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2018 Capital News Service

Northam Vetoes 8 Bills; 1 Would Block Higher Wages

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Governor OKs Paying ‘Norfolk Four’ $3.5 Million

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Law Puts Focus on Suicide Prevention Efforts in Virginia

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northam Signs ‘Stop Gun Violence’ License Plate Bill

By Katie Bashista, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

By Ahniaelyah Spraggs, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Environmentalists Urge Governor to Oust DEQ Director

By Jessica Wetzler, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Safe Virginia’ Task Force Will Address Gun Violence

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Schools Will Teach How to Prevent Child Abuse

By Katrina Tilbury, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bill takes effect July 1.

Expanding Medicaid Will Aid Schools, Governor Says

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panelists Discuss Future of Transgender and Nonbinary People

By Sophia Belletti, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TERMINOLOGY

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

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

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

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

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

Over 70,000 Sign Petitions Protesting Pipelines Across Virginia

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Adam Hamza and Alexandra Sosik, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richmond Students, Community Rally in the Thousands for Gun Control

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Cities to Join Saturday’s March Against Gun Violence

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

By Irena Schunn, Capital News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.”

Census Data Shows Growth in Northern Virginia, Decline in the South

By Ryan Persaud, Capital News Service

Numbers from our region:

 



Virginia locality 2010 census 2016 estimate 2017 estimate Absolute pop. change, 2010-2017 Percent pop.
change, 2010-2017
Absolute pop. change, 2016-2017
Brunswick County 17,425 16,275 16,244 -1,181 -6.80% -31
Chesapeake City 222,306 237,621 240,397 18,091 8.10% 2,776
Chesterfield County 316,239 338,815 343,599 27,360 8.70% 4,784
Dinwiddie County 28,014 28,025 28,208 194 0.70% 183
Emporia City 5,925 5,375 5,282 -643 -10.90% -93
Franklin City 8,580 8,228 8,176 -404 -4.70% -52
Goochland County 21,694 22,475 22,685 991 4.60% 210
Greensville County 12,245 11,551 11,679 -566 -4.60% 128
Hampton City 137,384 135,332 134,669 -2,715 -2.00% -663
Hanover County 99,846 104,347 105,923 6,077 6.10% 1,576
Henrico County 306,868 326,147 327,898 21,030 6.90% 1,751
Hopewell City 22,602 22,619 22,621 19 0.10% 2
Mecklenburg County 32,721 30,786 30,686 -2,035 -6.20% -100
Newport News City 180,963 180,388 179,388 -1,575 -0.90% -1,000
Norfolk City 242,823 245,532 244,703 1,880 0.80% -829
Nottoway County 15,852 15,510 15,434 -418 -2.60% -76
Petersburg City 32,437 31,850 31,750 -687 -2.10% -100
Poquoson City 12,157 11,947 12,053 -104 -0.90% 106
Portsmouth City 95,527 94,997 94,572 -955 -1.00% -425
Powhatan County 28,062 28,398 28,601 539 1.90% 203
Prince Edward County 23,357 23,023 22,703 -654 -2.80% -320
Prince George County 35,706 37,807 37,809 2,103 5.90% 2
Richmond City 204,271 225,288 227,032 22,761 11.10% 1,744
Richmond County 9,254 8,784 8,939 -315 -3.40% 155
Southampton County 18,570 18,019 17,750 -820 -4.40% -269
Suffolk City 84,570 89,294 90,237 5,667 6.70% 943
Surry County 7,065 6,570 6,540 -525 -7.40% -30
Sussex County 12,070 11,426 11,373 -697 -5.80% -53
Virginia Beach City 437,907 451,404 450,435 12,528 2.90% -969

RICHMOND – Population is booming in Northern Virginia and shrinking in many rural localities in the southern and southwestern parts of the state, according to data released Thursday by the U.S Census Bureau.

The population of the city of Falls Church grew 5.2 percent between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, the data showed. That was more than any U.S. county with at least 10,000 residents. (The Census Bureau puts Virginia’s cities in the same geographic category as counties.)

Three other Virginia localities grew more than 3 percent over the past year: Loudoun County and Manassas Park near D.C., and New Kent County east of Richmond.

Since 2010, Loudoun County’s population has increased more than 27 percent, to more than 380,000. That percentage increase ranks fourth among all U.S. counties with at least 200,000 people.

The growth in Northern Virginia is largely due to large employers located there and in Washington, said Hamilton Lombard, research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, which worked with the U.S. Census Bureau on the population estimates.

“A lot of that is still commuters to D.C., but you have big job centers now in Northern Virginia by itself,” Lombard said. “Fairfax has more people in it than D.C. does.”

Since the census in April 2010, the population of Fairfax County has grown more than 6 percent, to almost 1.15 million, the Census Bureau’s estimates show. The District of Columbia has about 694,000 residents; however, its population has increased more than 15 percent since 2010.

Like the nation’s capital, Virginia’s state capital has shown robust growth after decades of population decline.

Since 2010, the population of the city of Richmond has increased more than 11 percent – more than the suburban counties of Chesterfield (less than 9) percent, Henrico (almost 7 percent) and Hanover (6 percent).

Lombard said Richmond’s turnaround reflects a national trend of more investment in cities.

“It had a higher vacancy rate, a lot of empty homes – it was losing population for decades,” Lombard said. “You get around to the time of the housing crisis, and a lot of people couldn’t buy; they had to rent. That also made Richmond more attractive, because they had more rentals. It’s quite remarkable how it’s turned around and started growing.”

Lombard attributed part of the growth to the redevelopment of historic properties.

“Virginia has a very generous tax credit system that encourages redeveloping historical buildings,” Lombard said. “That’s created a lot of new residential units and really pristine historic areas.”

Of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities, 78 gained population over the past year – and 71 have more residents now than in 2010. Fifteen localities have grown by more than 10 percent since 2010 – including Fredericksburg (17 percent), Prince William County (15 percent), James City County (12 percent) and Charlottesville (11 percent).

In contrast, 62 of Virginia’s localities – mostly in the south and southwestern regions of the state – have seen a decrease in residents since 2010. The population has fallen about 9 percent in Bath and Tazewell counties and almost 11 percent in Buchanan County and the City of Emporia.

August Wallmeyer, author of “The Extremes of Virginia,” which focuses on the economic development of the state’s rural areas, said there are many reasons for the population decrease, such as a lack of economic opportunity and a decline in “low tech” industries such as coal mining, tobacco farming and textile manufacturing.

“The principal reasons are lack of jobs and economic opportunity,” Wallmeyer said. “The jobs part, I think, is related primarily due to the poor public education system that has not prepared people in these areas for modern-day, information-centered, technological-type careers.”

Wallmeyer said younger people are fleeing these areas due to what he sees as poor public education systems that lag far behind the schools in the wealthier areas of the state.

“I quoted in my book the chancellor of Virginia’s community college system as saying that if you looked at the poorer areas of the state, and considered those areas as a state by themselves, in terms of educational attainment, they would be dead last in the nation,” Wallmeyer said, “while the rest of Virginia – the urban quarter, the wealthier part of Virginia – would rank No. 2 in the nation.”

Wallmeyer said efforts by federal and state governments and regional coalitions to improve the economy in these poorer, rural areas have been largely unsuccessful.

“There are some people I have talked to in my research, some public officials, who say, only half-jokingly, ‘In my little county, the last person to leave, please cut off the lights, because there’s nothing left,’” Wallmeyer said.

According to the latest data from the Census Bureau, Virginia remains the 12th most populous state with about 8.47 million residents. That is an increase of less than 6 percent since 2010 and less than 1 percent over the past year – about the same as the U.S. as a whole.

Lombard said one big takeaway from the new data is how much slower Virginia has grown this decade.

“We’re getting close to eight and a half million, but the growth rate we’re hitting annually is really the lowest it’s been since before the Great Depression,” Lombard said. “The country’s population has been gradually slowing down a little bit just because of the population aging, but Virginia has slowed down a lot more quickly than the rest of the country.”

As for predictions, Lombard expects more people will be living in Northern Virginia.

“By our projection, by 2040, half of Virginia’s population should live in Fredericksburg, or north of it,” Lombard said.

New Law Would Lower GED Age Requirement

By Scott Malone, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — It will be easier for Virginians who drop out of high school at 16 or 17 to earn their high school equivalency diploma if Gov. Ralph Northam signs a bill approved by the General Assembly.

House Bill 803, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, would reduce from 18 to 16 the age for taking the General Educational Development tests. Supporters say the measure could save some teenagers time and money in pursuing a GED diploma.

“There’s been young people who have dropped out of school in our region at 16 or 17, and they’ve realized, ‘Hey, shouldn’t have done that. I’d like to get my high school diploma so I can go to work,’ and they’ve had to wait until they were 18,” said Jacob Holmes, O’Quinn’s legislative director.

 “It kind of put them off for a year or two. [O’ Quinn] was trying to find an avenue to allow those kids who’ve made that mistake to get back on the right track.”

Under current law, a GED certificate is available only to:

●      Adults who did not complete high school

●      Students granted permission by their division superintendent

●      Students who are home-schooled and have completed home-school instruction

●      Students released from compulsory attendance for religious or health reasons

●      People required by court order to participate in the testing program

 According to existing law, Virginians as young as 16 can earn a GED diploma if they are housed in adult correctional facilities or have been expelled from school for certain reasons.

If granted permission by their division superintendent, students must complete an Individual Student Alternative Education Plan before they are allowed to take the GED tests.

According to Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education, to complete an alternative education plan, a student must:

●      Receive career counseling

●      Attend a high school equivalency preparation program

●      Earn a Career and Technical Education credential as approved by the Virginia Board of Education

●      Complete a course in economics and personal finance

●      Receive counseling on the potential economic impact of failing to complete high school along with procedures for re-enrollment

 HB 803 would allow an individual who is at least 16 years old to take the GED exam without having to complete an alternative education plan.

However, the legislation does not mean students can quit high school the day they turn 16. It “does not amend the commonwealth’s compulsory education statute, which requires attendance in school up until the 18th birthday and describes the circumstances under which a person under the age of 18 can be excused from attending school,” Pyle said.

Holmes added that O’Quinn “was not intending to have an incentive for people to drop out of high school.”

O’Quinn’s bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously. Northam has until April 9 to decide whether to sign it into law. Rebecca Blacksten, a 10th-grader at McLean High School in Fairfax County, said she hopes he does.

“I personally feel like it’s a wonderful idea,” Blacksten said. “I think that in a country where education is of the utmost importance, everyone should have the ability to get a GED, even if it is earlier than 18 because of needs they might have.”

Ex-Gov. Wilder Sues VCU Over Assistant’s Harassment Claims

By Fadel Allassan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder is suing Virginia Commonwealth University and its government school, which bears his name, claiming his administrative assistant was the subject of verbal harassment.

The complaint was filed in Richmond’s Circuit Court on Monday. It asserts that the dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, John Accordino, verbally assaulted and abused Angelica Bega, Wilder’s administrative assistant, last November.

Accordino called Bega “obscene names,” threatened to fire her, accused her of violating human resources rules and “questioned and insulted her intelligence,” according to the complaint.

The complaint says VCU President Michael Rao refused to properly address Accordino’s actions. It says the university’s vice president and provost, Gail Hackett, conducted a “farcical and corrupt investigation” after Wilder met with her and Rao to notify them about Bega’s allegations. Rao and Hackett are both named as defendants.

When Wilder met with Rao, Hackett and Kevin Allison, Rao’s senior assistant, Hackett assured everyone present that Bega did not want to report Accordino to the university, according to the court document. However, the lawsuit says, Bega later denied to Wilder she had ever told Hackett that and stated “unequivocally” that she wanted to move forward with a complaint to the university.

“Upon being confronted with Ms. Bega’s statement, it was conceded Ms. Bega had never stated that she did not wish for her complaint to move forward,” the court document says.

The lawsuit says Wilder told Rao and Hackett that the provost’s office was “compromised and unable to faithfully process” Bega’s complaint. Wilder then reported Accordino’s actions to VCU’s Office of Human Resources as sexual harassment and racial and sexual discrimination.

The suit says Wilder, who holds the rank of distinguished professor at VCU, was not present when the incident between Accordino and Bega occurred, but Kristine Artello, an assistant professor at the Wilder School, notified Wilder of the incident.

Accordino has been the dean of the Wilder School for one year. Before that, he held the position on an interim basis since July 2016.

A spokesperson for VCU refused to comment but said the university has not been served with a lawsuit.

Virginia Health Rankings Reveal Disparities Among Regions

View the entire StoryMap at http://bit.ly/va-health-map

By Caitlin Barbieri, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The affluent suburbs of Northern Virginia are the healthiest communities in the state, and lower-income localities, especially in the southern and western parts of the commonwealth, have the most serious health problems, according to a recent study.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that for the third year in a row, Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington are the healthiest counties in Virginia. They share low rates of premature death and a high percentage of adults with education beyond high school.

But Petersburg, Emporia and Martinsville ranked lowest in the foundation’s eighth annual county health report. Those three localities all had high unemployment and high rates of child poverty – factors associated with poor health.

The rankings are based on health outcomes and health factors. Health outcomes include the length and quality of life; health factors include behaviors such as smoking, access to care, social and economic conditions and physical environment.

“A lot of it has to do with things we call social determinants of health,” said Bob Hicks, Virginia’s deputy commissioner for community health services. “Where there is high unemployment and where there are schools not performing and the kids aren't educated to a certain level, we see these trends continuing in poor health outcomes.”

Hicks and his team at the Virginia Department of Health use the statistics from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to start conversations about communities’ health needs and to work with residents to best utilize resources.

“We require each of the local health directors to be involved in doing a community health assessment,” Hicks said. “Resources are always limited so the assessment results in a ranking by the stakeholders [in the community] of what they would like to see addressed.”

In Petersburg, the community health assessments have led to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. In 2011, the city’s teen pregnancy rate was 101 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-19. According to the most recent report, the rate has dropped to 87 pregnancies per 1,000 females in that age category.

However, not every locality is showing progress. In 2016, Hopewell was ranked 118th in Virginia. But in the most recent report, Hopewell dropped to 126th among the state’s 133 counties and cities. Among the factors: Thirty percent of Hopewell residents live in poverty, and more than half of the children there live in single-parent households.

“You’ll find those [inequities] all over the place,” said Chris Gordon, chief of staff for community and health services. “Even if you look at the high-ranking countries like Loudoun and Fairfax, you’re going to find disparities in equity.”

Seven percent of people living in Fairfax are in poverty. While that is a small percentage, more than 1 million people live in Fairfax – and so nearly 80,000 of them are living in poverty

Hicks said he hopes the data will lead to improvement in health across the state. “That is really the goal – to give people the opportunity to live in a healthy community.”

Final Hearing on Carbon Bill; Northam to Veto GOP Measure

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Proposed regulations on power plant carbon emissions to help lower pollution 30 percent by 2030 drew a variety of responses from citizens and environmental advocates at a public hearing by the state Air Pollution Control Board.

The draft was proposed in November, following then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive directive in May to instruct the Department of Environmental Quality  to develop a cap-and-trade proposal. The Republican-majority General Assembly opposed  Gov. Ralph Northam’s bid to make Virginia the first Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and instead narrowly backed HB 1270, which would block such action. Northam’s office said Tuesday he would veto that bill, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Citizens at the hearing  on Monday were split on whether they believed Virginia should join the initiative, with some expressing concern about its impact on the state’s economy. There was also  debate over biomass regulation. While some said biomass is carbon neutral, others countered that it should be regulated if it is co-fired with other fuels.

Janet Eddy, a member of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, supported joining the initiative. She said that her patients feel the negative effects of climate change and that health statewide would improve by reducing the emissions under the pact. She said Abt Associates, a social change organization, conducted a study between 2009 and 2014 that estimated the greenhouse gas initiative has averted at least 300 deaths and 35 heart attacks.

Michael Stone of Richmond said he opposes the initiative because the state should focus on creating renewable energy sources rather than finding a way to continue using fossil fuels with less negative effects. He said, however, that he favors reducing carbon.

“I don’t see how we can develop any new fossil fuel infrastructure in Virginia and say that we’re really keeping an eye on the future,” Stone said.

The meeting came after a rally by the Sierra Club, which supports the proposed draft.

“Virginia is taking a step forward while on the federal level, the Trump administration is doing a dangerous dance, reducing lifesaving safeguards,” Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, said in a news release.

But Harrison Wallace, Virginia policy coordinator and coastal campaigns manager for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said at the rally that the draft doesn’t go far enough.

He said the state should limit carbon emissions to a total of 30 million tons by 2020 and make continued reductions beyond 2030. The current proposed goal is between 33 to 34 million tons. Wallace also complained that the initiative fails to include biomass as a power-producing carbon fuel that needs to be restricted. He said that gives Dominion Energy “an unfair economic advantage.”

International rugby to make history in Washington in June

By JUAN HERRERA, Capital News Service



WASHINGTON — South Africa and Wales are set to face off in a historic rugby match at RFK Stadium this spring, highlighting the growth and popularity of the sport in the nation’s capital.

The one-off match is scheduled for June 2 and is part of a trio of test matches South Africa and Wales will play during the month across North and South America.

According to World Rugby’s most recent rankings, South Africa is the fifth-ranked team in the world, while Wales is seventh. This will be the first time RFK Stadium has ever hosted a rugby match between two international powerhouses.

Gregory O’Dell, the president and CEO of Events DC, the company that owns and manages RFK Stadium, said the venue has already started working closely with USA Rugby, the national governing body of the sport in the United States, ahead of the match.

The two sides have collaborated to coordinate the grassroots market outreach for the match by contacting local rugby teams, restaurants and the diplomatic community.

“As DC’s first showcase of international rugby, the Wales versus South Africa match will provide an engaging and memorable experience for attendees,” O’Dell said. “Not only will this epic match-up grow our region’s rugby fan base, but it will also inspire future rugby athletes, both youth and adults, to participate.”

While rugby is still a long way from reaching the popularity of sports like basketball and football in the District, O’Dell said he believes the sport has already grown significantly in the area over the years at nearly every level.

“In terms of USA Rugby membership alone, the greater Washington, D.C. metro area is the second-largest region, per capita, in the country,” O’Dell said. “D.C. itself is home to 23 USA Rugby clubs, but there are 230 total clubs in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, making our region both the No. 1 metropolitan area for growth in women's rugby and the No. 2 area for overall adult participation.”

Joe Chapman, the team captain of the division III side of the Washington Renegades, a men’s rugby union football club, has played rugby in the District since 2013. The Renegades player said he has personally seen the number of players on the team growing.

Along with a rise in participation, Chapman also believes the leagues in the area have developed well. The Renegades are part of the Capital Rugby Union that Chapman said has put together some really competitive sides nationally.

Chapman attributes much of this growth and development to USA Rugby. The Renegades player believes the organization has taken the right steps by creating a professional rugby league in the United States and promoting it across the country.

“While we don’t have one of the new Major League Rugby teams,” Chapman said. “I really think that the D.C. area is primed to sort of explode onto the rugby scene in the U.S.”

With the South Africa-Wales match coming up in the spring, Chapman said he and his teammates on the Renegades are excited to see such a high-profile match in the nation’s capital. Chapman also mentioned that he and his teammates are planning on buying a block of tickets. He hopes the other rugby teams in the area will do the same.

“We’ve had folks travelling to Philadelphia and Chicago in the past to see matches, so to have one in our own backyard is just fantastic.”

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.”

Cancer Center Would Honor ‘Immortal’ Henrietta Lacks

 

By Yasmine Jumaa, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The year was 1951. The place: Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Henrietta Lacks, a native of Halifax County, Virginia, sought treatment for cervical cancer.

Doctors made a remarkable discovery about Lacks’ tumor: The cells remained alive and multiplied outside her body, creating the first immortal cell line. Since then, her cells have helped researchers develop the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, in vitro fertilization and other medical breakthroughs.

Lacks was never compensated for her contribution to science. She died in 1951 and was buried in an unmarked grave in her hometown.

Now, Virginia plans to recognize Lacks by establishing a cancer research and treatment center in her name in Halifax County. The General Assembly recently approved legislation authorizing the project to honor the woman who gave the medical world the immortal HeLa cell line.

It is a fitting tribute, said Adele Newson-Horst, vice president of the nonprofit Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group.

“Her cells were and continue to be an astronomical asset to the scientific and medical world,” Newson-Horst said. “The significance of her contribution to the world – not Virginia, not just Maryland, but the world – cannot be overstated.”

The General Assembly unanimously passed two bills – House Bill 1415 and Senate Bill 171 – to create the Henrietta Lacks Commission, which will have nine members, including state officials, representatives of the Lacks family and local officials from Halifax County.

The commission’s goal will be to establish a public-private partnership to create the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center in Halifax County. The center would use biodata tools to conduct cancer research, provide cancer treatment to rural Southside Virginia and incubate biotech businesses in the region.

Del. James Edmunds, R-Halifax, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, sponsored the legislation at the request of the Halifax Industrial Development Authority. Edmunds called the project “a great economic driver for Halifax County” and said it “will hopefully bring some answers as to why the cancer rate is so high.”

“I would love to see new technology and techniques developed in a new center here,” Edmunds said.

Science has advanced significantly since Lacks’ treatment at Johns Hopkins. In recent years, attention has focused on the ethics surrounding her case: Cells were taken from her body without her consent. Some said that was wrong; others said it reflected medical ethics of the time. Moreover, Lacks was an African-American woman from a poor family, and some wondered whether race was a factor.

Those issues were explored in a 2010 book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the basis for an HBO movie that came out last year. Last week, The New York Times published a belated obituary about Lacks, who the newspaper said had been overlooked when she died 66 years ago.

Belated recognition is what the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority had in mind when it proposed the Henrietta Lacks Life Sciences Center.

“She left Halifax County … in the 1940s because of the lack of economic opportunities for African-American women. We’re trying to change that and bring her legacy back,” said Matt Leonard, the authority’s executive director.

He said the agency ran the idea by two of Lacks’ grandchildren and members of her legacy group.

“We got an immediate, very positive response from the family which we’re absolutely and imminently grateful for, because without their support, their championing this to their family and to other members of the community, we couldn’t do this project,” Leonard said.

Henrietta Lacks’ granddaughter Jerri Lacks said the family wholeheartedly supports the effort.

“Words can’t explain how excited I am just to be part of the commission and to know that our grandmother is being honored in such a great way,” Lacks said. “What I hope it will accomplish is that people will be more aware of her contributions to science, and her legacy can continue to give people hope for a better life.”

Virginia Will Offer New Specialty License Plates

By Tianna Mosby, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginians are likely to see a handful of new specialty license plates this summer, including one aimed at those who support an end to gun violence.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill authorizing the plate with the legend “Stop Gun Violence.” House Bill 287, which bounced between the House and Senate before legislators reached an agreement, is waiting for Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.

Northam has already signed into law speciality license plates for supporters of Virginia’s electric cooperatives, theAlzheimer’s Association and the Virginia Future Farmers of America Association.

Last year, the Virginia FFA Association was given the opportunity to have its own plate available for purchase if it could get 1,000 people to register for the plate by the end of the year. Although the organization did not receive enough applications for the plate, its members still have hope; Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, proposed Senate Bill 446 to give the group another chance this year.

“I look forward to having the FFA Commemorative License Plate on my car and seeing them on cars in our great commonwealth,” Scot Lilly, former chair of the state’s FFA Association, said in a press release.

During their 2018 session, legislators in Virginia considered 15 new specialty plate bills. The state Department of Motor Vehicles website already offers more than 310 choices. Beginning July 1, motorists can order the newly approved plates. The plates will then be permanently available if they reach the 1,000-plate registration minimum before the year ends.

Specialty plates generally cost $25 above the regular vehicle registration fee. The DMV then gives $15 of that amount to the nonprofit group or cause associated with the plate.

About 14 percent of Virginians have a specialty plate. Virginia offers four categories of plates — special interest, college and university, military and other.

Although the “other” classification has the fewest number of plate options, its scenic plate has led the past two years with 214,332 total purchases.

Of the collegiate plates, Virginia Tech’s athletic “Go Hokies” plate is the most purchased with a total of 7,530 plates registered as of 2017.

The General Assembly carried over until its 2019 session proposed specialty plates for Parents Against Bullying, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (focused on increasing the elk population and advocating for hunters), supporters of Virginia’s women veterans, and the American Legion, another veteran organization.

VCU Gun Violence Panel Gets ‘Beyond the Politics’

By Deanna Davison, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Addressing gun violence in America often leaves gun control supporters and Second Amendment advocates at an impasse, a panel of experts said at a town hall-style discussion of the issue at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t come with an operating manual; there is no guide to how amendments should be interpreted,” said John Aughenbaugh, a VCU political science professor. “Reasonable regulations are allowed by the government, but it gets complicated: What is a reasonable regulation?”

Aughenbaugh was joined on Friday’s panel by Lori Haas, Virginia’s director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Jessica Smith, former public safety initiatives coordinator at the Office of the Attorney General and a doctoral candidate at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; and Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

About 50 students and others attended the event, which was organized by the VCU Student Media Center and The Commonwealth Times, the student newspaper. The title of the discussion was “Beyond the Politics.”

The idea behind the panel was that even in times of harsh partisan discourse, citizens with differing perspectives should be able to have civil discussions about public issues and work toward solutions. Panel moderator Fadel Allassan, the paper’s managing editor, reminded attendees that although gun violence is a tense and emotional issue, this was not a debate; it was a respectful discussion.

Panelists agreed that discussing gun violence, and particularly mass shootings, can get muddied because of the terminology involved.

Haas said that while some public health experts may disagree, the FBI defines a “mass shooting” as four or more people killed in a single incident.

Part of what makes implementing public policy on mass shootings so difficult and unique to the U.S. is the Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.

“I think it’s a part of the American identity that being able to own and carry guns is a right we have,” Smith said.

But people often disagree on what exactly that means and how it should be regulated.

Van Cleave said gun control regulations are often unfair and give the government too much power. He said while he worries about guns ending up in the wrong hands, he believes individuals should be able to defend themselves, their families and their homes.

“I was a deputy sheriff for six years,” Van Cleave said. “I was able to see the importance of people protecting themselves before we could arrive.”

“When we can identify people at risk of violent behavior and we do nothing to disarm them, I think we are culpable,” said Haas, whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. “I don’t think it’s about legal gun ownership at all.”

Panelists agreed on the struggles of moving forward on addressing gun violence without a clear universal goal, which makes it even more difficult to reach consensus on what solutions look like.

Smith said it is important for people on all sides of the issue to keep it in perspective.

“We are a system based on incrementalism,” Smith said. “If we pass regulations, that doesn’t mean everyone’s guns will be taken away, but it also doesn’t mean all gun violence will stop.”

“A complete and utter victory is not going to happen,” Aughenbaugh said. “Policy-making requires compromise. Listen to what the other side wants. We’re not going to have a conversation if we’re not willing to listen to each other.”

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.

Time to Go Green – St. Patrick's Day Is Saturday

By Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Green beer, Irish music and people dressed up as leprechauns: Residents can experience all this and more at a number of events celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday.

Although people of all ancestries celebrate the holiday, about one in 10 Virginians claims Irish heritage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Scott Nugent is one of them, and he hopes partygoers will recognize the holiday’s not-so-festive roots as they celebrate.

“St. Patrick’s Day to me means a chance to inform people of the Irish people and how they overcame their struggles,” said Nugent, the president of Richmond’s Major James H. Dooley Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America, a Christian charity. “Someone only needs to hear the stories of ‘Irish Need Not Apply’ signs in store windows to get a feel for what the Irish had to overcome when coming to America.”

Nugent will celebrate by attending the AOH special St. Patrick’s Day mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 213 N. 25th St., in Church Hill. Afterward, he will be doing an annual pub crawl to the various Irish pubs in the Richmond area.

“It’s always a good time,” he said.

Others can have a good time at a number of events in and around Richmond:

·       The Rosie’s St. Patrick’s Day Back Lot Party starts at 10 a.m. at Rosie Connolly’s Pub, 1548 E. Main St.Attendees will hear live music from the Cary St. Ramblers, Andy Cleveland and Glenn Sutor, the Greater Richmond Pipes and Drums and the Metro Richmond Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. Irish dancing will be performed by the Baffa Academy of Irish Dance. Guinness and Jameson will be plentiful.

  • At O’Toole’s Restaurant & Pub, 4800 Forest Hill Ave. Music will start at 11:30 a.m. Artists include thePressGang, Danovic’s, Pugh’s Mahoney and the Hullabaloos.
  • St. Patrick’s Day with the Donnybrooks starts at noon at the Rare Olde Times Public House, 10602 Patterson Ave. in Henrico County, and will include a performance by a Celtic string band, the Donnybrooks.
  • St. Patrick’s Day at The Circuit, an arcade bar at 3121 W. Leigh St., starts at 1 p.m. Attendees can participate in a guitar hero tournament, enter a raffle for prizes and hear live music with artists F1NG3RS, 8-Bit Mullet and Don Chirashi.
  • St. Patrick’s Day Turn-Up with Vibe Riot starts at 7 p.m. at the Castleburg Brewery and Taproom, 1626 Ownby Lane. The bands Vibe Riot and Jaewar will provide an uplifting concert featuring a funk rock soul band and special guests.
  • St. Patrick’s Day celebration starts at 10 a.m. at Keagan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, 2251 Old Brick Road in Glen Allen. Musicians are performing live. The artists will include the Greater Richmond Bagpipes and Drums, Bobby Baine and DJ Lix. Green beer will be served.
  • Silly Supper St. Patrick’s Day starts at 5 p.m. at Hutch Bar + Eatery, 1308 Gaskins Road in Henrico. The gathering will offer rainbow crafts and green food for kids and cocktails and green beer for adults.

There are also events outside the Richmond area:

St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival in Fredericksburg starts at noon at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery. The 16th annual Jeff Fitzpatrick St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set to include fire trucks, classic cars, a high school marching band, community organizations, Irish dancers, horses, military equipment and local pageant winners.

The Alexandria St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been rescheduled for Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and will be held at the intersection of King and St. Asaph streets. Participants will march down King Street to Lee Street and continue west on Cameron Street to Royal Street.

Next weekend, Richmond residents will celebrate the 33rd Church Hill Irish Festival, a street festival in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Patrick Shea, the webmaster for the AOH State Board, said the St. Patrick’s Church Hill Festival will be a great way to cut loose.

The festival starts off at 10 a.m. on March 24 with a parade and concludes on March 25 with the annual AOH Dooley Division raffle drawing at 5 p.m. Three city blocks will be closed off. Booths, live entertainment and Irish spirits will be available for everyone to enjoy.

Bill Halpin, president of the Virginia State Board of the AOH, said he celebrates not only St. Patrick’s Day but also Irish Heritage Month in its entirety.

“Wearing some green on St. Patrick’s Day is insufficient for a true Irish-American. I celebrate Irish custom, tradition music and dance in a public way and encourage my Hibernian brothers to do the same,” Halpin said.

Richmond Council Approves Funding for Apartment Targeting Artists

By Thomas Jett, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Richmond City Council has agreed to issue $20 million in bonds to fund the development of 159 low-income housing units on Jefferson Davis Parkway – apartments aimed at appealing to artists.

The council unanimously passed a resolution Monday authorizing the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to issue the bonds. The money will help Richmond developer Tom Wilkinson renovate the American Tobacco building, at 716 Jefferson Davis Highway. The residential rental housing project will be known as Richmond ArtistSpace Lofts.

The resolution was sponsored by Councilwoman Reva Trammell, 8th District.

“This is something that is really going to restart the Jefferson Davis corridor,” Trammell said.

Wilkinson agreed.

“In 2015, the city of Richmond participated in a market study looking at housing for artists who don’t make millions of dollars a year, but make a living wage … There is a significant demand for that type of housing,” Wilkinson said. “Of the 150 units or so that will be there, roughly half of them will be targeted for artists.”

Wilkinson expects move-ins to begin this summer. He echoed Trammell’s optimism regarding the project’s impact on the surrounding area.

“We should be able to start putting people in the first 66 units in July, with the remaining 68 or 69 units available for occupancy in December,” Wilkinson said. “My belief is it will be an excellent way to get started with redevelopment for the Jeff Davis corridor.”

Richmond has a thriving community of artists, and that was reflected at Monday’s City Council meeting. Toni-Leslie James, director of costume design in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Theater, received an award for her work with students.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and a costume tells much of the story,” Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, 2nd District, said in presenting the award to James. “You’re changing lives here in Richmond.”

James thanked Gray and other members of the council. “I don’t know what to say, except I am proud to reside here in Richmond,” she said.

Virginia Governor Calls Special Session to Tackle Budget

By Logan Bogert, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – After adjourning last week without passing a budget, members of the Virginia General Assembly will reconvene April 11 for a special session to complete their work on a biennial spending plan.

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a proclamation Tuesday calling the special session.

“After a legislative session that was marked by bipartisan progress on issues that matter to people’s lives, I remain disappointed that the General Assembly was unable to extend that spirit of cooperation to its work on the budget,” Northam said in a press release.

The House budget bill, introduced by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, passed in the House 68-32. The Senate insisted on amendments. The bill went to a conference committee, but negotiators could not reach agreement before the session concluded Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, introduced the Senate’s budget bill, which passed the Senate 25-15. It was sent to the House but never made it out of the Appropriations Committee.

The major sticking point is over Medicaid, the health program for low-income Americans. The House wants to expand Medicaid on grounds that the federal government will pick up most of the cost. The Senate opposes that idea because it fears the state may be stuck with the tab.

Like the House, Northam wants to expand Medicaid.

“Virginians sent us to Richmond to work together to make life better for every family, no matter who they are or where they live. We can live up to that responsibility by passing a budget that expands health care to hundreds of thousands of Virginians who need it,” he said in Tuesday’s statement.

“Expanding coverage will also generate savings that we can invest in education, workforce training, efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, and a healthy cash balance to prepare for fiscal downturns.”

The General Assembly convened on Jan. 10 for a 60-day session. By the end of the session, more than 870 bills had passed — but none on the budget.

By April 9, Northam must sign, veto or recommend changes on the approved bills. The General Assembly already was scheduled to meet on April 18 to consider the governor’s vetoes and recommendations.

2018 General Assembly Scorecard

Below is an infographic showing how many bills each legislator passed as a percentage of the number of bills submitted. This infographic was created by Capital News Service reporter Adam Hamza.

 

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