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Virginia lawmakers weigh scrapping ‘mandatory minimum’ sentences: Safeguard against leniency or unfair stripping of judicial discretion?

Virginia lawmakers weigh scrapping ‘mandatory minimum’ sentences: Safeguard against leniency or unfair stripping of judicial discretion?

Virginia lawmakers are considering scrapping the “mandatory minimum” punishments that have played a prominent role in criminal sentencing for decades. Under state law now, judges are required to impose at least a certain amount of active jail or prison time on a host of crimes — from guns to drugs, from certain DUIs to second and third protective order violations, from raping a child to assaulting a cop. Advertisement In other words, judges can’t suspend sentences beyond that point. Supporters of the current system contend the mandates are a necessary safeguard against overly lenient...

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Peter Dujardin
Feb 22
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Virginia Beach’s Council, School Board elections could get overhaul as lawmakers send bill to Northam

Virginia Beach’s Council, School Board elections could get overhaul as lawmakers send bill to Northam

Virginia lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would force Virginia Beach to change the way it elects local leaders. The legislation will now go to Gov. Ralph Northam for final approval. Advertisement If Northam supports the bill, Virginia Beach will no longer be allowed to have a voting system where district representatives are elected by all voters across the city. Currently, Virginia Beach voters can pick all 11 representatives for the City Council and School Board. Seven council members are required to live in the district they represent, while three serve at-large and can live...

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Alissa Skelton
6d ago
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Virginia lawmakers pass bill that would allow people to seal some criminal records

Virginia lawmakers pass bill that would allow people to seal some criminal records

RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers gave final approval Friday to legislation that will allow people convicted of certain crimes to have their criminal records sealed, a move supporters say will help remove obstacles to obtaining jobs, housing, education and other opportunities for thousands of Virginians. The legislation will set up a system for automatically sealing nine misdemeanor charges after seven years if the person is not convicted of any other crimes during that time. Charges eligible for automatic sealing include underage possession of alcohol, simple larceny, disorderly conduct,...

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Denise Lavoie
4d ago
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‘Dividing Lines’: How Norfolk ended school segregation — then created it again

‘Dividing Lines’: How Norfolk ended school segregation — then created it again

Norfolk desegregated its schools 62 years ago last week. The first Black teenager to set foot in the formerly all-white Maury High School, Louis Cousins, always wanted people to know he didn’t integrate the school, as some would tell him he had done. Advertisement He desegregated it. There’s a big difference, his friend told The Virginian-Pilot last year . Advertisement Cousins was one of just 17 Black students, and the fight to open the schoolhouse doors to them was a pitched battle. The state closed schools for nearly a year rather than let Black students attend. White Virginians’...

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Sara Gregory
Feb 7
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Virginia is creating a statewide coronavirus vaccine waiting list, but it’s weeks away

Virginia is creating a statewide coronavirus vaccine waiting list, but it’s weeks away

Gov. Ralph Northam says Virginia will have a statewide system within weeks for people to get their names on a list for a coronavirus vaccine. But once their turn comes, they’ll still have to schedule appointments through their local health departments for a few more months. Responding to criticism over Virginia’s inconsistent vaccination efforts, Northam had said on Jan. 27 the state was trying to make it easier for people to know when and how they can get a shot. Advertisement He had promised that a single statewide phone number and website would be set up “soon” that people could use to...

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Ana Ley
Feb 9
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State commission: Racist Virginia laws are gone, but inequities linger

State commission: Racist Virginia laws are gone, but inequities linger

RICHMOND — Virginia needs sweeping changes to its schools, housing laws, criminal justice system and other areas of policy to remedy the legacy of centuries of government-sanctioned racial oppression, according to a new report the state released Wednesday. It’s the latest effort of a commission empaneled by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, which in 2019 with an examination of racist laws that — though long unenforced — had remained on the books. Advertisement Wednesday’s report, provided to The Associated Press ahead of its public release, concludes that the impacts of those now-purged laws...

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Sarah Rankin
Feb 10
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Dividing Lines: How Norfolk remains deeply segregated, in 8 maps

Dividing Lines: How Norfolk remains deeply segregated, in 8 maps

NORFOLK — Norfolk’s segregation isn’t hard to see. The city is close to half Black and half white, according to the most recent Census data. But there aren’t a lot of neighborhoods where you see that kind of split. By and large, there are Black neighborhoods and there are white neighborhoods, especially in the older core of Norfolk. Decisions made 60, 80 or 100 years ago segregated neighborhoods by race and deprived Black residents of economic and educational resources afforded to those in white neighborhoods. Advertisement Many Black residents were left trapped in crumbling communities...

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Ryan Murphy
Jan 21
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Lawmaker looks to rein in law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology

Lawmaker looks to rein in law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology

A state lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require local civilian leaders to give police departments approval before they could use facial recognition technology. Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, this week filed House Bill 2031, which would ban most law enforcement agencies from using such technology unless city or town leaders pass an ordinance authorizing its use. In the case of campus police departments, a governing board would have to approve it. The Virginia State Police would still be able to use facial recognition if it wanted to, but an agency spokeswoman has said it...

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Jonathan Edwards
Jan 16
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Chesapeake teachers were told not to show Biden’s inauguration live in case violence erupted

Chesapeake teachers were told not to show Biden’s inauguration live in case violence erupted

CHESAPEAKE — As Joe Biden took center stage Wednesday just before noon, Americans across the country could watch online or on television as the 46th president of the United States was sworn in. But as the historic event unfolded, students in Chesapeake likely were not getting a front row seat. Advertisement School leaders asked teachers not to show the ceremony live to students, citing the “ever changing political climate,” according to an email obtained by The Virginian-Pilot. In the email, sent Tuesday afternoon, Mickey Irving, the supervisor of K-12 social studies, wrote that resources...

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Gordon Rago
Jan 20
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Oyster reef to be dedicated to Virginia Beach mass shooting victim

Oyster reef to be dedicated to Virginia Beach mass shooting victim

VIRGINIA BEACH — You might wonder why a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the water quality of the Lynnhaven River is naming an oyster reef after one of the city workers killed in the Virginia Beach mass shooting. But there’s a good reason: Mary Louise Gayle, you see, was a friend of the oysters. As a right-of-way agent for the city, she helped the nonprofit and local environmentalists preserve space in the river for the development of oyster reefs. Advertisement That’s why Lynnhaven River Now, the nonprofit committed to restoring the waterway, will create a 1-acre oyster reef...

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Alissa Skelton
Jan 11
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Virginia lawmakers will start the 2021 session this week — mostly virtually, as pandemic continues

Virginia lawmakers will start the 2021 session this week — mostly virtually, as pandemic continues

Faced with a persistent pandemic and continued calls for police reform, Virginia lawmakers will convene Wednesday — mostly virtually, but with some in Richmond — to begin considering proposed legislation. This will be the second consecutive year the General Assembly is under the control of Democrats, who, as recently as three months ago, . Advertisement They’re expected to continue those efforts while finding more ways to grapple with a pandemic that has devastated the economy, sent unemployment rates soaring and upended the lives of many Virginians. More bills will be introduced, and many...

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Ana Ley
Jan 9
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Why the songbird sings: In book, Dolly Parton reveals the stories behind her hits

Why the songbird sings: In book, Dolly Parton reveals the stories behind her hits

She was born with music in her. Singing as soon as she could talk, putting down lyrics as soon as she could write, Dolly Rebecca Parton was always a songwriter. Even when her only audience was the squirrels in the trees, she would raise up her voice. Advertisement She still does. “Songteller: My Life in Lyrics” is her story. It’s more than a memoir. It’s a keepsake, filled with pictures of favorite performances and people, handwritten notes for songs, and the fascinating history behind the hits. Advertisement It’s a big book, fitting for Parton’s big career. She’s written more than 3,000...

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Jacqueline Cutler
Nov 29
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Hampton Roads’ poorest cities could lose the most from people going uncounted in the census

Hampton Roads’ poorest cities could lose the most from people going uncounted in the census

Once every decade, government officials across the country take on the monumental task of counting every person living in the United States. The job is critically important — for one, population totals determine how much federal money is spent for each community’s roads, schools, housing and social programs. In Hampton Roads, officials who oversee some of the region’s poorest places worry many people there have been left out of this year’s count. Along with complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, they blame a breakdown at the U.S. Census Bureau, which leads count efforts, in part, by...

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Ana Ley
Nov 28
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Virginia passes 200,000 confirmed cases from coronavirus

Virginia passes 200,000 confirmed cases from coronavirus

Virginia has reached an unsavory milestone in the pandemic, surpassing 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus during the week of Thanksgiving. COVID-19 is rapidly spreading across the state and country, with experts warning this could be just the beginning of a long winter surge. Advertisement How the holiday will factor into new illnesses remains to be seen, but public health officials fear a major upswing will follow the weekend due to the number of people traveling, parties and family get-togethers. As of Friday, there had been a total of 205,632 confirmed cases in Virginia and 4,044...

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Elisha Sauers
Nov 28
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For the first time, Virginia is setting aside capital funds to restore its oyster population

For the first time, Virginia is setting aside capital funds to restore its oyster population

Virginia is setting $10 million in new funding for oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay, focusing on the Piankatank, Great Wicomico and York Rivers. It marks the first time the state is using capital funds, usually reserved for building state facilities and roads, to restore natural resources. Advertisement Bringing oyster populations back has been a top priority because the shellfish play a key role in cleaning the Bay. Oyster reefs also protect shorelines from erosion and are habitats for crabs and fish, and oysters are an important commercial fishery. The state’s stepped up efforts...

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Dave Ress
Nov 21
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As coronavirus cases surge, Virginia leaders urge caution around the holiday

As coronavirus cases surge, Virginia leaders urge caution around the holiday

Coronavirus cases are swiftly rising throughout the nation, with Virginia leaders preemptively asking residents to do their part to slow the spread during Thanksgiving. Stay home for the holiday, hold your celebration outdoors or get together with friends and family online. Advertisement While the pandemic has not reached the level it has in other parts of the country, more people are getting sick in Virginia every day. The sharp increase seen in the southwestern corner of the state a few weeks ago is steadily moving east. Now the central region is seeing substantial viral activity as well,...

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Elisha Sauers
Nov 22
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An eviction ‘tsunami’ in Virginia could be coming after the new year, advocates warn

An eviction ‘tsunami’ in Virginia could be coming after the new year, advocates warn

VIRGINIA BEACH — Ricky Johnson was on the fast track to living on the streets for Thanksgiving, during the worst part of the worst pandemic in more than a century. Johnson, a 67-year-old Vietnam vet, has lived in his mobile home for seven years and never had a problem making rent. Until the coronavirus. He still gets his Army pension and disability money, and so does Mike, his brother and roommate. But people are afraid of letting strangers into their home, so the odd jobs Ricky Johnson used to do to make ends meet, such as house repairs and renovations, have dried up. Advertisement Now the...

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Jonathan Edwards
Nov 28
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After a decline, coronavirus now surging throughout much of Virginia

After a decline, coronavirus now surging throughout much of Virginia

If you’re watching the coronavirus pandemic by the numbers for signs of improvement, you could get whiplash from one week to the next. Coming off a brief period in which in new infections, Virginia’s caseload appeared to be receding while other states across the country were headed down the opposite path. Advertisement Now, all but the northern part of the state is having an upward trajectory, based on data collected by the Virginia Department of Health. In Hampton Roads, slow growth was happening in the Hampton, Peninsula and Western Tidewater districts. Fresh off his mild bout of the...

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Elisha Sauers
Oct 18
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Northam calls for probe into Virginia Military Institute after Black cadets claim ‘relentless racism’

Northam calls for probe into Virginia Military Institute after Black cadets claim ‘relentless racism’

LEXINGTON, Va. — State officials have ordered an investigation into the Virginia Military Institute following a report in The Washington Post that described Black cadets and alumni facing “relentless racism.” Gov. Ralph Northam co-wrote a letter Monday to the state-supported school’s Board of Visitors expressing “deep concerns about the clear and appalling culture of ongoing structural racism” at VMI. The letter said the state will fund an independent probe into the school’s culture, policies, practices and equity in disciplinary procedures, the Post reported. Advertisement The action came...

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Oct 20
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Paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — Members of anti-government paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia’s governor during a June meeting in Ohio, an FBI agent testified Tuesday during a court hearing in Michigan. Special Agent Richard Trask also revealed more detail about investigators' use of confidential informants, undercover agents and encrypted communication to arrest and charge six men last week with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Advertisement Tuesday’s court hearing was to review investigators' evidence against Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel...

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David Eggert
Oct 13
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Wind turbines taller than the state’s tallest building make energy off Virginia Beach coast

Wind turbines taller than the state’s tallest building make energy off Virginia Beach coast

Dominion Energy’s two massive wind turbines loom large off of Virginia Beach’s coast. You can’t see them from the Oceanfront, but at more than 600 feet tall, they would eclipse the state’s tallest building, the 508-feet Westin Virginia Beach Town Center. Together, those two turbines, churning along with three 253-foot blades apiece, represent a key step toward Virginia’s carbon-neutral future. Advertisement And the groundbreaking pair — at about 27 miles off the coast, they’re the first turbines in federal waters — is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2026, Dominion officials say, the pair of...

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Peter Coutu
Oct 9
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Gail Collins column: Anyone else want to see Trump ‘shut up’?

Gail Collins column: Anyone else want to see Trump ‘shut up’?

When the nation looks back on the presidential debate we witnessed this week, do you think it’ll be remembered as: — A moment that will live on in history, second in historical import only to Lincoln-Douglas. Advertisement — That thing where Joe Biden called Donald Trump “Putin’s puppy.” — The worst television programming since “I Wanna Marry Harry.” Advertisement Really, you have to go with the puppy quote. Particularly since it was about the nicest thing either of them said. Trump had painted the debate as a virtual death sentence for Biden, who he strongly suggested was too old, at 77,...

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Gail Collins
Oct 1
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A casino in a tent? Norfolk zoning rules could allow it.

A casino in a tent? Norfolk zoning rules could allow it.

NORFOLK — Voters already have started deciding whether to approve a new waterfront casino downtown. If approved, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and its partners expect to start construction on the lot next to Harbor Park in 2021 and wrap up sometime in 2023. Advertisement But in the meantime, could the tribe host gambling on the lot — perhaps in a tent or trailer — even as the $500 million project is going up? That was a question raised by one Norfolk planning commissioner earlier this month, during a discussion about adding a new designation for casinos in the city’s zoning ordinance....

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Ryan Murphy
Sep 26
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Opinion: Native Americans still overlooked in debates about U.S. history

Opinion: Native Americans still overlooked in debates about U.S. history

The 1619 Project is gaining more traction in the media since its unveiling last year in the New York Times magazine. Its premise, “to reframe American history by regarding 1619 as our nation’s birth year.” The question is “What would it mean not to seek a ‘new’ history for our country but to acknowledge the already existing history pre-1619?” Why is there talk of reframing history for this country? If anyone has the right to do so it would be the Native Americans of the East Coast of Virginia. The formal beginning of the unborn United States occurred with the establishing of the first...

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Dawn Custalow
Sep 26
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As more Virginians file for unemployment, state agency is two months from running out of money

As more Virginians file for unemployment, state agency is two months from running out of money

The state agency responsible for sending unemployment benefits to the hundreds of thousands of Virginians that have found themselves out of work amid the coronavirus pandemic says it will run out of money within two months. Officials with the Virginia Employment Commission told reporters Thursday that it will be forced to borrow money from the federal government to continue making benefit payments, and that the state’s businesses, some of which have been crippled by the COVID-19 shutdowns, will be hit with higher taxes. Advertisement “Businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic...

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Kimberly Pierceall
Jul 23
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