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Bill to Require ICE Notifications Headed to Senate Floor

ICE

(Credit: ICE)

How closely should local jails work with federal immigration officials?

That’s an issue that lawmakers are debating in Richmond.

Michael Pope has the story.

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Virginia Legislature Formally Apologizes for Violent Racist Past

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  The 1893 public lynching of black teenager Henry Smith in Texas.
(Credit Wikimedia)

Virginia lawmakers are expressing profound regret for lynching, the brutal murders of black men and women by white mobs in the decades after the Civil War.

As Mallory Noe-Payne reports, a joint resolution passed by the General Assembly comes amidst a messy and public debate about racism in Virginia.

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African-American Lawmakers Decry $21 Million Cut to Education

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The blackface scandals have caused lawmakers to approach a number of policy issues in new ways.

As Michael Pope tells us, that includes the budget.

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UVA Expert Says Plenty of Physicians Harbor Racist Attitudes

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Dr. Irene Mathieu chairs the Equity and Inclusion Committee at UVA’s Department of Pediatrics. (Credit Irene Mathieu)

During his campaign for governor, Ralph Northam appeared in a TV ad, holding an African-American baby.

The message was that Doctor Northam – a pediatric neurologist – cares deeply for kids, regardless of race.

That made the picture in his medical school yearbook doubly shocking.

But a fellow doctor told Radio IQ’s Sandy Hausman that racism is not uncommon in the medical profession.

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Party-line Votes Clear the Way for Legislation Keeping Virginia Out of RGGI

RGGI Vote

Should Virginia join a regional effort to cut back on carbon emissions?

Party affiliation likely shows where your lawmakers stands on this issue.

Michael Pope reports.

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Could a “Special Committee” Investigate Claims Against Fairfax?

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Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (Credit: Lburke007 / Creative Commons via flickr

Lawmakers in Richmond are trying to figure out a way to handle the sexual assault allegations against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, although at this point there are more questions than answers.

Michael Pope explains.

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Legislation Would Regulate Student Loan Servicers in Virginia

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Credit: 401(K) 2012 / Flickr

Some lawmakers are concerned that the student loan industry has spiraled out of control, and they’re hoping to make state regulators crack down.

Michael Pope reports.

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If Fairfax Resigns, What Happens to the Lt. Governor Post?

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Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax talks to reporters inside the state capitol. (Credit: Mallory Noe-Payne)

So far, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is resisting calls for him to step down. But what happens if he resigns?

Michael Pope has this look at what happens next.

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Budget Deal Means Refund Checks This Fall

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Credit: 401(K) 2012 / Flickr

As voters are considering their options later this year, many of the wealthiest in Virginia will be getting a check in the mail, thanks to the budget that lawmakers are moving forward with in Richmond.

Michael Pope has the story.

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Analysts: Additional Scandals May Help Northam

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Credit: sabreguy29 / Flickr

Now that every statewide elected official in Virginia is fighting to stay in office, many people are wondering about Virginia’s line of succession.

Michael Pope breaks it down.

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Reaction to President Trump’s State of the Union Address

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Credit: John Brighenti / Flickr

President Trump and his administration are hailing his state of the union address for its calls for unity. But Virginia Democrats aren’t buying those overtures because the president also seemed to warn House Democrats to back off the very investigations that many freshmen lawmakers feel they were sent to Washington to conduct.

Freshman Northern Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton says she’s open to working with the president on items like combating AIDS, childhood cancer and even infrastructure, but she’s skeptical the president meant it.

Meanwhile, freshman Virginia Republican Denver Riggleman says he’s not sure if the speech will heal the divide on Capitol Hill, but he says the president struck the right tone.

He just fears Democrats will never agree to fund the wall or fencing the president is demanding.

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Debt Settlement Legislation Runs Out of Time

general assembly coverage 2019

Tuesday is the final deadline for all legislation to pass at least one house of the legislature.

And, as Michael Pope reports, the cloud hanging over the General Assembly means many bills won’t make the cut.

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Birth Control Access Continues to Prompt Heavy Debate in Richmond

StateSeal00Lawmakers are in a heated debate over abortion this year. But that’s not the only point of distinction between Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly. Access to birth control is another flashpoint in Richmond. Michael Pope has more.

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Effort to Address Wage Theft Gets Bipartisan Support

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Credit: 401(K) 2012 / Flickr

Republicans and Democrats are striking a deal to crack down on wage theft.

Michael Pope reports.

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Virginia Late-term Abortion Debate Erupts Over Viral Video

cox floor speech

  House Speaker Kirk Cox took the rare measure of leaving the dais to speak from his old seat on the floor of the House of Delegates.
(Credit Michael Pope)

Abortion remains one of the hottest issues in the General Assembly, and it blew up on the floor of the House of Delegates and social media today/Wednesday.

Michael Pope has the story.

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When Lawmakers Promise a Raise for Teachers, It Doesn’t Always Happen

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Credit: alamosbasement / Flickr

Republicans and Democrats in Virginia are both on board with a five-percent teacher pay raise. That news comes after thousands of educators marched to the capitol Monday.

But as Mallory Noe-Payne reports, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to raising teacher salaries.

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Tax Certainty Could Come with Strings Attached

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(Credit: 401kcalculator.org / Flickr)

Each year, the state adjusts the tax code to reflect changes in federal law. But this year the routine process has been tangled up in a debate on tax policy.

If lawmakers don’t act immediately it could impact your return.

Mallory Noe-Payne has more from the capitol.

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Virginia Teachers Protest Low Pay at Capitol Rally

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  Thousands of teachers and education advocates marched to the state capitol Monday to rally for more education funding.
(Credit: Mallory Noe-Payne)

Virginia teachers turned out in the thousands Monday to march on the state capitol – demanding higher pay and increases in school funding.

Mallory Noe-Payne was there and has this report.

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Widow of Firefighter Advocates for “Move Over” Legislation

general assembly coverage 2019

 

The death of a firefighter on the side of an interstate is prompting action in Richmond, where lawmakers are considering legislation to toughen the penalties on drivers who don’t move over when approaching emergency vehicles.

Melanie Clark, the widow of that firefighter, is promoting the bill. Monday morning, she asked lawmakers to take action this year to keep first responders safe.

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Va. News: Using Trains to relieve I-81 congestion, Twitter account critical of Norfolk Schools

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There’s a new idea for using trains to reduce congestion on Interstate 81. And members of Norfolk’s school board want to know who’s been criticizing them using a government Twitter account.

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

More now from Fred Echols.

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More than a Thousand Teachers Expected to March on Richmond

red for ed

(Credit: Virginia Educators United)

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of teachers are expected to show up in Richmond Monday to show support for public education.

Mallory Noe-Payne has details on the march and rally.

 

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Herring Bill Targeting Paramilitary Groups Still Moving in State Senate

general assembly coverage 2019

Lawmakers in Richmond are considering a proposal that would crack down on the kind of paramilitary groups that marched on Charlottesville.

Michael Pope reports.

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Luria Offers Shutdown Solution, Riggleman Expects Progress Soon

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(Credit Rog Cogswell via flickr.com / CC)

Virginia’s new Congressional members are becoming increasingly active in efforts to end a partial government shutdown.

Jeff Bossert reports.

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Oyster Restoration Project See Successes and Challenges

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Wild oysters from Tangier Sound (Credit: Pamela D’Angelo)

It’s been ten years since Maryland and Virginia were ordered to restore oyster populations to tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

To meet that goal scientists have banked on building oyster sanctuaries. But reviving a species decimated by disease, over-harvesting and pollution hasn’t proved easy.

Maryland, Virginia and federal recently scientists met at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News to assess progress.

Pamela D’Angelo reports.

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Va. News: Indian Tribes at odds over Casino Land, Portsmouth’s ‘Sailing’ Sculpture

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Two Virginia Indian tribes are at odds over a casino in Norfolk…and the City of Portsmouth was surprised to learn that a gift will cost it quite a bit of money. 

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link. 

More from Fred Echols.

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The Hands-on Effort to Save Richmond’s Evergreen Cemetery

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Downtown Richmond comes into view as overgrown areas of Evergreen Cemetery are cleared. (Credit: Pamela D’Angelo)

Martin Luther King Day is a national day of service and for the past few years volunteers have worked alongside the descendants of those buried in a neglected historical African American Cemetery in Richmond to restore it to its former glory.

Pamela D’Angelo reports.

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Science Faces Shutdown as Impasse Drags on in DC

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(Credit: Jeff Atkins)

As of a week ago, Virginia has received almost 500 claims for unemployment benefits from furloughed federal workers.

But the effects of the government shutdown don’t stop there. As Mallory Noe-Payne reports, there’s also been an impact on science.

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The Future of Virginia Fisheries: The Consumer Connection

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The Sensible Seafood program advises consumers to try invasive species such as lionfish, snakehead and blue catfish. (Credit: Virginia Aquarium)

It’s a dangerous world for fish and other marine life.  Populations are coping with climate change, pollution and fishermen armed with high-tech devices that make it easier than ever to harvest the sea.

In the final part of our series, Sandy Hausman reports on what you – as a consumer – can do to help assure sustainable fisheries.

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State Corporation Commission Sends Grid Modernization Plan Back to Dominion

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State regulators are rejecting major elements in Dominion Energy’s 6-billion dollar plan to modernize the grid.

Mallory Noe-Payne has more.

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In an Election Year, Republicans Welcome Debate on Right to Work Law

general assembly coverage 2019

Since the 1940s, Virginia has imposed strong restrictions on labor unions.

Now those restrictions are at the center of a political debate in Richmond. Michael Pope reports.

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Call for Reconciliation Comes With 400th Anniversary of Slavery in Virginia

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  Former Governor Bob McDonnell and other supporters of Virginians for Reconciliation speak at the capitol. (Credit Michael Pope)

Virginia has a very long history, a history that has several dark chapters.

Now, as Michael Pope reports, a group of prominent state leaders are hoping for reconciliation.

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The Future of Virginia Fisheries: Enforcing Catch Limits in the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay

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David Drummond and Marshall Reedy are two of the state’s 78 marine police officers. (Credit: Sandy Hausman)

Virginia’s seafood industry is one of the oldest and most valuable in the nation.

We’re the fourth largest producer of finfish and shellfish – behind Alaska, Louisiana and Washington State.

The Commonwealth keeps an eye on watermen to prevent over-fishing and assure food safety for consumers.  On the front lines– a force founded in 1875 as the Oyster Navy.

Sandy Hausman rode along to see how these specially trained sea-cops work.

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The Future of Virginia Fisheries: Growing Our Own in the Blue Ridge

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  Blue Ridge Aquaculture raises about two million tilapia at a time — calm fish that like swimming in large schools. (Credit Sandy Hausman)

Like many cities in southside Virginia, Martinsville lost thousands of jobs as tobacco, furniture-making and textiles left for places where labor was cheaper.

But as those industries went away, a new one grew up thanks to one man with an idea.

Sandy Hausman met him and toured what is now the largest indoor fish farm in the world.

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The Future of Virginia Fisheries: Marine Life at Risk

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Blue crabs harvested by waterman James Eskridge (Credit: Sandy Hausman)

Virginia is the top supplier of seafood on the east coast.  Our watermen harvest more than four dozen species – scallops and oysters, blue crabs, clams, flounder and other fin fish worth over $200 million.

The creatures that live off our coast face some big problems, but as Sandy Hausman reports, scientists here are hoping to find solutions that make sustainable fishing possible.

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Former Journalists Push Press Freedom in House of Delegates

general assembly coverage 2019

The Virginia General Assembly now has two former journalists as members, and they are hoping to move forward with bills to increase press freedom.

Michael Pope has the story.

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Va. News: Bristol offers Medical Cannabis classes, Norfolk stops prosecuting Marijuana Possession

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Marijuana users in Norfolk will no longer be prosecuted for misdemeanor possession and the City of Bristol is gearing up to take full advantage of job opportunities in the medical marijuana field.

 

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

 

More now from Fred Echols.

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Tiny Fish Causes Big Controversy in Richmond

menhaden

  Menhaden are nutritious fish enjoyed by marine mammals, sea birds and bigger fish.
(Credit: VIMS)

Virginia’s legislature is back in session, and lawmakers may again be talking about a tiny fish called the menhaden.

It’s the only fish regulated by the General Assembly, and proposed catch limits are proving controversial as Sandy Hausman reports.

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Pope, Church & State: A Weekly Look at the 2019 General Assembly Session

general assembly coverage 2019

Throughout Virginia’s 2019 General Assembly session, All Things Considered host Luke Church and reporter Michael Pope will break down the highlights from the Capitol each week.

Week 7:

Virginia’s 2019 General Assembly session is almost in the history books.  The legislature is scheduled to adjourn this weekend.

Week 6:

The General Assembly session is heading into the home stretch.

Week 5:

It’s been a tumultuous week in Richmond, with one controversy after another. Despite that, lawmakers still tried to govern amid all the chaos.

Week 4:

Abortion overshadowed all other issues at the General Assembly this week.

Week 3:

The ERA and Guns have brought out a lot of emotion at the General Assembly.

Week 2:

There were some surprising moves in the General Assembly this week.

Week 1:

The 2019 General Assembly session got started this week with a little more bipartisanship than in years past.

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Equal Rights Amendment Clears One Early Hurdle But Debate Continues

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It’s been decades since lawmakers first started debating the Equal Rights Amendment.

And, as Michael Pope reports it’s a debate that’s still going strong.

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Republicans Skeptical of Some of Northam’s Progressive Proposals

general assembly coverage 2019

Reaction to the governor’s state of the commonwealth address was mixed, mostly falling along partisan lines.

Michael Pope has the story.

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Northam Stresses Cooperation in Address to Lawmakers

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Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia’s Governor delivered the State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night.

As Mallory Noe-Payne reports, he got consistent applause from lawmakers in both parties by focusing on bipartisan successes from last year, like expanding Medicaid and rolling back regulations.

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Port of Virginia Invests to Land Bigger Ships and More Business

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Virginia has the nation’s number five port – serving an average of 40 ships a week – connecting more than 200 countries.

And despite talk of trade wars in Washington, Sandy Hausman reports that the place is poised to grow.

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Va. News: Cville Police Hiring Woes, Pet Owners Seeking Vets who Prescribe Opioids

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Like many cities, Charlottesville is struggling to keep its police officers, but its problem is more complicated than in most places…and veterinarians are being drawn into Virginia’s opioid crisis.

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

More now from Fred Echols.

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Republicans Look to Derail “Hidden” Tax Hike

general assembly coverage 2019

Federal lawmakers are wrestling with how to handle a budget standoff over a wall at the southern border.

But as Michael Pope reports, state lawmakers may soon be in the midst of their own budget standoff.

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Nursing Professor Looks for Links Between Domestic Violence, Strangulation and Damage to the Brain

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  A forensic exam kit used by nurses like Kathryn Laughon.
(Credit UVA School of Nursing)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports a decrease in calls over the holidays, but when January rolls around those numbers rise again.

In many cases, women report being choked – an assault that may not look as serious as it is.

Sandy Hausman explains.   And this report, while clinical, may be a sensitive topic for some listeners.

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Va. News: EMT’s Comments spark another Debate, A Family Business struggles in Norfolk

VPAPnew

A century-old family business is struggling to stay alive in downtown Norfolk…and  Patrick County Supervisors, who’ve been dealing with one controversy for several weeks, now have a second one on their hands.

Those have been among the most read stories over the past week at the Virginia Public Access Project’s Va. News link.

More from Fred Echols.

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Analyst: Virginia Public School Enrollment Sees First Drop in Decades

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Source: Virginia Department of Education Fall Count, 2018 to 2023 regional enrollment projected by the Weldon Cooper Center

For decades, Virginia has seen its student enrollment climb year after year.

But now, as Michael Pope reports, something different is happening.

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Retaliation a Real Possibility in Wage Disputes

Ernesto Martinez

Ernesto Martinez walks to his car parked in the far end of a parking lot at an outlet mall in Leesburg. He says his previous employer did not pay him all the money he was owed, and he considered filing a complaint with the state. But if he had done so, Virginia law would have offered him no protection against getting fired specifically for launching an investigation into wage theft. (Credit: Michael Pope)

Workers who feel they haven’t gotten all the pay that’s coming to them can file a complaint with the state.

But, as Michael Pope reports, they can also get fired specifically for filing the complaint.

It’s been a long day at work for Ernesto Martinez, and he’s walking to the far end of a parking lot in an outlet mall in Leesburg. He’s exhausted from all the hours that he put into his job here. But he’s also thankful that he has an employer willing to pay him what he owes. The last job he had did not. Through an interpreter he explains some of the problems with his old job in landscaping.

“They made us pay for uniforms and hardhats and gloves — all the safety equipment that the company is in charge of giving us that kind of equipment.”

And, he says, his employer didn’t pay him for all the hours he put in on the job. So he started talking to the other workers. They considered filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, which receives about fifteen hundred complaints a year. But …

“Most of these workers were scared. They were afraid to take these issues to the government. So it gets me mad and angry because they were already accepting the situation.”

They accepted the situation and decided against filing a complaint with the state. As it turns out, they had every right to be afraid. Wendy Inge (In-juh), who oversees these kinds of investigations for state says they have no protection against getting fired for filing complaints.

“Generally when the public calls in needs to file a complaint they’re advised, if they’re still working, they are advised that we don’t have any protection for their job and that that employer may retaliate.”

Pope: When you tell them, how do people react?

“Well they’re not very happy because they think that the law should protect them.”

But the law doesn’t protect them, at least not yet. One change lawmakers could make would be to forbid employers from firing employees who file complaints. But that would place an increased burden on the staff here. A decade ago, this department had 20 full time employees to investigate wage theft. Now there are only three.

“Right now we are limited in some areas that we just don’t have the resources to conduct those investigations right now.”

Pope: “And so what’s the consequence of that?”

“Well, one for example, is if you’re paid over $15,000 — if your claim is more than $15,000 — we don’t currently accept your claim.”

Pope: “So what happens then? You have to get a lawyer?

“Yes, you have to get a lawyer.”

Advocates for workers rights say lawmakers should make it illegal for employers to fire workers just because they file a complaint with the state. That’s a law that would come with a cost, though, because it would mean Virginia would need more than three people to investigate thousands of complaints. Delegate Paul Krizek is a Democrat from Fairfax County.

“Right now workers have the option of filing a complaint with the department with the Department of Labor or filing a private action. Neither option is working. Either you take your issue to court where lawyers are not incentivized to take the case due to the low payouts or you report to the government where there are only three employees handling thousands of cases.”

Ernesto Martinez never ended up filling a complaint. But he did get a new job, one that he’s happy with. And he has this message for lawmakers:

“We’re just asking for the lawmakers to put those laws in place to protect those workers and make sure that the companies are doing the right thing for the workers. And that’s my message to the lawmakers.”

In the upcoming session of the General Assembly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle plan on pressing the issue — making it illegal to fire workers who file complaints. They’d also like to see more investigators on the job.

I’m Michael Pope.

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Should Virginia Employers Have to Provide Paystubs?

Tracey Holloway

Tracey Holloway returns to the convenience store where she used to work. She quit after she suspected her paycheck didn’t have all the money it should have, although she couldn’t prove it because her employer didn’t give her a paystub showing how her salary was calculated. (Credit: Michael Pope)

Some workers in Virginia have no idea how their salary is calculated. They don’t know if Social Security has been dedicated, and they don’t know if they are being paid what they are supposed to be paid.

As Michael Pope reports, that’s because employers are not required to give employees paystubs.

It’s almost lunchtime in suburban Richmond, and Tracey Holloway is on her way to the 7 Eleven where she used to work. She remembers being thrilled to get a raise and then deflated when she didn’t seem to be getting the money she was owed.

“Things just started not to make sense to me. The hours that I’m working is not showing up on my paychecks, and my husband is looking at me like you’re going to work and this is what you’re bringing home? Something ain’t right.”

As it turns out, something wasn’t right. She wasn’t getting the money she was owed. So she quit.

“I haven’t been back since I walked out. Nope.”

Pope: “So what’s going through your mind right now?”

“I just want my paperwork.”

The paperwork she wants is her paystubs — the paper trail of how much she was being paid from week to week and how much was being taken out for taxes and Social Security. She called legal services to help her out, and they introduced her to lawyer Paul Falabella with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“And so I met with Tracey regarding her situation, which really all centers around her not getting paystubs not explaining her pay while she worked here.”

Like many employees in low-wage jobs, Tracey Holloway didn’t get paid with actual paychecks. She was given a debit card, and the money was electronically deposited on the card.

“I think the intent was probably to help folks who don’t have bank accounts avoid payday lenders. But Virginia law does not require any written statement of your wages when due, and that to me is a big problem.”

That’s not the only problem. Under existing law, employers are actually required to provide paystubs to employees. But only if they are requested in writing.

“That’s what the law says. But, of course, no normal employee knows that. A normal employee just knows I got my pay whether by debit card or check and there’s nothing that came with it.”

The fix for that is requiring all employers to provide paystubs without a written request, or electronic access to information that would be in paystubs —  information that was not available to Tracey Holloway. Former Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb tried unsuccessfully to do that before retiring from the General Assembly.

“It’s normally an issue with lower-dollar workers. It’s oftentimes an issue with manual labor workers and it oftentimes goes hand in hand with employees who may be paid cash on the job, and it makes accounting very difficult. And it also makes proving a lost wages claim very difficult.”

So, for now, people like Tracey Holloway will have to hope that somehow — someday — they get access to how their salary was calculated.

“So I don’t know if I’ve been paid all my money or not. And I guarantee you I probably haven’t.”

After the lawyer got involved with the case, the manager at the convenience store acknowledged the mistake. And she got the money she was owed. But she still wants the paystubs from that time. And now she has a new job down the street at the Dollar General, a job that also pays her with a debit card.

Pope: “You have to take it upon yourself to go into the computer system and print out your paystubs, and you do this regularly?”

“Yeah, I just started. I only got two paychecks. But I did that. I got both of them. I’ve got sense now, you know, to keep up with my own stuff. I can’t depend on nobody else.”

Her lawyer, Paul Falabella, says this problem has an easy fix, one that wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything.

“If she had been given her pay stub every pay period, she would have realized she didn’t get the raise. And presumably the issue could have been straightened out then and there and not led to a situation where she no longer works here.”

In the upcoming General Assembly session, a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats plans to come back at this issue again, and force employers to provide employees with the details about how much money they’re making and whether they are receiving all of it.

I’m Michael Pope.

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Crisis of Wage Theft or A Bonanza for Lawyers?

George Pinn

George Pinn, left, and his attorney Matthew Sutter meet at the spot where the carousel was once located. Pinn’s former employer still owes him $1,500. (Credit: Michael Pope)

What happens if your employer never gives you your last paycheck. It happens frequently, and sometimes employees get the money they are owed. But often times they don’t.

And, as Michael Pope reports, one reason for that is how Virginia law works.

It’s late afternoon on a weekday, and George Pinn is returning to the Springfield Mall for the first time in two years.

“It kinda sucks, you know what I’m saying. I put in a lot of work for these people. And I feel like I brought these people a lot of money.”

He’s talking about that job he used to have here as a cashier for a carousel ride, a job he had until one day the carousel disappeared.

“The next thing you know I come to find out they just left — like the Colts did to Baltimore, that’s what they did. They pulled their truck up and rolled out.”

Rolled out of town and ghosted the man who worked twelve hour shifts for weeks at a time.

“Even to this day I still have not heard anything from these people.”

Like thousands of workers in Virginia, George Pinn is a victim of wage theft. His employer owed him about fifteen hundred dollars, and he needed a lawyer to help him collect. He eventually found one, Matthew Sutter. But there was a problem: how to pay the lawyer?

“My hourly fee, as set by the court, is $425 an hour. So in order to take a case like this and make it cost efficient it’s virtually impossible.”

Pope: “So you’re essentially doing this job either for free or at a loss to yourself, is that right?”

“Well somebody’s gotta do it. And nobody else is doing it. So I do it.”

In Maryland, victims of wage theft don’t have a hard time finding lawyers because people who have been cheated can get triple damages. And In D.C. they can get quadruple damages. And attorneys fees. But in Virginia, they can only get the amount of money that’s owed to them and no more. That makes it difficult, if not impossible to find a lawyer.

“A lot of these folks are undocumented. A lot of the folks don’t speak English. And a lot of the folks are frankly scared to collect their wages.”

Allowing victims of wage theft to receive triple damages or layers fees would create a system where they could hire lawyers. But Jodi Roth at Virginia Retail Federation says there may be downside.

“This would open the floodgates to necessary litigation where people might falsely accuse an employer of this because this would now be in place.”

Pope: “But it would also open up the floodgates to people getting money that they are owed, right?”

“Sure, absolutely. People should be able to get money that they are owed. And I would think that the law covers that.”

Most other states allow double damages or triple damages or lawyers fees or some way for low-income people to hire lawyers to take their cases. Virginia does not. So changing any part of the law may, in fact, open up the floodgates.

“It may produce many lawsuits because we have a crisis of wage theft in Virginia.”

That’s Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

“And so to have a new avenue for workers to recover those unpaid wages and for us as a society to stop and deter wage theft would be a terrific thing for Virginia.”

For now, though, low-income workers like George Pinn have to rely on luck to find lawyers like Matthew Sutter, lawyers willing to take on the cases for free. Even then they still might not end up with the money they’re owed.

“Well the resolution is that we have a lien on a piece of property that appears to be underwater, and we’re waiting to get paid.”

Pope: “And how long has this been going on?”

“The lien was recorded about two years ago, and in Virginia it’ll be good for 20 years. So maybe in 20 years at the rate of six percent interest, George and I can sit together and have an iced tea or take our medicine together at the nursing home and somehow split that fifteen hundred dollars.”

This year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Richmond will be working to create a new system to help victims of wage theft, people at the bottom end of the economic scale who could never afford to hire a lawyer. And lobbyists for business groups are already lining up to oppose the idea as a bonanza for lawyers, and an invitation to what they view as unnecessary lawsuits.

I’m Michael Pope.

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