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General Assembly special session concludes with Senators vowing to represent Virginia voters

The General Assembly reconvened post-election, after the July special session was cut short without hearing any legislation. Monday’s session ended faster than in July – with both House and Senate adjourning after minutes. From the sparsely populated Senate floor, both a Republican and Democratic senator spoke briefly about their opposing goals for gun legislation in the upcoming 2020 session.

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By McKenzie Lambert

Nineteen of the state’s 140 General Assembly members were present Monday when the legislature reconvened at the state Capitol following the July 9 special session on gun violence that recessed in 90 minutes.

Both the House of Delegates and the state Senate held meetings in their respective chambers. Both pro forma sessions — sessions in which no business is conducted — were adjourned in less than 10 minutes.

The House started its meeting with a prayer and pledge of allegiance led by Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, who then called on outgoing House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, to recess the special session.

The resolution outlining the session was offered July 9 following the Virginia Beach mass shooting in May, and originally intended to only introduce legislation related to gun violence, public safety, mental and behavioral health, and matters of the General Assembly. Fourteen delegates were in attendance, and the motion was approved.

In the Senate chamber, five senators attended, including Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who took the floor to speak.

“On July 9, with parliamentary shenanigans, this session was gaveled shut before I even could speak,” Ebbin said. “Ostensibly, we were there to give full and careful consideration to bills filed, or I should say they were referred to the Crime Commission for ostensibly extensive and careful consideration as though we didn’t know already that keeping guns out of the wrong hands could save lives.”

Ebbin then referenced the recent three-page Crime Commission report: “The absence of recommendations should not be interpreted as meaning that no changes to Virginia’s laws are necessary, but rather that any changes are policy decisions, which can only be made by the General Assembly.”

“I’m only here today to promise that come January the people of this commonwealth will see action,” he concluded.
Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, expressed a different viewpoint, saying that her district, along with others around the state, spoke loud and clear.

“The laws and the restrictions that the other side of the aisle want to put forth are going to do nothing more than hurt law-abiding citizens,” Chase said. “And for that, we will continue to vocally express our grave concerns that those will be pushed forward and we will do everything in our ability to challenge those thoughts and ideas.”

On Nov. 9, Gilbert tweeted that the special session would proceed as pro forma, and that “going forward with a session that has no chance of producing legislation that will become law would be a waste of taxpayer resources.”

“The incoming majority will have the opportunity to propose and make their case in January for policies that reduce gun violence while hopefully protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Republicans stand ready to propose our own ideas for reducing gun violence just as we have done this special session,” Gilbert stated in the tweet.

Several bills were filed Monday including HB2, introduced by Del. Ken Plum, D-Reston, which calls for universal background checks when purchasing firearms.

The General Assembly will reconvene on Jan. 8.

Imani Thaniel contributed to this report.

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Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

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By Rodney Robinson

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual’s transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similar process is required to obtain a passport after a change of sex, according to the State Department.

Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long-overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state.”

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic Opens

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From the Valentine:

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic, a new exhibition opening on January 23, will feature oral histories and black-and-white photographic portraits, focusing on the personal stories of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Richmond.

Richmond’s rate of HIV infection, currently ranked 19thnationally, is exacerbated by high concentrations of poverty, lack of sex education in public schools and the continuing opioid epidemic. Despite years of medical and social progress, misconceptions about HIV/AIDS persist today.

While Americans on average have a one-in-99 chance of contracting HIV over the course of their lifetime, the odds for a gay black man are one in two. Black women have a rate of HIV infection 17.6 times that of white women. In fact, in Richmond, women make up a quarter of new HIV diagnoses.

Laura Browder and Patricia Herrera, both professors at the University of Richmond, collected 30 oral histories in an effort to put faces to these surprising statistics.

“The process has transformed our understanding not only of the epidemic, but more broadly of the way people can turn what one assumes to be a life-destroying event into an opportunity for making change,” said Herrera.“Many of the people we met lived lives charged with purpose—including, most urgently, to prevent others from becoming infected with the virus.”

“Most people outside of the public health community think that HIV is a disease that primarily affects gay, white men. We learned how far from the reality that is,” Browder continued. “The people represented in the exhibition include great-grandmothers, undocumented immigrants, college professors, church deacons and transgendered people. They include public health officials, HIV educators, medical providers, activists, and those who have lost loved ones to HIV.”

Local photographer Michael Simon produced the black-and-white portraits that communicate share the trials and triumphs of each person featured in Voices.

Rodney Lofton, August 2018 – Photographed by Michael Simon for the Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic

“These stories and these portraits are important to all of us,” said Simon. “These people are members of our community. They are friends and family and we need to remember that we are all in this fight together.”

 

“Featuring the powerful oral histories collected by Laura and Patricia and Michael’s phenomenal photography, we hope this exhibition contributes to an important ongoing discussion about the true impact of HIV/AIDS on the Richmond community,” Valentine Director Bill Martin said. 

 

In coordination with the exhibition opening, Nationz Foundation, a local non-profit providing education, information and programming related to HIV, will be conducting free on-site HIV testing noon to 4 p. m. on Thursday, January 23 at the Valentine.

 

“Nationz Foundation is excited to partner with the Valentine Museum during the Voices exhibit!” said Nationz Foundation Executive Director Zakia McKensey. “It is extremely important to get tested. Knowing your status is one sure way to prevent the spread of the infection. We will be on site providing Rapid HIV testing for free, so please stop by and get your results in 60 seconds.”

 

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic will be on display through May 25, 2020.

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ReRunner Clothing Drive at Quirk

A chance to help others and declutter your closet all this week at Quirk.

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The good folks at Quirk Hotel (201 W Broad Street) are hosting a clothing drive this week.

From Jan. 20-26, people can drop off their gently used clothing and shoes to the Quirk hotel lobby, and they will get 10% discount at Maple & Pine and ReRunner. As an added bonus tonight Wednesday, January 22nd, from 4-6 pm there will be a Happy Hour at Quirk for people to drop off clothes, mingle and a portion of drinks will go to benefit Goodwill.

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