Thursday, August 20, 2020

Political Headlines from across Virginia

August 20, 2020
Top of the News

Virginia House attempts first-ever online floor session; Senate advances police overhaul

By GREGORY S. SCHNEIDER AND LAURA VOZZELLA, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

The first virtual floor session in 401 years of Virginia legislative history got off to a rocky start Wednesday, as the House of Delegates wrestled with a balky video system and Republicans complained of lost connections. But the state Senate, meeting in person, began advancing ambitious measures aimed at overhauling policing and the criminal justice system.

Virginia Senate puts off vote on eviction moratorium

By ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press

The Virginia Senate has put off a vote on legislation to block evictions until next year, a measure supporters say is a vital protection for renters amid the coronavirus pandemic. A Senate committee voted Wednesday to delay taking a vote on a measure to block evictions until next May after landlords expressed strong concerns about the bill.

Virginia applying to participate in Trump's $300-a-week unemployment supplement

By NED OLIVER, Virginia Mercury

After a week of deliberation, Gov. Ralph Northam's administration said Wednesday that Virginia is in the process of applying for federal funds made available by President Donald Trump to supplement state unemployment benefits by $300 a week. But officials cautioned many questions remain about the program, including ongoing uncertainty about how long the additional funds will last as more and more states seek to tap into the program.

After a surge in coronavirus cases, Hampton Roads sees some hopeful trends

By PETER COUTU, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

After seeing an explosion in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in July, Hampton Roads has seemingly reversed course. Many of the region's key health metrics are now trending down. Though the area has not seen a return to the low points reached before the surge, there have been significant improvements since around the time Gov. Ralph Northam announced on July 28 new restrictions on businesses in Eastern Virginia.

Senate panel supports bill to clarify the public disclosure of outbreaks in facilities

By AMY FRIEDENBERGER, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The Virginia Senate is advancing a bill making it clear that information about COVID-19 outbreaks must be published for public view. Nursing homes and assisted living centers have been hit particularly hard by the virus, with nearly half of the commonwealth's 2,410 deaths attributed to residents in those facilities. At the onset of the pandemic, Gov. Ralph Northam and his advisers refused to identify the names of those facilities, citing the state code.

Email: Radford University students suspended after large gatherings

By SAM WALL, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Three students were suspended from Radford University for incidents that include "endangering conduct" and failure to comply with the school's COVID-19 standards. University President Brian Hemphill told the Faculty Senate at its most recent meeting that some students had been suspended for hosting large gatherings two nights in a row after being given a warning the first night, according to a Radford employee email obtained by The Roanoke Times. The email was sent Aug. 14 by a Senate member to colleagues.

Left out of hazard pay plan, Virginia Beach waste management workers walked off the job

By ALISSA SKELTON, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Virginia Beach waste management workers refused to collect trash on Wednesday, arguing they feel underpaid and underappreciated — especially during the ongoing pandemic. But the city expects trash pick up to resume Thursday. The action came the morning after the City Council voted to distribute more than $4.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to first responders and Health and Human Services workers.

The Full Report
35 articles, 18 publications


From VPAP Maps, Timeline of COVID-19 in Virginia

The Virginia Public Access Project

Our COVID-19 dashboard makes it easy to track the latest available data for tests performed, infections, deaths and hospital capacity. There's a filter for each city and county, plus an exclusive per-capita ZIP Code map. Updated each morning around 10:30 a.m.


Attorneys general seek summary judgment in ERA lawsuit

By SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press

Three Democratic state attorneys general asked a court Wednesday to declare that the Equal Rights Amendment is valid and part of the U.S. Constitution. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford made the request in a motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit they filed in January against the archivist of the United States.


Senate committee kills paid sick leave bill by wide bipartisan margin

By MICHAEL MARTZ, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Legislation to require some Virginia businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees during a public health emergency died in Senate committee on Wednesday by a wide, bipartisan vote that also reflected concerns over the limitations of a program Gov. Ralph Northam proposed to help pay the costs.

Lawmakers consider bills to help customers facing utility debt

By MEL LEONOR, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

Virginia lawmakers are weighing a number of proposals to ease customers' debt burden to the state's utilities, as advocates say relief is needed for thousands of Virginians who continue to face economic hardship as a result of the pandemic. Virginia remains under a moratorium from utility disconnections that will expire on Aug. 31, when customers indebted to the state's utilities will be required to begin paying past-due amounts to avoid disconnection.

Senate committee advances bill to limit emergency decisions by Virginia health commissioner

By KATE MASTERS, Virginia Mercury

Over the strong objection of Gov. Ralph Northam's administration, a Senate committee advanced a bill that would curtail emergency decisions made by the state health commissioner, in part spurred on by frustration with the administration's initial refusal to release information on nursing homes experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. Five of the Senate Education and Health Committee's nine Democratic members voted with Republicans on Wednesday to advance legislation from Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, that limits the duration of emergency orders or regulations from the commissioner to 30 days.

'Beyond Band-Aids': Bill Calls for Nurses in Every Public School


A proposal to get nurses on every public school campus in Virginia passed its first hurdle Wednesday. Lawmakers and advocates say nurses play a crucial role to keep students safe in the coronavirus pandemic. The bill is being proposed by Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), who is also a nurse practitioner. Proposals to mandate more school nurses have been brought up to the General Assembly before.


Warner challenger campaigns at fairgrounds, GOP office

By IAN MUNRO, Northern Virginia Daily

Republican Senate candidate Daniel Gade, who grew up on a small farm in North Dakota, found himself in familiar surroundings while at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds Tuesday as he met and spoke with voters. "I grew up showing sheep. I grew up doing 4-H, so this is like coming home for me," the Fairfax Army veteran and university professor said outside an animal show area at the fairgrounds south of Harrisonburg.


Queen of Va. says its skill games produced almost $7 million for state in first month

By MICHAEL MARTZ, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Queen of Virginia Skill & Entertainment, the face of the embattled skill game industry in Virginia, says its games generated almost $7 million in the first month for the state's COVID-19 relief fund and local governments. The company, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Pace-O-Matic Inc., says a new state tax on its 5,700 machines in Virginia produced $6.8 million in July, the first month operating under a new state law that gives the industry a year to operate with a $1,200 monthly tax on each machine.

As Appalachian Power seeks a rate hike, does a new consumer protection law apply?

By SARAH VOGELSONG, Virginia Mercury

A law that cleared the General Assembly this spring over the objections of Virginia's powerful electric utilities and both Democrat and Republican leaders of the Senate has become a flashpoint in regulators' first review of Appalachian Power's rates in six years. The legislation, HB 528 sponsored by freshman Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Loudoun, restored the State Corporation Commission's power to set the schedule for utilities to recover the remaining costs of electric plants that are retired early, a right that was stripped from the body as part of the 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act.

Dominion bills have soared — and are set to rise even faster, officials say

By DAVE RESS, Daily Press (Metered Paywall - 1 article a month)

Dominion Energy customers' monthly electric bills have jumped nearly 29% since 2007 under a series of electric utility-backed bills enacted since then — and look set to rise another 45% over the next decade, the State Corporation Commission said. The electric monopoly's profits on its Virginia assets dropped last year, but the average over the past three years was still well above the cap set by the SCC, according to the commission's annual report on implementation of electric utility regulatory law, released Tuesday.

Witness says Rockbridge jail superintendent accepted $20,000 bribe to give privileges to inmate

By ALISON GRAHAM, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Witnesses testified Wednesday in federal court that the former superintendent of the Rockbridge Regional Jail gave special treatment to an inmate after receiving a $20,000 bribe. John Marshall Higgins is being tried in U.S. District Court on 21 charges related to accepting bribes, failing to protect inmates from abuse and failing to provide them with proper medical care.


REC builds an energy storage facility in Spotsylvania

By SCOTT SHENK, Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

Work is set to begin on a "grid-scale energy storage project" in Spotsylvania County. The Rappahannock Electric Cooperative partnered with Charlottesville-based battery storage development firm East Point Energy to build the energy storage facility, REC said in a new release. The cooperative said the energy storage facility will produce a peak capacity of 2 megawatts, "or enough to power about 1,000 homes for eight hours."

Montgomery Co., Blacksburg and Christiansburg offer recovery grants to small businesses

By YANN RANAIVO, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Small businesses in Montgomery County — including its two towns — will be allowed to seek one-time grants of up to $27,500 to offset impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Montgomery County officials discussed the plan for the recovery grants a few weeks ago, but the county, Blacksburg and Christiansburg provided more details on the initiative Wednesday.

Virginia Beach business owner says no Democrats allowed on his charter boat


Captain Jake Hiles has been operating Matador Fishing Charters out of Virginia Beach for the last 20 years. He spends countless hours on the water, talking with his customers and helping them catch fish. However, over the years those conversations have forced him to make a decision about who he lets on his boat.


Virginia Tech, Radford University unveil COVID-19 data dashboards

By HENRI GENDREAU, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Virginia Tech and Radford University have separately unveiled data dashboards about campus COVID-19 cases. Radford reported an overall positivity rate of 0.75% out of 1,470 tests given Aug. 1-14, which amounts to about 11 individuals. The dashboard, posted online Tuesday, says data is current as of Friday. The dashboard, which does not include any additional information, will be updated weekly. Tech reported an overall positivity rate of 0.14% out of 3,663 tests given Aug. 9-16, which amounts to five positive cases of COVID-19.

University of Lynchburg announces five active COVID-19 cases, moves classes online for one week

By JAMEY CROSS, News & Advance (Metered Paywall - 18 articles a month)

The University of Lynchburg announced a total of five active cases of COVID-19 among students Wednesday, just one week after in-person classes began, and will move classes online for one week beginning today. In an email Tuesday, Alison Morrison-Shetlar, president of the university, informed the campus community of two active COVID-19 cases among students. Morrison-Shetlar announced three additional cases Wednesday.


Coronavirus caseload across Washington region drops to lowest level in a month

By DANA HEDGPETH, OVETTA WIGGINS, REBECCA TAN AND DONNA ST. GEORGE, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

The average number of new coronavirus cases across the greater Washington region dropped to its lowest level in a month Wednesday, a sign of progress after recent actions by local leaders to keep a lid on infection spikes. The seven-day average of new cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia dropped to 1,594 on Wednesday, down from more than 2,000 earlier in August.

Ballad credits mask wearing with decline in new cases

By LUANNE RIFE, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Ballad Health officials on Wednesday said the wearing of face coverings by people in its service region is helping to slow the pace of new cases of COVID-19. Ballad, which serves northeastern Tennessee and far southwestern Virginia, experienced a rapid surge of infections about a month ago when it went from having just a handful of hospitalized COVID-19 patients to more than 200 in two weeks' time.

737 new coronavirus cases reported Wednesday in Virginia

By SALEEN MARTIN, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

The Virginia Department of Health reported 737 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the state's tally to 109,019. At least 2,410 Virginians have died from the virus as of Wednesday morning, an increase of 14 overnight.

Henry, Patrick counties account for half of state's one-day COVID-19 deaths

By HOLLY KOZELSKY, Martinsville Bulletin (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Half of the COVID-19 deaths recorded in Virginia on Wednesday came from this area. The West Piedmont Health District – Martinsville and the counties of Patrick, Henry and Franklin – reported seven deaths from COVID-19: four of Henry County residents, and three of Patrick County residents. That makes 25 total deaths since March in the district.

COVID-19 outbreak reported at federal prison complex near Petersburg

By FRANK GREEN, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Nearly a third of the inmates being held at a work camp at the Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg complex have tested positive for COVID-19, according a representative of the staff there. The Federal Bureau of Prisons would not comment, but Michael A. Castelle Sr., a union representative for the prison staff there, shared an email from a prison official that says all 187 inmates at the camp have been tested and 60 are currently positive for the virus.


City Manager: Portsmouth police should not have investigated Confederate monument case

By MARGARET MATRAY AND ANA LEY, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Portsmouth police were supposed to drop an investigation into a June protest and vandalism at the Confederate monument, and City Manager Lydia Pettis Patton didn't know charges were coming until officers took out warrants against 14 people earlier this week, Pettis Patton told council members in an email Wednesday. The email was made public in a Facebook post by Vice Mayor Lisa Lucas-Burke, whose mother, state Sen. Louise Lucas, was among those charged with felonies stemming from the June 10 protest.

Detailed plans in place for careful removal of Lee statue


When the bronze equestrian statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee arrived by rail in Richmond from Paris in 1890, it took 10,000 men, women and children to haul its pieces more than a mile to the site where the towering monument was erected as a tribute to a Confederate hero. Now, 130 years later, conservation experts who plan to relocate, yet preserve, the statue face the intricate logistics of disassembling and transporting it to a storage facility.

Case stemming from 911 call during city protest is dismissed

By ADELE UPHAUS–CONNER, Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

A case that stemmed from a 911 call made in June by a woman who alleged that Black Lives Matter protesters jumped on her car was dismissed Wednesday, according to the mother of the teenager who was charged. The protests at the time were considered city-sanctioned events. The woman called 911 to complain that protesters were blocking traffic. The dispatcher initially responded that there was nothing she could do, but later told her police were in the area in case of any illegal activity.


Nearly 200 Years Later, Henry Clay Faces Another Duel Over Arlington Park Name


As renovations are underway for Henry Clay Park, some local residents are hoping for one more additional change: getting rid of the name honoring slave-owning former Secretary of State Henry Clay. Clay, who represented Kentucky in Congress before and after serving as Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams, fought a duel in Arlington: at Pimmit Run in 1826. Neither participant was wounded and no Broadway musicals were written in Clay's honor.

Loudoun County Public Schools aims to expand exceptions to distance learning

By JOHN BATTISTON, Loudoun Times

The Loudoun County School Board during its Tuesday meeting voted to direct Loudoun County Public Schools staff to work toward part-time in-person learning for select special-education students on Oct. 13, as well as certain English-learning students and preschoolers by Oct. 27.

Richmond officials want to know what parents need to make online schooling work

By ERIC KOLENICH, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney asked Wednesday that city residents with school-age children take an online survey to indicate what kind of help they will need this fall as education is conducted remotely. Businesses are beginning to reopen, but students in Richmond Public Schools will continue learning outside of school buildings. Stoney said he knows this will put a strain on parents, and he has diverted $3 million from the CARES Act for emergency child care.

Hanover school system confirms 2 students test positive for COVID-19; County still plans for in-person learning

By CHRIS SUAREZ, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

With less than three weeks before the start of its school year, Hanover County Schools has confirmed that two students have tested positive for COVID-19. On Wednesday, school division spokesman Chris Whitley said employees and families were recently notified of potential exposure to the disease after learning of the first positive cases among students in the last week.

Virginia Beach first responders and city health workers will get hazard pay

By ALISSA SKELTON, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Virginia Beach first responders and health and human services workers will receive a bonus next month of up to $2,000. The city council on Tuesday voted unanimously to distribute more than $4.5 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to employees who experienced a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 while working through the pandemic.

Newport News School Board will consider renaming up to 10 schools

By MATT JONES, Daily Press (Metered Paywall - 1 article a month)

Before Warwick County and Newport News merged in 1958, each district had a its own policy for naming schools. In Warwick, schools were named after parts of the county, including area plantations. In Newport News, schools were often named after historical people, including infamous segregationists and Confederates. Since the merger, some of that has changed.

Accomack Supervisors approve CARES Act bonuses for first responders

Eastern Shore News (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The Accomack County Board of Supervisors authorized County Administrator Mike Mason to implement hazard pay for first responders who provided face to face services to the public during the period from March 1 until June 30 at a rate of $2 per hour. Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason told the Board that "it goes without saying that our fire-medics, deputies and correctional officers have performed admirably throughout this pandemic literally putting their lives on the line every single day to provide the services necessary to keep our residents and visitors healthy and safe.

Danville nears deal with Caesars Entertainment

By JOHN CRANE, Danville Register & Bee

It's just a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's before Danville reaches an agreement with Caesars Entertainment for a casino in Schoolfield. But all of that would hinge on whether voters decide on Nov. 3 to approve a casino resort there. Besides $400 million in investment, 1,300 resort jobs and 900 construction jobs while the casino is built, the agreement would bring a plethora of benefits for the city, including a $15 million payment to the city from Caesars within 30 days of the referendum, and purchase of a fire engine and an EMS vehicle for the Danville Fire Department and the Danville Lifesaving Crew, among others, Danville City Manager Ken Larking told Danville City Council on Tuesday night.



Onus lies with students too

Virginian-Pilot Editorial (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

That didn't take long. On Monday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill did a screeching, 180-degree U-turn on in-class instruction – a consequence of 135 COVID infections detected within a week of starting classes -- and shifted to remote learning. It's going to be a rough, difficult fall semester, much as predicted for all colleges and universities. The predicament, described by university administrators, as "untenable," is doubly troubling because UNC's leadership went to considerable lengths — bragging on itself in national news broadcasts — to do the testing and tracing and, thereby, avoiding a mess.


Schapiro: Va. balked on women's vote out of racial fears

By JEFF E. SCHAPIRO, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

No thanks to Virginia, women got the vote. Thanks to women, Virginia politics was reinvented. There are a record 41 women in the state legislature, including the speaker of the House. Women hold three of 11 seats in the congressional delegation. Three are running for governor, an office that in 1993 eluded the first woman elected statewide as attorney general in 1985.


Gastañaga and Aden: Bringing accountability to Virginia policing

By CLAIRE GUTHRIE GASTAÑAGA AND HASSAN ADEN, published in Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

If we learned nothing else from a recent viral video of a Virginia state trooper who encouraged people to "watch the show" before pulling a Black man out of his car by the neck during a traffic stop, it is that too many law enforcement officers apparently go to work each day feeling invulnerable — free from any threat of being held accountable for misconduct on the job. This is true even where the misconduct involves intentional violations of a person's constitutional rights and results in serious bodily harm or death. Virginians deserve better.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga is the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. Hassan Aden is the retired chief of police in Greenville, N.C., former deputy chief of police in Alexandria and founder of The Aden Group.

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