Fundraising dries up for Virginia’s three tainted leaders, but not for their fellow Democrats

Washington Post - April 16, 2019

By Laura Vozella

 Fundraising took a dive for Virginia’s top three Democrats after they were mired in separate scandals early this year, but Democrats running in legislative races still raised substantially more than Republicans, according to first-quarter fundraising reports released Tuesday.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring have raised $2,500 and $17,250 respectively since admitting in the first week of February that they had worn blackface as young men. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has raised no money since two women stepped forward that week to say he had sexually assaulted them in the early 2000s — accusations he has strongly denied.

The reports show a stark drop-off in donations to the trio of statewide officeholders during the first three months of the year, compared with what their predecessors took in over the same period four years ago, according to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.

But at least so far, fundraising on the part of individual Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates and Senate does not appear to have suffered.

In the House, where all 100 seats are on the ballot in November, Democratic candidates raised $2.4 million in the first quarter, compared with $1.7 million raised by Republican contenders. In the Senate, where all 40 seats are up, Democratic candidates raised $1.9 million while Republicans raised $1.1 million.

House Democrats touted the fundraising advantage in an email sent late Tuesday afternoon — with the aim of raising more money. “We’re winning,” the subject line said.

“These reports are hard, on-paper evidence that the will to win among Democrats is at an all-time high,” the email said. “We have the momentum and we have the competitive edge.”

Some Democrats had been concerned that they would not be able to count on fundraising help from Northam, Fairfax and Herring in this year’s legislative elections, which could prove pivotal. Virginia is one of just four states with such elections in 2019 and the only one with a competitive race for control of both houses of the legislature.

Republicans have been playing up the scandals as they try to defend their two-seat margins in both chambers.

The GOP noted that more Democrats face primaries, which could burn up campaign cash before the general-election fight. House Republicans also touted their hefty advantage in cash on hand — $6 million for the GOP, compared with $4.2 million for Democrats — because Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) raised a record $2.4 million last year, his first as speaker. Republicans had a smaller cash-on-hand advantage over Democrats in the Senate, about $4.9 million vs. $4.4 million.

“House Democrats are playing catch up after the Speaker’s strong year gave us a big head start, but we know that out of state donors and wealthy progressives will spend almost anything to buy a majority in the House,” Cox spokesman Parker Slaybaugh said in an email.

The reports cover the first three months of the year, a period that included the 46-day General Assembly session, when state office­holders are prohibited from raising money. Northam, Herring and Fairfax had just about a week to raise money at the start of the year before they had to pause for the session, and they had about a month after the session before the quarter ended March 31. The scandals unfolded in the middle of that.

Northam’s first-quarter total was $207,500, while in 2015, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) raised $822,586 over the same period. Herring, serving his second term, raised a total of $18,000 in the first three months, compared with $137,879 in 2015. Fairfax raised $1,950 for the quarter, while then-Lt. Gov. Northam brought in $30,930 four years ago.

Mark Bergman, who heads Northam’s PAC, said the governor “took a pause” in fundraising in March but still donated to Democrats.

“The Governor remains committed to supporting Democratic House and Senate candidates and retaking the majority in both chambers for the first time in two decades,” Bergman said in an email. “We contributed to a number of different candidates in the House and the Senate. We have resumed active fundraising this month and we will be raising money toward supporting Democrats in the lead up to the election.”

Among legislative candidates, Democratic challenger Daniel Helmer was one of the biggest fundraisers with $124,318 — right behind the man he’d like to unseat, Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), who raised $162,216. The only delegate who raised more — at least in a personal campaign fund — was Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), with $189,775. She raised an additional $25,683 through her Energized for Change PAC.

Cox raised $222,933, through his Colonial Leadership Trust PAC. He also raised $64,492 for his individual committee and $63,574 for the House Republican Campaign Committee PAC. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) raised $20,750 through his PAC.

One of the highest fundraisers in Senate races was Del. Debra H. Rodman (D-Henrico), who is challenging Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico). She raised $178,918, compared with $49,605 for Dunnavant.

The only Senate candidate to raise more than Rodman was Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), with $185,665. In office since 1979, Saslaw faces his first primary challengers in 40 years in Yasmine Taeb, who raised $58,389, and Karen Torrent, with $360.

Del. Danica A. Roem (D-Prince William), the state’s first elected transgender lawmaker, raised $71,254 in the first quarter but has taken in a total of $280,200 toward her reelection campaign, nearly three times as much as the average hauls of the 14 other freshman Democrats in the House.

Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington), who was elected in 2011, raised $63,995. She faces a challenge from the left from Nicole Merlene, who raised $20,936.

Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington), his party’s minority whip, raised $50,924. Progressives have targeted him for his past consulting work for ICA-Farmville, an immigrant detention facility in southern Virginia. He faces challenger J.D. Spain, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, who raised $18,556.

Del. Lee J. Carter (D-Manassas), a democratic socialist elected in 2017, is facing a primary challenge from Manassas City Council member Mark Wolfe, a former Republican who became a Democrat after President Trump’s election. Carter raised $40,894 to Wolfe’s $27,181.

Sen. Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) raised $19,237 for his own reelection, while the Senate Republican Caucus’s PAC raised $286,979.

Women Confront Civic Challenges in Alexandria

Alexandria Gazette - April 8, 2019

Despite certain women’s advancement in local and state elected offices, a panel last week on civic activism highlighted systemic barriers that women still face.

The panel, hosted on Monday, March 25 by the Alexandria Commission for Women, included female politicians and businesswomen who shared their leadership experiences and perspectives. The City Council-appointed commission advises city government on how public decisions uniquely affect women.

“More women than ever were elected to the Virginia General Assembly” in 2017, according to the commission’s 2018 Status of Women Report, from which Monday’s panel stemmed.

“Women marched, women ran, women won, and women are governing,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), Monday’s keynote speaker and the first woman to head a Virginia house caucus.

“[Newly elected women] … include six mothers of young children, which is groundbreaking,” said Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker.

Yet panelists articulated many obstacles they believe women continue to face, including childcare inaccessibility; budgeting that doesn’t balance gender interests; inequitable access to campaign funding and other resources; and the unratified federal Equal Rights Amendment.

“Access to reliable, quality childcare” enables women to “serve on a board or commission, … run for office, … engage,” said panelist Eleanor LeCain, a consultant, author and radio personality.

LeCain also recommended “gender budgeting,” an approach used by Iceland and European countries to create budgets and policies with women’s experiences in mind. She’s unaware of any U.S. municipality employing such an approach “systemwide.”

“Policies that don’t distinguish between women and men are usually not neutral, and can perpetuate inequalities,” she said. She thinks gender budgeting wouldn’t necessarily recommend increased expenditure, but rather analysis and restructuring of a city’s current budget.

The commission asked City Manager Mark Jinks in October, among other things, to “apply a gender lens to all city decision-making;” make “no further cuts to city programs and services significantly impacting women;” “designate one staff member dedicated to women’s issues.”

“I would submit that the gender lens you are requesting is inherent in the senior leadership of the city,” said Jinks in a March response. “Our [three] deputy city managers are all women and almost the totality of the government is under their purview.”

Kendra Martello, the commission’s chair, approves of certain current budget initiatives, but would go farther. For example, she’d “formally include women” in the potential new racial and social equity officer’s charge.

Income disparities between genders — and thus perhaps also their potential-donor social circles — may limit women’s campaign fundraising capacity. Alexandria women, on average, earn 85 cents on the dollar compared to men, according to the commission’s report.

Campaign finance reform could help ameliorate low-income women’s struggles, toward a “more diverse set of candidates entering the field,” said panelist Del. Charniele Herring (D-46).

“Virginia has not passed a public financing law, so there is not much we can do [legislatively] at the local level to change the process of running for office,” said Bennett-Parker. She looks to organizations “that help recruit, train and fund diverse female candidates.”

The commission’s Liz Johnson thinks the commission could host or otherwise facilitate more “networking opportunities.”

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) would elevate gender as a constitutional category against which discrimination is prohibited. Many Virginia Democrats hope Virginia could become the 38th and final state necessary for ratification. But the issue is partisan-charged, and Republicans control both statehouse chambers by bare majorities. In the recent 2019 General Assembly, the senate (including a few Republicans) approved ratification, but a house committee killed it along party lines.

Martello says the commission is nonpartisan — though panelist Eleanor Smeal, who leads the Feminist Majority Foundation, expressed a desire that Democrats “flip the house and the senate” in this year’s upcoming election. Filler-Corn also alluded to the election, toward ERA approval.

However, the ERA illustrates that all women aren’t of the same political mind.

The Alexandria Republican Women’s Club is “very concerned about unintended consequences of the ERA,” said club vice president Linda App. “I get the impression that all of the speakers at the event were Democrats and lean liberal. … We would have enjoyed participating and providing a conservative point of view. … Young people, in particular, need to hear both sides of the issues as they form their political opinions and affiliations.”

App declined to detail the ERA’s potential unintended consequences.

Some opponents worry the ERA could loosen restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortions. For example, in 1998 the New Mexico Supreme Court, based on the the state’s ERA, expanded the definition of “medically necessary” abortions eligible for state funds. In addition to those threatening the mother’s life or arising from rape or incest, pregnancies exacerbating preexisting conditions, having “a profound negative impact” on mental health, and others became qualified.

Del. Ken Plum: Women’s History Month

Reston Now - March 14, 2019

By Ken Plum

March is Women’s History Month. Before women had the whole month, the U.S. recognized Women’s History Week; before that, a single International Women’s Day.

Dedicating the whole month of March in honor of women’s achievements was seen “as a way to revise a written and social American history that had largely ignored women’s contributions,” according to an article in Time magazine. The first Women’s Day took place on Feb. 28, 1909 to honor the one-year anniversary of the garment worker’s strikes in New York when thousands of women marched for economic rights and to honor an earlier 1857 march when garment workers rallied for equal rights and a 10-hour day, according to the article.

Recognizing the achievement of Virginia women goes beyond naming a month. A monument is under construction on Capitol Square, “Voices from the Garden,” which will be the first monument of its kind in the nation. Representative of the state’s regions, the monument recognizes the 400-year history and the diversity of achievement, ethnicity and thought that women have made to the Commonwealth.

Even more significant in recognizing women in Virginia is the fact that there is historic representation of women in the Virginia House of Delegates, including the election of 11 new women members in 2017, all of whom ousted male incumbents. The House Democratic Caucus is almost 45 percent women, including 11 women of color. The House Republican Caucus is less than 10 percent women. Caucus Chair Charniele Herring is the first woman to chair a caucus in the House of Delegates throughout its 400-year history. Leader Eileen Filler-Corn is the first woman to be elected leader of a caucus in the General Assembly.

Recently I served on a panel, “Can Women Save Democracy? We’re counting on it!” at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University along with Herring, iller-Corn and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. There was a clear consensus in the room that women will play a pivotal role in getting our country back on the right track. Witness this year’s state and local elections when there are record-breaking numbers of women lining up to run in primaries and the general elections.

Not only are women running and winning races, but they are determining the outcome of elections with their tireless work in making calls, knocking on doors, and working on behalf of the candidates they support. Organizations like Indivisibles, with Herndon-Reston Indivisibles being a model organization, and Moms Demand Action among others are making their influence felt on policy issues like ending the epidemic of gun violence.

The big disappointment in celebrating women in history is the refusal of the Virginia House of Delegates to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Ratification failed on a tied vote on a procedural matter that makes it even more frustrating that the amendment was not allowed to be debated on the floor of the House of Delegates. There is more women’s history to be written in Virginia, and I suspect the next step will be the election of even more women this fall and ratification of the ERA next year!

Budget pushes legislative session into a day of overtime

Richmond Times-Dispatch - February 23, 2019

A short session of the General Assembly just grew a day longer, after Democrats in the House of Delegates refused on Saturday to waive a rule giving lawmakers a minimum of 48 hours to review the proposed state budget before voting on it.

The House and Senate voted to extend the legislative session through Sunday to allow 24 hours instead of 48 hours to review proposed revisions to the state budget. Lawmakers reached the compromise after hours of private haggling among Republican and Democratic leaders from both chambers.

The vote in the Senate was unanimous, but not in the House, where the one-day extension passed on a 79-13 vote. Both chambers will convene Sunday at 11 a.m.

“This allows us to finish our business ... in a timely and thoughtful manner,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said before the vote.

The impasse over budget action arose two days after Gilbert and Republican leaders insisted on a procedural rule to prevent Democrats from bringing ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the House floor for a vote. ERA ratification was defeated in a House committee earlier in the session.

House Democrats had insisted Saturday on adhering to the 48-hour rule for acting on the proposed budget revisions, which had gone online just after 11 a.m. Both chambers received their first briefings on the proposed changes that afternoon.

“There’s a 48-hour rule for a reason,” said House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax. “I think literally people want more time to look at the budget. It’s one of, if not the most important responsibilities we have.”

The bitter political battle over the ERA loomed over the budget showdown, as Democrats turned the procedural tables.

On Thursday the Republican-controlled House had deadlocked 50-50, defeating a proposed rules change that would have allowed a measure on ERA ratification to be brought to the floor for a vote.

The tied vote meant the ERA failed in the House, despite passing the state Senate last month on a bipartisan, 26-14 vote.

Gilbert said then that the House’s vote was “not about the ERA,” but about refusing special treatment for one issue.

“That’s not the way we do business,” he said.

On Saturday, after House Democrats enforced the 48-hour rule, former House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said, “People are worried about the optics of changing a rule, with all the concerns that we shouldn’t be changing a rule.”

Dels. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and Marcia Price, D-Newport News, tweeted a video from the House floor during a recess to emphasize what they saw as the need for more time to review the budget and Republican inconsistency in how they enforce House rules.

“We just had this whole conversation,” Price said, as Aird added, “About rules matter!”

“It’s about refusing special treatment for an issue,” Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, chimed in, mimicking Gilbert’s argument to block consideration of the ERA legislation.

The impasse over the rules deepened after Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, urged their House colleagues to reconsider so the assembly could act on proposed revisions to the budget and adjourn Saturday as scheduled to end a 46-day session mired in election-year politics and overshadowed by scandal.

Waiving the 48-hour rule and extending the legislative session both require approval by two-thirds of each body. That meant that if either chamber refused to extend the session, while the other declined to waive the rule to act on the budget, all of the proposed revisions to the $117 billion spending plan would disappear at midnight and the state would revert to operating on the two-year budget legislators adopted last spring.

“Everything dies, including the budget bill,” warned Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, who also was a lead negotiator on the budget conference committee. “There is no way to revive it.”

Norment said the impasse reflects the narrow partisan divide in both chambers, with Republicans holding a 21-19 edge in the Senate and a 51-49 edge in the House.

“Either of the four caucuses in essence can hold us in abeyance on a procedural motion,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life.”

Even if the budget bill died, Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said the state could continue to operate and collect revenues, but without a plan for appropriating and spending them.

“Clearly, it would be better for Virginia if they passed a budget,” Layne said in an interview.

Senate Rules Chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, acknowledged earlier that some senators also were concerned about the short notice for reviewing the budget agreement that a 14-member conference committee reached Friday night.

“We want people to be comfortable,” McDougle said. “That’s more important than speed.”

Toscano announces retirement from House of Delegates

The Daily Progress - February 23, 2019

By Tyler Hammel

After a long career in public service, Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, announced he will not seek an eighth term in the Virginia House of Delegates this year.

Toscano made his announcement during a speech on the House floor Saturday.

“Between my family and public service and community that is so special in so many ways, I have been, and continue to be, the luckiest guy alive,” he said.

Toscano, 68, was quick to note that his retirement has little to do with the chaos surrounding the state’s top three officials and that reading too much into his announcement “would be a mistake.”

“My decision has been in the making for some time, though various events have conspired to delay it,” he said in prepared remarks. “For months, I have been told that I should not retire, or could not retire. But I have some new and exciting opportunities for my next chapter, so if I needed a reason to stop postponing, I now have several. It is the right time.”

Toscano has represented the 57th District since he was elected in 2005 and was the House minority leader for seven years. In November, he stepped away from his House leadership role, citing the time demands of the job.

In an interview with The Daily Progress on Saturday, Toscano said he hopes he leaves behind a legacy of listening to constituents and effecting positive change, no matter how small.

“The best thing that a delegate can do is listen to the people they represent and learn from them,” he said. “I like to think I was a good listener, but I’ll let others be the judge of that.”

Before becoming a state delegate, Toscano served on the Charlottesville City Council from January 1990 to December 2001 and as mayor for two of those years.

Looking back on his career in public service, Toscano said he was proud of what he had accomplished. He pointed specifically to the 2013 transportation bill, which overhauled how the state pays for roads and mass transit; Medicaid expansion; and a bill that helped restore the graves of several hundred unidentified African-Americans in Charlottesville.

“There are specific bills you think about when you look back, not all of them gaining major headlines,” he said. “They may not all have had large impacts, but I hope they made lives better.”

With his seat now open in November, Toscano said he expects several candidates will announce campaigns in the coming months. As of now, only one candidate has entered the race: University of Virginia professor Sally L Hudson.

In December, Hudson announced her plans to run for the Democratic nomination against Toscano and said more progressive leadership was needed in the 57th District, which includes Charlottesville and surrounding parts of Albemarle County.

On Saturday, Hudson, who founded FairVote Virginia in 2017, a bipartisan organization focused on ranked-choice voting, thanked Toscano for his years of service.

“We are all grateful for his commitment to our community and have learned so much from his dedication to public service,” she wrote in a news release.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at UVa, said whoever takes over Toscano’s seat will almost certainly be a Democrat.

“But whoever the next delegate is, he or she will have no seniority and far less influence than Toscano,” he said. “If the Democrats take control of the House of Delegates, the situation will be better for the new delegate, of course.”

Others shared their gratitude Saturday for Toscano’s service, including Sen. Mark R. Warner, who was governor when Toscano was elected.

“Congratulations on a well-earned retirement and a career of service to be proud of,” he wrote on Twitter.

Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, a lawyer who shares an office building with Toscano, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Charlottesville "would not be the same place" without him. Bell, who chairs the House Courts of Justice Committee, said Republicans had largely ceded policy issues dealing with family law to Toscano because they trusted his judgment.

"I think it's unimaginable that that happens someplace else," Bell said.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said he respected Toscano’s “intellect and ability.”

“He advocated for his principles fiercely,” he said in a statement, “but always within the rules and customs of the institution.”

Former staffer Katie Baker, who worked for Toscano as the communications director for the House Democratic Caucus from January 2017 to March 2018, wrote that he was the best boss she could have asked for.

“In the 15 months I worked for him, I never once heard him say an unkind word to a staffer,” she wrote. “He was the most equanimous leader, and you could tell that he loved what he did every single day, no matter how heavy the demands.”

In his prepared remarks, Toscano emphasized his belief in forging strong relationships, civility and respect in order to best serve Virginians even as the state’s political landscape has become heated and nationalized.

“Our good news is that for all of the partisan rancor,” he said, “Virginia still has a government that works — and that is largely because of our relationships and our respect for this institution.”

He concluded by thanking those who he represented and those who helped him along the way.

“I want to thank all of you for the time we have spent together, the challenges we have endured, the positive change we have created,” he wrote. “I wish you all ‘Godspeed’ and hope you will continue your efforts to make the commonwealth greater than it is today. Thanks for including me in the journey.”

On 1-year anniversary of Parkland shooting, Virginia Democrats highlight failed gun reform bills

Daily Press - February 14, 2019

By Marie Albriges

When 17 students were killed at a Parkland, Fla., high school on Valentine’s Day last year, the Virginia General Assembly noticed.

On Thursday, Democrats used the anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to highlight the need for better school safety and gun violence prevention measures.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, named some of the shooting victims and listed some Democratic gun reform bills that failed this year.

“This isn’t just about those shootings or the AR-15,” he said, referring to the style of rifle used at Douglas and in several other mass shootings. “It’s about what’s happening in America and what we are not doing to stop it.”

Across the hall, House Democrats gave similar speeches. They introduced 17 bills related to guns this session, including creating an extreme risk protective order, requiring people to report lost or stolen guns and requiring universal background checks. All of them failed.

“We cannot in good faith say that our work to protect children and to ensure the safety of our schools is complete when we continue to refuse the house to take meaningful action to address gun violence,” House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said.

Virginia lawmakers have debated gun reform for years. In the current Republican-controlled General Assembly, bills to tighten gun control have traditionally failed.

Meanwhile, a bill that would repeal a state law barring people from bringing guns into churches passed on a party-line vote in the Senate and will be heard in a House committee meeting.

On Thursday, Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, compared the deaths of children by gunfire to the number of abortions that have occurred since Roe v. Wade. The issue of abortions fired Republicans up in January, when a failed, Democratic-proposed bill to ease restrictions on third-trimester abortions gained national attention.

“I don’t so much believe that it was the weapon, because it always has to have someone behind it for it to create such mass carnage,” Carrico said of shootings. “But I’m glad that my friends on the other side of the aisle want to have a conversation about it, because the conversation should be about our children and the most vulnerable.”

House Republicans again touted the legislation they crafted in a yearlong, bipartisan school safety committee formed by Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, shortly after the Florida shooting in 2018. The committee didn’t discuss guns, but focused instead on security enhancements and improving access to counseling.

Bills recommended by the committee that passed include ensuring building security enhancements are up to code, creating memorandums of understanding between school boards and law enforcement officers for hired school resource officers, establishing a commission on student behavioral health and requiring annual emergency drills in schools.

A Republican proposal to move primary elections to the third week of June, when students are out of school, passed in the House but failed in the Senate, and a bill to make the November election a holiday — since many polling locations are held at schools — died in both chambers.

A bipartisan bill mandating counselors spend at least 80 percent of their time on direct student counseling passed unanimously, and Gov. Ralph Northam proposed an extra $36 million to hire more counselors, which the House wants to fully fund.

The Senate only wants to spend $12 million for additional counselors.


How much do you owe on your Virginia taxes this year? It’s unclear

WTOP- January 24, 2019

By Max Smith

WASHINGTON — Virginians still do not know what rules they will file their state taxes under, even with filing season set to begin Monday, creating urgency in the push toward an at-least temporary resolution in Richmond.

The General Assembly is locked in a debate over what is typically a straightforward process to conform state tax filing rules with federal policies, since conforming with the federal Republican tax cut bill as it stands would lead to an increase in state tax bills for some people.

Republican leaders want additional state tax changes to prevent that, while Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed directing tax relief toward people who qualify for the earned income tax credit and spending the rest of the estimated $600 million per year on other key priorities.

With tax filing season opening Jan. 28, a key Republican lawmaker suggested Tuesday that if a complete deal is not realistic in the next few days, the intense debate could be held for later if there are promises of a compromise.

Republican Del. Lee Ware, of Powhatan, said he would support conforming Virginia tax law to match federal policies if any additional money was separated from the rest of the budget until a final plan is set for any tax refunds or changes to rules for who can itemize their deductions.

Changes could even be adopted in a special session, the Finance Committee chairman said, since the General Assembly only meets through Feb. 23.

“If we fail to timely reconfigure the tax code, I believe we will have failed in a fundamental task that we have before us,” Ware said.

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax County, shared the concerns about getting something passed quickly, particularly since federal workers and contractors who have not been paid for weeks may want to file returns immediately if they qualify for refunds in order to get much needed financial help.

Without a bill matching state and federal tax filing, Filler-Corn said there could be “chaos” and additional costs to the state to sort through new tax processing rules and any additional auditing requirements.

In a typical year, more than 600,000 Virginia tax returns are filed within the first week or so of the filing season.

“It is important more than ever now to get this figured out as quickly as possible,” Filler-Corn said as she spoke in favor of matching state and federal laws for this filing season.

“Once we do that, I am confident that we can come to an agreement as to how we can address overall tax policy,” she said.

Ware expressed similar optimism. “It is my conviction that we can act, but we must act promptly,” Ware said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, noted that last year’s tax conformity bill passed the Senate on Jan. 26. “I would say, yes, it is time for us to deal with that, but that I fully expect that to be dealt with in a very timely manner,” he said.

Federal court hands Dems big win in Virginia redistricting case

The Hill - January 23, 2019

By Reid Wilson

A panel of federal judges this week ordered Virginia to adopt new state legislative district lines that are likely to significantly aid Democratic efforts to reclaim control of the House of Delegates.
The judges on Tuesday selected a draft map drawn by Bernard Grofman, a University of California-Irvine political scientist chosen by the court as its special master last year after ruling that 11 state House districts had improperly diluted the political power of African-American voters.
The districts impacted are mostly in the Richmond exurbs and the Hampton Roads areas. Under the new lines, six districts that favored GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney over President Obama in 2012 would have instead given Obama a majority, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).
Several Democratic-held districts in and around Richmond and Hampton Roads would shift significantly toward Republicans. But those districts are heavily Democratic — the seats that Democrats alleged unconstitutionally packed African-American voters in — and they are likely to remain in Democratic hands.
Republicans hold 51 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates. Democrats hold 48 seats, and they are likely to win an open seat vacated by a Democrat who won a special election to the state Senate earlier this month.
All 100 seats are up for election this year.
“My impression is that the new maps create three almost certain pick-ups for Democrats in southeast Virginia, with a potential for as many as eight flips in the Democrats’ favor,” said Nick Goedert, a political scientist at Virginia Tech. “Democrats are clear favorites to take control of the House later this year, if the electorate looks anything like it did in 2017.”
Among the districts that shift most dramatically is one in Petersburg, just south of Richmond, held by House Speaker Kirk Cox (R). Cox’s district gave Romney 63 percent of the vote in 2012; under the new lines, he would find himself running in a district where Obama beat Romney by a 53-percent-to-47-percent margin.
Cox said in a series of tweets Wednesday that Republicans in the state legislature would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Eastern District Court selected a series of legally indefensible redistricting modules that attempts to give Democrats an advantage at every turn. The modules selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law,” he wrote. “Regardless of what the electoral map looks like in 2019, Republicans are prepared to defend and rebuild our majority in the House.”
In a statement, Virginia House Democratic leader Eileen Filler-Corn and caucus chair Charniele Herring (D) said the ruling was the obvious outcome of a stalemate between legislative Republicans and Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The two sides did not agree on the contours of new maps within the court’s allotted time frame.
“A consequence of undoing gerrymandered maps is that the partisan makeup of some districts may change, but we cannot place partisan politics above the U.S. Constitution,” the Democrats said. “We are pleased that Virginians will have constitutional districts for the November elections.”
Even before this week's court ruling, Democrats thought they had a chance to win back the House of Delegates for the first time since 2000. The party made big gains in the 2017 legislative elections, coming within a coin toss in a tied race of winning control of the lower chamber.
The district that ended in a tie-breaker, won by Delegate David Yancey (R), is also on the list of likely flips. Under its new boundaries, the district would shift toward Democrats by almost 14 points, according to the VPAP data.

State Republicans Have Already Thrown Out Most Gun Control Legislation

WTVF - January 21, 2019

By Michael Pope

Access to firearms remains one of the hottest issues in Richmond. But the tone of the debate this year -- an election year -- is taking a dramatic turn.

State Senator Amanda Chase isn’t just advocating on behalf of gun advocates. She’s also packing heat.

Last week, she says, she became concerned about the increasingly hostile tone over the debate on immigration and the Equal Rights Amendment. So she started openly carrying a firearm in the halls of the Capitol and even on the floor of the Senate.

“I jokingly refer to my firearm as my Equal Rights Amendment. So it is an equalizer, and I plan to continue carrying throughout session just as a measure of precaution.”

Republicans have already dispatched almost every effort Democrats have introduced to limit access to guns, including bills to ban bump stocks or allow localities to limit guns in public buildings.

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn is one of the few Democrats who have had any success at all with a bill to create tax breaks for gun safes.

“Years ago when I first thought about this I thought who could oppose this bill? The gun violence prevention people love it, and the NRA folks seem to like it because they have quick access to their weapon if an intruder comes in.”

Meanwhile Republicans are moving forward with bills to increase the presence of guns in churches.

After nearly year-long logjam, GOP ‘rams through’ State Corporation Commission pick with no Democratic support

Virginia Mercury - January 16, 2019

By Robert Zullo

More than a year after Judge James Dimitri said he was stepping downfrom the State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, insurance, banking and other business interests, Republicans in the General Assembly muscled through a surprise pick to fill the last remaining year of his term in a single day with zero Democratic support.

The new judge is Judge Patricia West, a former chief deputy attorney general under Ken Cuccinelli, a former secretary of public safety under Gov. George Allen and a judge on the Virginia Beach Circuit Court. She is an associate dean of career and alumni services and a professor of law and government at Regent University, a Christian university in Virginia Beach.

“I would like to continue my service to the commonwealth and this is an area where I can really serve the people of the commonwealth and the companies that decide to do business here,” she told the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Wednesday morning in a meeting that took some lawmakers and lobbyists by surprise.

Her selection broke a lengthy impasse between House and Senate Republicans, who control both chambers, that had failed to produce a pick for the seat over the past year.

“The logjam’s been finally broken,” said Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, who chairs the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. West was confirmed as qualified by the Senate committee during a hastily organized joint meeting with the House Commerce and Labor Committee meeting Wednesday morning. The House committee was unable to vote to certify West because of a lack of a quorum, said Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, the chairman, but did so later in the day.

“Procedurally, we’re going to go into a joint continuing resolution to elect judges today. When the House certifies, after that, then she’ll be on the ballot today and she’ll be elected by, I hope, close of business today and we’ll put this to bed,” Wagner said.

That procedure had Democrats seething, particularly since House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, had told the House on Tuesday that Republicans would not be ready to bring a State Corporation Commission pick to the floor on Wednesday.

“It’s shocking and disturbing at best. Where is the transparency?” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the House minority leader. “Sunlight did not shine on the Capitol today.”

The SCC’s commissioners are elected by the General Assembly for six-year terms, staggered in increments of two years. The commission has a staff of nearly 600.

West remarks to the committee were likely music to the ears of some senior lawmakers of both parties, who have fumed in the past when the commission — an independent agency created under the 1902 state Constitution primarily to rein in the railroad companies that dominated the legislature— exercised that independent judgment, especially on utility matters.

“The SCC is basically controlled by statue, so whatever the General Assembly decides the State Corporation Commission is supposed to do, that’s what they do,” she said.

There was some grumbling in the hallways outside of the committee room about the surprise nature of the meeting.

And some environmental groups were wary of West, noting that she had been involved  in Cuccinelli’s legal crusade against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.

“I think it’s evident they want to ram this through,” said Mike Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “I don’t know Judge West, but our initial reaction is she does not represent the views of a majority of Virginians and have some deep concerns about her nomination to fill this very important post.”

Progressive groups and the Virginia Democratic Party blasted West’s nomination  and called attention to her social media postings.

“Judge West’s social media accounts regularly amplify anti-LGBT and xenophobic messages and voices,” said the Charlottesville group Clean Virginia, which is fighting the influence of Dominion Energy in state government. “Those views should have no place in our legal system.”

Virginia Democrats called her a “conspiracy theorist.”

“Most troubling of all for the citizens of Virginia, Patricia West has a long history of endorsing and promoting far-right, sexist, Islamophobic conspiracy theories,” the party said in a statement.

Filler-Corn said the neither the public nor lawmakers had time to vet a nominee for an important regulatory position.

She was asked if it would come up again after this year’s House and Senate elections.

“Will it come up again? I think that’s likely,” she said.

Assembly elects Patricia West, former judge and top aide to Allen, Cuccinelli to SCC post

Richmond Times-Dispatch - January 16, 2019

By Michael Martz

The long search for a new judge on the State Corporation Commission ended with the surprise election on Wednesday of a Republican former judge whose candidacy started a partisan battle over public transparency and gender in a critical election year.

Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly elected former Judge Patricia West — a conservative Regent University official and former key aide to Gov. George Allen and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — to fill the SCC post vacated by the retirement of Judge Jimmy Dimitri at the end of February.

West, 57, will become the third judge on an independent commission established in the Virginia Constitution to oversee public utilities, banks and insurance companies. The SCC is now under increasing pressure from the General Assembly to carry out its priorities for regulating electric utilities and expanding use of renewable energy.

“It’s a very noble body,” West said of the SCC during a hastily convened joint meeting of the Senate and House Commerce and Labor committees early Wednesday.

The debate over her election was anything but lofty in the House of Delegates. It had favored Richmond lawyer and lobbyist David Clarke to succeed Dimitri but quickly fell behind West after Senate Republican leaders advanced her candidacy with their House counterparts on Tuesday afternoon.

“What happened is, we’re basically caving in to the Senate,” said Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, the House’s former minority leader who called the vote “the exercise of raw political power in its glorious majesty.”

“You’ve got the votes, so you’re going to force it down people’s throats,” Toscano said shortly before a series of party-line votes that elected West to the SCC.

The House had been waiting for nearly a year for the Senate to recommend an SCC candidate it could accept, Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in an interview before the floor debate.

“We’ve both unanimously decided to proceed forward with a well-known, highly qualified, female judge,” Gilbert said.

Gender figured prominently in the aftermath of the debate, as Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, accused Democrats of supporting only women who share their political views.

“The other side is always touting equality. Well, here’s your chance to practice what you preach,” Byron said.

Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, the longest-serving woman in the House and a former Cabinet secretary, responded heatedly that the issue was not West’s abilities or gender, but the lack of vetting for a candidacy that wasn’t mentioned publicly until late Tuesday afternoon and unknown to most legislators until Wednesday morning.

“We have totally cut out the public. We haven’t informed them,” said Watts, who suggested that the process gave “special privilege” to a candidate preferred by the Republican majority.

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the first woman to lead a party caucus in the assembly, called the process “shocking and disturbing” in comments to reporters after the vote, but she added, “We’re not doubting that this woman has credentials and experience as a judge.”

Filler-Corn said Democrats, who hope to take control of the House after elections in November, are likely to reconsider West in a year, if the judge seeks re-election to a full term after her current term expires on Jan. 31, 2020.

“Will it come up again? I think that’s likely,” she said.

West was one of five candidates to be certified as qualified by the Commerce and Labor committees, and seven to publicly seek the job.

The front-runner had been Clarke, general managing partner of Eckert Seamans’ Richmond law office, which lost three members of its lobbying team while the House and Senate deadlocked during a special session that began in April and continued until the assembly convened this month with no resolution of the SCC vacancy.

Clarke had no comment about the outcome on Wednesday.

After 25 years of public service, West was “not a mystery candidate,” Gilbert told House Democrats who wanted to know more about her and her political views.

She served as director of juvenile justice and secretary of public safety under Allen, a conservative Republican governor whose agenda featured a crackdown on crime and parole. She also served as chief deputy attorney general under Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican who lost his race for governor to Democrat Terry McAuliffe in 2013.

Cuccinelli, who has been a forceful critic of the political influence wielded by Dominion Energy and other public utilities over the legislature, predicted that West will be a strong, independent member of the SCC.

“She is a by-the-books judge,” Cuccinelli said Wednesday. “She’s not going to do what people want her to be doing. She’s going to do what she believes the law dictates be done.”

“What Frank Wagner says the law says and what David Suetterlein says the law says may be somewhat different,” he added, referring to Republican state senators from Virginia Beach and Roanoke County.

Wagner is chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and a reliable ally of Dominion Energy, the state’s largest utility. Suetterlein has been a critic of laws passed by the General Assembly to help Dominion and Appalachian Power, the state’s second-largest electric utility.

Last year, Wagner sponsored the Grid Transformation Security Act proposed by Dominion, signed by Gov. Ralph Northam and supported by several environmental organizations.

The law requires the SCC to support as prudent legislative priorities for utilities to modernize the electric grid, expand use of renewable energy, bury outage-prone distribution lines and promote energy conservation, even if regulators think they would cost monopoly customers more than they benefit.

“You follow the law as we pass it and the governor signs it,” House Republican Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, told West during another House Commerce and Labor Committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, defended the independent authority of the SCC over institutions at the heart of Virginia’s economy.

“This is created by the Constitution,” Keam said, “which does not allow for this agency to be subservient to the General Assembly nor to the Executive Branch.”

West acknowledged that she is not an expert in areas of the law overseen by the SCC, but her duties in the attorney general’s office included the Division of Consumer Counsel, which represents utility ratepayers before the commission.

She also emphasized her 14 years of experience as a circuit and juvenile and domestic relations judge in Virginia Beach.

“I am very good at being a judge,” she told lawmakers.

West also spoke of her commitment to following statutes.

“What the General Assembly decides what the State Corporation Commission must do, that’s what they do,” she said.

‘Raw political power:’ Virginia Republicans force issue of powerful judgeship

Washington Post - January 16, 2019

By Gregory Schneider

 Republicans who control Virginia’s legislature flexed their political muscles Wednesday over a judgeship for the powerful State Corporation Commission, leading Democrats to cry foul in the first open partisan warfare of the week-old General Assembly session.

“This is the exercise of raw political power in its glorious majesty, pure and simple,” Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said during a contentious floor debate. “You got the votes, and you’re going to force it down people’s throats.”

At issue was a vacancy on the State Corporation Commission, a three-judge panel that regulates public utilities, banking, insurance and other commerce. Chartered in the early 1900s to oversee the railroad monopolies, the SCC is an independent body sometimes called the fourth branch of the state government.

In recent years, though, its power has been diminished by the General Assembly, culminating last year when legislators passed an overhaul of utility regulation that set strict limits on the SCC’s oversight of Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power.

One of the three SCC judges stepped down more than a year ago, and lawmakers had been unable to agree on a replacement. The Senate, in particular, has slowed the process as Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) feuded with a handful of Republicans who jumped ship last year to join Democrats in voting to expand Medicaid.

When the issue of judicial appointments came up Tuesday in the House of Delegates, Toscano asked Republican leaders whether they expected action on the SCC vacancy. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) basically shrugged and said he hadn’t heard anything from the Senate.

“It is much more likely that anything involving the State Corporation Commission will be at a much later date,” Gilbert said.

Around 5 o’clock Tuesday evening, though, word spread that the Senate had a name.

After the House floor session began at noon Wednesday, Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) called a recess so the Commerce and Labor Committee could hold an unusual, 30-minute meeting to interview the SCC candidate who had emerged with full approval of the Senate Republican caucus.

And when Democrats learned the name, they were unhappy: It was Patricia West, a former circuit court judge from Virginia Beach who was chief deputy to former Republican state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II. West joined Cuccinelli in a number of controversial actions, including challenges to federal environmental protections and the Affordable Care Act and defending Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

She currently serves on the faculty at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

“What information we have been able to find on social media and in her writings gives us great pause,” said Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington), who complained that the last-minute nomination gave lawmakers no time to fully vet her. West has an active Twitter account and regularly retweets posts from Franklin Graham, Ann Coulter and other conservative icons.

Republicans countered that West is a well-known figure in Richmond and Hampton Roads. And they pointed out another factor: Because the chairman of the SCC is also a woman, West’s appointment would give the agency its first female majority.

“For those on the other side preaching equality, here’s your chance, folks, to practice what you preach,” said Del. Kathy J. Byron (R-Bedford).

Democrats countered that, politics aside, a candidate for the SCC needed more than 30 minutes of review before being appointed. “All we’re asking for is fairness and vetting,” said House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax).

During the brief committee meeting, West presented herself to lawmakers and answered questions. She told the lawmakers that if elected to the SCC, she would carry out the will of the General Assembly as opposed to setting policy of her own.

“I really do believe with all my heart that a statutory agency is one that can be — I mean, we defer to what you want. That’s the job of a judge. The General Assembly tells us what the priorities are, what the policies are, and then we apply the facts that are presented to us,” West said.

That position riled some Democrats, who say that the point of the SCC is to be independent of the General Assembly. “This is not a statutory agency; this is a constitutional agency,” said Del. Mark L. Keam (D-Fairfax). “It’s not subservient to the General Assembly.”

Every attempt to slow West’s nomination, though, was defeated by the slim Republican majority. She won the appointment on a party-line vote, with support from all 51 Republicans. None of the 49 Democrats voted, a show of protest because, by tradition, legislators do not cast “no” votes against judges.

Gilbert, the majority leader, didn’t deny that West’s election was a matter of brute political force but said Virginians will appreciate having “a highly qualified, strong female” judge on the SCC.

Some Democrats pointed out, though, that the term West is filling will be up for consideration again next year. By then, there could be a new majority in one or both houses of the legislature. “I think it’s likely it will come up again,” Filler-Corn said.

Democrats’ priorities: LGBT rights, environment, $15 minimum wage

CBS 6 - January 15, 2019

RICHMOND — LGBT rights legislation, environmental protection and a push for a $15 minimum wage are among the goals House Democrats have for the 2019 legislative session.

Members of the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference Tuesday to outline their priorities for the session, which runs until Feb. 23.

House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, a delegate from Fairfax, celebrated the party’s recent victories at the polls, including the election of 15 new Democratic delegates in 2017 and two consecutive Democratic governors. Filler-Corn said she hoped her colleagues would keep pushing forward.

“There is so much more that we can do, and that’s why we are here today,” she said. “If we are to successfully pass this legislation, we’ll continue to move Virginia forward.”

The list of policy priorities is not “comprehensive or exhaustive,” Filler-Corn said, noting, for example, that it did not include gun safety legislation.

But she said the goals would help workers, children, teachers, the middle class and other groups. Filler-Corn said she hoped her Republican colleagues would join her “to successfully pass some of these bills.”

Speakers at the news conference included:

  • Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, a delegate from Alexandria, who said the party would push for no-excuse absentee voting and other changes in voting laws. “No right is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote, yet that right is under attack across the country,” Herring said.
  • Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy of Woodbridge, who discussed legislation to protect the LGBT community from discrimination. “Virginia has been on the wrong side of history too many times,” Foy said. “We have fought against interracial marriage, women’s right to vote, women being able to receive a higher education. We fought against desegregation. And now it’s time for us to be on the right side of history.”
  • Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton, who touted bills to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and to help firefighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “We cannot strengthen our economy without strengthening our neighbors,” Ward said.
  • Del. Wendy Gooditis of Clarke County, who called for environmental legislation that she said would benefit both urban and rural Virginians. “Constituents on both ends of my district need clean drinking water,” she said. “We all need fresh air. We all want a healthy future for our children.”

Gooditis said Democrats want laws to make sure the state’s electric utilities are investing in clean energy and to ensure that all residual coal ash from power plants is recycled.

“Farmers need green space and thriving waterways,” Gooditis said. “Parents want clean air and water so their children can flourish. Communities want prosperous local economies. The people of Virginia want us to move energetically toward a new, greener way of life.”

In her closing words at the news conference, Del. Vivian Watts of Fairfax said the House Democratic Caucus would work for the “the dignity of the individual.”

“We are determined to make this House the house for all Virginians,” she said.

By  Benjamin West/Capital News Service

General Assembly diversity is a positive sign

Daily Press - January 12, 2019

The General Assembly is becoming more diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation and points of view

We expect the halls and offices of the General Assembly’s Pocahontas Building to be ringing with the clamor of healthy debate throughout the next several weeks. At least, more so than in recent memory.

That’s because the policy issues being discussed during this 46-day session will be by the most diverse body representing Virginia’s residents in more than a century.

Healthy debate is a precursor to progress and breakthrough.

Just how diverse is this group of legislators? Consider the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus now includes 21 members, 11 of whom are women. That’s an uptick from previous years; in 2004 there were just 16 members in the group.

Not only are women being elected to positions in the General Assembly, they are also holding seats of power.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, of Fairfax County, is the House minority leader. It’s the first time in 400 years that a woman has held the position.

In 2017, Virginians elected the first openly transgender member of a state legislature in the United States. Del. Danica Roem, of Manassas, has filed more than a dozen bills to be considered during the 2019 session.

At age 29, Del. Jay Jones, of Norfolk, is the youngest member of the House of Delegates. He sits on the same body as Del. Charles Poindexter, of Glade Hill, who graduated high school 29 years before Del. Jones was even born.

The General Assembly’s diversity was on Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr.’s mind this week.

The James City County Republican — who is white and has served in the Senate since 1992 — spoke about the range of viewpoints represented within the legislature at his annual pre-session breakfast for supporters.

Though Sen. Norment doesn’t necessarily agree with what many of the new legislators have to say, he acknowledged their presence introduces a vast array of perspectives, values and backgrounds to the conversation, all of which is “healthy.”

He remembers when, some two decades ago, there weren’t any women in the Senate Republican caucus. The 1992 General Assembly — when Sen. Norment was first voted into office — included just four female senators and 12 female delegates within the combined 140-member body.

For more than a century, the General Assembly’s lack of diversity was the result of policies that made it nearly impossible for blacks and women to participate. But it had not always been that way.

Just prior to the end of the Civil War, the Colored Monitor Union Club urged hundreds of black men to vote at Norfolk polling places for 1865’s spring local elections. That civic engagement helped spur African American men to run for office and vote during the 1867 constitutional convention that was a part of the commonwealth’s efforts to be readmitted to the Union once the war concluded.

The new constitution was drafted by a group of 104 delegates, including 24 black men, and it extended the vote to all males, white and black; set up a free system of schools for all races, and established elective democracy at all levels of state government.

Those rights helped get African American men elected to the General Assembly, creating an environment where the legislative body looked like the male half of the state for the next two decades. A series of Supreme Court decisions, as well as the allowance of poll taxes and literacy tests, began to take effect around the turn of the 20th century, effectively disenfranchising black voters and stopping black men from running for statewide elected offices.

Virginia is, thankfully, getting back to a place where our legislative body includes people of varying genders, races, family experiences and sexual orientations, all of whom have differing views on how to improve the commonwealth we all call home.

It is all the more inspiring to see the body elected to represent the whole of Virginia look like the people who elected it.

Just five months before his death, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University which touched on positive influences of diversity.

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

It’s heartening to see our differences represented in our state’s elected leadership.

For the session that began on Wednesday, we will continue to report on the pangs that accompany legislative debates, and we fully expect the commonwealth to be healthier for those discussions. Read our politics coverage online at and you can also watch many of the General Assembly’s meetings at


Eileen Filler-Corn, new House minority leader, calls for civility and compromise

Roanoke Times - January 10, 2019

RICHMOND — House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the first woman to lead a party caucus at the General Assembly, called for civility, compromise and bipartisanship in a speech Thursday to the House of Delegates.

Filler-Corn paid tribute to her predecessor, Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and congratulated Sen.-elect Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, on her election to “that other body down the hall.”

Filler-Corn said she is looking forward to working together with House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, and the Republican caucus “to govern in the best traditions of the commonwealth in the spirit of cooperation [and] collaboration” that “our constituents truly expect and demand of us.”

Filler-Corn noted that the House approved a major transportation package in 2013 and Medicaid expansion in 2018 when the measures drew support from delegates in both parties.

All 100 seats in the House and all 40 seats in the Senate will be up for election in November. When the results of Tuesday’s special election are certified and Boysko is sworn in to the Senate, the House will have 51 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

Va. Gov. Northam urges Republicans to embrace ambitious budget in annual address

Washington Post - January 9, 2019

By Laura Vozella and Gregory Schneider

 Gov. Ralph Northam (D) hailed a “unique opportunity” to spend money on a cornucopia of priorities from public education to rural broadband in a State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday evening, glossing over a deep divide with Republican legislators over tax dollars in a year when all 140 seats of the legislature are up for election.

The General Assembly convened earlier Wednesday for its 400th annual session with a little extra pomp, a potential breakthrough on the Equal Rights Amendment and disappointment for gay rights advocates.

In his speech, Northam pitched tax and budget plans that hinge on using $1.2 billion in new revenue that the state expects to collect as a result of last year’s federal tax overhaul. He also urged the GOP-controlled legislature to consider his plans to address gun violence — legislation that Republicans snuffed out last year.

Although he is backing those same bills again, including measures that call for universal background checks and an assault-weapons ban, Northam chose to highlight just a single bill in his speech — one that he said Republican legislatures in other states have adopted. The “extreme risk law” would make it easier for law enforcement and the courts to remove firearms from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

“It shouldn’t be a partisan issue to make sure that weapons are not in the hands of people who pose a threat, especially when the threat is to their own safety or their family’s safety,” Northam said.

Invoking the “Virginia Way” of political compromise, Northam catalogued the accomplishments of his first year in office — including expanding Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of low-income Virginians, raising the larceny threshold and securing funding for Metro — and he urged both parties to cooperate.

“The successes in this past year have come about not because I, or you legislators, did something individually — but because we worked together,” he said. “When we work together and help provide a strong foundation for Virginians, our families and businesses thrive.”

But Northam’s vision of a rapidly rising state flush with cash to build on its success is based on a fundamental disagreement with Republicans, who still control both houses of the legislature. The governor wants to spend some $1.2 billion that could flood state coffers because of changes to the federal tax code under the tax cuts President Trump signed last year.

He wants half of that amount tofund tax breaks forVirginian households making less than $54,000 a year, the state’s median income. He would use the other half to shore up the state’s reserve funds and make “historic” investments in schools, the environment, rural broadband and other priorities.

Republicans, though, want to change Virginia tax code so that much of that money goes back to taxpayers at middle- and higher- income brackets.

Republican leaders embraced Northam’s language of cooperation before drawing a sharp line over taxes.

“I appreciated very much the tone that he started out with,” Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) said in the Capitol rotunda after the speech.

But Northam’s spending plan seemed aimed at his Democratic base and will not pass muster with Republicans looking to cut taxes, Norment said. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Norment said he is committed to working with the governor and Democrats to “overcome this impasse.”

House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) also praised Northam’s tone and added that “I do think there are some places we can work together.” He mentioned K-12 education and teacher pay as examples.

Republicans also said they were open to dialogue about gun safety — though House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) cautioned that Democrats must “do that in the context of respecting our traditional rights.”

Democrats and Republicans alike cheered and rose at a few points during Northam’s 50-minute speech, such as when he called for extending broadband access to rural areas and pledged to make the state the best for business.

But with few exceptions, Republicans sat stone-faced as Northam called for dialogue about gun safety and ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs. His call to allow early voting seemed to fall especially flat on that side of the aisle, particularly as he tied “prohibitive barriers to voting” to the state’s history of slavery. So did his call to add language to the state code declaring that “a woman has the fundamental right to make her own health-care decisions.”

Virginia’s General Assembly marks its 400th anniversary this year, and there were nods to its history throughout the opening day of the legislative session.

The House of Delegates was in full history mode, with four honor guards from Jamestown in Colonial armor — red plumes on their helmets, halberds in hand. Cox, a former high school government teacher, offered lofty words about the meaning of the first gathering of representative democracy in 1619 in the New World.

“When our predecessors first assembled at Jamestown Island all those years ago, they changed everything. Those first citizen servants forged a path we continue on today, four centuries later,” he said.

Cox included a nod to Del. ­Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), whom Democrats chose as “the first female caucus leader in our history,” he said, to raucous applause.

For all the bipartisan niceties of opening day, political reality settled in quickly. The House Appropriations Committee wasted no time brushing off the governor’s proposed amendments to the state’s $117 billion biennial budget.

In addition to tax breaks for low-income workers, Northam wants to increase spending on teacher salaries, mental-health services and other state programs.

Republicans, however, have argued that much of that windfall should go toward tax breaks for a wider swath of Virginians. Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chairman of the budget-shaping Appropriations Committee, said he will set aside all of that $1.2 billion and instead focus on smaller adjustments to the spending plan.

The Senate’s Privileges and Elections Committee got right down to work on two proposed constitutional amendments — one related to the ERA, the other to same-sex marriage.

Sens. Glen H. Sturtevant Jr. (R-Chesterfield) and Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) proposed a measure to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment. The bill died in House and Senate committees last year, although it had cleared the full Senate in previous years.

On Wednesday, the committee passed the bill on an 8-to-6 vote, with two Republicans among the yeas: the panel’s chair, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (Fauquier); and Sen. William R. DeSteph Jr. (Virginia Beach).

The committee then went on to consider a proposal from Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) to remove the state’s defunct gay-marriage ban from the state Constitution. The ban has been unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide. The plan from Ebbin, who in 2003 became the state’s first openly gay legislator, would have put the matter to a referendum.

The measure died on a tied 7-to-7 vote, with Vogel the only Republican voting for it.

House Democrats Outline Gun Safety Recommendations Ahead Of General Assembly

WCVE - January 7, 2019

Virginia House Democrats unveiled policy proposals Monday aimed at curbing gun violence. The move comes days after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam outlined his own gun safety measures.

Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox formed a bipartisan committee on school safety last year, in response to the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But it focused on security and emergency preparedness, not guns. So, frustrated House Democrats created the “Safe Virginia Initiative.”

“Overall we recognized that guns are the issue,” said co-chair Delegate Kathleen Murphy. “Guns are the issue. Guns in the wrong hands are the problem.”

Members of the initiative held six town halls across the state to here community concerns and suggestions for combating gun violence. The proposed measures include reinstating Virginia’s one-handgun purchase per month law, requiring universal background checks and enacting special protective orders to prevent people at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms.

The full list of policy recommendations can be found here.

Many of the same proposals failed previously in Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly.

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn says this year will be different. “We can show you that the bills that we’re introducing are not focused on taking anyone’s guns away,” Filler-Corn said. “These are common sense measures that are needed and are called for.”


House Democrats unveil gun safety proposals as part of The Safe Virginia Initiative

CBS 6 - January 7, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Safe Virginia Initiative released its final report Monday after holding town halls across the state.

The initiative was created by the Virginia House Democratic Caucus in April to come up with a solution to gun violence.

In that meeting delegates like Eileen Filler-Corn said they don’t want to take away Second Amendment Rights, but want to make it harder for guns to fall in the wrong hands.

"We can show you that the bills that we’re introducing are not focused on taking anyone's guns away. These are measures that are needed," said Filler-Corn.

They highlighted key issues, like the prevalence of suicides completed with a firearm in Virginia; which they said is the leading cause of gun-related deaths in Virginia.

Delegate Kathleen Murphey said in 2018 the city lost 53 people in shootings. Julia Brown, sat in the meeting, and said in March 2018, her granddaughter became one of those victims.

"She was murdered. Guy put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger," said Brown. "That was the worst day of our lives. I don't wish that on anybody."

Brown said she came to Monday's press conference at the Capitol, hoping for change.

Some of the proposals presented Monday include preventing suicides by creating an Extreme Risk Protective Order, requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and requiring universal background checks.

Other proposals included reinstating the "one handgun a month law," creating a firearm removal mechanism for abusers under permanent protective orders, repealing the law that allows video training for concealed handgun permits, as well as increasing the safety of children by enacting child access prevention laws, among others.

"We are hopeful to work across party lines to enact life-saving measures that will save lives," said Delegate Kathleen Murphy.

A 400-year first: Filler-Corn breaks many barriers as new Democratic leader in Virginia’s House

Washington Post - January 2, 2019

By Greg Schneider

 From her old office, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn could lean against the window and look hard left along the General Assembly building for a glimpse of Virginia’s white-columned State Capitol.

But Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) is on the move, and her new digs look straight out at Mr. Jefferson’s temple on the hill. It’s a historic step for Filler-Corn, taking over the office suite of the minority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates — the first time in 400 years that a woman has held such a position.

“I’ll tell you, there has been an outpouring of excitement and energy around that,” Filler-Corn said in an interview. “Everyone is just kind of surprised to think that it’s taken so long.”

She also will become the first delegate from Northern Virginia to ascend to a top House leadership post in about 40 years, as well as the first Jew.

“I think women have a different perspective,” she said. “I’m also the first mom [in such a position] — it’s a different perspective to bring, both with issues and also with personality. . . . From what I hear, a lot of folks are saying it’s about time.”

Democrats are on a roll in Virginia, and the House has been leading the way. Last year, 15 Democrats flipped seats that had been held by Republican delegates, and 11 of those winners are women. The party holds every statewide office. With all 140 seats in the House and state Senate on the ballot this fall, Democrats are hoping to build on their momentum.

That puts Filler-Corn, a nearly nine-year veteran of the House, in an especially high-profile position. Fellow Democrats chose her this month as their leader to replace Del. David J. Toscano of Charlottesville, who is running for reelection but had decided seven years was long enough as minority leader.

Filler-Corn will preside over a diverse group of 49 Democrats, energized and looking to flex some newfound power. Those who were freshmen this year kept their heads down and stuck to the party’s main agenda item: passing Medicaid expansion. In the General Assembly session that convenes in January, though, there might not be a single overriding issue to enforce party discipline.

“They did a lot of listening and learning. They are ready and champing at the bit,” Filler-Corn said. “One of the common denominators was [that] they felt underutilized, so I’m looking for ways to make sure they have even more of a voice.”

Republicans still control the chamber with a 51-to-49 advantage, but next fall’s elections and a possible court-ordered redistricting have Democrats hoping they can take back the majority for the first time in a generation. That could leave Filler-Corn in good position to make a run at being Virginia’s first woman to serve as speaker. It also could make it much harder to preserve fragile party unity.

“When you’re in the minority, it gives you a great opportunity to stick together,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “The real challenge for the Democrats will come when there are 51 or more of them.”

A mentor

Even picking Filler-Corn as leader revealed some divisions. Although the vote was private, there were at least five candidates, including a strong bid from Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke, according to several Democrats. Rasoul represents a more populist approach to politics — he has refused all corporate donations, for instance, and regularly challenges the party’s orthodoxy.

Filler-Corn, by contrast, works for an Arlington lobbying firm and has close ties to Toscano and the existing power structure. The Clean Virginia progressive political group has targeted her because she takes donations from Dominion Energy.

In the end, she won by unanimous acclamation, with some of the new delegates supporting her because she had stood by them during their long-shot campaigns.

“She firmly believed in supporting the women running for office, as well as empowering them,” said Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William), who said Filler-Corn had recruited her to run last year. “She took the time to invest in knowing who we are as individuals.”

Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) said it’s important to have a leader from a suburban district — particularly in Northern Virginia, which has driven so much of the party’s recent gains.

And Filler-Corn has earned her leadership post, Sickles said. Even after Filler-Corn lost a bid for caucus chair a few years ago, he said, “it did not discourage her. She continued to raise remarkable amounts of money for the effort — which is just work, and she’s willing to put in the time.”

Filler-Corn, 54, married and the mother of two grown children, was first elected to represent western Fairfax County’s 41st District in 2010. She had run for the seat in 1999 and lost, then spent many of the intervening years working for two Democratic governors.

Born in New York City, Filler-Corn got her law degree from the Washington School of Law at American University.

She worked for Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) from 2002 to 2006 as deputy director of the Virginia Liaison Office, managing the state’s relationship with outside groups such as the National Governors Association and federal agencies. She played a similar role for the first year of the administration of Gov. Tim Kaine (D).

In 2007, Filler-Corn joined Albers & Company as director of government relations. Albers is a lobbying and consulting firm that works with state and local governments. Filler-Corn helps companies manage their relationships with associations such as the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures. She said shedoes no work with the state of Virginia.

Albers has donated nearly $49,000 to various candidates in Virginia over the years, nearly twice as much to Democrats as Republicans, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Filler-Corn won her first election — a special election to replace former Del. David W. Marsden (D), who had jumped to the state Senate — by 37 votes. In her two most recent elections, she was unopposed.

She has emphasized transportation, education and health care. Filler-Corn was instrumental in getting Virginia to pass legislation in 2015 that enables families with disabled children to set up tax-free savings accounts, similar to 529 accounts for college savings. And she worked on bipartisan legislation allowing women to purchase a year’s supply of birth control pills.

Filler-Corn is a talker — she buttonholes colleagues, speaks out in news conferences and texts or telephones fellow delegates habitually.

When the new crop of Democrats was running for office last year, Filler-Corn was something of a mentor. Ayala, a single mother, said that the decision to seek office was daunting but that Filler-Corn “was really thoughtful to make sure I was okay. She would call . . . [and say] ‘I’m here for you if you need to talk.’ ”

After the new delegates got to Richmond, Filler-Corn helped set up an orientation message board — including child-friendly details for delegates’ families.

'We're going to be reasonable'

In 2015, Toscano made an earlier attempt to step down as leader, and Filler-Corn got in her car and “drove to Charlottesville to convince me to stay on,” Toscano said. Since she was chosen to replace him, “we have talked every single day,” he said. “She has lots of questions and wants to do a good job.”

Filler-Corn said she has been calling every delegate in the caucus to get a better sense of what role each would like to play in the coming session. She also has reached out to the Republican leadership, and has talked or texted with House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah).

She is already setting some priorities. This year, Filler-Corn and other Democrats formed a “Safe Virginia Initiative” task force, which she co-chairs, to look at preventing gun violence.

Although the Republican leadership squelched all efforts to consider gun-control bills in the 2017 session, Filler-Corn said the task force intends to press the issue next year. She said she has kept GOP leadership in the loop and believes there are areas of agreement.

“We’re going to be reasonable,” she said. “We’re talking about areas where there is agreement on what we can do because doing nothing is not an option.”

Gender equality is another priority, she said, with Democrats and some Republicans pushing for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

And with Virginia looking at a possible windfall of tax revenue because of changes to the federal tax code, Filler-Corn said she will insist on using some of the money to invest in education, which is also a priority of Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

Rasoul said he expects the caucus to unite behind her, noting that she has promised to give a voice to the full spectrum of delegates.

“It only goes sideways when you force everyone to be monolithic, and that’s clearly not in the best interest of public policy,” he said. “I know Eileen and the rest of leadership is laser-focused on how we can reach the majority, so that way we can positively impact Virginians with good public policy.”

In the meantime, Filler-Corn is in a whirlwind of moving her office to the fancy new space and making phone call after phone call. She refuses to engage in speculation about possibly running for speaker one day. And although she was a big fan of Toscano’s leadership, she said, her own style will inevitably be different.

She noted that Virginia elected three women to Congress this year. “People are changing. Times are changing,” she said. “All for the better.”

Fairfax Del. Eileen Filler-Corn prepares for leadership role in General Assembly

Fairfax Times - December 28, 2018

When the Virginia General Assembly convenes, Fairfax Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn officially becomes the first woman in more than 400 years to hold office as minority leader of the tradition-besotted body. She’s also the first Northern Virginia representative to hold a top leadership position in 40 years or so.

Democrats took control of the Assembly last year, flipping 15 seats that had been held by Republicans. Filler-Corn, who will also be the first Jew to hold a top leadership post, replaces Del. David J. Toscano of Charlottesville, who is still in office but decided to step down from his leadership position.

Filler-Corn has been in office since 2010, when she won a special election from the 41st District, which includes a large area of Fairfax County just south of Fairfax City.

“I ran for the House of Delegates to tackle quality of life issues, including — education/protecting our schools, improving traffic and maintaining our roads, and keeping Virginia businesses moving forward by growing our economy and creating jobs in Northern Virginia. I have been proud to serve in Richmond and will continue to stand up for our community, the 41st District, families, businesses and the Commonwealth as a whole,” Filler-Corn said in a statement on her website.

Among those congratulating Filler-Corn was newly-elected U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va), who defeated Republican Barbara Comstock in November.

“I’m so proud of my friend  for becoming leader of the . Can’t wait to see all the good she will do for Virginia!” Wexton said in a tweet sparked by a story about Filler-Corn in today’s Washington Post.

Va. Democrats elect Eileen Filler-Corn as House caucus leader

Washington Post - December 8, 2018

By Gregory Schneider

 Democrats in Virginia’s House of Delegates elected Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax County to be their leader Saturday, replacing Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville.

If Democrats are able to take back control of the House in next year’s elections, Filler-Corn could be in position to be the first woman to serve as speaker in the body’s 400-year history.

Toscano, who had served as minority leader since 2011, announced last month that he intended to step down from the leadership position. He said he plans to seek reelection to the House next year.

“It is an incredible honor to serve as Leader of the House Democratic Caucus, and I want to thank my colleagues for their faith in me, as well as Delegate Toscano for his years of service as Leader,” Filler-Corn said in a statement released by the caucus.

Democrats met in Richmond on Saturday and conducted the vote in secret. As many as five delegates had announced plans to see the leadership post. The caucus did not release details of the vote, except to say that Filler-Corn had been elected by acclamation, “in a show of unity.”

Filler-Corn, 54, has represented the 41st House District since 2010. She is a lawyer and director of government relations at the firm of Albers & Co. She served as an adviser to former governors Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine.

Her election as caucus leader caps a period of strong performance by women in Virginia’s Democratic Party. Last year, Democrats flipped 15 seats in the 100-member House, and 11 of those winning candidates were women. The surge brought Democrats within two votes of the Republican majority, at 51-49.

It also brought the total number of women in the General Assembly to an all-time high of 38 out of 140 seats in the House and Senate combined.

Should Democrats continue their surge in next year’s elections, when every seat will again be on the ballot, it would leave Filler-Corn in strong position to become the body’s first female speaker.

Toscano, the outgoing minority leader, said via email that Filler-Corn “has shown tremendous leadership in her roles within the Caucus, including as Co-Chair of the Safe Virginia Initiative. I know she will work tirelessly for the Caucus, and Commonwealth, as House Democratic Leader.”

Va. House Democrats to pick new leader Saturday

Richmond Times-Dispatch - December 7, 2018

By Graham Moomaw

Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates will meet in Richmond this weekend to select a new leader. But no clear front-runner has emerged to succeed current Minority Leader David Toscano.

Toscano will step aside from leadership at the end of the year, though he intends to seek re-election to the House next year. The shift will allow a new Democrat to take charge heading into a pivotal election year.

The new leader will guide party strategy for the legislative session that starts Jan. 9 and take the lead on raising money and training candidates for the 2019 House races.

The 49 members of the House Democratic Caucus will begin voting around 2 p.m. Saturday.

Most lawmakers have been tight-lipped about the pending vote, which the caucus has described as an internal party matter.

With at least five candidates said to be in the running, most of them from Northern Virginia, it’s not clear how many rounds of voting might occur before someone reaches a majority.

Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the House. After flipping 15 seats in the 2017 elections, Democrats could take control of the chamber next year by adding just a few more.

If Democrats win a majority, they could find themselves electing a new speaker a year from now. And that might not be the same person who comes out on top Saturday.

Here are the candidates who have confirmed their interest in the leadership job:

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax

Filler-Corn, 54, has been in the House since 2010, and she’s frequently mentioned as a possible statewide candidate. She previously served in the administrations of Democratic Govs. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria

The first African-American woman elected to a Northern Virginia House seat, Herring, 49, is Toscano’s second-in-command in her current role as the caucus chair. She has served in the House since 2009.

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke

Rasoul, 37, has emerged as a caucus maverick after serving in the House since 2014. He’s a vocal critic of Dominion Energy and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and he’s made a concerted effort to cultivate relationships among the 2017 freshman class. In 2016, he quit a lower post in the caucus leadership, saying Democrats need to improve their outreach in rural places like Southwest Virginia.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax

As the caucus parliamentarian, Simon, 48, is accustomed to procedural sparring with Republicans on the House floor. A former Army JAG officer, Simon has served in the House since 2014.

Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax

Sullivan, 59, served as the caucus campaign chair for the Democrats’ successful 2017 cycle, and he has been tapped to reprise that role next year. He has served in the House since 2014.

The worst job, best audition: who's interested in being House minority leader

Daily Press - November 21, 2018

By Dave Ress

It is possibly one of the most thankless jobs in Virginia politics — but with a state election next year that could flip the House of Delegates, being minority leader could also mean auditioning to be the next Speaker.

And that’s one of the most powerful positions in Virginia.

Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said this month he plans to step down as minority leader.

The reason? It’s tough enough to be a citizen legislator when you make a living as a lawyer in a small firm, as Toscano does. Add in the challenge of leading 49 strong-minded fellow legislators and the effective requirement to generate some $1.5 million a year for Democratic campaign war chests, and it’s easy to see why the gentlemanly Toscano might think he’d rather just be the delegate from Charlotteville (since he does plan to seek re-election) and spend more time with family.

The Blue Virginia blog (and a hat tip for being more than on top of this story) reports House Democrats will vote in early December, with Toscano handing over the minority leader post on Dec. 31.

His successor, that is, will still have the chore of being minority leader.

So who wants the misery of the job for the 2019 session?

Or, perhaps we should ask, the audition for 2020?

Those calling around for support include Democratic caucus chair Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, caucus vice chair for outreach Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, caucus parliamentarian Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church and Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. Blue Virginia reports caucus campaign chair Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, is also possibly running.

That’s a lot of people from Northern Virginia. And while Herring and Filler-Corn have each been in the House for nearly a decade, Rasoul, Simon and Sullivan took office in 2014 (though Simon worked as a legislative aide to Del. Jim Scott in the 1990s). In contrast, Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, had already served 28 years in the House when he was elected Speaker earlier this year.

So far, the only Democrat who can match (actually beat) that length of time in the General Assembly trenches is Del. Ken Plum,D-Fairfax. He had feelers out after the 2017 election but before the lot-drawing to decide the tied race in Newport News’ 94th district that returned Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, to the House and assured a 51-49 GOP majority. Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, comes closest to Cox’s length of service with a quarter century in the House. But neither have been calling around, it seems.

Still, jumping in early doesn’t always win a caucus nod. And it may be worth remembering that the Northern Virginia-rest of the state fissure in state politics can be a factor in the Capitol’s game-playing.

Va. House Democratic leader Toscano plans to resign leadership post

Washington Post - November 16, 2018

By Laura Vozella

 Del. David J. Toscano, the Virginia House minority leader, said he will resign his leadership post by the end of the General Assembly session that begins in January.

Toscano, 68, said Friday that the demands of the leadership post were growing too heavy on top of his duties as a delegate, his law practice and family life.

“This takes a lot of time,” he said. “I’m just not in a position where I can do it anymore. I wanted to set in place an orderly transition so that we don’t have a chaotic situation in the caucus.”

Toscano told House Democrats on Thursday night that he would run for reelection next year but step down as minority leader.

The announcement follows dramatic gains that Democrats made in state elections last year. Democrats are trying to build on that momentum — as well as their strong performance in last week’s midterms in which they flipped three congressional seats held by Republicans — and take control of the chamber in next year’s legislative elections. It would mean their first majority in the House in nearly two decades.

Toscano said many people have asked him why he might want to give up the role — and the potential to become speaker after next year’s elections.

“A year is an eternity in politics,” said Toscano, a former Charlottesville mayor and city council member. “We have to get to the majority before anyone can talk about speakers.”

His decision comes about six months after a group of delegates explored ousting Toscano in favor of Del. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Fairfax County), a second-term delegate, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported at the time. The vote was never called. Boysko is currently running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Jennifer T. Wexton (D), who won a seat in Congress last week.

Toscano made a passing and lighthearted reference to the aborted coup, referring to the “kerfuffle” as he spoke to Democrats in a closed-door meeting called after a party fundraiser in Richmond, according to two attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private caucus matters.

He told those gathered that he had wanted to hand off leadership responsibilities for some time, but the moment never seemed quite right. With the passage of Medicaid expansion earlier this year, a new crop of Democratic lawmakers with a year under their belts, and the party in a strong position heading into elections, he decided to make his move.

His decision set off speculation about an eventual successor, with the early focus on a handful of Northern Virginians. Among the names being mentioned: Dels. Charniele L. Herring (Alexandria), who is caucus chairwoman; Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan (Fairfax); Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax County); Marcus B. Simon (Fairfax); Luke E. Torian (Prince William); and Alfonso H. Lopez (Arlington).

Toscano was first elected to the leadership position by his colleagues in 2011. During much of that time, Democrats had been badly outnumbered in the 100-seat chamber.

But the GOP’s 2-to-1 advantage nearly disappeared in 2017 in elections widely viewed as a rebuke to President Trump. That left Republicans in control the chamber by a mere two seats.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2017 elections, when the outcome of several close races was undetermined, it appeared that Toscano might ascend to House speaker, one of the most powerful posts in state government.

But Republicans held onto control by a margin of 51 to 49 and the speakership went to Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).

All 100 seats in the chamber are up for election next year. Democrats will try to pick up the two seats necessary to take control of the House while Republicans are hoping to take back some seats.

Toscano attempted to leave the post once before, in 2015, when he said he wanted to spend more time with his family, but quickly changed his mind and was reelected leader.

“The progress we’ve made in the House is due in no small part to his efforts, and we’ll forever be grateful for his leadership. We look forward to his continued service in the House and our Caucus,” Democratic Party officials wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Overflow Crowd Fills Temple Rodef Shalom After 11 Slain in Pittsburgh

Falls Church News Press - October 31, 2018

By Nicholas Benton

Overflow spaces were overflowing throughout Falls Church’s large Temple Rodef Shalom Tuesday night, much less the main sanctuary, in response to last Saturday’s hate-inspired deadliest attack on Jewish people in the history of the U.S. in Pittsburgh when 11 worshipers at a temple there were gunned down by yet another overtly antisemitic white male. The mood in Tuesday’s service was one of a profound sadness, on the one hand, and solidarity of persons from all walks of life in this region, on the other. It was considered futile to estimate the crowd, but some put it at above 3,000.

The temple’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman, led a moving service for an amazing array of diversity and compassion, led by the region’s most influential political and religious leaders. There was U.S. Senator Mark Warner, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, Fairfax County board chair Sharon Bulova and board member John Foust, State Del. Marcus Simon and state legislative colleagues Adam Ebbin, Mark Levine and Eileen Filler-Corn, there were Falls Church City Council members Letty Hardi and Marybeth Connelly.

There were a powerful array of religious and moral leaders, representing Sikhs, Lutherans, Muslims, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Episcopalians (including the Rev. John Ohmer, rector of the Falls Church Episcopal Church), Baptists, Mormons, Baha’is, Moms Demand Action and the Anti-Defamation League.

The temple describes itself as “a thriving, vibrant, inclusive, diverse, tolerant, sacred, loving Reform Jewish congregation with 5,692 members, two-thirds being from Arlington, McLean or Falls Church.

Members of the ‘Safe Virginia Initiative’ hold discussion in Chesapeake

WTKR - October 9, 2018

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - A room full of people of all ages showed up to talk openly about plans for change when it comes to being safe in places we never thought we would need more security.

“We are coming all over the whole state saying, 'Hey, we got a problem. Help us, meet with us, talk to us. What can we do to fix the problem to slow down the gun violence?' Let the young folks know they don’t need a gun in their hand for everything they do,” says Senator Lionell Spruill, Sr., 5th District of Virginia.

The "Safe Virginia Initiative" was founded right after the tragic Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Members who are a part of the initiative say their goal was to spend five to six months traveling around the Commonwealth holding town hall meetings, panels and discussions just like the one Tuesday night in Chesapeake.

“Our focus was to hear from constituents and Virginians all around the Commonwealth, then to spend some time to really synthesize and analyze all that we accomplished. Then, put them together to really come up with some concrete ideas and suggestions for legislation," says Eileen Filler-Corn, House of Delegates, 41st District.

Members of the Safe Virginia Initiative say it’s important to hear what the communities throughout the Commonwealth are saying about the safety in schools, churches, neighborhoods and businesses.

“Serving in the community via non-profits, maybe they’re teaching in the classrooms, maybe they’re just worshiping in the form in which they desire. We need those communities to be safe," says Cliff Hayes, House of Delegates, 77th District.

Members of the initiative say the basic concern of the entire initiative is to move across party lines to keep all Virginians safe and to reduce gun violence.

Police investigating DC-area Jewish center vandalized with 19 swastikas

The Hill - October 6, 2018

By Chris Mills Rodrigo

A Washington, D.C.-area Jewish center was vandalized with 19 swastikas overnight Saturday, the organization confirmed to The Hill.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Northern Virginia, located outside of Washington in Fairfax, Va., was spray-painted with 19 swastikas overnight, a representative of the center told The Hill on Saturday afternoon.

In a statement, JCC condemned the graffiti and said Fairfax County police were called immediately. Police are investigating, according to the center's leadership, and the JCC is working to have the graffiti removed Saturday.

The Fairfax County Police Department could not immediately confirm anything related to the incident.

"As many of us recognize, these acts do not represent the community around the J or the community in Northern Virginia," JCC Executive Director Jeff Dannick and the president of the organization's board of directors,  David Yaffe, said in a statement.

"The J as a whole, and particularly through the focused efforts of our Committee for a Just and Caring Community, will continue to participate as a positive force in both the Jewish and wider communities," they added.

Yaffe said the incident was "disturbing on multiple levels," but declined to comment further, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Marcus B. Simon, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, posted photos of the graffiti on his public Facebook page Saturday, writing that he was "thoroughly disgusted, hurt and angry at this display of hate."

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D), called for "fierce condemnation" and an "over-abundance of love and unity," following the vandalism.

"An insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism is happening in Virginia and across the country. We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an over-abundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester," he wrote on Twitter, alongside an image of the JCC.

State attorney general Mark Herring took aim at Virginia politicians for being "complacent about the rise of white supremacist violence and anti-Semitism."

"Way too many politicians in Virginia are way too complacent about the rise of white supremacist violence and anti-Semitism. The threat is real, it’s growing, and we have to take a stand," Herring tweeted Saturday morning.

Eileen Filler-Corn, another Virginia delegate, said she was "Shocked and terribly saddened…yet again."

"Shocked and terribly saddened...yet again. Woke up to hear the news of more hate-swastikas painted all over the front of the @JCCofNoVA. I am here now. So sad. Our community however, remains strong and united. This hate does NOT represent our Northern VA community!" she wrote on Twitter, late Saturday morning.

The center has been targeted by vandalism before.

Last year, the JCC was spray-painted with anti-Semitic messages including, "Hitler was right," on the first night of Passover, a local NBC affiliate reported.

Swastikas Painted on Virginia JCC, Police Investigating

Ha'aretz - October 6, 2018

By Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - A Jewish Community Center in Virginia was vandalized on Friday night and covered with neo-Nazi symbols. Some 20 swastikas were painted on the building, located in Fairfax, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and serves the Jewish community of northern Virginia.

Local police said they were investigating the event, which made headlines in local news outlets. They released snapshots of CCTV footage, showing the perpetrators in the act.

Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine responded to the incident by writing that “an insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism is happening in Virginia and across the country. We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an over-abundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester.” Kaine shared a photo of the vandalized building on his Twitter account.

A similar incident took place last year, in April 2017. Back then, both the JCC and a nearby church were covered with swastikas. The church that was vandalized, called Little River United Church of Christ, carried signs against racism towards Muslims on its lawns. Those signs were also damaged. The police investigated the incident but no arrests were made.

Other local politicians also condemned the incident. Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia wrote that “There is no place for the hateful act of vandalism at the Fairfax JCC today. Northern Virginia is a welcoming community and we must come together and condemn the rise of anti-Semitism.”

Eileen Filler-Corn, who represented the area in the Virginia House of Delegates, said that she was “shocked and terrible saddened” by the incident, adding that “our community remains strong and united. This does not represent our northern Virginia community.”

A Walk for Suicide Awareness in Fairfax

Burke Connection - October 5, 2018

By Steve Hibbard

With sunny skies and beautiful weather, about 1,200 people participated in the 11th Annual Fairfax Out of the Darkness Walk last Saturday, Sept. 29, in Fairfax. Braddock District Supervisor John Cook organized a team of 22 County leaders to lead the walk, which started at the Veteran’s Amphitheater in front of City Hall. The walk helped raise money and shed the light on suicide prevention and awareness; suicide is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. for ages 15-24.

HIGHLIGHTS included a “flyover” by a Fairfax County Police helicopter during the singing of the National Anthem, as well as booth exhibitors relating to suicide prevention and awareness on the grounds before the event. There were 28 sponsors who helped raise $145,000 online (with the goal of $175,000). The team called “Together for Tyler” raised the most, at $12,000. Proceeds from the walk benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP, website:, which seeks to reduce suicide rates 20 percent by 2025. This year’s Fairfax walk is one of more than 400 Out of the Darkness Community Walks nationwide.

According to Cook: “It’s great to be out here with the community today to have this Out of the Darkness Walk to speak to the community about the importance of suicide awareness – reducing stigma, that there are people who can help so if you have a friend or family member or neighbor in need. If you’re in need, there are people to help; there is hope.”

Added U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11): “I’m really moved by the fact that so many people are coming out. The whole challenge about suicide in our society is bringing it out of the shadows, out of the darkness. So that we’re talking about it and we’re ending isolation that people feel or at least throwing out a lifeline. Suicide affects every age group, every socio-economic cohort in our society, and it’s a very tragic event that happens in your family or with your friends or co-workers. We want to make a statement of hope and provide a lifeline to those who are feeling despair or contemplating suicide.”

Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, added: “This event, the Out of Darkness Walk to prevent suicide, is a staple on my calendar every year. It’s important, its powerful and I applaud everyone who organizes this and makes it happen every year. I’m a believer in shedding light on difficult subjects; and shedding light on the subject of suicide is really important in order to prevent it and to let people know that there’s help.”

Added David Meyer, Mayor of the City of Fairfax: “It is ironic that in this age of social media, where we are more connected to each other than in any time in human history, that more and more people feel isolated, disconnected, anxious, and depressed. So, the challenge is as great as ever.”

Liz Barnes of Nokesville who volunteers with the PRS CrisisLink, the 24-7 Crisis hotline in the area and works in the Defense Suicide Prevention Office for the Department of Defense, added: “I’m here because I truly believe that suicide is preventable and that we’re here for awareness. And know that anybody that is struggling, there is help and support 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, at 1-800-273-8255.”

TEAM COOK included Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, Chairman Sharon Bulova, Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield), Supervisor Kathy Smith (Sully), Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler, Fairfax County Fire Chief John Butler, Braddock School Board Member Megan McLaughlin, Deputy County Executive Dave Rohrer, Department of Family Services Director Nannette Bowler, Deputy County Executive Tisha Deeghan, Deputy Fire Chief Richard Roatch, Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court Director Bob Bermingham, and Out of Darkness Walk organizer Karrie Leigh Boswell. This is the first time a Fairfax County elected leader initiated a team of officials for the Fairfax Out of Darkness Walk.

Let the Games Begin in Springfield

Alexandria Gazette - September 21, 2018

By Jeanne Theismann

Ten-year-old Derek Potts was one of the first in line when The St. James mega sports complex opened Sept. 15 in Springfield. Along with his mother Maurisa and father David, the Alexandria resident had a membership before the building was even completed.

“I’m really excited about the indoor water park,” said Derek, who was on hand as sports stars and politicians celebrated the grand opening of The St. James, a 450,000-square-foot sports, wellness and active entertainment complex.

“This is a major investment in our youth,” said Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who attended the College of William and Mary with co-founders Kendrick Ashton and Craig Dixon. “The St. James sends a signal to our county and to the country what it means to have a vision and to dream big.”

Super Bowl champion Darrell Green and Stanley Cup champion Alex Ovechkin, a founding member of the St. James, were on hand for the opening day festivities.

“This is a great place to spend time with the family,” Ovechkin said “It’s a place to help raise sport, be healthy and just have fun.”

Five years ago, Ashton and Dixon, a 1993 graduate of Episcopal High School, first approached the City of Alexandria with a proposal to build the complex on the 15-acre Hensley Park land located between Eisenhower Avenue and the Capital Beltway. The 2013 bid was withdrawn less than two months later when it was discovered that a 40-year-old covenant prevented the construction of such a facility at that site.

In a statement, then-Mayor Bill Euille wished the men well "in finding a suitable location for their innovative facility." That location turned out to be a 20-acre campus at the intersection of I-395 and I-495 in Fairfax County.

Opening day showcased the facilities at The St. James, which includes a FIFA regulation-sized turf field, four full-length regulation basketball courts that convert into nine volleyball courts, two NHL regulation-sized ice rinks, a 50-meter Olympic regulation-sized competition pool, six batting cages and pitching machines, a squash and golf center, gymnastics center, a climbing and bouldering wall, a water park and a 50,000 square-foot health club.

Also on site are a medispa and a retail store featuring performance-oriented activewear. Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn will open a cafe in November and a MedStar Health and Sports Medicine Center is slated to open in the spring.

Following their time together in college, Ashton pursued a career in finance and Dixon a career in law. Five years ago, they collaborated on their vision for The St. James.

“We participated in youth sports and now we are parents of kids participating in youth sports,” Dixon said. “We are the customer and we tried to create an environment that is special.”

The St. James, a 24-hour membership based facility, expects to open a second flagship destination in the northern suburbs of Chicago in early 2021 and is working to bring The St. James to additional markets around the country.

“Today is incredibly gratifying,” Ashton said. “We had a vision to provide a deep array of services to the D.C. region – to bring together all ages and all walks of life. Today shows that is possible.”

For more information, visit

An open-source solution for soaring college costs

Washington Post - September 14, 2018

By Eileen Filler-Corn and James Toscano

Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat, represents the 41st District in the Virginia House of Delegates. James Toscano is president of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.

Much has been made in recent years about the ever-increasing cost of higher education. Those concerns often — and with good reason — are directed at the high tuition and fees charged by many institutions. But tuition and fees are merely a part of an undergraduate student’s budget.

The College Board reports that four-year university students living on campus spend an average of $1,250 a year on books and supplies. The cost of textbooks, as with other higher-education costs, has risen rapidly over the past few decades, at a rate more than three times that of inflation.

Every dollar a student can save matters. That is why Virginia recently passed legislation (HB 454) to mandate that every public institution of higher education in the state create a framework to adopt and use open educational resources and low-cost resources across the state. Open educational resources are free and openly licensed learning materials. The motivation behind the bill was the need to establish a framework that would encourage academic leaders and faculty to adopt such materials in the future.

One of us is the legislator who introduced and championed the bill, and the other is a former administrator at Virginia’s Tidewater Community College — a national leader in the use of open educational resources — and is now president of an organization dedicated to improving college affordability. We believe lawmakers should follow the example of Virginia and more than a dozen other states in adopting legislation to encourage the use of open educational resources.

With rising higher education costs, it is often the students with the most need who are punished by high textbook costs. A 2014 surveyfound that 65 percent of students did not buy a book because it was too expensive, and 94 percent of those students said they were worried their grade would suffer because of it. The problem does not appear to be going away on its own. A 2017 survey found that 85 percent of students had delayed or avoided buying textbooks, and half of those students said their grades were negatively affected by doing so.

Open educational resource legislation allows faculty and administrators to create opportunities for these students to ensure that price is not the reason they do not succeed in classes. In March, Congress recognized this and designated $5 million in the fiscal 2018 budget to supporting a federal competitive grant pilot program that encouraged institutions to “create new open textbooks or expand their use to achieve savings for students while maintaining or improving instruction and student learning outcomes.”

Virginia’s community colleges have long been ahead of the curve with regard to open educational resources. Students at Tidewater are saving millions through the use of openly available resources. In 2013, the college created what it calls the “Z degree,” in which students who are earning a business administration degree do not pay a cent for textbooks. Every class required by the program, including general education courses, uses open educational resources. Other Virginia colleges are similarly leading the way. Students at Central Virginia Community College can take 30 classes without purchasing textbooks, which has so far saved them $250,000.

Albeit early, Virginia’s policy imperative, and the early successes of institutions such as Tidewater, are paving the way for state efforts to eliminate barriers to students using low- or no-cost resources. Higher education costs go beyond tuition and fees, and so must our thinking, if we are to ensure our students’ success.

‘What recourse do you have other than to write the check?’ Lawmakers scrutinize ‘balance-billing.’

Virginia Mercury

By Katie O'Connor - July 19, 2018

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for patients to protect themselves from surprise medical bills, and a Virginia legislative committee has the issue firmly in its crosshairs.

As health care costs rise, patients are being asked to shoulder more of the burden. Some of that comes from a practice known as balance billing, when an out-of-network provider bills the patient for whatever their insurance company won’t pay.

Often, however, patients don’t know providers aren’t covered. They could triple check that their surgeon is in network, but forget about the anesthesiologist. Or maybe they didn’t have time to ask their doctor if they were covered when they were rushed to the emergency room. Even if they had checked, chances are the doctor wouldn’t know.

But inevitably, a few weeks later, a bill will arrive in the mail.

“The problem I have with the balance bill is, who determines what those costs are, over and above what the insurance company would reimburse that doctor?” asked Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, during a Virginia Health Insurance Reform Commission meeting Monday. “It’s up to the people who are sending you that bill to determine how much they charge you, and what recourse do you have other than to write the check?”

Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance has received 34 balance billing complaints since October, according to data presented during the commission’s meeting. Some of those cases come from emergency-room visits when the doctor was out of network, even though the hospital itself was in network, while others were from ancillary services such as labs or imaging tests.

But lawmakers noted that that number would probably be much higher if more people knew that they could turn to the Bureau of Insurance for help with a high bill.

“The collection agency doesn’t send you the Bureau of Insurance’s phone number,” said Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford. “Because the people I’ve heard from don’t know to call anybody else.”

Charges from out-of-network providers contribute to about a third of medical debt cases that non-elderly adults are struggling with, according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times.

Some states have laws protecting patients from balance billing, such as California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland and New York, while other states have laws in place that address a piece of the problem. Those range from prohibiting health systems from balance billing to requiring insurers to hold their members harmless, which means the patient isn’t liable for the charges.

No such laws exist in Virginia. In 2017 a bill that would have only allowed providers to balance bill when it is expressly agreed to by the insurer and the patient was stricken by its patron, Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier. And during this year’s session, a bill Byron introduced to address balance billing for ancillary services was continued to next year.

The Health Insurance Reform Commission heard from representatives from Virginia’s hospitals and health plans about balance billing in a roundtable discussion, during which each pointed fingers at the other.

Byron and Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, grilled R. Brent Rawlings, vice president and general counsel with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, on what goes on in a hospital: How are patients supposed to know if their doctor is out-of-network even though they go to an in-network hospital and if physicians are careful to only order lab tests and other services from in-network providers?

Rawlings said that there is “a lot of back-and-forth” between the patient, physician and the health plan to stop the patient from falling out of network. But Dr. Trisha Anest, an emergency room physician with Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital, said that she doesn’t know her patient’s insurance status because it is irrelevant.

“I will take care of every member of my community that comes through those doors to the best of my ability regardless of their insurance status,” she said. “Insurance companies are aware that this is how emergency physicians operate. It takes all negotiating leverage out from under us.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, argued that, in many parts of the state, hospitals have a monopoly on the services they offer, and if the insurance company cannot get the hospital to contract with them, the patients will be exposed to balance billing.

“Part of the challenge we have here is that providers aren’t taking responsibility for what happens inside their doors,” Gray said. “Is it willful to not be in network? Sure it is. It’s a willful act to try to increase your reimbursement.”

The discussion devolved into arguing, with people talking over each other. Julie McGarrh, a program director with Anthem, pointed out that even she is subject to balance billing, showing the lawmakers a bill she received for a single urinalysis that cost $3,687 — for a test she could have gotten from a drugstore for $50.

“This is once a month, and I’m still dealing with that, even as an executive at Anthem,” she said.

Wagner said that McGarrh’s example essentially added up to fraud.

“I’d be interested to know how many of those have been flipped over to collections agencies … and the next thing you know your credit’s destroyed,” he said. “Because somebody committed fraud against you, your credit’s destroyed.”

The roundtable discussion didn’t result in any substantial solutions that the state could take to fix the problem — but the lawmakers said they would address the situation one way or another.

“We have quite a serious problem on our hands that the consumers are having to deal with and it affects their lives, along with all the other changes that are going on in health care,” Byron said. “We’re looking for a solution. It may not be the one you want, so if you want to be at the table to be part of that solution, we’re asking you, now, to get engaged.”

Jill Hanken, a health care attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, among other recommendations, suggested not letting an insurer change networks mid-year, thus catching the patient off guard, which Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said could be a starting point.

Byron asked the Bureau of Insurance to work with stakeholders and develop some solutions to the problem by the commission’s next meeting in September.

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said he’d like to see a menu of options to choose from during that next meeting and urged the industry to cooperate.

“I’d say the clock is ticking, and that clock has about a four-month expiration, and you’re going to see this group of legislators – Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate members – come up with a plan,” he said. “And once we’ve done that, I guarantee you, y’all will not like what we come up with.”

Safe Virginia Initiative Looks ‘Beyond Thoughts and Prayers’

Alexandria Gazette - July 12, 2018

On July 5, the Safe Virginia Initiative (SVI) hosted its first Northern Virginia event, “Beyond Thoughts and Prayers,” at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling.

In keeping with the title, the event focused on communities of faith’s response to gun violence, as well as violence in general. Representatives from Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Catholic and Quaker communities addressed the assembled crowd, while a number of members of the House of Delegates listened to the varied concerns of those assembled. Attendees came from all sides of the firearms debate, from members of Moms Demand Action to members of the Virginia Citizen Defense League.

The program began with a number of faith leaders discussing how their faith dictates how to respond to violence and gun violence in particular. Next, various questions were posed to the audience about how they would like to see officials respond to gun violence, what laws were sufficient and what should be changed.

Members of the crowd discussed “gun free zones,” firearm carry in places of worship, and whether or not faith leaders should speak about methods to prevent gun violence from the pulpit. The event ended with an “open mic” for audience members to speak about what the General Assembly can do to reduce gun violence moving forward.

Just a few weeks following the Parkland tragedy in Florida, the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates announced the formation of a bipartisan Select Committee on School Safety. While the committee’s formation was considered historic, it was announced that the select committee would not address gun violence nor discuss potential legislative solutions with regard to guns.

Following this announcement, the House Democratic Caucus formed the Safe Virginia Initiative (SVI). The SVI is organizing events between May and October of this year related to gun safety. These events will continue to occur throughout Virginia and will include public input.

Prior events have included a town hall focusing on inner city violence in Richmond and a panel on the nexus of mental health and gun violence in Lexington.

The Safe Virginia Initiative is co-chaired by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) and includes the following regional co-chairs: Del. John Bell (Northern Virginia), Del. Chris Hurst (Southwest), Del. Delores McQuinn (Metro Richmond) and Del. Marcia Price (Hampton Roads). The group will work with experts from the Office of the Governor, the Office of the Attorney General, local leaders from both parties and law enforcement to draft policy proposals for the next legislative session.

“I appreciated the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of people on how to best curb and combat gun violence,” said Filler-Corn. “This is the whole point of the Safe Virginia Initiative, we want to hear from everyone, because only by finding common ground can we move forward in a substantive manner on these issues. I look forward to continuing this conversation across the Commonwealth over the next few months,” she added.

Those interested in following the activities of this working group can like the “Safe Virginia Initiative” page on Facebook or follow @svi_va on Twitter.

Raft of new laws take effect in commonwealth


Jul 2, 2018

HARRISONBURG — Effective July 1, hunters can hunt raccoons on Sunday, texting in a work zone will cost double, and your favorite pooch can watch you drink hooch.

Hundreds of laws passed this year by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam went into effect Sunday with the start of the new fiscal year. Here’s a look at some of the new laws.


Legislators passed dozens of education-related laws.

One allows school boards to include unstructured recess time in total instructional time calculations required by the Virginia Department of Education. The recreation is intended to promote teamwork, social skills and overall physical fitness.

House Bill 1600 reduces the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The law allows longer suspensions if an offense involves weapons or drugs, or if the division believes there are safety risks, which are defined by the state.

Senate Bill 170 limits suspensions in preschool through third grade to three school days and prohibits expulsion, except in cases of drug, firearm and other criminal offenses.

HB 3, introduced by Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, requires the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, DOE and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to establish a standard for dual-enrollment courses across the state. It would also ensure that all state universities accept high school students’ dual-enrollment credits, so long as those courses meet the established standard.

HB 1, introduced by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, creates an opt-in system for public colleges and universities to release student contact information. The law requires students, or their parents if the student is younger than 18, to give written permission before the student’s address, telephone number or email address could be released through a public records request.


The General Assembly also raised the threshold for felony grand larceny from $200 to $500. The current threshold is one of the lowest in the country. The change was one of the biggest bipartisan pushes in this year’s session.

House Bill 1525 doubles the penalty for using a phone in a work zone. Drivers found guilty would face a $250 fine.

For drone enthusiasts, a new law makes it illegal to use a drone to coerce, intimidate, harass, spy or follow someone. The law also prohibits flying a drone within 50 feet of someone’s home if the homeowner has asked the drone flier to stop. Any violation will be considered a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Weird and wacky

Last weekend, if you were out hunting raccoons after past 2 a.m. on Sunday, you were breaking the law.

But starting July 1, raccoons can be hunted all day long.

HB 239 removes a prohibition on hunting raccoons after 2 a.m. on Sundays, which carried a fine up to $500.

Another oddly specific law allows dogs in designated areas at wineries, except in places used to manufacture food products.

And if you were desperately hoping Virginia would join the 13 other states with an official state salamander, worry no more. HB 459 designates the red salamander as Virginia’s official salamander.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Springfield Democrat Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, apparently didn’t sit well with all Republicans. Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, and Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, cast the lone votes against the measure. It’s unclear if they favored a different salamander.

Red salamander named official salamander of Virginia thanks to 4-H group

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia has more than 40 state emblems – you might know of some, including the state bird, the northern cardinal, and the state flower, the American dogwood. But do you know what our state salamander is?

Thanks to the Salamander Savers, a Virginia-based 4-H group of kids ranging in age from 8 to 18, it is now the red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber).

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, sponsored the bill at the urging of the young conservationists, who also received support from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Herpetological Society and naturalists and teachers from around the state. The group has been working towards this for two years, raising awareness about salamanders – and the striking crimson amphibian in the spotlight – along the way.

The Salamander Savers were founded in response to the dredge of a Fairfax lake in 2015. Three children were inspired to save the salamanders from the surrounding lake, appealing to local government officials for help.

“When our lake was dredged, my kids asked me questions that I wasn’t able to answer. As a home-schooling mother, I was determined to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the 4-H club’s adult leader and mother of the club’s president, 14-year-old Jonah Kim.

The 4-H members attended meetings, advocated in front of adults, and fought to save the lake’s vernal pools. Last year the Salamander Savers visited Richmond more than seven times to meet with legislators, even drawing pictures of the red salamander on cards to hand out to lawmakers.

This year’s bill to make the red salamander a state emblem passed 96-1 in the House of Delegates and 39-1 in the Senate. By bringing attention to the red salamander, Salamander Savers members hope to raise awareness about all 56 species of salamander that reside in Virginia.

Commentary: Green for Medicaid

The most important vote I have ever taken.

Pressing the green “yes” button at my desk on the floor of the House of Delegates last Wednesday night was literally the most consequential vote I have ever taken. It truly was the best day for me, ever, in the Virginia House of Delegates.

People often ask me why I serve, and I always respond “because I truly want to make a difference.” The fact is, if I were ever in doubt, I can look at this vote and say, yes we can and yes we do make a difference, in this case, to over 300,000 Virginians who had no insurance. These people are not just statistics, they are neighbors, family members and friends.

As I drove back from Richmond that night, I think it finally sunk in: Medicaid expansion will become a reality in Virginia. We passed a budget that reflects our values, providing well-deserved access to healthcare for over 300,000 people, teachers and state employees will receive raises, there will be additional money for mental health and for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and insurance will be provided for people with autism up until age 21, while funds will be added to our rainy-day fund.

I have always gone to Richmond with a goal to listen and get things done, working with everyone, finding areas of commonality. This budget is a perfect example of Democrats and Republicans coming together to do what is right for the Commonwealth and its citizens. Gov. Ralph Northam, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, all of our Democratic members of the House and Senate, as well as a number of Republicans and so many others: individuals, groups and stakeholders worked earnestly in support of Medicaid expansion for over five years and we finally did it.

We were victorious because everyone came together and because we elected so many new diverse but like-minded voices into the House of Delegates in November of 2017. As our Democratic leader aptly put it, we showed “the power of 49.” But 49 is not 51; we needed leadership on the other side of the aisle, as we had through Speaker Kirk Cox, Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones and Commerce and Labor Chairman Terry Kilgore who were instrumental in leading support among Republicans in the House. Senators Emmett Hanger, Dick Saslaw, George Barker, and Janet Howell were essential in leading the Senate as well, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax broke a number of ties in the Senate to block hostile amendments to our budget. This was truly a team effort.

Thanks to the passage of this budget there will also be funding for more judges and additional individuals with disabilities will have access to Medicaid waivers. Investment was increased in economic development while additional money will be provided to expand broadband and preserve our AAA bond rating. Through this budget, we will create opportunities for working families to thrive. We will build a better, healthier, stronger Virginia.

I will always remember pressing that green button on my desk on May 30, 2018 while watching the vote board light up green in support of a budget we can all be proud of. During my time in office, this was truly the most important vote I have ever taken.

Burke Honors the Fallen

Annual Memorial Day Ceremony held on the grounds of the Burke Centre Conservancy.

By Lindsey Smith

Once again, Burke VFW Post 5412 held their annual Memorial Day Ceremony on the grounds of the Burke Centre Conservancy. The weather was better than in past years, and Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock District) commented that it was 20 degrees cooler than most years.

The ceremony began with the Presentation of the Colors and raising of the flag by members of VFW Post 5412, Boy Scout Troop 1345, and Girl Scout Troop 1945. After the Invocation by Reverend Stephen Holley of Emmanuel Bible Church and the singing of our National Anthem by Pamela Wilson, a memorial wreath was laid at the foot of the American flag.

The keynote speaker was Air Force Col. Michael Nelson, who spoke of his optimism for the future as younger folks, or millennials, are actually very engaged with protecting the freedom and honor of America. Comments by State Sen. David Marsden (D-37), Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), and Supervisor Cook, echoed those of Col. Nelson and also highlighted the fact that we must never forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may all be free. The ceremony concluded with the rendering of Taps by bugler Terry Bradley and the playing of Amazing Grace by bagpiper Jay Coplan. All in all, it was a beautiful tribute to those who have given their last full measure of devotion to the United States of America.

Lindsey Smith is Chief of Staff at Supervisor John Cook’s office as well as Senior master sergeant (ret.) United States Air Force.

Governor Northam Signs Del. Filler-Corn's Car Seat Safety Bill

On Tuesday, May 29, Governor Ralph Northam signed Del. Eileen Filler-Corn's (D-41) car seat safety bill, HB 708. This law will prohibit child restraint devices (car seats) from being forward-facing until, at least, the child reaches two years of age or until the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device. The bill will also expand the reasons that a physician may determine when it is impractical for a child to use a rear-facing child restraint system due to the child's height.

“My entire career has been focused on making people’s lives safer. This bill achieves that goal and it advocates for a group of vulnerable Virginians who cannot make decisions for themselves, Virginia’s infants and toddlers,” said Filler-Corn. “If we actually have data and statistics showing that rear-facing car seats can save lives and prevent injury, then as a member of the House of Delegates, I see it as our duty to pass legislation that will help ensure the safety of all our constituents, in this case, our most vulnerable constituents, our children.”

HB 708 passed out of the House and Senate with bipartisan support. It has a delayed enactment date of July 1, 2019.

Governor signs bill changing car seat laws


Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill Tuesday prohibiting child restraint devices, like car seats, from facing forward until the child reaches certain requirements.

The bill proposed by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, states until the child reaches at least two years of age, or until the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer, the child must face the rear.

"We can't prevent all accidents for sure, we can't prevent injuries and fatalities but we can sure as a society do everything we can to make it as safe as possible for our children,” Northam said.

"This bill to me made so much sense,” Filler-Corn said. “We talk about why are we in public office, we're here to make a difference. We're here to improve lives. Arguably this bill will actually save lives."

Filler-Corn pre-filed the bill in January where it was passed by delegates in a little more than a month. According to the state website showing the bill’s history, it had a few amendments before passing in early March.

“I saw this as common-sense legislation that was needed,” Filler-Corn added. “In many cases some of the folks I spoke to felt this was already a law.”

"We knew it was a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics so we wanted to wait until she was at least two,” said Lauren Schmitt about her daughter Poppy.

The Schmitt family recently turned Poppy’s car seat around, but had always faced the rear before.

“She now loves sitting forward, she can see more, and we like it too, but it was important to wait," Schmitt said.

That's because of child development under the age of two.

"For the vast majority of children, the head is proportionally bigger than the body and the muscle tone is just not there in the neck and torso to hold that head in a crash," said Martha Meade with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

New Virginia law might change the way you put your kids in a car seat


VIRGINIA - A new law might change the way you put your kids in a car seat.

Supporters say the ultimate goal is to save more lives.

Poppy Schmitt has been enjoying the back seat of her parent’s car for the past two years.

Her mom, Lauren Schmitt, said she has learned all about the new state law that puts restrictions on how parents strap in their little ones.

“Before I had kids, I didn't really know about the different laws and recommendations, so I think it is important to get the word out,” said Schmitt.

On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam held a signing ceremony for HB 708, the bill that mandates this regulation.

The new law requires kids under the age of two to ride in a car seat that faces the rear of the vehicle.

Many have been pushing for this law, including pediatricians who have said it's safer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in a traffic accident, kids are 74 percent less likely to die or get seriously hurt in a rear-facing seat.

“The ligaments, the bones, the neck, they're not full developed, so you want to keep them rear facing until that development happens," said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who sponsored HB 708.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) said in a statement saying Virginia will now be the 10th state to mandate this by law.

Supporters said it’s protecting our most vulnerable population: the youngest members of society.

It could cost you $50 if you get a ticket for your first violation and up to $500 for your second violation, according to AAA.

The law won’t take effect until July 2019 to make sure the public has enough time to gain awareness.

"I am proud to sign this piece of legislation, which puts our children's safety first," Governor Northam said. "When we are on the road, it is our responsibility to do everything that we can to keep our youngest passengers safe. This bill will do just that by helping to protect children in the event of a collision."

Gov. Northam signs new child seat bill into law


RICHMOND, Va - Poppy Schmitt turned two not long ago, so until recently, her view during car trips was the back seat.  Poppy's mother, Lauren Schmitt said they waited a little while after her daughter's second birthday to make the switch to a front facing child safety seat.

"She now loves sitting forward because she can see more," Schmitt said.

Prior to having children, Schmitt said she was not fully aware that experts recommend children under the age of two ride in a car seat that faces the rear of the vehicle because research by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows children are 75% less likely to die or get seriously injured in an accident.

"Before I had kids, I didn't really know about the different laws and recommendations, so I think it is important to get the word out," Schmitt said.

Tuesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed HB 708 in law.  The bill "prohibits child restraint devices from being forward-facing until, at least, the child reaches two years of age or until the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device."  Doctors can also determine if it is impractical for child to sit in a rear facing seat because of the child's height.

"A lot of people thought that was the law. The bottom line is it wasn't. What that means there are some residents that don't know its the law, don't know it's the safest route," said. Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield), who sponsored the bill.

Rear-facing seats disperse the crash force more evenly across the back of the seat and the child’s body and limit the motion of the head, reducing the potential of neck injury, according to AAA Mid Atlantic.

Governor Northam said he is glad to see trends and research have progressed since he was kid growing up on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

"My mother used to just throw my brother me in the back of the truck," Northam said.  "[A child's] head control is much better, their necks are protected if the child seat is facing toward the rear."

Before it passed both chambers of the General Assembly, Filler-Corn said some lawmakers were skeptical of the bill, arguing parents should be able to decide what is best for their children.  The bill eventually passed both chambers with support from members of both parties.

Schmitt hopes the new law helps more Virginia parents realize the safety benefits of rear facing seats.

"Let's leave it to the physicians and the people who study this for a living. If that's what they are recommending, I'm going with them," she said.

The law does not take effect until July 1, 2019, to give parents time to learn of about the policy change and adjust to it.

Gov. Northam signs legislation requiring rear-facing car seats for children 2 and under

By Evanne Armour

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam ceremonially signed legislation aimed at making car rides safer for infants and toddlers. 

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) introduced House Bill 708. It ensures that child car seats remain rear-facing until kids are two years old or they reach the minimum weight limit indicated by the manufacturer. 

"This bill is very meaningful for me," said Filler-Corn. "You're talking about literally saving lives." 

The legislation also expands the reasons a physician can determine it is impractical for a child to use a rear-facing child restraint system because of the child's height.

Filler-Corn called it a commonsense public safety measure.

"What's more important than our precious cargo, our most precious cargo?" she said. 

Lauren Schmitt recently made the change after her daughter, Poppy, turned two. 

"She now loves sitting forward because she can see more. We like it too, but it was important to wait," said Schmitt. 

Schmitt said when to safely make the change has been a talker with other moms. 

Right now, Virginia law requires that children up to the age of eight are properly secured in a child restraint that meets the standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

However, there are no specific requirements for how long car seats must remain rear-facing. 

AAA and Safe Kids are among the organizations that recommended the legislation.

Corri Miller-Hobbs is the Safe Kids Virginia program coordinator at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU. 

"We want to make sure everyone is getting the education and knows what's going on," she said.

Miller-Hobbs said the measure will add a level of protection for the littlest of passengers. 

"Up until age two, they're going to have that heavy head that is going to have a higher risk of injury and permanent damage if they're forward-facing before it's time," she said. "So keeping them rear-facing is going to make sure that they're going to be as safe as possible."

On its website, Safe Kids has a car seat guide for parents. It allows them to enter their child's age and weight and learn more about safety. 

Virginia joins nine other states that have already enacted the requirement -- Connecticut, California, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. 

The law goes into effect July 1, 2019. 

Virginia Governor Signs Del. Filler-Corn’s Privacy, Boundaries Bill

On Wednesday, May 16, Governor Ralph Northam signed Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-41) bill, HB 45, in the Cabinet Conference Room of the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond.

This legislation will require any family life education curriculum offered in any elementary school, middle school, or high school to incorporate age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the importance of the personal privacy and personal boundaries of other individuals and tools for a student to use to respect the personal privacy and personal boundaries of other individuals.

This legislation builds upon Del. Filler-Corn’s legislation signed into law from previous years, including HB 2257 (2017), which provides that schools can teach about the law and meaning of consent, HB 1709 (2017), which requires principals to notify parents if their child is a part of a bullying investigation, as well as HB 659 (2016), which requires any high school family life education curriculum offered by a local school division to incorporate age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention of dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.

“HB 45 tackles two major priorities of mine, combating sexual assault and bullying,” said Filler-Corn. “This bill is all about prevention,” she added, remarking that if the first time students learn about these issues is a college orientation, then it is too late.

Filler-Corn was joined in Richmond by Brandon Farbstein, a young activist whose harrowing tale of being bullied was a partial impetus for this bill. Representatives from the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, YWCA Richmond and Hanover Safe Place were also on hand for the signing.

This is not the first time Filler-Corn has introduced this bill. She introduced a similar measure in 2017 (HB 2406), which made it to the floor of the House of Delegates before being re-referred to the House Education Committee where it was left for the duration of the Session. However, this year was different. HB 45 passed out of the House of Delegates and the Senate floors unanimously during the 2018 General Assembly Session. The law will take effect on July 1, 2018.

Bullied teen turned advocate inspires family life education legislation

By Evanne Armour

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam signed two bills that will make changes to the family life education curriculum offered by local school divisions in Virginia.

The first bill, HB45, requires elementary, middle and high schools to include information about personal privacy, personal boundaries of others and respect. 

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) introduced the bill. She said it builds upon family life education legislation she passed during the last two years. Those bills covered the meaning of consent and sexual violence. 

She said HB45 was inspired by Brandon Farbstein's personal story

The 18-year-old is an advocate and motivational speaker. But before he was championing legislation at the state Capitol, he was walking the halls of high school, depressed. 

"For me, bullying really was severe," said Farbstein. 

The subject of the bullying? His rare form of dwarfism. 

Farbstein said it all happened anonymously from classmates hiding behind keyboards. 

"It takes it up a notch because day to day, you don't know why these kids are sending you all of these disgusting and degrading messages," he said. "And to walk into an environment where you're surrounded by 1,500 kids and any one of them could be the perpetrator, it really puts you in a state of terror." 

Today, he shares his story in order to help others going through the same thing. He teamed up with Filler-Corn to bring the issue all the way to the General Assembly. 

Farbstein was present as the governor signed the bill into law. 

"My hope for this bill is that it serves as a catalyst to plant some type of seed, whether it is that empathy factor or it's just teaching children how to be a good person," he said. 

The other bill Northam signed Wednesday is SB101. Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) introduced the legislation, which is also known as Erin's Law.

It adds age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention, recognition and awareness of child abduction, child abuse, child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse to family life education curricula in local school divisions. 

"We've spent too much time focusing on the after effects of abuse and not prevention," said McClellan. 

McClellan said, since kids can face abuse as early as infancy, it's important to give them access to this information early. 

"We really need to start young, age-appropriate teaching to recognize the signs of abuse, that they can do something about it, that they can say no and where to get help," said McClellan. "And this is a good first step."

Dems Hold First Gun Safety Meeting

  MAY 3, 2018

After the shooting at a high school in Florida, Democratic lawmakers in Virginia have formed a task force on gun safety. Their first community meeting is this weekend in Richmond.

Democrats in Virginia’s House of Delegates formed the Safe Virginia Initiative after Speaker of the House, Republican Kirk Cox, announced his bipartisan committee on school safety would not consider gun reforms.

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, co-chair of the Democrats’ group, says they’ll be setting up town hall and roundtable meetings across the state. At least one a month from now through October.
“Some will be urban, suburban settings. Some in Northern Virginia, some in Richmond, some in all over - southwest,” Filler-Corn says. “And our goal is to address gun violence prevention, specifically gun safety legislation.”
The first of those public meetings is in Richmond this Saturday.  It will be from ten to noon at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. A member of City Council and the School Board plans to attend.

Future meetings haven’t been announced yet.

Commentary: Small But Needed Step in the Right Direction

Why raising the felony larceny threshold to $500 is an important step in Virginia

Recently, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to raise the felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500 in Virginia as part of a bipartisan compromise. While imperfect as many bills are, HB 1550, carried by Delegate Les Adams, is a small but necessary step in the right direction.

Raising the threshold is a key breakthrough for common sense criminal justice reform. I applaud Governor Northam for not only delivering on a top campaign promise within his first few months in office -- but doing so by coming to a bipartisan compromise and working with his Republican partners across the aisle. I was privileged to carry the Governor’s legislation the past two years to raise this threshold. While my legislation did not move forward, I was honored to serve as a co-patron on HB 1550 and privileged to have the opportunity to finally help make this initiative the law.

In recent years, Virginia has been a leader in the nation when it comes to providing people second chances -- which is why it is surprising that Virginia has held the lowest larceny threshold in the country alongside New Jersey at $200. In my mind, this was simply unacceptable. Since 2000, at least 37 states have raised their felony thefts thresholds, and many of our neighboring states, including North Carolina and West Virginia, have their felony larceny threshold at $1,000.

Raising the threshold will not only create a more just and fairer system -- but it is fiscally responsible and will create a safer Commonwealth. According to the ACLU, larceny convictions accounted for one out of every four individuals incarcerated in 2012, at a cost of approximately $25,000 a year per individual. The Virginia Department of Corrections found that the state could have saved between $18.3 million and $22.5 million just in prison costs between fiscal years 2009 and 2014 had the General Assembly raised the threshold to $500 or $600 in 2008. And the savings could have been even higher if it was raised to $1,000.

It is worth noting that people cannot contribute to our economy if they are incarcerated. Virginians who have paid their debt to society and strive to actively contribute to it, find themselves struggling to find employment because of a felony record, when it could have been a misdemeanor. Those convicted of larceny also face barriers to housing, healthcare or taking out a loan.

Raising the felony larceny threshold does not only pertain to adults; it impacts the Commonwealth’s children too. Larceny was the top category for juvenile arrest in Virginia in 2017. This means that one can be carrying the weight of an adolescent mistake on their back for the rest of their life. We can and must do better.

I have been working on the issue of raising the felony larceny threshold for two years now. While I was proud to carry versions of this bill on behalf of Governor Ralph Northam and former Governor Terry McAuliffe, I kept thinking to myself during that time that we cannot let one’s mistake ruin that person’s entire life. Virginia’s progress on this issue has been slow, but this breakthrough for criminal justice reform is a small and needed step in the right direction.

Will Virginia really expand Medicaid? Fairfax delegation says ‘yes’

Apr 27, 2018

Confidence is high among Democratic legislators in Fairfax County’s General Assembly delegation that nearly 400,000 more Virginians will be eligible for Medicaid coverage when the state adopts a budget, which must happen by July 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

The House of Delegates passed a $115 billion, two-year spending plan that included Medicaid expansion on Apr. 17 during a special session by a 67 to 33 vote.

Budget discussions have now shifted to the state Senate, which, unlike the House, did not include Medicaid expansion in its proposed budget from the 2018 regular session.

The two chambers introduced drastically different versions of the 2018-2020 biennium state budget during the General Assembly’s regular session but failed to reconcile them before the session ended on Mar. 10. Gov. Ralph Northam then called for a special session that convened starting Apr. 11.

Though the Senate has long resisted the idea of accepting federal money to bolster Virginia’s Medicaid program, which provides healthcare coverage to certain low-income residents, several Fairfax County state representatives all but guaranteed during a legislative wrap-up forum on Apr. 21 that an expansion will be included in the final budget.

“It’s all in the details now, but I do think we have the numbers,” Del. Mark Sickles (D-43rd) said during the Social Action Linking Together Richmond Legislative Wrap-Up forum at Virginia International University in Fairfax, echoing the optimism expressed by state Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th) at the start of the event.

The Virginia Senate Finance Committee was originally scheduled to discuss an overview of the differences between the House and Senate budgets on Apr. 18, but that meeting was canceled, and the committee’s online schedule does not list any upcoming meetings or hearings.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia Senate will not return to Richmond until May 14 and has yet to refer the budget bills approved by the House to its finance committee for consideration, a delay caused by Senate Republican leaders opposed to Medicaid expansion who say they want to see a report on the state’s revenue outlook first.

However, several prominent Republicans have changed their stance on Medicaid expansion after years of staunch opposition, making its inclusion in the final state budget increasingly likely.

Senate finance committee co-chair Emmett Hanger (R-24th) announced in an interview on Apr. 5 that he will not vote for a final budget “that doesn’t include accessing the additional federal money,” and state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-7th) wrote a column expressing support for expansion, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Apr. 6.

State Sen. George Barker says the joint conference committee set up by the General Assembly to discuss the budget is on the verge of approving Medicaid expansion.

“We are going to get Medicaid expansion, no question about that,” Barker said. “In fact, we have a majority of the Senate conferees, not even counting me, who are in support of it, so we already have the votes on the conference committee to get it done.”

Virginia Democrats have made expanding Medicaid a core part of their legislative agenda since the option became available with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010.

The ACA initially intended to set a nationwide standard that would make anyone with an income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that participation in the expanded version of the program must be determined by each individual state.

33 states and Washington, D.C., have adopted Medicaid expansion as of Apr. 5, with all but eight of them making the change when it first became effective on Jan. 1, 2014, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

If Virginia expands Medicaid, adults without children would become eligible for the program for the first time. The annual income ceiling would increase from $6,900 to $28,700 for parents in a family of three and from $9,700 to $16,750 for people with disabilities, according to Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services.

The Commonwealth has lost about $10 billion in federal money from not expanding Medicaid, Saslaw says.

Under the ACA, the federal government covered the total cost of Medicaid expansion for states that adopted it in the first three years, though that has now been phased down to 90 percent of the cost.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) attempted to pass Medicaid expansion in all four years of his term but never mustered enough support from a General Assembly overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans.

Fairfax County’s delegation credits the 2017 general election in November with turning the tide in the House of Delegates, where Democrats gained 15 seats to reduce the Republican 66-to-34 majority to a more even 51-49 split.

“This election in particular really was a referendum on healthcare,” Del. Karrie Delaney (D-67th), who was one of 19 incoming freshmen, said. “So many of us ran with that as a key component of our campaign that a lot of folks had the opportunity to give a second thought to that and realize this is something my constituents want.”

An early exit poll by NBC News from the Nov. 7 election showed healthcare was the top issue for Virginia voters, 37 percent of who chose that as their most important issue over gun policy, immigration, taxes, and abortion.

A poll conducted by the Republican-leaning research firm Public Opinion Strategies and released on Jan. 16 found that 83 percent of Virginians support expanding Medicaid, including about 72 percent of Republicans and drawing more than 80 percent favorability in all areas of the state, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

According to Barker, the evidence of broad public support for Medicaid expansion helped ease the fears of many Republicans that voting for it could cost them in their next primary election.

“What it really boiled down to was a legitimate concern that, if they voted for it, when they came up for reelection, they weren’t going to be beaten by a Democrat, but they did risk that some Republican would run against them in the primary and use that issue to unseat them,” Barker said.

While Medicaid expansion dominated much of the SALT forum, several legislators said that the wave of new delegates in the House led to progress on other issues as well.

The House passed a bill raising the state’s felony larceny threshold from $200 to $500 during the 2018 regular session. The State Senate had already passed the legislation in 2017, and Gov. Ralph Northam signed it into law on Apr. 4.

A bill introduced by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) that guaranteed the use of electronic visitation systems in state correctional facilities would not be used to prohibit in-person visitation passed the House and Senate unanimously, as did a bill requiring local school boards to adopt policies prohibiting school employees from punishing students who cannot pay for a meal by assigning them chores or making them wear a wristband or hand stamp.

The General Assembly continues to work on a bill that currently provides $154 million annually to a dedicated fund for Metro.

Legislators originally developed the deal on Metro in March during the regular session, but Northam included amendments to the bill when he returned it to the House for consideration during a reconvened session on Apr. 18.

The governor’s proposed amendments included a 1 percent tax increase on hotel stays in Northern Virginia and a real estate transfer tax increase from 15 cents to 20 centers per $100 of assessed value.

The tax increases targeted Northern Virginia, because it contains the jurisdictions served by Metro, and without them, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority would have to divert money to Metro that it would otherwise have used on other transportation projects in the region.

The Senate supported the tax increases, but opponents in the House led by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) prevented the chamber from voting on the proposed amendment.

“Quite frankly, it was disgraceful,” Saslaw, who introduced the mass transit bill in the Senate, said of House Republicans opposing the tax increases. “…It’s taken $30 million that we were going to put back in NVTA for road construction, a lot of it in Hugo’s district that we now won’t have.”

The more sizable Democratic presence in the House did little to move the needle on gun safety, immigration, and other key issues, in part because the composition of many committees still favors Republicans, according to Del. Jennifer Boysko (D-86th).

Boysko’s Whole Woman’s Health Act, which aimed to remove several existing limits on abortion access, died in the House’s courts of justice committee.

A bill led by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) that would have given in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students who have applied for permanent residency or are covered by deferred action programs similarly was left in the House committee on rules.

Virginia legislators introduced more than 70 gun-related bills in the 2018 regular session. Sen. Creigh Deeds’s (D-25th) legislation restricting access to firearms for minors ordered to involuntary mental health treatment was the only one enacted into law.

Speaker of the House Del. Kirkland Cox (R-66th) created a Select Committee on School Safety, the first such committee in more than 150 years, in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The committee was directed to limit its scope to a series of specified issues, including security infrastructure and personnel, and behavioral health resources for students. Guns were not included on that list.

A General Assembly gun violence prevention caucus led by Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34th) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th) announced the formation of a Safe Virginia Initiative task force on Apr. 3 will spend the legislative off-season discussing gun control and school safety measures with constituents around the state.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the task force will be chaired by Murphy and Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st).

“A lot of the gun safety policies have bipartisan support already in Virginia,” Del. Kathy Tran (D-42nd), who is part of the gun violence prevention caucus, said. “We just have to make sure we’re lifting up that voice.”

Virginia lawmakers vote to require rear-facing car seats for kids 2 and under

RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — Virginia's lawmakers have voted to require car safety seats to stay rear-facing until children reach the age of 2 or the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child seat.

The bill, HB 708, was proposed by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-VA41) and backed by AAA.

It will now head to Governor Ralph Northam's desk for a signature, and, if signed, will become law on July 1, 2019.

“Virginia lawmakers have voted positively on behalf of the children who are riding in motor vehicles and who deserve to have every protection possible if they are in a crash,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “AAA urges Governor Northam to sign the bill and make Virginia the tenth state to adopt regulations that are known to improve safety for child passengers.”

If made into law, Virginia will join nine other states that have adopted similar laws: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Keeping seats rear-facing until the age of 2 is already strongly suggested by AAA, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Centers for Disease Control, and others.

"HB 708 is a safety bill that seeks to protect our most vulnerable Virginians: our children and grandchildren," said Delegate Filler-Corn. "I am proud to say Virginia has enacted common sense requirements that will give the youngest and smallest children the extra protection needed when riding in a car. This is a long overdue requirement that will save lives. I was pleased to work with AAA and so many other stakeholders to ensure that our most precious passengers remain safe while riding in cars, and I appreciate the broad bipartisan support from my colleagues to pass this bill."

Right now, Virginia law requires any child up to age eight to be "properly secured in a child restraint device," meeting United States Department of Transportation standards.

It does not specify how long the seat should stay rear-facing, and some delegates and senators saw that as an overreach.

The bill passed the House of Delegates 77-23, then the Senate 25-15 with an amendment, before passing the House again 77-20.

The Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education says this will be a huge step forward for children's safety in vehicles.

“Children are safest when kept rear facing in a car seat for as long as possible," noted Haley Glynn, Traffic Safety Community Educator and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. "Instead of focusing on the minimum weight limit to face forward, consider keeping your child rear facing until they reach the maximum weight limit of a convertible car seat — which has a higher rear-facing weight and height limit than an infant seat. Convertible seats transition a child from rear facing to forward facing and can typically carry a child from birth to the booster stage.”

Exceptions to the requirement, under the current law, can be made if a doctor determines that the use of a child restraint system is impractical for size, physical unfitness or other medical reasons. Those transporting a child who has been granted this exemption must carry a signed written statement from a physician at all times.

AAA cites the following as support for the new law:

• Children are about 75% less likely to die or sustain serious injury in a rear-facing seat. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
• Rear-facing seats disperse the crash force more evenly across the back of the seat and the child’s body and limit the motion of the head, reducing the potential of neck injury. Safe Kids
• Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (2011 policy statement), young children’ bones, ligaments and joints are still developing which place them at an increased risk of head and spinal cord injury. Rear-facing seats can reduce this risk by supporting the head and preventing the relatively large head from moving independently from the proportionately smaller neck.
• Nearly all convertible child safety seats on the market in 2017 (73 out of 77) could accommodate children up to 40 pounds or more when used rear-facing, a weight that exceeds the 95th percentile for children at 2 years of age.
• The change is recommended by AAA Safe Seats 4 Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Consumer reports, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, , Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Make Safe Happen, and Safe Kids.

A violation of the rear-facing requirement, if signed by the governor, will be the same as existing penalties. First violations are subject to a civil penalty of $50 and second or subsequent offenses on different dates are subject to a civil penalty of up to $500. All civil penalties collected for violations are paid into the Child Restraint Device Special Fund, which is used promote, purchase, and distribute child restraint devices to applicants who need a child restraint device but are unable to afford one.

Virginia to require rear-facing child restraint seats

By Siona Peterous, correspondent 

RICHMOND, Va — Virginia will join 10 states that require kids under the age of 2 — or children who are below the manufacturer’s suggested weight limit — to be placed in a rear-facing car seat.

The new law, House Bill 708, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last month, will go into effect July 1, 2019. It was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, after she was approached by AAA about the issue.

“I’m very proud to patron this bill because I have always worked on issues about public safety and kids’ safety,” Filler-Corn said. “How could I not introduce a bill that will save lives and protect our most vulnerable Virginians, our children?”

According to Martha Meade, the public and government affairs manager for Virginia’s AAA’s Mid-Atlantic region, the association has lobbied for issues of public safety on the roads for decades.

“This is an important change for Virginia because it is confusing for many folks who don’t know when the right time is to switch their child to be forward-facing in vehicles,” Meade said. “All the major traffic safety organizations — AAA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, National Highway Safety Administration and the Academy of Pediatrics — recommend a child stays rear-facing until age 2, or until they’ve reached the minimum weight and height requirement.”

Filler-Corn said she was surprised, but not discouraged, by the intensity of the opposition to what she views as a “common-sense safety measure.” Critics of the bill argued that the government should not have a role in how parents choose to raise and protect their children.

The bill went through several rounds of amendments before passing the House 77-23 and the Senate 23-17. Filler-Corn said she received bipartisan support. Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, and Sen Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, were “amazing and very supportive” advocates for the bill.

“Everyone has the right to raise their children as they see fit, but this really is a safety measure statistically proven to work,” Filler-Corn said. “When I’m faced with opposition, I compare the enforcement of rear-facing child seats to the requirement of everyone having to wear a seat belt. It’s very similar, but one is focused on children who can’t make decisions to protect themselves.”

Maryland and D.C. do not yet have the rear-facing-seat requirement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics produced an online video (below) that shows the proper way to install such seats.


Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn and Kathleen Murphy: Safe-school measures must address gun violence

By Eileen Filler-Corn and Kathleen Murphy

We have witnessed the tragedy of gun violence too many times across our country. We believe we have reached a turning point in our nation’s history, energized by students — young people who will be our future leaders.

As elected officials, instead of offering only our thoughts and prayers, we must deliver results that will keep them safe. As elected members of the Virginia House of Delegates, we are determined to do just that.

On March 24, Metro cars were packed with demonstrators from all over the country, pouring onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Countless kids were holding signs taller than themselves, with messages such as “Books, not bullets,” and the “Sandy Hook Kids would be my age” written in their own handwriting.

It was a powerful sight, watching people of all ages but led by children and teenagers coming together to address the very serious issue of public safety, and more specifically the way in which firearms in the hands of non-law abiding individuals affect their right to live secure and fulfilling lives.

We are now at a turning point in our nation’s history, energized by the new generation of our future leaders. We cannot fail to heed their call. As members of the Virginia House of Delegates, we have a responsibility to deliver results that will help keep this generation and all of us safe.

The shootings in Parkland took place late in the 2018 General Assembly session, and the abrupt, positive change in our population’s collective response to this issue reverberated throughout the halls of the Capitol.

We called for our previously submitted gun safety bills to be revived. Unfortunately, our pleas went unheard. We adjourned without passing, and in many cases even discussing, some of the more than 70 bills we introduced in the House and Senate that address gun violence. Some of these bills have national bipartisan support, including universal background checks, banning bump stocks, and preemptive risk warrants.

Rather than waiting until the 2019 legislative session, we have decided to move forward immediately, working together as we strive to keep Virginians safe.

At the end of session, House Speaker Kirk Cox unveiled his plan to create a select committee on school safety, with a clear goal of examining how to make our schools more secure.

This is laudable, and we are committed to supporting those efforts. But we strongly believe that any discussion of school safety must include common-sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Addressing school safety, without discussing gun safety, just doesn’t make sense and will not enable us to fully address the problem.

Earlier in the session, we started the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, which was joined by more than 20 members from both the House and Senate.

Instead of putting the issue of gun safety on hold, we made the decision to form the Safe Virginia Task Force. This initiative will address gun safety and the other factors that lead to gun violence. Energized by the outspoken bravery and commitment of our young students across the country, we are determined to continue to work together to keep Virginians safe.

The Safe Virginia Task Force will hold monthly meetings across the commonwealth from May through October.

Working with delegates from across Virginia who will act as regional chairs, we will solicit public input and also reach out to our governor, his administration, the attorney general, community leaders, and experts to determine how we can bring about substantive change.

Let us be clear. We acknowledge that there is a deep divide on conditions placed on gun possession, ownership, sales, safe storage, and the responsibilities we believe should be required. But we respect the Second Amendment and will not attempt to infringe upon the constitutionally protected rights of gun owners.

We strongly believe there is now increasing recognition of the growing consensus that discussing these issues and working collaboratively is the best way to bridge the divide and successfully move forward.

We are committed to respecting all perspectives and will attempt to work together as we develop and propose policy changes through the Safe Virginia Initiative. It is our job to come together to make sure gun-violence tragedies like Parkland do not happen again. This is a step forward.

Va. House Democrats launch task force on reducing gun violence


Evanne Armour

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - There's a new effort to reduce gun violence in the commonwealth. House Democrats just launched the "Safe Virginia Initiative" task force. 

They said not enough was done during the last General Assembly session when it comes to guns. That's why they are spending the next several months trying to come up with solutions to present during the next session. 

Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond City) says it's a topic Virginians are eager to discuss. 

"There are so many people who are begging, who are asking for us to do something about this critical issue and this crisis that this country is facing," she said. 

McQuinn will serve as the Richmond regional chair for the task force. 

Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) and Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax) will co-chair the task force as a whole.

Organizers hope the task force will be bipartisan. 

Members will work with the public to come up with policy initiatives to reduce gun violence in schools, at work, at home and in places of worship. 

"We have an opportunity to be proactive as well as reactive to what has been going on across the country," said McQuinn. "I think that citizens across the commonwealth are ready to be engaged, they're ready to have this discussion and I think the time is so appropriate as we look at the dynamics of activism that's happening across the country." 

She said the task force will take a broader approach to safety than another effort that was announced last month.

That's when House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, formed the first Select Committee in the House in more than 150 years. It was prompted by the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives. 

"I think people are just extremely concerned about the safety of their students in school," Cox said at the time. 

That committee, which is made up of Republicans and Democrats, takes a more targeted approach to safety. It focuses on just schools and will not include a gun debate. 

Instead, committee members will delve into topics like emergency preparedness, behavioral health and improving security.

McQuinn said she compliments the select committee on what they are doing to try and improve safety in Virginia schools, but said the task force will give people a chance to add gun reform into the conversation. 

Murphy agrees. 

"While we commend the formation of Speaker Cox's select committee, we believe that it isn't possible to separate school safety from gun safety," Murphy said in a statement. 

The group plans to organize events between May and October all across the commonwealth and will seek input from the public. 

‘Safe Virginia’ task force will address gun violence

Deanna Davison | Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia House Democrats announced the formation Tuesday of a “Safe Virginia” task force to address gun violence in communities across the commonwealth.

Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria said the initiative is a direct response to House Republicans’ Select Committee on School Safety, which GOP members said would not take up gun issues. The Democrats have sent a letter to House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, inviting Republican delegates to join the group.

Del. Kathleen Murphy of Fairfax, who will co-chair Safe Virginia with Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, said they commended Cox and Republicans for creating the select committee, which will hold its first meeting April 26. But Murphy said she believes it is important to do more and discuss questions regarding guns.

“It is not possible to separate school safety from gun safety,” Murphy said. “People are focused on the tragedy of gun violence, so now is the time to move forward.”

Republican Del. Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield, a member of the select committee, said its efforts are also borne from the desire to do more. She said panel members want to focus on bipartisan school safety improvements without unduly burdening schools and taxpayers.

“The committee will not consider issues Republicans and Democrats disagree on, such as restricting gun access or arming teachers,” Robinson said. “Rather, it will consider such tactics as adding metal detectors in schools, improving the check-in process for people visiting the school during school hours and how to safely protect students in the event of an attack.”

Murphy and Filler-Corn said the Safe Virginia task force will focus on gun violence not only in schools, but across the state. They hope the recent spike in activism from young people in Virginia and the United States will inspire state lawmakers to take action.

“Three out of the 10 deadliest mass shootings have taken place in our country in the last six months,” Filler-Corn said. “We need to get to work to find common sense, bipartisan solutions to address this crisis.”

The House Democratic Caucus has selected regional chairs for the panel: Del. Delores McQuinn for Richmond, Del. Marcia Price for Hampton Roads, Del. John Bell for Northern Virginia and Del. Chris Hurst for Southwest Virginia.

Safe Virginia plans to hold meetings from May to October across Virginia to hear comments from constituents, law enforcement authorities and state and local leaders.

Virginia Democrats organize task force to probe gun violence, school safety


Apr 3, 2018

Upset with the lack of gun control consideration by Virginia Republicans, Democrats in the House of Delegates are launching their own group to investigate school safety and gun violence in the state.

The caucus announced Tuesday the “Safe Virginia Initiative” task force, a group chaired by two Northern Virginia legislators that will focus on gun control and school safety. The task force will host meetings through October across the state.

“We believe that it isn’t possible to separate school safety from gun safety,” said Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, one of two chairs.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, will be the other co-chair.

After the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla., Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, announced a Select Committee on School Safety. The committee, the first select committee in more than 150 years, will not focus on guns.

On a call with reporters Tuesday, Democratic leaders said they’ve extended invitations to Cox and other Republican legislators to be part of the task force.

During the public meetings between May and October, the task force plans to garner public input. The group will have four regional chairs — Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, for Richmond; Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News, for Hampton Roads; Del. John Bell, D-Loudoun, for Northern Virginia; and Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, for Southwest Virginia.

The General Assembly this session killed a number of gun control bills, including proposals to require universal background checks on gun purchases and a ban on bump stocks.


No, Virginia didn't legalize medical marijuana. But supporters say the state is going 'surprisingly far' with cannabis oils

Mar 31, 2018

When Tamara Netzel decided to get up in front of Virginia lawmakers and talk about medical cannabis oil, she worried about a backlash.

She didn’t have to worry about derailing a career because her multiple sclerosis had already forced her into medical retirement from her former job as a teacher in Alexandria. She wanted to explain that when she drops hemp-derived oil under her tongue a few times a day, the pain in her arms and hands turns to warmth, bringing relief she says she couldn’t get from a needle nerve block or other government-approved drugs.

Still, she felt uneasy about what people might think if she publicly associated herself with something linked to marijuana.

“I think there are people out there who know this helps,” said Netzel, a 48-year-old military wife and mother of two Eagle Scouts. “But they are afraid to speak out.”

There was no negative feedback. And there was virtually no opposition in the General Assembly to bipartisan legislation to expand access to cannabidiol (CBD) and THC-A oils, just as the state prepares to issue licenses for what will be Virginia’s first dispensaries for medical cannabis products.

Within the next few weeks, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy will open a competitive application process for up to five cannabis-oil facilities, one for each of the state’s five health regions.

The system will put Virginia among a handful of states in the Southeast with medical cannabis programs, though the restriction to oils will make it far less robust than the full-blown medical marijuana setups in states like California and Colorado.

With efforts to decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana gaining little traction in the legislature, legalized recreational marijuana doesn’t seem imminent. But supporters say the action on medical oils shows state lawmakers are getting more comfortable about moving away from a “hyper-restrictive” model and could go further in the next few years.

“Basically what we’re doing in Virginia is starting with the sickest patients and we’re going to serve them first,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

Cannabis-derived oils are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but proponents say they help relieve pain, inflammation, seizures, muscle spasms and nausea, without the high that comes with smoking or ingesting marijuana. The oils only contain a minimal amount of THC, pot’s psychoactive compound, and Virginia law limits THC levels to 5 percent. THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinol acid, only becomes THC when exposed to heat.

Some health stores carry products marketed as CBD oil. But they’re usually derived from hemp and, because they’re unregulated, it’s not entirely clear what’s in them.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law creating an “affirmative defense” to possess cannabis oils for medical reasons, but it only applied to patients with severe epilepsy. This year, lawmakers expanded that protection by freeing doctors to recommend the oils for patients with cancer, Crohn’s disease or any other medical condition.

A recommendation from the state’s Joint Commission on Health Care, the policy change was presented as a way to let doctors decide who should have access to the oils, instead of lawmakers being asked to add new medical conditions one by one. The bill passed the state Senate and House of Delegates unanimously. Because it had an emergency clause, Gov. Ralph Northam, a medical marijuana supporter, signed it into law on March 9.

“He thinks this is a positive step in the right direction that will help improve the lives of people who suffer from many conditions,” said Northam spokesman Brian Coy. “But he hopes to continue working toward a broader legalization of medical marijuana.”

It’s not clear how many people might take advantage of the easier access to CBD oil, but advocates estimate it could benefit 5 percent of the state’s population, or about 423,000 people.

The push for state-sanctioned medical cannabis oils began five years ago, when the parents of children with severe epilepsy began lobbying Virginia lawmakers for legal access to medicine they said their children needed.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, one of several lawmakers involved in the CBD-oil push, said the “parent warriors” and their personal stories had a major impact on legislators’ attitudes.

“This is a huge deal,” Filler-Corn said. “But honestly I think the credit all belongs to the families.”

Several lawmakers said the gradual approach — starting with epilepsy and building on the law over several sessions — helped ease legislators’ fears and gave the executive branch time to craft a detailed set of regulations.

“You build consensus in many ways by building confidence. And we have pushed the envelope surprisingly far,” said Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, an OB-GYN doctor who sponsored the Senate version of the 2018 bill.

Under the affirmative defense system, patients who register with the state can obtain a doctor-signed certificate that would theoretically serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card in case of legal trouble. But with no way to get the oils from a state-sanctioned seller in Virginia, patients and their families have had to run the legal risk of getting them elsewhere and transporting them across state lines.

Policymakers have also taken steps to solve that problem.

In 2016, the General Assembly passed legislation to slowly establish a state-regulated system of “pharmaceutical processors” that could supply CBD oil to Virginia patients.

In preparation for inviting companies to compete for one of the five licenses, the pharmacy board crafted 24 pages of regulations that set rules for every stage of the CBD oil process.

The regulations range from dictating temperature and humidity settings for the rooms where cannabis plants will be grown to how to properly dispose of leftover oil (the guidelines say it should be mixed with something gross, like coffee grounds or kitty litter).

To ensure nothing goes missing, there are detailed security specifications for alarms and video cameras. Any employees working around cannabis have to wear clothes without pockets.

Before purchasing any oil, patients and their doctors have to register with the pharmacy board, and there are other safeguards to ensure the supply of oil is closely tracked. Patients will have to travel to a dispensary for their first transaction, but once they’re in the system the oil can be delivered to them at home.

Caroline Juran, the executive director of the Board of Pharmacy, said the General Assembly’s action to expand the patient population will require some additional work on the regulations, but won’t delay the planned mid-April opening of the dispensary application process.

“It doesn’t prevent us from moving forward,” Juran said.

One medical cannabis entrepreneur predicted Virginia could get several dozen applicants for the five licenses.

Jake Bergmann, the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Surterra Holdings, said his company, which was among the first to get medical cannabis licenses in Florida and Texas, is hoping to do the same in Virginia.

“We’ve been watching this for a while with some interest,” Bergmann said.

Surterra has made political donations to Northam and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and has retained lobbyists from Richmond-based McGuireWoods.

The company, which calls its stores “wellness centers,” offers a variety of cannabis oils, patches, vape pens, lotions and sprays. Prices for Surterra oils vary, but they range from $85 to $270 for a 30-day supply.

A big part of Surterra’s mission, Bergmann said, is educating people about what medical cannabis is.

“The most important part of the process for a new patient is they’re going to have a lot of questions,” Bergmann said.

One question on the mind of many medical marijuana advocates is where things will go from here. Future reforms could include expanding the program beyond oils to include patches and sprays, or raising the THC cap.

But lawmakers say they want to take time to see how the system works before expanding it.

Though Netzel has joined the push for reform, she said she’s been a little frustrated by the slow pace.

When a friend first suggested CBD for her multiple sclerosis, she dismissed it as “snake oil.” When she tried it and found that it worked, she was surprised and confused about why it’s not fully legal.

Netzel said she’s heard people say medical cannabis could hold the cure for MS. But if it continues to exist in a legal gray area, she said, she’ll never know whether that’s true because it won’t be seriously researched.

“I want it regulated. I want to know what I’m getting,” Netzel said. “And I want to know if it could be helpful to my disease.”

Virginia gets official state salamander

by Catherine Doss

Friday, March 30th 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) - Virginia officially has a state salamander.

The Commonwealth has over 40 emblems and symbols that represent the cultural heritage and natural resources including a state butterfly, dog, bird, song, and beverage.

Last week, Governor Northam signed a law making the Red Salamander was made the official State Salamander.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Red Salamander was selected because of its beautiful coloration, widespread distribution in the Commonwealth, and ability " to raise awareness about the conservation of a group of animals who’s secretive lifestyle often makes it difficult for many people to appreciate them."

This honorable designation was made possible through a collaborate effort between a group of young dedicated salamander conservationists known as Salamander Savers, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax County. To learn more about this species and other salamanders, click here.

To learn about the other emblems and symbols, click here.

Silent No More: The March For Our Lives

Students from Northern Virginia come out in force against gun violence.

Naomi Wadler touched the hearts of the world. On Saturday, the 11-year-old student at George Mason Elementary School in Alexandria, spoke in front of an estimated 200,000 people at the March For Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C. She recently helped organize her school walkout on March 14 in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 teachers and students dead at Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” she said.

The March For Our Lives event on March 24 was led by students from across the country, and 800 events were held around the globe. Chants of “Vote them out!” rang out as Parkland survivors rallied their generation to take their message to the polls.

“This is a movement,” Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School senior Delaney Tarr told the audience. “We can not move on. If we move on, the NRA [National Rifle Association] and those against us will win.”

T.C. Williams High School student leader Jay Falk, 18, who organized a day against gun violence at her school on Feb. 27, marched with hundreds of her classmates.

“Gun violence hits high schools with a very personalized terror,” Falk said. “We see the victims in Parkland and they look very much like us. This Saturday we stood up for the very first time as a generation and proclaimed, ‘Not one more!’ This is only the beginning of a groundswell for young people in America. We are 30 percent of the electorate, and politicians with an A from the NRA are going to start feeling it at the polls in November.”

Maya Nir, 18, a senior at H.B. Woodlawn marched with 12 of her friends.

“We watch people our age and younger innocently lose their lives, like time and time again, their whole childhood and we think it’s time for a change,” she said. “We think there needs to be common sense gun control in America. We want to see a ban on assault rifles, we want to see universal background checks, mental sanity checks and we want to set limits on the kind of ammo people can load in small periods of time. We don’t think assault rifles belong in our schools in the hands of people our age. “

Kai Davis, 18, left Great Mills High School, Md., two months ago because he felt “unsafe.” One 16-year-old student was killed and another injured when a 17-year-old opened fire outside the school at 7:57 a.m. on March 20.

“I didn’t feel welcome or safe there,” Davis said. “I’m transgender and it wasn’t really, like, healthy for me to stay there. I thought my friends were killed in the last school shooting and it affected me personally.”

Julia O’Brien, 13, drove nine hours to D.C. with her family and friends from Savannah, Ga.

“We see this in the news and we just think how we don’t want it to ever happen again,” O’Brien said. “I think that we should get rid of semi-automatic weapons and bump stocks and silencers.”

Imani Scott-Blackwell, 22, is a student at the University of Georgia. She’s running for the school board in Clarke County, wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and marched with 20 others belonging to the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement.

“We don’t want teachers armed,” Scott-Blackwell said. “We don’t want more officers, we don’t want occupation in the schools. We want policy changes to make children the priority.”

The NRA did not release a statement regarding the march.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D), a former Democratic vice presidential candidate, governor and mayor marched in his hometown of Richmond.

“To all who participated in #MarchForOurLives yesterday — your activism is changing the equation and putting the right pressure on Congress to finally pass reforms that will make our communities safer,” Kaine wrote on Facebook the following day. “We couldn’t have passed the changes on background record checks and gun violence research that we did this week without you, and we’re going to need your continued active engagement in order to go further. Next step: universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.”

Kaine’s counterpart, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D) did not march, but his office noted a recent interview on CBS’ Face The Nation, where Warner discussed the rallies and need for Congress to act on gun legislation.

“I think it’s time to change our positions and re-examine them,” Warner said. “I think this time it’s going to be different … I think we can actually get it done.”

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) was unable to march since he was on a fact finding mission at Yellowstone National Park.

“After years of inaction, students and young people across the country have inspired millions to demand real gun reform,” Beyer said in a statement. “Their sustained pressure over the past month is why this time feels different. I applaud their grassroots organizing, commitment and dedication to ensure this remains a movement, not just a moment. Because of them, I am more optimistic than ever that we can actually get something done to reduce gun violence in this country.”

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11), who met with Parkland students in his office prior to the event, marched with Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41).

“Inspiring day down on the National Mall for the March For Our Lives!” Connolly wrote on Facebook. “Our young people are leading the way and Congress must honor their activism with action. The times we live in demand no less.”

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10) did not march, “and was in the District for a job fair, a school event and a number of other community events she was already committed to,” according to Jeff Marschner, her deputy chief of staff. “Coming from a family of educators, the congresswoman is committed to finding common sense solutions for school safety and preventing gun violence.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam marched with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring in Washington.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), co-chair of the General Assembly’s Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, met with over 70 Alexandria Democrats at the King Street Metro station and took the train into D.C.

“I attended this march to both show solidarity with the student organizers and to recommit my efforts to prevent gun violence legislatively and in every way that I can,” Ebbin said. “For too many years, the corporate gun lobby – the NRA – has dictated the terms of any public conversation at all. They have rolled over gun safety advocates and now they can get out of the way or be rolled over themselves.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-45) is a victim of gun violence, when his sister, Janet Levine March, was murdered by her husband, Perry March. Levine led the effort to track down March and put him in jail and marched across the Memorial Bridge with Arlington Democrats.

“I’m marching today because we need a movement to stop gun violence,” Levine said. “We need legislation in Virginia and in the nation and our politicians are not doing enough, and we need help.”

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) also marched across the Memorial Bridge, and said that the march was just the beginning.

“I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, an Independent or Republican,” Hope said. “We can’t support people who don’t support common sense gun regulations. That’s common sense. Universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, not letting kids get their hands on assault weapons … close the gun show loophole. I could talk to you for hours about that.”

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), who marched with his son across the Memorial Bridge, spoke before the appearance of former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“It’s scary when I have to listen to constituents who are scared about their kids going to school and what might happen, who say every day, ‘God, please let my baby get home safe tonight,’” Lopez said. “I thought Terry McAuliffe was an amazing governor and I think he’s an amazing leader and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do today and it’s going to be amazing to have everyone together fighting for the same cause.”

McAuliffe, who walked to the Memorial Bridge meeting point with Arlington Democrats, said he was only a former governor and took the microphone.

“It’s the students who are going to lead this revolt, and it is not only the march today but we’ve got to make sure we’re marching in ’18 in the elections,” McAuliffe said. “We’ve got to make sure we pick up four Democratic members of Congress, we’ve got to take control of the Democratic Congress. The first thing out of the box will be background checks for all Americans. And then we’re going to come back in ’19 and we’re going to pick up those two seats in the House of Delegates and we’re going to pick up the State Senate, because folks, for four straight years as governor I proposed gun restrictions — common sense, background checks, getting rid of assault weapons, putting back one gun a month — every single year they defeated us. They did it in committee, they did it without recording votes and this year before I left office I put a whole slew of them up again. Every single one of those gun laws were defeated. It’s time we defeat them.”

Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg also traveled with Alexandria Democrats at the King Street Metro.

“What a memorable, meaningful and important day at the March For Our Lives,” Silberberg said. “I was glad to see so many Alexandria residents. We must continue to stand up and speak out for common sense gun reform laws now. So proud of all the young people who spoke, including our own fifth grade student from George Mason Elementary School, Naomi Wadler. The youth of today inspire us all as we fight for the causes we all hold dear.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova did not march, but said she was “incredibly moved and impressed with the students and young people who organized in D.C. and all over the world around a very important issue. They are offering ideas to solve a serious problem and are engaged in making our communities and schools safer.”

Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson, who is running against Silberberg in the upcoming Democratic primary for mayor, was unable to attend the march, but spent the morning packing donuts for marchers at Sugar Shack Donuts in Arlington, Sugar Shack Donuts in Alexandria with Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and delivering Meals on Wheels for Senior Services of Alexandria.

“I cannot tell you how exciting it is to see youth leaders using their voices to make change in their communities,” Wilson said. “I was excited to be able to support those efforts and look forward to working side by side for change.”

Alexandria City Councilor John Chapman marched in D.C. and said that it was an energizing experience.

“It was so inspiring to see so many young people from across the country coming together, supported by so many older people. It gives me real hope for the future of our country — that together we can make meaningful change,” Chapman said.

Jill Caiazzo, chair of the Arlington Democratic Committee, said that her mission is to put the lives of children first before guns.

“We’re not anti-gun. We’re simply pro-common sense gun safety measures,” Caiazzo said.

Clarence Tong, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, was also at the King Street Metro station.

“Our group was led by T.C. Williams High School moms, who had their sons and daughters participate, so our objective was to support the efforts of the students to raise awareness of gun violence,” Tong said.

Alexandrian Gail Gordon Donegan founded the Alexandria chapter of Moms For Action and marched across the Memorial Bridge with her husband and several Democratic friends. She said that when Donald Trump began openly disparaging certain groups and promoting violence at his rallies, the mood of the country soured and pockets of hate emerged around the country by people who are frustrated and felt left behind and were looking for someone to blame for their troubles. Violence has begun to seem normal.

“Groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety and Gabby Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions responded to that hate with a strong movement for rational gun legislation, and for years it felt like they were pushing a boulder up a mountain. I think Parkland was the tipping point, and I’m really, really proud of these kids that have taken over and are pushing this movement forward,” she said. “These kids are fast and furious and they’re pushing that boulder down the other side of the mountain now and they’re going to mow the NRA right over with it and I’m so proud of them.”

Alexandrian Boyd Walker marched and said that such an event should be unnecessary and that students should not have to take such drastic steps.

“Looking around today, it is easy to see that these young people will be or are voters, passionate activists and that they won’t stop until we change the laws and the politicians who prevent gun safety laws from happening,” Walker said.

Marcher Alexandrian Tom Gibson, a former captain in the U.S. Marines, said that many people do not understand the power that comes with knowing how to treat a weapon.

“We were trained in a classroom for two weeks before we were allowed to touch a weapon,” he said. “I feel like our legislators have failed us and we need to stand up for better gun control laws and just show how much support there is for change. “

Alexandrian Megan Challender, a domestic violence attorney, marched across the Memorial Bridge with her teacher husband, Daniel Baldwin, and her two-year-old son Eli.

“My clients, who are often domestic violence victims, are at great risk of getting killed by guns and we need greater protections for them. For my husband, we need protections in our schools, and for my son we need protections in our schools and for the country to make sure that our children are safe,” she said.

Darryl Green, of Baltimore, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue promoting his website, His younger brother was killed in 1988, just six days after turning 17 – stabbed in a bowling alley when an altercation broke out over a pair of shoes. The murderer, 14-year-old Kimyon Marshall, spent 25 years in prison, and Green and his family later testified for his release.

“There were 343 murders in Baltimore last year,” Green said. “So, now Kimyon and I work together saving lives all across the country and internationally. Therein lies deep forgiveness. Hurt people hurt people, and as a result of that, if I can forgive the man who took my brother’s life, surely we can forgive our neighbors, or brothers and sisters. He has taken my brother’s place. He’s like my younger brother now. He’s an outstanding young man. We’re changing lives.”

Robinson Secondary School Students Join ‘Awakening’

Michael McCabe, 16, points to the ‘great examples of kids in Parkland.

Before the Parkland teens rose up to speak out against gun violence in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas school shooting, Robinson Secondary School sophomore student Michael McCabe observed that students who wanted to make a change “were lost in the noise” and didn’t know how to do it. 

But since then, “we have had great examples of kids in Parkland that have been uplifted by other examples, like the urban communities affected by gun violence,” said McCabe, 16. “There’s a lot more visibility of activists working past the apathy and misunderstanding and paralysis and have been doing important work.

“Now kids realize they can reach out to people and there are events, movements, organizations and volunteer opportunities. This has been an awakening in that sense,” he said.

AFTER THE MARCH For Our Lives, which took place this past Saturday, McCabe said the sentiment among classmates is: “We’re not going to let this go away. A lot of us are really fired up,” he said.

McCabe was born in Northern Virginia and moved to Fairfax in second grade. Since he can remember, he’s always tried to stay engaged and educated.

“I’ve always been an avid reader of the news and have had my own political opinions from a pretty young age,” he said. When he was seven years old, he recalls making signs and cookies for Obama’s campaign volunteers and watching the inauguration. At 11 years old, he joined his grandmother, also an activist, to Richmond for the lobby days.

“I always remember coming home from those [trips] thinking things through and wondering, what else can we lobby for, how does this issue affect me? It got me thinking about the issue of gun violence,” he said.

Fast forward to the recent march on gun violence, which McCabe attended with 150 others from Robinson, including those from the group “Students Demand Action” which he is a member, and he is hopeful and emboldened.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect going in [to the march],” he said. But “I’ve been astounded by the emotion and unedited, unabridged truth and the stories that have been coming out in the wake of Parkland and all the media attention. I knew this would be a wildly successful and meaningful event.”

THE MOST INSPIRING PART of the march for McCabe was seeing Naomi Wadler on stage. Wadler, an Alexandria fifth grader who represents African American girls, spoke at the march about those suffering from gun violence.

McCabe had met her before the march, describing her as “very self-confident and well spoken for an 11-year-old.”

“I had no idea she was going to be on stage. I was blown away by her speech,” he said. “The fact that Naomi Wadler was up there and she was affected by gun violence, it’s incredible that they’re in elementary school and they’re doing this. That was my favorite part of the whole event.”

He found the march’s message promising, too.

“I was blown away by the intersectionality and the extent to which they were able to uplift the voices of people who had been affected by different forms of gun violence and really convey a broader scope of the issue. I thought that was really neat to see.”

Although the conversation around gun violence has been happening for some time, he said he was struck by how well rounded the speakers were and how well the tone was carried.

“It took a really solid balance between the tragedy and the conversation and the media hubbub, and the broader scope of the issues.”

What’s next for the movement? “It goes back to lawmakers,” he said.

Here's how the 2018 Virginia General Assembly changed your everyday life

Mar 16, 2018

The Virginia General Assembly wrapped up last weekend with legislators passing 919 bills.

Many are narrow carve-outs affecting a small group of people, like staggering the election of City Council members in the small southwestern town of Buchanan. Others deal with rather trivial things that don’t seem like they need a law – such as the one allowing your kids to bring sunscreen to school without a doctor’s note.

One thing that will prove different about the 2018 session: vetoes. So far Gov. Ralph Northam has said he would veto only one bill, which outlaws sanctuary cities in Virginia. Last year, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed 49, giving him the all-time title for most vetoes of any Virginia governor with 120.

But lawmakers failed to pass one big bill: the budget.

Legislators will return to Richmond on April 11 in hopes of passing a $115 billion, two-year budget after the House and Senate couldn’t agree on whether to include Medicaid expansion. A group of 13 lawmakers will negotiate behind the scenes in the interim.

Meanwhile, here are a dozen bills that could affect many of us in our daily lives when they become law on July 1.

Blue or red lights on police cars

Police cars could get a different look if localities adopt a new lights policy that is allowed under SB 410from Sen. Ryan McDougle, R- Hanover County. Police departments could choose to always have blue or red warning lights activated on top of the vehicle while police are patrolling as a way to promote greater visibility, deter crime and help community policing. But some lawmakers said the lights could confuse the public and might put the officers in more danger.

Boozy cupcakes and other sweets

Sweet treats can now come with a more alcoholic twist. Your favorite liquor could be infused into a cupcake or frosting now, thanks to HB 1602 from Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover County, and SB 61 from Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington County. The bill creates a confectionery liquor license, which allows bakers to make goods like wine jellies, whiskey barbecue sauces and cakes that contain 5 percent or less alcohol by volume. The boozy treats would have to be properly labeled. Rodgers’ Puddings, based in Chesapeake, will sell flavors like peach vodka, merlot and sparkling rosé.

Charity car wash

Regulators were concerned about the damage that charity car washes could do to the environment because of the chemicals used, and they put their future in question. Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax County, came up with HB 1241, a compromise to allow students to continue the popular fundraisers by requiring the use of biodegradable soap that can safely wash down a drain. The bill prohibits a locality from banning the car washes if they use only biodegradable, phosphate-free, water-based cleaners.

Text 911

By July 2020, all emergency dispatchers around the commonwealth will need to be able to accept text messages as a way to report emergencies, thanks to Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax County, who introduced SB 418. The service isn’t meant to replace calls, which are easier for dispatchers to collect information and have quick conversations . But it does give people a way to get help when they may not be able to call – for instance, when a burglar is nearby and someone doesn’t want to make a noise, or for those who have disabilities that may make calling difficult. So far, only Virginia Beach has the capability in South Hampton Roads.

Dominion bill credits

Sweeping energy utility legislation from Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, affects rates and makes it easier to build renewable energy projects and improve the electric grid. The bill summary alone has 1,900 words, so we don’t have time to get into the details, but you can read more about the important legislation at What you may care most about in SB 966 is the $200 million in over-earning customer credits that Dominion Energy must repay because of a 2015 rate freeze. While critics say the bill doesn’t go far enough and still allows utilities to charge higher-than-necessary rates, Dominion says the average energy customer will get about a $6 credit on their bill every month from July 2018 to March 2019 as a result of the legislation. That could be offset by a soon-to-come $5 a month charge to bury power lines.

Trespassing with a drone

It’s now illegal to use a drone to coerce, intimidate, harass, spy on or follow someone. It’s also illegal to fly a drone within 50 feet of someone’s home if the homeowner has asked the drone flier to stop. HB 638 from Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, and SB 526 from Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County, would make the violation a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can result in up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.

Bigger fine for texting in work zone

If you get caught texting and driving in a work zone, expect to pay a bigger mandatory fine. Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, bumped up the minimum fine for the violation from $125 to $250 for the offense with HB 1525.


child seats

Children must now sit in rear-facing child seats until they are 2 years old or until they reach the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child seat. HB 708 from Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, was a safety measure backed by AAA, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Coding as a foreign language in schools

High schoolers could take a computer coding class to fulfill the foreign language requirement thanks to HB 443 from Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William. Carroll Foy said it would encourage kids to take classes in a highly needed career field.

Teaching license reciprocity for military spouse

Military spouses would be able to get licensure reciprocity from other states for a year under HB 2 from Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, and SB 103 from Sen. Dave Suetterlein, R-Roanoke. The bill would help fill depleted teaching ranks and also help military families with less burdensome regulation, lawmakers say.

More recess

Your kid may get to spend more time on the playground at school after the group “More Recess for Virginians” said as little as 15 to 20 minutes of play wasn’t enough. HB 1419 from Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, and SB 273 from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, would allow elementary schools flexibility to count recess or “unstructured time ... to develop teamwork, social skills and overall physical fitness” toward the 680 hours of instructional or teaching time.

Shorter school suspensions

Troubled students may get dealt with differently as HB 1600 from Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, and SB 170 from Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, changes the maximum length of standard long-term suspensions from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. Lawmakers say it encourages schools to find alternative means of dealing with bad behavior instead of taking kids out of the classroom. Aggravating circumstances would allow for longer punishments.

Veterans designation on licenses

Virginia will be ditching a state-issued Veteran ID Card and instead put a veteran designation on a driver’s license or regular ID card. Veterans could get the designation for no extra cost instead of paying $10 for the veteran card. Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, introduced HB 737 to make it easier for veterans to use their license to show proof of service when they apply for jobs, use the VA hospital, and get discounts at restaurants and retail stores. Virginia was the last state to have separate cards.

What didn’t happen

A few pieces of highly talked about legislation failed. One bill to curb distracted driving failed after the House and Senate couldn’t agree on the provisions. The House wanted to replace the texting and driving statute and expand it to include any “substantial distraction” from cell phones. The Senate wanted to ban cell phone use while driving, except in hands-free mode.

The House killed a tax for internet entertainment streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Spotify. While the bill didn’t pass, the debate did create one running joke in the General Assembly: Legislators would try to shoehorn innuendo about “Netflix and chilling” into any relevant floor discussion.

Women who made history in last elections have made a mark on Virginia’s House

Tone and debate in Richmond are being altered by historically high number of women

By Gregory S. Schneider - The Washington Post

Judging strictly by legislation passed, the record number of women in this year's Virginia House of Delegates had only modest impact. 

Most of the new delegates are Democrats, and most of their bills died in Republican-controlled committees — which is typical for freshmen, male or female. 

But House members said the presence of a historic number of women in the chamber created a fundamental shift in matters large and small, from the tone of debate to the way the House operates. 

Two female delegates, for instance — one Republican, one Democrat — clashed over how to create sexual harassment policy. They disagreed on approach, but the result was the House's first-ever requirement for a training program to prevent harassment. 

Female delegates led the calls for gun control after the Florida school shooting. They had no luck on gun bills, but Republican Speaker Kirk Cox eventually appointed a rare select committee to address school safety — though only three of the 21 members are women. 

It was a Virginia woman — Del. Elizabeth Guzman, a Prince William Democrat — who was selected by national Democrats to give the Spanish-language response to President Trump's State of the Union address. 

And some members credited the greater presence of women with influencing the issues that did not come up this year. Most notably, few divisive abortion-related bills made it to the floor of the House. 

That's partly because Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, replaced one of the House's most ardent abortion opponents, former Del. Bob Marshall. And Roem, who is also Virginia's first transgender lawmaker, said the women have only begun to reshape the legislature. 

"My goal is 51 percent women," Roem said. "Then I think you'd fundamentally change the culture. You will have a collaborative legislative process beyond anything in the last 399 years." 

Women made huge gains in Virginia's House in last fall's election. Twelve new women joined the chamber, all replacing men and bringing the total to an all-time high of 28 out of 100 seats. All but one of the new women were Democrats who flipped Republican seats, bringing their party within a hair of a majority for the first time in years. 

While many saw their bills founder in committee, a few measures carried by freshman women got through both House and Senate. Elementary school children will get more time for recess, foster parents and close relatives won't have to wait so long to adopt children and income tax preparers will have to notify the state right away if they detect a data breach — all thanks to newly elected women. 

"Because there are more women there are different perspectives and thoughts when we're talking about bills, and just real-life [ideas about] how something will affect somebody," said Del. Charniele Herring, who chairs the Democratic caucus and is the first woman to hold such a position. 

For Del. Vivian Watts , who is the longest-serving woman in the House, with 26 years in office, suddenly having so many more female colleagues has been liberating. 

"I was genuinely surprised that there was a certain freedom in my own expression," Watts said. "Over the years having come in as I did when there were so few women you were very careful about what you said ....Whereas now there's more shared experience, that these things have context." 

During the floor debate over sexual harassment training, Watts alluded to her own painful experience of abuse, something she had long resisted talking about. 

But more than tone has changed. When Watts first joined the House, women were shut out of informal socializing and deal-making because the members' lounge was attached to the men's restroom. 

At one point, she remembered, free oysters were being served in the lounge, and a delegate asked if she'd like some. She didn't really want any, but she did want to get into that lounge, so she said yes. But instead of inviting her in, the male delegate simply set her a plate outside the door — like feeding a kitten, she said. 

Now, new delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Kathy Tran have taken the initiative to start an informal "parents' caucus" to help members — male or female — deal with the tricky issues of raising young children while serving in the legislature. They have worked with Del. Eileen Filler-Corn to compile lists of family activities in Richmond and places for day care. 

"Hopefully there'll be another wave of women who have children and this would...actually encourage them to run knowing that we have a family-friendly atmosphere here," said Foy, a public defender who has taken a high profile in criminal justice reform issues. 

She and Tran worked with House clerk's office to make arrangements for nursing mothers — both have small children — and to ensure that the new office building under construction for the General Assembly will have nursing rooms and restrooms with baby changing tables. 

The new tone has been noted by the Republican leadership. Cox kicked off the session by announcing that he would extend generous family leave policies to the House of Delegates staff. And Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chairman of the Appropriations committee, said he welcomes the perspective brought by having more women in the chamber. 

"I've had good interactions with the new members," he said. "They're passionate about their legislation, but they're willing to listen and learn about the process, which is what we all do as freshman." 

But change only goes so far. Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler introduced a resolution to recognize the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion as a "Day of Women" instead of "Day of Tears" — the name chosen by the legislature last year. 


Her bill never made it out of committee.

Virginia medical marijuana law takes effect

March 12

RICHMOND – According to a release issued by Virginia NORML, on Friday, March 9, Governor Ralph Northam signed HB1251, expanding the affirmative defense for possession of medical cannabis oils to any diagnosed condition.

Here's what this means and how it works.

The change of law does not legalize possession, it provides an affirmative defense. A signed affirmative defense certificate may be submitted as a patient's or caregiver's defense in a Virginia court of law 10 days prior to trial if charged for possession.

1. Print the Affirmative Defense Certificate.

2. Take it to your physician and ask your doctor to sign it.

3. Keep the signed certificate with your oil at all times.

4. Present your certificate if questioned by law enforcement.

5. If not accepted and charged with possession, call an attorney or ask for court-appointed counsel.

6. Present your signed certificate 10 days prior to trial as directed.

Patients will still have to take risks to obtain oils until Virginia's program is operational. The estimated earliest date medicine will be available at a licensed Virginia facility is late 2019. Hence, the affirmative defense process.

The affirmative defense applies to oil products only. The oil must contain at least 15% CBD or at least 15% THCA-A and may contain no more than 5% THC. The affirmative defense does not apply to flower, other products or products outside the allowed cannabinoid ratios. 

“The passage of HB 1251 is an important next step to improving the lives of so many Virginians and sets an important precedent for laws like this across the country,” said Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, the legislation’s chief co-patron.

Virginia NORML recommendations:

1. Don't consume your medicine in public.

2. Don't take it out of your home unless absolutely necessary.

3. Keep your signed certificate with the oil at all times.

4. If you must travel with your medicine, place it in a locked container in your trunk.

5. Don't drive impaired. 

6. Don't post on social media about your medicine.

“Today’s passage of the HB 1251 is a monumental win for patients across Virginia,” said Staunton's Nikki Narduzzi, patient coalition director of Cannabis Commonwealth. “We are excited to help patients achieve their goals of pain management, reducing prescription opioid use and a better quality life via cannabis therapies right here in their home state.”

REWATCH: NBC12 hosts 'Digital Dialogue' on car seat safety

By NBC12 Newsroom

(WWBT) -

While many car manufacturers recommend children remain in rear-facing seats until they are 2-years-old, there is currently no law stating this in Virginia.

That, however, is about to change.

The General Assembly passed a bill recently that toughens and updates the state's car seat and booster seat laws.

We're inviting you to be a part of that conversation in NBC12's next "Digital Dialogue."

House Bill 708 requires child safety seats remain rear facing until the age of 2, or until the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device.

If Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bill, it will go into effect July 1, 2019. 

During the "Digital Dialogue," our panel talked about what the changes mean for parents, and helped clear up any confusion. 

On our panel was: 

  • Martha Meade, a manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. AAA is a nonprofit member service organization with over 58 million members in the US and Canada. AAA provides services including roadside assistance.
  • Corri C. Miller-Hobbs, RN, BSN, CPN, CPST, Safe Kids Virginia program coordinator at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU, a state coalition of Safe Kids Worldwide. She’s a certified Pediatric Nurse and Child  Passenger Safety Technician. She’s also a member of the American Nurses Association and American Association of Critical Care Nurses. 
  • Chief Deputy Lee Bailey of the New Kent County Sheriff’s Office. He’s also a certified Passenger Safety Instructor.
  • Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41): Sponsored House Bill 708 that requires safety seats remain rear facing until a child reaches the age of two, or the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device as prescribed by the manufacturer of the device.

Rear-facing Car Seat Legislation Headed to Governor

  MAR 7, 2018

Parents are about to be forced to strap their children into rear-facing child seats.

“If we actually have proven data and statistics showing that this will save lives and prevent injury, then as a member of the House of Delegates I see it as our duty to pass legislation that will help ensure the safety of all our our constituents, in this case the most vulnerable.”

The bill did not speed through the General Assembly without opposition. Republican Senator Ben Chafin of Russell County says he doesn’t want the nanny state to tell parents how to raise their children.

“When I was a child, a rear-facing child seat was a bale of hay in the back of a pickup truck, OK? And I can tell you we all got along just fine riding on those bales of hay.”

The bill has passed the House and Senate, which means it’s on its way to the governor’s desk.

New law would require child safety seats to remain in rear-facing until the age of two

by Elizabeth Tyree

RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) -- The Virginia General Assembly has passed a bill that would change the state's law to require child safety seats remain rear facing until the age of two, or the child reaches the minimum weight limit for a forward-facing child restraint device.

AAA said it supports the bill.

"Virginia lawmakers have voted positively on behalf of the children who are riding in motor vehicles and who deserve to have every protection possible if they are in a crash," said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager – Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "AAA urges Gov. Northam to sign the bill and make Virginia the 10th state to adopt regulations that are known to improve safety for child passengers."

AAA said that children are 75-percent less likely to die or sustain serous injury in a rear facing seat.

Nine states already mandate the measure by law: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

"HB 708 is a safety bill that seeks to protect our most vulnerable Virginians: our children and grandchildren. I am proud to say Virginia has enacted common sense requirements that will give the youngest and smallest children the extra protection needed when riding in a car. This is a long overdue requirement that will save lives. I was pleased to work with AAA and so many other stakeholders to ensure that our most precious passengers remain safe while riding in cars, and I appreciate the broad bipartisan support from my colleagues to pass this bill,” said Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, who sponsored the bill.

The current law requires that any child, up to age eight is properly secured in a child restraint device that meets the standards adopted by the United States Department of Transportation.

It doesn't specify how long the child passenger safety seat must remain rear facing.

Exceptions to the requirement, under the current law, can be made if a doctor determines that the use of a child restrain system is impractical for size, physical unfitness, or other medical reasons.

Those with a child in the vehicle would have to carry a signed written statement from a physician at all times.

A violation of the new law, if signed, would be the same as existing penalties: first violations are subject to a civil penalty of $50 and second or subsequent offenses on different dates are subject to a civil penalty of up to $500.

If signed, the new law would become effective July 1, 2019.

A league of their own: Northern Virginia women lean in to political paradigm shift

 Mar 2, 2018

In Virginia, women make up a little more than half the population, at 50.8 percent as of July 2016. However, no woman has ever served as governor, lieutenant governor or U.S. senator. The state ranks 35th in the nation for the number of women serving in its congressional delegation.

"We are definitely still battling sexism," said Lindsey Davis Stover, a former Obama administration official who is running to take Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock's place in Congress this year. "As women, we have to step up and run for office."

While Stover and her fellow Democratic front-runner, State Sen. Jennifer Wexton, would replace another woman if they were to win, political statistics are starting to shift in favor of Virginia women.

This year in Virginia's House of Delegates, 28 women took office, a record number coming after anti-Donald Trump sentiment voted out a number of Republican men. In Loudoun County, three of its four state senators and five of its seven delegates are women.

County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D) serves as the first African-American woman leader of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.

"I think women have realized that bad elected officials are elected by good people who neither get involved nor vote," Randall said. "And if we women don't get involved and we don't run for office and, gosh knows, if we don't vote, then we will continue to elect people that don't represent the views of everyday women."

These women representing Loudoun—both veterans and newcomers, liberals and conservatives—are working to give their female constituents a more powerful voice.

Breaking into the club

Soon after Republican state Sen. Jill Vogel was elected, she broke a record: She was the first person to be pregnant while in office.

"I was not going to be deterred," Vogel said. She was shocked when others discouraged her to step out of politics—if she had been a teacher or held a number of other professions, she added, they would not have thought twice about her managing motherhood and a career.

Five children and a bid for lieutenant governor later, Vogel credits her motherhood with her increased focus, as well as her interest in issues like more insurance coverage for children with autism.

"I am a better legislator because of it," she said.

Many of Virginia's veteran legislators have memories of being the only woman in the room, whether on the state or national level.

Comstock serves as the only woman in Virginia's congressional delegation and is the fourth-ever congresswoman in Virginia's history. Known nationally for her disunion with President Donald Trump -- she called him to step down after the Access Hollywood video and opposed him when he supported a government shutdown -- Comstock is a staunch advocate for women taking positions of power.

"Only 20 percent of Congress is women," she said. "This 20-percent ceiling is kind of what hasn't been broken through in"the corporate world as well as in Congress."

The #MeToo revolution

For some of Loudoun's newest female politicians, the #MeToo movement and Trump's rhetoric drove them to run and may have, in part, fueled their victories and goals.

"[Trump] is definitely one of the things that got me out of my chair," said state Del. Wendy Gooditis, a Democrat starting her service to Loudoun's 10th District this year.

A real estate agent based in Berryville, Gooditis started a local chapter of Indivisible, a grassroots group for progressives who want to resist Trump. Many of these friends, as well as her husband, encouraged her to run.

After Gooditis' surprising win over well-known Leesburg resident Randy Minchew, Time magazine put her on its January 2018 "Avengers" cover, showing dozens of female politicians who rode the tide of a national backlash against Trump and sexual harassment.

Like many of her fellow winners, Gooditis can say "me too." She said was "grabbed" from her teens into her early 20s, but she always fended off the attacks.

"I'm a fighter and I always have been," she said. "But this stuff does damage. This is not trivial."

While she applauds the increased openness the #MeToo movement has brought, Gooditis says that partisanship has blocked progress in the General Assembly. This January, the House of Delegates passed what many considered a watered-down requirement for member and staff sexual harassment training. Instead of having an outside presenter create the program, like the Democrats proposed, the training will be chosen in-house.

"That's part of the whole problem - that much too much is behind closed doors," Gooditis said.

Candidate Stover also admitted that she fought off an assault in her early 20s when she was out running. Like Gooditis, she believes that providing health care for all, especially female veterans, and strengthening public education and transit are cornerstones to make women feel safer in their communities.

Randall said she knows "very few" women who have not been impacted by sexual harassment or being belittled in society. But she's heartened to see what the #MeToo empowerment movement will bring.

"It's exciting for me because I have nieces and young ladies I mentor. And just like our moms and grandmas did for us, what we're doing will make it better for the young ladies coming up right now," Randall said.

Role models and mentorship

Many of the female politicians agreed that women who want to go into politics, science or technology suffer from a lack of well-known examples and mentors—and they're determined to change it.

"I didn't see women role models growing up," Vogel said, adding that she often takes time to talk with school groups and encourage young women who aspire to political office.

Comstock, too, has backed bills that give greater opportunities to young women in business and technology, including the INSPIRE Women Act. Motivated by the book "Lean In," she started the 10th Congressional District Young Women Leadership Program, a summer-long, nonpartisan conference where middle and high school students can meet local female leaders in the sciences and arts, including Middleburg businesswoman Sheila Johnson.

Comstock said that more than 1,200 girls have gone through the program since its start in 2012.

"We need to have women as a bigger percentage of the seats at the table," Comstock said. "I think when you look at a lot of these sexual harassment cases in the media"none of them have as many women on their boards."

Chairwoman Randall last year launched a Loudoun County women's commission to help empower women and make them aware of local resources to aid in both their professional and personal lives.

Gooditis agrees that female role models have made a big difference in her first year in Richmond. She appreciates Del. Eileen Filler-Corn's patient mentorship, and Gooditis said veteran Loudoun Dels. Kathleen Murphy and Jennifer Boysko have proven invaluable collaborators.

In the upcoming years, she hopes, with her sister delegates' help, she'll take more action to expand health care and pass an equal pay for equal work bill.

"They are such an example of standing strong," Gooditis said. "They tell us what's next."

Elizabeth Stinnette is a freelance journalist, screenwriter and frequent contributor to the Loudoun Business Journal and Loudoun Times-Mirror.

Virginia House Hails the Red Salamander

The House of Delegates on Monday threw its support behind a bill that would add the red salamander to the list of Virginia’s office emblems and designations.

The bill to name an official state salamander was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), of Springfield at the request of the Salamander Savers 4-H Club in Fairfax. Club members hope to raise awareness of salamanders as a species less tolerant of environmental disruptions than frogs and other amphibians. The House backed their effort on a 96-1 vote, with Del. Barry Knight (R-81), of Virginia Beach, opposed.

According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, there are 29 salamanders native to the commonwealth, including two red species, the Blue Ridge red salamander and the northern red salamander. While the northern red can be found in Loudoun, the northern two-lined salamander and the northern dusky salamander are among the most common here.

The bill has moved to the state senate for review.

What other species, places and things have been tapped by Virginia’s government for special recognition? Here is the full list:

  • Artisan Center: Virginia Artisans Center in Waynesboro.
  • Bat: Virginia Big-eared bat.
  • Beverage: Milk.
  • Bird: Northern Cardinal.
  • Blue Ridge Folklore State Center: Blue Ridge Institute in the Ferrum.
  • Boat: The Chesapeake Bay Deadrise.
  • Cabin Capital of Virginia: Page County.
  • Coal Miners’ Memorial: Richlands Coal Miners’ Memorial in Tazewell County.
  • Covered Bridge Capital of the Commonwealth: Patrick County.
  • Covered Bridge Festival: Virginia Covered Bridge Festival in Patrick County.
  • Dog: American Foxhound.
  • Fish (Freshwater): Brook Trout.
  • Fish (Saltwater): Striped Bass.
  • Fleet: Replicas of the three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, which brought the first permanent English settlers to Jamestown in 1607.
  • Flower: American Dogwood.
  • Folk dance: Square dancing.
  • Fossil: Chesapecten jeffersonius.
  • Gold mining interpretive center: Monroe Park in Fauquier County.
  • Insect: Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly.
  • Maple Festival: The Highland County Maple Festival.
  • Motor sports museum: Wood Brothers Racing Museum and Virginia Motor Sports Hall of Fame in Patrick County.
  • Outdoor drama: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine outdoor drama, performed in Big Stone Gap.
  • Outdoor drama, historical: The Long Way Home, performed in Radford.
  • Rock: Nelsonite.
  • Shakespeare festival: The Virginia Shakespeare Festival in the Williamsburg.
  • Shell: Oyster shell.
  • Snake: Eastern Garter Snake.
  • Song emeritus: Carry Me Back to Old Virginny by James A. Bland.
  • Song (Popular): Sweet Virginia Breeze by Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett.
  • Song (Traditional): Our Great Virginia, lyrics by Mike Greenly and arranged by Jim Papoulis.
  • Spirit: George Washington’s rye whiskey produced at Mount Vernon.
  • Sports hall of fame: Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth.
  • Television series: Song of the Mountains.
  • Tree: American Dogwood.
  • War memorial museum: Virginia War Museum in Newport News.

Fall behind on student loans in Virginia and you could lose your job

By: Kerri O'Brien

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -- Shannon Otto graduated nursing school when she was just 18 years old. It was the Tennessee woman's dream job.

Then, suddenly at age 32, she started having seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Unable to work, she stopped making payments on her student loans.

"I got a really scary court-certified letter," Otto said.

The letter from the State of Tennessee said her nursing license had been suspended, and she had to start paying her loans in full or she wouldn't get it back.

"It doesn't matter if you dedicated weeks and hours and years of your life to helping the people of your community get better because if you mess up and you can't pay us back we are going to strip you of your work," says Otto.

What happened to Otto could happen to hundreds of health professionals and teachers here in Virginia. A little-known law on the books allows the Commonwealth to order the suspension of a license if a person is delinquent in the payment of their "federal or state educational loans." The law can impact teachers or health professionals like nurses, psychologists, massage therapists and more.

Virginia is one of 19 states where your professional license can be revoked if you fall behind on your student loans. 8News also found in South Dakota and Iowa, you could lose your driver's license if you default on your student debt.

"We've heard stories about teachers, nurses, about barbers," says Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. "This is tantamount to the modern day debtors prison."

She is pressing lawmakers to overturn these laws.

"If you have a job and you can't pay your student loan, how you going to pay it when you don't have a job, " she asks.

Americans now owe over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. In Virginia, according to data collected by, the average debt per borrower is $28,751.

With student debt levels soaring, so are defaults. Proponents argue these little known licensing laws are in the taxpayer's best interest. Many college loans are backed by the state or federal government which ends up footing the bill if borrowers default.

"I was shocked to find out this is going on in many states," says Virginia Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, who argues the laws don't make sense. "To me, it just seems counter-intuitive."

She and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg have sponsored legislation that would repeal the State's ability to yank your license if miss a student loan payment.

"It is a non-partisan issue we have Democrats and Republicans in support of this issue," Filler-Corn said.

As for Otto, her seizures are now under control but she doesn't have the money to get her license back.

Critics of these laws say this is not about amnesty or giving folks a free pass. They're other ways to collect like garnishing wages, liens on property or seizing tax refunds. They believe taking away one's ability to work is counter-productive.

The Virginia bill passed through the House with zero opposition and is now in the Senate.

Virginia likely to expand medical marijuana

POSTED 5:15 PM, FEBRUARY 7, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia inched closer to greatly expanding medical marijuana use this week after legislation passed the Senate with unanimous support – three days after its companion bill was likewise approved by the House of Delegates.

SB 726, which passed 38-0 on Monday, would let doctors issue certifications for patients to use cannabis oil to treat the symptoms of diagnosed conditions or diseases. The House version of the bill – HB 1251– passed 98-0 on Friday.

With similar bills approved in both chambers, the legislation appears likely to be headed to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and physician, who has said he would sign such a measure into law.

Doctors in Virginia currently can issue medical marijuana certifications only to people with intractable epilepsy. If Northam signs the bill, the new law would let doctors issue certifications to treat any condition.

Both bills were a recommendation of Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care, which researches health policy options for the state.

The chief sponsors of SB 726 were Republican Sens. Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier and Democratic Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax. The chief sponsors of HB 1251 were Republican Dels. Ben Cline of Rockbridge and Glen Davis of Virginia Beach and Democratic Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn and Kaye Kory, both of Fairfax.

“The literature on medical cannabis is going to be evolving rapidly now, and because of this, it is not a decision that should be in the hands of the legislature,” said Dunnavant, who also is a doctor. “Instead, it should be with physicians.”

Virginia is poised to join 29 other states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three U.S. territories have a similar policy.

The legislation is considered a major victory for marijuana-law reform advocates.

“This will bring relief to thousands of Virginians suffering from cancer, Crohn’s disease and PTSD,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of the marijuana law reform advocacy group, Virginia NORML. “We could not be happier with the unanimous passage of these bills.”

An April 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University indicated overwhelming support for the legalization of medical marijuana in Virginia. About 94 percent of Virginian voters polled expressed support; 59 percent backed legalizing small amounts of the drug for recreational use.

Editorial: Has Pseudotriton ruber truly earned the right to be named the official state salamander of Virginia?

Feb 5, 2018

While Virginians have been arguing over trivia like Medicaid expansion and the regulation of power companies, a potentially explosive piece of legislation has been slithering toward passage — with scant notice.

We refer to Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s HB459, which would designate the red salamander (Pseudotriton ruber, as it is colloquially known) the official state salamander of Virginia. Filler-Corn filed the bill at the request of a powerful lobbying organization, 4-H.

This isn’t the first time 4-H has thrown its weight around Capitol Square. Twelve years ago Del. Jeion Ward introduced legislation to name the Shenandoah Mountain Salamander the official state amphibian. The effort failed, but Ward was open about the pressure that had been brought to bear upon her by the Cooper Elementary School 4-H club in Hampton. “It wasn’t my idea,” she told The Times-Dispatch. “These children are serious.”

The question now is equally profound: whether the red salamander has earned the right to join other official emblems of the commonwealth, such as milk (official state beverage), Nelsonite (official state rock), Eastern garter snake (official state snake), tiger swallowtail butterfly (official state insect), Highland County Maple Festival (official state maple festival), and Wood Brothers Racing Museum and Virginia Motor Sports Hall of Fame (official state motor sports museum).

After all, it must be asked: What has Pseudotriton ruber ever done to grant it precedence ahead of, say, Ambystoma jeffersonianum (the Jefferson salamander), Hemidactylium scutatum (the four-toed salamander, whose habitat — unlike that of the red salamander — includes the whole of Virginia), or Ambystoma maculatum (the spotted salamander, whose Latin names sounds like a Harry Potter magic spell)?

We do not mean here to take anything away from the fine children of the Salamander Savers 4-H club in Fairfax — who no doubt mean well, the little terrors. But if Virginia is to take so weighty a step as this, it should not do so in haste. We advise Gov. Ralph Northam to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study the issue and produce a recommendation. And we can think of no one more suited to chair the body than former speaker of the House Gingrich — first name, Newt.


Virginia’s next icon: A state salamander?

By Max Smith  

WASHINGTON — Virginia could get a state salamander, thanks to a push from students, under a bill set for a vote in the House of Delegates Monday.

A group of students from Northern Virginia and the Williamsburg area asked for the bill and lobbied for it — including by drawing cards supporting the red salamander that they delivered to lawmakers.

“I was really impressed with them, they started and founded this organization known as the Salamander Savers. It’s a 4-H group, and they did their research, wanted to be involved in the process and see this through,” Del. Eileen Filler-Corn said.

A 4-H group is a network of organizations that gives kids opportunities to learn through hands-on projects in health, science and citizenship, according to the 4-H website.

Filler-Corn’s bill, introduced at their request, is due for a final vote in the House of Delegates Monday, which would send the bill to the state Senate.

The red salamander’s scientific name is the pseudotriton ruber. It is native to Virginia.

Other state symbols already in Virginia law include the official state beverage (milk), bat (Virginia big-eared bat), bird (northern cardinal), type of boat (Chesapeake Bay deadrise fishing boat), dog (American foxhound), freshwater fish (brook trout), saltwater fish (striped bass), flower (American dogwood), folk dance (square dancing), insect (tiger swallowtail butterfly), rock (nelsonite), shell (oyster shell), snake (eastern garter snake), spirit (George Washington’s rye whiskey), tree (American dogwood), fossil (an extinct scallop named after Thomas Jefferson Chesapecten jeffersonius) and three separate songs.

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” a song that includes racist language, was selected as the state song in 1940, but was redesignated as the commonwealth’s “song emeritus” in 1997.

Under a 2015 compromise, the “traditional” state song is now “Our Great Virginia” sung to the tune of “Oh Shenandoah” and the “popular” state song is “Sweet Virginia Breeze.”

A separate bill to add “The New Dominion” as the state poem was deferred Thursday until 2019.


Sexual consent remains optional topic for family life education in Virginia high schools after bill rejected

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee rejected a bill Friday that would have required high schools to include a discussion about sexual consent in their sex education curriculum.

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee deadlocked 5-5 on a motion to advance House Bill 44. As a result, the motion failed.

Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation that gave public schools permission to include consent as part of a family life curriculum. This year’s bill would have altered that law to make consent education a requirement, not an option.

“The difference here is negligible because family life education is already permissive,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax Station, chief sponsor of the bill.

If the bill had passed, it would not have guaranteed that Virginia public schools would teach students that consent is required before sexual activity. Though Virginia has laws that define sex education curriculum requirements, family life classes are not mandated by law.

However, several localities voluntarily provide the sex education curriculum described by the Board of Education’s family life education guidelines. School districts that choose to include family life education must first obtain permission from parents.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia mandate that public schools provide comprehensive sex education; Virginia does not. Virginia is one of three states that require parental consent in order to participate in sex education.

The five subcommittee members who voted in favor of HB 44 were Republican Del. Roxann Robinson of Chesterfield County and Democratic Dels. Jeffrey Bourne of Richmond, Jennifer Boysko of Fairfax, Chris Hurst of Blacksburg and Cheryl Turpin of Virginia Beach.

Republican Dels. Glen Davis of Virginia Beach, David LaRock of Loudoun County, Jay Leftwich of Chesapeake, John McGuire of Henrico County and Brenda Pogge of James City County voted against the bill.

Virginia moves toward approving cannabis oil as a medical treatment

February 1

A bill that would allow physicians to broadly prescribe a form of medical marijuana received preliminary approval in the Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday and seems likely to become law, its sponsors say, after years of failed attempts.

The legislation, HB 1251, would permit the use of non-hallucinogenic marijuana or cannabis extracts known as cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil to treat any diagnosed condition or disease. Scientific studies indicate that the oils can reduce nausea and alleviate pain, and also may slow the growth of and kill some cancer cells.

After a final vote in the House on Friday, the legislation would move to the Senate, where sponsors of the House bill say it also has strong support.

"This allows another option for residents of Virginia, and it does provide some assistance for pain management and may give people an alternative to . . . opioids," said Del. Benjamin L. Cline (R-Rockbridge), the chief sponsor of the House bill.

Similar bills have failed for years in the state legislature, although a more narrow statute passed in 2015 allows Virginians to use cannabis oils to treat "intractable epilepsy." But that law does not provide any way for the drug to be produced in the state or for patients to secure a doctor's permission to obtain it.

The District of Columbia and 28 states, including Maryland, have legalized most or all types of marijuana products for medical purposes. Nine states and the District have also legalized the drug for recreational use.

Sixteen other states, in addition to Virginia, allow limited use of marijuana products for a narrow range of diseases, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The increased legalization of medical marijuana — including in Guam and Puerto Rico — reflects a shift in public opinion on marijuana: In 1969, 84 percent of Americans thought the drug should be illegal, the Pew Research Center said. By 2017, only 37 percent agreed.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), chief co-patron of the Virginia bill on the Democratic side, said she's been working on the proposal for four years, ever since she was approached by a family in her district about the difficulty of controlling their daughter's seizures. The family was so frustrated with the slow pace of change that they temporarily moved to Colorado to have legal access to cannabis.

Another child whose family was seeking access to marijuana oil had a seizure in the hearing room during a hearing on one of the bills, Filler-Corn said.

"It is a huge, huge deal, especially for people with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease or cancer," Filler-Corn said. "Things happen very slowly in the legislature, and this was an educational process. It took time and education and a tremendous amount of energy and passion on the part of the families."

Launching a medical marijuana industry can be both time-consuming and lucrative. It took Maryland four years to license growers, producers and retail sellers before opening its first medical marijuana dispensaries late last year.

If the more expansive bill passes, Virginia would seek requests for proposals for five growing and distribution facilities this spring or summer. Patients and physicians would be required to register with the state Board of Medicine to have access to the oils, which could be recommended for those suffering from specific, serious conditions.

Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria) tried to pass a medical marijuana bill aimed at cancer patients last year, but the legislation died in subcommittee.

Bills by state Sens. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington) that would have decriminalized marijuana possession and reduced penalties for its distribution failed in committee this year.

Lawmakers said they believe the medical marijuana bill has gained enough support to pass because of lobbying efforts by families and individuals, the growing number of peer-reviewed scientific studies supporting medical marijuana, and the increased number of states that have made it legal.


Salamanders, Filler-Corn and a Fairfax 4H club; all part of a new state law

 Jan 29, 2018

A bill slithering through the legislative process would designate the red salamander as Virginia’s official state salamander. If the amphibious creature gets the honor, it can thank a group of young nature conservationists.

The Salamander Savers is a 4-H Club based in Fairfax whose members, age 8 to 18, are determined to find solutions for environmental problems. The club started in 2015 when three children wanted to save salamanders from a local lake.

“When our lake was dredged and my kids asked me questions that I could not answer, as a home-schooling mother, I made it my mission to try to find answers to their questions,” said Anna Kim, the club’s adult leader and mother of Jonah Kim, 14, the club’s president.

Her children asked what would happen to the animals living in or near the lake. They were concerned to learn that dredging can disrupt their environment, which could eventually lead to possible extinction. Jonah’s mother recalled her son’s words.

“He once told me that he wanted to give a voice to the animals who couldn’t speak for themselves,” Anna Kim said.

As a result, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), is sponsoring HB 459, which would add the red salamander (officially, Pseudotriton ruber) to the state’s list of official designations. The list currently includes 35 items, from the official beverage (milk) and rock (Nelsonite) to the official television series (“Song of the Mountains,” a PBS program showcasing Appalachian music).

Filler-Corn hopes her bill will inspire the 4H Club members to get involved politically.

“I am excited to introduce these bright young activists to the civic process,” Filler-Corn said. “It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their engagement with government and that they will continue their advocacy for years to come.”

The bill was approved by a subcommittee on a 6-2 vote last week. The House General Laws Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Tuesday.

Jonah Kim and his fellow 4-H’ers thought carefully about which salamander species should represent Virginia.

“We chose the red salamander because it lives in a variety of different habitats throughout Virginia,” he said. “We thought it was easily recognizable and would be interesting to people who have never seen a salamander.”

He said the club hopes the legislation will help raise awareness of salamanders, a species less tolerant of environmental disruptions than frogs and other amphibians. The Salamander Savers are encouraging the public to write a letter to their legislators stating their support.

Virginia may raise felony threshold for first time since 1980

If a Virginian stole a Commodore Vic-20 computer in 1980, he or she would face up to 20 years in prison. Today, stealing a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses could have the same result.

After years of effort to increase the $200 threshold at which theft becomes a felony — long a Democratic priority that has won Republican support in the state Senate — even some longtime skeptics think this might be the year that compromise will carry something through.

At the moment, a Republican’s bill has the momentum. State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, convinced the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to go with the lowest new threshold figure — $500 — that any legislator is proposing, but would apply that to a broader range of property crimes than have ever been approved by the Senate.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only states where someone can be convicted of felony theft if he or she steals something valued at more than $200, according to a report from the Virginia Crime Commission. Thirty-nine states have thresholds of $500 or more.

No increase in the felony threshold has emerged from the House Courts of Justice Committee since at least 1999, according to online bill records.

This year, though, there are seven House bills seeking to increase the threshold — and they’re in the Rules Committee, at the direction of Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.

That has the sponsors of these bills wondering what’s going on, especially since raising the threshold to $1,000 is a priority of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. The traditional expectation is that when a bill goes to the Rules Committee, with its 11-6 Republican majority, it goes there to die.

“The odd balance in sending these bills to Rules instead of Courts is kind of a big question mark for most of us,” said Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, who has proposed a $1,000 threshold.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield, who is carrying the bill for Northam, is more hopeful, based on what Cox has said he wants the Rules Committee to look like this year. She’s got a back-up bill, proposing a $500 threshold, as does Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington.

“The speaker indicated that he wanted the Rules Committee to be more substantive and be more of a policy committee,” Filler-Corn said. “I’m going on that, and I’m hopeful that's exactly what happens.”

Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, who has proposed increasing the threshold to $750, has received no information on what the Rules Committee shift means, but he intends to find out.

“I do plan on reaching out to the Rules folks to see what is exactly going on there,” Hayes said.

For years, proponents of changing the law argue that things cost more these days. They cite the inflation rate; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, $200 in 1980 is the same as about $633 today.

Some of the same lawmakers who have proposed bills this year have tried before, and failed, like Filler-Corn and Heretick.

“Now you steal a pair of sneakers, you steal an iPhone, you do stupid things when you're young,” and a felony is on your record, said Heretick.

There is still a lot of opposition among Republicans to raising the threshold — “giving criminals a cost of living adjustment,” as House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, puts it. Gilbert is also on the Rules Committee.

He isn’t comfortable with simply raising the trigger, but he’s been listening hard to other legislators, and thinks there may be a way forward by linking a change to the trigger to other criminal justice reforms, such as beefing up state law requiring that offenders pay restitution to victims.

By moving the threshold bills to Rules, Gilbert thinks there is a possibility to get a conversation going. And he says that’s why bills to raise the felony threshold are, unusually, sitting in the Rules Committee.

Bills to increase the threshold didn’t start passing through the Senate until 2015. That year, a proposal from state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, to raise the threshold from $200 to $500 made it through his chamber, but died in the House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice Committee.

In 2016 and 2017, bills to raise the threshold to $500 passed through the Senate but could not make it out of the House.

Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, who supports increasing the threshold, proposed a bump to $500 back in 1999 when he was a Midlothian delegate. That faced the axe in House Courts of Justice committee. The next year, he dialed it down in a new bill: raise it from $200 to $300. Members of the Courts of Justice committee unanimously agreed not to consider it.

This initiative has sparked several bills, including one from Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News. His would say, for the first time, that there is no statute of limitations on enforcement of a court order to pay restitution. House Courts committee Chairman Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, has several more.

On Friday, Mullin appeared as the co-sponsor on a freshly filed bill that would increase the felony larceny threshold to $500 and apply it to certain property crimes, but maintains the $200 level if someone steals with the intent to sell or distribute.

Mullin said it addresses his big concern with lowering the threshold — the way gangs of thieves will join forces, with each gang member stealing just enough to stay under the $200 threshold.

"I see this all the time as a prosecutor," he said. "You have a gang go into a Target, grab all the inexpensive cellphones, the ones that aren't locked away, and walk out. They wipe out the store ... they're taking $100, $150 phones and then selling them."

The bill — which had not been moved to a committee as of Friday — is sponsored by Del. Les R. Adams, R-Chatham. Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, joined Mullin as a co-sponsor.

Collins has a bill in the Rules Committee that proposes a sentence reduction for first offenders rather than a threshold increase. His bill suggests first offenders who steal more than $200 but less than $1,000 worth of goods can be placed on probation, with their conviction reduced to a misdemeanor if they complete probation successfully.

Del. Nicholas Freitas, R-Culpeper, also has a bill in Rules that would allow first offenders to pay a restitution fee within 60 days of the theft that would be twice the value of the property they stole, as long as it’s valued between $200 and $1000. They would then be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is subject to up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

These are the first to try this approach for larceny first offenders since Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment’s 2002 effort died in the House Courts committee. At their surface, they sound like the kind of bills that Del. Hayes “can begin to discuss.”

“The whole spirit of what I’m after is not tagging people with felonies,” Hayes said. “A felony carries so much burden on an individual. We're not interested in anything that's going to ruin someone's opportunity for doing better in life.”

State Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, who voted against Suetterlein’s bill, said he likes the idea of giving first offenders a break.

“Kids can do some dumb things,” he said.

Norment is proposing a similar approach for first offenders on simple possession of marijuana.

Moving the threshold and first offender bills to Rules, instead of their usual destination at the Courts committee, is the work of Cox, the man who runs the House of Delegates.

After the Democratic wave in November, the Courts committee is split 12-10, with a Republican majority, after five law-and-order Republican members lost their elections or retired.

One of the new members on the panel, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, is pushing to raise the threshold to $1,000. And Collins is a returning member of the committee. Reading how the Courts committee would jump, given that threshold bills last year died on voice votes in subcommittee, isn’t easy.

Suetterlein, the state Senator whose bill is moving through the Senate, thinks his more modest $500 trigger has a better chance, which would also be applied to a broad range of property crimes, including fire setting and damaging property, and credit card and check fraud — one of the most common crimes. His measure won the support of the Senate’s majority and minority leaders in the committee — Norment and state Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield — as well as Republican caucus chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, co-chairman Mark Obenshain and whip Bill Stanley, R-Moneta.

“There’s still a pretty stiff penalty; it’s up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500 — five times what you stole,” Suetterlein said.

“I think we have a good chance of getting something done ...The last time we increased it was five years before I was born.”

Republicans kill top-priority bills sought by women’s advocates

POSTED 6:35 PM, JANUARY 26, 2018, BY 

RICHMOND, Va. — Women’s rights advocates are disappointed after legislative panels this week killed bills on some of their top-priority issues — mandating equal pay, reducing restrictions on access to abortion and requiring employers to provide paid medical leave.

The votes, called “anti-woman” by one advocacy group, continued on Friday with  a House Courts of Justice subcommittee defeating the Whole Woman’s Health Act. Sponsored by Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax,  HB 1231   stated that, “A pregnant person has a fundamental right to obtain an abortion.”

The subcommittee also killed a bill by Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, to remove what Democrats see as  medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access. HB 450 sought to repeal the statutory requirements that a physician obtain a woman’s written consent and perform a transabdominal ultrasound before an abortion.

On Thursday, a House Commerce and Labor subcommittee voted 5-3 along party lines against advancing Boysko’s HB 1089, which required equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

Voting to kill the bill were Republican Dels. Kathy Byron of Bedford; R. Lee Ware, Chesterfield; Israel O’Quinn, Grayson; Margaret Ransone, Westmoreland; and Michael Webert, Culpeper. Supporting the bills were Democratic Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax; Lamont Bagby, Henrico; and Michael Mullin, James City.

“By voting against equal pay for equal work, the message to Virginia women is loud and clear: Our lawmakers in Richmond do not consider us first-class citizens,” said Patsy Quick, co-president of the American Association of University Women of Virginia.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that in 2016, Virginia women working full time made 80 cents for every dollar made by men—a pay gap of 20 percent. As bad as this is, it is even worse for women of color,” Quick said.

For every dollar earned by a white man, black women make  about 63 cents, Latinas 54 cents and white women 78 cents, according to a news release from Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group.

Progress Virginia and other advocates also criticized lawmakers for killing two bills introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun:

  • SB 709, which sought to eliminate such requirements as a waiting period and an ultrasound before undergoing  abortions.  The Senate Health and Education Committee killed the bill last week at the sponsor’s request — a move sometimes made when a bill has little or no chance at passage.

  • SB 421, which would have required private employers with 50 or more workers to give full-time employees paid medical leave. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee killed the bill Monday on an 11-4 party-line vote.

By Jessica Wetzler/Capital News Service

Unusual Bills to Watch During the General Assembly Session

Hundreds of bills have already been filed ahead of state lawmakers' return to Richmond for the General Assembly session that convenes Wednesday.

Jan. 9, 2018, at 11:41 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Hundreds of bills have already been filed as lawmakers return to Richmond for the General Assembly session convening Wednesday.

This year's biggest agenda item will be passing the biennial state budget, but lawmakers also will discuss all manner of other issues during the 60-day session. Here's a look at some of the more unusual bills already filed:


Republican Del. Michael Webert has filed a bill that would eliminate the crime of profanely swearing or cursing in public, currently punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor.

This will be Webert's third try at getting the legislation passed. In the past two years, his bill has died in committee.


One measure already filed aims to repeal "the crime of fornication, i.e., voluntary sexual intercourse by an unmarried person."

The bill is being sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, a Democrat from Alexandria. Levine told The Virginian-Pilot that the fornication law is "obviously outdated, it's silly, and it's unconstitutional." It's important to clean up the state code and get archaic rules off the books, he said.


A bill from Del. Terry Kilgore, the GOP leader of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, would remove several Sunday-specific limitations on hunting -- among them, a ban on hunting raccoons.

Current law permits the hunting or killing of raccoons on Sunday only until 2 a.m.

The measure also removes the prohibition on hunting deer or bear with a gun, firearm, or other weapon with the assistance of dogs on Sunday, with certain exceptions.


A measure from Republican Del. Richard "Dickie" Bell would crack down on distracted driving by prohibiting motorists from having an animal on their lap while driving.

While current law already prohibits checking emails or texting while operating a moving vehicle, the bill would go further by more broadly banning people from "using their hands to use a handheld personal communications device" while driving.

Democratic Sen. David Marsden has also introduced a bill prohibiting drivers from having animals on their laps.


A measure from Del. Eileen Filler-Corn would officially designate the red salamander as the state salamander of Virginia.

If the bill passes, the salamander would join other animals such as the dog, fish, bat, bird and snake with official state designations.


New Virginia laws for 2018

 Jan 5, 2018

Contraceptive Sales

Health benefit plans that provide coverage for hormonal contraceptives must now cover up to a 12-month supply at one time under a new Virginia law that took effect starting on Jan. 1.

Previously, someone buying birth control pills might only obtain enough in one visit to last for a month or two, since previously existing laws set no standards for how much could be prescribed at once.

The new 2018 law prohibits insurance companies from imposing utilization controls or other means of limiting the supply of contraceptives that can be dispensed by a provider, pharmacy, or other authorized locations in Virginia. However, it does not require providers to prescribe, furnish, or dispense 12 months of self-administered contraceptives at one time.

Introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st), H.B. 2267 passed both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly by significant margins despite some opposition, including from the insurance industry, which argued the change would create waste.

The House of Delegates approved the bill by a 94-1 vote on Feb. 7 of last year, and the State Senate passed it by a 34-6 tally later that month, according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS).

Gov. Terry McAuliffe approved the bill on Mar. 24. It was initially expected to take effect on July 1 but was delayed until the beginning of this year.

When McAuliffe formally signed the bill into law in an Apr. 26 ceremony at the Arlington County Stambaugh Human Services Center Clinic, supporters praised it as necessary measure to protect women’s reproductive health.

By allowing those who use contraceptives to get a year’s supply, the new law could help avoid gaps in birth-control use and ultimately prevent unwanted pregnancies, according to an article on the signing ceremony in The Connection.

A study by the University of California’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health found that a 12-month supply of birth control decreases unplanned pregnancies by 30 percent compared to monthly or quarterly supplies.

“Access to safe, reliable birth control will benefit many throughout the Commonwealth,” Filler-Corn said at the ceremony. “My bill will empower women to better plan their lives, careers and families…This is a major victory for Virginia women.”

According to The Washington Post, Virginia is now one of six states, and the first in the South, to require insurance companies to cover 12 months of birth control at one time, joining Oregon, California, Hawaii, Illinois, and Vermont. Washington, D.C., also enforces that requirement.

But the Birth Control Access Act is not the only new law to take effect in Virginia with the start of the new year:

Home Service Contracts

H.B. 1542 shifts the responsibility for regulating home service contract providers from the State Corporation Commission to the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS).

Passed by the Senate unanimously and the House with the only opposition coming from Del. Sam Sasoul (D-11th), the bill defines home service contracts as agreements to perform a service repair, replacement, or maintenance for components, parts, appliances, or system of a residential home property.

As a result of the change in authority, home service providers are required to register and file a bond with the VDACS commissioner. They must also maintain a funded reserve account for their contracted obligations that is at least 40 percent of the gross received, not including paid claims, on the contract’s sale. The measure excludes providers with a net worth in excess of $100 million.

Coin Collections

H.B. 1668 excludes collectible legal tender coins from the retail sales and use tax if their total transaction sales price exceeds $1,000.

The exemption also includes gold, silver, and platinum bullion, and it will be effective until June 30, 2022. Virginia imposes a 5.3 percent general sales tax rate on the sale, lease, or rental of tangible personal property based on the gross receipts from retail sales. Northern Virginia jurisdictions are subject to an additional 0.7 percent state tax.

For-Hire Vehicles

H.B. 2026 combines current property carrier and bulk property carrier authorities while eliminating the requirement that the Department of Motor Vehicles issue specially designated license plates for property-carrying vehicles operated for hire.

The bill, which passed both state legislature chambers unanimously, also sets minimum rates for liability coverage for property carriers when dealing with vehicles with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or less.

Insurance Carriers

H.B. 2102 requires that insurers located in the Commonwealth submit a Corporate Governance Annual Disclosure (CGAD) to the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC), the regulator authority for insurance.

According to the bill’s text on the Virginia Legislative Information System, a CGAD is a confidential report with information related to an insurer or insurance group’s internal operations that gives the SCC insight into their corporate governance structure, policies, and practices.

SARA Honors Work Against Sexual Violence at Annual Awards Breakfast

November 17, 2017


The Sexual Assault Resource Agency, or SARA, honored two Virginia lawmakers at its annual awards breakfast on Friday, November 17.

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn and state Senator Jennifer McClellan were recognized for their work against sexual violence.

Both sponsored legislation to teach about consent in relationships.

The money raised from the breakfast provides for about a third of SARA's programming and operations costs each year.

“It was monumental because we had students from Charlottesville High School in our Step-Up Club who helped write the legislation and who got sponsors and who followed through with it with all the committees,” says Sheri Owen, the community outreach director of SARA.

The event, held at the Boars Head Inn, was emceed by NBC29's Jennifer Von Reutuer.

Delegate Filler-Corn Named to Gov-Elect Northam's Transition Team

November 15, 2017

On November 15th, Governor-Elect Ralph Northam announced his bipartisan Transition Committee. This group includes leaders in government, business, non-profits and social action groups. Among the legislative leaders he appointed was Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax).

In his press release, the Governor-Elect noted that "This bipartisan group of community leaders reflects the diversity that makes our Commonwealth a wonderful and inclusive place to live." The committee will work with the Governor-Elect over the course of the next two months to lay the groundwork for a successful Northam administration.

"I am extremely honored to be appointed to Governor-Elect Ralph Northam's Transition Committee," said Delegate Filler-Corn "The committee membership reflects the Governor-Elect's commitment to considering a wide range of diverse views on important challenges that he will face in governing the Commonwealth over the next 4 years. Representing all regions of Virginia, the transition committee is charged with the responsibility of helping build the foundation for an effective and innovative administration that will be ready to 'hit the ground running' on Inauguration Day," she added.

Filler-Corn, herself, is a veteran of several gubernatorial transition committees including those of former Governors and current U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as well as current Governor Terry McAuliffe. To view the full list of transition committee members, please visit:

An Open Letter To The Women Of Virginia On The Importance Of Voting For Attorney General

November 1, 2017

We’ve run enough campaigns to know that things can get pretty silly towards the end. The dubious claims and accusations start to fly and voters just wind up frustrated and unsure of what to believe.

But here’s one thing we know is true — Mark Herring is a champion for Virginia women.

Having served side by side with Mark, we know we can always count on him to be a forceful ally for economic justice, reproductive rights and healthcare, and more.

As a State Senator, he introduced legislation to rollback the outlandish regulations that were designed to close women’s health clinics, supported equal pay for equal work, and fought the infamous “transvaginal ultrasound bill” every step of the way.

As our Attorney General, he has been a breath of fresh air after the relentlessly anti-women administration of Ken Cuccinelli.

Mark corrected some of Cuccinelli’s bad legal advice and protected our women’s health clinics.

He helped defeat the Republicans’ 20-week abortion ban with an official opinion that said it would be an unconstitutional attack on women’s rights.

He has elevated women to senior leadership roles, built an inclusive staff, and promoted pay equity in the Office of Attorney General.

And while his Republican opponent John Adams wants to ban abortion, put employers in charge of women’s contraception coverage, and went to the Supreme Court twice to try to limit women’s access to birth control, Mark is leading the fight against President Trump’s rollback of contraception coverage and fought at the Supreme Court for our right to access reproductive healthcare.

So as we get down to the final days of this campaign, don’t be fooled by the lies and half-truths you’re going to hear from the other side.

The fact is, Mark Herring is the right choice for Virginia women.


Delegate Lashrecse Aird (District 63-Petersburg)
Delegate Jennifer Boysko (Herndon)
Delegate Betsy Carr (Richmond City)
Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax)
Delegate Charniele Herring (Alexandria)
Delegate Daun Hester (Norfolk)
Delegate Kathleen Murphy (McLean)
Delegate Marcia Price (Newport News)
Delegate Delores McQuinn (Richmond City)
Delegate Jeoin Ward (Hampton)
Delegate Vivian Watts (Annandale)

Senator Rosalyn Dance (District 16-Petersburg)
Senator Barbara Favola (Arlington)
Senator Janet Howell (Reston)
Senator Mamie Locke (Hampton)
Senator Jennifer McClellan (Richmond City)
Senator Jennifer Wexton (Loudoun)

Statewide Advisory Council on PANS and PANDAS Diseases Convenes; Names Filler-Corn Chair

October 5, 2017

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, the Advisory Council on Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders (PANS) Associated with Streptococcal Infections and Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANDAS) convened for the first time, just outside of Richmond. As one of its first acts of business, it named Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) chair and Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke), vice chair. In addition to elected officials, the council includes doctors, researchers, nurses, parents and advocates. Members come from across the Commonwealth and will convene on periodically throughout the next four years.

"I was honored to be elected as chair of the council by the members and am appreciative of the trust they have put in me," said Filler-Corn, commenting on her election as chair of the committee. "It is my hope that by working together across party lines, across disciplines, and across the Commonwealth, we can promote awareness and research of these insidious diseases," she added. The Advisory Council was established by Filler-Corn's 2017 legislation in the General Assembly, which passed near unanimously out of the House of Delegates and the State Senate.

PANDAS occurs when children, after an infection such as strep throat, almost immediately develop tics, severe anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder as well as many other behavioral symptoms. PANS is a broader term, referring to the same onset of symptoms whether or not a strep infection triggered it.

After establishing council bylaws and electing a chair and vice chair, the council then heard two presentations by fellow board members. First, Dr. Susan Swedo presented the scientific aspects of PANS and PANDAS. Dr. Swedo is the Chief of the Pediatrics & Developmental Neuroscience Branch at the National Insititute of Mental Health (part of the National Institutes of Health. She and her team first identified PANDAS and PANDAS. More recently, Dr. Swedo, along with Dr. Jennifer Frankovich of Stanford University and Dr. Tanya Murphy of the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg developed the guidelines for treating PANS and PANDAS. Following her presentation. Jan Kirby, a registered nurse and patient advocate at VCU Children's Hospital gave the advocacy perspective.

Following the presentations, the council agreed upon a work plan and future meeting dates. The council is expected to meet again this November, and periodically through 2018. The council will also present an interim report to the Governor and General Assembly on December 1st, 2017.


Festival Highlights Burke Centre 40th Anniversary

September 13, 2017

 — With the hurricanes in the south wreaking havoc, the Burke Centre Festival 

went on without a hitch on Sept. 9-10. Under sunny, blue skies, the festival had all the ingredients that’s made it such a community celebration through the years, like a climbing tower, giant slide, burgers on the grill and a 1965 Ford Mustang up for raffle by the Rotary Club.

This year was the 40th anniversary of the festival, and Jeannie Winslow at the Burke Conservancy was manning the operations tent, a duty she’s taken on through the years. “We’ve added more in artists, and crafters, we needed to make adjustments,” she said.

Lots of students were on hand to put in community hours for their school requirements. Leslie Vilca, a senior at Robinson Secondary School, and Sky Waters, a Robinson eighth grader, had the official title of “water runners.” Vilca goes to school, works at Petland and a daycare center as well.

“I’ve seen a bunch of people from school,” she said.

The festival opened with remarks from Patrick Gloyd, of the Burke Conservancy, the color guard from the Burke VFW Post 5412, and the flag raising from the Boy Scouts of Troop 1345. Elected officials in attendance were U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11), Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), Chairman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock District) . The Legacy Band opened up the ceremony with Pamela Wilson singing the National Anthem.

Other bands playing through the weekend included the Delaney Hall Band, the QOK Band and the Stormin’ Norman Band.

Norman Voss of Stormin’ Norman said “the crowd went crazy for us.”

After two days of 70-degree weather under blue skies, Winslow was relieved everything went so well. “Many times during the weekend people expressed this was one of our best festivals in many years, and how suiting that was for Burke Centre's 40th Anniversary,” Winslow wrote in an email.

“Many times during the weekend people expressed this was one of our best festivals in many years, and how suiting that was for Burke Centre's 40th Anniversary.”— Jeannie Winslow

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: American Values

August 30, 2017

The following open letter was addressed to Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie.

On Aug. 11 and 12, we saw violence and hate we hoped we would never again witness on American soil. In Charlottesville, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists took to the streets, marched with torches, gave Nazi salutes, shouted that Jews “will not replace them,” chanted the Fascist slogan “Blood and Soil,” proclaimed white supremacy, and murdered a woman who was brave enough to stand up to them. Then, instead of clearly rejecting this evil, the President of the United States twice defended those marching with the very Neo-Nazis who unleashed this deadly violence on one of Virginia’s greatest cities.

After President Trump’s press conferences, we were left shocked and then deeply saddened. Let’s be clear. “Very fine people” don’t march with people who are holding Nazi flags and chanting anti-Semitic slogans. We were heartened to see, in the wake of Donald Trump’s horrifying comments, that leaders in both parties came together to reject hate and renew our nation’s founding principles of equality and inclusiveness. But instead of joining these leaders — including many prominent Republicans — we understand you have refused to speak out against the President’s reaction to Charlottesville.

As Jewish members of the Virginia General Assembly, we write you because, as Virginians and Jews, we find your failure to denounce the President’s reaction to Nazism deeply disturbing. The events in Charlottesville recall the darkest moments in both the history of this country and the Jewish people. What we saw on Friday and Saturday was an assault on our democratic society and the very values this country was founded upon. Yet the President of the United States, the leader of our country, has not once but twice defended those who would march with the Neo-Nazis and their ilk.

Our country at its best has been a beacon of hope and safety for all peoples. Hundreds of thousands gave their lives so that the forces that destroyed Europe would never set foot on American soil. President Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville represented a betrayal of that noble legacy and our core American values.

Donald Trump is the leader of your party. Your refusal to speak out against him is a colossal failure of leadership, a moral abdication, and deeply troubling to Virginia’s Jewish community. We urge you to break your silence and immediately denounce Donald Trump’s hateful and inadequate response to the Charlottesville attack.

We are living through a moral reckoning, a time when all citizens of our great commonwealth and nation are called to defend the most fundamental values of our democracy. We ask you to immediately stand up, loudly and clearly, against those who would condone violence and hatred.

As Americans, Jews, and Virginians, we urge you to join us and immediately condemn the President’s dog-whistle defense of Nazism.

Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, Sen. Adam Ebbin, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, Del. Marcus Simon, and Del. Mark Levine

National Night Out in Burke

August 3, 2017

Burke — About 100 people attended a pizza and movie night during National Night Out at the Cardinal Estates community in Burke on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. After visits with police from the West Springfield Station and firefighters from the Burke Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department (Station 14), the crowd enjoyed pizza, chips, and sodas, then watched the movie "Toy Story." Also on hand was Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41).

National Night Out is an annual neighborhood based crime and drug prevention event that shows neighborhood spirit and strengthens partnerships with local police and fire departments.

"Here in Cardinal Estates we put on National Night Out to welcome all of our local police officers and fire and rescue to promote safety here in the neighborhood and get people active in the community. If you see something, say something," said organizer Amanda Fox, Captain of the Neighborhood Watch and Vice President of the Cardinal Estates Home Association.

New Virginia law addresses bullying in schools

August 1, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Just in time for the new school year, Virginia lawmakers are trying to cut down on bullying in classrooms.

A new law, which went into effect July 1, sets a time frame of when schools must report any bullying to parents.

Dawn Driskill knows what it’s like. She said her daughter was bullied while attending Matoaca Middle School in Chesterfield County. She said the bully chopped off a chunk of her daughter’s hair.

“She was really nervous about going back to school,” said Driskill. “It’s very frustrating.”

Driskill said the school notified her when her daughter’s hair got slashed, but she later learned the problems began before that.

“My daughter informed me that she had been telling her teacher she was having problems with the student for the past month,” said Driskill.

HB 1709 was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax).

It requires school principals to notify the parent of any student involved in an alleged incident of bullying of the status of any investigation within five school days of the allegation.

In a statement, Filler-Corn said the law was a product of a shared belief that every student in Virginia has the right to not only learn but thrive in school.

“I am grateful that Virginia is taking the lead to fight back against bullying in our schools. Together, we can make our schools a safer and more inclusive space for students across the Commonwealth,” she said.

Driskill supports the legislation. She said she hopes to see even more targeting bullying.

“I don’t think it’s enough. I think it’s a good step though,” she said. “You have to have administration and the schools on board, and then you also have to have the students that are willing to speak up and say that they are being bullied.”

Tiffany Goodman is a counselor for Challenge Discovery Projects. She also facilitates an anti-bullying program called Say It With Heart.

“A child is not going to be excited to go home to say, ‘Mom I was bullied today in school.’ There’s a lot of shame around it,” she said.

She believes the new law will hold people accountable and get the conversation going between the schools, the families and the students.

“I think it brings a lot of transparency to things that might not be totally transparent at this point,” she said.

Goodman said the effects of bullying can range from increased anxiety or depression to truancy or higher rates of dropout.

When the governor signed the legislation he also signed one from the Senate.

SB 1117 requires school counselors to have mental health training.

Many new Virginia laws took effect July 1

July 7, 2017

The Virginia General Assembly approved 836 bills before adjourning its 2017 session on Feb. 25, and many of the bills that were signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe officially took effect last week on July 1. Virginia’s Constitution designates July 1 as the effective date for new laws. That day also marks the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year.

This year’s new laws cover a wide range of subjects, from electronic ticket resales and college tuition hikes to birth control access and firearms for school security officers.

One of the new laws adopted this year was HB 2386. This bill was sponsored by Richmond Delegate Manoli Loupassi with some amendments by Governor McAuliffe.

Under this new law, a Virginia resident who has had their license suspended for unpaid court fines can now get their license back by paying the fine or setting up a payment agreement (like an installment payment when you buy a car). The new law sets up uniform rules for pay plans. It provides a realistic pathway for Virginia citizens both to meet their financial responsibilities and re-establish their driving rights.

Here are some of the before and after effects of this new law:

• Before the new law, you could not get on a payment plan if you had defaulted on a previous pay plan. Now you can get another plan if your circumstances have changed.

• Before, a large down payment--such as 50 percent--could be required. Now the maximum down payment is 5 percent for larger fines. So for a fine of $2,500, the down payment would be $125, not $1,250.

• Before, missing an installment payment date meant immediate default. Now you have a 10-day grace period.

• And now, in setting the terms, like the amount of monthly payments, courts must consider the individual’s financial resources, and not base it solely on the amount of the fine.

Here are some other laws that took effect July 1:

• Virginians are guaranteed the right to resell electronic tickets

H.B. 1825 prohibits any person or organization that issues tickets for public admission to a professional musical, sporting, or theatrical event from selling those tickets solely “through a delivery method that substantially prevents the purchaser from lawfully reselling the ticket on the internet ticketing platform of the purchaser’s choice.”

The legislation, which was introduced by Del. David B. Albo (R-47th) and signed by the governor on Mar. 3, also prohibits individuals from being discriminated against or denied admission to an event because they resold a ticket or purchased a resold ticket on a specific online platform.

Because it is a state law, it applies only to transactions in Virginia. Violators face a civil penalty between $1,000 and $5,000.

This new law comes in response to the online ticket-selling platform Ticketmaster, which has blocked ticket holders from reselling tickets in the past, according to The Washington Post.

• Health plans must cover up to one year’s supply of contraceptives

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-41st) H.B. 2267 dictates that, starting on Jan. 1, 2018, all health plans with coverage for hormonal contraceptives must cover up to a 12-month supply when dispensed “at one time for a covered person or at a location…authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

Before this new law, women were only allowed to get one or three months’ worth of contraceptives at a time. Women are more likely to use birth control continually and consistently when they have a full year’s supply, decreasing the possibility of unintended pregnancy and abortions, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

The law explicitly states that it also extends to coverage for hormonal contraceptives that are prescribed for reasons other than contraceptive purposes, such as decreasing the risk of ovarian cancer or other health issues.

• Colleges must notify public of planned tuition increases

S.B. 1376, which was introduced by State Senator Chapman Petersen (D-34th), prohibits public higher education institutions from approving an increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees without first notifying students and the public.

Public colleges and universities must announce a projected range of the planned increase, explain the need for the increase, and give notification of the date and location of any vote on the increase at least 30 days prior to that vote.

• School security officers can carry firearms

H.B. 1392, introduced by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-31st), authorizes school security officers to carry firearms in the performance of their duties.

However, there are a number of conditions that an officer must meet in order to be authorized.

An officer may be authorized to carry a firearm if they were an active law enforcement officer in Virginia within 10 years immediately prior to being hired by the local school board and if they retired from their law enforcement position in good standing.

The officer must meet the training and qualifications to carry a concealed handgun as a retired law enforcement officer, as well as any additional training and certification requirements by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

The local school board has the final authority to grant school security officers the ability to carry a firearm. The board must first solicit input regarding the officer’s qualifications from the chief law enforcement of the locality where they served and ensure that the officer is not banned by state or federal law from possessing, buying, or transporting a firearm.

The law requires the DCJS to establish additional firearms training and certification requirements for school security officers who carry a firearm.

• Sexual assault evidence recovery kits will be retained for a longer period of time

H.B. 2127, introduced by Del. Mark Levine (D-45th), requires that recovery kits used to collect physical evidence of sexual assaults be stored for an additional 10 years following a written objection to its destruction from the victim.

Prior to this new law, physical evidence recovery kits (PERK) could be destroyed after testing without the victim being informed.

In addition to requiring that investigating law enforcement agencies advise victims of sexual assault about their rights to PERK kits, the bill requires the law enforcement agency to notify a victim at least 60 days before the date when the kit is scheduled for destruction. It also ensures that no victim will be charged for the cost of collecting or storing a kit.

“Basically, these kits are stored as long as the victim is even considering prosecution,” Levine said when explaining his bill during a July 1 press conference at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

• Schools have a timeline for notifying parents about bullying incidents

H.B. 1709, introduced by Filler-Corn, requires that school principals notify the parent of any student involved in an alleged incident of bullying about the status of any investigation within five school days of the allegation.

• Virginia will research and highlight African American history

Delores L. McQuinn’s (D-70th) H.B. 2296 directs the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to identify the history of formerly enslaved African Americans in Virginia and to find ways to preserve the history for educational and cultural purposes.

This task includes the identification, preservation, and conservation of historic sites significant to the history, presence, and contributions of formerly enslaved African American people in Virginia.

The foundation will identify contributions by African American people to Virginia, the U.S., and the world, as well as historical sites significant to African American history in Virginia. It is also directed to recommend ways to increase tourism and revenue associated with such historical sites.

The bill creates a task force of both legislative and non-legislative members to help the foundation in its work. The full list of newly effective laws is available online at Virginia's Legislative Information System under the 2017 session list of bills approved by the governor or enacted.

• Commercial drivers could face mandatory jail time for DUIs

Persons convicted of driving a commercial motor vehicle in Virginia while intoxicated will face increasing mandatory minimum jail sentences and fines.

As part of Virginia’s newest driving under the influence (DUI) law[i] which becomes effective this week, convicted impaired commercial operators in or through Virginia will now face mandatory minimum fines up to $ 500 plus mandatory minimum jail sentences up to one-year. Specifically, persons convicted of driving a commercial motor vehicle in Virginia while intoxicated will face the following spectrum of mandatory minimum penalties:

FIRST OFFENSE: $250 fine plus, if offender’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .15 or higher = five days incarceration; .20 or higher BAC = ten days incarceration. (Currently no mandatory minimums and no high-BAC sanctions.)

 SECOND OFFENSE:  w/in five years: $500 fine plus one-month to one year incarceration (20 days of which are mandatory minimum). W/in 5-10 years: $ 500 plus one-month incarceration (ten days of which are mandatory minimum). W/in ten years: $ 500 fine plus, if offender’s BAC was .15 or higher = additional ten days incarceration; .20 or higher BAC = additional 20 days incarceration. (Currently $ 200 mandatory minimum and $ 2,500 maximum. No high-BAC sanctions.)

THIRD OFFENSE: w/in ten years: Class 6 felony. (Currently no felony level threshold.)

Democratic lawmakers ask McAuliffe to commute sentence of convicted killer

July 3, 2017

RICHMOND — Several Democratic members of the Virginia General Assembly have joined thousands of petitioners in asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to block the execution of convicted murderer William C. Morva, scheduled for Thursday.

Morva, 35, faces the death penalty for shooting to death a guard and a sheriff’s deputy while escaping from jail in 2006. Supporters say the jury that sentenced him was not made aware of the severity of his mental illness.

“The system failed Mr. Morva,” Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria) wrote on Monday. “I do not believe he should die because of a lack of due process.”

Levine was adding his name to a group of legislators who wrote McAuliffe on Friday seeking clemency for Morva. The seven delegates and five state senators, all Democrats, said the case intersects with a rising effort by the General Assembly to take steps to “address the overlapping areas of public safety, criminal justice and mental health.”

That letter asks McAuliffe to commute Morva’s death sentence to a term of life without parole. It was signed by Dels. Jennifer B. Boysko (Fairfax), Patrick A. Hope (Arlington), Sam Rasoul (Roanoke), Marcus B. Simon (Fairfax), Charniele Herring (Alexandria), Alfonso Lopez (Arlington) and Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax), as well as Sens. Adam P. Ebbin (Alexandria), Barbara A. Favola (Arlington), Lionell Spruill Sr. (Northern Chesapeake), Mamie E. Locke (Hampton) and Scott Surovell (Eastern Fairfax).

Morva’s lawyer argues that he was suffering from severe delusional disorder while being held in jail in the Blacksburg area awaiting trial for several botched robberies and burglaries. Believing that he was going to die, Morva tried to escape and killed the deputy and guard.

During sentencing, supporters say, jurors were told incorrectly that Morva was not delusional. His pending execution, set for 9 p.m. Thursday, highlights a growing national movement to eliminate capital punishment for people with severe mental illness.

Morva ran out of appeals when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up his case in February, leaving the governor as his last hope. McAuliffe has said he is studying the case, and a spokesman said Monday that the governor would make a statement when the review is complete.

Virginia to Expand Sexual Consent Curriculum

July 6, 2017

Virginia’s Education Department is revising Family Life Education curriculum. The new material was spurred by a group of students from Charlottesville and expands lessons on the meaning of sexual consent. 88.9 WCVE’s Saraya Wintersmith has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Find information about the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, and more on Family Life Education in Virginia.


Since it was created in the late 1980s, Virginia’s Family Life Education has included areas like human sexuality, abstinence and the value of marriage. The curriculum also covers STD prevention and steps to avoid sexual assault.

Senator Jennifer McClellan: I think it’s very important that the minute you start talking about sex, you also talk about consent.

State Senator Jennifer McClellan sponsored one of two partner bills set to trigger a curriculum revision.

While current guidelines mention sexual consent twice as a topic for sophomores, McClellan and other supporters say it wasn't enough. Under her bill, SB 1475, the legal definition of consent can now be part of lessons on dating, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

McClellan: Mine focuses just on the fact that sex without consent is a crime, it is sexual assault. And I think we’ll focus on the fact that – for children – we’ve made the policy decision that 18 is the age of consent and sex younger than that does not have consent by law and is a crime – and I think it is very important for young people to learn that.

The bill also expands the topics of family and sexual relationships and changes the wording when it comes to “avoiding” sexual assault, putting an emphasis instead on prevention and deterrence.

McClellan: By focusing on avoiding sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence, it inadvertently blamed the survivor and unfortunately we do have kids in school who are survivors of these terrible crimes and so we really want to focus more deterring sexual assault and domestic violence and dating violence so we changed that word in the code and in the curriculum. And then, finally, FLE only focuses on the importance of marriage in a family, but we wanted to expand this to include other family relationships, because a family is more than just a husband and a wife.

The other bill is sponsored by Fairfax County Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn.

It provides that high school students can learn age-appropriate, evidence-based lessons about sexual consent beyond its legal definition.

The Governor signed both bills in March, now the State Board of Education must work out exactly what the new guidelines will be.

Laurie Jean Seaman: The reality is that consent actually is going to prevent non-consensual sex from happening.

Laurie Jean Seaman is Lead Prevention Educator for the non-profit Sexual Assault Resource Agency.

She says that while some parents may express concerns as Family Life Education is updated, further incorporating the concept of consent won’t necessarily encourage sexual activity or more talk of sex.

Seaman: We’re not trying to go in and say “everybody start having sex now!” We’re saying “when you begin” – which at some point – 99.9% of people will have sex at some point, this is our chance when we can actually reach them to teach them what a healthy, sexual life looks like whether it’s when you start at 30, or 50, or tomorrow – and we do know that there are kids who are starting tomorrow, Right? - That we want them to have healthy, appropriate, safe sexual lives when that happens. The other thing is, we don’t necessarily even talk about sex when we’re talking about consent. Remember this is about respecting other people’s bodies. We aren’t increasing the amount that the health teachers are going to talk about sex, they’re already talking about it. We’re not increasing the amount, we’re changing how they talk about it so that it’s not shaming, so that it’s not victim-blaming, but so that the community can respond and prevent sexual assault before it happens.

And prevention is one of the big things the bills’ youngest advocates are hoping will come from increasing classroom dialogue and awareness around consent.

Stella Sokolowski is with the Charlottesville High School organization Step Up – a peer activism group that teaches students about preventing sexual violence.

At the ceremonial bill-signing, she beamed with pride while describing their role in the legislation. She says they started by examining the current Family Life curriculum.

Sokolowski: and it really did not teach us anything about what it means to be aware of sexual assault and be aware of what it means to have healthy sexual relationships.

She says even though Family Life Education in Virginia stresses abstinence, consent is still an important concept.

Sokolowski: Even if a person wants to abstain, they have to understand what assault is, they have to understand how to gather around and prevent assault and prevent violence in their community and they have to understand, y’know, the absence of consent within a marriage is just as illegal as anything else.

Sokolowski says she and her fellow Step Up members define consent as a clear, free and happy “yes.” They say that while that might look different for each person and relationship – emphasizing the need to understand consent is crucial to fostering healthy relationships.

How a Group of High School Students Changed Sexual Education in Virginia

June 9, 2017

Two years ago a group of high school students in Charlottesville thought something was lacking in their family life education, so they set out to make a difference and change Virginia law. As Mallory Noe-Payne reports, this week, they were successful. 

Mollie Pepper and Ellen Yates, both recent high school graduates, were in Richmond Friday to watch the Governor sign a bill guaranteeing Virginia students will learn about consent in relationships. 

It was the end of a process that began when Pepper, as a junior, spent a school holiday combing through Virginia’s legal code. 

“Over winter break we read through the majority of the Standards of Learning for Family Life Education in Virginia and the laws kind of reflected what we had been seeing in our classes,” says Pepper. 

What they had been seeing in their classes was a lack of guidance on how to express what you’re comfortable with, and what you’re not comfortable with, in situations like the one Ellen Yates recalls. 

“I remember -- this was especially a problem during freshman and sophomore year -- catcalling during lunch,” Yates says. “Girls would get up to throw away trash from their lunch and there would be tables of guys who would catcall them.” 

Now, beginning next school year, students will have more opportunities to learn and discuss the ideas of permission and consent as they relate to all kinds of relationships. High school curriculum will also teach the legal definition of consent, and that in Virginia you can’t give consent for a sexual relationship until you’re over eighteen. 

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn and state Senator Jennifer McClellan helped pass the measure.

“The concept of consent can begin as early as when you have a child who says ‘I don’t want to hug Grandma,’ and you need to respect that,” McClellan says. “Because if you say ‘No you have to hug Grandma anyway’ you are inadvertently teaching that child that what (they) want doesn’t matter. And that’s really the first step to creating a culture of ‘I can do what I want.’”

Advocates hope more education can change that culture. And, pointing to the young women who cared enough to rewrite the law, they say maybe that shift has already begun. 

Virginia Governor Signs Anti-Bullying, Suicide Prevention Legislation

June 7, 2017

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed two bills into law designed to curtail student suicides and increase prevention efforts.

Senate Bill 1117, introduced by Virginia state Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William County), requires school counselors to receive training in bullying and suicide prevention in order to renew their state licenses.

“We lost our younger brother 18 years ago. He was a junior in high school,” McPike said. “So this is something that is very near and dear to our hearts.”

House Bill 1709, introduced by Virginia House Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County), directs schools to notify parents within five days if their child is involved in a bullying incident.

During the signing, Filler-Corn introduced 17-year-old Brandon Farbstein, whose personal experiences with bullying encouraged her to champion the legislation. Farbstein has a rare form of dwarfism and says the bullying began for him when he entered high school in the Richmond area. He became a motivational speaker who has appeared in TED Talks to advocate for people with disabilities, but that seemed to fuel cruel social media posts.

"One was, 'If this midget doesn't kill himself, I'm going to kill him,'" he said.

As his profile grew, his situation worsened.

"Until the point where I was in school, I couldn't go to the restroom because I felt I was in so much physical danger," he said.

School administrators knew of the bullying but found it hard to investigate, to identify the culprits, his parents said.

Farbstein eventually turned to online classes, but he and his family also took their concerns to Filler-Corn.

“With the signing of this bill, HB 1709, it is my hope that fewer Virginians will have to go through what Brandon did,” Filler-Corn said. “Every student has a right not only to learn, but to thrive in their school environment.”

The bills were signed at Forest Park High School in Prince William County in recognition of students there who organize a suicide awareness march every year to bring attention to the issue.

“Our goal is to make sure that when a student comes to our schools they’re safe,” McAuliffe said. “They’re protecting psychological, emotional and physical aspects of a student. We want students to come to school to focus on education and not be worrying about people bullying.”


New Virginia laws aim to combat student suicide

June 5, 2017

WASHINGTON — Virginia’s governor will not be in Richmond when he signs into law two bills aimed at cutting down on student suicides. Instead, he’ll be at a Northern Virginia high school.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is scheduled to be at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge on Tuesday afternoon, June 6, to sign the legislation.

State Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th, from Prince William County, said the governor will sign “a piece of bullying legislation as well as training for school counselors on bullying and suicide prevention.”

One bill, House Bill 1709, introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, would require that parents be contacted if their child is involved in bullying.

The other bill, Senate Bill 1117 by McPike, would require school counselors to get training in bullying and suicide prevention when they are renewing their licenses from the state. 

McPike said that Battlefield High School senior Payton Freeze took her life in February 2016. He said that the 17-year-old’s father testified to Virginia lawmakers on how a concussion and bullying had contributed to her death.

McPike said these bills are being signed at Forest Park High School by the governor to recognize the students there who, for three years, have organized a suicide awareness walk to shine a light on a dark subject.

“These kids have been so active, this is now the third year running, and they deserve recognition [for the] hard work of trying to raise awareness, which is why we selected Forest Park High School,” he said.

McPike lost his own brother to suicide.

His brother was in high school at the time in Prince William County.

The new laws take effect July 1.


'I haven't seen my son since August:' Parents advocate for awareness, education on debilitating pediatric condition PANDAS

May 25, 2017

The diagnosis alone cost $1,200.

Jill and Bryan Lemon were sure it was PANDAS, and they also knew that, despite several interactions that their daughter, Tanner, had with medical providers over the previous 18 months, nobody had mentioned that word to them.

But they saw, for over a year, the anxiety attacks that consumed Tanner, her sudden fear of death, tornadoes and crossing bodies of water, her insistence on following her parents around every room in the house, her cough-like tic, her sudden episodes that Jill Lemon can only describe as “rage attacks.”

“It was scary to watch her like that, but it was scary to watch me react to it,” Lemon said. “I just didn’t like the parent that I was becoming, or how it was affecting my other children.”

The one time Jill Lemon brought it up, the provider nodded, wrote the term down, and never acknowledged it again.

So the Midlothian family did not waste time going to a pediatrician with their concerns, once Tanner’s symptoms became so severe that Lemon knew it was bigger than her family, she said. They went straight to a specialist in Washington, D.C., who confirmed her suspicions.

In the 18 months after that $1,200 visit in January 2016, the Lemons spent more than $2,000 in additional costs — on co-pays, follow-up appointments with the specialist, lab work and other medical procedures.

The cost has left behind a lingering question for the Lemons as they grapple with the condition and wonder what Tanner’s future will look like: What do poor families do?

PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. The term refers to children who, following an infection such as strep throat, abruptly develop obsessive compulsive disorder, tics, severe anxiety and a variety of other behavioral issues.

A broader term, PANS, refers to the same sudden onset of OCD whether or not it was triggered by a strep throat infection.

PANS is relatively young in terms of research and understanding. It only came to the attention of researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, in the 1990s, and is still far from a widely-known term among parents and even pediatricians.

Treatments can range from antibiotics to steroids to a regimen of over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. But for the most severe cases, it can require outrageously expensive procedures that insurers rarely cover.

It’s hard for researchers to know how many kids might have PANS. In 2010 Dr. Susan Swedo — one of the NIMH researchers who coined the term PANDAS in the 1990s — estimated that as many as 25 percent of children with OCD and tic disorders — nearly 160,000 children based on recent estimates — might actually have PANS. But some doubt the condition exists at all.

“The main controversy is — is it a condition caused by (an immune response to an) infection, or do such patients just have psychiatric disorders?” said Dr. Wei Zhao, an immunologist for VCU Health System who treats patients with PANS. “The key here is sudden onset. So many parents can remember that, ‘My child was completely normal until such a day, and we don’t know what happened, and then he became a different person.’”

Despite that controversy, though, more providers and parents are getting behind the NIMH research, possibly because treating the inflammation that is causing the sudden onset of behavioral issues actually works to stop the patient’s symptoms, which is not the case in classic OCD or anxiety cases.

As awareness gathers, so too might research, parents and advocacy organizations hope. During its most recent session, Virginia’s General Assembly approved a 15-member advisory council to advise the state’s health commissioner on PANS. The state is in the process of appointing members to the council.

“I feel that creating the advisory council will bring the awareness that’s needed for this debilitating disease,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the legislation. “With greater knowledge, people will be able to recognize it and diagnose it. It could mean less heartache for the parents, and kids will be diagnosed — and diagnosed properly.”

For most children, the condition does not go away — though Zhao said he has seen PANS flare-ups grow less severe over time in some patients. But to end a flare and to ease the anxiety and OCD, typically medical providers must determine what the underlying condition is — such as a bacteria or infection — that is causing the behavioral issues.

Jessica Gavin, founder and president of the Richmond-based PANS Research & Advocacy Initiative — which advocates for broader understanding and treatment of PANS — describes a flare of PANS as losing her children. Sometimes, a flare can last months — in the most extreme cases, years — before it is successfully treated.

When her son is having a flare, Gavin said it doesn’t just feel like her son is in a bad mood — it feels like someone else is occupying his space. Dexter, who is usually a fun-loving, kind boy who likes playing with his friends and sisters, won’t want to play with others, antagonizes his siblings, and cannot play even simple games like tic-tac-toe because, as part of his OCD, he has to win.

Gavin said it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a full personality switch. Most recently, Dexter had a flare from August to around May.

“I told (the pediatrician), ‘I haven’t seen my son since August,’” Gavin said during a recent interview.


After Tanner was diagnosed at 8 years old, she was put on a round of antibiotics for about six months.

“We saw significant improvement,” Lemon said. “It’s actually hard to articulate just the difference that it made.”

Now Tanner is a bright, precocious 10-year-old with long brown hair and rectangular glasses, who is constantly trailed by her 5-year-old sister and loves riding her bright blue scooter.

Her parents have evidence of the dramatic shift in Tanner’s personality and behavior before and after she started antibiotics. Before the diagnosis, she suddenly started struggling in school and her handwriting grew sloppy. But after her improvement, her handwriting became neater and more organized.

School photos illustrate the difference, too. Before the diagnosis, a typical photo of Tanner showed an unhappy little girl with dark eyes, unsmiling, with her head tilted down. After her treatments, the photo shows her head up and a broad smile on her face.

“But it’s not foolproof,” Jill said. “We know that, literally every morning, it could come back. ... We constantly wonder: Are we free of this? Is she free of this? And the answer is no.”

PANS flares can occur unexpectedly, and the triggers could change with the environment. One of the reasons it may have taken so long for her parents to recognize PANDAS in Tanner was because, soon after the illness that triggered the condition, she left school for summer vacation and she improved because she wasn’t exposed to the same bacteria as usual.

The symptoms associated with PANS are caused by an underlying infection, bacteria or other pathogen that trigger an autoimmune inflammation. The antibodies created by the immune system then mistakenly attack the brain, causing the OCD, anxiety and tics associated with the condition.

Dr. Christine Seliskar with Midlothian-based Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners — one of a handful of pediatricians in the Richmond area that treats PANS, though the number is growing — said some of her patients require intravenous immunoglobulin (known as IVIG) , a treatment administered through an IV that basically reins in the immune system by adding antibodies , or plasmapheresis, which, like dialysis, removes antibodies from the blood by cycling it through a machine.

The trouble is, both those treatments are prohibitively expensive. They can both cost as much as $10,000, and frequently parents must pay for it out of pocket.

Last year , Gavin and her family paid $13,000 out of pocket to treat 5-year-old Dexter, who has PANS, along with Gavin’s 3-year-old daughter.

“It’s not like we had $13,000 — that came out of our retirement account,” Gavin said. “We are fortunate enough to have 401ks to pull from. Not everybody can.”

Gavin’s son had the IVIG treatment , but eventually his pediatrician discovered the strep was in his gut, so the $10,000 treatment did not ultimately help.

“Families are in complete and total chaos with this, and trying to figure out how to pay these things on top of it, it’s just another burden for families,” she said. “It’s a huge barrier for care.”


Tanner experienced a flare of her symptoms in mid-May. Her OCD spiked. When picking strawberries with her family, she became obsessed with the placement of her strawberries in her basket.

When she accidentally shattered a bowl, her mom came downstairs at 6 a.m. to find Tanner meticulously fitting together every piece of the bowl, as though it were a puzzle.

Tanner can easily, almost nonchalantly, talk about her symptoms before her treatment with her parents, explaining that she would follow them around their home because she was afraid they would leave, and describing her panic attacks.

“They were pretty much scary and confusing,” Tanner said. “They would last maybe two days to one day. Sometimes even a week, maybe. One time, I was having an anxiety attack during a tornado warning. And I also was scared about tornado drills at school, that would freak me out.”

The Lemons are now part of the PRAI group that Gavin runs, which is growing in numbers. It works with about 200 families from all over Virginia.

“Just last week, we had nine PANS moms come into the group,” Gavin said during an interview this month. “Nine children lost their minds to insanity last week.”

PRAI’s effort is to raise awareness of the disorder and encourage states to take action, as well. Gavin brought the issue to Filler-Corn’s attention and helped advocate for the legislation that created the advisory council, and PRAI is in the process of launching chapters in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Right now PRAI is also working to spread awareness among pediatricians so they can understand and treat PANS, as well as mental health providers, who may misdiagnose a child — with autism or bipolar disorder, in some cases.

Gavin’s son was misdiagnosed with autism, but she noticed that it waxed and waned: One week he would look and act normal, and the next he would exhibit autistic symptoms. She said she changed pediatricians monthly to try and discover what was happening.

“I was told autism doesn’t wax and wane, and it was probably in my head,” she said.

With fewer pediatricians knowledgeable about PANS, more parents end up going to practices like Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners, where Seliskar and her colleagues are overloaded with patients.

Stories like Gavin’s are typical — parents often discover the condition before their pediatricians do, and sometimes have to fight to be believed.

But they do keep fighting, in some cases for years.

“It’s funny, they say you don’t understand love until you become a parent, and it’s absolutely true,” Seliskar said. “I think a lot of parents, they’ll do anything for their child. And it drives them to really keep seeking until they get some help.”

Filler-Corn Receives Excellence in Education & Workforce Development Award

May 18, 2017

Burke — On May 11, The Virginia Chamber of Commerce awarded Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), the Excellence in Education & Workforce Development Award for her efforts to improve workforce development. Filler-Corn was one of three Democratic members of the House of Delegates to be honored by the largest pro-business advocacy organization, Thursday night in Richmond at the Chamber’s 93rd Annual Dinner and 2017 Legislative Awards Reception.

“Del. Eileen Filler-Corn sponsored bipartisan legislation that will help address Virginia’s most critical workforce-readiness needs,” said Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. “We are pleased to recognize her with the Excellence in Education and Workforce Development Award for her leadership in improving career and technical education in Virginia high schools.”

Filler-Corn has both introduced or co-patroned key bipartisan legislation focused on improving workforce development for many years and this year was no different. She introduced bipartisan legislation this session (backed by the Chamber of Commerce) that would have changed the way the Commonwealth looks at accreditation by including industry career technical education credits. She also introduced a resolution that would have studied experiential learning and workforce development opportunities for high school students in high-demand fields.

“I am grateful to Virginia Chamber of Commerce for honoring me with the Excellence in Education and Workforce Development Award,” said Filler-Corn. “Education and workforce development are always key priorities for me. I was proud to introduce legislation this year that focuses on workforce development, specifically preparing our high school students for the workforce. This is an area I care deeply about as I also serve as Chair of Jobs for Virginia Graduates, a statewide program which helps Virginia’s at-risk students graduate high school and transition from school to work,” she added.

Filler-Corn hopes to continue to work on legislation that fully prepares Virginia students for the workforce in the coming 2018 session.

At N.Va. venue, governor signs bipartisan birth-control measure

April 28, 2017

Gov. McAuliffe used an April 26 appearance in Arlington to sign legislation allowing women enrolled in health-care plans to purchase up to a year’s supply of birth-control pills at a time.

The measure, patroned by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield), won bipartisan support on votes of 94-1 in the House of Delegates and 34-6 in the state Senate.

The measure supersedes current law, which does not permit the dispensing of birth-control measures for such a long period of time.

“Access to safe, reliable birth control will benefit many throughout the commonwealth,” Filler-Corn said. “This is a major victory for Virginia women.”

McAuliffe signed the legislation at the Warren G. Stambaugh Human Services Center, which houses the Arlington Department of Human Services. The late Stambaugh represented Arlington in the General Assembly, where he focused on health and human-services issues.

Virginia Governor Signs Law Expanding Coverage Of Birth Control

April 27, 2017

Women in Virginia will soon be able to get a full year’s supply of birth control pills covered by their insurance. Under current insurance policies, Virginians can only receive three months’ worth of pills at a time. The new law requires insurers to cover a 12 months’ supply instead.

Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the Birth Control Access Act into law Wednesday at a clinic in Arlington. He was surrounded by women’s rights advocates and elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), a current gubernational candidate.

The bill was sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who called the bill signing a “huge moment” for women in Virginia.

Supporters of the new law say receiving a year’s supply of pills at a time could make it easier for women to stay on the medication, which could lead to a decrease in unplanned pregnancies. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, more trips to the doctor and the pharmacy to obtain birth control prescriptions can interfere with consistent birth control use.

Gov. McAuliffe has called the legislation a major bipartisan victory. The bill passed through the Republican-controlled legislature with large majorities — it was approved by the House by a vote of 94-1 on Feb. 7, and the Senate by a vote of 34-6 on Feb. 16.

Currently, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have similar statutes in place. Virginia’s new law will go into effect July 1.

Governor signs bill giving women access to a year’s supply of birth control pills

April 26, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — On Wednesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that will make getting birth control easier for women.

HB 2267, which was introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield), gives women the option to fill a doctor’s prescription for birth control pills for up to one year at a time.

Previously, health insurance policies typically allowed 90 days’ worth of prescriptions to be mailed at a time.

After the signing, Del. Filler-Corn called it a “huge moment for [Virginia] women.”

Amy Spicer knows how challenging it can be to get birth control in bulk. Last year, she went on a 12-month trip across the globe.

The most difficult part of her planning? Not packing, not raising funds, but making sure she had a year’s worth of prescriptions with her.

“It was probably the biggest struggle for me going on this trip,” she said. “I spent a lot of time talking to insurance and talking to the pharmacy going back and forth. It was a big struggle to get a year’s worth.”

Dr. Kenley Neuman of Virginia Physicians for Women says the change is a good thing.

“I definitely think it’ll be helpful to many women,” said Dr. Neuman.

Dr. Neuman says this exact thing has proven to be effective.

“There have been studies that show women who are provided a one year supply of birth control are 30 percent less likely to have an unintended pregnancy compared to those given a one to three month supply,” she said.

Dr. Neuman says it can be difficult to remember when to pick up pills, and sometimes pharmacies don’t have prescriptions ready when you arrive. Others, like Spicer, need multiple months’ worth in advance.

Though it’ll be easier to access birth control pills, Dr. Neuman says don’t be a stranger to your doctor.

“If you’re having any symptoms or problems or concerns about side effects, you need to see your doctor. If it’s a medication you’ve been on for a while, we still want to see you every year to check and make sure it’s still the right prescription for you,” she said.

New law orders Va. insurers to cover 12-month supply of birth-control pills

April 26, 2017

Virginia women will be able to have their insurance provider cover a full year of birth-control pills at once under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Terry McAuliffe at an Arlington County clinic.

McAuliffe (D), surrounded by about a dozen elected officials and more than 50 women’s rights advocates, said he was happy to sign what he called the first positive women’s reproductive health measure to emerge from the legislature in his term.

“I’ve spent these years blocking and tackling, stopping the most insane anti-women legislation you can imagine,” he said after the event at the Arlington County Stambaugh Human Services Center Clinic. “This is why elections do matter.”

The bill-signing had the feel of a campaign rally as the ebullient governor bounded into the packed room to a round of applause and joined a crowd of state and local elected officials at the dais. He was introduced by Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who hopes to succeed McAuliffe in the governor’s mansion in November.

McAuliffe touted the candidacy of Northam, who is battling former congressman Tom Perriello for the Democratic nomination, and gave a shout-out to Democrats in the House of Delegates, who helped sustain the record 111 vetoes he has issued during his term.

“If I lost one Democrat in the House of Delegates, one single vote, I would have been overridden. They stood with me,” McAuliffe said.

When the new law takes effect July 1, Virginia will join five other states — Oregon, California, Hawaii, Illinois and Vermont — and the District of Columbia in requiring insurance companies to cover 12 months of birth control at a time.

The legislation was sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who said it will help women avoid gaps in birth-control use. It passed both chambers in the Republican-controlled legislature with large bipartisan majorities.

Representatives for health insurers questioned whether the law was necessary, noting that current insurance policies allow people to get 90-day prescriptions and ask for automatic refills.

Advocates called the 12-month birth-control measure a “common-sense” measure that will make it easier for women to stay on the medication.

They cited studies that say having access to 12 months of birth-control pills could reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies by 30 percent and decrease by 46 percent the odds of having an abortion.

A similar bill failed to get out of committee in 2016. The difference this year was that Filler-Corn personally lobbied Republicans, said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

In addition, women’s advocates, accompanied by three physicians, talked with lawmakers who had opposed the bill a year earlier.

“It just makes sense that women have consistent, reliable access to birth control so they can control their reproductive destiny,” Keene said. “It’s much cheaper to supply a woman with a year’s worth of birth control than cover an unexpected childbirth.”

Residents demand effective action from local politicians

March 17, 2017

The longest bout of applause at the General Assembly session wrap-up panel held in Fairfax on Mar. 11 by the public policy advocacy network Social Action Linking Together (SALT) went to a Muslim man who tried to ask a question.

Identifying himself as a long-time U.S. citizen, Jisan Zaman got caught up in his emotions as he chokingly worked his way through a question to the General Assembly members in attendance about how they plan to address recent surges in hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiments.

At one point, the woman standing behind Zaman in the Q&A line gave him a hug.

Zaman, who came to the U.S. when he was 10 and now works in McLean as a senior software developer for Celerity, seemed a little embarrassed and frustrated afterwards that his emotions prevented him from properly explaining his inquiry.

While he appreciated the support he got in the room from fellow constituents and the legislators, Zaman expressed skepticism that the feelings of goodwill can translate into effective political action.

“I was kind of disappointed by some of the answers,” Zaman said of the response he got to his question. “I’m not from the six countries [included in President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban], but I think it’s turning the waters for what’s coming next.”

Trump issued an executive order on Mar. 6 that temporarily suspended entry into the U.S. by nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen as well as the admittance of all refugees. A previous version of the executive order also applied the travel ban to Iraq.

The General Assembly members at the panel--all of whom were Democrats--noted that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring have spoken out against the executive order.

“Our top leaders are fighting with us and for us,” Senator Barbara Favola (D-31st) said. “We do live in a very diverse local community in Northern Virginia, and all of our local governments have come out and said that they are going to ensure that the police embrace an environment of trust with everyone they’re serving.”

Zaman says he had hoped for a more proactive response, such as specific legislation designed to protect immigrants and counter faith-based discrimination.

Fairfax Delegate Mark Keam (D-35th), who was born in Seoul, Korea, and lived in Vietnam and Australia before immigrating to the U.S. with his family, says that it is difficult to make progress on immigration and civil rights, because he and the General Assembly’s Democrats have to focus their energy on opposing legislation.

For example, during the 2017 General Assembly session, the Republican-majority House of Delegates and Senate both passed a bill that required nonprofit resettlement agencies to annually report information about resettled individuals, including refugees, to the Department of Social Services.

Both chambers also passed a bill that required local jails to assist federal immigration authorities by detaining inmates sought after by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

McAuliffe, a Democrat, subsequently vetoed the first bill, known as H.B. 2002, on Feb. 24 and the second bill, H.B. 1468, on Mar. 3, according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System.

“As someone who cares about immigrant rights and minority rights, we have to play defense against bills on the wrong side,” Keam said. “To do something positive, there just aren’t the opportunities, because we’re only one-third of the votes.”

The challenge of getting traction for progressive legislation in a staunchly conservative General Assembly emerged as a dominant theme of the wrap-up panel, which took place on the Virginia International University campus in Fairfax.

While it is officially nonpartisan and does not advocate for particular candidates or political parties, SALT focuses on policy related to poverty and other social justice causes, and the faith-based organization generally skews liberal.

According to SALT founder and coordinator John Horejsi, who moderated the event, the group invited several Republican representatives, including Delegates Richard Anderson (R-51st), Robert Marshall (R-13th) and Timothy Hugo (R-40th), but none of them came. Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-67th) was also invited and has attended previous wrap-up panels.

As members of the minority party in the General Assembly, the legislators who attended the panel spent as much time discussing what they were unable to accomplish in the 2017 session as they did on successful bills.

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st), for instance, passed a bill requiring school principals to notify parents of students involved in alleged incidents of bullying regarding the status of any investigations into the incident.

She also served as chief patron for the New Americans Voting Act, which would have extended the amount of time new citizens have to register to vote, and a bill to increase the monetary threshold for an act of larceny to be classified as a felony, but both bills died in committee.

Filler-Corn says she plans to reintroduce the felony larceny bill next year, since it failed by only one vote.

Delegate Jennifer Boysko (D-86th) cited the unanimous passage of a bill letting trained individuals dispense naloxone, a drug that can be used in emergencies to treat opioid overdoses, among the biggest successes of the 2017 General Assembly session.

Boysko originally introduced the bill in December, but it was tabled by a House subcommittee on Jan. 24 and replaced with a nearly identical bill sponsored by Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) that was ultimately passed by both chambers and approved by the governor.

Boysko was listed as a chief co-patron on LaRock’s bill.

“I have learned…that you cannot care about who gets the credit on the work that you do,” Boysko, who was elected to the House in 2015, said.

The Fairfax delegate’s “Dignity Act” exempting personal hygiene products, including tampons and sanitary pads, from the sales and use tax and a bill prohibiting employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their salary history both died in committee.

Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) passed a bill aimed at helping women- or minority-owned small businesses receive certification, legislation that McAuliffe signed on Mar. 13, but bills addressing lead levels in drinking water, the use of child labor on tobacco farms, and driver’s license suspensions for failing to pay fines were all left on the table by subcommittees.

In total, of the 1,221 bills that failed in the General Assembly this past session, only 30 were brought to the floor, while the remainder died in committee. 824 bills were defeated without recorded votes, according to Horejsi.

Because the Commonwealth does not officially broadcast legislative committee hearings, the Virginia Transparency Caucus, led by Delegate Mark Levine (D-45th) and Senator Amanda Chase (R-11th), has started to videotape committee meetings, managing to film to about 75 percent of all legislation in committees and subcommittees.

More than 60 percent of all state legislators signed a letter distributed by the transparency caucus calling for the new General Assembly building that will replace the current structure, which is scheduled for demolition this year, to feature cameras and vote-recording equipment, according to Levine.

“Transparency is important,” Levine said. “[Senator Chase] and I don’t agree on virtually anything, but we do agree that the public has a right to know what goes on behind closed doors in committees and subcommittees in the General Assembly.”

Sexual Consent Education May Be Added to Virginia High School Lessons

March 2, 2017

Lessons about sexual consent may be added to the high school sexual education curriculum in Virginia.

A bill passed last month by the Virginia General Assembly requires the addition of "age-appropriate" information on consent to the Family Life Education curriculum taught in high schools. Students would be taught how to determine if someone is giving permission to engage in sex.

If young people don't get any lessons on consent until they go to college, it's too late, said Fairfax County Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who introduced the legislation.

“If the first time our students are hearing about what’s appropriate is at college orientation, then we’ve really missed the boat, and it’s too late," she said.

She said House Bill 2257 is aimed at stopping sexual violence.

“This is an issue that has been very important to me as a mom, not just as a legislator, for years and years," she said in an interview.

A coordinator in Fairfax County schools' health, family life and physical education department said explaining consent to students is a must.

“The CDC put out information a couple of years ago when we started this conversation in our community about implementing this, that 1in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Liz Payne said.

Lessons about consent would be introduced statewide in the context of discussion of healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Filler-Corn's bill on teaching students about healthy relationships passed last year and is now law.

In 2015, California became the first state in the country to require that school districts add information on sexual consent to their health lessons. 

In Fairfax County, discussion of consent begins in 10th grade. By the time students are in 12th grade, government teachers take over the subject and educate students about legal ramifications.

Filler-Corn responded to the idea that discussions of sex are best done at home, not in the classroom. She agreed.

“Yeah that makes a lot of sense, but they’re not all learning that at home," she said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to sign the bill into law.

Families and entire jurisdictions in the state would be able to opt out of the lessons. In Fairfax County, parents already have that option.

Editorial: Good, Bad and Missed Opportunities

February 28, 2017


Progress in funding mental health and addressing the opioid epidemic on multiple levels were among the successes of the 2017 General Assembly session.

  • In addressing the opioid crisis, the General Assembly passed important steps, including Del. Tim Hugo’s bill to limit opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply in most cases; increased access to naloxone, a drug that instantly reverses an overdose; needle exchange programs (to reduce the spread of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases); focus on infants born with opioid exposure.
  • Increased funding for mental health included $7.5 million to facilitate providing same-day access to mental health screening services by July 1, 2019. (The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board began offering same day, in-person screening for mental health/and or substance use concerns to adults in July 2015 and extended same day access service to youth. The official launch date for youth walk-in service was Feb. 1, 2017.) Also supports for discharge planning and services for people with serious mental illness being released from jail.
  • The budget included 3 percent raises state employees, increase for teachers and a larger increase for state police.
  • The Virginia Board of Corrections was given added authority and resources to review deaths in local and regional jails.
  • Negotiation and legislation will accelerate the City of Alexandria’s massive undertaking to fix its sewer system that dumps raw sewage into the Potomac River whenever it rains. Wendell Berry’s version of the golden rule: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.”
  • Scott Surovell’s bill requiring Dominion to provide better information on coal ash pollution, disaster preparedness, and recycling.
  • Eileen Filler-Corn’s bill requiring that insurance cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time.
  • School boards are required to have anti-bullying policies that includes notifying parents that their student was involved in a bullying incident.
  • Use of FaceBook Live allowed members to stream floor discussion, and report to constituents and answer questions directly.


Gov. Terry McAuliffe has already vetoed some of these, and is expected to veto some others.

  • Expanded access to concealed weapons; vetoed by Governor. SB1362 would allows anyone with a military ID card to carry concealed weapon; HB2077 would allow guns in emergency shelters and prevents state police or others from prohibiting them for any reason
  • End funding of Planned Parenthood, vetoed by Governor.
  • Anti-Sanctuary City Law HB 2000 says no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
  • As a reality check on the Virginia General Assembly, HB2025 would allow discrimination against LGBT community under guise of religious freedom, and passed 21-19 in the Senate and 57-37 in the House of Delegates.
  • HJ 545 would allow special committees of the General Assembly to overturn regulations, upsetting separation of powers. Constitutional amendment (first resolution): “Provides that the General Assembly may suspend or nullify any or all portions of any administrative rule or regulation.”
  • Photo identification required for absentee ballots.


  • The biggest missed opportunity of the 2017 General Assembly session was the failure to advance any redistricting legislation, which passed in the Senate and died in the House of Delegates. It’s clear that Virginia voters want an end to gerrymandering, but hopes for reform before the next census in 2020 are diminished.
  • Mental Health in Jails: $4.5 million was removed from the Governor’s proposed budget that would have paid for desperately needed mental health screening in jails.
  • Legislation to raise Virginia’s threshold between misdemeanors and felonies from $200 to $500 failed. Virginia’s threshold has not changed since 1981, unnecessarily focusing “police and prosecutors on minor crimes instead of violent crime while tainting thousands of Virginia’s suffering from depression or drug addiction with felony charges for life,” says Surovell.
  • Ken Plum’s bill to increase and index the minimum wage never made it out of committee.
  • Bills to address student debt also died during the session, as did bills aimed at reducing student suspensions and expulsions.
  • Republicans stripped language that would have brought $6 million in federal funds to provide Long Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) to those at risk for unintended pregnancy at no cost to Virginia voters.

Thanks to Ken Plum, Scott Surovell, Marcus Simon, Jennifer Boysko, Adam Ebbin and others whose columns and responses helped inform this editorial. We welcome opinions and additions to this list.

— Mary Kimm

5-day deadline to report school bullying goes to Va. governor

February 25, 2017

RICHMOND — Virginia principals would be required to notify parents of bullies and their victims within five days of any report of bullying under a bill given final approval by the General Assembly Friday.

While the agreement to require the notification within five school days sailed through the Senate, it sparked debate from some House members who wanted the deadline extended.

“If my child was bullying, was being bullied, I would want to know,” responded the bill’s sponsor, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 41st District.

She hopes the notifications could prevent bullying, including online.

Another delegate, Marcus Simon, said the notification could have helped him.

“My son was the bully, and I didn’t know about it ’til he told me about it,” said the Democrat representing the 53rd District. “My wife and I, we called the school to find out what was going on, and we called the parents of the other child, and guess what? We put an end to it, and we fixed it, just as soon as we found out,” he said.

Opponents of reducing the notification period from the 14 days the House had initially approved to the five days agreed to in the Senate expressed concerns that parents could be notified before instances are confirmed.

“Maybe there was an altercation, and the other child said, ‘They were bullying me,’ but in fact they just had a disagreement or they got into an argument,” said Del. Steve Landes, a Republican representing the 25th District.

“You don’t have the time in five days to clear all that up and make sure that Johnny’s not being wrongly accused of something that Sammy said,” he said.

Waiting any longer could make the process stretch on for weeks if there are days off of school in between, said Dickie Bell, a Republican representing the 20th District.

“Any act of bullying, whether it’s real or perceived, is a serious thing, and it needs to be treated as a priority,” Bell said.

The bill now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Virginia’s General Assembly is expected to wrap up its annual session on Saturday with a vote on the budget and some other outstanding bills.

Lawmakers return in April for a one-day session to consider any vetoes or amendments suggested by the governor to bills they have passed.


God, waffles and graffiti: The General Assembly building on one of its final days

February 22, 2017

If you work in the Virginia General Assembly Building, you’ve been talking for years about asbestos and how the germ-filled building seems to make people sick.

The elevators are overloaded, the plumbing shaky and the temperature never right. A new building is on the way, and it’s hard to find someone who will actually miss this charmless place — actually four structures connected — that’s scheduled for demolition.

The lawmakers and their staffs will move into the nearby Pocahontas Building for the next four General Assembly sessions while a new building is constructed.

On Wednesday, on one of its final days as a working legislative building, the GAB, as the General Assembly Building is known, no longer displayed much of the photos and artwork along its walls near legislative offices. Many lawmakers have boxed up their stuff and moved it to their cars — or their statues and awards and plaques are snug in bubble wrap waiting for departure.

The large crowds of school groups and gun activists are long gone as this year’s 46-day session nears its end, which could be Friday, or Saturday at the latest.

But on this Wednesday in its final week, the old GAB, a building no one seems overly sad to leave, took on a spirited feel.


William J. Howell, the esteemed speaker of the House of Delegates, already announced his retirement this week. At 7 a.m. Howell hosted his last speaker’s Bible study caucus, a group that started meeting in the early 1990s.

Lawmakers of both parties joined lobbyists and pages listening to Howell read from the Bible, then guide a Q&A. Howell asked if someone could read Psalm 21. David Skiles, a lobbyist, volunteered.

In a discussion about leadership and following God to find one’s true abilities, Howell said, “People will remind you from time to time that you’re not doing things perfectly.”

He prayed that those in Richmond will return safely to their families when the General Assembly session ends.

In his office afterward, two pages — Jacob Boykin of Powhatan and Logan Kellum of the Northern Neck — gave Howell a preview of a prayer that was to be read at a page ceremony, and got photos with him.

Howell said he’s taking some of his office’s contents to the Pocahontas Building because he remains speaker until January. But a lot of it needs to go, he said.


Two floors up at the office of Del. Daun Sessoms Hester, D-Norfolk, Morgan Jameson and Ann Fitzgibbon made waffles.

Fitzgibbon is an assistant to Hester and Jameson an assistant to Del. Jennifer B. Boysko, D-Fairfax. His apron read, “What the” and then showed a picture of a fork.

“We might run out of mix,” Jameson said. An intern was drafted into getting more. They later clarified that he “volunteered” to go to Kroger for more mix.

Word of “Waffle Wednesday” spread. Kevin Groh, a session assistant to Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, raved about the Costco maple syrup. Del. C. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, enjoyed a plate.

Perhaps inspired by the knowledge that the GAB will be demolished, Fariss did some interior decorating on the eighth floor.

One of the more entertaining sequences of the legislative session was debate over a bill from Howell, which ultimately failed, that would have created fines for people whose hunting dogs roam onto others’ property. Fariss, who opposed the bill, told an entertaining story on the House floor of a fantasy rabbit hunt at Capitol Square.

With a black marker on Wednesday, he wrote on a wall in the GAB: “HUNTING WITH DogS WELCOME,” realizing too late that his capitalization was not consistent throughout the message.

People coming off the eighth floor elevator marveled. A reporter later tweeted a photo of the area showing that the message had been removed, the wall restored to pure white.

Meanwhile, rumor spread of a Bloody Mary bar available at one lawmaker’s office.


Lawmakers approve bill to allow women to get year’s worth of birth control

February 16, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Senate on Thursday passed legislation allowing pharmacists to provide women a full year of birth control pills at once if prescribed by a doctor.

HB 2267, was sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The bill, titled the Birth Control Access Act, will now be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to be signed into law.

Women’s right activists praised the measure’s passage. Many insurance policies currently limit women to a 90-day supply of birth control pills.

“Passing the Birth Control Access Act is a huge victory for women. Women lead busy lives, and going back and forth to the pharmacy every few weeks to get the birth control they need isn’t necessary, so we’re thrilled that the General Assembly has passed this common-sense solution,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia. “Everyone in a community benefits when women are able to take control of their own bodies, and passing this bill is a step in the right direction.”

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam agreed.

“I applaud the Senate for supporting expanded access to contraception for Virginia women. Extending oral contraceptive prescriptions to 12 months will ensure that more women have reliable access to reproductive health care,” Northam said.

“As a doctor, I know that having prescription options is important for the best patient care. Moving forward, I would urge members of the General Assembly to support measures to promote access to the full-range of reproductive health care services for all Virginia women.”

The bill states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

The bill – which had been approved by the House, 94-1, on Feb. 7 – passed the Senate on a vote of 34-6.

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at once. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

Research has shown that women who receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives are more likely to continuously and consistently use contraceptives than women who get only a one- or three-month supply.

Studies show that unintended pregnancy is reduced by 30 percent and abortion is reduced by 46 percent when women have access to a full year’s supply of birth control, according to Progress Virginia.

The group noted that the average cost to an insurer of birth control for one year is $160-$600. A birth can cost an insurer between $18,000 and $28,000.

Bill Would Mandate Coverage of 12-month Birth Control Supply

February 13, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A bill advancing in the General Assembly would require health insurance companies to cover a 12-month supply of prescription birth control.

A Senate committee approved the measure Monday. It has already passed the House of Delegates with only one no vote.

The bill's sponsor, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, says it will ease a burden for women and prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Three physicians testified in support of the measure.

The bill doesn't require that providers write a 12-month prescription.

Opponents, including insurance industry representatives, said the bill could lead to waste.


Va. House of Delegates OKs letting women buy a year’s worth of birth control

February 7, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – The House of Delegates on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation allowing pharmacists to provide women a full year of birth control pills at once if prescribed by a doctor.

The House voted 94-1 in favor of HB 2267, sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The bill, titled the Birth Control Access Act, now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Women’s right activists praised the measure’s passage. Current insurance policies in Virginia generally limit women to a 90-day supply of birth control pills.

“Expanding access to birth control just makes sense, and we are thrilled that the House has passed this bill,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of the advocacy group Progress Virginia. “Women lead busy lives, and there’s no medical reason to make them go back and forth to the pharmacy every month to get the medication they need.”

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, cast the only vote against the bill. Four Republicans – Dels. Matthew Fariss of Campbell County, Nicholas Freitas of Campbell County, James Morefield of Tazewell County and Charles Poindexter of Franklin County – did not vote.

The legislation states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at one time. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

Research has shown that women who receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives are more likely to continuously and consistently use contraceptives than women who get only a one- or three-month supply.

Studies also show that unintended pregnancy is reduced by 30 percent and abortion is reduced by 46 percent when women have access to a full year’s supply of birth control, according to Progress Virginia.

The group noted that the average cost to an insurer of birth control for one year is $160-$600. A birth can cost an insurer between $18,000 and $28,000.

Not Representative of Who We Are — Richmond Report

February 3, 2017

Like so many of you and so many Americans, I was appalled when I learned of President Trump's Executive Order barring those from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States, even if they have valid American visas of any kind. This is not representative of who we are as a country. It is in direct opposition of our American values and our constitution because it essentially creates a religious test for entry into the United States. Until a recent reversal by the White House, it also denied due process to green card holders who have been unable to reenter the country.

One of the many reasons my husband and I chose to live and raise our family in Fairfax County was due to its diversity. We wanted our children to be exposed to people of different cultures and religions. We strived to set an example for them to be tolerant of others. We taught them that America is great because of immigrants, not in spite of them. We should know better than to repeat the mistakes of the past, such as when European Jews were turned away from American shores and in many cases, like that of Anne Frank, later perished in concentration camps. Accepting this as the status quo is unacceptable.

Joining Women's March on Washington

I was honored to join the hundreds of thousands of women and men who participated in the Women’s March on Washington last week. All of us who took part in one of the largest peaceful marches in American history exercised our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. We sought to remind our new President how important it is to us that he protect our precious civil liberties. In addition to well over half a million people marching in Washington, estimates placed the number of participants nationwide at over 3 million in more than 500 separate locations—with every state represented.

I cannot accurately put into words the feeling I had marching with my daughter and my husband as well as being surrounded by so many passionate women of all ages, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, as well as men of all ages as far as the eye could see. This past Monday, I gave my first floor speech of the session about the Women’s March, why we marched and how precious our First Amendment right to peacefully assemble is. You can watch my remarks here.

Legislative Update

This past week several of my bills were acted upon in subcommittee, full committee and on the floor of the House of Delegates.

  • Notification of Bullying. My bill, HB 1709, which would direct school principals to notify the parent of any student involved in an alleged incident of bullying of the status of any investigation within 14 school days following the allegation of bullying, unanimously passed the House this week. Next, I will have the opportunity to present the bill to the State Senate. I was appreciative of the compelling testimony provided the previous week by Sylvia and Brandon Farbstein. Brandon is a 17-year old student in Henrico County Public Schools who was a victim of bullying. His mother Sylvia struggled to get updates about the status of the incidents in which Brandon was victimized. It is my hope that this legislation will ensure that parents receive timely updates when their child is a part of a bullying investigation.

  • Encouraging Workforce Development in Schools. My bill HB 1708, which would require the Board of Education to consider including industry credentials earned when measuring school accreditation, was passed in the Education Innovation Committee. I will present this bill to the full Education Committee tomorrow. As Chair of Jobs for Virginia graduates, I often visit schools that not only ensure that students graduate, but also prepare them for life after high school. For some students, that may include higher education, for others it may be directly entering the workforce. This bill advocates for rewarding schools that provide career technical education to their students.

  • Boundaries and Consent. I had two bills up in the Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee this past week. One, HB 2257, would ensure that consent education is taught in High School Family Life Education. The other, HB 2406, would require any family life education curriculum offered in any elementary school, middle school, or high school to include instruction on the importance of the personal privacy and personal boundaries of other individuals. HB 2406 and HB 2257 passed out of subcommittee and will go before the full Education committee tomorrow.

Visitors to Richmond

This was another week of friends, constituents and groups visiting me in my office in Richmond. I truly appreciate visitors taking the time to make this effort. I met with representatives from the GMU Student Government Association, members of the VEA, AARP, SEIU, 4H, and student hygienists from Northern Virginia Community College among many other groups.

It is my privilege to serve in the House of Delegates on your behalf and address the issues that face the 41st District and the Commonwealth as a whole. I look forward to hearing from you or seeing you in Richmond and/or out and about in the 41st District during the weekends. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance from my office.

Women may be able to buy a year’s worth of birth control

February 3, 2017

RICHMOND – Virginia women finally would be able to obtain a year’s worth of birth control at one time if prescribed by a doctor, under a bill going forward in the House of Delegates.

The House Commerce and Labor Committee advanced the Birth Control Access Act (HB 2267), sponsored by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. The committee unanimously voted for the bill Thursday and sent it to the full House for approval.

The bill states, “Any health benefit plan that is amended, renewed, or delivered on or after January 1, 2018, that provides coverage for hormonal contraceptives shall cover up to a 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives when dispensed or furnished at one time for a covered person by a provider or pharmacy or at a location licensed or otherwise authorized to dispense drugs or supplies.”

Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said current insurance policies generally allow 90 days’ worth of prescription to be mailed at a time. People can check an “automatic refill” box and automatically receive a refill as a prescription starts to run out. Gray said HB 2267 would make birth control more accessible.

The existing law for prescription contraceptives does not specify the amount that can be prescribed at once. Filler-Corn’s bill would solve that vagueness.

“We applaud the bipartisan vote,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “It’s a rare moment in Richmond when a pro-choice, proactive women’s health bill is advanced on a bipartisan basis.”

While Republicans voted to pass this bill, they are also pushing forward a bill to end state funding to Planned Parenthood. HB 2264, introduced by Del. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, would “prohibit the Department of Health from spending any funds on an abortion that is not qualified for matching funds under the Medicaid program or providing any grants or other funds to any entity that performs such abortions.”

Pro-choice activists noted that Cline voted in favor of the Birth Control Access Act and at the same time is working to defund an organization that widely distributes contraception.

The access bill is geared toward hormonal birth control, also called “the pill.” According to a 2011 study by the University of California, women who receive only three months of birth control at a time are more likely to lapse on taking the pill or stop taking it altogether.

In economic terms, the pill can cost $160 to $600 a year, and the cost of a birth is $18,329-$27,866, according to a CNN report in 2013. The cost of raising a child is around $12,500 per year per child. Economically speaking, it’s cheaper to give women a year’s worth of birth control rather than have an unintended, increased-risk pregnancy.

Among the access bill’s advocates was Margie Del Castillo, associate director of community mobilization with the NLIRH Virginia Latina Advocacy Network.

“Continuous access to contraception helps Latinxs plan their families and their futures, improving their health and well-being,” Del Castillo said in a statement. “This bill will provide a 12-month supply of oral contraceptives for Latinxs in Virginia and help in the fight against the health inequities that currently exist in our community.”


In Suprise Twist, Virginia Lawmakers Revive Bill on 'Consent' in Sex Ed

January 31, 2017

Last week we brought you the story of a bill that was shot down in Richmond. The measure would have required the topic of consent in relationships be part of high school curriculums.

But now, that measure has been revived. Early Monday morning, it passed the Republican-controlled education committee.

Mallory Noe-Payne explains.

It’s not entirely clear what happened, but lawmakers seemed to have had a change of heart on Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s bill. It directs school districts to incorporate the topic of consent and permission into their family life lessons -- beginning in 9th grade, says Filler-Corn, a Democrat from Northern Virginia.

“It’s a step in the right direction, all towards educating our youth in an age appropriateevidence based manner,” explains Filler-Corn. “And this will hopefully prevent future instances that we all are reading about so often.”

Republican lawmakers on a subcommittee hesitated last week, saying they were concerned such lessons might imply to under-age students that they could legally give consent for sex. They voted to table the measure.

But in the full committee meeting Monday many of those same lawmakers seemed pacified by a small tweak in language -- adding the word legal, before consent.

“One of the aims of this language is too point out that even though a consensual relationship among people of high school age that depending upon their age, even if it is consensual, it could be illegal in Virginia,” said Delegate James LeMunyon in the committee hearing. LeMunyon is a Republican from Northern Virginia who is also on the subcommittee that initially heard the proposal and said it needed more work.

“And that was really one of the things that we wanted pointed out in this Family Life education class. I think that was one of the reasons the subcommittee went with this change,” he continued.

Other lawmakers, like Republicans Scott Lingamfelter and Brenda Pogge, also switched their vote.

The measure though, still has a ways to go. It has to pass the full House of Delegates, known for being more conservative, and then on to Virginia’s Senate.


Medical marijuana bills go down in House

January 30, 2017

House Republicans shot down medical marijuana reforms Monday expanding access to oils to people with more diseases, but key members indicated they can be swayed on the measures.

With a Senate measure on the same subject already clearing that chamber on a bipartisan vote, it's still possible change could come this session. But Monday night two measures went down on lopsided votes in the House subcommittee that debates changes to Virginia's criminal laws.

Two years ago the legislature approved THC-A oil and cannabidiol, derived from marijuana not producing its characteristic high, for the treatment of intractable epilepsy. This year's House Bill 2135 was initially a full-on medical marijuana bill, legalizing the plant as a treatment for any ailment with a doctor's prescription.

That was reined in before Monday's vote to deal only with the oils, and only for cancer patients. House Bill 1637 would have allowed the oils as a treatment for Crohn's disease.

The subcommittee heard emotional testimony, but members said they didn't hear enough hard science to change the law. Dels. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, and Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, said repeatedly that more data, and a bigger push from advocates before the time crush of this legislative session, might have flipped their "no" votes to "yes."

"I don't like to make big decisions like this on the fly," Gilbert told Nikki Narduzzi, a Staunton woman who has Crohn's and swore, tearfully, by the oil as her only treatment option.

The Fraternal Order of Police and a Chesterfield group called Substance Abuse Free Environment opposed the changes, arguing a lack of scientific evidence and the slippery slope toward full marijuana legalization.

Del. Glenn Davis, House Bill 1637's sponsor, acknowledged there are relatively few studies showing oils derived from marijuana as effective treatments. But that's partly because the federal government lists marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug, making research difficult.

The anecdotal evidence, Davis said, cannot be ignored.

"Five Nikkis is enough," he said.

Harward payment clears Appropriations

An innocent man who served more than 30 years for a brutal Newport News murder would get $1.55 million from the state under legislation moving forward at the General Assembly.

Keith Allen Harward, whose conviction turned on now debunked bite mark comparisons, was exonerated last year by DNA evidence that pointed to his former shipmate on the USS Carl Vinson as the killer. Authorities now believe it was Jerry L. Crotty who, in the 1980s, raped a Newport News woman and murdered her husband with a crowbar.

The killer left bite marks on the woman's thighs and calves which experts matched to Harward's teeth. Harward was given a rare writ of actual innocence last year. His exoneration was so complete that the Virginia Supreme Court signed off on his release within a day of Attorney General Mark Herring's request.

That process often typically takes weeks, authorities said at the time.

Efforts to reach Harward for comment Monday were not successful. He spent more than half his life in prison.

House Bill 1650, which cleared the House Appropriations Committee on a unanimous vote, would pay Harward nearly $310,000 up front and provide another $1.24 million for an annuity. The bill also entitles Harward to $10,000 free tuition at the state's community colleges. A companion bill is awaiting committee hearing in the Virginia Senate.

Larceny threshold killed

An increase in Virginia's threshold for felony larceny was killed off in subcommittee Monday, but it drew bipartisan support, and opposition, from local legislators.

The bill, a multi-year effort at the General Assembly and filed this year as one of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's priorities, would increase the line between misdemeanor theft and a felony from $200 to $500. Virginia's threshold is currently one of the two lowest in the country, tied with New Jersey, McAuliffe has said.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn's bill went down in a House criminal law subcommittee, but it drew support from two Republicans: Del. Les Adams of Chatham and Del. Rick Morris of Carrollton.

"Two-hundred dollars doesn't make any sense," said Morris, who faces child abuse charges in Suffolk but has said repeatedly that he is innocent, something his wife and her ex-husband back him on.

Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, also broke with his party on the vote, going against the bill. Mullin is a prosecutor in juvenile and domestic court.

"What I see in courtrooms is organized groups of gangs who are stealing just below larceny threshold," Mullin said. "They take it into account and will go from retailer to retailer. It's incredibly hard to prove and devastating to the retailer."

Proposal to Make 'Consent' Part of High School Curriculums Dies

January 26, 2017

A bill that would have required Virginia schools teach high-schoolers about consent in relationships was shot down Wednesday in Richmond. 

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat of Northern Virginia, thought her proposal to broaden sexual education to include the concept of consent, beginning in the 9th grade, was fairly straightforward.

“It’s all about starting earlier and talking about permission, and as we see there’s a rise in instances of sexual assault, and abuse, and unhealthy relationships," Filler-Corn said. "I think it’s important that we start teaching consent and what that means. What are we talking about? We’re talking about permission.” 

But in a hearing Wednesday morning, members of an education subcommittee disagreed. Republican Delegate Mark Cole of Spotsylvania voiced concern that introducing the idea would imply to kids they could grant consent for sex at all. 

“I know it’s important to teach people that you can’t have your way with somebody without their consent, however -- like I said -- the law currently does not empower someone who is under 18 years old to legally grant consent,” Cole said during the hearing.

Advocates urged lawmakers to view the bill as broader than just sexual consent, citing examples like handholding, or physical teasing. 

But other lawmakers on the House Elementary and Secondary Educationsubcommittee agreed with Cole. 

Delegate Brenda Pogge, a Republican from Norfolk, expressed concern for the context in which the material would be taught -- alongside information about illegal actions like dating violence and domestic abuse. 

"I just want to make sure that, how this is being taught, is not that by giving consent all of these things are okay -- because they are not okay" said Brenda Pogge, a Republican from Norfolk. "It's so broad." 

"I think the bill needs a little more work to be honest," said Delegate James LeMunyon, a Republican from Northern Virginia. "And I'm still not sure what's absent in the current curriculum." 

The current family life curriculum includes teaching the definition of consent in the 10th grade, but the word is not mentioned anywhere else. Filler-Corn's legislation would have required that local school divisions incorporate the concept of consent into their lessons at all highschool grade levels, including freshman year.

But in a vote along party lines, the bill was killed.

After the vote, Filler-Corn had this to say: 

“It’s disturbing, disappointing. I really thought that since this law would be in the Family Life Education section, we’re talking about the option for some families to opt out. Some of them liked the concept but felt like we weren’t quite ready, so I have my work cut out for myself. And I will be working with them and convincing them, and I think they’ll hear from their constituents as well.” 

Filler-Corn says she’ll be back next year with similar legislation. 

Bill to raise felony theft threshold advances in state Senate committee

January 25, 2017

If you steal something worth $200 in Virginia, it’s a felony.

Only New Jersey has the same standard.

In nearly all other states, it’s at least $500 – a level some Virginia legislators endorse.

The state hasn’t raised its felony larceny threshold in 37 years, but a bill that would increase the amount from $200 to $500 advanced in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday.

Two separate Senate bills on the issue were combined, and the legislation has gone to the full Senate. The bill is sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City, and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax County, is sponsoring a similar bill in the House.

Raising the threshold – the amount at which a misdemeanor theft becomes a felony – has long been an issue in the General Assembly. Last year, an increase to $500 passed the Senate but died in a House subcommittee.

The highest felony threshold, $2,500, is in Wisconsin. Virginia’s threshold has been the same since 1980.

This year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for an increase as part of his package of proposed criminal justice reforms.

Supporters said the $200 amount is outdated . With inflation, $200 in 1980 is worth about $585 today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We just have not kept the pace,” said Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, adding that a low threshold diminishes the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.

Opponents say the state’s current threshold deters shoplifters.

Both the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the state Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys support raising the bar to $500 for larceny.

Vikram Kapil, president of the defense lawyers group, pointed to the lasting impact a felony conviction can have . It can lead to prison time, during which a person can’t provide for his or her family, Kapil said. Down the road, it can create barriers in finding work, housing and education.

“The impact on families is tremendous,” Kapil said. “The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor can be dramatic.”

Eric Olsen, president of the commonwealth’s attorneys group, said prosecutors rarely pursue a felony larceny charge against a first-time offender accused of stealing an item valued near $200 — such as a phone or a pair of shoes. When it’s appropriate, a prosecutor will reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor, he said.

“We recognize that the threshold has not been raised in decades and to account for that lapse of time, it’s appropriate for the misdemeanor-felony line to be higher than when it was enacted,” said Olsen, commonwealth’s attorney for Stafford County.

The state conference of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia also support an increase – but they would like to see the bar even higher, perhaps to $1,500.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the state ACLU, said raising the threshold to $500 is “a good first step.” But a higher amount would bring Virginia in line with what other nearby states have done, she said. Maryland, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. have thresholds set at $1,000 and South Carolina’s is $2,000, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For years, the Virginia Retail Federation has opposed a change. Jodi Roth, a lobbyist with the group, said raising the theft threshold is akin to inviting criminals to steal more. The group worries that increasing the threshold would lead to an increase in crime.

Some retailers operate on a small profit margin and can’t afford the costs to cover thefts, Roth said. “Our opposition has not wavered.”

Last year, Moran and a group of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, the ACLU and retailers analyzed the issue as part of a “Blueprints for Change” discussion through the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The department analyzed shoplifting rates from 2000 to 2013 in two groups of states: four that raised their threshold during that time and four that did not. The “Blueprints” report found “little evidence” that raising the threshold led to an increase in shoplifting.

A similar study last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts found raising the threshold had “no impact” on overall property crime or larceny rates.

How Virginia House Democrats seek to protect reproductive rights

January 17, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. — In an effort to protect and expand women’s health care in Virginia, House Democrats said Tuesday they have introduced three bills to ensure easier access to abortion and contraceptives.

The bills represent a contrast to Republican measures such as the “Day of Tears” resolution that encourages Virginians to mourn abortion, Democratic legislators and their allies said at a news conference.

Progress Virginia Executive Director Anna Scholl said the General Assembly has seen more than 75 proposals to restrict women’s access to reproductive health care since 2010. She urged legislators to stop making women’s health care political.

“A woman who has decided to have an abortion should be treated with dignity and respect, not subjected to medically unnecessary rules and laws pushed by politicians who wish to shame and stigmatize women,” Scholl said. “Women deserve no less than full autonomy over their healthcare and reproductive care decisions.”

Participants in the news conference included NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, and Progress Virginia. They endorsed three pending bills involving women’s health and birth control.

Introduced by Del. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Herndon), the Whole Women’s Health Act (HB 2186) provides that a woman has a fundamental right to a lawful abortion and forbids statutes that may place a burden on this access. The bill would eliminate all the procedures and processes, including the performance of an ultrasound, that are required for a woman’s informed written consent to an abortion.

Del. Jeion A. Ward (D – Hampton), introduced the Patient Trust Act (HB 2286), which would allow women to waive their right to a mandatory waiting period before seeking an abortion.

“These bills recognize that after receiving medically appropriate counseling and information from a healthcare provider, it is not in a woman’s best interest to force her to receive additional non-medical information,” said Janice Craft, director of policy and government affairs for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

“Laws that require a woman to hear or receive information that she does not want or need and that her physician believes is irrelevant to her care, biased, misleading or outright false violate the basic tenets of informed consent and the standards of medical ethics,” Craft said.

The Birth Control Access Act (HB 2267), introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D – Fairfax County), allows women to receive a full 12-month supply of hormonal contraceptives at one time. The bill is expected to face opposition from insurance companies.

Dr. Wendy Klein, a Richmond physician, spoke on behalf of the bill as a clinician and scholar in women’s health.

“As a physician, I can tell you that interruptions in birth control supply are a huge impediment to birth control actually working and preventing unintended pregnancies. That’s why having the ability to pick up a full year’s supply of hormonal contraceptives is such a big deal, and there’s no medical reason to restrict access to it,” Klein said.

According to a Pew research poll, 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the age of 45 and 7 in 10 women support the right to have an abortion. The speakers urged members of the General Assembly to pass the bills as soon as possible.

“When a woman has to travel hours away from home, spend the night in a hotel, get childcare for her children, and lose hours at work, all to have an extremely safe, simple medical procedure, something is wrong,” said Dr. Mark Ryan, a family practice doctor in Richmond.

“Legislators belong in the legislature, not forcing themselves between my patient and me as we work together to determine the best steps for my patient’s health.”

Va. launches ABLE program for people with disabilities

December 27, 2016

WASHINGTON — Virginia has launched its version of the ABLE savings program, which lets people with disabilities and their families save money for disability-related expenses without jeopardizing eligibility for other assistance programs.

ABLEnow is a tax-advantaged account that allows eligible people to save up to $14,000 a year. Virginia is one of the first states in the nation to offer an ABLE savings account program.

Maryland is expected to implement its version of ABLE in late 2017.

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law Dec. 19, 2014, creating tax-free savings accounts to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing and transportation. It supplements other benefits provided through private insurance, Medicaid, the Supplemental Security Income program and other sources.

The accounts are administered like college savings accounts, health savings accounts and individual retirement accounts.

“ABLEnow allows individuals with disabilities to save like never before and, for many, we believe this will be a big step for independence and personal empowerment,” said Mary Morris, CEO of Virginia529, the state agency administering the new ABLEnow program.

The Virginia ABLEnow program includes a debit card that can be used to pay for qualified disability expenses directly from the account.

The Virginia ABLEnow program has no enrollment fee and no minimum contribution.

Learn more about Virginia’s ABLEnow program.


Burke, Fairfax, Springfield: Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) joins ABLEnow in commemorating the opening of the first ABLEnow account in Virginia.

December 23, 2016

On Monday, December 19th, the 2nd year anniversary of the federal passage of the ABLE Act, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) joined ABLEnow for a press conference to commemorate the opening of the first ABLEnow account in Virginia. Fittingly, this account was opened for Natalie Beck, whose parents first came up with the idea for ABLE accounts several years ago.

"The ABLE Act is proof of the power of citizen advocacy," said Filler-Corn. "From the kitchen table of Catherine and Stephen Beck in the 41st District, to President Obama’s desk and to Governor McAuliffe’s pen, twice, the 2015 bill and the 2016 bill both experienced a long journey. A journey that Stephen unfortunately was not able to see come to a close. But Stephen’s legacy will live on through his daughter Natalie, and through these ABLE Accounts and the families that they will help."

Delegate Filler-Corn introduced and helped pass the Virginia Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act during the 2015 Virginia General Assembly Session. This law makes it possible for individuals with disabilities and their families to open tax-free savings accounts to cover important expenses such as education and housing.

Other guests that joined Delegate Filler-Corn and the Beck family at the press conference included U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8), Mary Morris, the CEO of Virginia529 College Savings Plan, ABLEnow, Michael Morris with the ABLE National Resource Center and Sara Hart Weir with the ABLE Alliance for Financial Empowerment.

Eligible individuals with disabilities can now open their own ABLEnow account. Click here to learn more or to sign up for an ABLEnow account today.

H-Mart Opens in Burke

November 18, 2016


The store opened with a large crowd and much fanfare, including Korean percussion music, a Chinese lion dance, traditional Vietnamese dance and plenty of balloons. Amongst those in attendance were Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) and Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield), as well as members of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. Both Filler-Corn and Herrity participated in the official ribbon cutting.

“For more than 27 years, my husband and I have lived and raised our two children just down the street from this shopping center. I was excited when I heard that H-Mart was coming to Burke. I feel particularly fortunate to live in a place as diverse as Fairfax County. Having H-Mart here in Burke, further exposes our community to different cultures, food and traditions. The store is impressive. I was particularly taken by the beautiful produce section and fresh fish. H-Mart has a long history in Virginia and I am so glad that they decided to locate in the 41st District,” said Del. Filler-Corn.

Filler-Corn also mentioned how appreciative she was that in addition to providing new jobs in Burke, H-Mart brings with it a long history of giving back. The company partners with charities both local and national to make its community a better place.

The new H-Mart supermarket is located at 9550 Burke Road, in Burke. It is open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-10 p.m.

Va. commission recommends not changing state's immunization exclusion guidelines

November 9, 2016

The General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Health Care on Wednesday recommended making no changes to the state’s regulations on possible exemptions, including religious reasons, for otherwise-mandatory school vaccinations.

The decision came after the commission received more than 700 comments on the subject, the majority of which were in favor of taking no action.

The issue was brought before the commission at the bequest of Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who introduced a bill during the most recent General Assembly session that would have removed religious exemptions as a valid reason not to have a child vaccinated.

Filler-Corn and Stolle struck the bill and requested the commission research whether non-medical exemptions should be tightened.

The bill received a great deal of attention from those against mandatory vaccinations, most of whom wore red to Wednesday’s meeting, which was held at the General Assembly building in downtown Richmond. Some in red wore T-shirts and hats supporting President-elect Donald Trump.

Most brought their children with them, and one young boy held a sign that said: “Vote ‘No’ to Mandatory Vaccines.” When the commission recommended taking no action, the crowd cheered.

The commission was created in 1992 with the purpose of recommending and researching medical decisions to ensure Virginia adopts “the most cost-effective and efficacious” health care policies, according to the state code.

The body does not make final decisions on legislation, and its decisions are considered recommendations that the General Assembly will take into account during its next session.

Among those in favor of making no changes to immunization exclusions was the Virginia Department of Health, which stated that “the low exemption rates and relatively high vaccine coverage rates and low morbidity from vaccine preventable diseases” made taking no action on the issue an acceptable option, according to commission documents.

On the other side, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended the commission remove the religious exemption option. Earlier this year, the group updated its official policy to recommend states remove non-medical immunization exemptions.


Also on Wednesday, the commission recommended the Department of Health create a page on its website that explains palliative care.

Palliative care is meant for those with severe illnesses to ease their pain and symptoms. It is not hospice care, though the two terms are sometimes confused, the commission’s staff explained during a presentation.

The commission’s staff found that the information on one website may not match the information on another, and commission members agreed that one definitive explanation of palliative care would be beneficial to Virginians.

Also discussed during Wednesday’s meeting was another option to provide the Department of Health with $120,506 to create a Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council, in addition to a website.

But commission members seemed hesitant to recommend an option that included additional funding.

Virginia lawmakers will have to close a $654 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.

“Who will carry the budget amendment?” commission member Del. John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico, asked, and his comment was met with laughs from other members of the commission.

Welcoming Fall at Burke Centre Festival

Temperature dips between massive two-day event.

With more than just a few degrees Fahrenheit separating Sept. 10 and 11, the two days of the annual Burke Centre Festival, the massive community event once again signaled the end of summer and beginning of fall in more ways than one.

“It always seems to kick off fall,” said former Burke resident Jim Miller, who was demonstrating traditional Okinawan Karate from a Burke Centre Conservancy class.

“I like the community aspect of it -- so many different cultures enjoying themselves,” Miller said.

Miller’s booth was just one of more than a dozen outreach booths at the festival, that included local politicians, churches and temples, and Fairfax County government and services.

There were also around a dozen each of food vendors and sponsor booths, and about 100 crafters.

One fairgoer of Burke said she likes that families have a chance to “see police officers and firefighters as a more friendly aspect” at their vendor booths.

The Burke Veterans of Foreign Wars, local Boy Scouts troop members and politicians supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) and Rep. Gerry Connolly participated in a patriotic opening ceremony for the festival, which fell on the weekend of September 11.

The festival was organized by the Burke Centre Conservancy. For more information, visit or call 703-978-2928.

DMV Expands Range of Services

TSA Pre✓® and Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) available at DMV’s Tysons Corner office.


Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) joined Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb and Virginia legislators at a ribbon cutting for a groundbreaking customer service initiative. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is partnering with the Transportation Security Administration’s vendor MorphoTrust USA to offer TSA Pre✓® and Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) at DMV’s Tysons Corner office. 

TSA Pre✓® offers travelers expedited security screening at select airports across the United States. TWIC provides workers access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities. These important, secure services allow convenient access to safe travel and transport, as well as increasing opportunities for Virginia’s diverse workforce.

“I have been thinking about enrolling in TSA Pre✓® for a while now, and it’s exciting to be able to do so simply by visiting the neighborhood DMV,” said Del. Filler-Corn, a member of the House of Delegates Transportation Committee as well as a member of the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability, while addressing attendees of the ribbon cutting.

Virginia is the first state in the nation to offer TSA Pre✓® and TWIC at select DMV offices around the state. Legislation effective July 1, 2016 enables Virginia DMV to partner with contractors of federal government agencies to offer federal services through DMV. By the end of the year, nine DMV offices across the Commonwealth will offer the services, with a tenth to open in 2017.

In addition to TSA Pre✓® and TWIC services, DMV partners with other state agencies to offer E-ZPass services at several northern Virginia locations, fishing and hunting licenses, and certified copies of Virginia vital records at all 74 customer service centers and five mobile offices across the state. Instead of traveling to the Division of Vital Records in Richmond, or requesting certificates by mail, customers can obtain their Virginia birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates on-the-spot at DMV.

“DMV is much more than a place to renew your driver’s license or vehicle registration,” explained Commissioner Holcomb. “DMV is always working to expand its portfolio of product offerings. It’s important that we bring services to you when you need them.”

Delegate Filler-Corn Honored by the Autism Society


On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the Autism Society of Northern Virginia (ASNV) honored Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) with the Community Builder of the Year Award during ASNV’s Annual Wine and Dine for Autism event. This award recognizes those who have had a significant positive impact on the autism community.

ASNV chose to honor Filler-Corn for her work in making the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act a reality in the Commonwealth. Her 2015 bill created “ABLE” Accounts, similar to the 529 college savings accounts, which would allow for those with disabilities as well as their families to save money for various needs including housing, education and medical care. Virginia was the first state to pass such legislation since the passage of the federal act. This past session, Del. Filler-Corn introduced and passed legislation that would ensure these same accounts would be free of means testing. In addition, she also worked with the Governor this year to ensure that the biennial budget included a $2000 income tax deduction for contributions to the ABLE savings accounts starting in Taxable Year 2016.

Addressing the crowd, Filler-Corn spoke of how the ABLE Act came to be, adding with pride that the idea came from constituents in her district. “Stephen Beck and his wife Catherine are parents of a child with Down syndrome and they worried for years about how they would care for Natalie when she was older and they were unable to provide the day to day support they were once able to provide. While sitting at their kitchen table they developed the idea for the [federal] ABLE Act,” said Filler-Corn “After years of advocating and working for its passage at the federal and state level, Catherine and Stephen’s hard work as well as the work of so many others paid off. While unfortunately Stephen is no longer with us, his work with Catherine will live on in these ABLE accounts, which will help countless Virginians for years to come.”

“Overall, it was an incredible evening with fabulous people all committed to make a difference. There was an impressive speech by Connor Cummings, the namesake of Connor's Law, who I had the opportunity to meet in Richmond last year as he advocated in support of legislation. Amazing musical entertainment as well by several incredibly talented individuals including my constituent Jake Sizemore, from Burke, who teaches us that we should look for the talent in everybody,” she said.

Burke, Mount Vernon: Copperthite Race Track Receives Historical Marker

2,000-person grandstand once stood in Burke.


More than 100 years since Copperthite Race Track opened in Burke, harnessed race horses once again trotted back and forth on the same grounds, now inhabited by the Burke Nursery and Garden Centre.

The race track, including a 2,000-person grandstand, was built by local entrepreneur Henry Copperthite. Elected officials, community members and seven generations of the Copperthite family came together July 31 for a celebration around unveiling of a Fairfax County historical marker for the track.

“In 1897, Henry Copperthite purchased the Silas Burke Farm and constructed nearby one of Virginia’s finest harness racing facilities,” the marker reads. “The racetrack, whose grandstand sat 2,000, opened on July 4, 1908. Horse, harness, motorcycle and car races were featured at the track. Special trains from the Washington, D.C. area brought visitors to Burke, where they could stay at the new hotel. Families enjoyed agricultural fairs, Fort Myer cavalry drills, balloon ascensions, baseball games, athletic contests and dances at a pavilion. For almost a decade, thousands were entertained at the Copperthite racetrack and fairground.”

Copperthite’s great great grandson Mike Copperthite lives in McLean and is proprietor of the family business Henry started, the Connecticut Copperthite Pie Baking Company of Georgetown. Mike Copperthite has spent the last four years working on getting the marker erected.

The Copperthite pie business was once the largest of its time, Mike Copperthite said, with 15,000 employees putting out 50,000 pies a day.

Debbie Robinson, chair of the historical marker committee, said in order for their to be a marker, it was important for Mike Copperthite and his supporters do extensive research of primary source documents and prove all the facts. The marker text, as a result, is heavily footnoted, drawing from period newspapers including “The Washington Post,” “The Sunday Star” and “The Alexandria Gazette.”

“We appreciate what happened in the past, the people who came before us,” Robinson said, “and what they did for our communities, like Henry Copperthite.”

In addition to the racetrack and grandstand, Copperthite built a hotel, sidewalks and a grocery store.

The morning of the marker unveiling, Mike Copperthite (who was joined by seven generations of the Copperthite family) served 600 of the famous pies out of the back of an original 1914 Ford Model T pie delivery truck.

The vintage vehicle was joined by other period Fords of the Nation’s Capital Model T Ford Club, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary. After appearing in Burke, the club members drove to the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum for another viewing.

To give spectators a feel of the harness horse-racing atmosphere, a horse and rider took two eighth of a mile laps on the grass along Burke Road. The running is being submitted for consideration as a record for the longest time between races at the same track.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), who represents the Burke area in the Virginia General Assembly, said she’s always interested in learning more about history and was delighted to “share this momentous occasion.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said celebrating history in this way helps us “understand what we are,” and gives “a better idea of where we want to go, what we want to be.”

Making light of the ongoing work of regulating food trucks in Fairfax County, Bulova referenced the 1914 Ford pie delivery truck. “What goes around comes around,” she said.

Jon Vrana, president of the Burke Historical Society, commented that in this area, there tends to be more focus on the Civil War-era history rather than turn of the century.

“The world was changing,” Vrana said. “This shows this area has rich history across the spectrum. It extends the understanding of the variety and diverse history we have in Fairfax.”

Governing Institute Announces Women in Government Leadership Class of 2017

Twenty-Five New Participants Selected for the Yearlong Program Designed to Promote and Support Elected Women Leaders From Across the Nation

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - August 02, 2016) - The United States is one of the worst-performing developed countries in the world when it comes to the number of women in politics.* Since 2000, the nationwide percentage of women in state legislatures has stagnated, and the 2010 election saw a decline in the number of women in Congress. In an effort to help encourage and support women in government, the Governing Institute today announced the 25 members of the Women in Government Leadership Program Class of 2017.

Governing Institute's Women in Government Leadership Program brings together outstanding elected women leaders from across the nation to acknowledge their contributions, provide leadership development, and to mentor the next generation of women leaders to run for office. The first two classes completed their yearlong curriculums in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The 50 alumnae of the program are now "paying it forward" recruiting women candidates around the U.S.

"The issue of parity is important for women, for families, for our economy and for the country. We are woefully behind other nations in terms of gender equality," said Cathilea Robinett, president of Governing and e.Republic. "Women at the state and local level in both parties need and deserve our support, which is why we launched the Women in Government Leadership Program. Our goal is to build a powerful, national network of state and local elected women leaders."

More than 125 women were nominated for the Class of 2017. The class was selected based on career and educational accomplishments, recommendations, a commitment to actively participate and the goal of seating a diverse class in a number of categories. Each class also includes one rising star, a young woman not yet serving in elected office, but with the interest and potential to run in the future.

The first member of the Class of 2017, California State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, was selected last month as the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF) Lois M. DeBerry Scholar. The annual scholarship acknowledges the pioneering work of Rep. DeBerry of Tennessee and encourages recipients to carry the spirit of leadership forward in support of women in elected office as Rep. DeBerry did for 41 years in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

"The women in the Class of 2017 are among the most influential and devoted elected leaders in state and local government," said Julia Burrows, director of the Governing Institute. "Each year, the program adds to a national collaborative, with 25 new members who establish deep friendships, support their respective campaigns and recruit future female candidates. The common goals of gender parity and better governance forge a bond that rises above partisanship and will pay dividends for literally generations into the future."

Women in Government Leadership Program Class of 2017

The Women in Government Leadership Program Class of 2017 includes women from 19 different states holding a variety of elected offices in state and local government.

The Honorable Diane Allen
New Jersey State Senator

The Honorable Megan Barry
Mayor, Nashville, Tennessee

The Honorable Ruby Brabo
Supervisor, King George County, Virginia

The Honorable Cynthia I. Cloud
Wyoming State Auditor

The Honorable Suzanne Crouch
Indiana State Auditor

The Honorable Debra M. Davis
Commissioner, Charles County, Maryland

The Honorable Eileen Filler-Corn
Virginia State Delegate

The Honorable Karen Freeman-Wilson
Mayor, Gary, Indiana

The Honorable Cindy Hyde-Smith
Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture & Commerce

The Honorable Tameika Isaac Devine
Councilwoman, Columbia, South Carolina

The Honorable Teresa Jacobs
Mayor, Orange County, Florida

The Honorable Merceria L. Ludgood
Commissioner, Mobile County, Alabama

The Honorable Lydia L. Mihalik
Mayor, Findlay, Ohio

The Honorable Holly J. Mitchell
California State Senator
SLLF Lois M. DeBerry Scholar

The Honorable Cherelle L. Parker
Councilwoman, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Honorable Deb Peters
South Dakota State Senator

The Honorable Toni Preckwinkle
Board President, Cook County, Illinois

The Honorable Julie Stokes
Louisiana State Representative

The Honorable Crystal Rhoades
Nebraska Public Services Commissioner

The Honorable Nily Rozic
New York State Assemblywoman

The Honorable Evelyn Sanguinetti
Illinois Lieutenant Governor

The Honorable Hillary Schieve
Mayor, Reno, Nevada

The Honorable Chelsa Wagner
Controller, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

The Honorable Betty T. Yee
California State Controller

Rising Star
Nicole Cid
Deputy District Attorney, Placer County, California

Each class is chosen from nominations submitted online at Women must be elected to a state or local office and not on the ballot or running unopposed during the program year.

The 25 women in the program's new class will be profiled in the February 2017 issue of Governing magazine and will participate in Governing events throughout the coming year.

The Class of 2017 will gather for their first leadership conference November 13-14 in Chandler, Arizona.

Communities Observe National Night Out

Law enforcement and neighborhoods come together in Fairfax Station, Springfield and countywide.


Every night, that’s seven nights a week, Amanda Fox and her mother make rounds of the 169 houses in their community of Cardinal Estates in Springfield.

Fox is captain of the neighborhood watch. On National Night Out, however, she’s walking around handing out glow-sticks while neighborhood children, parents and police officers watch “Zootopia” on a giant inflatable screen.

First responders from Fairfax County Police, Fire and Rescue, the Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police and other first responders spent the night on Aug. 2 visiting special events being held in their communities.

The goal is to promote interaction, respect and trust between the various agencies and the people they’re sworn to protect. And to remind and help educate community members to be more vigilant and aware of their surroundings.

“It’s great to get the community actively involved, aware of crime,” Fox said. “We have dog-walkers, runners, people out and about. If you see something, call it in.”

Captain Gervais T. Reed is Commander of the West Springfield District Station for Fairfax County Police. He took over at the beginning of July, though he’s been with the department for 26 years.

Speaking at another National Night Out gathering in the Crosspointe neighborhood of Fairfax Station, he said the special event is the department’s “number one crime prevention effort.”

“It’s more eyes and ears out there,” he said in an interview.

Reed called National Night Out a “tremendous opportunity for the community to come out and show strong ties.”

“We get wonderful support in Fairfax,” he continued. “We’ve always had a really good relationship, we’ve never taken that for granted. In some communities it’s a challenge, but it’s not here.”

Gary Saturen, neighborhood watch coordinator for Crosspointe, is with the Community Emergency Response Team that put on the event in that neighborhood. It included demonstrations of first aid and CPR, and the Sheriff’s office creating safety identification cards for children.

Saturen said he really likes the chance for people to interact with the public safety infrastructure.

“They’re human beings like the rest of us,” he said. “They support us, we support them, everyone’s happier for it.”

Supervisor Pat Herrity,R-Springfield, toured half a dozen different events with Captain Reed. He’s been attending National Night Out events since he was elected in 2008. That community support “is part of what makes Fairfax County great,” he said. “We learn what issues are happening, crime and otherwise, and remind people they have a supervisor,” Herrity added. “We all get to hear what’s important for them.”

Burke and Springfield: AARP Campaign Office Opens in Springfield


On Wednesday, July 6, Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) and Dave Albo (R-42) helped kick off the opening of the American Association of Retired Persons’s “Take a Stand” Campaign Headquarters in Springfield. The campaign is an effort to make Social Security, which provides vital income to more than 1.4 million Virginians, stronger for future generations.

“Take a Stand,” demands on behalf of all voters that presidential candidates take a stand on their plans to update Social Security. The campaign will spread its message through advertising, social media, grassroots outreach and publications. At the new campaign headquarters, AARP Virginia volunteers will be making calls to discuss with voters the need to update Social Security and encourage candidates to take a position on keeping this program solvent for future generations. Filler-Corn and Albo both participated in a ceremonial ribbon cutting in front of the office.

Filler-Corn and Albo, along with AARP Virginia’s State Director Jim Dau spoke at the event. Filler-Corn said that Social Security must be strengthened for the future, pointing out that one in six Virginians receive a monthly check from the program. “Every American deserves a secure, healthy and dignified retirement,” Filler-Corn said. “Social Security must be kept strong for seniors, people with disabilities, and future generations.”

Dau told the crowd gathered at the ribbon-cutting of the Take a Stand Springfield office that Virginia voters – key in the upcoming presidential election – want to hear the candidates talk more about Social Security on the campaign trail. “AARP Virginia and our more than million members here in the Commonwealth think doing nothing is not an option, and we’re here to do something about it,” he said.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935. The program will celebrate 81 years of existence this August. “Social Security is the most successful anti-poverty program in American History. We must do all we can to protect it,” said Filler-Corn.

Burke and Springfield: McAuliffe Signs High School Curriculum Bill Into Law


On Monday, June 13, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-41) bill, HB 659 in the State Capitol in Richmond. HB 659 will require high-school family-life curricula to include awareness, understanding and prevention of dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

“This bill focuses on prevention,” says Filler-Corn. “We need to educate our youth at a younger age. Silence is not an option. We cannot expect them to wait to learn about dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence in college. We need to teach them earlier.”

Filler-Corn was flanked by leading voices in the fight against campus and domestic sexual assault including: Gil Harrington, co-founder of Help Save the Next Girl and mother of Morgan Harrington, who was tragically murdered in 2009; Trina Murphy, aunt of Alexis Murphy, who disappeared in 2013 in Nelson County and whose body was never found; and Annie Clark, executive director and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, an organization seeking to end campus sexual violence through direct support for survivors; prevention through education; and meaningful policy reform. “This bill will save more lives,” said Harrington, immediately following the bill signing.

Delegate Filler-Corn’s bill, HB 659, had both Democratic and Republican co-patrons and passed unanimously out of the House of Delegates and near unanimously out of the Senate during the 2016 General Assembly Session. It will take effect on July 1, 2016.

Burke and Springfield: Saving ABLE Savings Accounts


On Friday, June 10, Governor Terry McAuliffe and Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) joined Special Olympics Virginia’s Opening Ceremonies to ceremonially sign Delegate Filler-Corn’s bill, HB 1103, into law. HB 1103 builds upon Filler-Corn’s 2015 legislation, the Virginia Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which created 529 savings accounts for people with disabilities (called ABLE accounts) similar to those used to save for college. HB 1103 ensures that these ABLE Accounts will be free of means testing at the state level.

“After meeting with Virginia 529 last fall, I found out that while Virginia ABLE accounts would be exempt from federal means testing, they could be subject to state means testing. If we didn’t act, some families might decide to avoid ABLE accounts and their advantages for fear of an adverse impact on eligibility for critical state benefits programs,” said Filler-Corn. “This outcome would circumvent the intent of both the federal and state ABLE legislation and fail to assist the very individuals intended to benefit from ABLE accounts. That’s why I introduced HB 1103.”


Governor McAuliffe and Delegate Filler-Corn have also announced that the 2016-2018 budget includes an income tax deduction for contributions to the ABLE savings accounts starting in Taxable Year 2016 – up to $2,000 per contributor. “While the 2015 ABLE Act was a significant and bi-partisan victory, I knew that we could do better. We could make this program one of the shining examples for the rest of the country,” added Filler-Corn.

Filler-Corn was joined by many stakeholders who advocated for the passage of both the 2015 and 2016 legislation including Catherine Beck and her daughter Natalie. The Becks are residents of the 41st House District—represented by Filler-Corn. The federal ABLE law is also named for Catherine’s late husband, Stephen who was a driving force for the federal law.

ABLE Accounts will be available for Virginians with disabilities later this year; however, the website where people can eventually open these savings accounts is already live. Those who are interested in finding out more about ABLE accounts can visit

Honoring Fallen in Springfield


Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Filler-Corn participated in several Memorial Day events over Memorial Day Weekend. On Friday, Filler-Corn joined with Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39) to commemorate Memorial Day with the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce at the American Legion Post 176.

Those in attendance watched as members of the American Legion laid a wreath to honor the memory of all veterans in the Greater Springfield area. Addressing the veterans and active duty military members in attendance, Filler-Corn said, “You are truly heroes and your commitment to your country deserves the highest recognition and appreciation.”

Filler-Corn states that having a large military population in her district has encouraged her to both introduce and co-sponsor military and veteran friendly legislation during her tenure in the House of Delegates. In addition to co-sponsoring several military friendly measures this past General Assembly Session, in 2015, Filler-Corn introduced and passed a bill (now law) that reduces from 30 to 20 days the allowable application review period after which a regulatory board within the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation or the Department of Health Professions among others will be required to issue a temporary license to certain military spouses while the board completes its review.

Filler-Corn believes that this law will be beneficial to the many military spouses who leave their careers behind when their spouse gets transferred. Filler-Corn concluded by stating how proud she is to be a member of the General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus which advocates for the interests of Virginia's Veterans and Military communities.

Memorial Day 2016 Observed at Burke Centre Conservancy


Piper Matthew Kuldell led the color guard -- members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5412 and Boy Scout Troop 1345 -- into the area of the Burke Centre Conservancy on May 31 to begin the observance of Memorial Day.

Friends, families and supporters of military men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country sat on folder chairs set up on the Conservancy’s expansive green lawn.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) and State Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) each made remarks. They were joined by keynote speaker Brigadier Gen. Billy D. Thompson, U.S. Air Force.

Gov. McAuliffe Signs Del. Filler-Corn's Legislation Into Law


On Thursday, April 14, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed several bills into law relating to sexual assault, including legislation related to the storage and testing of physical evidence recovery kits (PERKs), as well as legislation that enables a minor to consent to an evidence recovery examination over the objections of a parent or guardian and Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-41) bill, HB 1102, which promotes collaboration between state agencies and campus law enforcement in the development of trauma-informed training to ensure that survivors of sexual assault receive the support and evidence-based treatment they need.

“From day one, the health and safety of Virginia’s women has been a chief priority of our administration. That is why I created and enabled a group of leaders and advocates to offer solutions to enhance the services and protections this Commonwealth offers to survivors of sexual violence," said McAuliffe. “The survivors of these malicious crimes are trusting in us to provide a full accounting of these cases and to bring perpetrators to justice. To ensure their safety, it is vital that we have all areas of law enforcement, government, and private organizations working together. The measures…provide a permanent and coherent solution for that process,” he said.

“I’m so proud to have sponsored a bill that will reduce the trauma of survivors by developing training for law enforcement,” Filler-Corn said. “The Department of Criminal Justice services and SCHEV working together will greatly improve the lives of survivors of sexual assault.” The Delegate from Springfield was also pleased to serve as a co-patron on HB 1160, which establishes procedures for handling evidence kits in sexual assaults, after having introduced a similar bill this past session herself.

All legislation signed by the governor will take effect July 1, 2016.

Del. Filler-Corn Champions New Laws Preventing, Combating Sexual Assault


On Friday, March 11, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), flanked by leading voices in the fight against campus and domestic sexual assault participated in a press conference in Richmond on the last day of the 2016 General Assembly session announcing the passage of several bills addressing this issue.

Filler-Corn introduced three bills this session focused on this topic.

*HB 659 will require high school family life curricula on awareness, understanding and prevention of dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual violence.

*HB 1102 will require the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop multi-disciplinary curricula on trauma informed sexual assault investigation.

  • HB 655 was incorporated into HB 1160 (patroned by Del. Rob Bell of Albermarle), relates to the storage of Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERKs), ensuring that all PERKs are stored for a minimum of two years or two years from the victim’s 18th birthday, if the victim is underage.

“Yes, we had success last year moving the ball forward on these crucial issues,” said Filler-Corn referencing related bills she helped shepherd last year, “but the key this session was to shift focus to education and prevention. This year we did exactly that. My hope is that with earlier information, young people can prevent incidents of sexual assault both on campus and in any and all settings.”

The sentiment was echoed by several longtime victims’ rights advocates who praised the legislation as thoughtful and substantive.

Said Gil Harrington, mother of Morgan Harrington and founder of Help Save the Next Girl, in Richmond on Friday: "I applaud the work of Delegate Filler-Corn. House Bill 659 will teach high school students skills that may actually ensure their very survival in our complex world. House Bill 1102 will train investigators to respond with more compassion and help improve psychological health for victims.”

Annie Clark, executive director of End Rape on Campus, termed the education component “a critical first step. If we wait until college orientation to talk about sexual assault, then we are way too late.”

She, too, credited the Springfield lawmaker for her leadership on the issue: “End Rape on Campus is so thankful for Delegate Filler-Corn’s commitment to ending sexual violence and supporting survivors.”

HB 1102 and HB 1160 were among 21 recommendations of a state task force formed by Governor Terry McAuliffe and led by Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

All of the bills have an April 11 deadline for the Governor to either sign, veto or amend.

White Oaks Students Tour the Capitol


On Sunday, February 28th, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield) hosted student artists and their families from White Oaks Elementary School in Burke, VA for a reception and capitol tour in Richmond. White Oaks Elementary School Principal Ryan Richardson and White Oaks Art Teacher Susan Mosios were also in attendance.

Since January, the works of these young artists have been displayed on the fourth floor of the General Assembly building, in the hallway leading to Filler-Corn’s Richmond office. This is the first time that Filler-Corn has featured artwork from a local elementary school. "I would like this to be an annual event, featuring different schools in the 41st District,” Filler-Corn said.

The student artists are a variety of ages and used a variety of mediums in their artwork. Students from second to sixth grade submitted drawings of birds, cityscapes, the solar system, gourds, and even abstract landscapes. The works were selected blind—without knowledge of which student made them, by White Oaks art teachers, Susan Mosios and Erin Perticone. “I was so pleased when Delegate Filler-Corn contacted me about featuring our students’ art work in the General Assembly Building,” said Mosios.  “It is crucial to encourage the arts at a young age. It broadens a child’s understanding of the world,” she added.

Delegate Filler-Corn, who also serves as chair of the General Assembly Arts Caucus, was pleased that so many families made the trip down to Richmond. She posed for pictures with many of the student artists as they pointed out their artwork to her and their very proud parents. “You never know who might have walked by these paintings,” Filler-Corn explained to the students. “Delegates, Senators, and Cabinet Secretaries have all viewed your beautiful work. You should be so proud of yourselves." 

Following the reception in the General Assembly Building, the entire group, including Delegate Filler-Corn, walked over to the Capitol for an official tour, with a stop on the Floor of the chamber House of Delegates. The students listened intently to both the tour guide’s explanation of the history of the chamber, and the Delegate’s stories of a day in the life of a Delegate in the General Assembly.

Filler-Corn hopes to continue the tradition with other local elementary schools in the 41st District. “There are nine elementary schools in my district. I look forward to continuing the tradition we started this session for years to come. ” Delegate Filler-Corn said.


Burke, Fairfax: Filler-Corn Promotes Child Care Safety in the General Assembly


In the 2016 General Assembly Session, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) has offered two bipartisan bills continuing her work in making child care safer in Virginia. Ensuring that child care facilities are licensed, regulated and safe has been a priority for Filler-Corn since 2014, when she first introduced legislation that would close that threshold gap for caring for children in an unlicensed day care, as well as requiring child care providers to go through an extensive background check which includes a fingerprint check to ensure that these providers are fully vetted and are who they say they are. “As a mother of two, I know first hand how stressful it can be to not only find child care, but know that your child is safe,” said Filler-Corn.

Last year the General Assembly passed legislation requiring a fingerprint check for licensed providers and those who are unlicensed who care for children receiving a childcare subsidy. This bill becomes effective in 2017. However, loopholes still remain. “If the law is not fixed, Virginia stands to lose $5 million annually through a reduction in federal child care funds,” according to Sharon Veatch, executive director of Child Care Aware Virginia.

Del. Filler-Corn’s first bill, HB 474, requires the Department of Social Services (DSS) to study child day centers that are licensed and exempt from licensure. Additionally DSS would be required to review all categories of child day programs exempt from licensure, formulate recommendations regarding whether such programs should remain exempt from licensure or whether any modifications that may be necessary to protect the health and well-being of the children receiving care in such programs, consider such other matters as may be necessary regarding health and safety requirements for licensed child day centers, and consult with all relevant stakeholders. Del. Filler-Corn’s second bill, HB 500, conforms Virginia’s child care background checks with federal requirements.

Both pieces of legislation were heard in the Health, Welfare and Institutions, Subcommittee #3. The subcommittee voted to continue HB 500 into the 2017 session. The full Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee then heard HB 474 on Tuesday, Feb. 9 and referred it to the House Committee on Rules. While the bill was tabled, they did however, direct the Department of Social Services to review both license and license-exempt care.

Burke and Fairfax: House Passes Filler-Corn Legislation Helping Pediatric Cancer Survivors

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D-41) bill, HB 475 passed the House of Delegates unanimously on Monday. The bipartisan bill requires the Department of Education to review regulations and suggest revisions to existing guidelines relating to a return to learn protocol for students who have been treated for pediatric cancer.

“These students are coming back, often, from a brutal regimen of chemotherapy or radiation or surgery or all of the above. Until now, students who have courageously fought back – against both the disease and the treatment – have had difficulty returning to their classroom. My bill, HB 475 seeks to change that. It will help parents know what questions to ask. It will help schools be prepared for a student’s return and most importantly ensure a student’s transition back to school is as smooth as possible,” said Filler-Corn.

Pediatric cancer survivors can face a bevy of complications upon achieving remission. Cognitive late effects impact attention and concentration, short term memory and processing speed. The physical late effects may include fatigue, low stamina, hearing loss or neuropathy in the hands or feet, along with numerous others. 

Alma Morgan, an educational consultant with VCU Medical Center, who specializes in oncology and hematology patients was extremely pleased with the bill’s passage.

“While the survival rate for childhood cancer has improved significantly, we have to be educated on the late effects of treatment and how the late effects impede academic success. Many times these late effects do not show up until several years after treatment…The Return to Learn protocols can educate both staff and parents, as well as address specific modifications and accommodations for all children returning to school following treatment,” said Morgan.

The bill builds on Filler-Corn’s previous work, when her bill which placed language for a "Return to Learn" protocol into the Virginia Board of Education’s concussion guidelines was signed by the governor in 2014. The legislation requires school personnel to accommodate the gradual return to the classroom of a student suffering a concussion. The appropriate time away is based on a recommendation of the student’s doctor, in consultation with school administrators.

HB 475 will be heard by the Virginia Senate after crossover on Tuesday, Feb. 16.


Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn Offers 16 Far-Reaching Bills Reflecting Broad Areas of District Concern


Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (41st District) introduced a series of bills in furtherance of her work in education, victims’ rights, health care, public safety and prudent fiscal growth. “My constituents represent ranging views on a myriad of matters,” said Filler-Corn. “But those differences are dwarfed by the common hopes for our children. It is from that perspective that I have introduced the following 16 bills for consideration to the General Assembly this year:”



  • HB 660—Angel Investor Tax Credit 
    Would improve the already existing angel investor tax credit program open to entrepreneurs. The cap on the maximum amount of credits available to each taxpayer would increase from $50,000 to $100,000.
  • HB 661—Fees on Outdoor Advertising Permits
    Would direct the Virginia Department of Transportation to increase application fees for outdoor advertising permits, allowing the program to be self-supporting.
  • HB 662—Low-Cost Open Educational Resources for Higher Education. 
    Would allow the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV) to provide grants to encourage low-cost or no-cost open educational resources. This would give college and university students the opportunity to spend less on textbook materials.
  • HB 1092—Amending the responsibilities of the Charitable Gaming Board
    Amends the responsibilities of the Charitable Gaming Board to regulate charitable gaming in the Commonwealth and creates a Charitable Gaming Fund to be used for the administration and enforcement of charitable gaming laws.
  • HB 1100—Research and Development Tax Credits 
    Would modify the existing research and development expenses tax credit and create a similar tax credit for businesses with related expenses in excess of $5 million for the taxable year. The bill would change the existing tax credit by extending the expiration date from January 1, 2019, to January 1, 2026; establish an alternative computation for the tax credit beginning with taxable year2016; and increase from $6 million to $7 million the maximum amount of tax credits that may be granted.


  • HB 473Palliative Care Information and Education Program
    Would direct the Board of Health to require that every state-licensed hospital, nursing home, and certified nursing facility establish a system for identifying end-stage and long term chronically ill patients and residents who may benefit from palliative care, helping them access treatment that is dignified, humane and appropriate.
  • HB 475Return to Learn Protocol                                                   
    Would direct local school boards to establish a Return to Learn Protocol for the gradual return to academic activities by students who have been treated for pediatric cancer.
  • HB 505—Elderly and Disabled Consumer Direction Waiver Amendment                                                                                       
    Would direct the Department of Medical Assistance Services to allow a parent to be reimbursed for providing consumer-directed caregiving services to his or her adult child with disabilities living under the same roof.
  • HB 1103—ABLE Act Amendment 
    Would amend the ABLE Act to ensure that all state organizations are exempt from means testing, consistent with federal law.



  • HB 474—Task Force to Study Unlicensed Child Care
    Would require that the Secretary of Health and Human Resources convene a task force composed of child-care providers and other stakeholders to review and make recommendations to the Governor and the appropriate legislative committees on updated requirements for child care providers by November 1st, 2016.
  • HB 500—Criminal History Background Checks for Childcare Providers                                        
    Would require Childcare providers to undergo fingerprint-based national criminal-history background checks beginning July 1st, 2017.
  • HB 655—Storage of PERK Kits 
    Would require evidence in a sexual assault case to be retained by law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred and that Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERKs) be retained for a minimum of five years. 
  • HB 658—Prohibit Possession of Firearms if under Protective Order 
    Would prohibit anyone bound by protective orders from possessing a firearm.
  • HB 659—Adopt Safe Relationship-Behavior High-School Curriculum 
    Would require all high schools to adopt a curriculum that includes relationship behavior, prevention of adolescent- and teen-dating violence, domestic abuse and consent.
  • HB 1102—Trauma-sensitive Training for Sex-Crime investigative Teams 
    Would require the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) establish curriculum and training on Trauma-informed Sexual Assault Investigations by law enforcement and related investigatory personnel.  The training would be multi-disciplinary to include law enforcement, Title IX coordinators and investigators, campus law enforcement, local law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates and forensic nurses.
  • HB 1210—Gun Safe Sales Tax Exemption
    Would exempt the purchase of biometric and dial-locking gun safes under $1000 from state sales tax, encouraging safe storage of firearms.

Del. Filler-Corn Receives the Jobs for America’s Graduates’ National Network Leadership Award


Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) was honored by Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) with their National Network Leadership Award in Washington, D.C. This annual awards event recognizes a select number of national, state and local leaders for their support of the mission of Jobs for America’s Graduates, as well as the activities of their respective state organizations and local JAG programs.

JAG is a national nonprofit organization with state partners, dedicated to preventing school dropouts among young people who are most at risk. Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer both serve on JAG’s national board of directors. JAG recognized Filler-Corn for her work as chair of their Virginia affiliated organization, Jobs for Virginia Graduates (JVG), which she has chaired since 2012, succeeding Congressman Beyer. 

The festivities began on Wednesday night in the Kennedy Caucus Room at the Russell Senate Office Building. Following an introduction by Beyer, Filler-Corn had the opportunity to address the crowd. “One of my principal goals for JVG is to become Virginia's ‘Program of Choice’ for dropout prevention and obtaining good job opportunities for at-risk students,” said Filler-Corn. “On a personal level, I am committed to continuing to expand the ability of Jobs for Virginia graduates to reach a growing percentage of the many thousands of our students who remain at high risk of dropping out of school before graduation, and thus become likely to remain on the sidelines of an otherwise growing economy throughout their working lives,” she added.

In addition to Beyer, Sen. Tim Kaine and Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton also attended Wednesday night, as well as Mississippi governor and current chair of JAG, Phil Bryant. The following day, JAG held its national awards luncheon where Filler-Corn was presented with a plaque commemorating her efforts on behalf of JVG.

White Oaks Hosts “Bring Your Veteran to Breakfast”


On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) spoke to students, parents and veterans at White Oaks Elementary for their sixth annual “Bring Your Veteran to Breakfast” event. The event honored those individuals in the school community who are currently serving or who have served in the U.S. Military.

Started by Marion Fegley and assisted by fourth grade teacher Charlotte Hoffer and kindergarten teacher and Army veteran Ralph DiBacco, the elementary school’s annual breakfast has grown to serve nearly 300 guests, children, parents and veterans alike.

In her remarks to the attendees, Filler-Corn presented Principal Ryan Richardson with a letter from the Virginia Department of Veterans Services Commissioner John Newby. She also recognized all veterans, active-duty men and women, Guardsmen and Reservists in the audience.

“You have gone above and beyond duty, raising your hand to volunteer to defend our nation and freedoms. The Commonwealth thanks each and every one of you, and I thank you and your families,” she stated.

Filler-Corn also shared with the group that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced that day that Virginia has become the first state in the country to functionally end Veteran homelessness. “No one who has served our country in times of war or peace, men or women, active duty or reserves, should ever be left on the streets without shelter or services,” she said.

After Del. Filler-Corn’s remarks, the attendees were treated to a concert by Downrange, the U.S. Army’s Rock Band. Downrange has been entertaining members of the armed services and their families since 2002. When the concert ended, service members and veterans visited classrooms and encouraged the White Oaks students to work hard, listen to their teachers and enjoy learning.

Students thanked their honored guests with cards, showing appreciation for the sacrifices made by the men and women who served our country.

Delegate Filler-Corn Addresses Student Leadership Conference


Last Wednesday, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) served as the keynote speaker at the Jobs for Virginia Graduates' Student Leadership Conference in Richmond. She currently serves as chair of the organization.

Jobs for Virginia Graduates (JVG) currently works with over 1,250 high school students in the Commonwealth per year. The program seeks to work with at-risk and disadvantaged youth to graduate from high school and then obtain and keep quality jobs. It is affiliated with the Jobs for American Graduates (JAG) program. Using JAG’s model, JVG acts as one of the state’s initiatives for decreasing the dropout rate and improving the transition from school to work. JVG works through Virginia’s public school system, and together with state employment programs.

In her remarks to the students, Del. Filler-Corn first spoke about her journey to elected office and then addressed the importance of improving the world, finding commitments beyond careers and college, and the values of perseverance and resilience.

“What does it mean to improve the world?” asked Filler-Corn. “Some argue that it means building an ethical society. We improve our world by treating people how they want to be treated and encouraging others to do the same…others argue that improving the world should be a call to action. It’s a responsibility. People cannot only focus on creating this model society within their own communities, but they are responsible for the welfare of a greater world at large. I truly take this to heart.

“As the Chair of JVG, it was wonderful to meet many smart and promising students who have already overcome tremendous challenges in their young lives and remain positive and hopeful for achieving a bright future.” said Filler-Corn after her remarks.

Del. Filler-Corn’s ‘CARE Act’ Passes the House


Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s (D–41) HB 1413 passed the full House of Delegates on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. HB 1413 or the “CARE Act” addresses the important role of the informal and family caregivers and improved communication with them and medical providers. Specifically, the bill looks to improve healthcare and reduce preventable hospital revisits by having hospitals formally acknowledge a patient’s family caregiver at the time of admission and provide critical home care instruction before discharge.

“In Virginia today we know that the majority of older Virginia residents want to live independently at home. Family caregivers in Virginia help their loved ones achieve this. They are there when a person in need wakes up, when they fall asleep and in between. Simply put, they are the bedrock and foundation of our long term care system,” said Del. Filler-Corn.

The CARE Act will also strengthen the link between hospital care and home based care, an interface of critical importance that will need continued attention. “Many family caregivers perform a variety of nursing/medical tasks once provided only in hospitals. However, most family caregivers receive little or no training to do these tasks,” added Del. Filler-Corn.

Almost half of family caregivers reported they never received training to perform tasks of the kind and complexity once provided only in hospitals. “There is a need for HB 1413 and I believe that it is in the best interest of Virginia to implement this legislation,” continued Delegate Filler-Corn.

Most Virginians who receive assistance at home rely exclusively on unpaid family caregivers for help. In fact, family caregivers provide unpaid care valued at about $11.7 billion annually.

“Delegate Filler-Corn understands the critical role family caregivers play in hospital transitions and in keeping their loved ones from being rehospitalized. We are grateful for her leadership. Family caregivers have a big responsibility and this bill will make their lives a little easier,” said David DeBiasi, Associate State Director of AARP Virginia.

Eileen Filler-Corn Holds First Mid-Session Office Hours in Springfield


Though Del. Eileen Filler-Corn made headlines in the first week of the General Assembly for her proposed legislation on how sexual assault on college campuses is reported, she was game for any topic at her first mid-session office hours.

The delegate held court on Jan. 24 from 9:30-11 a.m. at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Springfield. She said it offers a much better opportunity than a larger town hall meeting to engage with constituents about issues that are personal to them.

“We don’t have an office, this is our office,” said Filler-Corn. “I’m always available, but some people are more intimidated by calling or emailing. They know I’ll be sitting here.”

Burke residents Jane and Reede Taylor didn’t know about the office hours ahead of time, but interrupted their breakfast at Peet’s to meet Filler-Corn.

“I’m so glad she’s out here, seeing what’s going on,” said Reede. “She’s trying to find out, trying to understand.”

“I get great ideas for legislation from these,” Filler-Corn added, “like my bill helping self-managed homeowners’ associations that’s now law. That literally came from a meeting like this.”

Filler-Corn’s next office hours will be Feb. 15, 10-11:30 a.m., at Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, 5719 Burke Centre Parkway, Burke.

Filler-Corn Announces Legislative Agenda

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) recently unveiled the legislation she has introduced for consideration by the 2014 General Assembly.

Among Delegate Filler-Corn’s legislative priorities are education, public and campus safety, workforce development, childcare safety, creating the new Virginia economy and looking out for our seniors.

Del. Filler-Corn was reappointed by Speaker William Howell to the House Transportation Committee and House Finance Committee for the 2015 General Assembly Session. In addition, she was newly appointed to the House Commerce and Labor Committee. This Committee is responsible for all business, economic development, workforce development and employerrights related legislation.

Among the bills introduced by Del. Filler Corn this week are:

  • HB 1343 - Campus Sexual Assaults - This bill would require campus and or local law enforcement to report reported instances of campus sexual assaults to the local Commonwealth Attorney within 48 hours of the reported incident.

  • HB 2047 - Child Care Safety – Currently, child providers that care for 6 or less unrelated children are exempt from state safety regulations, this bill looks to close that threshold gap to ensure children are safe while in the hands of child care providers

  • HB 1552 Child Care Safety – This bill would require licensed child care providers to go through an extensive background check which includes a fingerprint check to ensure that these providers are fully vetted and are who they say they are.

  • HB 1327 - This bill would permit individuals 75 years or older or persons with a disability to go to the head of the line on Election Day or when voting absentee between the hours of 9:30 to 4:30 when lines tend to be shorter.

  • HB 1413 - The CARE Act looks to improve healthcare and reduce preventable hospital visits by requiring hospitals to formally acknowledge a patient’s family caregiver at the time of admission and providing critical at home care instruction.

  • HB 1668 - This bill would give students in all grades the opportunity to be given an expedited retake of the Standards of Learning (SOL) examination, in the event of their failure to pass the initial test.

This is a partial list of legislation. Details on all of these bills as well as the rest of the bills and budget amendments Del. Filler-Corn introduced this week and their status in the legislative process can be found at under Del. Filler-Corn’s name.


It was an honor and privilege to join Sheriff Kincaid, the 40 plus Deputies and the incredible children participating in the Shop With A Sheriff program last week. It was inspiring to watch the hard working Sheriff and so many Deputies give more of their time to provide opportunities for these kids.  It was heartwarming to watch the excitement in the kids' eyes as they were afforded the opportunity to do some back to school shopping. It was hard for many to contain their excitement as they selected, shoes, sneakers, socks, undergarments, coats, jeans and wallets for their newly acquired IDs from the Sheriff's office. I spoke with many of these kids and they expressed their desire to return to school and their classroom as soon as possible!  I look forward to participating annually to support these well deserved children in our community. Great job Sheriff Kincaid on a well run, much needed and impressive program.

You can watch news coverage here



Workshop Promotes Science Education

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) is pictured here with Mark Ginsberg, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University and Ashley Hart, a teacher from Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) is pictured here with Mark Ginsberg, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University and Ashley Hart, a teacher from Willow Springs Elementary School in Fairfax. Photo contributed

On Tuesday, July 15, the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA), in conjunction with the George Mason University College of Education and Human Development, held a day-long program that focused on advancing science education in Fairfax County schools.

The workshop was an opportunity for both students and teachers to gain a better understanding of science education and instruction. The program also focused on enhancing the comprehension of scientific subjects by all students, including those with special needs. A major objective is to maximize the quality of elementary science education by increasing the number of certified middle school and high school science teachers.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) joined the participants in witnessing firsthand the efforts of VISTA and GMU in fostering science education throughout the state. “I was incredibly impressed by the program that VISTA organized, bringing together students and teachers to enhance their knowledge and teaching ability of science based material. STEM degrees are preparing our children for the jobs of the future. VISTA has recognized this and is aiming to give Virginia students the best chance of succeeding going forward,” said Filler-Corn.

Similar all-day workshops have also been held at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, at VCU in Richmond, and at William & Mary in Williamsburg. In the Fairfax program, the students tackled a real-life scenario of construction run-off causing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay that are no longer able to sustain natural habitats. The students' objective was to develop methods for mitigating the environmental impact of construction at George Mason University on the Chesapeake Watershed ecosystem.

Del. Filler-Corn added, "These impressive students are examining real problems facing our communities and the Commonwealth as a whole. With the assistance of certified science instructors and an increased emphasis on STEM education, VISTA is helping ensure that these real-world challenges can be addressed by our next generation of leaders. I was pleased to be able to join them and I look forward to continuing my involvement with VISTA's efforts in the future."


Governor McAuliffe Signs into Law Legislation for Military

A signing ceremony was held in Norfolk, Va. right outside of the USS Wisconsin.

A signing ceremony was held in Norfolk, Va. right outside of the USS Wisconsin.

Virginia has one of the largest active-military populations, second only to California and the most military civilians by state. Several of the bills focused on helping military families moving to the Commonwealth with their normal services and job transition. Among those were HB 1247 introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41). HB 1247 requires the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation to expedite the review process for temporary licenses for military spouses that already hold the equivalent license in another state.

Other legislation aimed to help military families and spouses were HB 576, increasing eligibility into Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, SB138, increasing the grace period of vehicle safety inspection approval for certain members of armed services and SB18 which extends unemployment compensation to military spouses voluntarily leaving their job to accompany their spouse in reassignment.

"It was an honor to join my colleagues, the Governor and Admiral Harvey to sign these critically important pieces of legislation into law. I look forward to continuing to advocate for military families and I hope my bill eases the burdens on military spouses associated with reassignment," said Delegate Filler-Corn.


Del. Filler-Corn Appointed to State Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) was appointed to the Virginia Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation in April. This Commission is comprised of members of the General Assembly to promote the Commonwealth’s interest between other states and the federal government. The Commission formulates proposals for cooperation between Virginia and other states as well as formulating proposals concerning interstate contracts and conferences. Additionally, the Commission monitors and makes recommendations concerning federal policies that are of concern to the Commonwealth.

"My personal and professional experience gives me great insight into intergovernmental relationships as well as between the Commonwealth and the federal government. I can use this experience to promote the Commonwealth and increase our standing as one of the best managed states” said Filler-Corn.

Delegate Filler-Corn has served as Deputy Director of the Virginia Liaison Office under Mark Warner during his term as Governor. There she served as a contact between Virginia, the U.S. Congress, other state offices and other state governments. Filler-Corn then served as Senior Advisor for State and Federal Relations in Governor Tim Kaine’s Administration.

Del. Filler-Corn has been appointed to a term that will coincide with her term in the Virginia House of Delegates.



Del. Filler-Corn Meets Scout Troop 698 of Burke

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) visits with Scout Troop 698 of Burke to talk about civics and the Virginia General Assembly.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) visits with Scout Troop 698 of Burke to talk about civics and the Virginia General Assembly.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) recently met with Scout Troop 698 of Burke to discuss the important role civics and community participation plays in government and community development. Del. Filler-Corn and the group even played Virginia jeopardy, testing the Scouts knowledge of the House of Delegates and everything Virginia.

"I truly enjoy spending time out in our community, meeting with many groups throughout the 41st district. I continue to be inspired by so many individuals who regularly work to help make our community a wonderful place to live. I am especially energized by meeting with groups of young people. These young scouts were quite impressive, knowledgeable and inquisitive. I know the future of the Commonwealth will be better off with their leadership in he future," said Del. Filler-Corn.

The Scout Troop 698 of Burke is led by Scoutmaster Mike Koehler of Burke and the event was organized by Eagle Advisor Heather Zdancewicz.

Bill to Help Homeowners’ Associations

Del. Filler-Corn passes legislation to help constituent homeowners’ associations.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), right, with Tena Bluhm of Fairfax after testifying in favor of HB 550 to benefit local HOAs.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41), right, with Tena Bluhm of Fairfax after testifying in favor of HB 550 to benefit local HOAs. Photo contributed

Currently, the Code of Virginia requires that all homeowners’ associations respond to a written records request within five business days. While five business days is an ample amount of time for a HOA that has a common interest community manager in charge of association management, these requirements often represent a burden and problem for self-managed communities.

HB 550 extends the time for self-managed unit owners' associations to respond to a written request for information from five days to ten days. "By doubling the time allotted to return requested information by self-managed Associations, we are providing flexibility and added convenience for these organizations", said Del. Filler-Corn. "Self-managed communities are run by volunteers in the community who have dedicated time to help their neighborhood. The governing members of these associations often have full-time jobs, which can require significant commitments, including travel. Therefore, it is not always possible for these associations and their members to respond to these requests within five days."

Tena Bluhm, a 41st District resident of Fairfax and local homeowner association president worked with Del. Filler-Corn on this legislation. "The present five day time frame to produce copies of an association's books and records places an unreasonable burden on such an association. The passage of HB 550 will greatly relieve the burden and help self-managed associations remain in compliance with the Code of Virginia," said Bluhm.

"These community associations are the lifeblood of many towns and counties across the Commonwealth. I know the important role they play in my district, and I highly value their input and opinion," said Filler-Corn.

HB 550 was supported by the Virginia Legislative Action Committee which is a committee of Community Associations Institute and the Virginia Realtors Association.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s bill, HB 550, was signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe on March 7 and will take effect on July 1.

Delegate Filler-Corn Passes Legislation for Military Spouses

House Bill 1247, aimed at reducing burdensome red tape for military spouses, has passed the House of Delegates and Senate with unanimous bipartisan support and now awaits signature from the Governor.  Sponsored by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (41st District) and supported by the Administration, HB 1247 would require the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation to expedite the review process for temporary licenses from 30 to 20 days for military spouses that already hold the equivalent license in another state.

“Our military servicemen and servicewomen sacrifice so much for their country every single day. Many military spouses are often forced to leave successful careers behind and face excessive red tape preventing them from resettling in their chosen profession upon relocation. This bill aims to ease that burden.”

Virginia currently employs the second highest number of active-duty military out of the 50 states.  A wide variety of professionals are required to have state-issued licenses in order to work in their field. This bill affects everyone from realtors, barbers, accountants, to construction workers.

“Every day that military spouses must wait to receive a license for a profession that they are already approved to practice in another state is another day that they are unable to earn income, support their family, and contribute to Virginia’s economy” said Filler-Corn. “This bill will reduce the time it takes for military spouses to receive temporary licenses for their professions, thereby dramatically reducing their financial and emotional burdens.”


Delegate Filler-Corn Up Close and Personal

Eileen Filler-Corn meets constituents over bagels and coffee

By Janelle Germanos Friday, February 21, 2014

Residents of the Burke area visiting local bagel and coffee shops may have found themselves meeting a busy state legislator over the last couple weeks.

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) has been holding office hours at locations such as Caribou Coffee and Einstein Brothers Bagels in order to connect with constituents and listen to their concerns.

The General Assembly recently passed Crossover Day, when all bills that originated in the House switch to the Senate, and vice versa.

As the legislative session moves on, Filler-Corn said her office hours are a great way to meet with her constituents in person.

“Sometimes they have personal issues that they want to talk about. Other times, if we have four or five waiting, we’ll all sit at one table and talk, but sometime they just want to talk privately,” Filler-Corn said.

Filler-Corn said the topic of conversation really depends.

“I’d say education is a big one in the 41st district. SOL reform has been very big,” Filler-Corn said.

SOL reform and education have been major issues this session and are often brought up by constituents at her office hours, Filler-Corn said.

“We have some of the best schools in Fairfax County,” Filler-Corn said. “I think we are moving in the right direction with our SOL reform. A lot of folks want to talk about education.”

Medicaid Expansion is another major priority for Filler-Corn.

“Closing the coverage gap is really a better way of saying it. Just focusing on individuals- 400,000 working Virginians don’t have insurance. We can do something about it, and we really just need to act now. Why not take the money? We’re losing five million dollars a day by not accepting federal money,” Filler-Corn said. “I would say that’s the number one issue.”

According to Filler-Corn, constituents also bring up ethics reform at office hours.

“We spent a lot of time going over some of the current events of what transpired and specific laws and restrictions. We want to know what we can do to ensure the public’s trust, and what will that take,” she said.

Burke resident Rosemarie Kirwan said that ethics and voting reform are the most important issues in Virginia.

Kirwan, who said she has been in activist mode lately, is a major supporter of having more women elected to office.

“I think more women in government is better for society,” Kirwan said.



Virginia House Votes 95-0 on Proposal to Freeze Credit of Minors

Legislation was introduced by Northern Virginia lawmakers Delegate Scott Surovell and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn.

Posted by Mary Ann Barton (Editor) , February 07, 2014

The Virginia House of Delegates has voted 95-0 in favor of legislation to freeze the credit of minors to protect them from predatory credit card offers and identity theft.

The legislation was introduced by Northern Virginia lawmakers Del. Scott Surovell and Del. Eileen Filler-Corn.

Identity theft of children is a growing problem in the United States. Identity theft affects 30 million Americans, and approximately 500,000 of those cases are young people. Identity thieves increasingly target children because nobody generally discovers their actions until years later when a child becomes an adult, so that number is likely underreported. 

This legislation would make Virginia one of the first states to adopt a minor credit freeze law, allowing a parent to freeze the credit of a child so that no person can seek credit under their name. 

Surovell introduced legislation after his children, ages 13 and 11, received credit card solicitations in the mail. 

“This is a major step for consumer protection in Virginia,” said Surovell. “Credit card companies should not be soliciting business from eleven year-old children and creating opportunities for identity thieves.” 

• HB543: Security Freeze for Protected Consumers: Allows the parents or guardians of a minor (16 years and under) to request that a consumer-reporting agency place a security freeze on the protected consumer’s credit report. 

“I introduced this bill to protect children throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, said Delegate Filler-Corn. “It is my hope that this legislation will go a long way in protecting our children from the dangers of credit fraud and identity theft, while giving peace of mind to parents.” 

Surovell and Filler-Corn introduced separate, identical legislation to protect the credit of minors and Surovell is a chief co-patron of Filler-Corn’s bill. 



Filler-Corn Pushes for Free Textbook Resources for College Students

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who represents Burke and the 41st District, has been advocating for more open education resources for Virginia college students.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who represents Burke and the 41st District, co-hosted an open education resources forum on Dec. 2 at George Mason University. Credit: Courtesy of Filler-Corn's office.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who represents Burke and the 41st District, co-hosted an open education resources forum on Dec. 2 at George Mason University. Credit: Courtesy of Filler-Corn's office.
As the cost of higher education rises, students in Burke, Northern Virginia and beyond continue to search for ways to save money while completing their degree. One aspect of higher education, textbooks, are usually an expensive, but necessary expense for students.

That might not be the case for long if a bill by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st) for colleges and universities to acquire more open education resources (OER) for students gets approved.

Bill HB 1777, which was submitted earlier this year, aims to create an Open Education Resource Council tasked with developing and acquiring open education resources that could be provided at no charge to students. OER materials are textbooks or other auxiliary resources developed and produced with no copyright restrictions. This makes them available for anyone to access and use at their disposal. University professors often develop these materials, which are also peer reviewed for accuracy.

"Several states are currently utilizing OER materials as a way to reduce cost burdens on their students. These books are available at no charge and accessed digitally at the student’s convenience. This is an excellent method to increase affordability, while still providing accurate information and quality material," said Filler-Corn.

The bill was referred to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science during the 2013 General Assembly session and has drawn wide interest from different parties.

In an effort to continue the year-long conversation about OER, Filler-Corn recently co-hosted a forum on Dec. 2 with David Anderson, Executive Director for Higher Education at Association of American Publishers and Nada Dabbagh, Professor and Director of Division of Learning Technologies at George Mason University (GMU) to discuss new technologies and affordable options for higher education textbooks. This forum brought together several important stakeholders involved with higher education and the development and usage of textbooks.

"I was honored to lead this forum that continued the vital discussion of how we can reduce costs for our students and families through the use of new technology and resources in textbooks and class materials," said Filler-Corn. "We have continued to see a rise in the price of textbooks and other auxiliary materials in higher education. We need to use new resources as a way to reduce costs and ensure that students are getting the most out of their higher education."

The forum discussed using these technologies at both Virginia universities and colleges as well as in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) where many students are turning to save money by avoiding the tuition costs of a four year university. Representatives from George Mason University, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and the VCCS attended the forum to add their input on the idea. Additionally, representatives from the major textbook publishers and Fairfax County Public Schools were also in attendance.

"It is my hope that this forum can continue to move forward the discussion of OER digital textbooks in the Commonwealth. As leaders and policy makers, it is our responsibility to look at the current system and find areas that need improvement," said Filler-Corn. "The rising cost of college continues to need to be addressed and I believe this can be a way of alleviating some of the financial burden on our students and their families.”

Editor's note: Thanks to Del. Filler-Corn's office for providing much of the background information on the forum.



Two Historic Measures Mark Assembly Session

Q&A with Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41).

By Victoria Ross

Springfield Connection

Friday, March 8, 2013

Transportation funding was one of the big stories to come out of Richmond during the 45-day “short session,” but it wasn’t the only one.

Unlike Congressional gridlock, where lobbyists, special-interest groups and political aspirations converge to slow down legislation, the pace in Virginia’s capitol is fast and furious. Legislation gets passed in the blink of an eye. It’s a pace Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, the second-term Democrat representing nearly 90,000 residents in Burke, Fairfax and West Springfield, knows well.

Before she became one of the few women serving in the Virginia House, she learned to navigate the political process in Richmond during her tenure as deputy director of the Virginia Liaison Office in Washington for Governor Mark Warner, as well as a senior advisor to Governor Tim Kaine. She also chaired the National Governors’ Association Executive Committee Staff Advisory Council during Governor Warner’s term. At the beginning of the 2013 General Assembly, she introduced 13 bills for consideration. Her legislative priorities included education, transportation and public safety. She also introduced legislation focused around cutting college students’ expenses, expanding voting hours, protecting children and protecting funding for Virginia Railway Express.


Q: What drove your legislative agenda this session?

A: With a short session, I decided to introduce important legislative proposals that would make a difference for the 41st District and across the commonwealth. It is always my priority to reflect the views of my constituents and address the issues that affect our community.

Like every legislative session that I have participated in, I dedicate the nine or 10 months away from Richmond speaking to constituents in my district about legislative ideas, their concerns and issues they have noticed in the community. Every day I strive to reflect the voice of my district and help those in our area that may need state-related assistance.

Q: Bullying is a hot topic for every parent. What motivated you to sponsor the legislation on that issue?

A: HB 1871, which I was proud to co-patron, defines the term “bullying” as any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim. It also requires schools to establish a prohibition against such behavior and adopt policies to create a bully-free environment. This was important legislation in order to establish a clear and legal definition of bullying and to help prevent it in our schools. Too often today we hear about tragic instances of bullying gone too far and this legislation takes another step forward to prevent another unfortunate event.

Q: What were the most important pieces of legislation this session?

A: This session saw two of the most important measures passed during my time in the House of Delegates. The final day of the Legislative Session was a historic one for the commonwealth. A new comprehensive transportation package passed and is awaiting the governor’s signature. In addition, the budget passed and included Medicaid expansion. Both of these measures underwent considerable revisions and compromise throughout the seven weeks of extensive debate and consideration. I supported the transportation plan, which will generate $880 million annually for statewide transportation funding, and provide another $350 million for Northern Virginia transportation projects. In addition, this bill provides dedicated funding for mass-transit and inter-city passenger rail and includes $300 million for Phase II of the Dulles Silver Line metro. I feel strongly that the benefits represented by this comprehensive plan successfully help address our area’s transportation needs, however I did not agree with every aspect of the transportation package. I was disappointed in the $100 fee that was included for hybrid vehicles, a provision that I opposed. It is my hope that removing this specific provision will send a message to the 91,000 Virginians that drive these vehicles, including many in my district, that we applaud their effort to help sustain our environment while reducing our dependence on foreign fuel. I have spoken to the governor about this issue and followed up with a letter requesting that this portion of the bill not go into effect.

Additionally, the General Assembly passed the budget, which agreed on a way forward to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 400,000 additional Virginians desperately in need of adequate health care options. Included among the approved budget amendments was a commitment to allow Virginia to opt into the federal Medicaid expansion program once it is determined that appropriate reforms are in place. With the federal government paying 100 percent the first three years and 90 percent thereafter, Virginia will save $317 million over a five-year period on Medicaid costs.

I am now optimistic that we can focus more of our efforts on improving our schools, creating new jobs, expanding economic development and furthering our reputation as one of the best states in which to raise a family and establish a business.

Q: What was your biggest disappointment this session?

A: Again, this session, little progress was made on many important issues such as education, women’s health rights, gun safety and voting rights.

My bill, HB 1774, which would have extended voting hours from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the benefit of commuters and all voters, did not advance out of subcommittee due to a lack of funding and registrars that said they are overworked.

In fact, a number of bills were passed that will make voting more difficult rather than easier for voters. Legislation was passed that requires photo identification in order to vote, which will negatively impact voters who do not have a birth certificate and will force voter registrars to purchase costly equipment to provide a substitute ID for those who request it. Another measure that passed requires the use of a federal scanning database to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls, even though this database has proven faulty and prevented some naturalized citizens from exercising their right to cast a ballot.

Additionally, my bill HB 2199 did not advance from the House Appropriations Committee after being referred by the Education Committee. This bill was intended to increase the numbers of students eligible for expedited retakes of the Standard of Learning tests given to the commonwealth’s public school students. Currently, only high school students are allowed to take retakes if they score within 25 points of the passing score. Students may not pass their SOLs for a variety of reasons, and they should be given a chance to retake them. Moreover, it is important to instill confidence, particularly in our younger children, who may be negatively impacted if they do not have the opportunity to retake a failed SOL test. This legislation was supported by the Superintendents Association, several County School districts including Fairfax, and the Virginia Education Association. It is my hope that this bill can advance next year using a different approach through a budgetary amendment.

Q: Describe your experience as a woman in the House of Delegates.

A: I serve with only 18 other women in the Virginia House of Delegates and I believe I am only one of two moms with school-aged children. I believe women can bring a different perspective and quality to the state capitol, one of consensus building, “getting things done” and cooperation. Our perspective, experience and ability to engage and inspire are unique characteristics which can be helpful in Richmond. With the recent women’s health issues debated over the past two years, it is even clearer to me the need to elect good, smart, quality women to the General Assembly.

In recent years, such outstanding women members of the General Assembly including Delegate Vivian Watts and Senators Janet Howell and Toddy Puller, with whom I am now honored to serve, have set a very high example for the 25 current female members of the General Assembly. In this regard, I have always strongly encouraged women, who are interested in becoming candidates to do so, and I frequently speak to such groups as the Girl Scouts about the importance of civic duty and the opportunity to serve their community and address major women’s issues.

Highlights of Del. Filler-Corn’s session:

Details on all of Del. Filler-Corn’s bills and what happened to each bill can be found at under her name.

  • HB 1778—Informing women of increased risk of breast cancer due to dense breast tissue. This bill requires doctors to include information of the increased risk of breast cancer due to dense breast tissue on a mammogram, describing the potential link to cancer. This bill builds on legislation that was signed into law last year and is an important step forward for women’s health. The additional screening and procedures that many women will undergo following a consultation and notification from their mammogram about dense breast tissue can be life saving. This bill passed the House and Senate unanimously and now awaits the governor’s signature.
  • HB 2041—Allows the Recreational Access Fund to utilize guidelines instead of regulations to fund access roads and bikeways to public recreational areas and historical sites. This bill replaces language that requires the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to adopt regulations for administrating the Recreational Access Fund, with language authorizing the CTB to utilize guidelines instead. This streamlines the Recreational Access Fund’s administration and improves government services to Virginians, while still allowing for the public’s involvement in the decision making process. This bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously and awaits the governor’s signature.
  • HB 1777—Creating an online database of free textbooks for college students. This bill would reduce costs for college students and their families by creating an online database where they can access digital versions of up to 50 textbooks at no charge for some of the most common prerequisite courses. It also would create an open source digital library. The bill has been referred to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS), which will bring together interested stakeholders to discuss all of the aspects and concerns relative to this proposed legislation and thus hopefully move this bill forward in the future.
  • HB2201—Require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all new public school construction and rehabilitation of existing public schools. This bill would protect children from the dangers of potentially deadly leaks by requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all new school construction and any renovations of existing schools. After discussions with the Department of Community and Housing Development (DCHD) it was determined that the best route of action for this proposal was via the regulatory process through DCHD. Therefore, at my request, the DCHD is now reviewing regulatory action with regard to implementing this important requirement in all new schools as well as those undergoing structural renovations.
  • HB1782—Protecting children from dangers of concussions. This bill would require third-party organizations using public parks and schools for sporting events to adopt concussion guidelines in accordance with Virginia requirements or from the locality where the event is being held. This topic and issue will now be sent to the Joint Commission on Health Care for their 2013 study plan.
  • HB 1774—Making it easier for citizens to vote. This bill would have extended voting hours by an additional hour, until 8 p.m. on Election Day. The proposal would have made it easier for workers, commuters, caregivers and young people to participate in the voting process by providing more time to get to the polls. Although the bill did not advance, it sparked important conversation among legislators, election officials and citizens.


2013 General Assembly Press Release

For Immediate Release:
January 18, 2013

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn unveils legislative agenda and is appointed to House of Delegates Finance Committee

RICHMOND, VA – Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st District) unveiled the 13 bills that she has introduced for consideration by the 2013 General Assembly.  Members of the House of Delegates may introduce a maximum of 15 pieces of legislation during this year’s 45-day session.

Among Del. Filler-Corn’s legislative priorities are education, transportation and public safety.  She will also focus on cutting college students’ expenses, expanding voting hours, protecting our children and promoting a healthy lifestyle for all adults. She stated “With a short session, I decided to introduce important legislative proposals that will make a difference for the 41stDistrict and across the Commonwealth. It is my priority to reflect the views of my constituents and address the issues that affect our community.”

Delegate Filler-Corn will also have a new Committee assignment in the 2013 session.  In addition to her two previous standing House Committees (House Transportation and House Militia, Police and Public Safety), she has now also been appointed by Speaker of the House, William J. Howell, to serve on the House Finance Committee as well.

The House Finance Committee, which dates back to 1624, is responsible for overseeing state revenue and taxation issues.  Under the chairmanship of Del. Harry R. Purkey (R-Virginia Beach), this Committee is currently comprised of 15 Republicans and 7 Democrats.  Del. Filler-Corn stated “I am honored to have been appointed to the House Finance Committee. This important and historic Committee is vital to the operation of the Commonwealth.  I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop solutions to the fiscal challenges currently facing the Commonwealth.”

Among the bills introduced by Delegate Filler Corn this week are:

HB 1774      Would extend voting hours to 8 p.m. from the current closing time of 7:00 p.m., make voting more convenient for individuals that spend significant time commuting

HB 1775      Would give any woman the right to opt-out of the mandatory ultrasound procedure that is costly and often medically unnecessary.

HB 1776      Would waive the penalty on physicians who choose not to perform an unnecessary ultrasound procedure against their medical judgment and training.

HB 1777      Would alleviate costs for college students and their families by creating an online database where they can access digital versions of up to 50 textbooks at no charge for some of the most common prerequisite courses.

HB 1778      Would require that doctors provide female patients with information on dense breast tissue describing the potential link to cancer and that additional screening procedures may be necessary.

HB 1779      Would waive the monthly electronic E-Z pass fee after 10 uses in that month

HB 1781      Would make it a felony for individuals to knowingly take advantage of an elderly individual’s finances.

HB 1782      Building on past legislation, this bill would protect our children by ensuring that all parties using public school facilities are aware of Virginia’s guidelines for the diagnosis, care and treatment of concussion injuries.

HB 2024      Would help individuals taking the right steps towards a healthy lifestyle if, during wellness check fully covered by insurance, it becomes necessary to perform a diagnostic procedure, the patient would only be responsible for the additional cost of that procedure.

HB 2041     Would improve the Recreational Access Fund by streamlining and moving rulemaking away from regulations to guidelines, allowing improvements to be made in a timely manner.

HB 2201      Would require that Carbon Monoxide detectors to be installed in all new public school construction and rehabilitation of existing public schools.

HB 2199      Would give students in all grades the opportunity to be given an expedited re-take of the Standards of Learning (SOL) examination, in the event of their failure to pass the initial test.

HB 2297      Would restore the dedicated federal funding to the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) for track usage fees, for the benefit of our communities.

Details on all of these bills and their status in the legislative process can be found at under Delegate Filler-Corn’s name.


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