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Governor Northam announces 90 Virginia destinations receive funding to support tourism businesses

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Governor Ralph Northam today announced that more than $866,000 will be awarded to 90 destination marketing organizations (DMO) through the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s (VTC) new DMO WanderLove Recovery Grant Program announced in June. First Lady Pamela Northam joined VTC leaders and local officials at an event in the City of Alexandria to recognize Visit Alexandria as a grant recipient and highlight the city’s small businesses that are demonstrating resilience in the face of public health and economic crises.

Recovery marketing funds will be awarded to DMOs that have been heavily impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, with each awardee receiving a maximum of $10,000. While the grant program did not require a cash match, destinations have pledged a collective in-kind match of more than $3 million. Funds must be used for recovery marketing and may be used for participating in the VTC co-ops, local advertising, out-of-state marketing, and other allowable items.

“Tourism is one of the largest sectors of Virginia’s economy, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the industry,” said Governor Northam. “Travel will look different for as long as this virus is with us, and many Virginians are seeking getaways that are closer to home. The WanderLove Recovery Grants will help our localities prepare for a rebound in tourism, market their destinations as safe and accessible, and drive new economic activity as we gradually welcome visitors back to our Commonwealth.”

VTC’s WanderLove campaign launched on June 15, 2020, and provides travel inspiration for road trips, outdoor recreation, hidden gems, small towns, and it’s signature LOVEworks program. The campaign was created in response to industry research indicating that travelers will be seeking safe, close-to-home destinations that allow for social distancing and have access to open spaces like beaches, outdoor recreation, and rural experiences. DMO grant recipients will be given creative assets and a toolkit to implement WanderLove in their own marketing.

“The WanderLove Recovery Grant was designed to stimulate economic activity this summer and beyond for travelers as they cautiously resume travel,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “Virginia destinations have worked incredibly hard to ensure the health and safety of its citizens and visitors. The WanderLove campaign is a great way to showcase a fun, relaxing Virginia vacations while also staying safe.”

VTC encouraged applicants to develop creative campaigns centered on road trips that can be marketed to both in-state and out-of-state travelers. For example, Floyd County will use WanderLove funds for a comprehensive, community-wide program to assist local businesses in developing itineraries that highlight the best of Floyd. Charlottesville, in addition to promoting local attractions, will engage with the Northern Neck Tourism Commission and Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority to do cross-promotion and drive visitation to all parts of Virginia. Loudoun County will develop a digital toolkit to generate awareness and excitement about WanderLove among its local business community.

In 2018, visitors spent $26 billion, which supported 236,000 work opportunities and contributed $1.8 billion in state and local taxes. A full list of WanderLove Recovery Grant recipients can be found here. (Editor’s note: Nothing for Front Royal/Warren County although Winchester received $9,840.00.

Here is  the VTC’s WanderLove launch video:

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Local News

In-person voting starts September 18

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RICHMOND, VA — The Virginia Department of Elections announces that in-person voting begins Friday, September 18, 2020. Also, absentee ballots will be sent to all voters who have requested a ballot by mail.

Voters no longer need a reason to vote absentee. Any registered voter may request an absentee ballot, either in-person or by mail. Voters can request a mailed ballot online at elections.virginia.gov/voterInformation. They can also find a vote-by-mail ballot form at elections.virginia.gov/forms. Or they can contact their local voter registration office and ask them to mail them an application. Contact information for local registrars can be found at www.elections.virginia.gov/localGR.

The last day to request an absentee ballot is Friday, October 23, 2020 at 5pm. Absentee ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Election Day, November 3, 2020 and received by the local voter registration office by noon on Friday, November 6, 2020. Voters can also drop off their marked and sealed ballots at a drop off location at their local voter registration office or polling place up to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Early in-person voting ends October 31, 2020. Voters do not have to fill out an application to vote in person. Voters can simply go to their general registrar’s office or satellite voting location, show ID and cast a ballot. More information about what IDs are considered acceptable can be found at elections.virginia.gov/vote.

Because of the anticipated high volume of mail-in votes, The Department of Elections is urging all those who wish to vote by mail to request and return their ballots as soon as possible. Voters can track the status of their ballot applications online at www.elections.virginia.gov/voterInformation. They can also call their local registrar’s office to determine the status of their application.

If you believe you may not safely have a witness present while completing the absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020 Election, you are not required to have a witness present. Also, if you are blind or have low vision or have impaired manual dexterity, you have the option of voting an absentee ballot using an electronic ballot marking tool.

Voters with questions about absentee, mail-in and in-person voting or any aspect of the November 3, 2020 election may call the Virginia Department of Elections at (800) 552-9745, email the department at info@elections.virginia.gov, or visit our website at elections.virginia.gov. Voters are also encouraged to follow us on Twitter at @vaElect, Facebook at @VirginiaELECT and Instagram at @va_election.

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Local News

SCC utility service cut-off moratorium will end on October 5; Governor requested extension from September 16

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The general moratorium on utility shutoffs is extended through October 5, 2020. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued the order following a request from Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam. The moratorium was originally set to end on September 16.

In a letter to the Commission on September 14, the Governor said, “My request for an extension will give the General Assembly the time they need to address this issue, finalize their budget, and complete their important work during this special session.”

In granting another extension, the Commission said it will not extend the moratorium beyond October 5, 2020. The Commission urged the Governor and General Assembly to appropriate funds for direct financial assistance to those customers who are unable to pay their bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission said, “We hope the General Assembly uses this additional time to act on this recommendation.”

The Commission wrote, “Since we first imposed the moratorium on March 16, 2020, we have warned repeatedly that this moratorium is not sustainable indefinitely. The mounting costs of unpaid bills must eventually be paid, either by the customers in arrears or by other customers who themselves may be struggling to pay their bills. Unless the General Assembly explicitly directs that a utility’s own shareholders must bear the cost of unpaid bills, those costs will almost certainly be shifted to other paying customers.”

The SCC’s latest extension order means the moratorium will have been in place for more than six months. It was originally imposed on March 16, 2020, as an emergency measure to protect customers from the immediate economic impacts of the COVID crisis.

The end of the Commission-directed moratorium on October 5 does not mean the end of protections for customers in arrears who are making a good-faith effort to pay their bills over a longer time period. Customers who enter such extended payment plans with their utilities will continue to be protected from service cut-offs even after the end of this moratorium.

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Local News

Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – September 15, 2020

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response.

Highlights include:

  • The Southwest Virginia region increase in COVID-19 cases.
  • Promoted the COVIDWISE, the contact-tracing app.
  • Early voting
  • Continuation of the moratorium on utility disconnection for another month needed says Governor.
  • Authorized $42 million in CARES funding for personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing.
  • 2020 Census – please complete the form.
  • Flu shots
  • Suicide Awareness month
  • Multi-state collaboration on antigen testing talks continue.
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Regional News

The Virginia Department of Elections launches absentee voting campaign

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RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Department of Elections wants Virginia voters to know that they are free to be absentee! The Department today announced “Free to Be Absentee”, their new awareness campaign designed to educate voters about absentee and early voting to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

The campaign features a series of contemporary and entertaining digital ads and social media content that highlight a creative focus on the absentee and early voting processes. This information will be made available on the Department’s website here, and shared with media outlets across the Commonwealth.

“We are excited about our new campaign and committed to ensuring that all eligible Virginia voters are able to make their voices heard,” said Christopher Piper, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections. “We want voters to know about all of the options they have to cast their ballots for the upcoming election.”

While absentee voting is not new to Virginians, after new legislation passed by the VA General Assembly that went into effect July 1, 2020, Virginia voters no longer need an excuse to vote absentee. Any registered voter may request an absentee ballot or go vote early in person. Absentee ballots will begin being mailed out on September 18th, the same day early voting begins in all localities throughout the Commonwealth.

Voters with questions about absentee, mail-in and in-person voting or any aspect of the November 3, 2020 election may call the Virginia Department of Elections at (800) 552-9745, email the department at info@elections.virginia.gov, or visit our website at elections.virginia.gov/absentee. Voters are also encouraged to follow us on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media platforms.

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State News

AG Herring comments on the passage of his “pattern or practice” bill out of both the House and the Senate

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RICHMOND (September 10, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following the passage of his bill out of both the House and the Senate that will give the Office of the Attorney General “pattern or practice” investigation authority, the most important measure in his policing and criminal justice reform legislative package.

“Giving the attorney general’s office the ability to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations will allow my office to work as a third party to help identify and put a stop to unconstitutional policing practices,” said Attorney General Herring. “While we used to be able to rely on the federal government to help with these kinds of investigations, under the Trump Administration they have all but ceased, which is why it is crucial that my office is given this authority. I want to thank my partners in both the House and the Senate for their hard work in helping to get this significant legislation passed.”

Enabling the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations (HB5072 Delegate Alfonso Lopez; SB5024 Senator Louise Lucas). This bill will give the Attorney General the authority to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to identify and put a stop to unconstitutional practices, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, biased policing, or other unconstitutional practices. For decades the U.S. Department of Justice was a reliable partner in identifying and ending unconstitutional policing practices, often through negotiated agreements for reforms, called “consent decrees,” in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson, MO. Under the Trump Administration, the DOJ has explicitly walked away from this responsibility, making it more important for state attorneys general to have this important tool. In June, Attorney General Herring asked Congress to expand federal law to give him and other state attorneys general clear statutory authority to conduct patterns and practice investigations. The U.S. House of Representatives included this authority in the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which passed the House on June 25, 2020.

Ahead of the special session, Attorney General Herring outlined his criminal justice and policing reform legislative priorities. In addition to giving the Attorney General the authority to conduct “pattern or practice” investigations, his priorities include:

• Police Reform

• Modernize, standardize, and elevate the rigor of police training

• Department of Criminal Justice Services should be required to develop within a year a new basic training curriculum in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General

• Current law enforcement officers must-have 21st-century policing skills included in their annual in-service training curriculum

• Make it easier to remove bad officers from the law enforcement profession

• Expand police decertification criteria to include misconduct, not just criminal convictions

• Establish a more robust database of officer discipline, terminations, and decertification

• Ban rehiring of officers who are fired for misconduct or excessive force, or who resign during an investigation into misconduct or excessive force

• Create a “duty to intervene” for law enforcement officers

• Ban or limit dangerous, unnecessary, and potentially deadly police tactics

• Empower localities to establish citizen review panels

• Require the use of body-worn cameras by all law enforcement officers

• Require law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to engage an independent agency or Commonwealth’s Attorney to conduct investigations and make prosecutorial decisions

• Criminal Justice Reform

• Cash bail reform

• Expanding opportunities for record expungement and simplifying the process

• Continued momentum toward legal, regulated adult use of cannabis and resolve past convictions

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Labor Day weekend traffic crashes claim 17 lives in Virginia

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With 17 traffic deaths reported for the Labor Day weekend, the preliminary 2020 statewide statistics match the 2019 statistics. This was a jump from 2018 numbers when there were 14 traffic fatalities and a considerable spike from 2017 when there were five traffic fatalities. The majority of the 2020 fatal crashes occurred after dark and at least five of those that lost their lives weren’t wearing a seatbelt.

“The 2020 traffic fatality statistics continue to trend in an unacceptable direction and with 116 additional crashes with injuries over the holiday weekend, I fear that preliminary number of deaths may still increase,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “It is very possible that five of those who lost their lives could have been saved if they would have taken two seconds and secured their seatbelts. I know this year has been stressful and everyone wants to enjoy a holiday weekend, but every decision you make, both before and while you are at the wheel, can affect if you or someone else on the road makes it safely home. The decisions are simple: don’t drive impaired, don’t drive tired, don’t drive distracted, don’t speed, wear your seatbelt, pay attention and be a responsible passenger.”

During the 2020 four-day holiday statistical counting period, 17 men and women were killed in 15 traffic crashes across the Commonwealth. The traffic crashes occurred in the counties of Augusta, Bland, Campbell, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Henrico, Isle of Wight, Stafford and Westmoreland, along with the Town of Leesburg and the cities of Chesapeake, Newport News and Roanoke. The city of Roanoke had three fatal crashes including two that involved pedestrians. Henrico County and the city of Newport News each had one traffic crash that resulted in two deaths. State police investigated a total of 484 traffic crashes during the holiday weekend.

The Virginia State Police participated in two annual, traffic-safety enforcement programs over the 2020 Labor Day weekend: Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (CARE) and Checkpoint Strikeforce. Operation CARE is a nationwide, state-sponsored traffic safety program that aims to reduce traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries caused by impaired driving, speeding and failing to use occupant restraints. Virginia State Police’s participation in the program began Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, at 12:01 a.m., and concluded at midnight Monday, Sept. 7, 2020.

As a result of state police traffic safety enforcement efforts during the 2020 statistical counting period, Virginia troopers:

  • Stopped 4,550 speeders
  • Stopped 1,561 reckless drivers
  • Arrested 55 drivers for DUI/DUID
  • Cited 445 seat belt violations
  • Assisted 1,465 disabled/stranded motorists

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

For more information on traffic safety and how to keep Virginia “Moving Toward Zero Roadway Deaths,” go to www.tzdva.org.

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