Archive for January, 2013

Uranium Regulations

uranium 01Virginia would set up strict regulations to oversee uranium mining and milling under legislation recommended by the General Assembly’s Coal and Energy Commission.  The multi-agency rules would regulate operations only in Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County and would not automatically lift a ban on mining uranium in other parts of the state.  But as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, opponents vowed to prevent the bill from passing both houses of the General Assembly.

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ClimateGate?

Dawes Glacier calvingAs the state legislature prepares to consider confirmation of Helen Dragas for a second term on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, a member of the faculty is out with a new theory about why Dragas and other members of the board wanted to get rid of President Teresa Sullivan.  Sandy Hausman reports that climate change may have been a factor.

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Sen. Jim Webb Retires

WebbThis week, Virginia is saying goodbye to Democratic Senator Jim Webb. Matt Laslo reports on his short, yet significant career in the U-S Senate.

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Financial Forecast

moneyThe nation may have avoided the fiscal cliff for now, but a prominent economist tells the Virginia Association of Bankers and state business leaders that Congress only delayed across-the-board cuts or sequestration for a couple of months. 

She says if the U.S. House and Senate don’t find a solution by March 1, it will take effect and Virginia would take the biggest hit.

Economist Chris Chmura says in the previous year, Virginia won more federal contract awards than any other state. She says without sequestration, Virginia should expect to see point nine percent economic growth.  But if the next round of sequestration takes effect, it could send the state into a recession and result in the loss of 156-thousand jobs, mostly in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads:

“When we look at all of the spending that goes out—here I’m just looking at D.O.D. contracts, about 50-percent of it is professional business services. And if we go to Northern Virginia, a lot more than 50-percent of all those contracts in Northern Virginia are going to professional business services firms. If we look at Hampton Roads, almost 50-percent is in manufacturing for D.O.D. contracts and of course, that’s because of the ship building sector down there.”

Even if an alternative is found, Chmura says Virginia will still grow slower than the nation this year, which is rare.  She also warns that by the end of March, another government shutdown is looming if the Senate and Congress don’t approve funding.  Chmura spoke in Richmond at the Second Annual Financial Forecast Event.

-by Tommie McNeil

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Flu Prevention

LinseyMarrA new approach to keeping the ‘Flu’ virus from spreading may be linked to indoor humidity levels. Robbie Harris has more.

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Virginia Conversations: Riding the Rails

LightRail02On  this edition of “Virginia Conversations,” getting around parts of the state is now a lot easier.
There’s a new rail line between Hampton Roads and Richmond… and more money in the pipeline to improve rail service between Richmond and Washington.  Host May-Lily Lee will lead a discussion of those improvements, plus the prospects of added rail lines in other parts of the state including Roanoke, with the Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

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American Council of Trustees and Alumni

UVA_RotundaThere’s a new battle brewing over what happened at the University of Virginia last summer, with a Washington-based non-profit attacking an accrediting agency that put UVA’s board of visitors on warning.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

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Legislative Agenda

TFA South Dakota 2011Governor McDonnell says the first phase of his education plan rolled out last month placed a lot of emphasis on teaching and administrative reforms to increase accountability.  In the second phase announced Thursday, his latest proposals would also hold school systems more accountable.

The Governor has dubbed the complete package the “All Students” plan.  McDonnell says within the U.S., the quality of Virginia’s education ranks very high, but compared to other nations, U.S. education rankings are dismal.  McDonnell says good quality teachers make the difference, but attracting them can be challenging—so he supports bringing the Teach for America Act to Virginia.

“And so what we hope to do with Teach for America is be able to recruit and train and retain top college graduates from across the country to accept full time teaching assignments in either under performing or hard to staff schools in Virginia.”

The Governor proposes allowing school divisions to request waivers from the state from some mandates.  He also says parents tend to be more responsive when they know how a school performs, and he wants the current, complicated school ratings system to be updated to use the A through F grading scale.  And McDonnell proposes more funds for programs that promote early literacy, algebra, and reading, kindergarten readiness, and a discipline system to reduce classroom disruptions.

–Tommie McNeil

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Senator Tim Kaine

KaineSwearingInFresh off being sworn in, Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine is hoping he can help Congress overcome the gridlock that marked the 112th Congress. Matt Laslo reports from the Capitol.

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State of the Bay

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

Photo: Chesapeake Bay Program

Pollution levels are decreasing in the Chesapeake Bay.  That’s according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2012 State of the Bay Report.

The most recent State of the Bay report shows a 10%  improvement in the Bay’s health in less than 5 years.  Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman Chuck Epes  says phosphorus pollution levels are down, while the numbers of oysters and crabs are up. He hopes members of the General Assembly, in their upcoming session, approve Governor McDonnell’s $217 million  worth of budget amendments to keep Virginia’s cleanup on track.  He says the General Assembly also needs to implement a plan protecting menhaden.

“The menhaden is a small, little fish that is incredibly important the Bay and Atlantic Coast ecosystem.  An Atlantic Coast Fisheries Commission approved some better management measures that the General Assembly needs to tackle.”

The cleanup efforts are part of a federal/state Clean Water Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay to reduce pollution by 25%  by the year 2025.  Epes says it could cost as much as 29 billion dollars to restore the Bay to about 70%  of what it was when described by Captain John Smith in the 1600s.  Virginia’s share is about $7 billion, which includes federal, state, and private funding, spread over 15 years.

— Beverly Amsler

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Film about Fracking

PromisedLandThe release of a new film this weekend could ignite further debate on fracking – a technology used to get natural gas out of the ground.  Some studies suggest it leads to water pollution, but the industry says that’s not possible, and it would like to start drilling in Virginia’s largest national forest.  Sandy Hausman has more on that story.

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Cigarette Smuggling

CigarettesWhen lawmakers convene next week for the 2013 General Assembly session, one of the issues they will deliberate is increasing the penalties for cigarette trafficking, which has the support of the bipartisan State Crime Commission.   As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, the panel’s recommendations include lengthening the prison time for convictions and reclassifying the types of offenses.

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Lawmakers Discuss the Deal

FiscalWhile all of the region’s Republicans opposed the deal to avert the fiscal cliff most of the area’s Democrats got in line with the plan. Matt Laslo reports on those who broke ranks.

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The Governor Looks Ahead

calendarGovernor McDonnell has already started rolling out initiatives for his final General Assembly session.  Since 2013 will be his last year in office, he says he has two major priorities in addition to his usual focus on jobs and economic development.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, while the Governor is still keeping some of the details close to the vest—he’s made it clear that the status quo is unacceptable.

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VaNews for 12.31

VPAPnewGun laws and tax rates will be on the table when the Virginia General Assembly convenes next week. Newspaper stories about both were among the most read on Virginia Public Access Project’s VaNews website this past week at www.vpap.org. Fred Echols has more.

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