RICHMOND — Following the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan and new dedicated funding as a result of 2019 legislation, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Chief Engineer, Bart Thrasher, P.E., announced today that Dave Covington, P.E., will lead VDOT’s implementation of projects and initiatives identified in the plan. As the new Interstate 81 program delivery director, Covington will oversee corridor-long strategy and program-level consistency as projects and initiatives from the plan are developed, constructed and prioritized by the I-81 Advisory Committee.
“As we found in the study, I-81 is a critical driver of economic vitality in Virginia, serving 11.7 million trucks and transporting $312 billion in goods each year,” said Thrasher. “Having a strong leader at the helm of project implementation across district lines will ensure success of our goals to improve safety and reliability along Virginia’s 325 miles of the corridor.”
Covington has over 20 years of experience in the transportation industry, with diverse, yet vast expertise in design, maintenance and construction. Most recently, he has served as the Staunton District maintenance engineer.
In design and construction, he has managed complex design-bid-build projects and large-scale design-build contracts, both with private engineering consultants to VDOT and as an employee of VDOT. Recently, he led VDOT’s $250 million Route 29 Solutions program in Charlottesville. Throughout the development and delivery of these major infrastructure projects, Covington utilized sound risk-management principles to ensure that projects were delivered safely, completed ahead of schedule and under budget, and that Virginia residents and taxpayers received good value for their investments. Covington will be charged with employing the same principles in managing implementation of the $2.2 billion package identified to improve the I-81 corridor.
Covington is a licensed professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia and holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech. He will assume the new role on September 25, 2019.
Governor Northam proposes historic investment in early childhood education
Governor Ralph Northam announced his proposed budget will include an historic investment in early childhood care and education. A total of $94.8 million in new funding will transform the Commonwealth’s early childhood education system to increase access for at-risk three- and four-year-olds, establish uniform accountability standards, and ensure educators have the training and support they need, especially in child care settings.
“Where we end up in life has a lot to do with where we start,” said Governor Northam. “Every child should have an equal opportunity to build a strong foundation, and early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children’s health, well-being, and future success. Today’s announcement is about leveling the playing field, supporting Virginia families, and investing in our shared future.”
Virginia currently ranks in the bottom third of states when it comes to investment in early childhood education. According to the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program, almost half of Virginia children enter kindergarten without the basic skills they need to succeed in school. This is in large part due to lack of access—a full 72 percent of three-year-olds and 24 percent of four-year-olds from economically-disadvantaged families currently lack access to high-quality early learning experiences.
“Too often, our most vulnerable children lack access to the high-quality, affordable education they need,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “These bold changes will grow and train our educator workforce, support families across the Commonwealth, and ensure our youngest Virginians have a strong start in life.”
The Governor’s budget allocates $59.5 million for the Virginia Preschool Initiative to increase early childhood education access for at-risk four-year-olds. This funding will go towards increasing the amount of per-pupil dollars, boosting incentives for private providers, ensuring class size flexibility, and helping to eliminate waiting lists. The budget also includes $26 million to pilot the expansion of the Virginia Preschool Initiative and state Mixed Delivery Grants to at-risk three-year-olds in both school and private child care settings.
“Early childhood educators don’t often get the support, training, and recognition they deserve,” said Isabel Ballivian, Executive Director of the ACCA Child Development Center. “This funding will empower us to better serve Virginia’s children, and will help us to make an even bigger difference in the lives of the families we serve.”
As part of Governor Northam’s early childhood education package, he will also propose legislation to streamline state oversight and accountability for early care and learning programs. This includes transitioning child care licensing and the child care subsidy program from the Virginia Department of Social Services to the Virginia Department of Education, and granting the Board of Education the authority to promulgate related regulations.
Finally, the Governor’s budget includes $1.3 million to support uniform quality measurement and improvement for early childhood classrooms receiving public dollars. The system, which will ultimately include more than 10,000 classrooms statewide, will help improve the quality of care and education for infants, toddlers and preschoolers and provide valuable information to families. Lastly, the budget also includes $8 million to expand an innovative incentive program to attract, train, and retain early childhood educators, with a particular focus on supporting child care teachers who work in center or family day home settings.
Governor Northam will address the Joint Money Committees on December 17 to share the full details of his budget plan.
Winter is coming and VDOT is ready
While most in Virginia were enjoying extended summer weather, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has been making plans for snow. Staffing, equipment and materials are in place and ready to go once winter makes an entrance.
Snow by the numbers“Our top priority is to keep motorists safe,” said VDOT Chief of Maintenance and Operations Kevin Gregg. “The Commonwealth has a complex network of roads and bridges, and we prepare year-round to keep Virginia moving when winter weather arrives. Our crews are trained, experienced and equipped to get the job done when those first flakes fall.”
Readiness Resources On-Deck for Winter:
$205 million set aside for winter weather
More than 2,500 VDOT crew members and additional contractors available for snow removal statewide
More than 12,100 pieces of snow-removal equipment, including trucks, loaders and motor graders
Nearly 700,000 tons of salt, sand and treated abrasives and more than 2.4 million gallons of liquid calcium chloride and salt brine
VDOT Plows: Online Snowplow Tracker
Across the state, if snow reaches two inches or more, VDOT activates an online snowplow tracking map. VDOT trucks are equipped with automatic vehicle location technology and can be monitored on the tracker during snow-removal operations.
When Snowflakes Fall: Be Prepared
During winter, it is important to regularly monitor weather forecasts and have a winter weather driving plan ahead of time. When inclement weather arrives, motorists are encouraged to visit 511virginia.org or call 511 for up-to-date information on road and traffic conditions before travel.
Governor Northam announces budget proposals to combat maternal and infant mortality, reduce racial disparity
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced his proposed budget will include approximately $22 million to combat maternal and infant mortality and reduce the racial disparity in Virginia’s maternal mortality rate. Proposed funding will dramatically expand Medicaid coverage for new moms, increase home visiting, and explore Medicaid reimbursement for Doula support services.
“It is unacceptable that black women in Virginia continue to die from pregnancy-related causes at more than twice the rate of white women,” said Governor Northam. “As a Commonwealth, we can and must do better. These historic investments will make a real difference for families across Virginia, and will ensure all moms and children have access to the high-quality, culturally-competent care they deserve.”
In June, Governor Northam announced a goal to eliminate the racial disparity in Virginia’s maternal mortality rate by 2025. As part of this directive, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey convened a diverse group of stakeholders and embarked on a 10-stop listening tour across all regions of the Commonwealth. Today’s budget proposals reflect months of input from mothers, medical professionals, doctors, and community advocates consulted as a result of this process.
“As a mother who has experienced the tragedy of losing a newborn child, I’m proud and grateful for the Governor’s leadership on this issue,” said Dr. Aaliyah Samuel, a mom who shared her testimony during the listening tour. “Ten years ago, I made a career change because I believe that policy is what changes people’s lives. Today, Governor Northam made it clear he not only listened to my voice and the voices of other mothers, advocates, and community members across the Commonwealth—he heard us loud and clear. Make no mistake, this funding won’t just change lives, it will save lives.”
Data from the Virginia Maternal Mortality Review Team show the majority of pregnancy-associated deaths occur more than 43 days after pregnancy. However, the current FAMIS MOMs program only provides Medicaid coverage for women during pregnancy and 60-days postpartum. The Governor’s budget includes nearly $4 million over the biennium to extend this coverage up to one year post-pregnancy and include medically necessary treatment for addiction and substance use disorder.
“This significant investment is a critical step towards eliminating the racial disparity in Virginia’s maternal mortality rate,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I look forward to working with the Governor as he continues to champion these measures during the upcoming General Assembly session.”
The Governor’s proposed budget also includes $4 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to increase access to affordable, reliable contraception through the Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) program. Increasing access to LARCs allows families to better plan and space pregnancies and has been shown to decrease rates of preterm and low birthweight births.
“It is great to see serious steps being taken to address the crisis of maternal and infant mortality,” said Delegate Lashrecse Aird. “These proposed investments will increase access to high-quality, patient-centered care for women and families across the Commonwealth.”
Additionally, the Governor’s budget makes significant investments in community-driven and wrap-around treatment models. The budget includes $12.8 million to make home visiting services—shown to be incredibly effective at helping new mothers navigate the complex health care system—eligible for Medicaid reimbursement. The budget also includes language to study the development of a Medicaid reimbursement model for community-based doula services, which have proven effective at reducing maternal mortality, particularly among women of color.
“These crucial measures will help address the racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes in Virginia,” said Delegate Marcia Price. “I look forward to witnessing bipartisan support in helping to save lives.”
Watch the video of the announcement here. Governor Northam will address the Joint Money Committees on December 17 to share the full details of his budget plan.
Imported fire ant quarantine expands
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.
Seven lives lost on Virginia highways during 2019 Thanksgiving weekend
Of the seven people killed in Virginia traffic crashes during the 2019 Thanksgiving weekend, two were teenagers and three were not wearing seat-belts. Though this past holiday statistical counting period saw fewer fatal crashes than in previous years, even one fatality is one too many.
During the five-day period which began at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 27, 2019, and concluded at midnight Dec. 1, 2019, seven men and women lost their lives in seven traffic crashes on Virginia highways. The fatal crashes occurred in the City of Virginia Beach and the counties of Bedford, Henrico, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Rockbridge and Stafford. Six of those killed were drivers and alcohol was a factor in at least two of the fatal crashes. A 19-year-old female was killed in the Bedford County crash and an 18-year-old male lost his life in the Stafford County crash.
There were 12 traffic fatalities during the 2018 five-day Thanksgiving statistical counting period and 14 traffic fatalities during the same period in 2017. *
In an effort to prevent traffic deaths and injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Virginia State Police participated in Operation C.A.R.E., an acronym for the Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort. Operation CARE is an annual, state-sponsored, national program during which state police increases its visibility and traffic enforcement efforts during the five-day statistical counting period.
The 2019 Thanksgiving Holiday C.A.R.E. initiative resulted in troopers citing 5,221 speeders and 1,798 reckless drivers statewide. Virginia troopers charged 83 drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and cited 490 drivers for failing to buckle up themselves and/or juvenile passengers.
State police responded to 1,312 traffic crashes across the Commonwealth, with 178 of those resulting in injuries and seven in fatalities. State police also assisted 2,294 disabled/stranded motorists during the Thanksgiving weekend.
“With only 27 days left in 2019, the Virginia State Police reminds all drivers to do their part to keep the winter holiday season as safe as possible on our highways,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Let’s end this decade by working together to save lives on our roadways, instead of putting them at risk by engaging in reckless driving behaviors. Make the right choice by always wearing a seat-belt, safely sharing the road with all vehicles and pedestrians, and by not driving intoxicated or ‘intexticated.’”
*Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Attorney General urges Federal Trade Commission to stop deceptive marketing practices
Attorney General Mark R. Herring has urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to adopt expanded regulations that would require businesses to provide adequate notification before enrolling consumers in their subscription services following a free trial period and regarding how consumers can cancel these subscriptions before actually being billed. Attorney General Herring and a coalition of 17 attorneys general have sent a letter to the FTC urging them to expand existing negative option regulations to cover these “free trial” business models.
With negative option marketing, a marketer presents consumers with an offer and the consumers’ silence or failure to take action in response is deemed acceptance of the offer. One especially problematic type of negative option offer involves a so-called “free trial”. Consumers are offered a free trial period for a product or service but have to submit their billing information to receive the promotion. However, the free trial has additional terms, which are not clearly disclosed, stating that unless consumers cancel the goods or services, they are agreeing to continue to receive and pay for them once the free trial is finished.
“These free trial subscription services are becoming more and more common but folks need to pay close attention to what they’re really signing up for,” said Attorney General Herring. “Right now, companies have the ability to lure consumers into subscription services through free trials and bill them without any kind of adequate notification process. It’s important that the FTC cover these types of businesses under these existing regulations so we can protect consumers from paying for a service they did not consent to purchasing.”
The current regulations, adopted in 1973, regulate only one type of negative option marketing – the delivery of merchandise where consumers receive periodic announcements that merchandise will be delivered unless they decline within a set time frame (e.g., book-of-the-month clubs).
The letter recommends the FTC expand its regulations to achieve the following:
• Informed Consent – In addition to consenting to any trial offer, sellers should have to obtain a separate consent to be charged for goods or services after the trial period has ended.
• Periodic Notices – Sellers should be required to send regular notifications that consumers are enrolled in a negative option plan, disclose the timing, amount, and method by which the seller bills the consumers for the renewal, and provide a convenient method to cancel the goods or services.
• Define Simple Cancellation Processes – Consumers should be allowed to cancel their memberships by the same method as enrollment.
• Refunds – Consumers who are unwittingly enrolled in negative option plans should be entitled to a refund from the date of enrollment.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the letter are the attorneys general of Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia.