Pandemic recovery, childcare and criminal justice reform will be receiving millions in federal and county funds.
This week, the Arlington County Board voted to put federal COVID-19 relief funding and unspent county budget dollars toward these areas and other equity initiatives. Members also signaled the county’s commitment to these priorities by adopting them in their state legislative priority package.
It also put more than $6 million in surplus from the 2020-21 budget, or “closeout” funds, toward retention bonuses and compensation of county employees, support for restorative justice initiatives, review of body worn footage cameras and a new position in the Sheriff’s Office.
“Our American Rescue Plan and closeout funding allocations focus on our continued responsibility to keep our community healthy and safe, providing funding for testing, vaccine support and COVID response,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “We also are investing in mental health care through the Crisis Intervention Center and childcare, a critical issue that the pandemic has revealed as more pressing than ever, as well as transportation and our employees.”
Since the plans were introduced in October, the county added some line items to the ARPA and “closeout” spending plans. Two of particular note include money to establish a childcare capital fund and to hire a quality assurance employee for the Arlington County jail.
The Board left $2.4 million ARPA funds unallocated to meet any unforeseen needs determined in 2022, as well as $14.1 million in unallocated close-out funds to address financial pressures in upcoming 2022-2023 budget.
Direct pandemic response — such as testing site and vaccine clinic support — received $9 million while local programs, ranging from housing assistance to the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Center for behavioral health services, received $20.5 million.
New to the ARPA spending plan is $5 million to develop affordable childcare options, spearheaded by childcare champion and Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.
“ARPA federal guidelines highlight some of the uses for it: they include investment in new or expanded learning services, support for pandemic-impacted small businesses and support to disproportionately impacted populations and communities. One thing at the center of those three circles of the Venn diagram is childcare,” she said during the Board meeting on Tuesday. “This has emerged as one of the top needs during the pandemic.”
Arlington has increased the number of available childcare slots, but they are not affordable to those making 50% or less of the Area Median Income, she said.
The county would put the $5 million toward a new childcare capital fund to be accessed by providers and developers who agree to set aside some affordable spots on an ongoing basis in exchange for a one-time infusion of dollars.
The result would be permanently discounted childcare spots created at the time a provider signs a long-term lease or a developer receives approval to build a childcare center, she said.
Before Tuesday night, the Board had previously allocated $2 million in ARPA funds for small business support and $3.8 million for restoring libraries, community centers and other important community facing programs.
After Republican victories in Virginia last Tuesday, Arlington’s Democratic state legislators say their focus is preserving policy gains they made over the last few years.
Last week, Virginians elected Glenn Youngkin as Governor, Winsome Sears as Lieutenant Governor and Jason Miyares as Attorney General. Despite a slight shift right, Arlington overwhelmingly elected and re-elected all Democrat lawmakers.
“My top priorities are defense, defense and defense,” Rep. Rip Sullivan (D-48) told County Board members yesterday afternoon. “In light of last Tuesday, there are a lot of things that I’ll be interested in making sure we can preserve, in terms of things that have been accomplished over the last couple of years.”
County Board members met Tuesday with state lawmakers to outline the Board’s priorities for the upcoming legislative session — such as vehicle noise enforcement and virtual government meetings — and hear what legislators are focused on.
Among House representatives and state senators, there was an emphasis on preserving work done under outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam.
“In terms of playing defense, as whip for the House Democratic caucus, we are going to be incredibly vigilant in making sure that all of the progress we’ve made [is] not whittled away at the 11th hour, 59th minute, at 7 a.m. subcommittee meetings — that we are casting a very bright light on all the actions taken on the House floor so there’s a very clear record at the end of this long session that people know what they voted for,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49).
Looking to inject some optimism into the conversation, Board Member Christian Dorsey asked what areas could see bipartisan support. Legislators predicted bridging the aisle to reduce medical debt, expand broadband access, support small businesses, incentivize community college for in-demand jobs, fund mental health services and increase teacher pay.
More locally, the County Board and their state representatives had a number of overlapping priorities: allowing electronic meetings post-pandemic; improving access to childcare; firming up the rights of affordable housing tenants; and committing to environmental sustainability initiatives and teacher pay raises.
Top of mind for County Board members, however, is what they describe as an ongoing behavioral health crisis caused by the closure of most state psychiatric hospitals this summer and exacerbated by police and mental health services workforce shortages. The Board and county staff made the case for more state funding for community-based mental health services.
“This is very time sensitive and very important as we try to serve those most in need in Arlington,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said.
Without sufficient state beds to which to bring people in crisis, police have to detain people against their will in emergency rooms for multiple days while staff in the Department of Human Services make calls around the clock, searching for beds.
“They have no privacy, they’re in police custody day after day,” Arlington County Police Department Capt. Michael Rowling said. “I can’t imagine they’re getting better — they’re not getting treatment whatsoever.”
On a daily basis there are five to 10 individuals attended by police officers in the emergency department of Virginia Hospital Center waiting for a mental health bed, Human Services Deputy Director Deborah Warren said.
“It’s inhumane,” she said. “On the worst day of their lives, [people in crisis] are handcuffed to a gurney, under police supervision, agitated and maybe getting sedation.”
The race for the 45th District House of Delegates seat is a weird one.
Delegate Mark Levine announced in December that he would be running for Lieutenant Governor. A month later, Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker announced that she would be running for Levine’s delegate seat. The wrinkle in all of this, however, is that Levine is also running for reelection in the 45th district as a precaution in case he doesn’t win the fairly crowded Lieutenant Governor primary.
He’s not alone in this — running for two seats is legal in Virginia — but it leaves the 45th district in an awkward Schrödinger’s cat-type race where Bennett-Parker is simultaneously running and not running against Levine.
“It’s a weird situation,” Levine admitted. “I never expected this to happen. [But] it’s legal under Virginia law. I think I’ve been a good delegate and the people should re-elect me. If I win both, I’ll resign from the 45th district and there will be a special election.”
(The 45th District itself is a bit odd, encompassing some of the residential neighborhoods around Pentagon City to the north; Shirlington and Fairlington to the west; Del Ray, Potomac Yard and Old Town Alexandria in the center; and a narrow corner of Fairfax County to the south.)
Levine, a former radio talk show host, was elected in 2015 and campaigned for stricter gun control regulations and expanding healthcare access, among other progressive goals. Levine, like many Democrats in the state legislature, has found it easier to make good on those campaign promises after Democrats took the majority in 2019.
“This year, the predominant gun regulations have been my bills and in all state-owned buildings and offices and polling places,” Levine said. “Introduced 47 bills and passed half of them… and it wasn’t my bill on marijuana legalization that passed, but I led the way.”
Bennett-Parker, co-director of the nonprofit Together We Bake, was elected to the Alexandria City Council in 2019 and said her experience working in local government would bring a unique perspective to the state legislature.
“First, having served as Vice Mayor, I understand the nuance of the role that local government plays in people’s lives and how the state is often an impediment to localities in serving their residents,” Bennett-Parker said. “Currently there are only 18 Delegates out of 100 who have served in city or county government and none of them are from Northern Virginia. Obviously, we face different issues than other parts of the Commonwealth. I hear from constituents all the time who want the City Council to do things that we can’t do because we don’t have the authority.”
Bennett-Parker also noted that she would be the minority in a government body that is still 70% male.
“Women have for too long been held back by governmental policies and programs designed by men,” Bennett-Parker said.
Bennett-Parker’s nonprofit, Together We Bake, is an Alexandria-based workforce training program that helps women exiting the criminal justice system, experiencing homelessness, recovering from abuse or addiction, or facing unemployment.
Bennett-Parker has been reluctant to criticize Levine openly, saying instead that she aims to focus on campaign goals.
“When I decided to run, this race looked like it would be an open seat, as Delegate Levine had announced he was running for Lieutenant Governor,” Bennett-Parker said. “I am focused solely on this district and serving its residents. I have delivered results for the 45th district as Vice Mayor and on regional bodies, and I will keep doing so in Richmond.”
(Levine’s campaign says he announced he was running for re-election at the same time as his lieutenant governor announcement.)
Levine, in contrast, has no qualms about saying that he doesn’t think Bennett-Parker is the right candidate to replace him as the 45th District delegate.
“No, I don’t think so,” Levine said when asked if he thought Bennett-Parker would make a good replacement.
Levine said that part of his role as delegate has been taking an active role in community meetings and discussions, something he says he hasn’t seen from Bennett-Parker.
“I absolutely have not neglected my community,” Levine said. “We had a shooting in Old Town on Monday night. I was at a community meeting with Police Chief Michael Brown. [Bennett-Parker] wasn’t there. It was a room full of concerned constituents and she wasn’t there… I was out at a COVID memorial. I was there. [Mayor Justin] Wilson was there. [City Council member Mo] Seifeldein and [City Council member Canek] Aguirre were there. You know who wasn’t there? Elizabeth Bennet-Parker. I’m more active in the community every day and I don’t see her.”
Some of Levine’s peers have disagreed with his assessment, however, with Bennett-Parker winning endorsements from state Senator Adam Ebbin and former delegates Marian Van Landingham and Rob Krupicka, among others. She was most recently endorsed by Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti, according to an announcement this morning.
While much of Levine’s campaign finance has been focused on the statewide race, in the 45th District Bennett-Parker has raised twice as much as Levine’s campaign for delegate.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Bennett-Parker has raised $106,434 to Levine’s $45,573 — though Levine has raised $705,284 in the lieutenant governor race. Bennett-Parker’s top donors include attorney and Democratic financier Sonjia Smith, Levine’s 2015 opponent Julie Jakopic, and Alexandria School Board member Veronica Nolan.
For both Levine and Bennett-Parker, expanding healthcare and combatting the effects of climate change are two of the major priorities ahead for the state legislature.
“In terms of fights ahead: healthcare is the big one,” Levine said. “We need affordable healthcare. I think healthcare needs to be more transparent and we need to make sure people aren’t being bankrupted by healthcare costs.”
Bennett-Parker said the state should take the momentum from expanding Medicaid and keep moving forward.
“Expanding access to affordable health care,” Bennett-Parker said, when asked about her top priorities. “Expanding Medicaid was an important step in the right direction, but we need to do more to make healthcare, including mental healthcare, more accessible and affordable for all Virginians. We also need to find a way to lower prescription drug prices, especially for seniors.”
A paperwork snafu may prevent a local House of Delegates candidate, Matt Rogers, from going up against fellow Democrat Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington).
Rogers, who recently wrapped up 3.5 years serving as Chief of Staff for Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37) and is running to unseat Hope, reportedly failed to meet a filing deadline for two documents, according to the State Board of Elections.
As a result, he may not be on the June 8 Democratic primary ballot.
The challenger tells ARLnow that he mailed these documents to the state last June, but did not use certified mail, “which was a huge mistake.” Now, he is calling on the SBE to grant a deadline extension so these filings can be fixed.
“Having worked in these circles for a number of years, I was well-aware of the elements of filing and the responses from the State Board of Elections and their habits of communication with candidates — especially incumbents — having been on the receiving end of their entreaties,” he writes in a blog post.
The SBE met on March 31 to discuss candidates who requested an extension, including pastor and Richmond City Councilmember Mike Jones. According to Virginia law, such an extension would be applied to all candidates, not just those making the request, said David Nichols, the Elections Services Manager for the Department of Elections, during the meeting.
Ultimately, that board did not grant one, breaking with past decisions.
“I’ve made my position pretty clear on this matter: The failure of candidates to comply with statutory filing requirements places this board in a very unfair position,” SBE Chair Bob Brink, a former state legislator from Arlington, said during the meeting.
Brink said he has urged both the chairs of the state Democratic and Republican parties to ensure candidates comply with filing deadlines.
“I stressed that while the board had granted an extension of the filing deadline in the past, there was no assurance it would do so in the future,” Brink said.
🚨: I am officially requesting that @VAElect exercise its authority under VA § 24.2-503.
It's 2021. We should be making it easier for people to vote and run for office, not harder. pic.twitter.com/MOQd4VL3Ym
— Matt Rogers 🏛️ (@MattForDelegate) April 1, 2021
In Virginia, partisan candidates for elected office are required to file paperwork declaring their candidacy with their local political parties, Arlington Democrats Chair Jill Caiazzo said. Those parties must confirm with the Virginia Department of Elections which candidates have filed this paperwork.
“Arlington Democrats did that for all candidates who filed paperwork with the local Democratic party in connection with the upcoming election to represent the 47th District in the House of Delegates,” Caiazzo said.
As a courtesy, when Arlington Dems sent that notification to the department, the organization copied all candidates who filed paperwork with the local party, she said. But Rogers’ alleged misfiling is separate from the local process she described.
“Separately, candidates are required to file a different set of paperwork with the Department of Elections,” she said. “Local political parties play no role with respect to that separate filing requirement.”
Rogers is one of eight candidates who could be barred from being on the ballot due to paperwork problems.
During a Virginia Board of Elections meeting this week, the head of the Virginia Department of Elections told the three-person panel these candidates “just didn’t get it in on time.”
“At the end of the day, people didn’t get them in, I don’t think it was a lack of information sharing or knowledge sharing on our part,” Christopher Piper, the commissioner of the department, said.
Lawmakers Regret Hasty Reaction to Scandals — “If they had to do it all over, members of Arlington’s legislative delegation acknowledge it might have been better to hit the pause button before rushing in to judge the actions of embattled statewide officeholders.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Adds Stanley Cups to Recycling List — “Stanley cups made of silver and nickel alloy and won by the Washington NHL franchise in 2018 should be maintained and recycled by the team annually for continued Arlington-Washington regional delight. #ALL CAPS #Back2Back” [Arlington County, RMNB]
Blues Fest Lineup Announced — “Riding a wave of accolades for his just-released CD Somebody Save Me (Forty Below Records) and two 2019 Blues Award nominations, soul/blues vocalist Sugaray Rayford headlines the 24th Annual Columbia Pike Blues Festival, on Saturday, June 15, 2019.” [Columbia Pike]
Police Participating in Drug Take-Back Day — “On Saturday, April 27, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Arlington County Police Department, Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will give the public its 17th opportunity in eight years to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs.” [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by huskerdont77
(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) About a year ago at this time, Arlington looked to be in serious trouble down in Richmond.
In mid-March 2018, county officials faced the decidedly unpleasant prospect that they’d come out on the losing end of a bruising legislative battle with two local golf and country clubs.
One of the county’s foremost foes in the General Assembly had engineered the passage of legislation to slash the clubs’ tax bills, potentially pulling more than a million dollars in annual tax revenue out of the county’s coffers.
Arlington had spent years tangling with the clubs, which count among their members local luminaries ranging from retired generals to former presidents, arguing over how to tax those properties. Yet the legislation from Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District) would’ve bypassed the local dispute entirely, and it was headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.
That meant that Arlington’s only hope of stopping the bill was convincing the governor to strike it down with his veto pen.
In those days, long before evidence of Northam’s racist medical school yearbook photos had surfaced, the Democrat was well-liked in the county. He’d raised plenty of cash from Arlingtonians in his successful campaign just a year before, and had won endorsements in his primary contest from many of the county’s elected officials.
Yet the situation still looked dire enough that the County Board felt compelled to take more drastic steps to win Northam to their side. The county shelled out $22,500 to hire a well-connected lobbying firm for just a few weeks, embarking on a frenetic campaign to pressure the governor and state lawmakers and launch a media blitz to broadcast the county’s position in both local and national outlets.
“It became apparent to all of us that every Arlingtonian had something at stake here,” then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “At a time when we were making excruciating decisions about our own budget, the idea that you would take more than million dollars and put it toward something that wasn’t a priority for anyone here was so frustrating.”
An ARLnow investigation of the events of those crucial weeks in spring 2018 sheds a bit more light on how the county won that veto, and how business is conducted down in the state capitol. This account is based both on interviews with many people close to the debate and a trove of emails and documents released via a public records request (and published now in the spirit of “National Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative designed to highlight the value of freedom of information laws).
Crucially, ARLnow’s research shows that the process was anything but smooth sailing for the county, as it pit Arlington directly against the club’s members. Many of them exercise plenty of political influence across the region and the state, and documents show they were able to lean heavily on Northam himself.
“One would expect a Democratic governor to be highly responsive to one of most Democratic jurisdictions in the state,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “But this was a matter of great concern to a bunch of very important people in Virginia, and that may well be the reason why additional efforts were necessary.”
And, looking forward, the bitter fight over the issue could well have big implications should similar legislation ever resurface in Richmond.
“Structurally, this bill could absolutely come back someday,” Cristol said. “And the idea that a bill that has such deleterious consequences for land use and taxation in jurisdictions across Virginia could come back and garner support because of an effective lobbying interest is very much a real threat.”
One of the country’s leading progressive activists and researchers is launching a new fundraising push for primary challengers to two Arlington lawmakers.
Sean McElwee, a co-founder of Data for Progress, announced yesterday (Wednesday) that his organization would be launching “The Progressive Virginia Project,” an effort to raise cash for four candidates in Virginia’s statehouse races this fall. Among the group set to benefit from the fundraising is Nicole Merlene, who is challenging state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and J.D. Spain, who is looking to unseat Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District).
In a tweet describing the new program, McElwee wrote that his group is seeking to elect “progressives who are fighting for a Virginia where Dominion Energy doesn’t set the agenda.”
The utility company’s influence in Richmond has become an increasingly controversial issue for the state’s Democrats in recent years, with many (Lopez included) swearing off contributions from Dominion. The General Assembly helps regulate the company, convincing many lawmakers and activists that it’s inappropriate to then rely on Dominion’s largesse when election season rolls around.
Any money taken in by the program will be divvied up among Merlene, Spain and two other candidates: Del. Lee Carter (D-50th District), the legislature’s lone Democratic socialist and a fierce Amazon opponent, and Yasmine Taeb, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35th District).
McElwee was previously a leading voice in supporting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s insurgent progressive candidacy in New York, and launched a similar initiative during the 2018 midterms to elect several other candidates in statehouse races across the country. In all, his group was able to raise more than $448,000 to support races in eight states.
Data for Progress wrote on the new fundraising page that it picked the four candidates not only for their opposition to Dominion, but their support for a “Green New Deal, universal healthcare and racial justice” in Virginia.
— the supreme court will destroy everything we want (@SeanMcElwee) March 6, 2019
Merlene, who up until recently held leadership positions with the Arlington County Civic Federation and the county’s Economic Development Commission, has framed her run against Favola as a chance for a new generation to take the reins in Richmond.
In addition to criticizing Favola’s acceptance of Dominion cash — she’s taken $9,500 from Dominion over the last eight years — Merlene has blasted her work as a lobbyist while also serving as a senator. Favola runs a lobbying and consulting firm representing influential local institutions like Virginia Hospital Center and Marymount University.
Spain has also sworn off corporate cash in his challenge to Lopez, but that doesn’t provide quite the same contrast between the candidates. Lopez has refused money from both Dominion and Amazon (though he has taken Dominion money in past years), and draws most of his campaign cash from progressive groups.
Spain, currently the president of Arlington’s NAACP, has focused his campaign thus far on providing fresh representation in Richmond, and beefing up support for affordable housing and schools in the South Arlington district. He has not, however, attacked Lopez over his much-discussed consulting work for an ICE contractor, which McElwee highlighted in his support for Spain. The activist has made calls to “Abolish ICE” a central part of his work, prompting a broader debate within the Democratic party about the agency’s role.
It remains to be seen, however, just how much traction either candidate has gained in their primary challenges thus far — statehouse candidates won’t report how much cash they’ve raised again until April 15. A June 11 primary will decide the intraparty contests.
Photo of Merlene, left, via Facebook
A new bill just passed by state lawmakers could soon allow localities like Arlington to start waiving many fees for new affordable housing developments, a change that advocates expect could have big impact on the county’s housing crunch.
New legislation backed by Dels. Lamont Bagby (D-74th District) and Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) would let officials across the state pass ordinances to do away with any building permit fees or other local levies on affordable housing plans, in a bid to ease the construction of such projects.
The bill unanimously passed the state Senate last week, after earning similarly swift approval in the House of Delegates, and now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature. The legislation was designed as part of a broader package of bills aimed at bringing housing costs down, due not only to rising concerns about Amazon’s impact in Northern Virginia, but also to new research showing the Richmond and Virginia Beach areas with some of the highest eviction rates in the entire country.
“Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home,” Bagby wrote in a statement. “By supporting more affordable housing, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates.”
Michelle Winters, the executive director of the Arlington-based Alliance for Housing Solutions, told ARLnow that the county doesn’t currently waive fees for affordable developments, but could well embrace such a tactic in the near future.
She points out that a coalition of affordable housing advocates called for the county to take just such a step in a 2017 report outlining potential strategies for officials to meet their own goals for building more reasonably priced homes.
Arlington officials have already struggled to meet those goals for creating homes guaranteed to remain affordable to renters of modest means, known as “committed affordable” units, prompting housing advocates to pen the report and press for progress. And with Amazon bringing its 25,000 (or more) highly paid workers to the county, Winters believes its conclusions are all the more important for leaders to consider.
“The report estimated that waiving ‘permit and tap fees’ for affordable housing projects would save $1.4 million per year, or allow the addition of 16 more committed affordable units each year,” Winters said.
That would only be a small change in the grand scheme of the county’s housing needs — the county created or preserved 515 affordable homes last year, short of the 585 homes officials hope to produce each year — but housing researchers still expect waiving such fees would make a meaningful difference.
“Although the total amount of fees imposed by local governments during the development review process can vary by locality, affordable housing developments operate under extremely complex financing mechanisms and tight margins,” said Andrew Clark, vice president of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Virginia, wrote in a statement. “Reduction or elimination of these local fees could be a significant incentive for a private-sector development considering an affordable housing development and could also help incentive the private-sector developer to re-invest those savings into amenities, building materials or labor.”
The report, titled “Fulfilling the Promise: Meeting the Production Goal of Arlington’s Affordable Housing Master Plan,” uses the recently completed “Columbia Hills” project backed by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing as an example of how county fees impact such projects.
APAH spent about $91.1 million on the project in all, but that included close to $701,000 in fees including building permit fees, sewer and water levies and zoning review costs.
“If all of these fees had been waived for this affordable project, it would have reduced the costs of development, freeing up resources for the development of eight (8) additional [committed affordable units],” the advocates wrote.
The report also notes that other cities around the country have already adopted such a strategy. In Austin, Texas, for instance, the city waives fees on a sliding scale based on what portion of a development’s homes are priced to be affordable to people making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
Of course, it might be a tough pill to swallow for county leaders to forego any revenue while times are tough for Arlington financially.
But officials have seen some reason for optimism about the upcoming budget recently, and Winters says county workers have already assured her that they plan to examine the impacts of waiving affordable development fees as part of a broader study of Arlington’s permitting process.
Photo via @APAH_org
Arlington school leaders could soon gain the power to start classes before Labor Day, as some long-stymied legislation finally seems set to pass in the General Assembly.
State lawmakers are gearing up to finally repeal a provision widely known as the “King’s Dominion Rule,” which has barred school systems across the state from starting class before Labor Day for the last 30 years in a bid to provide Virginia’s theme parks with a robust pool of potential patrons, and student workers, each summer.
Many schools have already earned “waivers” to disregard the rule (including large school systems like Fairfax and Loudoun counties) and momentum has built in recent years to do away with the law entirely. Arlington officials have been particularly keen on kicking off class early, hoping to better align high school calendars with the slew of standardized tests that dominate the latter half of each school year.
And while it’s not a done deal just yet, Arlington could well get its wish this year. The House of Delegates and state Senate have now both passed a bill from Del. Roxann Robinson (R-27th District) to allow school systems to start classes up to 14 days before Labor Day — so long as they give students the Friday before the holiday off.
Lawmakers will now need to determine the bill’s next steps. General Assembly leaders could opt to send it along to Gov. Ralph Northam as it is, or convene a conference committee for additional negotiations as a competing bill from Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11th District) heads to the House floor for a vote.
Some local Arlington legislators — Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) and Janet Howell (D-32nd District) — were backing narrower bills to give only Northern Virginia localities the power to control their school calendars. But those efforts were quickly rolled into Chase’s legislation instead, as it became clear that the tourism industry and school administrators might be able to strike a compromise on the legislation.
“We think this is a good compromise,” Chase told a House committee yesterday (Monday). “Our desire is really this to give the power back to the school boards, the parents and the PTAs, as opposed to big business determining when our young people go to school.”
Both bills would grandfather in school systems that already have waivers to start more than two weeks before Labor Day, a key demand from school leaders. Those localities also wouldn’t be required to give students the Friday before the holiday off.
Chase, and groups representing the state’s school boards and superintendents, said they would’ve much preferred a full repeal of the law to let school systems set calendars however they’d like.
By contrast, representatives of the state’s theme parks say they’re not thrilled with the prospect of schools starting the full two weeks before the holiday, but insisted on students receiving a four-day weekend as a bit of a compromise.
Tom Lisk, a lobbyist for the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, told House lawmakers yesterday that the interest group is generally opposed to the legislation, but wouldn’t condemn the effort in its entirety.
“There’s an opportunity to work to find middle ground still,” Lisk said.
As of yet, however, there’s not much sign that lawmakers will bend to pressure from the hospitality industry on the bill.
The House’s education committee altered Chase’s bill to make it identical to Robinson’s on a 16-6 vote yesterday — should the House then pass the legislation, the final decision will rest with Northam. Or, the House could always alter Chase’s bill, setting up the potential for a conference committee, where a small team of negotiators would hash out the differences between the two pieces of legislation.
Regardless of just how lawmakers work out the details, Arlington’s School Board will be watching the proceedings quite closely. As the group set the calendar for the 2019-2020 school year on Feb. 7, Board member Barbara Kanninen told staff that she’d be “very interested” in seeing options for a pre-Labor Day start next year, so long as the legislature follows through.
“Ultimately, I’m a big fan of year-round school, and this gives us a chance to start working in that direction,” Kanninen said.
(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) Arlington Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) now says he’ll introduce articles of impeachment to remove Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax from office on Monday if he doesn’t step down, now that another woman has come forward to accuse the second-most powerful Democrat in the state of sexual assault.
Hope announced the move tonight just a few hours after Meredith Watson accused Fairfax of raping her when the pair attended school together at Duke University in 2000. She wrote in a statement that the details of her assault mirrored those laid out by Vanessa Tyson, who previously said that Fairfax assaulted her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.
On Monday, I will be introducing articles of impeachment for Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax if he has not resigned before then.
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) February 8, 2019
Democrats had been hesitant to call for Fairfax to step down since Tyson’s statement, but pressure is now mounting for the lieutenant governor to step aside. Friday night, the state House and Senate Democratic caucuses released a joint statement, urging Fairfax to resign.
Joint House & Senate Democratic statement:
"Due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lieutenant Governor Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the Commonwealth. He needs to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down."
— VA Senate Democrats (@VASenateDems) February 9, 2019
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a similar statement.
Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Statement on Most Recent Sexual Allegations Against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax pic.twitter.com/Bbj8sn4gF5
— VLBC (@VaBlackCaucus) February 9, 2019
The bulk of Virginia’s congressional delegation has also demanded Fairfax’s resignation, including Arlington Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District).
“Lt. Governor Fairfax has also shown exceptionally poor judgment in his handling of these allegations,” Beyer and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-11th District), Elaine Luria (D-2nd District), Abigail Spanberger (D-7th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District) wrote in a statement. “He repeatedly attacked his accuser, he reportedly used vile and degrading language to describe her, he mischaracterized an investigation into the encounter, and he sought to blame others for events in his own past. These actions do not meet the standard to which we hold Virginia’s highest elected officers.”
For now, it would seem Fairfax is resisting pressure to step aside.
Statement from VA Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denying second sexual assault allegation, ends with “I will not resign.” pic.twitter.com/Tuj81iPRP7
— Sarah McCammon (@sarahmccammon) February 8, 2019
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has been similarly steadfast in the face of calls to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, writing an email to state employees today saying he does not plan to step down. The fate of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is also unclear, after he revealed he wore blackface while in college.
Earlier today, Hope posted a video on Twitter urging Northam and Herring to learn from their experiences, but stopped short of demanding their resignations. He’d previously supported calls for Northam to step down, but was silent on Herring, who he previously endorsed in Herring’s early stages of mounting a campaign for governor in 2021.
Hope said in the video that he believed Fairfax’s first accuser and thought an investigation was necessary.
Around 9 p.m. Friday, Hope held a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library in Virginia Square, laying out his case for the impeachment of Fairfax, should he refuse to resign. The press conference was attended by CNN, CBS, NBC and local D.C. stations.
Del. Patrick Hope (D) holding a press conference in front of Arlington Central Library https://t.co/1UWsA2DLdX
— Arlington Now (@ARLnowDOTcom) February 9, 2019
Photo via Facebook
County Democrats and local activists are planning a series of community forums to talk through the issues of race and sexual assault that have roiled Virginia politics for the past week.
With all three of the state’s top Democrats — Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — now mired in scandal, many within the party are searching for a way forward. There’s no telling whether any or all of the group will resign, leading to quite a bit of uncertainty at the top ranks of the party’s leadership.
In the meantime, the county’s Democratic Committee is planning two “listening sessions” covering some of the matters at the heart of the scandals in Richmond.
The first will focus on “racial equity” and will be held tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.).
The revelation that a racist photo appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page, and the governor’s subsequent admission that he once wore blackface, kicked off the current crisis plaguing state government. Herring’s admission yesterday (Wednesday) that he too once donned blackface added further fuel to the political fire.
The next listening session will focus on sexual assault, after a college professor accused Fairfax of assaulting her in Boston in 2004. The lieutenant governor has faced a bit less pressure to resign than Northam, but some have started to ramp up calls that his accuser deserves to be heard.
The event will be held on Sunday (Feb. 10) at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street).
A group of local activists also plan to hold a listening session to discuss the Northam controversy and its “implications for those who want to be allies in the fight for racial justice,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
The event will include four panelists, and will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (4444 Arlington Blvd) at 7 p.m. on Friday (Feb. 8).
Photo via Facebook