Archive for February, 2011

Special Redistricting Session Underway

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Officially, the special redistricting session has begun. (Though in no practical sense is that the case.) They’re not likely to actually convene in Richmond until April 6, two days after the scheduled veto session.

Every ten years the district lines are redrawn based on census data, and this is the year in which that is being done. That’s the process by which, in effect, legislators pick who they want to represent—in practice, that’s likely to mean that Senate Democrats draw lines that are favorable to them, while House Republicans do the same for themselves. All of those negotiations are likely to take place behind closed doors, meaning that there probably won’t be much to follow on Richmond Sunlight. The best source of information for that is and will surely remain Virginia Public Access Project’s 2011 Redistricting site.

The Session Has Ended

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

The 2011 General Assembly session is over. They wrapped up one day late—taking 47 days, rather than 46—which isn’t perfect, but it could have gone a lot longer. The delay was due to budget wrangling, something that kept them going until 1 AM this morning. They went into session this evening at 5 PM, and both chambers wrapped up two hours later, with each voting unanimously to pass the amended budget. The details of what the final budget amendments include aren’t available yet, but all of that should be available within a day or so.

That’s not the end of the legislature this year. There’s still the veto session, which convenes on April 4 at noon, although that’s likely to last just a few hours. That’s when the legislature will deal with any bills that Gov. Bob McDonnell vetoes. And there’s also the redistricting session, which is more nebulous. As always, Richmond Sunlight will track all legislation in these special sessions.

Planned Parenthood’s Supporters Rally at VCU

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

By Fletcher Babb and Jennie Lynn Price
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Supporters of Planned Parenthood gathered Friday on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to voice opposition to abortion-clinic regulations passed by the General Assembly and to recent national attacks on the organization.

The rally came the day after the Virginia Senate joined the House of Delegates in passing legislation that would place strict restrictions on the state’s abortion providers, likely causing many clinics to close.

“For the past month, there’s been an all-out assault on women’s reproductive health care, from the fake hoax videos coming from our clinics, to Congress voting last week to defund Title X and Planned Parenthood, to last night’s vote,” said Planned Parenthood employee Courtney Jones.

“It’s an all-out assault on women’s bodies – women’s access to health care – and frankly, we’re not going to put up with it anymore.”
(more…)

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Planned Parenthood’s Supporters Rally at VCU

By Fletcher Babb and Jennie Lynn Price
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Supporters of Planned Parenthood gathered Friday on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to voice opposition to abortion-clinic regulations passed by the General Assembly and to recent national attacks on the organization.

The rally came the day after the Virginia Senate joined the House of Delegates in passing legislation that would place strict restrictions on the state’s abortion providers, likely causing many clinics to close.

“For the past month, there’s been an all-out assault on women’s reproductive health care, from the fake hoax videos coming from our clinics, to Congress voting last week to defund Title X and Planned Parenthood, to last night’s vote,” said Planned Parenthood employee Courtney Jones.

(more…)

Legislative Tribute to Unwitting Medical Contributor

Friday, February 25th, 2011

By Larisa Robinson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – In 1951, a Virginia woman named Henrietta Lacks was suffering from cervical cancer and sought treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. There, doctors took samples of her tumor and found they’d never seen before: Lacks’ cells doubled every day, infinitely dividing and replenishing themselves.

Lacks died, but her cell line lives on: Scientists all over the world have used the so-called HeLa cells for everything from AIDS research to the development of the polio vaccine.

This week, members of the Virginia General Assembly honored Lacks’ memory and presented her family with a resolution highlighting “her amazing legacy, which has altered medical research and care and relieved the suffering of untold millions.”

Two lawmakers from Hampton – Delegate Jeion Ward and Sen. Mamie Locke – held a press conference Tuesday to celebrate Lacks’ life. Many other legislators attended the event.

“This all started with my interest in finding someone new and unique to celebrate in honor of Black History Month,” Ward said.

Awareness of Lacks’ uniqueness has grown since Rebecca Skloot, a science author, published a best-selling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” last year.

The book chronicles Lacks’ hardscrabble life: how she had been born Loretta Pleasant in Roanoke in 1920; how she had been raised by her grandfather on a tobacco farm in Clover, Va., where the family’s ancestors once worked as slaves; how Johns Hopkins had taken her cells without her consent – a common practice at the time; and how the HeLa cells have changed the course of medical history.

(“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was Virginia Commonwealth University’s 2010 summer reading book selection, read by all incoming students. Skloot was the keynote speaker at VCU’s New Student Convocation in August.)

Although Lacks’ history only recently gained currency – a movie reportedly is in the works – HeLa cells have long benefited science and medicine. The first human cells that could be grown in a lab, they’ve been distributed throughout the world, contributing to:

  • Jonas Salk’s invention of the first effective polio vaccine
  • Medical research in fertility and genetics
  • Cancer and AIDS research
  • Research on the effects of radiation on human cells
  • The development of the vaccine against the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer

Scientists have used the HeLa cell line in about 11,000 patents. But Lacks’ children didn’t know about her significance until Skloot contacted them while researching her book.

No one in Lacks’ family has benefited financially from research involving HeLa cells. Until recently, Lacks’ grave in Clover didn’t even have a headstone.

Lacks’ family members note that although many people have heard of HeLa cells, they know nothing about the history behind them.

“We’ve always heard of ‘HeLa,’ ‘HeLa,’ ‘HeLa,’ but never of Henrietta Lacks,” Lacks’ granddaughter, Kimberly Lacks, said at the press conference.

At the news conference, several people asked why the Lacks family has never been compensated for the cells taken from her body. Dr. Daniel Ford, a professor in the School of Medicine at John Hopkins University, tried to answer.

“It has taken Johns Hopkins too long to acknowledge the contributions of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks,” Ford said. “Anybody who makes a contribution to science and medicine should have access to benefits.”

Ford said Johns Hopkins is taking steps to honor Lacks and her family, such as naming scholarships after her.

Scholarships haven’t kept the Lackses from struggling to afford their own health care, while others have made fortunes from the HeLa cells.

In the meantime, the Lackses enjoyed their recognition at the General Assembly. The family was acknowledged during both the House and the Senate sessions.

“I’m just happy to be a part of this legacy,” Kimberly Lacks said.

Lobbyists, Politicians Face Off In Court

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

By Matt Birch
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Legislators and lobbyists battled it out Tuesday night during the final week of the General Assembly’s 2011 session. Except this time, differences were settled on the basketball court, not in the Capitol.

In a fundraising event at the Siegel Center, the Governor’s Office took on a team of lobbyists in the 2011 Capitol Square Basketball Classic. Proceeds benefited Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center.

Gov. Bob McDonnell was a starter for his team and played more than half of the 32-minute game. The former high school football player was cheered on by first lady Maureen McDonnell, a former “Redskinette” herself.

“This is an annual tradition I’ve played in on and off now for 19 years,” McDonnell said. “It raises money for a great cause – the Massey Cancer Center. We feel good getting a little exercise and supporting this cause.”

(more…)

New Law Targets Cyberbullying

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

By Matt Birch
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Think before you text – because sending malicious electronic messages with your cell phone soon could be punishable by law.

Under legislation approved by Virginia’s General Assembly, it would be a Class 1 misdemeanor to use a cellular telephone or other wireless device to transmit a text message that contains “profane, threatening, or indecent language.”

The bill targets teenagers engaging in “cyberbullying” via wireless communications. It would add “texting” to Virginia’s obscene phone call statute.

On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2059, proposed by Delegate Robert B. Bell, R-Charlottesville. It had cleared the House on a 99-0 vote two weeks ago.

(more…)

Golf Cart Bills Move Through General Assembly

Monday, February 21st, 2011

By Matt Birch
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Golf carts aren’t just for carrying golfers and their clubs down fairways. In towns such as Colonial Beach, the vehicles carry residents and tourists down public roadways as well.

The motorized carts are a form of alternative transportation for short distances – and can be more fuel-efficient and cheaper to maintain than automobiles.

Under two bills making their way through the General Assembly, more golf carts soon could be tooling along public roads in Virginia.

(more…)

Lawmakers Tighten Sex Offender Restrictions

Monday, February 21st, 2011

By Jillian Quattlebaum
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Adults convicted of sexually violent offenses would be barred from entering school buses and would have to submit a DNA sample under two bills headed toward approval in the General Assembly.

House Bill 2066 “expands the prohibition on entry onto school grounds by any adult convicted of a sexually violent offense to include any school bus.” The measure was approved unanimously by the House on Feb. 8 and by the Senate last week.

The Senate broadened the prohibition to include any public or private property being used for a school-related or school-sponsored activity. That change now must be considered by the House.

The bill’s patron, Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, said that people convicted of a sexually violent offense present a threat to children. He said it is important to make sure students are safe on their way to school — especially on a bus where other adults may not be present.

“Every parent of a student puts his boy or girl on the bus and takes a leap of faith that his child will get to school safely,” Bell said. “This is an effort to help keep that faith.”

(more…)

Russians Get Taste of Virginia Politics

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

By Meredith Rigsby and Catherine Leth
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia General Assembly usually focuses on state issues. But last week, some of the attention at the statehouse was on international visitors – a delegation of Russian officials learning about American government.

Mikhail Musatov, Artem Osmanov and Sergey Sokolov visited Richmond as part of the Open World Leadership Center, a program created by Congress to develop better relationships and understanding between the United States and Eurasian countries.

The three men are local and district officials in the Russian oblast, or state, of Tver, north of Moscow – more than 5,000 miles from Richmond.

“It’s a good experience for them, and I hope they will benefit a lot from this trip,” said Olga Safronova, a Russian who accompanied the delegation and served as Open World’s facilitator and translator. “I hope that politicians here in the United States will benefit at least some from what we shared with them.” (more…)