New bill allows some Virginia localities to incentivize urban green spaces
Virginia localities will soon have a streamlined ability to offer incentives that aid the development of urban green spaces, like city parks or sports fields.
Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, introduced House Bill 1510 to give localities regulatory flexibility. The General Assembly passed the bill with a House vote of 72-27 and a Senate vote of 32-8.
Urban green space is defined as a piece of land covered with grass, trees, shrubs or other vegetation and located around a populated area, according to the bill. The proposed area must help reduce higher temperatures sometimes associated with urban development or aid the mitigation of stormwater in order to qualify for incentives and can be public or private projects.
The incentives would not be available in rural areas and areas of low population density.
The incentives may include a reduction in project permit fees or a streamlined permit approval process, according to the bill. The type of available permits would be up to localities but could include permits such as building, Adams stated.
“The process for obtaining permits is both costly and lengthy; ideally, this legislation could help speed up that process for developments incorporating [urban green space],” Adams stated.
The incentives received will depend on how much green space is implemented on a building site.
The bill gives cities the flexibility to opt-in, Adams told a House Finance subcommittee.
“The bill does not mandate localities do anything but rather gives those that currently have resources a tool to incentivize or accelerate urban green space development, and there is no fiscal impact for the state,” Adams said.
Lee Francis, deputy director for the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said he sees the bill as an opportunity to serve communities that don’t have access to green spaces.
“It gives localities a tool to expand green spaces into underserved communities and kind of even the playing field a little bit,” Francis said.
Jeremy Hoffman, the chief scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, believes that more green spaces in urban communities, such as Richmond, are beneficial to various aspects of the environment.
“They lower air temperatures, they soak up stormwater that falls on them as rain, and they clean the air of harmful pollutants,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman describes urban green spaces as “natural air conditioning for cities” while being the “environmental clean-up crew.”
Building more green spaces can reduce a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect. It is when air temperatures rise in a city from man-made infrastructures, such as dark paved roads, compared to rural areas, according to Hoffman.
“Those [paved roads] absorb more of the sun’s energy throughout the day and then re-emit it back into the air as heat throughout the afternoon and overnight, basically raising the temperatures in those landscapes,” Hoffman said.
Scientists can quickly attain heat island results and use air thermometers or before and after thermal heat photos taken from the ground or by satellite, according to Hoffman.
“We trimmed up some trees, planted some new plants, and were able to show between the morning and the afternoon the impact of improving that green space,” Hoffman said while talking about Rosemoore Pocket Park in Scott’s Addition neighborhood in Richmond.
Green spaces can lower temperatures by 10 degrees to 20 degrees on hot days, according to Shelly Barrick Parsons, executive director for Capital Trees.
Capital Trees is a Richmond-based nonprofit organization that works to implement green spaces in the community through partnerships with the city, corporations, and other nonprofits.
Barrick Parsons sees the potential in the bill and what it could do for urban cities.
“I think it has an opportunity to increase the development of green space if municipalities take advantage of the opportunity,” Barrick Parsons said.
The incentives can help accelerate a development timeline but also have financial impacts.
“Permitting fees can be just a few thousand dollars, but that $2,000 can make a lot of difference to a nonprofit,” Barrick Parsons said.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved the bill on March 23, and the measure will become effective on July 1.
By Adrianna Lawrence
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.
Cast Your Line: Enjoy fresh and saltwater fishing without a license
This weekend promises to be an excellent time for fishing aficionados and novices alike. Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources and Marine Resources Commission has announced free fishing days from June 2-4, 2023, enabling the public to fish without the need for a license.
Whether your passion lies in fresh or saltwater fishing, the first weekend of June offers the perfect opportunity to engage in recreational rod and reel fishing without the usual red tape.
Despite this freedom, it’s important to note that fees charged by fishing piers are not exempt during this period. Moreover, all fishing regulations, such as size, season, catch limits, and gear restrictions, remain firmly in place.
For details regarding saltwater limits and regulations, you can visit the Marine Resources Commission’s website. The 2023 Freshwater Fishing and Boating Regulations can be found on the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources website.
Junior Anglers are especially encouraged to check out the program tailored specifically for them.
The Free Fishing Days are authorized by the Code of Virginia, § 28.2-302.5. So, mark your calendars and make sure to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to experience all that Virginia’s waters have to offer!
Virginia State Police urges safety as summer travel begins amidst tragic loss during Memorial Day weekend
The 2023 Memorial Day weekend has unfortunately led to the loss of nine lives, which included four motorcyclists. The statistical count for this tragic weekend commenced on Friday, May 26, 2023, at 12:01 a.m. and concluded at midnight on Monday, May 29, 2023.
The Virginia State Police participated in the nationwide Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.) and the annual Click It or Ticket campaign. Throughout this period, Virginia Troopers registered 771 seat belt violations and 136 child restraint violations.
Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent, expressed his concern with summer approaching and schools letting out. He emphasized the urgent need for responsible driving and adherence to safety protocols.
All available Virginia State Police patrolled the highways during the four-day Operation C.A.R.E. initiative, aiming to reduce traffic crashes and fatalities due to impaired driving, speeding, and seat belt violations. The initiative resulted in 4,990 speeders and 1,924 reckless drivers being cited, with 89 impaired drivers being arrested. A total of 1,846 traffic crashes were investigated, and 634 commercial vehicles were inspected. The initiative also led to 169 felony arrests and assistance to 1,447 disabled motorists.
Fatal crashes were reported from the City of Richmond, and Henry, Loudoun, Orange, and Shenandoah counties. Loudoun and Henry counties reported two fatal crashes each, while two out of four fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in Loudoun County.
Comparatively, the 2022 Memorial Day Operation C.A.R.E. initiative reported 16 fatalities.
Funds generated from the summonses issued by Virginia State Police are directed towards court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which supports public school construction, technology funding, and teacher retirement.
Report on Virginia public education standards and policies overdue
Over a four-month period in 2022, Virginia leaders in education and workforce development held a series of meetings to provide recommendations to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration on improving state K-12 education.
However, a report on recommendations from those meetings, which were convened to fulfill the requirements of a 2022 law known as House Bill 938, remains six months overdue, with no explanation for its delay.
Asked about the report last month, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office did not provide an update on its status or why it hasn’t been released. A follow-up request in May went unanswered.
“The administration values the input from public school principals, school superintendents, school board members, and school teachers received both through the [House Bill] 938 workgroup and other feedback opportunities,” said Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter in an April email. “We continue to incorporate this feedback into the policies and actions needed to restore excellence to education and ensure our schools are serving every child. A detailed review of the policies and actions implemented over the last year and the Department’s policy recommendations will be outlined in the report.”
House Bill 938, which passed the General Assembly last year, required the Board of Education, Secretary of Education, and Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a group of stakeholders to evaluate various state policies and performance standards for public education.
Among the goals the group was tasked with evaluating were “promoting excellence in instruction and student achievement in mathematics,” expanding the availability of the Advanced Studies diploma, “increasing the transparency of performance measures,” and ensuring those measures “prioritize the attainment of grade-level proficiency and growth” in K-5 reading and math, and “ensuring a strong accreditation system that promotes meaningful accountability year-over-year.”
A report on the group’s findings and recommendations was due to the House and Senate education committees by Nov. 30, 2022.
During a Feb. 2, 2022 hearing, Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera called the legislation an opportunity for Virginia to develop a strategic plan to ensure public school students are prepared for life and the demands of the future.
“There are a lot of signs that we don’t have that, and that means taking a review of our standards, our curriculum, our assessments to make sure they are best in class and our proficiency levels are aligned with what the economy and democracy requires, and also our accountability system is aligned to make sure that we are holding systems accountable for serving every single child in Virginia,” Guidera said.
During the same hearing, Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, who carried the bill, said the legislation was “part of the governor’s ‘Day 1 Plan’ to empower parents” and a “mission statement as to where we want to take our education system.” She did not respond to interview requests.
Fifteen teachers, principals, parents, superintendents, school board members, and higher education and business experts were convened by the administration for the work group, which met at least four times before concluding its work in November, according to an October 19 report to the Board of Education. The group was also broken into four smaller groups that focused on “Mathematics Excellence and Achievement,” “Advanced Studies Diploma Options,” “Academic Growth and Assessment,” and “School Accreditation and Data Transparency.”
Each topic group met individually and was assisted by members of the Department of Education and the Region 5 Comprehensive Center, which provides assistance to states on education and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
According to a Nov. 3 draft provided to the Mercury, some of the work group’s recommendations included providing additional funding for elementary and middle school math specialists, revising state accreditation profiles to make them more accessible, and improving communication about how both learning growth and proficiency contribute to school performance scores.
Members who spoke with the Mercury said they were uncertain of whether there was any opposition to the recommendations after they were submitted.
“The timeframe for the HB 938 group was fairly limited, and so we could only accomplish so much,” said Kimberly Bridges, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University and a member of the workgroup. “But I think there were folks at that table who were more than willing to keep working if the state had asked. But again, it just kind of ended, the report was drafted, and the folks on the working group did what they were there to do.”
A timely report
Members of the work group said the report is particularly timely given that the Board of Education is currently considering new accountability and accreditation systems.
In May 2022, the Youngkin administration released a report calling for “a new path” for Virginia education after student proficiency ratings and test scores on state and national assessments dropped following the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration has blamed changes to school accreditation standards made by prior Democratic-controlled Boards of Education for the declines and, most recently, has proposed changes to how the state scores its schools.
At the same time, the administration has pushed for state education to focus more on workforce readiness, with Youngkin calling for every high school student in Virginia to graduate with “an industry-recognized credential.”
Courtney Baker, director of workforce and training for the Associated General Contractors of Virginia, who served on the Mathematics Excellence and Achievement topic group, said one of its recommendations was for Virginia to focus more on applied mathematics associated with careers such as architecture and engineering, instead of the “standard fast-paced, credit-driven approach.”
Additionally, the group recommended allowing students enrolled in career and technical education courses to qualify for Advanced Studies diplomas. Similar efforts to expand career and technical education in Virginia through legislation failed during the last General Assembly session.
[Read more: Bills to bolster career and technical education falter in General Assembly]
Baker said Virginia is “plagued” by a workforce shortage, pointing to estimates from construction industry groups that more than 250,000 craft professionals will be needed in Virginia by 2026.
“While we continue to hear how important the trades are to the health of Virginia’s economy, we do not see that reflected in current policy,” Baker said. “Students cannot pursue CTE training and qualify for prestigious advanced diplomas, CTE classrooms are in need of additional funding, and we have CTE instructors who are retiring and not being replaced.”
Proficiency vs. growth
Educators and lawmakers have debated for years how student success should be measured and whether assessments of school performance should focus more on student proficiency, as measured on state exams, or evidence of growth in test results.
Most Virginia schools remain fully accredited despite student testing declines
The Youngkin administration has argued for a greater emphasis on proficiency, saying that the inclusion of growth factors in school accreditation rankings has masked deficiencies in performance.
Officials were especially skeptical of the state’s most recent accreditation results, which showed only a few schools fell short of full accreditation despite student declines on standardized tests. Specifically, the number of fully accredited schools dropped from 92% in the 2019-20 school year to 89% for the 2022-23 year.
“This broken accountability system fails to provide a clear picture of the academic achievement and progress of our schools to parents, teachers, and local school divisions,” Youngkin said at the time. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow similarly said the school ratings “fail to capture the extent of the crisis facing our schools and students.”
Both Balow and former Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, who chaired the House Education Committee, told the Washington Post that school accreditation rankings shouldn’t lump together proficiency and growth.
However, many education experts argue both factors are important in determining school success — a conclusion supported by the HB 938 work group, which in its Nov. 3 document stated that “focusing on both proficiency and growth provides an accurate depiction of how schools are performing.”
“The board should ensure that growth and proficiency continue to be included in one combined rate and increased parent-friendly communication surrounding its meaning would promote transparency,” the document says.
Members of the work group recommended the Board of Education “consider a weighted balance” of the two and conduct further investigation on the issue.
“We need accountability that looks at both student growth and students reaching proficiency. If you want to get a holistic picture of what’s happening with learning in schools,” Bridges said. “If you’re only looking at proficiency, particularly after coming out of this pandemic, and all of the impacts that it’s had on kids and their learning … then you’re only getting a piece of the larger picture.”
Members of the work group said they hope the report will be prepared and included as part of the board’s discussions.
Rodney Jordan, a former president of the Virginia School Boards Association who served on the work group, said Virginia has had a long history of educational excellence, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges students face.
I don’t want to see the pandemic used as an excuse for allowing opportunity gaps, lack of support for teachers and ill-defined student outcome goals to persist; I want to see those things lessened, frankly deliberately eliminated,” Jordan said.
However, he continued, education leaders must “acknowledg[e] that where students start and where students end can vary from school to school and community to community, and we have to find ways of accelerating academic excellence for all of our children while also finding ways to continue to … raise the bar and ceiling simultaneously.”
by Nathaniel Cline, 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: email@example.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
Fentanyl crisis prompts Virginia’s deployment of National Guard to aid Texas
In a decisive move, Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia has issued Executive Directive Four, deploying targeted resources to respond to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) request from the State of Texas. This action comes in light of the ongoing southern U.S. border crisis, characterized by increased drug trafficking and human trafficking.
The border crisis, which has turned every state into a border state, has caused significant instability along the U.S. border with Mexico. The supply of illegal drugs, including the highly lethal fentanyl, has sharply increased, resulting in devastating consequences for Virginia families and communities. Shockingly, an average of five Virginians die per day from fentanyl overdose.
Texas, recognizing the severity of the situation, requested assistance from all states and territories through the EMAC. Virginia, being a founding member of the compact, has responded to the call for help. As per Governor Abbott’s request, Virginia will be deploying 100 troops to support Texas in managing the border crisis.
“The ongoing border crisis facing our nation has turned every state into a border state,” Governor Youngkin emphasized. “As leadership solutions at the federal level fall short, states are answering the call to secure our southern border, reduce the flow of fentanyl, combat human trafficking, and address the humanitarian crisis.”
The decision to deploy troops is driven by the intensive resource demands on Texas, the dangers posed by the fentanyl crisis, and the impact of the border crisis on criminal activity in Virginia. Fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid, has become a severe threat to the Commonwealth, with an alarming increase in fatal fentanyl overdoses in recent years. Mexican cartels are also smuggling other narcotics, such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and heroin, across the border.
Texas has already invested substantial resources in border security operations, spending over $4.5 billion since 2021 and recently securing an additional $5.1 billion in funding. The state has deployed its own National Guard soldiers and Department of Public Safety troopers to combat the crisis and adopt a “deter and repel” strategy. This approach involves erecting physical barriers and demonstrating a physical presence to impede border crossings and prevent the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people.
The recent termination of a public health order has further escalated the border crisis, requiring Texas to increase its resource commitment to address the issue effectively. In response, Texas made numerous requests for assistance through the EMAC, leading to Virginia’s decision to deploy the Virginia National Guard soldiers to support key aspects of Texas’ mission.
Under the executive directive, Virginia National Guard soldiers will be equipped with the necessary resources, including weapons, ammunition, body armor, protective masks, and night vision devices, to assist in their operations. The deployment will remain in effect until September 30, 2023, signaling Virginia’s commitment to assisting Texas during this critical period.
Governor Youngkin’s proactive response to the border crisis and the deployment of troops demonstrates the dedication of Virginia to tackle the supply of illegal drugs, combat human trafficking, and address the humanitarian crisis affecting communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. By joining other states in delivering additional assistance to Texas, Virginia aims to contribute significantly to the collective effort to secure the southern border and protect its citizens.
Governor Glenn Youngkin announces landmark change in state agency hiring practices
On May 30, 2023, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced a landmark change in how state agencies will recruit and compete for talent by eliminating degree requirements, preferences, or both for almost 90% of state-classified positions. The new Commonwealth hiring practices will expand opportunities for Virginians and give equal consideration to all qualified job applicants.
“On day one, we went to work reimagining workforce solutions in government, and this key reform will expand opportunities for qualified applicants who are ready to serve Virginians,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “This landmark change in hiring practices for our state workforce will improve hiring processes, expand possibilities and career paths for job seekers and enhance our ability to deliver quality services. Last month, Virginia achieved the highest labor force participation rate in nearly ten years, demonstrating the Commonwealth’s sustained workforce developments.”
“Changing how we think about workforce planning, talent acquisition, and leveraging knowledge, certifications, technical skills, apprenticeships, and work experience into measurable business results has been a Day 1 Workforce Development priority for this Administration,” said Secretary of Administration Margaret “Lyn” McDermid. “As an employer, the state government has one of, if not the most diverse occupational portfolios in Virginia. Our employees design, build, manage, and sustain public services across hundreds of lines of business, and giving equal consideration to all job applicants, including those who have experience solving real-world problems, is a smart business practice.”
“This is great news for the state government and all job seekers. By giving equal consideration to applicants with an equivalent combination and level of training, knowledge, skills, certifications, and experience, we have opened a sea of opportunity at all levels of employment for industrious individuals who have the experience, training, knowledge, skills, abilities, and most importantly, the desire to serve the people of Virginia,” said Secretary of Labor Bryan Slater. “We are also working hard to examine regulated occupations and professions to find ways to simplify and speed up credentialing processes and universal licensing recognition for individuals who want to live and work in Virginia.”
This change will take effect on July 1, 2023. Virginia is the latest in a growing number of state governments to elevate the value of work experience and its new prominence in the future of America’s workforce. On average, Virginia state agencies advertise over 20,000 job opportunities each year.
Heavy traffic and rain forecasted for Memorial Day weekend – pack patience, plan ahead
Travel and weather forecasts for the 2023 Memorial Day weekend have the Virginia State Police strongly encouraging all drivers to be prepared before heading out to any holiday destination. Pack your patience for potential delays and congested highways due to significant traffic volume and inclement weather conditions. In addition, state police remind drivers to ditch distractions, buckle up, and never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Travelers are also encouraged to “know before you go” by checking the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) 511 traffic cameras and real-time information on road conditions by dialing 511 on a phone, visiting www.511Virginia.org or downloading the 511 app.
“Virginians need to make traffic safety a priority every day and, especially as we head into the Memorial Day weekend and summer travel season,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Memorial Day weekend is filled with celebrations, vacations, outdoor festivals, and backyard cookouts, which is why we need all motorists to share the road responsibly by driving smart, safe, and sober.”
Beginning Friday, May 26, 2023, VSP joins law enforcement around the country for the Operation Crash Awareness Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E), a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries due to impaired driving, speed, and failing to wear a seat belt. The 2023 Memorial Day statistical counting period begins at 12:01 a.m. on May 26 and continues through midnight Monday, May 29, 2023. All available state police troopers and supervisors will be on patrol through the holiday weekend to help keep traffic moving safely and responsibly.
On Monday, May 22, 2023, state police participated in the kickoff for the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign. This enhanced enforcement and education effort aims to further emphasize the lifesaving value of seat belts for every person in a vehicle.
During the 2022 Memorial Day Operation C.A.R.E. initiative, 16 individuals lost their lives in traffic crashes on Virginia roadways.* During last year’s combined Memorial Day C.A.R.E. initiative and the annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign, Virginia Troopers cited 4,888 speeders and 1,875 reckless drivers and arrested 90 impaired drivers. In addition, 659 individuals were cited for seat belt violations, 117 were cited for child safety restraint violations, and 144 felony arrests were made. Virginia State Police also assisted 1,735 disabled motorists.
With the increased patrols, VSP also reminds drivers of Virginia’s “Move Over” law, which requires motorists to move over when approaching an emergency vehicle stopped alongside the road. If unable to move over, then drivers are required to cautiously pass the emergency vehicle. The law also applies to workers in vehicles equipped with amber lights.
Wind: 2mph NNE
UV index: 2