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After controversial start of charity poker, Virginia might change the rules yet again



During a recent hearing on charity poker in Virginia’s General Assembly, one state senator said she was under the impression a bill to rewrite the state’s poker rules wasn’t all that concerning because the games wouldn’t involve too much money.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Loudoun, asked if her understanding — that charity poker players would pay a flat fee of no more than $8 for a seat at games that could never involve large amounts of cash — was correct.

It was not.

“Are people able to put major dollars down, and we could have a $100,000 night, every night?” Boysko asked.

Former delegate Dave Albo, a lobbyist representing the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, which is pushing to expand into poker, told Boysko the bill puts no hard limit on how high the stakes can get.

“That is correct. There is no cap,” Albo answered, adding that his client didn’t want a cap in the bill because casino poker doesn’t have a cap.

New poker regulations sent to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for review a week ago would specifically prohibit casino-style cash games like the ones Albo was describing.

But a pair of bills advancing in the General Assembly would override that rule before it takes effect, allowing a bigger, more lucrative form of charity poker less than two years after Virginia’s watchdog agency concluded the state wasn’t supervising the charitable gaming industry closely enough.

The exchange over what the new bills would or wouldn’t do underscores the persistent confusion that has surrounded Virginia’s effort to establish a charity poker industry. The multi-year initiative has been checkered by lawsuits, open feuding between a state board and a state regulatory agency that are supposed to work in tandem, and controversy over an industry being allowed to write its own rules for a new money-making venture.

Amid the regulatory chaos, unlicensed poker halls began opening in Virginia in 2021, but the General Assembly shut them down last year under threat of $50,000 fines.

New rules being finalized by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) would allow those facilities to reopen in the future with clearer limits on what type of poker can be played. The pending regulations only allow traditional poker tournaments that require players to pay a fixed entry fee for a finite amount of chips. They also prohibit cash games that allow players to keep buying more chips if they run out.

The bills pending in the legislature, which are up for final votes in both chambers Tuesday, would upend that process by sanctioning cash games for the first time and letting would-be poker operators start applying for permits as soon as July 15.

Representatives for the charitable gaming industry, best known for the once-popular bingo halls that have been fading from relevance, have pitched the poker expansion as a way for charities to make up for lost bingo money and withstand the hit expected from the arrival of Virginia’s first-ever commercial casinos.

“As bell bottoms, mullets and leg warmers have faded away, so has the art of playing bingo,” Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, the patron of the House bill, said on the floor Monday. Brewer and others have argued that because the bill sets a maximum starting bet of $5, pots are unlikely to reach  the high levels some legislators fear.

The new poker bills, proponents say, are a way to create a workable system for something the General Assembly already authorized years ago.

“Without this bill, we’re going to get completely put out of business,” Matt Benka, another lobbyist for the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, said at a Senate hearing. “If we don’t do something this year, the only people that are going to be operating are the skill games, the casinos and everybody else. And local charities are going to be out.”

The comment about the demise of Virginia charities drew pushback from Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, who has been pushing for a brighter regulatory line between bona fide charities and charity-related entities that seem to exist primarily to benefit from state-sanctioned gambling.

“Maybe your charities might be out because all they’re doing is playing poker,” Reeves said to Benka. “But I take exception to that.”

After the General Assembly legalized charity poker in 2020, there was major disagreement over whether legislators intended to only allow occasional tournaments or full-time poker halls running cash games.

Contrasting views on that question and others caused a prolonged clash between Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board, led by insiders with a financial stake in the poker industry the board was setting up, and regulators with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services who were concerned the board was pushing beyond what the law allowed.

The General Assembly tried to hit reset on charity poker last year by passing a law closing down unlicensed poker rooms that had been playing cash games, stripping the Charitable Gaming Board of its regulatory power, and asking VDACS to craft a new set of poker regulations without the board having the final say.

However, the pending charity poker bills would move the state closer to what the board tried to achieve in the first place.

At recent committee hearings, Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who recently helped lead a state review of charitable gaming, acknowledged the poker bill, as originally drafted, seemed to be “going in a direction that would be contrary to legislation and the research that we’ve done over the last couple of years.”

“To me, the scope of this is far beyond what we talked about before,” Bell said at an initial subcommittee hearing on the bill. “And I think we’re getting into dangerous territory where we’re really creating a pretty large gambling operation.”

Bell’s opposition softened as the bill was scaled back in both legislative chambers, and he later said the amended version fell within his “comfort zone.” Instead of allowing 10 tables at each poker operation, the amended proposal now allows four tables and would limit the halls to operating eight hours per day, four days a week.

Another limitation added to the bill would only allow poker for charitable organizations that were qualified to conduct charitable bingo for at least one year between July 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2022. In the Senate, that amendment was pitched to ensure the benefit would go to existing charities facing declining bingo revenue instead of allowing new “pop-up” poker operations.

But in the House of Delegates, the same provision caused concern that the bill would allow established charitable gaming entities to benefit while preventing future charities from having the same rights to make money off poker.

Under questioning from Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, a representative from VDACS acknowledged that the cash poker bill would exclude any charities formed after 2022 and preexisting charities that offered electronic gaming machines, not bingo.

“To me, that means that this is tailored to a certain subset of folks that could take advantage of this,” said Krizek, who chaired the recent General Assembly committee tasked with looking into charitable gaming. “And it’s really not fair across the board.”

Krizek, who has urged colleagues to wait to see how charity poker tournaments play out before expanding to cash games, also noted the bill would potentially require VDACS to start issuing poker permits so fast that the permits might go out before the regulations are in place. The bill requires VDACS to make a permit application public by July 15 but gives the agency until Sept. 15 to finish the regulations. By law, the agency has 45 days to act on completed applications, meaning anyone who applied in mid-July could potentially get a permit before Sept. 15.

Questioning timing and speed were key legal issues in the dispute over whether poker halls could open without any permits or regulations.

Chuck Lessin, the chairman of the Charitable Gaming Board and longtime operator of a Richmond bingo hall, argued that facilities like his could start playing poker without a regulatory system because the original poker bill didn’t explicitly require that the operations wait for a permit.

Albo has publicly described the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association as representing more than 30 bingo groups across the state, but the organization has strong ties to Lessin. It is registered at the same South Richmond address where Lessin has run bingo and poker games, and Lessin is listed as the group’s principal officer, according to state lobbying disclosures.

Lessin sued VDACS over his permitting dispute. When the lawsuit failed, he opened Pop’s Poker anyway, though he eventually shuttered it due to the ongoing battle that has played out in both the courts and the legislature. A state watchdog report issued in 2021 concluded that Lessin’s failure to recuse himself from crafting poker regulations in which he had a financial interest damaged “the integrity of the board and the overall commonwealth’s charitable gaming oversight.”

Lessin called the report “BS” and has repeatedly insisted the state is cracking down on smaller players at the behest of deep-pocketed casino interests trying to eliminate competition.

Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers closely involved in charitable gaming reform called for Lessin to be removed as head of the Charitable Gaming Board. Lessin was not removed.

Proponents of the poker bills have stressed that the legislation would require at least 30% of gross poker receipts to go toward charitable purposes, but skeptics have pointed out that money can also be put toward property expenses like rent and building upkeep. Without clear separation between charitable groups and their landlords, a state report last year concluded that financial conflicts could exist where high-rent agreements can be used to limit the amount of money left over for charitable programs.

In a statement, a Virginia Charitable Bingo Association spokesman said the group’s members were “happy to lend our combined decades of charitable gaming expertise to Virginia legislators in the crafting of this legislation.”

“As an organization, our hope is that this legislation will result in charities that participate in gaming being able to replace the losses they incurred from the decline in popularity and profitability of bingo,” said VCBA spokesman Liam Gray.

Tad Berman, a citizen gambling enthusiast who regularly attends public meetings and has been sharply critical of the Charitable Gaming Board, urged the General Assembly not to reward an industry that “opened these card rooms illegally and without permits.”

“As a Virginian, as much as I might love poker and love gambling, that does not supersede my responsibility to make sure that these things are run legally and properly,” Berman said at a recent committee meeting. “And these people did not do that.”

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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Board of Health members express concern about lack of state health commissioner



Members of Virginia’s State Board of Health expressed worries Thursday about the ongoing lack of a state health commissioner after the General Assembly failed to reappoint former commissioner Dr. Colin Greene in February.

“Several of us are very concerned about the delay in the appointment of a qualified leader,” said Board Vice Chair Wendy Klein of the Medical Society of Virginia.

Board member and veterinarian Jim Shuler urged the appointment of a commissioner with “a strong background as a medical physician and a strong background in public health.”

State law requires that the commissioner be a physician licensed to practice medicine in Virginia and certified by a recognized board overseeing a primary care specialty, as well as someone “experienced in public health duties, sanitary science, and environmental health.”

In written remarks sent to the board chair, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources John Littel said Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration expects to complete interviews for the commissioner position by the end of the week, and he is “hopeful the governor will make a decision shortly.”

While Littel was expected to appear in person at the board’s Thursday meeting, his letter said he was unable to attend “due to a commitment to the governor.” Schedules from the governor’s office show he was slated to appear alongside Youngkin at a listening session on fentanyl held at a Bristol high school Thursday morning.

The health commissioner seat has been empty since Feb. 10, after Democrats in the state Senate refused to confirm the appointment of Greene, a former Army doctor, and local health district director. Greene had come under fire following a Washington Post story detailing his skepticism of the links between racism and health disparities, particularly regarding maternal health and mortality. Former state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, in a floor speech on Feb. 7 said Greene’s continued leadership was “having a chilling effect” on state public health priorities identified by the Legislative Black Caucus.

In the absence of Greene or a replacement, Virginia Department of Health Chief Operating Officer Christopher Lindsay has been acting as the top official in the agency but is precluded from assuming the commissioner role by the state code’s requirements for the position.

“I’m there simply as the chief operating officer to continue to provide that day-to-day leadership for the agency in consultation with the secretary of health,” he told reporters Thursday. Even in the absence of a commissioner, he said, “I believe we’ve continued to thrive.”

The lack of a commissioner doesn’t prevent the State Board of Health from operating, said several members of the administration.

Between the Virginia Department of Health, Board of Health, and health and human resources secretariat, “Everything is covered,” said Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources Leah Mills.

Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jason Miyares, said in an email that “no board action requires approval by the commissioner.”

In an interview, Shuler, who was appointed to the board by former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, said he hopes the next state health commissioner will be “apolitical,” adding, “Health and disease, it doesn’t ask you if you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

He said the board has “been in the dark” on the commissioner selection process. And while he acknowledged the body has not previously been involved in vetting candidates for the role, he said that “anybody in their right mind in the political world should realize that input should be accepted.”


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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Youngkin signs bill creating $300 tax credit for gun safes



Firearm safety is about to get a little more affordable in Virginia after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bipartisan bill creating a $300 tax credit meant to reimburse people who buy gun safes or other lockable gun containers.

The legislation approved by the governor last week was the only gun safety measure that passed the politically divided General Assembly, drawing broad support as a small step to encourage gun safety without imposing any new rules on gun owners.

“This bill is not about requiring people to do anything,” Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, the bill’s sponsor, said at a committee hearing earlier this year. “It’s not about banning anything. It’s not taking anything away. This bill simply gives a tax credit to try and incentivize something that many law-abiding gun owners already do.”

[Read more: Most gun storage bills appear doomed in Virginia General Assembly]

The nonrefundable credit can be claimed on state tax returns starting in the 2024 tax season. It can only be applied to eligible equipment purchases from federally licensed firearm dealers. The credit cannot be applied to the costs of purchasing a firearm itself.

In a rare show of cross-factional unity on gun policy, the legislation was backed by both the National Rifle Association and gun control groups like Giffords, Brady, and Everytown for Gun Safety.

The total amount of tax credits allowable under the new law is capped at $5 million per year. According to the legislation, the credit will be granted on a “first-come, first-served basis.”


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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Youngkin administration now requires felons to apply to get their voting rights back



In a shift from Virginia’s last three governors, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration is requiring people with felony convictions to proactively apply to regain their voting rights upon release from prison and is not automatically restoring rights for any group of offenders.

In a letter sent to a Democratic state senator this week in response to questions about an apparent slowdown in the pace of rights restoration grants after Youngkin took office, Secretary of the Commonwealth Kay Coles James said the administration’s policy is to give former inmates an application upon release that explains how they can ask for their civil rights back.

“Our website was updated to include that application are considered individually and not granted on an automatic basis,” Coles James, whose office oversees rights restoration, wrote Wednesday to Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, who chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

The Virginia Constitution gives governors broad authority to set their own policies in granting or rejecting rights restoration requests. On Thursday, the Youngkin administration would not elaborate on the governor’s specific criteria to make those decisions.

Spruill promised to “fight back against the rollback of these rights.”

“Once you have served your time, your rights should be restored for non-violent felons. Period,” Spruill said in a written statement. “I will fight against this secret process and secret set of rules that the governor is using to decide who can be denied the right to vote.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which supports a less strict rights restoration system, said the Youngkin administration “appears content to leave Virginians in the dark.”

“The Youngkin administration’s failure to disclose the criteria by which it will review incarcerated people’s applications for the restoration of their voting rights is hugely concerning,” said ACLU of Virginia Policy Director Ashna Khanna.

Virginia is one of just a few states with a constitutional rule that automatically disenfranchises people with felony convictions unless a governor chooses to restore their rights.

Youngkin restored rights to more than 4,300 Virginians in his first year in office, according to an annual report on criminal justice clemency actions. That’s roughly in line with how many rights restorations former  Democratic Govs. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner granted in their entire four-year terms, but it puts Youngkin well behind the pace set by more recent Democratic Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam. McAuliffe restored rights to more than 173,000 people. Northam granted more than 126,000 rights restorations. Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who ramped up rights restorations while he was in office, approved more than 8,000.

Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said the governor “firmly believes in the importance of second chances for Virginians who have made mistakes but are working to move forward as active members of our citizenry.”

“The Constitution places the responsibility to consider Virginians for restoration in the hands of the Governor alone, and he does not take this lightly,” Porter said. “Restoration of rights are assessed on an individual basis according to the law and take into consideration the unique elements of each situation, practicing grace for those who need it and ensuring public safety for our community and families.”

In recent years, there has appeared to be a growing bipartisan consensus that a fundamental issue like voting rights shouldn’t be left to the whims of individual governors.

Democrats have pushed to make the rights restoration process as nearly automatic as legally possible, arguing that everyone who has reentered society deserves a say in the democratic process. Some Republicans, particularly those more open to criminal justice reform, agree the process should be more forgiving. The GOP’s tough-on-crime wing has insisted the loss of civil rights is an appropriate consequence for felony offenses that may or may not bring substantial prison time, and some Republican lawmakers have insisted on having rights restoration rules in place that take into account the severity of someone’s crime and whether they still owe money to the courts or their victim.

The rights restoration form being used by the Youngkin administration specifically asks applicants if they have been convicted of a violent crime or still owe fines, fees or restitution.

In a statement, House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said he was “pleased that there is some modicum of scrutiny as to whether someone has fulfilled their obligations to their victims and society.”

The Republican-led House of Delegates has blocked efforts to change the constitution to make the rights restoration process automatic in recent legislative sessions, despite several Republican delegates co-sponsoring the proposal.

Since McDonnell’s term, some former inmates returning to society have automatically gotten their rights back.

In 2013, McDonnell announced he would automatically restore rights to nonviolent felons who had paid off any fees or restitution owed in connection to the crime they committed. In 2016, the Democratic McAuliffe took a dramatic next step, signing an executive order that restored rights to more than 206,000 felons at once, characterizing it as a move to rectify the state’s history of suppressing the Black vote.

McAuliffe’s order applied to an unprecedented number of former inmates regardless of whether they had asked to have their rights restored. Its broad scope led to data processing errors that resulted in erroneous rights restorations to some people still incarcerated for serious offenses, including 132 sex offenders who had finished their criminal sentences but were still civilly confined because authorities had deemed them a danger to the public.

Northam largely continued the McAuliffe-era policy and took additional steps to streamline the process.

The legality of automatic restoration policies was at the heart of a high-profile court battle between Republican leaders in 2016.

After McAuliffe’s executive order, former House Speaker Bill Howell filed a lawsuit alleging the governor had overstepped the limits of his power. In a 4-3 ruling, a majority of Supreme Court of Virginia justices agreed, saying McAuliffe’s approach was so broad it had effectively nullified a constitutional rule.

The Supreme Court found that governors must conduct an individualized review of each person eligible for rights restoration, a finding Coles James referenced in her letter to Spruill.

“Every applicant is different,” Coles James wrote.

Voting rights have been the primary focus in debates about Virginia’s rights restoration process, but other rights are also involved. People who have had their rights restored also regain the ability to run for public office, serve on juries and act as a notary public. A certificate of restoration also enables formerly incarcerated people to ask a court to restore their gun rights.


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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia environmentalists disagree with DEQ’s Norfolk Southern fine



Virginia environmentalists are frustrated by the state Department of Environmental Quality’s $27,000 fine of Norfolk Southern for a 2020 train derailment.

The derailment caused 16 boxcars to spill almost 1,400 tons of coal into the Roanoke River. The town of Salem’s water plant had to halt intake for about a month over concerns of possible water contamination.

Tim Cywinski, communications manager for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the fine is disheartening because it does not deter derailments from happening again. He feels the state failed to take certain things into consideration while determining this fine.

“I think they should have taken into account that Norfolk Southern is one of the biggest and most profitable train and freight services industries in the United States,” Cywinski pointed out. “And to give them a fine that is less than the price of a new car is honestly laughable and just offensive to the fact that it impacted the people and environment of Salem, Virginia.”

Cywinski added that state and federal protections need to be implemented to hold better companies accountable and prevent such derailments from happening again.

Derailments are not uncommon. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were more than 1,100 derailments in 2020, a number which has fluctuated in the few years since.

Since Norfolk Southern first came under fire for a crash involving hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio, numerous railroad safety groups have been working to improve the industry’s safety regulations.

Ann Creasy, acting deputy director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said new regulations need to go hand in hand with levying appropriate fines against companies to deter future incidents.

“It’s really about corporate accountability of ensuring that safety and workers and proactive measures are invested in on the front end,” Creasy contended.

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate called the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill aims to boost safety requirements for trains transporting hazardous materials. Hearings have been held and are currently under review by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

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Feds identify ‘significant’ ongoing concerns with Virginia special education



After failing to meet federal requirements to support students with disabilities in 2020, the Virginia Department of Education will remain under further review by the federal government after continuing to fall short in monitoring and responding to complaints against school districts, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Education.

“We have significant new or continued areas of concerns with the State’s implementation of general supervision, dispute resolution, and confidentiality requirements” of IDEA, stated the Feb. 17 letter from the Office of Special Education Programs.

The U.S. Department of Education first flagged its concerns in a June 2020 “Differentiated Monitoring and Support Report” on how Virginia was complying with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act following a 2019 visit by the Office of Special Education Programs.

IDEA, passed in 1975, requires all students with disabilities to receive a “free appropriate public education.”

The Virginia Department of Education disputed some of the federal government’s findings in a June 19, 2020 letter.

State officials says special education is a ‘core priority.’ Parents and advocates beg to differ.

Samantha Hollins, assistant superintendent of special education and student services, wrote that verbal complaints “are addressed via technical assistance phone calls to school divisions” and staff members “regularly work to resolve parent concerns” by providing “guidance documentation” and acting as intermediaries between school employees and parents.

However, some parents and advocates say systemic problems in how the state supports families of children with disabilities persist. At the same time, on June 15, 2022, a state report found one of Virginia’s most critical teacher shortage areas is in special education.

“Appropriate policies and procedures for both oversight and compliance, and their implementation, are crucial to ensuring that children with disabilities and their families are afforded their rights under IDEA and that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided,” said the Feb. 17 letter from the Office of Special Education Programs.

While the U.S. Department of Education wrote that it believes the Virginia Department of Education has resolved some of the problems identified in 2020, including resolving complaints filed by parents and creating a mediation plan, it said it has identified “new and continued areas of concern” and intends to continue monitoring Virginia’s provision of services for students with disabilities.

Among those are ongoing concerns over the state’s complaint and due process systems that “go beyond the originally identified concerns” originally found. The Office of Special Education Programs writes it has concluded Virginia “does not have procedures and practices that are reasonably designed to ensure a timely resolution process” for due process complaints.

The department also said it has concerns over the practices of at least five school districts that are inconsistent with IDEA’s regulations.

The decision comes after the U.S. Department of Education announced in November that Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school district, failed to provide thousands of students with disabilities with the educational services they were entitled to during remote learning at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virginia is also facing a federal class-action lawsuit over claims that its Department of Education and Fairfax County Public Schools violated the rights of disabled students under IDEA.

Parents involved in the case said the Virginia Department of Education and Fairfax school board “have actively cultivated an unfair and biased” hearing system to oversee challenges to local decisions about disabled students, according to the suit.

Charles Pyle, a Virginia Department of Education spokesman, said in an email that “VDOE continues to work with our federal partners to ensure Virginia’s compliance with all federal requirements, as we have since the ‘Differentiated Monitoring and Support Report’ was issued in June 2020.”

The federal government said if Virginia could not demonstrate full compliance with IDEA requirements, it could impose conditions on grant funds the state receives to support early intervention and special education services for children with disabilities and their families.

Last year, Virginia received almost $13.5 billion in various grants linked to IDEA, according to a July 1, 2022, letter to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who resigned on March 9.

James Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, blasted Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration after the findings were released.

“While the Youngkin administration has been busy waging culture wars in schools, his administration has failed to meet basic compliance requirements with the U.S. Department of Education for students with disabilities,” Fedderman said. “This failure threatens our federal funding for students with disabilities and is a disservice to Virginia families who need critical special needs support.”


by Nathaniel Cline, 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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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No losses, no gains for Virginia farms and farmland in 2022



The number of farms and farm acreage in Virginia remained flat in 2022 despite small overall decreases in both farms and farmland nationally, according to new U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

According to the USDA’s most recent Farms and Land in Farms report, Virginia’s total number of farms remained stable at 41,500 in 2022 — the same as in 2021. Farm acreage also didn’t change between 2021 and 2022, remaining at 7.7 million acres overall.

“We’re holding steady,” said Tony Banks, a senior assistant director with the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

However, Banks said he doesn’t believe the lack of change in 2022 reflects the reality on the ground of long-term losses in Virginia farmland. Since 2015, the Virginia Farm Bureau says Virginia farmland has dropped from 8.1 million to 7.7 million acres, with 3,200 farms lost.

“We certainly see farmland for sale every day riding around the state,” he said. “We face tremendous pressure from developers both for residential and commercial properties, highway construction, and solar facilities.”

“These level numbers aside, the statistical reporting may just be an anomaly for us because we’re still losing,” he added.

Herman Ellison, the Virginia statistician for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said the farm and farmland estimates were based on survey data from Virginia farmers.

“The farmers in [Virginia] indicated no changes based on the farmers’ surveys,” he said in an email.

However, he noted, the Virginia Farm Bureau is “in tune with the [Virginia] farmers.”

Banks said much of the concern revolves around the loss of medium-sized farms in Virginia or those that have roughly $500,000 to $1 million in annual revenue. He said those “are disappearing more quickly than the large and small farms,” he said.

Virginia data is in line with what the USDA found for much of the Mid-Atlantic in 2022: Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania also saw no change in the number of farms. West Virginia gained about 200 farms.

Overall, USDA reported the number of farms across the U.S. dropped 0.46% in 2022, from 2,012,050 to 2,002,700. Farm acreage fell 0.21%, from 8,953,000 acres to 8,934,000 acres.

“Even if we didn’t lose any farms, any acreage, that pause or that slowdown in the rate of loss that’s being reported, that’s a welcome breather,” said Banks. “We’ll see what the numbers look like next year.”


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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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National Vietnam Veterans Day @ National Cemetery
Mar 29 @ 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
National Vietnam Veterans Day @ National Cemetery
This event will be held 11:00, National Cemetery, Winchester, Virginia.  It is to honor Vietnam Era Veterans for their service to the country.  It is being conducted by the American Red Cross and the Colonel[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Mar 29 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
5:00 pm No Foolin’ Warren County Rocks @ First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall
No Foolin’ Warren County Rocks @ First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall
Mar 31 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
No Foolin' Warren County Rocks @ First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall
Warren Coalition’s No Foolin’ Warren County Rocks includes a team Scavenger Hunt for prizes! Top teams in each category will receive $25 gift cards for each team member, and the overall championship team will receive[...]
9:00 am Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Apr 1 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Living Water Christian Church will once again be hosting our Pancake Breakfast with the Easter Bunny on April 1, 2023, from 9am – 12pm. Come on out and enjoy a great breakfast, pictures with the[...]
12:00 pm Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 1 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Settle's Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Log Cabin in the Historic Area. Follow your nose to the Log Cabin to see what is cooking on the hearth. Immerse yourself within the 19th century enslaved culture and its foods. Explore the taste[...]
12:00 pm The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 1 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
1:00 pm Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Apr 1 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
New Bluegrass and traditional music jam the first Saturday of each month starting Feb. 4th, from 1pm till 4pm. All levels of playing invited to attend.
2:00 pm Community Easter Egg Hunt @ Fantasyland
Community Easter Egg Hunt @ Fantasyland
Apr 1 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Community Easter Egg Hunt @ Fantasyland
Pre-Registration begins March 15th! Provide Name, Age, Child/Pup, Email and Phone in one of three ways: FACEBOOK MESSAGE Email Sheree Jennings at OR call the office at 540-635-2825
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Apr 5 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
10:00 am Patriot’s Day @ Warren Heritage Society
Patriot’s Day @ Warren Heritage Society
Apr 8 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Patriot's Day @ Warren Heritage Society
Join the fun with reenactors, a blacksmith, the outdoor kitchen, our smokehouse, and tours all day of Balthis House. Sons of the American Revolution will fire muskets at 3 pm. Free event for all ages![...]