The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) announced today that Virginia’s Imported Fire Ant Quarantine has been expanded to include the counties of Brunswick, Greensville, Isle of Wight, Mecklenburg and Southampton and the independent cities of Emporia and Franklin. Expansion of the quarantine became necessary after survey data indicated that imported fire ant populations were widespread in these localities.
The imported fire ant is not native to the United States and is known for its aggressive behavior and ferocious sting. Once established, the imported fire ant has the potential to spread to uninfested areas, either through natural means or through the movement of infested articles (artificial spread).
Under the terms of the quarantine, articles that are capable of transporting the imported fire ant (regulated articles) are prohibited from moving out of the quarantined area unless certified as free of imported fire ant. Regulated articles include, but are not limited to:
- Any life stage of imported fire ant
- Soil, except soil shipped in original containers after commercial preparation
- Plants with roots with soil attached and rhizomes with soil attached
- Grass sod
- Used soil-moving equipment unless free of all non-compacted soil
- Used farm equipment, unless free of all non-compacted soil
- Hay and straw stored in direct contact with the ground
- Honey bee hives stored in direct contact with the ground
- Logs and pulpwood with soil attached
Individuals who plan to move regulated articles out of the quarantined area should contact VDACS’ Office of Plant Industry Services to determine options for certifying regulated articles as free of imported fire ants.
With the recent expansion, Virginia’s Imported Fire Ant Quarantine now includes the counties of Brunswick, Greensville, Isle of Wight, James City, Mecklenburg, Southampton, and York and the independent cities of Chesapeake, Emporia, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.
For additional information regarding the Virginia Imported Fire Ant Quarantine, visit the VDACS website at vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-fire-ant-suppressioneand-eradication.shtml or contact VDACS Office of Plant Industry Services at 804.786.3515.
AG Herring successfully defends Affordable Care Act
Attorney General Mark R. Herring is celebrating his win after he successfully defended the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case California v. Texas. Attorney General Herring and 21 attorneys general successfully defended the ACA against a lawsuit filed by the Trump Administration that, if successful, would have dismantled the entire ACA, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions, public health investments, and Medicaid expansion, among others. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ACA means 642,000 Virginians keep their healthcare coverage and 3.4 million Virginians with pre-existing conditions will keep their protections.
“Today’s decision (June 17, 2021) is a massive win for every single Virginian and every single American. This lawsuit was no more than a thinly veiled political attack from the start, forcing millions to live in fear that their healthcare could be ripped away from them at any moment,” said Attorney General Herring. “It is unconscionable that Trump and his Republican allies played politics with human lives, especially as a global pandemic ravaged our country, killing 600,000 Americans – but the threat of healthcare loss is now gone.
“I am incredibly proud to have played a role in defending the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that it remains the law of the land. Everyone deserves access to quality, affordable healthcare no matter who they are, what their medical history is, their employment status, or what financial background they have.”
In order to protect Virginians’ healthcare, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues intervened to defend the Affordable Care Act in this lawsuit after President Trump switched sides and joined with Republican state attorneys general in trying to strike down the law. Following a Texas district court judge’s decision in December 2018 that found the ACA unconstitutional, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
In January, Attorney General Herring joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general in filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Texas v. U.S. The Fifth Circuit’s decision held the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional and called into question whether the remaining provisions of the ACA could still stand, including those that protect and provide coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions.
In May, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues filed a brief at the Supreme Court defending the ACA against efforts by the Trump Administration and Republicans to repeal the entire ACA. In July, the coalition filed a reply brief in the U.S. Supreme Court further defending the ACA against this reckless lawsuit.
Joining Attorney General Herring in fighting to protect the Affordable Care Act are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota (by and through its Department of Commerce), Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Clinch River becomes Commonwealth’s first blueway state park
On June 16, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam celebrated the official opening of Clinch River State Park, Virginia’s 41st state park and first blueway state park. Consisting of 696 acres, the park is situated across several small anchor properties and connected by multiple canoe-kayak access points along a 100-mile scenic stretch of the Clinch River.
“With the dedication of Clinch River State Park, we will both protect and showcase one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse places in our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Located in the heart of Appalachia, this park will be a highlight of the robust outdoor recreation economy in Southwest Virginia and draw even more visitors to the region. The opening of our newest state park comes as we celebrate 85 years of Virginia’s state park system and the countless opportunities that our state parks provide.”
Clinch River State Park is the first of its kind in Virginia, based around a river instead of a landmass. The anchor properties and launch points comprise a “string of pearls,” or a collection of properties that run through Tazewell, Russell, Wise, and Scott counties where outdoor enthusiasts can access the river, learn about the river’s ecological diversity, and enjoy the beauty of what The Nature Conservancy has deemed “One of the Last, Great Places.” The Clinch River blueway provides a network of multi-activity recreational trails, marked by routes on a navigable waterway with launch points, camping sites, and points of interest for canoeists, paddleboarders, and watermen.
The Clinch River is among the most productive and biodiverse waterways in the Northern Hemisphere, sustaining more than 48 vulnerable animal species, including 29 varieties of rare freshwater mussels and 19 species of fish. Rare plants, mammals, and birds also thrive along the river’s edge.
“In addition to being a world-class recreation asset, the Clinch River is renowned for its biodiversity,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Clinch River State Park will play a key role in the region’s ongoing efforts to protect this ecosystem while also increasing and encouraging public use and exploration of our natural landscapes.”
“After studies that began in 2005, much research and multiple land acquisitions, six tracts of land have been brought together to form Clinch River State Park,” said Department of Conservation and Recreation Director Clyde Cristman. “A very unique park is the outcome of that work, and we look forward to seeing how it will continue to develop and serve the people and visitors of the region.”
The Wise County property is known as Sugar Hill in Saint Paul currently has eight miles of hiking trails, a picnic shelter, and more than two miles of river frontage. The Sugar Hill area of the park also has significant cultural and historical attributes, as the property contains remnants of an 18th-century French settlement. Later owners farmed the land and in the 1930s created a maple syrup and sugar operation known as Sugar Hill.
Clinch River State Park allows hiking and biking on the Sugar Hill Loop Trail, while the AmeriCorps, Riverside, Hillside, Cliff, and Rock Bluff trails are hiking only. The Riverside Trail also offers access to bank fishing on the Clinch River.
“This park could not exist without the landowners who shared our vision and the efforts and partnerships of the communities along the Clinch River,” said Virginia State Parks Director Dr. Melissa Baker. “As visitors from all overcome to hike, fish, and float the river, it is our hope that they will also explore the local communities and discover what makes this region so special.”
Virginia State Parks are a division of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR will develop a master plan with the public input to guide any future facilities and amenities at the park. To learn more about Virginia State Parks, visit virginiastateparks.gov.
AG Herring joins a coalition of 16 attorneys general in submitting Congressional testimony in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act
On June 16, 2021, Attorney General Mark R. Herring joined a coalition of 16 attorneys general in submitting testimony to Congress, urging passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would protect the constitutional right to access abortion by prohibiting unnecessary restrictions passed at the state level that undermine the availability and safety of women’s health care services.
“Women have the right to make their own healthcare decisions, especially when it comes to their reproductive health, and they should never have to worry about their government making those decisions harder than they already can be,” said Attorney General Herring. “Unfortunately, too many states across the country are passing laws restricting women’s access to safe reproductive healthcare, and this disproportionately affects women in lower-income communities and communities of color. Women deserve access to safe, accessible reproductive healthcare without restrictive regulations or impediments, and I will continue to stand with my colleagues as a strong ally in this fight.”
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that, while legislators in many states may claim that the laws they are enacting are being passed to promote women’s health, the reality is that these laws are simply designed to restrict access to abortion services and, most often, lead to worse health outcomes for women. These include laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals and setting arbitrary requirements at women’s health clinics for the size of procedure rooms and corridors. The proliferation of these restrictions has negatively impacted women’s health and disproportionately affected low-income communities of color, while simultaneously creating a lack of national consistency that strains states’ healthcare systems. Most importantly, any law that imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is unconstitutional.
The Women’s Health Protection Act targets these onerous state laws that have been adopted in a concerted strategy to restrict access to abortion across the nation. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Texas law that required abortion providers to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital failed to advance women’s health and posed an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. Additionally, last year, a coalition of attorneys general helped win another victory in June Medical Services v. Gee, in which the Supreme Court held that a similar law in Louisiana was unconstitutional.
As more states try to pass new laws that restrict women’s reproductive freedoms with medically unnecessary restrictions, new court challenges continue to be filed — a process that can often take years. That’s why Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are urging Congress to pass the WHPA to ensure that such restrictions are not imposed in the first place.
The consequences of these laws are already evident across the country. Research from 2017 found that 38 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 44 live in counties without a single abortion clinic. Additionally, as of June 2019, six states have only one abortion clinic remaining. As providers close due to the impact of medically unnecessary restrictions, women are likely to be forced to travel farther and make greater sacrifices to obtain access to care. In fact, history shows that many women will cross state lines if they have the means to do so when abortions are unavailable in the states where they live. Unfortunately, the burden of living in a state with restrictive access to abortion care often falls disproportionately on lower-income women who cannot afford to travel, take time off from work, or find childcare while they visit their nearest provider.
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues go on to assert that laws aimed specifically at restricting abortion providers have proved, time and time again, to lead to worse health outcomes for women, including:
• Increased maternal mortality rates
• Delayed abortions, as well as increased health risks and costs for women who find themselves too far from an abortion provider
• The undertaking of dangerous “black market” or self-induced abortions by some women
• A four-times higher risk of developing potentially life-threatening health conditions for women who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, as well as a substantially greater likelihood of experiencing physical violence from abusive partners or family members
The widely known negative effects of laws targeting abortion providers undermine any argument that such laws are intended to promote women’s health.
Finally, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that without the WHPA, a lack of consistency in access to abortion services will lead to unnecessary strain on the states’ health care systems. Many women will cross state lines if they have the means to do so when abortions are unavailable in the states where they live. In the wake of recent abortion restrictions, some states have experienced a substantial influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortions as a result of reduced access in their home states. Medically unnecessary restrictions targeting abortion providers create a disservice to women’s health and safety and pose challenges for states that aim to provide a full range of reproductive health services.
Joining Attorney General Herring in submitting today’s testimony to Congress are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Governor Northam launches Return to Earn Grant Program to help Virginians transition back to work
On June 11, 20212, Governor Ralph Northam announced a new $3 million investment to pilot the Return to Earn Grant Program, which will match payments from eligible small businesses to provide new hires with up to $1,000 to support their transition back into the workforce. While many companies are offering hiring bonuses, the Return to Earn Grant Program will serve businesses with less than 100 employees that may not have the resources to provide this financial support. The initial launch of this program will be funded through Virginia’s federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) set aside, and additional recovery funds may be allocated based on demand.
“Many Virginians who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still face a variety of barriers to returning to work like access to affordable child care, transportation, and a living wage,” said Governor Northam. “These bonuses will serve as an incentive for unemployed workers to get back into the workforce, while also helping employers fill vacant jobs. The Virginia Return to Earn Grant Program is about empowering the true catalysts of our economic comeback—Virginia’s workers and small businesses.”
This initiative will match up to $500 that a qualifying small business pays directly to a new employee hired after May 31, 2021, either as a lump sum or in installments to offset the ongoing costs of child care, transportation, or other barriers to re-employment. Funds will only be reimbursed to businesses for new hires in positions that pay at least $15 per hour and that qualify as W-2 employment, either full- or part-time. To help address workforce shortages in child care, qualifying child care businesses may qualify for up to $500 per new hire without the match requirement.
“For Virginia to fully recover from the impacts of the pandemic on our economy, we need targeted solutions,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Dr. Megan Healy. “One in three Virginia workers has applied for unemployment benefits over the course of the pandemic. The new Return to Earn Grant Program will accomplish a dual purpose of helping unemployed Virginian’s transition back into living-wage jobs, particularly in the child care industry, and supporting small businesses with their hiring needs.”
The launch of the Return to Earn Grant Program coincides with the reinstatement of the weekly work search requirement in Virginia, which started the week of May 31, 2021. Virginians receiving unemployment benefits must make contact with employers each week and accept reasonable offers of employment.
On June 1, the Commonwealth also reopened its Virginia Career Works Centers for in-person services to ensure that Virginians making the transition back to the workforce have access to the resources they need to find high-quality jobs. Job seekers can continue to access resources virtually through the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal.
For additional information on requirements and to apply for Return to Earn grant funding, small businesses should contact their local Virginia Career Works Center.
Answers to frequently asked questions.
1. What is the Virginia Return to Earn Grant Program?
Unemployed Virginians are facing a variety of childcare, transportation, and other barriers to returning to the workforce while some small businesses are struggling to find workers. To support Virginians in their transition back to employment, Governor Ralph Northam will invest $3 million in federal WIOA set aside funds to pilot the VA Return to Earn Grant Program. The pilot initiative will match up to $500 that a qualifying small business pays directly to a new employee hired on or after May 31st, 2021 to support their transition back to employment. Funds will only be reimbursed for new hires in positions that pay at least $15 per hour and qualify as W-2 employment, either full- or part-time. Qualifying small childcare businesses, who may be facing particularly challenging workforce shortages, may qualify for up to $500 per new hire without the requirement to match.
2. Which small businesses are eligible for funds through the VA Return to Earn Grant Program?
A business must have 100 or fewer employees and be incorporated in Virginia. The employee count is the sum of the business’s employees across all Virginia locations. Qualifying childcare businesses, who may be facing particularly challenging workforce shortages, are eligible for 100% reimbursement for up to $500 per new hire. This means that no match is required from the childcare business to receive funding for new hires through the grant program.
3. What qualifies as a “childcare business”?
A childcare business may be a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation, with services delivered in home- and/or center-based settings. These businesses may be licensed or legally exempted from licensing by the state.
4. Which job positions are eligible for funds through the VA Return to Earn Grant Program?
Funds will only be reimbursed for new hires in positions that pay at least $15 per hour and qualify as W-2 employment, either full- or part-time.
5. Is there a limit to the number of new hires eligible for reimbursement through the VA Return to Earn Grant Program?
Yes, qualifying small businesses are eligible for a match of up to $500 per new hire for up to 25 new employees. These must have been hired on or after May 31st, 2021.
6. How can VA Return to Earn funds be used?
Funds are only reimbursable through the VA Return to Earn Grant Program if they are provided by a qualifying small business directly to a qualifying new hire, either as a lump sum or in installments to offset the ongoing costs of childcare, transportation, or other barriers to re-employment.
7. How should a qualifying small business apply for reimbursement of funds through the VA Return to Earn Grant Program?
For additional information on requirements and to apply for grant funding, small businesses should contact their local Virginia Career Works Center. Funds will only be reimbursed once they have been fully paid to the new hire.
8. This program matches up to $500 provided to a new hire to support their re-employment, for a total of $1000. If I am a qualifying small business, can I give the new hire a stipend that is more than $1000?
Yes, it is at the discretion of the employer as to how much is provided to the new employee. The VA Return to Earn Program will reimburse for 50% of the funds provided but only up to $500 per new hire. Childcare businesses will receive 100% reimbursement for up to $500 per new hire.
9. How is the initial $3 million in funding for the VA Return to Earn Grant Program being allocated across the Commonwealth? What happens if the money runs out?
Grant funds will be allocated across Virginia’s workforce development areas proportional to the number of current continuing unemployment insurance claims in each region. The initial $3 million allocated from WIOA Governor’s set-aside funds will serve to pilot the approach, and additional funding may be allocated depending on demand for the program.
10. What other strategies is the Commonwealth employing to support people with their return to work and ensure that employers have the workforce they need to fuel Virginia’s economic recovery?
The launch of the new Return to Earn Grant Program coincides with the reinstatement of the Virginia work search requirement beginning the week of May 31, 2021. Virginians receiving unemployment benefits must make contact with employers each week and accept reasonable offers of employment. On June 1, the Commonwealth reopened its Virginia Career Works Centers for in-person services to ensure that Virginians making the transition back to the workforce have access to the resources they need to find a high-quality job. Jobseekers can continue to access resources virtually through the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal.
Virginia’s annual crime analysis report now available on Virginia State Police website
Virginia’s official and only comprehensive report on local and statewide crime figures for 2020, is now available online. The Crime in Virginia report continues to provide precise rates and occurrences of crimes committed in towns, cities and counties across the Commonwealth. The report breaks down criminal offenses and arrests by the reporting agency.
Violent crime includes the offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses (rape, sodomy, and sexual assault with an object per the FBI’s updated rape definition), robbery and aggravated assault. Overall, Virginia experienced a 1.9 percent decrease in violent crime offenses compared to 2019. There were 15,713 violent crime offenses reported in 2020 compared to 16,018 violent crime offenses in 2019.
The following 2020 crime figures in Virginia are presented in the report:
- The number of reported homicides increased from 428 to 528 (23.4%). Victims and offenders tended to be younger males; 45.1% of homicide victims were men between 18 and 34 and 52.7% of offenders were men between 18 and 34. Nearly half (49.2%) of all homicides occurred at a residence/home.
- Motor vehicle thefts and attempted thefts increased 6% compared to 2019 during which 10,575 motor vehicles were stolen in 10,044 offenses. During 2020, there were 11,209 motor vehicles reported stolen in 10,773 offenses. In 2020, 6,366 motor vehicles were recovered (vehicles may have been stolen prior to 2020). Of all motor vehicles stolen, 40.2% were taken from the residence/home. The reported value of all motor vehicles stolen was $113,993,341.
- Drug arrests decreased by more than a third (36.7%) with the largest percentage decrease in the under 18 age group (48.6%). The number of reports of drugs seized decreased for nearly all drug types, especially marijuana (31.7%), due in part to decriminalization of possessing less than 1 ounce of the drug effective July 1, 2020.
- Burglary decreased 18.4%. Of the 11,413 burglaries and attempted burglaries, more than half (52.2%) took place at night between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., a reverse pattern from 2019 during which 54.8% of burglaries occurred during the day. Furthermore, 68% occurred at a residence/home, a decrease of 7.3% over the previous year.
- Of the known weapons reported for violent crimes, firearms were used in 83% of homicides and 50.4% of robberies. Firearms were used in more than one-third (35.2%) of aggravated assault cases.
- There were 190 hate crime offenses, involving 193 victims, reported in 2020 representing a 2.7% increase compared to 2019. Two offenses indicated more than one type of bias motivation. Nearly three-fourths (72.8%) were racially or ethnically motivated. Bias toward sexual orientation and religion were next highest (14.4%, 11.8%, respectively). Of all reported bias motivated crime, 77.4% were assault offenses (aggravated assault, simple assault) or destruction/damage/vandalism of property.
The report employs an Incident Based Reporting (IBR) method for calculating offenses, thus allowing for greater accuracy. IBR divides crimes into two categories: Group A for serious offenses including violent crimes (murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault), property crimes and drug offenses, and Group B for what are considered less serious offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct, bad checks and liquor law violations where an arrest has occurred.
For both Group A and Group B offenses, there were a total of 206,609 arrests in 2020 compared to 274,636 arrests in 2019, representing an overall decrease in arrests in Virginia of 24.8%.
Per state mandate, the Virginia Department of State Police serves as the primary collector of crime data from participating Virginia state and local police departments and sheriffs’ offices. The data are collected by the Virginia State Police Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. This information is then compiled into Crime in Virginia, an annual report for use by law enforcement, elected officials, media and the general public. These data become the official crime statistics for the Commonwealth and are sent to the FBI for incorporation into their annual report, Crime in the United States.
Virginia commits to reducing polluted runoff from state lands to advance Chesapeake Bay restoration
On June 3, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam signed Executive Directive Seventeen setting pollution reduction targets for lands within the Chesapeake Bay watershed that are owned by state agencies and public institutions of higher education. Nonpoint source pollution, also known as polluted runoff, occurs when stormwater moves over the ground collecting pollutants like excess nutrients, sediment, and toxins that degrade water quality and harm living resources.
“Stormwater runoff is among the most harmful and challenging sources of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has taken bold action to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution and we have made meaningful progress, but we must step up these efforts to achieve our clean water goals by 2025. As one of the largest landowners in the Bay watershed, this directive will ensure that the Commonwealth leads by example.”
In 2019, Virginia released its Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan to achieve the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load by 2025 that included a commitment to developing a plan specific to state lands. Over the past year, a team of experts from state agencies and public institutions from higher education worked at the direction of the Governor’s Conservation Cabinet to produce a State Lands Watershed Implementation Plan (SWIP) by mapping state lands, calculating runoff pollution targets, and identifying conservation practices that when implemented will reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.
The goal of the SWIP is to achieve significant reductions in or to offset unregulated, nonpoint source pollution originating from state lands within Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watershed. The SWIP required the development of a comprehensive dataset of over 400,000 acres of state lands within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the calculation of pollution load reductions using the Chesapeake Bay Watershed model. The SWIP details reduction targets of 122,000 pounds of nitrogen and 10,100 pounds of phosphorus and specifies eleven programmatic actions to achieve success.
“State agencies and institutions of higher education must take the same steps to restore the Chesapeake Bay that the Commonwealth is expecting of farmers, homeowners, private businesses, and local governments,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “If we make reducing pollution part of everyday business in Virginia, we will ensure that future generations can enjoy and benefit from healthy rivers and a cleaner Bay.
Executive Directive Seventeen orders the Secretary of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Secretary of Administration, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and the Conservation Cabinet, to ensure that the SWIP is fully implemented by all Virginia agencies, public institutions of higher education, and other state governmental entities that own or manage land within Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Read Governor Northam’s 2021 Clean the Bay Day proclamation here.