Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Political Headlines from across Virginia

September 1, 2020
Top of the News

Virginia House rejects ending qualified immunity for police

By DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press

Legislation that called for ending qualified immunity for Virginia police failed Monday after opponents argued it would result in frivolous lawsuits and make it difficult to hire and retain police officers. The bill would have allowed people who allege police violations of their civil rights to sue and collect money damages in state courts, ending the immunity that shields them from liability. It was defeated when two Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee voted with Republicans against reporting it to the full House.

Virginia's curriculum 'tainted' and 'incomplete' on African American history, report finds

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

A commission tasked with examining Virginia's history standards concluded Monday that despite recent revisions, the learning standards "continue to be incomplete with regards to incorporating African American history into the larger narrative." In its final report, the Virginia African American History Education Commission said the state should make immediate technical changes to the state's learning standards related to African American history, and explore broader changes during the formal standards review process in 2025.

Virginia, Ikea give $4M to boost Legal Aid services for residents facing eviction

By LAURA VOZZELLA, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday unveiled a $4 million initiative to expand legal services to Virginians facing eviction amid the coronavirus pandemic, an effort partly bankrolled by a foundation established by retailer Ikea. The Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, which funds and oversees the work of nine regional Legal Aid programs across the state, will use the money to hire and support 20 Legal Aid attorneys for the next two years.

Back to School - Sort of

By MEGAN WILLIAMS, Daily News Record (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

It was always going to be an unusual start to a new school year. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed school in March, educators looked to the next school year unsure of what to expect, except that it would be different. But even the constant rain on Monday couldn't deter the smiles of the small amount of Harrisonburg City Public School students — about 10% — who returned to the classroom for the first time in five and a half months, marking another first day of school.

Hundreds of on-Grounds residents forced to relocate after University converts their housing for quarantine

By ALI SULLIVAN, Cavalier Daily

Residents of the International Residential College, Johnson, Malone and Weedon Houses and Shea House were given just 24 hours to choose a housing reassignment or remain off-Grounds after learning on Friday at 8:00 p.m. that their dormitories were being converted into quarantine and isolation areas. Residents of the three housing communities received the Housing and Residence Life email informing them of the decision just three hours after the University announced its intention to forge ahead with in-person classes this fall.

Virginia Beach mayor asking governor to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants ahead of Labor Day

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

Virginia Beach's mayor wants the state to ease up on the COVID-19 restrictions so restaurants can more easily sell food and alcohol amid the ongoing pandemic. And he wants it to happen by Labor Day weekend.

Organizer of annual Newport News parade sues city over permit denial

By JOSH REYES, Daily Press (Metered Paywall - 1 article a month)

Newport News denied a permit for the 2020 the Southeast Community Day Parade — a parade that's been held annually for nearly three decades — citing restrictions set by the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. An organizer of the parade said the permit denial infringes on First Amendment rights and filed a lawsuit against the city Monday.

The Full Report
45 articles, 24 publications


VPAP Visual Lack of 'Specificity' in Lobbyist Disclosures

The Virginia Public Access Project

Each year, the Virginia Ethics Council asks lobbyists to list their activities "with as much specificity as possible." Some lobbyists take those instructions to mean they should include a list of bill numbers related to legislation they sought to influence. As this data visual shows, they are the exception, not the rule.

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.


Virginia to help provide 20 more Legal Aid lawyers for tenants facing eviction

By MARK ROBINSON, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

With a temporary freeze on evictions scheduled to end and thousands of cases mounting on court dockets around the state, Virginia is steering $4 million toward legal assistance for tenants at risk of losing their homes, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday. The infusion for the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia will pay for 20 attorneys over the next two years.

Virginia creates a $4 million fund to help people facing eviction get lawyers

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

A new $4 million fund will try to help low-income Virginians avoid being evicted from their homes, Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday. The money –– half from the state and half from a $2 million donation from Ikea –– will be used to support the work of the Legal Services Corp. of Virginia, a nonprofit whose legal experts provide counsel to people who otherwise can't afford it. It will fund the salaries of 20 Legal Aid attorneys for the next two years as they help tenants facing evictions.

Va.'s first lady Pamela Northam visits SW Va. teachers with stop in Abingdon

By JOE TENNIS, Bristol Herald Courier (Metered Paywall - 15 articles a month)

First lady of Virginia Pamela Northam visited the garden at Miss Amy's LLC child care center in Abingdon on Monday. "We love coming out to Southwest Virginia so much," Northam said. "Any chance we get to come to Abingdon, we're excited to come out here." Northam's visit followed earlier stops at schools in Marion and Blacksburg.


General Assembly votes down bills aimed at ending qualified immunity for police in Virginia

By NED OLIVER, Virginia Mercury

A Virginia House of Delegates panel voted down legislation Monday aimed at making it easier to sue police officers who abuse their authority. The bill, proposed by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, would have allowed people to sue in state court — an effort to side-step the judicial doctrine of "qualified immunity" that often shields police from misconduct lawsuits in federal court.

On second try, Senate panel votes to reduce penalty for violating governor's emergency COVID orders

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

A Senate panel voted Monday to reduce the potential penalty for violating a gubernatorial emergency order from a misdemeanor to a civil fine of up to $500. It was the second try for the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, which had deadlocked last week on Senate Bill 5117, proposed by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath.

Crime Commission Recommends Automatic Expungement For Some Crimes


The Virginia Crime Commission is recommending the General Assembly pass legislation to automatically erase certain misdemeanors and felony convictions from criminal records after a certain period of time has passed. The commission discussed a proposal Monday to expand expungement eligibility in Virginia. Lawmakers debated whether records should be automatically expunged or whether people should have to petition to have their records thrown out.

Fundraising Doesn't Stop During Virginia's Special Session


Lawmakers in Virginia's General Assembly have continued to solicit donations during the special session in a move that has raised eyebrows among some legislative observers. Politicians serving in the legislature are prohibited from fundraising during their general sessions to avoid conflicts of interests. But no such rules apply to special sessions, which have generally lasted days rather than weeks. The fundraising campaign has touched both parties and chambers.


Republicans aim to undercut Abigail Spanberger's centrist reputation in Virginia House race

By KERRY PICKET, Washington Examiner

Republicans in Virginia's 7th Congressional District intend to show that Rep. Abigail Spanberger is not the centrist her campaign ads portray her to be. Spanberger, a first-term Democrat who considers herself a centrist within her party, represents a district then-candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 by 6 points. She won the seat in 2018 by 2 points against two-term Republican incumbent Rep. David Brat.

Charlottesville officials preparing for unprecedented election

By NOLAN STOUT, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

With November fast approaching, Charlottesville officials are gearing up for an election like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed how ballots will be cast this year, with much of the focus on mail-in ballots rather than in-person voting. Also contributing to the large number of absentee voting requests are doubts among some of the U.S. Postal Service's ability to deliver the ballots on time, as well as new state laws that make non-traditional voting easier.

Virginia agrees to make mail-in voting accessible to blind voters who sued

By MEAGAN FLYNN, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

For vision-impaired voters in Virginia, there was no easy way to vote. They would either have to risk their health to vote in person, or forgo voter privacy by asking someone to fill in the blanks on their mail-in ballot forms. "You pretty much had to decide whether you wanted to vote independently or safely. You couldn't do both things," said Colleen Miller, director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia. Now, however, after the center and several other groups advocating for the blind filed a federal lawsuit, the Virginia Department of Elections has agreed to offer a new option.

Reports Of Stolen Campaign Signs A Daily Occurrence

By JESSICA WETZLER, Daily News Record (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Rich Harris placed a Joe Biden campaign sign on his property in Bridgewater around 6 p.m. one evening and by the following morning, the Democratic presidential nominee's placard was gone. A police report was filed, but the sign was never found....Reports of stolen campaign signs have been circling around the Rockingham County area and they are not just limited to Biden signs as campaign signs for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have been stolen as well.

Current and former Virginia Republican leaders endorse Joe Biden

By GREG HAMBRICK, Inside NOVA (Metered Paywall)

On Monday, 13 current and former Republicans in Virginia announced their support for former Vice President Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election. Former Sen. John Warner is among those rejecting the re-election bid by President Donald Trump. Warner and some others on the list also endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.


Black history education in Virginia is lacking, state commission says

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

A commission on African American history education created by Gov. Ralph Northam released its final report Monday, including over 30 pages of proposed edits to the state's history curricula. First graders would learn about Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery, and John Mercer Langston, the state's first African American congressman.

Virginia inmate who feared Aryan Brotherhood is moved to out-of-state prison

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

A Virginia inmate who said he was an informant against a dangerous white supremacist prison gang has been moved to an out-of-state prison, as he had been requesting for months. Joshua Phelps, 30, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood, which he said issued a statewide "kill on sight" order against him, was moved to a prison in South Carolina not long after the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story about him on Aug. 7.

Loudoun County awarded $20K to support local agriculture amid COVID-19 pandemic

By STAFF REPORT, Loudoun Times

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced on Friday that Loudoun and Floyd Counties will each receive a $20,000 grant from the Governor's Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund Planning Grant program to support local agriculture amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Northam's administration. Northam says both projects fill an immediate need for farmers in the communities who are struggling after the loss of sales to restaurants and at farmers' markets.


MGM National Harbor to lay off hundreds of workers

By DREW HANSEN, Washington Business Journal (Subscription required for some articles)

MGM National Harbor is laying off 779 employees effective Monday as part of a larger workforce reduction for casino operator MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM), according to reports. MGM is citing business impacts related to the Covid-19 pandemic as the impetus for the companywide layoffs. The company said it is laying off 18,000 previously furloughed workers across its roster — or about 25% of the MGM's prepandemic workforce.

Virginia one of top states to benefit from Paycheck Protection Program

By SANDRA J. PENNECKE, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Virginia was among the states that benefited most from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to a study by ExpertInsuranceReviews.com. Virginia was fifth in the ranking done by the organization, which provides consumer information on insurance. . . . In Virginia, $12.6 billion was received in PPP, which covered 1 million jobs or 21.3% of the total jobs in the state.

Rosetta Stone To Be Sold In $792 Million Deal

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

Language-learning software company Rosetta Stone announced Monday that it is being acquired by Cambium Learning Group. The all-cash deal, which should be finalized later this year, is worth roughly $792 million, according to a press release....Rosetta Stone was founded in Harrisonburg in 1992. Its headquarters is in Arlington, but the company maintains offices in the city.


Virginia Tech COVID-19 dashboard reports 178 cases, to be updated more frequently

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

Throughout the first week of Virginia Tech classes, 157 students and employees tested positive for COVID-19, the university's dashboard reported Monday. A total of 178 cases brings Tech's positivity rate to 1.8% out of 10,053 tests. Testing began Aug. 9.

H'burg hits highest case count since end of April alongside JMU spike

The Breeze

On Monday morning, Harrisonburg City and JMU updated their respective COVID-19 dashboards, with fresh numbers reflecting a spike in cases to a level not seen since April. From Friday, Aug. 28, to Sunday, Aug. 30, Harrisonburg logged 106 new cases, and JMU counted 197, with JMU's number including both positive tests in the University Health Center (UHC) and self-reported cases, according to a dashboard by The Breeze tracking COVID-19 case numbers in the JMU and Harrisonburg communities.

Liberty Will Investigate University's Operations Under Jerry Falwell Jr.

By RUTH GRAHAM, New York Times (Metered Paywall - 1 to 2 articles a month)

The board of trustees of Liberty University announced on Monday that it had retained an independent forensic firm to conduct an investigation into the school's operations under Jerry Falwell Jr., who resigned last week in the wake of a sex scandal after serving as its president and chancellor since 2007. The statement from the board of trustees said the firm would "conduct a thorough investigation into all facets of Liberty University operations during Jerry Falwell Jr.'s tenure as president, including but not limited to financial, real estate and legal matters."

Liberty University announces investigation into Falwell's tenure


Liberty University is opening an independent investigation into Jerry Falwell Jr.'s tenure as president, a wide-ranging inquiry that will include financial, real estate and legal matters, the board of the evangelical school in Lynchburg announced Monday. In a statement, the board said it had retained an outside firm to investigate "all facets" of the school's operations under Falwell, and that it was "committed to learning the consequences that have flowed from a lack of spiritual stewardship by our former president."


Virginia reports 847 new coronavirus cases, 11 deaths Monday

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

The Virginia Department of Health reported 847 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the state's tally to 120,594. At least 2,580 Virginians have died from the virus as of Monday morning, an increase of 11 from Sunday.

Virginia still averaging more than 10,000 tests for COVID-19 per day

By SABRINA MORENO, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

The Virginia Department of Health reported Monday that there have been 120,594 total coronavirus cases since the start of the state's outbreak, an increase of 847 cases from Sunday. The VDH numbers operate on a 19-hour delay. The total number of COVID-19 tests continues to average more than 10,000 per day, a metric and goal gauged as the key to lifting public restrictions back in May, when the state's testing peak was 5,000. Prior to that, the 7-day average was fewer than 2,000 tests.

August ends with highest positive test rate for virus since June

By CATHY DYSON, Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

As August came to an end, the Rappahannock Area Health District's rate of positive tests for COVID-19 crept up to 8.9 percent—the highest level since June. The local rate is higher than the state's positivity rate of 7.4 percent. Both rates are seven-day averages and reflect the number of positive cases out of all tests given.

Health officials warn of COVID-19 spread in Tri-Cities and Southside

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

Virginia health officials are warning of increasing spread of COVID-19 in the region stretching from the Tri-Cities to the North Carolina line. Prince George County, bordering the Tri-Cities, has confirmed 48 cases of COVID-19 since Friday and 222 since Aug. 1 — or 40% of all cases since the coronavirus pandemic began — according to the Virginia Department of Health daily COVID-19 online dashboard.

Contact Tracing Capacity Finally Meets Demand in Roanoke Region


Roanoke-area health officials say they finally have enough contact tracers on staff to meet the demand. Doctor Molly O'Dell recently told reporters that there are some 20 new employees devoted to disease investigation in the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District. "We have not had the capacity we needed up until now. We now have the capacity we needed six weeks ago, we hope," O'Dell said. "We feel much more prepared now than we did before."


While Pushing For Police Reform, Young Activists In Virginia Are Addressing Racism In Their Community


In June, Sam Ressin read the news reports of protests against racism and police brutality in Minneapolis. Then he looked at his own community of Vienna, in Fairfax County. The town was about to build a new, $17 million police station. It had already spent about $2 million finalizing a design. But across the country, calls were growing to defund police and allocate money to other services.

'Antifa hunter' gets 3 years for online racist threats

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press

A Florida man who called himself "the Antifa hunter" as he waged an online campaign to terrorize and harass those who opposed his white supremacist ideology was sentenced on Monday to more than three years in prison. Daniel McMahon, 32, of Brandon, Florida, pleaded guilty in April to using social media to threaten a Black activist to deter the man from running for office in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Dranesville Library Trustee Resigns After Diverse Book Discussion


As a Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees member faces calls for his resignation or removal for comments on the diverse titles featured in the library online catalog, another trustee who offered comments has resigned. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay ... also called for the resignation of Phillip Rosenthal, the Springfield District trustee who made remarks on Muslim, Black Lives Matter, and LGBTQ+ titles featured in the library catalog.

Western Loudoun farmers concerned with proposed zoning changes

By KAREN GRAHAM, Loudoun Times

A group of western Loudoun farmers met recently at Virts Family Farm in Hillsboro to voice concerns surrounding proposed zoning changes that will impact rural farmland. "We are not here to cause trouble," said Dennis Virts, who hosted the meeting. "We would like to try to stop the trouble and financial hardship others are causing us. We love all of our neighbors, and we are here to point out what's going on."

Richmond mayor, council members commit to interfaith group's affordable housing, violence reduction objectives

By C. SUAREZ ROJAS, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

In a Zoom conference call with more than 430 participants Monday evening, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and three City Council members committed to boosting annual funding to address housing insecurity in the city to $10 million, from $2.9 million this year. In a briefing before the meeting, Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities (RISC) leaders told the virtual assembly not to back down from demanding that the city do more to create housing for people in need and to prevent gun violence.

Richmond schools allow city to use five facilities for emergency child care

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

The Richmond School Board on Monday voted 6-0 to allow the city to use five of its schools for emergency child care. At issue for abstaining board members Kenya Gibson and Scott Barlow were details from the administration formalizing the agreement between the city and the school system; officials said a memorandum of understanding would be presented at the next board meeting.

Some Chesapeake students could be back in school buildings by Sept. 14

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

Chesapeake Public Schools plans to bring students back to the classroom as soon as the second week of school, a faster return to the buildings than previously planned. The change comes as administrators noted a "consistent downward trend" over the last month in two of the metrics it follows in the eastern region of Virginia — case positivity and case incidence. Chesapeake, however, had a 12.2% seven-day positivity rate Monday, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which stood the highest among cities in Hampton Roads.

Community and businesses fund mobile hotspots for Spotsylvania schools

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

School has been in session in Spotsylvania County since the middle of August, but school officials and staff are still adjusting to the massive changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. With most students learning from home, for at least the first nine weeks, making sure all of them can learn remotely is perhaps the biggest challenge. The school system already has distributed laptops to many of the approximately 24,000 students.

Roanoke, Salem go back to school, but in different ways

By CLAIRE MITZEL, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Roanoke and Salem school buses are back on the road this week, although reopening plans are keeping buses emptier than normal. Monday was the first day of classes for the neighboring Roanoke Valley districts, as well as for Craig County. Roanoke students are virtual for at least the first nine weeks, with some exceptions, and Salem students are in-person one day per week for at least the first two weeks of school.

Danville Utilities postpones disconnections for delinquent customers

By MICHAEL L. OWENS, Danville Register & Bee

Residential and commercial customers of Danville Utilities have an extra two weeks to work out payment arrangements on any delinquent accounts. The city, which owns the utility company, had planned to start disconnecting customers with delinquent accounts Tuesday. On Monday, however, the city announced that it would postpone such shutoffs until Sept. 14.

Danville seeks $500,000 to help pay for unannounced $3.76 million project in River District

Danville Register & Bee

The city plans to pursue $500,000 from the state to help pay for an unannounced $3.76 million project in the River District. City officials are tight-lipped about the project that would involve redevelopment of a vacant building by a private developer.



Natural Bridge protection efforts still are tangled

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

Natural Bridge is in trouble. Again. The iconic tourist attraction, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, is approaching a debt payment to a state funding authority that it might not be able to cover. Natural Bridge has gone through troubled times as of late. Efforts have been aimed at saving not only the bridge itself, but also preserving some 1,500 acres of surrounding property in the face of potential development.

Early voting in Virginia: Residents have 45 days to cast ballot

Bluefield Daily Telegraph Editorial

For those of us living in a border community like Bluefield, it is sometimes easy to mistake a few subtle differences between West Virginia and Virginia. For example, school officials are elected to a board of education in West Virginia and a school board in Virginia. A prosecuting attorney will oversee a trial in West Virginia whereas in Virginia he or she is called a Commonwealth Attorney. And in West Virginia you have early voting whereas in Virginia you cast what is commonly known as an absentee ballot. The latter example will soon be a moot point as early voting is now coming to Virginia.

Why Roanoke College Poll gives hope to Republicans in 2021

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

At first glance, the Roanoke College Poll that came out last week seemed one of those "nothing to see here" polls. It showed Joe Biden with a commanding 53%-39% lead over Donald Trump in Virginia, no surprise in a state that's now voted Democratic in three straight presidential elections.

Time to ease up on Hampton Roads?

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

It's been a lost summer for Hampton Roads' hotels, restaurants and countless other businesses throttled by the restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus throughout the region. But with the number of cases down sharply and the all-important seven-day average for the region now lower than the state, Gov. Ralph Northam should loosen the severe limitations imposed on Hampton Roads.


Craft: How an economist thinks about economic policy

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

As we approach another general election and political parties share their platforms, it is worth reminding voters what economists do. We don't identify the right policies; we identify the trade-offs and consequences of policies so voters and policymakers can make more informed choices, given their values. For example, one goal is to make housing more affordable, especially for low-income families. A traditional approach is to impose rent controls.

Craft is associate professor of economics and philosophy, politics, economics and law at the University of Richmond's Robins School of Business.

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