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AG Miyares sues Biden Administration for threatening to withdraw school nutrition assistance for political agenda

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RICHMOND, VA – Attorney General Jason Miyares joined 22 attorneys general in a lawsuit filed on July 27, 2022, against the Biden Administration’s new regulatory guidance on sex discrimination for schools and programs that receive federal nutritional assistance.

On May 5, 2022, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services issued guidance to Virginia and other States announcing that discrimination on the basis of sex in Title IX and the Food and Nutrition Act includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By doing so, they are forcing unlawful regulatory measures onto schools and holding hostage funding for school lunches.

The National School Lunch Program serves nearly 30 million school children daily, many of whom rely on it for breakfast, lunch, or both. Approximately 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential childcare institutions receive federal funding to subsidize free or reduced-price meals for qualifying children.

In the lawsuit, the attorneys general argue the USDA’s Guidance is unlawful because:


  • This USDA guidance was issued without providing the State and other stakeholders the opportunity for input as required by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
  • The USDA premised its guidance on an obvious misreading and misapplication of the Supreme Court’s holding in Bostock v. Clayton County.
  • The guidance imposes new and unlawful regulatory measures on state agencies and operators receiving federal financial assistance from the USDA. This guidance will inevitably result in regulatory chaos threatening essential nutritional services to some of the most vulnerable citizens.

On June 14th, 26 state attorneys general coalition called on President Biden to withdraw the USDA’s guidance.

To read the complaint, click here. 

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As Republicans tout Parole Board report, some Democrats see ‘a whole lot of nothing’

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House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, looks out over the chamber from the dais. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

 

The top Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates said Thursday that the GOP is considering “every possibility” in response to a new investigative report alleging systemic violations of law and state policy at the Virginia Parole Board under the watch of a former leader who’s now a sitting judge.

But House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said the decision on whether the General Assembly should remove Virginia Beach Judge Adrianne Bennett from the bench will rest largely with the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

“We intend to ask them if they are as shocked by the findings as we are,” Gilbert told reporters Thursday on the House floor. “I know the Democratic leadership told us how silly the whole thing was then. I think the report reveals a number of things to the contrary.”


While announcing the release of a 69-page report outlining a series of missteps at the Parole Board in 2020, Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares on Wednesday raised the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Bennett, a judge with the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

In Bennett’s final weeks as chair of the Parole Board in early 2020, according to the attorney general’s report, the board she led repeatedly failed to properly notify victims and prosecutors of pending decisions to release violent offenders. The report alleges Bennett went as far as falsifying records and declaring some inmates eligible for parole even though courts had said they were not.

Miyares said his office concluded Bennett could have been charged with criminal offenses over the allegedly altered paperwork and overriding of court decisions. But because his investigation didn’t begin until 2022, after he and Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office, Miyares said the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor offenses had expired.

The General Assembly appoints all state and local judges, but the legislature almost never removes a judge over misconduct allegations. Gilbert said he believes judicial impeachment proceedings would begin in the House and then go to the Senate, but he acknowledged such a process would be fairly uncharted territory.

“We don’t have any modern precedent for it in Virginia,” Gilbert said.

Democratic General Assembly leaders had not formally weighed in on the report as of midday Thursday, nearly 24 hours after Miyares released it. In interviews, several Democratic senators said they had not yet read it and could not comment on its substance.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said he was skeptical of any suggestion a judge could be removed over conduct that occurred before they were serving on the bench. He also raised doubts about whether the misconduct of which Miyares is accusing Bennett without charging her should rise to the level of impeachment.

“To paraphrase Allen Iverson, we’re talking about a misdemeanor. Not a felony. A misdemeanor,” Petersen said, stressing that he was not up to speed on everything laid out in the report.

Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, whose call for a bipartisan legislative investigation into the Parole Board affair was not acted upon in 2021, said he was concerned by what he’s heard. But he, too, said he would need to read the report before commenting further.

“I really wish it had been done in a clearly nonpartisan way,” Bell said. “I think it would be more credible.”

Other Democrats seemed to have already concluded the report isn’t the bombshell the Republicans are portraying it as.

“All politics,” said House Minority Leader Don Scott, D-Portsmouth.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said it appears to him the headline should be “The Parole Board granted parole.” He said Miyares seems to be trying to “play racial politics with a basic government function.”

“I know that my conservative friends don’t like it when the Parole Board does its job,” said Surovell, who acknowledged he had not read the report. “And they continue to try to demonize the board for doing what we’ve charged it to do under the code.”

Surovell noted that the time period in question was the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the state was trying to protect elderly inmates who were most at risk of dying from a new disease few understood.

However, former Public Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Brian Moran — whose duties included overseeing the Parole Board during Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration — told the attorney general’s office the board wasn’t given any special authority to release offenders because of the pandemic.

Instead, according to the report, Moran felt that authority should have rested with the Virginia Department of Corrections. At the time, the state prison agency had a more public and detailed plan for which offenders would be eligible for early release, emphasizing nonviolent offenders with less than a year left on their sentences.

“We weren’t going to do it randomly,” Moran is quoted as saying in the report. “I mean, that was insane.”

The General Assembly approved budget language dealing with the early release of prisoners during COVID-19. That language specifically excluded prisoners convicted of serious felonies like murder and rape from the emergency COVID-19 accommodations. The Northam administration also asked the Parole Board to expedite pending cases. Still, state watchdog reports stressed nothing about the COVID-19 emergency allowed the Parole Board to sidestep its own policies or state law.

On Thursday, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, called the report “a whole lot of nothing.”

“This idea that there’s probably a lot of criminal stuff that’s gone on, but we can’t charge any of it because the statute of limitations ran out? It’s a political tool. It’s more political theater,” Simon said. “I don’t think there’s any real there.”

Senate Republicans have called for Bennett to step down on her own accord rather than forcing the legislature to consider removing her. She has given no indication she plans to do so, and a lawyer representing her released a statement saying the report was an attempt to “vilify” a “dedicated public servant.”

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, said the Miyares report offered a much more thorough look at the Parole Board’s problems than any of the various reports made public under Democratic leadership.

“It’s a well-documented investigation,” he said.

 

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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Attorney General Miyares joins the charge against contraband cell phones in prison

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On January 26, 2023, Attorney General Jason Miyares joined a coalition of 22 Attorneys General urging Congressional leaders to pass legislation giving states the authority to jam contraband cell phones.

“Contraband cell phones are already illegal and pose a significant threat to safety and security at correctional facilities – but the reality is that they exist and are prevalent in our prison system. They allow willing inmates a way to continue running and organizing criminal activity while incarcerated, threatening the public safety of Virginians,” said Attorney General Miyares. “I encourage Congress to swiftly pass legislation permitting states to implement a contraband cell phone jamming system to stop this illicit activity and protect our communities.”

Contraband cell phones are a nationwide problem, commonly allowing inmates to continue their criminal behavior, plan escapes, and intimidate witnesses from behind bars.

The letter details that “in Oklahoma, the white supremacist prison gang, the Universal Aryan Brotherhood, used contraband cell phones to help commit murder, money laundering, assault and robbery throughout the state. In Tennessee, a Memphis inmate used a contraband cell phone to orchestrate drug conspiracy deals by sending a FedEx package full of methamphetamine to his girlfriend. Then in Georgia, inmates used contraband cell phones to make scam calls and demand payment and even texted photos of bloodied inmates to the relatives demanding cash.”


Bills have been filed regarding this issue in previous sessions, H.R. 1954 in the 116th Congress and H.R. 8645, S. 4699 in the 117th Congress. But none of the bills have moved or received a vote.

Click here to read the letter.

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A 13-car crash on Interstate 95 and more Va. headlines

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The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• The Newport News elementary school teacher who a 6-year-old student shot sent someone a text message before the shooting indicating the boy had a gun, and her superiors weren’t doing anything about it. A lawyer for the teacher said she intends to sue the school district.—NBC News

• The Newport News School Board voted to part ways with Superintendent George Parker III, who has been sharply criticized after the classroom shooting.—Daily Press

• The former president of the Arlington Education Association was arrested and charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the teachers union.—Prince William Times


• The Virginia Senate passed a bill to protect same-sex marriage in a bipartisan vote, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the Republican-led House of Delegates.—WRIC

• More than a dozen vehicles were involved in a “chain reaction” crash on Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg.—WTOP

 

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 House votes to repeal Clean Cars law

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Republicans in the House of Delegates passed legislation Wednesday to repeal a law tying Virginia to California vehicle emissions standards that are set to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035.

Along party lines, the House of Delegates voted 52-48 to pass House Bill 1378, carried by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham.

Wilt’s bill faces a rocky road in the Senate, where Democrats have killed several Republican bills for the same goal. Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, has said any bill to repeal the California emissions law that comes over from the House will meet the same fate.

Democrats struck down several Republican efforts to roll back or delay the enactment of climate laws, including the more stringent vehicle emissions standards, during the last General Assembly session.


In 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation that coupled Virginia vehicle emissions regulations with those set by the California Air Resources Board, a set of rules often called the “Clean Car” standards. Last year, CARB issued a new rule requiring that all new cars sold in the state be zero-emission beginning in 2035.

The 2021 legislation Virginia enacted was one of two options the state has when it comes to regulating tailpipe emissions: either continue to follow the federal standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or follow more stringent regulations set by California.

The Clean Air Act allows states only two choices on vehicle emissions regulations to limit the number of standards that manufacturers must adhere to. California was granted an exception to set its own standards to address smog issues. Over a dozen other states have also adopted the Golden State’s rule.

Wilt and Republicans argue the California standards place burdensome cost demands on Virginians and say the 2035 target is unrealistic. EVs will also put a strain on the grid, Wilt said in a floor speech Wednesday.

“The free market is driving this, and I would dare say, as fast as they can,” Wilt said, noting manufacturers’ plans to electrify their fleets. “I think we’re all on board; there’s just a distinct difference [on] how we want to go about it.”

But Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, said Virginia’s adoption of the Clean Cars standard positions it as a leader in the “acceleration” toward electric vehicles.

Passing Wilt’s bill sends a message that the state doesn’t want to lead “or, worse yet, can’t compete,” Sullivan said.

Del. Alfonso Lopez, D- Arlington, contended that data centers, which have proliferated in Northern Virginia, are already putting demands on the grid.

Earlier Wednesday, a House subcommittee advanced a bill by Sullivan to set up a $25 million fund to establish charging infrastructure outside highway corridors. Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, has a similar bill in the Senate that is scheduled to be taken up Thursday.

“We want every part of Virginia” to be part of the transition, said Sullivan in the subcommittee meeting.

Similar proposals were put forward in 2022 but failed to pass the General Assembly or make it into the budget.

 

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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House panel narrowly backs legislation to lower the minimum wage for minors 

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Lawmakers narrowly backed a bill to lower the minimum wage for employees under the age of 18 Tuesday, with House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, joining with two Democrats to oppose it.

The House Commerce and Energy subcommittee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of a bill from Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, that would require employers to pay employees younger than 18 no less than the greater of $9 per hour or the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.

The minimum wage in Virginia has risen from $7.25 an hour to the current $12 an hour over the past three years following Democrat-backed legislation signed into law in 2020. That law included provisions further increasing the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour in 2025 and $15 an hour in 2026. Still, those increases will require additional approval from the General Assembly to go into effect.

The current law lists 16 categories of workers not subject to the state increases, including those under the age of 16 and those younger than 18 who are enrolled in school full-time while working less than 20 hours per week.


Workers aged 16 and 17 who don’t fall under any of the exemptions must be paid at least the state minimum of $12 an hour. Marshall’s legislation would reduce that wage floor to $9 an hour.

Marshall told the panel the push for lower wages for minors was brought to him by small business owners in his area over concerns that they will be unable to afford to pay workers if the state’s minimum wage increases up to $15 an hour in 2026.

Small businesses “cannot afford to pay $15 for someone who comes into a business less than 18 with a small skillset,” Marshall said. “They have to be trained that 8 o’clock means 8 o’clock.”

Kilgore, as well as Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, and House Minority Leader Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, voted against the bill.

Over 10 individuals and organizations opposed the bill, saying it promotes age discrimination and don’t consider employed teenagers’ financial needs.

Abby Garber, a 17-year-old with the Coalition for Virginia’s Future student group, told the subcommittee she’s been working since she was 14 to save money for college. Many of her friends are forced to work long hours after school to support their families.

The bill “would force many of my friends to take up multiple jobs to make ends meet and might even force them to leave school to survive,” Garber said. “This bill would be detrimental to our commonwealth’s youth.”

Mel Borja, a policy analyst for the progressive think tank Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, said the legislation would also disproportionately impact Black and other workers of color, youth in rural communities, and first- and second-generation immigrant children.

“This bill burns a hole in the wallets of teenage workers in a time of high inflation that has made it harder to make ends meet,” Borja said.

While no one spoke in support of the bill Tuesday, Marshall said if minors continue to be paid the state’s minimum wage as it inches up to $15 an hour, “we’re going to have an unintended consequence that is actually going to have a reverse effect that we’ll have fewer people that will be hired.”

“If people come to the job at under 18 and they have certain skills,” Marshall said, “then they will be able to get paid a higher wage.”

 

by Meghan McIntyre, 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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State Senate Republicians on Attorney General’s report on investigation of Virginia Parole Board

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On January 25, 2023, State Senate Republicans expressed disappointment and outrage over the information uncovered by Attorney General Jason S. Miyares’s investigation of the Virginia Parole Board during the administration of former Governor Ralph Northam.

“This report was far worse than any of us could have possibly imagined,” noted Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City). “The reckless and deliberate disregard for the Code and the Parole Board’s own policies and procedures ranks among the most outrageous conduct by government officials I have seen in my three decades of service.

“The report attributes actions to former Chair Bennett and the former members of the Parole Board that were a direct assault on our system of justice,” said Senator Mark
D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), former Senate Courts of Justice Committee Chair. “The findings in this report point to a Board run amok, and the statistics are
staggering: violating the rights of victims 83 times and failing to notify Commonwealth’s Attorneys 66 times in just a two-month period, resulting in four capital murderers, 31 first-degree murderers, and eleven rapists being released.

“These actions violated the public’s trust, and there must be consequences.”


“The Attorney General’s report includes important legislative and policy recommendations,” Senator Norment noted. “For those recommendations requiring legislative action, the General Assembly should act on a bipartisan basis as soon as possible. Additionally, we must demand accountability for these egregious actions and
derelictions of duty. Therefore, I respectfully ask Judge Bennett to avoid legislative action regarding her status by immediately submitting her resignation from the bench.”

 

Attorney General Miyares releases report on Virginia Parole Board

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