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Governor Northam delays Phase One for Accomack County and the City of Richmond

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Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Accomack County and the City of Richmond would delay implementation of Phase One of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease restrictions on certain business operations. Both the City of Richmond and Accomack County requested these extensions and will enter Phase One no earlier than midnight on Thursday, May 28.

The Accomack County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday evening, Wednesday, May 13, to request a two-week delay in entering Phase One, and Governor Northam received their formal request this morning. This afternoon, City of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney formally requested a delay in implementing Phase One for at least two weeks.

“As I have said previously, Virginia’s Phase Guidelines represent a floor, not a ceiling,” said Governor Northam. “I have encouraged local leaders to request exemptions when appropriate, and I am pleased to grant the delays for both Accomack County and the City of Richmond.”

The formal request from Accomack County can be found here. The formal request from the City of Richmond can be found here. The text of the amended Executive Order Sixty-Two is available here.

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Minimum wage increases but doesn’t take affect until May 2021

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Here’s everything you want to know about the new minimum wage law than went into effect on July 1, 2020.

The new law increases the minimum wage from its current federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour to $9.50 per hour effective May 1, 2021; to $11.00 per hour effective January 1, 2022; to $12.00 per hour effective January 1, 2023; to $13.50 per hour effective January 1, 2025; and to $15.00 per hour effective January 1, 2026.

For January 1, 2027, and thereafter, the annual minimum wage shall be adjusted to reflect increases in the consumer price index. The measure provides that the increases scheduled for 2025 and 2026 will not become effective unless reenacted by the General Assembly prior to July 1, 2024. If such provisions are not reenacted prior to July 1, 2024, then the annual minimum wage will be adjusted to reflect increases in the consumer price index beginning January 1, 2025.

The measure creates a training wage at 75 percent of the minimum wage for employees in on-the-job training programs lasting less than 90 days. The measure also provides that the Virginia minimum wage applies to persons whose employment is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act; persons employed in domestic service or in or about a private home; persons who normally work and are paid on the amount of work done; persons with intellectual or physical disabilities except those whose employment is covered by a special certificate issued by the U.S. Secretary of Labor; persons employed by an employer who does not employ four or more persons at any one time; and persons who are less than 18 years of age and who are under the jurisdiction of a juvenile and domestic relations district court.

Minimum wage does not apply to the following:

  • Any person employed as a farm laborer or farm employee;
  • Any person engaged in the activities of an educational, charitable, religious, or nonprofit organization where the relationship of employer-employee does not, in fact, exist, or where the services rendered to such organization are on a voluntary basis;
  • Caddies on golf courses;
  • Traveling salesmen or outside salesmen working on a commission basis; taxicab drivers and operators;
  • Any person under the age of 18 in the employ of his parent or legal guardian;
  • Any person confined in any penal or corrective institution of the Commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions or admitted to a state hospital or training center operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services;
  • Any person employed by a summer camp for boys, girls, or both boys and girls;
  • Any person under the age of 16, regardless of by whom employed;
  • Any person who is paid pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 214(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended;
  • Students participating in a bona fide educational program;
  • Any person who is less than 18 years of age and who is currently enrolled on a full-time basis in any secondary school, an institution of higher education, or trade school, provided that the person is not employed more than 20 hours per week;
  • Any person of any age who is currently enrolled on a full-time basis in any secondary school, an institution of higher education, or trade school and is in a work-study program or its equivalent at the institution at which enrolled as a student;
  • Any person who works as a babysitter for fewer than 10 hours per week;
  • Any person participating as an au pair in the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program governed by 22 C.F.R. § 62.31;
  • Any individual employed as a temporary foreign worker as governed by 20 C.F.R. Part 655; and
  • Any person who is exempt from the federal minimum wage pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(3).
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Governor Northam applauds historic progress as new laws take effect in Virginia

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~ Sweeping measures include minimum wage increase, worker protections, gun violence prevention, expanding voting access, fighting climate change ~

Governor Ralph Northam highlighted new laws that take effect July 1, 2020, as Virginia begins a new fiscal year. The Governor worked closely with members of the General Assembly to take forward-looking and historic steps to protect vulnerable Virginians, increase equity, and position the Commonwealth for future growth and success.

New laws include commonsense gun safety measures, worker protections, improvements to voting accessibility, criminal justice reforms, and measures that advance the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Governor Northam also signed legislation that removes discriminatory and racist language from Virginia’s books and includes actions to fight climate change and dramatically boost Virginia’s renewable energy production.

“I am proud of the bold legislation we championed with the General Assembly this year,” said Governor Northam. “From protecting civil rights to expanding voting access, to supporting workers, we have made generational progress on some of the most critical issues of our time. With these new laws, Virginia will be an even better place to live, work, visit, and raise a family.”

Key measures from the 2020 General Assembly Session that go into effect today include:

Advancing historic justice and equity with new laws that give localities authority over Confederate war memorials, remove discriminatory language from the Acts of Assembly and establish a commission to study slavery in Virginia and subsequent racial and economic discrimination. New measures also ban discrimination based on hair.

Enhancing worker protections with measures that increase the minimum wage, ban workplace discrimination, and combat worker misclassification and wage theft.

Commonsense gun safety laws that reinstate the restriction on handgun purchases to one per month, implement background checks on all firearm sales, require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and establish an Extreme Risk Protective Order.

Criminal justice reforms that include decriminalizing marijuana, raising the felony larceny threshold, and permanently ending the practice of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid court fines.

Expanding access to the ballot box by allowing early voting 45 days prior to an election without a stated excuse, extending in-person polling hours, and making Election Day a state holiday by repealing Lee-Jackson Day.

Accelerating Virginia’s transition to clean energy with the Virginia Clean Economy Act and measures to advance offshore wind and solar energy sources, establish renewable portfolio standards, and enter the Commonwealth into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Increasing protections for LGBTQ+ Virginians with the Virginia Values Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, public spaces, and credit applications. New laws also ban the harmful practice of “conversion therapy” for minors, increase protections for transgender students in public schools, expand the definition of a hate crime, and make it easier for LGBTQ+ individuals to obtain a birth certificate that matches their gender identity.

Restoring reproductive rights by repealing medically-unnecessary restrictions on women’s healthcare. The Reproductive Health Protection Act repeals Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law and 24-hour waiting period prior to an abortion, and rolls back politically motivated “TRAP” restrictions on women’s health centers.

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AG Herring’s legislative package to go into effect July 1st

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~ Herring’s legislative package helped to make 2020 the most progressive legislative session in Virginia history, includes bills that will make Virginia’s criminal justice system more fair, equal, and just; protect vulnerable communities; protect consumers, and more ~

Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s legislative package, which helped to make the 2020 General Assembly session the most progressive in Virginia history, is set to go into effect tomorrow, July 1st. Attorney General Herring’s package includes bills that will make Virginia’s criminal justice system more fair, just, and equal; protect vulnerable communities; make Virginia an even more open and welcoming community; and more. Additionally, Attorney General Herring’s package included comprehensive consumer protection reforms that will go into effect in January 2021, after Attorney General Herring asked Governor Northam to move the effective date up earlier citing the need to better protect Virginians during these difficult financial times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Tomorrow, when these new, progressive bills take effect, it will be a new day in Virginia. I have fought for these measures and reforms for years, even when the General Assembly was led by Republicans who would block our every move,” said Attorney General Herring. “With things like decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, we are creating a more fair, just, and equal Virginia. We were able to pass comprehensive consumer protections so that Virginians can take out certain kinds of small-dollar loans without falling into a vicious cycle of debt and high-interest rates. Vulnerable communities can now feel confident in knowing that their Commonwealth is behind them and ready to protect them from hate or other threats.

“Virginians voted last November for commonsense gun reform and this year we were finally able to deliver. For too long, too many Virginians were losing their lives at the end of a gun and Republicans were okay with keeping that status quo. Our communities and our families and loved ones are now safer because of these new gun safety measures like the one-handgun-a-month law, that I successfully defended in court just last week; a red flag law; and universal background checks.

“I want to thank my colleagues in both the Senate and the House for helping to pass my priorities this year. And I look forward to seeing how much more we are able to accomplish next year.”

Criminal Justice
The General Assembly passed House Bill 972 (Delegate Charniele Herring) and Senate Bill 2 (Senator Adam Ebbin) that will decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

“Virginia’s approach to cannabis hasn’t been working for far too long, needlessly saddling Virginians, especially Black Virginians and people of color, with criminal records. Those days are now behind us,” said Attorney General Herring. “With this historic legislation, we are making Virginia a more just, fair, equal, and progressive place. While decriminalization is an important first step on Virginia’s path, we cannot stop until we have full legalization in the Commonwealth.

“I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate and the House for helping me make this a top priority and I look forward to the progress that Virginia will make on this issue in the coming years.”

Attorney General Herring has become the leader on cannabis reform in Virginia following his call for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, action to address past convictions, and a move towards legal and regulated adult use. In his call for cannabis reform, he cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense and social costs of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color. In December 2019, Attorney General Herring held a cannabis summit for policymaking stakeholders in Virginia that focused on policy and included experts from attorneys generals’ offices, state agencies, and legislative operations in states that have legalized cannabis, as well as cannabis policy experts.

Protecting Vulnerable Communities
The General Assembly passed Attorney General Herring’s package of legislation that he says will better protect Virginians and vulnerable communities from hate crimes and white supremacist violence. The bills will update the Commonwealth’s definition of a hate crime, protect Virginians from violence and intimidation by hate groups and white supremacists, and make it harder for hate groups and white supremacists to threaten, intimidate, or hurt Virginians with firearms.

Additionally, the General Assembly passed House Bill 6 (Delegate Jeff Bourne) that added discrimination on the basis of a person’s income to the list of unlawful discriminatory housing practices and House Bill 1663 (Delegate Mark Sickles) that creates explicit causes of action for unlawful discrimination in public housing and employment under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The General Assembly also passed House Bill 704 (Delegate Mark Keam) that provides that there will be a policy in Virginia that promotes environmental justice.

“It is so important to make sure that vulnerable communities throughout Virginia know that their elected officials and their state stands behind them, ready to protect them, their families, and their fundamental rights,” said Attorney General Herring. “It is incredibly gratifying this year to finally have my hate crimes and white supremacist violence legislation passed after many years of being held up in committee by Republicans in the General Assembly.”

“Preventing discrimination, both in housing and in unemployment, as well as putting policies in place that will promote environmental justice here in Virginia are all crucial elements to building stronger, more inclusive communities. I am proud I was able to help get this important legislation passed.”

Attorney General Herring’s hate crimes and white supremacist violence legislative package is below:

Updating Virginia’s definition of “hate crime”: This bill will create protections against hate crimes committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. (House Bill 618 Delegate Ken Plum)

Empowering the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes: This bill will allow the Attorney General to prosecute hate crimes through the Commonwealth’s network of multijurisdictional grand juries. (House Bill 787 Delegate Lamont Bagby)

Prohibiting Paramilitary Activity: This bill will further restrict the kind of paramilitary activity by white supremacist militias and similar groups that were seen in Charlottesville in August 2017 (Senate Bill 64 Senator Louise Lucas)

Firearms at Permitted Events: This bill authorizes communities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event or an event that would otherwise require a permit. (Senate Bill 35 Senator Scott Surovell)

Protecting Virginia Consumers
This year, Attorney General Herring supported two bills (House Bill 789 Delegate Lamont Bagby and Senate Bill 421 Senator Mamie Locke) that were passed by the General Assembly that will enact comprehensive predatory lending reforms in Virginia. The legislation tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders and closes easily abused loopholes so that Virginia borrowers are afforded protections regardless of the type of loan they seek. It will also give Attorney General Herring’s Predatory Lending Unit more tools to enforce these new protections and better combat predatory lenders operating in the Commonwealth. These bills will go into effect January 2021 after Attorney General Herring asked Governor Northam to move the effective date earlier citing the need to better protect Virginians during these difficult financial times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General Herring also supported House Bill 1553 (Delegate Rodney Willett) that will further protect Virginia borrowers by putting tighter restrictions and regulations on debt settlement service providers.

“This much needed comprehensive consumer protection legislation closes easily abused loopholes and tightens the rules on exploitative predatory lenders ensuring that Virginia borrowers do not have to worry about falling into a cycle of debt and high-interest rates if they take out certain kinds of loans,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginia consumers deserve to be protected during every phase of the loan process and this comprehensive legislation will help with that.”

Firearms on School Property
Attorney General Herring’s bill House Bill 1080 (Delegate Patrick Hope) further clarifies that only trained, authorized individuals may carry a gun at schools. This bill follows an opinion Attorney General Herring put out that concluded that schools could not designate just anyone as a special conservator of the peace and allow them to carry a firearm on school property.

“Our kids deserve to go to school in a safe, secure learning environment. Adding guns and armed, unqualified individuals to our classrooms and our schools does not align with that goal,” said Attorney General Herring. “The last thing we need to do to keep our children safe is to put more guns in schools and in the hands of untrained, unqualified personnel. I hope we can all work together to continue to find safe, effective ways to make our schools safe and welcoming places for our kids to learn and grow.”

In-State Tuition for DREAMers
In 2014, Attorney General Herring sent a letter to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the presidents of Virginia’s colleges and universities, and the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System advising that Virginia students who are lawfully present in the United States under DACA quality for in-state tuition.

This year, Attorney General Herring supported House Bill 1547 (Delegate Alfonso Lopez) that further clarifies that any student is eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of citizenship status, as long as they have fulfilled the necessary requirements.

“Every student deserves in-state tuition in their own home state, regardless of what their citizenship status is,” said Attorney General Herring. “I hope that knowing that their right to in-state tuition is now protected in Virginia code and no one will be able to deny them a higher education will give DREAMers peace of mind.”

Driver’s License Suspension
Attorney General worked with the General Assembly this year to ensure that there was a permanent fix that ended Virginia’s license suspension policy and strongly supported Senate Bill 1 (Senator Stanley).

“No one should have their license suspended just because they are unable to immediately pay their fines,” said Attorney General Herring. “This was a bad policy from the start and it disproportionately affected minority communities and I’m pleased we were able to change it.”

Confederate Monuments
Attorney General Herring has pushed for legislation that will give localities the ability to remove, relocate, or contextualize Confederate monuments and statues and Senate Bill 183 (Senator Mamie Locke) will do just that.

“These grandiose Confederate monuments memorialize one of the darkest periods in Virginia history and they represent oppression and injustice to so many who call our Commonwealth home,” said Attorney General Herring. “Giving localities the ability to remove or contextualize their monuments will allow these communities to tell their own stories – an important step on Virginia’s path to becoming even more open and welcoming.”

Marriage Records
Last fall, Attorney General Herring sent a memo to clerks of the court around Virginia explaining that state law “does not require a clerk to refuse to issue a marriage license when the applicant declines to identify his or her race and that clerks should issue a license regardless of an applicant’s answer or non-answer to that inquiry.” Along with the memo, clerks also received a newly updated marriage license form that gave applicants the option to decline to answer a question about the applicant’s race.

Since issuing the memo, Attorney General Herring has been advocating to have the question about an applicant’s race removed from the marriage license application altogether. House Bill 180 (Delegate Mark Levine) removes all requirements that an individual’s race be included on any kind of marriage record, divorce report, or annulment report.

“It was never clear why any of these records and forms included a question about the applicant’s race,” said Attorney General Herring. “I’m glad my office was able to initially find a solution by changing the forms and now this new legislation will change it in Virginia code.”

Protecting Animals
Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to strengthen enforcement of animal cruelty and other animal-related crimes. This year, Attorney General Herring’s Senate Bill 114 (Senator David Marsden) will put certain animal care statutes under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and give the Office of the Attorney General even more tools to protect animals.

In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug, and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people.

“Individuals who harm or kill animals are truly disgusting, and oftentimes these types of crimes can lead to other, more serious crimes as well,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am incredibly proud of the fantastic work my Animal Law Unit has done to crack down on animal abuse and cruelty and I am glad we will now have even more tools in our toolbox to go after these terrible crimes.”

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VDOT: Moving Day

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Before the Chatham Bridge closed to traffic for a major improvement project, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) needed to relocate some very important residents — cliff swallows.

The birds nest in the concrete niches under the bridge. For the safety of the nestlings, who cannot yet fly, VDOT environmental specialists Mark Haus and Stephen Sharpeta removed 100 cliff swallows and nine eggs from 42 nests on the bridge over the Rappahannock River in mid-June.

The relocation was carefully planned in coordination with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issued a permit for the operation.

Using a “snooper” truck, which can extend a mechanical arm and basket under the bridge for work crews, the birds were carefully retrieved one by one from the nests by hand.

They were immediately taken to The Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, where they will be cared for until they can be returned to the wild.

Freshwater mussels will also be relocated from the Rappahannock River before construction of the causeway begins. The mussel relocation is another part of VDOT’s project commitment to state and federal environmental agencies.

The Chatham Bridge connects Stafford County and downtown Fredericksburg and was closed to traffic on Monday, June 22. The bridge will reopen in October 2021.

Learn more about the project at virginiadot.org/chathambridge. Thanks go to project contractor Joseph B. Fay Co. for assisting with the cliff swallows retrieval effort.

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Saving lives one pint at a time

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Cheri Wood. Photo courtesy of VDOT.

According to the American Red Cross, one pint of donated blood can potentially save up to three lives.

By that math, Cheri Wood, quality and training supervisor for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Customer Service Center in Salem, has potentially saved up to 207 lives.

“My dad was in a car wreck in 1978 and needed immediate surgery, but they didn’t have enough blood in the blood bank,” she said. “They put out a call over the local radio and TV stations asking for blood donations to help my dad.

“Thankfully, there were enough people that responded and dad was able to get his surgery.”

She was a young girl when the accident happened, but was old enough to understand how the blood donations made a difference not only in her dad’s life but in her family’s.

“I just determined, when I got old enough, I wanted to give back,” she said. “So, when I turned 18, I started donating.”

The Red Cross allows a person to donate blood every 56 days, but one has to be in good health.

“Through the years there have been instances when I haven’t been able to donate,” she said, “but I tried to stick to the ‘every 56 days’ as much as humanly possible.”

She is thankful for VDOT’s Community Service Leave program, which allows her to take the time needed to donate.

Cheri is on track to give a total of nine gallons by the end of June.

“Every time I give, I do it in memory of my dad, Charlie Martin, because others cared enough to donate for him,” she said.

“As long as I’m able, I’ll continue to donate because I know it is making a difference.”

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Man arrested for lying about Marion cross burning, interfering with fair housing based on race

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ABINGDON, VIRGINIA – James Brown, of Marion, Virginia, was arrested this afternoon and charged with lying to federal agents about his involvement in the burning of a cross on the front lawn of an African-American woman’s home and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Neil L. Mathison, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division made the announcement.

“The frightening act at the center of today’s complaint—a racially motivated cross-burning—interfered with the victim’s federally protected right to fair housing,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.

“Acts of violence, threats, and other forms of intimidation prompted by racial animus are serious federal crimes, and we will continue to work closely with the FBI to hold offenders accountable.”

“The FBI is committed to protecting all citizens, and will aggressively investigate acts of intimidation or violence against anyone based on race or ethnicity,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Mathison said today. “We thank the Marion County Police Department, the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Attorney’s Office’s Western District of Virginia for their swift and direct attention to this incident.”

Brown, 40, was arrested June 26, 2020, on a federal criminal complaint charging him with lying to federal agents and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race.

The area around where a burning barrel containing what appeared to be a cross was located is taped off during a joint investigation between the Marion Police Department and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office. Photo courtesy the Marion Police Department

According to court documents, on June 14, 2020, at approximately 12:55 a.m., the Marion Police Department received a report of a burning cross in the front yard of an African-American family, one of whom had organized a civil rights protest the day before. In the following days, working with the FBI, investigators learned of the involvement of Brown. When questioned by investigators if he had anything to do with the cross-burning incident, Brown allegedly lied. Witnesses interviewed during the investigation stated that Brown admitted to the cross burning and used racial epithets when referring to the African American family.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Marion Police Department, and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Zachary T. Lee is prosecuting the case for the United States.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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