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Bill to establish mental health alert system reports out of House committee

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A bill that could reshape how law enforcement responds when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis reported out of the House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 13-9.

House Bill 5043, introduced by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, would create teams of mental health service providers, peer recovery specialists, and law enforcement to help individuals in a crisis situation. Formally dubbed the mental health awareness response and community understanding services, or MARCUS, alert system, the proposal is in response to the ongoing demands of protesters in Richmond.

The proposed system is named after Marcus-David Peters, a 24-year-old high school biology teacher and Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus who was shot and killed by a Richmond Police officer in 2018 while unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis. Photo by VCU Capital News Service.

“Out of that, his family, a wealth and host of community advocates and stakeholders came together and really started developing what’s known as the MARCUS alert system, which this bill hopefully will create,” Bourne said during the virtual committee meeting.

The bill would require the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and the Department of Criminal Justice Services to work together to create evidence-based training programs for the care teams so that they know how, Bourne said, “to effectively address, mitigate and de-escalate these situations.”

Bourne hopes the law will ensure that people who are experiencing mental health crises are met with the appropriate resources “and not just being locked up.”

“A mental health professional is going to absolutely take the lead in these situations,” Bourne said. “In lots of cases, the mere presence or sight of a uniform or police vehicle can further exacerbate or further amplify the mental health crisis.”

Princess Blanding, sister of Peters, commended Bourne and his team for spearheading the bill’s progress in the House. She called today’s committee meeting a partial victory, adding “it’s not done yet.”

“We’re very thankful for the work that Del. Jeff Bourne has been doing, and it’s not over,” Blanding said. “He knows he still has a lot of work ahead of him, and he’s up for it. He’s up for that fight.”

During the meeting, Blanding urged the delegates to support the bill and said her brother “absolutely deserved help, not death” on the day of his fatal shooting.

“When a person’s kidneys stop functioning properly, they receive dialysis if needed,” Blanding said. “When a person’s heart stops functioning properly, they receive bypass surgery if needed. But the brain is the only major organ that, when it stops functioning properly, we demonize, we incarcerate, and in the case of so many Black people, death is the final answer.”

Blanding has spoken at multiple demonstrations in Richmond since protests sparked by the death of George Floyd began in late May, demanding the city fully fund the alert system as well as establish a civilian review board to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters, speaks to protesters outside the Stuart C. Siegel Center on the first day of the 2020 General Assembly special session.

Citing the personal experience of a family member, Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, expressed concern for situations when a victim is endangered by someone experiencing a mental health crisis. She said she supports Bourne’s bill “in concept” but struggles with it from a legal perspective regarding who would respond first in a situation when someone might be harmed.

Bourne said law enforcement has “an absolute, overarching duty to protect people,” and that protection of any victims would necessitate police to respond first, but the mental health team would also be there to address the crisis. Coyner ultimately voted against the bill.

Republican delegates expressed concern over how to fund a statewide system, which will be determined when the bill is before the House Appropriations Committee.

“I’d like for us to think about what we could do to spend this money within our police departments to have somebody there with them that has the ability to be plain-clothed and to do this, versus trying to organize different people from different parts,” said Del. Matt Fariss, R-Rustburg.

Bruce Cruser, executive director of Mental Health America of Virginia, spoke during the committee meeting. He said although his organization was not involved with putting forward the legislation, he “fully supports” the goals listed in the bill.

“I think this is an incredible, significant step forward in really addressing the mental health needs of our community,” Cruser said.

Senate Bill 5038, introduced by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Woodbridge, also seeks to establish a similar alert system. It has been re-referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee.

By Andrew Ringle
Capital News Service

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Virginia Redistricting Committee takes shape; public can apply

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More than half a dozen legislators have been named to a bipartisan redistricting commission that seeks to fairly draw congressional and state legislative districts.

The commission will be made up of 16 people. Half of them will be legislators and the other half will be Virginia citizens.

Virginia legislative leaders chose four Republicans and four Democrats this week to sit on the committee. Democrats include Dels. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond and Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, plus Sens. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and George Barker, D-Fairfax. The Republicans on the committee are Dels. Les Adams, R-Chatham, and Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland, as well as Sens. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, and Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, the speaker of the Virginia House and one of the officials responsible for naming the legislative members of the commission, announced her appointments on Nov. 30. Filler-Corn said in a statement that McQuinn and Simon are “committed to inclusion” and “dedicated to a fair redistricting process that protects the vote of every Virginian.”

House Republican Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in a statement that his appointees “will help craft what the voters have demanded — fair maps for every Virginian.”

Almost 66% of Virginians voted last month in support of an amendment to establish the commission, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Days after the election, state lawmakers agreed to a $135 billion revised budget that included setting up the commission. The previous law stated that the General Assembly and the governor had total control over redistricting.

The majority of congressional and state legislative districts in Virginia were redrawn after the 2010 U.S. Census when Republicans controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the executive branch. The maps are scheduled to be redrawn again next year with final census counts. However, the U.S. Census Bureau requested a delay to submit redistricting data to states no later than July 31, 2021, instead of April 1.

Erin Dodson, a 20-year-old from Sussex County, is one of more than 2.7 million Virginians who voted for the amendment. He said that getting Virginians more involved was a step in the right direction.

“I feel like it’s only fair that the people are heard,” Dodson said. “This is America; freedom of speech and government involvement is what we’re all about.”

New legislative district maps approved by the commission would go to the General Assembly for a vote. If any are rejected, the commission would be required to produce new maps. If rejected again, the Virginia Supreme Court would establish the new districts.

The state also started accepting applications this week for residents who want to serve on the commission. Retired circuit court judges will choose the citizen members.

In order to be considered, citizens must have lived in Virginia for the past three years. They also must have voted in at least two of the last three general elections. Citizens who hold, have held or sought to hold a political position or public office will not be considered, nor will lobbyists or people who have served as lobbyists in the last five years. Three letters of recommendation are also required to be considered for an appointment.

The applications are due by December 28. Click here for the application.

By Hunter Britt
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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Valley Health, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announce new network agreement; ensures members continued in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services

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After working for several months on a new contract, Valley Health and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield today announced a new agreement that will keep Valley Health physicians and hospitals in Anthem’s provider networks. Details of the new agreement were not disclosed.

Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s President, and Chief Executive Officer

“We are pleased to announce a new long-term agreement with Anthem that ensures in-network access to the physicians and caregivers our patients know and trust,” said Valley Health President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Nantz. “We recognize negotiations have been stressful for our patients and are pleased to bring this matter to a close.”

Anthem is the largest health insurer in Virginia and it was essential that Valley Health reach an agreement to serve thousands of community members who rely on Anthem or other Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliates for their health insurance.

“We appreciate Anthem’s trust in Valley Health as their partner and their willingness to make the investment in high-quality healthcare for their members,” Nantz said.

The new agreement provides Anthem customers uninterrupted, in-network access to Valley Health caregivers and services through 2023.

“Prioritizing the health of our communities is more important than ever, which is why we are pleased to have reached this agreement, which protects affordability for consumers and ensures our members have access to quality care at Valley Health,” said Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield President Jeff Ricketts. “We value this continued partnership with Valley as we work together to tackle the current pandemic and improve lives and communities here in Virginia.”

Valley Health encourages patients with any additional questions to call 1-866-414-4576. Anthem members can call Member Services using the phone number on the back of their member I.D. card.

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American Cancer Society asks for support for #GivingTuesday and beyond

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In the midst of a devastating pandemic, Americans are facing  unprecedented challenges. This is especially true for the 1.8 million Americans diagnosed with cancer during 2020.  In addition to being especially vulnerable to coronavirus, more than one of every four cancer patients and survivors had delays in care due to COVID-19, which has upended lives and uniquely challenged cancer patients, survivors and their families.  Patients have had to go through treatment alone and the need to quarantine has created isolation.  To fill this void, the American Cancer Society added face-to-face video chats to its free, 24-hour cancer hotline that provides cancer support and resources at 1-800-227-2345.

COVID-19 has placed the American Cancer Society (ACS) in crisis for the first time in the Society’s 107-year history, creating a $200 million shortfall in fundraising, reducing cancer research funding by 50% this year, and challenging the Society’s ability to provide cancer patients and their caregivers support during an unprecedented time.

Nancy Marx, an American Cancer Society volunteer, has been the primary caregiver to her best friend Pat Burger, who was treated for breast cancer during COVID-19.  “No one could go in with my friend to support her during her treatment.  Her sister, her husband and I had to quarantine so we could safely take care of her.  Other family couldn’t come visit.  When she finished radiation treatment and rang the bell at the cancer center, no family or friends were with her.  All her conferences with doctors and the cancer team were virtual.  I was so upset for her.”

Caregivers, not only cancer patients, need support during the stress of a cancer journey.  Nancy, a long-time Relay For Life participant, called the American Cancer Society’s 800 number cancer hotline for support.  “The 800 number is there for everything you want to know about cancer.  I didn’t understand certain medical terms and new medicines.  The Society’s trained cancer specialists are there to talk and help.  I felt much better after my call,” said Nancy.

On #GivingTuesday and throughout the month of December, the Society is asking for the public’s support.  ACS is the largest non-profit funder of cancer research outside the federal government and provides vital services addressing health disparities and round-the-clock patient support despite the times.  Due to the pandemic’s crippling impact, cancer patients, caregivers and survivors are turning to the American Cancer Society for information and resources to navigate COVID-19.

To donate to the American Cancer Society on #GivingTuesday or throughout the month of December, go to: cancer.org or go to Warren County/Front Royal Relay For Life at www.relayforlife.org/warrenva and donate locally to the American Cancer Society.

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Edward Jones financial advisor Bret Hrbek receives Spirit of Caring Award

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Bret Hrbek of the financial services firm Edward Jones in Front Royal recently received the firm’s exclusive Spirit of Caring Award designed to recognize those financial advisors who exemplify the values, culture and spirit of giving back.

Hrbek is a leader in the firm and an example of what a dedicated Edward Jones financial advisor can achieve. He has demonstrated unyielding dedication to giving back to his clients, community, other financial advisors, branch teams and their regional network.

Hrbek said he is honored to receive the award.

“Edward Jones is a partnership. That structure is not just financial, it’s a philosophy,” Hrbek said. “We work together, help each other and all share in the rewards of working with long-term individual investors. That brings out the best in everyone.”

Hrbek was one of only 295 of the firm’s more than 19,000 financial advisors to receive the award.

Bret Hrbek’s office is located at 986 John Marshall Highway, Front Royal, Virginia.

Edward Jones, a Fortune 500 company headquartered in St. Louis, provides financial services in the U.S. and, through its affiliate, in Canada. Every aspect of the firm’s business, from the investments offered to the location of branch offices, caters to individual investors. The firm’s 19,000-plus financial advisors serve more than 7 million clients with a total of $1.2 trillion in client assets under care. Visit edwardjones.com or the recruiting website at careers.edwardjones.com. Member SIPC.

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Shopping Small promotion announces first winners

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Shopping Small does have its rewards in Front Royal.

Sue Laurence of Key Move Properties announced the winners of the first drawing this week. Weekly winners will receive gift bags of local business donated goods including gift cards. The value of gift bags may vary.

The BIG prize goes to Bridget Barker – A gift certificate/vouchers from the following merchants –  C&C Frozen Treats, Try Thai, White Picket Fence, Ole Timers Antiques, and Key Move Properties.

Other winners:

Joe Nelson – A gift certificate from Royal Bowling Center

Jen Avery – A gift certificate from Royal Bowling Center

Nancy Nelson – A gift certificate from Jennerations Hair Studio

Tina Paulisch – A gift certificate from The Studio

Karen Moxie  – A gift certificate from Sensational Hair Cutters

Shopping Small has its rewards

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VAEA recognizes Andrea Stuart as a 2020 VAEA Distinguished Fellow

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Andrea Stuart, high school art educator for Warren County Public Schools in Front Royal, Virginia, has been inducted into the VAEA Distinguished Fellows, an honored group of members who have performed extraordinary service. A virtual ceremony took place during the VAEA Professional Development Conference on November 14, 2020.

Ms. Stuart has taught at Warren County High School in the Visual Arts Department since 1994 and is currently teaching photography and graphic arts. Through Advanced Placement art courses and an independent study program, she mentors students who express an interest in pursuing careers in photography or graphic design. As Art Department Chair, she has steered the art department to participate in VAEA Youth Art Month programs and local, regional, and state exhibitions. She was recognized as the VAEA Blue Ridge Region Art Teacher of the Year in 2003 and VAEA Secondary Art Educator of the Year in 2013. Ms. Stuart’s role as an adjunct professor at Lord Fairfax Community College helped lead to dual enrollment programs which enabled high school art students to earn college credit.

Ms. Stuart has spent her lengthy career enhancing the quality of Virginia art education and supporting her colleagues at the regional and state levels. A member of the VAEA Blue Ridge Region Board since 1996, Ms. Stuart has facilitated many professional development activities for the membership, participated as local chair/co-chair for state conferences, and has been a frequent presenter. She is also an avid learner, participating often in workshops, conferences, and educational travel to enhance her own knowledge and effectiveness. She is a prolific artist, exhibits regularly, and owns her own photography business. According to her nominator, Ms. Stuart is “a consummate professional, creative artist, and compassionate teacher” and the VAEA is proud to recognize her accomplishments and contributions.

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Upcoming Events

Dec
5
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all-day Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Dec 5 all-day
Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Why should Small Business Saturday just be celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving? Buy Local – Shop Local – Eat Local – Support Front Royal’s Small Business Community and stay local! Small Business Saturdays –[...]
7:00 am 64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
Dec 5 @ 7:00 am – 1:00 pm
64th Annual Pancake Day @ Warren County High School
The Kiwanis Club of Front Royal is celebrating its 75 anniversary this year and are committed to holding the annual Pancake Day fundraising event. This event raises significant funds which are put back directly into[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 5 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
7:00 pm Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Dec 5 @ 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
It’s that time of year for Rotary Club of Front Royal’s annual Cash Fair, and we are going virtual this year due to COVID. This is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year and[...]
Dec
6
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 6 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 6 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
13
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all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 13 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 13 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
19
Sat
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 19 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
20
Sun
all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 20 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]