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AG Herring comments on the passage of his “pattern or practice” bill out of both the House and the Senate

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RICHMOND (September 10, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following the passage of his bill out of both the House and the Senate that will give the Office of the Attorney General “pattern or practice” investigation authority, the most important measure in his policing and criminal justice reform legislative package.

“Giving the attorney general’s office the ability to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations will allow my office to work as a third party to help identify and put a stop to unconstitutional policing practices,” said Attorney General Herring. “While we used to be able to rely on the federal government to help with these kinds of investigations, under the Trump Administration they have all but ceased, which is why it is crucial that my office is given this authority. I want to thank my partners in both the House and the Senate for their hard work in helping to get this significant legislation passed.”

Enabling the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations (HB5072 Delegate Alfonso Lopez; SB5024 Senator Louise Lucas). This bill will give the Attorney General the authority to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration, the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S. House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.

Ahead of the special session, Attorney General Herring outlined his criminal justice and policing reform legislative priorities. In addition to giving the Attorney General the authority to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations, his priorities include:

• Police Reform

• Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training

• Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within a year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General

• Current law enforcement officers must-have 21st-century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum

• Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession

• Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions

• Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification

• Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force

• Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers

• Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics

• Empower localities to establish citizen review panels

• Require the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers

• Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions

• Criminal Justice Reform

• Cash bail reform

• Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process

• Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions

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Community-driven report reflects recommendations of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group

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Governor Ralph Northam has released the Administration’s report on the impact of legalizing adult-use marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The report is the final product of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, and it results from a diverse, stakeholder-driven process that involved community leaders, healthcare professionals, policy experts, and government officials. This month-long effort was a key part of marijuana decriminalization legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and follows Governor Northam’s recent announcement that he intends to advance marijuana legalization in Virginia.

“We will advance new laws to make sure that our Commonwealth legalizes marijuana the right way,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has studied the experience of other states and this report lays out a path forward that leads with social equity, public health, and public safety.”

The comprehensive report includes nearly 400 pages of meeting minutes and outlines various aspects of marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth, including taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing and regulation, and consumer safety. It also provides additional details on the five key principles that Governor Northam wants to see in any final legalization bill:

  • Social equity, racial equity, and economic equity. Marijuana prohibition historically has been based on discrimination, and criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities. Legislation should focus on undoing these harms by including initiatives such as social equity license programs, access to capital, community reinvestment, and sealing or expunging records of past marijuana-related convictions.
  • Public health. Legislation should include substance abuse prevention efforts in schools and communities. 
  • Protections for young people. As a pediatrician, Governor Northam will require any legislation that includes protections for Virginia’s youth, including age limits, mandatory ID checks, and education campaigns. 
  • Upholding the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. Legislation should be aligned with the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act prohibiting indoor tobacco use, which Governor Northam championed as a state Senator. 
  • Data collection. Legislation should ensure Virginia collects appropriate and ongoing information on safety, health, and equity.

The Virginia Marijuana Work Group consulted with dozens of subject-matter experts in compiling its recommendations, including organizations focused on ensuring social and racial equity, such as the Minority Cannabis Business Association, NoLef Turns, and Decriminalize Virginia. Health experts, including public health policy consultants and practicing physicians, were extensively involved, and the team worked closely with government officials from states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Washington, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

The Work Group was led by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security. The group held a total of 15 public meetings between July and October 2020.

The full report (482 pages) is available here. Additional information about the Virginia Marijuana Work Group and its membership can be found here.

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Governor Northam hosts 343rd annual Indian tax tribute ceremony, commemorates Native American Heritage Month in Virginia

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On November 25, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam hosted a small delegation from the Mattaponi Indian Tribe and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe at the Executive Mansion in Richmond for the 343rd annual Indian tax tribute ceremony. This follows a proclamation issued by the Governor earlier this month designating November as Native American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Photo courtesy of Governor Northam.

The Indian tax tribute ceremony dates back to 1677 with the signing of the Treaty of Middle Plantation between a group of tribes and the Virginia Corporation—the predecessor to the Commonwealth of Virginia—establishing the first reservations in the United States. Each year, the chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes honor the spirit of the treaty with a symbolic tax of wild game and hand-crafted gifts presented to the Governor of Virginia in return for continued possession of their tribal lands. The ceremony is the oldest continuing nation-to-nation ceremony in the country. While song and dance are a central component of the annual event, this year’s ceremony did not include these traditions to protect the health and safety of all participants amid the pandemic. Photos from this year’s ceremony can be found below.

“Virginia’s native people enrich our Commonwealth with their vibrant heritage, traditions, and continuing contributions,” said Governor Northam. “Native American Heritage Month is a celebration of the resilience of our tribal communities, and an opportunity to reflect on how we can better address the unique challenges they face and recommit to cultivating strong government-to-government relations with Virginia’s Indian tribes. Even during these difficult and uncertain times, let us remember that our diverse backgrounds only strengthen the Commonwealth we love.”

Governor Northam also released a video message to mark Native American Heritage Month in Virginia, in which he highlights a portrait from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that was unveiled in the Executive Mansion in 2019 depicting former Chief of the Pamunkey Walter Bradby wearing traditional regalia. The work is by Ethan Brown, one of his descendants.

“Virginia Indians are an integral part of our past, present, and future,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “We are committed to working with Virginia’s Indian tribes to protect the health and vitality of these communities and ensure that Virginia remains an inclusive place for all who call the Commonwealth home.”

Virginia is home to 11 state-recognized Indian tribes, which include the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, Mattaponi Indian Tribe, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Tribe, Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia, Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Seven of these tribes are federally recognized.

In October, Governor Northam designated October 12 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Commonwealth, the first such proclamation in Virginia history. And last year, Governor Northam announced a land acquisition by the Chickahominy Tribe and signed a land trust agreement with the Mattaponi Indian Tribe, two significant actions that help to rectify past wrongs when the Commonwealth allowed their reservation land to be encroached upon and ensure the sustainability of Virginia’s Indian tribes for future generations.

The Virginia Department of Education has instructional resources on the history of Native Americans in the Commonwealth available here. To learn more about Virginia’s Indian Tribes, visit commonwealth.virginia.gov/virginia-indians.

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Ayala, Guzmán champion equality, representation in lieutenant governor bid

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Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzmán, two delegates who represent Prince William County, have formally announced a run for lieutenant governor. If successful, Ayala or Guzmán would become the first Latina to serve in the role.

Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzmán were among the first Latina representatives elected to the state legislature during the wave of Democratic victories in 2017. Ayala and Guzmán ran for office to provide diversity in state government that more accurately represents the population in Prince William County where a quarter of residents are Latino; almost 25% are Black and nearly 10% are Asian, according to the U.S. Census.

‘A bridge-builder’

Ayala was born in Alexandria to a Salvadorian father and Irish-Lebanese mother. Before becoming a state delegate, she volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and founded the Prince William Chapter of the National Organization for Women. She also was vice president of the organization at the state level. Ayala defeated eight-year incumbent Republican Rich Anderson to represent District 51 in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Ayala said she first considered running for lieutenant governor in 2019 to be a bridge-builder. She said she has seen the societal divide in America grow this year because of COVID-19 and knew she could do more. Before becoming involved in politics, Ayala worked in national security, where she said settling disagreements and being a bridge builder is part of the job.

A self-described politician and activist, Ayala said she has always championed equality.

“My work with Prince William NOW was about bringing people together, which I’ve always tried to do,” Ayala said. “You may not like what I say, but at least you know you are seen, you are heard and you are welcomed.”

Ayala is also an advocate for improving Medicaid, which she credits with saving her son, who has autism.

“We need a healthcare system that is inclusive of our economy and works for every family, especially now, as Virginia deals with the pandemic,” she said.

In the upcoming General Assembly session, Ayala said she plans to introduce legislation providing hazard pay for essential workers, defining broadband as critical infrastructure, and improving schools.

‘A matter of representation’

Guzmán immigrated to the United States from Peru and settled in Northern Virginia. She worked three jobs to afford a one-bedroom apartment before earning a master’s degree in public administration and social work and becoming a social worker.

Guzmán defeated eight-term Republican incumbent Del. Scott Lingamfelter in 2017 for the 31st District seat. She ran on a platform of improving public education, raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid.

Guzmán said her decision to run for the state legislature was a matter of representation, and that Lingamfelter was not a good representation of the diverse constituents in Eastern Prince William.
Guzman said that because of her background she was able to champion historic legislation this year.

“It was because of the communities that I represent,” Guzmán said. “It was about the struggles that I had as a first-generation immigrant.”

Guzmán was tapped to co-chair Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Virginia with fellow Prince William Del. Lee Carter.

Guzmán said she’s passionate about investing more into the state’s public education, including more counselors in schools and more resources for special education and remote learning. Guzmán said she was surprised to discover education issues and legislation that would improve “quality of life” were seen as partisan in the chamber.

“It didn’t matter how well I could make my case or how prepared I would be with data and facts, it was all about the party,” Guzmán said. “My intention was to serve all Virginians, not only those who voted for me.”

As a member of the Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board, Guzmán had a hand in getting Prince William County to end its agreement to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pursue and detain immigrants who entered the country without legal permission. Guzmán said that Prince William was no safer statistically than nearby localities without the program, and ICE made the county’s immigrant community feel less safe and more hesitant to report a crime they were the victim of, such as a robbery or domestic violence for fear of being deported.

“The vision for Virginia should be a place where diversity is embraced and not disrespected,” Guzmán said. “It should be a place where people feel safe, and feeling safe means that you should be comfortable calling the police when there is a crime regardless of your immigration status.”

Guzmán said she has heard from constituents that health care and access to higher education are important issues.

“Your credit score or your eligibility for a loan should not define whether you should go to college,” Guzmán said. “If you have good grades, if you’re a good citizen, you should have the opportunity to go to college, and college affordability is definitely what young voters want.”

Other Democrats running for lieutenant governor include Paul Goldman, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia; Sean Perryman, president of Fairfax County NAACP; Roanoke Del. Sam Rasoul and Xavier Warren, a sports agent. Across the aisle are businessmen Puneet Ahluwalia and Lance Allen, Virginia Beach Del. Glenn Davis, who will make his second run for the seat, and former Fairfax Del. Tim Hugo.

By Will Gonzalez
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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Touchstone Television project will film in Central Virginia, Shenandoah Valley, and Roanoke region

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On November 24, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Dopesick, the upcoming Hulu eight-episode limited series, will film in Central Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Roanoke regions, including Clifton Forge, this winter and is anticipated to continue through the spring. Developed by writer and executive producer Danny Strong, Dopesick is inspired by the bestselling book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America,” by Virginia author Beth Macy.

Production will be required to adhere to comprehensive industry health and safety protocols developed over the past six months by the Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and other industry organizations. Guiding principles include strictly enforced testing regimens and safety protocols, a zone-based system, and diligent use of personal protective equipment. These safety measures are in addition to the current Virginia pandemic workplace safety guidelines and those required by Touchstone Television.

“Virginia continues to be a premier production hub for filmmakers seeking an authentic, film-friendly environment and a home away from home,” said Governor Northam. “It is wonderful to see this story from a Virginia author transformed from page to screen right here in our Commonwealth. We are honored to host the impressive team behind this compelling and consequential project, and to play a role in putting a universal spotlight on the opioid epidemic that continues to devastate American families and communities from all walks of life.”

Michael Keaton – Blair-39, CC BY-SA 2.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Academy Award®-nominated actor Michael Keaton (Birdman, Spotlight) will executive produce and star alongside Peter Sarsgaard (Jackie, An Education), Rosario Dawson (Rent, Luke Cage) and Kaitlyn Dever (Unbelievable, Booksmart). Barry Levinson (Rain Man) is set to direct the project with executive producers Strong, Keaton, Warren Littlefield (The Handmaid’s Tale), Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight), John Goldwyn (Dexter), and Touchstone Television.

Dopesick will be a revealing look into the epicenter of America’s struggle with opioid addiction. The show will take viewers from a mining community to the hallways of the Drug Enforcement Administration, to the opulence of “one-percenter” Big Pharma Manhattan, intertwining the stories of affected families to reveal the state of addiction in America, while shining a hopeful light on the heroes battling an unprecedented drug epidemic.

“Film, television, and new media production is an incredibly valuable combined industry, and a much-needed immediate revenue generator for the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We welcome the high-paying jobs and economic stimulation that this type of work provides for Virginia workers and communities.”

Author Beth Macy, who resides in Roanoke, Virginia also wrote the award-winning book “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town,” which tells the story of the Bassett Furniture Company, located in Bassett, Virginia.

“We are grateful to the Commonwealth of Virginia and its vibrant production community for welcoming this production with open arms,” said Touchstone Television Executive Vice President of Production Nissa Diederich. “We’re excited to get to work.”

Dopesick will be eligible to receive a Virginia film tax credit or grant. The exact amount will be based on the number of Virginia workers hired, Virginia goods and services purchased, and deliverables including Virginia tourism promotions.

“Film productions act like super tourists—spending large amounts in a short period of time and touching local businesses large and small,” said Virginia Film Office Director Andy Edmunds. “We’re excited that the Commonwealth’s hard work and credentials have once again attracted a production of this scope and caliber. The added benefit of hosting a project that can provide vital awareness and change lives is truly immeasurable. This industry is structured to address complicated logistical challenges, thus implementing comprehensive COVID-19 mitigation, testing, and tracing protocols to execute the work safely is a top priority.”

Dopesick marks another major production choosing to film in Virginia and follows recently filmed projects, including the latest installment of AMC’s popular The Walking Dead franchise, The Walking Dead: World Beyond; SHOWTIME®’s critically-acclaimed limited series The Good Lord Bird; and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984, slated to premiere later this year.

For information about Virginia’s film production industry, please visit the Virginia Film Office website at filmvirginia.org.

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Traditional Thanksgiving off the table for many

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Many Americans are grappling with ways to make one of the nation’s most celebrated holidays safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Richmond resident Caroline Kaschak will feast at home to protect at-risk elders in her family.

“It is just going to be my husband and me,” Kaschak said. “We are going to order in fancy takeout instead.”

Colleges like Virginia Commonwealth University are offering COVID-19 exit testing to students before they return home for the holidays. Some Americans still have scheduled traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with their families.

“I plan on going to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving,” said VCU student Rickaya Sykes. “They live in the same town as me, and we are very close. If I am not at home, I am at their house spending time with them.”

The Centers for Disease Control recently issued guidance for gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is at home with people who live in the same household, the CDC said. Gatherings with family and friends who live outside the home can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

The agency recommends that hosts limit the number of guests, disinfect surfaces and keep windows open to decrease coronavirus risk. For attendees, the guidance includes bringing and eating food from home with their own utensils and staying out of the kitchen.

COVID-19 cases and deaths have sharply risen in the past two weeks across the nation and in Virginia, according to the New York Times. Over the past week, there has been an average of 2,262 new cases per day in Virginia, an increase of 62% from the average two weeks earlier, according to the Times.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced a coronavirus mandate in Virginia to limit private gatherings and some public events to 25 people. The restrictions took effect on Nov. 15, less than two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The CDC urged Americans to consider alternative Thanksgiving Day activities such as virtual celebrations, eating meals outdoors, post-holiday shopping online and using a curbside pickup.

Virginia State Parks is encouraging families to gather at its 39 parks— which have remained open during the pandemic—over the Thanksgiving holiday. The “Opt Outside” promotion will be celebrated throughout the holiday weekend from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29. Visitors have a chance to win a $500 Virginia State Parks gift certificate if they submit up to five photos of their trip and enter it into the annual photo contest. The Virginia State Parks promotion started 10 years ago as “Green Friday” to motivate families to visit the park instead of post-Thanksgiving shopping on “Black Friday.”

“Since the promotion started, we have seen more people visiting parks over the holidays,” said Tim Shrader, the eastern region field operations manager for Virginia State Parks. “You have all this family coming in, you probably need to get outside and enjoy each other’s company outside for physical and mental health.”

AAA released its annual Thanksgiving travel forecast, which anticipated at least a 10% drop in travel. The agency said that is the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008. In mid-October, AAA expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for the holiday. Now they say it could be lowered given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and health notices.

The nation’s airports saw an uptick in travelers over the weekend, despite the CDC advisory to avoid traveling. The Transportation Security Administration reported almost 4 million travelers from Nov. 19 to Nov. 22, but the rate of travelers was still much lower than at the same time last year.

By India Jones
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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Legal state marijuana sales could overtake illegal trade by year four

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Virginia’s commercial marijuana market could yield between $30 million to $60 million in tax revenue in the first year, according to a new report by the state’s legislative watchdog agency.

The Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission released a report this month that explores how the commonwealth could legalize marijuana. The agency, however, did not give its take on legalization. Shortly after the report was released Gov. Ralph Northam announced that “it’s time to legalize marijuana in Virginia.”

The state’s tax revenue could grow to between $150 million to more than $300 million by the fifth year of sales, according to JLARC. The revenue depends on the tax and demand of marijuana products.

Most states with commercial marijuana markets tax the product between 20%-30% percent of the retail sales value, JLARC said. Colorado, one of the most mature and successful U.S. marijuana markets, currently has a tax rate close to 30%, showing that while the tax may be high, the market could still be successful, said Justin Brown, senior associate director at JLARC.

“But in reality, there’s no magic rate that you have to use, and I think that’s one thing that the other states’ experience shows,” Brown said.

Virginia decriminalized marijuana possession earlier this year. The substance is still not legal, but possessing up to an ounce results in a $25 civil penalty and no jail time. In the past, possessing up to half an ounce could lead to a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

If the Old Dominion makes marijuana legal, it will follow in the footsteps of 15 states.

The legal marijuana market should overtake the illegal market in marijuana sales by the fourth year of legalization, JLARC said. The legal market could likely have two-thirds of sales by the fifth year of legalization. JLARC looked at the reported use rates compared to the use rates of other states to determine this figure, Brown said.

“In the first year the minority of sales will be through the legal commercial market,” Brown said. “But then over time, particularly if supply and demand works out, you’ll capture at least the majority of the full market through the legal market.”

JLARC said that if the General Assembly legalizes marijuana, the total sales tax would come out to around 25%-30%. This figure also came from the analysis of other states and how they taxed marijuana.

The industry also could create over several years between 11,000 to more than 18,000 jobs, JLARC said. Most positions would pay below Virginia’s median wage.

The revenue would cover the cost of establishing a market by year three, according to JLARC.

Northam said in a press release last week that his administration is working with lawmakers to finalize related legislation in preparation for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session, which starts Jan. 13.

By Sam Fowler
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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