Gov. Northam Proposes $250 Million ARPA Allocation to Fund HVAC Upgrades for Virginia Schools

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Governor Ralph Northam is proposing that Virginia legislators use $250 million of Virginia’s American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for HVAC upgrades in the Commonwealth’s schools. He announced the proposal on Monday, a week before the Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to meet to allocate the ARPA funds.

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Lobbyist Advocates Video Game Terminals as Alternative to Skill Games

A lobbyist flew four Virginia state legislators to Illinois on Tuesday to pitch video game terminals (VGT) as an alternative to the recently-banned skill games popular in the Commonwealth’s convenience stores.

“I was wildly impressed with the regulations and control that the Illinois gaming board has on VGT machines. It is impossible to game the system,” Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) told The Virginia Star.

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Biden Stumps for Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Terry McAuliffe

ARLINGTON, Virginia – President Joe Biden joined Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe at Lubber Run Community Center on Friday evening. Biden, McAuliffe, and leading Virginia Democrats hyped progress made under their administrations and repeatedly linked GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin to former President Donald Trump.

“Terry and I, we share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump, so is Terry,” Biden said to laughter and applause. “And I beat Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.”

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Northam, Virginia Democrats Propose Using $700 Million from ARPA Funds for Broadband Access Expansion

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Governor Ralph Northam, Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), and top General Assembly finance Democrats are proposing using $700 million of the Commonwealth’s $4.3 billion American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds to make sure every Virginian has access to broadband by 2024.

“It’s time to close the digital divide in our Commonwealth and treat internet service like the 21st century necessity that it is—not just a luxury for some, but an essential utility for all,” Northam said in a press release.

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Virginia Ends Fiscal Year 2021 with $2.6 Billion Revenue Surplus

Virginia ended Fiscal Year 2021 with a $2.6 billion surplus, the largest in Virginia’s history, with a 14.5 percent revenue growth over FY 2020.

“We have effectively managed Virginia’s finances through the pandemic, and now we are seeing the results—record-breaking revenue gains, a recovery that has outpaced the nation, and recognition as the best place to do business,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a press release.

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Virginia Gov. Northam Proposes $353 Million for Small Business Recovery, Tourism from ARPA Funds

Governor Ralph Northam issued his first proposal for spending American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds Monday. Northam’s $353 million proposal includes $250 million for the Rebuild VA small business fund. It also includes $50 million for state agency the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), and $53 million for the Industrial Revitalization Fund and the Virginia Main Street program.

“Virginia is roaring back stronger than we could have imagined one year ago, but small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they need additional support to get back on their feet,” Northam said in a Monday announcement.

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CNBC Ranks Virginia Number One State for Business in 2021

Virginia won first place in CNBC’s ranking of top states for business in 2021, a repeat performance from 2019, the last time the ranking was issued. On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam stopped in the Port of Virginia for a CNBC broadcast and a press conference.

“Virginia continues to be the best place to do business because of our world-class education institutions, talented workforce, and shared commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Northam said in a press release.

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Botetourt School Board Disavows Critical Race Theory

The Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) Board disavowed Critical Race Theory (CRT) in its July 8 meeting, saying CRT was not being taught in the school. After public comment, Chair Anna Weddle read a statement supported by all five board members.

“[BCPS] has not and will not be teaching [CRT]. The term is not mentioned in standards, nor in curriculum. This includes the current standards and those standards that will be taught beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. Collectively, we do not support [CRT] in K-12 education in Botetourt County,” the statement said.

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Northam Appoints Eric Reynolds Head of Foster Care Watchdog Agency

Governor Ralph Northam announced Virginia’s first Director of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman will be Eric Reynolds, who has previous experience as legal counsel for the Department of Social Services and the Office of Children’s Services. The announcement is the latest step in the creation of the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, established by the 2020 General Assembly to help oversee Virginia’s foster care program.

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Virginia Rep. Spanberger Co-Sponsors Bill to Help People Transition from Unemployment Benefits to Jobs

U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia-07) is co-sponsoring a bill that would provide $180 per week through Labor Day to people who get jobs after being unemployed. The Strengthening Unemployment Programs to Provide Opportunities for Recovery and Training (SUPPORT) for New Workers Act is meant to incentivize people to return to work who are currently receiving unemployment benefits, including an extra $300 federal pandemic unemployment benefit.

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70 Percent of Adult Virginians Have Received at Least One Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine

Governor Ralph Northam announced Monday that Virginia has reached a key vaccination milestone: 70 percent of adult Virginians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Virginia has reached a significant milestone in the fight against COVID-19,” Northam said in his announcement. “Thanks to the millions of Virginians who have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated, the virus is in retreat, our economy is growing, and we are closer to putting this pandemic behind us.”

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Youngkin, Miyares, Sears Stop in Chester for Take Back Virginia Rally

CHESTER, Virginia – The GOP candidates for governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor stopped in Chester on Saturday afternoon for a rally with about 350 attendees. In 90-degree heat Glenn Youngkin, Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), and Winsome Sears spoke, mentioning Juneteenth, opposed Critical Race Theory in schools, and called for tough-on-crime policies.

“Virginians for the last eight years have been crushed. And I’ll say right here, right now, eight is enough,” Youngkin said.

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Virginia General Assembly Special Session Set for August

The Virginia General Assembly’s second 2021 special session is scheduled for August 2. One of the top priorities for the legislators will be allocating American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Although Virginia has already received the money, it can’t be spent until the legislators allocate it.

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Independent Investigators Release Report on Investigation into Virginia Parole Board Investigation

Independent investigators found probable bias in the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation (OSIG) into the Vincent Martin parole case, according to a report released Monday. The report says that OSIG’s investigation was not thorough enough and says OSIG failed to identify likely bias in its Senior Investigator Jennifer Moschetti. It also says the OSIG investigation and findings were not influenced by Governor Ralph Northam.

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Northam Announcements: Record May Revenue Increase, New Secretary of Finance, and Return to Earn Grant Program

Virginia saw a 66.2 percent General Fund revenue increase in May according to a Friday announcement from Governor Ralph Northam. He also announced the appointment of Joe Flores as the new Secretary of Finance, and a Return to Earn Grant program to help provide bonuses to new hires at small businesses.

“Virginia’s economy is roaring back to life thanks to hard work following the science and one of the strongest pandemic responses in the country,” Northam said in a press release.

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Virginia Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Lee Monument Removal Lawsuits

The Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments for two lawsuits blocking the removal of the Lee statue in Richmond on Tuesday.

A year ago, protests sparked by Minneapolis’ police treatment of George Floyd spread across the country. In Virginia, those protests spurred politicians to start removing controversial Confederate monuments. Although Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney was able to quickly remove most of the monuments on Monument Avenue, the most famous monument — a huge statue of Robert E. Lee — sits on state property ceded to the state under conditions that have complicated efforts to remove the bronze general.

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VMI Independent Investigation Finds ‘Racial and Gender Disparities’ and Risk of Sexual Violence

A new report on the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) says the school has refused to change or question traditions and that “racial and gender disparities persist.” Recommendations include a call for accountability from the General Assembly; increasing diversity in leadership and corps; adjusting institutes and traditions; tempering associations between the school, the Civil War, and the Confederacy; addressing racist and sexist speech and actions; improving transparency; celebrating other cultures; and addressing tensions between athletes and non-athletes.

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Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Direction and Values of Democratic Party in Final Debate

The final day of voting in the Democratic primary is June 8, less than a week away. On Tuesday evening, the gubernatorial candidates met for a final debate where they discussed issues including criminal justice, educational policy, and health care. One moment during the debate was sparked when moderators directed a question to Terry McAuliffe, and several of his opponents used rebuttal opportunities to weigh in on the post-Trump future of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

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Biden, Northam Celebrate New COVID-19 Case Lows, End of Virginia’s Social Distancing and Capacity Restrictions

Virginia’s COVID-19 social distancing and capacity restrictions ended Friday morning at midnight. On Friday afternoon, President Joe Biden and Governor Ralph Northam highlighted Virginia’s progress on COVID-19 case numbers and vaccinations in a stop at Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria.

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Settlement Reached in Virginia Employment Commission Lawsuit

Eastern District Court Judge Henry Hudson issued an order on Tuesday with details enforcing the settlement between the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) and plaintiffs who sued over delays while processing unemployment claims flagged as potentially ineligible.

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Youngkin, Miyares, and Sears Call on Northam to End State of Emergency, Relax COVID-19 Business Requirements

Governor Ralph Northam has rescinded most mask requirements for fully-vaccinated people and is expected to end all social distancing and capacity restrictions on Friday, but Virginia’s GOP candidates for governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor are calling for an end to the state of emergency and COVID-19 workplace safety regulations.

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Virginia Employment Commission Lawsuit Reaches Agreement as Gov Northam Orders Faster Claims Processing

The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is facing criticism and a lawsuit over delays while processing unemployment claims flagged as potentially ineligible. On Tuesday, in court-ordered mediation, the parties in the lawsuit came to an agreement. The same day, Governor Ralph Northam announced Executive Directive 16, requiring the VEC to add 300 new adjudication officers and make technology upgrades.

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Virginia Launches Pandemic-Style Equity Dashboards

Virginia’s Health Equity Leadership created two new dashboards displaying equity data in a style similar to pandemic metric dashboards. The dashboards display data on current conditions in Virginia and on mitigation efforts.

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More Than $60 Million to Go to Virginia Schools to Offset Pandemic Learning Losses

To offset learning losses caused by the shutdown of in-person public education, Virginia will be spending more than $60 million in recovery grants for public schools, Gov. Ralph Northam announced.

After public schools in the commonwealth were completely shut down for in-person classes for a period of time, the governor implemented restrictions that required hybrid teaching models that included both virtual and in-person learning for months. Since those guidelines have been lifted, some schools have returned to fully in-person education, while some are still using a hybrid model.

To minimize the learning gaps caused by the closures, the state will provide $62.7 million in LEARNS Education Recovery grants. About $55 million of the funding will come from federal relief and the remaining $7.7 million will come from state funds.

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Northam Signs Letter Asking Congress for $1 Billion for Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Infrastructure

Governor Ralph Northam

Governor Ralph Northam and governors of other Chesapeake Bay watershed states are asking Congress for $1 billion to help meet 2025 pollution reduction goals. In a letter sent May 13, the officials say that their Billion for the Bay Initiative would help restore the bay and create jobs.

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Fully-Vaccinated Virginians No Longer Need Masks in Most Settings

Fully-vaccinated Virginians no longer need to wear masks in most places, including indoors. On Friday, Governor Ralph Northam updated his mask mandate, effective Saturday, to align with new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance released Thursday.

“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” Northam said in his announcement.

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Norment, Saslaw Discuss If Virginia Will Remain Business-Friendly in the Future

In a post-session virtual luncheon hosted by Wason Center Academic Director Quentin Kidd, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) expressed alarm at erosion of Virginia’s business-friendly status while Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said moderate pro-business senators were helping protect Virginia’s business environment — for now.

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Virginia’s COVID-19 Case Numbers, Hospitalizations Down to Spring 2020 Levels

Virginia’s COVID-19 case numbers hit a new milestone on Monday: just 336 reported cases, according to the Virginia Department of Health; the last time numbers dropped below 400 was in June and April of 2020. According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, COVID-19 hospitalizations are low as well, with the seven-day moving average at 775 on Thursday; that number hasn’t been below 800 since late March 2020.

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Northam Awards $9.4 Million from Volkswagen Lawsuit Funds to Electrify Diesel Fleets at IAD, Fairfax County, and Amherst County

Governor Ralph Northam awarded $9.4 million to fund electrification of government-owned vehicle fleets for Dulles International Airport, Fairfax County, and Amherst County. The funds are part of the Clean Air Communities Program (CACP) and is funded by the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust (VEMT). Along with the $9.4 million awards, Northam announced a second round of funding, an additional $20 million, to electrify school buses.

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Virginia Legislators Lay Out Priorities for American Rescue Plan Funds

The American Rescue Plan will provide $7.2 billion for Virginia: $2.9 billion allocated for municipalities, and $4.3 billion for the state government, according to a Tuesday announcement from Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. On Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam and Democratic General Assembly leaders released their priorities for the $4.3 billion, including upgrading public health infrastructure, funding the Rebuild Virginia small business recovery plan, adding funds to the Unemployment Trust Fund, modernizing public schools, and deploying broadband across Virginia.

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Judge Grants Virginia Employment Commission Brief Extension to Respond to Class-Action Lawsuit over Slow Unemployment Claims Processing

Virginia is trailing the rest of the United States in processing certain unemployment claims. That’s led to a class-action lawsuit against the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), filed in April. VEC Commissioner Ellen Hess asked for an extension until the end of May to respond to the lawsuit, but on Wednesday, a district judge ruled that the VEC could only have a four-day extension from May 7 until May 11.

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Northam Expects to End Virginia’s Social Distancing Requirements in June

Governor Ralph Northam anticipates ending COVID-19 social distancing and capacity restrictions on June 15. In a Thursday briefing, Northam credited vaccinations with driving COVID-19 case numbers down.

“The data gives us a very clear message. The vaccines are working,” Northam said.

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Northam Announces Western Rail Initiative to Provide Washington-to-Roanoke Passenger Train

The New River Valley will have passenger rail service by 2025 for the first time since 1979, thanks to the new $257.2 million Western Rail Initiative announced by Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday. The initiative is part of an agreement with Norfolk Southern. Northam said the passenger service would boost tourism and economic growth.

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COVID-19 Hospitalization, Daily Case Numbers Drop to October 2020 Levels

empty hospital room

After a major wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during the winter, Virginia’s COVID-19 daily case and hospitalization statistics have gone down to levels not seen since October 2020.

On Sunday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported 761 new cases, and on Monday, the VDH reported 611 new cases, down from the worst days January 16, 17, and 18 which reached respectively, 6,757 new cases, 9,914 new cases, and 7,245 new cases.

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Republican Senators Say Independent Investigation Firm Is Biased

Republican senators are criticizing the choice of law firm Nixon Peabody to investigate the investigation into the Virginia Parole Board (VPB). An appointment letter published by the Office of the Attorney General states that the firm was chosen in part to avoid any firms with a strong connection to Virginia. But a week after the announcement, Senators Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) suggested that the Nixon Peabody team is politically biased.

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Marijuana Legal to Possess After July 1, But Still Illegal to Buy or Trade in Virginia

Possessing marijuana in amounts of up to one ounce will be legal July 1, but sales will still be outlawed in Virginia until 2024. That means there will be no clear legal way to acquire marijuana or marijuana plants, despite possession itself being legal.

“Outside of the medical cannabis program, there remains no legal access to marijuana in Virginia,” Virginia NORML Executive Director Jenn Michelle Pedini told The Virginia Star.

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Virginia’s Minimum Wage Increases to $9.25 an Hour on Saturday

Virginia’s minimum wage is going up to $9.25 an hour on May 1. The change is the result of 2020 legislation, part of several pro-worker changes initiated by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly in 2020 and 2021. Advocates say the change will boost the economy by enabling more people to pay rent and spend money in Virginia businesses. But opponents say the increase violates free-market principles and will harm employers who have to increase their hourly compensation while dealing with a COVID-19 economy.

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Law Firm Nixon Peabody Appointed Investigator of Investigation into Virginia Parole Board

Travis Hil

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced that major international law firm Nixon Peabody LLP will investigate the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. The firm is required to send a report on the investigation to leading Virginia elected officials from both parties by June 15, 2021.

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Virginia Opens Machicomoco State Park, the State’s 40th Park

Virginia has a brand-new state park — Machicomoco State Park, located along the York River in Gloucester County. On April 16, Governor Ralph Northam and other officials opened the 645-acre park, which features camping, picnic shelters, boat launches, and trails. One goal of the park is to tell the story of Virginia’s native tribes through interpretive areas.

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Northam Announces Relaxed Guidelines for Social Gatherings, Sports, and Restaurants Effective in May

Citing increasing numbers of vaccinated Virginians, Governor Ralph Northam announced Thursday relaxed COVID-19 restrictions to take effect May 15. The new guidelines allow 100 people at indoor social events and 250 at outdoor gatherings, up from 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Other restrictions at restaurants, entertainment, and sports venues are also relaxed.

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Northam Signs Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bills

Governor Ralph Northam signed marijuana legalization into law in a ceremony Wednesday afternoon, joined by legislators and marijuana advocates. The new law is a major piece of legislation from the 2021 General Assembly session. The law has many components involving regulation of cannabis production and retail that don’t take effect immediately, but a key portion allowing simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana takes effect July 1.

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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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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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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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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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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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