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VaNews
April 22, 2021
Top of the News

Virginians can sit at a bar for the first time in more than a year as Northam relaxes some pandemic restrictions

By SIERRA JENKINS, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

People can sit at bars in Virginia for the first time in over a year under a new order signed Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam. The changes are contained in an amended executive order posted to the governor’s website without any public announcement. Restaurants, dining establishments, and other venues can allow people to sit at bars only if there is six feet between each person, the order says.


Virginia governor signs recreational marijuana legislation into law

By ANDREW BLAKE, Washington Times

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation into law Wednesday permitting adults 21 years old and up to legally possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for personal use starting July 1, 2021. Once the law takes effect, Virginia is slated to become the first southern U.S. state to allow the recreational use of marijuana, or cannabis, joining more than a dozen others across the country.


Three Republicans running for Virginia governor wary of vote-counting software

By LAURA VOZZELLA, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

Three Republicans running for Virginia governor are raising alarms about a ballot-counting system being pitched to the state party, saying the technology cannot be trusted to tabulate votes at the party's May 8 nominating convention. State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) and businessman Glenn Youngkin wrote a letter to state GOP Chairman Rich Anderson on Wednesday warning the party against hiring a certain elections software vendor under consideration.


After two sessions and with elections looming, Filler-Corn says Democrats have delivered while GOP is ‘stuck’

By GRAHAM MOOMAW, Virginia Mercury

When she was sworn in as the first woman to serve as speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Eileen Filler-Corn said she was struck by the diversity of the new Democratic majority looking back at her. A year later, she was standing in a mostly empty room, speaking to “squares on a computer” as the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western Hemisphere tried lawmaking via Zoom. It’s not yet clear when the House will return to normal. But after two years in power, Filler-Corn says she’s confident Virginia voters still want Democrats in charge.


Virginia explores plan to end advanced diplomas

By AUDREY CONKLIN, Fox News

The Virginia Department of Education is taking steps to end advanced diplomas in the name of equity. Leslie Sale, director of the Virginia Education Department's office of policy, on Tuesday announced an exploratory effort to review Virginia's diploma and graduation requirements in a live-streamed meeting with the department's Special Committee to Review the Standards of Accreditation.


Fairfax schools plan for 'normal'

By HANNAH NATANSON, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

Come fall, instruction in Virginia’s largest school district will look as close to “pre-pandemic normal” as possible, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools promised this week. The vast majority of students will head into classrooms five days a week for in-person lessons, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said at a board meeting Tuesday. Exceptions will be granted only to children who have a documented medical or social-emotional need for virtual schooling. And almost all teachers will be required to report to work in person.


Roanoke attorney who won acquittal in stepson's murder trial claims police retaliation

By LAURENCE HAMMACK, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Three days after a Roanoke attorney represented her stepson in a murder trial that ended with his acquittal, city police targeted her home in a search that violated her constitutional rights, she claims in a federal lawsuit. The acquittal “sparked outrage in the Roanoke law enforcement community,” a lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of Cathy Reynolds asserts.

The Full Report
41 articles, 23 publications

FROM VPAP

VPAP Visual Gubernatorial Candidate Fundraising by ZIP Code

The Virginia Public Access Project

This interactive map makes it easy to see which candidate for Governor has raised the most money (or has the largest number of donors) in each postal zone. There are separate filters for GOP and Democratic nomination contests. You can click on each Zip Code to get a complete list of donors for each candidate.


From VPAP Maps, Timeline of COVID-19 in Virginia

The Virginia Public Access Project

Our Virginia COVID-19 dashboard features VDH vaccination data, including what percentage of the state's population has received at least one shot and the number of vaccinations per 100,000 residents in each city and county. Our dashboard also makes it easy to track the latest available data for tests performed, infections, deaths and hospital capacity. There's also a filter for each city and county, plus an exclusive per-capita ZIP Code map. Updated each morning around 10:30 a.m.

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Civil rights groups skip ceremonial signing of marijuana bill, as Black-led activist group left out

By MEL LEONOR, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Key civil rights groups involved in the effort to legalize marijuana in Virginia skipped a ceremonial signing of the legislation Wednesday, protesting the Northam administration’s decision to exclude a key advocate from the event. Marijuana Justice led by activist Chelsea Higgs Wise of Richmond was among groups that worked with the legislature on marijuana legalization, and eventually swayed political leaders to accelerate legalization of simple possession to this summer.


Marijuana will be legal in July. Now what?

By JOSH GULLY AND RACHEL NEEDHAM, Rappahannock News (Metered Paywall)

The General Assembly’s decision to make Virginia the 15th state to legalize small quantities of recreational marijuana has drawn mixed reactions. While some see the bill as a progressive move in the right direction, others see it as the first step down a slippery slope. But ready or not, come July 1, Virginia residents 21 and over will be legally allowed to possess one ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants in their homes — so long as the plants are labeled and kept in a private location away from minors.

STATE ELECTIONS

Wason Center Poll: McAuliffe running away with Democrats’ governor bid

WDBJ-TV

Six weeks before Virginia Democrats’ June 8 primary, nearly half of the Democratic voters surveyed (47%) back former governor Terry McAuliffe for the gubernatorial nomination, according to a survey released Thursday by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University. With 27% of Democratic voters undecided, none of the other four candidates reach double-digit support: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (8%); Sen. Jennifer McClellan (6%); former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (5%); Del. Lee Carter (1%).


Republican candidate for governor says Chauvin verdict makes her ‘sick’

By LAURA VOZZELLA, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

A prominent Republican candidate for Virginia governor said that the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin this week made her "sick" and that jurors didn't acquit because they feared a violent backlash. “Friends, today’s verdict makes me sick,” state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) told a gathering in King William County on Tuesday shortly after a jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd. “I am so concerned about our law enforcement right now quitting. And you should be, too.”


'Politically motivated to prevent civil unrest': First GOP comment on verdict comes from Chase

By BILL ATKINSON, Progress Index (Metered paywall - 10 articles a month)

Unlike her Democratic counterparts in the Virginia governor's race who welcomed the news of Derek Chauvin's conviction in the 2020 death of George Floyd, state Sen. Amanda Chase said she thinks the verdict "was politically motivated to prevent civil unrest" rather than bring justice. "The decision made today sends a clear message to law enforcement," Chase said in a text message to The Progress-Index. "The justice system doesn't have your back."


Va. House candidate says teachers union president pressured her to drop out, offered a position

By PATRICK WILSON, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

A Filipino American woman making her first run for public office said the president of a teachers union pressured her to drop out of a state House race in Virginia Beach and offered her a spot on a union board. The candidate declined. Candidate Tracie Liguid told friends about the Feb. 18 meeting she had at the office of the Virginia Beach Education Association. Two of the friends provided details to the Richmond Times-Dispatch about what Liguid told them after her meeting with Kelly Walker, the local association president.


Dems Leading Way With Small Donors

By JESSICA WETZLER, Daily News Record (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

With three months of fundraising into the 2021 election year, finance reports show two local Democrats received more small-donor donations than their Republican opponents. Democrat Jennifer Kitchen had an ending balance of $46,217 as of March 31, with 46% of her donations in the last 15 months coming from small donors, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

STATE GOVERNMENT

Virginia agrees to absentee ballot option for blind voters

Associated Press

Virginia election officials have agreed to permanently provide an absentee ballot option for blind voters. The agreement comes after several voters with disabilities, the American Council of the Blind of Virginia, and the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia filed a lawsuit in federal court last year against the state for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Virginia Disabilities Act.


FanDuel sprints out to early lead in Virginia sports betting; DraftKings second, with MGM and Caesars lagging behind

By MICHAEL PHILLIPS, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

FanDuel has jumped out to a massive lead in the frenzied battle for sports gambling customers in Virginia. The operator has 53% of the market share in the state, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Virginia Lottery. The preliminary data, which covered the period from January to the end of March, showed DraftKings in second place, with 24% of the state’s market share.

ECONOMY/BUSINESS

Amazon to put new robotics fulfillment center near Richmond Raceway in Henrico, creating 1,000 new jobs

By GREGORY J. GILLIGAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

Amazon plans to build a massive distribution center near the Richmond Raceway in Henrico County that will use robotic technology to help pick and sort customer orders. The online retail giant will put the 650,000-square-foot robotics fulfillment center on 119 acres just north of the raceway complex, creating 1,000 new jobs, Gov. Ralph Northam's office announced Wednesday.


Norfolk’s casino resort could open in 2023

By RYAN MURPHY, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

The Pamunkey Indian Tribe released new renderings of its planned casino resort alongside Norfolk’s Harbor Park. Previous renderings, released nearly 2½ years ago before a whirlwind of state debate and a surge of potential competitors, included a soaring tower. The new images include a lower-slung glass-and-metal structure with a rooftop pool offering a view of Norfolk Tides games, attached to an eight-story hotel and a marina on the banks of the Elizabeth River.

TRANSPORTATION

Loudoun County ‘Taking Steps’ to Resume Potomac River Ferry Service

By RENSS GREENE, Loudoun Now

Loudoun County government is “taking steps” toward reopening ferry service between Montgomery County, MD, and Virginia, according to a statement issued by the county staff Wednesday. According the press release, the county will study the options for resuming ferry service to Maryland—the latest in a dispute over White’s Ferry, the longtime commuting staple that once carried nearly 800 passengers a day, but which closed after the cable across the river broke in December 2020, and never reopened.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Will Virginia colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations? Should they?

By HUNTER BRITT, VCU Capital News Service

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.


Community members call on U.Va. to remove Frank Hume Memorial Fountain

By AVA MACBLANE, Cavalier Daily

The Committee on Naming and Memorials hosted a two-hour listening session Wednesday evening during which members of the public commented on the future of the Frank Hume Memorial Fountain. Over 20 individuals, including University students, alumni and members of the community, called in to the session to appeal to the committee, all of whom expressed their support for the removal of the memorial in its entirety. . . . The Frank Hume Memorial Fountain — also known as the Whispering Wall for its unique ability to transmit sound from one side of the wall to the other — was erected in 1938 in honor of Frank Hume, who was a soldier and spy in the Confederate Army before he served in the Virginia House of Delegates.


Honors College returns to residence hall one year after abrupt transformation

By EMMA CARLSON, Commonwealth Times

More than one year after workers removed student belongings from the Honors College to prepare the building for potential incoming COVID-19 patients, the building is returning to its regular use as a residence hall for incoming freshmen. Hospital beds placed in the dormitory were removed on April 7. VCU Residential Life and Housing confirmed the Honors College will return to a residence hall for the fall semester.

CORONAVIRUS

Loudoun Hits Quarter Million Jabs

Loudoun Now

Loudoun County’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts hit another milestone this week, surpassing 250,000 shots. According to the state Department of Public Health tally, as of Monday 171,000 county residents had received at least one shot and nearly 90,000 were fully vaccinated. About 21% of Loudoun’s population is fully vaccinated, trailing behind the statewide rates of 25.4%.


Two COVID-19 Outbreaks Are Being Investigated In Arlington Schools

By JO DEVOE, ArlNow

COVID-19 outbreak investigations are currently ongoing at Washington-Liberty High School and another unnamed Arlington public school. The W-L investigation started after four students tested positive between March 23-31. . . . Arlington County Public Health Department spokeswoman Jessica Baxter confirmed that investigations were underway at two schools, but declined to name them.


FCPS to join COVID-19 testing pilot, weighs fall virtual learning options

By ANGELA WOOLSEY, Reston Now

More than 20 schools have expressed interest in learning more about a statewide pilot to conduct on-site COVID-19 screening and testing for students and staff, Fairfax County Public Schools officials reported Tuesday. FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd told the school board during a work session that administrators will meet with staff at 21 schools on Thursday (April 22) to share more details about the Virginia Department of Health programs and determine which schools will ultimately participate.


COVID variant likely driving current case surge, Ballad officials say

By DAVID MCGEE, Bristol Herald Courier (Metered Paywall - 15 articles a month)

Preliminary wastewater testing has confirmed the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant, which is likely driving this region’s current surge of COVID-19 cases, Ballad Health officials said Wednesday. Ballad contracted with Biobot Analytics, a Massachusetts-based firm, to test area wastewater for the B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the UK variant of COVID-19, Chief Physician Executive Dr. Clay Runnels said during a news briefing. “Our preliminary results show a significant amount of COVID-19 in wastewater, suggesting significant spread of the virus in the region,” Runnels said.

VIRGINIA OTHER

'It's not all in vain': Roanokers react to Chauvin verdict

By ALICIA PETSKA, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Brenda Hale found herself holding her breath as she watched the judge take his seat and heard the words: “Members of the jury, I understand you have a verdict.” In quick succession, the fate of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was pronounced as the nation watched. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. “I was able to exhale,” said Hale, president of the Roanoke NAACP. “I was able to breathe again.


Appalachian Trail shelters reopened in Virginia, elsewhere

By LAURENCE HAMMACK, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Shelters along the southern Appalachian Trail are being reopened, one year after they were shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic. The move announced Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service involves hundreds of the wooden structures on federal forest land in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

LOCAL

APS Makes In-Person Learning the Default Next School Year, While Families Have Remote Option

By JO DEVOE, ArlNow

Arlington Public Schools families will have two prospects for school in the fall: five days a week of in-person learning or a fully remote K-12 learning program. This week, APS opened up a two-week window during which families can choose how their children will attend school. Families have until Friday, April 30 to make their choice.


D.C. firefighter to be freed from prison after conviction based on Fairfax County officer’s false claims is thrown out

By TOM JACKMAN, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

A former D.C. firefighter will be released from a Virginia prison this week after a Fairfax County judge Tuesday vacated his 2019 conviction on drug and gun charges, which were based on falsehoods told by a former Fairfax County police officer now under state and FBI investigation. Fairfax County prosecutors said last week they hoped to clear more than 400 convictions obtained by the patrol officer, but the firefighter’s was first because he was the only one still behind bars.


Loudoun Supervisors Advance Toward Permitting Collective Bargaining with Unions

By RENSS GREENE, Loudoun Now

Loudoun supervisors on Tuesday voted to see an ordinance that would bring collective bargaining to the county government’s employees. A new state law going into effect on May 1 allows local governments to recognize public employee unions. The law will allow employees to petition the local government for a vote, but does not let them force collective bargaining—the local governing body would then hold a vote to decide whether to recognize unions, and if so, what sort of discussions to have with them.


Richmond casino proposals down to 2

By CHRIS SUAREZ, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Richmond has removed the Bally's project in the Stratford Hills area from the city's shortlist of casino development proposals. The city announced the decision Wednesday morning, after two weeks of public protests against the Rhode Island-based company's plans to build a $650 casino resort in the northeast quadrant of Chippenham and Powhite parkways.


City Council re-enacts continuity of government ordinance, addresses police involvement in mental health crises

By VIRGINIA BIXBY, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

Charlottesville City Council on Monday voted to re-enact the city’s ordinance to assure continuity of government during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinance, which was initially enacted in March 2020, temporarily changes certain deadlines, modifies public meeting and hearing practices and procedures and authorizes other emergency actions necessary to assure safe and efficient government operations.


Windsor police want to hire company to help revise policies, will create hiring panel that includes citizens

By JANE HARPER, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

The Town of Windsor’s police chief proposed several ideas to council members this week he hopes will help boost officer training and improve the department’s relationship with its citizens and the thousands of drivers who pass through each day. Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle presented his four-point plan Tuesday during the first of many workshops the council plans after police body cam video of a controversial traffic stop recently went viral.


Newport News is renaming four schools. Here are the proposed changes.

By MATT JONES, Daily Press (Metered Paywall - 1 article a month)

Four schools will be renamed for a mix of geographic landmarks and prominent Black women under a proposal unveiled Tuesday at a Newport News School Board meeting: Epes Elementary would become Stoney Run Elementary, for the body of water behind it.


ICE grants sanctuary seeker a stay on federal removal order

By BRYAN MCKENZIE, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

A Guatemalan woman given sanctuary in a Charlottesville church for more than two years has received a one-year stay of removal from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who had sought to deport her. Maria Chavalan Sut, 46, came to the U.S. in 2015 after land grabbers threatened her family and later set her home on fire with the family inside. She and her four children survived, but all of their belongings burned.


Schilling JAUNT lawsuit heading for settlement

By TYLER HAMMEL, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

A freedom of information lawsuit filed against JAUNT is heading toward a settlement, according to court documents. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of local radio host Rob Schilling, who posted an article on his website in December claiming an anonymous internal source told him that the public transportation group was under investigation for “spending irregularities.” The article, which did not specify who is allegedly investigating JAUNT, claims the investigation was spurred by an agency audit.


Franklin County supervisors snuff out proposed tobacco tax

By JASON DUNOVANT, Franklin News-Post

A proposed 15-cent tax on tobacco products was shot down by the Franklin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The vote came as the county finalized its budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year. County staff first proposed the tobacco tax last month as an option to provide additional revenue for the county. The General Assembly passed legislation last year that allowed localities to tax tobacco products at a rate of up to 40 cents per pack starting July 1.


Fate of additional 1% of sales tax for schools now in hands of Pittsylvania County voters

By STAFF REPORT, Danville Register & Bee

In November, Pittsylvania County voters will decide if they want to allow an extra 1% in local sales taxes to generate revenue to upgrade aging school buildings. The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors approved the resolution Tuesday night — by unanimous vote — setting the stage for the upcoming referendum.

 

EDITORIALS

What’s Stafford’s warehouse ceiling?

Free Lance-Star Editorial (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

How many warehouses are enough in Stafford County? That’s the question members of the county’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors should be asking themselves before they turn more of the county—with its prime location between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, right off the nation’s busiest interstate highway—into an assemblage of what amounts to gigantic storage sheds. Businesses will always need warehouses to store products and materials, so the real question is not whether warehouses are necessary (they certainly are), but where they should be situated to offer the most cost-effective access to markets while not clogging up local roads with delivery trucks.


Virginia state parks are ours to enjoy — and protect

Virginian-Pilot Editorial (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

From Wilderness Road, which helps visitors envision living on Virginia’s frontier in the 18th century, to False Cape, between the Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia’s state parks are a marvel to behold. The newest addition, Machicomoco State Park in Gloucester County, was formally commemorated this month, making it the 40th park in the state system and the first focused on the story of the native people who populated these lands before the arrival of European settlers.

COLUMNISTS

Schapiro: Making dollars and sense of a wealthy donor's agenda

By JEFF E. SCHAPIRO, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

Dominion Energy isn’t the only lightly regulated monopoly throwing money at Virginia politicians. There’s multimillionaire Michael Bills, who together with wife Sonjia Smith and his political action committee, Clean Virginia, are spending on state campaigns more than four times as much as Dominion, the electricity giant Bills vows to bring to heel.


Politifact: McAuliffe: “I restored felons’ rights - 173,000 - more than any governor in the history of America.”

By WARREN FISKE, WCVE-FM

Former and possibly future Gov. Terry McAuliffe says he holds the national record for restoring voting rights to people who have finished felony prison sentences. . . . When a candidate claims a record, our ears perk up. We fact checked McAuliffe’s statement.

OP-ED

Merritt: Six ways to help on Earth Day

By JEFF MERRITT, published in Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

As a child, I often heard the phrase “leave it better than you found it.” That phrase always stuck with me. During my studies in the Executive Master of Natural Resources program at Virginia Tech, I often thought of this sentiment as it applies to the world. We’re living in a time where human activity is shaping the climate and the environment. We’re burning fossil fuels and heating the planet.

Merritt is Vice President of Roanoke Operations for Cox Virginia. As the executive sponsor of the regional Cox Conserves Council, he advises employee volunteers advocating for positive environmental change.


Worrell: A message from the Pulaski Sheriff's Office about marijuana legalization

By MIKE WORRELL, published in Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office posted this message about Virginia’s new marijuana laws on its Facebook page Tuesday, the traditional “4-20 Day” to celebrate marijuana. Sheriff Worrell gave permission to reprint it here. His office explained that they use humorous messages like this to build engagement with the public, which means a wider audience when there is an emergency message to convey about public safety.

Worrell is sheriff of Pulaski County.


Scott: On Earth Day, celebrate environmental initiatives in the American Jobs Plan

By BOBBY SCOTT, published in Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Today marks Earth Day, a day to celebrate the home we all share and to be reminded of our moral responsibility to protect it. This Earth Day, I am encouraged by the promise of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and I am committed to working to achieve it through legislation. The Jobs Plan is a once-in-a-century investment to create millions of good paying jobs and foster economic growth, while ensuring we protect the planet for ourselves and future generations.

Scott represents Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District and serves as chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.