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What they’re saying on Youngkin’s Education Plan to raise standards, improve transparency, and empower parents and teachers



Governor Youngkin released the Department of Education report on May 19, 2022: Our Commitment To Virginians: High Expectations and Excellence For All Students. Leaders across the country sounded off on the findings in the report.

Former Governor Doug Wilder speaks to Governor Glenn Youngkin after the release of Virginia’s education report in the Patrick Henry Building on Thursday, May 19, 2022. Official Photo by Christian Martinez, Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Commonwealth Executive Leadership

“We have wised up to the dangerous rhetoric others use to divide us when all parents want to do is decide where their children should go to school. The data is clear: our children are not learning and this is a national security crisis.” -Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears (former Vice President of the Virginia Board of Education)

“As the son of an immigrant from a socialist country, I understand the importance of an education that fosters free speech, independent thinking, and creates an environment where every child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams. The recommendations contained in this report will ensure our K-12 education system supports and prepares every child for success and empowers both parents and teachers.” -Attorney General Jason Miyares

“We can’t get back to having the best education unless we have the cooperation of everybody from the school superintendent, the school boards, and parent-teacher associations. I love what Governor Youngkin said, he is giving parents back the right opportunity to speak. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe in Governor Youngkin.” -Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder (1990-1994)

“A free high quality education is what the Virginia Constitution guarantees to the young people of the Commonwealth. It is the gift that creates equal access to the American Dream. Today Governor Glenn Youngkin and Education Secretary Amy Guidera presented a comprehensive, data analytics driven critique our current ability to deliver on that guarantee. The incontrovertible measurements show we are falling woefully short on both the expectations and performance. The governor and his team have set a seven-prong vision for correcting this systemic problem. His powerful combination of setting high expectations, empowering parents and teachers, demanding innovation and transparency, and evaluating individual student job and career readiness, will provide a new day of achievement for young Virginians. I thank Governor Youngkin for his servant leadership and relentless pursuit of providing the very best education for the future leaders of Virginia and America.” – Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (2010 – 2014)

Leaders Across the Commonwealth

“While Petersburg is just miles away from Richmond, sometimes we feel like we are a world away given our challenges as a school division and community. I am grateful that the commitments made by state officials and the VDOE will shine a light on our students who do not always have the same access to opportunities in school as other students in Virginia.” – Superintendent of Petersburg City Public Schools Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin

“There is a misconception that superintendents and school systems don’t want data about student performance. This is not true. Now, more than ever, this information is critical in our plans to accelerate learning after the pandemic. As Superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools, I rely on honest data to best serve more than 30,000 learners and more than 4,000 educators. Diminished data transparency makes my job harder. I am encouraged by efforts to recommit to high standards and excellence, and I look forward to working in partnership with our community and my colleagues across the Commonwealth as we prepare every learner for work and life.” – Superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools Thomas Taylor

“The report released today emphasizes high expectations as we continue to support students, parents, and educators. And as we support our students, we must acknowledge that each one is unique and learns differently. That is why we must continue to evaluate our methods, recognize the growth our students make, and celebrate their achievements. At Louisa County Public Schools, I am surrounded by an incredible team of educators who inspire me with their determination, innovation, hard work, and positivity. I am confident that in Louisa County and across Virginia, educators, students, parents, and communities will continue to work diligently together to ensure that Virginia schools become the model for what public education should look like nationwide.” – Superintendent of Louisa County Public Schools Doug Straley

“Virginia is for lovers of liberty, learning, and opportunity. However, not all Virginians receive the quality education they deserve and that taxpayers should expect. To make matters worse, too many students we label as proficient will become frustrated when they have to face the brutal truth that we underprepared them for competitive jobs, salaries, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Thus, Virginia must also be for lovers of academic transparency. This report, sobering as it is, is a first step on a pathway towards a brighter future for all children and adult learners.”- Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson (2010-2011)

“When Virginia focuses on rigorous academic standards and provides support for meeting those standards, our students, teachers, principals, and administrators rise to meet the challenge. I am confident Virginia will regain its national ranking in education when students, educators, and schools are held accountable for achieving high standards and parents are included in policy decisions involving their children. Historically, the pendulum on educational policy tends to swing when student achievement spirals downward. Achievement data in Virginia suggests it is time to reverse the pendulum. Our students deserve no less.”- Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Patricia I. Wright (2008-2014)

“This report opens the door for an honest and long-overdue discussion on what is reasonable and appropriate regarding testing and accountability at the local and state level. Historically, this has not been a partisan issue, and it should not be today. There are no easy solutions. Success has always depended on bringing people together to understand these issues and to agree on the appropriate path. In the past, Virginia was recognized nationally as a leader in student achievement and progress. Unfortunately, over the past decade, we’ve gone backwards. This is painfully clear in the data from every state and national measure of student progress and achievement. This report is a good first step for Governor Youngkin and his administration to provide critical leadership to help Virginia’s students, parents and educators. The state Board of Education, school division leaders, and other stakeholders have a golden opportunity for conversations that can address important needs and refocus state policy on students and their readiness for today’s world.” -President of the Virginia Board of Education Dr. Kirk T. Schroder (1998-2002)

“There is no path to a more inclusive Virginia that doesn’t involve dramatic improvements to our education system. This report pulls back the curtain to lay bare just how far we have to go to provide a consistently high standard of excellence for all students across the commonwealth – especially for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students. It’s uncomfortable but vital reading for all Virginians and tees up a long-overdue conversation about our schools that should be bipartisan, forward-looking, and solution-oriented.” – Member of the Virginia Board of Education Andrew Rotherham (2005-2009), Co-Founder and Partner of Bellwether Education

“The Commonwealth of Virginia is known for having a well-trained and highly educated workforce. Our economy requires a strong educational system to assist every individual. This report identifies challenges in our K-12 system. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce looks forward to partnering with Governor Youngkin and Secretary Guidera to address the challenges pointed out by this report.” – President of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Barry DuVal

“At Virginia Learns we envision a day when all Virginia students receive an education that prepares them for the world and workforce, including learning experiences and environments that empower them to thrive in childhood and become positive contributors in their communities. To achieve this we share Superintendent Balow’s commitment that we must all work together to ensure high expectations and excellence for all learners. Our pledge is to bring together business and education leaders around these shared interests in education and a common agenda to modernize Virginia public schools so that all students gain the knowledge, durable skills, and experiences to be successful now and in the future. All children, regardless of where they live, deserve this from the adults and the data are clear that the most effective way to ensure this occurs is by giving educators the respect and support they need and deserve.”- President and CEO of Virginia Learns Robert Nomberg

Leaders Across the Nation

“This report and detailed gameplan is spot on. The starting point must be honesty about where we stand, and not brushing under the rug the seriousness of the learning loss our kids have suffered. Governor Youngkin’s call for full transparency with parents, aggressive interventions when needed, and higher standards throughout are exactly where all Governors should be leading their states. I especially salute the call for unbiased, robust history and civics education and to support teachers with the training they need. With its high standards, vision, and thoughtfulness, it is reminiscent of other great Virginians–the founders of our Great Republic.” -U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. William J. Bennett (1985-1988)

“The Youngkin Administration’s students-first approach to education is a welcomed change, not only for our students and families, but for our state’s economic future. By prioritizing parental control, college and career readiness, early literacy, and ensuring the education system is held accountable, all of our students will have an opportunity to flourish throughout their K-12 journey. I applaud the Governor and his Administration for prioritizing education and releasing this important plan.”-U.S. House Majority Leader (2011-2014) and U.S. Representative Eric Cantor (2001-2014)

“Governor Glenn Youngkin’s education plan lays out an important agenda that serves the interests of all Virginia students by empowering parents, focusing on early literacy, improving college and career pathways, setting high expectations, and making Virginia’s education system more transparent and accountable to parents.” -Florida Governor Jeb Bush (1999-2007)

“The extent of learning losses in Virginia during the pandemic, and their disproportionate impact on more vulnerable groups, are hugely concerning. A commitment to remedying these differential losses is extremely important for children.” -Brown University Economics Professor Dr. Emily Oster

“Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s education plan lays a foundation for improvement by focusing on the fundamentals: Putting students first, providing families with microgrants, raising expectations, strengthened accountability measures, and implementing the recently passed Virginia Literacy Act. ExcelinEd looks forward to working with the Administration’s efforts to make this vision and plan a reality for the benefit of Virginia’s students.” -CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education Patricia Levesque


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Warner, Kaine urge repeal of defunct same-sex marriage ban and more Va. headlines



The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)


• The 6-year-old Newport News boy who shot his elementary school teacher allegedly choked a different teacher “until she couldn’t breathe” in a prior incident at the school, according to a new legal filing by the wounded teacher’s lawyer.—Associated Press

• Virginia’s politically divided legislature and short session mean lots of bills are dying, and others that aren’t dead yet have little hope of survival.—Roanoke Times

• U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent the General Assembly a letter officially backing the repeal of Virginia’s antiquated 2006 ban on same-sex marriage. “It is long past time that Virginia’s governing document conveys to same-sex marriages the same freedoms, rights, and responsibilities that are afforded to all other constitutional marriages,” the senators wrote.—Richmond Times-Dispatch

• The Republican-controlled House of Delegates did not take up a Democratic bill that would have barred people convicted of insurrection-related charges from holding government jobs in Virginia.—VPM

• A central Virginia man is a national mustache champion who spends 20 minutes per day styling his ‘stache and sleeps with a special pillow to “preserve the shape of his handiwork.”—Washington Post


by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury

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

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After controversial start of charity poker, Virginia might change the rules yet again



During a recent hearing on charity poker in Virginia’s General Assembly, one state senator said she was under the impression a bill to rewrite the state’s poker rules wasn’t all that concerning because the games wouldn’t involve too much money.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Loudoun, asked if her understanding — that charity poker players would pay a flat fee of no more than $8 for a seat at games that could never involve large amounts of cash — was correct.

It was not.

“Are people able to put major dollars down, and we could have a $100,000 night, every night?” Boysko asked.

Former delegate Dave Albo, a lobbyist representing the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, which is pushing to expand into poker, told Boysko the bill puts no hard limit on how high the stakes can get.

“That is correct. There is no cap,” Albo answered, adding that his client didn’t want a cap in the bill because casino poker doesn’t have a cap.

New poker regulations sent to Gov. Glenn Youngkin for review a week ago would specifically prohibit casino-style cash games like the ones Albo was describing.

But a pair of bills advancing in the General Assembly would override that rule before it takes effect, allowing a bigger, more lucrative form of charity poker less than two years after Virginia’s watchdog agency concluded the state wasn’t supervising the charitable gaming industry closely enough.

The exchange over what the new bills would or wouldn’t do underscores the persistent confusion that has surrounded Virginia’s effort to establish a charity poker industry. The multi-year initiative has been checkered by lawsuits, open feuding between a state board and a state regulatory agency that are supposed to work in tandem, and controversy over an industry being allowed to write its own rules for a new money-making venture.

Amid the regulatory chaos, unlicensed poker halls began opening in Virginia in 2021, but the General Assembly shut them down last year under threat of $50,000 fines.

New rules being finalized by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) would allow those facilities to reopen in the future with clearer limits on what type of poker can be played. The pending regulations only allow traditional poker tournaments that require players to pay a fixed entry fee for a finite amount of chips. They also prohibit cash games that allow players to keep buying more chips if they run out.

The bills pending in the legislature, which are up for final votes in both chambers Tuesday, would upend that process by sanctioning cash games for the first time and letting would-be poker operators start applying for permits as soon as July 15.

Representatives for the charitable gaming industry, best known for the once-popular bingo halls that have been fading from relevance, have pitched the poker expansion as a way for charities to make up for lost bingo money and withstand the hit expected from the arrival of Virginia’s first-ever commercial casinos.

“As bell bottoms, mullets and leg warmers have faded away, so has the art of playing bingo,” Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, the patron of the House bill, said on the floor Monday. Brewer and others have argued that because the bill sets a maximum starting bet of $5, pots are unlikely to reach  the high levels some legislators fear.

The new poker bills, proponents say, are a way to create a workable system for something the General Assembly already authorized years ago.

“Without this bill, we’re going to get completely put out of business,” Matt Benka, another lobbyist for the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association, said at a Senate hearing. “If we don’t do something this year, the only people that are going to be operating are the skill games, the casinos and everybody else. And local charities are going to be out.”

The comment about the demise of Virginia charities drew pushback from Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, who has been pushing for a brighter regulatory line between bona fide charities and charity-related entities that seem to exist primarily to benefit from state-sanctioned gambling.

“Maybe your charities might be out because all they’re doing is playing poker,” Reeves said to Benka. “But I take exception to that.”

After the General Assembly legalized charity poker in 2020, there was major disagreement over whether legislators intended to only allow occasional tournaments or full-time poker halls running cash games.

Contrasting views on that question and others caused a prolonged clash between Virginia’s Charitable Gaming Board, led by insiders with a financial stake in the poker industry the board was setting up, and regulators with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services who were concerned the board was pushing beyond what the law allowed.

The General Assembly tried to hit reset on charity poker last year by passing a law closing down unlicensed poker rooms that had been playing cash games, stripping the Charitable Gaming Board of its regulatory power, and asking VDACS to craft a new set of poker regulations without the board having the final say.

However, the pending charity poker bills would move the state closer to what the board tried to achieve in the first place.

At recent committee hearings, Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who recently helped lead a state review of charitable gaming, acknowledged the poker bill, as originally drafted, seemed to be “going in a direction that would be contrary to legislation and the research that we’ve done over the last couple of years.”

“To me, the scope of this is far beyond what we talked about before,” Bell said at an initial subcommittee hearing on the bill. “And I think we’re getting into dangerous territory where we’re really creating a pretty large gambling operation.”

Bell’s opposition softened as the bill was scaled back in both legislative chambers, and he later said the amended version fell within his “comfort zone.” Instead of allowing 10 tables at each poker operation, the amended proposal now allows four tables and would limit the halls to operating eight hours per day, four days a week.

Another limitation added to the bill would only allow poker for charitable organizations that were qualified to conduct charitable bingo for at least one year between July 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2022. In the Senate, that amendment was pitched to ensure the benefit would go to existing charities facing declining bingo revenue instead of allowing new “pop-up” poker operations.

But in the House of Delegates, the same provision caused concern that the bill would allow established charitable gaming entities to benefit while preventing future charities from having the same rights to make money off poker.

Under questioning from Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, a representative from VDACS acknowledged that the cash poker bill would exclude any charities formed after 2022 and preexisting charities that offered electronic gaming machines, not bingo.

“To me, that means that this is tailored to a certain subset of folks that could take advantage of this,” said Krizek, who chaired the recent General Assembly committee tasked with looking into charitable gaming. “And it’s really not fair across the board.”

Krizek, who has urged colleagues to wait to see how charity poker tournaments play out before expanding to cash games, also noted the bill would potentially require VDACS to start issuing poker permits so fast that the permits might go out before the regulations are in place. The bill requires VDACS to make a permit application public by July 15 but gives the agency until Sept. 15 to finish the regulations. By law, the agency has 45 days to act on completed applications, meaning anyone who applied in mid-July could potentially get a permit before Sept. 15.

Questioning timing and speed were key legal issues in the dispute over whether poker halls could open without any permits or regulations.

Chuck Lessin, the chairman of the Charitable Gaming Board and longtime operator of a Richmond bingo hall, argued that facilities like his could start playing poker without a regulatory system because the original poker bill didn’t explicitly require that the operations wait for a permit.

Albo has publicly described the Virginia Charitable Bingo Association as representing more than 30 bingo groups across the state, but the organization has strong ties to Lessin. It is registered at the same South Richmond address where Lessin has run bingo and poker games, and Lessin is listed as the group’s principal officer, according to state lobbying disclosures.

Lessin sued VDACS over his permitting dispute. When the lawsuit failed, he opened Pop’s Poker anyway, though he eventually shuttered it due to the ongoing battle that has played out in both the courts and the legislature. A state watchdog report issued in 2021 concluded that Lessin’s failure to recuse himself from crafting poker regulations in which he had a financial interest damaged “the integrity of the board and the overall commonwealth’s charitable gaming oversight.”

Lessin called the report “BS” and has repeatedly insisted the state is cracking down on smaller players at the behest of deep-pocketed casino interests trying to eliminate competition.

Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers closely involved in charitable gaming reform called for Lessin to be removed as head of the Charitable Gaming Board. Lessin was not removed.

Proponents of the poker bills have stressed that the legislation would require at least 30% of gross poker receipts to go toward charitable purposes, but skeptics have pointed out that money can also be put toward property expenses like rent and building upkeep. Without clear separation between charitable groups and their landlords, a state report last year concluded that financial conflicts could exist where high-rent agreements can be used to limit the amount of money left over for charitable programs.

In a statement, a Virginia Charitable Bingo Association spokesman said the group’s members were “happy to lend our combined decades of charitable gaming expertise to Virginia legislators in the crafting of this legislation.”

“As an organization, our hope is that this legislation will result in charities that participate in gaming being able to replace the losses they incurred from the decline in popularity and profitability of bingo,” said VCBA spokesman Liam Gray.

Tad Berman, a citizen gambling enthusiast who regularly attends public meetings and has been sharply critical of the Charitable Gaming Board, urged the General Assembly not to reward an industry that “opened these card rooms illegally and without permits.”

“As a Virginian, as much as I might love poker and love gambling, that does not supersede my responsibility to make sure that these things are run legally and properly,” Berman said at a recent committee meeting. “And these people did not do that.”

by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury

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

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Dulles Greenway bill clears House but faces uncertainty in Senate




Legislation aimed at reducing toll prices on the Dulles Greenway in Northern Virginia died in a Senate committee last week over concerns about the private toll road operator’s debt and the legislature’s ability to review any potential agreement between the operator and the state.

A companion bill in the House remains alive but will require Senate backing to go into effect.

Commuters and area residents have become increasingly concerned about rising toll prices on the 14-mile Dulles Greenway that runs through Loudoun County into Clarke County. Since 2012, tolls have risen from $4 for two-axle vehicles to $5.25.

In 2008, the General Assembly passed a law directing the SCC to approve annual toll increases as well as additional increases if necessary to cover the road’s operating expenses between 2013 and 2020.

“Our people who live in my community spend $400 to $500 a month on transportation, and if you go on that road, very few people are riding on it because it’s so expensive and other avenues are clogged,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “We need some relief here.”

Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, the patron of the bill, said the problem has gone on “for years” and is expected to continue as the Greenway seeks future rate hikes.

The Dulles Greenway is owned and operated by a private company, Toll Road Investors Partnership II, or TRIP II, and is regulated by the State Corporation Commission under the Virginia Highway Corporation Act. Under current law, the company is allowed to ask the SCC for a toll increase once per year but isn’t permitted to negotiate those increases. Changes to state law also require TRIP II to submit extensive financial information to regulators along with any application for a toll increase.

TRIP II has not requested a toll rate increase since its last application was denied in early 2021.

Marsden’s legislation, which is supported by TRIP II, would direct the Virginia commissioner of highways to evaluate whether it’s in the “public interest” for the Greenway to be governed under a more recent law, the Private-Public Transportation Act. Under that act,  the commissioner, along with the Secretary of Transportation and a body known as the Transportation Public-Private Partnership Steering Committee, would be able to negotiate a new toll agreement with TRIP II.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sheppard “Shep” Miller III speaks during a transportation subcommittee meeting on Jan. 31, 2023.

A new deal to lower the toll rates may require a longer-term contract between TRIP II and the state, according to Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller. The current contract ends in 2056.

Backers of the proposal say moving oversight of the road away from the SCC will give state officials more certainty and flexibility to reduce tolls and potentially implement distance-based tolls, which would charge drivers based on how far they travel. The Greenway currently bases most of its pricing on the number of axles a driver’s vehicle has, with tolls for two-axle vehicles traveling from one end of the road to the other starting at $5.25 during regular hours and $5.80 during rush hour.

But opponents said the legislation doesn’t give the legislature any authority over a potential agreement between the operator and the state. They are also concerned that Loudoun County could be impacted since it receives around $4 million in annual property taxes from the toll operator.

“What we’re being asked to do is completely cut out both [the] General Assembly and the local government that currently benefits financially from this road altogether,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, during a January hearing.

McClellan recommended Marsden consider an amendment that would delay any “public interest” determination until the chairs of the Senate Transportation and Finance and Appropriations committees review any agreement, but the recommendation was not adopted.

Miller noted the Transportation Public-Private Partnership Steering Committee includes representatives from both the House and Senate finance committees, as well as members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and secretaries of finance and transportation.

“If we cannot deliver on [an agreement], we will walk away and leave it just the way it is now,” Miller said, “But you’re not going to get to distance-based tolling, and you’re not going to get a reduction in toll rates if you leave it in the form that it’s in now.”

Finance Committee members also expressed concern about whether the commonwealth would take on TRIP II’s “significant” debt as part of an agreement. The partnership has between $1.6 million and $1.9 million in outstanding bonds.

Miller said the commonwealth has “no intention of assuming any debt.”

The committee killed the bill on a 10-5 vote.

Companion bill faces uncertainty

The House version of the Greenway legislation, House Bill 1858, from Dels. David Reid, D-Loudoun, and Michael Webert, R-Fauquier, is poised to clear that chamber this week before heading back to the Senate for further review.

Webert said he believes some language changes can be made to the House bill, which has received broad support, to make it more acceptable to the Senate.

“This is one of those pieces of legislation that is a ‘why not try and do this’ to ensure that we have lower tolls for our constituents, rather than kicking the can down the road and doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Webert said.

Reid echoed testimony from Miller that moving the Greenway under different oversight would have no cost to the state. He also said the “public interest” consideration would involve an analysis of whether the change could lower tolls and allow distance-based pricing.

Reid introduced the same bill last year, supported by an analysis conducted by then-Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration and continued under Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration.

“Both administrations have now found that this is the way forward to being able to provide total relief to the residents of Loudoun County, as well as the residents from Fairfax, Clarke, and Frederick County in the west,” Reid said. “This is an opportunity for us to do something to reduce the cost of living and to have a positive effect with rising prices in all other aspects of the economy.”



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.

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Hampton Roads ships recovering spy balloon wreckage and more Va. headlines



The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)


• Ships based in Hampton Roads were recovering the wreckage of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon after it was shot down off the South Carolina coast over the weekend.—Virginian-Pilot

• Newly released emails shed more light on prosecutors’ decision to drop a prostitution-related case against a Virginia Beach pastor.—WRIC

• A push to give Petersburg a chance at a casino development could be in jeopardy after the enabling legislation failed in the state Senate.—Richmond Times-Dispatch

• The Orange County Board of Supervisors pulled funding for a local arts center after backlash to a design class taught by a drag performer.—Culpeper Star-Exponent

• A bipartisan pair of lawmakers in the House of Delegates appear to be succeeding in ending the use of solitary confinement in Virginia prisons.—Washington Post


by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury

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

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Failed Bills: Eliminated divorce period, sexual harassment education, wrongful death and shorter absentee vote period



Elected officials serving in the Virginia General Assembly have a short amount of time to potentially discuss thousands of proposed measures that are either defeated or signed into law.

Over 1,900 bills were introduced this session, in addition to joint resolutions and legislation carried over from last year. So far, over 100 bills have failed to advance in the House and over 300 in the Senate. Over 1,000 bills are pending in the House and over 500 in the Senate, with the session midpoint approaching.

Here are a few of the bills that failed to advance this session.

Senate Bill 1288: Petition for defendant to pay child support due to wrongful death of child’s guardian resulting from driving under the influence

The measure introduced by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, would allow the court to consider child support payment in an instance of wrongful death of a child’s parent or legal guardian that was caused by driving under the influence. The legislation was passed indefinitely with a 14-0 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee and is likely dead for the session. Committee members felt the bill did not add additional value to the current scenarios in wrongful death civil cases. Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, questioned the legislation because it is not “a policy solution to a specific problem.” “It’s not clear to me why we would say ‘you pay child support if somebody dies by drunk driving instead of murder,’” Surovell said during the committee.

Senate Bill 880: In-person absentee voting period shortened to a week prior to any elections

The measure, introduced by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, would shorten the in-person absentee voting period to seven days prior to the election. Currently, absentee voting in person begins 45 days before the election. The bill would create a burden at high-volume localities, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said during the committee hearing. “They would need hundreds of people [staff] to get those people not having to wait for hours and hours in line,” Ebbin said. The legislation was passed by indefinitely with a 10-4 vote in the Senate Privileges and Elections committee.

House Bill 1720: Eliminates one-year divorce waiting period due to cruelty, bodily hurt

Del. Nadarius Clark, D-Portsmouth, introduced a measure to eliminate the one-year period spouses wait to be pronounced divorced and legally separated. A separation or divorce would be granted before the one-year period in cases of spousal abuse such as cruelty, reasonable apprehension of bodily harm, abandonment or desertion, and more by either party. The bill would have applied to divorce filings on or after July 1.

A divorce is currently permitted if the parties lived apart without interruption for one year, or entered into a separation agreement, had no minor-aged children born or adopted, and lived apart without interruption for six months.

An anti-human trafficking advocate and victim of spousal abuse offered testimony on behalf of the bill. “Right now, this does not solve the problem that Del. Clarke wants to solve,” said Richard Garriott, with the Virginia Family Law Coalition, in opposition to the bill. “We have a solution for that, called an emergency and permanent protective order.” The House of Delegates Courts of Justice subcommittee defeated the bill with a 5-3 vote.

House Bill 2003: Enforcement of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination training and education

Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill to require employers with 50 or more employees to provide annual interactive sexual harassment and workplace discrimination training and education. Employees in a supervisory role would be required to complete at least two hours of training. Other employees would be required to complete one hour.

A provision in the bill called for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers to have the one-hour training to start on Jan. 1, 2024. Employees would receive a certificate of completion. A House Commerce and Energy subcommittee recommended the bill not advance with a 5-3 vote.

Still to come

There will be plenty of other failed bills this session. In fact, gridlock is to be expected when “voters put one party in charge of one chamber and the other party in charge of the other,” according to Stephen Farnsworth, director of the University of Mary Washington Center for Leadership and Media Studies and a political science professor.
“From guns to abortion to taxes to schools, Republicans and Democrats in Richmond demonstrate over and over again that there is little interest in compromise in these polarized times,” Farnsworth stated in an email.

The session is approaching the midpoint with “crossover day” on Feb. 7, when a bill must have passed its respective chamber to advance, or it will be left behind.

By Anna Chen
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin names first Spirit of Virginia Award for 2023



Governor Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin presented a 2023 Spirit of Virginia Award to Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation, a metro area community development corporation focused on cultivating housing and financial self-sufficiency for primarily Black, Hispanic, and Latino and women-led households.

First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin gives remarks. Photo by Shealah Craighead Photography.

“For more than 30 years, Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation have helped countless Richmonders prepare for and achieve home ownership. If ‘home is where the heart is,’ then Glenn and I laud the hearts that are forever changed by the good works of SCDHC,” said First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin.

“SCDHC appreciates the honor of being a recipient of the Spirit of Virginia Award. We are elated that the arduous work we do to ensure the equity in housing for people of color is recognized by the First Lady of Virginia,” said Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation President & CEO Dianna Bowser.

Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation is Central Virginia’s oldest, historically Black-led community development corporation. Their mission is to build viable, thriving, sustainable communities through affordable housing and wrap-around support services.

Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation have built homes in over a dozen neighborhoods and developments throughout the Richmond area, totaling over 750 units of affordable housing, with 450 as single-family affordable homes. In 2022, the organization served nearly 800 clients through its housing counseling and educational services, including foreclosure prevention, rent relief, and workforce development tools.

The Spirit of Virginia Award recognizes unique qualities and standout achievements across the Commonwealth and salutes Virginians for their uncommon contributions to private industries, education, culture, the arts, and philanthropy.

Governor Youngkin and the First Lady will name five more Spirit of Virginia Award recipients in 2023. Learn more about the award here. To learn more about Southside Community Development and Housing Corporation, visit the organization’s website. All recipients of the Spirit of Virginia Award are recognized during a holiday reception at the end of the year at The Virginia Executive Mansion.

Follow the First Lady on Facebook and Instagram as she celebrates Virginians across the Commonwealth.f

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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
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Upcoming Events

8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 7 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 8 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Feb 8 @ 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[...]
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 9 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 10 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 11 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 12 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
11:30 am Galentine’s Brunch & Market @ Vibrissa Beer
Galentine’s Brunch & Market @ Vibrissa Beer
Feb 12 @ 11:30 am – 5:00 pm
Galentine's Brunch & Market @ Vibrissa Beer
Come Celebrate Friendship & Treat Yourself! Only 30 tickets available and they will go quickly. Tickets include: A Beautiful Brunch at Vibrissa Beer! Two tickets to a Mimosa Bar at Vibrissa! A Silent Auction at[...]
8:00 am Chocolate Crawl
Chocolate Crawl
Feb 13 @ 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chocolate Crawl
The Front Royal Chocolate Crawl is back for its 3rd year, and it is BIGGER than ever. With over 20 businesses on our list, you’re guaranteed to find something amazing (to purchase) and meet some[...]
12:00 pm Valentine Tea @ The Vine & Leaf
Valentine Tea @ The Vine & Leaf
Feb 13 @ 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Valentine Tea @ The Vine & Leaf
Please join us for tea and dainties on Monday, February 13th, at either 12 noon or 2pm! The event will be held at the Vine & Leaf (477 South Street, Suite F), with guest speaker[...]