Archive for November, 2011
Each day that you listen to our series on the eight Virginia Democrats and Republicans who are vying for the U.S. Senate, you’ll hear a lot of discussion about changing the dynamic in Washington. Today’s candidate, David McCormick, is no exception. But as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, he has his own approach to accomplishing that.
In our original series on the Senate candidates, the GOP candidate featured here says there is one topic that is not being discussed openly—and that’s spiritual leadership. As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, it’s something E.W. Jackson says will get the country back on track.
Former GOP Governor George Allen is fighting to regain the U.S. Senate seat he lost five years ago to retiring Senator Jim Webb. Another former Governor, Democrat Tim Kaine, is also vying for the seat —and many pundits believe it’s going to be a photo finish between the two men. But six other partisan candidates stand in their way and believe they also have a right to be considered worthy opponents. In this first part of a new series focusing on ALL of these candidates, Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil begins with a Democratic woman who’d like to win her party’s nomination.
Today is World AIDS Day, and clinics around the state are offering free tests – hoping to slow the spread of the virus. More than 21,000 people in the Commonwealth are believed to be infected. Sandy Hausman reports that experts here are especially worried about teens — who rarely know their HIV status but may well be sexually active.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving and police are teaming up now and through December to make the public more aware—and cut down on alcohol-related crashes.
MADD has rolled out a “Tie One on for Safety” campaign asking Virginians to place red ribbons on their cars to raise awareness against drunken driving.
The ribbons are available at ABC stores. MADD is also asking each Virginian to “give the gift of yourself” as a designated driver… and download a gift coupon from its Website. Law enforcement agencies will saturate the roads throughout the holidays.
Governor McDonnell has announced a package of initiatives that would reorganize portions of state government. The legislation is heading to the General Assembly as part of a continuing effort to shrink the government’s size.
McDonnell rolled out his recommendations Tuesday based on the work of his government reform commission. He said state spending grew 23% during the past decade—when adjusted for inflation—and that in this economy, Virginians can’t afford a government that grows bigger each year.
The plan would eliminate 19 state boards and commissions and combine as many as 23 others. It would get rid of the Surface Mining Review Board and the Public Broadcasting Board … as well as de-regulate several professions, including hair-braiders and interior designers.
The Governor also proposes scrapping the National Defense Industrial Authority and the Board of Towing and Recovery Operators, since they duplicate work handled by other state agencies. The changes are estimated to save as much $2-million a year.
A University of Virginia freshman is $10,000 richer, after taking second place in a campus contest that promotes innovation.
As a volunteer in rural Peru, Joseph Linzon saw a problem. Residents needed electricity for cell phones, laptops and iPods, but they didn’t have a ready source of power. As he traveled through remote villages on foot, the idea came to him.
“As you walk you produce energy – kinetic energy, and I was thinking, “How can I convert this kinetic energy, that’s created with the swinging of a foot and charge a battery?” And that’s what an inductive coil mechanism does. It’s similar to a shake to charge flashlight.”
Back in Virginia, Linzon put a small battery and inductive coil into the sole of a gym shoe and showed it to a panel of judges at the university’s annual Entrepreneurship Cup.
“It’s completely embedded within the shoe. The user wouldn’t have access to this battery. The only way they would have access to it is through a USB port. I took a shoe, I shook it, and I charged my iPhone,” explains Linzon.
He’s now awaiting a patent and plans to use his prize to develop a prototype and pay legal fees. He calls his invention the Power Sole – with the slogan, “empowering the powerless, one step at a time.”
— Sandy Hausman
If you’re sending holiday cards or packages to Central or Southeastern Virginia, they might not arrive in time. Nearly nine months ago, the U.S. Postal Service issued a report finding significant delays for customers served by its distribution center near Richmond, with 54 million pieces of delayed mail in the first quarter of this year.
When the U.S. Postal Service began consolidating operations, officials said they could continue to provide timely delivery, but some customers say that hasn’t happened. Dan Rosenswieg is executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Charlottesville – a non-profit that mailed its semi-annual newsletter in October. After two weeks, the group began calling the post office to find out what had happened to those mailings.
“They’re sitting somewhere in that warehouse, but they couldn’t give us any time or any estimate as to when they’re going to go out, and now by the time, even if it does ship tomorrow, the news is going to be pretty late,” said Rosenswieg.
Now, Rosensweig is worried about the annual request for funds. A similar mailing went out in early December of last year but didn’t arrive until after January first.
“This is the primary time of year when people make charitable gifts. First of all it’s the spirit of the season, but second of all people are eager to get their taxable contributions in prior December 31, and when they don’t get their end-of-the-year appeal letter prior to January 1st, we’re likely going to have a lot of people who just choose not to donate.”
The internal postal service probe concluded the Richmond center was understaffed by about 70 clerks and maintenance workers, and six management positions were vacant. A new plant manager took over in mid-summer, but a spokeswoman for the postal service says “you don’t turn an ocean liner on a dime.” Michele Martel added that the center is the size of 12 and a half football fields and processes up to seven million pieces of mail in a 24-hour period.
— Sandy Hausman
Just hours after returning from his trade mission to Israel and India, Governor McDonnell met privately with his Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates. The group of public and private-sector leaders are helping the Governor gauge the levels of economic activity expected over the next two years and the revenues that the state could expect to reap as a result.
For 19 of the past 20 months, state revenues surpassed those of last year. Nevertheless, officials are saying they won’t be sufficient for rising costs in public education, Medicaid, and the state pension fund. Governor McDonnell said other challenges will also have an impact.
“Just returning from an overseas trip, I certainly can tell you that the rest of the world is concerned about the U.S. economy, is concerned about the unpredictability and uncertainty that’s coming out of Washington. We saw that yet again this week with the failure of the Super Committee to do what it was instructed to do. There are crises in Europe and other places with debt and deficits that certainly have an impact on the U.S. economy,” said McDonnell.
He said none of the economists consulted had a rosy outlook.
“There were seven of them that recommended the standard forecast, five that chose the ‘standard-minus,’ and two recommended the recession scenario for the U.S. economy.”
Some officials say budget cuts will be needed, but will likely be targeted and not across-the-board. Agencies have been preparing 2, 4, and 6% reduction plans. The Governor unveils his budget in December.
–Anne Marie Morgan
Virginia Democrats say they’ll go to court to try and force Republicans to accept a power sharing arrangement in the state senate. The chamber will be evenly divided between the two parties when it convenes in January but Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling will be there to break tie votes. Fred Echols reports.
The lights are on and the cameras rolling in Richmond, where Steven Spielberg is shooting a film about Lincoln. Virginia taxpayers are co-producers on the movie, having given Hollywood $3.5 million in cash and excused the filmmakers from paying some sales and hotel taxes. Sandy Hausman has more on that story.
The Virginia State Crime Commission wants police officers to implement a more uniform approach when using lineups to identify suspects. But even after studies have been performed to help make that happen, only some progress has been made.
A number of factors impact how effective police lineups are for catching and prosecuting criminals. A witness must be able to accurately identify a suspect without manipulation. Depending on whether it’s a photographic or live lineup, photos must be clear enough for witnesses to distinguish specific characteristics, or the pool of possible perpetrators must be chosen without profiling. But only 74% of law enforcement agencies have uniform policies.
“You know we took this course because we didn’t want to invalidate a bunch of prosecutions and the thought would be that law enforcement agencies want to do the right thing and when you show them best practices they would slowly segue into that. This is is moving more slowly than I think we would have thought,” said Crime Commission Vice-Chair, Delegate Rob Bell.
Department of Criminal Justice Division Director Teresa Gooch says one challenge is making sure that new officers know the policies from the outset.
“I think it’s training and our ability–DCJS’s ability to reach out and to actually, work with the training academies because that’s where the foundation of all training starts–is at the academy,” said Gooch.
This week Politifact Virginia looks into claims about flat tax plans and whether President Ronald Reagan agreed to 18 hikes in the federal debt ceiling. Fred Echols reports.
Governor McDonnell is now in India as he wraps up the final leg of a trade trip that began in Israel. He says the discussions there have been very productive and the Governor is lauding the benefits of taking more Virginia products to an emerging nation with more than a billion consumers.
India is a valuable market for Virginia, which exported $293 million in goods to India last year. McDonnell said 52% of all Indian workers are engaged in Agriculture, and since it’s the largest Virginia industry, it was a major focus of trade discussion. The Governor told reporters on a conference call that he’s already met with 60-major business leaders to explain the advantages of foreign investments in Virginia.
“Since then we’ve met with several of the major Indian businesses that already have offices in Virginia and I talked to them about expansion and job creating opportunities in our state,” said Governor McDonnell.
With him is Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, who discussed what agricultural imports piqued the interests of Indian business leaders.
“We’ve also been meeting with apple importers and process food importers. It’s a very, very strong market for imported apples to India and obviously Virginia. Apples are one of our top commodities. Meeting with a number of importers of soybean oils–oils that are coming from crushed soybeans, obviously which we’re producing a great number of in Virginia,” said Haymore.
The Governor said the trade delegation also advanced the state’s wine, tourism, bio-tech, nanotech, and film industries.
The Associated Press and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association are being sued after some qualifying rules have excluded U.S. Senate candidates from a debate next month at their annual AP Day at the Capitol. And while similar suits have been filed in the past with little success, the candidate who filed the petition this week says the federal lawsuit brings to light an issue of fairness to voters and whether or not some entities are making a mockery of democracy
Eight Democrats and Republicans are running for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Jim Webb. The debate rules state that to participate, a candidate must have achieved 15% in primary polls, and raise at least 20% as much money as the parties’ front-runners. Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen are only ones who have qualified. But, Democrat Julien Modica believes his civil rights have been violated–and the voters’ right to more options and an awareness of ALL issues, even within the parties, is being denied.
“We had the Tea Party, now we’ve got Occupy Wallstreet, you know in light of these two groups that are just outraged by what government has done, why would I just sit around and say ‘Ok, you guys have been here, you both have been governors, one has been a Senator, one was the chairman of the DNC, why would I just sit here and allow you to take over?”‘ said Modica.
Modica says both Allen and Kaine have shown how they will lead and that may not be what voters need now–but the VCCA and AP are essentially deciding for the voters.
As the debate approaches in December, Virginia Public Radio will air in-depth features with each candidate allowing them to introduce themselves to the voters and discuss the issues they believe are most relevant.
The lights are on and the cameras rolling in Richmond, where Steven Spielberg is shooting a film about Lincoln. Virginia taxpayers are co-producers on the movie, having given Hollywood $3.5 million in cash and $1.1 million more in tax breaks. The Governor says it’s a good investment in the state’s film industry, but critics think Hollywood is shaking Virginia down, and taxpayers are too star struck to notice. Sandy Hausman has more on that story.
Virginia lawmakers are evaluating whether all of the state tax preferences enacted over the years are being effectively used—as well as their potential impact on revenues. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has identified 187 credits, deductions, sales tax exemptions, and other tax breaks … but the watchdog agency says only some work the way they were intended.
Many tax preferences, such as sales-tax relief for food, were enacted to achieve policy goals of providing financial assistance or promoting desirable activities. In 2008, they reduced taxpayer liability by $2.9 billion. But JLARC Project Leader Ellen Miller said some to provide tax breaks for people with lower incomes also helped others:
“Only two preferences, the age deduction and low income tax credit, did so efficiently and provided the majority share of the reduced liability to intended beneficiaries,” said Miller.
Miller said the land conservation and historic rehabilitation credits did promote those activities. Tax breaks to help save for college were only somewhat effective. “In contrast, we found that preferences promoting the coal industry, nonprofit activity, and long-term care insurance were unlikely to achieve their goal.”
The worker retraining credit was too small to promote retraining. The report recommends creating an oversight panel to assess all preferences. Some advocates are calling for repeal of tax “loopholes”—to fund services with the revenue that’s saved.
–Anne Marie Morgan
Surveys consistently show that the vast majority of Americans fail basic tests of civic literacy. That’s one reason why a General Assembly commission sponsored a Civics Education Summit in Richmond attended by teachers from across the Commonwealth. They discussed practical ways to help students learn political knowledge—while capturing their imaginations.
A major theme was the effectiveness of teaching and learning methods. For example, when students read, they remember about 10% of what’s read. Hearing results in a 20% retention rate. But students who discuss material remember 70% … and when they also do an activity, they recall 90%. Henrico teacher Kathryn Niemeier is a trainer for the civics education program, Project Citizen. She said hands-on learning is essential for mastering civics knowledge.
“And that’s what Project Citizen really does. It explains to students how you can participate in the process effectively, get your voice heard. You don’t always get the outcome you necessarily want. But you get your voice heard. But it’s a way of participating outside the most common form which they hear about—that’s voting,” she said.
Niemeier also said learning dispositions, such as respect, accountability, and political efficacy are also critical. She added that research, oral language, and other skills acquired through an active approach will also transfer to other subjects.
–Anne Marie Morgan
A Grayson County Judge will hear testimony Wednesday in a case over what a landowner can build on their property. Beverly Amsler explains.
One of George Allen’s harshest critics has endorsed the former governor in his run for the US Senate. Politifact Virginia notes that turnaround this week and also grades Governor McDonnell on a campaign promise to funnel more money into Virginia classrooms. Fred Echols reports.
The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis has unveiled the latest in a series of studies that identify issues in Virginia that hinder economic growth. The most recent study examines the labor force—and how well the state has rebounded since the economic recovery began in June, 2009. Michael Cassidy there says Virginia has a long way to go before it rebounds to pre-recession levels. Compared to past downturns, the number of job losses continued to grow.
“So unemployment, for example, rose by 14% in our state last year, and that was the largest jump in the whole South Atlantic region,” says Cassidy.
More than 1 in 3 unemployed workers looked for jobs for more than 27-weeks. The state remains 128,000 jobs below pre-recession levels .In addition, underemployment remains a problem …as some who obtain jobs work only part-time or below their skill levels. Cassidy says to help workers get back to pre-recession levels—the state could raise the minimum wage, provide training for new skills, and enact more earned income tax credits.
The alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing was arraigned Wednesday in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In Norfolk, family members of the 17 sailors watched on a closed-circuit feed– as for the first time, Abd Al Nashiri spoke before the military tribunals. More from Virginia Public Radio’s Jessica Stone.
Just hours after celebrating a historic day of elections in Virginia and the Republican Party, Governor McDonnell embarks on an 11-day trade mission to meet with leaders in India and Israel, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But some say Virginia’s success abroad and its recognition as the most business-friendly state in the U.S. has been, in part, because of its diversity and ability to incorporate various ideas, regardless of party affiliation, into business concerns. And with one party in power in Richmond, the Governor still thinks other nations will view the Commonwealth in the same light.
If the election results are confirmed, the GOP would have the largest majority in history in the House of Delegates and a working majority in the Virginia Senate. Republicans also hold all three statewide offices. McDonnell says all interests will still be represented as the state moves forward, but he believes there will be less gridlock on some key issues that may have prevented the Commonwealth from focusing on business expansion and job creation.
“The whole goal there, regardless of whose in charge back here in Richmond, my whole goal is to bring more jobs and opportunity in Virginia. I want more direct foreign investment, I want them to open up their foreign markets and to buy more things from Virginia–hopefully convince a lot of people in both Israel and India that they ought to be dealing with the most business friendly state in America–Virginia,” said McDonnell.
The Governor intends to build on the current relationship Virginia has with Israel while cultivating one with India. He will provide updates on his trade mission during the course of his travels and will return to Richmond November 22.
About 18,000 people turned out over the weekend for the nation’s premiere steeplechase – a race run annually at James Madison’s Montpelier. The 77th Annual Hunt Club Races featured a new competition this year – one that had nothing to do with horses.
You might think a horse race is about horses, but for millions of women, it’s all about the hat, and this year the organizers of the Montpelier Hunt Races acknowledged that with a hat competition. About 50 women entered, and the winner went home with a gift certificate worth $500.
Meanwhile, three vendors sold hundreds of hats in tents near the track – among them Diana Francis, who makes custom hats at her studio in Lexington. “My inspiration sometimes comes in the middle of the night, and I know it sounds crazy, but I’m up at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning because I realize that’s just the special treatment a hat needs,” says Francis.
Feathers, fur, flowers and ribbons are always in vogue, but Francis says today’s hats can flexible. “It used to be that hats would be sprayed and made to be very stiff, whereas today they’re much softer, so that you can actually play with a hat and give it the kind of shape that you would like one day and do something different the next. It’s very much a mood thing, wearing a hat.”
Jacki Gill of Ruther Glen agrees, and her wide brimmed pink hat, sprouting feathers, expressed her enchantment with the chapeau. “I don’t know. They feel festive, and you feel fancy when you put them on. You’re just a step above yourself regularly,” she said.
Loraine McConnell, an Orange County Milliner, says this is the heart of hat country. “I think Virginia probably has the most number of steeplechase races and also, the most vineyards on the east coast, with wine festivals, so we have a lot of opportunities to wear hats,”said McConnell.
Her shop, Sequoia Springs, boasts hats are good for your health. “It’s good for our skin, anti-aging, skin cancer are two of the medical reasons that are promoting the fashion.”
— Sandy Hausman
The State Board of Elections is reporting that polls are generally operating smoothly today as Virginia voters cast ballots for all 140 seats of the General Assembly and numerous local offices. The Board also says that most voters directly affected by redistricting appear to know their polling places have changed—although some have not initially understood how to get to their new polling locations.
There have been only isolated incidents of glitches across Virginia. There were some problems in Montgomery County today, where a poll worker was giving out wrong ballots to voters. The registrar there says he doesn’t know how many people may have cast ballots in the wrong races.
Isle of Wight had an operator error with the electronic pollbook and voting machines.
In Fairfax, some voters went to incorrect polling locations.
In Chesterfield, battery-operated equipment was used due to a few power problems. In Henrico County, 954 voters were not listed in 19 precincts, which then switched to paper pollbooks.
In Giles County, voters temporarily used paper ballots when a voting machine went down
The State Board reports turnout appears to be heavier in districts with competitive races. Four years ago in the last election for all General Assembly seats, the turnout was only about 30% statewide.
–Anne Marie Morgan
Tuesday is Election Day for all 140 seats of the Virginia General Assembly—as well as for a number of local offices statewide. It’s the first election held after this year’s redistricting of legislative boundaries, and some displaced incumbents have even moved into different districts to try to retain a seat. But partisan control of the upper chamber will depend on electoral outcomes in a SMALL minority of districts.
With only 37 contested House seats, the GOP’s continued majority there is not in doubt. But a pick-up of two Senate seats would also give Republicans effective control in that chamber. Political scientist Dr. Bob Holsworth says Senate redistricting was more favorable to Democrats—so the question is whether the GOP will continue a winning streak that began two years ago.
“The Republicans have had a major enthusiasm advantage over the last couple of years both in Virginia and in the United States. And if they can turn out their voters, Republicans certainly stand a chance of taking the two seats they need,” says Holsworth.
And he adds that both parties are well-funded.
“The Democrats have a shot, I think, at two seats that the Republicans hope to win: one in the Lynchburg to Louisa area and the other perhaps in Loudoun. But the reality is the Republicans have challengers in the Southwest, in Northern Virginia, in the exurban areas of Northern Virginia, in Hampton Roads. So the difficulty for the Democrats is that they are really trying to hold on to 8 or 10 seats that are being targeted very strongly.”
Voter turnout is expected to be low.
–Anne Marie Morgan
This week Politifact Virginia dot com tests Governor McDonnell on his promise of new legislation to reduce gang violence and also checks out a congressman’s claim on the possible effect of cuts in defense spending. Fred Echols reports.
The old adage is “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but the collaboration between an environmental services company, an electric coop, a methane gas company and the local and state government is turning millions of tons of trash into the treasure of many.
The unveiling of a new trash-to-energy facility in Richmond sets an example of how innovation can help meet energy demand and preserve the environment.
Across the U.S., thousands of mountainous caches of trash do not only exist, but grow everyday… and will decompose and emit harmful methane gas. But several companies are converting these landfills into methane wells, which are like natural gas wells and can be used to power vehicles, homes, and businesses. Mark Comora, President of Fortistar, said this process is cleaner than just burning the methane, and is the only renewable energy source with a continuous flow. He said the new plant can power 4500 homes.
“There’s about 1.5 billion tons on landfills that have not yet been developed in the country. That would be sufficient for one-thousand megawatts of electricity. That would require about two-and-a-half billion dollars of capital. Two-and-half billion dollars means jobs, and that would be sufficient to power 675,000 homes,” says Comora.
Lt. Governor Bill Bolling said an added benefit is that except for permitting, the government has no part in building these facilities—thus promoting free enterprise without using scarce state funds.
— Tommie McNeil
Many people would like to choose careers that society holds in high regard or that generate high incomes, but some are finding that the competition is so stiff, that it’s hard to make a good living or even obtain a job in those dream occupations. But at this year’s Governor’s Forum on Education and Workforce Training, educators and business leaders discussed how to better prepare students for modern careers that maintain a decent quality of life—and also keep jobs in the Commonwealth.
Governor McDonnell told participants he still thinks that one must get a good education to obtain a good career and be successful—but that must include training in skills that will augment what’s learned early in life and college. Secretary of Education Laura Fornash also says it’s long overdue for educators and business leaders to join together to develop a comprehensive strategy to help students set realistic goals:
“It’s trying to better align what our educational programs are providing–the preparation of our young people as well as retraining. We need to make sure that we have programs in place to be able to develop the workforce for, as I mentioned, today’s jobs as well as those for the future and that alignment is really critical,” says Fornash.
She says that means building an interest for future jobs at the K-12 level and providing more trade alternatives in community colleges. Fornash says while educators are addressing the academic component, business leaders are devising ways to enhance job opportunities and skills training so that students will want to stay in Virginia long after they are credentialed.
Virginia lawmakers are so concerned about the proliferation of methamphetamine in the Commonwealth that they are considering changing the state policy that governs many over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines. With 90 percent of U.S. meth labs located in the eastern half of the country, some officials believe the status quo has become unacceptable.
Meth is often made with pseudoephedrine from cold pills. But even after limits were set on the amount of cold medicines per purchase, meth manufacturing has increased … exacting a heavy toll in health, public safety, child welfare, and toxic chemical clean-up costs. The Joint Commission on Health Care’s Michele Chesser says meth is more potent than cocaine:
“It also, unfortunately, depletes the brain’s dopamine stores and destroys the dopamine receptors. And these can take up to one year to re-grow. So during that period, if the individual is not using meth, they are incapable of experiencing pleasure. So this makes it very, very difficult to treat. They can fall into a very deep depression and, as a result, oftentimes will go back using meth,” says Chesser.
The number of meth labs declined in the two states that require prescriptions for cold medicines. Some lawmakers argue that a similar law would have the same effect in Virginia, but others say that would be inconvenient and expensive. Another option is a monitoring database that would require customer identification and track all cold medicine purchases.
–Anne Marie Morgan