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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Earlier this month, Virginia House of Delegates 2nd District candidate Kevin Saucedo-Broach dropped out of the race to take care of a family member.

But when he announced this decision, he said a recurring conversation on the campaign trail will stick with him and inform his advocacy going forward. The topic was mental health.

“The more I talked to people across Arlington, the more sure I became that Virginia’s mental health crisis is traumatizing people from all walks of life and that those people were absolutely desperate for our government to do something serious about it,” he said.

These reflections, posted on Twitter, come as Arlington County is trying to fill in gaps in Virginia’s patchwork approach to mental health care — precipitated by the closure of state psychiatric beds during the pandemic — with community-based services.

This week, it celebrated the newly renovated Crisis Intervention Center, where people in a mental health crisis can go to receive services — away from hospitals and law enforcement, who are typically on the front lines of this issue.

Now that Saucedo-Broach is out, Adele McClure, who announced her bid more than a year ago, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary this June. An early opponent, Nicole Merlene, also dropped out.

Then, McClure will run in the November general election. There is no incumbent for this new seat, encompassing Arlingtonā€™s Metro corridors, created through a recent redistricting process.

Saucedo-Broach lamented that some 80,000 Arlingtonians in the 2nd District would no longer have the opportunity to see candidates debate issues like poverty and mental health. He says that speaks poorly of Arlington.

“For a county as vibrant, diverse, and politically active as Arlington, it certainly speaks very poorly of our work as a political and organizing community that so few residents felt it worthwhile to stand for election to a band-new legislative district with an open race,” he said. “Clearly, we have a great deal of work left to do to break down systemic barriers and expand political access in Arlington County.”

McClure acknowledged the news in a post on social media asking for support, as Saucedo-Broach’s name will still appear on the ballot. She has an interactive map for residents who want to see if she could be their next representative.

She, too, says she will be an effective advocate for mental health policies because of her experience on the Arlington Community Services Board. This oversees the continuum of nonprofit- and county-provided services to people with disabilities,Ā  substance use disorders and mental health challenges.

“We need funding to expand community-based services and must recognize that each individual is unique and has different needs — some folks suffer from co-occurring mental health, substance use, and medical treatment needs,” McClure says.

“At a time when demand for behavioral health care treatment is rising, Virginians deserve a system that has ample capacity for pediatric, adult, and elder patients across the continuum of care so that people with mental health and substance treatment needs can receive care with dignity that is free of stigma or shame,” she continues.

McClure has picked up the endorsement of Del. Alfonso Lopez, the Virginia Education Association political action committee representing Virginia teachers, U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, the progressive group New Virginia MajorityĀ and pro-abortion advocacy group Repro Rising.

Meanwhile, longtime state Sen. Barbara Favola is running against lawyer James DeVita to represent the 40th District. On mental health, Favola was chief patron of a bill that passed this session requiring hospitals to provide trauma-informed security.

Tackling the twin epidemics of mental health and substance use inside the jail is top-of-mind for the candidates for Arlington County Sheriff.

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Kevin Saucedo-Broach, a candidate for Virginia’s 2nd District in the House of Delegates (courtesy photo)

(Updated at 9:35 a.m. on 03/22/23) A second candidate has emerged for the open seat in Arlington’s new 2nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Last week, Kevin Saucedo-Broach, a former Chief of Staff for Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), announced his candidacy for the district, created after a 2021 redistricting process.

Saucedo-Broach, the treasurer for the Democratic Latino Caucus of Virginia, will run against Adele McClure, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus executive director, in the Democratic primary this June.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Saucedo-Broach and McClure, who announced her candidacy more than a year ago, are the only two candidates in the running. Former candidate for state SenateĀ andĀ County Board Nicole Merlene withdrew last year after buying a home outside of the district’s boundaries.

If elected, Saucedo-Broach — who identifies as bisexual — says he would be the first openly LGBT legislator of color in Virginia’s history.

“It would be an incredible honor to bring my hometown’s progressive values of openness, compassion, and justice to the House of Delegates,” Saucedo-Broach said in a statement.

As Lopez’s chief of staff, he says he helped pass legislation that allowed undocumented residents to pay in-state college tuition rates and receive financial aid, as well as another that established the first statewide LGBT governmental advisory body in the South.

“As someone who has spent over a decade organizing to elect progressives in Virginia, I can’t sit on the sidelines while MAGA Republicans like Glenn Youngkin step up the attacks on low-income, immigrant families like mine to push an extremist agenda,” he continued. “I am more than ready to fight back and to take that fight all the way to Richmond.”

Saucedo-Broach is outspoken on LGBT equality, healthcare and anti-povertyĀ measures.

The fourth-generation Arlingtonian says healthcare reform in particular motivated him to get involved in politics.

“I started organizing a decade ago to help expand Virginia Medicaid, because I was terrified of what would happen to my mom if she couldn’t afford health insurance,” Saucedo-Broach said. “The struggle to access vital primary and mental healthcare services has deeply impacted my entire family and I know that far too many other people in our community are struggling with it, too.”

He says his grandmother died by suicide in Arlington in 1992.

“I’m running for Delegate to ensure that all Virginians have access to the kinds of services that could have saved her life, so we might keep other families from suffering the same pain mine has,” he said.

Saucedo-Broach notes that he is a longtime volunteer with Arlington County Democratic Committee, a former chair of the local party’s Latino Caucus, and former executive board member for its LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.

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

The Democratic primary will be held on Tuesday, June 20.

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Virginia State Capitol on Feb. 1, 2023 (staff photo)

(Updated at 4 p.m.) There seems to be bipartisan agreement among state lawmakers about at least one issue: something must be done about the popping and roaring of noisy mufflers.

On Saturday (Feb. 25), the Virginia General Assembly adjourned its 2023 winter legislative session, which some say has been too short to get vital work done. These bills will now head to Gov. Glenn Youngkin to review before March 27.

With Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats the Senate, Arlington’s all-Democratic representation introduced a laundry list of bills that failed. These ranged from oneĀ permitting same-sex marriage to increasing gun control and leveling the playing field for online news outlets like ARLnow.

Those seeking relief from cars with loud exhausts fell short of a total victory, but both the Virginia House of Delegates and the State Senate passed a version of Sen. Adam Ebbin’s bill, SB 1085, that would study the issue.

His original bill would have prohibited the sale and use of aftermarket mufflers. Now, the legislature is directing the Department of Transportation to “convene a workgroup of specified stakeholders to examine the issue of vehicle noise in the Commonwealth and to report its findings and recommendations” to the chairs of each chamber’s transportation committee by Nov. 1.

His bill follows up on last year’s reversal of a 2021 law that prevented police from pulling over drivers just for having an excessively loud exhaust system. The original law was intended to reduce pretextual traffic stops and racial disparities but might have contributed to an uptick in noise complaints.

Of all the bills filed by local legislators that ARLnow highlighted at the start of the 2023 legislative session, this was the only one to pass.

However, a slew of bills from other lawmakers did make it through, including a few notable ones listed below.

Crime

  • HB 1583 (Del. “Rip” Sullivan) makes it illegal to use drones to spy on someone, regardless of where that device is located.
  • HB 1590 (Sullivan) modernizes a harassing phone call statute that used to apply only to telephones and pagers. Now, it would be a misdemeanor to annoy or delay emergency personnel trying to do their job by causing any device to ring or signal an alert repeatedly.
  • SB 887 (Sen. Barbara Favola) requires out-of-cell programs and congregant activities for four hours a day for people in solitary confinement at the state prison, unless there is a lockdown. People in solitary confinement must receive physical and mental health evaluations and there has to be a publicly available process for restoring people to the general prison population.

Consumer protection

  • HB 1857 (Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker) is intended to prevent resellers from misleading ticket buyers by prohibiting them from making their website look similar to a ticket operator’s website. It also prohibits the display of trademarked or copyrighted information from an operator or a primary ticket provider without their consent.
  • SB 871 (Favola) would make it illegal for car manufacturers, factories and distributors to threaten to take away incentives from buyers or the right to participate in incentive programs.

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Virginia State Capitol on Feb. 1, 2023 (staff photo)

Two bills that would have given online-only local news publications like ARLnow some of the same privileges afforded legacy media outlets failed in Richmond over the past few weeks.

In the House of Delegates, HB 1920 would have included online local news publications that employ at least one full time journalist in an exemption from local Business, Professional, and Occupational License (BPOL) taxes.

Current statute exempts radio stations, television stations, newspapers, magazines, newsletters and “other publication[s] issued daily or regularly at average intervals not exceeding three months.” Online publications are not considered an “other publication” in Virginia, in part because the state exemption was originally passed in the late 1980s, before the advent of the modern commercial internet.

ARLnow’s parent company, which is based in Arlington and pays a mid-four-figure BPOL tax annually — nearly 10% of the company’s net income for 2022 — appealed the exclusion from the media outlet BPOL exemption to the Arlington Office of the Commissioner of Revenue in the fall. The office rejected the appeal, citing a 2020 Virginia Tax Commissioner ruling against a food blog that was also seeking the exemption.

Introduced by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), the bill garnered support from other Virginia online-only local news publishers but Arlington County officials expressed concern about a loss of tax revenue. Several other online publications, including Axios, are also based in Arlington.

HB 1920 was ultimately “laid on the table” by a House finance subcommittee, with committee members expressing both interest in studying the bill’s financial impact and surprise that legacy media outlets are excluded from BPOL.

Also considered this year was SB 1237, proposed by state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), which would have given local governments and businesses the option of placing legal notice ads in qualifying online local news publications. Currently, such notices must be placed in printed newspapers to satisfy legal requirements.

Obenshain argued that numerous online-only local news publications have as many or more readers than their print counterparts, while citing the continued closure of print newspapers across the country, including the Richmond-area Chesterfield ObserverĀ earlier this month.

Here in Arlington, residents and County Board members have at times expressed frustration with the county placing its legal notices in the relatively lightly-circulated Washington Times newspaper. Board members, however, said that doing so is the most cost-effective way to meet state notice requirements and placing notices in the Washington Post, for instance, would be considerably more expensive.

Arlington County spent more than $37,000 with the Washington Times, an unabashedly conservative daily paper owned by an offshoot of the Unification Church, between fiscal years 2018 and 2019, according to a Freedom of Information Act response to a resident’s query in 2020.

The owners of ARLnow, Page Valley News and the MadRapp Recorder were among those to testify in favor of the bill last week. It was opposed by the Virginia Press Association and the publisher of InsideNoVa on the grounds that newspapers provide a permanent physical record of such notices and Virginia newspapers publishers already post notices online.

The state Senate’s judiciary committee ultimately voted 6-9 against the bill, after expressing concerns about which publications would qualify under SB 1237 and whether notices would be lost if online publications closed.

The vote was largely along party lines, with six GOP members voting in favor. Among those voting against it were members of the Democratic delegation from Fairfax County: Sen. Jennifer Boysko, Sen. Chap Petersen, Sen. Dick Saslaw and Sen. Scott Surovell. Previous attempts to pass a similar bill on the House side by Del. Hope have also failed in committee.

Online-only local news publishers who supported the bill — there are currently more than a dozen such local sites throughout the Commonwealth — have vowed to try again to gain bipartisan support for a modified version of this year’s bill during next year’s General Assembly session.

Separately, a bill from Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) to provide tax credits that would benefit both print and online local news publishers, also failed in a House finance subcommittee. The bill, HB 2061, had the support of the Virginia Press Association.

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Virginia State Capitol in Richmond (via Wikimedia Commons)

America’s oldest continuous law-making body, the Virginia General Assembly, is now in session, and local lawmakers have introduced a slew of new legislation.

With split control of the General Assembly, Republicans of the House of Delegates and Democrats of the Senate, it’s unclear how many bills introduced by Arlington’s all-Democratic representation will pass.

Still, some priorities appear to have a measure of bipartisan support, including SB 1096 (from Sen. Adam Ebbin) permitting marriage between two people regardless of sex while protecting the right of religious clergy to decline presiding over same-sex marriages.

Here are some of the bills that were pre-filed ahead of this session.

Arlingtonians could get relief from noisy cars and predatory towing.

  • SB 1085 (Ebbin): Prohibits the sale and use of aftermarket mufflers. This follows up on a change in law last yearĀ reversing a 2021 law that prevented officers from pulling over drivers just for having an excessively loud exhaust system. The original law was intended to reduce pretextual traffic stops and racial disparities but might have contributed to an uptick in noise complaints those living along highways and busy roads.
  • HB 2062 (Del. Alfonso Lopez) and SB 790 (Sen. Barbara Favola): Reprises a failed 2022 bill that would make violations of existing towing law subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. Under this act, predatory towing could receive heftier civil penalties than the $150 fine currently codified. Tackling predatory towing was a 2023 Arlington County Board legislative priority.

In addition to Ebbin’s same-sex marriage bill, a few others pertain to family life, health and privacy.

  • SB 1324 (Ebbin): Gives parents who make less than $100,000 a $500 child tax credit for 2023-2027.
  • SB 852 (Favola): Protects menstrual data stored on computers, computer networks or other devices — like phone period tracking applications — from being subject to search warrants. This likely responds to a Republican bill to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks except in the case of rape or incest or if the pregnancy endangers the life or “major bodily functions” of the mother.
  • HB 1879 (Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker): Requires each managed care health insurance plan licensee to provide a sufficient number and mix of services, specialists and practice sites to meet mental health care needs 24/7.

A number of gun control bills would curtail who can own a gun and who can assume possession of those owned by people who have committed a crime, while tackling the proliferation of “ghost guns.”

  • HB 1729 (Bennett-Parker) and SB 909 (Favola): Requires people to be at least 21 years old and to live under a different roof in order to accept guns from someone legally required to surrender them for being convicted of assaulting a family member or being under a protective order.
  • HB 1579 (Del. Rip Sullivan): Prevents people from buying or transporting firearms if they have two convictions in five years for operating a car or boat while drunk.
  • SB 1181 (Ebbin): Makes it a misdemeanor for anyone who is not a federal firearms importer, manufacturer or dealer to knowingly sell, offer to sell, transfer or purchase unfinished firearms that do not have serial numbers. These can be purchased online and used to build untraceable firearms, known as “ghost guns.”
  • SB 1192 (Ebbin): ProhibitsĀ certain semi-automatic guns — loaded or not — in any public right-of-way or publicly accessible natural area.

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In February of this year, a hoax call about an armed suspect inside Yorktown High School holding hostages triggered a lockdown, evacuations and a massive police response.

That incident is now informing one of Arlington’s legislative priorities for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session. The Arlington County Board and School Board are calling for a law that specifically names and criminalizes false calls to police, describing a life-threatening situation, with the intent to trigger a police response. It is widely known as “swatting” because of the SWAT teams it sometimes elicits.

Swatting is on the rise in Arlington County, according to Lt. Matt Martin of the Arlington County Police Department. There have been four instances in 2022 so far, up from two in 2021 and one incident per year from 2018 through 2020. (Martin says because there is no swatting category in crime statistics, these numbers were pulled manually based on case facts and may not be comprehensive.)

In nearby Fairfax County, there were 11 such incidents in 2020 and 30 in 2021, a police spokesperson previously told our sister site, FFXnow. There were four such incidents in Alexandria this year.

“Swatting has been on law enforcement radar for 15 years,” says Martin. “The intent is to send officers to a call where someone’s life is at risk, which ups the ante, and ups our response.”

It started in the online gaming community, when people would call the police on their target in response to a slight or unpaid bet, Martin says. It has since become a nationwide problem, one where even identifying those behind the incidents can be tricky, says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

“The person that calls in could realistically call in anywhere in the world, which leads to a challenge for identifying them,” she said.

In September, hoax calls triggered a police response at Washington-Liberty High School and several other schools across the state, including in Loudoun and Fauquier counties. W-L was previously evacuated in October 2021 after a false report of an active shooter.

A 19-year-old man from Vienna was sentenced last year for his roles in numerous swatting attacks that targeted journalists, the Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, which has a predominantly Black congregation.

Swatting not only applies to pranksters calling the police, but also to people who call others — schools, for instance — and describe a threat that prompts them to call 911. But Virginia law only criminalizes making a false report, which means people who spread false information but don’t make the call can’t be charged with a crime.

That is what police and elected officials would like to see changed.

“Any law that’s going to prohibit a behavior needs to define the behavior,” Martin said. “The detective who investigated [the Yorktown incident] came to me and said, ‘We looked at potential charges. Making an indirect call doesn’t violate Virginia law… It was that detective who recognized that gap in the law that started all of this.”

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed 25 bills this week, of which nearly half were proposed or championed by Arlington lawmakers.

The new governor signed 700 bills sent to his desk during the 2022 General Assembly session, including some from Arlington lawmakers addressing mental health treatment, medical debt and virtual meetings.

Of those he vetoed, nine were proposed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), who represents part of the county, and four were filed by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D-47).

Some lawmakers and observers in state politics have interpreted the rebuffs of Ebbin’s bills as political tit-for-tat. Ebbin was at the center of some Youngkin appointments that were blocked earlier this year and Youngkin signed identical House bills in a half-dozen of those cases, the Washington Post reports.

In a statement, Ebbin said he is “stunned” by Youngkin’s decision to veto “meaningful, non-controversial” legislation.

“It is the polar opposite of what he campaigned on,” he said in an email to supporters and on Twitter. “These vetoes, from protecting living organ donors to enhancing consumers’ data privacy to reforming the [Virginia Employment Commission], are not in the best interest of Virginians.”

As for Hope’s vetoed bills, one that caused a splash was HB 669, which would have initiated a study to see if the Virginia Department of Health should regulate swimming pools and water recreational facilities.

Advocates of the legislation say unregulated pools can pose health risks and the bipartisan-supported legislation would have added safeguards for swimmers and coaches.

Youngkin said the goal is “commendable” but directed lawmakers to consolidate this proposed work with existing efforts, rather than create “duplicative work.”

Another that went up in smoke was HB 675, and its Senate equivalent, which would have eliminated health insurance premiums for tobacco users. He said these higher rates incentivize healthier habits and the legislation would require non-users to foot the bill for increased healthcare costs.

Hope rebutted that it would have expanded coverage and decreased premiums.

These vetoes come after Youngkin vetoed Hope’s bill earlier this year that would have allowed the Arlington County Board to hire an independent auditor for the Community Oversight Board, which reviews complaints of alleged police misconduct.

That duty remains with County Manager Mark Schwartz. Locally, it was viewed as a procedural bill giving the Board a similar level of authority enjoyed by other local governing bodies.

Another bill with Arlington ties, HB 802, would have allowed a local governing body to force landlords to address decaying conditions at their properties if they constituted a serious threat to life, health or safety of tenants.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45), who represents parts of Arlington, was a chief co-patron. The text was developed with the Arlington branch of the NAACP in the wake of the discovery of mold, rodents and other health concerns at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike,Ā says NAACP Housing Chair Kellen MacBeth.

He said he was “deeply disappointed” by the veto, calling itĀ “a troubling sign of what the next four years will be like for low-income tenant rights at the state level.”

Still, Youngkin approved or amended a number of bills from Arlington lawmakers tackling their legislative priorities.

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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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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in Tysons (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first veto could mean Arlington’s police oversight board cannot be led by an independent policing auditor.

Today (Tuesday), the Republican governor vetoed his first bill: HB 670, put forward by Arlington’s Del. Patrick Hope (D). It would have granted the Arlington County Board permission to appoint an independent auditor who would oversee the Community Oversight Board (COB), which is tasked with handling civilian complaints of misconduct by Arlington police officers.

Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow this morning that the Board wants to work with Youngkin to clarify the powers of the county’s police oversight board and the role of the auditor in hopes that he will rescind the veto.

The Arlington County Democratic Committee decried the veto as “play[ing] politics with a commonsense measure that passed the GOP controlled House.”

The policing auditor would have been a County Board-appointed position and the person filling the role would have answered directly to the Board. Most other top managerial positions report to the Board-appointed County Manager.

Should Youngkin’s veto remain in place, Cristol says the COB would still be led by an auditor, but this leader would instead answer to County Manager Mark Schwartz. That would mean a weaker auditor, she adds.

“It was really important that the independent policing auditor be just that, and not be under the chief law enforcement official of the county, which is the County Manager,” Cristol said.

Cristol says the Board wants to work with Youngkin because it seems — by his press release — that he misunderstands what the COB can and cannot do. She said the governor may have vetoed the bill based on a faulty understanding of the new body’s powers.

“Based on his press release, I think he made this action without full knowledge of what he was vetoing,” she said. “Specifically, he says, in referencing his vetoing of the bill, the Community Oversight Board would ‘make binding disciplinary determinations, including termination and involuntary restitution.’ Our ordinance didn’t empower the COB or the independent auditor to do that.”

Hope’s bill was merely an “administrative fix” to a bill passed last year, she said.

“Assuming this does stand, we are incredibly disappointed,” she said. “It’s not an expansion of [the] Community Oversight Board in the Commonwealth. It puts Arlington into parity with other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.”

Del. Hope explains that his bill corrects for a shortcoming in the county charter that requires the County Board to get permission from the General Assembly to make any hire. He says Youngkin’s response is a new one.

“In my 13 years of service, I don’t ever recall seeing a Governor vetoing a local Charter bill,” he said. “To say that I’m disappointed the Governor would use his veto pen on a Charter bill to make a misguided political statement is an understatement.”

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Washington-Liberty High School students browse copies of “Beloved” and “Maus” (courtesy photo)

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) This afternoon, a group of Washington-Liberty High School students are giving their peers more than 100 copies of two politically controversial books.

The books are “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel following a Black family during the Reconstruction era, and “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s award-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust and his father’s life during World War II. Both have explicit content that has some parents and politicians questioning their place in schools.

Controversy around “Beloved” is part of the origin story for a bill passed by the state Senate earlier this month, which would require teachers to label classroom materials that have sexually explicit content. “Maus,” meanwhile, rocketed into the national spotlight after a Tennessee school board voted last month to remove the book from its curriculum due to “inappropriate language” and an illustration of a nude woman.

In addition to labeling classroom materials that have sexually explicit content, the new law requires teachers to notify parents if they are going to teach the materials. It gives parents the right to opt their children out of these lessons and request alternative materials.

But some high school students in Arlington and Fairfax counties are calling the law “backdoor censorship” and organized the distribution in response. It began at 3:15 p.m. in Quincy Park, near W-L.

“Great thinkers and proud Virginians like Thomas Jefferson, Maggie Walker, James Madison, George Mason and Oliver Hill — men and women who understood the importance of education and the value of studying difficult and divisive ideas — are rolling over in their graves,” W-L freshman and giveaway organizer Aaron Zevin-Lopez said in a statement.

Zevin-Lopez tells ARLnow he teamed up with George Marshall High School student Matt Savage — who has been facilitating distributions in Northern Virginia schools this month — to host a book giveaway in Arlington.

“Kids at my school understood that the Governor was attempting to limit reading rights within schools, so we thought that handing out the books beforehand could be a great way to spread the message of resistance and making sure the youth understands our past, both good and bad,” Zevin-Lopez said.

The two students are leaders of the Virginia chapter of a Gen-Z political advocacy group called Voters of Tomorrow, which is providing financial support for the giveaway.

“When the government establishes laws to label literature in terms of a single factor like ‘sexually explicit’, regardless of that factor’s significance to the larger world of literary merit or meaning, it edges closer to censorship,” said Savage, president of Voters of Tomorrow Virginia. “It means we are labeling content for the sole purpose of suppressing it.”

The students say requiring teachers to define their lessons in terms of how much “sexually explicit” content it contains will dissuade them from using anything that may be considered “objectionable.” They add that the law will force teachers to draft two entire lesson plans for one class on the objection of just one parent.

The bill is similar to one passed in 2016, which became known as the “Beloved” bill because it was inspired by a mother’s attempt to have the novel removed from her son’s English class. It was vetoed, however, by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — and his veto narrowly avoided being overturned by the House of Delegates.

The question of parental involvement in education became a central theme of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign after McAuliffe said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Passing the law was a campaign promise of and priority for Youngkin when he assumed office. The Republican governor unsuccessfully tried to pass other laws, including one rooting out curriculum based on critical race theory, and created a tip line for people to report teaching strategies they object to.

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Board Chair Katie Cristol during the Tuesday, Feb. 15 County Board meeting (via Arlington County)

(Updated 3:45 p.m. on 2/22/22) A typo in a recent public hearing notice has had some larger consequences for Arlington County.

The error — an incorrect date printed on posters around town — also sparked a County Board discussion yesterday (Tuesday) about finding more effective ways to communicate with residents about upcoming hearings and projects.

This is a recurring conversation for Board members, who have now critiqued the county engagement processes for being neither penetrative nor inclusive enough.

Currently, the county posts signs at and near near the sites of future land-use projects, per its zoning ordinances. It also prints advertisements in the Washington Times newspaper to meet state public notice laws.

The fliers posted this time around bore the wrong date: Feb. 19, or this Saturday, instead of Feb. 12, when the County Board actually met.

As a result, most of the hearing items impacted — including plans for a church moving to Ballston, a new daycare coming near Clarendon and a private school opening in a church near Crystal City — will be rescheduled for a meeting on Saturday, March 19.

A hearing for the Marbella Apartments, a forthcoming affordable housing project near Rosslyn, will be heard at a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. so that the project can meet an early March deadline to receive tax credits from Virginia Housing.

Those who spoke at the Saturday meeting will have their comments entered and don’t need to return, officials said.

“Unfortunately, [for] this error — which anyone can make an error like that — we didn’t have redundancy, which is something we’re going to address immediately,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said. “We’re going to be immediately improving our process to address this.”

Only one person reviewed the dates before the printed placards went out, he said. The newspaper advertisement, meanwhile, had the correct date, but County Board members mused about whether putting legal notices in the Washington Times, a conservative daily newspaper with a circulation around 50,000 in the D.C. area, is effective.

“This invites the question of not just ‘What went wrong here?’ but ‘What could go better in the future?'” Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Many have long decried our practice of advertising in the Washington Times, given its relatively low circulation in the county. While it meets the legal requirements, it doesn’t necessarily meet the spirit of broad notice.”

In Arlington, Board Chair Katie Cristol said, the challenge is that the county can choose broad circulation and additional expense with the Washington Post or low prices with the Washington Times.

She said she “would love” to advertise with an online news source, but state law mandates that such notices be placed in print publications.

“We have at least one of those where a lot of Arlingtonians get their news,” Cristol said. “We are constrained by state code from doing that — and some very effective lobbying from what I understand is the Virginia print industry, which is very interested in keeping that requirement the same.”

Virginia Press Association Executive Director Betsy Edwards says the current system “works very well for the majority of the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

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