Aaron Parker took the final inhale of his last American Spirit cigarette and craned his neck toward the graffitied vestige of a Confederate past — a general revered in his history books as a “not-so-bad” enslaver who fought for states’ rights.
The Mechanicsville native never used to look up as he drove past, but after midnight on Saturday he felt empowered as a Black man on Monument Avenue, a thoroughfare anchored by tributes to people who fought for slavery, and lined by old-money homes.
In recent weeks, he’d seen Black Union soldiers and videos of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech projected onto the silhouette of Robert E. Lee’s horse, re-animating the bronze statue unveiled in 1890 and overlaying condemnations of police violence and white supremacy that have engulfed the monument in paint this month.
This is what the monuments could be, he thought.
Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois; haunting reminders of the Black faces lost to police violence such as Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Marcus-David Peters — George Floyd. His eyes gleamed.
“Black lives haven’t mattered for as long as I’ve been alive and way past that,” said Parker, adding that he sees these images as a vehicle for systemic change and long-delayed conversations about race and oppression.
Since June 2, that’s what the monument has been after nightfall: a looping projection recounting the centuries of pain and resilience of Black lives through the figures who fought and died for justice.
The projections, which have garnered national attention, are designed by Dustin Klein and Alex Criqui, two Richmond-based artists who sought to amplify the messages of Black Lives Matter after witnessing police tear gas protesters in Richmond on May 30.
This is what they could do to fight for Black lives, they thought, a small gesture of joy and remembrance in times of mourning as the Lee monument’s immediate future is in the hands of a judge. Opponents of its removal successfully sought an injunction blocking the move.
Each night, Klein and Criqui — a longtime lighting designer and photojournalist — haul equipment onto the medians on Monument Avenue — a set-up that includes a generator, an HD projector and a laptop that adapts graphics and videos from a software to the monument’s shape.
On the night of an LGBTQ march for Black lives, the pedestal transformed into the pride flag. On June 19, as thousands congregated around the monument, the Juneteenth flag lit up the roundabout.
The black-and-white images frequently quote pioneers of the civil rights movement; the RVA bail fund number has been posted for protesters in case they’re detained; and in the nights after protesters pulled down the Jefferson Davis monument, “Don’t celebrate slave owners” wrapped its columns.
Messages have also urged protesters to call on Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin to drop the charges against protesters arrested by police.
Klein and Criqui have the idea to recontextualize all the monuments on the milelong stretch of Confederate statues using public funds, replacing the monuments left standing with images of Black civil rights leaders and Black people killed by police.
But the pain is still felt, Criqui said, especially when the young faces of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin flash across the monument.
“Each one of those faces is a life lost unnecessarily,” he continued. “And it’s heartbreaking.”
The Lee monument grounds — informally dubbed the Marcus-Davis Peters Circle — has become its own bullhorn in a movement launched by the police brutality against Black people; a symbol for how Black communities are reclaiming spaces that historically have made them feel unwelcome.
Seeing the circle transform from a Confederate monument into a community gathering space with grilling, pick-up basketball games and people checking in on one another has been the most powerful part of this process, Klein said.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we did if it wasn’t for the people who started this movement,” Criqui added. “We’re helping in a small way to keep eyes on Richmond and keep people focused on what’s happening in our city.”
And eyes continue to gravitate toward the former capital of the Confederacy, as police launch tear gas and protesters take action to tumble the city’s monuments down themselves.
On Friday night, violence gripped the grounds around the Lee monument once again as a projection of Harriet Tubman stood firm atop the graffitied memorial, a backdrop to fireworks, deafening flash bangs and chemical agents.
The force unleashed by police ruptured around the abolitionist as they attempted to disperse crowds declared to be in violation of state regulations that bar assembly at the monument after sunset.
Klein and Criqui stood off to the side, the behind-the-scenes men guarding the projection that continues to provide moments of solace in times of violence. They know this isn’t about them. Their eyes squinted as they adjusted to the burning of chemicals piercing their face masks and skin.
They looked out past the armored vehicles and the more than 100 police in riot gear that surrounded the circle, many at the base of Tubman’s image that usually has the line “Slavery is the next thing to hell” written atop.
Tubman looked on, too, her eyes unwavering.
Rasheeda Creighton and her friends felt pride as the Black History Month program they’d worked hard to put on at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School wrapped up.
It was 1995 and the magnet school had opened just four years earlier, with few Black students enrolled. They needed one another, as Black teens navigating a white institution and feeling the pressure to succeed.
On that day they had tried to claim their space with a celebration of Black culture, and of one another. But they couldn’t have it.
Someone piped up from the crowd: “Why isn’t there a white history month?”
“At 17, we were so hurt, and nobody stood up for us,” Creighton said. “We went backstage and cried.”
Creighton went on to succeed as a consultant and an entrepreneur. But while her life has changed since that day, she worries that not much has changed for Black students who are still there.
A month of demonstrations spurred by the police killing of George Floyd has seen swift changes in leadership at law enforcement agencies, the toppling of Confederate monuments and promises from officials to tackle systemic racism.
Creighton and fellow alumna Carrie Kahwajy want the fierce urgency of now to extend to the regional magnet school, which is named for the first Black woman in America to charter a bank and last school year welcomed only 54 Black students out of 754 — about 7%.
Statewide, 1 in 5 public school students is Black but only 1 in 10 children enrolled in a gifted and talented program was Black during the latest school year for which state numbers are available, 2016-17. One in three students — a total of 61,279 children — who attended the 12 school systems that feed into Maggie Walker are Black, state data shows.
Black and brown children historically have been underrepresented in gifted and talented programs nationwide; this is not new. Researchers have time and again identified wide disparities. A Vanderbilt University study, for example, found that among students with high test scores, Black third-graders were half as likely as their white peers to be included in gifted programs. (They also found that having a Black teacher largely eliminated those disparities.)
What is new, Creighton and Kahwajy hope, is institutions’ willingness to act. That starts with listening to the experiences of Black students who are and have been enrolled, said Creighton, who launched a survey earlier this month of current and former Black students and parents of Black students at the school about their experiences. The isolation and school culture have taken a toll, some participants responded.
Bob Lowerre, the head of the school at Maggie Walker, recognized the need for the institution to take stock of its own role in perpetuating systemic racism and injustice in a letter to alumni sent as mass protests over police brutality unfolded across the country. The school’s regional board on June 18th adopted a resolution condemning racism.
Lowerre, who is white, said that although he can’t control which students receive admission to the school, he is responsible for the experience students of color have when they arrive.
“That is what we haven’t done well,” he said.
Black students who took Creighton’s survey reported microaggressions — insensitive comments about someone’s race — as well as feeling left out and not having a positive social experience. In fact, she and Lowerre suspect that Black students might not want to attend the school because of the lack of representation in the student body that has lasted since its founding.
When Maggie Walker first opened, it was on the top floor of Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson High School. During her first year, Creighton remembered students at Maggie Walker making comments about the majority Black school.
“The microaggressions, they eventually wear you down,” she said.
What she’s seen in the survey hasn’t shocked her. But although she expected it, she is disappointed that children who enrolled nearly 30 years after she cried backstage still feel targeted.
“I feel like we failed, because the students who are coming through don’t know that they aren’t alone,” Creighton said. “We can influence change in a different way, and I want to think about how we support students.”
Change will take a collective effort across school systems that feed into the school, which recently placed eighth among America’s best public high schools on a list from Niche, a school ranking website that takes into account federal education data, graduation rates, SAT/ACT scores and teacher quality, among other things.
Individual school systems select which students will attend, and pay for a certain number of slots annually.
Richmond Public Schools did not provide admissions data by press time. Henrico County schools reported that 6.7% of its Maggie Walker attendees are Black. No Black or Hispanic students from Hanover have gotten into the Maggie Walker Governor’s School since at least 2015, according to data sent from the county school system. Maggie Walker had only nine Hispanic students during the 2019-2020 school year.
Over the last four years, the percentage of Maggie Walker slots that have gone to Black students in Chesterfield County Schools has ranged from 4% and 9%.
The problems with underrepresentation extend beyond the school, said Kahwajy, who is leading an investigation into racial equity in county schools for the Chesterfield Branch of the NAACP.
The probe, which has not yet been released, found students of color were underrepresented across the county’s gifted and talented programs, including in the number of students sent to Maggie Walker.
“We must change the processes for gifted identification,” Kahwajy said. “The problem with Chesterfield County is that they aren’t identifying any students of color in their gifted program. Change takes time, energy, and money. Without the funding there, we’re working an uphill battle.”
In 2015 Civil Rights Office data, Black students in Chesterfield made up only 7% of the district’s overall gifted and talented enrollment, even though Black students made up 26% of the school district’s makeup.
Kahwajy is focused on redrawing school attendance zone lines to foster equity.
“Currently, the gifted centers are placed in the higher income districts and school sites,” she said.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Dorothy Heffron said changing zones wouldn’t be enough.
“When we have schools that are underperforming and we’re not seeing equity, I’m worried that redistricting conceals the bigger issue,” Heffron said.
Heffron said she was shocked to learn of Black students’ stark underrepresentation at Maggie Walker. “What’s troubling about it is that it does not reflect the diversity and student body of Chesterfield County. Of course then we need to unearth why. Why does it look like this?”
Kahwajy said she is surprised that the county’s School Board, which saw 100% turnover in last November’s elections, has not done more to address equity since taking office in January.
A spokesman for the school system said in a statement that Chesterfield is working to improve the governor’s school selection process.
“Chesterfield Schools is working closely with the planning committee at Maggie Walker Governor’s School to overhaul the application process to ensure it is more inclusive,” said CCPS spokesperson Shawn Smith.
Kahwajy and Creighton said addressing the pipeline issue is a first step, but that the school itself also needs to tackle cultural challenges. Creighton is hoping the survey results will guide that process.
“It’s not the academic piece,” she said. “It’s really the social piece of it. Some students are saying things to [Black] students and they aren’t being checked. Sometimes a student is the only Black student from their district to come to the school.”
“That’s where the trauma comes in,” she said. “Your students need as much education and correction as your faculty and staff do, and awareness.”
That faculty is mostly white, Lowerre said, which he hopes to change.
For now, he has tapped the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, an organization that works with schools and businesses to address racism and other forms of inequity, to lead freshman orientation. Eventually, he wants the orientation to be phased into all grade levels, but says the school doesn’t have the money to do so right now.
Creighton said she will end her survey at the end of the month. Kahwajy will continue her investigation of Chesterfield County Public Schools. In September, Lowerre will welcome a new freshman class. He doesn’t yet know how many of those students will be Black.
The grocery industry in the Richmond region remained much the same in the past year as it has for the last couple of years, with two national chains holding the top spots for local market share.
Walmart was able to maintain its dominance again as the area’s grocery sales leader, extending its slight lead over Kroger, while market newcomer Publix Super Markets is slowly adding market share.
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, captured the No. 1 share of the region’s grocery market based on overall sales for the second consecutive year, according to the annual survey by Food World, a Maryland-based industry publication. It held the top spots in 2016 and 2017 as well.
The annual rankings, released Monday, provide a good barometer of how retailers vying for a piece of the area’s highly competitive $3.44 billion grocery business are doing. The results are for the 12 months that ended March 31.
Walmart had a 17.01% market share — down slightly from last year’s 17.24% share — but the chain increased its area grocery sales by nearly $19 million despite closing one of its smaller grocery-only Neighborhood Market format stores last year.
Kroger, the nation’s largest traditional supermarket chain, remained in the No. 2 spot with a 16.16% market share. Its market share fell from 16.85% a year ago, but year-over-year sales at its 18 area stores rose $1 million.
In the third spot was Food Lion, which increased sales by $8.2 million, but its market share slipped slightly to 14.24% from 14.64% a year ago.
Publix, the Florida-based grocer that entered the Richmond market in 2017, increased its sales by $28.8 million as it opened two stores in the past year. The chain moved up one spot to No. 7 with a 4.68% market share with its 13 area stores.
Nontraditional grocery retailers, including drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens and convenience store retailers Wawa and 7-Eleven, continued last year to eat away at the market share of others. These operators, including Walmart and Target, now control nearly 53% of the local food dollars.
“The Richmond market is one where little ground was made by anybody because of overstoring,” said Jeffrey W. Metzger, Food World’s publisher.
“Richmond is still very competitive,” he said. “The real activity in the marketplace came from adding two new Publix stores and a new Whole Foods store.”
The market-share numbers are based on sales of grocery-related items at any retailer selling groceries.
Food sales generally were flat for most retailers during Food World’s report for the 12 months that ended March 31.
But that changed in March when retailers saw a big surge as the coronavirus pandemic sparked panic buying and hoarding while restaurants and schools were closed, forcing more people to eat at home, Metzger said. Sales continued to be strong in April and May, he said.
“If we did the market study that ended June 1, the sales numbers would have been a lot higher,” he said.
Without the surge in March, for instance, Kroger’s sales would have been down for the 12-month reporting period, he said. “Walmart was flat, but they were up because of March. Kroger was going downward until March. Food Lion also was flat but made up a bit in March.”
Can chains maintain the higher level of sales as restaurants reopen and schools go back to the classroom in the fall, Metzger wondered. “That will certainly cut into the increased volume,” he said.
“Retailers are facing challenges going forward. We will see how that will reflect next year,” he said.
Walmart maintained its top spot — and expanded its lead over Kroger — based on better comparable store sales and increasing sales, Metzger said.
Walmart’s local grocery sales rose a solid 3%, generating $634.4 million at its 18 stores, the Food World report shows.
Brent Rains, Walmart’s regional general manager, said the chain’s investments in grocery pickup services, expanded self-checkout and upgraded stores has been recognized by customers.
“That said, we know our work is not done,” Rains said. “In the coming year, we will continue to improve the store, pickup and online experience for our shoppers so we can retain their trust.”
Kroger’s market share slipped as it got hit from various sides, Metzger said.
The chain tries to compete with Walmart on price. Some of Kroger’s physical store conditions are starting to show some signs of age, he said.
Publix also added two stores during the reporting period while Whole Foods added a second area location. “The openings of direct competitors like Publix and Whole Foods directly impacted Kroger more than anybody else,” he said.
Kroger’s sales at its 18 area supermarkets rose 0.16% to $602.7 million.
“We are extremely grateful to our customers for choosing us in a competitive grocery market and we remain committed to our customers and our community partners in the Richmond region,” said Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic division, which operates the local stores.
Metzger said Kroger needs to be mindful of Publix’s expansion plans in the Richmond region.
Publix, the nation’s fifth-largest grocery chain, continues to make sales gains as it opens new stores here.
Sales at the chain’s 13 area stores rose 19.7% to $174.6 million, the Food World report shows. It opened two stores in the 2019-20 reporting period.
The chain continues its expansion this year: It already opened a new store on Charter Colony Parkway at Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County this month and has plans for two more to open later this year — in the redeveloped Huguenot Village shopping center in Chesterfield and the Carytown Exchange development in Richmond.
By the end of the year, Publix should have 16 area locations.
The chain is very disciplined in its expansion plans, Metzger said.
“They have a model. They stick with it, and they don’t deviate from it despite very intensive competition in Richmond,” he said. “We think they have the potential for more business in Richmond and they could be doing better in our opinion. They have some good locations. They are pretty fearless and are extremely profitable. And they have a plan they are executing.”
Maria Brous, the chain’s director of communications, said market share is one gauge of accomplishment. “While market share is one indicator, we also recognize that our market saturation is less than other retailers, and we continue to open new stores in the market to best serve our customers.”
Todd Jones, who has been the supermarket chain’s CEO since May 2016, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in August that he was pleased with how Publix has performed in the Richmond area since opening its local store in July 2017.
“The community has been very receptive, so Richmond is extremely important to Publix Super Markets for our growth and for our company and for our associates and for the community,” said Jones, who started as a Publix store clerk in 1980 and rose to the top ranks of the company. “I think our brand has resonated well. We are doing well because of our associates doing the right thing and supporting that brand in the hearts and minds of our customers.”
Other retailers continue to nibble away at the market share of others.
Walgreens increased sales by 33.2%, or by $49.1 million, in the 2019-20 reporting period as the drugstore chain added nine stores, mostly by picking up some Rite Aid locations, Metzger said.
“Drugstore chains are trying to sell more food and beverage,” he said
Walgreens is ranked No. 6 while the market share at CVS is fourth.
Traditional grocery chain Food Lion remains a solid third, and Wegmans was ranked No. 10.
Sales at North Carolina-based Food Lion’s 48 area stores rose 1.6% to $531 million, according to Food World.
Food Lion is “holding its own” because the chain made improvements to its operations and remodeled stores in 2018 and 2019, Metzger said.
New York-based Wegmans, which entered the Richmond market four years ago, saw sales at its two area stores increase $4.4 million. Those two stores generate the most sales per-store in the region, Metzger said.
“They had a very solid year. Volumes were up, and they got a big boost in March,” he said.
But Wegmans, like other full-service stores, has some challenges ahead amid the coronavirus. For instance, Wegmans is known for offering hot and cold food bars and other food service areas, but the chain has had to close those during the pandemic.
“What is a retailer well-known for their whole theater of food presentation going to do if they can’t showcase the whole package?” Metzger asked about Wegmans’ operations.
No-frills German grocery retailer Aldi increased local sales at its 11 stores by $1.9 million to $72.4 million in the latest reporting period. The chain ranked No. 13 with a 1.94% market share, down from 1.97% market share the year before.
Lidl, the other Germany-based grocery chain that entered the Richmond market in 2017, saw sales at its six area locations increase $1.1 million to $37.4 million in the most recent survey. Lidl was ranked No. 18 with a 1% market share, compared with a ranking of No. 19 a year ago.
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Twelve days after committing to a nationwide search for Richmond’s new police chief, Mayor Levar Stoney introduced the third man to take the helm in less than a month.
Gerald Smith, who comes from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department in North Carolina, arrived to fresh outrage after the latest confrontation between police and protesters on the 29th night of demonstrations over police brutality.
Smith’s department, and the Richmond department he is slated to take command of July 1, face legal action over police use of chemical weapons and other “less-lethal” means on civilians.
He told reporters during a brief news conference Saturday that tear gas and pepper spray can be helpful in dispersing crowds but that officers need “to be able to do a lot of steps that you go through before that.”
A Mecklenburg County judge has issued a temporary injunction limiting the use of chemical agents to disperse crowds, according to a June 21 statement from the department. The ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Richmond and Virginia State Police Friday for similar tactics used on nearly 150 protesters Monday, where police declared an unlawful assembly and launched tear gas once again at people who intended to stay overnight.
Other pending lawsuits include one from a protester earlier this month against 10 RPD officers for tear gassing demonstrators a half hour before curfew.
Smith succeeds interim Chief William “Jody” Blackwell — whose brief tenure was defined by criticism over his killing of Jeramy Gilliam in 2002 while on duty (authorities cleared him of wrongdoing). Blackwell succeeded ousted Chief William Smith.
Gerald Smith faces challenges with morale inside the department, and the task of building trust within Black and brown communities that had no say in his hiring.
Advocates for police reform decried the lack of public engagement in the hiring process at a time of national reckoning over police brutality.
Jim Nolan, the mayor’s spokesman, said in a statement that Stoney was able to move quickly by seeking the recommendations of other mayors and former police chiefs like Rodney Monroe and Al Durham.
“It’s clear that the community wants a reform-minded chief, and he found that in Chief Gerald Smith,” Nolan said. “The mayor thought it was important to bring in a proven leader who could guide the department through the reforms we know are needed today and work alongside the community in re-imagining public safety into the future.”
Gerald Smith said that he began receiving calls about the post when Stoney ousted then-chief Smith.
He added that he’s respected the Richmond Police Department and aligns with the values of Stoney — who’s up for re-election in November, leaving the post vulnerable to a shake-up if Stoney loses.
Smith acknowledged that he doesn’t have all the answers for healing past wrongs, but is dedicated to building the relationships with communities and sitting down with residents to discuss what comes next.
But some organizers say switching police chiefs does not guarantee the systemic changes they think are needed.
The Richmond Police Department has now seen four police chiefs under the Stoney administration, said Chelsea Higgs Wise, a longtime activist with Richmond for All. In 2018, after a Richmond police officer killed Marcus-Davis Peters, a high school teacher who was shot during a mental health crisis, the mayor promised advocates a push for police transparency in the hiring of Chief William Smith.
That didn’t happen, she said.
“Hearing that Mayor Levar Stoney is not fulfilling his promise or commitment to involve the public and the advocates that have been doing this work is not surprising to any of us,” Higgs Wise said. “It just shows that his choices are not one that are keeping the public in mind.”
Stoney said in a news conference last week that community leaders and advocates would also play a role in the “reimagining of public safety.” Higgs Wise said she hasn’t heard of Stoney meeting with longtime advocates and task forces are not enough.
“The mayor has met and continues to meet and seek input on city governance from scores of community leaders and organizations,” Nolan said. “He only asks that they are willing to leave an ‘all or nothing’ approach at the door and commit to constructive dialogue that seeks common ground to move the city forward.”
In the last month of protests, advocates have outlined demands that include re-opening the Marcus-David Peters case, defunding the police department and reallocating money to housing, schools and mental health resources for Black communities and releasing the names of police officers investigated for use of force.
In Saturday’s news conference, Smith said that to his knowledge, he’s never had a use of force allegation brought against him.
Richmond and State police declined to answer several questions about Friday night’s clash. A spokesman for Capitol Police would not say how many of their officers were involved. Richmond police said pepper spray was deployed only once; eyewitnesses contradicted this account.
Several people on the ground, including a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter, described burning sensations similar to past encounters with chemical weapons police deployed. When officers detained a woman on Park Avenue, who was later charged with unlawful assembly, a chemical agent was launched into the median.
This article has been updated.
Hundreds of new laws Virginia lawmakers approved this spring will go into effect Wednesday, reflecting the liberal and progressive agenda of the General Assembly’s new majority.
Democrats, who now control the legislature and the Executive Mansion for the first time in more than two decades, used their newfound power to instill sweeping reforms on gun control, voting rights and LGBTQ rights, among other things. The new laws affect aspects of Virginians’ lives from education to abortion, Confederate statues to housing.
Lawmakers introduced more than 3,900 bills and resolutions this year, the most since at least 1994, according to the state’s Legislative Information System. A total of 1,289 of those measures cleared the legislature and were signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, the most since the governor assumed office in 2018.
The General Assembly will reconvene in August to address COVID-19’s impact on the state budget, while tackling police reform following protests prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
“I will look for policy proposals that protect our communities, increase accountability, transparency and diversity in law enforcement and improve the way we handle our response to people in a mental health crisis,” Northam said Thursday. “These are serious issues and will require a thoughtful, serious process to create real reform that works for our communities.”
While the majority of new laws take effect Wednesday, several of the big-ticket measures lawmakers passed, including a minimum wage increase and allowing public employees to collectively bargain, won’t become law until 2021.
Here’s a look at some notable legislation that takes effect Wednesday:
Legislation rolling back abortion regulations, including the mandatory 24-hour waiting period, the required ultrasound and the requirement that a woman be given certain printed materials before she could undergo the procedure, will become law.
Lawmakers voted to legalize casino gambling in five Virginia cities, including Richmond, with voter consent. The state’s share of gaming revenues would go toward school repair, modernization and construction. The legislation would let Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol approve casino gambling in local referendums on Nov. 3. Richmond has the option of scheduling a later referendum because the city has not gotten as far as the others in selecting a potential casino operator.
While Richmond's hands-free driving law has already taken effect, a state law that bans holding cellphones while driving goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. The new law will carry with it a $125 fine for a first offense and a $250 fine for a subsequent violation or a violation in a highway work zone.
Localities will have the authority to decide the fate of Confederate monuments in their jurisdictions, an issue that’s gained even more attention in recent weeks. The Richmond City Council has pledged to take down the four Confederate statues it owns on Monument Avenue. Local governing bodies, under the new law, are allowed to hold a nonbinding referendum on the future of the statues.
Driver’s license suspensions
Virginians won’t have their driver’s licenses suspended for unpaid court costs and fines. The bipartisan bill came after a temporary measure in 2019 helped restore tens of thousands of suspended licenses and prevented many more from losing theirs.
Courts in Virginia will no longer find students guilty of disorderly conduct for actions in school. The state is also eliminating the requirement that principals report misdemeanors committed at school to police.
Parents will receive at least 24 hours’ notice before a school conducts a lockdown drill. Schools will give parents notice if testing at their child’s school finds high amounts of lead in the building’s water.
In higher education, student loan servicers will be regulated more like other servicers, such as mortgage lenders. The companies must obtain a license from the State Corporation Commission, among other things.
Democrats advanced landmark legislation to make Virginia dependent solely on renewable energy by 2045, setting annual energy production and efficiency targets for the state’s utilities. They also backed proposals to widen the door for solar projects, both private and utility-owned, and to urge regulators to approve a massive offshore wind development that Dominion Energy plans off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Dominion has already begun to mull compliance with the new law. In a May regulatory filing, the company said its customers should expect to see their bills rise by as much as 3% a year until 2030. Those projected increases are pending regulatory approval.
Thousands of electronic “skill games” will remain in restaurants and stores across the state for another year to help offset the economic fallout of COVID-19. Lawmakers initially planned to ban the games, which have been operating without regulation or taxation. Northam gave them another year of life and plans to tax them heavily to generate money for the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.
In response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch investigation, a new law will bar a lawyer representing a health care provider or other entity who argues that a person is incapacitated and in need of a guardian from then serving as the person’s guardian, unless a judge decides there is no acceptable alternative.
Starting next week, Virginians should expect: stricter penalties for “recklessly” exposing minors to guns; a requirement to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours; a ban on the possession of firearms by people subject to restraining orders; expanded local control to let localities adopt firearm-related ordinances; a new requirement calling for background checks on all firearm sales; a limit on handgun purchases to one a month; and new power for the courts, which will now have the ability to temporarily remove firearms from people in crisis.
Insurers are limited to charging a maximum of $50 per month for insulin.
The state is also creating a state health insurance exchange instead of relying on the federal marketplace for people to buy health insurance with federal subsidies for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs. The health exchange, created more than a decade after adoption of the Affordable Care Act, will operate at the SCC Bureau of Insurance.
Public housing residents will be notified 12 months before their housing authority files permits to demolish or redevelop their housing. The bill came as a result of complaints by residents of Richmond’s Creighton Court, which the city plans to demolish.
People in the U.S. illegally will have access to driver privilege cards that look like driver’s licenses and will be eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges.
Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects lesbian, gay and transgender people from discrimination in employment, Virginia is set to enact its own protections. Virginia is also set to become the first Southern state with comprehensive laws outlawing LGBTQ discrimination, with a law that prohibits discrimination in public and private employment and housing, among other things.
The practice of conversion therapy on minors will also be banned.
Possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia will no longer carry jail time or a criminal conviction. People found with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a $25 civil fine. Criminal records related to simple possession of marijuana will be sealed, with some exceptions. Most employers and educational institutions will be banned from asking applicants about any past simple possession convictions.
Lawmakers created a commission to study school construction and modernization, an issue for hundreds of schools across the state. The commission will submit a report every year.
Virginians will be able to legally bet on sports, with the Virginia Lottery regulating the issue. Betting on in-state colleges is prohibited.
Lawmakers raised the gas tax by 7.6 cents per gallon and created the Central Virginia Transportation Authority.
The regional authority will oversee and finance transportation projects in nine localities — Richmond, Ashland and the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Hanover, Goochland, Powhatan, New Kent and Charles City.
Virginians will no longer need to state an excuse in order to vote absentee and will no longer need to show a photo ID at the polls.
The legislature also voted to scrap Lee-Jackson Day as a holiday on the state calendar in favor of Election Day.