This class provides a hands-on experience for painting with watercolors, and meets once a week for five weeks. Each week we will work to build a solid foundation in technique. Materials are provided, but feel free to bring your own if you prefer. All skill levels are welcome. Instructor: Michael Budzisz
Thursday mornings from 10 am – 12:30 pm, Jan. 24th – Feb. 21st. Classes will be held in our studio at 205 E. Main St., Front Royal, Virginia. In case of inclement weather, we will reschedule the class. Please check our Facebook page for updates on class cancellations due to weather.
Class policies: We understand that scheduling conflicts do happen. You may cancel your class for a full refund up to 48 hours before the first class, by phone or in person.
Warner, Kaine urge repeal of defunct same-sex marriage ban and more Va. headlines
• The 6-year-old Newport News boy who shot his elementary school teacher allegedly choked a different teacher “until she couldn’t breathe” in a prior incident at the school, according to a new legal filing by the wounded teacher’s lawyer.—Associated Press
• Virginia’s politically divided legislature and short session mean lots of bills are dying, and others that aren’t dead yet have little hope of survival.—Roanoke Times
• U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent the General Assembly a letter officially backing the repeal of Virginia’s antiquated 2006 ban on same-sex marriage. “It is long past time that Virginia’s governing document conveys to same-sex marriages the same freedoms, rights, and responsibilities that are afforded to all other constitutional marriages,” the senators wrote.—Richmond Times-Dispatch
• The Republican-controlled House of Delegates did not take up a Democratic bill that would have barred people convicted of insurrection-related charges from holding government jobs in Virginia.—VPM
• A central Virginia man is a national mustache champion who spends 20 minutes per day styling his ‘stache and sleeps with a special pillow to “preserve the shape of his handiwork.”—Washington Post
by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury
$pecial $weets for your Valentine
If your lover loves chocolates, then maybe any heart-shaped box will do, but if you have a cool $14,000 around, try the Gargantua by The Ross.
Packed in a hexagonal box of pure volcanic glass is a collection of just six chocolate pieces. That’s more than $2,333 each if you are counting, but if you are, you won’t be buying. Each piece represents a natural element, including an octahedron for air, an icosahedron for water, and a dodecahedron for ether. The pieces are wrapped in gold leaf. Hurry! They only make 1,000 boxes, making it the ultimate vanity gift.
There are many expensive types of candy for gifts, each with a special claim to fame.
Slightly lower on the expense scale, but still pretty salty, are Fran’s Salted Caramels. If your sweetie really loves caramels, buy 160 pieces for $275. You get a lovely wrapped box of caramel with milk chocolate sprinkled with sea salt that has allegedly been smoked over oak. And not just any oak — Welsh oak. You can also get 17 pieces for a sweeter $17.
For the bonbon lover, try Dandelion Chocolate Company, where $65 buys 21 pieces in the Classic Box of Chocolates. The big draw: You’ll know where this single-origin dark chocolate comes from. You won’t associate with any pedestrian chocolate in this box containing flavors like passionfruit and pistachio.
For a treat that transforms your “chocolate into a powerful force,” try Vosges Chocolate’s Prima Materia Truffle Collection.
For $95, you get 20 truffles shaped like little colorful planets and packaged in a round, earthy box. In every box, you get a tasting and breathing guide to appreciate flavors like Cornish Apple and Armenian Apricot fully. They also make a Grateful Dead collection, another powerful force.
The party is over for tax credits
The big tax perks after the pandemic are reduced this year. Parents won’t be getting checks, but they will still have a (smaller) credit to use against taxes owed.
The Child Tax Credit was boosted for the 2021 tax year to $3,600 for children younger than 5 and $3,000 for kids 6 to 17. For the 2022 tax year, the child tax credit will drop to $2,000 for all children 16 and under. Some low-income earners may receive a partial tax credit of up to $1,500. Children 17 years of age no longer generate a tax credit.
The Child and Dependent tax credit was also boosted in 2021 to a max of 50% of costs up to $8,000 per child (max 2 kids) but will drop in 2022 to a max of 35% up to $3,000 per child (max 2 kids). Last year, the credit was fully refundable, but for 2022 it’s non-refundable.
Further, tax deductions for charitable gifts will also be less generous. Many Americans depended on charities for food and other vital services when the pandemic was still in full swing. In response, lawmakers increased incentives to make cash donations, which are expiring. So if you’re used to giving, for better or worse, tax authorities may be taking more this time around.
The Earned Income Tax Credit was also expanded in 2021 but is set to decline in 2022. For the 2021 tax year, the qualifying age dropped from 25 to 19, but it’ll now return to 25. The maximum EITC credit for childless workers will also decline from $1,502 to $560.
After controversial start of charity poker, Virginia might change the rules yet again
During a recent hearing on charity poker in Virginia’s General Assembly, one state senator said she was under the impression a bill to rewrite the state’s poker rules wasn’t all that concerning because the games wouldn’t involve too much money.
Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Loudoun, asked if her understanding — that charity poker players would pay a flat fee of no more than $8 for a seat at games that could never involve large amounts of cash — was correct.
It was not.
“Are people able to put major dollars down, and we could have a $100,000 night, every night?” Boysko asked.
Former delegate Dave Albo, a lobbyist representing the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, which is pushing to expand into poker, told Boysko the bill puts no hard limit on how high the stakes can get.
“That is correct. There is no cap,” Albo answered, adding that his client didn’t want a cap in the bill because casino poker doesn’t have a cap.
New poker regulations sent to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for review a week ago would specifically prohibit casino-style cash games like the ones Albo was describing.
But a pair of bills advancing in the General Assembly would override that rule before it takes effect, allowing a bigger, more lucrative form of charity poker less than two years after Virginia’s watchdog agency concluded the state wasn’t supervising the charitable gaming industry closely enough.
The exchange over what the new bills would or wouldn’t do underscores the persistent confusion that has surrounded Virginia’s effort to establish a charity poker industry. The multi-year initiative has been checkered by lawsuits, open feuding between a state board and a state regulatory agency that are supposed to work in tandem, and controversy over an industry being allowed to write its own rules for a new money-making venture.
Amid the regulatory chaos, unlicensed poker halls began opening in Virginia in 2021, but the General Assembly shut them down last year under threat of $50,000 fines.
New rules being finalized by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) would allow those facilities to reopen in the future with clearer limits on what type of poker can be played. The pending regulations only allow traditional poker tournaments that require players to pay a fixed entry fee for a finite amount of chips. They also prohibit cash games that allow players to keep buying more chips if they run out.
The bills pending in the legislature, which are up for final votes in both chambers Tuesday, would upend that process by sanctioning cash games for the first time and letting would-be poker operators start applying for permits as soon as July 15.
Representatives for the charitable gaming industry, best known for the once-popular bingo halls that have been fading from relevance, have pitched the poker expansion as a way for charities to make up for lost bingo money and withstand the hit expected from the arrival of Virginia’s first-ever commercial casinos.
“As bell bottoms, mullets and leg warmers have faded away, so has the art of playing bingo,” Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, the patron of the House bill, said on the floor Monday. Brewer and others have argued that because the bill sets a maximum starting bet of $5, pots are unlikely to reach the high levels some legislators fear.
The new poker bills, proponents say, are a way to create a workable system for something the General Assembly already authorized years ago.
“Without this bill, we’re going to get completely put out of business,” Matt Benka, another lobbyist for the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, said at a Senate hearing. “If we don’t do something this year, the only people that are going to be operating are the skill games, the casinos and everybody else. And local charities are going to be out.”
The comment about the demise of Virginia charities drew pushback from Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, who has been pushing for a brighter regulatory line between bona fide charities and charity-related entities that seem to exist primarily to benefit from state-sanctioned gambling.
“Maybe your charities might be out because all they’re doing is playing poker,” Reeves said to Benka. “But I take exception to that.”
After the General Assembly legalized charity poker in 2020, there was major disagreement over whether legislators intended to only allow occasional tournaments or full-time poker halls running cash games.
Contrasting views on that question and others caused a prolonged clash between Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board, led by insiders with a financial stake in the poker industry the board was setting up, and regulators with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services who were concerned the board was pushing beyond what the law allowed.
The General Assembly tried to hit reset on charity poker last year by passing a law closing down unlicensed poker rooms that had been playing cash games, stripping the Charitable Gaming Board of its regulatory power, and asking VDACS to craft a new set of poker regulations without the board having the final say.
However, the pending charity poker bills would move the state closer to what the board tried to achieve in the first place.
At recent committee hearings, Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who recently helped lead a state review of charitable gaming, acknowledged the poker bill, as originally drafted, seemed to be “going in a direction that would be contrary to legislation and the research that we’ve done over the last couple of years.”
“To me, the scope of this is far beyond what we talked about before,” Bell said at an initial subcommittee hearing on the bill. “And I think we’re getting into dangerous territory where we’re really creating a pretty large gambling operation.”
Bell’s opposition softened as the bill was scaled back in both legislative chambers, and he later said the amended version fell within his “comfort zone.” Instead of allowing 10 tables at each poker operation, the amended proposal now allows four tables and would limit the halls to operating eight hours per day, four days a week.
Another limitation added to the bill would only allow poker for charitable organizations that were qualified to conduct charitable bingo for at least one year between July 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2022. In the Senate, that amendment was pitched to ensure the benefit would go to existing charities facing declining bingo revenue instead of allowing new “pop-up” poker operations.
But in the House of Delegates, the same provision caused concern that the bill would allow established charitable gaming entities to benefit while preventing future charities from having the same rights to make money off poker.
Under questioning from Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, a representative from VDACS acknowledged that the cash poker bill would exclude any charities formed after 2022 and preexisting charities that offered electronic gaming machines, not bingo.
“To me, that means that this is tailored to a certain subset of folks that could take advantage of this,” said Krizek, who chaired the recent General Assembly committee tasked with looking into charitable gaming. “And it’s really not fair across the board.”
Krizek, who has urged colleagues to wait to see how charity poker tournaments play out before expanding to cash games, also noted the bill would potentially require VDACS to start issuing poker permits so fast that the permits might go out before the regulations are in place. The bill requires VDACS to make a permit application public by July 15 but gives the agency until Sept. 15 to finish the regulations. By law, the agency has 45 days to act on completed applications, meaning anyone who applied in mid-July could potentially get a permit before Sept. 15.
Questioning timing and speed were key legal issues in the dispute over whether poker halls could open without any permits or regulations.
Chuck Lessin, the chairman of the Charitable Gaming Board and longtime operator of a Richmond bingo hall, argued that facilities like his could start playing poker without a regulatory system because the original poker bill didn’t explicitly require that the operations wait for a permit.
Albo has publicly described the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association as representing more than 30 bingo groups across the state, but the organization has strong ties to Lessin. It is registered at the same South Richmond address where Lessin has run bingo and poker games, and Lessin is listed as the group’s principal officer, according to state lobbying disclosures.
Lessin sued VDACS over his permitting dispute. When the lawsuit failed, he opened Pop’s Poker anyway, though he eventually shuttered it due to the ongoing battle that has played out in both the courts and the legislature. A state watchdog report issued in 2021 concluded that Lessin’s failure to recuse himself from crafting poker regulations in which he had a financial interest damaged “the integrity of the board and the overall commonwealth’s charitable gaming oversight.”
Lessin called the report “BS” and has repeatedly insisted the state is cracking down on smaller players at the behest of deep-pocketed casino interests trying to eliminate competition.
Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers closely involved in charitable gaming reform called for Lessin to be removed as head of the Charitable Gaming Board. Lessin was not removed.
Proponents of the poker bills have stressed that the legislation would require at least 30% of gross poker receipts to go toward charitable purposes, but skeptics have pointed out that money can also be put toward property expenses like rent and building upkeep. Without clear separation between charitable groups and their landlords, a state report last year concluded that financial conflicts could exist where high-rent agreements can be used to limit the amount of money left over for charitable programs.
In a statement, a Virginia Charitable Bingo Association spokesman said the group’s members were “happy to lend our combined decades of charitable gaming expertise to Virginia legislators in the crafting of this legislation.”
“As an organization, our hope is that this legislation will result in charities that participate in gaming being able to replace the losses they incurred from the decline in popularity and profitability of bingo,” said VCBA spokesman Liam Gray.
Tad Berman, a citizen gambling enthusiast who regularly attends public meetings and has been sharply critical of the Charitable Gaming Board, urged the General Assembly not to reward an industry that “opened these card rooms illegally and without permits.”
“As a Virginian, as much as I might love poker and love gambling, that does not supersede my responsibility to make sure that these things are run legally and properly,” Berman said at a recent committee meeting. “And these people did not do that.”
by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury
Commentary: The gas stove culture wars come to Virginia
Gas stoves have been in the headlines a lot recently. On the heels of a study quantifying their contribution to childhood asthma, Consumer Product Safety Commission member Rich Trumka, Jr. issued a tweet suggesting the agency might take them off the market, a comment he later walked back.
Too late: cue the outrage from the right. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands,” tweeted Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas. A number of people tweeted back that they were eager to see this happen, but then it turned out no one in the White House actually wants to ban gas stoves, anyway.
What kind of stove you use might seem an odd contender for a culture war issue, but the outrage beast needs constant feeding. The ranting leaves no time for anyone to point out that electricity powers the great majority of U.S. stoves, methane gas isn’t even an option in much of the country, and — eh — we Americans don’t really cook that much, anyway. If we were arguing over microwave ovens, more of us would have a dog in this fight.
But the mere fact that you never gave your stove much thought before does not excuse you from taking sides now. If you are a Democrat, you must drool over induction stoves, even if you aren’t sure what they are or how they work. If you are a Republican, you must support burning fossil fuels in the kitchen and weep for the plight of Michelin-starred chefs whose restaurants you can’t afford to go to (and indeed, many of whom have been won over by induction, the ingrates).
One of the difficulties the gas industry faces in politicizing stoves is that it wins over the wrong people. An Energy Information Agency map shows the percentage of households that cook with gas is highest in a bunch of blue states like California and New York, and lowest in the deep-red South and the Dakotas.
The reasons are pragmatic, not political. Gas utilities in rural states like North Dakota are much less likely to have invested in the expensive network of distribution pipelines needed to bring service to far-flung communities. The rural geography problem affects much of the South as well, but weather is a factor, too. Since furnaces, not cookstoves, are the big fuel users, the relatively warm winters of the South make it a less lucrative market than the colder North. Thus, electricity dominates heating as well cooking in southern states.
If gas companies have chosen not to serve areas where they would make less money, who can blame them? On the other hand, with gas furnaces increasingly unable to compete with more efficient heat pumps, they now risk losing their northern customers to electric alternatives. Either they sit and stare into the abyss of an all-electric future in which they are obsolete, or they have to do what they can to slow their inevitable decline.
And so they set out to convince state legislatures to prevent local governments from barring new gas hookups in their communities, as many left-leaning cities have been doing in the interests of climate and health. Gas stove diehards are the industry’s unwitting (and sometimes witting) poster children.
On the face of it, the gas industry has been successful: at least 20 states controlled by Republican legislatures have enacted gas ban preemption laws. Sadly for the gas utilities, the wins have occurred in those southern and rural states where they don’t have as much business to protect anyway.
That’s what makes Virginia an important next target. Almost one-third of Virginia households are customers of natural gas utilities, and only a handful of rural Virginia counties have no gas service at all. There is certainly room for growth. Yet a number of urban and suburban localities have adopted climate goals that call on their governments to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The gas industry fears these localities may decide banning new gas hookups could be one step towards the goal.
The risk seems slight. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, meaning local governments have only the authority delegated to them by the General Assembly. Given the difficulty Virginia localities have had even getting authority to ban single-use plastic bags (they still can only tax them, not pry them from your cold, dead hands), it seems unlikely they would seek, or get, authority to ban new gas hookups any time soon.
Indeed, when the General Assembly first considered legislation to preempt gas bans last year, the focus was on the City of Richmond and the incompatibility of the city’s 2050 carbon-neutrality pledge with its continued operation of its own gas utility. The city itself didn’t seem to be thinking that far ahead, and climate activists have since complained that Richmond is more intent on upgrading its gas infrastructure than in phasing it out. Still, the gas industry had a target to point to.
The House was willing to adopt the full gas preemption ban, but a Senate committee reworked the legislation to focus on the problem at hand. The law that passed imposed a requirement that any municipality with a gas utility notify its customers and put the utility up for sale before exiting the business. All parties pronounced themselves satisfied, declared victory and went home.
This year the gas industry has no threat to point to but is nonetheless again trying to get the preemption bill passed. The bill language includes a kind of culture war code term, a declaration that “energy justice” means you have the right to buy gas if you can afford it and the gas company has the right not to supply you if you can’t, or if serving you isn’t profitable for the company.
The better description for this, surely, is the free market, which is quite distinct from justice. So, is it justice or merely irony that even if it were to pass, many Republicans who voted for the bill still wouldn’t get gas service for their constituents because serving rural areas is not in the interests of the industry?
As it did last year, the Republican-led House has passed the industry’s bill along party lines. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, though, matters get interesting. This year the gas industry secured a Senate patron, Democrat Joe Morrissey. Though Morrissey is hardly popular in the party, he is still at least one Democratic vote for the bill in a closely divided chamber.
It seems obvious enough that the preemption ban is on the wrong side of history, at a time when our burning of fossil fuels is already causing climate chaos. It’s also not going to stave off the inevitable for long. Building electrification will continue. Over time, more consumers will choose heat pumps and induction stoves over methane gas, not for political reasons but for health reasons and because the technology is better.
But if we agree the gas industry will lose out in the end, is it really a big deal if Virginia localities are barred from doing something they don’t seem to have authority to do anyway?
Well, actually, yes. Even if Virginia localities can’t make a blanket prohibition on new gas connections, it’s not hard to imagine that a locality might choose to reject a particular gas connection to a particular construction project or subdivision where the gas line would cross parkland or wetland, or be problematic for some other very specific, very local and very legitimate reason.
Virginia’s balance of power has always recognized that land-use decisions should be made at the local level. This legislation hands a cudgel to the gas industry and developers to override a legitimate local land use decision.
For that, legislators should have a better reason than taking sides in a culture war.
by Ivy Main, Virginia Mercury
Five ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your family
Do you want to do something special for Valentine’s Day? If so, here are some ideas that may inspire you.
1. Decorate the house
Purchase decorative items in pink, white and red. A bouquet of roses, assorted candles, sparkly confetti, and heart-shaped napkins make great accents.
2. Make a dessert
Put on your apron and create a sweet Valentine’s Day treat. Heart-shaped cookies, pink meringues, and strawberries dipped in chocolate are sure to please.
3. Hand out cards
Write heartfelt notes to your loved ones. Consider including a few chocolates or cinnamon hearts with them.
4. Organize a scavenger hunt
Create clues with a Valentine’s Day theme to help your family members find a hidden surprise.
5. Have a photoshoot
Dress up in Valentine’s Day attire and pose in fun and creative ways. Laughter is sure to follow.
Happy Valentine’s Day!