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Adopt school safety ideas, governor tells Assembly

Gov. Bob McDonnell is urging state legislators to approve recommendations from his School and Campus Safety Task Force that would increase sentences for illegally buying guns, require mandatory lockdown drills at schools and establish more comprehensive suicide prevention programs.

McDonnell sent the General Assembly a letter Friday outlining the panel’s initial recommendations.

“I am pleased to report that the Taskforce has provided me with a number of initial recommendations that the members believe will help make our schools and campuses safer,” McDonnell wrote. “After reviewing their initial recommendations, I agree that these will help make our schools and campuses more secure.”

The letter highlighted 10 recommendations involving public safety (including restoring funding for school resource officers); two involving education (such as funding anti-bullying training); and three involving mental health (like expanding outpatient services).

“Given the limited time left in session and considering that budget development is already well underway, I am providing you with my thoughts regarding which recommendations should be given your highest consideration and most immediate attention,” the governor said.

McDonnell established the task force in the wake of December’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children.

The task force issued its initial recommendations Thursday.

Under current law, the illegal purchase or transport of firearms is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail. The task force’s proposal would make this violation a Class 6 felony punishable by up to five years in jail.

The recommendations would also increase the punishment for “straw-man purchases” of firearms. That’s when someone legally buys a gun with the intent to sell it directly to someone who is ineligible to purchase a firearm. The law currently provides a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail for straw-man purchases.

The task force proposed increasing the punishment for all straw-man transactions and mandating a punishment of 10 years in jail for the ineligible person if the transaction involves more than one firearm.

For people who enter a school with a firearm or explosive device, the panel suggested that they be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail.

No proposals limit any current laws of legal gun ownership.

The task force also issued recommendations that require more security on the schools’ part. For instance, all schools would be required to conduct a lockdown drill within the first 20 days of the fall and spring semester.

The task force also proposed that all schools institute a more in-depth mental health program and suicide prevention activities. Another proposal suggests that teachers undergo training and certification so they can recognize and treat mental or emotional distress among students or other faculty.

The General Assembly has less than a month to turn these recommendations into law. The legislative session is scheduled to end on Feb. 23.

The task force is expected to send the governor another set of recommendations by June 30.

In his letter to the General Assembly, McDonnell said, “I am confident that by working together we will make our schools and campuses safer and improve upon the legal and budgetary framework necessary to help our first responders, education and mental health profession protect all Virginians.”

On the web
In his letter to members of the General Assembly, Gov. Bob McDonnell listed all the initial recommendations issued by the School and Campus Safety Task Force, and noted which ones he considered priorities. The letter is available at http://www.tinyurl.com/safetyproposals


Community

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Grab the kids and check out these fun family-friendly events taking place this weekend! Speed over to the Henrico Theatre for the film “Turbo” or watch “Dumbo” under the stars at Clarke-Palmore House Museum. Little ones can meet Thomas the Tank Engine at CMOR-Central or play at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

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