Archive for February, 2012

Senate Shelves Marshall’s ‘Personhood’ Bill

Monday, February 27th, 2012

By Claire Porter
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The General Assembly has decided to postpone until next year consideration of a bill that would grant personhood rights to a human embryo from the moment of conception.

The Senate last week sent the measure, House Bill 1, back to a committee after Democrats and some Republicans said it could have unforeseen consequences.


Reeves Enjoys Success in 1st Senate Term

Monday, February 27th, 2012

By Ashley McLeod
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – More than a year before last November’s elections, Spotsylvania County insurance agent Bryce Reeves started campaigning for the 17th Senate District seat. A lot of people figured he would need more than an early start: Reeves, a Republican who had never held elective office, was challenging Edd Houck, a Democrat who had held the Senate seat since 1984.

But on Election Day, Reeves won – by 226 votes. His victory helped tip the balance of power in the Senate from a Democratic majority to Republican control.

As his first legislative session enters its final weeks, Reeves has enjoyed numerous successes: Of 14 bills he sponsored, nine passed the Senate – and six of them have passed the House as well.

Thanks to his efforts, Virginia likely will require insurers to tell homeowners whether their policies cover earthquakes; require government agencies to cooperate on dam safety; and continue to exempt textbooks from the sales tax.

“I worked really hard and met a lot of people, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve,” Reeves said in a recent interview in his office in the General Assembly Building. “It’s an amazing and unique process.”

Senate District 17 includes Fredericksburg and Orange County and parts of Culpeper, Albemarle, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties. Reeves lives in Spotsylvania with his wife, Anne, and their two children, Nicole and Jack.

Reeves has lived in Virginia for 18 years but grew up in Houston. He attended Texas A&M University, graduating in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial education.

After college, Reeves accepted a commission as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he completed 13 years of service. He eventually became captain and served as a U.S. Army Ranger.

While at Fort Benning, Ga., Reeves was recognized as the Enlisted Honor Graduate by the U.S. Army Airborne Paratrooper School. He also received a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University in 1998.

Reeves accepted a position with the Prince William County Police, working as a detective in the vice and narcotics bureau. He served on a drug task force for Northern Virginia and Maryland and became an expert on illicit drugs.

In the Senate, Reeves has been assigned to four committees: General Laws and Technology; Privileges and Elections; Rehabilitation and Social Services; and Courts of Justice. He believes his military and law enforcement experience gives him extra insight on legislative issues.

“I feel I have a better understanding when it comes to certain bills, like in the Courts of Justice (Committee) – being able to understand rules of evidence and articulate a different viewpoint than maybe a trial attorney, or maybe someone else who’s never arrested anybody or served overseas would have,” Reeves said.

“And it’s due to my experience in the Army and police force.”

Reeves said one of his priorities is veterans’ issues. He sponsored a bill (SB 254) to increase the number of agents handling veterans’ disability claims in the Virginia Department of Veterans Services; it has passed the Senate and is on track for final approval.

Both the House and Senate have passed Reeves’ measure (SB 433) to require funeral directors to notify the Department of Veterans Services about unclaimed cremated remains; the department then would determine whether the “cremains” belong to a veteran eligible for burial in a veterans’ cemetery.

Passing state laws is a long way from Reeves’ start in politics. In 2007, frustrated by government, he ran for a seat on the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors.

“They say, ‘Stop complaining, get involved,’ ” Reeves said. “So I ran, and I lost, which was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

Having little background in politics, Reeves decided to get more education. He was accepted into and completed the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Political Leaders Program in 2009; he was even selected as class president.

So Reeves was ready when he challenged Houck, who ranked third in seniority in the Senate, was a state budget negotiator and chaired the Senate Education and Health Committee.

According to Reeves, his team made more than 166,000 phone calls, knocked on more than 39,000 doors and raised more than $1 million during the campaign.

The Senate race was so close that there was almost a recount. In the end, Houck conceded. The official results showed Reeves with 22,615 votes and Houck with 22,389.

“We created a vision that people saw and they felt part of,” Reeves said. “It’s just a matter of working hard and putting sweat equity into it. It doesn’t matter what you have in your bank account or what pedigrees or degrees you have on the wall. If you have a servant heart, you can do anything. You can be anything you want to be.”

About Sen. Bryce Reeves

Born: Nov. 28, 1966, in California
Education: Texas A&M University (B.S.); George Mason University (M.P.A., Public Administration); University of Virginia, Sorenson Political Leaders Program
Profession: President of Bryce Reeves Insurance and Financial Services Inc.; president of Reeves Asset Management Group
Senate District: 17, which includes Fredericksburg and Orange County and parts of Culpeper, Albemarle, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties
Political party: Republican
Phone numbers: 804-698-7517 (Richmond); 540-891-5473 (district office)

History Reconstructed: Assembly Honors Black Lawmakers

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

By Sherese A. Gore
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – “Remember, girls, you’re not anyone; you’re Virginia Teamohs!”

At home in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, that’s what Rafia Zafar’s Southern-born grandmother would say to keep her granddaughters in line. Years later, Zafar, a Harvard-educated English professor at Washington University in St. Louis, would come to realize the significance of those words.

Zafar’s great-great-grandfather was George Teamoh, who was born a slave in Portsmouth in 1818 and became a state legislator after the Civil War. An accomplished orator and advocate of African-American self-help, Teamoh served in the Virginia Senate from 1869 to 1871.

Teamoh was one of about 100 blacks elected to the General Assembly during Reconstruction – until racial discrimination and Jim Crow laws relegated African-Americans to second-class citizenship. Those history-making legislators are finally getting recognition: They’re being honored by the 2012 General Assembly.

Legislators have passed a pair of resolutions describing the contributions of the pioneering lawmakers and praising them for their “commitment to public service in the face of deep resentment, racial animus, violence, corruption, and intimidation.”

The resolutions, which were recommended by the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Commission, aim to dispel misconceptions about the role of blacks in the years immediately following the Civil War.

“For a long time, there was this mythology about Reconstruction in the textbooks which said that all these people were ignorant – they didn’t know what they were doing, they were corrupt and Reconstruction was a total disaster,” said Eric Foner, a history professor at Columbia University.

“And that’s just not true.”

Ten years after the Supreme Court denied U.S. citizenship to men, women and children of African ancestry in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, black men would hold political office in most of the former slave-holding states and be elected to the U.S Congress.

Virginia’s black legislators hailed from a myriad of educational and economic backgrounds: free-born and former slave, impoverished and well-to-do, highly educated and functionally illiterate.

All were Republican, the party of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation.

Delegate Samuel Bolling, representing Cumberland and Buckingham counties, was born a slave and eventually would own more than 1,000 acres in Cumberland County. The family of Delegate John W. B. Matthews were free blacks who themselves owned slaves.

James Fields, who represented Elizabeth City and James City in the House of Delegates, was in the first graduating class of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University).

A former slave who escaped north, Sen. Daniel Norton was a New York-educated physician who represented James City and York counties.

Delegate Goodman Brown, whose family was free for three generations, enlisted in the Union Navy and served on a gunboat during the Civil War.

The lawmakers served on legislative committees and introduced such forward-thinking proposals as prohibiting the sale of liquor to minors, abolishing the whipping post as a form of punishment and treating blacks and whites equally in public places.

Joseph Evans, who represented Petersburg in both the House and Senate, proposed requiring landlords “to give ten days’ notice before evicting a tenant.”

A measure defining the “boundaries of election precincts” was introduced by Delegate Peter Jacob Carter, a runaway slave who enlisted in the 10th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry.

Matt Clark, who represented Halifax County in the House of Delegates, proposed the “refinancing of the state war debt at a lower interest rate” to subsidize Virginia’s new public school system.

Hostility from White Virginians’

Black legislators and other African-Americans were the targets of intimidation after the Civil War. Throughout the South, campaigns of terror were aimed at the freedmen, members of the Republican Party and whites sympathetic to the plight of black citizens.

In addition, the Democratic Party would enact restrictive voting requirements and other laws to marginalize African-Americans and their chosen representatives at the General Assembly.

For example, Democrats removed Phillip Bolling from the House of Delegates on grounds that his employment at a brick kiln in Prince Edward County disqualified him from representing Buckingham and Cumberland counties in General Assembly. Other black legislators also felt pressure.

“They faced an enormous amount of hostility from a large number of white Virginians,” said Foner, who won the Pulitzer Prize in history for his 2010 book, “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.”

“And that made it even more difficult for them to carry out their responsibilities.”

By the late 1880s, most black legislators had been forced from public life. Many would become merchants (such as Delegate James F. Lipscomb, who opened a country general store in Cumberland County), lawyers (such as Delegate Richard G. L. Paige, who had a law practice in Norfolk) or preachers (such as Sen. Guy Powell, who became pastor of a Baptist church in Brunswick County).

Some moved north, such as Tazewell Branch, who settled in New Jersey after representing Prince Edward County in the Virginia House from 1874 to 1877.

The legacy of these groundbreaking officials faded into obscurity, save for the occasional highway marker (one in Cumberland County honors Lipscomb) or family lore about ancestors like George Teamoh.

It would be nearly a century later, after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that blacks would resume holding public office in earnest. The Virginia General Assembly would not see its first African-American lawmaker until the election of Dr. William Ferguson Reid to the House of Delegates in 1968.

The forgotten history is why Delegate Jennifer McClellan of Richmond introduced House Joint Resolution 65, “recognizing the African-American representatives to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868 and members elected to the Virginia General Assembly during Reconstruction.”

“They did a lot of significant things while they were in office that we don’t learn in our history class,” McClellan said.

Her resolution was approved unanimously by the House on Feb. 13. The Senate is expected to vote on it this week.

Another Richmond Democrat, Sen. Henry Marsh, is sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 13. It won unanimous approval from the Senate on Feb. 6 and from the House on Friday.

Both resolutions provide a roll call of the African-Americans who were elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868 and to the General Assembly between 1869 and 1890.

“The people of the Commonwealth are indebted to these African-American public servants and are the beneficiaries of their tremendous contributions and service to help promote the promise of racial equality, justice, and full citizenship for all citizens,” the resolutions state.

Marsh, who chairs the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Commission, said the recognition of the Reconstruction-era black legislators is long overdue.

“It’s a remarkable story,” he said. “In my mind, they are real heroes.”


Timeline of African-American History

1619: First Africans brought to Jamestown.

1857: Dred Scott v. Sandford: Supreme Court rules that blacks cannot be citizens of the United States.

1860: Abraham Lincoln elected president; South Carolina secedes from the Union.

1861: First shots fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, marking the start of the Civil War.

1863: Emancipation Proclamation issued.

1865: End of Civil War: 4 million blacks liberated.

1867: Reconstruction acts: Blacks begin holding public office.

1868: 14th Amendment adopted; overrules Dred Scott; defines “equal protection.”

1875: Civil Rights Act passes; all citizens should have equal access to public facilities.

1883: Civil Rights Act declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court.

1896: Plessy v. Ferguson: Supreme Court rules separate but equal facilities on the basis of race are constitutional.

1954: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: Supreme Court overturns Plessy v. Ferguson.

1965: Voting Rights Act; blacks again begin holding public office.


Notable Legislators during Reconstruction

Here is a sampling of African-Americans who served in the General Assembly after the Civil War.

James Bland – Considered the voice of compromise and impartiality, he represented Appomattox and Prince Edward counties in the Virginia Senate. He died in the 1870 floor collapse at the Capitol that claimed 60 lives.

William Brisby – He represented New Kent County in the House of Delegates. Brisby reportedly helped Union soldiers escape from Richmond during the Civil War.

Nathaniel Griggs – Before representing Prince Edward County in the House of Delegates, Griggs, a former slave, was fired from his job as a tobacco factory worker for making political speeches.

Charles and John Hodges – These brothers represented Norfolk and Princess Anne counties respectively in the House of Delegates. Their family was active in the abolition movement during slavery and forced to flee to the North before the war.

Henry Smith – He represented Greensville County in the House of Delegates in 1879-80. Born a slave, Smith would own more than 900 acres, including the residence of his former owner.


On the Web

You can read the full text of the resolutions on the Richmond Sunlight website:


Rafia Zafar, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, reflects on her great-great-grandfather, George Teamoh, in this essay:


Bills Boost Job Prospects for Veterans

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

By Ryan Murphy
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Efforts to expand job opportunities for veterans are receiving overwhelming support in the General Assembly this session, but veterans’ requests for tax exemptions and easier access to retail discounts have gained little traction.

Virginia’s moves to expand education and employment opportunities for veterans come on the heels of high veteran unemployment figures. The national unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan topped 12 percent late last year.

More than a dozen veterans-related bills have won approval from both chambers of the General Assembly. They include:

  • Senate Bill 527, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Bumpass. It would give hiring preference to National Guard members seeking state jobs.
  • House Bill 253, by Delegate Christopher Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Under this measure, the spouses and children of veterans killed in the line of duty also would receive preferential consideration when applying for state jobs.
  • HB 938, by Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge. It would allow service members to count their military training, education or experience in qualifying for occupational licenses or certification for state-regulated professions.
  • HB 195, by Delegate Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac. It would require public colleges and universities in Virginia to award academic credit for educational experience gleaned from military service.
  • HB 194, also by Lewis. It would require the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to consider the military experience of applicants seeking a commercial driver’s license.

The assembly also seems likely to approve legislation to fund four additional representatives for veteran disability claims. The positions are contained in identical bills: HB 1121, which was introduced by House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Hopewell, and unanimously passed the House; and SB 254, which was filed by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg, and unanimously passed the Senate.

From 2005 to 2010, disability claims by Virginia veterans increased 42 percent, causing a backlog. The proposed legislation would increase the number of claims agents in the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to 36, up from 32. It would mandate a ratio of one agent for every 23,000 veterans. (The current mandate is one agent for every 26,212 veterans.)

But not everything came through for veterans this session.

Four bills died in committee that would have allowed veterans to indicate their military status on their driver’s license. Veterans wanted this to make it easier for them to receive armed forces discounts offered by retailers.

Three bills dealing with income tax exemptions for veterans were carried over to the 2013 legislative session.

Law Would Let All ABC Stores Open Sunday

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

By Alex Morton
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The General Assembly has passed a bill expanding the number of ABC stores that can open on Sundays.

Currently, state-owned liquor stores can operate on Sundays only in urban areas, such as cities with more than 100,000 residents. House Bill 896, sponsored by Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield, would allow the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to open any of its stores after 1 p.m. on Sundays.

“This would allow us to look at all ABC stores in Virginia, determine which ones are the most profitable, and open those stores up,” Albo said.

The Senate passed HB 896 Thursday on a 25-15 vote. The House had previously approved the measure, 69-29. The bill now goes to Gov. Bob McDonnell for his consideration.

ABC currently operates 131 retail stores on Sunday, according to an analysis of the bill by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget.

“This legislation impacts 195 retail stores that could potentially be opened on Sunday,” the analysis said.

It noted that ABC began Sunday operations at some stores in 2004. Last year, Sunday sales at ABC stores totaled $21 million.

In the 2011 annual report of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, ABC Board Chairman J. Neal Insley said that “Sunday store sales are up 9.6 percent or $1.8 million when compared to last year.”

Curtis Coleburn, the ABC department’s chief operating officer, has projected that Sunday ABC sales could “add $5 million in profits and taxes.” (The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget offered a lower estimate of $2.5 million.) The money goes into the state budget.

Many stores in Northern Virginia, Central Virginia and Hampton Roads already have Sunday hours. The bill would mean that local stores could expand their hours as well.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Salon, tried to amend HB 896. He said that before opening an ABC store on Sundays, the ABC Board should be required to get the approval of the local government where the store is located.

At first, senators approved Hanger’s proposal. Then they reconsidered and voted 13-27 against the idea.


How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Thursday on “HB 896 Alcoholic beverage control; Sunday operation of government stores after 1:00 p.m.”

Floor: 02/23/12 Senate: Passed Senate (25-Y 15-N)

YEAS – Barker, Blevins, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Norment, Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Saslaw, Stosch, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins – 25.

NAYS – Black, Carrico, Colgan, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Obenshain, Reeves, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stuart – 15.



This story is for subscribers to VCU’s Capital News Service. If you have questions or comments, contact Jeff South at or 804-827-0253 or your CNS reporter

Senate Requires Ignition Interlocks for Drunken Drivers

Friday, February 24th, 2012

By Brian Hill
Capital News Service


RICHMOND – Opponents of drunken driving are applauding the Senate for passing a bill to require even first-time DUI offenders in Virginia to install a device to prevent them from operating their vehicle while intoxicated.

The Senate approved House Bill 279 on a 26-13 vote Wednesday. It would require Virginia drivers to have an ignition interlock installed after their first DUI offense. Currently, the devices are required only after a second or subsequent DUI conviction.

An ignition interlock requires a motorist to blow into a Breathalyzer before starting the car and at random intervals while driving. The car won’t start if the driver’s blood alcohol content is above .02 percent.

“This is the sixth year in which ignition interlock legislation for all DUI offenders has been introduced in Virginia’s General Assembly,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcoholic Program, which campaigns against drunken driving.

“Virginia’s patience with the more than 29,000 drivers in the state annually convicted of driving under the influence has worn thin.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 30,000 DUI offenders were convicted in Virginia in 2010. That’s more than three convictions every hour.

Erickson said ignition interlocks are effective in stopping people from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

“If, before attempting to start their vehicle, the device senses a set amount of alcohol, the vehicle will not start,” Erickson said. “If a running retest senses a set amount of alcohol, the vehicle’s horn will sound, along with its headlights flashing, in order to draw the attention of law enforcement.”

HB 279, sponsored by Delegate Salvatore Iaquinto, R-Virginia Beach, won approval from the House of Delegates on Feb. 9. It would require anyone convicted of DUI to install an ignition interlock. (Under the law, any driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 or above is considered intoxicated.)

But some drama surrounded the bill when it moved to the Senate. The Senate Courts of Justice Committee changed the bill so that, for first-time offenders, it applied only if the BAC was 0.12 or higher.

However, the Senate rejected the committee’s modification of the bill and passed the House version.

The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving was glad senators refused to water down HB 279.

“The committee amendment that the Senate rejected on Wednesday would have made the legislation weaker,” said Chris Konschak, manager of the Virginia office of MADD. “The Senate demonstrated that they are committed to eliminating drunk driving in Virginia, and mandatory ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders is a step in that direction.”

WRAP agreed.

“By capturing a combined, more than 80 percent of their vote, Virginia lawmakers have sent to Gov. (Bob) McDonnell legislation deploying proven effective technology to combat drunk driving in the commonwealth,” Erickson said.

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate voted Wednesday on “HB 279 DUI ignition interlock; required on second offense, etc. as a condition of a restricted license.”

Floor: 02/22/12 Senate: Passed Senate (26-Y 13-N)

YEAS – Barker, Black, Blevins, Carrico, Colgan, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Obenshain, Puckett, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Smith, Vogel, Wagner – 26.

NAYS – Edwards, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Petersen, Puller, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Watkins – 13.

NOT VOTING – Northam – 1.

Senate Offers Relief on Machinery Tax

Monday, February 20th, 2012

By Mason Brown
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House and Senate seem headed in different directions on whether to give businesses relief from the machinery and tools tax levied by local governments.

The Senate has passed a bill to give businesses grants to offset the tax on newly purchased equipment for the first two years. Under the latest version of Senate Bill 549, businesses would pay the tax to their city, county or town but then get reimbursed by a state grant. The bill passed last week, 28-12.

The tax is levied by localities on machinery used in manufacturing, mining, water well drilling, processing, broadcasting, dairy, dry cleaning and laundry businesses.

Originally, SB 549 would have eliminated the machinery and tools tax on equipment less than four years old. But local governments protested, saying the tax is a significant source of revenue to fund local public services.

So senators came up with the grant program as an alternative.

The grants established by the revised bill would require funding in the state budget that the General Assembly is now crafting.

“If it is not approved in the budget, it will have no effect,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach.

He said funding the program would ultimately benefit Virginia as well as industries.

“It is the cost of businesses expanding,” Wagner said. And as businesses expand, they will generate tax revenues in other ways: “It will be a multiple of what we spent.”

SB 549 now goes to the House for consideration. What the House will do is uncertain.

Last week, delegates rejected House Bill 512, which was similar to the original version of SB 549. It would have exempted from taxation machinery and tools for three years after they’ve been purchased.

The House voted 35-65 against the bill, which was sponsored by Delegate Bob Purkey, R-Virginia Beach.

Purkey said the machinery tax is too harsh on business: “It is a job killer, noncompetitive, and dissuades innovation.”

Delegate Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, voted against HB 512. He said the city of Hopewell “is strapped for cash.” In 2010, local governments in Virginia received more than $221 million from the machinery and tools tax.

Ingram said he would support the Senate’s proposed grant program.

“If we can find the money to reimburse the industries, I am 100 percent for that,” he said.

Delegate Mike Watson, R-Williamsburg, was a co-patron of HB 512 and voted for the bill. He said he probably would support the grant program if money could be found.

Watson said his manufacturing and business experience shaped his perspective on the issue. He was formerly employed in Hopewell by AlliedSignal, which became Honeywell after a merger between the companies. He currently is president of Control Automation Technologies Corp.

Watson said relief from the machinery and tools tax would “decrease uncertainty” in companies that want to invest in Virginia.

“If you talk to anybody in business, the No. 1 reason companies are not investing is uncertainty. They are uncertain about regulations, tax codes and the economy. They say, ‘Let’s hold back until we are more certain,’ ” Watson said.


Bills would outlaw new designer drugs

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

By Chanee’ Patterson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Legislators and medical experts are concerned about the rising use of synthetic drugs known as “bath salts,” which cause a cocaine-like high – and in rare instances can cause death.

The stimulant, promoted by some YouTube videos and websites, is not to be confused with everyday bathing products. After smoking, inhaling or injecting the designer drug, users may experience euphoria – as well as nausea, seizures, paranoia and other side effects, experts say.

The side effects can be dangerous and even deadly. A woman in New Orleans, for example, had to have an arm amputated after injecting bath salts at a party. Dozens of people across the United States have died after using the stimulant, officials say.

In 2011, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved legislation to criminalize the possession or distribution of certain synthetic drugs. However, the narrowly tailored statute left the door open for new combinations of chemicals.

This year, two bills that target the latest ingredients for making synthetic drugs are moving through the General Assembly:

-House Bill 508, sponsored by Delegate T. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg. The House unanimously passed the measure on Tuesday.
-Senate Bill 273, by Sen. Ralph K. Smith, R-Roanoke. (It incorporates SB 223, by Sen. Mark R. Herring, D-Leesburg.) The Senate unanimously approved this legislation on Feb. 10; it is now before the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Virginia legislators aren’t the only officials concerned about synthetic stimulants. In October, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration banned three components of bath salts: mephedrone; 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV); and methylone.

“This action demonstrates our commitment to keeping our streets safe from these and other new and emerging drugs that have decimated families, ruined lives and caused havoc in communities across the country,” said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.

“These chemicals pose a direct and significant threat, regardless of how they are marketed, and we will aggressively pursue those who attempt their manufacture and sale.”
The bills before the Virginia General Assembly would add a more generic chemical description of synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants to state law, making new combinations illegal.

“This year’s changes will make it more difficult for those who are making and selling these dangerous drugs to skirt our laws,” Herring said.

In an analysis of SB 273, the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission explained that last year’s legislation targeted: synthetic marijuana, sold under such names as K2 and Spice; bath salts and other synthetic stimulants, which are marketed under such names as Mystic, Blue Magic and Cloud 9.

Such products sometimes are sold on the Internet, in convenience stories and in “head shops,” officials said.

The 2011 law made MDPV and mephedrone Schedule I drugs in Virginia’s Drug Control Act. Possession of a Schedule I drug is a Class 5 felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison. Sale of a Schedule I drug can draw a 40-year sentence and $500,000 fine.

“Despite these changes, manufacturers continue to circumvent state law by slightly altering the chemical composition of the synthetic cannabinoids. The reformulated substances are then substituted for the currently banned ones,” the sentencing commission’s analysis said.

It said that last summer, Virginia’s state forensic laboratory tested 468 drug samples received from law enforcement agencies statewide. “Only 101 of these samples contained currently banned substances.”

The DEA has received a growing number of reports about bath salts from hospitals, poison control centers and law enforcement agencies across the nation. The drug can cause panic attacks, depression, suicidal thought, delusions and vomiting, medical experts say. It also can trigger a rapid heart rate, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke.

School Consolidation Study Dies in House

Friday, February 17th, 2012

By Leah Small
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A proposal inspired by Isle of Wight County to study the benefits of consolidating certain administrative functions of school districts and local governments died in the House this week.

Delegate Rick Morris, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 110, said the goal was to “look for cost savings and apply those cost savings to the classroom.”

The study would have been conducted by the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission, the General Assembly’s investigative arm. The commission would have investigated cost efficiencies in:

  • Regionalizing school divisions. For example, neighboring districts – especially ones with relatively small numbers of students – might share certain instructional or administrative resources, such as a budget office or specialty teachers.
  • Combining administrative personnel between a school division and the local governing body. For instance, a school system and the city or county where it’s located might have a single unit for planning and budget.

The resolution had been assigned to the House Rules Committee. A subcommittee had recommended tabling the matter; the resolution did not make it out of the committee or to the House floor. As a result, it died on Tuesday, the deadline for each legislative chamber to act on its own legislation.

Morris, a Republican, represents the 64th House District, which includes parts of Isle of Wight, Prince George, Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties and parts of the cities of Franklin and Suffolk.

He said Isle of Wight’s experience in combining county and school services inspired his resolution.

“In Isle of Wight, they consolidated the school attorney with the county attorney – saves $180,000. That’s a lot of money,” Morris said. If the savings were divided among Isle of Wight teachers, it would not be “a bad raise.”

Isle of Wight’s school division and county government also share procurement and human resources services, and they are looking into combining others, such as maintenance services.

Morris said schools and local governments could save money by combining vehicle maintenance departments.

“There will be localities where the county will have their own transportation [office], the school district has their own, and even the sheriff’s office will have its own transportation office,” he said. In such cases, Morris asserts, it might be more cost efficient to have a single office with a team of mechanics servicing school buses, police cars and other vehicles.

Katrise Perera, superintendent of Isle of Wight public schools, supports consolidating services when the economic need arises.

“The economic situation our country has been in has obviously prompted Isle of White County to move into the direction of consolidating some things with our county seat,” Perera said.

As for the idea of consolidating school districts, Perera said she would have to see any plans before jumping on board. One of her concerns is the possible effect on teachers’ salaries.

“Sometimes when you combine a district, the salaries are not always the same, and that might be a concern of educators,” Perera said. “Some of our neighboring districts, we either exceed or lag a little bit behind.”

Another concern is the loss of personalized education.

“Coming from the nation’s seventh largest district, what attracted me to Isle of Wight was the personalization you can get, because it is a smaller entity as opposed to it being just a number in a large school district,” Perera said.

Before coming to Isle of Wight, Perera was an administrator in the Houston Independent School District, which has more than 200,000 students. Isle of Wight has 5,500 students.

Perera has this to say to Virginia lawmakers:

“There are some things that need to be taken into consideration without just saying, ‘Economically, yes, this makes sense.’ That is business, but remember – in education, we are charged with personalizing learning for students, which you can’t always do in business.”

Morris said consolidating certain functions, between school divisions or between a school district and local government, is worth considering. His resolution noted that Virginia has “132 school divisions of varying sizes, with some public school divisions serving localities whose population is in excess of 1 million persons and others whose population is less than 5,000 persons.”

House, Senate Disagree on Teacher Contract Bills

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

By Mechelle Hankerson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers, can breathe a little easier about legislation to overhaul how teachers are hired and evaluated.

VEA leaders were alarmed Monday when the House voted 55-43 for a bill that would end what critics describe as a tenure system for public school teachers. Under the bill, sponsored by Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, new teachers and principals would receive three-year contracts instead of continuing contracts – making it easier to fire them. (more…)