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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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Hope Bill in Va. House Would Raise Grand Larceny Threshold

Del. Patrick Hope (D) proposed a bill in the Virginia House of Delegates to raise the minimum value of stolen money or goods that constitute a “grand larceny.”

Hope, who represents Arlington in the House of Delegates, filed HB 17 to raise the threshold from its current minimum of $200 to $500. Under current law, stealing goods or money worth less than $200 is a petit larceny.

Grand larceny, a felony, typically carries a sentence of at least a year in prison, while petit larceny is a misdemeanor so generally results in probation, fines or lesser prison sentences.

State Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Salem) has filed identical legislation — SB 105 — in the Virginia State Senate.

Earlier this year, research by the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts found that raising the threshold does not impact overall property crime or larceny rates, and that states that increased their thresholds reported “roughly” the same average decrease in crime as 20 states that did not.

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UPDATED: Democrats Celebrate Clean Sweep of Local, Statewide Elections

(Updated 9:50 p.m.) Arlington Democrats celebrated a triumphant election night for its candidates for Arlington County Board and School Board, as well as all members of the state-level Democratic ticket.

With all precincts reporting, Democratic nominee Erik Gutshall won the race for County Board with 62.82 percent of the vote. Monique O’Grady, the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s endorsee for School Board, took 70.56 percent.

Gutshall took 46,319 votes, ahead of independent Audrey Clement with 17,415 and fellow independent Charles McCullough‘s 8,753. O’Grady won 50,677 votes, ahead of Mike Webb with 12,642 and Alison Dough with 7,271 to succeed James Lander.

In the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, the Democratic candidates all won Arlington County’s 55 precincts by big margins to help deliver what looked set to be a clean sweep for the party in Virginia.

Governor-Elect Ralph Northam (D) took 68,315 votes in Arlington, ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie with 16,160. Justin Fairfax (D) garnered 66,687 votes in Arlington in the race for lieutenant governor ahead of state Sen. Jill Vogel’s 17,594, and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) won re-election with 67,111 votes ahead of John Adams’ 17,366 votes.

At the ACDC’s watch party at The Salsa Room on Columbia Pike, great cheers went up when the television networks projected Northam as the winner, as more than 100 attendees celebrated Democrats’ triumph across Virginia.

Gutshall said he was “very grateful” to win, and said he enjoyed hearing from residents as he vied for retiring Board chair Jay Fisette’s seat.

“It was a lot of hard work, a lot of great chances to have some really good conversations with folks in Arlington,” Gutshall said. “Even though it might appear from election results that we are a very blue community, there’s a lot of diversity of opinion within that blueness. It was a good experience for me to hear that diversity of viewpoints on all the different issues that are facing us.”

O’Grady said the campaign was a “humbling” experience, and said she intends to put the work in now to hit the ground running in January when she is officially sworn in.

“It’s what I’ve been trying to do, which is keep up with all the issues, continue to go to the meetings, continue to keep up with the community reactions to so many things on the table,” she said. “In January, there’s a lot of work to do, and so I want to ensure that I’m ready to go. Even though I won’t be sworn in until January, I’m already hard at work making sure I stay engaged.”

ACDC chair Kip Malinosky said it was rewarding to see so many people step up to volunteer in Arlington to help get out the vote. The county’s Elections Office said final turnout was 55 percent, the highest for a gubernatorial race since 1993.

“What feels so good is that so many people stepped up in a big way,” Malinosky said. “We helped out. It was really depressing after last year, but we came back so strong and people bounced back. They got involved, they made calls, knocked on doors, posted on social media. We went to every festival, every event and we got people engaged and said, ‘Look, we’ve got to compete.'”

With three of the county’s four members of the Virginia House of Delegates running unopposed, it was a relatively sedate affair for Dels. Patrick Hope, Mark Levine and Rip Sullivan in Districts 47, 45 and 48, respectively, as all won more than 90 percent of the vote in their districts.

Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49) was the only one to face a re-election challenge, from Republican Adam Roosevelt. But with all precincts reporting, Lopez won 18,536 votes to Roosevelt’s 4,202 in a district that includes neighborhoods along Columbia Pike, around Pentagon City and west to Bailey’s Crossroads and Seven Corners in Fairfax County.

Elsewhere, Democrats were on track to make significant gains in the House of Delegates, and Lopez said it will mean progress on a variety of issues the party’s followers hold dear.

“Everything we care about, every value we care about, every issue we cherish, it can start to happen: Sensible gun violence prevention legislation, passing Medicaid reform, dealing with how we fund our schools, actually protecting the environment in Virginia,” Lopez said in a speech.

Clement, who has run for office in Arlington unsuccessfully seven times, said she is open to running for election again. But in an interview after results were counted, she said she is reluctant to challenge County Board member John Vihstadt (I), who faces re-election next year.

“In my opinion, there are two key components to county government: one is the budget, two is how it deals with development,” Clement said. “Vihstadt and I diverge on the development issue, but we agree on the budget component. We’re both fiscal conservatives, so I would find it difficult to run against him on that account.”

In a statement on Twitter, McCullough congratulated Gutshall on his win and urged him to do more to “put people first.”

“The board can expect that I’ll be there to remind them of that often because I am committed to staying involved and engaging with this wonderful community as it tackles the big issues ahead,” McCullough wrote.

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Local Candidates United With County Board in Call to Rename Jefferson Davis, Lee Highways

The Democrats running for Arlington County Board and the Virginia House of Delegates say they are united with the Board in its desire to rename Jefferson Davis Highway and Lee Highway.

Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall and incumbent House of Delegates candidates Mark Levine, Patrick Hope, Richard “Rip” Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez praised the County Board’s stand. In a statement, an excerpt of which is below, all five applauded what they described as “a powerful statement from the Arlington County Board rejecting racism and bigotry.”

The county will need to first obtain the legal authority to rename both stretches of state highway within its borders, an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. But the incumbents pledged to try to do so, so the county can choose “who in our history we want to honor and celebrate.”

Erik Gutshall, Democratic nominee for Arlington County Board, said “I am proud to live in a community that has long shared the values of diversity and inclusion. I fully embrace the County Board’s determination to garner local control of the names of our roadways, as I know Arlington’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly do.”

“It’s long past time for us to rename highways that were labeled to send a hateful and divisive message to people of color in our community,” said Delegate Alfonso Lopez (49th District), House Democratic Whip. “I look forward to working with the Arlington County Board to make sure they have the necessary authority from the General Assembly to make these important changes.”

Delegate Patrick Hope (47th District) said, “I have long-supported the renaming of Jefferson Davis Highway and Lee Highway in Arlington and commend the Arlington County Board for this bold statement of leadership. I look forward to supporting legislation to grant Arlington and all localities the freedom to rename buildings, roads, and to remove monuments that do not reflect our values.”

“Giving localities the authority to rename highways — like Jefferson Davis Highway — is long overdue,” said Delegate Rip Sullivan (48th District), “This is not about erasing or trying to change history — indeed, we must never forget the evil that led to our Civil War. Rather, this is about a community choosing who in our history we want to honor and celebrate. Arlington County should have that choice. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ This matters, and I applaud the County Board for choosing not to be silent on this important issue.”

“I’m very pleased that the Arlington County Board is committed to renaming the Jefferson Davis Highway, ” said Delegate Mark Levine (45th District). “Changing those street signs will no longer honor the Mississippi traitor (with little or no connection to Arlington) who was President of a rebellious group of states that seceded from the union to enforce and protect their cruel and odious institution of slavery. Street signs bearing the current name of this highway do a gross injustice to Arlingtonians who are loyal to their nation and who abhor slavery. I know the vast majority of us are looking forward to seeing these signs no more.”

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Local Charlottesville Solidarity Rally Organized By Two Recent Yorktown Graduates

A pair of recent Yorktown High School graduates were behind Sunday’s rally to condemn the weekend’s events in Charlottesville.

Julian Lopez-Leyva and Justin Wu, both 2016 Yorktown graduates who have just completed their first year of college, decided to put the event together late Saturday night to “actively condemn bigotry and racial hatred through a series of speeches, songs, actions, and a moment of silence.”

Lopez-Leyva is a Political Science major with a minor in Economics at Emmanuel College in Boston, while Wu studies Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech.

They said in interviews Monday that they did not fully expect to see 200 people and a slew of elected officials in attendance in Courthouse, all wanting to come together and heal.

“Initially I expected only 10 people to come out, but it ended up being around 200 people and that blew my mind,” Lopez-Leyva said. “But I think that also spoke to me understanding that it wasn’t only me that was fed up, it was so many other people, and that solidarity was an imperative. We just really have to speak up, and I think speaking up is the right move.”

The pair organized the event through Facebook, and also reached out to local grassroots political group Indivisible Arlington for help getting the word out. Attendance snowballed from that initial Facebook event post. (ARLnow.com also tweeted about it.)

“When we first started organizing this, I had reservations thinking it was too quick a turnaround and that we wouldn’t be able to get the word out in time since we started so late at night,” Wu said.

The rally included poetry readings and speeches by activist Gayle Fleming, Dels. Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope and Mark Keam, as well as Arlington County Board vice chair Katie Cristol.

Wu said he was struck by how many people have connections to Charlottesville, whether through themselves or family and friends attending the University of Virginia in the city or in other ways.

“It was powerful to see that an event in Charlottesville had an effect all the way out here in Northern Virginia, and how everyone is all connected to this,” Wu said.

And while neither had organized an event like this before, they agreed it was heartening to see such turnout, especially among young people.

“I think students are really going to be the leaders of our world in the future, so I’m sad that I’m going to be leaving Arlington but I’m happy that I have the potential to speak up among so many other people who are like-minded, maybe not so like-minded, but regardless are around the same age range as myself and who have the duress to really say something,” Lopez-Leyva said.

The event ended with a period for conversation and asking questions, like the sorts of town halls hosted regularly by politicians and businesses. Lopez-Leyva said that kind of communication and understanding each other will be key to help unite the country again.

“People and conversations are some of the most powerful weapons in the world,” he said. “I think the voice is innumerably more powerful than any sort of physical weapon, any sort of fist, anything we saw in Charlottesville. I think the discussion on any side of the aisle, no matter where you’re coming from, I think that’s an imperative if you really want to bring this country back together.”

Photos by Peter Golkin

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Local Delegates Look Beyond Arlington Ahead of November Elections

(Updated 3:45 p.m.) Three of Arlington’s four members of the Virginia House of Delegates are without an opponent this fall.

Given the lack of locally competitive races in November, when the House’s entire 100 seats are up for grabs, the lawmakers are looking at opportunities to help fellow Democrats to pick up seats elsewhere.

Democratic Dels. Mark Levine and Rip Sullivan — who are unopposed, as is Del. Patrick Hope — say they have their eyes on the statewide races, and have thrown their support behind Democratic nominees Ralph Northam, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring, who are running for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Additionally, in the House, local elected officials see real opportunities to make gains.

Republicans currently hold a 66-34 advantage in the House, but multiple Democrats point to the 17 districts won by Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election as pick-up opportunities.

So instead of having to purely campaign to defend their own seats, they have looked further afield to try and cut into Republicans’ advantage, particularly through fundraising for candidates.

Democrats now have 88 candidates for the House, including incumbents running for re-election. That list includes more women running than men, four LGBT candidates as well as African-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Sullivan, who is the House Democratic Caucus’ campaign chair, launched Project Blue Dominion, a Political Action Committee to help recruit, train and fund candidates across Virginia.

He has sent out regular emails entitled “Flip-a-District Fridays” profiling the new candidates, and the PAC reported to the Virginia Department of Elections that it received $4,296 in contributions through the end of the last filing period on June 30.

“We are very excited about our current position,” Sullivan said. “We have a remarkably diverse group of candidates, some very accomplished candidates. It is the largest group of candidates we’ve had in a long, long time… We are running in parts of the state we haven’t run in in a long time.”

Levine, meanwhile, has been fundraising too in an initiative he has dubbed “Mission 51,” so called because with 51 seats, the Democrats would have the majority in the House. He has held fundraisers for candidates like Donte Tanner for District 40 in Prince William and Fairfax Counties, while funds from his annual house party to watch the fireworks celebrating Alexandria’s birthday in early July also went to the cause.

“This is an exciting year,” Levine said. “I would say in 2015 when I first ran [in District 45], if we had gotten three seats, then I would have been thrilled. This year, if we get only four seats, I’ll be disappointed. That tells you the difference between this year and two years ago. I think high single digits is definitely in range. If we got double digits I’d be ecstatic.”

And Hope said he is focused on helping pick up seats in Northern Virginia, not only through fundraising but also phone banking and canvassing, especially after Labor Day. Hope said he has already been part of several events to help out candidates in Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax Counties, and has more planned in the coming months.

“Northern Virginia does have a lot of pick-up opportunities, so particularly since it’s so close, you can bring in a lot of Arlingtonians going out to knock on doors and people to make phone calls,” Hope said. “It’s an area they can relate much better to, so they’re more likely to focus their attention there. We’ll be transporting a lot of Arlington grassroots people into other places in Northern Virginia, so I’ll be participating in that as well.”

The only local member of the House to face an opponent is Del. Alfonso Lopez (D), as he comes up against Republican Adam Roosevelt.

Lopez too has funneled campaign contributions from his war chest out to other candidates. In April, he hosted his third annual Democratic Party straw poll and raised around $12,500.

“We have been working so long and so hard to recruit excellent candidates all across the commonwealth,” Lopez said at the time. “So we want to be able to support them and make sure they can run the kind of campaigns that are worthy of Virginia and that will really help us take the House back.”

All noted a level of enthusiasm among Democratic-leaning voters they have not seen in some time, something Levine put down to objections to the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.

“This is our year in a way that I’ve never seen,” Levine said. “I’ve lived in Virginia for more than 16 years now, and I have never seen an election like this one. I can’t claim it’s due to our brilliance or our wonderfulness — I’d like to, and I think we are brilliant and wonderful — but we know it’s the national climate, it’s the president, it’s the shock of losing in 2016. People are coming out of the woodwork.”

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Morning Notes

High School Proposals on the Table in June — A pair of proposals for adding high school seats are on the table at Arlington School Board meetings next month. The board is expected to approve a $3.6 million construction contract for adding 300 seats to Wakefield High School, while Superintendent Patrick Murphy will recommend the board approve a “hybrid” option for adding another 1,300 seats, with 600 seats at the Education Center site near Washington-Lee and 700 at the Arlington Career Center. Despite the added capacity, Murphy expects that it will eventually be necessary to build a new 2,200 seat comprehensive high school to keep up with rising enrollment. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Marriott’s Longest-Standing Employee Is in Crystal City — Cecil Exum, a 79-year-old omelette maker at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, is Marriott’s longest-standing employee. He’s been with the company for 61 years, since the Marriott family ran a “Hot Shoppes” root beer stand and opened its first hotel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington. [Washington Post]

POTUS at ANC on Memorial Day — “President Donald Trump honored those who lost their lives serving the nation as he participated in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Monday and told emotional stories of just a few who perished.” [Daily Mail]

Cars Towed During Clarendon Memorial Day Ceremony — Some veterans attending the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the war memorial in Clarendon reportedly had their cars towed from a bank parking lot nearby. Del. Patrick Hope (D) tweeted photos of the cars being towed and called it “disgusting.” He directed the tweet at Del. Tim Hugo (R), the sponsor of the bill (now law) that blocked Arlington County from enforcing a “second signature” requirement for certain trespass tows. [Twitter]

Photo courtesy Peter Golkin

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General Assembly Delegation Invites Public to Discuss Legislative Priorities

State General Assembly (via Virginia General Assembly)Arlington County’s delegation to the Virginia General Assembly will hold its annual public hearing to discuss with residents the legislative priorities for the new General Assembly session that begins on January 11.

The public hearing will be held on Thursday, January 5, in the Arlington County Board Room (2100 Clarendon Blvd., #300) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Citizens can sign up on the night of the hearing to address the legislators. Each speaker will have up to three minutes.

“The direct participation of an active citizenry helps me represent the 30th District more effectively,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin. “I encourage and welcome all residents… to attend our delegation’s hearings.”

Some of the legislation on the 2017 roster that has been proposed by Arlington representatives includes:

  • Paid family leave, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola: Under this legislation, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry would develop an implementation plan for a paid family leave program.
  • Reporting lost or stolen firearms, proposed by Sen. Barbara Favola: This bill would require a person who legally possesses a firearm to report its loss or theft to police within 24 hours of discovering that it’s missing.
  • Same-sex marriage, proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin: This legislation would repeal the parts of Virginia’s constitution banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.
  • Governor’s term of office, proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin: This legislation would allow Virginia’s governor to serve consecutive terms. Currently, governors cannot run again immediately after serving one four-year term, but they can run again in a future election.
  • Firearm locks, proposed by Sen. Janet Howell: The bill would make it illegal to sell or transfer a handgun to anyone without the person being provided with a locking device for the handgun.
  • No-excuse absentee voting, proposed by Sen. Janet Howell: This would make it acceptable for any registered voter to vote absentee in person without having to provide a reason.
  • Required immunizations, proposed by Del. Patrick Hope: The bill would require children to receive an immunization for meningococcal disease (which causes bacterial meningitis) in order to attend school.
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Morning Notes

The sun drops behind an office building in Rosslyn

Advisory Board Wants Birthday Cake Banned from Schools — Student birthday celebrations are getting out of hand in Arlington Public Schools, with too many sugary treats being consumed as a result. That’s the view of the Student Health Advisory Board, which made its case to the School Board last week. Some individual schools in Arlington have banned birthday celebrations or, at least, sweet birthday treats. The overall school system, however, does not currently have a formal policy on the matter. [InsideNova]

Del. Hope Wants to Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ — Del. Patrick Hope (D) has introduced a bill to ban so-called conversion therapy for minors in Virginia. Practitioners of the controversial “therapy” claim that it can change the sexual orientation of individuals from homosexual to heterosexual. [Washington Blade]

The Corner Tex-Mix Lives? — Despite being pronounced dead by ARLnow and Google, it appears that The Corner Tex-Mix at 1621 S. Walter Reed Drive was open last night, at least for a short period of time. A tipster said lights were on and an employee answered the phone and confirmed they were open, shortly before a power outage sent everyone home. The county health department confirmed to ARLnow this morning that there have been no health code violations that would have closed the restaurant temporarily. The tipster said The Corner Tex-Mix seems to just be keeping “odd hours.” [ARLnow]

‘WeLive’ Apartments to Feature Free Cleaning, Sunday Supper — Details of a new apartment building in Manhattan from co-working company WeWork have been released, and they’re likely to also apply to the company’s second “WeLive” building, in Crystal City. The apartments will be fully furnished and will have cable TV, monthly cleaning and a communal Sunday supper included, among other amenities. [UrbanTurf]

$5 Ribs from Texas Jack’s Barbecue — Ribs at the recently-opened Texas Jack’s Barbecue in Lyon Park will cost you around $5. As in, nearly five bucks per rib. The restaurant, in the former Tallula and EatBar space, features a menu of smoked meat created by Executive Chef Matt Lang, winner of the Food Network’s Best in Smoke 2011 and formerly of Hill Country Barbecue in D.C. [DCist]

Va. Voter Registration Deadline Approaches — The deadline to vote in Virginia’s March 1 presidential primary is Monday, Feb. 8. On the GOP side, the election will feature a somewhat controversial loyalty pledge requested by the state party. “Voters who wish to vote in the Republican Primary must first sign the following non-binding statement, which is permitted under § 24.2-545.A of the Code of Virginia: ‘My signature below indicates that I am a Republican,'” county officials note. In-person absentee voting, meanwhile, starts Friday. [Arlington County]

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