Wise County Satellite Internet Success for Students Leads to Expansion to Neighboring Counties

Wise County Public School’s (WCPS) pilot program with SpaceX Starlink to provide satellite internet to rural students has been a success so far, and area officials and legislators are considering expanding the program to neighboring counties. In an April 8 press conference WCPS Director of Technology Scott Kiser provided an update on the program which has helped 45 homes with close to 100 students.

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Roanoke Postpones Decision on Plastic Bag Tax to Gather More Information, Public Comment

The Roanoke City Council is seeking more information and public input before making a decision on a 5-cent single-use plastic bag tax. In a public hearing at Monday evening’s city council meeting, only three speakers spoke, all in favor of the tax. Council members also expressed support for the idea, but worried that the tax would harm businesses and low-income consumers, and might not address the problem of plastic bag pollution.

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Virginians 16 and Older Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine

All Virginians 16 years old and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as of Sunday.

“Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a press release.

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General Assembly Republicans Call for Special Session to Investigate Virginia Parole Board

General Assembly Republicans renewed calls for a special session to investigate the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) after media obtained recordings of a call held last summer between Northam administration officials and State Inspector General Michael Westfall.

House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a Monday press release, “The recording of the meeting between the Office of State Inspector General and Governor  [Ralph] Northam’s team explains why the Governor’s budget amendment only called for an investigation of OSIG, and not the Parole Board. The Governor’s office doesn’t think the Parole Board did anything wrong.”

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Commonwealth’s Attorney Deghani-Tafti Partners with Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice announced that Arlington County and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and St. Louis, Missouri Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner would be the first of ten new prosecutors in a program designed to provide support and training to cut criminal justice racial disparity by 20 percent.

“The Vera Institute of Justice will provide assistance with data analysis, staff training, community engagement, and policy support to expand the offices’ understanding of the criminal legal system’s history of racial injustice and guide them on a path toward a more equitable future,” a Vera Institute press release states.

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Loudoun Parents Group Forms Fight for Schools PAC to Recall Most of the Loudoun School Board

Loudoun Parents for Education (LPE) is launching a recall effort targeting six out of nine school board members as the latest in a conflict between parents and school leadership. On Tuesday, LPE launched the Fight for Schools PAC to engage in campaign-style efforts to change the school district, according to Fox News.

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Chincoteague Church Tries Again with Lawsuit Against Northam for 2020 Capacity Limits

Chincoteague-Island-based Lighthouse Fellowship Church (LFC) has filed a second opening brief in a lawsuit against Governor Ralph Northam over 10-person capacity limits instituted in Spring 2020. Although Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that the church couldn’t sue the governor and that the case was moot since Northam had ended the capacity restriction, Liberty Counsel argues on behalf of the church that Wright was mistaken.

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Hospitals Saw 10 Percent Decrease in Inpatient Volumes in 2020, Driving Lower Revenue

Virginia hospitals saw a 10 percent decrease in inpatient volumes in 2020 and a 30 percent decrease in emergency department visits, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA). On Wednesday, VHHA staff held a virtual press conference presenting an update on hospitalization and emergency department visit trends. Hospitalization data does not show a COVID-19-lockdown baby boom, but rather a decrease in usage of hospital pregnancy services when compares to previous years. On the other hand, inpatient discharge data shows an increase in treatment of alcohol, drug use, and related mental disorders, a trend that began before COVID-19.

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Virginia NFIB: Business Is Improving, but Employers Are Having Trouble Filling Positions

As the country emerges from COVID-19 restrictions, small businesses are doing better, according to a March report from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). However, uncertainty about the next few months for business owners is still high, and businesses are having trouble finding qualified workers to fill positions.

“Virginia’s small businesses are working hard on their recovery but are struggling to find the right workers to fill open positions,” NFIB Virginia State Director Nicole Riley said in a Wednesday press release

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Cox Calls for Small-Group and Individual Tutoring to Address Learning Loss

Gubernatorial candidate Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) agrees that schools need to be reopened immediately. But he says that’s not enough — policymakers need to address learning losses. Districts like Fairfax County have reported spikes in failing grades. Parents and medical studies have expressed concern over the long-term harms caused by a year of virtual learning. Cox is calling for tutoring programs to help students recover academically, and he says he is willing to be one of those tutors.

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Virginia Department of Education Announces Guidelines for Reopening Schools

The Virginia Department of Education announced a new set of guidelines for school reopening, the result of a workgroup created in February. The guidelines include recommendations for remediating learning loss, note that virtual learning doesn’t work for every students, calls for special attention for vulnerable populations, and say that more staff may be needed to keep student-teacher ratios low.

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New Democratic Primary Poll Shows McAuliffe Still in the Lead

New polling data shows former Governor Terry McAuliffe in the lead with 42 percent, while his closest opponents, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) both had 8 percent support, while 29 percent of voters remain undecided.  Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manasses) came in with seven percent and four percent respectively, placing all the candidates except McAuliffe within range of each other, given the 4.3 percent margin of error. Public Policy Polling conducted the interviews of 526  likely Democratic primary voters on April 12 and 13.

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Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Follows Through on Threat to Only Grant Small Budget Increase to Commonwealth’s Attorney

Buta Biberaj

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has followed through on plans to grant Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj a smaller funding increase than requested. On April 6, the supervisors finalized the budget that only approves adding four positions for the office. Biberaj had asked for up to 12 new positions, but supervisors worried about high turnover within the office and said their constituents were complaining about Biberaj not taking enough domestic violence cases to trial, leaving women victim’s in danger.

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Stand Up Virginia Launches Petition to Recall Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Descano

Stand Up Virginia held a rally outside the Fairfax County Government Center on Tuesday evening announcing the launch of an effort to recall Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. About 75 people attended the event, according to Stand Up Virginia President Brenda Tillett, who said she had also heard from supporters who couldn’t attend due to government jobs.

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Virginia State Police to Investigate Windsor Traffic Stop Use-of Force

The Virginia State Police (VSP) are investigating the December traffic stop of Army officer Lieutenant Caron Nazario, who was pepper sprayed by officers from the Town of Windsor, according to press releases from Town Manager William Saunders. In a Sunday evening press release, Saunders announced that Officer Joe Gutierrez, one of the officers from the stop, had been fired. The incident has become a subject of statements by candidates for public office. It has also drawn the attention of Governor Ralph Northam, who said he was ordering a VSP investigation, and Attorney General Mark Herring.

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Democratic Gubernatorial Endorsements Reveal Key Policies of Progressive Advocacy in Virginia

Progressive non-profit Clean Virginia announced its endorsement of gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Carrol Foy, backed by a pledge of $500,000 from the group’s PAC. Clean Virginia, known for its anti-utility advocacy, features a pledge for politicians to declare they will not accept campaign money from or own stock in Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power.

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Deadlines Approach for Annual U.S. Congressional Art Competition for High School Students

Every year, the U.S. Congress holds an art competition for high school students sponsored by the Congressional Institute; winners are selected from each congressional district and their art is displayed in the Capitol for the next year.

“The Artistic Discovery Contest is an opportunity to recognize and encourage the artistic talent in the nation, as well as in our congressional district,” states an announcement from Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA-03).

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McAuliffe, Chase, and Cox Announce Significant Endorsements

Governor Ralph Northam endorsed his predecessor to be his successor. Gubernatorial candidate and former Governor Terry McAuliffe received Northam’s endorsement in a week with several key gubernatorial endorsements. On Thursday, the governor appeared with the former governor in Norfolk.

“We need a leader that can continue this progress. We need a leader that will bring us out of COVID-19, a leader that will help small businesses. A leader that will promote equity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Terry McAuliffe will do that,” Northam said.

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Former Portsmouth Police Chief Greene Sues City, Senator Lucas

Former Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene is suing the City of Portsmouth and Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), along with several other civic leaders and current and former city officials. Former City Manager Lydia Pettis-Patton placed Greene on leave in the wake of a June protest at the Portsmouth monument that led to Greene’s department filing felony charges, later dropped, against Lucas. Greene was finally terminated in November. Her lawsuit bundles multiple complaints against multiple figures.

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Gubernatorial Candidate Chase Claims More Convention Corruption

Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) is firing more claims of corruption at her gubernatorial opponent Pete Snyder and Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) officials, based on Snyder’s campaign hiring staffers with roles in the RPV. Snyder’s campaign and some RPV officials say the claims are baseless.

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Democrats Approve Northam’s Investigation into Parole Board Investigation

Democrats approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal for an investigation into a 2020 investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. In Wednesday’s veto session, legislators passed a Northam budget amendment funding a $250,000 investigation into the 2020 Vincent Martin parole investigation. Although both Republicans and Democrats have been calling for a new investigation, Republicans said the proposal was too narrow and criticized the decision to allow the Attorney General any oversight.

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Effective in July, Virginia Legalizes Small Amounts of Marijuana

RICHMOND, Virginia Simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will be legal in Virginia, effective July 1. On Wednesday, the Virginia General Assembly approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal to expedite legalization from 2024 to later this year. But legislators warned that doesn’t mean there will be a marijuana free-for-all.

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Public Hearing Scheduled to Consider Plastic Bag Tax in Roanoke

The Roanoke City Council is considering a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags, like grocery store or convenience store bags. On Monday, the Council agreed to schedule a public hearing on April 19.

The tax was legalized by the 2020 General Assembly. HB 534, introduced by Delegate Betsy Carr (D-Richmond), and SB 11, introduced by Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), authorize localities to enact five-cent taxes on disposable plastic bags and require the localities to use revenue from the tax for environmental cleanup and to provide re-usable bags.

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In Debate, Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Gun Violence and the Parole Board

The five Democratic candidates for governor met for the first televised debate on Tuesday evening where they discussed issues including the economic crisis, gun violence, marijuana legalization, the Virginia Parole Board, and vaccine hesitancy. For the most part, the candidates stuck to discussing their own policies, but occasionally turned to attack perceived front-runner McAuliffe.

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Appalachian Power Company Appealing Virginia Supreme Court for Electricity Rate Increase

After the State Corporation Commission (SCC) denied Appalachian Power Company (APC) a rate increase, the company is appealing to the Virginia Supreme Court, according to a notice of appeal filed with the SCC Monday. The company requested a rate change last year, but the SCC has reiterated its denial of the request on March 26.

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Virginia State Senator Morrissey, Lt Gov. Fairfax Renew Call for Mandatory Minimum Sentences Repeal

While the General Assembly passed some landmark progressive legislation in the 2021 session, including a death penalty repeal, one expected criminal justice reform died at the last minute. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) renewed calls for ending mandatory minimum sentences, except for murder of law enforcement officers, at a Monday press conference.

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Chase’s Censure Lawsuit Has Hearing in Federal Court

Amanda Chase

A federal court heard a motion to dismiss Senator Amanda Chase’s (R-Chesterfield) lawsuit over censure on Thursday. The arguments took hours, and the judge said he would take some time to consider the motion before issuing a ruling on whether the suit can go forward, according to an update from Chase and her lawyer Tim Anderson.

The motion to dismiss argues that censure is a political question outside the jurisdiction of the court, and that the defendants — the Senate and Senate Clerk Susan Schaar — have sovereign immunity. However, Anderson argued that Chase was censured for things she had said, making the censure a violation of her First Amendment rights.

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Northam Acts on 552 General Assembly Bills from 2021 Sessions

Governor Ralph Northam announced the signing of 14 bills on Wednesday, March 31, which was a deadline for the Governor to take action on legislation passed in the 2021 General Assembly sessions. According to his announcement, took action on 552 bills with no vetoes, although he sent some back to the General Assembly with amendments.

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Virginia Supreme Court Allows Charlottesville to Remove Lee and Jackson Statues

The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled Thursday that Charlottesville can remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and a statue of Stonewall Jackson from its parks. In February 2017, the city chose to remove the Lee statue, triggering a lawsuit. Then, in the wake of the violent Unite the Right rally, the city reaffirmed its decision to remove the Lee statue and to remove the Jackson statue as well, according to court documents.

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Redistricting Will Not Be Complete in Time for 2021 House of Delegates Elections

Redistricting for Virginia’s legislative districts will not be complete in time for the 2021 House of Delegates elections, according to a draft timeline presented at a Virginia Redistricting Commission (VRC) meeting Tuesday. Census data is not expected until mid-August, which starts a 45-day timeline for the commission to send completed House and Senate maps to the General Assembly. As a result, Virginia may have House of Delegates races three years in a row: 2021, 2022 based on new districts, and the regularly scheduled 2023 election.

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Investigating an Investigation: Northam Proposes $250,000 to Look at Virginia Parole Board Report

The investigation into the Virginia Parole Board will be investigated, if legislators approve a proposal from Governor Ralph Northam. On Wednesday, Northam finalized his amendments to a budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly, including money for an investigation.

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Chase Says Convention Rigged, Will Run as Independent if Snyder Wins Nomination

Senator Amanda Chase, candidate for the GOP nomination for governor, says she will run as an independent if Pete Snyder is nominated. Chase appeared on The Jeff Katz Show on Tuesday, where she said that the convention process selected by the Republican Party of Virginia is rigged.

“After all the conventions that I participated in for over a decade, I can tell you, that these conventions are rigged. It’s voter suppression,” Chase said.

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Northam Proposes Legalizing Marijuana in July

Marijuana legalization is back on track for July, after Governor Ralph Northam announced amendments to legalization legislation. In February, legislators surprised marijuana policy watchers by delaying the effective date of legalization until 2024, leading the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia to blast the bills as worse than nothing. Since then, legalization advocates have lobbied Northam to amend the legislation to go into effect in July, when most other recently-passed bills take effect.

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Virginia Family Foundation Sues over New Transgender Public School Guidelines

The Family Foundation is suing the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) over its Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools. The model policies took effect March 6, 2021, and school boards must adopt policies consistent with the model by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. However, the Family Foundation says there are legal problems with the policies and that the VDOE did not properly address comments made during a legally required public comment phase.

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Northam, Beyer and Buttigieg Announce $3.7 Billion Transforming Rail in Virginia Initiative

New U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Congressman Don Beyer (D-Virginia-08) joined Governor Ralph Northam at Alexandria’s Amtrak station Tuesday. Northam announced a partnership with Amtrak, CSX and the Virginia Rail Express (VRE).  The partnership includes a $3.7 billion investment into expanding infrastructure, funded by Amtrak, state, and regional partners.

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Congressman Cline’s Bankruptcy Relief Extension Act Signed into Law

President Biden signed Congressman Ben Cline’s (R-Virginia-06) HR 1651, the COVID-19 Bankruptcy Relief Extension Act on Saturday, which extends a $7.5 million debt cap on bankruptcies taking advantage of a more cost-effective bankruptcy option provided by Cline’s 2019 Small Business Reorganization Act (SBRA).

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Students Protest After University of Richmond Decides Not to Remove Controversial Names from Campus Buildings

The University of Richmond (UR) has decided it will not remove from campus buildings the names of founding President Robert Ryland, who enslaved people, and former University of Richmond Rector Douglas Southall Freeman, who promoted segregation and supported eugenics.

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Loudoun Board of Supervisors Criticizes Commonwealth’s Attorney for Handling of Domestic Violence Cases

Commonwealth Attorney Buta Biberaj

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has decided to give Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj a smaller budget increase than requested amid concerns over high turnover in Biberaj’s office and her handling of domestic violence cases. In recent budget work sessions, supervisors cited a statistic that out of 735 cases, Biberaj’s office dismissed 491 cases. As an elected official, Biberaj herself is not under the authority of the board, but the county contributes a significant portion of her office’s budget.

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RPV Announces 17 Qualifying Candidates for Nomination for Virginia’s Top Three Seats

Seven gubernatorial candidates successfully filed for the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) nomination convention to be held May 8, the RPV announced Friday. Six candidates filed to run for lieutenant governor, and four candidates filed for the attorney general race.

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Former Trump Press Secretary and Arkansas Gubernatorial Hopeful Sarah Sanders Endorses Pete Snyder for Virginia Governor

Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has endorsed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder. On Thursday, the Snyder campaign posted a video call between Snyder and Sanders on YouTube.

In the video, Sanders said Snyder was a strong Trump supporter who would fight for schools and businesses to be open.

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Spanberger, Wittman Announce Bill to Allow 529 Funds to be Used for Technical Education

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia-07) reintroduced the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act on Tuesday. The bill, HR 2171, allows tax-advantaged 529 education savings accounts to be used to pay for tuition, exam, and supplies for technical education. Spanberger was joined by cosponsors including Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Virginia-01), Congressman Fred Upton (R-Michigan-06) and Congressman Dean Philips (D-Minnesota-03.)

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Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Attack Their GOP Counterparts

Four Democratic candidates for governor blasted their GOP counterparts in a joint statement Thursday.

“Last week, the entire Republican field took their complete embrace of Donald Trump a step beyond the far right extremism that has become the norm in the Virginia GOP,” wrote candidates Jennifer Carroll Foy, Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas), Terry McAuliffe, and Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond.)

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GoFundMe Pulls Parents Against Critical Theory Page

GoFundMe has taken down Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT) Founder Scott Mineo’s page, meant to help fund his efforts to fight critical race theory implementation in Loudoun County Public Schools. He said that GoFundMe didn’t say why it were removed his posts, but he has a guess.

“Because I’m anti-[critical race theory], that’s it,” he said.

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Virginia Gov. Northam Signs Restaurant Styrofoam Ban, Issues Ban on Single-Use Plastics for Some State Agencies

Governor Ralph Northam signed a ban on executive branch state agencies using single-use plastics. On Tuesday, he announced Executive Order 77 at the Environment Virginia Symposium held at Virginia Military Institute. He also announced the signing of Delegate Betsy Carr’s (D-Richmond) food vendor Styrofoam ban bill.

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Virginia Abolishes Death Penalty

Virginia became the first state in the south to abolish the death penalty when Governor Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he signed twin death-penalty repeal bills introduced by Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) and Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax). Virginia joins 22 other states that have also repealed the death penalty.

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Virginia Wedding Venue Appears in Court to Fight COVID-19 Capacity Limits

Outdoor wedding venue Belle Garden Estate (BGE) appeared in court Wednesday in a lawsuit against Governor Ralph Northam. BGE’s lawyer Tim Anderson argued that Northam’s executive orders violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, since religious weddings have no capacity limits, but secular weddings are capped by executive order. Northam’s lawyer argued that the right to have a wedding is not infringed, just the capacity allowed at a wedding. BGE sought an injunction blocking enforcement of executive orders that limit wedding venues differently from other businesses.

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Virginia Parole Board Investigator Jennifer Moschetti Fired

The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) fired senior investigator Jennifer Moschetti on Monday. Moschetti had investigated and helped write a report detailing violations committed by the Virginia Parole Board. Moschetti had sought formal recognition as a whistleblower from the General Assembly, but when she was placed on leave from her OSIG job, she sued to keep herself from being fired.

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Travis Hackworth Wins Senate District 38 Special Election

Republican Travis Hackworth won the 38th Senate District seat in a special election held Tuesday. Hackworth will fill a seat left vacant when Senator Ben Chafin (R-Russell) died of COVID-19 early in 2021.

“We were hoping for a 70-30 victory and to hit 75 percent, it’s just amazing. It just shows how the people in the 38th District are still conservative Republicans that want to elect a senator like Senator Chafin, who will go up there and fight Richmond and just be conservative,” Hackworth told The Virginia Star.

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