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Virginia lawmakers ban gay panic defense in Virginia

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Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that will ban the use of a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense in court for the assault or murder of an LGBTQ person.

“It’s done: We’re banning the gay/trans panic defense in Virginia,” Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, said in a Twitter post.

Roem introduced House Bill 2132, which passed the Senate 23-15 on Thursday with an amendment. The House approved the amendment in a 58-39 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for a signature.

The Senate amendment adds oral solicitation or hitting on someone, as an unacceptable justification for the gay or transgender panic defense.


The panic defense has historically been used in cases where a member of the LGBTQ community was attacked because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Defendants use the panic defense to justify “heat of passion” murders or assaults.

“This [bill] means someone’s mere existence as an LGBTQ person does not excuse someone else and does not constitute a reasonable provocation to commit such a heat of passion attack,” Roem said.

The statute does not dismiss traditional self-defense lawsuits. This means LGBTQ people can still be prosecuted for attacking someone.

There have been at least eight instances in Virginia where the panic defense was used, with the last case in 2011, according to Carsten Andresen, a researcher and criminal justice professor from Austin, Texas. He said he has tracked 200 homicide cases nationally where the panic defense was attempted. Andresen reached out to Roem in support of the bill.

His research included five murders and three assaults in Virginia between 1973 and 2011 that Andresen said used the panic defense to justify or excuse a defendant’s violent actions. Mark Hayes murdered Tracie Gainer, a transgender woman, in 2002. Hayes claimed he “lost it” and murdered Gainer after engaging in sexual intercourse. In 2011, Deandre Moore, age 18, pleaded guilty to killing 20-year-old Jacques Cowell by stabbing him multiple times. Cowell was openly gay and there were witness accounts that the two had a physical relationship. Moore received a 40-year prison sentence, with 15 years suspended.

“In these cases, criminal defense attorneys used gay and trans panic defense to put the victim (rather than the offender) on trial,” Andresen wrote in support of the bill. He said the use of the panic defense “suggests that it is permissible to commit violence” against LGBTQ people.

Sen. Joseph Morrissey, D-Richmond, spoke in opposition of the bill, saying lawmakers should not pass laws that prohibit defendants from making a defense and that lawmakers would be going “down a very slippery slope.” Morrissey said any defendant who would offer the panic defense “would of course be rejected.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said this is not the first time Virginia has expressly prohibited a defense. Legislators repealed in 2008 the code section that provided defense from carnal knowledge when a defendant marries a child 14 years or older.

“When we have found an affirmative defense to be abhorrent to public policy we have gotten rid of it,” McClellan said.

McClellan said she wished she could agree with Morrissey that no judge would accept the panic defense, but referred back to the Virginia cases where it was used successfully.

“We know the bill is constitutional, we know also, the bill has existing precedence, which is why it has earned overwhelming bipartisan support in statehouses across the country,” Roem said.

The American Bar Association in 2013 recommended that local, state, and federal legislatures curtail the availability and effectiveness of the gay and transgender panic defense. Roem said that similar bills have been implemented in other state legislatures. Virginia will become the 12th state to ban the panic defense, according to the policy organization Movement Advancement Project.

The defense is also banned in the District of Columbia.

There are currently 39 states that allow the panic defense to be used in cases where hate crimes resulted in the assault or murder of an LGBTQ individual. This typically results in a murder charge being lessened to a charge of manslaughter or acquittal.

Roem said she worked with Wes Bizzell, president of the National LGBT Bar Association, to prepare the bill. She also thanked Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, for speaking in support of the bill in committee.

Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming. The judge barred Aaron McKinney’s defense lawyer from using the gay panic defense in the murder trial. McKinney said Shepard’s advances triggered memories of sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Police said the crime was motivated by robbery, but Shepard’s sexual orientation likely made him the target. There were four people involved in the brutal crime. Two were found guilty of murder and two were charged with being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

Roem was in high school when Matthew Shepard was murdered. She said the case had a profound effect on her and prevented her from coming out due to a fear of being ostracized and attacked.
“It was requested to me by one of my Manassas Park student constituents who’s out, hoping not to have to live in the same fear in 2021 that I did in 1998,” Roem said of the bill.

Roem said there are people who don’t believe hate crimes such as the one against Shepard happen today in Virginia. She affirmed that they do happen, and she believes it is time to do something about it.

“We have to look at this from the perspective of ‘what do we do to make an affirmative statement that LGBTQ lives matter and that you can’t just kill us for existing,” Roem said.

By Cierra Parks
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Inadequate education for Fairfax disabled students and more Va. headlines

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The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• Gov. Glenn Youngkin bucked tradition by becoming the first governor in almost three decades not to take an overseas trade trip during his first year in the job, a period when he took 19 out-of-state trips for political purposes. A Youngkin spokesman defended the lack of trade missions, saying Youngkin’s extensive business connections made travel unnecessary.—Washington Post

• Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school system, failed to provide adequate educational services for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal investigation concluded.—WTOP

• “In Virginia, the land still owned by the Coles family could yield billions from uranium. Does any of that wealth belong to the descendants of the enslaved?”—Washington Post


• A Prince William County judge threw out a pair of lawsuits Republican activists filed seeking to undo the certification of the county’s midterm election results. “At some point we need to trust that the people we put in place to do these things are doing them,” the judge said.—Prince William Times

• Wild Thing, the oldest of Chincoteague’s ponies, has died at 25. “He has crossed the rainbow bridge and joined the big herd in the sky,” the local volunteer fire department wrote in a tribute to the “Popes Island Stud.”—Virginian-Pilot

 

by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Attorney General Miyares announces million dollar settlement with CarMax over disclosure of safety recalls

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On December 1, 2022, Attorney General Jason Miyares announced a bipartisan national settlement with CarMax Auto Superstores Inc. (CarMax) that will require the retailer to disclose unrepaired recalls related to the safety of its used vehicles to consumers before vehicles are purchased. Virginia is expected to receive $25,699.36 as part of the settlement, which the Office of the Attorney General will use for future consumer protection enforcement purposes.

Attorney General Miyares was joined by a coalition of 35 state attorneys general. The settlement stems from an investigation opened due to concerns that consumers were not aware of unrepaired and potentially serious safety recalls in purchased used vehicles.

“Purchasing a motor vehicle is a big investment. Virginians deserve to have all the information that could impact their decision to buy a car. Consumers deserve to know at the time of purchase whether the vehicle they are purchasing is subject to an open recall, especially if that recall relates to a safety issue,” said Attorney General Miyares. ” This settlement will help set a standard for the used-car industry that requires sellers to provide such notice as part of the sales transaction and ensure Virginians are properly informed before buying a car.”

This settlement requires CarMax to continue to utilize disclosure measures to ensure consumers have information on unrepaired vehicle recalls. CarMax must include hyperlinks for vehicles advertised online and QR codes for vehicles on sales lots, allowing consumers to link directly to information on open recalls as they shop. CarMax must also present consumers with copies of any open recalls before presenting any other sales paperwork and pay participating states $1 million.


CarMax utilizes the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) vehicle identification number tool to access recall information. The tool is available to the general public on the NHTSA website.

Read a copy of the settlement here.

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Virginia hemp panel suggests tougher rules on unregulated THC products

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An image of a Delta-8 THC product included in a presentation to a state hemp task force by the Blue Ridge Poison Center.

 

A state task force studying the rise of unregulated cannabis products in Virginia is recommending stricter rules for businesses selling hemp-based delta-8 THC products that technically aren’t marijuana but produce a similar high when eaten or smoked.

Virginia’s piecemeal approach to legalizing marijuana has led to major enforcement gaps, with convenience stores and smoke shops offering a variety of difficult-to-classify products in the continued absence of state-sanctioned retail marijuana sales for recreational use.

This year, the General Assembly created a task force to get a better handle on hemp-derived edibles and inhaled products that, unlike CBD, can get users high, but usually with a milder effect. A lengthy report the task force delivered last month points to possible legislation state lawmakers will take up when they return to Richmond next month.


The task force concluded that businesses that sell delta-8 products should have to apply for a permit and face tougher civil penalties for breaking the rules.

“Edible and inhaled hemp products that are consumed much like marijuana products pose a risk to Virginians, most notably to children, when offered for sale without restriction,” the report says. “A retail permit requirement will likely reduce the occurrence of cannabis-related ‘pop-up shops.’”

The report doesn’t lay out how steep the fines should be for businesses that violate the rules but says existing penalties “are not substantial enough to compel compliance.”

The task force is also recommending an overhaul of how the state regulates all types of cannabis, suggesting a more coordinated strategy instead of having the responsibility split among numerous agencies touching on agriculture, pharmacy, forensic science, and law enforcement. The 16-person task force was made up of state officials from all those areas and the state’s newly formed Cannabis Control Authority.

For additional clarity, the report suggests measuring a product’s total THC concentration to determine its legality. Many delta-8 products exist in a legal gray area because many of the state’s cannabis laws are based on measurements of delta-9 THC, the traditional intoxicating element more abundant in marijuana than in hemp. State regulators’ official position is that delta-8 THC in edible or drinkable form is an illegal food adulterant, but it’s unclear how strongly the state is enforcing that interpretation. State regulators’ official position is that delta-8 THC in edible or drinkable form is an illegal food adulterant, but it’s unclear how strongly the state is enforcing that interpretation.

The report says that total THC would help the state draw a clearer distinction between how it treats intoxicating versus non-intoxicating products, no matter which plant they come from or how they’re made.

“The debate of whether cannabis should be legalized in the Commonwealth is a question left up to the General Assembly, and one that this task force takes no position on,” Chief Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Parker Slaybaugh, who chaired the task force, wrote in an introduction to the report.

In a more informal suggestion, task force participants suggested rethinking whether stricter rules on packaging, such as a requirement for child-proof containers, should be implemented to prevent minors from accidentally ingesting high doses of THC. Attorney General Jason Miyares has already issued a warning the state could crack down on “copycat” THC products in packaging made to mimic popular candy and snack brands.

The challenge before the state is figuring out a way to exert tighter control over hemp-derived compounds that can be chemically altered to have intoxicating effects without hurting a hemp industry that has already given a green light to grow the crop for less controversial uses.

According to public comments incorporated into the report, some of the recommendations are likely to face pushback from the hemp and cannabis industries. From the other side, some advocacy groups have pushed the state to go further and consider banning delta-8 products altogether.

The Virginia Catholic Conference pointed to a recent poisoning case in Spotsylvania County, where a mother is facing felony murder and child neglect charges after her 4-year-old son died after eating delta-8 gummies. The mother, Dorothy Clements, told WUSA9 she thought she had bought CBD gummies and didn’t know they contained THC. She and her attorney have said other medical conditions, such as heart problems and obesity, may have played a role in the child’s death.

The Catholic Conference also pointed to an incident in Fairfax County where multiple middle school students needed medical attention after eating delta-8 gummies.

“These repeated instances of harm to children make it abundantly clear that the Virginia General Assembly should consider banning the sale of delta 8 as has been done by at least 12 states,” wrote Tom Intorcio, associate director of the Catholic Conference.

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a national advocacy group for the industry, disagreed, saying intoxicating hemp products should be legal but put under “a stricter regulatory framework akin to adult-use cannabis.”

The Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, or CannaBizVA, said it opposes changing how the state measures THC content because it would move Virginia away from the common legal standard of using delta-9 THC levels to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

 

by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia reports first monkeypox death

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Virginia reported its first death from monkeypox Thursday, one of only 15 that have occurred nationwide since the most recent outbreak began in May.

The Virginia Department of Health said the deceased was an adult resident of the Eastern Health Region, an area encompassing Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore, and the upper peninsulas. No other information is being released.

The death comes as monkeypox, now known as mpox following a World Health Organization recommendation, continues to decline nationwide.

Why is the U.S. shifting away from ‘monkeypox’ to ‘mpox’?

On November 28, the World Health Organization, responsible for assigning names to new and some existing diseases, recommended that “monkeypox” be phased out in favor of “mpox” over the next year.


“When the outbreak of monkeypox expanded earlier this year, racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings, and in some communities was observed and reported,” the WHO wrote in an announcement of the change. “In several meetings, public and private, a number of individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is in the process of updating its web pages to reflect the new terminology.

A virus that can cause fever, chills, and, most prominently, a painful or itchy rash, mpox is spread through close contact. Cases in the current global outbreak have disproportionately occurred among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

In Virginia, 558 cases have been confirmed by VDH since the state announced its first presumed case on May 26. Cases peaked this August, with VDH data showing 63 confirmations in the week ending Aug. 13 and 55 in the week ending Aug. 27.

“The overall epidemiological curve … definitely has trended downward pretty steadily since the late summer,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, deputy state epidemiologist and deputy director of Virginia’s Office of Epidemiology. “In recent weeks, the case counts have been quite low. And that’s true nationwide.”

Over 94% of Virginia mpox cases have been among men. Over three-quarters have affected people between the ages of 20 and 39. Black people have been the most impacted racial/ethnic group, representing 44% of Virginia cases, followed by white people at 25%.

“Relatively speaking, there have been a small number of deaths compared to the number of cases,” said Forlano.

Vaccination

The primary vaccine being used to inoculate people against mpox is the two-dose Jynneos, developed by a Danish manufacturer to treat smallpox.

Since the beginning of the current outbreak, Virginia has loosened eligibility rules for the vaccine as the federal government has pushed more Jynneos to the state. Initially, the vaccine was only available through local health departments to people who had been exposed to the virus or were close contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases.

Most recently, VDH made the vaccine available to people of any sexual orientation or gender who have had anonymous or multiple sexual partners in the prior two weeks, sex workers, and staff at establishments where sexual activity occurs.

“In the beginning with something like this, particularly when there’s some limitation on supply, public health needs to focus the vaccine effort on those who are at highest risk of illness and/or severe complications from the disease,” said Forlano. “As that supply and demand curve settled out, we were able to expand it.”

Forlano said she believes Virginia currently has sufficient Jynneos supply to meet demand.

Vaccination numbers have also declined in recent months, along with case numbers.

According to VDH, anyone exposed to mpox should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The agency operates a dedicated website on the virus here.

 

by Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Parental notification in Loudoun schools and more Va. headlines

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The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• Fresh off a hard-fought election win, Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger wants to fill a new “battleground” leadership position for the U.S. House Democrats. “We have a front-row seat to the concerns of swing voters and voters from various backgrounds and political viewpoints.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

• The Loudoun County School Board approved a policy requiring parental notification for sexually explicit reading assignments.—Washington Post

• Warrenton’s interim town manager says the town Planning Commission violated state law when it chose to indefinitely delay a vote on a plan for an Amazon data center instead of voting it up or down.—Prince William Times


• Officials say they have no leads in the theft of a lynching memorial that was recently put up in Wise County.—Bristol Now

• “The race is on to save a popular gamebird in Virginia.”—WFXR

 

by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia regulators to consider changes to menhaden fishing regulations

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Virginia regulators will consider changes to commercial menhaden fishing in the Chesapeake Bay following recreational anglers’ requests to end the fishery.

Among the changes, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will take up are new regulations creating a no-fishing buffer one nautical mile wide around Virginia shorelines and Virginia Beach and a half-nautical mile wide around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Another proposal would expand the days around holidays when fishing is prohibited.

The proposals follow repeated requests from the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association to stop menhaden fishing in the Bay, including a petition of 11,000 signatures that was presented to the office of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin earlier this year.

“The proposed regulations are a good start, but much more is needed,” said VSSA President Steve Atkinson. However, he said, “The Youngkin administration, for whatever reason, was not willing to do what our petition asked them to do, which was to move the fishery out of the bay until science can show that it is not causing harm.”


Reedville-based Omega Protein, the lone player in the Bay’s menhaden reduction fishery, which processes catches into fishmeal or fish oil, says the new regulations take away available fishing grounds that include uninhabited areas. Taking operations completely out of the Bay into less safe conditions in the ocean would ultimately force the company to stop operating.

“It’s death by 1,000 cuts,” said Omega Protein spokesperson Ben Landry.

Legislators are also getting involved in the issue. Earlier this month, Republican Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, pre-filed legislation for the 2023 General Assembly session seeking a two-year moratorium on menhaden reduction fishing “in any territorial sea or inland waters of the Commonwealth” while the state studies the impacts of the fishery. A separate bill would also allow the VMRC to make changes to fishery regulations outside the October to December window that state law currently allows; a protection Omega sought when the commission took over management of the fishery from the General Assembly in 2020.

Regulatory proposals

The regulatory proposals come after two net spills by the company over the summer, one of which washed thousands of menhaden ashore in Northampton County. 

With the new one-mile buffers, Omega Protein will have to deploy its nets in deeper waters, which will decrease the likelihood that they will get snagged on the Bay or ocean floor, explained Pat Geer, chief of the fisheries management division at VMRC. Fewer days for fishing around holidays are also intended to prevent fish spills from reaching the coastline during high-tourism days.

The regulations are a happy balance between what the recreational anglers want and the fishing operations want, Geer said.

“That’s what our job is,” Geer said. “To do this as the best benefit to everybody.”

A complete removal of menhaden fishing operations from the Bay isn’t being proposed because there is no evidence that menhaden are being overfished, Geer said.

Anglers have argued overfishing of menhaden in the Bay has led to the depletion of the striped bass population there.

Geer noted that recent coastwide stock assessments of striped bass by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission show that the population is on track to recover following quota reductions and time for spawning stock to replenish. The same commission, which oversees fisheries on the East Coast, also increased the coastwide quota limits for menhaden this month because of data showing the population is healthy.

But those assessments don’t provide specific numbers for striped bass and menhaden populations within the Chesapeake Bay. The ASMFC has imposed a 51,000-ton limit on menhaden catches within the Bay, but a larger study of the population there would likely take years to conduct, said Geer.

Not enough, but also too much

Atkinson of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association said while he is pleased the VMRC is taking some action, the one-mile buffer is not enough to conserve menhaden. A two-mile buffer would be more protective, he said.

While striped bass populations are recovering, Atkinson said Virginia should be “extra careful in the Bay” to make sure there is enough forage fish.

Landry said that Omega already follows a one-mile buffer around the Eastern Shore and a three-mile buffer around Virginia Beach. A reduction in days to fish around holidays also “takes food out of the mouth of our fishermen,” he said.

Landry added that the Youngkin administration granted a meeting with Omega Protein to discuss the proposed regulations after decisions on them had already been made, and not in “real-time.” He said the Youngkin administration had relied on data that said Omega Protein caught 6% of its hauls within one mile of shoreline despite National Marine Fisheries Service data showing 15% of the catch was within that buffer.

Data used to determine the percentage of fishing nets that would be displaced by the one-mile buffer are from Captain’s Daily Fishing Reports, documentation from the VMRC shows.

“It just seems that this is a concerted effort by wealthy recreational fishermen, and it’s harming blue-collar commercial watermen in Virginia,” Landry said. “It’s really sad.”

Youngkin Press Secretary Macaulay Porter said the governor has made the Bay one of his top priorities.

“Since day one, the Administration and VMRC have been engaged with all stakeholders from Virginia’s commercial and recreational fishing sectors about these issues and the importance of ensuring commonsense solutions for protecting and cleaning up the Bay,” Porter said. “We will continue to look for solutions that protect the health of the Bay and all of Virginia’s economic activities that rely on the Bay.”

Legislative proposals

Anderson said his bill to halt reduction fishing in the Bay for two years while the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality studies its environmental impacts is intended to address a lack of scientific information.

“We have to have metrics to see what’s going on,” Anderson said. “If I’m wrong, then Omega will never have to hear from me again.”

The delegate also wants to expand VMRC’s ability to change regulations outside the end of the year to allow the oversight body to take action following emergencies such as net spills.

“No other wildlife management (plan) says you can create regulations only three months out of the year,” Anderson said.

While supporting the legislation’s goals, Atkinson noted that bills have a difficult journey to pass and argued the VMRC has the authority to issue a moratorium on the fishery.

Landry noted that the three-month window for changing regulations was part of a deal negotiated under the administration of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam to allow the business to make any adjustments in advance of its fishing season.

The VMRC will meet Tuesday in Fort Monroe.

 

by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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66th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
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Kickoff for tree sales — Boy Scout Troop 52 is ready to help you find that perfect tree. We are located at the Royal Plaza in front of Rural King. We will be selling trees[...]
7:30 pm “Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
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"Can't Feel At Home" @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” an original play by Dr John T Glick. The story of families displaced from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930’s to allow for the construction of Shenandoah National Park and[...]
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3:00 pm “Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” @ Court Square Theater
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"Can't Feel At Home" @ Court Square Theater
“Can’t Feel At Home” an original play by Dr John T Glick. The story of families displaced from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930’s to allow for the construction of Shenandoah National Park and[...]
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Christmas Tree Sales @ Royal Plaza Shopping Center
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Kickoff for tree sales — Boy Scout Troop 52 is ready to help you find that perfect tree. We are located at the Royal Plaza in front of Rural King. We will be selling trees[...]
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