RICHMOND(August 20, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has submitted comments to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) encouraging it to finalize regulations that would make clear that ghost guns are firearms under federal law. By finalizing regulations, the ATF would dramatically reduce the availability of untraceable crime guns and would take a significant step in addressing the current gun violence epidemic. Attorney General Herring joined a coalition of 22 attorneys general in filing the comments.
In March, Attorney General Herring joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in sending a letter calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to close the loophole in the ATF interpretation of the federal Gun Control Act that allows criminals, domestic abusers, and other prohibited purchasers of firearms to evade common-sense gun laws and purchase 80 percent receivers, which can be easily assembled into un-serialized and untraceable ghost guns.
“Ghost guns are almost virtually impossible to trace, making it much easier for dangerous individuals to get their hands on them,” said Attorney General Herring. “This loophole allows for more untraceable guns on our streets and in our communities, potentially putting Virginians and their families in danger. As attorney general, my top priority is always protecting Virginians, which is why I will continue this fight to stop the proliferation of these untraceable guns.”
The proposed rule, Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms, updates the ATF’s interpretations of “firearm” and “frame or receiver” as used in the Gun Control Act of 1968 to clarify weapon kits and incomplete weapon parts, both of which can be easily converted into functioning guns, are covered by the Act. The ATF’s current regulations allow for the sale of weapon parts kits and certain weapon parts with no federal oversight, a loophole that certain manufacturers and gun dealers have eagerly exploited.
As the coalition of attorneys general explained: “Certain firearm dealers have capitalized on … loopholes [in the existing regulations] to market so-called ‘ghost guns’—meaning weapons kits or partially complete receivers that can easily be converted into un-serialized, operable weapons—outside the Gun Control Act’s framework. As dealers highlight in their marketing, these ghost guns are unregulated and can be purchased by anyone.”
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that the ATF’s current interpretation of these definitions under the Gun Control Act does not properly enforce the Act, therefore contributing to gun violence in Virginia. Law enforcement intelligence makes clear that ghost guns are fast becoming the weapon of choice for many groups responsible for neighborhood violence. This is because current regulations allow felons, violent criminals, and others who cannot legally purchase a firearm to buy ghost guns.
The attorney’s general goes on to say in their comments: “For the Gun Control Act to work as Congress envisioned, the manufacture, transfer, and possession of firearms must all occur within the Act’s strictures. When any of that activity happens beyond the Act’s parameters, the Gun Control Act is ineffectual at ‘keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them and assisting law enforcement authorities in investigating serious crimes.’ … The Bureau’s non-enforcement of certain portions of the Gun Control Act has effectively created room for firearm manufacturers to openly defy the statute.”
The group of attorneys general explained that to maintain the integrity of the Gun Control Act, the ATF must revise its regulations so that they encompass modern gun designs. The group also offered the ATF several suggestions to clarify the proposed rule and prevent future abuses by gun manufacturers.
In December 2020, Attorney General Herring filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to compel the ATF to properly regulate untraceable, partially assembled “ghost guns.” In their amicus brief, Attorney General Herring and 18 other attorneys general argued that the ATF must correct its unlawful 2015 interpretation of the GCA and that ATF’s improper reading of the GCA effectively gave the green light for unlicensed online retailers to sell nearly-complete firearms that can easily be converted into fully-functioning weapons. They further argued that these “ghost guns” endanger residents and impede law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute criminal activity.
From the 1980s through the early 2000s, ATF classified the core components of handguns and rifles—frames and receivers—as “firearms” subject to federal regulation if the components could be quickly and easily converted into functioning guns. In 2015, the ATF reversed course. Without offering any explanation for changing its position, ATF issued an interpretive rule stating that these rifle receivers and handgun frames were not considered firearms. As a result of this unlawful misinterpretation, an industry has sprung up in which unlicensed online retailers sell nearly complete guns directly to consumers. These weapons, sometimes called ghost guns because they lack serial numbers and identifying marks, are untraceable and sold without background checks.
On August 26, 2020, Everytown for Gun Safety and four municipalities filed a suit against the ATF and the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that those agencies unlawfully concluded that ghost guns are not “firearms” under the GCA. In an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are urging the court to force ATF to properly regulate ghost guns because:
• Ghost guns are prohibited by federal law: The GCA requires “firearms” to include serial numbers and purchasers of those weapons to pass a background check, among other requirements. Specifically, the statute defines “firearm” as “any weapon which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive” or “the frame or receiver of any such weapon.” This clearly describes the nearly assembled guns these companies are selling, which are sold without background checks and not marked with serial numbers.
• Untraceable weapons threaten public safety: ATF’s unexplained interpretation emboldened the ghost gun industry and allowed it to rapidly expand across the country. Ghost guns were virtually absent from many jurisdictions prior to the adoption of the new interpretation. Now, according to a recent report, there are 80 online sellers of partially unfinished frames and receivers, and the increase in ghost un sales is readily apparent on the local level.
• Ghost gun dealers are using the ATF’s rule to mislead consumers: Companies that sell ghost guns have pointed to the ATF’s rule to claim their products are legal, disregarding numerous state laws that specifically ban the sale of these firearms.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the comments are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
Virginia Department of Education Board Brief – October 21, 2021 Business Meeting
October 21, 2021 Business Meeting
The Board approved the minutes of their meetings on September 22-23, 2021.
The Board adopted a resolution of recognition of the 2021 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching State Finalists. They are:
- Raymond Cotter, an engineering teacher William Fleming High in Roanoke;
- Stephanie Harry, a chemistry teacher at Tabb High in York County;
- Yvette Lee, a mathematics and computer science teacher at John Randolph Tucker High in Henrico County;
- Melinda Liebau, a mathematics teacher at Green Run Collegiate in Virginia Beach; and
- Geraldine Maskelony, a mathematics teacher at the Arlington Career Center in Arlington County.
The Board also adopted a resolution of recognition to commemorate November 2021 as Family Engagement in Education Month.
The Board approved four consent items:
- Certification of Qualified Persons for the Office of Division Superintendent of School
- Quarterly Report of the Literary Fund
- Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure Recommendation for Revisions to the Guidelines for Mentor Teacher Programs for Beginning and Experienced Teachers
- Approved Training Programs for the Treatment of Students with a Seizure Disorder
The Board approved the 2021 Prescriptions to the Standards of Quality (SOQ), which describe the foundational instructional programs and support services all schools must provide and drive approximately 85% of state funding for local school divisions. The Constitution of Virginia requires the Virginia Board of Education to prescribe SOQs for the public schools of Virginia, subject to revision only by the General Assembly. During odd-numbered years, the Board reviews the SOQs and prescribes amendments as necessary.
The Board reviewed proposed amendments to the Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia (also known as the Standards of Accreditation or SOA). The amendments are recommended by the Special Committee established by the Board to review the first years of implementation as well as identify the positive, negative, and unintended consequences of the 2017 SOA revisions. Action to approve this item will be requested at a future meeting, anticipated to be Nov. 18, 2021.
The Board approved the Report on Recommendations for Appropriate Staffing and Funding Levels Necessary for State Operated Programs (SOP) in Regional and Local Detention Centers to be transmitted to the General Assembly by November 1, 2021.
The Board approved the Fast Track Regulatory Action to Conform Definitions of “Traumatic Brain Injury” to ensure alignment in regulatory language and guidance. This action will clarify definitions that currently differ across regulatory chapters.
The Board reviewed the Board of Education’s 2021 Annual Report on the Conditions and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia, which provides an overview of the needs of public education, an update on student achievement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlights the Board’s work over the past year. Additionally, the annual report outlines the conditions of education funding as compared to other states, student enrollment trends, staff vacancies, and graduation and dropout rates. Action to approve this item will be requested at a future meeting, anticipated to be Nov. 18, 2021.
Board actions are unanimous or unopposed unless otherwise noted
The next meetings of the Board of Education are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, November 17 18, 2021. For more information, visit the Virginia Board of Education web page.
The Virginia Board of Education, established in the Virginia Constitution, consists of nine members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the General Assembly. General supervision of the public school system is vested in the Board of Education, which prescribes standards of quality for the school divisions. Subject to the ultimate authority of the General Assembly, the Board of Education has primary responsibility and authority for effectuating the educational policy of the Commonwealth. The Superintendent of Public Instruction, also appointed by the Governor, serves as the executive officer of the Virginia Department of Education, an executive branch agency. The Virginia Department of Education implements statutory and regulatory requirements. The supervision of schools in each school division is vested in local school boards.
Governor Northam announces $2 billion public-private broadband investment
RICHMOND—Governor Northam announced that Virginia has received a record number of local and private sector applications to match state broadband investments, putting the Commonwealth on track to become one of the first states to achieve universal broadband access by 2024. Virginia anticipates more than $2 billion in total broadband funding, thanks to local and private-sector matching funds that go beyond the $874 million in state appropriations since the Governor took office in 2018.
“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Governor Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic pushed us all to move even faster. Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024, which means more connections, more investments, easier online learning, and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia.”
The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative is the Commonwealth’s broadband program. It was started in 2017 to fund public-private partnerships to extend broadband service to areas unserved by an internet service provider. When the most recent application round closed last month, the program received 57 applications from 84 localities, requesting $943 million to connect more than 250,000 Virginia homes and businesses. These applications leverage $1.15 billion in private and local matching funds. The Department of Housing and Community Development is reviewing applications and expects to award the funds by the end of the year.
Virginia has taken dramatic steps on broadband since Governor Northam took office in 2018, as Virginia’s first rural Governor in a generation. He set out a clear goal: achieve universal access to broadband within 10 years. The goal was bold, as Virginia’s broadband program was investing just $4 million a year and 660,000 Virginians did not have access to high-speed internet.
Since then, Governor Northam and the General Assembly have awarded $124 million in grants to connect more than 140,000 homes, businesses, and community organizations. The Virginia Telecommunication Initiative has awarded 39 projects in 41 different counties, supported by over $94 million in matching private and local funds. Along with private investment and federal broadband grants, the Commonwealth has reduced the digital divide by 65 percent. Plans accelerated further in August, when Governor Northam and the General Assembly allocated $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to broadband, moving the original goal for achieving universal access to 2024.
“Ensuring that rural Virginians have access to broadband is the number one way we can make sure they have equal access to the economic, educational, and health opportunities that broadband provides,” said Broadband Advisory Council Vice-Chair Delegate Roslyn Tyler. “No Virginian should be left behind. Thanks to Governor Northam’s commitment to getting universal broadband done, we’re seeing record levels of public and private sector matching funds, and we’ll have this critical infrastructure available to all Virginians more quickly than we imagined.”
“Broadband a vital resource for communities across the Commonwealth,” said Broadband Advisory Council Chair Senator Jennifer Boysko. “Broadband access allows our citizens to connect to their workplaces, schools, and doctors and broadens their opportunities and choices about where to live and work. The Northam administration’s investment in broadband, paired with these matching funds, will get universal broadband access to Virginians in record time.”
The overwhelming response to this year’s Virginia Telecommunication Initiative grant round demonstrates that Virginia has built an innovative and successful model for bridging the digital divide.
Mail-in ballot requests due Friday, October 22
Voters wishing to cast a mail-in ballot in the November 2, 2021 elections have until 5 p.m. on Friday, October 22 to request a ballot be sent to them.
Voters may apply for a mail-in ballot online at the Department of Elections’ Citizen Portal at vote.elections.virginia.gov or by downloading a paper application at elections.virginia.gov/registration/voter-forms, filling it out, and submitting it to their local Voter Registration Office. Forms are available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Korean. Application forms may be submitted to the voter’s local Voter Registration Office by mail, fax, or email.
Contact information for your local voter registration office can be found at elections.virginia.gov/VRO. Voters may choose to receive a mail-in ballot for this November General Election only or receive mail-in ballots automatically for every election in which they are eligible, until they request to be taken off the permanent absentee list.
If the voter is print disabled, they may request to receive an absentee ballot electronically to mark their ballot using an electronic ballot-marking tool. If this option is chosen for voting absentee, the ballot will be delivered by email and can be marked using screen reader assistive technology. More information about this option is available by contacting the local voter registration office or at elections.virginia.gov/accessible.
All are encouraged to mail their ballot requests well in advance of the October 22 deadline to ensure it is received in time. Applications received by the local Voter Registration Office after 5 p.m. on October 22 cannot be accepted.
ELECT encourages voters to return their absentee ballot at their earliest convenience. A voter may return their absentee ballot by:
- Mailing the ballot via USPS or a commercial delivery service (such as FedEx or UPS.) All absentee ballots include pre-paid postage through the USPS (ballot must be postmarked by Election Day);
- Placing the ballot in a drop-off location listed on their county or city’s official website;
- Delivering the ballot to the Office of the General Registrar in the voter’s county or city; or,
- Dropping the ballot off at any polling place within their county or city on Election Day.
More information can be found about absentee and early voting for the November 2 elections online at elections.virginia.gov/absentee.
Governor Northam announces September revenue increased more than 18 percent
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced on October 13, 2021, that September General Fund revenue increased 18.4 percent from the previous year, continuing Virginia’s economic momentum.
“Our economy continues to show signs of a strong recovery,” said Governor Northam. “Our strategic and proactive decisions are paying off. In this strong economy, Virginia will continue making critical investments in our communities, our public schools, and statewide infrastructure to bolster our growing economy. Our fiscal responsibility is paying off for Virginians.”
Collections of payroll withholding taxes grew 9.9 percent in September. Collections in non-withholding grew 25.2 percent since September of last year. Collections of sales and use taxes, reflecting August sales, grew 20.6 percent in September. Collections of corporate income tax increased by 41.3 percent in September. Collections of wills, suits, deeds, and contracts—mainly recordation tax collections—were $60.1 million, compared with $56.6 million in September of last year. The first estimated payment of non-withholding and corporate income tax collections for the fiscal year was due in September.
“September completes the first quarter of the fiscal year 2022 and is a significant month for revenue collections,” said Secretary of Finance Joe Flores. “Overall, this quarter’s revenue performance was strong. It is important to remember that we are comparing this quarter’s performance to the heart of the pandemic closures last year when there was still not even a vaccine on the horizon.”
On a year-to-date basis, collections of payroll withholding taxes—62 percent of General Fund revenues—grew by 9.7 percent, well above the annual estimate of 1.7 percent increase. Sales tax collections—17 percent of General Fund revenues—increased 16.7 percent through September, far outpacing the annual forecast of a 4.2 percent decline. On a fiscal year-to-date basis, total revenue collections rose 10.6 percent, well ahead of the annual forecast of an 8.0 percent decrease. Through the first quarter of the fiscal year, corporate income tax collections rose 36.5 percent, exceeding expectations of an annual 16.1 percent decrease. The collections of wills, suits, deeds, and contracts were up 9.0 percent in the first quarter, outperforming the forecasted 31.3 percent decline.
Social Security announces 5.9 percent benefit increase for 2022
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9 percent in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2021. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $147,000 from $142,800.
Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount. Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Information about Medicare changes for 2022, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov. For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2022 are announced. Final 2022 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.
The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.
September marks second consecutive month of cargo volume in excess of 300,000 TEUs
Strong import loads at The Port of Virginia® in September have helped the port achieve consecutive months of cargo volume in excess of 300,000 TEUs (twenty-foot-equivalent units).
In September the port processed more than 306,000 TEUs, which is an increase of nearly 50,000 TEUs (+19%) when compared with last September; loaded import volume was more than 152,000 TEUs, or 31,000 units (+26%). In August, the port handled more than 307,000 TEUs. Last September is when the port began seeing a considerable rebound in its volumes from the COVID period.
To see the port’s operational metrics on productivity at the berth, rail ramp and truck gates, click here.
“The growth we’re seeing is not artificial and the movement of loaded and empty containers is up, for both exports and imports,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “Last September is when volumes began coming back and since then we have posted growth each month. The operation is fluid and the Virginia Model of being an operating port, where we own, lease and operate all of the assets, allows us to be agile in meeting the needs of our customers and cargo owners.”
In the last two months, three vessel services, Maersk’s TP20, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM’s Indamex 2 and MSC’s Indus 2 began making Virginia their first-in US East Coast port call. This and the port’s commitment to efficiency is helping to drive growth, Edwards said.
“There is no congestion here and ocean carriers and cargo owners are taking notice of our track record and what we are doing to ensure consistency in our operation,” he said. “We are maintaining our efficiency and service levels because we are monitoring the operation so closely and continuing to add modern assets. The result is that they are choosing Virginia because they see value here.”
With three months left in the calendar year, the port’s TEU volume is 2.58 million TEUs, an increase of 589,136 units (+30%) when compared with the same period last year. Edwards is not anticipating a slowdown in volume before year’s end.
“We may see a dip as the retail season comes to its end, but this is normal and any fall-off in volumes will be small,” Edwards said. “Looking into 2022 we see nothing that leads us to believe that there is going to be a drop in volumes. It is going to take some time before the supply chain returns to normal.”
September Cargo Snapshot (2021 vs. 2020)
- Total TEUs – 306,219 up 19.4%
- Loaded Export TEUs – 80,697 up 6.8%
- Loaded Import TEUs – 152,197, up 25.7%
- Total Containers – 170,998, up 21.6%
- Virginia Inland Port Containers – 2,297, down 31%
- Breakbulk Tonnage – 4,332, up 1.8%
- Total Rail Containers – 53,405 up 16.4%
- Total Truck Containers – 110,452 up 25.2%
- Total Barge Containers – 7,141 up 9.4%