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Yasmine Jumaa

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Panel OKs Bill Targeting Child Abusers in School

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2013, a loophole allowed an Arlington County teacher accused of sexual abuse to find a job as an assistant principal in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he worked for more than three years before his license was revoked last May.

In hopes of closing that loophole, a committee in the Virginia House of Delegates has unanimously approved legislation aimed at identifying alleged sex offenders who have worked in the state’s public schools so they can’t move to another school system.

“Unfortunately, what happened during the summer revealed that there were several gaps in Virginia law,” said Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the measure. “As a result, the person was able to hold on to his teaching license for another four years without anybody realizing that there was a problem.”

Under existing law, local departments of social services must notify the relevant school district of any founded allegations of child abuse or neglect against a current school employee.

But that didn’t happen in Arlington because the teacher resigned before Child Protective Service agents finished their investigation, according to a report by the News4 I-Team at the NBC4 television station in Washington. As a result, the teacher’s license wasn’t challenged – and he went on to land a job at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Prince George’s County, the station reported.

So Bulova filed HB 150, which would require child protection officials to notify school authorities even if the subject of the investigation is no longer employed by the school district. Moreover, such notification must be made “without delay,” the bill says.

“What the current law says is, at the time that the local child protective services determines that an incident is a founding case for child abuse, then they let the school system know if the person involved is employed as a teacher,” Bulova said. “In this case, because the person had already resigned, that didn’t happen.”

The Virginia Commission on Youth brought the issue to Bulova’s attention.

“The Commission on Youth pulled together information on the process of child abuse reporting as it relates to teachers and education,” said Amy Atkinson, the agency’s executive director. “We presented related findings and recommendations at our November meeting, and in December, our commission voted on those recommendations, and one of them was Del. Bulova’s bill.”

Bulova also is sponsoring HB 196, which would limit how many extensions somebody accused of child abuse or neglect by a local department of social services could get during the appeals process.

The bill says accused individuals can request to extend their hearing twice for a total maximum of 90 days. After that, they would have to provide good cause to the hearing officer before being granted more extensions.

“It makes sure that you’re not dragging this out for a long time,” Bulova said.

He said the bills would help ensure that information flows smoothly during a child abuse or neglect investigation and that licensure issues are taken care of in a timely manner.

“The great vast majority of teachers are absolutely wonderful people and do extraordinarily beautiful jobs,” Bulova said. “These are really ways to go ahead and tighten up the code so you don’t have outliers that will fall through the cracks. And while they are few and far between, they’re a big deal for the families and children that have to deal with them.”

On Thursday, the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions voted 22-0 in favor of both bills. They now go to the full House for consideration.

Transportation Secretary Defends Tolls on I-66

By Ryan Persaud and Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A month after the fury over what many drivers considered excessive tolls on Interstate 66, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne defended the tolls, saying they are necessary for increasing the flow of traffic on the highway in Northern Virginia.

The tolls, which vary based on demand and amount of traffic, have reached as high as $44 for a 10-mile drive since they were implemented on Dec. 4.

“I would’ve anticipated that happening a lot lower than the $44, but it did not,” Layne said. “People chose to pay it, but it was a choice. Our other option is we could just limit the road when it reaches a certain level [to] HOV users. The issue with that is that we’re taking away that choice for the people who want to pay it.”

Layne spoke Tuesday to the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability. His report came a month after Del. Tim Hugo of Fairfax, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, called the I-66 tolls “exorbitant” and “unacceptable.”

The tolling is in effect weekdays only, during rush hours and in the peak direction, on about 10 miles of I-66, from Route 29 in Rosslyn to Interstate 495.

Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said the high tolls are a result of a lack of state funding for road projects.

“This is all symptomatic of not having enough money to begin with to build the highways,” Wagner said. “We’re having to do these unique types of programs to build these highways.”

Del.-elect Danica Roem, a Democrat from Manassas, told Layne about constituents hit hard by the tolls. They included a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who must drive by himself as a part of his treatment. The constituent said that avoiding the tolls added 45 minutes to his commute.

Layne insisted that commuters can take alternate routes such as Route 50 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. But another constituent Roem spoke to said he commutes from Manassas Park to Georgetown and cannot take any alternate pathways. The driver stated that he does not know how to budget his money due to the varying tolls.

“That’s the beast of the dynamic tolling process: You don’t know what it’s going to be each day until the time you get there because it’s basically volume control,” Roem said. “He [the constituent from Manassas Park] had a number of concerns with this.”

Layne said the revenue from the tolls goes toward funding other transportation projects.

“They will help pay for the road construction; they will help pay for multi-modal transportation and operation of the road,” Layne said.

After monitoring the corridors surrounding I-66 and alternative routes, Layne said that so far the data indicated no significant change in travel time on those routes.

“We need to continue to monitor this, and it may require that we do adjustments, but as of right now we do not see any significant impact to these parallel corridors,” Layne said.

Last month, Hugo released a statement criticizing Layne and Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the toll rates.

“Governor McAuliffe has gone on TV several times this week saying $40 toll prices are the way ‘it’s supposed to work.’ I could not disagree more,” Hugo said. “The hard-working people of Northern Virginia should not be forced to get a part-time job to be able to afford to drive to their full-time job.”

These are Layne’s final days as the commonwealth’s secretary of transportation. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has appointed former Lynchburg lawmaker Shannon Valentine to the position.

New laws seek to enhance driver safety

By Yasmine Jumaa, VCU Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 2015, a driver with severe vision problems hit and killed a bicyclist in Hanover County. The motorist was “basically legally blind,” recalled Del. Hyland “Buddy” Fowler, who represents the county in the Virginia House.

Now the state is about to implement two new laws to help prevent such tragedies. One will require motorists to have a wider field of vision, and the other will encourage health-care professionals to report motorists who have medical problems that may impair their driving. Fowler sponsored both bills, which will take effect July 1.

“The folks at the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons took a look at the vision requirements and came to me and said, ‘You need to do better for the public safety issue,’ and wanted to know if I’d carry a bill in the House, which I told them I’d be glad to do,” said Fowler, whose district includes parts of Hanover, Caroline and Spotsylvania counties.

House Bill 1504sets new standards for obtaining and keeping a driver’s license or learner’s permit. It will increase the minimum field of vision that a driver must have in Virginia from 100 degrees to 110 degrees. That means drivers must have a greater ability to see what is on the periphery as well as what is in front of them.

“Being able to see properly and being able to scan the roads is a very important part of safe driving,” said Brandy Brubaker, public relations and media liaison for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

HB 1514,alsocarriedbyFowler, gives doctors and other health-care professionals civil immunity if they report patients who have vision or other medical problems that may impair their ability to drive safely.

The law will protect health-care practitioners from legal action if they tell DMV that they believe someone has a disability or impairment and shouldn’t be driving. For instance, the motorist could not sue the physician for violating practitioner-patient confidentiality.

“With that act of good faith, if they report somebody to the DMV to be examined, and if they suspect that the person shouldn’t be driving for legitimate health reasons, they will be protected from a legal situation,” Fowler said. He believes the law will foster “a greater reporting of folks that probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel.”

DMV officials said they already protect the identity of people who tell the agency that somebody may be an unsafe driver because of vision or health concerns.

“We get these reports from law enforcement, family members, maybe even neighbors, and we are prohibited to release information on the source for those medical reports that we receive,” Brubaker said.

When DMV receives such reports, she said, “We review cases of drivers who may have health or medical conditions that would impair or hinder their safe driving.”

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico County sponsored companion bills to Fowler’s legislation: SB 1229was identical to HB 1504,andSB 1024wasthesameas HB 1514. The General Assembly approved all four bills during its 2017 session.

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