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Mass shooting at Chesapeake Walmart kills seven and more Va. headlines



The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

• Seven people are dead after a shooter opened fire in a Walmart in Chesapeake late Tuesday. The shooting comes just over a week after a University of Virginia student shot five former football teammates, killing three.—Associated Press, Virginian-Pilot

• Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke is renewing a push to let 16-year-olds register to vote and cast ballots in local elections. The change, which would require a constitutional amendment, would keep the voting age at 18 for legislative and statewide offices.—WRIC

• Richmond’s School Board voted to rename three schools named for lesser-known Confederates. “When you … attend a school that’s named after someone you have pride in, it definitely can affect how you feel about that building and whether you feel welcomed or not.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

• Virginia agencies say they’ve put in place new tools and strategies for the winter season after last year’s January snowstorm debacle left 48 miles of Interstate 95 paralyzed and thousands of motorists stranded overnight.—Washington Post

• Virginians Thomas Jefferson and Mary Randolph were the nation’s biggest early champions of macaroni and cheese. The universally beloved dish, which one survey found was Virginia’s favorite Thanksgiving side, may have been developed by Jefferson’s enslaved chef James Hemings.—Cardinal News


by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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This Land is Our Land: States Crack Down on Foreign-Owned Farm Fields



Andy Gipson gets concerned even when American allies such as the Netherlands and Germany invest in large swaths of Mississippi’s farmland.

“It just bothers me at a gut level,” he said.

For Gipson, Mississippi’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce, the growing trend of foreign ownership could threaten what he views as the state’s most valuable asset: the land that grows its forests, rice, and cotton.

“It is our ability as a country, as a state to produce our own food, our own fiber, and our own shelter,” he told Stateline. “And I think every acre that’s sold to anybody outside of this country is one less acre that we have to rely on for our own self-interest, our own national food security.”

Gipson has spent recent months studying the growing amount of his state’s farmland being bought up by foreign interests. He chaired a study committee that just issued a 363-page report on the issue requested by the legislature after a lawmaker had offered a bill to ban foreign purchases completely.

Since its constitution was approved in 1890, the state has had provisions restricting land ownership by “nonresident aliens,” the report noted. But the committee concluded current state law “lacks a clear, workable enforcement mechanism.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that foreign interests held some 757,000 acres of Mississippi’s agricultural land, about 2.5% of the total. Gipson hopes the Republican-led legislature will stiffen the law in the upcoming session.

“I think the time is going to be right in 2024 for the legislature to tighten these laws up,” he said.

If the legislature acts, Mississippi will join a growing group of states seeking to ban or further restrict foreign ownership of farmland. Lawmakers are targeting nations considered hostile to U.S. interests, such as China and Russia, and looking for new enforcement measures. Many see Arkansas as leading the latter push; officials there invoked a new law in October that bans certain foreign owners and ordered a Chinese seed company to divest its land.

Nearly half the states have some restrictions on the books, some dating back to the 1700s.

While the debate is as old as the nation itself, the issue has been reinvigorated in recent years after Chinese firms purchased land near military installments in North Dakota and in Texas, said Micah Brown, an attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas who tracks the issue.

Brown said lawmakers in 36 states proposed some sort of legislation on the issue this year, ranging from caps to bans to targets on certain countries, with measures passing in about a dozen of them. More bills are expected in upcoming sessions.

Some lawmakers and experts warn that such laws could go too far, making it difficult for some farmers to sell their land, discouraging economic development, or even leading to discrimination against certain groups of people, such as Asian Americans.

Foreign ownership of U.S. farmland probed at U.S. Senate hearing

Foreigners held an interest in about 40 million acres of U.S. agricultural land at the end of 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Canadian investors own the largest share of that acreage, followed by investors from the United Kingdom and Europe. Foreign ownership represents only about 3.1% of all privately held U.S. agricultural land. But the number is quickly rising: Foreign ownership has increased more than 50% in the past decade, Brown said.

But USDA data shows Chinese ownership is still relatively rare: Chinese interests own less than 1% of the nation’s foreign-held agricultural acreage.

Federal law currently does not regulate foreign ownership of land beyond requiring foreign buyers to register with the USDA. But there is bipartisan interest in Congress in tighter restrictions and reporting on foreign ownership.

At the state level, much of the legislation has been proposed by Republicans, though Brown said it’s largely enjoyed bipartisan support — particularly when bills target ownership by nations considered hostile to American interests.

“It’d be pretty difficult for someone to step out and say, ‘Hey, I don’t think we should restrict North Korea.’ … That’s kind of where some of the politics come into this. It looks like you’re achieving something. There’s been a lot of bipartisan support on these efforts.”

Arkansas leads on enforcement

In October, Arkansas Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders invoked the war between Israel and Hamas as she announced her state was taking its first action against foreign ownership of agricultural land.

Sanders described America’s “enemies,” naming not just Hamas, but also China, Iran, and Russia as “on the march.”

“Yet for too long in the name of tolerance we’ve let these dangerous governments infiltrate our country,” she said. “Arkansas will tolerate them no longer.”

The state ordered seed and pesticide maker Syngenta to sell 160 acres of land it owns in Northeast Arkansas and uses for research. Legislation passed during the 2023 session barred certain foreign countries from owning farmland and enabled the state to seek judicial foreclosure for those found in violation. The attorney general’s office said it was to date the only known property covered by the new law.

China Owns Little US Farmland, But Many Lawmakers Are Worried

Syngenta, which was given two years to sell its property, did not respond to a Stateline request for comment. The company previously criticized the Arkansas action as “shortsighted.”

Last month, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, a Republican, announced that Syngenta had paid a $280,000 civil penalty for failing to register with the state as required under legislation passed in 2021.

“This serves as a warning to all other Chinese state-owned companies operating in Arkansas — I am investigating these types of properties throughout the state and will exercise all powers afforded to my office under the law,” he said in a statement last month. 

Based in Switzerland, Syngenta was bought by ChemChina, a state-owned entity, in 2017.

Republican state Sen. Blake Johnson said he was unaware of Syngenta’s acquisition when he sponsored both pieces of legislation. He said the laws were broadly aimed at protecting national security.

“Our food safety is paramount to the national defense, in my opinion: feeding, clothing ourselves and our military if need be in the future,” he said. “That can be done by our own land. We don’t need to outsource that to our enemies.”

Johnson said he was careful to target the legislation at unfriendly nations. It applies to the same countries named in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, federal rules that restrict weapons from certain adversarial nations. He noted that friendly nations are exempt: Canada, for instance, owns large swaths of timberland in southern Arkansas.

“That’s not a problem under this law,” he said.

The Arkansas action was closely watched by officials in neighboring Mississippi.

“To date, Arkansas is the only state that has actually enforced a law like this,” said Gipson, the Mississippi agriculture commissioner. “I like the way they did it.”

But he said there are plenty of complications.

Mississippi doesn’t want to hinder important agricultural research, Gipson said. Nor does it want to dissuade investments such as Japanese-based Nissan’s giant assembly plant in Canton.

“Some of the states have had unintended consequences, and we don’t want to have those, obviously,” he said.

Republican state Rep. Bill Pigott, who also served on the study committee, said he’s working on legislation he thinks will pass in 2024.

A farmer who raises peanuts, corn, and cattle, Pigott said he has not heard from other farmers about the issue, though he said many constituents are concerned.

“People who listen to the news and watch TV — they seem to be more concerned about it than actually the farmers themselves,” he said. “I do get people ask if we are doing anything.”

Pigott said the legislation will aim to target hostile nations such as China and Russia. Currently, investors from the Netherlands are the largest foreign owners in Mississippi, followed by Germany.

“Almost nobody has any concern with that,” he said. “It is the hostile nations, and No. 1 on that list is China.”

Striking a balance

In opening a U.S. Senate hearing in September, Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow acknowledged that the nation’s food system is an integral component of national security.

With more foreign entities buying up land, she said, the issue deserves scrutiny. But she offered a warning:

“We must also be cautious of our history of barring immigrants from owning land in our country and ensure efforts to protect our national and economic security do not encourage discrimination,” she said.

During hearings on foreign-owned agricultural land in Topeka, Kansas, state Rep. Rui Xi, a Democrat and the only Chinese American in the state House, in September warned about rhetoric casting suspicion on Asian Americans such as grad students lawfully admitted to the United States.

“If we want to take a look at foreign investment in ag land and it’s narrow, that’s great,” Xi said. “If you try to cast a shadow and it continues to cast suspicion on people who are here innocently, who are just trying to learn, who are trying to attend our universities, I think that’s where we really, really need to urge caution.”

While more American agricultural land is being bought up by foreign interests, it’s generally not governments that own it, said David Ortega, a food economist at Michigan State University. Syngenta garnered plenty of attention in Arkansas, but it’s more common for foreign individuals and firms to buy land as investments, he said.

So far, Ortega said, there’s no evidence that foreign purchases have raised ag prices or pose any threat to American food security.

Ortega said policymakers should consider carefully the potential effects of new laws on the broader agricultural economy. China, for instance, is often targeted by legislators. But it’s also the largest buyer of American agricultural exports and could retaliate against American farmers.

“It’s far easier for China to find a new source to buy [from] than it is for us to find new export markets,” he said in an interview.

Ortega said there are specific, local concerns about foreign ownership worth addressing. And while there are many good-faith debates occurring, he does worry that the conversation could lead to discrimination against groups such as Chinese Americans.

Youngkin halted Ford battery plant efforts in Virginia over concerns about China

“I don’t think that the root cause of lawmakers’ concerns over this issue is rooted in xenophobia,” he said. “But I am worried that the way this issue is talked about can lead to xenophobia and those types of issues. And that’s why I and others are urging caution.”

Since Congress has not enacted any legislation, state lawmakers say they are willing to act.

“While I would prefer we send one message from our Congress to address this issue, that’s beyond the scope of what I can do,” said Georgia state Rep. Clay Pirkle, a Republican. “What I can do is formulate a state response to this issue.”

Pirkle grows cotton, peanuts, rice, and butterbeans on about 1,000 acres in southern Georgia. Earlier this year, he introduced legislation in Atlanta that would prevent nonresident aliens from purchasing farmland near military bases if they were from nations deemed adversarial by the U.S. Department of Commerce — a list that currently includes China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. The bill didn’t progress, but Pirkle plans to pursue it again next session.

He said crafting legislation on the matter is complicated because he does not want Georgia to dissuade purchases from people who have fled other countries for the United States.

“I really made every effort to avoid unintentional consequences of folks from these countries that have come to the United States because they really desire liberty and freedom,” he said. “And I wanted to make sure that I did not unduly burden them.”

But Pirkle believes something needs to be done. American agricultural land is not a renewable resource. Developers continue to encroach on farmland for the development of new housing and industry.

“The land that we have that we grow crops on to feed the world is the land that we have in ag production,” he said. “We’re not making any more, and it is a scarce resource.”


by Kevin Hardy, Virginia Mercury

Stateline is a sister publication of the Virginia Mercury within States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Stateline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Scott S. Greenberger for questions:

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Pedestrian-Involved Crashes, Cyclist Fatalities Increase From Last Year



RICHMOND, Va. – Alcohol, distraction, or speeding were the most deadly factors for pedestrians and cyclists in Virginia for at least the past three years.

Those factors contributed to nearly 3 in 4 pedestrian deaths and 2 in 3 cyclist deaths between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30.

Crash statistics were initially trending down but rose enough in the past month that this year has not been an improvement. Total pedestrian-involved crashes are up this year at 1,487, while cyclist-involved crashes remain slightly down at 529. Virginia traffic data is collected using the Traffic Records Electronic Data System.

State data shows pedestrian deaths this year, through November, decreased from 172 to 117, but cyclist deaths have increased.

Carla “Jonah” Holland was one of 11 cyclists killed in Virginia in 2022. She and Natalie Rainer were hit by an intoxicated driver while biking on a rural road in Henrico County. The driver was 18 at the time and was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“The cost ends up being so much greater than just one person,” Rainer said. “In my story, it’s Jonah’s life, but it’s also [the driver’s] life. His life is altered as well.”

Rainer woke up four days after the accident to discover her friend was gone. Even as she heals and gets back on a bike, the scars remain – on her chest, arms, abdomen, legs, and pelvis.

“My life has been touched, but I will still have the privilege to live out my life in a full manner,” Rainer said.

The cost goes beyond just the loss of a loved one – there is a loss of safety and peace in the community, she said.

“It creates an atmosphere where people do not feel safe to exist in space and that is unacceptable,” Rainer said. “Maybe people are willing to kind of brush the issue to the side because it doesn’t personally affect them.”

Across the nation: How does Virginia compare?

Pedestrian fatalities increased in Virginia between 2021-2022. It was the fifth highest percentage increase in the nation, according to data from the national Governors Highway Safety Association.

Overall, Virginia ranked 24th in total pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people last year.

Drivers nationwide hit and killed just over 7,500 pedestrians in 2022 – the highest since 1981, according to GHSA data. Unreported Oklahoma data could make the toll higher.

This means that, on average, about 20 people a day are struck and killed on American roads.

Pedestrian fatalities in Virginia may be down this year, but total injuries are higher, with one month still left to go. Conversely, cyclists are seeing less injuries and more deaths as a result of these crashes.



Infrastructures: Progress in Alexandria

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, stated in an email that these “preventable tragedies” result from a number of factors, such as impaired driving or road design. He added that while legislation such as his “hands free” law has helped, the complicated issue needs further investment.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” said Alex Carroll of Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services.

Carroll manages the Complete Streets program for Alexandria. The program aims to make it safer to work and travel in the region.

Infrastructural needs are a large piece of the puzzle, according to Carroll.

“There are probably very few crashes where you can say there was nothing about the infrastructure here that could have prevented this,” Carroll said.

A recent five-year analysis found that 70% of fatal and severe crashes in Alexandria occurred on 10% of the city’s streets. This data allows programs like Complete Streets to focus where change is needed most, Carroll said.

Localities need money and resources to implement better infrastructure. However, low-cost starting options are available, which Carroll said can provide “90% of the benefit at 10% of the cost.”

Options include giving pedestrians more time to cross at intersections, adding “no right turn on red” signs and lowering speed limits, among others. Reducing speed limits is often controversial, but even small decreases in speed have produced positive results in Alexandria, Carroll said.

A more expensive option is something called a “road diet,” when travel lanes are removed and replaced with measures such as crosswalks or bike lanes to reduce driver speed and traffic. It has helped in places where crossing pedestrians felt like they were in the video game “Frogger,” Carroll said.

Several Virginia localities, including Alexandria, adopted Vision Zero – an international design philosophy that began in Sweden in the 1990s. Its central goal is to reduce traffic fatalities to zero through the belief that pedestrian deaths are preventable.

“We can’t accept the status quo of people continuing to die and be severely maimed on our streets,” Carroll said.

Vision Zero work is like “trying to turn a ship around,” Carroll said – results are not always immediately apparent. While the goal is rather ambitious, she says it’s worth the effort.

“It’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, those numbers are people,” Carroll said.


Traffic enforcement and humanizing the statistics

Lt. Robert Netherland of Henrico Police’s Traffic Enforcement Unit knows how it feels to receive a death notification.

His sister was a University of Virginia student when she was hit and killed by a drunk driver.

“I remember like it was yesterday– and we're talking back in the early 1980s,” Netherland said.

Death notifications are a part of the job, and his experiences allow him to empathize with the over 100 families he’s had to contact.

A number of factors, from impairment to distraction to visibility, contribute to pedestrian and cyclist incidents, according to Netherland. Legislative changes like the “hands-free” law have had reasonable success, but others have made his job a bit more difficult, he said.

Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, patroned a 2020 bill that made several changes to traffic enforcement law when it passed, including a shift in how jaywalking can be penalized. Virginia law now prevents officers from stopping a pedestrian solely because they are jaywalking.

“People just kind of walk where they want to,” Netherland said, and added it has contributed to an increase in pedestrian fatalities.

Netherland said it decreases the chance of a crash if pedestrians cross at designated intersections. Pedestrians and cyclists are less likely to be seriously injured because vehicles typically slow down at intersections.

Pedestrians do not hold all of the responsibility, Netherland said. All parties sharing the roadways need to increase their awareness, remove distractions, and slow down.

Carroll agreed that “victim-blaming” language does not help and emphasized that Vision Zero’s philosophy assumes that people will make mistakes – such as crossing where they shouldn’t.

“If you rely on people to not make mistakes in order to improve your safety goals, you’re never gonna get there,” Carroll said.

Harsher penalties and more direct messaging could push through the “numbness” and encourage all travelers to be safer, Netherland said.

VCU Police began efforts to increase campus traffic enforcement following the January crash that killed university student Mahrokh Khan while she crossed the street. This initiative resulted in over 800 traffic citations between February and May, according to data provided by VCU Police.

Virginia State Police recently launched Operation DISS-rupt, a campaign to target unsafe and distracted drivers. Interstate 64 enforcement on Oct. 19 and 20 resulted in 362 speeding violations, according to data provided by VSP. Additionally, there were 200 instances of reckless driving and 75 violations of the “hands-free” law.

Deaths decreased over Virginia’s Thanksgiving holiday compared to last year, according to VSP. The number of driving under the influence arrests were about the same, though reckless driving and speeding citations were up.

Education and rejecting ‘status quo’

The acceptance of these fatal and severe crashes as “the cost of doing business” cannot be allowed, said John Saunders, director of highway safety for Virginia DMV.

“If we had as many people die in airplane crashes as we see dying on our highways, no one would fly,” Saunders said.

According to Saunders, the DMV targets its messaging using crash and law enforcement data. It distributes safety messages about crossing streets, maintaining visibility, and practicing safe driving habits through many partners.

Drivers’ tests ask applicants how to share the road safely, but the DMV does not design test questions. The Virginia Department of Education does, according to Saunders. The VDOE did not respond to a request for a statement.

He said that drivers often only take one test to get a license, so continued education is important.

“It’s sometimes awhile since folks have really taken a close look at pedestrians, and being a pedestrian, and how dangerous that is,” Saunders said.

He said it would take a continued beating of the drum to raise awareness and improve safety.

“We have a responsibility, especially as drivers, to make every effort to do all that we can to ensure that everyone gets home safely each and every day,” Saunders said.

Ending traffic violence as a community

These statistics represent neighbors, family, and friends.

“Ultimately, we can't separate cycling incidents from pedestrian incidents, and even other drivers being involved in crashes,” Rainer said. “We're talking about traffic violence, which is on the rise.”

Local governments have started to tackle the problem, but it won’t help unless people take accountability, she said, from putting down cell phones to taking the foot off the gas.

“We've got to start to find ways of helping people to understand that we are connected,” Rainer said. “When you see a cyclist on a bike on the road, they're not an obstacle in your way, right? That's a human being … we need to look at each other as valuable.”


By Ryan Nadeau/Capital News Service
Video by Reiley Matthews/VCU InSight

VCU InSight reporter Reiley Matthews contributed to this article. 

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. VCU InSight is the capstone broadcast news program.

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Virginia’s Thanksgiving Roads: Safer This Year



Dramatic Drop in Fatal Traffic Crashes Over Thanksgiving 2023.

In a remarkable turn of events, Virginia has seen a significant decrease in traffic-related fatalities during the Thanksgiving holiday of 2023. Compared to the previous year, the state experienced a 53% reduction in fatal traffic crashes, a promising indicator of improved road safety. This development has brought relief to many and highlights the effectiveness of stringent traffic enforcement and public awareness campaigns.

A Safer Holiday Season

According to preliminary data, only nine people lost their lives in traffic incidents over the five-day holiday period, a stark contrast to the 19 fatalities recorded in 2022. A notable aspect of these tragedies was the absence of seat belts in most cases, underscoring the continued importance of basic safety measures.

Colonel Gary T. Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, expressed optimism about the reduction in traffic crashes. He emphasized the role of responsible driving in ensuring safety during the holidays and urged Virginians to maintain these habits as the winter season approaches.

Impact of Operation C.A.R.E.

A key element in this year’s traffic safety was Operation C.A.R.E. (Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort), an annual, state-sponsored initiative. During the 2023 Thanksgiving period, state troopers increased their presence and traffic enforcement, resulting in significant law enforcement activity. This included citing 4,520 drivers for speeding, 1,840 for reckless driving and arresting 89 individuals for driving under the influence. Additionally, 427 citations were issued for seat belt violations.

Traffic Statistics: A Positive Trend

The overall number of traffic crashes also saw a decrease, with state troopers responding to 1,359 incidents—a reduction of nearly a hundred compared to 2022. Out of these, 137 crashes resulted in injuries. This decrease is a testament to the heightened enforcement and public awareness efforts.

It’s also noteworthy that the fines collected from these summonses contribute to Virginia’s public welfare, with funds going towards court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which supports public school construction, technology funding, and teacher retirement.

The 2023 Thanksgiving holiday has positively changed Virginia’s roads, marked by a significant decrease in fatal crashes and overall accidents. This improvement is a result of collective efforts in enforcing traffic laws and promoting road safety. As Virginia moves into the winter holidays, the lessons and successes of this period serve as a blueprint for continued vigilance and responsibility on the roads.

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Abortions Increase in State Since Roe Overturned; Virginia Border City Remains a Refuge 



RICHMOND, Va. – The twin Bristol cities share a name and a state line, but abortion accessibility changes just over a 1-mile span.

Abortion is illegal in Bristol, Tennessee, but down the road in Virginia, a clinic provides abortions. The Bristol Women’s Health Clinic relocated to Virginia after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn an almost 50-year decision that protected a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The number of abortions administered in Virginia has increased since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, according to analysis of data from the state health department and the Society of Family Planning.


“It was started because of the need,” said the clinic’s administrative director, Karolina Ogorek. “It wasn’t anything other than the fact that a mile and a half down the road, the services we provide are illegal.

The majority of the clinic’s patients are from out of state. All of the states that touch Virginia have completely banned or restricted abortion except Maryland, which drove travel to the last Southern state where access remains.

Reproductive choice also drove voters to the polls in Virginia and other states. Turnout was high in Virginia at almost 40%, though not as high as the last time in 2019 when all the Virginia General Assembly seats were on the ballot.

Kentucky and Ohio voters also signaled strong support for abortion access. Kentucky re-elected a Democratic governor whose opponent strongly opposed abortion, and Ohio voters supported a referendum to enshrine access in the state’s constitution.

Virginia Democrats picked up a slim majority they will have for the next two years. They delivered on their campaign promise and pre-filed an amendment to the state’s constitution on Nov. 20 that would secure reproductive freedom and protection — but it has a long, procedural way to go.

For now, Virginia remains a refuge for women whose choice has been restricted in other states.

The ‘hardship’ of travel for medical help

Tennessee had a trigger law to ban abortion, meaning they had a law in place to ban abortion weeks after Roe was overturned completely. It slipped through a budget negotiation late at night.

That led to an influx of patients from Southern states. People visit the clinic from as far away as Louisiana, according to Ogorek.

“There is not a single person that ever thinks they are ever going to make this decision until you have to,” Ogorek said.

She wishes more people understood the hardship of such a journey.

“Not just for the women but their entire family,” Ogorek said. “It has such a big effect on more than just one person.”

About 55% of women at Ogorke’s clinic are at or below the poverty line, she said.

“The decision to terminate a pregnancy is not for everyone, and we recognize, and we support that,” Ogorek said. “Unfortunately, people who are anti-choice will never support a choice.”

She said that abortion restrictions are not a good idea because a 12 or 15-week restriction usually turns into an outright ban.

Protesters outside of Ogorek’s work are nothing new. The office provides patient escorts and security to help women get into their clinics.

Other help offered

Anti-abortion protesters who gather almost every day outside of Bristol Women’s Health Clinic hope to connect women with other resources.

David Gerrells lives in Tennessee. He considers abortions a murder that goes against God’s will. His church hopes to convince women that they are already a parent and not to go through with the procedure.

“It makes us angry and sad and hurt for the ones that are lost – not just the babies but for the mothers, the fathers,” Gerrells said.

His church, Christ Bible Church, and other groups want to help through various ministries and organizations. They provide money, homes, support, and community to women, according to Gerrells.

“We want these people to raise their own children, but we’re very big on walking alongside them,” Gerrells said. “But, more importantly, they need to understand what it is to walk with Christ.”

Orville Fisher has spoken against abortion for about 15 years. He works with the international organization 40 Days for Life. An abortion ban would be positive for Virginia and its citizens, he said.

Fisher recommended the Pathways Pregnancy Resource Center across the Tennessee border, which helps pregnant women.

The resource center was contacted multiple times but said they could not do an interview until next year.

Enshrining abortion into the state constitution

Del. Rodney Willett, D-Henrico, is “absolutely in favor of choice of” and access to abortion.

“Anecdotally, we also know women are flying into Virginia or driving long distances into the state to get these services,” Willett said.

The option for medical services in Virginia is fortunate, he said, although anything but convenient.

“For a lot of women, it’s an absolute hurdle they can’t clear because of the expense,” Willett said.

He said they have to pay for transportation, take off time for work, and find someone to travel with them.

Willett voiced concerns about the state losing doctors and women’s health care providers if the 15-week restriction proposed by state Republicans went into effect.

“What you’re seeing in other states where abortion is heavily restricted or outright banned, a lot of the states are also putting criminal penalties in place for the providers,” he said.

Ogorek recalled how healthcare providers were “cautiously optimistic” before the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case that overturned Roe.

“After Roe fell, we were devastated,” Ogorek said. “Clinics closed.”

She shut down her Knoxville practice, which she said was “flourishing.”

“I think what is sad is that, just we’ve lost a lot more lately than we won,” Ogorek said. “That’s the hard part.”

Ogorek will keep her eyes on the General Assembly and continue to encourage people to vote.

“If they impose a 15-week ban, I will do whatever I have to do to keep us open for as long as we can stay open,” Ogorek said. It’s just not a question. Until that very last minute that somebody tells me I have to shut my doors, I won’t.”


VCU InSight journalist Brigette Kelly contributed to this report.

By Sahara Sriraman/Capital News Service

Video by Brigette Kelly/VCU InSight

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. VCU InSight is the capstone broadcast news program.

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Virginia War Memorial and Navy League to Host 82nd Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony



The Virginia War Memorial and the Navy League of the United States, Richmond Council, will co-host the 82nd Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony at 11 a.m., Thursday, December 7, 2023.  The annual ceremony will be held outdoors in the Memorial’s Shrine of Memory – 20th Century at 621 South Belvidere Street, Richmond, VA 22330. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.

Keynote speaker will be Commander Dennis Bussey, U.S. Navy (Retired), the son of career Navy Chief Petty Officer Joseph Bussey, who was aboard the battleship USS California in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Commander Dennis Bussey is a Civil Engineering graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.  After graduation in 1969, he found himself leading a group of “Seabees” in Da Nang, South Vietnam. He and his wife, a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, retired to Richmond after active duty, where he founded the James River Hikers and is a noted historian.

The 82nd Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony will include the presentation of wreaths in memory of the Virginians who died on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 when the forces of Imperial Japan attacked U.S military bases in Hawaii. More than 2,400 Americans died and more than 1,100 were wounded during the surprise attack. Of those killed, 41 were listed as native Virginians.

“The name of each Virginian who perished on that fateful day will be read and remembered with the tolling of the ship’s bell from the guided missile cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38), which was decommissioned in 1994,” said Dr. Adam J. “Jay” Fielder, president of the Navy League’s Richmond Council, who will serve as Master of Ceremonies for the annual program. The bell is on permanent display at the Virginia War Memorial.

“We are pleased to continue the tradition of co-hosting the Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony with the Navy League here at the Virginia War Memorial for the 82nd consecutive year,” said Virginia War Memorial Director Dr. Clay Mountcastle. “We hope many of our fellow citizens will join us to honor and remember our fellow Virginians and all Americans who died during the surprise attack which led to the United States entering World War II. As the ceremony is an outdoor event, we suggest attendees dress accordingly.”

The Memorial will be open to the public from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on December 7.  The Virginians at War documentary film Pearl Harbor will be shown all day in the Reynolds Theater and visitors can visit the Medal of Honor Gallery, Veterans Art Gallery and other exhibits.

For more information about the 82nd Commonwealth’s Pearl Harbor Day Remembrance Ceremony, please call the Virginia War Memorial at 804.786.2060 or visit or There is no admission charge to the Memorial or for this event. Parking is available at the Memorial and visitors should arrive by 10:45 a.m. to attend the ceremony.

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State News

Virginia is Banking on Data Centers, But Some Say Growth Should Be More Deliberate



RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia is home to the largest data center market in the world, but citizens and lawmakers have urged leaders to temper the onslaught of development and consider the impact.

Data centers have brought hundreds of millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs to Northern Virginia and, increasingly, other areas of the state. However, among environmental groups, there is mounting concern that the industry’s rapid growth might offset climate goals laid out in past legislation.

Data centers are physical locations that power online activity “in the cloud,” according to the Data Center Coalition. According to the group’s president, Josh Levi, the centers support online activities that individuals, governments, organizations, and businesses of all sizes do every day.

The growth of the industry shows no signs of slowing. Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced a deal with Amazon Web Services in January to establish multiple data center campuses across the state. The company plans to invest $35 billion in Virginia by 2040.

Amazon Web Services filed in September to develop two campuses in Louisa County, including a seven-building data center campus, Lake Anna Technology Campus. The campus would occupy almost 2 million square feet of Lousia County’s land, including about an acre of wetland.

“These areas offer robust utility infrastructure, lower costs, great livability, and highly educated workforces and will benefit from the associated economic development and increased tax base, assisting the schools and providing services to the community,” Youngkin stated about the partnership with Amazon Web Services.

The state also developed a new incentive program to help clinch the deal. According to the recently passed budget, An amount not exceeding $140 million in grant money will go toward the company and end no later than 2044. The grants help with infrastructure improvements, workforce development, and other project-related costs. The grant awards $8,642 for each new full-time job and $3,364 for each $1 million capital investment made the year before.

Money and jobs

According to Levi, the two primary benefits of data centers are local revenue and job creation.

A Northern Virginia Technology Council report found that data centers provided approximately 5,500 operational and over 10,000 construction and manufacturing jobs in 2021. The report estimated that data centers were “directly and indirectly” responsible for generating $174 million in state tax revenue and just over $1 billion in local tax revenue around the state.

To date, every data center proposal in Virginia has been approved, according to Wyatt Gordon, senior policy and campaigns manager of land use and transportation with the Virginia Conservation Network.

According to Gordon, the high concentration of data centers in the state is a significant problem.

“If this is going to support global internet traffic, they need to be across the globe instead of just within one region of one state,” Gordon said.

Gordon said there is no future without data use, but the impacts of data centers need to be studied closely.

“I think our immediate concern is just, how are we making sure that the impacts of these data centers as they’re coming here are really being negotiated in a way that makes sense for Virginia,” Gordon said.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, and Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, worked with the Virginia Conservation Network on a bill this past session to have the Department of Energy study the impacts of data center development on Virginia’s environment and climate goals. The bill failed.

The legislators attempted to pass other bills with measures to regulate where the centers could be built and to employ conditional stormwater runoff management.

“It’s the biggest corporations in the entire world on one side, and then you have Virginia residents and a ragtag group of environmental folks on the other,” Gordon said. “So, I think you know who won.”

Environmental concerns

According to Gordon, data centers have three primary impacts on the environment: the space they take up, the groundwater demand for cooling, and their energy use.

According to Gordon, the facilities set to come out of Youngkin’s Amazon deal alone will be the size of 151 Walmart stores.

“That is massive amounts of land that are currently forests, farmland, wetlands, and are going to be bulldozed and converted into gigantic boxes hosting servers,” Gordon said.

Overall, Virginia's energy use has decreased due to increased energy efficiency, according to Gordon. However, according to a report prepared for the Virginia Department of Energy, data centers are a growing sector of electricity demand in Virginia.

According to the Energy Transition Initiative, data center electric sales will increase by 152% in the next decade, while other sectors will remain mostly the same. The forecast does not include projected electricity demand from electric vehicles.

The overall increase in Virginia electricity sales is forecasted to be 32% over 10 years and accounts for increased energy efficiency.

Dominion Energy filed an Integrated Resource Plan this year that anticipates a higher demand for electricity from data centers than originally planned. According to Gordon, Dominion recently filed permits for natural gas and coal power plants to meet data center energy demands.

According to Gordon, this contrasts the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which mandates that the state’s two largest utility providers, Dominion Energy and American Electric Power, produce 100% renewable electricity by 2045 and 2050, respectively.

“Despite being the only Southern state to pass such a huge climate law … that could all collapse because data centers are putting such a demand for power that there’s no way to supply them in a timely manner without relying upon dirty energy,” Gordon said.

Dominion Energy is “writing checks that Virginians can’t cash,” according to Julie Bolthouse, director of land use at the Piedmont Environmental Council. The group has looked at data center development in its service region since 2017.

Virginia is compromising its conservation and climate goals to meet in-service dates, with costs of development falling on utility ratepayers, according to Bolthouse.

“We have to, now, meet that in-service date that they committed to, and we have to build out this infrastructure with a rate schedule that’s unfair to us because we’re sitting here paying for all of this when it’s benefitting this one industry,” Bolthouse said.

A Dominion Energy representative did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

According to Bolthouse, the utility and data centers negotiate electricity contracts together and then determine an in-service date when the utility will begin providing power.

“The industry needs to wait for us to be able to provide that power in a sustainable manner,” Bolthouse said.

Powering Virginia’s data centers with renewable energy is a realistic goal “over time,” according to Levi. Amazon Web Services, for example, plans to fund 18 solar farms in Virginia that would provide enough energy to power 276,000 homes by 2025.

Though companies can pursue clean energy in many ways, Levi said the challenge is how fast they can provide it.

“I think that’s where some of the hand-wringing around this issue is really coming from,” Levi said.

Looking forward

According to Kyle Hart, the Mid-Atlantic program manager at the National Parks Conservation Association, Prince William Digital Gateway is the “epitome” of everything the data center industry is doing wrong.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today, in terms of broad calls for industry-wide reform, if this terrible proposal hadn’t existed and had never sort of marched forward under a Democratic board majority for the past two years,” Hart said.

The group became involved in the conversation because of data center projects like Prince William Digital Gateway, which would share a border with Manassas National Battlefield Park, according to Hart.

Most recently, the Prince William County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of all three rezoning applications involved in the Digital Gateway project. The debate moves next to the board of supervisors for a vote.

Hart and Bolthouse offered policy suggestions in a paper that provides an overview of data center development from a land use perspective. They suggested a study on the various impacts of development, a grid impact statement by the State Corporation Commission for all new data center-related power demand requests, and a framework for a regional review board to evaluate these large project proposals.

The data center proliferation in Virginia has outpaced any other state, which ultimately left Hart and Bolthouse without much framework to work off, Hart said. The suggestions are based on what they would want to see.

Elena Schlossberg is executive director for the Coalition to Protect Prince William County, a grassroots effort at the forefront of the resistance against the Digital Gateway. Schlossberg encouraged people to educate themselves on why they should care about the issue.

“You can make a difference by telling your neighbors,” Schlossberg said. “You can make a difference by getting on a bus and lobbying your state legislators that there needs to be some real oversight for an industry that is, up until this point, pretty unregulated.”

The data center debate is apolitical, according to Schlossberg.

“Money knows no ideological boundary, nor does doing the right thing,” Schlossberg said.


By Emily Richardson
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.


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