Archive for May, 2012

Cracking Down on Crime Gangs

Many in the law enforcement community admit that they don’t have all the resources and knowledge to effectively crackdown on criminal street gang activity—which is rapidly spreading across the Commonwealth.

During its second annual “Nuts and Bolts” training, the Attorney General’s office used information obtained during a recent gang leader’s trial to help provide those tools.

In recent years, talk of gang activity referred to “MS-13” in Northern Virginia, but now gang recruitment statewide is synonymous with the name “Latin Kings.”  The arrest and trial of member Sergio Salcedo taught law enforcement about the group’s colors, gang signs, and tattoos—and that gangs now use technology and social media for recruitment. And while many people migrated from the once-popular Myspace to Facebook, gangs began using the less scrutinized Myspace. Attorney General Ken Cucinnelli told attendees that they must learn how to process a case effectively and ALSO how to dry up gang recruitment.

“Obviously you heard me talking about prevention as well and once they learn about the scope of the threat they’re dealing with and so forth, you know a lot of law enforcement folks–some of these folks will end up as school resource officers and other things. And so we know they’ll find their way into prevention positions and we want to give them those tools too, which is why they’re in there now watching the Big Lie,” he said.

The “Big Lie” is a training video for students and others in which gang members explain their top lies to recruit kids.  It’s especially effective in helping divert young girls from human trafficking.

Leave a comment

State Credit Rating

Last summer Virginia almost lost its AAA credit rating because of partisan sniping in Washington over raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Matt Laslo reports that Republican leaders are drawing their line in the sand over that debate once again, which could disproportionately hurt Virginia.

Leave a comment

Voting Rights Restoration

Virginia has long provided a route for felons to restore certain civil liberties that they forfeit upon conviction. The governor controls the process, and the current and past two administrations have reduced the hoops that felons must jump through so they can once again vote and have the civil rights that the public often takes for granted. But as Virginia Public Radio’s Amanda Iacone reports, a growing number of felons are successfully seeking their rights as part of their effort to move beyond their crimes, find jobs, and make a better life for themselves.

Leave a comment

Veterans ID Card

Those who have served this country in the armed forces already face many challenges when returning from abroad—whether it’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, getting readjusted to civilian life, or dealing with injuries. So it can be disheartening when services and benefits aren’t readily accessible because they can’t prove that they are, in fact, military veterans.  But effective immediately—through an executive order signed by Governor McDonnell—they now have one less burden to face when using the Virginia Veterans ID card.

This card is the brainchild of Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Paul Galanti and Delegate Richard Anderson. As Galanti explains, veterans who have the documentation indicating their discharge status—with the exception of a dishonorable discharge—can pay a 10-dollar fee at a DMV-affiliated outlet, and apply for the new card.

“There are a lot of merchants who give good deal–discounts for veterans but if he didn’t retire from the military or doesn’t have a VA rating, he doesn’t have an ID card that says that. So this is just one way Virginia can help veterans get all the good things our citizens want to throw at them,” said Galanti.

Unlike a driver’s license, the Veterans ID card never expires. Those who apply will receive a temporary card immediately, and should receive the permanent card in the mail within a week.  Currently, 70-percent of the state’s retail merchants offer veterans’ discounts, and several retail associations say they are aggressively recruiting the remaining merchants to follow suit.

–Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Parole Board Issues

Although parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, approximately one-fifth of the state’s prisoners were incarcerated before then, are exempt from the law, and can potentially be paroled.  But each year, only six-percent of those who are eligible are granted parole, giving the state one of the lowest approval ratings nationwide.

Delegate Patrick Hope sponsored legislation during the General Assembly session that requires the Parole Board’s guidance documents to be available as public records under the Freedom of Information Act.  It was tabled and referred to the Advisory Council, and now a subcommittee will study the bill’s feasibility.

“And so what we want to do is try to determine what exactly goes into their thought making process, what’s in their policies and their guidelines. Right now we get very little information, nothing is disclosed other than a denial based on the serious nature of their crime–nothing more than that, and we’d like to learn a little bit more,” said Hope.

One concern about making the Parole Board’s actions public is that very personal information about the inmates while they’ve been incarcerated could be revealed, so one Council goal will be to exclude that information without violating the FOIA law.  Some prisoner advocates argue that the state spends millions of dollars unnecessarily by keeping parole-qualified inmates behind bars—while others have even called for replacing all Parole Board members.

–Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Grand Aides

If the Supreme Court says health care reform can proceed, 32 million more Americans are expected to get health insurance, putting new demands on the nation’s nurses and doctors.  At the same time, millions of baby boomers are retiring – but some would like to keep working in a meaningful way.  Those trends have led to a remarkable marriage in the field of healthcare, as Sandy Hausman reports.

Leave a comment

Kinship Care

More than 70,000 Virginia children are provided homes or shelter by someone other than their biological parents.  Kinship care diversion helps many of them avoid foster care, but not all children have that option due to enrollment barriers in SOME school divisions. Now Governor McDonnell is being criticized for vetoing a bill with bipartisan support that would have made school enrollment easier for relatives.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, at least one Democratic lawmaker says the Governor made the right decision.

Leave a comment

New 511 Taffic Information System

As the long Memorial Day holiday weekend approaches, many travelers will now be able to take advantage of a new and improved 511 Traffic Information System.  Virginia has tweaked its program so that it’s more user-friendly and compatible with many mobile devices. As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, the free application is now available to Android and I-phone users and is accompanied by a new interactive website.

Leave a comment

Educating Virginia’s Military Children

Most military children attend schools in six to nine different school divisions from kindergarten to 12th grade.  Virginia has joined a number of other states in an effort to adopt consistent rules to help ease these frequent transitions.

State officials found that some special education students who transferred have encountered steep hurdles.

With 80,000 children who have one or both parents on active duty, Virginia has the largest number of students in military families of any state.  But in a briefing, the Virginia Council examining related issues learned the state has received numerous complaints about special ed transfers.  Although federal law prohibits interruption of a student’s Individualized Education Program [IEP], Council Chair and Senator John Miller said apparently, that’s not always the case.

“A child moving from Texas to Newport News has an IEP, and that IEP remains in effect and the child is supposed to continue to get services.  But sometimes, when they get to the new school system, they’re told, ‘We’ve got to do our own evaluation,’ and so all services sort of stop,” said Miller.

Other common complaints include that comparable services were not provided and that schools claimed they had insufficient resources.  A sample of schools revealed that one-third of special ed directors surveyed were not aware of the basic rules in these cases and will need additional training.

–Anne Marie Morgan

Leave a comment

Healthier Virginians

Virginia has joined a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years.  The state’s Department of Health has challenged the same number of Virginians to get their blood pressure checked in May … and then take appropriate steps to modify their lifestyle if needed.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, health care providers statewide are also participating in the Million Hearts challenge.

Leave a comment

CLAW: Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers

A ladies arm wrestling league that started in Charlottesville, VA has spread throughout the country.  On June 16th, the national league is coming together for its first ever tournament.  Allison Quantz has the story.

Leave a comment

“Reverse Bradley Effect”

If the Obama administration asked, former Governor Doug Wilder would tell campaign advisers to beware of the “Reverse Bradley Effect.”  The always perceptive Wilder is providing some insight from his own gubernatorial campaign and suggesting that there may be some similarities between the two electoral contests.

In 1982, Los Angeles African-American Mayor Tom Bradley lost his gubernatorial bid after polls predicted a huge win.  Lying to pollsters has since been called the “Bradley effect.”  Years later, the first elected African-American Governor, Doug Wilder, narrowly won after similar polls.  But Wilder says he learned from Bradley’s failed bid.

“The only poll that’s important is the one taken on Election Day when you cast your vote at the polls,” says Wilder, who warns of a a reverse “Bradley” or “Wilder” effect if President Obama assumes that all African-Americans who voted for him in droves before, will do so again:

“What I’m saying is that there are any number of African Americans who are going to vote for the President, they say they’re going to vote for him, but are they going to vote for him? Now, they’re not going to vote against him, but is that motivation going to be there? Is is going to be, ‘Hey look, I’ve got to get there because if I don’t, somebody else might get there,’ and I hope that is not the case,” said Wilder.

He says instead of campaigning against the GOP, Mr. Obama should push policies that show exactly how he will get the economy moving again and restore faith in those whose support has waned.

–Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Tracy Thorne-Begland

It’s been nearly a week since Virginia legislators made headlines by refusing to put a Richmond prosecutor on the bench.  Tracy Thorne-Begland is a decorated fighter pilot who was honorably discharged from the Navy, and he’s openly gay.  Some said this was a case of bigotry, but it may also be a case of intensive lobbying by a conservative Christian group.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

Leave a comment

Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard

Although many will not be able to attend next Thursday’s two nationwide public hearings held by the Environmental Protection Agency, more than one-million collected comments will have been submitted to the EPA—with more than 31,000 coming from Virginia.  The public hearings address the EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for new industrial power plants. As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, supporters celebrated the regulations with a small gathering in Richmond to discuss their significance.

Leave a comment

Electronic Tracking Devices

Through the use of inexpensive computer software or the toggle of a smart phone switch, anyone can follow another person’s every move.  Now, although his bill failed to pass two consecutive years, a Virginia lawmaker is trying once again to place limitations on who can lawfully use electronic devices to track another individual.  Delegate Joe May has raised awareness about how easily one’s privacy can be invaded—but some say restrictions could hamper their investigations.

May’s bill was sent back to committee after it sparked debate this legislative session.  It restricted tracking a person without a warrant–and this year, would have granted law enforcement agencies exception. But private investigators protested and said it limited their ability to do their job. So May and the Joint Commission on Technology and Science are now revising it, although he says not much will change.

“We have it reduced I guess, to a page or page-and-a-half and you have heard my comment earlier, that some of the other states who have tried it have ended up with pages, and pages, and pages of exceptions, and exclusions, and carve outs until they’re virtually impossible to interpret.  Ours is very clean, and the real challenge right now is getting our colleagues  comfortable with something that is really, really new,” says May.

May says technology is evolving so quickly that it’s hard to draft legislation that addresses every exception. May sponsored the bill after a constituent complained that his ex-wife had paid a private investigator to track his whereabouts after the two had divorced.

–Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Guns in State Parks

Starting this month, Virginians can openly, and legally, carry guns into state parks. The change in state regulation comes after years of debate about whether Virginians should be allowed to carry their handguns on hiking trails or leave their shotguns inside their parked vehicles while they go swimming with the family.

Although the new state rule officially took effect this month, the Department of Conservation and Recreation stopped enforcing the decades-old gun ban a year and a half ago. DCR spokesman Gary Waugh says it’s been business as usual ever since.

“We have not seen any increase in people carrying guns. We’ve had no complaints from non-gun carrying folks about others being there. Attendance continues rise. Virginia state parks remain a very safe and enjoyable place to spend time with the family,” said Waugh.

Lori Haas with the Virginia Center for Public Safety says she supports the safe use of guns for hunting or sport, but there is no reason for Virginians to bring a gun with them to a state park.

“It isn’t a problem until it is. There are people who you or I would look on or the general public would look on and say oh no they’re not a danger. And then one day they break, one day they crack. One day they get angry. One day they make a bad judgment call. And guess what, firearms are lethal,” said Haas.

Haas says trained law enforcement should be the only ones carrying guns in the state’s parks.

–Amanda Iacone

Leave a comment


This week, the American Institute of Architects will honor a surprising structure.   Named for the power of light, Lumenhaus beat more than 500 other entries from professional architects nationwide.  It was designed and built by students and faculty at Virginia Tech, and has since been displayed in Blacksburg, Chicago, New York and Madrid.    Sandy Hausman took a tour and filed this report.

Leave a comment

Budget Battle Continues

State lawmakers are in Richmond  working through dozens of changes that Governor McDonnell sought for the new state budget. The proposed amendments include requiring legislators to contribute to their pensions just like state employees do—and also infused an extra $19.5-million  into economic development projects. Virginia Public Radio’s Amanda Iacone  reports from the Capitol.

Leave a comment

Politics & the State Economy

President Obama is chiding Congress for not acting on his slimmed down plan to spur economic growth in Virginia and elsewhere.

Election year politicking is expected to derail this latest effort to get the economy moving.

The president has laid out a “to do” list for Congress. He’s asking for lawmakers to help him lower interest rates on mortgages for millions of homeowners who are struggling with their payments in the midst of this sluggish economy. And he wants to entice U-S companies with holdings overseas to invest that money here at home. Virginia Republican Scott Rigell says he isn’t too impressed with the president’s “to do” list.

“The sum of everything that the president has proposed is minimal and really de minimis.”

But Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says the president has every right to highlight inaction by the Republican controlled House.

“I think the president is right to chastise the Congress for not doing its job and for calling us to recalibrate and focus on job creating initiatives instead of wedge issues that divide us just because it’s a political year.”

The president is also asking Congress to renew tax breaks for clean energy firms. Environmentalists say thousands of jobs are at stake in Virginia and across the U-S if Congress allows them to expire. And Connolly says many businesses in his northern Virginia district are worried those tax credits will sunset at the end of this year.

“Well we certainly have a lot of firms that, if they’re not directly involved in renewable energy, they’re involved in the technology that undergirds it. So a lot of our firms have a direct interest in the whole issue of the renewal of the energy tax credit.”

But Republicans argue this is another example of the president giving a lofty speech without sending Congress specific details. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says he may be able to support extending the renewable energy tax credits, but as of yet he hasn’t seen anything concrete proposed.

“This is one of those I have to go through one by one. I don’t want us picking winners and losers. I do think we have to be careful.”

And Griffith says the mountainous ninth district he represents is already having a dubious relationship with some government tax credits. He points especially to the tax credits that are incentivizing the building of wind turbines on the top of mountains.

“In our area that just doesn’t make sense. You can’t get enough energy on a consistent basis and get it into the grid where it makes sense. And yet they’re going to put these things on the top of the mountains and we don’t know what the consequences are until we get them up and running to the environment and to the folks that live near them and what it does to property values, yet we’re just charging full steam ahead because there’s a tax incentive for them to put them up.”

There are some areas where the two parties may be able to work out compromises though. The president wants to give tax credits to small businesses who hire new employees and the House has already acted on a bill to ease the tax burden on small firms. The president also wants a new Veterans Jobs Corps. That could help Virginia’s veterans get training to go back into the work force when they return from duty. Congressman Rigell says helping veterans is a no brainer for him.

“I do believe that with respect to veterans it’s very appropriate to have incentives to hire our veterans. They have a disproportionately high unemployment rate, so I support efforts like that.”

The president has floated this “to do” list before as a part of his Jobs Act, but congressional Republicans never acted. Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran says there’s a reason House Republicans are refusing to hold votes on the president’s proposals.

“Even if it was something the House majority had planned to do the fact the president asked them to do it they wouldn’t do it. The principle objective of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is to defy and defeat the President of the United States.”

The partisan tit for tat is nothing new, and analysts expect the gridlock to persist through November s elections. That means the president and House Republicans are both likely to continue to see their agenda’s blunted. Voters will then be left to decipher which party is to blame for the sluggish economy.

-by Matt Laslo


Leave a comment

Global Comparison from the Classroom 

The Commission on Youth has been diligently compiling data for the next stage of improving services to children.  Its new focus is examining how Virginia students compare academically with other countries and what shortfalls must be addressed in order for them to compete globally.  An initial finding reveals that many factors are causing the nation to lag behind in undergraduate science and engineering degrees—and even in basic skills.  As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, an initial finding reveals that many factors are causing the nation to lag behind in undergraduate science and engineering degrees—and even in basic skills.

Leave a comment

Message to Graduates

More than 5,000Virginia Tech students are now graduates.  They achieved their milestone with the encouragement of First Lady Michelle Obama, who delivered the commencement speech .  Connie Stevens has more.

Leave a comment

Criminal Justice Funding

Virginia’s law enforcement agencies will have to do more with much less–and figure out exactly how to do that after learning that the federal government is significantly cutting funding to states for public safety.

Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services Director, Garth Wheeler, says federal funds have been scaled back each year for a decade, so his agency is bracing for the next round.  Its most flexible funding source was just reduced by 28%.  Some juvenile delinquency prevention programs were eliminated or cut by up to 44%, and substance abuse treatment programs for jails by 63%. Agency services were continued by collaborating within localities. Wheeler says the Criminal Justice Services Board must now be more reserved in allocating funds… but Victims Services Programs usually get the funds they need:

“For years we all know that victims of crime were somewhat ignored–their needs. And, so obviously that’s a priority not only for this governor but for the Commonwealth and the federal government as well,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler says they’ve had to revamp how they do business and use technology to compensate for fewer personnel. But even then, they need training funds.

–Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Studying the Brain

Mental illness and developmental disabilities are sometimes hard to diagnose and treat, because there’s no way to actually test for them in a lab.  Psychiatrists make educated guesses, based on a patient’s behavior, but often what they do is more of an art than a science.  Sandy Hausman reports that could someday change as a result of revolutionary research in Roanoke.

Leave a comment

Cash Proffers

A state lawmaker is raising concern about a common practice in Virginia’s property development and mortgage industries, which he believes needs reviewing due to the current slump in those sectors.  Cash proffers are a voluntary monetary commitment offered by developers to help offset rising infrastructure costs—and they provide local governments with additional revenue streams.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, the Senator believes some localities may be getting an extra benefit at the cost of struggling consumers.

Leave a comment

Home Visits for Health

A federal grant has been awarded to Virginia to expand a home visitation program for at-risk families that provides health-related instruction and other support services.  Forty-two communities statewide have been identified as in need of the “Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting” project.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, the $6.2-million grant will help reach many more homes in both urban and rural locations.


Leave a comment

Commonwealth Tour

Governor McDonnell and his cabinet will fan out from Richmond visiting the farthest reaches of Virginia this week.  State officials will meet with international investors, discuss environmental concerns at Tangier Island, and visit with state prison employees. As Virginia Public Radio’s Amanda Iacone  reports, the Commonwealth tour also aims to tout the state’s healthy economy and thank government workers for their efforts.

Leave a comment

Preserving the Myaamia Language

Experts say a majority of the world’s languages will disappear before the end of the century. But when a language goes, cultural traditions often go with it. Jessica Gould visits one Northern Virginia family determined to bring its ancestral language back from the brink.

Leave a comment

Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Liberty

Perhaps the most quoted man in the history of Virginia politics is Thomas Jefferson. Arguably, he is one of the most celebrated political figures in the history of the U.S.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, visitors to the State Capitol will now see Jefferson—or at least his likeness—overseeing the state’s business in the halls of the building he designed.

Leave a comment

Connecting the Dots

Environmental activists are preparing for an unusual demonstration Saturday.  Here in Virginia and around the world, they’ll be posing for pictures at sites affected by climate change as Sandy Hausman reports.

Leave a comment

Federal Healthcare Law

Virginia has until the fall of this year to devise its own benchmark plan for healthcare or accept by default the benchmarks mandated by the federal healthcare law.  Members of the Virginia Health Reform Initiative Advisory Council have made progress, but continue the laborious task of devising a comprehensive plan.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the healthcare lawsuit, states must proceed as if the federal law is constitutional.  The law mandates a state structure that allows one-stop shopping and subsidies for individuals without coverage to buy insurance—if they’re between 138 and 400 % of the federal poverty level.  But as Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel explains, the state must decide who sets benchmarks, co-pays, and what should go into a base package that’s still affordable.

“And the base problem with the access to healthcare already is the expense. Now then there’s the other problem where if you don’t have a benefit and someone needs that benefit, it may be harder for them to get it, so the job is balance I think in one part. But the other thing is that folks have to realize is that this process of choosing what’s in and what’s out didn’t start today and it doesn’t end today–it goes on,” says Hazel.

The Virginia Association of Health Plans has endorsed using Anthem’s small group PPO as the blueprint for the state’s base plan.  Once the council makes its decisions, the General Assembly and federal officials will also make adjustments.

— Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Roadside Tribute

There are perhaps 2,400 roadside markers around the state – telling visitors about historic places in Virginia.  On May 5, VDOT will erect one more –a surprising tribute to the enemy — about 4,000 prisoners of war.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

Leave a comment

Economic Disparity Study

A new study shows African-Americans in Virginia are making economic progress, but a gap persists in their levels of employment and earnings.

Michelle Claibourn studies population trends at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, and she took a close look at census data for more than 50,000 Virginians.

Despite a history of discrimination against African Americans in this state, she found more of them were getting college degrees, but economic disparities persist. “Black adult Virginians with a college degree who work full time had a median income of $50,000.  White Virginians with a college degree who work full time had a median income of $60,000, so a $10,000 gap, which is about a 17% difference,” said Claibourn.

And, she says, a larger percentage of African-Americans are out of work. While unemployment for whites with a high school degree in 2010 was 15%, for blacks it was 22%, and you see those kinds of disparities across educational levels. Claibourn noted 20% of African Americans in Virginia had a college degree, compared to 37% of whites, and she concluded that history matters.

— Sandy Hausman

Leave a comment

Energy Efficiency Plans

The State Corporation Commission is allowing Virginia’s largest electricity supplier to move forward with several energy-efficiency and demand-reduction programs.  The initiatives aim to save residential and commercial customers who sign up for them some money.  But whether a consumer subscribes to the program or not, some sacrifices will be made by all.

The SCC’s Andy Farmer says Dominion Virginia Power customers will soon be introduced to four residential bundle programs.  “The first component is a residential home energy check-up program, there’s a duct testing and sealing program, a heat pump tuning program, and a heat pump upgrade program,” says  Farmer.

Businesses will have a Commercial Energy Audit and Commercial Duct Testing Program. Farmer says this is part of the state’s mandate to reduce electricity consumption by 10% by the year 2022, which Dominion’s David Botkins says will save customers money over time.

“They’ll be structured in such a way that it’s easy for customers to sign up and participate if they choose to, and ultimately manage their energy usage in a more efficient, effective way,” says Botkins.

But since Dominion will be selling less energy, it will lose revenue. So the SCC has allowed the company to recover costs through “Riders”—which allow it to charge all customers about .34 a month.  It could have been more had the SCC not capped the combined cost recovery for homes and businesses at $135-million. The programs will be available July 1st.

–Tommie McNeil

Leave a comment

Childhood Injuries

Death rates from unintentional injuries among Virginia’s children and teenagers have significantly declined over the last decade.  That’s the finding of a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, state officials say that proactive strategies and awareness can help prevent an even greater number of fatal childhood injuries.

Leave a comment

Virginia’s Doctors

For the first time in Virginia’s history, the majority of younger physicians are women. But men still dominate the overall ranks of medical doctors. Connie Stevens has more. For the first time in Virginia’s history, the majority of younger physicians are women. But men still dominate the overall ranks of medical doctors. Connie Stevens has more.

Leave a comment