Should Virginia Impose a Tax on Plastic Bags?

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Are plastic bags a problem in Virginia? Lawmakers in Richmond are divided. Michael Pope has details.

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The Future of Virginia Fisheries: Growing Our Own in the Blue Ridge

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  Blue Ridge Aquaculture raises about two million tilapia at a time — calm fish that like swimming in large schools. (Credit Sandy Hausman)

Like many cities in southside Virginia, Martinsville lost thousands of jobs as tobacco, furniture-making and textiles left for places where labor was cheaper.

But as those industries went away, a new one grew up thanks to one man with an idea.

Sandy Hausman met him and toured what is now the largest indoor fish farm in the world.

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Republicans Hope to Lift Age Cap on Autism Health Insurance Coverage

general assembly coverage 2019Lawmakers in Richmond are hoping to expand health insurance coverage to children with autism. Michael Pope has more.

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ERA Clears State Senate, But Future Remains Unclear

ERA YEsLawmakers in Virginia are moving forward with an old idea: the Equal Rights Amendment. Michael Pope has the story.

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Lawmakers On Both Sides of the Aisle Finding Middle Ground on Foster Care System Reform

StateSeal00Lawmakers are often divided along party lines on the hottest issues of the day. But, Republicans and Democrats are coming together on at least one issue. Michael Pope has details.

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The Future of Virginia Fisheries: Marine Life at Risk

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Blue crabs harvested by waterman James Eskridge (Credit: Sandy Hausman)

Virginia is the top supplier of seafood on the east coast.  Our watermen harvest more than four dozen species – scallops and oysters, blue crabs, clams, flounder and other fin fish worth over $200 million.

The creatures that live off our coast face some big problems, but as Sandy Hausman reports, scientists here are hoping to find solutions that make sustainable fishing possible.

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Former Journalists Push Press Freedom in House of Delegates

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The Virginia General Assembly now has two former journalists as members, and they are hoping to move forward with bills to increase press freedom.

Michael Pope has the story.

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Virginia Inches Closer to Raising the Minimum Wage

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Credit: MBandman / Creative Commons

The minimum wage in Virginia is $7.25 an hour, among the lowest in the nation. But, that might be changing soon. Michael Pope reports.

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New Democrats Say They Want to Rein in Dominion

general assembly coverage 2019As winter weather sets in, you may be looking at higher energy bills. But some state lawmakers say rates from Dominion are higher than they should be. Mallory Noe-Payne has more from the Capitol.

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A Casino Push in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth

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Credit: TaxRebate.org.uk / Flickr

Could casinos be the key to bringing jobs and revenue to some parts of the state? A bipartisan group of lawmakers thinks so. The effort is targeted to three Virginia localities. Mallory Noe-Payne reports.

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Va. News: Bristol offers Medical Cannabis classes, Norfolk stops prosecuting Marijuana Possession

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Marijuana users in Norfolk will no longer be prosecuted for misdemeanor possession and the City of Bristol is gearing up to take full advantage of job opportunities in the medical marijuana field.

 

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

 

More now from Fred Echols.

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Some Lawmakers Want to Require Minimum Wage for Piecework Laborers in Virginia

StateSeal00The minimum wage does not apply to all workers, and Virginia law has several categories of workers who are exempt. Although, some lawmakers want to change that. Michael Pope reports.

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Tiny Fish Causes Big Controversy in Richmond

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  Menhaden are nutritious fish enjoyed by marine mammals, sea birds and bigger fish.
(Credit: VIMS)

Virginia’s legislature is back in session, and lawmakers may again be talking about a tiny fish called the menhaden.

It’s the only fish regulated by the General Assembly, and proposed catch limits are proving controversial as Sandy Hausman reports.

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Pope, Church & State: A Weekly Look at the 2019 General Assembly Session

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Throughout Virginia’s 2019 General Assembly session, All Things Considered host Luke Church and reporter Michael Pope will break down the highlights from the Capitol each week.

Week 1:

The 2019 General Assembly session got started this week with a little more bipartisanship than in years past.

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Equal Rights Amendment Clears One Early Hurdle But Debate Continues

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It’s been decades since lawmakers first started debating the Equal Rights Amendment.

And, as Michael Pope reports it’s a debate that’s still going strong.

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ACLU Joins Call for More Information on How Virginia Handles Solitary Confinement

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Credit: David Nakayama / Creative Commons

Democratic lawmakers and the ACLU of Virginia are pushing for more information on how the state uses solitary confinement. Mallory Noe-Payne has details.

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Republicans Skeptical of Some of Northam’s Progressive Proposals

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Reaction to the governor’s state of the commonwealth address was mixed, mostly falling along partisan lines.

Michael Pope has the story.

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Northam Stresses Cooperation in Address to Lawmakers

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Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia’s Governor delivered the State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night.

As Mallory Noe-Payne reports, he got consistent applause from lawmakers in both parties by focusing on bipartisan successes from last year, like expanding Medicaid and rolling back regulations.

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Republicans Outline Legislative Priorities for 2019 Session

general assembly coverage 2019Even though Democrats may have won every statewide election since 2009, Republicans are in control of the House and the Senate. Michael Pope has this preview of their priorities for this year’s General Assembly session.

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Examining General Assembly Politics in an Election Year

StateSeal00Lawmakers are assembling in Richmond for this year’s General Assembly session. The session is expected to last about two months, but many lawmakers are already looking ahead to November. Michael Pope reports.

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Virginia Board Approves Compressor Station for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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Opponents of the compressor station express their disagreement by turning their backs to the Air Pollution Control Board. (Credit: Mallory Noe-Payne / RADIO IQ)

A state board gave unanimous approval today to a controversial compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Dominion Energy plans to build the station in a historically African-American community in Buckingham County. Mallory Noe-Payne was there as the board voted, and has this report.

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State Lawmaker Wants to Reconsider Virginia’s Ban on Guns in Churches

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Credit: Steven Coutts / Flickr

Do guns belong in churches and synagogues? Lawmakers are about to take up that issue in Richmond. Michael Pope reports.

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Port of Virginia Invests to Land Bigger Ships and More Business

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Virginia has the nation’s number five port – serving an average of 40 ships a week – connecting more than 200 countries.

And despite talk of trade wars in Washington, Sandy Hausman reports that the place is poised to grow.

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Dems Say Gun Regulations Could Save Lives

general assembly coverage 2019On Monday, House Democrats outlined a set of legislative proposals dealing with gun safety. They say the measures are focused on saving lives. Mallory Noe-Payne reports.

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At Least One Virginia Lawmaker Wants to Criminalize 3D-Printed Firearms

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The rise of 3D printing is creating a whole new world for manufacturing all kinds of items. But it’s also created new concerns about security at courthouses and airports. Michael Pope reports one Virginia lawmaker is hoping to update the code.

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Va. News: Cville Police Hiring Woes, Pet Owners Seeking Vets who Prescribe Opioids

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Like many cities, Charlottesville is struggling to keep its police officers, but its problem is more complicated than in most places…and veterinarians are being drawn into Virginia’s opioid crisis.

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

More now from Fred Echols.

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Republicans Look to Derail “Hidden” Tax Hike

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Federal lawmakers are wrestling with how to handle a budget standoff over a wall at the southern border.

But as Michael Pope reports, state lawmakers may soon be in the midst of their own budget standoff.

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Fixing Virginia’s School Counselor Ratio May Be Easier Said Than Done

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Credit: MBandman / Creative Commons

After several high-profile school shootings, lawmakers are trying to figure out how to make the classroom safer. But, they may be at odds over how much money to spend. Michael Pope reports.

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Nursing Professor Looks for Links Between Domestic Violence, Strangulation and Damage to the Brain

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  A forensic exam kit used by nurses like Kathryn Laughon.
(Credit UVA School of Nursing)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports a decrease in calls over the holidays, but when January rolls around those numbers rise again.

In many cases, women report being choked – an assault that may not look as serious as it is.

Sandy Hausman explains.   And this report, while clinical, may be a sensitive topic for some listeners.

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General Assembly to Consider Giving Teachers a Raise

teachersalaryHow much money should Virginia teachers be paid? That’s an issue that’s about to take center stage in Richmond when the General Assembly meets next week. Michael Pope reports.

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In Lee County, Arming Teachers Seems Like the Only Option Left

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Students at St. Charles Elementary in Lee, Virginia go to school in a building constructed in the 1930’s and don’t have a school resource officer. (Credit: Mallory Noe-Payne / RADIO IQ)

Since the Parkland shooting in Florida lawmakers, teachers and parents are thinking more about school security. But as officials in one Virginia county know, keeping kids safe in remote rural schools can be more difficult than protecting city and suburban schools.

Lee County has 11 schools, but can only afford four resource officers. To help fill the gap they’re turning to teachers and administrators — training them and hoping they’ll get permission from the state to let them carry guns in the classroom.

Mallory Noe-Payne traveled to the far southwestern corner of the state, and has this report.

Mallory Noe-Payne has more on Lee County’s plan to arm teachers.

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Va. News: EMT’s Comments spark another Debate, A Family Business struggles in Norfolk

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A century-old family business is struggling to stay alive in downtown Norfolk…and  Patrick County Supervisors, who’ve been dealing with one controversy for several weeks, now have a second one on their hands.

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

More from Fred Echols.

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Research Suggests Year-End Bonuses May Lead to Unethical Behavior

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Credit: Chris Dlugosz / Flickr

Trying to close the books on 2018? New research into human psychology here in Virginia has some tips. Michael Pope reports.

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Equal Rights Amendment Gets Unfriendly Committee Placement

StateSeal00Ahead of this year’s legislative session, Republican leadership in Virginia has assigned the equal rights amendment to committee. It will go before a Republican who has not been supportive in the past. Mallory Noe-Payne reports.

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Analyzing Virginia’s Upside Down Education Funding Model

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Credit: Pascal Volk / Flickr

How much money should school districts with the poorest students get? That’s an issue that will be debated in Richmond next month. Michael Pope reports.

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New Report: 2018 Brought Virginia Economic Success

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Credit: Old Dominion University

2018 has been a very good year economically for Virginia, according to Old Dominion University’s annual State of the Commonwealth report. Nick Gilmore has details.

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Analyst: Virginia Public School Enrollment Sees First Drop in Decades

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Source: Virginia Department of Education Fall Count, 2018 to 2023 regional enrollment projected by the Weldon Cooper Center

For decades, Virginia has seen its student enrollment climb year after year.

But now, as Michael Pope reports, something different is happening.

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Retaliation a Real Possibility in Wage Disputes

Ernesto Martinez

Ernesto Martinez walks to his car parked in the far end of a parking lot at an outlet mall in Leesburg. He says his previous employer did not pay him all the money he was owed, and he considered filing a complaint with the state. But if he had done so, Virginia law would have offered him no protection against getting fired specifically for launching an investigation into wage theft. (Credit: Michael Pope)

Workers who feel they haven’t gotten all the pay that’s coming to them can file a complaint with the state.

But, as Michael Pope reports, they can also get fired specifically for filing the complaint.

It’s been a long day at work for Ernesto Martinez, and he’s walking to the far end of a parking lot in an outlet mall in Leesburg. He’s exhausted from all the hours that he put into his job here. But he’s also thankful that he has an employer willing to pay him what he owes. The last job he had did not. Through an interpreter he explains some of the problems with his old job in landscaping.

“They made us pay for uniforms and hardhats and gloves — all the safety equipment that the company is in charge of giving us that kind of equipment.”

And, he says, his employer didn’t pay him for all the hours he put in on the job. So he started talking to the other workers. They considered filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, which receives about fifteen hundred complaints a year. But …

“Most of these workers were scared. They were afraid to take these issues to the government. So it gets me mad and angry because they were already accepting the situation.”

They accepted the situation and decided against filing a complaint with the state. As it turns out, they had every right to be afraid. Wendy Inge (In-juh), who oversees these kinds of investigations for state says they have no protection against getting fired for filing complaints.

“Generally when the public calls in needs to file a complaint they’re advised, if they’re still working, they are advised that we don’t have any protection for their job and that that employer may retaliate.”

Pope: When you tell them, how do people react?

“Well they’re not very happy because they think that the law should protect them.”

But the law doesn’t protect them, at least not yet. One change lawmakers could make would be to forbid employers from firing employees who file complaints. But that would place an increased burden on the staff here. A decade ago, this department had 20 full time employees to investigate wage theft. Now there are only three.

“Right now we are limited in some areas that we just don’t have the resources to conduct those investigations right now.”

Pope: “And so what’s the consequence of that?”

“Well, one for example, is if you’re paid over $15,000 — if your claim is more than $15,000 — we don’t currently accept your claim.”

Pope: “So what happens then? You have to get a lawyer?

“Yes, you have to get a lawyer.”

Advocates for workers rights say lawmakers should make it illegal for employers to fire workers just because they file a complaint with the state. That’s a law that would come with a cost, though, because it would mean Virginia would need more than three people to investigate thousands of complaints. Delegate Paul Krizek is a Democrat from Fairfax County.

“Right now workers have the option of filing a complaint with the department with the Department of Labor or filing a private action. Neither option is working. Either you take your issue to court where lawyers are not incentivized to take the case due to the low payouts or you report to the government where there are only three employees handling thousands of cases.”

Ernesto Martinez never ended up filling a complaint. But he did get a new job, one that he’s happy with. And he has this message for lawmakers:

“We’re just asking for the lawmakers to put those laws in place to protect those workers and make sure that the companies are doing the right thing for the workers. And that’s my message to the lawmakers.”

In the upcoming session of the General Assembly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle plan on pressing the issue — making it illegal to fire workers who file complaints. They’d also like to see more investigators on the job.

I’m Michael Pope.

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Should Virginia Employers Have to Provide Paystubs?

Tracey Holloway

Tracey Holloway returns to the convenience store where she used to work. She quit after she suspected her paycheck didn’t have all the money it should have, although she couldn’t prove it because her employer didn’t give her a paystub showing how her salary was calculated. (Credit: Michael Pope)

Some workers in Virginia have no idea how their salary is calculated. They don’t know if Social Security has been dedicated, and they don’t know if they are being paid what they are supposed to be paid.

As Michael Pope reports, that’s because employers are not required to give employees paystubs.

It’s almost lunchtime in suburban Richmond, and Tracey Holloway is on her way to the 7 Eleven where she used to work. She remembers being thrilled to get a raise and then deflated when she didn’t seem to be getting the money she was owed.

“Things just started not to make sense to me. The hours that I’m working is not showing up on my paychecks, and my husband is looking at me like you’re going to work and this is what you’re bringing home? Something ain’t right.”

As it turns out, something wasn’t right. She wasn’t getting the money she was owed. So she quit.

“I haven’t been back since I walked out. Nope.”

Pope: “So what’s going through your mind right now?”

“I just want my paperwork.”

The paperwork she wants is her paystubs — the paper trail of how much she was being paid from week to week and how much was being taken out for taxes and Social Security. She called legal services to help her out, and they introduced her to lawyer Paul Falabella with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“And so I met with Tracey regarding her situation, which really all centers around her not getting paystubs not explaining her pay while she worked here.”

Like many employees in low-wage jobs, Tracey Holloway didn’t get paid with actual paychecks. She was given a debit card, and the money was electronically deposited on the card.

“I think the intent was probably to help folks who don’t have bank accounts avoid payday lenders. But Virginia law does not require any written statement of your wages when due, and that to me is a big problem.”

That’s not the only problem. Under existing law, employers are actually required to provide paystubs to employees. But only if they are requested in writing.

“That’s what the law says. But, of course, no normal employee knows that. A normal employee just knows I got my pay whether by debit card or check and there’s nothing that came with it.”

The fix for that is requiring all employers to provide paystubs without a written request, or electronic access to information that would be in paystubs —  information that was not available to Tracey Holloway. Former Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb tried unsuccessfully to do that before retiring from the General Assembly.

“It’s normally an issue with lower-dollar workers. It’s oftentimes an issue with manual labor workers and it oftentimes goes hand in hand with employees who may be paid cash on the job, and it makes accounting very difficult. And it also makes proving a lost wages claim very difficult.”

So, for now, people like Tracey Holloway will have to hope that somehow — someday — they get access to how their salary was calculated.

“So I don’t know if I’ve been paid all my money or not. And I guarantee you I probably haven’t.”

After the lawyer got involved with the case, the manager at the convenience store acknowledged the mistake. And she got the money she was owed. But she still wants the paystubs from that time. And now she has a new job down the street at the Dollar General, a job that also pays her with a debit card.

Pope: “You have to take it upon yourself to go into the computer system and print out your paystubs, and you do this regularly?”

“Yeah, I just started. I only got two paychecks. But I did that. I got both of them. I’ve got sense now, you know, to keep up with my own stuff. I can’t depend on nobody else.”

Her lawyer, Paul Falabella, says this problem has an easy fix, one that wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything.

“If she had been given her pay stub every pay period, she would have realized she didn’t get the raise. And presumably the issue could have been straightened out then and there and not led to a situation where she no longer works here.”

In the upcoming General Assembly session, a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats plans to come back at this issue again, and force employers to provide employees with the details about how much money they’re making and whether they are receiving all of it.

I’m Michael Pope.

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Crisis of Wage Theft or A Bonanza for Lawyers?

George Pinn

George Pinn, left, and his attorney Matthew Sutter meet at the spot where the carousel was once located. Pinn’s former employer still owes him $1,500. (Credit: Michael Pope)

What happens if your employer never gives you your last paycheck. It happens frequently, and sometimes employees get the money they are owed. But often times they don’t.

And, as Michael Pope reports, one reason for that is how Virginia law works.

It’s late afternoon on a weekday, and George Pinn is returning to the Springfield Mall for the first time in two years.

“It kinda sucks, you know what I’m saying. I put in a lot of work for these people. And I feel like I brought these people a lot of money.”

He’s talking about that job he used to have here as a cashier for a carousel ride, a job he had until one day the carousel disappeared.

“The next thing you know I come to find out they just left — like the Colts did to Baltimore, that’s what they did. They pulled their truck up and rolled out.”

Rolled out of town and ghosted the man who worked twelve hour shifts for weeks at a time.

“Even to this day I still have not heard anything from these people.”

Like thousands of workers in Virginia, George Pinn is a victim of wage theft. His employer owed him about fifteen hundred dollars, and he needed a lawyer to help him collect. He eventually found one, Matthew Sutter. But there was a problem: how to pay the lawyer?

“My hourly fee, as set by the court, is $425 an hour. So in order to take a case like this and make it cost efficient it’s virtually impossible.”

Pope: “So you’re essentially doing this job either for free or at a loss to yourself, is that right?”

“Well somebody’s gotta do it. And nobody else is doing it. So I do it.”

In Maryland, victims of wage theft don’t have a hard time finding lawyers because people who have been cheated can get triple damages. And In D.C. they can get quadruple damages. And attorneys fees. But in Virginia, they can only get the amount of money that’s owed to them and no more. That makes it difficult, if not impossible to find a lawyer.

“A lot of these folks are undocumented. A lot of the folks don’t speak English. And a lot of the folks are frankly scared to collect their wages.”

Allowing victims of wage theft to receive triple damages or layers fees would create a system where they could hire lawyers. But Jodi Roth at Virginia Retail Federation says there may be downside.

“This would open the floodgates to necessary litigation where people might falsely accuse an employer of this because this would now be in place.”

Pope: “But it would also open up the floodgates to people getting money that they are owed, right?”

“Sure, absolutely. People should be able to get money that they are owed. And I would think that the law covers that.”

Most other states allow double damages or triple damages or lawyers fees or some way for low-income people to hire lawyers to take their cases. Virginia does not. So changing any part of the law may, in fact, open up the floodgates.

“It may produce many lawsuits because we have a crisis of wage theft in Virginia.”

That’s Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“And so to have a new avenue for workers to recover those unpaid wages and for us as a society to stop and deter wage theft would be a terrific thing for Virginia.”

For now, though, low-income workers like George Pinn have to rely on luck to find lawyers like Matthew Sutter, lawyers willing to take on the cases for free. Even then they still might not end up with the money they’re owed.

“Well the resolution is that we have a lien on a piece of property that appears to be underwater, and we’re waiting to get paid.”

Pope: “And how long has this been going on?”

“The lien was recorded about two years ago, and in Virginia it’ll be good for 20 years. So maybe in 20 years at the rate of six percent interest, George and I can sit together and have an iced tea or take our medicine together at the nursing home and somehow split that fifteen hundred dollars.”

This year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Richmond will be working to create a new system to help victims of wage theft, people at the bottom end of the economic scale who could never afford to hire a lawyer. And lobbyists for business groups are already lining up to oppose the idea as a bonanza for lawyers, and an invitation to what they view as unnecessary lawsuits.

I’m Michael Pope.

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Tradition of AGs Stepping Down to Run for Governor Dates to 1950’s

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Former Virginia Attorney General, Lindsay Almond (Credit: Library of Congress)

For the last 60 years, trying to move from the attorney general’s office to the governor’s mansion has usually meant stepping down — resigning from one office to focus on being elected to the other. Michael Pope has this look at the reasons why.

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Will Virginia’s Medicaid Work Requirements Ever Happen?

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Credit: MBandman / Creative Commons

182,000 people are about to get health insurance now that Virginia is finally expanding Medicaid. And, they will not have to meet the work requirement to get those benefits. At least not yet. Michael Pope reports.

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Herring Joins Other Virginia Lawmakers in Refusal of Dominion Money

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says he won’t take campaign contributions from the state’s largest utility, Dominion Energy. (Credit: MDFriendofHilary / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons)

The influence of corporate money has long been a staple of American politics. But now a new political trend is emerging in Virginia to resist campaign contributions from major corporations. Michael Pope reports.

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The Needle Exchange in Wise is Working, so Why Aren’t There More?

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  The needle exchange in Wise is run out of the local health department.
(Credit Mallory Noe-Payne)

More than a year ago Virginia lawmakers gave nonprofits and local health departments in more than 50 localities the green light to set up needle exchanges. Permission was targeted to places where the opioid crisis is worst and Hepatitis C rates are high.

Since then, only three localities have decided to set up needle exchanges. In a two-part series Virginia Public Radio explores how the first one is going, and why there haven’t been more.

Part 1: ‘We Know the Possibility is Coming’ Why One Community Got on Board

Part 2: ‘A Free Pass’ vs. Keeping People Safe

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Refund or Credit? Tax Showdown Looms

StateSeal00Virginia’s Democratic Governor and Republican lawmakers may be headed for a tax showdown this upcoming legislative session. The question at hand is what to do with new revenues created by the Trump administration’s tax cuts. Mallory Noe-Payne has details.

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Goodlatte Reflects on 26 Years in Congress

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Rep. Bob Goodlatte

In January Virginia will lose Congressman Bob Goodlatte – who as Judiciary Committee Chair has been the most powerful member of the Commonwealth’s delegation in Washington.

Correspondent Matt Laslo reports from the Capitol that the Republican will be missed by many.

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Poll Shows Support for I-81 Improvements, According to Industry Group

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(Credit: Jeff Bossert)

The Virginia Department of Transportation has a draft plan for improvements to Interstate 81, the vital highway that runs along the western side of the state.

Now a construction industry group says it’s time for legislators to hit the gas.

David Seidel explains.

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Va. News: Studying Ferry Service out of Prince William County, Digitizing Public Records in Suffolk

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One of the last cities in Virginia to fully digitize public records is finally taking the plunge. And people in Virginia’s I-95 corridor north of Fredericksburg may soon have a faster way to get into DC.

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

More now from Fred Echols.

 

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Virginia Representatives Leery of Possible Government Shutdown

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(Credit Rog Cogswell via flickr.com / CC)

Virginia lawmakers are monitoring the potential of a partial government shutdown.

They know from past shutdowns that the Commonwealth’s economy gets hit by them, as Matt Laslo reports.

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Down on the Farm in Petersburg

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  Young urban farmers Saajida Chohan and Paul Meyer with their Virginia State University professor Leonard Githinji.
(Credit: Sandy Hausman)

The city of Petersburg was once a prosperous place where railroads crossed and tobacco money changed hands. Today it’s economically depressed.

But a program pioneered by Virginia State University could help to revive the city in a surprising way.

David Seidel has that story.

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