After a few lawmakers missed time during the session due to COVID-19, Del. Shelly A. Simonds, D-Newport News, said she was thrilled to see all 100 members of the House unanimously passed a bill requiring hotels to provide human trafficking training for employees.
“It was really exciting for me to watch the vote because I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Simonds said. “We haven’t had 100 to zero very often.”
House Bill 258 will authorize the Department of Criminal Justice Services to create a free online mandatory course to help hotel employees better recognize and report human trafficking. After passing through the House in February it passed the Senate 36-4 on March 11.
Anyone employed by a hotel as of July 1 has to complete the required training course by Dec. 31.
In a survey conducted by the Polaris Project, 75% of human trafficking survivors reported coming into contact with hotels at some point during their trafficking situation. The Polaris Project collects data on and works to combat human trafficking, in addition to maintaining the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Robert Melvin, director of government affairs for the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, said that organizations like the Polaris Project have helped to develop onboard training courses for major brands like Marriott International and Hilton Hotels.
The hospitality industry has made combating human trafficking a priority, Melvin said.
“It’s something that we take very seriously,” Melvin said. “We’ve worked really hard to curtail on our own as an industry.”
A provision in the bill states that hotel employees can use alternative online or in-person training courses like those already required by major brands if approved by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Simonds said that the bill will help raise all hotels to the standards of those with training courses already in place.
“I think that there are smaller hotels that aren’t part of these large chains that need support and need a way for their employees to complete this training,” Simonds said.
The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association worked with Simonds to create a provision that expedites the process of getting major brands’ current training courses approved by the DCJS, according to Melvin.
DCJS would need to approve or disapprove the use of an alternative course within 60 days of it being submitted for approval, according to the final version of the bill.
The bill could also help smaller hotel owners become part of larger brands quicker by already having the standard of human trafficking training courses required for employees throughout the state, Simonds said.
“In order to move up and become a Holiday Inn you need to show that you do have certain standards,” Simonds said. “This is going to lift up the standards for everyone in the hotel industry.”
Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, asked Simonds in a Senate committee hearing if hotel proprietors would have to pay any cost to the DCJS. Lawmakers substituted the bill to state that it would be free for hotel owners and their employees to take the course.
Simonds proposed almost $233,000 each year for the next two years in the budget to implement an online training platform. General Assembly members return next week to approve the final budget.
Questions were raised during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about which employees would be required to complete the training. Simonds added a substitute to restrict the required training to public-facing employees, including housekeepers, bartending staff, and management.
“Training housekeepers could be the most important part of this bill,” Simonds said. “Because they see things.”
An estimated 1,500 hotels and over 116,000 hotel employees would be subject to the requirements, according to the bill’s impact statement.
Despite the substitutions, the bill still serves its purpose of empowering bystanders to report human trafficking, Simonds said. She said she hopes to pass similar legislation next session focused on short-term rental properties like Airbnb and Vrbo.
By Joe Dodson
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-based conservation company to construct first commercial pyrolysis facility in the Commonwealth
RICHMOND, VA – On August 8, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Restoration Bioproducts LLC will construct the Commonwealth’s first biochar production facility in Sussex County. Co-located in the Town of Waverly with wood pellet manufacturer Wood Fuel Developers, the company will use pyrolysis technology to convert waste wood from the mill into biochar and syngas, a form of natural gas. Over the next three years, Restoration Bioproducts will invest $5.8 million into a new facility, create five high-paying jobs and purchase 34,560 tons of Virginia-grown wood products, while also bringing major business benefits to Wood Fuel Developers.
“Technology and entrepreneurship are powerful forces driving the Commonwealth’s economy forward. Today’s announcement is further evidence that Virginia is the location of choice for companies looking to transform their industries through innovation,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “I congratulate Sussex County on bringing a first-of-its-kind green energy project to Virginia and commend Restoration Bioproducts for demonstrating the power of private-sector led, sustainable waste solutions.”
“Forestry is Virginia’s third largest private sector industry and is often the major economic driver in many of our rural communities. Therefore it is critical that entrepreneurs and innovators, like Restoration Bioproducts, apply new technologies to solve the business problems of today,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr. “This project highlights the power of collaboration and sustainable solutions, two hallmarks of a thriving forest products industry.”
“Our partners have all worked in Virginia for many years, and we are very pleased to bring our first project using this exciting new technology to the Town of Waverly and Sussex County,” said Jeff Waldon, Managing Partner of Restoration Bioproducts LLC. “Pyrolysis and biochar application has been identified as an important technological approach to assisting agricultural producers improve soil health, and sequester carbon in soils to address climate change.”
“Sussex County is thrilled that Restoration Bioproducts chose to locate its operations in one of Virginia’s timber industry hubs. We’re excited by the innovative potential of their biochar and syngas products and wish them the greatest success,” said Susan Seward, Chair of the Sussex County Board of Supervisors. “We also greatly appreciate our partnership with the Town of Waverly and the Commonwealth in bringing this new business to the county.”
“We’re excited to welcome Restoration Bioproducts to Waverly. The jobs, revenue, and overall activity emanating from their facility will bring additional vitality back to our growing town,” said Angela McPhaul, Mayor, Town of Waverly. “Thank you to the Commonwealth of Virginia and Sussex County for partnering with us to make this a reality.”
“We are always looking for innovative businesses to join our community here in Sussex County and Southern Virginia, and Restoration Bioproducts is exactly that,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas. “I am very excited about this announcement and the sustainable solutions this project brings to our community and the Commonwealth.”
“I am pleased Restoration Bioproducts has chosen to invest in Sussex County for the Commonwealth’s first commercial pyrolysis facility,” said Delegate Otto Wachsmann. “Innovative green energy investments like this not only bring new jobs and economic boost to our community, but will also help preserve the quality of life we all enjoy.”
Restoration Bioproducts is a Virginia-based, private-sector conservation company that provides custom-engineered, environmentally-sustainable business solutions for companies dealing with agricultural or forestry waste. The company deploys pyrolysis-based solutions to sustainably produce biochar and syngas.
Biochar is a highly-porous, stable and carbon-rich charcoal-like product with a variety of applications, but is most commonly used as an agricultural soil amendment, odor absorber or animal feed additive. For this project, the syngas will be used to power the pyrolysis reaction chamber, as well as a 500kw electric generator to provide low-cost, behind-the-meter electricity to Wood Fuel Developers. In this win-win project, Restoration Bioproducts benefits from a guaranteed supply of low-cost biomass and market for its electricity, while Wood Fuel Developers is offloading nuisance wood waste and reducing the costs associated with utility-supplied electricity.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services worked with Sussex County and Restoration Bioproducts LLC to secure this project for the Commonwealth. Governor Youngkin approved a $50,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which Sussex County and the Town of Waverly will match with local funds.
VSP seeking public’s assistance with a crash involving a pedestrian in Fauquier County
Virginia State Police is seeking the public’s assistance with identifying one of the two vehicles that struck a pedestrian Saturday, August 6, in Fauquier County.
Senior Trooper D. Mabie is investigating the crash that occurred at 11:20 p.m. at the intersection of Route 29 (James Madison Hwy) and Route 28 (Catlett Rd).
A pedestrian was walking east across Route 29 when he was struck by a northbound 2017 Alfa Romeo sedan. The driver was unable to avoid the collision and immediately pulled over. A second vehicle then struck the pedestrian and continued on without stopping. This is possibly a white SUV or truck of unknown make and model.
The pedestrian, a 21-year-old male, of Bealeton, Va., suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of the crash and was transported to INOVA Fairfax Hospital for treatment.
The driver of the Alfa Romeo, a 24-year-old male, of Locust Grove, Va., was not injured in the crash. He was wearing a seatbelt.
The pedestrian was wearing dark clothing and not in a crosswalk. The Alfa Romeo had a green light.
The crash remains under investigation.
Anyone who may have witnessed the crash or has any information related to this incident is encouraged to call Virginia State Police Senior Trooper D. Mabie at 540-347-6200 or email email@example.com.
One Month In: The Digital Virginia Cider Trail
On July 6, The American Cider Association launched a digital Virginia Cider Trail to encourage Virginians and visitors to explore the Commonwealth’s hard cideries and celebrate Virginia’s unique apples. One month after the launch, we wanted to share some exciting cider trail statistics with you. Since July 6th:
- 33 cideries have signed up to be a part of the trail, with Castle Hill Cider, Old Hill Cider, Bold Rock Carter Mountain and Troddenvale signing up since launch
- More than 600 people have signed up
- There have been more than 200 cidery check-ins
- A number of participants have already visited 10 or more cideries on the trail and will be receiving their Virginia is for Lovers medals in recognition
These numbers are expected to grow this month as apple picking season begins and more cideries join throughout the year.
For more on the Virginia Cider Trail and participating cideries, visit ciderculture.com.
See previous story here:
Governor Glenn Youngkin ceremonially signs legislation investing in school facilities across the Commonwealth
On August 5, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin participated in the official grand opening and ribbon cutting of the Mecklenburg County Middle School and High School, a best-in-class joint school made possible by the community. The Governor also ceremonially signed HB 563, sponsored by Deputy Majority Leader Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, and SB 473 and SB 471, sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.
“These schools demonstrate how a community can come together not only to build a state-of-the-art facility but to invest in their children and transform their workforce,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “And through the bipartisan coalition that unanimously advanced these bills, we are delivering on our commitment to support vibrant, 21st Century educational environments across the Commonwealth. This is what happens when we put our students first; we’re getting it done together.”
HB 563 and SB 473, the School Construction Fund and Program will support $400 million in grants distributed based on student enrollment and local needs. It will also support $450 million in competitive grants for high-need school’s new construction, expansion, and modernization projects in partnership with local school boards. SB 471 will provide $400 million in school construction loans and make additional improvements to the administration of the Literary Fund Construction Loan Program.
“This year the Commonwealth was in a position to assist localities with the construction and modernization of their schools,” said House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. “We were able to leverage $1 billion, which was set aside to make a school construction and modernization fund of $3 billion. This marks a significant investment in the education and future of Virginia’s children, and I believe it is a good deal that we can all get behind.”
“I am thankful to have Governor Youngkin sign my HB 563 today, and I appreciate everyone who helped to get this bill across the finish line,” said Deputy Majority Leader Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington. “This shift in Virginia’s approach to school construction is a big deal for school divisions all across the Commonwealth, but particularly in Southwest Virginia. Having new schools built across the state ultimately means that the real winners are students.”
“The new School Construction Fund and enhanced Literary Fund loans will lay the groundwork to fix Virginia’s crumbling school infrastructure,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. “I’m honored to have worked with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to make bipartisan progress on public school construction. I look forward to working with them in the years to come to continue to make crucial investments in the future. Our children cannot learn in crumbling schools, and Virginia’s investments in school modernization cannot wait.”
“We are thrilled to host these bill signings as we celebrate our new school and the world-class career pathways students will access here,” said Mecklenburg Superintendent Paul Nichols. “Mecklenburg students will benefit greatly from the historic budget investments in school facilities and lab schools developed in partnership with K-12, postsecondary, and employers.”
Governor Glenn Youngkin and Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera Participate in a Roundtable Discussion at Southside Virginia Community College on Friday, August 5, 2022. Official Photo by Christian Martinez, Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Governor Youngkin also participated in a roundtable discussion at Southside Virginia Community College to discuss lab school efforts in Southside and the needs of the region’s students and economy.
“Southside Virginia Community College is thrilled to build upon its strong partnership with Mecklenburg County Public Schools through our plan to launch the first lab school in the Commonwealth’s community college system under Governor Youngkin’s leadership,” said Southside Virginia Community College President Dr. Quentin R. Johnson. “By allowing community colleges and higher education centers to lead lab schools, the Governor and General Assembly ensured that students across the Commonwealth can benefit from these innovative options.”
In addition, participants shared plans to launch a lab school at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center that will expand upon its Career Tech Academy through employability skills. Participants also discussed plans to expand the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s GO TEC middle school career connections and exploration program.
“This roundtable was a great opportunity to come together with postsecondary partners, superintendents, teachers, students, and leaders in the General Assembly to discuss what’s working—and not working—in education in the Commonwealth,” said Governor Youngkin. “We must continue to work together to empower parents and students, support teachers, and foster innovation.”
“Yesterday’s tour and roundtable demonstrated that when our public schools partner with higher education and the private sector, an innovative academic model is developed, providing our students with multiple pathways to obtain industry certifications in high-demand fields,” said House Education Chairman Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach. “It is clear that Virginia’s lab school initiative will provide the flexibility and funding necessary to foster this type of learning environment and provide students across the Commonwealth with an opportunity to receive an education that prepares them for a 21st Century career right out of high school.”
Sales Tax Holiday August 5-7, could be last one for Virginia
Virginia residents will be able to shop for school supplies, clothing, hurricane/emergency preparedness items and more during a three-day Sales Tax Holiday that kicks off at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 5, and runs through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7.
During the Sales Tax Holiday, qualifying items can be purchased without sales tax in stores and by online shopping. Sales tax in Virginia ranges between 5.3 percent and 7 percent; that includes the state’s 4.3 percent state sales tax, the 1 percent local option tax, and other applicable regional taxes. In Warren County, the rate is 5.3 percent. In the surrounding counties of Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, and Shenandoah the rate is also 5.3 percent. Clarke and Fauquier have rates of 5.3 percent, but some localities or governments within those counties collect an additional tax, making sales tax the state maximum of 7 percent.
The Sales Tax Holiday has fallen on the first Friday of August through the following Sunday since 2016. Prior to that, Sales Tax Holidays occurred in May, August and October. Since the General Assembly last extended the Sales Tax Holiday through July 1, 2023, it could disappear altogether after this weekend. Legislative action would be required to hold the tax holiday weekend next year and beyond.
What can I buy?
Qualifying items include school supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness products, Energy Star products and WaterSense products.
Eligible school supplies are $20 or less per item and include things such as backpacks, filler paper, notebooks, textbooks, pencils, pens, hand sanitizer, lunch boxes and tissues. Items such as briefcases, handbags, wallets, jewelry, makeup, and umbrellas boxes, are not exempt from sales tax. Similarly, protective equipment such as hard hats, helmets, breathing masks and life preservers are also not exempt from sales tax.
Hurricane and emergency preparedness items qualifying for the Sales Tax Holiday include portable generators and generator power cords, inverters and cables, (priced at $1,000 or less each), gas-powered chainsaws ($350 or less each,) and other specified items $60 and less each, such as chain saw oil and lubricants, carrying cases, safety apparel and repair parts.
For those looking to stock up for emergencies or general household use, items such as First-Aid kits, two-way radios, flashlights, batteries, duct tape, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, bottled water, cell phone chargers will all be sales tax-free.
Energy Star or WaterSense products qualifying for sales tax exemption must be $2,500 or less per item and be for noncommercial, personal use.
The Virginia Department of Taxation has a full list of items that qualify for the tax-free holiday.
West Virginia’s Sales Tax Holiday is slated to begin at midnight on Friday, August 5, and will continue through Monday, August 8 at 11:59 p.m.
Hilton solidifies Virginia footprint, xxpanding global headquarters in Fairfax County
On August 4, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Hilton (NYSE: HLT), the leading global hospitality company, will retain its headquarters in Fairfax County, including significant upgrades to its facility at 7930 Jones Branch Drive in McLean. Hilton will re-imagine its space to create an even more vibrant place to convene and collaborate, fully integrating technology into the office experience to meet the needs of today’s workforce.
Hilton located its global headquarters in Virginia in 2009 and plans to create 350 net new headquarters jobs over the next five years.
“Virginia is America’s hometown for corporate headquarters, and we are proud that Hilton will continue to call Fairfax County home,” said Governor Youngkin. “For more than a decade, this global company has benefited from the Commonwealth’s combination of strategic location, diverse, world-class talent, and stable business climate, and we look forward to a continued partnership as Hilton recommits to Virginia and reinvents its headquarters for the future.”
“The companies that choose to locate and grow in our Commonwealth are a strong endorsement of the advantages a Virginia location offers. Retaining Hilton’s global headquarters reinforces our commitment to ensuring the best business climate for our valued corporate partners,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “Northern Virginia is one of the most educated and diverse regions in the United States, and we are confident that Hilton’s next phase of growth will be bolstered by the top-tier talent pipeline Fairfax County provides.”
“Northern Virginia has been Hilton’s home for more than a decade, and the region has played an instrumental role in helping us create the best, most inclusive home for our Team Members while also managing the demands of a global business,” said Chris Nassetta, President and CEO, Hilton. “We appreciate the continued support of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Fairfax County, and the Tysons Partnership in ensuring we continue to attract strong, diverse talent to our vibrant, growing region.”
“I am thrilled that Hilton, a valued corporate citizen, is maintaining its headquarters and expanding its workforce here. This is a validation of the strong economy we enjoy here in Fairfax County,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay. “We have demonstrated time and again that business-friendly policies go hand-in-hand with the high quality of life here, maintaining Fairfax County’s status as the premiere destination for starting, moving, or expanding your company.”
“I am pleased to hear about Hilton’s decision to grow their corporate headquarters in Fairfax County,” said Senator Janet Howell. “Hilton has a long history of calling McLean their home, and I know that they will continue to add considerable value to the bustling Northern Virginia business climate.”
“Hilton is an iconic name in the hospitality, travel, and tourism industries, and I am grateful that this global business leader will continue to make Tysons its home,” said Delegate Mark Keam. “I also want to thank the leadership of the company for expanding its workforce in my district.”
Founded in 1919, Hilton is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 18 world-class brands comprising 7,000 properties and 1.1 million rooms in 122 countries and territories. Dedicated to fulfilling its founding vision to fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality, Hilton has welcomed more than 3 billion guests in its more than 100-year history, earned a top spot on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, and been recognized as a global leader on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices for five consecutive years. Hilton has introduced several industry-leading technology enhancements to improve the guest experience, including Digital Key Share, automated complimentary room upgrades, and the ability to book confirmed connecting rooms. Through the award-winning guest loyalty program Hilton Honors, the nearly 139 million members who book directly with Hilton can earn points for hotel stays and experiences money can’t buy. Hilton currently employs approximately 800 Team Members at its headquarters location in McLean.
The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to secure the project for Virginia. Governor Youngkin approved $5 million in funds from the Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant. The Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant was established as a self-funded program of performance-based incentives that the Commonwealth awards to exceptional economic development projects with large numbers of employees and very high wages relative to average wages for that particular area. The Governor also approved a $1 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist Fairfax County with the project. The company is eligible to receive benefits from the Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created. The Virginia Jobs Investment Program will provide funding and services to support the company’s employee training activities.