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Community members, legislators, academics work to eliminate food insecurity

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RICHMOND, Va. – The founders of Fonticello Food Forest bent down under the picnic table to pick edible chickweed leaves and lavender flowers. Moments later they were running to their neighbors’ aid – some of their chickens were loose.

Jameson Price and Laney Sullivan founded the outdoor space, which serves as a free source of fresh and perishable food for community members. The food is donated or grown on-site, the pair said. The property is located in Carter Jones Park, south of the James River in Richmond.

“This is not charity work,” Price said. “This is just work.”

Price and Sullivan are part of a larger effort to mitigate food insecurity and food waste across Virginia.


Food insecurity means a household lacks access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An estimated 10% of Virginians were food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic; that percentage increased to 22% between April and May 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.

Grassroots efforts

Nationally, food insecurity went unchanged at 10.5% between 2019 and 2020, according to the USDA. However, food pantry usage increased between those two years.

More than 4% of families used food pantries in 2019 and, almost 7% of families reported using a food pantry in 2020, according to USDA. The 2021 data was not available as of mid-April, according to USDA.

Food pantry usage is higher among those who experience food insecurity, according to USDA.

Local grocery stores and nonprofit organizations such as Feed More food bank provide food for the Fonticello Food Forest, Price and Sullivan said. They have built contacts with store employees to help acquire leftover food; one method also deployed by the food sharing organization Food Not Bombs where Sullivan also works.

“We’re trying to go and establish relationships and understanding of what we’re trying to do, and the impact that it’s giving to families and to folks that need the food,” Price said, “Especially as the cost continues to rise but waste doesn’t seem to be decreasing.”

Over 816,000 tons of surplus food were sent to the landfill in Virginia in 2019, according to data from ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste across the U.S. That includes food surplus from manufacturing, retail, food service, farming, and residential sources. The food that Fonticello Food Forest saves from waste is a tiny piece of the billions of pounds of food thrown away every day, Sullivan said.

“This is not the better world,” Sullivan said. “This is better than it would be if it was all going in the trash, but it’s not the ideal.”

RVA Community Fridges works to increase access to fresh, locally-grown food, according to Taylor Scott, the mutual aid nonprofit’s founder. The program works to keep 10 established fridges in the Richmond area stocked with free food. Scott founded RVA Community Fridges in 2020 after wanting to redistribute surplus tomatoes she grew in her home garden.

Mutual aid is the principle of serving one’s community to meet the immediate needs of community members, according to GlobalGiving, a nonprofit organization that connects other nonprofits with donors and companies.

The goal is to add more fridges in food deserts, areas that are far from grocery stores and have limited access to affordable and fresh food.

The newest fridge was established at Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen—a restaurant in the Fulton Hill neighborhood—after community members highly requested it. The area is a food desert lacking basic infrastructure, according to Scott.

Providing food for the Fulton Hill community has been rewarding, Scott said. Over 60% of the neighborhood’s population is Black, and 10% are over age 65, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Scott wants to add more fridges in communities of color. Black individuals make up 29% of the population of Richmond and Petersburg but account for 48% of people experiencing poverty, according to United Way, an organization that funds nonprofits in the Richmond area. Latino individuals make up 6% of the population but account for 15% of individuals experiencing poverty, according to the same data.

Black Space Matters

The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU in 2020 started a collaboration with Duron Chavis, an urban farmer, and community activist, to highlight issues of food insecurity. Chavis grew food in the vacant lot outside the museum that was later distributed. The project also highlighted the importance of Black community spaces to have conversations about food justice.

People cannot discuss food insecurity without discussing the issue of land use, Chavis said, because those who do not have access to healthy food often don’t have access to land to grow that food.

“Our work is about reaching people’s dignity and their ability to be self-determining and to make decisions for themselves that increase their health and increase access to healthy food without hoping on some outside resources to come in and make everything better for them,” Chavis said.

Governments could create something like an office dedicated to urban agriculture, but Richmond hasn’t established such an office, Chavis said.

Mark Davis, the founder of Real Roots Food Systems, also is working to expand access to locally-grown food. The organization’s goal is for people to know where their food comes from and experiment with ways to obtain food that doesn’t involve purchasing items.

“I think it’s a special thing to be in a cashless exchange in times like these, to create a resiliency in communities like this,” Davis said recently when interviewed for the “Black Space Matters” Season Two documentary series.

Davis said that he grows food on land in Hanover County, owned by Richmond-based First Baptist Church. The church then donates the food to food pantries and other outlets. RealRoots wants to create less waste in landfills and meaningful collection of research around waste diversion.

Legislative action

Virginia legislators are also enacting laws to help support access to local agriculture. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, introduced House Bill 2068 in the 2021 Virginia General Assembly session to connect local farmers to local consumers, he said.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by both chambers in 2021, established the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Grant Program. The program created grants to support infrastructure and other projects to support local farming. The grants are available on a competitive basis and award up to $25,000 per grant, according to the bill.

Some examples of ways the grants have been used include flash freezing produce, canning farmed food, and transferring farmed food to wholesale markets, Rasoul said.

“So, it’s all about trying to get that local food from the farm to the market, and at the same time reducing our [carbon] footprint,” Rasoul said.

Rasoul introduced HB 323 this past session to double the program’s available grant money from $25,000 to $50,000. Both chambers in the General Assembly also passed this measure unanimously.

The grant program awarded eight grants in December 2021 to various food infrastructure projects. Two of the projects involve improving farmer’s markets, two involve meat processors and two involve upgrading local canning systems, according to the Virginia Department for Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Campus connections

Food insecurity worsened because of COVID-19, according to data from Feeding America. However, data suggest food insecurity was a problem among college students before the pandemic.

Youngmi Kim, associate professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, researched food insecurity among college students before the onset of COVID-19. She found that 35% of VCU students experienced food insecurity.

This finding inspired environmental studies professor John Jones to dream up a miniature version of the main food pantry on campus, which began in 2014 and is located inside the University Student Commons at VCU.

Little Ram Pantries launched in October 2021 in various locations around campus. People can take however much of the nonperishable items they need and donate as much food as they can.

Jones had the idea for the effort when he came across a small food pantry in the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond, he said. The effort mirrors the “little free pantry” movement spawned from little free libraries seen in neighborhoods around the U.S.

One aspect preventing people from using the main food pantry on campus is the stigma associated with food pantries, according to Jones. He wanted to employ the Little Ram Pantries as a way to eliminate the stigma surrounding using resources, he said.

“Let’s try to make this so visible on campus that it fades into the background,” Jones said.

Jones received program funding from the Office of Community Engagement and VCU Service Learning and has support from the school’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation. Each box has a sensor to track when the boxes are opened and closed for Jones’ research.

Jones found students interact with the Little Ram Pantries at over twice the rate they visit the main campus food pantry. The main food pantry on campus receives about 34 visits per week, Jones said, while the satellite version he launched receives about 75. This success led to him expanding the program by creating more locations.

“I think that the data that we have is very promising,” Jones said. “And I think that with some tweaking, I think the model could be very effective on other campuses.”

Professors from the University of Alabama and the University of West Georgia reached out to him about starting their own version of the program, Jones said. He wants to launch a website that details best practices for miniature food pantries, he said.

Despite the success of the Little Ram Pantries and other food pantry models, Jones said food pantries are not a solution to food insecurity.

“If our society wants to be serious about fixing the underlying issue as to why people are hungry, then we need to look at the issue of why people aren’t being paid enough,” Jones said.

Fonticello Food Forest founders Price and Sullivan helped round up the neighbor’s loose chickens and returned to finish the interview.

Efforts to combat food insecurity are notable, they said, but shouldn’t be necessary.

“In a truly just world and a truly reciprocal, mutual-aid world, there wouldn’t be this food waste to be redistributed and folks would be more connected to the food process,” Price said. “We understand that that’s not such an easy thing, to just suddenly flip a switch on, so you do what you do in the meantime.”

By Grace Bost and Katharine DeRosa
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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Three interesting bills of the week: implicit bias training, geriatric parole and furloughed feds

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The Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2023 session in Richmond on Jan. 11, 2023. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

 

Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In this occasional series, the Mercury takes a look at a few of the proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session. 

House Bill 1734 – Implicit bias training for practitioners working with pregnant persons

This legislation from Del. Chris Head, R-Roanoke, is part of a bipartisan effort that would require practitioners who have direct contact with persons who are or may become pregnant to complete two hours of continuing education related to implicit bias and cultural competency in health care.


The Virginia Board of Medicine would adopt and implement the policies and require that the education be completed at least once every other license renewal cycle, which is every two years. The bill defines implicit bias as “a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized.”

An identical version of the bill introduced this year by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, was struck in committee Thursday, with the panel agreeing to send a letter to the Task Force on Maternal Health Data and Quality Measures asking for a study.

Advocates have been calling for solutions to narrow the gap in racial disparities in maternal mortality for years. Multiple studies have confirmed that many medical professionals hold implicit biases that affect the quality of care.

Black women in Virginia are more than twice as likely to die in childbirth than white women, according to a 2017 Virginia Department of Health report. In 2020, non-Hispanic Black women nationwide experienced maternal mortality rates nearly three times higher than those of their white counterparts, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is the eighth piece of legislation brought before the General Assembly to require implicit bias training for health care providers since 2022.

House Bill 1458 – Limiting certain geriatric prisoners from petitioning the Parole Board for release

This bill from Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles, would expand the list of offenses that prohibit a person from petitioning the Parole Board for conditional release as a geriatric prisoner.

Current law allows any geriatric prisoner serving a sentence for a felony offense other than a Class 1 felony — the most serious type of crime, such as capital murder — to petition the Parole Board for conditional release. The designation includes any person who has reached the age of 65 or older and has served at least five years of his or her sentence or anyone who has reached the age of 60 and has served at least ten years of his or her sentence.

Ballard’s legislation would expand the list of felony offenses that prohibit geriatric prisoners from petitioning the Parole Board to include crimes such as the murder of a pregnant woman, killing a fetus, lynching, acts of terrorism, kidnapping or abduction, robbery or carjacking, and treason, among others.

Lawmakers voted along party lines to move forward with the bill in subcommittee this week.

Senate Bill 1545 – Eviction and foreclosure relief for furloughed federal agency employees during a shutdown

SB 1545 from Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach, would provide temporary relief from eviction and foreclosure proceedings for certain Virginians who are furloughed or lose wages or payments as a result of a partial closure of the federal government. Eligible residents would include employees of U.S. government agencies and contractors for those agencies.

Under these circumstances, an employee would be granted an extra 60 days of protection from eviction for nonpayment of rent if he or she provides written proof of being furloughed.

Additionally, a 30-day stay will be granted if an employee owns a one- to four-family residential property and faces foreclosure or if the property’s owner has a tenant who the federal government furloughed within 90 days of the closure or 90 days following the end of the closure.

The bill defines the closure of the U.S. government as a “closure of one or more agencies of the United States federal government for a period of 14 consecutive days or longer as a result of a lapse of appropriation.”

Senate lawmakers unanimously moved forward with the bill in a subcommittee last week and full committee this week.

The last federal government closure was in December 2018 and lasted 35 days – the longest in the country’s history.

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.

Three interesting bills of the week: Pound charter, stillborn child tax credit and private police

Three interesting bills of the week: declawing cats, antidepressants and the UDC

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Despite public pushback, Board of Ed accepts draft history standards for first review

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A speaker holds up a sign supporting a draft of the history standards different from the version completed by the staff at the Virginia Department of Education. (Nathaniel Cline / Virginia Mercury)

 

The Virginia Board of Education voted to accept for first review the newest draft of Virginia’s hotly debated history and social science standards Thursday on a 5-3 vote.

President Daniel Gecker, Vice President Tammy Mann, and board member Anne Holton, all appointees of former Govs. Ralph Northam and Terry McAuliffe, opposed moving forward with the proposal over concerns that the introductory pages were too “political.”

“I did take my time and read through the January revision,” said Mann during a Wednesday work session, referring to the latest draft. “It is improved, but it is difficult to constantly have to navigate through these coded ways of dealing with elements of our history.”


Despite the concerns, board member Andy Rotherham, an appointee of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, on Thursday made a motion to move forward with the new standards.

“This process is not over,” he said, calling the proposal “good at this point in the process.”

The vote, which followed four hours of public comment, came after months of pushback by Virginians who criticized a lack of transparency in the authorship of changes that appeared in a November draft and the absence from it of influential figures and events. The final draft will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science in K-12 schools, as assessed through the Standards of Learning tests.

Complicating the process was the decision to separate the standards from an accompanying curriculum framework. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow has said the combination led to “vague” and “confusing information,” although one board member said the separation “created the conditions for confusion.”

The controversy over the standards, which under state law must be revised at least every seven years, has bled over into the General Assembly. Last week, legislation that would have required the Board of Education to publish a list of any consultants used in revising the standards and how much they were paid at least 30 days prior to a public hearing on a revision failed in a House subcommittee.

“This process is too important to our kids to leave it to conversations behind closed doors without transparency about who is deciding what will be taught in our schools,” said the bill’s patron, Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Loudoun.

On Thursday, Balow urged speakers to assess the standards and not base their opinions on “a specific set of talking points.”

“It’s not a long document, and it’s meant to be public-facing,” Balow said. “So I really hope that people take a look at the standards and find themselves, find their cultures, find their interests reflected in the standards because they are representative voices and work over the last two years. This is not a standalone document that was stood up over the last couple of weeks.”

January draft vs. alternative version

The board heard from dozens of speakers Thursday criticizing the newest draft, which they accused of “whitewashing” parts of history, requiring a high rate of memorization and excluding various issues such as geographical themes and the American labor movement.

“I’m concerned that this new revised standard is going to set education back in this commonwealth,” said Milton Hathaway, a parent of public school graduates. “There is no question about your commitment to education in the Commonwealth, but to pass this January standard is going to set our commonwealth back, and your name will be on the documentation.”

Martin Brown, Virginia’s chief diversity officer and director of the state’s Office of Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion, was a rare supporter to speak on Thursday.

“We believe the good, the bad, and the ugly have actually been communicated in the standards,” Brown said.

He added that the standards are “more robust” and have “more expanded content” about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Indigenous people’s movement in America.

Additional remarks by Brown that the standards honored recommendations issued by the African American History Education Commission, however, stoked pushback from former commission members in attendance.

One member, Makya Little, told the Mercury no one on the commission knew Brown.

“We literally had no idea who he was,” said Little, who served as the commission’s parent advocate and is running for the House District 19 seat as a Democrat.

“What the Youngkin administration is doing is what the DeSantis administration is doing,” she added, referring to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has publicly criticized what he calls “woke” ideas and “indoctrination” in schools. “They are just being more underhanded about it.”

The January draft included content from earlier drafts produced in August and November.

An alternative version was published by the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and American Historical Association in December.

Many speakers and groups urged the board to accept that alternative version, which its crafters said aimed to “ensure that content was accurate, age-appropriate, inclusive, and vertically articulated in a manner that supports a natural progression of content, depth, and skill acquisition.”

However, a motion to substitute the alternative draft for the administration’s latest version failed 3-5, with Mann, Holton, and Gecker in favor.

Board member Anne Holton, a former Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointee, at the Virginia Board of Education business meeting on Feb. 2, 2023. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

 

‘Restoring excellence’

On Wednesday, the board spent significant time debating the opening pages of the January draft, which included a discussion of the standards’ guiding principles, background, and context.

Mann urged the board to remove the section, which she said: “has a tone that is [more] partisan than is needed in this kind of document.” She particularly objected to a statement that the new draft would “restore excellence” to Virginia education.

“The standards are not our problem, in my humble opinion,” Mann said. “This is a revision of 2015 [standards]. If we have issues with how students are performing on assessments, that deserves to be understood because that may not be due to our standards lacking, but it actually may also be associated with the fact that they may not have access to instruction that is qualified to teach the high standards.”

Holton also expressed opposition to the phrase, which she said could be interpreted as a reflection on current and future educators.

“How are we going to retain qualified teachers when we tell all the teachers across the commonwealth and all the curriculum educators that we need to restore excellence because they’ve decimated it?” Holton asked. “I think it’s the wrong way to start out this document.”

Youngkin appointees Suparna Dutta and Bill Hansen disagreed, with Dutta calling the draft “fantastic” and Hansen saying he viewed the introductory pages as “a call to action” after the recent drop in assessment scores statewide.

“I’m viewing this as more of a call to action, a call to help change things because if we keep going on the trajectory we’re going, it’s not a good one,” Hansen said.

Public hearings are scheduled to begin on March 13 and run to March 21 at five locations in Virginia, according to Virginia Department of Education staff. Final approval is expected on April 20.

Gecker said he expects line edits to be conducted after public comments.

 

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: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Elite cross-country runners race in Virginia for Team USA spot

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Top distance runners in the country recently competed at Pole Green Park in Hanover County for a chance to land a spot on Team USA in the upcoming World Athletics Cross Country Championship in Bathurst, Australia.

Over 450 participants participated in the USA Track, and Field Cross Country Championship held on Jan. 21 as part of the Richmond Cross Country Festival. There were 12 qualifying Team USA spots between the men’s and women’s teams.

Professional runner Emily Durgin, who represents Adidas, competed in the women’s 10K and punched her ticket to the World Championships.

“I did not really prepare much for this race, but I think that’s what made it just so fun and exciting,” Durgin said.


Durgin dropped out of the New York City Marathon last November for personal reasons, she said. She decided to take care of her body and rested until three weeks before the championship qualifier race.

“Not that I was necessarily planning on putting pressure on making the team and moving forward, but I knew I just wanted to compete, and I love to front run,” Durgin said.

Her training runs felt good, and she was ready to return to her cross-country roots, she said.

“I was like, ‘all right, let’s just kind of brush off the end of last year and start on a positive note and run hard from the front,’” she said. “I knew if I did that, it would produce a good result.”

Durgin has competed in national championships, but this will be her first time competing in the World Championships. She wants to ensure she does everything to set herself up for a good performance and represent USATF, USA, and her brand Adidas.

Runners were divided into sex and age brackets for the long distance 6 kilometers, 8 kilometers, and 10 kilometers races.

The six women who placed on Team USA in the 10K category were, in order: Ednah Kurgat, Makena Morley, Durgin, Emily Lipari, Weini Kelati, and Katie Izzo.

The six 10K runners who placed on the men’s Team USA were: Emmanuel Bor, Andrew Colley, Anthony Rotich, Leonard Korir, Sam Chelanga, and Dillon Maggard.

Pole Green Park has hosted cross-country championships more than five times, such as the Atlantic 10 Conference Championships, according to the Collegiate Running Association. The USATF Championship has never been held in Virginia, according to Steve Taylor, the race organizer. Taylor founded the Collegiate Running Association and coordinates with the USATF national development team.

Taylor was excited to see six years of planning become a reality.

“Yesterday, I was out at the course, and there were Olympians out there,” Taylor said. “Just jogging the course, and they’re right here in Richmond.”

Track and field fans came out to watch and buy Team USA gear from the onsite shop.

Organizers wanted this to be a community event, Taylor said.

“We wanted it to be free so people could come in and see our nation’s best cross country runners compete and earn a spot on Team USA,” Taylor said.

The day’s first race was a community 6K race, which brought 12 people to the starting line. A race for ages ten and under followed. The competitive races were underway by 10:30 a.m., with the last one at 2:50 p.m.

Top athletes from around the globe will compete in the World Championships in Bathurst, Australia, on Feb. 18.

By Janae Blakeney
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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Animal welfare advocates disappointed bill to declaw cats failed

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A proposal to outlaw the declawing of cats, a procedure that animal rights advocates call cruel and unnecessary, failed to advance from a House subcommittee last month.

House Bill 1382 would have made cat declawing a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation, and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

The bill is important because cats’ claws are natural and used for stretching, marking territory, balance, and more, according to Molly Armus, Virginia, state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Declawing cats is actually an “incredibly painful procedure,” according to Armus.


“I think it’s up to us, as people who are taking these cats into our homes, to learn more humane and less invasive ways to manage scratching,” Armus said.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, an onychectomy, or declawing, includes ten separate amputations. PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world, according to its website.

According to the Animal League Defense Fund, declawing is typically performed for convenience. Many people declaw their cats to prevent scratching, its website states.

“Localities around the nation, a couple of states, including our neighbor Maryland, have passed a declawing ban,” said bill sponsor Del. Gwendolyn Gooditis, D-Clarke, in the committee meeting.

New York and Maryland are the only U.S. states that have outlawed declawing. According to PETA, multiple U.S. cities have passed declawing laws, with the most located in California.

“Declawing cats means, look at your hands, it would be the equivalent of your fingers and your toes being chopped off at the first knuckle,” Gooditis said.

According to PETA, the procedure can cause impaired balance, as much as a person would after losing his or her toes. Declawed cats may have to relearn how to walk.

“It’s a removal of that last bone,” Gooditis said.

In the committee meeting, Susan Seward, a lobbyist for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, or VVMA, testified against the bill. The VVMA strongly opposed the bill, Seward said.

“I think one of the unintended consequences would be setting up a really unpleasant and adversarial relationship between animal control and veterinarians, and that is certainly not a relationship we want to diminish,” Seward said to the committee panel.

Alice Burton, program director for nonprofit animal welfare organization Alley Cat Allies, said the organization was disappointed the bill failed.

Alley Cat Allies mission is to protect and improve the lives of cats, according to its website. The organization operates a trap-neuter-return program to help stabilize the cat population. A cat is transported to a veterinarian, spayed, and returned to its original location.

It’s an act of cruelty to declaw cats, according to Burton, who was an animal control officer for 15 years.

“They no longer have their nails as a defense, so their first instinct is to bite,” Burton said. “So all of a sudden, they’ve got these bites on their record, which obviously does not bode well for them.”

Declawed cats also struggle to use the litter box because the litter hurts their paws, she said. Burton said that many declawed cats will stop using the litter box and soil where they aren’t supposed to.

“I would say most of the time, these negative effects lead to these cats being surrendered to the shelters or rescue groups,” Burton said. “They would, in most cases, be deemed unadoptable, and they would be euthanized.”

There are many other humane options out there, according to Burton.

Humane alternatives to declawing include trimming a cat’s claws regularly, using deterrents such as double-sided tape on furniture, rubber caps for the nails, and providing a variety of scratching options, according to Alley Cat Allies.

“We’re not giving up,” Burton said. “We’re going to come back and keep fighting.”

 

By Cassandra Loper
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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Bill to add identifying stamp to firearms fails in subcommittee

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A House bill requiring firearms to be microstamp-enabled recently failed in the Virginia General Assembly, but not without a tense exchange before the vote was called.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, introduced House Bill 1788, which would require firearms sold after July 1, 2025, to have a unique “alphanumeric or geometric code” that identifies the item’s make, model, and serial number. That identifier would create a micro stamp on each expended cartridge case each time the firearm was fired.

The bill would also make it unlawful to transfer a firearm that wasn’t microstamp-enabled. The altering of the stamp would be a Class 3 misdemeanor, according to the bill, which is punishable by a maximum $500 fine.

Filler-Corn called the bill “pro-law enforcement” because the identifying information could help solve crimes, she said.


“We’ll continue to introduce legislation, support legislation, and eventually, when we’re back in control, actually pass legislation that will save lives,” Filler-Corn said.

California and New York are the only states with a micro stamp policy.

According to Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, there is a lack of companies and manufacturers producing microstamp-enabled firearms now. The organization lobbies for gun rights.

Van Cleave said the measure is “totally unconstitutional” and would be difficult to establish.

“There would have been some analogy in history back in the late 1700s or the 1800s where we had things that marked gun cartridges and it was a requirement,” Van Cleave said. “There was no such thing, nothing even close.”

Firearm store owners would need to get their hands on microstamp-enabled firearms to sell them legally to the public. The bill had a delayed start period of two years.

Tony Martin is the owner of New American Arms, a local gun store in Richmond. He said his business would not be the only one affected if the bill had passed.

“My concern, I think, would be that it would affect sales of all guns,” Martin said. “Maybe this is a politically motivated attempt if we require technology that’s not available, and then they say, ‘OK, well, because of this law, you can’t sell guns.’”

The bill contained a provision that would not apply to any firearm manufactured prior to July 1, 2025.

The issue is not about the loss of firearms in society but the amount of crime committed and, most importantly, Filler-Corn said, the crime that goes unsolved.

There was a tense exchange ahead of the subcommittee’s vote on the measure. Committee chair Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, eventually declared Del. Candi Mundon King, D-Prince William, out of order when she was speaking about the bill. Mundon King, whose husband works for law enforcement, thanked Filler-Corn for introducing a “revolutionary” bill. The delegate said she grew up in a community “ravaged by gun violence and unsolved crimes.”

“It stays with you; it stains communities,” Mundon King said.

Freitas interrupted Mundon King when she said, “the only people who have an issue with this [bill] are people who are benefitting.”

Freitas had stated a few minutes before, when Filler-Corn blamed the gun lobby for preventing the bill’s passage, that it was OK to “argue passionately” on behalf of a bill but not OK to question the intentions of others being discussed.

“We will do this one day, but not today,” Mundon King said as Freitas called the vote after a back-and-forth exchange.

The final vote to kill the measure was 6-4.

 Lawmakers introduced around 50 firearm-related bills this session, according to a Virginia Legislative Information System website review. Different parties represent the two chambers, and gridlock is anticipated for most gun control proposals and for measures that would roll back existing gun control policies.

“There is never going to be one bill that will answer and solve all gun violence,” Filler-Corn said. “But every single bill, every single measure, every single gun violence prevention bill, and gun safety bill that we have passed, each and every one of them actually saved lives, and it makes a difference.”

By Samuel 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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Richmond man sentenced to 10 years for possession of child pornography

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Attorney General Jason Miyares announced the successful prosecution of Michaud Yancey for Possession of Child Pornography, Second or Subsequent Offense. After being found guilty by a jury, the Richmond City Circuit Court sentenced Yancey to three years of active imprisonment with an additional seven years suspended.

Yancey was initially investigated for uploading cartoon images depicting the sexual exploitation of minor females. Yancey permitted officers to seize and search his electronic devices, and following a forensic examination, child pornography images were found on three of his devices.

As a result of his conviction, Yancey will be on probation for an indefinite period following his release and will be required to register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction where he works or resides following his imprisonment.

“Upholding Virginia law and protecting our children is one of my office’s most important responsibilities. I’m proud of our collaboration with local law enforcement to ensure justice was served,” said Attorney General Miyares.


This case was investigated by the Richmond City Police Department, as part of the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and Attorney General Miyares’ Computer Forensics Unit. Assistant Attorney Generals Cynthia Paoletta of the Computer Crime section and Ayesha Osborne of the Major Crimes and Emerging Threats section of the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case on behalf of the Commonwealth with assistance from the Richmond City Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

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