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Morning Notes

Arlington Diocese Releases List of Accused Priests — “Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses on Wednesday released lists of clergy who officials say were deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing youth… The Diocese of Arlington, which covers the northeastern corner of Virginia, released a list of 16 names.” [Washington Post, Diocese of Arlington]

ACPD Restaurant Initiative Deemed a Success — “Arlington County, Virginia, is trying to fight drunken driving, and its method may prove to be a model for the nation.” [WTOP]

Cristol Quoted in the New Yorker — “‘We have an agenda that is about equity and anti-racist goals, and I don’t think he can effectively lead on it,’ [Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol] said, referring to the governor. As for Fairfax, she said, she had thought, after the first allegation, that ‘there might be a way forward for him to recognize harm done’ and stay in office. After the second, it seemed clear to her that there was an indefensible pattern of behavior.” [The New Yorker]

Arlington Man Arrested for 2016 Rape — “Alexandria Police have arrested a man who they say abducted and raped a lifeguard in broad daylight from a pool on South Pickett Street in 2016.” [Fox 5]

Hope’s Assisted-Living Bill Passes — “The derecho that came through Arlington several years ago inspired me to bring this bill and work to make sure, at a minimum, prospective residents knew whether their assisted living facility had a generator in case of loss of power.” [InsideNova, Twitter]

Sheriff’s Office Helping With Scholarships — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office is helping the Virginia Sheriffs’ Institute raise college scholarship funds for Virginia residents majoring in criminal justice.” [Arlington County]

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As Richmond Scandals Drag On, Arlington Democrats Urged to ‘Keep the Faith’

(Updated Tuesday at 9:50 a.m.) The head of Arlington’s Democratic Party is urging local activists to “keep the faith” in the wake of the cascade of scandals plaguing top leaders in Richmond.

Jill Caiazzo, the chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, penned an email to the party’s mailing list Sunday (Feb. 10), in the hopes of buoying spirits dampened by recent revelations about Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.

While any one of the state’s top three elected Democrats could yet resign — Northam and Herring for admitting to wearing blackface as young people, Fairfax over allegations that he sexually assaulted two women — Caiazzo sought to remind party faithful that “the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals.”

She joined the growing calls for Fairfax to step down late last week, after a second woman accused him of rape, and has already demanded that Northam step aside. But, with all 140 state lawmakers and a variety of local offices on the ballot this fall, Caiazzo is urging her committee to work to “have an impact in our own community.”

Her full email to the committee is as follows:

We are all struggling to deal with the disturbing news from Richmond. I have sat down to pen this email to you multiple times over the past week, only to have my sentiments overtaken by the latest news cycle. I do not know how these controversies will end.

ARLINGTON DEMOCRATS’ ROLE IN NAVIGATING THIS CHALLENGE

But as I said at our monthly meeting on Wednesday, I do know that Arlington Democrats have a role to play in moving our community forward through these difficult times. We may not be able to affect the outcomes of the dramas happening in Richmond, but we can have an impact in our own community. We can reject hate and support sexual assault survivors. We can channel our collective anger that issues of racism and sexual assault still plague us into finding positive solutions for the manifestations of these issues in our own community.

We also can remember that the 2017 election was never about one or two individuals. It was about a movement of grassroots activists of all backgrounds and ages rising up to provide a badly needed course correction for our country. The rise of progressive activism was the central victory of the 2017 election. No subsequent controversy, however hurtful, can take that victory away from us. Only we have the power to do that — only we can decide whether we will allow this heartbreak also to break our activist spirit.

TOO MUCH TO ACCOMPLISH TO GIVE UP
To that question, Arlington Democrats, I say NO. I will not allow the failings of individual leaders to dampen my activist spirit. I cannot — there is simply too much work to be done to achieve a fairer, safer and more prosperous Commonwealth. The stakes are too high. As in early 2017, I am once again picking myself up and dusting myself off. Two steps forward, one step back: it’s time for the heart of the Democratic Party — its local activists — to keep moving forward again.

In that spirit, and mindful that Democrats must re-earn the trust of voters and volunteers that has been lost over the past few days, I respectfully invite you to join me at several upcoming events, detailed below. Some are organized by Arlington Democrats; others are community events. Now more than ever, we need both: to lead in our own right, and to meet our neighbors where they are. I hope that you will join me in the struggle to lead our Party, our community, and our Commonwealth forward.

Caiazzo is referring both to previous listening sessions held by activists on both race and sexual assault, and to some upcoming community discussions on the county’s history with Nazism and school desegregation.

Meanwhile, the situation in Richmond remains unsettled.

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) made headlines this weekend for threatening to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he refused to resign, and circulated a potential resolution to start the process among his Democratic colleagues. But he backed off that threat this morning (Monday), writing in a statement that he is “open to discussions on other avenues” that would allow for a full investigation of the accusations against Fairfax.

Some reports have suggested that Hope faced resistance from within his own party for the move, particularly from members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

The lieutenant governor is still telling reporters that he does not plan to resign, and is currently looking for an FBI investigation into the claims against him — one incident is alleged to have happened in Boston in 2004, the other in North Carolina in 2000.

Northam also gave some of his first interviews since the scandal broke with the news that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook, saying that he is “not going anywhere” and pledging a renewed focus to racial justice in the remainder of his term.

Herring has been silent, and criticism has been markedly more muted of his conduct, after he voluntarily admitted to wearing blackface once while in college, and apologized.

“I should additionally note that I have not called for the resignation of Attorney General Mark Herring, despite my strong disapproval of his conduct at age 19,” Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) wrote in a Sunday email to constituents. “Herring’s voluntary admission of his blackface representation of a rapper, his lack of racist intent and his profound apology all seem sincere to me.”

However, Levine did note that he is one of just a few voices calling on Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-3rd District) to step down, after reports that he edited a college yearbook that was filled with photos of students in blackface and racial slurs. Norment has denied any knowledge of the photos.

Photo via Facebook

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Morning Notes

Hope: No Impeachment Filing Yet Updated at 9:50 a.m. — Del. Patrick Hope (D) says he’s delaying filing articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing two accusations of past sexual assaults. “An enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback… has led to additional conversations that need to take place,” Hope said. [Twitter, TwitterTwitter]

More Trailers for Arlington Tech — “Students coming into the Arlington Tech program at the Arlington Career Center for the next two years may find themselves spending more time in trailers than they had thought, and more time than School Board members are happy about.” [InsideNova]

Auction for Restaurant Items — The former furnishings of now-shuttered Rolls By U are up for auction by Arlington County, to help pay its overdue tax bill. [Arlington County]

Car vs. Columbia Pike Restaurant — It appears that a car ran into the front of Andy’s Carry Out restaurant on Columbia Pike. [Twitter]

State Split on Northam’s Fate — “Virginians are deadlocked over whether Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should step down after the emergence of a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting people in blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb, with African Americans saying by a wide margin that he should remain in office despite the offensive image, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.” [Washington Post]

Beyer on Face the Nation — “Democratic Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton renewed their calls for Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax to step down over their respective controversies” on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning. [CBS News]

Local Chef on CBS This Morning — Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse made an extended appearance on CBS This Morning Saturday, talking about his food, his restaurants and how his aunt inspired his love of cooking. [CBS News]

Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk

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BREAKING: Hope Threatens to Work to Impeach Fairfax, After Another Woman Accuses Lt. Gov. of Sexual Assault

(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) now says he’ll introduce articles of impeachment to remove Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax from office on Monday if he doesn’t step down, now that another woman has come forward to accuse the second-most powerful Democrat in the state of sexual assault.

Hope announced the move tonight just a few hours after Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the pair attended school together at Duke University in 2000. She wrote in a statement that the details of her assault mirrored those laid out by Vanessa Tyson, who previously said that Fairfax assaulted her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.

Democrats had been hesitant to call for Fairfax to step down since Tyson’s statement, but pressure is now mounting for the lieutenant governor to step aside. Friday night, the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses released a joint statement, urging Fairfax to resign.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a similar statement.

The bulk of Virginia’s congressional delegation has also demanded Fairfax’s resignation, including Arlington Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District).

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations,” Beyer and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), Elaine Luria (D-2nd District), Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) wrote in a statement. “He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.”

For now, it would seem Fairfax is resisting pressure to step aside.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been similarly steadfast in the face of calls to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, writing an email to state employees today saying he does not plan to step down. The fate of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is also unclear, after he revealed he wore blackface while in college.

Earlier today, Hope posted a video on Twitter urging Northam and Herring to learn from their experiences, but stopped short of demanding their resignations. He’d previously supported calls for Northam to step down, but was silent on Herring, who he previously endorsed in Herring’s early stages of mounting a campaign for governor in 2021.

Hope said in the video that he believed Fairfax’s first accuser and thought an investigation was necessary.

Around 9 p.m. Friday, Hope held a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square, laying out his case for the impeachment of Fairfax, should he refuse to resign. The press conference was attended by CNN, CBS, NBC and local D.C. stations.

Photo via Facebook

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Podcast: Del. Patrick Hope

The state legislature is now in session and among those representing Arlington in Richmond is Del. Patrick Hope (D).

In an interview over the phone from his office at the state capital, Hope discussed his decision to refuse donations from Dominion, the state incentives offered to Amazon, his bill to limit solitary confinement in state prisons, why the effort to rename Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington is stalled, and more.

At the end, Hope surprised us with a very candid answer to the question of whether he’s running for reelection this year.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Arlington Democrats Warn GOP to ‘Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way’ in New Legislative Session

After years facing powerful Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, Arlington lawmakers are accustomed to harboring only modest ambitions for each legislative session.

But as legislators return to Richmond today (Wednesday), members of the county’s all-Democratic delegation say they’re ready to flex their muscles a bit over the new, 45-day session.

With all 140 lawmakers on the ballot this fall and Democrats just one seat away from seizing power in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Arlington legislators sense an opening. Republicans have taken a beating in all manner of elections across the state over the last two years, and Democrats expect that will inform how GOP leaders manage their slim majorities in this session.

Arlington lawmakers hope that will result in some of the party’s more moderate members finally embracing their efforts around everything from redistricting reform to gun violence prevention, in a bid to appear more attractive to swing voters. What it all comes down to for state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is a simple motto for his colleagues across the aisle: “lead, follow or get out of the way.”

“They can can decide to lead on some of the most important issues facing Virginia, which they have failed to do, they can choose to follow Democrats, or they can have voters get them out of the way,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “If they come to the table on a variety of issues, I think their chances are enhanced… But will [House Speaker Kirk Cox] want to allow bills to come to the floor so that a handful of members who want to appear to be moderates vote for them, or even sponsor them? Time will tell.”

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) says he’s “hopeful” that Republicans will pursue such a strategy over the next weeks — not only does he see it as wise political strategy, he jokes that “with my last name, I don’t have a choice” but to be optimistic.

But Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) takes a gloomier view of the GOP, arguing that Richmond Republicans have done nothing but “march in lockstep” with their leadership for years, and could soon face an electoral price for doing so.

“If moderate Republicans continue to fall in line and do what’s against their constituents’ wishes, we will absolutely run against them for it and they will lose in November,” Levine said. “I see it as a win-win: either we get the policies we want, with majority support, or we get these people out.”

Should Republicans choose to sign onto some Democratic priorities, Arlington legislators see two key areas for agreement: a constitutional amendment establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines, and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In both cases, the Democrats expect they’ll have enough votes to pass the bills on the floor — Republicans have either introduced or co-sponsored bills on both subjects — the question is whether the legislation will make it out of committee, where a handful of lawmakers have the power to quickly kill the bills.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District), a key backer of redistricting reforms, sees a real “sense of urgency” to the aforementioned issue this year, simply due to timing. Democrats hope to pass a constitutional amendment before the next round of redistricting in 2021, and that requires a complex process.

Lawmakers need to pass the amendment twice: once before a legislative election, and once afterward. Then, the matter will head to a statewide ballot referendum, which Sullivan is hoping to line up with the 2020 elections. Should it pass all those hurdles, stripping power from lawmakers to draw their own districts, the new commission would be in place by the time the Census mandates a change in boundary lines.

Considering that Democrats may well take control of the General Assembly this fall, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) expects it would be in the best interest of Republicans to agree on a nonpartisan process now while they still can. Levine notes that it doesn’t help the GOP’s chances either that federal courts have ordered a redrawing of some House district lines over claims they were racially gerrymandered, a process that will likely weaken Republican chances in several important seats.

“Not passing something will essentially hand the reins of gerrymandering back to Democrats, and I don’t think that’s what they want,” Lopez said.

Even with this newfound pressure, however, Sullivan says it’s “not clear to me that leadership will even allow a vote” on redistricting or the ERA ratification, which could revive the long-dormant effort to mandate equal rights for women in the U.S. Constitution.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind the ERA, so it will be interesting to see if Republicans, in an election year, will let it come forward for a vote,” Hope said. “And I’m absolutely convinced it will pass if gets to the floor.”

Instead, it seems clear to lawmakers that a debate over tax revenues will prove to be the dominant issue of this legislative session.

The Republican tax reform bill shepherded through Congress in 2017 will result in an extra $1.2 billion in state revenues, and battles lines are already being drawn about how to spend that money. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a mix of tax relief for low- and middle-income families and new investments in everything from education to broadband access; Republicans would rather see all of the money invested in tax breaks for slightly wealthier earners.

“If you think we argue or fight when times are tight, wait until you see the kind of arguing we can do when there’s extra money,” Sullivan said.

Cox and his fellow Republicans claim that Northam’s proposal amounts to a “middle-class tax hike” because it doesn’t send all of the savings generated by the federal tax cut back to middle-income families. But Democrats charge that the GOP’s plan, which centers on households making between $125,000 and $150,000 a year, targets only richer families and leaves the poor behind.

“We really need to encourage those folks working hard in the toughest economic circumstances to make it easier for them to have childcare, to have healthcare,” Ebbin said. “For people working hard, we should help them get ahead. That’s what this country is about.”

Democrats point out that Northam’s proposed investments, which could raise teacher pay across the state and expand select healthcare programs, would provide their own benefits for Virginians across the income spectrum. But Lopez also concedes that the most likely scenario is that the two sides strike a a compromise with “a little bit of both” tax relief and new spending.

With all this uncertainty, however, one thing is for sure — the short session will move awful quickly, especially with elections on the horizon.

“It’s going to go fast, and it’s going to be furious,” Lopez said. “And there are a lot of issues affecting Arlington families that we’re going to try to keep folks updated on.”

File photo

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Hope Swears Off Campaign Cash from Dominion, Calls on Fellow Democrats to Follow Suit

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) is swearing off campaign contributions from Dominion Energy and calling on his fellow Democrats to do the same, becoming the latest in a line of state lawmakers to reject money from one of Virginia’s only regulated monopolies.

Hope announced at his annual pancake breakfast Saturday (Jan. 5) that he’ll now stop accepting campaign cash from the electric utility, according to a video posted by the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. Hope has accepted $9,500 from Dominion since he was first elected back in 2009, but decided to stop doing so as he gears up to run for a sixth term in office this fall.

“I’ve heard from a lot of my constituents that the perception that you’re taking money is influencing your vote, whether it’s true or not,” Hope told attendees. “I can’t give enough speeches to convince my constituents that I’m voting not because they gave me a check, but because it’s the right thing to do. And I’m tired of making that speech over and over.”

Hope added that “every single Democrat that’s running for office should make that commitment” to refuse Dominion dollars, and many around the state already have.

Dominion has long been one of the top political donors in the whole state, yet politicians of both parties have increasingly argued that members of the General Assembly shouldn’t accept money from a company they’re charged with regulating — just last year, lawmakers oversaw an extensive rewrite of the state’s regulatory authority over electric utilities like Dominion.

The activist group Activate Virginia brought a focus to the issue during the last round of state elections in 2017, eliciting a pledge from dozens of Democrats running for the House of Delegates to refuse the company’s money.

Some of Arlington’s legislative delegation also followed suit, including Dels. Mark Levine (D-45th District), Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) and Rip Sullivan (D-48th District). Lopez, like Hope, did previously accept Dominion contributions in the past, taking in about $4,500 since he was first elected in 2012.

The county’s three state senators, however, all still take thousands from Dominion. Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) has accepted $50,000 from the company over the course of her long career, while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) has taken in $9,500 and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) has pulled in $12,500. Local Democratic activist Nicole Merlene even recently launched a primary challenge against Favola, calling for a ban on contributions from state-regulated utilities as part of her campaign.

But Hope sees a sea change coming in Virginia politics on the issue. Attorney General Mark Herring became one of the most senior Democrats in the state to refuse Dominion cash when he announced he wouldn’t accept any of the company’s money as he ramps up a campaign for governor for the 2021 cycle, and Hope “wholeheartedly” endorsed the former Loudoun state senator’s nascent bid to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam.

“I’m going to take the same commitment he made because I don’t want him to be the only one there making it,” Hope said, with Herring in attendance.

Northam himself rolled out a series of campaign finance reform proposals today (Monday), officially announcing his support for a ban on all corporate campaign contributions. Unlike 2017 primary rival Tom Perriello, Northam accepted nearly $73,000 in contributions from Dominion over the course of the gubernatorial campaign, but he pledged to push a ban on corporate cash once he was elected.

However, unless Democrats win an uphill battle in convincing the Republicans controlling both chambers of the General Assembly to embrace such a change, Northam plans to continue accepting such donations for his political action committee.

“Until we’re able to do that, I will continue to operate in the existing landscape,” Northam told reporters.

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Gun Violence Prevention, Criminal Justice Reform Emerge as Focuses for Arlington Lawmakers

A new year brings a renewed focus on gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform and some local issues for Arlington’s state lawmakers.

The county’s legislative delegation is gearing up to head back to Richmond next month, as the General Assembly kicks off a new session on Jan. 9.

That means that many of three state senators and four delegates representing the county have been busy crafting legislation for the 46-day “short session” of the state legislature, and they’ve readied dozens of bills for lawmakers to mull in the coming weeks.

Legislators of both parties expect that sparring over the budget will dominate the proceedings — Gov. Ralph Northam and Republicans are already at odds over how to spend an extra $1.2 billion in revenue generated by changes to the federal tax code. The looming state elections (where all 140 lawmakers will be on the ballot) will also provide a bit of a distraction, particularly as Republicans defend narrow, one-seat majorities in both the Senate and House of Delegates.

Yet a review of the General Assembly’s online database shows that Arlington’s delegation has a raft of smaller bills already written, including a variety of efforts lawmakers have tried before and even some new creations.

Some bills look designed to address some Arlington-specific issues, while others have much wider impacts.

For instance, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) is introducing new legislation that would specifically give Arlington officials control over the “regulation and licensing” of all childcare facilities and providers in the county. The County Board currently has the ability to issue use permits to facilities of certain sizes, but has spent months now studying potential policy changes to make all childcare more accessible and affordable in the county.

Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) is also backing a bill that would give Northern Virginia localities, like Arlington, full power to set their own school calendars. The legislation seems to be similar to a bill Favola previously contemplated carrying that would end the infamous “King’s Dominion Rule” barring most school systems from starting class before Labor Day.

Favola expressed optimism that the Republican chair of the Senate’s Education and Health committee could agree to pass such a bill, ending Arlington’s long fight over the issue. Howell, the longest serving member of the county’s legislative delegation, also sits on that committee.

Notably, none of the county’s representatives in Richmond have put forward a bill to give Arlington the power to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway, just yet. Lawmakers previously warned the Board that they’d be hesitant to back such an effort this year without more support from the business community, or perhaps Amazon’s intervention, given Route 1’s proximity to the tech giant’s future headquarters.

Instead, most of the lawmakers representing sections of Arlington have put a clear focus on one issue, perhaps above all others: gun control.

Republicans in Richmond have steadfastly refused to advance most firearms-related legislation over the years, but county lawmakers seem ready to renew many of their legislative pushes on the issue this year.

Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District) is re-introducing a bill that would allow police or prosecutors secure a two-week ban on buying or owning a gun if they believe they present a “substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” A judge would ultimately get to decide if the ban stands, and if it should be extended for a period up to six months.

Sullivan has twice seen similar legislation left to die in committees: one bill failed in 2018, another in 2017.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is also bringing back legislation to ban devices that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles, commonly known as “bump stocks.” Lawmakers across the country worked to ban the devices after one was used in the mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert last year; Ebbin’s bill on the subject died on a party-line vote in committee last session.

Howell is also re-upping legislation that would make it a felony for anyone to leave a “loaded, unsecured” firearm in the presence of anyone under the age of 18. It’s only a misdemeanor under current state law, and Howell’s effort to make the change died on a party line vote in committee earlier this year.

She’s also reintroducing a bill to make it a felony for anyone who is subject to a “permanent protective order” over fears that they may be violent to own a gun. Howell previously succeeded in establishing a misdemeanor penalty for the practice in 2016; her push to upgrade it a felony passed one committee last year before failing on a party-line vote in another.

Other bills backed by Arlington legislators would address inequities in the criminal justice system more broadly.

For example, Ebbin is trying once more to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, imposing fines on people who are caught with small quantities of the drug in lieu of jail time. He’s seen similar efforts fail, often on party-line votes, in the last four legislative sessions.

Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) is also backing what appears to be new legislation to require state corrections officials to produce an annual report on how many people are held in solitary confinement in Virginia prisons, and what steps workers take to address their mental health needs. Virginia has begun moving away from the practice, as it’s increasingly been criticized nationwide, but some reports indicate that the state still holds large numbers of inmates in solitary confinement at some of its most secure facilities.

Dels. Mark Levine (D-45th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) are the lone Arlington representatives that have yet to pre-file any of their own legislation ahead of the new session, but have signed on as cosponsors of many other bills. Those include everything from the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the formal legalization of same-sex marriage.

And, on a lighter note, both Ebbin and Hope have signed on to ceremonial resolutions commending the Washington Capitals on their long-awaited Stanley Cup victory.

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With Medicaid Expansion Nearly a Reality in Virginia, Officials Prep New Outreach Efforts in Arlington

Fresh off the high of securing expanded Medicaid coverage for thousands of Arlingtonians, advocates and healthcare professionals have a new challenge to confront: how to reach people newly eligible for health insurance, when they might have no idea about the change.

That’s a big part of why state officials and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) convened a meeting of more than 100 people Friday (Oct. 26) at the offices of Arlington’s Department of Human Services, offering strategies for just how they can help ensure that everyone who now qualifies for Medicaid gets covered when enrollment starts Thursday (Nov. 1).

The program’s expansion, the result of a years-long battle in the General Assembly that culminated in a compromise signed by Gov. Ralph Northam this spring, will allow low-income adults without any children to access health coverage through Medicaid for the first time ever in Virginia.

It also bumps up the income caps for families and people with disabilities, meaning that roughly 400,000 people are now eligible for the program across the state. And in Arlington alone, roughly 7,000 people could join the Medicaid rolls, according to Anita Freeman, the county’s director of human services.

“It’s a really gratifying day that we’re at this point, talking about enrolling thousands of people to get healthcare who didn’t have it before,” Hope told the crowd. “It’s a long day in coming.”

The expansion is indeed a development welcomed with jubilation by Democrats, and even some moderate Republicans, but it won’t come without complications. Not only will the process of enrolling more people in Medicaid cost localities a bit more money, but state and local officials alike have to work to make people aware they actually stand to benefit from a program that’s long shut them out.

“We’re undertaking the largest expansion of health coverage in Virginia history,” said Dr. Jennifer Lee, the director of the state’s Department of Medical Assistance Services. “We’re all super excited about it, but there is a lot of change too.”

Over the course of the meeting, Lee outlined a variety of ways that her department, which manages Medicaid in the state, plans to start reaching people about their new eligibility. That includes work with Community Service Boards, organizations in each Virginia locality focused largely on overseeing mental health and substance abuse services, and even local and regional jails.

As Lee points out, many people who are currently incarcerated have their healthcare needs covered by the state, but could be shifted to Medicaid under the new rules. And for people looking to re-enter their communities, particularly after being convicted on drug charges, she wants to connect them to Medicaid to get them the tools they need to confront their substance abuse issues.

“We want to get them in to recovery, so that they aren’t constantly cycling in and out of the system due to their addiction,” Lee said.

State officials will also launch a series of mailers to people receiving other government benefits, like food stamps, who may be able to easily enroll in Medicaid coverage by providing a few more details to officials.

But Lee also implored attendees, many of whom came from nonprofits and other groups working with low-income people around the county, to help become “spokespeople” about the new Medicaid realities in their own neighborhoods. She’s particularly interested in finding people who can reach non-English speakers, as they might have the hardest time understanding the maze of new rules governing the program.

“The best message for folks is that the rules have changed in Virginia Medicaid,” Lee said. “If they’ve applied before, they should try again.”

Complicating matters further for Lee and her fellow healthcare advocates is that the rules surrounding the Medicaid expansion will change sometime in the future. That’s because the program will eventually require enrollees to prove that they’re employed, in school or pursuing a job in order to receive coverage, a stipulation insisted on by some state Republicans initially hesitant to back Medicaid expansion.

Yet Lee explained that the state will need to get federal approval before putting those requirements in place. She said her department will submit an application to kick off the process as soon as this week, but there’s no telling when the state will earn the green light.

“It could be next week, six months or two years,” Lee told ARLnow in an interview after the meeting. “And then there will be some ramp-up time once we get the approval, because these are complicated new rules we’ll have to put in place.”

Some Republicans have grumbled that Northam’s administration is taking too long to implement the new work requirements, and that they’ll likely contain too many “loopholes” to help people avoid working — applicants who can prove they have an illness or condition that prevents them from holding a job will be able to earn exemptions from the requirements.

But Lee believes the state’s work requirements are “right in line” with other recently adopted standards, like those in Kentucky and Indiana. She also vigorously disputes any implication that the state is dragging its feet in setting up the new requirements, noting that it’s pressing for federal approval just as quickly as it can.

“Indiana planned for years to put theirs in place,” Lee said. “When you look at other states, we’re actually pursuing an extremely aggressive timeline here.”

Yet, beyond all the complications and the political squabbling, Lee worked to stress just how valuable the Medicaid expansion will be for vulnerable Virginians.

She once worked as a physician in the emergency room at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, and told a story of encountering a woman who suffered an acute stroke and wasn’t able to walk, but initially declined to be admitted to the hospital because she was uninsured and feared she couldn’t afford treatment.

“She told us, ‘I can’t be admitted because I have to go to work tomorrow,” Lee said. “So don’t forget, this is real. This is for our friends, our family, who desperately need access to care, and can’t get it.”

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Del. Hope to Host Medicaid Expansion Town Hall

Del. Patrick Hope (D) will be hosting a town hall helping Arlingtonians understand Virginia’s new Medicaid expansion this On Friday, Oct. 26.

Hope is expected be joined at the town hall by Dr. Jennifer Lee, director of the Department of Medical Assistance Services, who will help explain who qualifies under the new regulations.

Many Virginians currently ineligible for Medicaid may be qualified under the new expansion. Childless adults were previously ineligible for Medicaid in Virginia, but those with an annual income at or below $16,754 may be eligible under the new regulations.

Eligibility for parents has been raised from those with an income at or below $6,900 to $28,677. Eligibility for people with disabilities has been raised from those earning $9,700 or below to $16,754.

An eligibility screening tool is available online to help Virginians discover if they can be covered by the new Medicaid expansion.

Applications to the state’s expanded Medicaid program can be filed beginning Nov. 2.

The meeting is scheduled for 2-4 p.m in the lower level auditorium of the Arlington County Department of Human Services (2100 Washington Blvd).

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Northam Pledges to Revive Tax Increases to Fund Metro, Send Transportation Money Back to Arlington

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) says he’ll renew his push for a set of Northern Virginia tax increases to fund Metro next year, a move that could help Arlington win back some critical transportation dollars.

Republicans in the General Assembly narrowly defeated Northam’s efforts to add the tax hikes to legislation providing the first source of dedicated funding for the rail service earlier this year.

The tax increases would’ve been relatively modest, bumping up levies on real estate transactions and some hotel stays, but they could’ve helped the state avoid pulling roughly $80 million in annual funding away from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The group uses regional tax revenue to fund transportation improvements across Northern Virginia, and the NVTA has already had to scale back its plans to help Arlington pay for construction projects like second entrances at the Ballston and Crystal City Metro stations.

That’s why Northam says he plans to propose the tax hikes once again when lawmakers reconvene in Richmond in January, setting up another tussle over the issue several months ahead of an election where all 140 state legislators will be on the ballot.

“We’ve got to be so careful pulling resources out of the [NVTA],” Northam told ARLnow in a brief interview in Rosslyn. “It threatens other projects we were working on. It also makes Northern Virginia compete with other parts of Virginia. It was a bad idea, and that’s why I amended [the original bill]. We’re going to continue to work on that.”

There’s no guarantee that Northam’s second effort will be any more successful than his first, however. Republicans still hold a slim, 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates where GOP leaders, particularly Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District), have pledged to beat back any tax increase to fund Metro.

But Democrats are eager to take up the fight once again, especially with other contentious issues, like Medicaid expansion or the freeze on state utility rates, off the table.

“It’s worth coming back and doing this right,” said Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District). “The way we funded this thing was clearly shortsighted.”

Neither Hugo nor a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox responded to a request for comment on Northam’s Metro plans. But Hope believes Republican lawmakers, particularly those outside of Northern Virginia, will come around on the tax hikes as they begin to feel the impacts of the funding deal’s structure.

Specifically, he points out that without seeing all the money they’d like from the NVTA, Northern Virginia localities like Arlington have already started applying for more funds from statewide entities. That will put Northern Virginia projects in competition with applications from cities and counties without the same level of traffic congestion as the D.C. region, meaning places like Arlington could end up winning out in plenty of cases.

“Everyone else is going to get less money,” Hope said. “Nobody likes to be stuck in traffic and nobody wants to get blamed for causing that.”

County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey points out that applications for the state’s “SmartScale” transportation funding program have already “more than doubled” this year, with counties like Arlington on the hunt for more construction dollars. He expects that will only continue as time goes on, and he was similarly pleased by Northam’s plans to bring the tax increases back.

“It wouldn’t just relieve the funding pressures on us, but everyone else,” Dorsey said. “The way Metro funding was accomplished this year ends up hurting the entire state.”

In the meantime, however, Dorsey notes that the county can’t assume that Northam’s efforts will be successful.

As the Board has started work this summer on its latest revision of Arlington’s 10-year construction spending plan, county staff have repeatedly expressed hope that the Metro funding equation changes and opens up more room for spending on big transportation projects. But without any certainty on that count, they have to prepare as if things will remain the same.

“Hopefully, this is something we can correct in two years,” Dorsey said. “But we can’t know for sure.”

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Morning Notes

Instant Runoff Bill Passes Committee — A bill that authorizes the Arlington County Board to use instant runoff voting for Board elections has passed a state committee. The legislation from Del. Patrick Hope (D) is intended to “encourage consensus candidates and eliminate the likelihood that a fringe contender could sneak through with 25 or 30 percent of the vote in a crowded field.” [InsideNova]

Foxcroft Heights Fire — Arlington County and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall firefighters battled heavy fire in a townhouse near the eastern end of Columbia Pike Saturday evening. No injuries were reported but the home sustained serious damage. [Twitter, Twitter]

Fire at Willston Centre — A fire broke out Saturday night at a store in the Willston Centre shopping center in Seven Corners. TV news reports said the fire started in the Steven’s Shop tuxedo shop. Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. No one was injured. [Patch]

Community Foundation Gala Set — The Arlington Community Foundation will be holding its annual gala on Saturday, April 21 at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. The theme for this year is “This Is Us.” The event will feature a performance by “Arlington’s own Amy Wilcox and her band from L.A.” [Arlington Community Foundation]

Pushback on Naming Gravelly for Nancy Reagan — The pushback to the pushback against naming Gravelly Point park for First Lady Nancy Reagan has arrived. Writes a conservative website: “Opposition to the name change is… mean-spirited, petty partisanship. Nancy Reagan deserves better.” [Daily Signal]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Ebbin Bill Banning ‘Bump Stocks’ Progresses in Va. Senate

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A bill by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) banning so-called “bump stocks” in Virginia has made progress in the early days of the 2018 Virginia General Assembly legislative session.

Ebbin’s bill — S.B. 1 — passed the Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee on Monday, January 15 and then was referred to the Finance Committee.

The legislation was filed after investigators found that Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock had modified some of the semi-automatic rifles in his hotel room with “bump stocks,” an attachment that allows the guns to fire faster.

Companion legislation by in the House of Delegates by local Del. Mark Levine (D-45) is still awaiting a hearing at the committee level.

Ebbin was a co-patron on S.B. 252, a bill to “ban the box” that passed the state Senate on Friday by a 23-16 vote.

It would prevent state and local governments from asking about potential employees’ criminal histories during an initial application. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed an executive order banning the box for state government in 2015.

“This bill is important simply because it gives everyone a fair chance at employment,” Ebbin said in a statement. “Those people who have paid their debts to society should be given a second chance. Providing every Virginian the chance to work builds our workforce and puts us on a great path towards economic security. The only way to ensure that we build stronger communities is if we have a strong workforce and banning the box is a step in the right direction of achieving that goal.”

But other gun safety bills by state Sen. Barbara Favola were defeated in the state Senate’s Courts of Justice Committee earlier this week. A bill allowing local governments to prohibit the open carry of firearms in protests or demonstrations was among those killed.

Favola introduced it after the armed white supremacist protests in Charlottesville last year.

“Regarding [the bill], it was my hope that lawmakers would better understand the need for people to feel safe and be safe when they assemble,” Favola said in a statement.

And while other legislation introduced by Levine, including a bill allowing localities to set their own minimum wage and another to repeal “the crime of fornication, i.e., voluntary sexual intercourse by an unmarried person,” is still awaiting debate, he celebrated a win early in the session for his Virginia Transparency Caucus.

The caucus, co-created by Levine as a first-term Delegate alongside state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11) in 2016, pushed for recorded votes in General Assembly committees and subcommittees and received them in the legislature’s new rules. All committee hearings will now also be live streamed and archived online for the first time.

“This is a big victory for transparency in Virginia,” Levine wrote in an email to supporters. “For four hundred years, Virginia legislators killed bills in secret behind closed doors. Not anymore. Now residents will be able to know exactly who deep-sixed a bill and who wanted to move it forward.”

But Del. Patrick Hope has run into opposition from the ACLU’s Virginia chapter for sponsoring a bill that would expand the use of “strip searches” to those under arrest for traffic crimes and suspected of carrying drugs. Currently, searches are only permitted for those carrying weapons. The bill was discussed by a subcommittee of the House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice committee on Friday.

“We really oppose any expansion of a strip search,” Charlie Schmidt, public policy counsel for ACLU Virginia, said in a video. “It’s invasive; it should only be used in situations where we’re dealing with serious crimes, not petty traffic stops.”

The ACLU of Virginia has offered support for another of Hope’s bills, which would end conversion therapy for children under 18.

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Morning Notes

APS Named Best School System in Va. — Arlington Public Schools is the best public school system in Virginia, according to a new set of state-by-state rankings. APS received an A+ rating for academics, diversity and teachers, and an A rating for health and safety. [Business Insider]

DES Scrambles to Deal With Water Main Breaks — Staff from Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services had their hands full again over the holiday weekend, dealing with numerous water main breaks in various parts of the county. “A number of Arlington residents experienced low pressure/no water issues” as a result of the breaks, DES said. At least one significant break, along Wilson Blvd in the Bluemont neighborhood, is still being repaired as of Tuesday morning. [Facebook, Twitter]

Marymount Grad Helps Save Family — A Marymount University graduate, now a law enforcement officer in North Carolina, helped to rescue a family from a house fire last month. [The Pilot]

Bill Could Allow Instant Runoff Elections — A bill proposed by Del. Patrick Hope, currently under consideration in the Virginia General Assembly, would allow the Arlington County Board to mandate instant-runoff voting in local races. [InsideNova]

Nearby: Old Town Church Now a Basilica — “The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship declared St. Mary Church in Alexandria a minor basilica, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge announced to parishioners during Mass [on] Jan. 14.” [Arlington Catholic Herald, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Hope Proposes Bill To Ban Conversion Therapy for Children

For the third consecutive year, Democratic lawmakers and gay rights activists are mounting efforts to end conversion therapy for children under 18, a practice that attempts to change individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The state bill, pre-filed by Del. Patrick Hope (D) this month, would bar healthcare providers or individuals involving with counseling in a profession licensed by the Dept. of Health Professions from trying to change the child’s sexual orientation.

Hope said he wants to protect children who are not mature enough to choose the potentially dangerous treatment for themselves. The practice is banned in Washington, D.C. and four states.

“Conversion therapy is based on the false assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or a sin. Well, it is not. There is no on/off switch to sexual orientation,” he said in a statement.

Advocacy organizations like The Trevor Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia are backing the bill to end a practice they say is dangerous and discredited. The practice rests on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental illness and requires therapy. Major mental health organizations like the American Psychiatric Association have also denounced the practice.

Similar legislation introduced over the last two years failed. Last year, proponents of conversion therapy like the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality testified that conversion therapy does not interfere with a gay teenager’s freedom of choice to undergo therapy. The bill died in committee by a 7-8 vote last year.

Hope aims to court support across the aisle this year. “This is an issue Republicans and Democrats can agree,” he said in a statement.

If approved, the change would not affect counseling that attempts to help children undergoing gender transition, services that help children explore their development and interventions to prevent unsafe or unlawful sexual practices.

File photo

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