Virginia Department of Education Announces $12 Million in School Security Equipment Grants

Virginia’s schools will get $12 million from the commonwealth’s School Security Equipment Grant program; the money will go to schools in 90 divisions to help purchase security systems including surveillance cameras, two-way radios, visitor ID badges, security card access systems, and radios for buses.

“The systems and equipment purchased through these grants will help school divisions control access to school buildings, respond quickly to emergencies and maintain orderly learning environments for students,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said in a Thursday Virginia Department of Education announcement. “Every student and every teacher should feel safe in their classrooms, during school activities and when traveling to and from school. In many cases, the equipment purchased addresses vulnerabilities identified in annual school security audits.”

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Youngkin Budget Amendments Include Gas Tax Holiday, Ban on Taxpayer-Funded Abortions, and Law Against Picketing Justices

Governor Glenn Youngkin is sending 35 budget amendments to the General Assembly to approve on Friday, including a gas tax holiday, a ban on using state Medicaid funds for some abortions, and a law that would make it a class six felony to picket or demonstrate outside a courthouse or residences of justices and judges. The Democratic Senate is expected to block of Youngkin’s controversial changes, but eyes are on Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) to see if he’ll vote with Republicans to approve the abortion funding ban.

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Veto Day: Youngkin’s Vetoes Stand, but Senate Blocks Gas Tax Holiday and Some Amendments to Legislation

RICHMOND, Virginia – The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee voted to kill Governor Glenn Youngkin’s gas tax holiday proposal, launching the General Assembly’s veto session. Later in the day legislators spent hours voting on Youngkin’s various amendments and vetoes to their legislation.

Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) spoke against the gas tax holiday bill, and said that the phased gas tax increases in 2020 were part of a bipartisan effort to provide long term transportation funding solutions.

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Youngkin Wants to Add Two Marijuana Misdemeanors for Possession of More than Two Ounces and More than Six Ounces

Governor Glenn Youngkin has asked the General Assembly to approve creating two new marijuana misdemeanors: a Class Two misdemeanor for possessing more than two ounces and less than six ounces of marijuana, and a Class One misdemeanor for possessing more than six ounces but less than one pound of marijuana, the felony limit. Youngkin introduced the changes in an amendment to Senator Emmett Hanger’s (R-Augusta) SB 591, a ban on selling marijuana products in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit.

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VCDL, VAPLAN Rank Virginia’s General Assembly Legislators

Nick Freitas and Mark Obenshain

The pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) has released a scorecard of legislators from the recent General Assembly session, with most Republican legislators scoring 100 percent.  In tallies that count votes, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) and Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) earned the highest scores based on the number of votes cast and who introduced legislation. The Virginia Progressive Legislative Action Network (VAPLAN) has also released a scorecard, finding that Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Delegate Thomas Wright (R-Lunenberg) tied for most conservative in the House, while Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) was the most conservative in the Senate.

“Congratulations to Senator Mark Obenshain (R – Harrisonburg) and to Delegate Nick Freitas (R – Culpeper) for having the best voting records in the General Assembly,” the VCDL wrote in an update. “And honorable mention goes to Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville and freshman Delegate Marie March (R-Pulaski), who both came in 2nd place.”

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Youngkin Signs 45 Bills, Including Bill Closing Farm-Use Placard Loophole

Governor Glenn Youngkin signed 45 non-controversial bills on Friday, ahead of the General Assembly’s return to the capitol for a special session on Monday. Youngkin’s announcement highlighted bills to cut fees for sportsmen, increase law enforcement training to recognize human trafficking, and strengthen school safety audits.

“We are here to provide solutions to the problems that matter to Virginians and we are working every day to serve our parents and students, veterans and law enforcement,” Youngkin said in the press release. “I thank these bipartisan legislators for their ability to find common sense solutions for their constituents and the Commonwealth.”

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With Tight Schedule, Virginia Budget Compromise May Not Be Ready for Weekend Vote, Which Would Force General Assembly Session Extension

RICHMOND, Virginia – Legislators are meeting in behind-the-scenes meetings to try to finalize a budget compromise before the General Assembly is set to adjourn on Saturday, but are divided by a House of Delegates desire for substantial tax cuts and a Senate desire for higher state employee salaries plus a desire to preserve more future tax revenues. House Appropriations Chair Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) said that negotiations may take too long to have a compromise ready for a weekend vote, although he emphasized that his Senate counterparts including Finance Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) are cooperating in good faith.

“I think with the time constraints that we have, with the two bodies doing our business, I’m not sure we’re going to make it,” Knight told reporters on Tuesday.

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Senate Finance Adds Contingency Clause to House Bills; House Subcommittee Recommends Killing Two Constitutional Amendments; Plexiglass Gone from the Senate

RICHMOND, Virginia – As the legislature approaches its March 12 adjournment, legislators are working on budget negotiations, wrapping up their consideration of other bills, and continuing to return to pre-COVID-19 operations.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee advanced a number of bills from the House of Delegates, but at the beginning of the meeting Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) warned that the committee would add a financial contingency clause to several of the bills that aren’t currently funded in budget proposals. Health and Human Resources Subcommittee Chair Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) presented the subcommittee’s report on many bills.

Addressing Howell, he said, “We had the issue that you referred to as you began the meeting where on a number of them, there was not an allocation of funds coming from the House. So, we’re going to have, obviously, resource issues as we enter conference in terms of whether or not we can support all these good ideas that we’re going to advance today with the clause.”

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Virginia House of Delegates, Senate Pass Budget Bills with Competing Tax Policy

RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates and the Senate have passed their separate budget proposals for Fiscal Year 2022 and 2023. Both chambers debated floor amendments to the bills on Thursday before passing them, but the final versions are broadly similar to the proposals announced earlier this week. Each chamber’s proposal is based on former Governor Ralph Northam’s budget proposal, but the money committees made significant amendments before sending them to be passed out of the House and Senate. The Senate bill contains fewer tax cuts than the House bill, allowing for more spending, while the House bill is closer to the tax policy Governor Glenn Youngkin has called for. The two chambers now enter a process of working to a compromise.

Senate Finance Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) told the Senate that the proposal fulfilled promises made amid spending cuts during earlier hard times.

“In this budget we’ve done that, by making significant investments in education, natural resources,  public safety, and human services. We’re also chipping away a funding cap on support positions for K-12 education over both years of the biennium, embracing increased teacher and state employee pay, and adding to those compensation increases a one-time bonuses for teachers and state employees,” Howell said.

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Facing a Skeptical Senate, Youngkin Enlists Virginians to Pitch Tax Cuts to Legislators

CHESAPEAKE, Virginia – The day after celebrating his first major legislative win, Governor Glenn Youngkin is anticipating a bigger battle over the budget. On Thursday, he began touring Virginia to tout his tax reduction plans and enlist locals across the commonwealth in an effort to woo legislators. He made stops in Leesburg, Chesterfield, and Chesapeake.

“Now, because we are where we are in our legislative cycle, now there’s another three weeks or so of work to be done. And I need your help,” Youngkin said at his Chesapeake stop to an audience of local politicians and business leaders.

“I need you to talk to your elected representatives. Talk to your delegates. Call your senators. Send them a note. We need to cut taxes,” he said.

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State Senate Committee Advances 1.5 Percent Grocery Tax Cut for Virginians, Leaves Local One Percent Intact

The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee (SFAC) advanced a bill that would eliminate the state sales and use tax of 1.5 percent on groceries and personal hygiene products. In its Thursday meeting, the committee combined Senator Jennifer Boysko’s (D-Fairfax) SB 451, focused on the hygiene products, with bills from Senator Stephen Newman (R-Beford), Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), and Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) that included all groceries.

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Lieutenant Governor Earle-Sears Breaks First Tie of Her Term

RICHMOND, Virginia – Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears cast her first tie-breaking vote in the Senate on Thursday. Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) voted with Republicans against SB 137, a bill that would allow defendants in most felony cases to appeal a judge’s discretionary sentence if the judge does not provide a “written explanation that adequately explains the sentence imposed[.]” When the 20-20 vote result was clear, Earle-Sears asked bill patron Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and opponent Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) to come to the dais, where they discussed the bill. Then, Earle-Sears voted against the bill.

“What I wanted to do was to give the patron an opportunity to talk to me about the bill in a way that I may not have, you know, heard before. And then I also wanted to hear the opposing view. I always want to give people the opportunity so that they can make their case. And as I was listening to all sides, what appeared to me was that the bill unfortunately is poorly written,”she told The Virginia Star.

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New Virginia Gov. Youngkin Announces More Transition Officials

Glenn Youngkin announced a 113-member list of legislators, law enforcement, business owners, and Republican Party of Virginia officials that will be part of his transition “landing teams” — separate from the transition steering committee he announced earlier in November. The teams will coordinate with Governor Ralph Northam’s cabinet.

“In order to change the trajectory of our great Commonwealth, our transition team is utilizing the vast experience of business owners, law enforcement officials, veterans, healthcare providers, industry experts, and—most importantly—parents to determine how government can begin to serve Virginians better and start delivering on our Day One promises of better schools, safer streets, a lower cost of living, and more jobs,” Youngkin said in a Wednesday press release.

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Virginia General Assembly Passes Compromise ARPA Allocation Bill

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sp ... inance Chair Senator Janet Howell.

RICHMOND, Virginia – After hammering out a compromise between the House of Delegates and the Senate, the Virginia General Assembly voted to send its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget bill to Governor Ralph Northam. The bill passed the House 78-20 and passed the Senate 23-16.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said that she and other senators fought for the Senate’s amendments in a conference committee with representatives from the House.

“As you look at the conference report you will see that on several items our position was affirmed, and on others we were able to compromise,” she reported to the Senate.

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Virginia Senate Passes Amended American Rescue Plan Act Allocation Bill

RICHMOND, Virginia — The Virginia Senate passed its amended version of the $4.3 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation bill late Wednesday evening, after hours of debate on amendments. Although some Republican amendments, including a key law enforcement bonus proposal, were incorporated into the spending bill, many were not. Rejected amendments included a sweeping election integrity amendment and an anti-Critical Race Theory amendment. The final vote on passing the bill was 22-18. Many Republicans said that while they supported some elements of the bill, they disapproved of the process Democrats used, including a vote Wednesday evening to limit debate on each amendment to just three minutes.

Right before the vote to pass the budget, the Senate GOP caucus went into conference. When the senators returned, Minority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr. (R-James City) hinted that many of his caucus would vote against the bill. He said, “It is not so much about the substantive provisions of the budget that we have amended. Rather I believe that the vote you are about to see is going to be a reflection of the frustration and the indignation of the entire process.”

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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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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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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 General Assembly Approves Styrofoam Ban

The General Assembly passed a polystyrene (Styrofoam) ban for serving food in restaurants and similar vendors in Virginia. The bill, passed on Wednesday, will first take effect in July 2023 to large vendors with more than 20 locations; in July 2025, it will apply to all vendors, although vendors can apply for temporary exemptions to their localities. Violation can result in a $50 per day fine.

Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) pushed HB 1902 in the Senate as a compromise to allow the House of Delegates to pass a bill adjusting regulation of new recycling technology. Republicans opposed the polystyrene ban, saying it would harm small businesses, but supported Senator Emmet Hanger’s (R-Augusta) advanced recycling regulation bill.

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Virginia Governor Candidate Kirk Cox Reportedly Says Biden Will be Next President

GOP candidate for governor and Virginia State Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) reportedly said Tuesday he does not stand with Republicans in Congress who plan to object to the Electoral College votes and that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. 

Cox’s reported comments were shared by Daniel Grimes, a reporter and weekend anchor for NBC29 in Charlottesville, in a post on Twitter. 

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Some Virginia Newsmakers Share Their New Year’s Resolutions

A New Year, a new General Assembly session, a new state election, a new vaccine — The Virginia Star is looking forward to the stories of 2021. We asked a few newsmakers what their resolutions for 2021 are. Here’s what they said:

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Princess Blanding Announces Third-Party Run for Virginia Governor

Community activist and mental health advocate Princess Blanding, whose brother was fatally shot by Richmond Police in 2018, announced her entrance into the 2021 Virginia governor’s race on Tuesday as a third-party candidate, joining a group of hopefuls featuring former and current state politicians.

Blanding, 38, will be running as an independent candidate under the Liberation Party, whose mission to advance equity by uplifting traditionally underserved and oppressed communities, according to a press release.

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Republican State Senator Emmett Hanger Still Seriously Considering a Bid for Governor

As the 2021 elections inch closer and begin to dominate almost all political talk in the Commonwealth, Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) is still exploring a potential run to become the 74th governor of Virginia.

Hanger, 72, recently discussed the gubernatorial election and the difficulty of securing the GOP nomination in an interview with The Virginia Star. 

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Virginia Legislators Expect to Legalize Marijuana in 2021, but Massive Changes Needed Might Slow the Process

It’s not quite a nonpartisan issue, but Virginia legislators expect an effort to legalize marijuana will receive enough bipartisan support to pass in the 2021 regular session. The biggest hurdle to the plan is the massive legislative changes that are required. Legislators have to choose how the cannabis business will interact with many sectors of business and government including banking, law enforcement, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Taxation, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.

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Terry McAuliffe to Run for Second Term as Virginia Governor

Former Governor Terry McAuliffe officially entered Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial election on Wednesday after months of educated speculation that the long-time Democrat would throw his name into the contest and seek another four years in the Executive Mansion.

McAuliffe, 63, made the announcement during a press conference in front of Miles Jerome Jones Elementary School in Richmond’s southside that was streamed live to his Facebook page.

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Upcoming General Assembly Session Will Have Legislation Limits

When the General Assembly starts its 2021 regular session in January, the volume of legislation will be much different from years past because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), both the Senate and the House of Delegates will impose limits on the amount of legislation members can introduce for the session.

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Follow the Money: CARES Act Update

Congress passed the CARES Act last March, sending many taxpayers $1,200, giving $100 billion to health providers, and boosting unemployment benefits by $600 a week, according to Govtrack. The $2 trillion stimulus bill also sent $150 billion to states and localities across the country. Virginia received about $3.1 billion dollars, with a separate $200 million sent directly to Fairfax County.

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Senator Amanda Chase says the Democratic Party of Virginia is Racist

State Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), a Republican gubernatorial candidate for 2021, called the Democratic Party of Virginia racist and said that the group hates white people.

On Friday night, Chase posted the statement to her Facebook page in response to an article about Virginia Democrats calling for Richmond General Registrar J. Kirk Showalter to either be removed from the position or to resign on her own.

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Senate Passes Majority of Gov. Northam’s Amendments, Concluding Lengthy Special Session

The Virginia Senate on Monday adopted a number of slight changes to legislation and the budget recommended by Governor Ralph Northam, including language for the implementation of the recently-approved redistricting commission.

Overall, including the budget, the Senate passed amendments for ten bills from the House and Senate. Most passage votes were primarily along party lines with a couple amendments garnering unanimous support.

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