RICHMOND – Governor Ralph Northam today vetoed House Bill 1257, which would force state and local law enforcement agencies to use resources and manpower to perform functions that should be executed by federal immigration enforcement agencies. The Governor’s full statement is below:
April 9, 2018
Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, and after consulting with law enforcement and local stakeholder groups, I veto House Bill 1257, which imposes an unnecessary and divisive requirement upon localities regarding the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
This legislation would force local law enforcement agencies to use precious resources to perform functions that are the responsibility of federal immigration enforcement agencies. It also sends a chilling message to communities across Virginia that could have negative impacts on public safety.
Localities have the right to determine whether to expend the resources and voluntarily enter into an agreement with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Police divisions across the Commonwealth have a long tradition of engaging in community policing strategies, and many have determined that it is more important to develop a relationship with immigrant communities in order to keep all of those who live within the locality safe. This legislation would strip localities of that autonomy and force them to divert money and manpower away from their core public safety functions.
Were it to become law, this bill would send a clear message to people across this Commonwealth that state and local law enforcement officials are to be feared and avoided rather than trusted and engaged. The safety of our communities requires that all people, whether they are documented or not, feel comfortable reporting criminal activity and cooperating with local law enforcement investigations. This bill would make it harder for the men and women who keep us safe to do their jobs.
There are many actions we can take to support law enforcement and keep Virginians safe. Placing new unfunded mandates on state and local public safety agencies in order to make a political point is not one of them.
Accordingly, I veto this bill.
Ralph S. Northam
Virginia Department of Elections announces completion of statewide post-election risk-limiting audit for the November 2020 election
The Virginia Department of Elections’ (ELECT) Commissioner Christopher Piper announced today that Virginia’s elections administrators have successfully completed the state’s risk-limiting audit (RLA). The audit confirmed that the original count of the votes accurately portrayed the winners of the election in Virginia for the United States President and Senate.
Pursuant to Va. Code §24.2-671.1, ELECT is required to coordinate an annual post-election RLA of ballot scanner machines used in the Commonwealth of Virginia. ELECT collaborated with VotingWorks, a non-profit organization that assists with RLAs across the country. All 133 localities in Virginia participated in the audit.
“The success of Virginia’s first statewide audit reaffirms our dedication to ensuring secure and accurate elections for our voters,” said Christopher Piper, Virginia’s Commissioner of Elections. “I am proud of the hard work that our election administrators do in the Commonwealth, and this audit further exemplifies the integrity and validity of the 2020 November General Election results”.
The statewide audit provided opportunities for all localities and the public to participate. The audit results were reported today during a meeting with Virginia’s general registrars and electoral board members. You can find a copy of the audit results on our website: www.elections.virginia.gov.
Virginia restaurants grapple with plastic foam container ban
From vermicelli bowls to crispy chicken, Pho Luca’s, a Vietnamese-owned Richmond restaurant, uses plastic foam containers to package takeout meals. That may soon change after the General Assembly recently passed a bill banning such packaging.
After negotiations on a Senate amendment, the House agreed in a 57-39 vote last week on an amendment to House Bill 1902, which bans nonprofits, local governments, and schools from using polystyrene takeout containers. The Senate passed the amended bill in a 24-15 vote.
“We’re just leveling the playing field,” said Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, about the amendment. “So not only do restaurants, but nonprofits and schools will be subject to this ban in 2025.”
Food chains with 20 or more locations cannot package and dispense food in polystyrene containers as of July 2023. The remaining food vendors have until July 2025. Food vendors in violation of the ban can receive up to $50 in civil penalty each day of violation.
Carr said she is glad Virginia is taking the lead to curb plastic pollution and that the measure will “make our environment cleaner and safer for all of our citizens (by) not having styrofoam in the ditches and in the water and in the food that we consume.”
This is the second year the bill was sent to a conference committee. Last year’s negotiation resulted in a reenactment clause stipulating the bill couldn’t be enacted until it was approved again this year by the General Assembly.
The COVID-19 pandemic loomed over this year’s bill dispute as businesses shift to single-use packagings, such as polystyrene, to limit contamination.
Lawmakers skeptical of the polystyrene ban spoke out on the Senate floor, arguing the ban will hurt small businesses who rely on polystyrene foam containers, which are known for their cheaper cost.
“The places that give me these Styrofoam containers are the places that are struggling the most right now,” said Sen. Jen A. Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach.
The pandemic has financially impacted the restaurant industry. In 2020, Virginia’s food services sector lost more than 20% of its employees from 2019, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Like many small businesses, Pho Luca’s has relied on polystyrene foam takeout packaging because it is affordable and functional.
Dominic Pham, the owner of the Pho Luca’s, said he has been in contact with several vendors that sell polystyrene alternatives, but it has been a challenge for Pham to find suitable alternatives.
Pho Luca’s currently uses plastic foam containers that cost about a nickel per container, Pham said. The alternatives will cost about 55 cents more. However, Pham said he is willing to make the change, recognizing that polystyrene containers are detrimental to the environment.
Pham said he distributed surveys to consumers on the possibility of raising prices to offset the cost of polystyrene alternatives. The results were overwhelmingly positive.
“Even if we have to upcharge them a dollar for the recyclable, reusable containers, people (are) happy to do that, they don’t mind,” Pham said.
The use of plastic foam containers has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several states and cities have reversed or delayed restrictions and bans on single-use plastics since April 2020, according to a USA Today report.
The pandemic also has resulted in an increase in single-use plastics, such as plastic bags and personal protective equipment. A 2020 report in the Environmental Science & Technology journal estimated plastic packaging to increase 14% as consumers seek out prepackaged items due to sanitary concerns.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic sparked renewed interest in single-use plastics, environmental organizations and businesses have spoken against the use of plastic foam containers. Polystyrene biodegrades slowly and rarely can be recycled, posing a risk to wildlife and human health, according to Environment Virginia.
MOM’s Organic Market, a mid-Atlantic grocery chain, has used compostable containers and cups since 2005.
“I think that it’s the right thing to do for the environment, for communities, for our residents,” said Alexandra DySard, the grocery chain’s environment, and partnership manager.
DySard said purchasing compostable takeout containers instead of polystyrene foam containers has not financially hurt the chain. She said using a plastic lid that can be recycled locally is a better alternative than using polystyrene foam.
Polystyrene alternatives will become more affordable and accessible the more businesses use those products, DySard said.
“If it’s a statewide change, that’s kind of the best-case scenario because everybody makes the change at once,” Dysard said. “And it’s driving demand for the product up and costs down.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. If signed, Virginia will join states such as Maryland and Maine to ban polystyrene foam containers.
By David Tran
Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.
Virginia lawmakers pass COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation bills
The Virginia General Assembly passed multiple bills allowing health care workers and first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are disabled or die due to COVID-19.
“We did it!” Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, said in a Twitter post. “Health care heroes who got COVID on the job will get the retroactive workers’ comp presumption they deserve!”
Hurst’s House Bill 1985 expanded workers’ compensation benefits for health care workers “directly involved in diagnosing or treating persons known or suspected to have COVID-19,” including doctors and nurses. The bill provides coverage from March 12, 2020, until Dec. 31, 2021.
The health care worker must have been treated for COVID-19 symptoms and been diagnosed by a medical provider to qualify for compensation before July 1, 2020. The individual must have received medical treatment and a positive COVID-19 test to be eligible for compensation after July 1, 2020.
The bill also said health care workers who refuse or fail to get vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be eligible for workers’ compensation. The aforementioned rule doesn’t apply if a physician determines vaccination will risk the worker’s health.
“This is how we honor our brave health care heroes that put themselves in harm’s way to treat those infected with this horrible virus,” Hurst said in a press release. “They sacrifice for us and deserve our utmost praise and admiration, but they also deserve our help.”
There were concerns about the bill’s costs, according to Hurst. The Senate tried to remove the bill’s retroactive clause, but the bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support following negotiations.
The Virginia Nurses Association said the bill will make it easier for nurses to access benefits.
“Unfortunately, too many Virginia nurses caught COVID-19 while treating patients,” the association said in a Facebook post. “For those that got very sick, there is no easy way to file for workers’ compensation, and many have suffered not only physically, but financially.”
Senate Bill 1375 and HB 2207 cover workers’ compensation for first responders who are diagnosed or died from COVID-19 on or after Sept. 1 of last year. The measures include firefighters, police officers, correctional and regional jail officers, and emergency medical services workers. The bills require an official diagnosis through a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms of the disease.
The House bill, sponsored by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, originally included a retroactive clause that compensated cases going back to March 2020, but that was taken out of the legislation’s final version.
“We fought tooth and nail to provide our first responders – the real heroes of the pandemic – coverage under workers’ compensation for COVID, and we got it done,” Jones said in a Twitter post.
By Sam Fowler
Capital News Service
Governor Northam announces over $24 million in affordable and special needs housing loans
On March 1, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam announced more than $24 million in Affordable and Special Needs Housing loans for 28 projects across the Commonwealth, creating or preserving 1,635 affordable housing units for low-income Virginians. The funding will help increase access to affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and provide permanent supportive housing options for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create housing challenges in our Commonwealth and across the country, we are pleased to deploy this funding to support Virginians who are most in need,” said Governor Northam. “The Affordable Special Needs Housing program is a valuable resource for increasing the availability of safe, affordable, and sustainable housing for low-income Virginians, particularly those with special needs. With this round of funding, we will advance projects that strengthen our communities and help ensure every Virginia resident has the opportunity to build a healthy, productive life in our Commonwealth.”
The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) administers Affordable and Special Needs Housing (ASNH) loans, which combine state and federal resources to provide a simplified and comprehensive application process. Funding comes from three main sources: the federal HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the federal National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF), and the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF). Through the ASNH program, DHCD also supports the creation of Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units to serve Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens. In this round of funding, DHCD allocated more than $7 million through the HOME Program, over $4 million through the NHTF, $12.6 million through the VHTF, and an allotment of $500,000 through PSH funds.
Governor Northam and the General Assembly invested a historic $55 million in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund this fiscal year, and the governor’s budget proposal increases this funding to $70.7 million in the current year. VHTF provides financing for construction projects that create or preserve affordable housing units, reduce the cost of affordable housing, and increase homeownership. This funding is a key source of financing for these affordable housing initiatives to support moderate- and-low-income families, as well as supporting homeless reduction grants to provide rapid re-housing and longer-term housing solutions for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
“This vital program fills gaps in financing to make safe and affordable housing for our most vulnerable populations possible,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “Ensuring housing stability and supporting programs to make homelessness rare and nonrecurring is transformative, both to communities and to the lives of many Virginians, and with the pandemic, it’s more important than ever.”
Affordable and Special Needs Housing loans are awarded through a competitive process. Forty-three applications were received for this round of funding, requesting more than $42 million. Proposals were reviewed, evaluated, and scored, with proposals ranked and award offers recommended to the highest-ranking proposals based on funding availability. The funded projects will create or preserve 1,635 affordable housing units, targeting low-income and very low-income Virginians and leverage over $351 million in additional federal, state, local, and private lending resources.
Fall 2020 Affordable and Special Needs Housing Awardees:
Arlington View Terrace East | AHC Inc.
The Arlington View Terrace East project will be a partial redevelopment of an existing 60-year-old, 77-unit affordable multifamily rental community in the Arlington View neighborhood. The new construction building will more than double the number of long-term affordable units on the parcel and add family-sized units in a neighborhood experiencing increased housing costs.
Central United Methodist Church Ballston Station | Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing
Central United Methodist Church Ballston Station is a new 144-unit residential construction project directly across the street from the Ballston Metro station in Arlington County. All units in this building are accessible under Fair Housing. Eight units will be fully accessible, and four will be accessible for sensory-impaired individuals.
Oakwood North Four | Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing
The Oakwood North Four project will provide 79 units of critical affordable housing for independent seniors near the Van Dorn Metro station. This project will enable vulnerable households to age in place and includes a substantial number of smaller units focused on single-person senior households, which will be fully accessible under Fair Housing.
Winchester Forest 9% | Better Housing Coalition
City of Richmond
Winchester Forest 9% is a 72-unit affordable housing apartment complex that will be constructed as an expansion of the neighboring Winchester Greens (240 units) and Market Square (229 senior units) communities. This is a master-planned community that includes a mix of family and age-restricted apartments, a community health center, a childcare center, and commercial uses.
Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity Affordable Housing 2020 | Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity
City of Winchester
The Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity Affordable Housing 2020 project will result in five affordable home ownership units for five families that earn less than 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Funding will be used for families and individuals who are residents of Winchester. Families will participate in seminars that prepare them for first-time homeownership and contribute to the construction of their homes, performing 200 hours of “sweat equity.”
The Avenue to Family Housing | Central Valley Habitat for Humanity, Inc.
City of Harrisonburg
The Avenue to Family Housing project will build three duplexes for a total of six units on two separate sites in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Four of these units will be developed using the funds from the ASNH grant, and a fifth unit will be developed using these funds in the Brentwood subdivision located in Rockingham County. Roads, curbs, sidewalks, and water and sewer infrastructure have been established at both sites. Families will participate in seminars that prepare them for first-time homeownership and contribute to the construction of their homes, performing 200 hours of “sweat equity.”
Daffodil Gardens Phase Two | Chesapeake Bay Housing, Inc.
The Daffodil Gardens Phase Two project will support the construction of 40 apartments in a single, three-story building served by an elevator. The building is located less than one mile from Riverside Health System’s Walter Reed Hospital and numerous other services and shopping.
Woods at Yorktown NC | Community Housing Partners
Woods at Yorktown NC will expand 60 units of an existing 118-unit apartment community. This project will include the new construction of five three-story, 12-unit buildings comprised of two- and three-bedroom units. Twenty units will be built to meet Universal Design standards. In addition, six units will be built to be fully accessible, and two units will be built to serve residents who are hearing and/or site impaired.
Northway | Community Housing Partners
City of Galax
Northway is an existing affordable multifamily development of 72 units, including one-, two-, and three-bedroom garden-style apartments. Eight of the units will be designed to meet Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and two units will be designed to serve residents who are hearing and/or sight impaired. Sixty units will benefit from project-based rental assistance which means these households will not have to pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing costs including utilities.
Habitat for Humanity Roanoke Valley Affordable Homes 2020 | Habitat for Humanity in the Roanoke Valley
City of Roanoke
This project will build and renovate 10 single-family homes, including seven new builds and three rehabilitations. The properties will primarily be constructed within the Belmont-Fallon target area. Families will participate in seminars that prepare them for first-time homeownership and contribute to the construction of their homes, performing 200 hours of “sweat equity.”
Charles City and Forest Heights Homebuyer | Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg
Charles City County and the city of Williamsburg
This project will consist of the construction of six homes, two in Williamsburg and four in Charles City. Each home will be affordable, single-family, and detached. The project will benefit low- to moderate-income families (up to 80 percent of the AMI), that will purchase the homes from Habitat for Humanity as first-time homebuyers. Families will participate in seminars that prepare them for first-time homeownership and contribute to the construction of their homes, performing 200 hours of “sweat equity.”
Fairview Town Homes | Helping Overcome Poverty’s Existence, Inc.
Town of Wytheville
The Fairview Town Homes project will create 12 two-bedroom units, with four units reserved for Permanent Supportive Housing. The permanent supportive housing services will be provided through a memorandum of understanding with Mount Rogers Community Services.
Southside Lofts | Landmark Asset Services, Inc.
The Southside Lofts project will renovate Southside High School/Blairs Middle School, which was built in 1953, into 55 affordable units for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. The community will offer a wide range of amenities, including a computer room with free access to WiFi for residents, a fitness room, a community room, and outdoor recreation areas. Pittsylvania County will lease the former auditorium and make it available to the residents for public functions.
Claremont School Apartments | Landmark Asset Services, Inc.
This project will redevelop the presently vacant Claremont Elementary School into 50 affordable housing units for low- to moderate-income individuals, families, and seniors. The proposed Claremont School Apartments will encompass the historic school building, originally completed in 1952, as well as a newly constructed three-story building. All units will be fully accessible.
Richmond Senior | Michaels Development Company
City of Richmond
Richmond Senior is a redevelopment project with six senior-designated properties consisting of 349 units currently owned by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Supportive housing services will be available to all 349 units, with 35 units set aside for Permanent Supportive Housing in partnership with Homeward, a Richmond-based nonprofit organization.
City Line Apartments | Millbrook Realty Group
City of Newport News
City Line Apartments is a fully subsidized multifamily property comprised of 200 one- and two-bedroom units centrally located in Newport News. In addition to offering fully rent-subsidized units, City Line will be setting aside 20 units for the provision of Permanent Supportive Housing, specifically for households that have serious mental illness and/or an intellectual or developmental disability, along with those persons who are returning from incarceration. This project will renovate and rehabilitate the existing rental property to modernize the units including energy efficiency upgrades, upgrading a minimum of 10 units to be fully accessible to individuals with physical disabilities, and two units to be accessible to individuals with sensory impairments.
Renaissance Ridge Phase I | Nelson County Community Development Foundation
The Renaissance Ridge Phase I project is the new construction of 60 housing units in the Wintergreen community, with 20 workforce housing units targeting families with household incomes less than 80 percent of the AMI. The proposed development has dedicated open space featuring minimal site disturbance and access to several amenities.
Carrier Point I | Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority
City of Newport News
Carrier Point I is the 43-unit residential portion of Newport News’ Marshall-Ridley Revitalization Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan’s first phase. Carrier Point I and Carrier Point II are sister developments, located on parcels separated by a public street being developed simultaneously as nine-percent and four-percent low-income housing tax credit twinned transactions. Carrier Point I will have 43 mixed-income units, which will include seven one-bedroom units, 27 two-bedroom units, and nine three-bedroom units spread between two buildings. One building will be a four-story, elevator building with residential apartments, a community room, and a management suite on the ground floor.
Carrier Point II | Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority
City of Newport News
Carrier Point II is the 38-unit residential portion of Newport News’ Marshall-Ridley Revitalization Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan’s first phase. Carrier Point I and Carrier Point II are sister developments, located on parcels separated by a public street being developed simultaneously as nine-percent and four-percent low-income housing tax credit twinned transactions. Carrier Point II will include 14 one-bedroom units, 21 two-bedroom units, and three three-bedroom units in a four-story, elevator building with residential apartments, a ground floor community room, and a fitness room on the ground floor.
Sweetbriar II Apartments | People Incorporated Housing Group
Town of Abingdon
Sweetbriar II Apartments is a new construction apartment community consisting of 22 units in 11 duplex-style buildings, comprised of three-bedroom, two-bathroom garden and townhome units. Five of the garden-style units will be fully accessible, and six will include Universal Design features. Highlands Community Services, the Community Services Board for Washington County, will provide referrals and offer ongoing supportive and independent living services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities or serious mental illness living in these Permanent Supportive Housing units.
The Coile | Petersburg Community Development Corporation, Inc.
City of Newport News
The Coile is a 62-unit new construction multifamily, mixed-income development with sustainable design elements including a rooftop terrace garden, electric car charging ports, solar benches, and a kinetic tile children’s game. The community will also be EarthCraft Gold certified, and all units will be constructed to meet Universal Design Standards. The Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech is conducting a 10-year case study to monitor the construction processes and evaluate variances in energy consumption between the two buildings (traditional stick-framing methods versus panelization construction). The goal is to publish the academic findings and set a precedent for sustainable multifamily design in the Commonwealth.
Kilmarnock Village | Petersburg Community Development Corporation, Inc.
Town of Kilmarnock
Kilmarnock Village is an affordable multifamily development consisting of 24 units originally constructed in 1984 and renovated in 2002 with tax credit financing. Kilmarnock Village will renovate the property with an allocation of tax credits and the assumption and reamortization of the outstanding USDA Rural Development Section 515 loan. Comprised of one- and two-bedroom garden apartments, all units will be restricted to households earning below 60 percent of the AMI. Twenty-three units are subsidized and will benefit from project-based rental assistance and five units are reserved for veterans. Five units will be renovated to be fully accessible according to Section 504 regulations and Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. Under the proposed terms of the USDA and low-income housing tax credit financing, this development will remain affordable for 50 years.
Omni Park Place Senior | Project:HOMES
Omni Park Place Apartments is the proposed rehabilitation of an existing 61-unit project that will convert seven additional units to full accessibility and house individuals previously excluded from affordable housing due to disabilities.
Florida Terrace | Rush Homes, Inc.
City of Lynchburg
Florida Terrace will provide 31 affordable and accessible new construction apartments primarily for individuals and families with disabilities who also have incomes less than 60 percent of the AMI. Florida Terrace will set aside eight one-bedroom units for Permanent Supportive Housing and four units for persons with developmental disabilities. The Permanent Supportive Housing units will have rent subsidy via project-based vouchers provided by the Lynchburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The project includes one 23-unit, two-story building with an elevator and two additional quadruplexes with units at ground level.
Ovation at Arrowbrook | SCG Development
Ovation at Arrowbrook (Arrowbrook Apartments I) will be new construction of 126 family units, consisting of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments for tenants with incomes at or below 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent, and 60 percent of the AMI. Six units will be reserved for individuals with developmental disabilities with incomes at or below 40 percent of the AMI. Fifteen units will be fully accessible to physically impaired and/or sensory impaired residents. The building will include a structured parking garage, finished clubroom, fitness room, a conference center, and a study and computer center. The project will include an outdoor lounge and grilling area, bicycle storage, dog park access, as well as proximity to a 15-acre park inside the development site.
High Street Apartments | Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation
City of Petersburg
The High Street Apartments will be new construction of an 11-unit apartment building. The Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation has partnered with UnitedHealthcare on a housing and health pilot program to provide affordable housing units for rapid re-housing efforts for chronically homeless individuals under 30 percent of the AMI on Medicaid through a Permanent Supportive Housing program. The project will provide health care, transportation, broadband, housing counseling, financial readiness counseling, employment counseling, and digital and technology literacy training. Both organizations have the explicit goal of utilizing housing rental vouchers and subsidies to keep residents permanently housed in the units as they transition out of the pilot program and continue providing supportive services as needed.
Cool Lane Apartments | Virginia Supportive Housing
The Cool Lane Apartments project is an adaptive re-use of a vacant building located in Henrico County. Virginia Supportive Housing will thoroughly renovate the former assisted living facility into Permanent Supportive Housing for homeless and low-income individuals. The existing structure will be redesigned and adapted to create 86 units of affordable housing, 13 of which will be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. The project will also incorporate various resident amenities, including a large community room with a kitchen and pantry, resident computer lab, phone room, fitness room, and laundry facilities. The building will also contain offices for onsite support services and property management staff as well as a security system and front desk, which will be staffed 16 hours a day.
Pump Street | Valley Area Community Support, Inc.
City of Staunton
The Pump Street project will enable the refinancing and rehabilitation of a recently acquired and established 8,000-square-foot concrete block building. The project will provide six equally-sized, one-bedroom apartments suitable for housing Valley Area Community Support, Inc. mission-specific tenants. There is off-street parking for all tenants. The rehabilitation of the existing six apartments includes replacing six 25-year-old cooling-only air conditioning systems with high-efficiency heat pumps.
Virginia lawmakers vote to remove Confederate name from highway
The Virginia General Assembly has approved a bill renaming sections of U.S. Route 1 almost 100 years after it was named in honor of the first and only president of the Confederacy.
The bill, introduced by Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, passed the House earlier this month with a 70-28 vote. The Senate passed the measure earlier this week with a 30-9 vote.
Counties and cities have until Jan. 1, 2022, to change their portion of Jefferson Davis Highway to whatever name they choose, or the state will change it to Emancipation Memorial Highway.
“Change the name on your own, or the General Assembly will change it for you,” Cole said to House committee members.
Sections of the highway that run through Stafford, Caroline, Spotsylvania, and Chesterfield counties will need new signage and markers, according to the bill’s impact statement. Commemorative naming signs will be replaced, along with overhead guide signs at interchanges and street-name signs. The changes are estimated to cost almost $600,000 for all localities. The changes in Chesterfield will cost an estimated $373,000 because there are 17 Jefferson Davis Highway overhead signs on Routes 288 and 150.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived the plan for Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in 1913, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Davis was a Mississippi senator who became the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Virginia General Assembly designated U.S. Route 1 as Jefferson Davis Highway in 1922.
“Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy, a constant reminder of a white nationalist experiment, and a racist Democrat,” Cole said. “Instead we can acknowledge the powerful act of the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Cole said the change acknowledges the positive history of the Civil War and reminds people of the emancipation and freedom that came from it.
The bill received little pushback in House and Senate committees. A Richmond City representative said their initial concern was the interpretation if districts would have the opportunity to choose a replacement name. Signs are already going up renaming the route to Richmond Highway in Richmond.
Sen. Scott A. Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, voiced his support for the bill. He responded to the concern that the change dishonors a veteran. He said he believes the bill “strikes a reasonable balance” by giving counties time to rename their portion of the highway, or they will give it a default name which “doesn’t carry the political baggage.”
A poll by Hampton University and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found Virginians are still divided on changing the names of schools, streets, and military bases named after Confederate leaders (44% supported the idea and 43% opposed it).
Eric Sundberg, Cole’s chief of staff, said there were two camps of people that opposed the bill. He said some were openly racist and called Cole’s office to make offensive remarks. Then there were people who said they did not want to “double-dip” on renaming the portion in their respective district and wanted it all to be named Richmond Highway.
Stephen Farnsworth, professor, and director at the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington said efforts to rename the highway have never received much support in Richmond until this year.
“Virginia has rapidly moved from a commonwealth that treasured its Confederate legacy, to one that is trying to move beyond it,” Farnsworth said.
By Cameron Jones
Capital News Service
Virginia lawmakers ban gay panic defense in Virginia
Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that will ban the use of a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity as a defense in court for the assault or murder of an LGBTQ person.
“It’s done: We’re banning the gay/trans panic defense in Virginia,” Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, said in a Twitter post.
Roem introduced House Bill 2132, which passed the Senate 23-15 on Thursday with an amendment. The House approved the amendment in a 58-39 vote. The bill now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for a signature.
The Senate amendment adds oral solicitation or hitting on someone, as an unacceptable justification for the gay or transgender panic defense.
The panic defense has historically been used in cases where a member of the LGBTQ community was attacked because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Defendants use the panic defense to justify “heat of passion” murders or assaults.
“This [bill] means someone’s mere existence as an LGBTQ person does not excuse someone else and does not constitute a reasonable provocation to commit such a heat of passion attack,” Roem said.
The statute does not dismiss traditional self-defense lawsuits. This means LGBTQ people can still be prosecuted for attacking someone.
There have been at least eight instances in Virginia where the panic defense was used, with the last case in 2011, according to Carsten Andresen, a researcher and criminal justice professor from Austin, Texas. He said he has tracked 200 homicide cases nationally where the panic defense was attempted. Andresen reached out to Roem in support of the bill.
His research included five murders and three assaults in Virginia between 1973 and 2011 that Andresen said used the panic defense to justify or excuse a defendant’s violent actions. Mark Hayes murdered Tracie Gainer, a transgender woman, in 2002. Hayes claimed he “lost it” and murdered Gainer after engaging in sexual intercourse. In 2011, Deandre Moore, age 18, pleaded guilty to killing 20-year-old Jacques Cowell by stabbing him multiple times. Cowell was openly gay and there were witness accounts that the two had a physical relationship. Moore received a 40-year prison sentence, with 15 years suspended.
“In these cases, criminal defense attorneys used gay and trans panic defense to put the victim (rather than the offender) on trial,” Andresen wrote in support of the bill. He said the use of the panic defense “suggests that it is permissible to commit violence” against LGBTQ people.
Sen. Joseph Morrissey, D-Richmond, spoke in opposition of the bill, saying lawmakers should not pass laws that prohibit defendants from making a defense and that lawmakers would be going “down a very slippery slope.” Morrissey said any defendant who would offer the panic defense “would of course be rejected.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said this is not the first time Virginia has expressly prohibited a defense. Legislators repealed in 2008 the code section that provided defense from carnal knowledge when a defendant marries a child 14 years or older.
“When we have found an affirmative defense to be abhorrent to public policy we have gotten rid of it,” McClellan said.
McClellan said she wished she could agree with Morrissey that no judge would accept the panic defense, but referred back to the Virginia cases where it was used successfully.
“We know the bill is constitutional, we know also, the bill has existing precedence, which is why it has earned overwhelming bipartisan support in statehouses across the country,” Roem said.
The American Bar Association in 2013 recommended that local, state, and federal legislatures curtail the availability and effectiveness of the gay and transgender panic defense. Roem said that similar bills have been implemented in other state legislatures. Virginia will become the 12th state to ban the panic defense, according to the policy organization Movement Advancement Project.
The defense is also banned in the District of Columbia.
There are currently 39 states that allow the panic defense to be used in cases where hate crimes resulted in the assault or murder of an LGBTQ individual. This typically results in a murder charge being lessened to a charge of manslaughter or acquittal.
Roem said she worked with Wes Bizzell, president of the National LGBT Bar Association, to prepare the bill. She also thanked Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, for speaking in support of the bill in committee.
Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was murdered in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming. The judge barred Aaron McKinney’s defense lawyer from using the gay panic defense in the murder trial. McKinney said Shepard’s advances triggered memories of sexual abuse he suffered as a child. Police said the crime was motivated by robbery, but Shepard’s sexual orientation likely made him the target. There were four people involved in the brutal crime. Two were found guilty of murder and two were charged with being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
Roem was in high school when Matthew Shepard was murdered. She said the case had a profound effect on her and prevented her from coming out due to a fear of being ostracized and attacked.
“It was requested to me by one of my Manassas Park student constituents who’s out, hoping not to have to live in the same fear in 2021 that I did in 1998,” Roem said of the bill.
Roem said there are people who don’t believe hate crimes such as the one against Shepard happen today in Virginia. She affirmed that they do happen, and she believes it is time to do something about it.
“We have to look at this from the perspective of ‘what do we do to make an affirmative statement that LGBTQ lives matter and that you can’t just kill us for existing,” Roem said.
By Cierra Parks
Capital News Service