Archive for February, 2013
Some of the laws that passed during this year’s General Assembly session did so with little fanfare. Others gained lots of attention initially but received little follow-up—and one lawmaker sponsored two such bills. While you may not hear much about them now, they’re likely to become hot topics in the near future since that lawmaker is running for higher office.
Senator Mark’s Obenshain’s voter ID bill was one of the most talked-about bills this session. It eliminates varying forms of identification without photos that were just approved last year. Democrats still argue that this bill is overreaching and disenfranchises voters. Obenshain says it is a common-sense bill that’s received broad support in some polls. But another bill that’s headed to the Governor’s desk revolves around the gun control debate.
“To keep confidential the concealed carry permit information which is another common sense privacy measure,” he says.
This became a hot-button issue after Virginia and New York newspapers published the names of concealed-carry holders after the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shootings. Obenshain’s bill prohibits circuit court clerks from publicly disclosing an applicant’s name and other identifying information contained in a concealed handgun permit application. Obenshain is running for Attorney General, and he says these issues are part of the message that he wants to carry across Virginia as he moves into campaign mode.
From 2007 to 2010, adults – on average — got just over 11% of their daily calories from fast food – a decrease of about two percent from the period between 2003 and 2006. That said, two demographic groups still favor fast food.
“If you were in the like the 20-39-year-old age group, you were more likely to consume fast food,” says John Sirard, a professor at the University of Virginia, specializing in exercise and its impact on the body. He says African-Americans also tended to consume more fast food than white or Hispanic adults. Looking at children, the CDC found overall consumption of calories down, but childhood obesity was up three percent.
“If caloric intake is going down, but obesity is still going up, the last piece of the puzzle that we’re truly missing is the physical activity.”
Sirard says he worries that children are still spending too much time staring at computer and TV screens when they should be exercising. He’s cautiously optimistic about the numbers of adults eating fast food, but he’s not sure whether a decline in consumption of carbohydrates among kids is good news.
“You know that might be a good thing if we’re getting rid of the white bread and simple sugars, but if we’re losing some high fiber, complex carbohydrate foods, then that’s not a good thing, so I’m willing to bet we’re going to be seeing some more in-depth analysis in the months to come.”
Sirard says the problem of obesity in this country is complex and will take efforts at many levels to undo – from government policy and school lunches to family meals and rules.
Virginia’s newest U-S senator, Tim Kaine, delivered his maiden speech on the Senate floor this week. Matt Laslo reports from the Capitol that his first address to his colleagues came much earlier than expected.
A bill that is now under review by Governor McDonnell strengthens current state laws on stalking —although its sponsor says the law still needs to be even tougher. Delegate Jennifer McClellan hopes her bill will encourage law enforcement to take reports of stalking and domestic abuse more seriously.
It would become a felony if someone convicted twice of stalking had also been convicted of committing violent acts against the same victim within five years. It would also apply if the aggressor had violated a protective order within that period.
Currently, stalking is a felony after three offenses. This first hit home for McClellan when a University of Richmond student, De’Nora Hill, applied for a permanent protective order against her ex-boyfriend in 2005. She was not able to get it before he shot her to death. McClellan promised to submit the bill until it passed, which didn’t happen until this year. She says it’s disappointing that it took so long:
“You know, the sad thing is after De’Nora then we had Yeardley Love. That wasn’t enough, and then this past year, Tiffany Green. Tiffany’s mother is a constituent and it just sort of reinforced why it was important. And to be honest it’s not quite done. I think we should still keep working to make it a felony after the second offense,” said McClellan.
McClellan says the costs related to enforcement prevented this from passing before now. She worked with state leaders to cut that cost in half by targeting only the worst offenders.
Climate change is forcing some Virginians to consider a move. Coastal areas and islands like Tangiers are losing land as the sea rises, flooding is more frequent, and hurricanes could be more dangerous than ever. But for one Virginia couple, natural disasters are no deterrent. They’ve chosen to live in one of the riskiest places on Earth. Sandy Hausman has their story.
President Obama was in Newport News, Virginia today highlighting the impact of pending budget cuts on the state’s defense industry. Virginia Republicans are glad the president is highlighting the state’s robust defense industry. But Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes says the president’s time would have been better spent in Washington negotiating with congressional leaders.
“The President instead has surrounded himself with these campaign stops where he puts people who already agree with him around to cheer and clap everything he says, but if you want to reach true compromise the best way to do that is to go into a room with people who might disagree with you,” said Forbes.
But Virginia Democrats are defending the president’s trip. Senator Tim Kaine says its good the White House is calling attention to the potentially devastating impact of the pending budget cuts, called sequestration.
“I think part of the reason the President is going is to just make sure that we’re not just talking about numbers on a page here. We’re talking about real consequences,” said Kaine.
On Capitol Hill everyone is bracing for sequestration to strike on Friday, but the two sides still don’t appear to be moving any closer to a deal, which means hundreds of thousands of workers in the Virginia could be furloughed.
The passage of Virginia’s transportation-funding bill was not the only change of heart that took place in the General Assembly this session. Another was tackling a growing traffic-safety hazard that did not even exist a generation ago—and making it a primary offense. And as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, it not only toughens current state penalties against texting while driving, but it targets similar communications.
After being eclipsed by other issues for a couple of years climate change is now back in the spotlight on Capitol Hill. Matt Laslo caught up with members of the Virginia congressional delegation and has this snapshot of the debate now boiling in the nation’s capital.
Virginia’s most under-performing schools would be transferred to a new state Opportunity Educational Institution thanks to General Assembly passage of a budget amendment over the weekend. The bill to create the new state entity had already been approved and sent to the Governor, but it would not have taken effect without the funding. And the controversy over the bill did not end with its passage.
The bill requires schools that are denied accreditation and permits schools that have been accredited with warning for three years to be transferred to the Institution. A new state Board, with all the powers of a local school board, would administer the statewide division. Governor McDonnell says improving failing schools was one of his top priorities.
“… To create dramatic and sustainable reforms in our K-12 public education system so that every young person has a great school with a great teacher regardless of their home, background, age, or zip code.”
But it violates the state Constitution, says Robley Jones with the Virginia Education Association.
“The Constitution says that the school boards and in their various divisions have supervisory authority over the schools. And this bill takes the supervisory authority away from those local school boards and gives it to a state entity. And we do anticipate litigation.”
Jones says some local school boards will likely sue. The $150,000 provided are less than the Governor requested, so he said he may propose additional funds.
–Anne Marie Morgan
A Virginia sheriff was surprised when his statement against gun control laws was removed from his county’s website and the General Assembly is trying to make it easier for parents to get information from online accounts after the death of a child. The Virginia Public Access Project reports those were among the most clicked newspaper stories this week at the Va News link on vpap.org. Fred Echols reports.
Those statistics inspired a gun-rights advocate and state lawmaker to sponsor a “straw purchase” bill that has now passed both houses of the General Assembly. As Tommie McNeil reports, his goal is to help reduce the number of incidents like the Newtown and Virginia Tech shootings.
Senator Tom Garrett says in most recent mass shootings, the shooter had some documented level of instability prior to the incident. In the case of William Spengler, who set his New York house ablaze so that he could target firefighters, he was already prohibited from owning a firearm, but someone acquired a weapon for him. While Garrett says this incident has escalated the argument about gun control, he also says there’s been too much focus on the inanimate object and not on the people responsible for senseless acts of violence.
“This will hopefully help to send the message that we take this seriously that there’s real time coming if you buy a gun for someone that you know is prohibited by law from having that gun, and also will help to get people who do this off the streets.”
A straw purchase of a firearm is already a felony in Virginia, but this law stiffens the penalties and imposes mandatory minimum sentences for both the person who obtains the weapon and the recipient. The bill now heads to the Governor.
-by Tommie McNeil
On this episode of Virginia Conversations, host May-Lily Lee talks with Doug Wilder, one of Virginia’s most-influential and groundbreaking African-Americans. The first black Governor of Virginia– and first black governor of any state since Reconstruction– Wilder discusses the political road that led him to the state’s top job.
Virginia attorneys general would have the power to investigate and prosecute violations of election laws under legislation that has been approved by the state Senate. As Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, the controversial new authority survived by the slimmest of margins.
Oysters were once plentiful on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, but their numbers have fallen dramatically over the last century, due to overfishing, pollution and disease. Scientists and watermen are working to bring them back, and the partnership has led to a unique course at the University of Virginia – one taught, in part, by a man who has no PhD but could easily write a dissertation on his beloved bivalves. Sandy Hausman reports.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell will reduce the hours of thousands of state workers in response to the Affordable Care Act, and a new report sheds light on how the Commonwealth stacks up against other states on some politically powerful issues. Those stories were among the most-read newspaper reports this past week at VaNews, Virginia Public Access Project’s daily online compilation of political reporting from around the state. Fred Echols reports.
VaNews is a free public service of the Virginia Public Access Project and can be found at vpap.org.
Amgen is the world’s largest biotech company – a California firm that makes medicines from living cells. These remedies, known as biologicals, are expensive and protected by patents, but the Affordable Care Act clears the way for cheaper, generic forms of these products.
John O’Bannon serves in Virginia’s House of Delegates, representing parts of Richmond and Henrico County. He recently got a call from Amgen, asking for help in crafting a bill that would restrict the prescription of generic biologicals.
Now O’Bannon isn’t your ordinary politician. “I’m your brain doctor. I’m a neurologist.”
And he says there were problems in the early days of generic drugs. “Some of our seizure patients had problems with generics, and over time I think generics have gotten better and we’re more comfortable with them.”
But he’s not yet comfortable with the idea of generic biologicals. “They’re going to be similar. They’ll be FDA approved, but they’re not identical.”
So he sponsored a bill that would allow doctors or patients to insist on brand name drugs instead – making it illegal for pharmacists to dispense the cheaper medications.
The president of the Generic PharmaceuticalAssociation, Ralph Neas, thinks that’s a terrible idea.
“Generics have saved this country a trillion dollars according to published reports in the last decade, about $200 billion in 2011 alone. We expect that biosimilars will do the same thing,” said Neas.
The bill also requires drug stores to notify doctors and patients if they dispense a generic biological, and keep records of doing so for two years. Pharmacists have told the Virginia legislature that O’Bannon’s bill will make their jobs much more difficult.
“You know the CVS guy says we’re going to have to get a whole new computer system to do this, I just don’t buy that,” said O’Bannon.
His bill also requires pharmacies to say, on the label, when a generic biological was used as a substitute for the brand name drug. Three trade associations representing pharmacists think that will only confuse consumers.
Federal law does not require Amgen’s Political Action Committee to report campaign contributions to state candidates, but O’Bannon admits he’s taken money from the pharmaceutical industry.
“I, yes, and I have gotten, and that’s listed. I have fundraisers and I’ve gotten money from the folks that are pushing this and the folks who are agin’ it,” he said.
Both the House and Senate have now approved the bill in Richmond, and the Governor is expected to sign it into law.
Public schools would be required to establish threat assessment teams and procedures under legislation that has advanced in the House of Delegates. The measure is a recent recommendation of the Governor’s Task Force on School and Campus safety—which was created after the Connecticut school shootings. It takes a practice already used at the college level and adapts it to elementary, middle, and high schools.
Under the bill, schools would form teams and implement best practices to assess students whose behavior could pose a safety threat to the staff or students. They would also make plans for intervention, including referrals to community services boards or health-care providers for evaluation or treatment. Delegate Joe Morrissey wondered about how threats would be defined and if the bill protects student privacy. He was also concerned about students who are simply not well-behaved.
“What safeguards do we have that these voluntary members of this threat assessment team would not abuse their position to get the medical records of a 4th-grader who created some disruptive behavior?” asked Morrissey.
Delegate Scott Ligamfelter said local leaders would be in charge.
“I trust the principals and the senior leadership of people that have been put in authority of our schools. They are consummate professionals. They will be at the helm in selecting these very fine people. I don’t think that they’re going to select people that are not capable to do this.”
To alleviate privacy concerns, the House deleted a reference to student criminal and health information. The bill faces a final House vote before heading to the Senate.
–Anne Marie Morgan
Many lawmakers and advocates still have abolishing predatory lending practices in Virginia on their agenda… although it hasn’t been discussed much this legislative session. But one organization says that since the General Assembly passed reforms, fewer people have been trapped by the high-interest loans that were supposed to be temporary assistance for those with a financial crisis.
The Virginia Partnership to Encourage Responsible Lending says the number of payday lending institutions has declined from 769 in 2008 to 267 in 2011. 470,000 loans were made in 2011 compared to 3.3 million in 2008. But more title loan, Internet, and open-end credit lending agencies that charge high fees and interest rates are now doing business. The Virginia Credit Union League’s Louis Wood says those lenders prey on people who think they have no recourse. But he says most don’t know that credit unions offer alternatives.
“So often we’ll pair that with financial counseling and also with other products that help the borrower build credit or encourage savings. And you know our message to our consumers is this: If you are a member of a credit union, look to your credit union for those small dollar emergency loans. If you’re not yet a member of a credit union, there’s a credit union out there eager to serve you no matter what your financial need or financial situation,” says Louis Wood with the Virginia Credit Union League.
VaPerl members say they’re being proactive in educating people about alternatives to predatory lenders, but it will take time. They’re pursuing legislation to crack down on Internet lending—which IS illegal, but uses loopholes that must be closed.
On this edition of Virginia Conversations, we’re keeping an eye on your tax dollars in Richmond. In the Virginia General Assembly, members of the House and Senate each draw-up spending plans for the next two years. So, what’s up and what’s cut? How will it affect the state programs you depend on? Join host May-Lily Lee and her guests, Jeff Shapiro with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth, with DecideSmart.
The Virginia Senate has voted for a transportation-funding bill that increases the gas tax, removes most of Governor McDonnell’s proposals, and allows Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to raise extra revenue. It now heads to a 10-person conference committee, where lawmakers who don’t like it could still make major changes. Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil has the details.
While the Newtown, Connecticut shooting has gotten the most media attention of late, last night at the State of the Union address two Virginia lawmakers honored the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting.
Peter Read of Annandale, Virginia lost his daughter Mary in the Virginia Tech shooting. He says he was honored to be the guest of Congressman Gerry Connolly at the State of the Union address.
“It’s hugely meaningful to me and obviously for my daughter Mary and for the other Hokie families.”
More than twenty lawmakers invited victims of gun violence or their family members to attend the president’s annual address. Virginia
Congressman Bobby Scott gave his extra ticket to Lori Haas of Richmond. Her daughter Emily was shot twice but survived the Virginia Tech massacre. Haas says it was important for so many people impacted by gun violence to be present in the House chamber as the president called for new gun-control measures. “It is incumbent upon all of us to raise our voices and to speak to this issue and to call on Congress to act. The President has put forth a big package, a nice set of proposals and that combined if we pass all those proposals, come into legislation and become law, we will save lives and that’s our job.”
And Peter Read says the details don’t matter as much to him as getting action. “The art of the politically possible is for the politicians to figure out but I will work with anybody who will work with me to get the right things done.”
Before the address the guests were taken to a private event at the White House and many have been lobbying lawmakers for action while at the Capitol.
Democrats in the region like the jobs plan President Obama laid out last evening in his State of the Union address. But Matt Laslo reports that Republicans are wary of its price tag.
Governor McDonnell took part in a news conference this week – welcoming representatives of the pharmaceutical industry to Richmond, and singing the praises of clinical trials in the Commonwealth. That might seem like a noble thing, but it could also have been part of a push to improve the industry’s image as it protects future profits through new state laws.
Virginia is one of the first states to feel the impact of a decade-long round of budget cuts scheduled to begin hitting the federal government next month. Matt Laslo reports on what the Virginia congressional delegation is doing to avert those cuts from potentially crippling the state’s economy and defense industry.
The bill is a compromise negotiated among major stakeholders, including the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, and the McDonnell administration. But as that didn’t stop a senator from unsuccessfully proposing a few last-minute amendments.
The bill allows schools to extend the probation period for new teachers from three to five years and requires teacher and administrator performance evaluations to include student academic progress. It also permits dismissal of a teacher with at least one unsatisfactory evaluation. Senator Ralph Northam proposed making that two or more.
“It gives the teacher just a little bit more opportunity, a little bit more fairness, in the overall picture and allows an extra year to be able to follow to see if they have improvements.”
But Senator Dick Black said teachers told him that every school has an under-performing teacher.
“And they were encouraging us to move forward and to make it easier to transition those teachers who are not performing into a more suitable field of work.”
The Senate also sent to the governor bills to allow local school divisions more flexibility in assigning support staff AND to add requirements for early reading intervention in kindergarten through second grade.
-by Anne Marie Morgan
A pair of Virginia lawmakers were surprised this past week, one when a stranger was introduced as his mother in the state Senate chamber and another when a picture of a traffic stop was posted – temporarily – on Twitter. Those were among the week’s most- read stories at VaNews, the Virginia Public Access Project’s daily compilation of newspaper articles about government and politics in Virginia at vpap.org. Fred Echols reports.
VaNews is a free public service of the Virginia Public Access Project and can be found at vpap.org.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is out with its list of top ten endangered places in this region, and according to the report, three parts of Virginia are threatened. Sandy Hausman reports on why environmentalists are concerned.
“Blank stare” may be the best description of the demeanor of many lobbyists, media, and others who have any interest in what happened at the State Capitol Thursday. It’s the day when members of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate go through the grueling process of offering line-by-line amendments to the state budget. And as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, the most dominant theme seems to be the issue of Medicaid expansion.
This week marked the crossover at the General Assembly has come and gone– that’s when the House and Senate wrap up work on legislation and let the other chamber consider it. So how’s the first half of the session going? Our panel of experts share their analysis with host Bob Gibson on Virginia Conversations.
Finding the right gift for Mother’s Day is often a challenge, but students at Washington & Lee University offered a customized option today – haiku crafted for moms or anyone else on a patron’s list. Sandy Hausman reports.
When Teresa Sullivan resigned as president of the University of Virginia, many people questioned the ability of the Board of Visitors – mostly wealthy business people — to govern a university. What they didn’t know was that a few months earlier the board made a decision that could have cost UVA $20 million. Sandy Hausman has that story.
Students and faculty at the University of Virginia and its medical center were in shock after a surprise announcement from the board of visitors. Rector Helen Dragas said President Teresa Sullivan would leave after less than two years on the job. Sandy Hausman has details.
People who go into the hospital for treatment usually expect to come home feeling better, but experts say hundreds of thousands are getting infected with potentially deadly bacteria. This problem is raising big questions about how hospitals do business, and who pays when things don’t go as planned. Sandy Hausman has that story.
House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell has shot down the plan to redraw state Senate districts that was narrowly passed by the Senate two weeks ago. Senate Democrats say it’s now time to move forward … and that their focus is on developing a transportation funding plan and hammering out a budget.
The redistricting plan had been lying dormant since last year, and was brought to the Senate on the day of the inauguration, which Democratic Senator Henry Marsh was attending. This gave Republicans a one-vote margin. The new plan was attached to a House bill and created a new minority-majority district and an advantage for some Republicans. Democrats were appalled and hoped that House Speaker Bill Howell would toss the plan out. He did.
“I think that the, a responsible upholding of the honor and integrity of the House and of the institution of the Speaker requires that I be consistent in my rulings and therefore, I am going to rule the Senate amendments are not germane and out of order.”
Senator Dick Saslaw and other Democrats had argued it’s unconstitutional.
“The small technical changes that the House has made would pass constitutional muster. Where you run into problems is if you did a wholesale redistricting which is what occurred here.”
Senate Republicans said they remain committed to creating a sixth majority-minority district as required by the Voting Rights Act, and said they’re confident that those new districts will be the ones under which the 2015 elections will be conducted.
Virginia voters would no longer be able to present some forms of identification at the polls that they used last year under legislation that has passed both houses of the General Assembly. As Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, the bills take slightly different forms, and one is subject to General Assembly funding for voter education and outreach.
In recent weeks, there has been an abundance of scientific reports documenting state and federal efforts to clean up pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Pamela D’Angelo asked watermen for their assessment.
Like their students, Virginia’s public schools could be getting letter grades of A through F — based on how well they appear to be educating students. The House of Delegates approved the idea Monday, and Governor Bob McDonnell, who proposed it, said he hoped the Senate would also sign on. McDonnell has also proposed a small increase in school funding, but Sandy Hausman reports that local districts have some serious catching up to do.
The young man who made news last week for taking a loaded rifle into a supermarket in Charlottesville has apparently come forward. He spoke with a radio talk show host on Sunday morning, explaining his motivation and expressing disappointment in those who misunderstood. Sandy Hausman has that story.
A city in Central Virginia could become the first in the nation to ask for regulation of drones — unmanned aircraft used overseas to spy on and attack our enemies. Sandy Hausman reports on why some feel the need to limit domestic drone use.
Stories about a drinking binge at the University of Virginia and a Shenandoah Valley woman’s unusual amnesia were among the most read over the past week at Virginia Public Access Project’s VaNews link. Fred Echols reports.
Virginia elects a governor in about ten months. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is expected to top his party’s ticket, and he’ll soon be out with a new book. The Washington Post offered a preview, and Democrats in Richmond were quick to attack as Sandy Hausman reports.
Governor McDonnell is asking the General Assembly to expedite the implementation of 24 recommendations just unveiled by his Task Force on School and Campus Safety. Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports that while many of these proposals do not require additional funding, the Governor has released a list of priorities because revising the state budget is well under way.
On this edition of Virginia Conversations, we’d like a word with you… or maybe two!
World renowned lexicographer Anne Soukhanov joins host May-Lily Lee for a look at the newest, most-used, and even most-dreaded words of the past year. Listeners share their word lists and top grammatical pet peeves.
Several bills that lawmakers argue are connected to everyday parental rights have advanced in the Virginia General Assembly. But they did not pass unanimously, and as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, they still must go through a second chamber before they could become state law.
Increased fuel efficiency has cut into Virginia’s gasoline tax revenue, so there’s less money around to build and maintain roads. The governor wants to ditch the gas tax in favor of a higher sales tax, but he idea has proven controversial, and today opponents tried to drive their points home as Sandy Hausman reports.
A very frustrated Senator John Watkins has issued a written statement about withdrawing his uranium mining bill, but he does NOT deny that the issue could come up again before this General Assembly session is over. The usually candid Senator had very few words after a cancelled hearing on whether to create regulations to lift the ban on uranium mining in Pittsylvania County. Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil explains.