State and National Government

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Governor Northam says Virginia must strongly enforce COVID-19 restrictions to slow and reverse a recent increase in cases, especially in the Hampton Roads region. Northam has directed state health officials to implement stronger enforcement procedures, particularly against businesses like restaurants. He has also directed the ABC to ready an order that will call for an earlier nightly cutoff of alcohol sales:

07-24 Northam Bite-WEB

The governor says the recent increases are due largely to young adults who he says have “flouted the rules”, and he will not hesitate to renew tighter restrictions — including reduced limits on gathering sizes — if the COVID case count continues rising again. Northam also says businesses risk losing their licenses if they are found to be in violation of his COVID regulations, as WFIR’s Evan Jones reports:

07-15 Northam-Enforcement Wrap-WEB

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says he’s ramping up enforcement of a mask mandate and social distancing measures at restaurants and stores because he’s concerned about a rising number in cases, particularly among young people, in areas near the state’s beaches.

Northam said Tuesday the state is doing well overall but he wants to avoid a spike in cases that other southern states, like Texas and Florida, are currently experiencing.

The Hampton Roads area, which includes Virginia Beach, is a major tourist destination on the East Coast. Northam said the state’s eastern region, which also includes the Eastern Shore, has seen its average of new cases was about 60 in early June and is now nearly 350.

The governor, a Democrat, said some restaurant owners and patrons in the area are clearly flouting the state’s rules requiring wearing masks indoors when in public and severely limiting bar service in restaurants. He said the infection rate among people between the age of 20 to 29 is up 250% since early June.

“You are being selfish and you are hurting everyone who is doing the right thing,” Northam said.

He also said plans to announce details in coming days about an earlier cut off for alcohol sales in restaurants.

Dr. Norm Oliver, the state’s health commissioner, said health and alcoholic license inspectors will start doing spot checks at establishments and restaurants and stores that are violating social distancing and mask-requirements will be shut down.

Northam urged business owners to refuse service to people who refuse to wear masks, saying they should treat those customers like they would someone not wearing shoes or a shirt.

Republican House Minority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert said the governor was putting business owners in an “untenable position” by forcing them to confront mask-less customers or risk losing their businesses licenses.

“Real leadership brings people together, it doesn’t make threats. After all, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” Gilbert said.

Businesses said they were glad Northam opted to increase enforcement of existing rules rather than implementing new ones, but urged state officials to give business owners the benefit of the doubt.

“The vast majority of small business owners care about the health of their employees and the public and do not want to intentionally endanger them,” said Nicole Riley, the Virginia director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

As of Tuesday, Virginia has reported nearly 73,000 cases of the virus and nearly 2,000 deaths.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and even be fatal.

 

 

Rep. Morgan Griffith

NEWS RELEASE: Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) today was informed that he tested positive for COVID-19. Upon developing possible symptoms, he took the test over the weekend and has since been self-isolating. Although he does not currently have significant symptoms, he will continue to self-isolate as he performs his duties on behalf of Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Virginia’s state budget hasn’t been as bad as previously feared.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that Virginia ended fiscal 2020 with a $236.5 million budget shortfall, far less than anticipated. Overall, state revenues were up 2% from the previous fiscal year.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said Virginia’s high concentration of federal employees and contractors as well as workers who can telecommute, have helped soften the financial impact. Virginia is home to the Pentagon and the world’s largest naval base, and the Department of Defense has long been the state’s largest employer.

Virginia no longer has a backlog of untested rape test kits used to collect and test DNA samples from sexual assault victims, and advocates for those victims say it is about time. Attorney General Mark Herring says more than 2600 of these kits were sitting in storage when he took office — never tested — but not any more.  Herring says more than 350 of the tests have led to DNA hits, and some may lead to prosecutions. More from WFIR’s Evan Jones:

07-09 Rape Kits Wrap1-WEB

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia has eliminated a backlog of thousands of untested rape kits, becoming only the seventh state in the country to do so, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said Wednesday.

Herring said the project to test rape kits — some decades old — began in 2015. Since then, 2,665 rape kits have been tested, 851 new DNA profiles have been uploaded into a national DNA database and 354 “hits” have been sent to law enforcement agencies for further investigation.

Rape kits are used to collect DNA and other physical evidence from rape victims.

“Eliminating this backlog means that a wrong has been righted, that justice is closer for more survivors and that Virginia is a safer place,” Herring said during a news conference.

Herring said when he first took office six years ago, he was shocked to learn the state had a backlog of nearly 3,000 untested rape kits.

Along with eliminating the backlog, the state Department of Forensic Science developed an electronic tracking system so victims and law enforcement agencies are able to check the status and location of rape kits.

Debbie Smith, a Williamsburg woman who was raped by a masked intruder in 1989, said that after her perpetrator’s trial, she was shown a storage area filled with untested rape kits. She said she was heartbroken when she looked at all the kits because she knew “that each one of those women were feeling the same feelings I felt before my assailant was identified.”

“These kits can contain powerful DNA evidence that can identify unknown perpetrators, long unsolved cases, prevent rapists from claiming future victims, and it can even exonerate the innocent,” said Smith, the founder of Hope Exists after Rape Trauma, Inc., a nonprofit foundation, to help victims of sexual assault.

The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Smith has been a longtime public advocate for rape victims.

The state used two grants totaling $3.4 million to eliminate the backlog. The first grant of $1.4 million was used to test nearly 1,800 kits that had been collected before 2014. The second grant of $2 million was used to test about 900 kits collected been 2014 and 2016.

Former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman (left), U.S. Attorney General William Barr (right

The former top prosecutor in New York is reportedly testifying tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee after he was fired by President Trump while reportedly investigating associates of the President. WFIR’s Ian Price spoke about it with a former U.S Attorney in our area:

07-08 Fishwick Berman WRAP

Virginia’s DMV reopens three more customer service centers today in Southside and southwest Virginia, bringing the total statewide number close to 40, but several in our region remain closed. They include Rocky Mount, Bedford, Lexington and Covington. Officials ask for patience as the re-opening process continues. The latest from WFIR’s Evan Jones:

07-06 DMV Reopenings Wrap-WEB

 

Photo: Douglas Wilder Twitter

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is accusing the state’s library agency of racism for its slow pace in processing and publicly presenting records from his tenure as the nation’s first elected Black governor. Wilder, 89, says he doesn’t understand why the Library of Virginia has been processing papers from his gubernatorial successors before finishing work on his. “Why isn’t it racism?” Wilder asked.
State Librarian Sandra Gioia Treadway acknowledged that the processing of Wilder’s records had “fallen off the radar,” a lapse that she attributed to budget cuts and turnover in key positions, including the state archivist. Wilder, a grandson of slaves, served as Virginia’s governor from 1990 to 1994. He later served a term as Richmond’s mayor.
All of Wilder’s successors in the governor’s office have been white. The library agency has finished work on the collections of former Govs. George Allen, Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner. Former Gov. Tim Kaine’s remains a work in progress. Treadway said she didn’t know how few of Wilder’s papers had been processed and made public until Wilder’s son, Larry, contacted her earlier this year.
Wilder’s papers from his terms as governor and as the state’s first Black lieutenant governor can’t be made public until it is sorted, analyzed, indexed and reviewed for exceptions under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, according to Treadway.

(from ABC News) An overnight protest on a closed Washington state freeway ended with two women in the hospital after a motorist barreled into the crowd, according to Washington State Patrol. For weeks, law enforcement authorities have warned pedestrian protesters not to use the highways as the setting for protests. “The freeway is simply not a safe place…We feared something like this would happen,” said Captain Ron Mead, commander of Washington State Patrol field operations for District 2, at a press conference Saturday morning.
A 27-year-old man from Seattle is accused of driving his car onto the closed I-5, going around the vehicles that were supporting the protesters, and striking the pedestrians standing in the shoulder of the road, said Mead. Interstate 5 between SR 520 and I-90 was closed multiple times in the last 24 hours due to protests. A 32-year-old woman from Bellingham and a 24-year-old woman from Seattle were hit and taken to a nearby hospital. The younger woman is in critical condition after suffering life-threatening injuries while the other victim is in stable condition. The unidentified driver stopped the all-white sedan and was taken into custody for questioning. Mead said the driver passed a sobriety test and there’s no indication that the car was stolen.

Virginia’s DMV is resuming its road skills testing for residents 18 and over – but it may not be very close to you, you may have to wait a while, and it will be significantly different in some ways than before. WFIR’s Evan Jones has more:

07-02 DMV Testing Wrap-WEB

The nearest site to Roanoke is in Christiansburg, and when we checked late yesterday on line, the earliest possible road skills test appointment was for July 21st.

NEWS RELEASE: RICHMOND – Modeling the best practices of other states and industry leaders, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will implement a new method for passenger vehicle road skills testing that ensures new drivers demonstrate safe driving skills while incorporating social distancing for the health and well-being of customers and employees. DMV will also resume motorcycle skills testing according to the best practices for social distancing. Additionally, the agency announced Wednesday the reopening of three more DMV customer service centers for specific services by appointment only, and the resumption of service at one more DMV Select office.

ROAD SKILLS TESTING

“Safety is key in a road skills test. We will continue to ensure applicants can safely operate a motor vehicle before giving them the green light to drive solo on Virginia roadways. However, during this public health emergency, we also have to take into consideration customer and employee health and well-being,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Maryland and Pennsylvania have had great success with this new model of passenger vehicle road skills testing in which a test examiner communicates with the customer from outside of the vehicle on a closed controlled course. At the Virginia DMV, we have reiterated that we look forward to resuming road tests just as soon as we are safely able to do so. This new procedure enables us to do that, and I know our customers will be pleased with both the availability of the service and the integrity of the test.”

Road skills testing at DMV is available to Virginia residents age 18 and older. If you are under age 18, the road skills test will be given as part of the Virginia driver education course taken at a public, private or commercial driving school. For more visit https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/drivers/#ed_reqs.asp.

To get started, a customer must first schedule an appointment for a passenger vehicle or motorcycle skills test at dmvNOW.com/appt. DMV is first offering passenger vehicle road skills tests at its Richmond Central Customer Service Center beginning July 1. An additional location in each region will be available for road test appointments beginning this week and continuing in coming weeks.

July 6

  • Woodbridge Customer Service Center (only open for road skills testing): 2731 Caton Hill Road, Woodbridge
  • Norfolk-Widgeon Road Customer Service Center (only open for road skills testing): 850 Widgeon Road, Norfolk

July 9

  • South Boston Customer Service Center: 2039 Hamilton Boulevard, South Boston
  • Harrisonburg Customer Service Center: 3281 Peoples Drive, Harrisonburg
  • Christiansburg Customer Service Center: 385 Arbor Drive, Christiansburg

July 11

  • Abingdon Customer Service Center: 25552 Lee Highway, Abingdon
  • Manassas CDL Site: 7931 Mason King Court, Manassas
  • Martinsville CDL Site: 1012 Dupont Road, Martinsville
  • Middletown CDL Site: Customers should report to the Front Royal Customer Service Center (15 Water Street, Front Royal) for check-in
  • Suffolk CDL Site: 6701 College Drive, Suffolk
  • Richmond CDL Site: 1305 West Hundred Road, Chester

After check-in at DMV, the customer will proceed to the testing site – a large section of the parking lot cordoned off by cones. For everyone’s safety, DMV test examiners will wear appropriate personal protective equipment, and will always maintain an appropriate social distance from the applicant.

During the test, the customer will operate the vehicle at the direction of the test examiner who will communicate from outside the vehicle via an open window. The examiner will instruct the customer to demonstrate control of the vehicle and complete required maneuvers on the course, such as showing that the customer can work the wipers and horn, can safely back up the vehicle, can park the vehicle, and can safely operate the vehicle.

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