Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Political Headlines from across Virginia

August 25, 2020
Top of the News

Northam not planning on COVID-19 vaccine mandate despite support from top official


A spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday he's not planning on mandating a COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, even though his Administration's top health official supports the idea. In an interview with 8News on Friday, State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said he planned on mandating a coronavirus immunization once it's safely released to the public.

Senate panel backs parole board transparency bill

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

A Virginia Senate panel on Monday backed one of a few bills the General Assembly is considering that would bring more transparency and accountability to the parole board. The proposal, from Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, would require the Virginia Parole Board to publish more information in its monthly report about prisoners upon whom it's taking action, including why the board granted someone parole.

Virginia lawmakers advance absentee voting measures

By ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press

Virginia lawmakers on Monday advanced proposals aimed at making absentee voting easier amid the coronavirus pandemic, including having the state prepay postage, setting up drop boxes and establishing a process for voters to fix paperwork issues on improperly submitted ballots. Democratic-led committees in the state House and Senate approved the measures over objections from Republicans who said they were concerned about the cost and ballot security.

Virginia's freeze on utility disconnections extended another 2 weeks

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

Virginia regulators extended a freeze on utility disconnections for another two weeks, until Sept. 16, to give the General Assembly time to come up with a way to help Virginians who can't pay electric, gas, water and sewer bills because of the COVID-19 pendemic. The State Corporation Commission order also says that utilities can't shut off service after Sept. 16 to customers who have arranged payment plans, as long as customers stick to those plans.

VSU closes on-campus housing, moves to online-only classses in fall semester

By BILL ATKINSON, Progress Index (Metered paywall - 10 articles a month)

After seeing COVID-19 cases on colleges campuses around the nation go up, Virginia State University reversed course Monday and cancelled all in-class instruction for the remainder of the 2020 fall semester. "After careful consideration and many shared governance conversations, Virginia State University has made the difficult, but necessary decision, to offer classes fully online and cancel all on-campus housing for the remainder of the fall 2020 semester," VSU president Dr. Makola M. Abdullah said in a video posted Monday on the VSU website.

Jerry Falwell Jr. Says He Has Resigned as Liberty University President

By IAN LOVETT, Wall Street Journal (Subscription Required)

Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned as president of Liberty University late Monday night, following a tumultuous day during which he tussled with the university's board of trustees over his future at the school. In a phone call to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Falwell said he had just sent his resignation letter to the board of the Christian school in Virginia.

Danville, Pittsylvania County schools begin virtually with few hiccups and a lot of hope

By PARKER COTTON, Danville Register & Bee

The desks sat empty and the halls remained quiet, except for the occasional teacher sharing technological insight with a colleague next door. On the other side of the computer screen, backpacks were left draped over kitchen chairs and without their normal filling of books and binders and pencils.

The Full Report
41 articles, 19 publications


VPAP Visual Update: Demand high for mail-in ballots

The Virginia Public Access Project

Early voting doesn't begin for several weeks, but the pandemic has increased demand for mail-in ballots across Virginia. As of August 23, nearly 440,000 voters had applied for mail-in ballots, an increase of 75% compared to the final number of applications four years ago. This visual breaks down the increase in each of Virginia's 11 congressional districts.

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.


Northam administration flirts with potential statewide solid waste fee for landfills

By SARAH VOGELSONG, Virginia Mercury

Gov. Ralph Northam has signaled he intends to revive an old debate about how much out-of-state trash Virginia accepts by including in his administration's budget proposal an order for the state to develop a plan to require landfill operators to pay a statewide tipping fee for solid waste. "The governor is proposing a study of this issue," said Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky in an email. "Virginia accepted more than 4 million tons of out of state trash in 2019, and we feel this is something worth looking into further."


General Assembly advances plan for ballot drop-off boxes for November election

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

The Virginia General Assembly is moving forward with a plan to provide prepaid postage to absentee voters and authorize ballot drop-off boxes to reassure voters they won't have to cast their vote in person during a pandemic or gamble on uncertain mail delivery. The House and Senate budget-writing committees backed legislation that would spend $2 million on postage and require registrars to set up drop-off boxes for the November election. Gov. Ralph Northam is backing this initiative.

Separate budget bill offers quick fix for helping absentee voting in Virginia

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

The General Assembly is moving quickly to adopt a budget bill, but not the one that will guide funding of state government for two years. Instead, the assembly money committees in the Senate and House of Delegates voted Monday to adopt legislation to provide $2 million that Gov. Ralph Northam already has included in his proposed budget to reimburse local election registrars to provide prepaid postage for voters to mail their absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

Petersburg delegate sponsors legislation to ban 'no-knock' warrants in Virginia; police chiefs object

By BILL ATKINSON, Progress Index (Metered paywall - 10 articles a month)

Virginia Democrats have officially unveiled their version of "Breonna's Law," a ban on using so-called "no-knock warrants" named after the Kentucky woman killed during the execution of such a warrant during an arrest. One local police chief said he opposes such a ban, even though his department has never had to use a no-knock under his watch. He calls the move "nothing more than political gain" — a position echoed by an association representing police chiefs across Virginia.

Bill would add religious exemption if coronavirus vaccine becomes mandatory in Virginia


A Virginia delegate is working to make sure people's religious liberties are not violated by an expected coronavirus vaccine. Republican Delegate Wendell Walker, who represents parts of Lynchburg, Amherst County and Bedford County, is co-sponsoring a bill that would create a religious exemption to a coronavirus vaccine.

Case cites senator's words before protesters marred monument

By BEN FINLEY, Associated Press

When protesters gathered at one of Virginia's Confederate monuments in June, police say a state senator approached them with a warning: "(T)hey are going to put some paint on this thing, and y'all can't arrest them." Sen. Louise Lucas, 76, a Black woman and high-ranking Democratic power broker, stood near the 56-foot (17-meter) memorial in the city of Portsmouth. Police said she was with a group of people shaking up cans of spray paint.


SCC extends moratorium on utility service cutoffs for nonpayment

By LAURENCE HAMMACK, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The State Corporation Commission is once again extending its order barring regulated utilities from cutting off service to customers unable to pay their bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest reprieve will last until Sept. 16 — enough time for the General Assembly to decide during its special session whether any legislative action is necessary, the SCC said in an order Monday.

SCC renews disconnection ban until Sept. 15 but warns extension may be the last

By SARAH VOGELSONG, Virginia Mercury

State regulators announced Monday they would extend an existing moratorium on utility disconnections through Sept. 15 but signaled they don't intend to renew it again unless ordered by the General Assembly. The new deadline will bring the moratorium's total duration to six months since the State Corporation Commission enacted its initial ban in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Virus-related guidelines for Virginia workplaces to be enforced starting Thursday

By MATT WELCH, Winchester Star (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Virginia businesses have had about a month to implement new occupational safety and health guidelines to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Starting Thursday, workplaces not following those guidelines could be punished with fines and/or closure for repeat offenders.

Whitmell solar project to power on this week for Danville Utilities

By JOHN CRANE, Danville Register & Bee

The Whitmell solar project on Irish Road in Pittsylvania County should be starting up and providing power this week for Danville Utilities, while the one in Ringgold will begin operating within a month.


After weekend parties, Virginia Tech to enforce group limit of 15, mask mandate

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

A day before classes began, Virginia Tech announced it will take "swift action" against students who don't abide by new rules that would limit parties to no more than 15 people and require masks at such gatherings. "The reality as of this morning is that only some are choosing to live by the health imperatives necessary," Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs, wrote in a message to students on Sunday. "Many gatherings over the weekend, inconsistent practices of wearing masks and physical distancing, and other overt behaviors are weakening the resolve of many and the reality that we can all remain on campus."

At VCU, some students feel uneasy as coronavirus cases climb

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

In the span of three days, the number of Virginia Commonwealth University students who tested positive for the coronavirus doubled, and some students are worried that school life as they know it won't last. "Of course we don't feel good," said Amelia Howard, a freshman music major, seated outside Warren W. Brandt Hall on Monday afternoon. "Nobody really wants to leave and go home. … We want it to work out, we really do."

Richmond Officials Call for Stronger VCU Response to COVID-19


One week into reopening, more than 70 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at Virginia Commonwealth University, according to official data released by the university on Monday. Of students who tested positive, 43 are currently in isolation at on-campus housing. City Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch commends the university's efforts to control its on-campus facilities, but says she's concerned about large social gatherings off campus that can put students at risk of contracting the disease and spreading it to the rest of the community.

University of Richmond campus closed to outsiders, Robins Center ambulatory converted into classrooms

By JOHN O'CONNOR, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Those accustomed to visiting the University of Richmond's 350-acre campus who are not members of the school community need to establish new routines until further notice. Classes began at UR on Monday and the school is permitting only students, faculty, staff and contractors in campus buildings during the pandemic.

At JMU, an uncertain semester is about to begin

By SABRIYA MCKOY, Harrisonburg Citizen

With classes scheduled to start Wednesday, JMU is bustling with first-year students attending on-campus orientation while returning students settle back into their housing on campus and off. They're facing the start of an acadmic year unlike anything past JMU students have had to deal with — a pandemic that not only could put their health at risk but also result in shifting classes from classrooms to meeting virtually, the way they did at the end of last spring semester. Altogther, it's led to major changes and a bit of anxiety.

HPD, JMU Report Decline In Parties

By PETE DELEA, Daily News Record (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

While some colleges across the country reported parties with hundreds of students, Harrisonburg police say move-in weekend for James Madison University was fairly calm compared to years past. Earlier this month, in preparation of JMU students' return to campus for the fall semester, City Council enacted a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Sgt. Scott Drugo said students appear to be following the regulation.

Jerry Falwell Jr. agreed to resign from Liberty University, and then reversed course, school says

By SUSAN SVRLUGA, SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY AND MICHELLE BOORSTEIN, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

Jerry Falwell Jr. agreed to resign as president of Liberty University on Monday, according to the university's general counsel, after a series of sordid scandals rocked the school he has led since 2007. Falwell, a real estate developer who became a passionate defender of President Trump, took over the Christian university his father helped found to evangelize the world in 2007. His leadership dramatically increased the school's growth and clout, but critics increasingly worried he had lost sight of the university's spiritual mission.

Falwell's future with the institution his father founded, murkier than ever

By RICHARD CHUMNEY, News & Advance (Metered Paywall - 18 articles a month)

Jerry Falwell Jr.'s future at evangelical Liberty University was unclear late Monday, with a senior school official saying he had resigned from his leadership post but Falwell telling at least one news outlet he does not plan to leave permanently. Attorneys for Falwell and attorneys for the school were negotiating the details of a possible departure late Monday, according to a person close to the school's of board trustees who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss it.


Virginia reports 664 new coronavirus cases Monday

By GORDON RAGO, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

The Virginia Department of Health reported 664 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the state's tally to 113,630. At least 2,471 Virginians have died from the virus as of Monday morning, an increase of 4 from Sunday.

More than 430,000 people in Virginia have downloaded COVIDWISE app so far


More than 430,000 people have downloaded the COVIDWISE app since it first launched earlier this month, according to the Department of Health. That number represents about 10% of people 18-65 years old with smartphones, VDH said.


Appeals court upholds rally convictions but says part of federal law may be unconstitutional

By TYLER HAMMEL, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of two white supremacists who participated in violence during the Unite the Right rally, but indicated part of an anti-riot law may violate the First Amendment. The appeal was filed on behalf of Benjamin Drake Daley and Michael Paul Miselis, two members of the California-based white supremacist Rise Above Movement, whose members attended the Charlottesville rally in 2017, as well as two rallies in California.

During appeal of a Charlottesville rally case, court strikes down parts of federal anti-riot law

By DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press

A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the convictions of two members of a white supremacist group who admitted they punched and kicked counterdemonstrators during the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, but found that part of an anti-riot law "treads too far upon constitutionally protected speech." In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the entire federal Anti-Riot Act on its face.

At Arlington House, a push to remove Lee's name from the home he once occupied

By SYDNEY TRENT, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

The Arlington mansion, fronted by massive columns five feet around and a sweeping portico, sits high on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River with a commanding view of the nation's capital. Two White men who lived in this storied home occupied a lofty perch as well: George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of George and Mary Washington, and General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War.


Hanover will have in-person instruction for only five grades on first day

By KENYA HUNTER, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Hanover County Public Schools is scaling back its plans to start in-person instruction, according to a letter that Superintendent Michael Gill sent families Monday. Originally, the school system planned to open its doors for all grades for in-person instruction on Sept. 8. Now, only five grades will go back to their school buildings that day, and the rest will return the next day.

With coronavirus metrics improving, in-person learning could start in Virginia Beach in a month

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

Key coronavirus health metrics have improved so much — and so quickly — the past month in Hampton Roads that Virginia Beach could see most grades return for in-person instruction as early as September 22. Under the school system's fall reopening plan, the city is looking at two numbers to determine when students can return to classrooms: the region's positive test rate and how many new cases are being reported each day.

Virginia Beach fast tracks vote to provide bonuses to essential employees who worked through the pandemic

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

Bonuses for employees who have kept the city functioning during the pandemic — including waste management workers who walked off the job last week in protest — are on the way. The Virginia Beach City Council will consider a proposal Tuesday to provide up to $1,500 in extra pay to more than 3,450 employees who were not eligible for hazard pay under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds. And Mayor Bobby Dyer expects it to pass.

Norfolk considers ban on guns in city parks and buildings

By RYAN MURPHY, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Norfolk's City Council will consider a proposal to ban guns in city buildings, parks and recreation centers and at city-permitted events. Anyone who violates the new ordinance could face up to a year in jail, up to a $2,500 fine or some combination. A vote is scheduled for Tuesday, but Mayor Kenny Alexander said it's likely to be continued to give the public time to weigh in.

Area's public preschool programs expand eligibility criteria ahead of new school year

By KATHERINE KNOTT, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

Families directly affected by COVID-19 are eligible for public preschool programs this school year, most of which will be initially taught remotely. The area's public preschool programs, which are free and include Charlottesville and Albemarle County programs and the Monticello Area Community Action Agency's Head Start program, announced Monday that they are expanding their eligibility criteria.

Franklin County School Board to require temperature checks for students when school starts Sept. 8

By MIKE ALLEN, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The Franklin County School Board continued to tweak the preparations for reopening schools during an informational meeting held Monday afternoon. The first day of school will be Sept. 8. On a 6-2 vote, the board chose to have temperature checks for students conducted at every school for students, tasking Superintendent Mark Church and his staff with the implementation plan.

Bassett, Magna Vista to offer African-American history class this spring

By CARA COOPER, Martinsville Bulletin (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Students at Magna Vista and Bassett high schools will have a new history elective option this spring: an African-American history class focusing on the question "What is Freedom?" The class will "evaluate how African-Americans have shaped, contributed and been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state and local governments," Henry County Public Schools spokesperson Monica Hatchett wrote in an email.

Montgomery County supervisors OK two early voting locations

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

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors on Monday night unanimously approved the establishment of two satellite locations for early in-person voting this year. The unprecedented move was proposed by the office of Montgomery Registrar Connie Viar in response to new challenges created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Radford extends gathering limit; city school system moving to all virtual, at least temporarily

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

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the city, school Superintendent Rob Graham announced at Monday night's city council meeting that the reopened division will be moving from a hybrid model to completely virtual starting Tuesday. Graham shared a message sent to parents that in part read "RCPS became aware of a recent, close social gathering in the community involving individuals (including RCPS students, staff and parents) who appear to have not been practicing public health recommendations of physical distancing and face coverings.



Lessons for students exist in suspensions

Daily Progress Editorial (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

It has begun. Virginia Tech, Radford University and Roanoke College already have suspended or "removed" more than a dozen students for violating anti-COVID protocols. The University of Virginia warns it will do the same if necessary.

How Hager helped reshape Virginia politics

Roanoke Times Editorial (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The most that any lieutenant governor does is break the occasional tie in the state Senate, so ordinary Virginians can be forgiven if they did not instantly recognize the name of former Lt. Gov. John Hager, who passed away over the weekend at age 83. Hager was something of an accidental Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 1997, and, as far as Democrats are concerned, something of an accidental winner. Never again was he on a statewide ballot. Nonetheless, he helped reshape both political parties in Virginia — just not always in ways he intended.

Pressure on regional jail to improve inmate conditions

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

The Hampton Roads Regional Jail has made significant changes since a series of inmate deaths in 2015 brought the facility under the considerable — and needed — attention of federal authorities. This month, Justice Department officials judged that progress inadequate, filing a consent decree with the U.S. District Court that the jail failed to sufficiently address conditions that imperil the constitutional rights of inmates.

John Hager: A life of gallantry and grit

Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

In May 1998, John Hager gave the commencement address at Southern Virginia Community College's Christanna Campus. Toward the end of his speech, he told the 286 graduates and their 1,000 guests that "The last four letters in American are i-c-a-n." He added, "That spells two words: I can. Do what you can." Hager, 83, who passed away on Aug. 23, lived those words his entire life.


Bedard: Falwell says Fatal Attraction threat led to depression

By PAUL BEDARD, Washington Examiner

Jerry Falwell Jr., suspended as president of Virginia's Christian-focused Liberty University after a string of embarrassing acts, said that he has suffered depression caused by a former family friend who had an affair with his wife and who has been threatening to expose it. In a statement exclusively to Secrets, Falwell revealed his wife Becki's affair for the first time and said that it was short lived and that the two reconciled quickly. But, they claimed, her former lover has threatened them over the past several years and that they are done with it hanging over their heads.


Robinson: The fiat from Fairfax

By ROXANN L. ROBINSON, published in Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Our nation's founders designed our system of government to be accountable and visible to the people. They intended elected officials to openly debate the merits of legislation in full view of the public, while also listening to citizens' concerns through public testimony. ....Speaker Filler-Corn's sneaky and cynical parliamentary maneuvers circumvented 400 years of tradition. This governing by fiat is nothing more than a power grab by House Democrats. For those who believe in government accountability, the move sets a horrible precedent.

Robinson represents part of Chesterfield County in the House of Delegates. She is a Republican.

Perriello: The eviction crisis is a public health crisis

By PAIGE PERRIELLO, published in Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

As one public health crisis globally unfolds, another is brewing in Virginia: a coming wave of mass homelessness. Currently, nearly 40% of Virginia households can't afford their rent. That means some 384,000 families in the commonwealth face the risk of eviction. Over the next four months alone, Virginia courts are likely to hear 259,000 new eviction cases. As a practicing pediatrician, I see and hear everyday how essential housing is to my patients' good health.

Perriello is a general pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville. She is focused on health inequities, as well as mitigating the impact of childhood trauma.

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