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New delegate sees hope for change in Assembly


For freshman Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, the biggest surprise during his first session of the Virginia General Assembly was getting things done.

“I got involved in politics because I was sick and tired of all the divide in our country,” McGuire said. “I know that a good leader brings people together, and the goal of any good leader is to bring people to a better place.”

McGuire is a representative for parts of Goochland, Henrico and Spotslyvania coutnties, as well as Louisa County. A former Navy Seal and father of five, McGuire was born and reared in Henrico County, Virginia, and was in foster care as a child.

Assembly-veteran Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, served as McGuire’s mentor in the 2018 session.

“Obviously his background in the military and his experience with small businesses contributed to his success this year,” Landes said. “He takes advice well and applies all feedback in a very effective way.”

During his campaign, McGuire said he heard countless people tell him he wasn’t qualified or experienced enough to be a delegate, and that he would never get anything done.


McGuire knocked on the doors of independents, democrats and republicans – with whom he said he laughed and cried as he heard stories from their lives. McGuire sought to embrace people’s different passions and problems.


“I appreciate someone who has a different opinion, because through conversation it might change me or change them, so then we get to a better place.”


Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, was a neighbor of McGuire in the General Assembly office building this session.

“It was a pleasure getting to know John and his staff,” Reid said. “We both served in the Navy and we were both adopted when we were young, so there’s a common bond in those areas.”

Reid was a co-patron of McGuire’s veteran ID bill, HB 737, and emphasized the broad support the bill received in the House this year.

McGuire was the chief-patron of nine total bills this session, with the veteran ID bill making it all the way to Gov. Ralph Northam. The bill would allow the DMV to issue driver’s licenses with a veteran indicator.

McGuire’s other eight proposed pieces of legislation, such as HB 739 on police animal cruelty and HB 1397 concerning small business’ government compliance, were killed in session.

“I was elected to solve problems,” McGuire stated. “Not push bills through and overlooking finding the simple solution.”

Landes was impressed with McGuire’s passion to solve issues.

“He was able to find solutions and create legislation on issues people have been trying to solve for years,” Landes said.

McGuire has even killed a number of his own bills because he said he was able to find a solution outside of the General Assembly. Examples include HB 1438 and HB 738, that looked to promote local drive-in movie theaters and lower the cost of milk respectively.

“Our number one goal is to find solutions,” he said. “We want to make Virginia the best place to work, live and raise a family.”

McGuire also discussed the recent Parkland shooting.

“You can imagine that I know a lot about weapons, and I am pro-second amendment,” he said. “However, some people are not. That doesn’t make me any better than them.”

McGuire said at the start of the session he surprised newspapers when he attended and spoke at pro-gun rally, and in the same day, attended a gun safety rally.

“How could you possibly be a good legislator if you don’t go to both and know both sides?” he said.

McGuire said the country needs to make a change about leniency of gun-regulation, especially when it comes to the safety of children. He is in support of stronger background checks.

“If our kids are number one — which they are– we need to protect our children. Make our schools safer,” he said. “It’s like what I said on the campaign trial. We are in a war on common sense. It shouldn’t be easy to harm children.”

Ron Sims, a veteran and constituent in Louisa County, said McGuire’s success thus far is thanks to his persistence.

“The way he ran for election, he stood on every street corner in this district personally holding a sign,” Sims said. “He’s very tenacious.”

During the months he’s not in session, McGuire travels around the country with his company SEAL Team PT, a physical training boot camp for athletic teams and corporations nationwide.

“We are celebrating 20 years of helping people become stronger, healthier and more confident.” McGuire said. “We help people believe in themselves.”

McGuire said he hopes to run for re-election for the 2019 General Assembly.

“I would hope that people would think that finding solutions and getting results is the best thing,” he said. “This is why I am really excited. I put my heart and soul in and am getting things done.”




Virginia approves use of medical marijuana


Virginia is now the 29th state that has legalized marijuana for medical purposes, following Gov.  Ralph Northam’s signing of a bill to permit it.

The bill, HB 1251, which is identical to SB 726, allows practitioners to prescribe cannabidiol (CBD) or THC-A oil to relieve the symptoms of any medical condition or disease when the practitioner believes the use of one of these oils will provide some benefit.

The bill also includes a provision that will allow pharmacies to dispense 90-day supplies of CBD or THC-A oil. Before, pharmacies could only dispense 30-day supplies of either oil.

The prior law, which was passed in 2015, only allowed the use of these oils for patients who suffered from intractable epilepsy, a condition that causes seizures that cannot be controlled with the use of medication, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, who is the chief patron of SB 726 and a practicing physican, said during a committee hearing on the bill that she introduced the bill following the recommendation of the Joint Commission on Health Care, a standing commission on the General Assembly.

“This actually comes from the Joint Committee on Health care, where we reviewed the CBD oil process and the side effects and the risks after legislation that was similar last year, and it was a recommendation of that commission that we go ahead and allow the physicians to decide when the indication should be given.”

Dunnavant also said that doctors, rather than lawmakers, should be deciding how CBD and THC-A oil should be used on the Senate floor before the bill passed with a 40-0 vote.

“The idea that the legislature would be the ones that would decide year after year what the latest medical evidence showed were good indications for the use of these oils, it’s much better to let the doctors decide for what these oils can be used,” Dunnavant said.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, who is the executive director of Virginia NORML, a Washington-based marijuana advocacy group, said that she had spent hundreds of hours advocating for expanding the use of medical marijuana during this General Assembly session.

“This didn’t happen because of industry dollars or high powered lobbyists, it happened because two moms wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Pedini said. “We were pushed aside by other organizations interested in working for only small patient groups. We were railroaded by partisan antics more than once. We stood our ground, we pushed forward, and we prevailed.”

Northam, who had previously advocated for expanding medical marijuana use, said in a 2017 interview that Virginia legislators should be more open-minded toward the issue.

“As a doctor, I like to make the point to people, over 100 of the medicines that we use on a daily basis come from plants,” Northam said. “So I think we need to be open-minded about using marijuana for medical purposes.”

The bill passed the House with an emergency clause, meaning that went into effect immediately after being signed by the governor, rather than on July 1, which is when most laws become effective.

Bill passes to add a tax for visitors at the Homestead Resort


The Omni Homestead Resort is a picturesque getaway in the middle of Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains and a designated National Historic Landmark. The Homestead celebrated 250 years as America’s first resort in 2016, and boasts of being “a premier destination for 23 U.S. presidents” on its website. The resort even claims that its mineral-water bathhouse, aptly named the Jefferson Pools, was enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson himself in 1818.

Visitors today cannot enjoy those springs because of the bathhouse’s deteriorating condition.

The Jefferson Pools, among other features of the Homestead, are in need of renovation.  Two local legislators, Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. , R-Greene, and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, recognized this problem and proposed a bill to solve it.

The bill, SB547, imposes a transient occupancy tax on eligible historic lodging properties in Virginia, but only affects the Homestead.

Hanger shared his support for the bill with the Senate by talking about the historical significance of the Jefferson Pools in a funny anecdote.

“History will show you that Thomas Jefferson, himself, went there and bathed in those pools to get the kind of incentive he needed to write the Declaration of Independence and to design this capital that we’re in currently,” Hanger said in a Senate session. “If they can do this, make this investment, they’re gonna fix those pools up, so let’s do this for Thomas Jefferson!”

On a more serious note, Hanger stressed how important it is to look at the needs of a particular region – in this case, Bath County – and focus on a business that is essential to a locality.

Deeds also talked about the economic implications of the bill.

“This is incredibly important for the economic welfare of Bath County and, frankly, because of the employment of the Homestead, for the surrounding areas.” Deeds said in a Senate session.

Some senators disagreed.

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Shenandoah, said this tax was unfair because it only benefited the Omni, the Texas corporation that owns the Homestead.

“This is not the kind of hospitality that Virginian’s deserve,” Obenshain said in a Senate session. “It is not an honest way of dealing with the problems of this Texas corporation. It is not the Virginia way and we should not be complicit in tricking guests who come to our Virginia and come to our hotels.”

The bill passed the Senate 25-15 Jan. 29. The precise tax will be determined based on a formula linked to occupancy charges, but it would not exceed five percent of the room cost.

When the bill went to the House, Del. Robert Lee Ware, Jr., R-Chesterfield, voiced his support because he said it benefited the surrounding, remote area and its numerous regional employees.

“It is a critically important historic and business asset for this region,” Ware said in a House session. “It’s not only in a rural area, as many of you who have been there know, it’s in a remote area and we’re doing something, I think, for a community that would be very significant.”

The bill passed the House 79-20 on Feb. 28 and now awaits Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature.





Proposed road-naming law change moving through Senate


For those Virginians who have always wished for their name on a state highway, the window of opportunity closing thanks to new legislation.

A bill prohibiting the naming of highways and bridges in Virginia after a private entity or person has passed in the House and passed the Senate Committee on Transportation in a 13-0 vote. The bill, HB 712, was proposed by Del. Dawn Adams, D-Henrico, in an effort to clean up the language of the existing law and revert back to regulations prior to 2012.

“Historically it was the Transportation Board of the General Assembly that would name highways and byways and other transportation facilities after persons in honor of or memorial of them,” Adams said.

But in 2012, the Transportation Board had decided to use the naming as a revenue source, Adams said, and ceased to use the naming in an honorable way.

In the years since this change, any person or company Virginia could pay to have their name on a highway, regardless of whether the person was living or dead.

Many residents found this to be very crass, Adams said, and that it was time to restore respect in the naming of highways in Virginia.

In its first reading in the Senate, senators chimed in asking questions and comments to clarify the intentions of the bill.

Sen. David R. Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, asked multiple questions for clarification.

“During the brief time I’ve been on this committee, the General Assembly named a transportation project in the eastern part of the state after a living member of law enforcement,” Suetterlein said.

“If this bill were enacted, would that not be permissible?”

Adams responded that the General Assembly can name anything they want, this bill would prohibit a company, for example, from paying for its name on a highway or a bridge.

“They decided to keep the dignity of memorializing people who contributed significantly to the Commonwealth,” Adams said, adding that the state troopers who died in Charlottesville are an example of those who should be remembered.

The existing facilities named after a person or company will also not be removed if the bill passes, Adams also said.

“They wanted to go back to the way that titling used to be, and take that revenue out of it, because there are other paths to generate revenue than through naming things,” Adams said.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said if the Commonwealth or a local government wished to name a street or a bridge after anyone, living or dead, it would be dealt with in a separate section of the code.

“This is just dealing with what the board itself can do, subject to federal regulations, and it’s putting it in line with federal regulations, as they’ve changed,” she said.



Solar installation bill sets standards for state


Now property owners can do their part in using renewable energy in Virginia with more ease after a bill standardizing the process for installing solar facilities passed the General Assembly.

The bill, SB 429, introduced by Sen. Bill M. Stanley, R-Martinsville, passed the House this week with 97-0. The bill will allow properties owners to install solar devices to power the building it is installed on, as well as ground-mounted generators in compliance with height and setback requirements in each zoning district. The bill will become effective on Jan. 1, 2019.
“I think we wanted to, as a state, make a bipartisan statement that we want to encourage these kinds of solar uses of people’s property,” said Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Fairfax, the bill’s chief co-patron.

Wexton is interested in expanding people’s access to solar energy and has advocated for similar legislation in the past. She stressed that this bill applies not only to houses and subdivisions, but also to agricultural and commercial properties.

“Senate Bill 429 just gives a lot of guidance to localities about the fact that these kinds of arrays are permissible, because what we were finding is that different counties didn’t really know how to deal with these arrays when people wanted to install them on their property,” Wexton said. “This bill gives them the guidance and says it’s OK, but you can still regulate things like setbacks and location and things like that.”

Tom Weaver is a sales professional with Prospect Solar, a company based in Sterling that designs, builds and installs solar photovoltaic energy systems. Weaver said he has noticed an increase in popularity of solar use in Virginia, and that it’s growing.

“It’s something that a lot of people, or more people, are interested in year after year after year, even with the tariffs we’ve recently seen be implemented,” Weaver said. “The train’s left the station. There’s not going to be something that’s going to stop the industry dead cold in its tracks, but you know, it is proven, we know it works.”

Weaver is referring to the tariff introduced on Jan. 22, 2018, by President Donald Trump on imported solar panels. The tariff will cause trade barriers and slow the technology’s adaptation in the United States.

However, Weaver also explained that different jurisdictions look at solar energy in different ways.

“Some areas, the process of obtaining a permit is only a day, and then we’ve work with other jurisdictions where we’re talking two, three, four weeks,” Weaver said. “There’s not one standard set or rules that we’re playing by, so everybody implements their own set of rules that makes things a little challenging.”

SB 429 will standardize the process for implementing solar on properties, allowing permits to be approved quicker and allowing renewable energy use to expand. Weaver said this bill will shrink the time Prospect Solar spends educating, thus allowing the company to increase its profitability and ability to better serve clients.

Weaver cited the raw economics behind solar energy use as the main reason he supports it. He explained that a diversified energy profile will be the best prospect for Virginia.

“I believe it’s a combination of everything, it’s like diversifying your stock portfolio, you know, we need to have a good mixture or a good portfolio of energy in order for us to move forward,” Weaver said. “You can see now that having one way of doing it isn’t good for the environment, so why not introduce new ways of doing things and look at the economics behind it and say, you know, this is just flat-out better.”

“It’s not a solar versus coal thing, it’s way too early in the game to go ‘well we need to switch to all renewables. Solar We have to do it responsibly and say so we need to start finding different ways, and solar is one of those ways, and let the economics speak for themselves.”

Northam urges Senate members to support Medicaid expansion during demonstration at Capitol Square

(Supporters from various groups joined the demonstration. Photo by Bri Park/The Capital News Service)



Gov. Ralph Northam, accompanied by Attorney General Mark Herring, called for General Assembly senators to move forward with Medicaid expansion at a demonstration that took place on Capitol Square on Thursday morning.

“We’ve got a week left,” Northam said. “As you know, we have a budget in the House that includes Medicaid expansion. The Senate’s doesn’t. This is time, it’s a week left.”

Northam said he believed expanding Medicaid was a moral decision that legislators should support.

“Morally, the right thing to do is to make sure 400,000 working Virginians have access to affordable and quality care,” Northam said. “We need to make that happen.”

The demonstration, which was titled the Rally for Medicaid Expansion, was coordinated by Healthcare for all Virginians, a coalition comprising more than 110 organizations across the state that believe all Virginians should have access to affordable health care, according to the organization’s website.

Representatives from various health-related organizations affiliated with the Healthcare for all Virginians coalition including The New Virginia Majority, an emergency room medical provider from Roanoke and SEIU Virginia 512 also spoke in support of expanding Medicaid.

Karen Legato, who is the Executive director of the Fan Free Clinic, a Richmond-based health center that provides free medical services, said that although organizations like the Fan Free Clinic were a resource for many people who would not be able to access affordable healthcare otherwise, they do not have enough resources to support every Richmond resident who does not have health insurance.

“Let me be clear,” Legato said. “All of the charitable clinics put together only have the capacity to serve 152,000 of the 505,000 uninsured eligible for our services. We need Medicaid because we need help taking care of the people in our community.”

According to an analysis by the Commonwealth Institute, more than 834,000 Virginians have healthcare through Medicaid, with half of all low-income children in the state receiving coverage through the program.

However, when compared to other states, Virginia ranks as the 44th most difficult state for residents to meet the qualifications for Medicaid coverage, according to the Commonwealth Institute. Some restrictions on Medicaid eligibility include prohibiting childless adults from qualifying and having different income caps for eligibility across different localities, meaning that a family that once qualified for the program could potentially lose their benefits if they move to a different part of the state.

Although they did not address the crowd at the rally, several senators, including David D. Marsden, D-Fairfax, Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake and Jeremy S. McPike, D-Manassas stood behind Gov. Northam as he commended the demonstrators for their on-going activism on Medicaid expansion.

“It’s time for you all to do your work and I know that you all know how to do it because I would not be standing here, Mark Herring would not be standing here and these senators and delegates would not be here if it wasn’t for you,” Northam said. “You are the voices that lift us up every day.”

Committee approves bill requiring social services to report sexual abuse to foster homes


The Senate Committee on Courts of Justice unanimously approved a bill that would require local boards of social services to report instances of sexual abuse to foster homes before placement.

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, introduced the bill in early January that passed the House on a block-vote passage one month later.

Gilbert declined to comment on the bill, but reported to the Virginia House of Delegates in session the day before the block passage vote. He clarified changes and adoptions to the bill and asked for the bill to be engrossed by the House.

“This bill provides that social services and other child placement agencies are required to disclose to the adoptive or foster parent that the child being placed with them that there is substantial likelihood or finding that the child has been a sexual predator in some other instance,” Gilbert said in session on February 8. “We had some other language in here that was a lot stronger and we stripped it out simply to provide that notice to the adoptive or foster parent.”

The bill would amend and reenact current Virginia law that outlines acceptance of children for placement in homes and other facilities, provides the rights and duties of the local board, as well as outline the right of a child-placing agency to investigate the person seeking the adoption.

Prior to this bill, foster homes were provided all known information available on the foster child, according to Cletisha Lovelace, a public relations and media specialist for the Department of Social Services.

Although foster homes were provided with all known information, not all informational requirements regarding the foster child were outlined in the law.

The original law states that the report shall include a statement by the child-placing agency or local director that all reasonably ascertainable background, medical, and psychological records of the child have been provided to the adoptive parent(s). It does not explicitly state that records of sexual abuse must be included or reported.

This particular bill does not address requirements or qualifications for the perspective foster or adoptive parent. However, Gilbert in the past has addressed his feelings on the types of people who should be eligible to become a foster or adoptive parent.

Gilbert, a Republican, has sponsored other legislation pertaining to adoptive and foster care agencies. He previously sponsored a new law to protect faith-based adoption agencies from being forced, by the government, to place children with same sex couples, according to his website.

In 2016, this bill sponsorship resurfaced along with new sponsorship of a bill that would prohibit state agencies from punishing discrimination against people who are transgender or who are in same-sex marriages, according to Jenna Portnoy of The Washington Post in her article, “Religious freedom or license to discriminate?”