Democrats unveil plans for Assembly

The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus is calling for higher taxes to boost funding for transportation, education and other services. The caucus outlined its legislative agenda for the 2013 General Assembly at a news briefing Tuesday. Seven senators from the Democratic leadership spoke, each championing different issues, such as Medicaid, gun control and a “Dream Act” to help the children of illegal immigrants.

Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw of Falls Church presented a plan to increase funding for transportation.

“I’m probably going to drop a bill later this week that will raise the gas tax 5 cents this year, 5 cents next year,” Saslaw said. “That would raise about $500 million a year and pretty much come close to stopping the raid on the construction funds” being diverted to other purposes.

Saslaw also wants to regularly adjust the gasoline tax with inflation.

He criticized Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to remove Virginia’s 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax and raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent.

“You wouldn’t be saving Virginians anything,” Saslaw said. “You would really be helping the oil companies.”

Saslaw noted that North Carolina’s gasoline tax is 21 cents higher than Virginia’s. But last summer, average prices at the pump were about the same in both states, he said. He said this shows that gas prices are market-driven and largely unaffected by taxes.

While raising the gas tax, Saslaw also would increase the sales tax: “The other thing we need to do is go up 1 percent on the sales tax.” Half of the resulting revenues, roughly $600 million a year, would go to road construction; the other half would go to education, including colleges and universities.

Because of its current funding levels and policies, Saslaw said, Virginia doesn’t create an environment that attracts the best scientific researchers. He compared the 30 or so Nobel Prize winners at the University of California at Berkeley to Virginia’s three winners.

“Five years ago, they (UC Berkeley) passed a $3 billion bond issued for stem cell research,” Saslaw said. “Stem cell research in Virginia is illegal … 2008, U.Va. got $25 million. Twenty-five million for research. Twenty-five million here, you got $3 billion there. If you’re a scientist, where are you heading?”

Sen. Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, proposed raising teachers’ salaries by 3 percent. Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria, said Virginia must help close the gaps in achievement levels between different demographic groups.

Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, discussed the Virginia Dream Act. This would allow children of undocumented workers to pay in-state tuition for Virginia colleges if they:

• Graduated from a Virginia high school and have lived in state for three years.

• Have approval to stay in the United States under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action Status program.

• Have paid Virginia income tax for at least three years.

“These children of undocumented workers deserve the same chance every other child gets in Virginia to go tocollege,” McEachin said.

Sen. Barbara Favola’s topic was expanding Medicaid. Favola, a Democrat from Arlington, said this would benefit 250,000 Virginians who aren’t receiving adequate care.

The federal government has agreed to pay the entire cost of expanding Medicaid for the first three years and 90 percent after that, Favola said. She said this would help the economy and create 30,000 jobs.

Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, listed a number of bills concerning gun control, such as expanding background checks and requiring gun owners to report stolen weapons. He cited recent mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn.

“Mass shooting are coming at such frequency (there were seven this year) that it may always seem insensitive to debate change in the wake of these tragedies,” Marsden said. “But in overwhelming numbers, Virginians want something done.”

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, spoke in favor of proposed constitutional amendments to automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have served their sentences. Such measures are awaiting a vote in a Senate committee. Petersen urged people who back the proposal to show their support.
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Applications for Leadership Metro Richmond Class of 2018 now open

Applications for the Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) flagship program Leadership Quest are now open at http://www.lmronline.org until May 1. Community leaders from Ashland, Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Powhatan and the City of Richmond are encouraged to apply.

All interested candidates are encouraged to attend a recruitment reception March 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Markel Corporation, 4501 Highwoods Parkway in Glen Allen. The reception will give candidates the opportunity to meet current LMR members and learn more about the organization. > Read more.

Reynolds CC 4-week, 8-week classes start March 7


Classes start March 7 for Reynolds Community College’s second 8-week and third 4-week spring semester sessions. Registration for both sessions is currently open and runs through the start of classes. Students can register 24 hours per day online by visiting http://www.reynolds.edu. Students can also register in-person in Enrollment Services located on each campus. > Read more.

Public comment sought for plan to reduce impacts of natural disasters

The joint Hazard Mitigation Technical Advisory Committee for the Richmond and Crater regions is seeking public comment on the draft update of the Richmond-Crater Multi-Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Hazard mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the potential impact of future disasters. The 26 localities of the Richmond and Crater regions maintain the plan to collaboratively identify vulnerabilities associated with natural disasters and develop long-term strategies to reduce or eliminate long-term risks. > Read more.

Democrat VanValkenburg kicks off Gen. Assembly campaign


Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

That teacher, Schuyler VanValkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he earns the nomination, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has been unopposed for 10 years.

VanValkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in history, is running for office for the first time. Although he has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run. > Read more.

Construction begins on JA Finance Park at Libbie Mill


School and business leaders from around the region, including (pictured, from left) Simon Hodges of Dominion Resources, Daphne Swanso(president of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia) and Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas, gathered at Libbie Mill Library Feb. 23 for the Junior Achievement Finance Park construction kickoff. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The Weinstein Jewish Community Center will present the sixth annual ReelAbilities Film Festival March 16 and 18-19. The festival is dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities. The schedule includes: March 16 at 7:30 p.m. – “Shameless: The Art of Disability;” March 18 at 7:30 p.m. – “Margarita with a Straw;” March 19 at 12 p.m. – “Mimi and Dona;” and March 19 at 2 p.m. – “Gabriel.” Talk Backs follow each film. Tickets per film are $8 for JCC members and $12 for nonmembers. For details, visit http://www.richmond.reelabilities.org. Full text

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