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Youngkin: April 2022 General Fund Revenues exceed forecasts



RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin today announced that April revenue collections exceeded forecasts, growing 45.7 percent over April of 2021. General fund revenues were approximately $1.9 billion higher year-to-date than the mid-session revised forecast issued in February. Total revenue collections have risen 19.0 percent through April, well ahead of the revised annual forecast of 9.2 percent growth.

“Virginia’s economy continues to show encouraging signs of growth. We’re growing jobs, growing paychecks, and more people are joining the workforce,” said Governor Youngkin. “This report confirms the strong trajectory forecasted for state revenue, and we continue to see mounting evidence that the time is now to cut taxes. Inflation is stealing more money from the paychecks of hardworking Virginians, who are paying near-record prices at the pump, and we know there’s plenty of money in the system to reduce taxes and lower the cost of living in the Commonwealth.”

“Much of the extraordinary year-over-year growth in April in non-withholding collections was driven by the change in the federal tax filing date back to April in 2022 versus May in 2021,” said Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings. “We will need to look at the combined results of April and May compared to last year to know the overall trends in this category. However, general revenue categories unaffected by that timing difference, mainly payroll withholding and sales tax collections, continued their strong growth over the prior year, and this trend speaks to the uptick in jobs, consumer activity, and inflation.”

In percentage terms, payroll withholding and sales tax collections grew 4.8 percent and 8.4 percent in April, respectively. Fiscal year-to-date, withholding revenues are up 9.5 percent, ahead of the full-year forecast growth rate of 9.0 percent, and sales tax collections are up 14.4 percent, ahead of the annual 11.4 percent forecast.

Continued revenue growth is supported by a steady economy as well as recent improved job growth. From January to March, the number of employed Virginians increased by 42,000, ranking Virginia 14th among the states for employment growth during that time. The labor participation rate in Virginia has improved slightly, but Virginia’s drop in labor participation since the start of the pandemic remains among the worst in the nation. Despite the recent strong performance, more work is needed in this area since Virginia has yet to recover more than 170,000 jobs that were lost during the pandemic and ranks 47th in jobs recovered since the pandemic.

The full April 2022 revenue report is available here.

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Same-sex marriage protected under bill passed by U.S. Senate with GOP support



WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would enshrine protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, codifying many of the rights that would disappear if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn those landmark decisions the way it overturned the nationwide right to an abortion this summer.

The 61-36 bipartisan vote sends the bill back to the U.S. House, where lawmakers expect to give it their final stamp of approval soon before sending it to President Joe Biden. The House voted 267-157 in July to approve the original bill but must vote again after a bipartisan group of senators added in religious liberty protections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, wore the same tie Tuesday he wore to his daughter’s wedding and recounted a conversation he had with his daughter and her wife following the death of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“I remember that awful feeling around the dinner table, and I distinctly remember the question my daughter and her wife asked, ‘Could our right to marry be undone?’” Schumer said.

“It’s a scary but necessary acknowledgment that despite all the progress we’ve made, the constitutional right to same-sex marriage is not even a decade old and exists only by the virtue of a very narrow 5-4 Supreme Court decision,” Schumer continued. “And we all know the court has changed since that decision.”

Retiring Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, retiring North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, Maine’s Susan Collins, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Wyoming’s Cynthia Lummis, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, retiring Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Utah’s Mitt Romney, Alaska’s Dan Sullivan, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, and Indiana’s Todd Young voted for the bill.

Both of Virginia’s Democratic senators, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine, voted in favor of the bill.

“Marriage is not only a spiritual bond between two individuals, but it’s also a binding contract that cements essential benefits, rights, and privileges,” Warner wrote in a statement following the vote. “This bill will ensure that gay marriages are recognized across the country, thereby protecting same-sex couples from discrimination that would otherwise block their access to health care, paid family medical leave, hospital visitation, and parental rights — among many others.”

Repeal of Defense of Marriage Act

The legislation would repeal the 1996 law known as the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The federal law also allowed states to ignore same-sex unions legally performed in other states.

The new law would ensure that if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn the cases that have legalized same-sex and interracial marriages, the federal government would continue to recognize those unions, a step necessary for hundreds of federal benefits, including Social Security and veterans benefits.

The bill, known as the Respect for Marriage Act, would require states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed in states that keep the unions legal, though it wouldn’t require states to keep same-sex or interracial marriages legal if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn those cases.

Cathryn Oakley, Human Rights Campaign state legislative director and senior counsel said during a briefing in mid-November the bill is a “very important” part of the legislation LGBTQ rights advocates have been pressing Congress to pass for years.

She also sought to clarify misconceptions about whether the legislation will allow any two people to enter a same-sex or interracial marriage anywhere in the country should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the cases protecting those rights.

“Congress has done everything in this bill that it can responsibly do,” Oakley said. “What they do not have the ability to responsibly do, is to tell states that they must marry two people of the same sex.”

Oakley said U.S. lawmakers “are taking the maximum responsible action that they can take at this point” under the powers they have within the U.S. Constitution.

State bans

More than 30 states have constitutional amendments, state laws, or both that ban same-sex marriages, according to the Congressional Research Service. “Many states still have unenforceable constitutional amendments or state statutes that ban marriage for same-sex couples,” the report said.

Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin are among the states with state constitutional amendments that would prohibit same-sex marriages.

Under Democratic control, Virginia in 2021 began the multiyear process of removing its defunct ban from the state constitution, but Republicans blocked the change earlier this year after retaking control of the House of Delegates.

Va. Republicans block effort to scrap 2006 gay marriage ban

Indiana and Pennsylvania are among the states with laws that would prohibit same-sex marriages. The Iowa Supreme Court overturned Iowa’s ban in April 2009, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage.

Those laws and state constitutional provisions are currently unenforceable under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling, establishing same-sex marriages as protected under the Constitution. But they could go into effect again were the justices to overturn that case. States that still have laws banning interracial marriages on the books cannot enforce those laws under the 1967 Loving v. Virginia ruling.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft criticized his state’s senior senator, Blunt, for voting for the legislation, saying he was “flabbergasted” by the move and noting that the state’s constitutional amendment bars the unions.

Ashcroft said during an interview with The Missouri Independent that he tried to call Blunt to lobby him in opposition to the bill but had been unable to reach him, so he sent a letter instead.

The legislation the U.S. Senate approved Tuesday was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to overturn the two cases that kept abortion legal nationwide, protected as a constitutional right, for nearly half a century.

Justice Clarence Thomas sparked concern when he wrote in his concurring opinion in the abortion case that the justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents” that included similar legal reasoning as the abortion cases.

Thomas listed Griswold v. Connecticut, the case that established married couples have a constitutional right to decide if and how to use birth control; Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage; and Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state anti-sodomy laws, as three cases he specifically thought the court should revisit.

LGBTQ rights advocates immediately called on Congress to ensure that any future Supreme Court rulings wouldn’t completely erode marriage rights.

Republicans on board

The U.S. House approved the legislation in July, and the U.S. Senate was on track to vote on the marriage equality bill before the November midterm elections, but Schumer held off at the request of a bipartisan group of senators who added religious liberty language and were working to get at least 10 Republicans on board to pass the chamber’s legislative filibuster.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat; Collins; Portman; Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat; and Tillis wrote at the time they were “confident that when our legislation comes to the Senate floor for a vote, we will have the bipartisan support to pass the bill.”

The religious liberty protections now in the bill would protect “all religious liberty and conscience protections available under the Constitution or Federal law,” according to a summary of the changes.

The legislation would insulate religious organizations, certain religious nonprofits, and their employees from being required “to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

It would prevent changes to tax-exempt status since “a church, university, or other nonprofit’s eligibility for tax-exempt status is unrelated to marriage, so its status would not be affected by this legislation,” according to the summary.

The bill passed its first procedural vote in the Senate in mid-November when 12 GOP senators joined Democrats to move past the legislative filibuster.

GOP amendments

Before the Senate approved the bill Tuesday, lawmakers voted down three Republican amendments.

Senators voted 48-49 to reject a proposal from Utah Sen. Mike Lee that would have barred the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action,” like eliminating a tax benefit, for any person who “speaks or acts, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction, that marriage is” between one man and one woman or two individuals as recognized under federal law.

Lee argued ahead of the vote that lawmakers “would do a disservice to all Americans if we elevate the rights of one group at the expense of another.”

Liberty University, a private evangelical university in Lynchburg, Virginia, that is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit universities, ahead of the vote, sent an email to students urging them to call their representatives and tell them to vote in favor of the Lee amendment.

Calling the Respect for Marriage Act “a smoke-screen” and “very deceptive,” the email from Interim President Jerry Prevo told recipients that the law “fails to protect those of us who believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Liberty did not respond to questions from the Mercury about the email.

The Senate voted 45-52 to reject a proposal from Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford that would have changed who was required to comply with the law from any person acting under “color of state law” to a state, territory, or tribe.

Lankford said Tuesday that the “color of state law” language could refer to any organization that a state contracts with to perform a government function, such as private prisons, adoption agencies, foster care agencies, or homeless shelters.

Lankford’s amendment would have also removed a section of the bill that would allow people “harmed” by a violation of the law to sue. Lankford said the legislation didn’t define what “harmed” would mean.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s amendment to eliminate the section of the bill that would allow anyone “harmed by a violation” of the law to sue in a U.S. district court was rejected following a 45-52 vote.

Rubio argued in a written statement that while the legislation included language that “would protect nonprofits whose ‘principal purpose’ is the ‘study, practice, or advancement of religion,’ it would not protect other faith-based organizations.”

Baldwin urged senators to reject the three amendments ahead of the vote, saying they would “upend the months of good-faith negotiations and they would disrupt our carefully crafted bipartisan compromise.”

The religious liberty language added to the bill, Baldwin said, ensures protection for “religious liberties afforded under our Constitution and federal law.”

“We are not pushing this legislation to make history,” she said. “We are doing this to make a difference for millions upon millions of Americans.”


by Jennifer Shutt, 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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Granules India to establish pharmaceutical packaging facility in Prince William County, Virginia, creating 57 new jobs



RICHMOND, VA – Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that Granules India Ltd., a vertically integrated pharmaceutical company, will invest $12.5 million to establish a pharmaceutical packaging operation in Prince William County. The new facility will be part of the company’s Consumer Health division and will return previously outsourced services in-house. Granules will lease 79,000 square feet of the Parkway 66 property at 7413 Cushing Road in Manassas and build out packaging lines and clean rooms to package and ship pharmaceuticals. Virginia successfully competed with Maryland for the project, which will create 57 new jobs.

“Virginia continues to attract pharmaceutical manufacturing, and Granules India’s new packaging operation in Prince William County is an important addition to the pharmaceutical ecosystem in the Commonwealth,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “The company’s decision to expand its footprint in Virginia is a testament to our infrastructure and robust workforce, and we look forward to further development of this partnership.”

“When a global company like Granules India establishes a second Virginia operation, it reinforces our business-friendly climate, collaborative environment, and skilled workforce,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “The Commonwealth’s pharmaceutical sector has gained significant momentum in recent years, and we thank Granules for continuing our success in this booming industry.”

“The addition of a U.S. packaging facility will result in Granules being among the few pharmaceutical companies to be vertically integrated from API to packaging, which will bolster the robustness of Granules’ supply chain while also enabling the company to react even faster to consumers’ growing needs for pharmaceutical products,” said Dr. Krishna Prasad Chigurupati, Founder and Managing Director. “The company chose Virginia because of Prince William County’s responsiveness which allowed Granules faster access to commercialization. In addition, Prince William offers a dynamic and diverse workforce that is eager to work along with the site’s proximity to several major seaports. Granules also chose to expand within Virginia to leverage its existing manufacturing footprint and workforce.”

“Granules Consumer Health gained a competitive advantage by locating their packaging facility in Manassas, and we welcome them to our business-friendly community,” said Ann B. Wheeler, Chair of Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “As the front door to Northern Virginia, Prince William County’s strategic location elevates the growing importance of supply chain logistics and distribution for global companies.”

“As we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, a robust domestic medical supply chain is critical to ensure a secure, reliable, and safer system for patients and our national security,” said Congressman Rob Wittman. “Investments like this, especially right here in Virginia’s First District, are exactly how we continue to expand and excel in this space while adding additional jobs to the Commonwealth of Virginia. I commend the Governor for continuing to advance Virginia as a national leader in domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing.”

“I’m excited to welcome Granules India to the 13th district! Prince William County has an experienced, well-educated, and motivated workforce, and I believe we will have a long and successful partnership with Granules,” said Senator John J. Bell. “I thank Granules for their confidence in choosing to do business in the Commonwealth, and I want to congratulate and thank everyone from the Governor’s team who was involved in bringing this partnership to fruition.”

Founded in 1984 and headquartered in Hyderabad, India, Granules India serves leading brand and generics companies in over 75 countries with eight manufacturing facilities around the world. The company manufactures active pharmaceutical ingredients, pharmaceutical formulation intermediates, and finished dosages, and its products include common consumer drugs such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and guaifenesin (a key ingredient in Mucinex). Granules employ 130 at a pharmaceutical R&D and manufacturing facility in Fairfax County.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with Prince William County to secure the project for Virginia. Former Governor Northam approved a $200,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist Prince William County with the project.

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Separation of Virginia history standards and curriculum causes questions



The history and social science standards are at the center of conversation for the education community in Virginia. (Mechelle Hankerson/ Virginia Mercury)


As communities and experts review Virginia’s K-12 history and social science standards, many anxiously await its companion guide, the curriculum framework.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow last month told the Board of Education that she decided to decouple the curriculum framework from the draft history and social science standards because the combination led to “vague” and “confusing information” for general public consumption.

“In the last few years, especially since school closures, the standards document has become much more front and center as a document that parents rely on and that community members rely on as a public and digestible and understandable document that says this is what’s being taught at which grade level and to what depth,” she said. “And a 400-plus page document plus framework does not accomplish that goal. It is not easily understandable for the public.”

But as the standards proposed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration went before the board in a contentious, nearly eight-hour-long meeting earlier this month, the absence of the curriculum framework sparked criticism and uncertainty because of the inability of the board and the public to review the two together.

“I think we’ve created the conditions for confusion,” said board member Alan Seibert, a Youngkin appointee, at the Nov. 17 business meeting.

Board Member Bill Hansen, another Youngkin appointee, agreed, “I do think that what’s not here is what caused the anxiety out there and lacking communication, context.”

The role of the curriculum framework

A curriculum framework details the specific knowledge and skills necessary for students to meet the state’s educational standards in various subjects.

Balow has said the curriculum framework, which will be based on the standards, is the “bridge between the materials that are used and the teaching that happens every day,” while the standards document is more “public-facing and states the broad learning goals.”

The August standards the Board of Education considered included the curriculum framework in a 402-page document. In contrast, the November standards that excluded the framework clocked in at only 53 pages.

Balow said she had considered combining everything into a single package in October, but the result was not “feasible as a publicly consumable document.”

Additionally, she said that decoupling the two allows staff to work on the curriculum framework while the draft standards are being revised.

“It is really important to me that we reach out during the curriculum framework phase and engage teachers as one of our primary audiences and one of the primary communities that we seek input from because that’s who uses the curriculum framework,” said Balow.

Some board members, including President Daniel Gecker and member Anne Holton, both appointees of former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, expressed concerns about the decoupling at the October 20 meeting.

“I think for policy and process reasons, it’s crucial that we keep them together,” Holton said.

Balow, however, has argued the current approach isn’t much different from the process taken during the last revision of the state’s expectations seven years ago.

“The standards document was adopted — I believe it was about a 60-page document — in 2015, and almost one year later the curriculum frameworks were before the board,” she said on Oct. 20.

Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle also said in an email that “the 2018 Science (Standards of Learning) were approved in 2018. The corresponding curriculum framework was approved the following June.”

A ‘both and’ approach

Some teachers and parents, however, have been critical of the decoupling.

Chad Stewart, a policy analyst for the Virginia Education Association, said instead of decoupling, “it really could be a ‘both and’ approach where there are additional materials put out for the public to understand this curriculum while you maintain some of the more important technical frameworks for teachers to really implement the highest quality instruction they possibly can for this content.”

Kathleen Smith, a former educator in Petersburg and administrator in the state education department, said separating review of the curriculum framework from the standards will leave teachers with insufficient time to prepare lessons. That may be particularly difficult for general elementary school teachers who teach every core subject.

“I can’t even fathom how one would think I could develop lesson plans without a curriculum framework,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have those because I can go in, grab my resources, and it just makes life easier, but if you decouple them, you’re taking away a primary resource for teachers. You’ll lose more people in the field than you have now.”

A recent report by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found 10,900 teachers left the workforce ahead of the current school year, exceeding the number of new teachers entering it. Teachers said their dissatisfaction was linked to higher workload due to vacancies and a lack of parental and public respect.

Stewart said the curriculum framework is perhaps even more important than the standards because “it helps guide teachers in the pedagogy and sequencing and development of their lesson.”

He added that the framework also helps teachers think quickly through critical questions they need to ask their students.

Assessments based on the new standards will not begin until the 2024-25 school year.

Special meeting expected in January

Virginia Department of Education staff is currently drafting the curriculum framework before it goes out for public comment, according to a Nov. 17 presentation to the Board of Education.

The board delayed its review of standards at the same meeting until January. The draft is expected to include public feedback and content from the August version.

Balow said the framework is also subject to public and board input.


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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Vigil in Chesapeake after Walmart shooting and more Va. headlines



The State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)


• “The suspect in a Southern California triple homicide who died in a shootout with police was a Virginia law enforcement officer who investigators believe drove across the country to meet a teenage girl before killing three members of her family.”—Associated Press

• At a vigil last night in Chesapeake following last week’s mass shooting at a Walmart, the city mayor called the moment Chesapeake’s darkest hour. Gov. Glenn Youngkin told attendees that “we must not evolve into a sense of national despair.”—WTKR

• A century ago, families on Hog Island moved to Oyster, Va., to escape the rising seas. Now climate change means Oyster is being threatened as well, sparking questions of whether those families should stay or go.—Washington Post

• The Virginia Crime Commission is considering how law enforcement can test drivers for DUI impairment from marijuana after possession of small amounts of the drug became legal.—Daily Press

• Another group that aims to revive the beloved but now-discontinued Northern Neck Ginger Ale owned by Coca-Cola is asking Westmoreland County for support. “We’re trying to get Coke’s attention. Either bring it back or sell it back to us. I believe having it in Virginia will be the best way to go.”—News on the Neck


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 $9.5K FOIA bill, NAACP releases records on Virginia’s election integrity unit



Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette Jr. outside the civil-rights group’s office in Richmond. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)


A message Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office sent out in late August in response to “election integrity” complaints included a clear statement that state attorneys had no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 and, therefore, no reason to stop the legally mandated destruction of ballots two years after the election. The Aug. 24 email also included a line that struck at least one right-wing activist as big news.

“Attorney General Miyares has created an election integrity unit composed of attorneys and investigators that will work closely with law enforcement to ensure that future elections are conducted pursuant to law and at the highest level of integrity,” the email said.

On Aug. 30, a response came from Virginians for America First, a pro-Trump group founded by Republican congressional candidate Leon Benjamin, a Richmond-area pastor who invoked Satan and “spiritual war” as he spoke at a Stop the Steal rally outside the Virginia Department of Elections in November 2020.

Bill Hawkins, the group’s state director, told the attorney general’s office that if it were true, a new unit had been created, he’d like to put out a press release to show election integrity activists “the AG’s office has heard us and has responded positively by creating such a unit.”

“If your office is planning on announcing this soon, we will hold off on our own press release,” Hawkins wrote.

As Miyares staffers discussed how to respond, Senior Assistant Attorney General Donald Ferguson asked: “BTW, do we have an election integrity unit? I don’t see it on the org chart.”

A little more than a week later, on Sept. 9, the election integrity unit was officially announced, drawing instant condemnation from Democrats, who called it a nod to conspiracy theorists who spread false election fraud claims that could lead to excessive scrutiny of minority voters. The attorney general’s office has adamantly denied that characterization, saying the 20-person unit is a more streamlined way of enforcing election laws and investigating all voting-related complaints, an activity the office was already empowered to handle.

The emails illuminating the runup to the announcement were released Tuesday by the Virginia NAACP, which paid a little more than $9,500 to get records it called disappointingly scant on information about the unit’s personnel, procedures, and purpose.

“This unit is plainly a paper tiger,” NAACP Virginia President Robert N. Barnette Jr. said at a press conference in Richmond Tuesday morning, “a public relations ploy to pander to election deniers and conspiracy theorists, who are the real force undermining public confidence in our elections.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita suggested the NAACP was disappointed because it didn’t find proof to back up its allegations the unit is a “partisan masterminded witch hunt designed to prevent Virginians from exercising the very right the Attorney General’s family fled communism for.”

“As we said earlier this month, the Virginia NAACP is making groundless attacks that are offensive, ridiculous and without [a] single shred of proof,” LaCivita said. “Due to the NAACP’s inappropriate and baseless attack, we continue to expect an apology on behalf of the hundreds of men and women at the Office of the Attorney General who work every day protecting the rights and freedoms of all Virginians.”

The early activities of the election integrity unit have been unclear. The state is prosecuting a former top election official in Prince William County over misconduct allegations that could have resulted in the county reporting slightly incorrect vote counts for the 2020 election, but Miyares’ office has refused to reveal additional details about the case.

The NAACP was required to pay a roughly $20,000 deposit to have Miyares’ office act on its Freedom of Information Act request, even though the final bill came in at less than half that amount.

Barnette accused the office of using exorbitant fees to try to get the NAACP to back off its request, a common criticism from transparency advocates who say Virginia’s laws make it too costly and difficult to try to access government information.

Most of the records consist of internal emails, press clippings, and responses to public feedback about the election integrity announcement. Barnette said he saw nothing noteworthy in the material the NAACP received, which the attorney general’s office told the group required more than 200 hours of staff time to compile.

“This is a questionable amount of time and money given the complete lack of records regarding any actual staffing or operation of the unit,” Barnette said, adding that the NAACP is still challenging the $9,515.07 bill.

Miyares’ office said the fees aligned with state law allowing agencies to recoup the costs of expansive records requests, noting the NAACP had filed 17 requests seeking documents over a 15-year span. According to correspondence the NAACP released, the office withheld approximately 282 records, citing FOIA exemptions for working papers and correspondence, records covered by attorney-client privilege and documents related to criminal investigations.

Barnette, who reiterated his group’s call for Miyares to disband the election unit, said the NAACP had received no complaints of voter intimidation in the midterms earlier this month, the first election in which the unit was up and running.

Asked about the suggestion the NAACP owes the attorney general’s office an apology, Barnette said the group’s efforts had nothing to do with Miyares’ family background or his status as the state’s first Hispanic attorney general.

“We’re just calling out the issue that he established an election integrity unit that would have supposedly presented a barrier to African-Americans or people of color from voting,” Barnette said. “That’s our issue.”

Many of the documents the civil rights group turned up show seemingly routine sharing of internal talking points, press clippings and responses to public feedback. But some highlight the fine line Miyares and other Republican officeholders are trying to walk on election issues.

Shortly after the announcement of the unit’s formation, the attorney general’s office was invited to send a representative to an election integrity event in Loudoun County with conspiracy theorist Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, the author of a report on purported fraud in Arizona that an expert hired by the Arizona Senate dismissed as “utter rubbish.” LaCivita said no one from the office attended the event.

The talking points the attorney general’s office circulated in August were more unequivocal than some of its other public statements about the fact there is no proof of significant fraud in Virginia’s 2020 election.

“The attorney general’s office has reviewed the 2020 election results, along with hundreds of documents from concerned citizens and elected officials, and we have not seen any evidence of widespread fraud that would change the results of Virginia’s 2020 election,” the talking points said. “Therefore, we have no justification for suing to stop the discarding of ballots this year.”

The documents also show that former Virginia elections commissioner Chris Piper sparred with the attorney general’s office after Piper sought reassurances that the state’s top legal office would back the elections community against bogus fraud claims. The brief hiring of an election conspiracy theorist to oversee election issues in the attorney general’s office, as well as news that the office had taken a meeting with conspiracy-minded Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, Piper wrote, had raised “numerous concerns” for election officials.

“At this point, I believe it is incumbent upon [Attorney] General Miyares to make a public statement or, at the very least, provide a statement to my staff, the general registrars, and the Electoral Board members that he is behind us and committed to promoting the good work these dedicated public servants have done to administer safe and secure elections that the public can trust,” Piper wrote in the Feb. 24 email. “Anything less would legitimize concerns the Attorney General will not faithfully defend the good work of these dedicated public servants.”

In a reply a few hours later, Chief Deputy Attorney General Chuck Slemp called Piper’s message “disappointing” and “politically charged.”

“Let me be very clear: Our office is looking forward to working with the many public servants at the Virginia Department of Elections and local election officials and supporting them in their work to administer safe and secure elections,” Slemp wrote. “By doubting that, you are doubting the integrity of the Attorney General, and for that, you should be ashamed.”

In an internal memo announcing the unit, Slemp said Miyares’ background as the son of a Cuban immigrant who escaped an “oppressive regime” is part of what makes the attorney general believe “the right to vote is among the most sacred of American freedoms.”

“Accordingly, the attorney general wants every Virginian to have absolute confidence in our election system,” Slemp said.

Slemp called the initiative an efficiency-boosting “restructuring” of personnel already working on election matters and indicated it would not only be interested in anti-fraud investigations.

“The Unit will also work with civil rights attorneys to protect voting rights and crack down on voter intimidation,” Slemp said.

Slemp’s memo said the unit would be supervised by two senior officials in the Government Operations and Transactions Division, Section Chief Josh Lief and Deputy Attorney General Leslie Haley.

In several emails included in the documents, Lief explains to Virginians for Americans First, the Republican-aligned group focused largely on voter fraud, what the state’s election laws require.

On Sept. 13, Lief explained why there was no “statewide order to preserve ballots” as some GOP activists wanted. The next day, he explained that vote-counting machines are required under state law, meaning local electoral boards can’t stop using them in response to calls to hand-count all ballots.

A Sept. 15 email in the records shows Lief acknowledging that many election integrity activists don’t have a firm grasp of the state’s laws and procedures. As he and other officials addressed an inquiry about how the unit can initiate investigations, Lief described a “private election integrity community that does all this research, looks at other states’ laws, doesn’t understand so many things about VA voting systems, etc.”

“Being blunt but dealing with all this is really something,” Lief wrote to his colleagues.


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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Proposal to reduce cosmetology licensure hours sparks backlash



Elektra Walraven, a licensed cosmetologist who owns a salon in Lynchburg, styling hair for a client. (Photo by Beck Faircloth, courtesy of Elektra Walraven)


The General Laws Subcommittee room was filled to the brim and unusually colorful on an afternoon in March 2022.

Approximately 50 cosmetology students, some sporting bright neon hair, had traveled from across the state to oppose a bill from Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, that aimed to reduce the number of training hours required for a cosmetology license.

“You should have seen the room packed with people like it was the hottest issue,” said Jonathan Melloul, CEO of Sylvain Melloul International Hair Academy, a school based in Lynchburg that has been in operation since 1969 and has around 75 students in a given year.

The legislation was narrowly tabled later the same day in committee — the fifth time since 2019 that a proposal to reduce cosmetology training hours had failed before the House of Delegates or the Senate. The committee instead left the decision in the hands of regulators.

Now, under Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, those regulators are proposing to reduce the number of hours needed for a cosmetology license in Virginia from 1,500 to 1,000. The administration says the decrease will spur job growth in the cosmetology industry, which includes professions such as nail, lash and wax technicians, estheticians, and hairstylists, and reduce financial burdens for students.

But numerous people in Virginia’s cosmetology industry question the motives behind the reduction and say it will lead to fewer people working in the industry, place excessive burdens on schools and students, and foster dangerous situations.

“It’s all about our students; the value of the education they get. They are the ones who don’t want this,” Melloul said. “It was like they were ignored as nobody listened to them and they’re the ones most affected.”

Less hours, less confidence, less cosmetologists

If students aren’t confident with what they’ve learned when they leave school, they’re less likely to go into the industry, said Linda Ingram, director at the Staunton School of Cosmetology, which has been in operation since 1956 and has between 30 and 40 students per year.

“We just feel like this is really going to be a detriment,” she said.

Karly Pierce, a student at Rudy & Kelly Academy, a Paul Mitchell partner school in Virginia Beach, has completed a little over 1,000 hours of training and said that if she graduated right now, “I think I would be set up for failure.”

Christine King, a graduate of Paul Mitchell The School Roanoke who now works at a salon and does house visits for clients, said when she and her classmates heard about Marsden’s bill to lower the hours, “like 90% of the people that I’ve seen freaked out about it,” she said.

“Some of us were over 1,000 hours and about to graduate,” King said, “and we ourselves were like, ‘If we have to leave at 1,000 hours, we would probably drop out.’”


John Turnage, owner of six Paul Mitchell schools, including one in Roanoke, speaks to cosmetology students at the Virginia Capitol ahead of a hearing on a bill that would have reduced training hours. (Natasha Greene)


Joyce Worrall, director of Rudy & Kelly Academy in Virginia Beach, said the school’s admissions leader has recently been getting calls from people asking if they can enroll before the hours are reduced in order to receive the old curriculum based on a 1,500-hour requirement.

Mitch Melis, director of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which oversees licensing in Virginia for cosmetology and other industries, acknowledged some students entering the profession have concerns about the reduction and may not be as proficient as they’d like when they leave school. But he said the department’s goal is to ensure that cosmetologists are practicing safely and won’t injure anyone – and the agency believes the 1,000-hour standard will be sufficiently protective.

“While you’re not necessarily going to be the best hairstylist or cosmetologist the day you graduate, we feel a lot more confident we are protecting health, safety, and welfare,” he said.

Not all cosmetologists believe the reduced training would negatively impact the industry. Debra Sawyer, a salon owner in Virginia, wrote in a comment on the proposal to reduce hours that “the extra hours are not needed and only lead to bigger student loans they will have to repay.”

“Over the last 16 years, I have hired numerous stylists who graduated from the beauty schools with the 1,500 hours and numerous stylists who graduated from our high school tech schools with only a required 840 hours of instruction,” she wrote. “I have found no difference between the level of preparedness to be on the floor servicing clients between the two programs.”

Burdens to students and schools

Other concerns voiced by cosmetologists and cosmetology students include financial aid, how transferable a 1,000-hour license would be to other states, and whether students could receive adequate training in working with natural or textured hair in shortened programs.

Proponents of the reduction say a shorter curriculum would not impact financial aid and would actually lead to less student debt.

“It even reduces the number of student loans a graduate will have to take on,” said Youngkin in a July 19 press release.

But Melloul said that if the curriculum is shortened, students’ financial aid eligibility will be drastically decreased because funding is based on the length of the program, but schools won’t necessarily be able to lower tuition just because the curriculum is shorter without jeopardizing their financial situation.

That can strain many schools. In Texas, which has a 1,000-hour licensure requirement, Audra Turner, executive education leader at Paul Mitchell The School Dallas, said teachers “are expected to deliver the same education in a third less time.” Reductions can also make it difficult for schools to retain their accreditations — the loss of which could mean the revocation of its certificate to operate and spell the end of the institution.

Being able to transfer cosmetology licenses to other states is also a huge priority for students, particularly those in or married to spouses in the military — a common situation in military-heavy Hampton Roads. If the license doesn’t meet the requirements set by another state, a cosmetologist might have to enroll in additional training to be able to practice.

According to a list of state requirements collected by Paul Mitchell Schools, new Virginia cosmetologists trained under a 1,000-hour curriculum could lose reciprocity in 17 states.

“You’re taking that portability away from students being able to transfer that license, and that’s huge to me,” Worrall said.


A client’s hair was styled by Christine King, a recent graduate of Paul Mitchell The School Roanoke who now works at a salon and does house visits for clients. (Photo courtesy Christine King)


According to some cosmetologists, reducing hours could also impact how well students learn to work with natural or textured hair. Training is already limited in the current 1,500-hour curriculum, said King, who noted many clients with those types of hair are hesitant about stylists’ skills because of the neglect they’ve previously received at salons due to lack of knowledge.

“I feel like if you’re going to work in an industry such as cosmetology, you should be able to cater to all hair and skin types,” King said. “Not just one.”

‘You can really hurt people’

Because cosmetologists often have to handle strong chemicals, sharp tools, and hot instruments that have the potential to harm a client seriously, many people in the industry say the reduction would increase the risk of injury.

Shears, scissors, razors, and trimmers can cause lacerations, while irons, hair dryers, and strong chemicals can cause burns to a client’s face or skin, said Elektra Walraven, a licensed cosmetologist and salon owner in Lynchburg.

“It’s a really bad and really dangerous idea,” Walraven said. “It’s one thing to pump out waitresses, and it’s another thing to pump out people who are putting life-altering chemicals on your face and head. You can really hurt people.”

Salons have insurance for a reason, she added.

But DPOR says the reduced hours won’t lead to safety reductions for the public. In an email, agency director Melis said DPOR brought in a national subject-matter expert on safety to share feedback on reducing the curriculum. Additionally, he stated, the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology, which voted to reduce the hours and is overseen by DPOR, is composed of experts who are familiar with the safety risks associated with the profession. That board created a 10-member regulatory advisory panel earlier this year to review the proposed curriculum with a focus on minimum competency.

DPOR and its boards are statutorily mandated to ensure licensees possess minimum competency, Melis emphasized, which means the “absolute bare minimum of knowledge, skills, and abilities as not to harm the public.”

West Virginia University Professor Edward Timmons wrote in a comment in favor of the reduction that “there is no evidence of consumer harm resulting from” lowered cosmetology licensure hours.

“If Virginia reduces cosmetology licensing requirements from 1,500 to 1,000 hours,” he said, “it will be joining 15 other states that have made similar changes in the last 10 years.”

Large chains backing hours reduction

Despite cosmetologists’ concerns, Marsden said he introduced his bill this year because the cosmetology industry is experiencing a worker shortage, “especially the major hair-cutting firms.”

From Nov. 1, 2019, to Nov. 1 of this year, the number of licensed cosmetologists in Virginia has decreased by 4.3%, according to data provided by DPOR.

Among the backers of Marsden’s bill this year was the salon lobbying group Future of the Beauty Industry Coalition, which represents national companies such as Sport Clips, Great Clips, and Hair Cuttery.

The push to reduce cosmetology hours isn’t new, Melis said. He said that DPOR has heard from the industry, schools, and students year after year that the 1,500-hour requirement was “excessive.”

“The agency is finally being responsive to the variety of stakeholders who have been looking and asking for this,” Melis said.

But neither Turner nor John Turnage, the owner of six Paul Mitchell Schools across three states, including the one in Roanoke, said they have heard any students complain about the length of the curriculum. Instead, they say large national companies are the main groups who want the requirement lowered.

“The companies that are pushing it are looking for low-paid labor,” Turnage said.

Pierce of Rudy & Kelly Academy also said the shorter curriculum will only serve to benefit the chain salons because small independent businesses aren’t going to want to hire graduates with 1,000 hours of training. Those businesses say some cosmetologists may not have the time to educate graduates who have received less training.

The Future of the Beauty Industry Coalition, which did not respond to a request for comment from the Virginia Mercury, has also successfully lobbied for reduced training hours in other states, including Texas, which it cited as an example before the subcommittee on why the reduction would be successful.

There has been no difference between 1,000- and 1,500-hour states in terms of the number of complaints, Matthew Benka, a lobbyist for the coalition and former vice chairman of the Virginia Board for Professional and Occupational Regulation, told the subcommittee in March.

Benka also assured the subcommittee that the reduction “does not change financial aid.”

Turnage, who also owns Paul Mitchell schools in Texas, said enrollment numbers have stayed the same despite the state’s reduction of licensure hours beginning in late 2019. However, Turner of Paul Mitchell The School Dallas said the school hasn’t been teaching a 1,000-hour curriculum long enough to know if students trained with it are able to earn a living long-term.

32 hours

After Marsden’s latest bill was tabled, the regulatory advisory panel spent months filling out surveys and reviewing the curriculum. It presented the Virginia Board for Barbers and Cosmetology in May with an average curriculum recommendation of 892.5 hours. The lowest recommendation was 32 hours.

Just over a month later, on July 11, the board voted to begin the regulatory process to lower the hours from 1,500 to 1,000.


While Melloul applauded the board for its creation of the panel, he said, “the makeup of the panel members dictated the outcome.”

Three of the panel members worked for companies represented by the Future of the Beauty Industry Coalition.

“I think there are some people on there that literally said 80 hours is enough; that’s all the training you need for cosmetology,” Melloul said.

Turner, who also sat on the panel, called some of the curriculum hours recommendations  “mind-boggling.” She recalled one-panel member saying there didn’t need to be any hours for training on how to use curling, flat and other irons because it was a “no brainer,” and “it’s hot, you don’t touch them.” Another expressed the opinion that “giving cosmetologists more information would actually make them dangerous” when spotting potential abnormal moles, she said, “because she thought that we would try to diagnose and treat things, which we don’t.”

“There wasn’t really anyone that I know of asking the question of, ‘Hey, if this person said that there should only be 32 hours, should this person be considered an expert? And what’s their agenda?’” Turner said.

Melis said the panel members were “carefully considered and intentionally comprised of a broad spectrum of education providers and employer representatives.”

A ‘craft people take pride in’

Turnage said that businesses having problems attracting or retaining employees need to change their business model and “not try to change the one that’s helping the education of the student.”

Marsden argued that many students think they will be making a fortune working in private salons but actually work at a chain salon for lower rates.

Ingram, Turnage, Melloul, and Worrall, however, said most of their students end up working at independently-owned salons after graduation.

Cosmetology is a “craft people take pride in, and they don’t want just to burn and churn people out of a salon,” Melloul said. Some chain salons “don’t really care about the haircut as (much as) they care if the client’s in and out in 15 minutes.”

Pierce said a reduced curriculum will diminish the quality of cosmetology in the state.

“It’s not going to be an artistic field anymore, and it’s just going to turn into a machine,” she said. “It’s a skill and a trade, not a way to make money quickly.”

The proposed curriculum will be considered at the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology’s Jan. 9 meeting next year.

This story has been corrected to note that the Staunton School of Cosmetology has between 30 and 40 students per year.


by Meghan McIntyre, 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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