Connect with us

State News

Virginia firefighters will get training on ‘very difficult’ EV fires



Virginia firefighters will be required to complete a training program starting next year about the risk of electric vehicle fires.

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, proposed House Bill 2451 to require the executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs to develop a training program for electric vehicle fires. According to the bill, the program must be developed and available by July 1, 2024. All firefighters, including volunteer firefighters, must complete the training by Dec. 1, 2025.

An electric vehicle charging in Henrico County. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)


The bill unanimously passed committees and both chambers. Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, asked for one clarification in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee about whether the program would be offered in-person or virtual.

“I heard from some of my fire folks, and they were concerned that this is more time away,” Reeves said.

According to Reeves, a lot of the annual firefighter training is done online.

Spencer Willett, government affairs manager for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, assured the Senate committee the training would be offered in multiple modalities.

“The agency’s plan would be to offer an online version for departments and then also offer an in-person version for those that would be willing to want to take that training,” Willett said.

The number of electric vehicles on Virginia’s roadways is set to increase with the soon-to-be-implemented Clean Car law. The law states 35% of all new cars and trucks sold in Virginia with a 2026 model year must be electric. Then 100% of new models on the market must be electric by 2035, according to the law, which is based on California’s final regulation order.

Del. Mike Cherry, R-Colonial Heights, a co-patron of the bill, said it is important to implement mandated training statewide, even for areas like Southwest Virginia where electric vehicles aren’t prominent.

“Anytime a fire department deals with something new and unique, they will then figure out a protocol to deal with it again in the future,” Cherry said.

There is currently no mandated electric vehicle training for Virginia firefighters, according to William Boger, District 5 vice president and communications director for the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters.

However, he said that departments could currently seek out training from car manufacturers like Tesla or Toyota.

According to Boger, the future training program will greatly help firefighters better understand electric vehicle fires and the best ways to extinguish them.

Firefighters use approximately 50 gallons to 100 gallons of water to extinguish a regular internal combustion engine, or gasoline, vehicle fire, while electric vehicles require about 10,000 gallons of water, according to Boger.

“They are very stubborn and very difficult to extinguish,” he said.

Most electric vehicles carry large lithium-ion battery packs underneath the vehicle, where they are not very accessible. According to Boger, these batteries can overheat, which leads to a reaction called thermal runaway and requires thousands of gallons of water.

According to Boger, firefighters also need to be aware that the battery is not necessarily finished burning just because the fire is finally put out.

“The problem with these cars is you have to put the fire out, then you have to cool the battery continuously,” Boger said.

According to Boger, some electric vehicle batteries will reignite on the way to a junkyard if the battery is not properly cooled down and observed after the fire is put out.

According to Doug Reynolds, battalion chief of the Henrico County Division of Fire, some batteries can even catch fire two to three days later.

“You may have to have several tankers bringing you water, so it’s not the easy, you know, fire that it used to be,” Reynolds said.

Dry chemicals and fire blankets have been used but are not considered as effective as water, according to Boger.

Fire Station 17 in Virginia Beach. Firefighters across Virginia will be required to complete a training program about electric vehicle fires. (VCU CNS / Adrianna Lawrence)


Andrew Klock, senior manager of education and development with the National Fire Protection Association, said the best recommendation is still water.

“It’s the most effective to date, and if it’s placed in the proper location, it can put out the fire and drain the heat from the battery pack,” Klock said.

Electric vehicle fires are not more threatening than gasoline vehicle fires, which occur every three minutes, Klock said.

“But I do think that the risk and the inherent problem is that firefighters have had 100 years to figure out and perfect how to put out an internal combustion engine vehicle [fire],” Klock said. “But it’s not so with this new technology or newer technology of hybrid and electric vehicles.”

Reynolds’ department looks forward to seeing the curriculum and learning everything they can about this unique type of vehicle fire, he said.

“It affects every firefighter, you know, from paid to volunteer, big departments, small departments, you know, the car fires are out there every day,” Reynolds said. “So it’s just better to protect us to learn how to fight those fires because it’s important.”

The Virginia Department of Fire Programs will develop the training program, utilizing fire experts and industry representatives, according to Will Merritt, VDFP marketing and communications manager.

A workgroup will create the curriculum in concert with VDFP staff, Merritt stated via email. The curriculum is then “piloted, finalized and posted for registration in VDFP’s learning management system, Cornerstone OnDemand,” he stated.

“As electric vehicles become more popular, it is important that Virginia’s fire service be adequately trained to fight electric-vehicle fires,” Merritt stated.


By Adrianna Lawrence

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.


Share the News:

State News

As 988 crisis line sees more use, states debate how to pay for it



Editor’s note: If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at

Almost everyone agrees that putting money behind the national suicide and crisis hotline is a good thing.

But not everyone thinks a new phone tax is the best way to pay for it.

Since the crisis line’s easy-to-remember 988 number launched last July, its use has increased significantly. The lifeline had 404,194 calls, chats, and texts in February alone, an increase of 161,678 contacts over February 2022.

Calls answered increased by 48%, chats answered by 247%, and texts by 1,599%. (Some calls went unanswered, either because a caller hung up or there was a technical service interruption.)

An infusion of federal money to the national nonprofit that administers 988 and to local call centers that historically have received little or no federal aid has largely covered the expense of launching the new number and the recent increase in volume. But in the future, state and local governments still will be responsible for funding the local centers where calls are first routed, leaving many budget writers grappling with how to cover the costs as demand increases.

When Congress passed a law in 2020 requiring the Federal Communications Commission to designate 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, it also allowed states to enact new telecommunications fees to fund 988 operations. Yet only five states have done so: California, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington.

Virginia’s mental health hotline launches amid fears it won’t meet expectations

Six other states have pending legislation that would impose a fee: Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont, according to the education and advocacy nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness.

About 20 other states this year have either passed or are considering other 988-related legislation, ranging from providing money for the 988 programs or for mobile crisis services to creating a task force or launching a study of potential funding sources, the alliance said.

Officials knew that the 988 number would significantly increase contact volumes, meaning states would need to come up with more funding for call centers; that’s why Congress allowed states to impose a telecom fee. And the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which oversees the crisis line, wants the transition to 988 to spur the growth of a robust system that links callers to community-based providers who can deliver a full range of crisis care services, such as mobile crisis teams or stabilization centers.

States had about a year and a half from the passage of the federal law to the launch of 988, noted Stephanie Pasternak, director of state affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Pasternak said 988 implementations has happened fast, “and that’s been a challenge, I think, for states in terms of really figuring out exactly how much funding they need and where they need to pull that funding from.”

The group wants states to enact comprehensive laws as they transition to a more robust 988 hotline, which means answering a few key questions, she said.

“Number one, what does 988 look like in their state?” Pasternak said. “How is it going to be sustained financially, and who’s in charge?”

Sustainable funding could come from a phone fee, included in people’s monthly phone bills, or through recurring spending, she said. For example, Ohio lawmakers have proposed a recurring line item in the state budget to pay for 988. The Ohio spending bill would provide nearly $21 million in fiscal 2024 and nearly $26 million in fiscal 2025 “to support statewide operations and related activities” of the lifeline.

But many states already charge a monthly phone fee to pay for 911; now, some are debating whether to do the same for 988.

“Anytime you want to have a discussion about adding a new statewide fee, that’s just always a politically challenging conversation to have,” Pasternak said.

How it works

People experiencing a suicidal, substance use or mental health crisis can call, chat or text the line 24 hours a day. The former 10-digit number 800-273-8255, which was launched in 2005, still functions as well.

Calls are routed to the local lifeline network crisis center, based on the caller’s area code; if a local center can’t take the call, it is routed to a national backup crisis center.

There’s a network of more than 200 state and local independently operated call centers. The national backup centers are run by the nonprofit Vibrant Emotional Health, which administers the lifeline on behalf of the federal government.

It’s largely up to state governments to fund the local call centers. In-state counselors are more likely to be familiar with local resources and may be better able to provide referrals or assistance.

In 2021, Washington state passed a law imposing a tax on phone service to fund the 988 line.

Consumers there now pay 40 cents monthly per line. The fee brings in about $11 million each year, according to Crosscut.

But 988 efforts in Washington state continue. The state House this month unanimously approved a bill that would require the state to develop informational materials and a social media campaign related to the 988 crisis hotline, boost training for responders, fund mobile rapid response crisis teams and report data on hotline use. It awaits action in the state Senate.

Federal and state efforts also focus on some groups particularly at risk. Military veterans now can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and pressing 1.

In November, Washington state launched the country’s first crisis response line dedicated to serving American Indian and Alaska Native people. Anyone calling 988 from a Washington state area code can press 4 to be connected to the Native and Strong Lifeline; calls are answered by Native crisis counselors.

During the pandemic, American Indians experienced suicide and overdose attempt rates at least two times higher than that of non-American Indians, according to the state.

Debate over phone fees

Oregon legislators are considering a bill that would establish a monthly tax of 50 cents per phone line. A House committee approved the bill this month.

At a February hearing, Dwight Holton, CEO of the regional nonprofit Lines for Life, testified that the volume his organization handled rose after the 988 number launched, from 14,956 contacts in the July 2021-January 2022 period to 21,094 in the July 2022-January 2023 period.

Several advocacy groups lent their support to the bill, saying it would provide stable funding for a needed resource; those groups include the Urban League of Portland, Our Children Oregon, the Oregon chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Everytown for Gun Safety.

But the Oregon chapters of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association opposed the legislation. While they support 988 efforts, officials from the two groups said, adding a new tax on phone lines unrelated to 911 would “confuse” the straightforward approach to funding 911.

“What we do not support is any entity encroaching on the tax that we have worked long and hard for repeatedly,” officials said in written testimony. “We feel that any further taxes or increasing our tax to fund other things is an open invitation for many others to want their piece of that pie and it would risk our ability to successfully continue down the road.”

Jake Lestock of the wireless communications trade group CTIA encouraged legislators to use other state and federal money to support the 988 program. He noted most states have gone that route rather than enacting a new tax, which he said would especially affect working families and Oregonians with financial challenges. But if lawmakers do choose a tax, he added, it “should be kept as low as possible and justified by data.”

“These types of taxes are highly regressive. Wireless phones are the gateway to the internet for many Oregonians.”

In Minnesota, Democrats have introduced bills in the House and Senate that would impose a phone fee of between 12 cents and 25 cents per month, with the exact amount to be recommended by the commissioner of health.

During a February hearing of the House Human Services Policy Committee, bill sponsor state Rep. Jessica Hanson said that since 988 launched, Minnesota’s four call centers have increased their call load by 44%, web chats by 173%, and texts by 250%.

“It’s critical that calls to 988 from Minnesotans be answered in our own state so that connections to local resources and mobile crisis response can be made as needed,” the Democrat said.

But Republican state Rep. Dave Baker suggested that rather than create a new fee, the funding should be taken out of current phone taxes or fees already being charged to consumers. He said he’d like to offer an amendment to that effect as the bill progresses.

Hanson responded that the fee would create a stable structure to fund the program that couldn’t be changed — and that it purposely would draw residents’ attention.

“When folks look at their cellphone bills, they see a 911 fee,” Hanson said. “We want people to see a 988 fee so that if they themselves ever face this, maybe they’ll be like, ‘What is this 988 fee?’ and hopefully will look it up. So, there is a piece of this that is to help spread the word.”

Wyoming lawmakers considered a different funding model: a long-term trust fund. A new law signed in February creates a 988 trust fund and related reserve account — but it doesn’t have any money in it.

The original bill would have directed $46 million of state money into the fund, but Republicans skeptical of providing state dollars took out the provision. As passed, the law directs the Department of Health to request funding for the program in its next standard budget request. In the meantime, the fund can accept donations. The law also has a sunset date of 2028.

Republican Gov. Mark Gordon criticized the move to strip the state money.

“We are the worst state in the nation for suicide. We have two counties in our state that have the worst records for suicide. And not to recognize that as a not only an important issue, but a pro-life issue, and [that] we need to get ahead of it, was a big disappointment to me,” Gordon said at a news conference, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.


By Noelle Straub / Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts

by Stateline, 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.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

State News

Attorney General Miyares warns asset managers over ESG investments



Attorney General Jason Miyares and 20 other state attorneys general warned more than 50 of the nation’s largest asset managers about Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments being made with Americans’ hard-earned money as annual shareholders’ meetings begin for many public companies.

In an open letter sent Thursday to 53 asset managers with $40 billion or more in assets, the attorney’s general site concerns that asset managers may be pushing the political goals of Climate Action 100+ and the Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative rather than acting in the best financial interests of their clients, which is their fiduciary duty.

“Asset managers have a responsibility and a legal obligation to make decisions dependent on the best financial interests of their clients, not unelected ESG advocates trying to achieve political gains at the cost of everyday Americans,” said Attorney General Miyares.

The coalition reminds asset managers in the letter that they have extensive legal duties to their clients under federal and state law to act as fiduciaries to their clients, which may appear to be disregarded in favor of their commitments to the Net Zero Managers Alliance and Climate action 100+, which push ESG initiatives.

In addition, the coalition note that during the 2023 proxy season, asset managers will need “to choose between their legal duties to focus on financial return, and the policy goals of ESG activists” as banks, insurers, and utility and energy companies are all facing proposals from climate activists affiliated with organizations asset managers may have joined. Additionally, abortion and political spending and race and gender quotas may also be included in numerous proposals this year but are not financially justified – and ESG aims themselves are not valid defenses.

“We will continue to evaluate activity in this area in line with our ongoing investigations into potential unlawful coordination and other violations that may stem from the commitments you and others have made as part of Climate Action 100+, Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, or the like,” the attorneys general warned.

Read the letter here.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

State News

As Virginia budget negotiations drag on, here’s what hangs in the balance



In normal years, Virginia’s budget plan is supposed to be pretty much done by April, except for any late changes recommended by the governor.

But for the second year in a row, the politically split General Assembly is heading into spring under a cloud of uncertainty over when the budget will get done and what will be in it.

According to House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, budget negotiators are taking a deliberately cautious approach to getting a better feel for the status of the broader economy.

‘Buckle up’: Youngkin budget proposal includes another $1B in tax cuts

“We are taking our time and being very deliberate with the stock market volatility, revenues softening some and to see if the bank situation doesn’t proliferate,” Knight said in an email Wednesday, referring to possible ripple effects of the failure of Silicon Valley Bank this month.

Lawmakers are set to return to Richmond on April 12 to take up vetoes and legislative amendments from Gov. Glenn Youngkin. If there’s no budget to vote on by then, the next big deadline is June 30, when the state’s current budget year ends.

Some legislators have pointed out that the General Assembly technically isn’t required to pass a budget this year. Because the state is approaching the middle of its two-year budget cycle, lawmakers are modifying an existing plan, not creating an entirely new budget.

Still, several key priorities won’t get funded if the two parties can’t come to an agreement over the next few months. Here are a few of them:

Tax relief

For a second year in a row, Youngkin and his Republican allies have made broad tax cuts a top priority, and Democrats have again been trying to use their negotiating power to lock in more targeted relief that would help lower-income Virginians.

Democrats have made clear Youngkin’s proposal to cut the corporate tax rate from 6% to 5% is a non-starter for them. But they’ve expressed more openness to broader forms of relief for individual taxpayers, such as raising the standard income tax deduction.

Signs of strength or weakness in state revenues could be a major factor in determining how much tax relief is feasible because Youngkin has indicated he will only pursue tax cuts the state can comfortably afford.

Legislators have also floated the idea of doing another round of one-time tax rebates instead of making more structural tax cuts meant to be long-term. As part of last year’s bipartisan budget deal, the state sent out millions of tax rebate payments worth up to $250 per person.

Mental health investments

Following years of financial and staffing strain that culminated in five of Virginia’s state-run mental hospitals closing to new admissions in July 2021, Youngkin this December laid out a broad package of $230 million in reforms to the government behavioral health system.

While some of the aims in the governor’s “Right Help, Right Now” proposal can be achieved by consolidating current programs, said Virginia Department of Health Chief Operating Officer Christopher Lindsay, the numerous amendments to the current budget would be a “significant contributor” to those goals, which are generally backed by both parties. Those include money for a school-based mental health pilot, the expansion of local crisis centers that provide an alternative to hospitals for people seeking help, and higher Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain behavioral health providers.

Both budgets would also increase pay for staff at the state’s community services boards, the locally based bodies that are the primary providers of behavioral health and developmental disability services in Virginia. The House calls for an extra $37 million, and the Senate an extra $50 million.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin unveils his Right Help, Right Now plan for reforming Virginia’s behavioral health system at Henrico Doctors Hospital on Dec. 14, 2022. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)


Teacher raises

Virginia, like other states, is suffering from teacher shortages, with many policymakers pointing to low pay as one driver of the vacancies. A 2019 report from the state’s legislative watchdog agency found Virginia ranked 33rd among the states in average salary for K-12 public teachers.

The House and Senate are proposing even bigger raises for public school teachers than the existing budget. Under the current budget, teachers get 5% raises, while this year’s amendments would push those up to 7%. Both chambers are also recommending that $50 million in proposed teacher performance bonuses be redirected to other goals, with the House specifically putting that money toward bigger salary bumps and calling for a workgroup to set “appropriate metrics” for teacher compensation.

Help with Richmond’s massive sewer project

Both the House and the Senate are backing a request from Youngkin to put $100 million toward the city of Richmond’s ongoing struggle to fix its 19th-century combined sewer overflow system, which routes storm runoff and sewage through the same pipes. CSO systems, which were built over a century ago in many historic East Coast cities, including Richmond and Lynchburg, cause sewage overflows into waterways whenever heavy rainfall overwhelms the network.

Lynchburg has almost completed its CSO conversion, and Alexandria’s is in full swing. But with an estimated cost of over $1.3 billion, Richmond’s project far outstrips its counterparts in both price and complexity, and the high percentage of residents living below the poverty line has limited the city’s ability to cover costs through rate increases.

The James River in Richmond near Brown’s Island. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)


Hiring more reading and literacy specialists

After sharp drops in reading test results during the pandemic, both chambers have proposed hiring more literacy coaches and reading specialists to help students. House and Senate amendments would allocate $6.7 million to expand the state’s literacy program, which currently covers students up to grade 3 through eighth grade. Both also call for the hiring of more reading specialists, with the Senate proposing more than $27 million and the House almost $14 million for the initiative.

Increased funding for the state’s Business Ready Sites Program

One of Youngkin’s biggest spending priorities was $450 million to boost the state’s supply of economic development sites that could make the state more attractive to big employers looking for somewhere to build.

That funding became a sticking point for budget negotiators late in the regular session, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and it remains unclear how legislators will resolve their differences.

School security grants

Both budgets call for ramped-up spending on school security. The Senate is proposing an extra $50 million in grants for that purpose, while the House is suggesting $12 million be diverted from the Lottery Fund for school security grants, $8 million go toward hiring more school resource and school security officers and $1.5 million go toward security renovations at two elementary schools in Newport News, including Richneck Elementary, where a 6-year-old shot his teacher in January.

Statewide housing needs assessments

While their numbers differ, the House and Senate budgets both provide funding for a statewide housing needs assessment. As home prices rise faster than inflation and many areas of the state see ongoing shortages of affordable housing, the two chambers backed legislation this session to direct the Department of Housing and Community Development to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s housing stock and need every five years. The Senate proposes $400,000 for the effort, while the House proposes $500,000.

Building construction, Richmond, Va. Parker Michels-Boyce for The Virginia Mercury


An inland port in Southwest Virginia

Both budgets include substantial new funding for the Virginia Port Authority to begin the process of building an inland port in Southwest Virginia’s Mount Rogers Planning District.

The state currently has an inland port in the northern Shenandoah Valley, and proponents of adding a second logistics hub in Southwest Virginia say it could increase the flow of cargo and boost business development in the area.

The House budget includes $55 million for the project. The Senate budget allocates $10 million.

Jury duty pay

Lawmakers passed a proposal this session to raise jury duty pay from $30 per day to $50 per day after initially considering compensation as high as $100 per day.

Youngkin signed the bill setting the new amount at $50, but nearly $1.4 million in new funding to help the courts system cover those costs depends on the budget being approved.


by Sarah Vogelsong, 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.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

State News

With college enrollment dropping, could 529 savings plans help cover workforce credentials?



As more Virginians pivot from the traditional path of going to college and earning a degree, state and federal policymakers are considering expanding government programs designed to encourage college enrollment to cover training for middle-skilled positions in high demand.

Two of Virginia’s congressional representatives — Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Prince William — are backing one such proposal that would let families saving for college through 529 accounts use that money to pay for workforce credential expenses such as examinations, certifications, and licenses to operate the equipment.

“Whether you’re a young adult just coming out of high school, or you’ve been in the workforce for a while, and you’re looking to gain some additional skills — or pivot careers completely — there are opportunities for folks to grow professionally,” said Mary Morris, CEO of Virginia529, the state’s college savings program. “More and better programs exist than ever before, and the fact that you can’t use a 529 account for some of those just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Beginning in the 1980s, states began offering 529 plans to help families save for college expenses, including tuition, fees, and books. The tax-advantaged investment accounts for educational savings are today offered in most states. Virginia created its 529 programs in 1994.

While 529s provide flexibility for account holders in that they can be used for colleges, universities, vocational schools, registered apprenticeships, and most public, private, or religious K-12 tuition expenses, Morris said the plan is primarily used for eligible educational institutions that qualify for federal financial aid. If a student chooses not to go to college, the funds can be withdrawn, but the account holder may be subject to taxes or penalties.

Earlier this month, Wittman and Spanberger reintroduced legislation that would expand the use of 529 funds to other non-college workforce training and expenses like examinations such as those administered for real estate licenses and heavy equipment operations.

“For students and workers in Virginia, 529 savings accounts have long ensured that the next generation can afford a higher education,” Spanberger said in a statement. “But right now, students can’t use these accounts to pay for necessary credentialing programs and exams.”

The proposal is backed by Virginia529 as well as the Professional Certification Coalition, a group representing approximately 100 professional certification organizations and service providers.

In a March 2021 letter, the PCC called the legislation a way “to ease the financial burden” for people seeking certifications or switching jobs “as an alternative to a traditional four-year college degree.”

David Gillespie, president and founder of Virginia Technical Academy in Newport News, said the passage of the legislation would help “de-stigmatize the trades as a career path, contrary to the current mentality of ‘college is the only choice.’”

Gillespie said passage of the legislation coupled with the Jobs to Compete Act, which would expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in workforce programs, would also help prevent the academy from turning students away. Since 2020, he said the academy has turned down more than 200 potential students who could have been trained in various trades.

An employment gap

Analysts and advocates for improving skills training said employers are facing a shortage of trained workers to fill middle-skilled positions or jobs that require more than a high school diploma and less than a four-year degree. Some of those jobs include electricians, nurses, dental assistants, teacher assistants, and firefighters.

This November, the Virginia Community Colleges System reported an estimated 300,000 jobs were vacant in the commonwealth, with about half of them considered middle-skilled. The total increased to 333,000 as of January, according to a March 27 report by the Virginia Employment Commission.

This January, newly hired VCCS Chancellor David Doré said one of his priorities is to address the skills gap, which is the disparity between the skills employers expect their employees to have and the actual skills employees possess. 

“The skills gap is a national crisis, frankly, and certainly, that’s not unique to Virginia,” Doré said. “I think that the Virginia community colleges will play the pivotal role in really addressing the skills gap in Virginia.”

But while a 2019 report from the University of Virginia’s StatChat noted a third of U.S. adults have a high school degree as their highest level of education, almost two-thirds of jobs require postsecondary training.

“Is there a solution to this dilemma?” wrote author Spencer Shanholtz in the report. “Shall we begin to rethink the traditional education model by focusing in between the two extremes of either ‘no college’ or a full four-year degree?”

Cultural shifts

The traditional process of graduating from high school and going to college is changing in Virginia. According to analysts and data, fewer students are finishing school, and more are looking for opportunities besides earning a four-year college degree.

Between 2017 and 2022, fall college enrollment in the commonwealth declined by 3%, from 521,445 students to 519,531, according to data collected by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The commonwealth recorded a low in the fall of 2021 when 516,980 students enrolled in college.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a nonprofit that provides colleges and universities research services, shows that student career interests also appear to be changing, with growing enrollment in programs in fields such as computer sciences, engineering, health, and education.

“Our nation and economy are not the same as they were 15 or 20 years ago – it’s critical that we equip our students to excel in the future workforce,” Wittman said in a statement. “Not only are the current requirements to obtain [career and technical education] and STEM educations incredibly costly, but we’ve seen that the high school degree does not necessarily provide the same career opportunities it once did.”

A total of 72% of Virginians who were contracted to do jobs said they would be interested in completing training or education to acquire new job skills, according to a 2021 report by a Virginia Department of Labor task force.

That report also found substantial declines in employer contributions to employee training, as well as the will to invest in independent contractors.

Virginia efforts

Since taking office in January 2022, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration has advocated for strengthening the commonwealth’s workforce and expanding career and technical education.

Youngkin has said one key to workforce development is to have every high school student graduate with a credential that can be used in the workforce. In December, he proposed that an additional $21 million go to the Virginia Community College System to expand dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses or classes that count toward industry credentials. The amendment, like other proposals to update the state’s biennial budget, remains tied up in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

Other proposals aimed at strengthening the workforce through career and technical education failed during the last General Assembly session, including bills to expand the state’s tuition assistance program for community college students interested in high-demand industries.

Nevertheless, Wittman said the administration’s work aligns with the federal legislation he and Spanberger are carrying in recognizing the importance of career and technical education and ensuring Virginia students enter the workforce with valuable, in-demand skill sets.

Other state efforts predate Youngkin’s term, including the tuition assistance program called Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead, or G3, for qualifying residents seeking a career in the commonwealth’s most in-demand industries, including early childhood education, healthcare, information technology, public safety, and skilled trades.

Virginia has also administered apprenticeship programs and training programs through the commonwealth’s 23 community colleges, while VCCS launched HIRE, an initiative to support middle-skilled positions.

“We’ve had many conversations about advancing educational opportunities and educational access across Virginia, and that’s what Virginia 529 is all about,” Morris said. “And a big piece of that is workforce training. It’s becoming more and more important as an opportunity for students.”


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: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

State News

Attorney General Miyares returns from Israel and Poland; Urges Virginia State Police to require antisemitism training



On March 30, 2023. Attorney General Jason Miyares concluded a nine-day trip to Israel and Poland to learn about the most up-to-date innovative technology for public safety and security and to learn more about antisemitism and the best ways for states to combat it. Along with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, Attorney General Miyares spearheaded the trip, leading a bipartisan delegation of eight attorneys general from across the country.

Attorney General Miyares with trip co-chair, North Carolina Attorney General Stein (D)

The attorneys general first visited Auschwitz with the foremost Holocaust scholar in the United States, Mr. Michael Berenbaum. There they discussed the historical rise of antisemitism in the 1930s and 1940s, and particularly how it was able to thrive in progressive European cities.

The delegation also met with Ministry Foreign Affairs experts for global antisemitism, where they specifically addressed the issue of boycott divestiture and sanctions (BDS) and the alarming rise of antisemitism in America.

Attorney General Miyares in Auschwitz

“A significant takeaway from our time in Israel was that to eradicate antisemitism once, and for all, we have to understand the trends that have allowed it to thrive and grow throughout time, worldwide,” said Attorney General Miyares. “Virginia’s newfound relationship with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs experts will greatly help our Antisemitism Task Force in combating this scourge here in the Commonwealth. As attorneys general, it was beneficial for us to learn from Israeli security officials about their nation’s world-class security technology and defense capabilities. Very few nations face the amount of threats that Israel does, and yet they’re able to successfully keep their citizens safe.

“It was also an interesting time to visit Israel during their domestic debate about the future of their judiciary system. The people of Israel were able to voice their concerns to their government, just like the United States and democratic countries around the globe. Unfortunately, there are still nations where this is not possible, like China, Cuba, and many countries in the Middle East.”

The delegation also had meetings with Isaac Herzog, the President of Israel, and Ambassador Ron Dermer, the Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister. The group discussed a wide range of issues, including the historic reforms being made in Israel as well as their constant national security threats.

The trip to Israel highlighted the importance of learning about and understanding antisemitism as one of the key tools for combating it. That’s why Attorney General Miyares today sent a letter to Virginia State Police Colonel Gary Settles, urging them to add antisemitism awareness training for new officer training and recurring training for current officers. This is a recommendation from the new Office of Attorney General Antisemitism Task Force, which was created by Attorney General Miyares in February. Attorney General Miyares also encourages local police departments across the Commonwealth to consider antisemitism awareness training.

Read the letter here.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

State News

Third attempt to exempt eyebrow threading technicians from licensing requirements fails



A bill to help remove licensing requirements for eyebrow threading technicians failed to pass a House committee during the recent General Assembly session.

Eyebrow threading is a method to remove facial hair and eyebrows that began millenniums ago in Asia, and gained popularity in Western culture.

People interested in pursuing eyebrow threading must obtain certification through wax technician courses overseen by the Board of Barbers and Cosmetology under the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. The curriculum requires individuals to complete a minimum of 115 hours of training and to pass a written exam and practical exam according to state licensing requirements.

The Board of Barbers and Cosmetology syllabus mentions waxing and temporary hair removal, but not threading specifically, according to LaFarn Burton, founder of LB Beauty Academy in Richmond. The state curriculum needs to delve into threading education more thoroughly, Burton said.

“It’s like it was just stuck in there, but no meat to the threading,” Burton said.

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, introduced House Bill 1498 to remove the requirement that an eyebrow threader must obtain an occupational license. The bill failed to advance out of a House subcommittee by a 3-5 vote.

Fowler introduced a similar bill in 2019, and Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, introduced a similar bill in 2015.

Convirs-Fowler did not return multiple calls and emails for a statement about the bill.

DPOR did not bring the bill to the General Assembly and declined to comment on the legislation when contacted.

Meagan Forbes, director of legislation and senior legislative counsel for the Arlington-based Institute for Justice, testified to the subcommittee panel on behalf of the bill.

 “Threading is a safe hair removal technique,” Forbes said. “It does not involve chemicals or dangerous devices, threaders simply use their hands and a single piece of cotton thread to remove hairs.”

Twenty states currently exempt threading “without issue,” according to Forbes.

Zahra Lakhani, a DPOR-licensed educator, recently retired after doing eyebrow threading for approximately 30 years.

It would be a step backward to remove the license requirement for threading, she said. The education an eyebrow threader receives through instruction is important, Lakhani said.

“It’s very important to know the sanitary part of it, how to keep yourself safe, how to keep your customer safe, how to do the practice well and well skilled,” Lakhnai said.

 Sanitization is essential for threading because technicians roll the thread on the clients’ faces, which could cause cross-contamination, according to Lakhani.

 She said that rolling the thread cuts or burns the skin if the skin is not tight and held a specific way while removing hair from your face.

 “The consumer and the provider should always be protected,” Lakhani said.

If the waxing education requirement was removed, Lakhani thinks at least 60 hours of threading training would be “sufficient” and should include sanitation training, theory, and practice hours.

Stefania Rafeedie, who owns Arch and Beauty Studio LLC in Fairfax County, wrote DPOR to request an “Eyebrow Specialist” license in 2021, according to the letter accessed from the regulatory agency. More specific training is needed to provide specialized eyebrow treatments, according to Rafeedie.

“It is puzzling to me that while one of the above licenses is required, none of them teach a future practitioner how to perform these services,” Rafeedie stated.

By Janae Blakeney
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.

Share the News:
Continue Reading


Thank You to our Local Business Participants:


Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning

Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Avery-Hess Realty, Marilyn King

Beaver Tree Services

Blake and Co. Hair Spa

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

CBM Mortgage, Michelle Napier

Christine Binnix - McEnearney Associates

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Explore Art & Clay

Family Preservation Services

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Independent Business Alliance

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Fussell Florist

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

Habitat for Humanity

Groups Recover Together

House of Hope

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Key Move Properties, LLC

KW Solutions

Legal Services Plans of Northern Shenendoah

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Merchants on Main Street

Mountain Trails

Mountain View Music

National Media Services

Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

Royal Examiner

Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Ruby Yoga

Salvation Army

Samuels Public Library

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

Shenandoah Shores Management Group

St. Luke Community Clinic

Strites Doughnuts

Studio Verde

The Institute for Association & Nonprofit Research

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Valley Chorale

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren Coalition

Warren County Democratic Committee

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warren County DSS Job Development

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

WCPS Work-Based Learning

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
Mostly Cloudy
6:58 am7:35 pm EDT
Feels like: 57°F
Wind: 10mph SW
Humidity: 71%
Pressure: 29.9"Hg
UV index: 0

Upcoming Events

9:00 am Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Apr 1 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny @ Living Water Christian Church
Living Water Christian Church will once again be hosting our Pancake Breakfast with the Easter Bunny on April 1, 2023, from 9am – 12pm. Come on out and enjoy a great breakfast, pictures with the[...]
12:00 pm Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Settle’s Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 1 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Settle's Kettle @ Sky Meadows State Park
Log Cabin in the Historic Area. Follow your nose to the Log Cabin to see what is cooking on the hearth. Immerse yourself within the 19th century enslaved culture and its foods. Explore the taste[...]
12:00 pm The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 1 @ 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
1:00 pm Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Apr 1 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
New Bluegrass and traditional music jam the first Saturday of each month starting Feb. 4th, from 1pm till 4pm. All levels of playing invited to attend.
2:00 pm Community Easter Egg Hunt @ Fantasyland
Community Easter Egg Hunt @ Fantasyland
Apr 1 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Community Easter Egg Hunt @ Fantasyland
Pre-Registration begins March 15th! Provide Name, Age, Child/Pup, Email and Phone in one of three ways: FACEBOOK MESSAGE Email Sheree Jennings at OR call the office at 540-635-2825
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Apr 5 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
10:00 am Patriot’s Day @ Warren Heritage Society
Patriot’s Day @ Warren Heritage Society
Apr 8 @ 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Patriot's Day @ Warren Heritage Society
Join the fun with reenactors, a blacksmith, the outdoor kitchen, our smokehouse, and tours all day of Balthis House. Sons of the American Revolution will fire muskets at 3 pm. Free event for all ages![...]
11:00 am Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 8 @ 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Eggs are popping up all over Sky Meadows State Park. Welcome spring with a day of egg-citing family activities. Explore the diverse park landscapes that allow our egg laying species to thrive including[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Apr 12 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
10:00 am Spring Ephemerals Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Spring Ephemerals Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 15 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Spring Ephemerals Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Carriage Barn in the Historic Area. As the weather warms to spring, travel the park’s trails to explore what is in bloom with Shenandoah Chapter Virginia Master Naturalist Paul Guay. Discover the beauty and diversity[...]