Supporters say abortion bill veto helps protect other health issues


Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill Tuesday that would restrict spending related to abortion or family planning by the Virginia Department of Health.

The bill, HB224, was introduced by Del. Ben Cline (R-Amherst) and Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudon) and passed the House 60-33. It also passed the Senate 20-19.

Sen. Steve Newman (R-Bedford) spoke in support of the bill during session.

“This bill in particular indicates that if an organization is providing abortion services beyond that which Medicaid currently pays for, that the commonwealth will not pay for any of the services that that organization provides – whether they are abortion services or other services.” Newman said.

This would mean that organizations such as Planned Parenthood could lose funding for not only abortion services, but also for birth control and safe sex services.

Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington) emphasized that the bill would also prevent Planned Parenthood from providing screening for sexually transmitted diseases, calling them a public health issue.

Favola implored the Senate to vote no during session.

“I ask us, please, please to put aside our desire to absolutely control reproductive health choices, and look at this from a public policy view,” she said. “In many cases, these are the only places women can go to get these screenings.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, untreated chlamydial infection has been linked to problems during pregnancy, including preterm labor, premature rupture of membranes and low birth weight — exposed newborns can even develop eye and lung infections.

The CDC also notes that Hepatitis B passed from mother to child causes a 25% chance of death from chronic liver disease, syphilis has been linked to premature births, stillbirths and in some cases, death shortly after birth – and of course, a baby born with HIV passed on from its mother is born with a disease that has no effective cure.

“What we’re doing is endangering the health of thousands of Virginia citizens, we are endangering family planning and contraceptive services to thousands of women annually, and we are depriving low-income patients from essentially inaccessible health services, all to make the political point of interfering in women’s reproductive health care choices,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, (D-Hampton)


ACLU, civil rights groups, speak against GOP-bills banning sanctuary city policies


Just one day after the release of new government documents detailing President Trump’s plan for aggressive new immigration enforcement policies, the Virginia General Assembly adopted a bill banning localities from adopting sanctuary policies for illegal immigrants that restrict the enforcement of federal laws in the floor session Feb. 23, 2017.

The ACLU and other civil rights organizations warned of the detrimental effects of introducing anti-immigration legislation on both the state and federal level in a news conference at the General Assembly building the previous day.

Michelle Larue, Virginia Director of CASA, an advocacy organization for struggling immigrants, urged Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to veto  proposed anti-immigration legislation.

“These bills do nothing but instill fear and anxiety in our community and will effect all Virginians,” Larue said at the news conference.

Larue and the members of other advocacy groups referenced legislation such as Del. Charles Poindexter’s (R-Glade Hill) HB 2000, which passed the Senate, then returned to the House after an amendment and was also passed.

Del. Nicholas Freitas (R-Culpepper) voted in favor of Poindexter’s bill, saying that while the federal government does need to change its immigration laws, the state has a duty to protect its citizens. He urged the need to better enforce current policies to ensure the safety of citizens and legal immigrants.

“If you’re going to to create an environment that is a sanctuary city, regardless of what you call it, well then on some level you need to be responsible for the negative aspects that accompany that kind of policy,” Freitas said.

In the floor session on Feb. 23, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) argued that federal burden should not be placed on local jurisdictions. He warned that adopting the bill would “send the worst kind of message about Virginia” and urged his fellow delegates to vote against it.

“Let’s be clear. This bill is dog-whistle politics at it’s best, created to stoke fear of the other and the idea that those who are different, immigrants and new Americans, well you’re unwelcome,” Lopez said.

Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), who is the Chief Patron of another piece of immigration legislation, spoke on the opposition to bills like HB2000 from McAuliffe and Democrats, like Lopez.

Marshall specifically referred to former President Obama’s 2014 Secure Communities Program that prioritized deporting undocumented immigrants who broke the law over those who did not.

“The Trump administration has adopted polices of secure communities. I don’t recall the governor objecting to that,” Marshall said. “I don’t recall the gentleman from Arlington getting on the floor and denouncing president Obama for his cruelty, for his xenophobia.”

HB 2000 is just one of several pieces of GOP-backed legislation meant to crack down on illegal immigration that are gaining momentum in the Virginia House and Senate. Marshall’s HB1468 would extend jail and prison sentences for crimes committed by illegal immigrants for up to two days to give federal immigration officials more time to pick them up.

His bill was adopted after passing the House Feb. 17, 2017, and currently awaits action by McAuliffe who has vowed to veto any anti-immigration legislation.

State legislators pass bill to prohibit ‘sanctuary’ cities for immigrants


Republican lawmakers in Virginia have showed their support of President Donald Trump’s illegal immigration agenda by passing related legislation of their own.

House Bill 2000, which prohibits any Virginia locality from adopting sanctuary policies, was initially defeated in the Senate after failing to report out of the Local Governments Committee. The bill was resurrected and reconsidered by the same committee on Monday, nearly a week after its initial defeat.

The committee passed HB 2000 in a 7-6 vote with a vote of approval from Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-24th, who did not vote when the bill was initially considered.

On the floor of the Senate, the bill faced yet more challenges.

After a lengthy debate, the initial vote in the Senate came in at a 20-20 tie, with Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-3rd, siding with Democrats and sending the vote to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who sided with his fellow Democrats.

Norment then immediately moved to reconsider the bill. He then voted with his Republican colleagues, and the bill passed along party lines at 21-19 on Wednesday.

The bill, which states that “no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law,” reinforces Trump’s promises to defund any city that has adopted sanctuary cities.

There are currently no sanctuary cities in Virginia.

Shortly after the vote, Northam was the target of Republican Ed Gillespie’s gubernatorial campaign.

“Lieutenant Governor Northam voted for sanctuary cities in the commonwealth,” Gillespie’s statement said. “Northam is out-of-step with Virginians who believe that enforcing our nation’s long-standing immigration laws is common sense.”

Northam, also engaged in a gubernatorial campaign, accused Norment and Republicans of playing games.

“This is the sixth time Republicans pulled off this stunt in this General Assembly session,” Northam said in a statement in response to Gillespie. “Ed Gillespie and Richmond Republicans know there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia. They want to demonize immigrants for political gain. I will stand up to Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie trying to scapegoat immigrants.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to veto any bill that would restrict sanctuary policies

Henrico educator hopes to teach teamwork to the General Assembly


Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

Their teacher, Schuyler Van Valkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he is chosen, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has not been opposed for 10 years.

Margaret Graham, the legislative assistant to Massie, said that he is “focused on state business… He will begin his campaign related activities by mid-March.”

Van Valkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in History, is running for office for the first time. Although Van Valkenburg has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run.

In college, he described himself as apolitical. However, Van Valkenburg described the “elephant in the room,” stating that Trump’s win was really the “gasoline” that fueled his political fire.

A self-proclaimed “Constitution nerd,” Van Valkenburg said he hopes to organize Henrico Democrats, in a county that went blue in the 2016 Presidential Election, and create a General Assembly that follows the ethos the country was founded on – “ life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

“How do you actually pursue happiness?” Van Valkenburg asked. “You have to have the access to be healthy, you have to have the opportunity to work at a job that can provide meaning and stability, you have to have access to education for mobility and self confidence.”

At a young age, Van Valkenburg watched his father grow ill, lose his autonomy and ultimately lose his ability to be a parent. During his childhood in his industrial upstate New York hometown, just outside of Albany, Van Valkenburg was unaware to the hardships and difficulties around him because his mother — an educator and rigid Republican — was a “superwoman.”

That relationship with his mother, he said, “is evidence that people with different political agendas may not be as different as they may think,” Van Valkenburg said at his campaign kickoff event on Wednesday at the Lakeside Final Gravity brewery.

“At the root of it all we all to some extent go by the American creed that fear doesn’t win, dividing doesn’t win and people want to be their better angels”

In another anecdote, Van Valkenburg discussed his first day out canvassing. The first door he knocked opened to a man with strong fundamentalist Christian beliefs who extolled his passionate beliefs for 20 minutes — but Van Valkenburg said with a smile, “although he probably won’t vote for me, he signed my petition.”

Sara and Mark Hudson, two supporters at the kickoff event, discussed their frustration with current local and national politics.

Sara Hudson, a pre-K teacher, said she is “disgusted by adults in politics who act in ways that I would reprimand my children for… It’s sad that we teach our kids that everyone is valid and deserves love and respect, yet adults can act in ways that are so uncaring and unforgiving.”

Mark Hudson, a Republican, was at the kickoff in support of Van Valkenburg, because he is frustrated with current representation and proud that someone finally has “stepped up.”

“He’s lovely, down to earth and most importantly, approachable,” said Lisa Rogerson, a Van Valkenburg supporter.

Van Valkenburg hopes to focus his efforts on education reform and limit the gerrymandering that he believes has occurred in the General Assembly. He said he wants to better represent the “purple” district of Henrico, referring to its increasingly Democratic leanings.

“We need someone who is intelligent and actually represents the people,” added Theresa Kennedy, a fellow supporter. “He knows what it’s like to pay bills, raise kids and knows what keeps the rest of us up at night.”

Both Van Valkenburg and his supporters hope to start a movement for Democrats from the bottom up, focusing on local and state elections in order to stir democratic support at the national level in 2020.

“I’m an honest broker who listens, but willing to say I am not always right, let’s look at both sides of the issue,” Van Valkenburg said. “They’ll know where I stand.  That’s my appeal.”

Virtual school bill passes Senate, House


A House bill that would establish a K-12 virtual school and separate virtual school board passed the Senate Tuesday.

HB 1400, introduced by Del. Dickie Bell (R – Staunton), passed 22-18 in a Senate vote. An identical Senate bill introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R – Henrico) passed the House 59-37on Monday.

The bill would create a 14-person virtual school board in the executive branch of the state government. The Virginia Virtual School will be open to any students in grades kindergarten to 12th grade with a maximum enrollment of 5,000. The school must also meet Standards of Quality, and the bill requires that the Virtual School receive the average state funding per student that is usually awarded to traditional public schools. For 2018, the funding per student is estimated at $4,632, according to a fiscal impact statement from the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget.

Bell is a former special education teacher and believes that virtual schools may help reach non-traditional learners.

“Unfortunately due to a wide discrepancy in resources for education across the state we are currently unable to provide the same equal opportunity to all students,” Bell wrote in an email. “With a full time virtual school option and the array of classes that can be offered, we can offer every student the same opportunity. This should be an option for students and parents, many of who simply do not or cannot function to the best of their ability in the classroom.”

Some parents and public school advocates, however, are worried about the push away from public schools.

Kirsten Gray, an activist and mother of two with one child still in the Richmond Public School system, worries the existence of a separate school board for the virtual school.

“I don’t like the idea that there’s a board above our board, that we didn’t elect, who makes decisions for us,” Gray said.

Gray, whose daughter has taken her second year of Latin online following the loss of her teacher, is also concerned about the effectiveness of virtual learning.

“She gets high grades, but she admits to me that she’s not learning anything,” Gray said. “Not like she did last year with a Latin teacher. It’s terribly boring, and the teacher that’s babysitting the room, she doesn’t know the language at all. What help is she? She’s just there to babysit.”

Bell maintains that virtual school will help “level the playing field” for all students.

“Classes would all be taught by certified teachers who are also qualified in teaching virtually and the program providers would undergo a rigorous application process and an annual review,” Bell wrote in an email. “Those who remain wary of this education option are simply trying to maintain the status quo with an old model that does not meet all the needs of the 21st century… Students would no longer be limited to resources by their zip code.”

Bell introduced the same bill last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe has since advocated for full-time virtual education and mentioned his own plan for alternative schooling during the State of the Commonwealth address in January.

“We all agree that technology provides us with the opportunity to offer high-quality education to students who are unable to attend school in a traditional setting,” McAuliffe said, during the address. “This year I am proposing to offer full-time, high-quality virtual learning to every Virginia student.”

Virginia has a virtual school program for middle and high school students called Virtual Virginia, run by the state department of education. There are 200 full-time enrollees for the 2016-2017 school year, according to department’s website.

Bill to arm some school security officers passes House and Senate


Gov. Terry McAuliffe will soon consider a House bill that would allow school security officers to carry a firearm during the performance of their duties. The bill passed the House 78-19 and the Senate 24-16.

The bill, HB 1392, amends and reenacts a section of the Code of Virginia to allow former retired police officers to be armed when performing the duties of a school security officer. According to the bill, the officers must have retired in good standing within ten years of being hired by the local school board, have completed all necessary training, and have received verification from the chief law enforcement officer in the area.

“None of us want to contemplate the unthinkable, that something horrible can happen in a school and law enforcement in rural areas who have to travel greater distances might be delayed in getting there,” the bill’s patron, Del. L Scott Lingamfelter, R-31, said. “That is my motivation.”

Currently, there are two types of school security officers – resource officers, who are members of the local police department and can be armed on school property, and security officers, who cannot be armed, Claire Gardner, Del. Robert Marshall’s legislative aid, said. Allowing retired law enforcement officers to undergo additional training to become resource officers is more cost effective than training new officers specifically for this job, Gardner said.

Marshall, R-13, is one of the chief co-patrons of HB 1392. His support for this bill stems from his own bill, HB 1469, which would allow school administrators and teachers who already have concealed carry permits to undergo additional training in order to carry their concealed firearms at schools, Gardner said.

Gardner said that Marshall’s initiative to allow more firearms in school buildings was sparked by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Both HB 1392 and HB 1469 were introduced as a way to help protect students and others in state public shools in a situation where someone comes on campus to harm students and or faculty, she said.

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-11, said he voted not to enact the bill when it passed through the House because he is not in favor of having non-active police officers carry firearms in a school environment. As a gun-owner himself, Rasoul said he knew the difficulties of successfully operating a weapon and worried that officers who were not constantly using a gun might not be able to handle the weapon successfully.

While prevention of school shootings could be an acceptable reason for the passage of this bill, Rasoul said he has not seen a need for more armed officers.

Kenita Bowers, Richmond Public Schools director of communications and media relations, declined to comment on the pending legislation.

Bill defending First Amendment on campuses approaches vote in Senate



A bill designed to defend First Amendment rights on public college campuses moved one step closer to passage on Thursday, passing the Senate Committee on Education and Health by a unanimous 15-0 vote.

HB 1401, which was introduced by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, now awaits a final vote in the Senate. It would prohibit public institutions of higher education from restricting the First Amendment rights of any student, employee or invited guest on campus.

“Unfortunately, in this day and age, there are groups on the left and the right that are trying to abridge the free speech opportunities of individuals on our college and university campuses,” Landes said on the floor of the General Assembly. “All this legislation does is to have and put in place a policy for the commonwealth to support the First Amendment and say that these groups should be protected on our campuses and that their ideas and their thoughts and their speech should be protected.”

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, was one of the Education and Health Committee members who voted for the bill.

“I think it’s plain and simple,” Chase said. “It’s just reinforcing what we have but also making sure that people understand that that also applies to college campuses. Because sometimes in actual life, that hasn’t been the case.”

Chase said that certain voices on the right were being silenced, with conservative speakers turned away. She cited incidents like the violent protests that caused conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance at UC Berkeley to be canceled on Feb. 1.

“Quite honestly, public colleges and universities do tend to veer toward the left,” Chase said. “We need to make sure that both sides are heard.”

Chase acknowledged that the bill was redundant but said that it was necessary nonetheless.

“Yeah, it actually is redundant,” Chase said. “But it’s also needed. We need that redundancy to remind professors, remind public colleges and universities that the First Amendment applies to colleges and universities.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said that she intended on voting for the bill, even though she said it was unnecessary and merely restated the First Amendment.

“The bill provides comfort to those who believe freedom of speech is under attack on college campuses, without doing any harm,” McClellan said.