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Governor Northam addresses Joint Money Committees of the General Assembly

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Governor Northam

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today (August 20, 2019) addressed a Joint Meeting of the Senate Finance, House Appropriations, and House Finance Committees where he discussed the state of the Commonwealth’s finances and the Virginia economy.

“Over the last year we have worked together to maintain Virginia’s triple-A bond rating, put more money in our reserves, and made smart investments in our long-term growth,” Governor Northam said. “But as the global economy changes, we must be both cautious and strategic. During the next budget cycle we will continue laying a strong foundation for Virginia—preparing for a rainy day while investing responsibility in our long-term growth.”

Virginia ended the fiscal year with a surplus of $797 million, with much of that money already obligated for items such as water quality and taxpayer relief. The Commonwealth put $344.4 million into our reserves, which will bring total reserve funding to $1.6 billion—the highest amount ever—by 2021.

Governor Northam highlighted another important milestone for economic development in Virginia, announcing that his administration has secured $20 billion in investment since taking office in January 2018—more than any previous administration has announced in a full four-year term. This economic development has created over 51,000 new jobs across the Commonwealth.

Here is the Governor’s full remarks:

Good morning, Chairman Norment, Chairman Hanger, Chairman Jones, Chairman Ware, Speaker Cox, Members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the privilege of speaking with you this morning.

I would like to recognize Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, First Lady Pam Northam, and members of my Cabinet.

I am here today to update you on the Commonwealth’s revenues for the just-ended fiscal year, as we look forward to our next budget cycle and the choices we will make to ensure Virginia remains a strong and diverse place to live and work.

We start out this new budget cycle in a good place, and we all can, and should, take credit for that. We have accomplished a great deal working together.

We have maintained our triple-A bond rating, put more money in our reserves for a rainy day, and made smart investments in Virginia’s long-term growth.

We approved dedicated transportation funding this year, which will make I-81 safer and more reliable while providing much-needed revenue for transportation projects in other parts of the state as well.

We worked together to attract new business to the state—notably Amazon, which is ahead of schedule in hiring, and has submitted its development plans for its National Landing campus. Virginia Tech will offer courses in their new Alexandria location next fall. I want to thank Delegate Rush for his work with Tech, and thank all of you for the bipartisan work that went into this project.

We took a huge step to reduce the criminalization of poverty by ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court costs and fees. As I have traveled the state to bring awareness to this issue, people have told me how much this means to them.

We found agreement on how to pay for a long overdue rebuilding of Central State Hospital.

We gave our teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years.

We found a bipartisan resolution to the environmental challenge of what to do with 27 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash lying in unlined ponds near our waterways.

And we have now enrolled more than 306,000 additional Virginians in Medicaid through the expansion of that program. These people can now access the kind of health care many of us take for granted, helping them lead more productive lives. They can get treatment for chronic conditions.

They can get preventive care to help head off health problems before they become serious. And they can access treatment for addiction or other behavioral health issues. This access is saving lives, and we made this happen together.

We did all of these things together, working across the aisle, and put our differences aside to serve the people of Virginia.

We have opportunities to continue this good work in the session, and budget, ahead.

But first, let me update you on the financial health of the Commonwealth for the budget year that recently ended.

By and large, our financial health is good. We ended the year with a surplus of $797.7 million. But, as is often the case, much of that surplus is already obligated, for items like water quality and taxpayer relief. We also are putting $344.4 million into reserves, which means by 2021, we’ll have $1.6 billion in our reserves—approximately seven percent of our general fund revenue, the highest amount we have ever put in reserves.

This is something we all should be proud of. Last year I mentioned that putting 8 percent of our revenues into reserves is a goal of our administration, and we’re on the path to do so.

We expect revenues to grow in the coming year. I want to thank all of the economists, business leaders, and General Assembly members who volunteer to help provide our consensus revenue forecast. This is important work, and I thank Secretary Layne for his steady guidance.

While our revenues are positive, we also must plan for mandatory expenditures.

For example, we are due to rebenchmark our Standards of Quality in the coming biennium.

This is critical to ensure that our schools, and school funding, keep pace with our students’ needs, so every child receives a quality education. But it comes with a price tag.

We also know that our Medicaid program is likely to be more costly next year, as healthcare costs across the board continue to rise. Our administration is keenly aware of the issue of rising health costs, and will continue to work with you on solutions.

We also continue the work to build up our community-based behavioral health services, which provide critical support to many Virginians and their families, and we know there are costs to that work.

Over the past few years, we have invested, and will continue to invest, in strengthening our community service boards and ensuring that the services they provide are the same across the state. I want to take a moment to thank Dr. Hughes Melton for his work at our Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

That work must and will continue. I ask that we have a moment of silence in memory of Dr. Melton and of Hailey Green, who lost their lives in a tragic accident.

Thank you.

As we go into this new budget cycle, we must be both cautious and strategic.

Our unemployment rate remains at 2.9 percent. Our employers continue to add jobs. But because we are close to full employment, our job growth has slowed.

And though we are in the 12th year of economic expansion, we know that can’t last forever.

Federal policies continue to affect us. For example, the trade war with China and its resulting tariffs have already led to drastic cutbacks on purchases of American agricultural products, which hurt our farmers in Virginia.

China used to be the number one destination for Virginia’s agricultural and forestry exports, such as soybeans. In 2016, we exported nearly $700 million in those products to China.

But because of the trade war, our agricultural exports to China have lost nearly two-thirds of their value, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue for Virginia farmers. Sales of soybeans are now just $235 million, and China has dropped to our number two agricultural trading partner.

Personally, we have soybeans growing on our family farm this year, and they may very well stay in the fields if we can’t sell them. The farmers I grew up with would much rather sell at a profit than rely on federal subsidies.

We live in a global economy these days, and that means what happens on a global scale also happens at the local level. As the national economy slows, Virginia’s economy is expected to slow as well.

We’re fortunate that Congress has resolved the issue of sequestration—for now.

But federal fiscal policy and the accumulation of significant federal debt—now over $22 trillion and growing—will continue to be a drag on consumers and the economy.

To best prepare the Commonwealth for the future, we must continue to protect our AAA bond rating, diversify our economy, and make strategic investments in our long-term success. We must ensure that Virginia has the strongest foundation possible.

In the 21st century, broadband is like electricity—it is a necessity of modern life.

The projects we have supported are bringing broadband connections to nearly 70,000 homes and businesses so far across the Commonwealth, and we will continue to work on this important issue.

I thank you all for the additional dollars we put into the Housing Trust Fund in the last budget. But we can, and must, do more for affordable housing.

We must continue our investment in education, from early childhood through higher education and skills training. Every Virginian deserves access to a high quality and affordable education.

Making sure that every child has access to opportunity means starting early.

Last month, I signed Executive Directive 4, establishing the Executive Leadership Team on School Readiness.

That team will work to ensure that all at-risk three and four year olds have access to quality, affordable early childhood education options. I want to thank the First Lady for her work and leadership on this issue.

There is an obvious overlap between investments in education and investments in our workforce.

My administration continues to work with our community colleges and the entire higher education system, to build bridges between education, skills training, and the high-demand jobs we need to fill and want to continue to attract.

We want Virginians to be able to get the skills they need for good jobs.

This fall, I’ll be having conversations about these workforce pathways in our communities, talking to our higher education partners, our businesses, and our local leaders to see what our communities need.

We want to make absolutely sure we continue to support our world-class workforce and educational systems—both of which helped make Virginia the best state in the nation in which to do business.

One of my proudest days as Governor was to be at Shenandoah River State Park for the announcement that CNBC had named the Commonwealth the best state for business.

Over the years, we have moved steadily from 13th, to 7th, to 4th, and we are now back to our rightful place at number one.

This is an achievement for every one of us, and it comes because we have all worked together.

My top priority as Governor is making sure that every Virginian—no matter who you are or where you live—is able to fully participate in our economic growth.

By diversifying our economy, investing in our workforce, and keeping a stable and open business climate, I am proud to report that my administration has secured extensive new investment and jobs across the Commonwealth.

That includes Premier Tech, in your district, Chairman Norment—20 jobs and almost $2 million of investment in King and Queen County.

It includes Merck in Chairman Hanger’s district—152 jobs and a billion dollars of investment in Rockingham County.

In an area of Suffolk represented by Chairman Jones, Target is investing $2.8 million to expand its distribution center, bringing 225 new jobs.

Volvo Trucks, in Delegate Rush’s district, plans to invest $400 million and create 777 new jobs in Pulaski.

In Senator Howell’s district, Appian invested $28 million to expand its headquarters to McLean, bringing 600 jobs. Senator Howell couldn’t be here today, but we wish her a speedy recovery.

In Chesapeake, in Delegate Hayes’ district, Cloverleaf Cold Storage invested $21 million to create 33 jobs.

In Senator Ruff’s district, in Dinwiddie, Richlands Creamery is investing $1.7 million and creating 17 new jobs.

And in Portsmouth, in Senator Lucas’ district, Preferred Freezer has invested $60 million to create 60 new jobs.

There are similar stories across the state. From a large company like Amazon, to a small-town Main Street shop with five employees, every business contributes to the fabric of Virginia.

Every dollar of investment, and every job created, means more Virginians can put a roof over their head, put food on their table, and sleep soundly at night knowing they are able to support themselves and their families.

That’s why I am thrilled to announce today that over the last 20 months, we have secured 378 new economic development projects that will bring over $20.3 billion in investment.

This is a record. The $20 billion of investment is more than any previous administration has announced in a full four-year term, and we have achieved this significant milestone in less than half that time.

I am proud of what this means for Virginia, and I am equally proud that $2.7 billion of this investment is in distressed communities around the Commonwealth that have often been overlooked by these types of investments.

These economic development projects will create more than 51,000 new jobs, including over 8,700 in distressed communities.

We couldn’t do this without our local, legislative, and state economic development partners.

I want to particularly thank Secretary Brian Ball and his Commerce and Trade team, as well as Stephen Moret and his team at VEDP, for their efforts to promote the Commonwealth and its communities as ideal locations for business.

And I want to thank all of you. We have done strong work to attract business and jobs, and ensure that we have a diverse economy that is strong enough to weather headwinds. As I travel the Commonwealth, businesses are excited about locating or expanding in Virginia.

We also must continue to do the work needed to make Virginia a more welcoming and inclusive place, ensuring that a person’s race, income level, or place of birth doesn’t keep them from accessing a world-class education, quality health care, or business opportunities.

I have spent the past several months traveling the Commonwealth listening to leaders and everyday Virginians share the daily inequities they face.

As we prepare this budget, I will prioritize initiatives that level the playing field for small-, women-, and minority-owned businesses, reduce the unacceptable racial disparity in Virginia’s maternal mortality rate, and ensure equal access to a world-class education.

Ensuring that Virginia is a welcoming place to live also means continuing to work to make sure this is a safe place.

As we meet here this morning, the Virginia Crime Commission has also been meeting to take up gun safety legislation that we have proposed for years, and introduced again for the special session I called earlier this summer, after the tragic mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

Universal background checks, extreme risk protective orders, one gun a month laws, and tougher penalties for people who leave loaded guns around children, are a few of the commonsense proposals that we have made.

I know where many of you stand on these issues. But I also know that we have an opportunity to come together to save lives. I hope we will seize that opportunity.

As we look to this next budget, we’re seeing larger requests for security funding, for state buildings and from outside groups. Already, for fiscal year 2020, we doubled the money in our School Security Equipment Fund. And we’ve had 133 state employees spend 4 hours each in active shooter training since July 1.

Those are resources we’d rather spend on other priorities, but our refusal to address gun violence requires us to instead prioritize self-protection.

We have made good choices together that led CNBC to award us that number one ranking.

And we have made good choices together, to invest in our infrastructure and our educational systems.

We can continue to make good choices.

From economic development to our spending priorities, we have seen that when we work together, we can build a better Virginia. When we invest in our people and our places, our roads, and the education and training people need to get good jobs, we thrive.

No matter what happens in the coming months and years, we are laying a strong foundation for Virginia to weather stormy days and prosper on sunny ones. I look forward to continuing to build upon that foundation in the upcoming session.

Thank you.

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Law Enforcement leaders announce Project Guardian-DMV

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A new illegal firearms initiative announced November 15th, Project Guardian-DMV, is designed to reduce violent crime and further enforce federal firearms laws across the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV).

The new initiative builds on the Justice Department’s national effort, Project Guardian, announced by Attorney General William P. Barr on Wednesday.

“Gun crime remains a pervasive problem in too many communities across America,” said Attorney General Barr. “The Department of Justice is redoubling its commitment to tackling this issue through the launch of Project Guardian. Building on the success of past programs like Triggerlock, Project Guardian will strengthen our efforts to reduce gun violence by allowing the federal government and our state and local partners to better target offenders who use guns in crimes and those who try to buy guns illegally.”

Project Guardian-DMV will localize the effort to the DMV region, and expands upon the current partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia, the ATF, and Metro Police Department, and now also includes the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Maryland and the Western District of Virginia, and the Virginia State Police.

“Through this partnership, we hope to stanch the flow of illegal guns from the Commonwealth of Virginia to Washington, Baltimore, and other cities in the Northeast, where, too often, they are used to commit violent crimes,” said Thomas T. Cullen, U.S Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. “We will work closely with our U.S. attorney partners, the ATF, the MPD, and the Virginia State Police to identify individuals and groups in Western Virginia engaged in this deadly enterprise and put them in federal prison.”

“The public is on notice that we are deadly serious about illegal firearms offenses,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Now with leadership of Attorney General Barr, all the tentacles of the Department of Justice, including the ATF and its Crime Gun Intelligence capabilities, and the amazing men and women in blue on the beat, we are doubling down on illegal firearms with Project Guardian.”

Reducing gun violence and enforcing federal firearms laws have always been among the Department’s highest priorities. In order to develop a new and robust effort to promote and ensure public safety, the Department reviewed and adapted some of the successes of past strategies to curb gun violence. Project Guardian draws on the Department’s earlier achievements, such as the “Triggerlock” program, and it serves as a complementary effort to the success of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). In addition, the initiative emphasizes the importance of using all modern technologies available to law enforcement to promote gun crime intelligence.

“Working together with our federal and local partners is key to reducing gun violence and violent crime in the region,” said Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “Project Guardian will allow us to identify specific incidents and trends, thereby enabling us to move quickly in investigating and prosecuting violent crime in the most appropriate venue. The correlation between the availability and use of illegal guns and violent crime is undeniable, and we will continue to work closely with our partners in the law enforcement community in the promotion of public safety and the pursuit of justice. “

“We are committed to working with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to get guns off of our streets, in order to reduce violent crime in our neighborhoods,” said Rob K. Hur, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. “If you use a gun, you could face federal time, where there is no parole—ever. Please, put down the guns and save a life—maybe even your own.”

“Straw purchasers and firearms traffickers do more than commit paperwork violations or illegally sell a firearm – they knowingly put firearms in the hands of people who should not have them, including violent offenders. These traffickers have no regard for the safety of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia communities,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “As part of Project Guardian, ATF will continue to work alongside our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners and U.S. Attorney’s Officers to ensure anyone committing these crimes is held accountable. We are putting all gun traffickers on notice that we will find you; you will be held accountable; and you will be punished under the law.”

“Criminals do not concern themselves with state line or jurisdictions, so we have ensured that our efforts to stop the illegal flow of guns into Maryland involves working closely with our neighboring ATF Field Division in Washington, as well as neighboring U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Virginia and D.C.,” said Rob Cekada, Special Agent in Charge of ATF Baltimore Field Division.

“Our focus is on identifying, investigating, and incarcerating anyone who uses firearms to commit violent crime, and those who traffic or straw purchase firearms are supplying these offenders.

Project Guardian serves to further strengthen our multi-state and District partnerships with law enforcements and prosecutors so we can brings these criminals to justice.”

Project Guardian’s national and DMV implementation is based on five principles:

1) Coordinated Prosecution. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement will coordinate with state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors to consider potential federal prosecution for new cases involving a defendant who: a) was arrested in possession of a firearm; b) is believed to have used a firearm in committing a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime prosecutable in federal court; or c) is suspected of actively committing violent crime(s) in the community on behalf of a criminal organization.

2) Enforcing the Background Check System. United States Attorneys, in consultation with the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in their district, will create new, or review existing, guidelines for intake and prosecution of federal cases involving false statements (including lie-and-try, lie-and-buy, and straw purchasers) made during the acquisition or attempted acquisition of firearms from Federal Firearms Licensees.

Particular emphasis is placed on individuals convicted of violent felonies or misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, individuals subject to protective orders, and individuals who are fugitives where the underlying offense is a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; individuals suspected of involvement in criminal organizations or of providing firearms to criminal organizations; and individuals involved in repeat denials.

3) Improved Information Sharing. On a regular basis, and as often as practicable given current technical limitations, ATF will provide to state law enforcement fusion centers a report listing individuals for whom the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has issued denials, including the basis for the denial, so that state and local law enforcement can take appropriate steps under their laws.

4) Coordinated Response to Mental Health Denials. Each United States Attorney will ensure that whenever there is federal case information regarding individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under the mental health prohibition, such information continues to be entered timely and accurately into the United States Attorneys’ Offices’ case-management system for prompt submission to NICS. ATF should engage in additional outreach to state and local law enforcement on how to use this denial information to better assure public safety.

Additionally, United States Attorneys will consult with relevant district stakeholders to assess feasibility of adopting disruption of early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited individuals who attempt to acquire a firearm. United States Attorneys should consider, when appropriate, recommending court-ordered mental health treatment for any sentences issued to individuals prohibited based on mental health.

5) Crime Gun Intelligence Coordination. Federal, state, local, and tribal prosecutors and law enforcement will work together to ensure effective use of the ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs), and all related resources, to maximize the use of modern intelligence tools and technology. These tools can greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness in identifying trigger-pullers and finding their guns, but the success depends in large part on state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners sharing ballistic evidence and firearm recovery data with the ATF.

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Pamela Seay named new Virginia War Memorial Foundation President

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Pamela R. Seay has been chosen to serve as its new President

The Board of Directors of the Virginia War Memorial Foundation have announced that Pamela R. Seay has been chosen to serve as its new President. She will join the Foundation on December 1, 2019, and assume full duties for leadership and oversight of the nonprofit organization and its staff on January 1, 2020.

Established in 2000 in Richmond, the Virginia War Memorial Foundation (VWMF) is the private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation that provides funding for the educational outreach, patriotic events, historical programs and exhibits, and the documentary film series Virginians at War.

A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Seay previously served as Senior Vice President for Advancement at the Virginia Historical Society (now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture) from 1988-2018.  She served on the staffs of the Science Museum of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and has consulted for numerous organizations including the Valentine Museum, the Virginia Commission for the American Civil War Sesquicentennial, and the 175th Anniversary of the Executive Mansion Commission.

“The members of our Board of Directors are extremely pleased that such a respected and experienced leader as Pam Seay will be taking the helm of the Virginia War Memorial Foundation at this exciting time in the history of the Foundation and the Memorial that it supports,” said Rear Admiral Frank Rennie, IV, USN (Ret.) and VWMF board chair.

“In early 2020, we will celebrate the Grand Opening of the C. Kenneth Wright Pavilion and the dedication of the Shrine of Memory – Global War on Terrorism and Beyond at the expanded Virginia War Memorial. Her leadership will be critical to our continued success as the premier state war memorial in America for the decades ahead.”

“At this time of leadership transition, the Board of Directors expresses its pride and appreciation for the work of Executive Director John Hekman as he enters his planned retirement at the end of the year,” said Admiral Rennie. “Admiral Hekman has served this Foundation and the Virginia War Memorial as an exemplary leader in a variety of roles for over two decades. We wish him well in retirement but we will continue to look to him for his counsel and wisdom during this time of transition.”

Dedicated in 1956, the mission of the Virginia War Memorial is to Honor Veterans, Preserve History, Educate Youth and Inspire Patriotism in All.  The Memorial includes the names of the over 12,000 Virginia heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, in the Persian Gulf and the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.  The Memorial, which is a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS), is located at 621 South Belvidere Street in downtown Richmond and is open for visitation seven days a week.

For more information about the Virginia War Memorial and the Virginia War Memorial Foundation, please visit www.vawarmemorial.org.

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Virginia War Memorial announces winners of 2019 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest

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A middle schooler from Hanover County and a high school junior from Patrick County were the first place winners in the Virginia War Memorial’s 2019 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest. The winners were announced at the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony held November 11 at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.

The annual contest was open to middle and high school age students throughout Virginia in public or private schools or homeschooled. The essay topic was “A Virginian Who Served in The Military in The 20th or 21st Century Who Inspired Me.”

The student writers of the winning essay in each category won a cash prize of $250 and were invited to read aloud their essay during the 2019 Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony. Their teachers were also invited to Richmond and each received a $100 prize to be used for classroom supplies.

The winner in the middle school category was Brooke Eubanks, a 6th grader at Chickahominy Middle School in Hanover County. Her essay was about her uncle, Army Sergeant First Class Eddie O. Johnson. Her teacher is Cheryl Clarke.

Winner in the middle school category, Brooke Eubanks. Photos courtesy of Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

The winner in the high school category was Caroline Vernon, an 11th grader at Patrick County High School in Stuart. Her essay profiled her brother, Justin Vernon. Lisa Belcher is her teacher.

Winner in the high school category, Caroline Vernon.

Brooke and Caroline read aloud their winning essays as part of the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony. They were congratulated by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who was the keynote speaker for the annual program.

Runners-up in the Veterans Day Student Essay Contest were also announced. These were:

Middle School

  • Clarke Canova, Homeschooled, 8th Grade, James City County
  • Jaqulynne Stewart, Edward Drew Middle School, 6th Grade, Falmouth (Stafford County)

High School

  • Rashad Seaborne, Maggie Walker Governors School, 11th Grade, Richmond
  • You Jin Lee, Douglas Freeman High School, 12th Grade, Henrico County

All of the first place and runner-up essays are posted online on the Virginia War Memorial Foundation website at www.vawarmemorial.org/learn/contests-scholarships/essays/.


About the Virginia War Memorial

The mission of the Virginia War Memorial is to Honor Veterans, Preserve History, Educate Youth and Inspire Patriotism in All. Dedicated in 1956, the Memorial includes the names of the nearly 12,000 Virginia heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and the Global War on Terrorism. Located in downtown Richmond at 621 South Belvidere Street, the Virginia War Memorial is open to the public seven days a week for tours and visitation. The Memorial is a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and serves as an integral part of its mission in support of all Virginians who have served in our military. For more details, visit www.virginiawarmemorial.org or www.dvs.virginia.gov.


About the Virginia Department of Veterans Services

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) is a state government agency with more than 40 operating locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia. DVS traces its history to 1928 and the establishment of the Virginia War Service Bureau to assist Virginia’s World War I veterans. Today, DVS assists veterans and their families in filing claims for federal veterans benefits; provides veterans and family members with linkages to services including behavioral healthcare, housing, employment, education and other programs. The agency operates two long-term care facilities offering in-patient skilled nursing care, Alzheimer’s/memory care, and short-term rehabilitation for veterans; provides an honored final resting place for veterans and their families at three state veterans cemeteries. It operates the Virginia War Memorial, the Commonwealth’s tribute to Virginia’s men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice from World War II to the present. For more information, please visit www.dvs.virginia.gov.

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Governor Northam announces first ever International Trade Strategic Plan for Commonwealth of Virginia

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Governor Ralph Northam announced the first ever comprehensive International Trade Strategic Plan for Virginia. The plan lays out an aggressive goal to expand the Commonwealth’s international trade output by 50 percent over the next 15 years, increasing Virginia’s position from 41st in exports per capita to the top 20 states for exports per capita by 2035.

Governor Northam presented the plan at the 71st Virginia Conference on World Trade, where he highlighted specific initiatives that support existing Virginia businesses in building their capabilities and expanding networks and markets, while also attracting and promoting export-intensive companies that can serve as anchors and growth-drivers for Virginia’s economy.

“International trade is a powerful economic engine for our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Maintaining Virginia’s position as the best state to do business and ensuring that all regions of the Commonwealth can participate in our economic growth requires that we boost our international trade. Virginia has a great deal to offer, including the East Coast’s deepest port, and we are committed to doing more to support and promote growth-minded companies as they successfully expand into global markets. I am proud of the many partners collaborating to meet our aggressive goals in this area, and help position the Commonwealth to be more competitive in a globally connected economy.”

Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball and Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring led a steering committee comprised of prominent business leaders from around Virginia and staff from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), the Port of Virginia, and other state agencies in developing the plan. The group engaged hundreds of companies, a dozen state and federal agencies and trade associations, and many state, regional, and local leaders across the public and private sectors, geographies, and industries, ensuring the final recommendations represent a broad cross-section of Virginians.

“I would like to commend everyone involved in this ambitious undertaking, particularly the members of the International Trade Plan Steering Committee, to analyze Virginia’s strengths and opportunities in the international trade arena and to develop a bold plan to increase Virginia exports by 50 percent,” said Secretary of Agriculture Bettina Ring. “The initiatives included in this plan will positively impact every region of the Commonwealth, from rural to urban, and every industry, including agriculture and forestry, making Virginia’s economy even stronger and more resilient.”

“Virginia has best-in-class export promotion programs to help businesses enter global markets and attract large-scale, export-intensive companies,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The International Trade Strategic Plan represents an unprecedented partnership to move the Commonwealth forward as a major player in international trade and help Virginia’s businesses become more competitive in the global marketplace, resulting in increased exports and new job creation across the Commonwealth.”

While Virginia has highly-regarded international trade development programs and a long track record of supporting export growth with partner companies of all sizes, the Commonwealth still trails other states in international trade activity. Virginia’s exports per capita rank 41st in the country, and 38th in imports as a share of gross state product.

The International Trade Strategic Plan identifies 26 initiatives across three categories to support existing companies with international trade and to attract and expand trade-intensive businesses to Virginia:

• Exports: Expand the capacity of state agencies to build capabilities, facilitate connections, and share risk with Virginia firms that export
• International Supply Chains: Increase focus of state agencies to build capabilities and facilitate connections for firms that import critical elements of their supply chains
• Business Attraction, Infrastructure, Tourism, and Other Enablers: Fully align business expansion and recruitment activity with international trade efforts; advocate for critical investments in logistics infrastructure and tourism strategies; enhance the Commonwealth’s ability to serve Virginia businesses through increased coordination among agencies; and engage state and federal leaders strategically and systematically to raise awareness of trade issues

These initiatives have the potential to double the number of internationally trading firms that the Commonwealth supports, adding nearly $18 billion in annual exports and well over 150,000 high-quality jobs. This increase in exports and jobs will position Virginia as a leader in export activity, diversify the Commonwealth’s economy, and contribute to a better quality of life in communities across all regions of Virginia.

Since taking office, Governor Northam has hosted ambassadors from Mexico, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Indonesia, and Switzerland at the Executive Mansion in Richmond to discuss the Commonwealth’s international trade relationships and encourage investment in Virginia.

The Governor also presented the 2019 Commonwealth of Virginia Governor’s Award for Excellence in International Trade to The Turman Group, an operator of lumber facilities, land development, and other vertically integrated companies, located in Carroll County. The annual award recognizes a Virginia business that has increased its international sales while promoting the best interests of its employees and the surrounding community. The Turman Group joined VEDP’s flagship Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) Program in February 2008 and graduated in January 2010. Since then, the company has grown its annual sales to $120 million and is active in more than 30 countries globally.

The International Trade Strategic Plan for the Commonwealth of Virginia is available here.

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Governors announce historic ‘Capital Beltway Accord’ to rebuild American Legion Bridge, connect Interstate Highway System

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American Legion Bridge. Famartin [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) announced a bi-state, bipartisan accord to create a new, unified Capital Beltway, replace the aging American Legion Bridge and relieve congestion at one of the country’s worst traffic chokepoints. The two governors made the announcement at the annual Capital Region Transportation Forum in Washington, DC.

“A new bridge means commuters will get to work and back home faster,” said Governor Northam. “Our teams have identified a way to fix one of the worst traffic hot spots in the country. This demonstrates what can get done when leaders come together to find shared solutions to tough regional problems. This is about helping people see their families more, grow their businesses, and further unlock the region’s vast economic potential.”

“The ‘Capital Beltway Accord’ is a once-in-a-generation achievement for the capital region,” said Governor Hogan. “A bipartisan, commonsense, interstate agreement such as this has eluded elected leaders throughout the region for many decades. Together with our partners in Virginia, we are building a foundation for even greater economic growth, greater opportunity for our citizens, and advancing real, lasting, transformative improvements for the entire Washington metropolitan region.”

The project complements ongoing plans by both governors in their jurisdictions—advancing a region-wide vision for a seamless network of reliable travel options around the Capital Beltway, and along Interstates 270 and 95, 395, and 66.

The project is expected to cut commuting time in half for many travelers, reduce congestion in the regular lanes by 25 percent, provide 40 percent more lane capacity over the old bridge, and include bicycle and pedestrian paths across the Potomac River.

The American Legion Bridge has been operating beyond its capacity for nearly four decades. Daily traffic has grown 390 percent since the bridge opened in 1962, with 235,000 vehicles using it daily. More than 40 percent of the region’s population travels this segment of the Capital Beltway, and the region expects to grow by another 1.2 million people by 2040. Both governors have made it a top priority to identify a long-term, seamless solution for the Capital Beltway.

The project will replace the existing lanes in each direction across the Potomac River and add two new Express Lanes in each direction for approximately three miles between the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia to the vicinity of River Road in Maryland. New bicycle and pedestrian access will connect trails on both sides of the Potomac River. The project is being designed predominantly within the footprint of the existing bridge and right-of-way to minimize impact to travelers, the environment, and surrounding communities. No homes or businesses are expected to require relocation.

“This is once-in-a-generation project that will improve accessibility throughout the region,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “This is a milestone in regional cooperation. We in Virginia look forward to working hand-in-hand with Maryland to deliver this transformative transportation solution.”

Virginia announced plans earlier this year to leverage its existing public-private partnership with Transurban, the operator of the 495 Express Lanes, to extend the lanes approximately two miles north toward the American Legion Bridge and add new connections at the Dulles Toll Road and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Construction on what is known as “Project Next” could begin as early as 2021.

Maryland’s Board of Public Works has approved advancing a bold and innovative Traffic Relief Plan that includes improvements to I-270 and I-495. It is the largest public-private partnership of its kind in the world.

“Our transportation network cannot function without fixing the American Legion Bridge, I-495 and I-270,” said Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn. “Without these improvements, our horrendous congestion will only get worse. I commend Governors Hogan and Northam for reaching this historic agreement that will have lasting benefits for our region for decades to come.”
The new American Legion Bridge will be delivered in coordination with these other projects and will leverage private capital through public-private partnerships to reduce the need for public funding and shift key traffic and construction risks to the private sector.

The states have agreed to a bi-state funding plan to accelerate the delivery of these critical improvements, including all of the infrastructure needed for connections between George Washington Parkway and MD-190/River Road.

Maryland will cover 79 percent of the General Purpose Lanes on the new American Legion Bridge, 50 percent of the Express Lanes on the new American Legion Bridge, and 100 percent of the southbound Express Lanes and General Purpose Lanes from MD-190/River Road to the George Washington Parkway.

Virginia will cover 21 percent of the General Purpose Lanes on the new American Legion Bridge, 50 percent of the Express Lanes on the new American Legion Bridge, and 100 percent of the northbound Express Lanes and General Purpose Lanes from the George Washington Parkway to MD-190/River Road.

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Texas man charged with cyberstalking, making interstate threats

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An Odessa, Texas man, who had an online relationship with a juvenile female in the Western District of Virginia, has been indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville and charged with cyberstalking and making interstate threats to the girl’s family following her suicide. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and David W. Archey, FBI Special Agent in Charge for the Richmond Division, made the announcement today following the defendant’s arrest in Texas.

Adrian Raul O’Dell, 19, was charged in a sealed indictment on October 15, 2019, and arrested this week in Texas. The grand jury has charged O’Dell with three counts of cyberstalking and two counts of making interstate threats.

“Cyberstalking and communicating threats through social media are serious federal crimes and prosecuting them is a priority of this office,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.  “I am grateful for the hard work of the FBI and the Warren County Sheriff’s office in identifying this defendant and bringing him to justice.”

“The FBI takes online threats very seriously, and will work with our law enforcement partners to ensure matters are addressed swiftly and appropriately,” SAC Archey said today. “This case is important to us because a young girl’s family, while still mourning her death, was re-victimized with the messages sent by the accused.  We are grateful for the assistance of the FBI El Paso Division’s Midland Resident Agency and the United States Attorney’s Office during the course of this investigation.”

According to the indictment, between September 2017 and around March 2018, O’Dell had an online relationship with a 16-year girl who lived in Linden, Virginia. In May 2018, following an investigation by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, it was determined that O’Dell’s victim died by suicide in a wooded area near her home.

The indictment alleges that from June 2018 through June 2019, O’Dell, using a variety of false email and online personas, took credit for her suicide.  The defendant then sent threatening and intimidating messages to her family members and friends that placed them in reasonable fear of death and serious bodily harm. In addition, these messages attempted to cause friends and family members substantial emotional distress.  The defendant sent certain of these messages in violation of a protective order.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant United States Attorney Kate Rumsey is prosecuting the case for the United States.

A grand jury indictment is only a charge and not evidence of guilt.  The defendant is entitled to a fair trial with the burden on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Genari death officially ruled a suicide

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