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New Feature: Definitions of Legal Terminology

September 23rd, 2013 by Waldo Jaquith

Richmond Sunlight does a lot to help people understand legislation and the legislative process, but one place where it falls down is showing the actual text of bills. That’s because bills are confusing. People have a hard time understanding them.

There are a few things we’ve done to make them more understandable. The first thing was to show text proposed to be deleted as crossed out text and text proposed to be added as highlighted text. The second thing was to make any mention of a law in the Code of Virginia into a link, like such:

Hover Example

That’s to help people understand the context of proposed changes.

The third and most recent change is to provide definitions for any legal terminology, including those terms that have already been given specific definitions by the General Assembly, like such:

Dictionary Term

You can see an example of this in action on 2013’s HB1438, but it’s available on any bill for which there are defined terms.

These definitions are provided via Virginia Decoded, a year-old site in the Richmond Sunlight family. Any terms that have definitions have a light, dotted line underneath them. Simply pass your mouse over the term to see its definition.

There’s a lot more that needs to be done to make bills more understandable, and the addition of definitions is a good step in that direction.

State Budget Increases Funding for Education

April 3rd, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Amber Shiflett and Blake Belden
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – During the final hours of Wednesday’s reconvened session, the General Assembly approved a state budget that boosts funding for Virginia’s public schools next year.

Legislators considered changes that Gov. Bob McDonnell wanted them to make to House Bill 1500, which lays out the state budget for the 2013-14 biennium. The assembly had passed the bill in February, but McDonnell recommended 52 amendments.

The House and Senate approved most of the governor’s recommendations, including three that provided $2.35 million in additional funds for education.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tourist Train Stopped Dead in its Tracks

April 3rd, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Destiny Brandon
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Senate on Wednesday upheld Gov. Bob McDonnell’s veto of legislation to boost efforts to establish a tourist train between Tazewell County and Bramwell, W.Va.

In February, the House and Senate both passed Senate Bill 819 to revive the Tourist Train Development Authority that had been working on the project until the state shut it down in 2011. But McDonnell vetoed the bill, stating, “There has been no investment to procure a train to make this a reality.”

Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell, had sponsored SB 891. He said he wasn’t sure what the governor meant. He said local officials in Southwest Virginia and neighboring West Virginia had been working earnestly on the project.

On Wednesday, the General Assembly convened for a one-day session to consider McDonnell’s vetoes. The Senate sustained the veto of SB 819, thus blocking the resurrection of the Tourist Train Development Authority.

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VaHomeschoolers Celebrates 20th Anniversary

March 29th, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

In March, the organization of VA Homeschoolers celebrated their 20th anniversary.

Paige Baxter and Allison Landry
Capital News Service

GLEN ALLEN – Interested and anxious parents and rambunctious and excited students packed the Cultural Arts Center last weekend to share a common interest: home schooling.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers celebrated its 20th anniversary while providing introductory information for interested attendees and a new perspective for home-schooling parents and students.

There are many reasons parents may choose to educate their child at home. They include:

  • The ability to cater to individual interests
  • Flexibility
  • Issues with the public school system

More and more parents in Virginia are opting to home-school their children. The number of home-schoolers statewide (including those with religious exemptions) has risen from about 22,000 in 2002 to more than 32,000 last year. They represent about 2.5 percent of all school-age children in Virginia.

Home schooling can be daunting at first because it requires parents to shoulder a lot of responsibility, said Stephanie Elms, a board member of the organization, which goes by VaHomeschoolers.

She said the conference helps ease parents into home schooling. “It’s very reassuring to know that the people around you don’t think you’re crazy for making this choice.”

Elms held several introductory sessions throughout the conference. On Saturday, she addressed the legal concerns and paperwork requirements involved in beginning a home-schooling program. Despite what many people believe, meeting legal standards to begin homeschooling isn’t a tedious process, Elms said.

To begin home schooling, all parents must do is submit a letter, known as an “intent of notice,” to the superintendent of their school district. Then the parents have the right to remove their children from public school.

“Regardless of your child’s age or how you choose to file your paperwork, you can educate your child at any grade level or levels you choose, and you may use any curriculum you want,” Elms said.

Virginia’s homeschooling laws require parents to meet three requirements. They must:

  • File an intent of notice annually with the local school division
  • Test or evaluate the child annually
  • If requested, provide proof of immunization

Elms said help is available in meeting these requirements. The VaHomeschoolers website provides assistance.

Among the vendors at the fair were not only home educators and VaHomeschoolers members but also authors and home-schooling program representatives.

Kay Anderson, an author and special education teacher in Gates County, N. C., presented her recently published book, “Self-Examination of Biblical Obedience, the ABCs of Understanding Scripture.” Although Anderson was not a home educator herself, she said she sees a “lack of ethics” in the public schools

“Knowing what I know now, having raised my children in public schools and then having taught in public school, I would have home-schooled all the way,” Anderson said. “I know the truth of what happens when kids are corrupted by their peers. We’re too blended now.”

 

On the Web

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers has posted “A Comprehensive Guide to Homeschooling in Virginia” at http://vahomeschoolers.org/guide/

You also can see has Virginia compares with other states on home-schooling laws at http://vahomeschoolers.org/guide/law-comparison/

Governor Signs Law Targeting Synthetic Drugs

March 23rd, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Kristen Smith
Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed into law legislation to expand the list of prohibited chemicals used in making synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs.

McDonnell announced Wednesday that he had signed House Bill 1941, which included an emergency clause making it effective immediately.

In a statement, the governor said the new law “continues Virginia’s commitment to combating the spread of illegal drugs in the commonwealth and preserving the safety of our schools and neighborhoods and builds on legislative efforts earlier in my administration to combat drugs and punish drug dealers.” Read the rest of this entry »

New Law Will Help Kids Learn to Read

March 17th, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Destiny Brandon
Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND – Virginia schools must provide extra help to students in kindergarten and first and second grades who do poorly on diagnostic reading tests, under legislation that Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law in recent weeks.

Schools already must offer reading intervention services to third-graders who demonstrate deficiencies on the state’s Standards of Learning reading test or other diagnostic measures. The new law, effective July 1, will add kindergarten and grades one and two to that requirement.

That is the result of McDonnell’s signing of two identical proposals that were passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly during its recent session: House Bill 2068, sponsored by Delegate Jim LeMunyon, R-Oak Hill, and Senate Bill 1171, introduced by Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake.

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Tourist Train May Roll in Tazewell

March 2nd, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Destiny Brandon
Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND – A tourist train soon could be chugging its way through historic and scenic Tazewell County and across the state line to Bramwell, W.Va.

During its recently concluded session, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to create a Tourist Train Development Authority to pursue the project.

The nine-member authority would have representatives from the governing bodies of Tazewell County and the towns of Bluefield and Pocahontas; four Tazewell County citizens; and two legislators.

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Schools to Tell Parents about Eating Disorders

February 28th, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Kristen Smith
Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND – Parents of Virginia public school students will be given educational information about eating disorders under a bill passed by the General Assembly.

House Bill 1406 was proposed by Delegate Richard P. Bell, R-Staunton, and co-sponsored by Delegates Mark Keam, D-Vienna, and Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church.

Both the House and Senate unanimously approved HB 1406, which requires each school board in Virginia to “annually provide parent educational information regarding eating disorders for pupils in grades five through 12.” The bill is awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature. Read the rest of this entry »

The 2013 General Assembly Session is Over

February 23rd, 2013 by Waldo Jaquith

The House and Senate adjourned sine die earlier this evening, wrapping up the 2013 session on time. 2,897 bills were filed, and many of those will now go before Governor McDonnell, who can either sign them or veto them. The General Assembly will reconvene briefly, on April 3, to respond to the governor’s vetoes.

House and Senate Reach Transportation Compromise

February 20th, 2013 by VCU Capital News Service

By Whitney Spicer
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Negotiators from both the House and Senate came to an agreement Wednesday on a transportation plan that, if passed, will be the first major transportation overhaul in Virginia since 1986.

“This is a huge moment for Virginia,” said Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), one of the conference committee members. “We are on the cusp of bringing home real and lasting transportation solutions that will move Virginia forward now and in the future.”

The transportation compromise, which was hammered out by a 10-member conference committee over the past week, would potentially raise close to $900 million a year in transportation revenue.

The plan greatly reduces the gas tax by replacing the current 17.5 cent per gallon tax with a 3.5 percent wholesale gas tax. The tax on diesel would be 6 percent.

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