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Cast Your Line: Enjoy fresh and saltwater fishing without a license



This weekend promises to be an excellent time for fishing aficionados and novices alike. Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources and Marine Resources Commission has announced free fishing days from June 2-4, 2023, enabling the public to fish without the need for a license.

Whether your passion lies in fresh or saltwater fishing, the first weekend of June offers the perfect opportunity to engage in recreational rod and reel fishing without the usual red tape.

Despite this freedom, it’s important to note that fees charged by fishing piers are not exempt during this period. Moreover, all fishing regulations, such as size, season, catch limits, and gear restrictions, remain firmly in place.

For details regarding saltwater limits and regulations, you can visit the Marine Resources Commission’s website. The 2023 Freshwater Fishing and Boating Regulations can be found on the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources website.

Junior Anglers are especially encouraged to check out the program tailored specifically for them.

The Free Fishing Days are authorized by the Code of Virginia, § 28.2-302.5. So, mark your calendars and make sure to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to experience all that Virginia’s waters have to offer!

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Virginia Governor, Educators Recognize Urgent Need for AI Policy



RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently issued an executive directive that emphasized the looming impact of artificial intelligence, though higher education is only beginning to grapple with how to utilize AI.

Youngkin’s order is to ensure AI is used responsibly, ethically, and transparently in state government, job creation, and education.

A survey released earlier this year found that 60% of college students polled have not been taught how to use AI tools ethically or responsibly by higher education instructors. The same percentage of students also think AI tools will become the new normal, according to the BestColleges survey.

A U.S. Department of Education policy report published in May stated support for using AI to improve teaching and learning. The department stated the need to develop clear policy for AI use and that the anticipated risks and unintended consequences must be addressed.

ChatGPT was released to the public less than a year ago. The chatbot uses language models to mimic human writing and dialogue. It can respond to questions and generate various written content, including emails, prompts, and articles. The chatbot is a form of generative AI that can also create images, videos, songs, and code.

Educators at every level are now faced with how to appropriately address the new technology.

Like many universities, Virginia Commonwealth University faculty and staff continue to discuss AI’s role and how to guide professors moving forward, according to Mangala Subramaniam, the university’s senior vice provost of faculty affairs.

VCU will solicit feedback from faculty on Sept. 26 to learn how AI has impacted their classrooms. The university will create an advisory council of faculty who are familiar with AI and who can provide updated guidance for professors.

Faculty at VCU are either fearful of the technology or they’re willing to experiment with it, according to Subramaniam.

The university held two forums earlier this year focused on the potential challenges and opportunities of AI, including ChatGPT. Professors have the freedom to decide if they want to use AI in their classroom and are advised to make expectations clear in the syllabus about its use, according to Subramaniam.

Educators may face problems with AI, including plagiarism and how to detect if a student uses AI. Students may face uncertainty about acceptable and allowed use. VCU describes AI plagiarism and copyright as a “difficult topic” and advises that it should be made clear to students they will be punished if they submit AI-generated work as original content, according to the VCU learning tool guide.

Educators and businesses need clear ways to detect AI-generated work, which has driven an industry response.

The software Turnitin allows educators to detect originality and plagiarism. It can now detect 97% of ChatGPT and GPT3 writing, according to its website.

Verified Human is a relatively new company that seeks to differentiate human-made media from AI-generated media, according to its founder, Micah Voraritskul.

Verified Human is conducting a study where the company will collect a thousand writing samples from college and high school students across the globe to see what is written by a human, written by AI, or put through an AI scrubber, according to Voraritskul. A scrubber is intended to modify AI-generated text and make it appear more human.

“I think what we’re trying to do is help institutions of higher learning have some kind of policy,” Voraritskul said.

Teachers are nervous about AI because their job is to assess student learning, he said.

“It’s hard to assess student learning … if 90% of assessment is done in writing and you can’t determine whether or not the student wrote that, you don’t know what the student has actually learned,” Voraritskul said.

Student and faculty reaction to AI use depends on the assignment, the outcome, and the standards of learning. Arielle Andrews is a VCU interdisciplinary studies student with a focus on media studies, sociology, and creative writing. She is a contributing writer for the independent student newspaper, The Commonwealth Times.

“I think the best thing to do for students is instead of teaching them to fear, or like have a disdain for AI, is to more teach them how to work alongside it and use it ethically,” Andrews said.

AI can be a beneficial tool and better used for things that are not “super impactful to the learning process,” Andrews said.

“If an assignment can easily be completed by AI, then it’s not testing those human traits of writing that it should,” Andrews said.

Voraritskul is “pro AI.” The tools can help students do better work in the future, he said. However, he sees the potential danger of AI’s influence on critical thinking and understanding difficult concepts.

“When teachers are asking students to figure hard things out, they want them to use their brains,” Voraritskul said. “They want them to exercise their brain muscle so they can figure out what’s going on in this problem.”

Although the BestColleges survey found students were concerned about AI’s impact on their education, more students were concerned about the impact of AI on society at large.

Voraritskul recalled that math teachers all over the world were concerned students would not learn how to add or subtract when Texas Instruments mass-produced the first affordable calculators.

“Well, that wasn’t true,” Voraritskul said. “And what are you going to do? Stop the calculator? Stop the computer? Stop the internet? Stop AI? No, you can’t. You have to adjust.”


By Nicole Staab
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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Va. Department of Education Begins Developing New Accountability System



Following criticism by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, Virginia’s Department of Education will begin to develop a new system for tracking public schools’ and students’ performance.

A June report from Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons to the General Assembly noted that most states have both an accreditation system, which assesses whether schools are meeting all requirements laid out in state laws and regulations, and an accountability system, which provides “timely and transparent information on student and school performance.”

President Grace Creasey listening to a presentation at the Board of Education’s business meeting on Sept. 14, 2023. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

“Virginia’s current accreditation system combines these two systems into one system as a single accreditation system, limiting transparency into how schools maintain compliance and recognize student achievement independent of each other,” the report found. It went on to recommend that Virginia develop “a distinct, stand-alone accountability system” that provides information about how each K-12 school is preparing students.

Virginia’s current system focuses on accreditation and measures schools based on not only academic achievement, performance gaps, student attendance, and graduation and dropout rates but also factors like building safety, student-teacher ratios, and licensure. Schools are then labeled “accredited,” “accredited with conditions,” or not accredited.

The Virginia Department of Education has said the current system is unclear and should be revised to address recent declines in student performance in core subjects such as math and reading.

“This is an important move to show transparently how schools are growing children, how they’re meeting achievement measures, and how they’re readying kids for the future,” said Coons.

On Thursday, the Board of Education voted to direct the department to develop two different measures to track academic performance: an achievement index and an overall school rating.

The index measure would provide a picture of a school’s achievement level based on students’ performance on assessments, with different levels of performance, like basic, proficient, or advanced, receiving different weights.

Scott Brabrand, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said Thursday the index “allows schools to count the achievement of every child, and it also allows teachers to focus on every child in their classroom, not just focusing on those on the bubble for proficiency.”

The former John B. Cary Elementary School in Richmond was renamed Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School in 2023. (Mechelle Hankerson/Virginia Mercury)

A second or “summative” measure would provide a school rating based on nine factors that would include not only student performance but also graduation completion and dropout rates. That metric would be similar to those used in states like North Carolina and Maryland and could take the form of A-F grades, stars, or another ranking.

While the superintendent’s association is also supporting the summative measure, the Virginia School Boards Association expressed concern that it could negatively impact a school division’s ability to recruit teachers or obtain needed resources.

“Whether it is at A-F, a series of stars or descriptive labels, VSBA is concerned that unless the rating system is used to drive resources and supports students and schools in challenging environments, the label will do more harm to schools and increase the likelihood of a school not making needed strides and academic achievement,” said JoWanda Rollins-Fells, a member of the group’s board.

Board member Anne Holton, an appointee of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said she needed more information about whether the summative measure would contribute to residential segregation before supporting the proposed accountability rating system. Some researchers have argued that poor school ratings increase the likelihood of parents moving their children to private or charter schools, leading to decreased funding a public school receives from the state.

“I think that would be an important factor for us to consider as we move forward,” Holton said.

Last fall, the previous board began reviewing the state’s current accountability system to address Virginia students’ declining scores on state and national assessments.

Since then, Youngkin, who has been vocal in his criticism of the state’s current accreditation system, has appointed three new board members. Currently, eight of its nine seats are filled with his appointees.

Board President Grace Creasey, one of Youngkin’s appointees, on Thursday, said the board had discussed accreditation and accountability for a year because of the “complexity” and “lack of transparency” of the state systems, which she said don’t effectively measure student performance.

“We’re really starting to put the skeleton of this project together in order to get to a very robust end goal, and so I’m very happy [with] the guardrails that we’ve created today to inform our work further as we move forward,” she said after the meeting.

Kimberly Bridges, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the new approach to accountability “will be helpful to schools, teachers, leaders, students, as well as parents.”

Bridges, who served on the working group that helped craft the June recommendations, said she had hoped the board would have considered in more depth the degree to which achievement measures should prioritize proficiency or growth. The working group had urged the board to include both factors in any measures.

Creasey said growth measures may not be informative for parents, while proficiency measures would allow direct conversations about achievement between administrators, teachers, and parents.

On Thursday, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and Virginia School Boards Association requested the board delay voting on any of the new accountability measures to give the public time to review the options.

Creasey, however, said the development process will last a year and allow public comment and stakeholder input opportunities.

“The process had to start somewhere,” she said.

An updated timeline calls for VDOE to collect data on the indicators included in the new accountability system from August 2024 to July 2025 and implement the system in August 2025. The board would vote again on the proposal next summer.


by Nathaniel Cline, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia Welcomes the 139th Batch of State Troopers to the Frontlines



A Fresh Wave of Protectors for the Commonwealth.

In the heart of Richmond this past Friday, the 15th of September, the Virginia State Police Academy proudly celebrated a pivotal moment. The 139th generation of Virginia State Troopers, a diverse and rigorously trained group, was handed their diplomas in a ceremony filled with pride and hope.

Colonel Gary T. Settle, the Virginia State Police Superintendent, shared his admiration and belief in this new generation, commenting, “For 91 years, the Virginia State Police has stood as a beacon of security, ensuring safety for every individual residing, working, or merely passing through the great Commonwealth of Virginia. The dedication we’ve observed from these graduates reassures us that they are more than ready to uphold the lofty standards that come with our emblem.” His words resonated with the promise that the legacy of service and dedication the State Police embodies will continue.

These fresh troopers have undergone an extensive and comprehensive training regime. Their preparation involved a grueling 1,300 hours spanning a vast array of topics. Not only were they schooled in the expected areas like constitutional law and emergency medical care, but also in more sensitive and essential subjects such as de-escalation techniques, strategies for assisting individuals experiencing mental health crises, and promoting fairness and impartiality in policing. Starting their journey on February 27th, earlier this year, these recruits were immersed in 28 weeks of academic, physical, and hands-on training, proving their dedication and resilience.

Illustrating the appeal and prestige of the Virginia State Police, the 139th Basic Session witnessed a rich tapestry of backgrounds. Recruits hailed from all across the Commonwealth and from states such as Arkansas and Texas. Furthermore, international representation was seen from places like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Saipan. Such diversity is a testament to the universal desire to serve and protect communities.

As they transition into their roles, the week of September 18 will see these troopers disperse across Virginia to their designated duty assignments. But the learning doesn’t stop here; each trooper will undergo an additional six-week intensive with a Field Training Officer, familiarizing themselves with their new patrol regions and ensuring they’re best equipped to serve their communities.

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Bold Step Forward: Governor Youngkin Inks Historic Virginia Budget



Unprecedented Tax Relief and Strong Commitments to Education, Safety, and Economic Growth.

In an era where political division often seems the norm, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin struck a chord of unity and progress on Thursday, September 14, 2023. Standing on the Capitol steps, Youngkin put pen to paper and sealed his promise of change, officially signing the Virginia State Budget.

Pledging his commitment to all Virginians, Governor Youngkin’s new budget has been touted as a beacon of conservative commonsense, prioritizing lower living costs, strengthened education, and unwavering support for law enforcement.

The highlight? A whopping $1 billion in tax relief, supplementing last year’s significant $4 billion cut. This initiative will notably return up to $200 to single taxpayers and double that for married couples. Moreover, small businesses will benefit from a tax relief that promises to save them an estimated $10.3 million annually by 2024.

In the realm of education, Youngkin and his team have earmarked $653.3 million for K-12 education and schools. The fund will combat learning losses, bolster support staff, and further extend the Virginia Literacy Act. In addition, the budget allocates a well-deserved 2% raise for teachers and school staff from January 1, 2024, enhancing their previous 10% raise proposal.

Our communities’ safety isn’t overlooked either. The budget presents a thoughtful $155.6 million new allocation targeting a gamut of mental health services, from crisis centers to psychiatric programs in hospitals. This initiative acknowledges the urgent need to address mental health challenges, especially in today’s complex societal landscape.

Economic growth remains a centerpiece of Youngkin’s vision. Investments in infrastructure, such as the $150 million set aside for the Interstate 64 expansion between Richmond and Williamsburg, coupled with the establishment of the Virginia Power Innovation Fund, signal a forward-looking strategy. The budget also earmarks funds for flood victims, stormwater management, and more, underscoring the administration’s commitment to a resilient and sustainable future.

Delegate Barry Knight and Senators Janet Howell and George Barker lauded the budget, emphasizing its bipartisan nature and its robust support for public schools, law enforcement, and mental healthcare.

Governor Glenn Youngkin’s signing of the Virginia State Budget sets a promising precedent for the future. While the budget’s figures are impressive, it’s the underlying message that resonates the most: a pledge to work across divides, prioritize citizens, and create a thriving Commonwealth for all.


Cutting Costs For Virginians

• $1 billion in tax cuts. On top of last year’s cuts, which totaled $4 billion, Governor Youngkin has signed over $5 billion in tax relief.

• Reinstates the state-wide sales tax holiday for school supplies, clothing, and footwear.

• Sends taxpayers back their money, up to $200 for single filers and $400 for married couples filing jointly.

• Increases the standard deduction to $8,500 for single filers and $17,000 for married filers.

• Provides tax relief to more veterans by eliminating the age restriction on military retirement income tax relief.

• Increases the business interest deduction from 30% to 50%, which will save small businesses and employers $10.3 million annually in tax year 2024.

Restoring Excellence In Education

• $653.3 million in aid for K-12 education and schools divisions.

• $418.3 million of that is one-time General Funds targeted to fight learning loss and chronic absenteeism.

• $152.3 million is to hire more support staff for students and teachers.

• $6.7 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars devoted to expanding the Virginia Literacy Act to grades 4 through 8.

• $54.6 million from the General Fund to give teachers and other school staff a 2% raise starting on January 1, 2024. This is on top of the 10% raise for teachers that the Governor proposed last year.

Keeping Our Communities Safe

• $155.6 million in new spending for mental health services, including:

• $58.0 million to create crisis receiving centers and crisis stabilization units

• $34.0 million for permanent supportive housing and housing for individuals with serious mental illness

• $18.0 million for a targeted pay raise of an average of 5% for all Community Service Board staff

• $11.7 million for school and community-based children’s mental health services

• $10.0 million for 15 additional mobile crisis teams

• $10.0 million to contract for psychiatric emergency programs in hospitals

• $4.4 million to increase funding for the first three steps of STEP-VA

• $4.0 million for the Virginia Mental Health Access Program

• $15.0 million to increase support for the Operation Ceasefire Grant Program

• $9.5 million for healthcare workforce initiatives to close the nursing and behavioral health workforce shortage.

• $10.0 million to establish the Safer Communities Program.

• $5.1 million to support TDO/ECO transportation activities and local law enforcement agencies.

• $1.2 million for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to backfill reduced fine and fee revenue receipts.

Reinvigorating Economic Growth And Making Government Work for You

• $150 million devoted to widening Interstate 64 between Richmond and Williamsburg.

• $125 million devoted to the Virginia Business Ready Sites Fund, plus $75 million to empower the Commonwealth to procure sites and make them ready for large employers.

• $18 million devoted to the victims of the Southwest Virginia floods that occurred in 2022.

• $17.0 million for managing stormwater encroachment in the City of Virginia Beach.

• $12.3 million devoted to closing the remainder of the unemployment insurance appeal backlog.

• $10 million devoted toward developing an inland port in Southwest Virginia.

• $4 million will go toward launching the Virginia Power Innovation Fund to make Virginia the landing ground for future energy technologies and supply chains.

• $6 million devoted toward economic development activities related to the Partnership for Petersburg.

• $700,000 for the Dairy Producer Margin Coverage Premium Assistance to support Virginia’s dairy farmers.

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Regional News

Food and Drug Administration Approves COVID Boosters for Upcoming Season



The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the latest round of COVID-19 boosters as public health officials brace for another cold and flu season.

An advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to vote on recommendations on Tuesday, the final step in the process before people will be able to get the shots.

“Vaccination remains critical to public health and continued protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

“The public can be assured that these updated vaccines have met the agency’s rigorous scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality,” Marks added. “We very much encourage those who are eligible to consider getting vaccinated.”

The updated COVID-19 booster shots are made by Moderna and Pfizer.

The FDA said in a statement that people 5 and older can get one dose of the updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccine as long as it’s been at least two months since their last dose of the vaccine.

Vaccinated children between six months and 4 years old can get one or two doses of the updated vaccine. Unvaccinated children in the same age range are eligible for three doses of the updated Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or two doses of the updated Moderna shot.

“The updated vaccines are expected to provide good protection against COVID-19 from the currently circulating variants,” the FDA said in a statement. “Barring the emergence of a markedly more virulent variant, the FDA anticipates that the composition of COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated annually, as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine.”

Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have been trending upward in recent weeks, though officials aren’t expressing alarm at the rise in severe illness.

The number of hospitalizations has risen by nearly 16%, while deaths increased by almost 11%, according to data from the CDC.

The percentage of Americans getting COVID-19 shots has steadily decreased since the first round of vaccinations rolled out in the last weeks of 2020.

More than 81% of the country got at least one dose of the original vaccine, but 70% completed the primary two-dose series. Just 17% of the U.S. population decided to get the bivalent vaccine that was approved last year, according to CDC data.


by Jennifer Shutt, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Virginia Eyes $28M from Kroger in Opioid Settlement



Major Step in Addressing the Opioid Crisis.

In a significant move towards accountability in the ongoing opioid crisis, Attorney General Jason Miyares declared a tentative agreement with grocery giant Kroger. Under the agreement’s terms, the company will offer reparation to participating state and local governments for its role in exacerbating the opioid epidemic, which has grievously impacted countless lives.

The payout, amounting to a staggering $1.37 billion, will be disbursed in installments spanning over 11 years. If all goes as projected, the Commonwealth of Virginia stands to gain a potential $28 million from this settlement. The funds are intended to provide relief and bolster recovery services for individuals and communities grappling with the consequences of opioid addiction.<br><br>

In a heartfelt address, Attorney General Miyares voiced his concerns about the opioid tragedy, emphasizing the dire need for such settlements: “The opioid crisis has tragically claimed the lives of countless innocent Virginians. This significant settlement offers aid and recovery services to those who urgently need it.” He further highlighted the dedication of the Office of Attorney General in combatting this crisis throughout Virginia.

The agreement will only affect states where Kroger has a presence, whether under its primary brand name or through its various subsidiaries. For Virginians, familiar brands like Kroger and Harris Teeter are included. However, Kroger’s expansive portfolio boasts names known nationwide, including Dillons, Fred Meyer, Smith’s Food and Drug, Ralphs, and many others. An intriguing detail is that the final settlement is still pending, hinging not only on the financial commitment but also on vital changes to business practices.

Virginia wasn’t alone in the negotiations. Several states, led by their respective Attorneys General from North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, California, Colorado, Illinois, and, of course, Virginia, united in this effort. The united front showcases the collaborative approach states are taking against the opioid crisis. Up until now, Virginia has secured an estimated $1.1 billion from national investigations and lawsuits against the pharmaceutical sector over the opioid disaster.

While the settlement marks a significant stride, it’s a poignant reminder of the devastation wrought by the opioid epidemic, urging the need for sustained efforts in healing and prevention.

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