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Marijuana (Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash)

Virginians are going to have to wait until next year to see any further movement on cannabis regulation and legalization of retail sales.

A bill — SB 591 — that would have regulated cannabis products shapes, banned Delta-8, increased penalties for possessing more than the legal limit, and reclassified many CBD products as marijuana was effectively killed in the Virginia Senate yesterday (April 27) with a bipartisan vote.

It was close to a year ago that marijuana first became legal in the Commonwealth. At the forefront of this push was Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-39), who represents a portion of Arlington.

While the achievement was celebrated by advocates, there remains much to be figured out. Notably, there’s still no legal retail market and regulation remains incomplete.

One bill that would have contributed to regulating marijuana products was SB 591. When it was first introduced back in January, it initially only dealt with the sale of cannabis products in shapes that could appeal to children — like candy, fruit, or animals. Despite it being introduced by a Republican, Ebbin and other local Democrats initially supported it.

“It was the right thing to do,” Ebbin tells ARLnow.

But a series of amendments from Governor Glenn Youngkin significantly altered the bill, adding in provisions about CBD products, Delta-8, and making possession over the legal limit a crime rather than a civil infraction.

“The governor’s amendments were ill-constructed, poorly thought out, and left lots of loopholes,” Ebbin says. “The original bill was better.”

The state Senator says the modified legislation “left a door open” for production of other synthetic marijuana products besides Delta-8, allowed for the removal of THC limits on packaging, and re-criminalized possession of over an ounce.

“The government’s proposed penalties for personal possession of two ounces of marijuana were more punitive than the laws that were in place prior to Virginia’s enactment of decriminalization in 2020,” Ebbin says.

SB 591 had a bit of a unique journey. The original bill, introduced by a Republican, was passed unanimously in the Senate and with very limited opposition in the House of Delegates. It was then sent to Governor Youngkin’s desk, who changed it by adding those amendments.

It was, then, sent back to the Senate yesterday for a vote where it was deadlocked with 20 yeas and 20 nays. However, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R) broke the tie, essentially going against the Governor from her own party.

With the bill being referred back to the committee, both the Governor’s amendments and the original bill are dead and any related legislation will have to wait until at least next year to be considered again for enactment.

Well, it’s disappointing,” says Ebbin. “People need to be aware of what they are buying.”

This is the second time in just the last couple of months that a bill aimed at creating infrastructure for a legal cannabis retail market in Virginia was voted down.

Ebbin’s own SB 391 would have allowed existing medical dispensaries to start selling retail cannabis starting in September. While it passed the Democratic-controlled Senate, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates pushed the decision until next year.

For the moment, the Cannabis Oversight Commission — for which Ebbin is Chair — will continue to review the two bills with the hope that a consensus can be built with how best to move forward on marijuana legislation in Virginia next year.

While Ebbin remains hopeful that 2023 will bring cannabis retail sales and further market regulation, he’s a bit skeptical.

“I’ve learned not to be overly optimistic in this field,” he says. “This is a product that’s now legal for adults 21 and older. So, it’s in our best interest to make sure this is a tested, regulated product.”

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Morning Notes

Snow being plowed (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

Weekend Snowfall Total — From the Capital Weather Gang: “Observer at Reagan National Airport reports 2.6 inches, pushing Jan. total to 12.2″ – most since 2016 and more than double the norm. Most of the immediate area saw 1.5 to 3 inches.” [Twitter]

Long-time Hospital CEO Retiring — “Virginia Hospital Center ‘was quite a different place’ when Jim Cole arrived in 1985, he recalls… Now 37 years later, Cole is getting ready to retire from one of the area’s only independently owned hospitals — for real, this time after delaying his planned departure in 2020 to remain at the helm through the Covid-19 pandemic.” [Washington Business Journal]

‘Smart Restart APS’ Donates Masks — “Over the winter break, a bunch of other Arlington parents joined Headrick’s effort. They collected money and drove to Home Depots and hardware stores in three states to buy all the available masks they could.
This week, the group donated about 6,000 masks to APS. They will be distributed to all full-time and part-time school employees.” [Patch]

Fire Dept. Recruits Graduate — “After 30 weeks of hard work, ACFD Recruit Class 80 graduates today with 25 new Probationary FF/EMT’s.” [Twitter]

New Va. Gov. Inaugurated — “Virginia began a new chapter Saturday with the inauguration of Glenn Youngkin, the first Republican governor to take the oath of office in 12 years. In his inauguration speech, Youngkin promised a change in direction in the state, with shifts on COVID-19 policies, education, criminal justice and taxes. Youngkin was sworn in as the commonwealth’s 74th governor on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.” [NBC 4]

Fmr. Gov. Says Farewell — From Ralph and Pam Northam: “It has been the honor of our lifetimes to serve as your 73rd Governor and First Lady. From the bottom of our hearts–thank you, Virginia.” [Twitter]

Another Storm Possible This Week — “The European modeling system Monday morning showed a number of projections that would offer some snow but also had some that showed dry weather. On Sunday, one of the model runs from the American modeling system showed a snowstorm, then the next took it away. Monday morning’s run of the model has the storm just missing us to the southeast, but it’s close.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Tuesday — A couple of brisk days are on tap. Today will be sunny, with a high near 39. West wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 5:14 p.m. Tomorrow will be partly sunny, with a high near 48. Southwest wind 13 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. [Weather.gov]

Photo courtesy Wolfkann/Flickr

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(Updated at 7:40 p.m.) Students and parents are in the middle of a tug-of-war between Arlington Public Schools and newly-inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

One of the Republican’s first acts today (Saturday) after succeeding now-former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was issuing eleven executive actions, including one that allows parents to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”

The order is set to take effect next Monday, Jan. 24.

Youngkin’s order suggests that mask mandates have been ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, citing incorrect mask usage and the use of low-quality cloth masks. It further suggests that schools instead focus on air filtration systems and other environmental mitigation measures.

Nonetheless APS, which has had a mask mandate for the entire school year, said tonight that the mandate is still in place on school grounds and on buses.

In a statement, APS said state law requires it to adhere to “any currently applicable mitigation strategies.” It also said that federal law requires masks on public transportation, like school buses.

From APS:

Arlington Public Schools will continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses, as part of our layered approach to safety. Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open.

Arlington Public Schools implemented our mask requirement this school year prior to Governor Northam’s K-12 mask mandate, and we will continue to make decisions that prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, following the guidance of local and national health professionals. Current law in Virginia, per SB1303, says: school divisions need to “provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The federal requirement from February 2, 2021, is still in place on all forms of public transportation. Anyone riding a school bus is therefore required to wear a mask when riding on our school buses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Over the past week there have been just under 1,000 Covid cases identified by Arlington Public Schools — 850 among students, 125 among teachers and staff — according to the school system’s public Covid dashboard. APS has around 27,000 students.

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Voting stickers (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Some 26% of registered voters in Arlington have shown up to the polls so far on Election Day as of 5 p.m., according to the county elections office.

Adding that to the 26.5% of Arlingtonians who voted early, that means turnout was nearly 53% with two hours until the polls close at 7 p.m.

That is within shouting distance of 2017’s voter turnout — 59% — which was the highest in more than two decades for a non-presidential election.

Other nearby localities are also seeing high turnout. With still several hours left for voting, Fairfax County is reporting that nearly 50% of those registered have voted. 2017 saw a 56% turnout in that county. Alexandria has had slightly over 51% turnout as of 4 p.m.. In 2017, Alexandria’s turnout was nearly 58%.

The numbers that are currently being reported both locally and statewide have some predicting that this election is going to set a new bar for statewide turnout in a non-presidential election year.

Early voting is playing a big role in the turnout numbers this election cycle as well. In Arlington, there were more than three times the number of early votes than compared to 2017.

The high early voting totals plus administrative changes in how those results will be publicly reported could skew the first release of results in surprising ways, tweeted the Virginia Public Access Project.

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(Updated, 4:10 p.m.) Today, Arlington residents are arriving at community centers, churches, libraries, schools, apartment complexes, and university lecture halls across the county to vote.

“Our voice matters,” one voter told ARLnow standing outside of her polling place at Drew Community Center. “It’s our duty. It’s important to have a voice for our kids, for our community, for our health.”

With the eyes of the nation on Virginia, ARLnow stopped by seven polling places, from Clarendon to Virginia Square to Green Valley. Lines at those polling places were either non-existent or very short.

One poll worker at Barrett Elementary near Ballston described it as a “steady stream” of voters so far.

The lack of lines perhaps has to do with high early voting turnout. Just over 41,000 votes were cast early, be it by in-person or mail-in voting, according to Arlington’s voting dashboard.

That’s approximately 26.5% of all registered voters in Arlington and more than three times the number of early voters in the last gubernatorial election in 2017.

Nonetheless, there are many locals who waited until today to cast their vote.

“Maybe I’m old, but I like that today is Election Day and that’s why I voted today,” a voter said in front of Clarendon United Methodist Church on N. Irving Street. “It feels patriotic.”

“I want to set a good example for our son,” said another voter outside the church, shifting her child from one arm to the other. “We want to make sure he understands that voting is the most basic form of contributing to where you live and your community.”

As of 9 a.m., election day turnout was about 7%, according to a tweet from Arlington County elections office. Another update is expected to come later this afternoon.

Adding that to the early voting totals, that means more than a third of registered voters in Arlington have already voted.

Eric Olsen, Arlington’s deputy director of elections, said turnout is likely higher than that since a number of absentee ballots haven’t been counted yet.

In terms of how that compares to the final voter turnout in 2017, which was 59% in Arlington — the highest in two decades for a non-presidential election — Olsen says it’s hard to say.

“Voting patterns have changed with more people early-voting and mailing-in, those are the voters who are more likely to vote anyway,” he says. “So, it’s really difficult to say [how it compares to 2017].”

He also notes that early morning was a bit slow, with polls opening at 6 a.m., but reports from pollings places suggest it has accelerated during the mid-morning.

There have been a few minor hiccups at several of Arlington’s 54 pollings places, says Olsen, but nothing that they haven’t dealt with on prior election days. A few poll workers didn’t show, a few machines went down, and workers couldn’t get inside one polling place until right up until 6 a.m., he said.

“All common stuff,” says Olsen. “It’s all been rectified and running pretty smoothly.”

The closely-watched Virginia gubernatorial race has drawn the national media to Arlington today. CNN was broadcasting live this morning from outside of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square.

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President Joe Biden and Virginia governor candidate Terry McAuliffe at Lubber Run Community Center in July (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) President Biden is coming back to Arlington.

Like he did in July, Biden will be campaigning with Terry McAuliffe, who’s in the home stretch of his campaign for a second term in the Virginia governor’s mansion. The Democratic campaign event is scheduled to take place from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday at Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street) near Pentagon City.

Those registering to attend must attest to being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. No signs are permitted at the event, says the RSVP page.

Biden previously campaign with McAuliffe at Lubber Run Park near Ballston.

McAuliffe will face off against his GOP opponent, Glenn Youngkin, in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Early voting is currently underway and taking place through Saturday, Oct. 30. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is tomorrow (Oct. 22).

McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014-2018, will also be coming to Arlington tomorrow. The Friday event to kick off his bus tour of the Commonwealth is scheduled to take place from 8:45-10 a.m. outside county government headquarters at Courthouse Plaza (2100 Clarendon Blvd).

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Morning Notes

‘Innovation Studio’ Planned at HQ2 — “Amazon Web Services will open a new AWS Innovation Studio to collaborate on global solutions that leverage its cloud computing technologies to address issues such as housing insecurity, social justice, climate change, sustainability and health and education inequality. A first for AWS, the studio will launch at Amazon’s new HQ2 headquarters under construction in Arlington, Va.” [CRN]

First Responders Honor Fallen Marine — “ACPD and @ArlingtonVaFD paid our respects to USMC Sgt. Nicole Gee, who was tragically killed in action in Kabul, as her procession traveled through Arlington this evening. May we never forget her service and sacrifice.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Power Outage Near Rosslyn — “About 450 homes and businesses are without power in the Rosslyn area this morning. Initial reports suggest that residents heard a loud boom and firefighters subsequently found a very unlucky squirrel.” [Twitter]

Beyer Blasts GOP for Debt Limit Drama — “By filibustering legislation that would prevent a default, they are gambling with the full faith and credit of the United States. This is poor economic stewardship. The responsible course of action is to increase the debt ceiling to prevent a catastrophic default.” [Press Release]

APS Preparing for Collective Bargaining — “The push to give Arlington Public Schools’ staff collective-bargaining rights is expected to move another step forward in coming weeks. School Board members on Sept. 30 will review a draft list of budget priorities for next year to be handed to Superintendent Francisco Durán. Among the directives in the staff proposal: create a timeline for implementation of collective-bargaining, which until recently was banned for public-sector workers in local governments across Virginia.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s National Recovery Month — “September is celebrated as National Recovery Month with the purpose of educating communities about recovery from mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders; the effectiveness of treatment and recovery support services; and that recovery is possible. Arlington proudly stands alongside our recovery community.” [Arlington County]

Virginia Gubernatorial Debate — “Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe outlined sharply different pictures of Virginia and visions for its future Tuesday in the second and final debate of this year’s race for governor. Youngkin, a former business executive, described a state racked with crime and struggling under a dying economy, then pledged to fix it by slashing taxes and beefing up law enforcement. McAuliffe took credit for creating a booming economy when he served as governor from 2014 to 2018.” [Washington Post]

Tuesday Morning’s Big Boom — “A big boom was reported across a wide swath of Fairfax County from Reston and Herndon to McLean around 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday, leaving many residents confused regarding the possible source. The sound was likely caused by loud thunder that accompanied a storm that was crossing the area at the time.” [FFXnow]

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(Updated 5:40 p.m.) Arlington has seen significantly higher early voting turnout than usual, ahead of the Democratic primary tomorrow.

Neighborhood polling places will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for those who have not voted early or absentee. Voters will see a full slate of Democratic candidates for local and state elections. Primary winners will face non-Democratic candidates in November.

Arlingtonians have been taking advantage of early voting opportunities since April 23. According to the Arlington County elections office, 2,803 people voted early and in-person before that option closed last week — a 140% increase over the last Virginia gubernatorial election cycle in 2017.

Meanwhile, more than 3,900 mail ballots for the Democratic primary were distributed before the May 28 deadline to request a ballot, the office said in a tweet. These can still be returned by mail but must be postmarked by tomorrow (June 8) and received by the local voter registration office by noon on Friday.

On the ballot in Arlington are three statewide elections, two contested House of Delegates elections, and the Democratic race for County Board.

Democrats have a number of potential replacements for Gov. Ralph Northam, including former governor Terry McAuliffe and Jennifer Carroll Foy — both of whom visited Arlington last week — as well as Jennifer McClellan, Lee Carter and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

The winner of the gubernatorial primary will face off Glenn Youngkin, who beat out a half-dozen other Republican candidates to win the GOP nomination.

Meanwhile, seven Democrats are competing for Fairfax’s current role as Lieutenant Governor. They are Del. Hala Ayala, Del. Sam Rasoul, Norfolk Council Member Andria McClellan, Fairfax County NAACP President Sean Perryman, Del. Mark Levine and Arlington businessman Xavier Warren.

Voters can also choose between incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring or his Democratic challenger Jay Jones.

Challenging Del. Alfonso Lopez for the 49th District is Karishma Mehta, while Alexandria City Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker is going up against Levine (who is also running for Lieutenant Governor) in the 45th District.

The 47th and 48th districts are not facing primary challenges on the ballot this year. Incumbent Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) faces no challenger and Matt Rogers, who launched a bid to unseat incumbent Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), is not on the ballot due to a paperwork snafu. He contested a decision by the State Board of Elections not to grant him and two other candidates a filing deadline.

Meanwhile, locals can choose to keep incumbent Democrat Takis Karantonis in his County Board seat or select his opponent, Chanda Choun. In November, the winner will face off a trio of independents: Audrey Clement, Mike Cantwell and now, Adam Theo.

Theo describes himself as a patriotic Libertarian Buddhist. He is the chair of the Libertarian Party of Northern Virginia, which operates in the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church as well as Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Tomorrow also is the deadline for candidates to file the forms needed to have their names printed on the ballot in the November general election.

There is no Republican primary, as “the Republican party did not call for any primary elections in Arlington,” the county elections office noted. Any voter can cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, regardless of party affiliation, as Virginia is an open primary state.

Registered voters can find their polling place on the Virginia Department of Elections website. A pocket guide from the department includes a list of acceptable IDs that voters can use to prove their identity when they arrive at the polls.

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Less than a week before the primary, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Del. Alfonso Lopez, and Virginia Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn paid a visit to Acme Pie Company on Columbia Pike.

All three Democrats are running for office in the upcoming primary, set for Tuesday, June 8 — with early voting happening now. (Filler-Corn is unopposed in the primary.)

Around slices of blueberry and lemon curd pie, joined by Acme’s owner Sol Schott, they discussed small businesses, economic recovery, and their love of pie.

“The best pie in America,” Lopez said about Acme’s offerings. A few moments later, McAuliffe bought a whole pie.

“I got five kids,” the McLean resident and former governor said as his reasoning.

The campaign stop was intended to highlight the plight and hoped-for recovery for Virginia’s small businesses.

“Almost 41% of Black and Brown [owned] businesses have closed. How do you rebuild? How do you bring small businesses back?,” McAuliffe asked. “We do microloans, access to capital, and working on the regulatory structure.”

While Acme Pie has found ways to survive over the last year, it’s been rough going with the shop losing a large slice of its wholesale business.

The business did get a Paycheck Protection Program loan and Schott said that one of the most frustrating aspects was dealing with paperwork and navigating the legalese.

“I would like to see some more hands-on help with paperwork,” Schott told ARLnow. “I did get help from Alfonso personally on that.”

Lopez, who is facing an intra-party challenger in his run for re-election in the 49th District, agrees that the paperwork and amount of work that small business owners need do to gain access to loans and capital can be a barrier.

“What we need to be doing is dealing with procurement reform… and changing the definition of what a small business is,” Lopez said in an interview with ARLnow. “There’s so much more we could do to help these folks who are literally putting everything into their dream of a small business and be able to take care of their family.”

McAuliffe, who is seen as the front-runner for the competitive Democratic gubernatorial nomination, told ARLnow in an interview that the Commonwealth needs to be directly involved in providing access to capital to small businesses.

“We as a state should stand up our own, basically, investment bank structure to help small businesses, to get them off their feet, and work with them,” he said. “The state being involved in micro-financing and other lending opportunities, I think is very important for us.”

The four spoke about other issues impacting residents in Arlington and across Virginia, including education and affordable housing.

“We’ve got to invest in education… You’ve got to have the best education system if you’re going to recruit businesses in the 21st century,” McAuliffe said. “Today, [Virginia] is 50 out of 50 states in average teacher pay. That’s disgraceful… so, raising pay above the national average.”

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Morning Notes

Summer School Enrollment Limited — “Despite having offered financial incentives to teachers to teach summer school, there are fewer applicants than the number of students who are eligible for summer instruction at the elementary level, making it impossible for APS to offer summer strengthening support to all eligible elementary students.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Car Driven onto W&OD Trail — “We were riding our triple bike and came across someone who had driven onto the W&OD Trail from Park Rd S… it was rather scary that they barely stopped before we passed by.” [Twitter, YouTube]

New Location for Free Covid Tests — From Arlington County: “Our no-cost, no-appointment mobile COVID-19 testing has moved! It’ll be based in the parking lot of Unitarian Universalist Church (4444 Arlington Blvd) through May 28.” [Twitter]

Dems Prepare for Apartment Outreach — “Voters [in multi-unit buildings] may have tipped the outcome of the 2018 County Board race, in which Democrat Matt de Ferranti ousted independent John Vihstadt… This year, races for local and legislative posts are probably not in much doubt across Arlington. But Democrats are hoping to run up the score in the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in order to offset Republican strongholds downstate.” [Sun Gazette]

Va. GOP Selects Gov. Nominee — “Former private equity chief Glenn Youngkin became the Republican nominee for Virginia governor Monday night after his closest rival, business executive Pete Snyder, conceded while votes were still being tabulated.” [Washington Post, Associated Press]

D.C. Planning Full Reopening — “D.C. plans to lift a slew of coronavirus capacity restrictions starting May 21, with a full reopening to come in June.” [WTOP, PoPville]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Statements of Support for AAPI Community — “Arlington Public Schools condemns racism and all expressions of hate, bias and discrimination. The horrific shootings in Atlanta earlier this week are a tragic reminder of the increase in violent attacks, hate speech and discrimination targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We grieve with the families of the victims of the shootings in Atlanta on March 16 and share the sorrow of all who stand against hate and discrimination.” [Arlington Public Schools, Press Release]

Opposition to Zoning Proposal — “The proposal has nevertheless attracted some pushback from Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future, a community group that has begun organizing opposition to the county’s housing efforts on the grounds that Arlington hasn’t properly prepared for additional growth… Other affected neighborhoods, including Green Valley in South Arlington, also offered opposition.” [Washington Business Journal]

Citizen Group Wants Tree Update — “‘Don’t call us, but we promise we’ll call you’ appears to sum up the Arlington County government’s reaction to an Arlington County Civic Federation call for an expeditious effort to update an analysis of the county’s tree canopy… The Arlington government last conducted a tree inventory in 2016, reporting the findings in 2017. The roughly 750,000 trees in the county’s 26 square miles cover about 41 percent of the county’s ground area.” [Sun Gazette]

Chainsaw Art Coming to Lyon Park — “This summer, Mallon is scheduled to do chainsaw sculptures on three stumps trees near the community center in Arlington’s Lyon Park, a community-owned park in the county. Mallon, who grew up in Arlington, said he usually brings about five chainsaws to a project, depending on the level of detail of the work.” [Patch]

GOP Gov. Candidate in Arlington — Glenn Youngkin, a Republican candidate for governor, made a campaign appearance at the Crystal City Sports Pub over the weekend. The event was criticized by Democrats for its crowd of maskless supporters. [Twitter, Twitter]

Airport Passenger Volume Going Up — “TSA screened 1,543,115 people yesterday, Sunday, March 21. The last time checkpoint throughput topped 1.5 million was March 15, 2020.” [Twitter]

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