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Arlington school bus on a snowy morning, Nov. 2018

Some potentially unwelcome news if you’re a K-12 student in Virginia: some in the legislature want to effectively end snow days.

From our Alexandria sister site ALXnow:

new bill could mean the end of snow days for Virginia public schools.

Currently, during severe weather conditions, schools have the option to switch to remote learning. House Bill 1666, pre-filed yesterday by Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville) would change that to a requirement rather than an option: school divisions must declare unscheduled remote learning days to provide instruction and student services.

The school divisions are also not allowed to claim more than 10 unscheduled remote learning days per year without an extension granted by the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

While snow days are forever popular among students and teachers, the change is likely spurred on by concerns about learning loss in Virginia students over the last few years. Before disheartened teachers and students start shaking their fists at the state legislature, it’s worth noting that Alexandria City Public Schools had already started moving in that direction.

Last January, when a snowstorm made a mess of local roads, Alexandria city schools went into virtual learning mode, while Arlington Public Schools gave students a couple of days off.

What do you think of replacing snow days with virtual learning days? Right call to boost learning or wrong call that would take away a bit of childhood tradition and provide some restorative days off?

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The Arlington County Board on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 (via Arlington County)

(Updated at 8:50 a.m. on 11/17/22) Arlington County is looking to the state legislature to help with some key priorities, including combating malicious 911 calls and predatory towing.

These are two of many issues that the county intends to have local legislators lobby for in the upcoming 2023 Virginia General Assembly session, which runs for 45 days beginning on Jan. 11, 2023.

The county’s legislative priorities address public safety, energy, transportation, criminal justice reform, affordable housing and mental health, among other things. The list of priorities was drafted with input from local commissions, advisory groups, county staff, the County Board and community members.

On Saturday, Ilana Creinin, the legislative liaison for Arlington County, told the County Board that “swatting,” or fake calls to emergency services with the intent to draw out a police response, are on the rise, and the county would support legislation that would combat it. Recent examples include a false active shooter call at Washington-Liberty High School in September and a false report of a shooting inside a home in October.

“We want to make sure we’re able to combat the act of making a hoax communication to 911,” Creinin said. “We’ve seen in some of our schools there’s been an uptick in instances of people calling in false communications.”

A county report outlining the priorities did not say what kind of legislation it would support.

Meanwhile, Arlington County is looking to support legislation that provides parity for Northern Virginia, compared with the rest of the state, when pursuing litigation against towing companies through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.

County Board member Takis Karantonis said he is “very happy” to “see push for consumer protection against predatory towing in our region.”

Del. Alfonso Lopez supported a bill last year, which failed, that would have given residents and localities more ability to protect themselves against bad-actor towing companies. The bill responded to public scrutiny of Ballston-based Advanced Towing, which is frequently accused of unsafe and predatory towing practices, though such accusations fizzled in court after the previous state Attorney General sued the company.

One legislative priority carried over from last year would address the state mental health crisis caused by a workforce shortage and a lack of beds in state-run mental hospitals.

With fewer staff to run them, the Commonwealth closed more than half of these hospitals to new admissions, overwhelming local hospitals and the Arlington County Police Department and driving fatigued county clinicians and Arlington police officers to quit.

“As you know, we’re still going through a large mental health crisis in our state with both staffing shortages and also a lack of state hospital beds,” said Creinin. “We want to work toward solving this crisis.”

Others respond to actions taken or proposed by the Republican-controlled state house or the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.).

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Morning Notes

Patriotic banners and yard ornaments adorn homes along S. Oak Street (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Water Main Break in RosslynUpdated at 7:50 a.m. — “Emergency Water Main Repairs: Crew working on 8-inch main at [Fairfax Drive and N. Lynn Street]. Some 100 customers could be affected.” [Twitter]

New Va. Laws Taking Effect Today — “Several new laws become effective across Virginia on July 1. This includes legislation pertaining to health care, transportation, economic development and law enforcement.” [Arlington County, FFXnow, ARLnow]

Local Dems Set Up Roe Page — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee has created an online resource to provide information on abortion and the political implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling sending the matter back to states.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Brothers Write Birding Book — “Maxwell and Danté Julius stealthily slip through a dirt path that cuts a serpentine route through Arlington County’s Long Branch Park and Nature Center. They’re equipped with binoculars, cameras and a permeating curiosity about the native birds of their home county. Together, the high school brothers have created a ‘Guide to the Birds of Arlington, VA.’ But it’s much more.” [WUSA 9]

County Looking for Tree Adopters — “Arlington is home to approximately 750,000 trees – or three for every resident – and the local government is asking the public’s help in supporting them. The county government’s Adopt-a-Tree program is designed to help trees make it through dry seasons.” [Sun Gazette]

New Contract for Arlington-Based Raytheon — “The U.S. Army announced Tuesday its effort for a next-generation, software-centric ground system is transitioning to another phase. The service awarded $36 million each to software company Palantir Technologies and defense firm Raytheon Technologies for work on the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, which is currently under development. TITAN is expected to help connect sensors with users in the field to support beyond-line-of-sight targeting.” [C4ISRNET]

Missing Middle Piques Interest in F.C. — “It has become a very contentious issue in Arlington, with scores of citizens showing up at public meetings to weigh in, as Clark reported. It is clear to us that, despite smokescreen issues like trees and other environmental factors, the zoning change is feared most for its perceived potentially negative impact on home values, as well as for the issue of population diversity. The Arlington board will have a work session on the subject with the county manager on July 12 and is set to take a vote in the fall. Falls Church leaders should play close attention.” [Falls Church News-Press]

It’s July — Humid and partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 74. Sunrise at 5:48 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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State Senate candidate Nicole Merlene in 2019 (staff photo)

A would-be Democratic candidate for a House of Delegates seat in Arlington says she decided not to run due to home affordability concerns.

Nicole Merlene announced her intention to run for the newly-redrawn District 2 seat but late last month announced again that she had reconsidered.

“After much consideration I have made a personal decision not to seek the nomination for Virginia’s House of Delegates 2nd District in 2023,” she wrote at the time. “To those who have donated to me, you will receive a full refund of your kind contributions. Arlington has a bright future, and I am confident it will be well represented moving forward.”

(The only other Democrat to announce their intention to run for the seat so far is Adele McClure, Executive Director of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.)

Merlene, a former ARLnow opinion columnist who previously sought the Democratic nod for state Senate and County Board, revealed in an email to supporters Tuesday that her decision actually stemmed from housing affordability: she was unable to find a home she wanted to buy and could afford in District 2.

She wrote:

It has been a lifelong goal of mine to own a home. After 5 months searching in the 2nd District it became obvious this wasn’t in the cards. A policy that I have always preached is that people of all backgrounds need an equal opportunity to build wealth — through affordable education, well paying jobs, and the greatest investment in the American economy, owning a home. It would not be of service to the 2nd District to serve for just one or two terms and then move, and it would be a disservice to myself to continue to rent just to run for office when I have the ability to invest in myself and own a home.

After ending my bid for office, the search for a home became open to the entire DC and northern Virginia area. Truth be told, my perfect first home was actually right here in Arlington, just not in the new 2nd District. I look forward to engaging with all of you as I continue to deepen my roots here as a homeowner. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out.

District 2 mostly consists of several Metro corridor communities — Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Crystal City and Pentagon City — as well as the single-family home neighborhoods surrounding them.

Merlene, who previously said affordable housing would be one of her top campaign issues, tells ARLnow she was able to buy a small house along a main road in the Waycroft-Woodlawn neighborhood.

Merlene noted that she only formed an exploratory committee for the 2023 race and was not officially a candidate. Candidate filings are typically made starting in January.

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Morning Notes

Amazon HQ2 under construction in Pentagon City, with the Pentagon in the foreground (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Construction Milestone for HQ2 — “Metropolitan Park, the first phase of our second headquarters’ development in Arlington, Virginia, is taking shape as we celebrate an important milestone: the ‘topping out,’ or completion of the highest floor of the building. So much has changed since we began construction more than two years ago in National Landing, and we can’t wait to welcome Amazon employees and the Arlington community to Metropolitan Park in 2023.” [Amazon, Twitter]

Covid Rate Low in the ER — From Virginia Hospital Center emergency department chief Dr. Mike Silverman: “This past week was the best COVID week we’ve had in a long time in the ER. We actually didn’t have any positive cases among our ‘symptomatic’ patients and just a handful or so among all comers to the ER. Our percent positivity rate was <2%. Hospitalizations remains low and we are returning to normal with in-person meetings and some options about mask wearing in non-clinical areas.” [Facebook]

Girl Found, Parents Eventually Located — “The parents of the little girl who was found unattended on the Martha Custis Trail in Arlington, Virginia, have been found on Saturday night. The girl was found behind a Giant grocery store on Langston Boulevard-U.S. 29 and Spout Run Parkway just before midnight Saturday.” [WTOP]

Arlington Gets HUD Grant — “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded more than $2.8 million in FY 2021 Continuum of Care (CoC) Competition Awards to Arlington. The awards will provide funding to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness move into permanent housing with access to supportive services, with the overarching goal of long-term stability.” [Arlington County]

Aircraft Company Opens Local Office — “California-based Stratolaunch, which is testing the largest aircraft ever built, has established a permanent D.C.-area office. It’s in National Landing, the Crystal City area of Arlington County, Virginia. Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by the late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.” [WTOP]

APS Students Serve as Pages in Richmond — “Two students at Swanson Middle School recently finished an 11-week program as pages with the Virginia House of Delegates. This selective program welcomes eighth and ninth-grade students to Richmond from across the commonwealth to learn about the legislative process and assist the House of Delegates. Chandani Rathod and Jacqueline Ake were the only two students chosen from Arlington County.” [Arlington Public Schools, Twitter]

Yes, Traffic is Getting Worse — “With more people returning to work, the D.C. region has seen an increase in drivers and that number could continue to shoot up. ‘It has been a steady climb,’ said Mary DePompa, WTOP Traffic anchor. Despite the rise in gas prices, the boom in the number of drivers appears to be a recent trend.” [WTOP]

It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 67 and low of 41. Sunrise at 7:11 am and sunset at 7:22 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Virginia Capitol in Richmond (staff photo)

Good news: Virginia is flush with cash.

State tax revenues have been unexpectedly robust — billions more than first anticipated — and that has Republicans and Democrats in Richmond at loggerheads over what to do with the money.

From the Virginia Mercury last month:

Virginia’s new governor marked his 30th day in office with a state tour meant to build support for his tax-cutting plans, which have gotten a mixed response in the politically split legislature.

Parts of it, such as a plan to give every Virginia taxpayer a one-time rebate of $300, have passed with strong bipartisan support. Other proposals, like eliminating the state’s grocery tax and suspending a scheduled increase in the gas tax, have been a tough sell in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The budget remains in flux, with the state legislature adjourned until a special session is called, allowing lawmakers to work out their differences. While Republicans are calling for nearly $5.5 billion in tax cuts and rebates — plus, more recently, a temporary gas tax holiday — Democrats want more modest tax cuts, targeted to those with lower incomes, while boosting funding for priorities like education.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The House budget includes almost $5.5 billion in tax cuts and rebates, but the Senate continues to insist on deferring the centerpiece of the governor’s tax plan — the doubling of the standard deduction for income tax filers — until a joint subcommittee completes a comprehensive study of Virginia tax policy in the coming year. Doubling the standard deduction would reduce state revenues by $2 billion over two years.

The Senate has agreed to partial repeal of the 2.5% sales tax on groceries, but has balked at eliminating the 1% that goes directly to local governments and has approved a less generous tax exemption for military retirement income than the House. It also has approved smaller tax rebates this year than the House and rejected a 12-month rollback in the gas tax as meaningless to soaring prices at the pump.

In general, what do you think the state should do with its unexpected extra revenue, if you were to select one thing as Richmond’s top budget priority?

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Morning Notes

A jet takes off from Reagan National Airport at twilight (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Whiskey Bar Coming to Clarendon — “Chicken + Whiskey is branching out into Northern Virginia. The Peruvian rotisserie chicken restaurant and whiskey bar, which got its start from a smaller location in Logan Circle in 2017, has inked a deal for a new location near the Clarendon Metro in Arlington County. The 5,708-square-foot restaurant is slated to open late this year or early next at 3033 Wilson Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]

It’s Flood Awareness Week — “Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States and it is becoming more frequent with climate change. As we head into the typical rainy season, Arlington County and Fairfax County are teaming up for Virginia Flood Awareness Week to get out key messages of being informed and prepared.” [Arlington County]

Bill to Limit Gov. Powers — “Five of Arlington’s seven-member General Assembly delegation voted in support of a measure that will limit the power of governors to act unilaterally for an indeterminate period in a crisis. Legislation sponsored by state Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke) on March 9 cleared the House of Delegates on a 91-8 vote, following earlier passage in the state Senate by a margin of 29-11. Gov. Youngkin is expected to sign the bill.” [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Kids Hold Ukraine Bake Sale — “Our boys and friends wanted to do something to help the people of #Ukraine – they decided on a bake sale. They raised $900+ today and it’s now headed to medical staff that are getting supplies to the Ukraine/Poland border. Nice job kiddos.” [Twitter]

Bishop O’Connell Swimmer Stands Out — “For Kate Bailey, her time to receive deserved recognition as a standout high-school swimmer in Arlington came this season in her final senior campaign. During past winter years, Bailey and other top local swimmers performed in the shadow of 2022 Yorktown High School graduate and Summer Olympian Torri Huske. With Huske now swimming in college at Stanford University, Bailey’s accomplishments this winter drew more attention.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 58 and low of 31. Sunrise at 7:22 am and sunset at 7:16 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Blossoms in bloom along Long Bridge Park in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Giant Spiders May Drop In — “An invasive species of spider the size of a child’s hand is expected to ‘colonize’ the entire East Coast this spring by parachuting down from the sky, researchers at the University of Georgia announced last week… Andy Davis, author of the study and a researcher at Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, tells Axios that it isn’t certain how far north the spiders will travel, but they may make it as far north as D.C. or even Delaware.” [Axios, Fox 5, NPR]

Anti-Growth Group Decries Route 29 Planning — “On March 6, ASF wrote to the Arlington County Board expressing concerns that significant new land use and zoning plans will cause seismic shifts for the communities now lining Langston Blvd. We believe the process — which will soon produce a new Preliminary Concept Plan that likely will be fast-tracked like other county planning processes — will neglect or defer costs of critically-needed new infrastructure, will displace those earning 60% or less than the Area Median Income, and will make it difficult for local entrepreneurs to stay in business.” [Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future]

Polish Pike Pierogi Purveyor Praised — “‘Oh my god, it smells so good it’s driving me crazy!’ my husband reported after picking up a pierogi order from chef Ewa Fraszczyk, who shares kitchen space with La Cocina VA, selling her pan-fried Polish dumplings from the nonprofit’s Columbia Pike café every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Arlington chef’s pierogi, all delicate and delicious, come six to an order ($10-$12) in four varieties.” [Arlington Magazine]

Apartment Child Care Bill Advances — “House members voted unanimously on March 8 in support of a measure by state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington-Fairfax-Loudoun) to amend the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act and permit child-care facilities in apartment units. That followed earlier, also unanimous, support in the state Senate.” [Sun Gazette]

Teen Stabbed in Va. Square Area — “At approximately 6:28 p.m. on March 8, police were dispatched to the report of a fight involving a group of approximately 6 – 10 juveniles. Upon arrival, the juveniles were no longer on scene and officers canvassed the area and located evidence of an injury in the 500 block of N. Quincy Street. At approximately 7:14 p.m., the juvenile male victim arrived at Virginia Hospital Center for treatment of stab wounds suffered during the fight. The victim’s injuries are considered serious but non-life threatening.” [ACPD]

Bus Driver Nearly Causes Wreck on I-395 — From public safety watchdog Dave Statter: “Watch: A ‘professional’ driver does no better trying to quickly get across 4 lanes of interstate highway. This one almost takes out a car–twice!! Must have been a fun bus ride.” [Twitter]

Takeout for a Cause at Four Courts — From Ireland’s Four Courts: “Stop in or order takeout on Thursday for dinner. We are donating 20 percent of our food sales to @PathForwardVA help #endhomelessness in Arlington.” [Twitter]

It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 52 and low of 35. Sunrise at 6:28 am and sunset at 6:12 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam answers reporters’ questions at Amazon announcement in Pentagon City in 2018 (file photo)

Proposed legislation from Del. Alfonso Lopez that would support local journalism has withered away without bipartisan support.

HB 1217 would have provided up to $5 million annually in income tax credits to eligible news outlets that employ local journalists and up to $10 million annually in income tax credits to businesses that advertise with these outlets.

The newspaper industry has seen a slow decline over the last two decades — as documented on CBS’s 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

The decay of local newspapers is driven in large part by a loss in advertising revenue as classifieds have moved to services like Craigslist and other ads have migrated online to Facebook, Google and other large platforms. In recent years, hedge funds and private equity firms have further squeezed local news by acquiring hundreds of newspapers and slashing costs — which has boosted profitability but led to additional layoffs.

In the past year, however, there’s been a push to enact federal policy to stop this trend, and the activity at the federal level has sparked state-level bills.

Lopez’s bill died this legislative session during a finance subcommittee meeting, with six Republicans voting against it and three Democrats voting for it. While the Arlington Democrat said the objections didn’t seem related to spending, he didn’t offer further theories about why it failed.

Lopez said he intends to keep applying pressure until this measure is adopted.

“I think we need local journalists to keep our constituents informed of what’s happening at the local level,” he tells ARLnow. “I’m going to bring this bill back every year until it becomes a law in the Commonwealth.”

The bill makes business sense because it would encourage ad revenue, which pays the salaries of local journalists, according to Lopez. It’s also good for democracy, he said, as areas without local coverage tend to have more government and small business corruption and see lower local election turnout.

Virginia Press Association Executive Director Betsy Edwards says it’s unfortunate the bill was killed.

“VPA supported this bill because it would have helped local newspapers through income tax credits,” she said. “While we did not work with Delegate Lopez in drafting this bill — we support what he was trying to do to help local news.”

Lopez modeled his bill on the federal Local Journalism Sustainability Act (LJSA), included in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which effectively died when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) withdrew his support.

The LJSA was the fruit of advocacy by the Rebuild Local News coalition, coordinated by Steve Waldman, the founder of Report for America, a nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.

“It became clear to me that, in addition to improved business models and greater philanthropy, the crisis is so severe, and the threat to democracy so urgent, that we needed better public policy,” he tells ARLnow.

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

No Mardi Gras Parade Today — Clarendon will not be hosting a Mardi Gras parade this year. What was formerly an annual tradition remains on hold, perhaps permanently. The last parade was held in 2018.

Retail Rents Rising on the Pike — “Arlington economic-development officials say they will assist where possible, but in many cases, small-business owners wishing to stay in the corridor will have to do the hunting on their own… The arrival of Amazon not far down the road in the Pentagon City area is just one factor that is impacting rents in the Columbia Pike corridor, once known as a low-cost alternative to Arlington’s Metro corridors.” [Sun Gazette]

Affordable Housing Buy Nearby — “A 14-story Arlandria apartment complex has been acquired by the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, the latest move in an effort to preserve affordable housing in an area facing significant development pressure. AHDC recently announced that it bought the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments from Florida-based ZRS Management with support of $51.4 million from the $2 billion Amazon Housing Equity Fund.” [ALXnow, Twitter]

Va. Weed Bill Goes Up in Smoke — “Republican members of Virginia’s House of Delegates on Monday voted down a bill that would have permitted legal sales of marijuana later this year, delaying any movement on the issue until at least mid- or late-2023 — if not even later than that. The party-line 5-3 vote in the House’s General Laws Subcommittee dashed the hopes of many Democrats and marijuana legalization advocates.” [DCist]

It’s Fat Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day today, the first day of March and the last day before Lent. High of 57 and low of 32. Sunrise at 6:42 am and sunset at 6:02 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Four Mile Run in Shirlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Rapist Gets Life in Prison — “Michael F. Thomson, 65, of Montross, VA pled guilty and was sentenced on Friday, February 11, 2022, in the Arlington County Circuit Court to life in prison plus 56 years for his role in a 1991 cold case rape series. Judge DiMatteo imposed a sentence of life in prison on one count of rape, 50 years on a second count of rape, 10 years with eight suspended on one count of attempted abduction with intent to defile, and two years each on two counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of the rapes.” [ACPD]

Police Auditor Bill May Pass — “Bills acceding to a request by the Arlington County Board to employ a police auditor have won approval in each house of the General Assembly, suggesting the measure likely will make it the desk of Gov. Youngkin… Adding a police auditor responsible to the board, rather than county manager, was one of the recommendations when County Board members in 2021 approved revisions to policing policies in the county.” [Sun Gazette]

Fire Depts. Adjust to Bridge Issues — “How bad are structural issues with the T.R. Bridge? It isn’t just the public impacted by emergency repairs. STATter911 has learned both @ArlingtonVaFD & @dcfireems are restricting how fire apparatus can access the bridge for emergencies.” [Twitter]

It’s Thursday — Today will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 67 and wind gusts as high as 33 mph. Sunrise at 6:56 a.m. and sunset at 5:48 p.m. Rain tonight and Friday morning. Mostly cloudy through mid morning Friday, then gradual clearing, with a high near 54. Breezy, with a northwest wind 16 to 23 mph, with gusts as high as 39 mph. [Weather.gov]

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