Archive for September, 2012

Biodiesel Initiatives

Green jobs proponents say Virginia is missing out on an opportunity to capitalize on an alternative fuel source that would help reduce toxic emissions and fuel costs, while providing a boost to the farming industry. Bio-diesel producers say the technology is here to manufacture a much better grade of fuel that can be used on both commercial and consumer vehicles, and none of it has to be imported to the Commonwealth. Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil has more from the State Capitol.

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Virginia Conversations: Uranium Mining

On this edition of Virginia Conversations, you’ll hear about the fight over one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world which happens to sit under the ground in Southside Virginia’s Pittyslvania County. Getting to it would be a huge financial windfall for the area but would it jeopardize the environment? Host May-Lily Lee talks with Patrick Wales, Chief Spokesman for Virginia Uranium and Andrew Lester, Executive Director of the Roanoke River Basin Association – a group against the proposed project. 

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School Accreditation

93% of Virginia’s public schools are fully accredited based on the state’s Standards of Learning.   That’s according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Education.  The number of schools earning full accreditation is down slightly from the previous school year, but some individual categories showed improvements.  All but 122 of public schools are now fully accredited.  Among high schools, 90% earned the highest rating—compared to 86% last year.  And 96% of elementary and 88% of middle schools earned full accreditation.  In 2011, 30 schools earned a “provisional” status, but this year only 6 fall into that category and must undergo an academic review.  But compared to 30 schools last year, 100 schools in 2012 are accredited with warning, which means pass rates are below the standards and they must adopt school improvement plans.  Nine are conditionally accredited new schools, and the status of five schools has yet to be determined.  Peabody Middle School in Petersburg and Lafayette-Wynona Middle School in Norfolk are the only two schools denied accreditation.  State education officials say the 3% decline in the total number of fully accredited schools is due, in part, to implementation of more rigorous college and career-ready mathematics tests. The same can be expected next year when new English and Science standards are implemented.

— Tommie McNeil

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Educational Revisions

The State Board of Education has not yet approved the revised mathematics annual measurable objectives under a “No Child left Behind” waiver, but is scheduled to do so next month.  However, as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, the state’s Legislative Black Caucus and some other groups say the Board’s proposal will set minorities back to the days of Jim Crow—and they’re asking the Board to revise its plan.

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Allen’s New Campaign Ad

The U. S. Senate race in Virginia is heating up.

This week Republican candidate George Allen has a new ad up attacking Tim Kaine over tax policy.

In last week’s Virginia Senate debate Kaine made it appear he favors placing an income tax on the 47%  of Americans who currently don’t pay one. The Allen Campaign hasn’t had many openings in this race, so it pounced on the remark with this new ad.

“Tax hikes for anyone earning as little as $17,000 a year and now: ‘I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.’ Tim Kaine: raising taxes on everyone.”

Kaine was quick to distance himself from the comment… explaining he was merely saying he’s open to debating different tax proposals. Fact checking website Politifact was quick to label Allen’s new ad ‘false,’ which Kaine says is telling.

“Yet the Allen Campaign, for their own reasons, has decided, ‘we’ll run a knowingly false ad anyway.’ I know Virginia voters pretty well and I just don’t think that’s what they want to see.”

With negative ads flying in Virginia and voters trying to weed through the competing claims, analysts expect the race to go down to the wire.

–Matt Laslo

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Living Laboratory

Galapagos Sunset Photo by Rob Donoho
Galapagos Conservancy

Six hundred miles from the coast of Ecuador, you’ll find them — 13 islands known as the Galapagos.  It was there, in 1835, that the British scientist Charles Darwin began thinking about how animals change over time.  Since then, scientists have called the Galapagos a living laboratory – a place to study evolution and natural selection, but with 180,000 tourists visiting each year, scientists from Virginia say the Galapagos are in danger.   Sandy Hausman tells why.

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Absentee Voting

Four years ago, 13.5 % of the Commonwealth’s voters cast absentee ballots in the presidential election.  Last Friday, in-person absentee voting opened in all 134 Virginia localities, and some registrars have already reported a heavy turnout.  As Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, state officials say voters who want to exercise this option need to check the rules and submit their applications—to guarantee they can cast their ballots without going to the polls on election day.

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On the Ballot…

Independent and third-party candidates in Virginia have completed the verification process that determines their eligibility to run for various offices, and the list of candidates on November’s general election ballot has now been finalized.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, the ballots will provide voters with a choice of candidates who have very diverse views across the political spectrum.
Complete lists of candidates for each locality can be found on the State Board of Elections website at: .

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Lawmakers Leave

Barring an emergency, the U-S House is now in recess until after Election Day. Matt Laslo reports from the Capitol that a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the region aren’t happy with the decision.

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Education Roundtable

The Latino community is the largest minority group on college campuses.  But many challenges prevent the current Latino population from gaining more ground or enrolling additional students into colleges and universities.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, a roundtable discussion held in the Richmond area sought ideas and proposals to help change that.

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Virginia Conversations: Mary Sue Terry

Making law, and making history…

On this edition of  Virginia Conversations with host May-Lily Lee, a visit with Mary Sue Terry, who in 1985 became the first woman elected to statewide office in Virginia.

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Virginia’s Credit Rating

The U-S credit rating is once again in danger of being knocked a notch lower, which could threaten the credit rating of Virginia.

Last year it was Standard and Poor’s who angered federal officials by taking away the top credit rating for the U-S for the first time in history. This time Moody’s is putting the government on notice for its bloated debt. Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith says he’s not surprised.

“We need to get our financial house in order and that’s what they’re trying to tell us…and it doesn’t seem at this point that the Democrats are serious about getting the spending under control,” says Griffith.

If the U-S credit rating is lowered Virginia could also see its credit rating go down, which could make borrowing more expensive. Northern Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly says Republicans in the state ought to start contemplating tax increases instead of focusing merely on slashing programs.

“But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you want smaller government, you want to slash federal spending and, frankly, represent the Commonwealth of Virginia with a serious face. A third of the entire economy of our state is directly tied to federal investments, federal employment, federal spending,” says Connolly.

Instead of trying to address the looming problem, after this week lawmakers plan to hit the campaign trail through Election Day.

–Matt Laslo


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Virginia Folklife Showcase

As the weather cools and the leaves start to turn, fall festival season is gearing up.   Charlottesville recently hosted a truly Virginia-style festival, bringing together gunsmiths, oyster-farmers, Chickahominy dancers, and more.  Allison Quantz has the story.

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Expanding Mobility Services

Some believe that society has tossed aside a segment of our population.  It’s the portion of qualified doctors, lawyers, counselors, teachers, and other professionals who are quite capable of working and contributing to their communities—yet because they suffer from a disability that limits their mobility, they’re forced to relinquish their independence.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, a state Disability Commission Work Group hopes that the upcoming General Assembly session will re-institute policies to expand mobility services statewide.

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Training Centers Closing

As Virginia moves forward with closing four of its five training centers for people with developmental disabilities, the state is learning that the Department of Justice will not compromise much beyond the settlement agreement reached in the beginning of the year.  As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, although the state avoided a very costly court battle over its violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Virginia will be closely monitored to see if it complies with the terms of the settlement.

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Bio-Jet Fuel

State officials have begun exploring the feasibility of turning the production and distribution of bio-jet fuel into a major economic development initiative for Virginia.  And since fuel accounts for about 40% of the airlines’ operating costs, they would like to ensure more stable prices and supplies. Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports that as worldwide demand for jet fuel with a smaller carbon footprint grows, the question now is not whether it can be done, but if it’s commercially viable.  

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Seagrass Restoration

In the 1930’s, when Midwestern states turned into what history would call the dust bowl, Virginia was battling another environmental disaster, but a comeback is underway on the Eastern Shore, as Sandy Hausman reports.

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Abortion Regulations Imposed

In a stunning turnaround, Virginia’s Board of Health has voted to impose new requirements on clinics – rules critics say are unnecessary but expensive.  Sandy Hausman was in Richmond for today’s hearing.

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Virginia Conversations: The Man Behind the Music

BJ Leiderman

We’re mixing some music with the talk on this “Virginia Conversations”…
Our guest is composer and musician B.J. Leiderman, talking to our host May-Lily Lee.
You hear his name and music every day… many times a day… on public radio.
Now, find out more about the man behind the theme songs to shows such as:  “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, “Marketplace”, “Car Talk”, “Morning Edition”, and “Weekend Edition”.

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Offshore Wind Energy

There are at least two sides in the development of wind energy off Virginia’s coast. One side argues that readily available resources such as coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear should be used since the development of wind energy is costly and will take time. The other side says the long-term benefits are well worth the effort since wind energy is much cleaner and has an unlimited supply. But as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil explains, proponents also contend in a new report that the state may miss an opportunity to capitalize on wind development if Congress does not extend the Production and Investment Tax Credits by year’s end.

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Board of Health Hearing

Virginia’s Board of Health is gearing up for another public hearing on regulation of abortion clinics after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he didn’t agree with the group’s decision in June.  At that time, the panel voted seven to four to exempt existing clinics from rules applied to new hospitals.  Sandy Hausman has more on the controversy in Richmond.

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State Official Shops for a Solution

With 45% of economic development taking place in Northern Virginia, that part of the state is the Commonwealth’s economic engine. But Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who doubles as the state’s Chief Jobs Creation Officer, says through the development of targeted shopping centers, the rest of the Commonwealth can start holding its own.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil, that’s not without some challenges.

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Honoring Virginia’s National Guard

Governor McDonnell marked the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks with a quiet tribute at the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Operations Center.  Joined by Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell, he praised the citizen-soldiers and airmen-many of whom have served in multiple deployments to fight terrorism overseas.    As Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, the Governor said the Commonwealth owes these unsung heroes a special debt of gratitude.

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School Exemptions

About 7,000  children in Virginia don’t attend public schools because their parents asked for a religious exemption.  Many may be home schooled, but a new report suggests some might not be getting any education as Sandy Hausman reports.

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Land Conservation

About 15% of Virginia’s total acreage has been conserved and is permanently protected from future development.  Much of that is due to the Land Preservation Tax Credit, which provides financial incentives to individuals for conserving their property.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, members of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission are exploring whether other long-term funding sources might be viable options to achieve additional goals.

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Negative Ads

At this stage in the election cycle, you hear a lot of complaints about negative political ads on television.  Perhaps more than any other form of advertising, these short spots that pop up during election season, go for the jugular. A lot of people think that kind of ad is a huge ‘turn off.’ but, Robbie Harris spoke with a political scientist from Virginia Tech who defends negative campaign advertising.

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Big Ideas at the BIG Center

Dominant presence of glial cells (in red) in a healthy mouse brain. (Photo: Kipnis Lab)

Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, autism – these are medical problems that defy easy solution and take a terrible toll on families.  Now, scientists at the University of Virginia are taking a new approach to these conditions – hoping for breakthroughs, as Sandy Hausman reports.

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Fortified Homes Program

Millions of Virginians live in areas prone to natural disasters and prepare themselves for wind, flood, or fire damage seasonally.  Rather than submit to Mother Nature and brace for the worst, the Institute for Business and Home Safety is recommending that Virginians significantly reduce the odds of having to rebuild and start over completely by earning a FORTIFIED designation.  Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil explains.

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Virginia Conversations: Graduating in the Black

No doubt it pays to get an education… but too often it comes with decades of student loan payments.  On this edition “Virginia Conversations” – dealing with student debt… how to avoid it and how to dig out of the financial hole.  Host May-Lily Lee talks with Tom Kramer with Virginia 21 and Dr. Barry Simmons, Director of Financial Aid at Virginia Tech.

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Block Grants

A joint legislative subcommittee on block grants is hearing more from the recipients who are served by them.  While there are specific programs related to job training, housing, and welfare, the testimony of some who receive services suggests that the block grants have been successfully providing funding to those in need when other programs cannot.  Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil has more from the Capitol.

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Spider-Man’s 50th

At Washington and Lee University, English professor Chris Gavaler not only conducts research on superhero narratives but also teaches a course on the subject and writes a blog, “The Patron Saint of Superheroes.”  This year, Spider-Man turns 50 and Tab O’Neal talks with Gavaler about the fictional young man who almost never was…

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From the DNC

Virginia delegates at the Democratic National Convention say former President Clinton’s speech last evening draws a stark contrast between the two parties. Matt Laslo reports from Charlotte. 

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International Rescue Committee (Part 2 of 2)

Photo Credit: IRC

The United States takes in 60,000-80,000 refugees a year – people who face danger in their own countries because of their ethnic background, religion or political views.  About two thousand of them end up here in Virginia with the help of not-for-profit groups that partner with the State Department to resettle them.  Sandy Hausman reports on how these immigrants, who often come with little or no money, begin a new life.

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Tim Kaine at the DNC

Former Governor Tim Kaine is locked in a tough Senate race in Virginia, but he took time off from the campaign to travel to Charlotte to address his party last evening. Matt Laslo reports from Charlotte.

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Cigarette Smuggling

Officials say Virginia has a significant revenue problem as a result of cigarette smugglers who transport the tobacco products from here to northern locations.  State lawmakers want to take action to stop the black market vendors, who are capitalizing on the Commonwealth’s low cigarette tax rate more than ever.  As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, smugglers have made the sale of illegal smokes a billion-dollar industry by transporting them to high-tax states such as New York.

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Relying on Solar

Virginia has pledged to get 15% of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2025. But this is an elusive goal for mot U.S. cities and states, which have made similar pledges.  Robbie Harris tells us about doctoral candidate Reza Arghandeh at Virginia Tech, who is getting noticed for his strategy to overcome to challenges to wider use of solar electricity.

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Columbian Refugees (Part 1 of 2)

After decades of violence, Colombia is a relatively stable country.  Its economy is growing, and its standard of living is on the rise, but in some rural areas, roving gangs of gunmen continue to terrorize families. Sandy  Hausman reports on their plight – and what one Virginia man is doing to help.

Special thanks to Richard Hewitt of Charlottesville for translating parts of that story.  

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Hunger Action Month

More than one million Virginians depend on Virginia’s food banks,  and Governor McDonnell is joining community leaders to kick off “Hunger Action Month.”  As Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, food bank representatives say they need donations of food and cash to help meet a growing demand.

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Mosquito Borne Illnesses

The Virginia Department of Health is not downplaying the severity of West Nile Virus, but is reminding us that it’s not the only mosquito-borne disease to worry about.  Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports that four confirmed cases of the virus have been reported statewide, and health officials are urging residents to take precautions.

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