Virginia Schools Kick Off Statewide Campaign To Encourage Safe Teen Driving

More teen drivers in Virginia will be involved in traffic crashes between the months of May and August than any other time of the year, statistics show. To help save lives and prevent such crashes during the high-risk warm weather months, Virginia schools are kicking off a statewide teen safety campaign to establish safe driving and passenger safety behaviors among youth and teens.

The campaign, called “Arrive Alive,” focuses on the increased risk of teen driver crashes during the spring and summer months and during prom and graduation. Close to 50 high and middle schools are participating in Arrive Alive, which kicked off March 20 and runs through May 5. During the campaign, students will work in peer-to-peer groups to develop programs and social media messages that influence their peers to be safer on Virginia roadways. Middle schools will focus their campaign on how to be a safe passenger, pedestrian, and cyclist. High schools will focus on preventing such risky driver and passenger behaviors as texting and driving, speeding, driving with too many passengers, not wearing a seat belt, underage drinking and driving, and joy riding or “cruising.”

Statistics from the Virginia DMV Highway Safety Office show that over the past five years, teen drivers in Virginia were involved in 42,538 crashes during the months from May through August, with 222 of those crashes resulting in a fatality to themselves or other motorists and passengers. During the same five-year period, 130 teens aged 15-20 were killed, 14,727 were injured, and 2,207 were seriously injured in crashes between the months of May and August.  

Throughout Arrive Alive, students at participating schools will develop a creative project for the student body designed to influence change in risky driving behaviors and attitudes. In addition, schools will hold pre-distracted and post-distracted driving checks as students arrive at school to determine the campaign’s impact on reducing distracted driving. Other activities will include wrecked car displays, mock crashes, pledge signing events, attaching “TXT LATER. BUCKLE UP NOW. ARRIVE ALIVE.” cards to prom and graduation corsages and invitations, organizing safety rallies, and other creative messaging and programming.

Middle schools will focus their creative project around good passenger and pedestrian safety habits including seat belt use, bicycle helmet use, and how to be safe when walking and biking in neighborhoods. Middle schools will also complete a variety of safety programs, including pledge banner signings with students promising to be safe passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

The effort is sponsored by Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety and the Virginia State Police, and is funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office. In addition, grants from Allstate and State Farm will support prizes and educational incentives and materials. The Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education, a nonprofit charitable organization affiliated with AAA Mid-Atlantic, is providing support for the bike component and prizes for the middle school campaign. WFXR Television in Roanoke is the media sponsor for both the middle and high school campaigns.

Here are tips to help keep teen drivers safe during the high-risk warm weather months:

  • Buckle up every time and in every seating position.
  • Slow down and obey posted speed limits.
  • Limit the number of teen passengers in the vehicle and obey Virginia’s passenger limitation law for teens. Remember, teens under 18 are only allowed to carry one passenger under age 21 for the first year of licensure unless accompanied by a licensed adult.
  • Drive distraction-free. It’s illegal for teens under 18 to use a cell phone while driving.
  • Drive alcohol and drug-free. Virginia’s Zero Tolerance law makes consuming alcohol or driving under the influence of any amount of alcohol a serious criminal offense for teens under the age of 21.
  • Avoid “cruising” and joy riding with friends. This leads to an increased risk for teen crashes.
  • Obey Virginia’s midnight curfew, which restricts teens under 18 from driving between midnight and 4:00 a.m.
  • Never Drive Drowsy. Never drive if you are sleepy or on medication that causes drowsiness.
  • Celebrate responsibly during prom, graduation, and summer celebrations. Make a commitment to being safe and arriving alive.

Schools Participating in the 2017 YOVASO Arrive Alive Campaign:

High Schools

Alleghany High School, Alleghany Co.
Amherst County High School, Amherst Co.
Blacksburg High School, Montgomery Co.
Bluestone High School, Mecklenburg Co.
Chilhowie High School, Smyth Co.
Colonial Forge High School, Stafford Co.
Eastern Montgomery High School, Montgomery Co.
East Rockingham High School, Rockingham Co.
E.C. Glass High School, Lynchburg City
Galax High School, Galax City
Galileo Magnet High School, Danville City
George Wythe High School, Richmond City
Giles High School, Giles Co.
Gretna High School, Pittsylvania Co.
Halifax County High School, Halifax Co.
Heritage High School, Lynchburg City
Hidden Valley High School, Roanoke Co.
James River High School, Botetourt Co.
Jefferson Forest High School, Bedford Co.
Liberty High School, Bedford Co.
Louisa County High School, Louisa Co.
Luray High School, Page Co.
Magna Vista High School, Henry Co.
Narrows High School, Giles Co.
Page County High School, Page Co.
Parkview High School, Mecklenburg Co.
Patriot High School, Prince William Co.
Randolph-Henry High School, Charlotte Co.
Stafford High School, Stafford Co.
Staunton River High School, Bedford Co.
Stuarts Draft High School, Augusta Co.
Tazewell High School, Tazewell Co.
William Campbell Combined School, Campbell Co.
William Monroe High School, Greene Co.
Wilson Memorial High School, Augusta Co.
Woodrow Wilson High School, Portsmouth City

Middle Schools

A.G. Wright Middle School, Stafford Co.
Auburn Middle School, Montgomery Co.
Bedford Middle School, Bedford Co.
Cave Spring Middle School, Roanoke Co.
Central Academy Middle School, Botetourt Co.
Dixon-Smith Middle School, Stafford Co.
Drew Middle School, Stafford Co.
Forest Middle School, Bedford Co.
Halifax County Middle School, Halifax Co.
H.H. Poole Middle School, Stafford Co.
Hidden Valley Middle School, Roanoke Co.
Louisa County Middle School, Louisa Co.
Page County Middle School, Page Co.
Read Mountain Middle School, Botetourt Co.
Shawsville Middle School, Montgomery Co.
Staunton River Middle School, Bedford Co.
Tazewell Middle School, Tazewell Co.
Thomas H. Henderson Middle School, Richmond City
William Monroe Middle School, Greene Co.




Protecting Free Speech

By Dave LaRock (R-33)
As elected officials and members of the legislature, our most fundamental responsibility is to protect God-given constitutionally protected rights. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government, including governmental public colleges and universities, from infringing on free speech and the free exercise of religion. 

I’m thrilled to report The Virginia House of Delegates passed a measure I presented, House Resolution HR 431, the Campus Free Speech Resolution, which is designed to ensure free expression at Virginia’s public universities. This resolution advises public institutions of higher education to protect free speech, and it communicates the urgent need for the governing board of each public institution of higher education in the Commonwealth to develop and adopt a policy on free speech. Many already have adequate policies in place, but some do not.

On February 21, about a week before the end of the 2017 Session, I met with the head of the Capital Police and the folks from the Department of General Services, the people who manage the physical assets and facilities of the Commonwealth. We discussed policies which regulate use of the capital grounds, in particular those policies limiting outdoor meetings and protests which are forms of protected speech and expression.

The reason I asked these people to meet is this: The day before, I had walked over to the governor’s mansion because I had been informed people were planning to gather to peacefully protest the outdoor celebration of Governor McAuliffe vetoing a bill to redirect funding from Planned Parenthood to bona fide providers of women’s health services. I picked up a sign someone had left in my office that read “Planned Parenthood Lies” and headed over to the governor’s mansion. When I arrived, the Capital Police told me and others we could not display any signs outside the gated entrance of the governor’s residence.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” So if the legislature is going to exercise authority over publically-funded universities, and it should, we need to also make sure our own house is in order as well.

The Campus Free Speech Resolution passed by the House expresses that some state-funded universities are imposing unreasonable restrictions on free speech. What I also discovered this session is that the policies regulating the capital need to be revisited as well.

Virginia took a giant step forward in 2014 when a bill I co-patroned became law and effectively designated outdoor areas on the Commonwealth’s public college campuses as public forums, where student speech is subject only to reasonable content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. Under the law passed in 2014, college students at Virginia’s public universities should not be limited to tiny free speech zones, or be subject to restrictive registration requirements.

There is more that needs to be done. Some policies are inadequate by virtue of their vague wording which could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. A policy banning “verbal abuse” or “hate speech” could be misapplied to prohibit protected speech. Hate Speech Codes are codes passed by colleges that restrict speech considered offensive to someone. These tend to be very broad and therefore unconstitutional.

Whether on college campuses or any public venue, free speech can be limited with reasonable time and place limits, but those limits must not be overly restrictive. Allowable limitations protect people, property, and allow normal activities to take place.

Virginia is the cradle of democracy, and we take seriously our responsibility to uphold free-speech principles. Each public institution of higher education and branch of government in the Commonwealth should ensure free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation of all ideas and viewpoints. By passing these measures, we are communicating to universities and the public that students are in school to learn how to think; they are not going to college to be protected from differing opinions. This resolution will put down a marker as a precursor for next session when I will follow up with legislation to assure free speech is taken seriously.?Speaking in support of the Campus Free Speech Resolution, Casey Mattox, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom Center for Academic Freedom said, “Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, teachers, and voters. This resolution reminds universities of their obligation to model the First Amendment values that they are supposed to be teaching the next generation.”

Delegate Dave LaRock represents the 33rd House District, including parts of Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick Counties, and the towns of Leesburg (partial), Purcellville, Berryville, Lovettsville, Round Hill, Hamilton and Hillsboro. LaRock serves on the Transportation Committee, the Science and Technology Committee and the Education Committee. Dave and his wife, Joanne, have lived in Loudoun for 30 years, building a successful family-owned general contracting business. The LaRocks reside near Hamilton with Laura, Abby, and John, the youngest of their seven children.




Walbridge To Run for State Delegate in the 33rd District

Tia Walbridge announces her run for the District 33 seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Walbridge is a wife and mother of two daughters and an active member of the Round Hill community. “Like many people in our district, my family has found its prosperity in a Virginia-based small business and our honor in serving the community and country. My husband served in the Navy and is now working in civil service,” said Walbridge.

Walbridge says she has been inspired to action in political and public life seeing partisan issues being forced into local Virginia politics. She met many others throughout our community who felt as she did; partisan issues were superseding political support for public schools and small businesses and American values like honor, integrity, civility and community were rapidly eroding.

“I am a mother who wants to see us support our public schools and expand opportunities for students in rural areas, so all of our children have access to an education that best fits their needs and abilities,” said Walbridge. “When it comes to higher education, Virginia has some of the greatest institutions in the country, and we should be helping all of our students to achieve their education goals without saddling them with a lifetime of debt,” she continued.

Walbridge also supports the rural economy and the small businesses that accentuate the beauty of the Blue Ridge. “I believe in strengthening our small business community, in particular, those businesses that define our Virginia culture. Our farms bring their produce and livestock to restaurants and farmers markets all around our communities. Our wineries, breweries, and distilleries give us a dynamic community. All of our small businesses deserve to be bolstered and protected.”

Walbridge realizes many others feel as she does. “Many of my fellow Virginians want a return to real American values like honor and integrity. I believe politicians can have both. Values like inclusion and acceptance of all people are important to strong communities. We teach these values to our children in our schools, our homes, and our community programs every day. It is a time to live the lessons that we teach.”

“I believe that all people are created equal and should be free to pursue their version of happiness and achieve an American dream that is uniquely their own. Your version of the American dream may be a beautiful home in the heart of Purcellville. Or perhaps it is teaching your children at home and living a life close to the earth. Whatever your piece of the American tapestry looks like, I will fight passionately to support it, I will work tirelessly to improve our laws, regulations, and codes to help you and your businesses. Together we can build a brighter Virginia,” said Walbridge.




Office Building on Capitol Square To Be Named After Civil Rights Pioneer Barbara Johns

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the newly renovated state building located at 202 N. 9th Street on Capitol Square in Richmond (currently known as the 9th Street Office Building) will bear the name of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. The building, which reopened last year, houses the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
 
Speaking at Virginia Union University’s 39th Annual Community Leaders Breakfast, honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Governor McAuliffe said, “When we name our state buildings after people from our history, we make a statement that the work done within those buildings will advance their legacy.
 
“I cannot think of a better person to inspire the men and women who fight for justice and equality in the Office of the Attorney General than Barbara Johns. When Barbara stood up for equal access to education as a plaintiff in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, she helped changed the history of our nation for the better and inspired a new generation of civil rights leaders. I am honored to announce that her name will be placed on this beautiful building as a lasting reminder of the enormous impact one person can have when they stand up fearlessly for what is right.”
 
Governor McAuliffe made the announcement with Attorney General Mark Herring, who said: “Change in this Commonwealth and this country has always come when brave individuals stand up and demand their rights, and so often it has been a young person who can still see injustice with clear eyes. To me, that’s the legacy of Barbara Johns—a brave young woman who stood up and demanded the rights that the Constitution guaranteed to her and to each of us. I will be proud every single day I walk into the Barbara Johns Building to fight for justice, equality, and opportunity for every Virginian.”
 
“Growing up on the Eastern Shore, my parents kept me in public schools during the time of desegregation. It was one of the best decisions of my life and shaped who I am today,” stated Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, who also attended today’s breakfast. “As a teenager in Farmville, Barbara Johns led the fight for equal education for all and is an American hero. It is a fitting tribute for these halls of justice to be named in her honor.”
 
The building at 202 N. 9th Street will be formally dedicated in a public ceremony, details for which will be announced soon.
 




Rep. Comstock’s Key Top Priority Legislation Initiatives

Signed into Law in Her First Term

Rep. Barbara Comstock, who serves the 10th congressional district in Virginia, recently reviewed the achievements of her first term in office, identifying 17 legislative initiatives that she supported that were adopted. She said: “My staff and I have met with stakeholders, local elected officials, and advocacy groups and have had hundreds of meetings throughout our District with constituents to find critical solutions to problems that affect us all. In total, I visited over six hundred local businesses, technology companies, schools, rotaries, charities, and many other different groups in Virginia’s Tenth District over the course of the last two years.”

The initiatives identified by Comstock include the following:

  • The House just cleared the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which included provisions from Comstock’s Research and Development Efficiency Act. Our region is home to a significant amount of research professionals and this legislation will limit redundant regulations to allow these researchers to focus on their jobs without being impeded by inefficiencies.
  • Recently, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which was just signed into law.
  • Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, which gave our troops the largest pay raise they have seen in six years. This bipartisan legislation contained two amendments advanced by Comstock.
  • Comstock worked for passage of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
  • Comstock has made it a priority to honor our veterans for their many sacrifices and improve their daily lives. One such piece of legislation is H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.
  • Comstock has served as a member of the Bipartisan Taskforce to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, which helped in passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. She also joined with local elected officials and regional representatives in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties to form a Heroin Operations Team that employs a comprehensive approach to battling this epidemic.
  • She voted for over $600 billion in tax relief to fuel our economy and our local businesses. The House passed the PATH Act, which makes the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent.
  • Her legislation, the INSPIRE Women Act, passed the House earlier this year. The purpose of the INSPIRE Women Act is to encourage young women to pursue skilled STEM careers. The Senate has not taken up this bill, but Comstock expressed hopes it will be passed by both chambers and signed into law in the 115th Congress.
  • During the past two summers, Comstock held annual 10th Congressional District Young Women Leadership programs. Over 800 young women participated and learned from successful entrepreneurs, businesswomen, scientists, and other women in a wide range of fields.
  • Congress passed the FAST Act, legislation that gives assurance to our state and local governments and advances our infrastructure solutions throughout the nation. Comstock was named as a conferee by Speaker Paul Ryan for the House-Senate negotiations and worked with colleagues across the aisle to include some of her proposals in this legislation, including Metro reforms, a five-year strategic plan for transportation R&D, and a major traffic congestion study. The FAST Act has been signed into law.

Comstock invites constituents to contact her Sterling office at 703-404-6903, or her Washington, D.C. office at 202-225-5136 to provide feedback or to ask questions.




Man Killed Walking To Gas Station on I-95

Virginia State Police Trooper M.J. Kryznefski is investigating a fatal pedestrian crash in Prince William County. The crash occurred at approximately 4:10 a.m., on Monday, December 26, on Interstate 95 near Exit 158B.

Three males were traveling south on Interstate 95 when their Honda CRV ran out of gas. They pulled over to the right shoulder near Route 123 (Gordon Avenue) and called 911. Not wanting to pay for a wrecker, the driver and two passengers set out on foot walking south on I-95 towards the nearest gas station. Approximately a half-mile south of their disabled vehicle, one of the males was struck by a southbound tractor-trailer. He was transported to Potomac Sentara Hospital, where Isaac A. Salgado, 22, of Lorton, Va., died later Monday morning.

The other two males were not injured; nor was the tractor-trailer driver, a 38-year-old male from Hagerstown, Maryland.

The Virginia State Police Crash Reconstruction Team and Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Fairfax Field Office are assisting with the ongoing investigation.




Warner Introduces Bill To Help Wells Fargo Victims Get Their Day in Court

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced legislation to give Wells Fargo customers who were victims of a fraudulent account scheme their day in court. The bank was involved in a scandal this year after it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees secretly opened roughly 1.5 million bank accounts and issued 565,000 credit cards without customers’ consent. Wells Fargo is using the forced arbitration clauses it tucked away in the fine print of contracts customers signed when they opened legitimate accounts to block them from suing over the fraudulent accounts.

“Wells Fargo should not be able to take advantage of arbitration agreements customers signed when they opened legitimate accounts in order to avoid answering for the fakes ones bank employees created without customers’ knowledge,” said Warner. “Consumers who were defrauded by Wells Fargo in one of the most outrageous examples of misconduct since the financial crisis deserve their day in court.”

The Justice for Victims of Fraud Act of 2016 will work hand-in-hand with a new oversight rule that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put out in May to strengthen protections for consumers. Whereas the CFPB proposal would apply only to contracts signed after the rule is final, this bill would allow victims of Wells Fargo’s fraud to seek their day in court even if they signed contracts that included arbitration for their legitimate accounts in the past.

The bill has been endorsed by The American Association for Justice, Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients), Americans for Financial Reform, the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Media Voices for Children, Allied Progress, the Woodstock Institute, the Franciscan Action Network, the Economic Policy Institute Center, California Reinvestment Coalition, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, National Consumers League, and Public Justice.

Other bill sponsors are U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

Sen. Warner has been a strong proponent of consumer protections in the banking industry, previously urging the CFPB to require banks to offer better consumer protections for prepaid card users, including formerly incarcerated individuals who are provided prepaid cards with the money they earned or saved upon their release.




History’s Holy Places: Four Local Sites Worth Exploring This Fall

The Journey through Hallowed Ground is a 180-mile long, 75-mile wide trek from Gettysburg to Monticello, encompassing nine presidential homes and places, 18 national and state parks, and thousands of small and large historical sites.

Dozens and dozens of these sites and related museums are short ride from just about everywhere in Loudoun County. And, four of them – Dodona Manor, Rokeby, The National Sporting Library & Museum, and the Manassas National Battlefield Park — can be visited in one busy day or a more leisurely weekend. Maybe one will catch the eye of family or friends you might be entertaining as you enjoy the last bits of summer and the start of fall.

Have Coffee with George Marshall: This property, known as Dodona Manor, was the home of Gen. George C. Marshall, who lived here while serving as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army during WWII. Marshall was the architect of the Marshall Plan, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. Beautiful old oak trees and more grace the property. In fact, Marshall and his wife Elizabeth named the property Dodona after the Greek oracle Dodona, who was said to speak from the top of the same kind of oak trees. (www.georgecmarshall.org, 703-777-1301)

Enjoy Lunch at Rokeby: Grab a sandwich or pack up a homemade lunch for your family, and head to Rokeby. Rokeby is a grand mansion house just south of Leesburg that historians identify as the best example of Georgian architecture in all of Loudoun County. Built is 1765, this wonderful property was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The house was used as a secret depository for some of our nation’s most precious documents during the War of 1812. While Washington burned, Rokeby’s cellar protected the Declaration of independence and other irreplaceable bits of our early history. (Visitor information on Facebook.)

Soak Up the Beauty and Books at The National Sporting Library & Museum: NSLM was founded by George L. Ohrstrom, Sr. and Alexander MacKay-Smith in 1954 to share the literature and associated culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports. Today it is a full-fledged library, museum, and art showcase serving scholars, visitors, and all of those who cherish and support these unique ways of life. With a rich stable of rotating exhibits, the museum is worth visiting again and again. Snacking, shopping, and walking opportunities are also within reach in Middleburg, where the library and museum are located. (www.nationalsporting.org, 540-687-6542)

Take in the Sunset at Manassas National Battlefield Park: The Civil War was launched on these sacred grounds. And, although subdivisions bump up against its borders, and nearby highways buzz with traffic, this place holds a special serenity, a humble sense of calm. Special anniversary programs include a series of sunset tours at the park’s Chinn Ridge, Matthews Hill, Brawner Farm Interpretive Center, and Henry Hill Visitor Center areas. (www.nps.gov, 703-361-1339)




Land Trust Receives Large Donation

On August 22, The Land Trust of Virginia received a $10,000 gift from the Sharon D. Virts Foundation, based in Herndon. The presentation of this grant was part of the Foundation’s official launch event, held at Selma Plantation in Leesburg. Notable speakers included Sharon D. Virts, FCiFederal Founder and Chair, The Honorable Barbara Comstock (VA-10), and Phyllis J. Randall, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair.

“Having recently begun the two-year renovation of historic Selma Mansion here in Loudoun County,” said Virts, “I feel a deep connection to the many historical properties in need of support. Maintaining our cultural heritage is important to today’s residents and future generations.”

On behalf of LTV, Board Member Jim Rich from The Plains graciously accepted the donation, the first awarded by the Sharon D. Virts Foundation.

“The Land Trust of Virginia is honored to receive the first grant from the Sharon D. Virts Foundation,” said LTV’s Jim Rich. “Sharon’s devotion to preserving the fabric of the land and our communities is unparalleled; we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the important work of saving land and our scenic, cultural and historic resources. We will use every penny of this generous grant to put more land in conservation easements which augment the quality of life for all of us. This is what it is all about: better lives for people”

The Land Trust of Virginia partners with private landowners who voluntarily protect and preserve properties with significant historic, scenic and ecological value to benefit the community through conservation easements. Lands in easement stay in private hands and contribute to important segments of our agricultural and tourism economies as well as cleaner air and water. Founded nearly a quarter century ago, the organization is a non-profit organization that relies upon the generosity of the community and landowners to fulfill its mission. The Land Trust of Virginia stewards nearly 15,000 acres and recently approved significant new easements in the Piedmont area.
For more information on the Land Trust of Virginia, visit www.landtrustva.org.




Farmers Urged To Be On The Lookout For Marijuana

Farmers in Southwest Virginia are being urged to check their property for marijuana planted by trespassers. Within the past year, hundreds of marijuana plants have been discovered between rows of hay bales on farms in and around Pulaski County, according to the Claytor Lake Regional Drug Task Force.

“Unfortunately this is a growing trend,” said Corporal Barbara Owens of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, a member of the task force. “Not only are the marijuana plants an issue, but what is more concerning is there are people trespassing on farmers’ property.”

Owens recently spoke at a Pulaski County Farm Bureau board of directors meeting to apprise area farmers of the issue.

Hay bales, which typically are left unattended during the summer, can provide good protection from the elements for strategically planted marijuana, Owens said. “We are asking farmers to take a look at the areas where they keep their hay bales and to just keep an eye out. If they see something suspicious, they should notify the authorities immediately.”

The Claytor Lake Regional Drug Task Force is made up of law enforcement officers from the Virginia State Police, Pulaski and Wythe counties and the towns of Pulaski and Dublin. In 2015, Virginia State Police marijuana eradication efforts resulted in destruction of 36,574 plants statewide.




State Senators Investigate University of Virginia’s $2.3 Billion Operating Surplus

Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) and Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), are calling for an investigation into disclosures that the University of Virginia has accumulated a $2.3 billion operating surplus, now titled a “Strategic Investment Fund,” that is significantly larger than the Commonwealth’s own cash reserves. Both senators agree that the money, which the university admitted arises from its operating accounts, should be returned to Virginia students and families through lower tuition.

Yesterday, UVA released a statement saying the money will be used in a “Strategic Investment Fund” as a source of “transformational funding” for the university. According to the Board of Visitors Strategic Investment Fund Guiding Principles, “[it] is expressly intended that the Investment Fund proceeds not be used to supplement the ongoing operations of the university within the scope of the annual budgeting process.”

In response, Petersen noted that the University has apparently run a covert surplus for years on its operating balances, which are predicated on state assistance and tuition revenues. “It is uniquely inappropriate for a nonprofit institution to consistently overcharge for its services – there is no legal authority for the university to do this, and no authority for its faculty or the board of visitors to spend these massive sums of money, which represent tuition and fees paid by thousands of working families who apparently have been over charged.” Petersen said.

From his office in Virginia Beach, Senator DeSteph called for a forensic audit of the UVA fund, and a full report on those who authorized the creation of the fund. “As a senator, and as a citizen, I have more questions than UVA has answers. There are families and students in Virginia Beach who are struggling to pay for college tuition, and I can’t explain to them why a public university is sitting on $2.3 billion,” DeSteph said. He continued, “This was all done in closed session meetings, under the cover of ‘personnel matters,’ which I feel is completely inappropriate.”

The senators intend to formally call for an audit into the fund, which was announced the same week the Commonwealth’s economic indicators show a revenue shortfall that will delay a long-promised state employee pay raise.




Blood Donors Asked To Help Address Summer Shortage

Virginia Blood Services is urging Virginians to help replenish an extremely low summer blood supply and asking eligible donors to visit any one of its area Community Donor Centers or mobile blood drives. “Summer is always a challenging time for blood collections,” says Virginia Blood Services Executive Director, Todd Cahill. “Maintaining a safe and adequate blood supply is our top priority. Currently, both local and national blood supplies are at significantly low levels.”

In order to ensure adequate blood supply to support treatment of patients, including those with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, patients undergoing organ transplants, and trauma victims, Virginia Blood Services notes it is crucial that donors come out and donate as often as possible, especially during July and August. As the need for blood increases during the summer, the number of blood donors significantly decreases, causing an area wide and often nation-wide blood shortage. Some of the larger blood drives that bring in more donors are held at area high schools and universities, which are closed or on reduced hours during the summer break.

Summer vacation travel schedules are another reason why blood donations plummet during July and August. Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. But while national tragedies like the recent Orlando and Dallas shootings shine a light on the importance of blood donations, the fact is that approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.

A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood. Additionally, more than 1.68 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.




McAuliffe Announces New Exports for Virginia Lumber Companies To the United Kingdom

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced new export sales of Virginia wood products to the United Kingdom (U.K.) during a trade and marketing mission to Israel and the U.K. The sales were struck between four Virginia lumber companies and James Latham PLC, one of the oldest and largest wood importers and distributors into the U.K., the top customer of Virginia wood products in 2015.

The Virginia companies, Blue Ridge Lumber, Turman Lumber, Virginia-Carolina Forest Products, and W.R. Deacon & Sons Timber, were introduced to Lathams during a tour of Virginia hardwood operations by senior Lathams staff in June. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Office of International Marketing facilitated the visit following meetings in London between Governor McAuliffe, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore and Lathams staff during the Governor’s trade mission to Europe in April.

Speaking in London about the new relationship between Lathams and the Virginia wood companies, McAuliffe said: ”I’m pleased to see our efforts to introduce more Virginia products into the global marketplace paying off for Virginia companies. We have built an excellent relationship with Latham over the past year after meeting with their team in London and inviting them to tour our sawmills in Virginia. After such successful negotiations, I am honored to be back in London to announce this new export relationship. Connecting Virginia producers of high quality agriculture and forestry products with international buyers is key to our continuing efforts to build the new Virginia economy and this deal puts us another step closer to making Virginia the East Coast capital for agriculture and forestry product exports.”

“This is a perfect example of the type of partnership we hope to help Virginia companies establish,” said Secretary Haymore, who visited a Lathams’ depot outside of London, one of the company’s ten distribution centers. “By utilizing VDACS’ network of international representatives, we were able to identify Lathams as a promising buyer, meet with them on the Governor’s mission, and introduce them to Virginia producers via a reverse trade mission. Exports are vital for business growth and we’re thankful for the resources Governor McAuliffe and the General Assembly have provided to keep these international sales climbing.”

Originally founded in 1757, Lathams is now managed by ninth generation members of the Latham family and offers a wide variety of wood products to clients throughout the U.K. Speaking about the new wood products purchases, Lathams Director James White commented: “We are excited to have found new sources for high quality wood products, particularly Virginia’s top quality White Oak and Poplar and look forward to making additional purchases in the future. Without VDACS’ U.K. based representatives reaching out to Lathams, I doubt we would have found these lumber companies on our own.”

Speaking on behalf of the four Virginia companies, Susan Jennings, President of the Virginia Forest Products Asso-ciation, added: “Europe is an important market for Virginia wood products. We are appreciative of all of the efforts made by Governor McAuliffe and his team to identify new buyers for our members and all Virginia wood products companies. It can be tough for these companies to make the investment to travel overseas to meet with potential buyers themselves, so we thank Governor McAuliffe, Secretary Haymore, and the VDACS staff and international representatives for making these introductions for them.”

The lumber companies all operate active sawmills in Virginia and represent a wide geographic area of the state:

  • Blue Ridge Lumber, with log yards in Highland County and Tappahannock, mills in Fishersville and Coving-ton, dry kilns in Fishersville and Goshen, and a woodworking operation in Stillwater, VA, has annual production of over 35 million board feet of lumber and ships an average of 1500 containers of wood products overseas annually.
  • Turman Lumber is part of The Turman Group of Virginia, which employs more than 500 people in the forest products industry in the Southwest region of Virginia. Turman Lumber manufactures all grades of lumber to include furniture grade, hardwood flooring, kiln-dried lumber, veneer logs, and pallet stock, and ships to dozens of countries worldwide.
  • Virginia-Carolina is a family-owned lumber mill that has grown since its founding in 1991 to employ almost 100 people in Brunswick County.
  • W.R. Deacon and Sons is a family-owned and operated lumber mill established in 1977 in Rockbridge County, and is an example of a small Virginia business actively marketing and selling its products in international markets.

Agricultural and forestry exports from Virginia were valued at $3.19 billion in 2015, the second highest value ever. Virginia’s agriculture and forestry exports to the U.K. reached a new high in 2015, at $133 million of which about $110 were wood products exports. Lumber exports from Virginia to the U.K. were valued at $11.6 million in 2015. The United Kingdom was Virginia’s sixth largest customer in 2015.