RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam ceremonially signed legislation to improve Virginia’s foster care system. Joined by a bipartisan group of legislators, government officials, and leaders from the business and faith communities, Governor Northam also helped kick off Virginia Fosters, a statewide campaign that empowers Virginians to be the solution for children, families, and workers in the Commonwealth’s child welfare system.
“Every child in our Commonwealth deserves to grow up healthy, safe, and in a loving family that supports them through school, a career, and in following their dreams,” said Governor Northam. “We have made tremendous strides in improving our foster care system with this legislation, but we also know that the challenges we have did not come about overnight and cannot be solved in one General Assembly Session or by government alone. Each one of us has a role to play in giving Virginia’s most vulnerable children an opportunity to grow and thrive.”
• Senate Bill 1339, sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves, makes clear state and local authority for foster care services, placement, and removal decisions, improves the case review and oversight process, and creates a new state position to oversee foster care health and safety.
• Senate Bill 1679, sponsored by Senator Monty Mason, and House Bill 2014, sponsored by Delegate Chris Peace, aligns the Code of Virginia with the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018, which provides prevention services for kids at risk of entering foster care services and their families.
• Senate Bill 1720, sponsored by Senator Monty Mason, and House Bill 2758, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, requires local departments of social services to take all reasonable steps in a foster care placement to determine whether a child has any relatives who may be eligible to become a kinship foster parent, provide notice to those relatives, and explain to them the opportunities they may have to participate in placement and care of the child.
• House Bill 2108, sponsored by Delegate Richard Bell, establishes a dispute resolution process through which a foster parent may contest an alleged violation of regulations.
• Senate Bill 1253, sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves, and House Bill 1730, sponsored by Delegate Emily Brewer, requires local departments of social services to request the placement of a security freeze on the credit report or record of any child who has been in foster care for at least six months.
“I could not be more proud to have this legislation signed into law today,” said Senator Bryce Reeves. “We are putting our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children first and raising the bar for other states to do the same.”
“When we take children from their parents, we have a responsibility to keep them safe, healthy, and with a brighter future,” said Senator Janet Howell. “Too often, Virginia has failed these, our children. The problems with Virginia’s foster care system are largely fixable. We are determined to fix them. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission staff provided us the impetus and guidance we need.”
“The Families First Prevention Services Act offers Virginia a chance to make historic reforms to help keep kids out of the foster care system,” said Delegate Chris Peace. “I’m proud to be part of a bipartisan effort to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect some of our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children.”
“The report provided to us on the condition of our foster care system was sobering, and the Virginia legislature tackled the problems listed with the help of members from across the state and across the aisle,” said Senator Monty Mason. “For the first time ever we have dollars to put toward preventative services to keep families together. We have a plan to create better outcomes for children who enter the foster care system. While the foster care system always needs improvement, we have made incredible strides with the legislation that is being signed into law today.”
“As a foster mother for nearly a decade, I have seen children’s lives transformed by having a safe, nurturing home,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy. “My bill promotes kinship foster care which enables relatives to safely care for foster children. Kinship foster care maintains important family connections, minimizes trauma, improves behavioral and mental health outcomes, and increases permanency for abused and neglected children.”
“As someone who grew up in foster care at the United Methodists Children’s Home in Richmond, I am committed to reforming this system for the better,” said Delegate David Reid. “The work of the 2019 session was just the beginning of our effort to help those children in Virginia who need us most.”
“Starting July 1, local departments of social services will be required to notify the appropriate community service boards (CSBs) when a child in the foster care system has a developmental disability,” said Senator Barbara Favola. “This notification will enable the CSB to screen the child for placement on the statewide developmental disability waiver list in enough advance time to ensure a smooth transition from the foster care system. I am pleased that this requirement will ease the transition for children in foster care who need developmental disability waiver placements upon leaving the system.”
“Children placed in foster care are among the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Delegate Richard ‘Dickie’ Bell. “These children need stable and loving environments and thousands of foster parents open their homes each year and provide just that. House Bill 2108 ensures that there is a mechanism for foster parents to add their voice to ongoing conversations about the safety and well-being of these children and creates a more transparent process centered around communication and collaboration of all parties with the child’s needs at the forefront.”
“Children in foster care are disproportionately more vulnerable to having their identity stolen and their credit history damaged,” said Delegate Emily Brewer. “House Bill 1730, my foster care credit freeze measure, will provide identity theft protections for children currently in foster care and also ensure those aging out of foster care start their future without the fear of financial peril.”
Virginia Fosters coordinates leaders in the government, faith, non-profit, business and creative communities at the “grass tops” level and engages Virginians from all walks of life at the grassroots level to address the challenges inherent in the child welfare system. Not everyone can foster or adopt, but everyone can do something to be the solution.
“The Virginia Fosters campaign offers us an opportunity to come together, no matter where we live, or what we do, to actively be part of the solution for kids in need of loving, supportive, and stable homes,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D. “Whether it be providing wrap-around support for foster families, supporting local social workers, or helping young adults who have recently aged out of the system, there are meaningful ways for us all to be involved, even if we are unable to become a foster parent ourselves.”
Virginia Fosters is based in part on a successful model run in Virginia in 2013 and in Colorado starting in 2005, focused mostly on recruiting adoptive families. That work was enhanced and accelerated in Oklahoma and Tennessee in recent years, resulting in significant increases in the number of foster families recruited in those states.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the number of children in foster care across our nation has continued to rise—from 396,000 in September 2012 to 443,000 in September 2016. On average, nearly 2,700 children enter Virginia’s foster care system each year. Thirty-eight percent of these children are teenagers and 60 percent are siblings. As the number of children entering care continues to rise, a growing demand is created for foster parents. When a relative cannot be identified, foster parents provide temporary placement until the child can be successfully reunified or permanency is achieved. Nationally, relatives care for 32 percent of children in foster care. However, in Virginia, less than 10 percent children are placed in relative foster homes.
Most often, children enter care having experienced multiple, complex problems within their home environment. Ensuring a safe, stable, and supportive environment as these children navigate through temporary displacement is critical to their health and well-being and is a priority of the child welfare system.
“As human service professionals, children are among those we strive hardest to protect. We need the help of relatives and foster parents in facilitating the supports children need as they struggle to overcome adverse situations,” said Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Duke Storen. “These are Virginia’s children, and they deserve our best efforts. Working together, we can help better support the success of the child, parent, and their family as a whole.”
For more information on the Virginia Fosters campaign, visit virginiafosters.org.
Governor Northam Announces Commonwealth’s Unemployment Rate falls to 2.8%
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage point in August to 2.8 percent, which was unchanged from a year ago. In August, the labor force expanded for the fourteenth consecutive month by 14,204, or 0.3 percent to set a new record high of 4,404,492, as the number of unemployed decreased by 3,551. Household employment increased by 17,755 to set a new high of 4,281,899. Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate, which was unchanged at 3.7 percent.
“The drop in Virginia’s unemployment rate is yet another sign that our economy remains strong and our efforts to create opportunity in every corner of the Commonwealth are paying real dividends,” said Governor Northam. “While we welcome this news, we also know that we still have challenges to overcome in making sure that all Virginians have access to affordable health care, a world-class education, and the skills they need to get a good-paying job. My administration will stay focused on making the strategic investments that will help the families we serve and ensure that Virginia continues to be the best place to do business.”
Virginia has the lowest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate among the Southeast states. Virginia has the third best rate among the states east of the Mississippi. Virginia is ranked sixth in the nation for the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate along with Colorado and Utah.
“The strength of Virginia’s labor market is evident not only in the declining unemployment rate, but in increasing rates of labor force participation that show how some who had been on the sidelines have resumed looking for work,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We’re proud of this statewide unemployment rate. But as some localities continue to struggle with a higher rate, the Governor remains focused on bringing new investment and jobs to all regions of the Commonwealth.”
Over-the-year employment growth in Virginia has been positive for 65 consecutive months. For August, Virginia’s over-the-year growth of 1.8 percent was greater than the national rate. Nationally, over-the-year growth was higher in August at 1.5 percent from 0.8 percent in July and 0.9 percent in June.
“Virginia’s thoughtful investments in workforce development are paying off in the form of sustained low unemployment rates and a growing labor force,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “Thanks to Governor Northam’s leadership, more Virginians than in our Commonwealth’s history have either now secured or are seeking a job. We are encouraged by our progress, and will continue to deliver opportunities and results for job seekers and employers throughout Virginia in the months ahead.”
In August, the private sector recorded an over-the-year gain of 35,500 jobs, while employment in the public sector increased as well by 1,200 jobs. Compared to a year ago, on a seasonally adjusted basis, eight of the eleven major industry divisions experienced employment gains, while the other three experienced employment losses.
For a greater statistical breakdown visit the Virginia Employment Commission’s website at www.vec.virginia.gov.
Governor Northam announces 105 new jobs in the City of Manassas
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that High Purity Systems, Inc., a leading provider of mechanical piping systems for a broad range of industries, will invest approximately $8.5 million to grow its manufacturing operation in the City of Manassas. The company will expand into a new, 30,000-square-foot facility in order to increase production capabilities for piping fabrication. The project will create 105 new jobs.
“Innovative manufacturers like High Purity Systems are thriving due to the region’s competitive operating costs, strong pipeline of skilled talent, and extensive transportation network,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia’s existing businesses play an important role in fostering economic vitality, and when they choose to reinvest and expand, it helps generate and sustain economic development throughout the Commonwealth. With a wide range of clients across cutting-edge and emerging industries, High Purity Systems is an emblem of 21st-century manufacturing, and we thank the company for its continued commitment to the City of Manassas.”
In business for over 30 years and based in the City of Manassas, High Purity Systems, Inc. (HPS) specializes in solving complex, highly technical mechanical projects for a variety of industries including microelectronics, biopharmaceutical, aerospace, food and beverage manufacturers, and other industrial companies. In addition to traditional mechanical services, HPS’ expertise includes fabricating and installing critical process piping systems, performing orbital welding and other specialty welding services, and manufacturing skidded piping systems.
“High Purity Systems has thrived in the City of Manassas for more than three decades, and we are honored that the company has again chosen to reinvest in the Commonwealth for its latest multi-million-dollar expansion,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “This homegrown manufacturer is a valued corporate partner that will continue to benefit from the region’s robust infrastructure, world-renowned workforce, and strategic access to its growing customer base. We look forward to HPS’ continued success in Virginia, and to the creation of 105 new, high-paying manufacturing jobs.”
“High Purity Systems, Inc. is proud to partner with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the City of Manassas Economic Development Authority to expand our operations,” said Jody Ralston, CEO of High Purity Systems, Inc. “Our company and our employees’ families have deep roots in the area, which is why we’re thrilled to remain in the City of Manassas and the Commonwealth of Virginia. This expansion significantly increases our capacity to serve our industrial and government client base throughout the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, as well as our national fabrication customers.”
HPS is seeking individuals with any level of experience in Project Management, Estimating, Engineering, BIM/VDC/CAD, Welding, Mechanical Helper, Marketing, Accounting, as well as anyone looking for an exciting career in the Piping and Metal Trades. Interested candidates are encouraged to apply at highpurity.com/careers.
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the City of Manassas to secure the project for Virginia and will support HPS’ job creation through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP). VJIP provides consultative services and funding to companies creating new jobs or experiencing technological change in order to support employee training activities. As a business incentive supporting economic development, VJIP reduces the human resource costs of new and expanding companies. VJIP is state-funded, demonstrating Virginia’s commitment to enhancing job opportunities for citizens. The company is eligible to receive Sales and Use tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment, as well as a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created.
“High Purity Systems, Inc. has become a vital part of the Manassas business community with ties to several of the City’s largest employers in aerospace and advanced manufacturing,” said Mayor Harry J. Parrish II. “We are proud to have created an environment in which companies like HPS are able to thrive and grow, helping make the City of Manassas a regional employment center with one of the highest percentages of high-wage jobs in professional and technical services in Virginia.”
“High-paying, skilled jobs are a critical component of our efforts to diversify Virginia’s economy,” said Senator Jeremy McPike. “The investment that High Purity Systems, Inc. is making in the City of Manassas strengthens our community by creating these high-paying jobs closer to home.”
Harrisonburg woman pleads guilty to fatal overdose distribution
HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA – Iza Mar Rosario-Cruzado, 31, of Harrisonburg, Va., pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court to one count of distributing and possessing with the intent to distribute a mixture of heroin and fentanyl. Rosario-Cruzado further admitted her distribution of this drug mixture resulted in an overdose death. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen made the announcement following the defendant’s guilty plea.
“Heroin laced with fentanyl is driving the opioid epidemic that has ravaged our district for the last several years,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today. “We will continue to work closely with our state and local partners to investigate and prosecute cases involving overdose deaths and hold dealers accountable under federal law.”
“This sentence is a great example of our efforts to keep our local communities safe from the spread of drugs. Heroin and fentanyl are extremely deadly substances and those who spread this poison across our cities, acting with blatant disregard for the lives of the people who live here, will not be tolerated,” said Special Against in Charge Jesse R. Fong of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington Field Division. “This case is a testament to the hard work DEA and our law enforcement partners do every day to keep these dangerous drugs out of the hands of our loved ones.”
According to court documents entered during yesterday’s hearing, on December 13, 2017, victim M.J.M. was found deceased following a heroin and fentanyl overdose. Investigators determined that the day prior, December 12, 2017, Rosario-Cruzado distributed a mixture of heroin and fentanyl to Richard Mansfield. Mansfield subsequently redistributed the same drugs to M.J.M., who ingested them, resulting in his overdose death.
On September 12, 2018, Mansfield pleaded guilty to one count of distributing a mixture of heroin and fentanyl.
At sentencing, scheduled for December 17, 2019, Rosario-Cruzado faces between 12-16 years in years in federal prison, as agreed to as part of her plea agreement.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Virginia State Police, and Harrisonburg Police Department, with the assistance of Rockingham County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha L. Garst. Assistant United States Attorney Jeb Terrien is prosecuting the case for the United States.
September 24 is National Voter Registration Day
RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Department of Elections is pleased to participate in National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) on Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Volunteers and organizations from all over the Commonwealth will encourage all eligible Virginians to register to vote and increase awareness of voter registration opportunities.
On that day, the Department, in coordination with OnTheSquareVA, will host an “Everything Elections” NVRD event. The table will be set up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Capitol Square near the Bell Tower. At the table, the public can register to vote, update their voter address, request an absentee ballot, obtain voter photo ID information, or sign up to be an Officer of Elections.
Department employees will be on hand to answer any questions about elections and the voter registration process.
Every year, millions of Americans are unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, do not update their registration information, or are not sure how to register. National Voter
Registration Day seeks to raise awareness of voter registration opportunities around the country.
“At the Virginia Department of Elections, we are committed to making the voter registration process as easy, convenient and transparent as possible,” said Christopher Piper, Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner. “We are thankful for all those who help us fulfill that mission.”
The deadline for registering to vote in the November 5, 2019 general election is Tuesday, October 15, 2019. All eligible Virginians can register to vote, update their voter address, or verify their registration status at vote.virginia.gov.
As of August 31, 2019, the Commonwealth of Virginia has 5,588,740 registered voters.You can find out more about National Voter Registration Day at NationalVoterRegistrationDay.org.
Former Director for Diversity Initiatives at Old Dominion University will join Northam Administration in newly-created role
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced that Dr. Janice Underwood, former Director of Diversity Initiatives at Old Dominion University, will serve as Virginia’s first-ever Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Governor Northam announced the creation of this senior-level position in May, kicking off an extensive candidate selection process that involved numerous state agencies, stakeholders, and highly-qualified applicants.
“I am committed to making Virginia more equitable and inclusive, and that starts with my administration and our state government,” said Governor Northam. “Dr. Underwood’s background as an educator, leader and collaborator, as well as her experience promoting inclusive policies and directing a variety of diversity initiatives, make her the perfect person to fill this role. I’m thrilled to welcome Dr. Underwood to our administration, and I look forward to having her as a partner in this important work.”
As the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Dr. Underwood will develop a sustainable framework to promote inclusive practices across Virginia state government; implement a measurable, strategic plan to address systemic inequities in state government practices; and facilitate ways to turn feedback from state employees, external stakeholders, and community leaders into concrete equity policy.
“I am deeply honored to serve the Commonwealth in this inaugural position,” said Dr. Underwood. “As I embark on this role I will be relying on my many personal and professional experiences as a teacher, an educational researcher, a parent and wife, and a diversity leader. I am dedicated to working with Virginians to promote lasting, institutional change at all levels of state government, and I look forward to working closely with Governor Northam and the rest of his administration to make the Commonwealth more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all who live here.”
Dr. Janice Underwood earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hampton University in 1998 (B.A. Psychology) and 2002 (M.A. Learning and Behavior Disorders), respectively. In 2015, she earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Old Dominion University (ODU), where her research focused on culturally relevant pedagogy.
Prior to her appointment, Dr. Underwood served as Old Dominion University’s Director of Diversity Initiatives and as the chair of the President’s Task Force on Inclusive Excellence. Dr. Underwood previously served as the Executive Director and Co-Principal Investigator for the ODU Teacher in Residence master’s program, a collaborative partnership between ODU, Norfolk Public Schools and Newport News Public schools. Dr. Underwood also served for a number of years as a national board certified teacher for students with exceptionalities, and has extensive expertise in the cultural contexts of our public education system.
In these roles, Dr. Underwood has worked to create inclusive work and learning environments, and has collaborated with outside groups—such as the Virginia Community College System, the Chesapeake Public Library, and more—on professional development related to racial and cultural diversity.
AG Herring recognized for his contributions to advancing cannabis law reform in the Commonwealth
RICHMOND(September 9, 2019) – Virginia NORML has honored Attorney General Mark R. Herring with the 2019 Vanguard Award for his contributions to advancing cannabis law reform in the Commonwealth. Attorney General Herring has called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, action to resolve past convictions and a move towards legal and regulate adult use. In calling for reform, Attorney General Herring cited the unnecessary negative impact of a criminal conviction for possession, the expense of enforcing the current system, and the disparate impact on African Americans and people and communities of color.
“As attorney general, I have a special obligation to fight for justice, opportunity, and equality for all Virginians, which means I’m always thinking about whether we are living up to that standard, and it is clear to me that criminalizing marijuana possession isn’t working,” said Attorney General Herring. “We have a system where getting caught with one joint, or a small amount of cannabis can totally derail someone’s life. There are smarter, better ways we can approach cannabis, and that begins with decriminalizing simple possession of small amounts, addressing past convictions, and taking responsible steps towards legalization. I want to thank Virginia NORML for honoring me with this award and all the hard work they do to advocate for cannabis reform.”
“Virginia NORML is thrilled to honor Attorney General Herring with this years award,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, Director, Virginia NORML. “His advocacy for not only decriminalizing but legalizing and regulating adult-use marijuana has significantly elevated the conversation regarding the immediate need for legislative action and demonstrates his unwavering commitment to justice for all Virginians.”
In the last decade the number of first time marijuana convictions in Virginia has risen 53%, from 6,533 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2017. About 90% of marijuana arrests in 2018 were for possession alone and arrests for cannabis possession have increased about 115%, from around 13,000 in 2003 to nearly 28,000 in 2017. The cost of cannabis criminal enforcement is estimated to be up to $81 million each year.
The weight of the current approach to cannabis enforcement falls disproportionately on African Americans and people and communities of color. According to the Virginia Crime Commission, African Americans comprised 46% of all first offense possession arrests from 2007 to 2016, despite comprising just 20% of Virginia’s population and despite studies consistently showing that marijuana usage rates are comparable between African Americans and white Americans.
About Virginia NORML
Virginia NORML is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the decriminalization of the possession of cannabis and the regulation of in-state medical and adult-use production and sales for a safer Commonwealth.