when a gunman entered the room and killed 12 of her classmates and 16 other students.

So when Haas tells people Emily is pregnant, she is excited, but she always thinks of the parents who will never get to be grandparents because of gun violence.

“It’s visceral pain for those families, and they don’t get over it,” she said. “There’s no closure.”

After a mass shooting such as the Tech massacre, community leaders consider policy solutions and ask the “what if” questions about security problems and mental health awareness. But what can actually be changed to help prevent another mass shooting? Haas is pushing for answers.

In the wake of the April 16, 2007, shooting, Haas became friends with some of the victims’ parents. They still grieve.

“They cry every Christmas, they cry every birthday, they cry every anniversary, they cry every Mother’s Day,” Haas said.

That’s why Haas spends every day working for gun control legislation as the Virginia state director for the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

“Sometimes I just don’t understand how our lawmakers can put the ease of access to a firearm above somebody’s life, and that’s what they’re doing,” Haas said.

Haas advocates for national “extreme risk laws,” which allow families or law enforcement authorities to ask a court to remove someone’s access to guns if the person “poses an imminent danger” to themselves or others.

Haas is also a proponent of universal background checks on all firearm purchases.

“You can prohibit someone from purchasing or owning a gun, but if they can just go online or go to a gun show or go to the street corner and buy one, the prohibition doesn’t do you any good,” she said.

Regulation works in America, Haas said, so it would be common sense to regulate firearms more.

“The notion that we can’t regulate access to firearms is harming our friends, our families, our neighbors, our communities,” Haas said. “It’s deadly and there are deadly consequences, and I find it morally objectionable that people place more value on convenience than on someone’s life.”

Security: Be ALERRT

In the case of an attack, the most important thing is to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings, said Pete Blair, the executive director of Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training at Texas State University in San Marcos, south of Austin. Being conscious and reactive is key.

“The first thing is to have situational awareness, and if something seems wrong, to start acting as if it is wrong as quickly as possible,” Blair said.

ALERRT is becoming a national standard for first-responder training for active attacks. It began as a collaboration between the San Marcos Police Department and the Houston County Sheriff’s Office in response to the Columbine Massacre of 1999. Now the training is the standard for all agents in the FBI, and many states have adopted it for all first responders.

Mike O’Berry, assistant chief of the Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department, said that having the same training is key in collaborating with other agencies responding to an attack on campus.

“We’re going to get lots of agencies that we don’t work with every day,” O’Berry said. “We’ve all been trained the same so we can seamlessly all get together in groups and all deal with the situation based on the same training.”

ALERRT trains not only first responders but also civilians on how to prepare for any kind of attack. The program teaches a three-pronged strategy – avoid, deny and defend:

  • Avoid means to simply get as far away as possible from an attacker.
  • If that is not possible the next step is to deny them access to your location. “Close and lock the door, barricade it and keep them from getting to you,” Blair said.
  • The final step and last resort is to defend yourself by any means necessary. “You have a legal right to do that, and if the choice is to do nothing or be murdered, we encourage people to try to protect themselves,” Blair said.

The ultimate way to stay safe, according to ALERRT and the VCU Police Department, is to report any suspicious activity to authorities. O’Berry said safety is everyone’s responsibility.

“Those are the things that we need people to call in,” O’Berry said. “And it’s the only way to keep VCU safe – everybody looking and observing the environment because the police can’t do it alone.”

Mental Health Treatment

After a mass shooting, many people say the shooter’s mental health triggered the violence.

That assumption not only reflects an incorrect causal relationship but also contributes to a harmful stigma, said psychologist Peter LeViness of the University of Richmond, who served as an expert witness for the defense after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.

“I think people are quick to connect mental illness to the shooters,” LeViness said. “I don’t think it’s as common a link as people want to believe.”

There are only a few disorders that “actually increase the risk of violence,” and even then, the connection is not obvious, he said.

According to a 2016 American Psychiatric Association study, mass shootings by “people with serious mental illness” account for fewer than 1 percent of all gun-related homicides.

“I don’t think it’s causal,” LeViness said. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of people with the same disorder wouldn’t do that, and then when people say it was the depression, that just makes the stigma worse.”

More often, shooters have had a grievance or grudge they want to settle, or they had a childhood filled with violence, he said.

“They think, ‘I’ve been treated badly, and someone needs to pay back for that,’” LeViness said.

After a mass shooting, survivors can have lasting mental effects, said LeViness, who is also director of counseling and psychological services at Richmond and a threat assessment trainer in Virginia.

In the short term, survivors might exhibit a loss of concentration, appetite or sleep – possible signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Support from family and friends can help. At school, administrators can bring in grief counselors to help with returning to normalcy.

Even people miles from a mass shooting can be affected by the event.

Lissa Brown, a school psychologist for Henrico County, said the children she works with in Virginia are experiencing secondary trauma in the aftermath of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“It’s just the veiled threat that something might happen to them,” Brown said. “These children are still traumatized.”

Many students and teachers told Brown that they don’t feel safe.

“We see a lot of hyperactivity, a lot of hyper-vigilance, because children are just concerned about what’s going to happen during their school day,” Brown said. “Sometimes they’re not able to focus because they’re always on guard or thinking about how they’d react.”

Brown emphasized the need for accurate threat and risk assessment in determining if a student could harm themselves or others.

“I feel that all children who are at risk for harming themselves or harming others need mental health care,” Brown said. “And if that was my child, he would need mental health care, and if he had killed my child, I would be so hurt, but that child was asking for help.”

LeViness supports what he sees as sensible gun control. Research shows that restricting access to guns can prevent suicide, he noted. But more than that, LeViness said people must be more interested in one another.

“The more we can connect with people and be socially engaged,” LeViness said. “Who is not connecting? Who is on the fringe?”

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.”

In Walkout Over Guns, Richmond-area Students Say ‘Enough’

Photos of victims from the Parkland massacre were placed in remembrance around a rock at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg. (Photo by Amelia Heymann, Virginia Gazette)

By Sarah Danial and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – One month after the massacre that killed 17 students and staff at a Florida high school, Richmond-area students joined their peers across the country and walked out of their schools at 10 a.m. Wednesday to protest gun violence.

The international protest was promoted by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March. Students around the world participated in #NationalWalkoutDay by leaving their classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost when Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

“We’re taught from Day One to stand up for ourselves. That’s what we’re doing,” Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas. S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, wrote in an essay published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We’re walking out of school to say we’ve had enough. We’re walking out for our lives.”

More than 20 Richmond-area schools participated in the walkout. At Freeman High School, students gathered on the baseball field with signs stating, “Enough is Enough.”

National Walkout Day

Karen Allen, a mother of three Freeman High School graduates, stood outside the high school holding a sign that read, “In solidarity with the students!” Allen, who has grandchildren in grades ranging from kindergarten to middle school, said she and her children worry about their safety.

“People have stopped listening to adults,” Allen said. “Maybe if the kids come out and say what they think – they’re the ones in danger right now, and they’re having an impact on this nation right now.”

The nation will have another chance to echo their message on March 24 in Washington D.C. at the March for Our Lives, organized by Parkland survivors. So far, about 740 marches have been registered worldwide.

The Richmond March for Our Lives will begin at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St., and go across the MLK bridge to the state Capitol grounds before ending at the Bell Tower.

Foundation Commemorates Civil Rights Lawyer

By Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Oliver W. Hill Sr. died in 2007, but a foundation is working to preserve his legacy for social justice.

“The primary focus of the foundation has been to foster educational opportunities for young people interested in social justice,” said Ramona Taylor, the nonprofit group’s president. “The foundation has supported various programs and initiatives geared toward exposing youth to the law, legal profession and civil rights.”

The Oliver White Hill Foundation was founded in October 2000 and continues to be inspired by Hill’s desire to help the next generation of social activists. It sponsors activities such as a mentoring program, a weeklong pre-law institute and a writing assessment workshop for students in middle school and high school.

“The foundation’s short-term plans are to build a strong board and re-energize and expand programs for youth interested in the practice of law and social justice,” Taylor said.

Hill directed his own work toward the younger generation. As a civil rights lawyer, he fought tirelessly for racial integration in schools. Hill and his colleague, Spottswood W. Robinson III, represented African-American schoolchildren in Prince Edward County in their lawsuit that became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case.

Taylor hopes the foundation will motivate people to challenge all forms of inequality, just as Hill did. She quoted him as saying, “We are all human Earthlings, and we need to constantly work to overcome the artificial barriers that have been erected to create separation among groups of our fellow humans.”

Taylor worked with Hill on his autobiography, “The Big Bang: Brown v. Board of Education and Beyond,” when she was a law student at the University of Richmond in 1998. She said she was inspired by his hard work and commitment.

“Knowing what he accomplished and seeing the humble man that I had grown to know inspired and continues to inspire me,” Taylor said. “Men like Hill are not place marks in history but hallmarks.”

The foundation will host its annual Oliver Hill Day on May 4. The event, which will be held in the Oliver Hill Courts Building in downtown Richmond, recognizes community service and exposes students to prominent speakers in the fields of law and social justice.

“I believe the greatest lesson to learn is that (you should) believe in your power as a person to make the world a better place,” Taylor said. “That’s what he did, and it has given me the opportunity to try to do the same.”

New Book Honors Legacy of 2 Civil Rights Lawyers

Margaret Edds speaking at her book launch at the Library of Virginia. (Photo by CNS reporter Sarah Danial)

By Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Oliver W. Hill Sr. was the energetic driving force in fighting for African-Americans’ civil rights while Spottswood W. Robinson III was the meticulous craftsman who designed detailed legal arguments. Together, the two Richmond lawyers paved the way to end racial segregation not only in Virginia but throughout the United States.

The legal fight led by Hill and Robinson is chronicled in a new book, “We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson, and the Legal Team that Dismantled Jim Crow,” by Richmond journalist and author Margaret Edds. About 100 people gathered at the Library of Virginia last week to celebrate the book’s release by the University of Virginia Press.

In their legal work, Hill and Robinson fought for equality in voting, education, housing, transportation and pay. Their most famous case was Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. It went on to be one of the five pivotal cases in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which led the U.S. Supreme Court to declare school segregation unconstitutional in 1954.

For five years, Edds (pronounced EEDS) conducted research for her book, perusing archival documents and interviewing people who knew Hill and Robinson. She hopes that by looking into the influence of these legal giants, we can better understand how far our nation has come and how much further we still need to go.

“These lawyers have never been recognized as they should’ve been and should be,” said former Gov. Douglas Wilder. “It’s a part of history that’s not taught but should be taught. There’s no excuse for this to not be taught in schools.”

Wilder, who attended Thursday’s book launch, knew Hill and Robinson. He said he hopes Edds’ book will make people more aware of the work the two men accomplished.

The first African-American to be elected governor in the U.S., Wilder said he wants people to understand that the only way to make real change is to act. Wilder recalled learning a lot from Hill and Robinson and their passion for justice.

“You stick to it, you perfect it, you don’t do just ‘good enough to get by,’” Wilder said. “You make it so it’s unassailable, and so when you walk into a courtroom, you believe that you are indeed in charge of your case and your client.”

Edds’ book isn’t the first about Hill, who died in 2007 at age 100. In fact, Hill wrote an autobiography, “The Big Bang: Brown v. Board of Education and Beyond,” which was published in 2000.

Ramona Taylor said she knew nothing about Hill or Robinson until she was in law school at the University of Richmond and was asked to be a student editor for Hill’s book.

She was fascinated by the legendary lawyer’s story and is now the president of the Oliver White Hill Foundation, which is dedicated to continuing his fight for social justice.

“Beyond that he was a brilliant litigator, beyond that he was a humble man, I want people to recognize that he was one of the first true social engineers of our time. What I mean by social engineer is someone who actually changed the social landscape,” said Taylor, who is legal counsel for Virginia State University.

Hill stopped practicing law at age 91 in 1998, the same year Robinson died. A year later, Hill was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

Edds was a reporter and editor for 34 years for The Virginian-Pilot. She has written four other books, including “Free at Last: What Really Happened When Civil Rights Came to Southern Politics.”

Edds will hold a book reading and signing at Chop Suey Books, 2913 W. Cary St. in Richmond, at 6 p.m. Monday. She said her latest book is just a conversation starter about the legacy of Hill and Robinson.

“They faced up to Jim Crow segregation; they created a legal basis for change. They did not solve racial inequities for all time, as we sadly know – not even close – but they advanced the cause,” Edds said. “The challenge they pose to us is to do the same with equal resolve in our time.”

Advocates Will Seek Improvements in Mental Health Services

By Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Advocates for improving mental health treatment and education in Virginia will gather in Richmond next week to urge legislators to provide more funding and attention for such services.

Several groups will join in the lobbying effort: the Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Voices for Virginia’s Children, Mental Health America of Virginia and VOCAL, a mental health service based in Henrico County. They will host a conference Monday and Tuesday at the offices of Voices for Virginia’s Children, 701 E. Franklin St.

The event organizers have designated Monday as Children’s Mental Health Advocacy Day and Tuesday as Mental Health Advocacy Day.

“We would like the public to know that more than between 20 and 25 percent of individuals, and their families, are affected by mental illness,” said Rhonda Thissen, executive director of NAMI Virginia. “So people with mental illness are all around us – they are our friends, family members and neighbors.”

The conference comes as the Virginia General Assembly is considering a slew of bills regarding mental health. They include proposals to expand access to mental health treatment for prisoners, increase mental health training for emergency officials and include mental health education in Virginia’s high school curriculum.

Mental Health America of Virginia, the state’s oldest mental health advocacy, is hopeful for real legislative change in an area in which the commonwealth compares poorly.

“We need to transform how the system is organized and funded. The current commissioner for behavioral health has avision for how to do this that deserves serious discussion. Virginia ranks 40th of all the states in mental health care. There is a better way,” said the group’s executive director, Bruce Cruser.

The General Assembly has had a special panel studying the issue. The Mental Health Services in the Twentieth-Century Joint Subcommittee has made several recommendations to improve such services.

The recommendations include providing $1.1 million annually for three years to the Appalachian Telemental Health Network Initiative and possibly funding the public behavioral health system through options available under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Legislators also are considering such bills as:

  • HB 252 – It would require high schools to have one mental health counselor for every 250 students.
  • HB 934 – It would establish a process for prison officials to petition courts to authorize mental health treatment for inmates unable to give informed consent.
  • HB 1088 – It would require the Virginia Board of Health to include training for emergency officials in identifying and safely assisting a person experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • SB 669 – This bill would affect people who are ordered to involuntary inpatient or outpatient treatment for a mental illness as a minor. Under the legislation, they would be subject to the same restrictions in firearm possession as an adult who was ordered to involuntary treatment.
  • SB 878 – It would require the Virginia Board of Corrections to adopt standards for mental health and substance services in local and regional correctional facilities
  • SB 953 and HB 1604 – These bills would include mental health in the Standards of Learning for ninth- and 10th-graders. The students would learn about the relationship between physical and mental health.

Cruser said education plays a major role in understanding mental illness. He believes that if people are more educated about mental illness, they will seek treatment sooner.

“There is hope and recovery,” Cruser said. “There are others who have fallen in the same hole and know a way out. Ask for help.”

Salamander Wriggling Its Way Into State Law

 

By Sarah Danial and Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A bill slithering through the legislative process would designate the red salamander as Virginia’s official state salamander. If the amphibious creature gets the honor, it can thank a group of young nature conservationists.

The Salamander Savers is a 4-H Club based in Fairfax whose members, age 8 to 18, are determined to find solutions for environmental problems. The club started in 2015 when three children wanted to save salamanders from a local lake.

“When our lake was dredged and my kids asked me questions that I could not answer, as a home-schooling mother, I made it my mission to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the club’s adult leader and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

Her children asked what would happen to the animals living in or near the lake. They were concerned to learn that dredging can disrupt their environment, which could eventually lead to possible extinction. Jonah’s mother recalled her son’s words.

“He once told me that he wanted to give a voice to the animals who couldn’t speak for themselves,” Anna Kim said.

As a result, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring HB 459, which would add the red salamander (officially, Pseudotriton ruber) to the state’s list of official designations. The list currently includes 35 items, from the official beverage (milk) and rock (Nelsonite) to the official television series (“Song of the Mountains,” a PBS program showcasing Appalachian music).

Filler-Corn hopes her bill will inspire the 4H Club members to get involved politically.

“I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn said. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

The bill was approved by a subcommittee on a 6-2 vote last week. The House General Laws Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday.

Jonah Kim and his fellow 4-H’ers thought carefully about which salamander species should represent Virginia.

“We chose the red salamander because it lives in a variety of different habitats throughout Virginia,” he said. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

He said the club hopes the legislation will help raise awareness of salamanders, a species less tolerant of environmental disruptions than frogs and other amphibians. The Salamander Savers are encouraging the public to write a letter to their legislators stating their support.

 

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Gov. Northam Delivers Message of Hope in Inaugural Address

By Deanna Davison and Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Ralph Northam took office as Virginia’s 73rd governor on Saturday and urged citizens to maintain the strong “moral compass deep in our hearts” to help guide the state forward.

In his inaugural address to a crowd of about 5,000 outside the state Capitol on a day of stinging cold, Northam reflected first on his childhood on the Eastern Shore, the time he spent fishing and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay and the advice he received from his father.

“If things get dark or foggy, if you can’t find your way,” his father said, “keep your eye on the compass. It’ll always bring you home safely.”

Northam, 58, said Virginians can likewise rely on their inner compass.

“We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts, and it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do,” said the former lieutenant governor and state senator.

Northam also spoke about transparency and the need for government officials to bridge the political divides. His core policy platforms as governor, he said, are those he believes are nonpartisan: expanding health care, reducing gun violence and ensuring equal access to education.

“Virginians didn’t send us here to be Democrats or Republicans,” Northam said. “They sent us here to solve problems. The path to progress is marked by honest give and take among people who truly want to make life better for those around them.”

Northam was sworn in after fellow Democrats Justin Fairfax took the oath as lieutenant governor and Mark Herring was sworn in for a second term as attorney general.

The inauguration drew a pair of demonstrations: About two dozen people protested the controversial natural gas pipelines, shouting “water is life” during a moment of silence. A smaller group, United We Dream, demonstrated on behalf of immigrants.

Capitol Square officially opened to the public at 9:30 a.m., and by 11:30 a.m., the stands were full. Spectators came prepared with heavy coats and gloves to brave the cold. Hot apple cider was served in blue Northam cups that said, “The Way Ahead.”

After the swearing-in ceremonies, representatives of Virginia’s Indian tribes gave a “Blessing of the Ground” for the new administration. Then the inaugural parade began, featuring dozens of groups from across the commonwealth. Cadets from Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, marched across the grounds, saluting the new governor.

Northam’s first executive order was signed immediately after the parade. It “prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities in Virginia state government.”

Among the parade participants with a connection to Northam was the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. Northam served as a pediatric neurologist at the Norfolk hospital for 25 years. He said the lessons he learned there, including the importance of hope, will stay with him during his four years as governor.

“I have recognized the incredible power of hope and my responsibility to preserve it in the people I serve,” Northam said. “Hope is not just a source of comfort for the afflicted – it is a wellspring of energy to fight for a better tomorrow, no matter the odds. I am committed as your governor to fight every day for the hope that tomorrow will be better – for all of us, not just some of us.”

Women’s Equality Coalition Releases Legislative Agenda

By Sarah Danial and Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Comment Policy:  When an article or poll is open for comments feel free to leave one.  Please remember to be respectful when you comment (no foul or hateful language, no racial slurs, etc) and keep our comments safe for work and children. .Comments are moderated and comments that contain explicit or hateful words will be deleted.  IP addresses are tracked for comments. 

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and is provided as a community service by the Advertisers and Sponsors.
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Submit Your Story!

Emporia News welcomes your submissions!  You may submit articles, announcements, school or sports information using the submission forms found here, or via e-mail on news@emporianews.com.  Currently, photos and advertisements will still be accepted only via e-mail, but if you have photos to go along with your submission, you will receive instructions via e-mail. If you have events to be listed on the Community Calendar, submit them here.

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