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Gun rights advocates flood Capitol as gun control bills advance

The National Rifle Association and hundreds of Second Amendment supporters flocked Monday to the State Capitol, voicing their opposition to proposed gun control bills in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Capital News Service

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By Chip Lauterbach

The National Rifle Association and hundreds of Second Amendment supporters flocked Monday to the State Capitol, voicing their opposition to proposed gun control bills in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Gun rights advocates, many donning blue T-shirts, filled legislative offices to speak directly with lawmakers. A group of over 25 squared off outside the Capitol with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, directly venting their frustration over the gun bills.

Several attendants asked Fairfax why Democrats were pushing legislation that would potentially criminalize thousands of Virginians who had done nothing wrong.

Fairfax said that he and the governor are reaching out to all Virginians and want to create “an open dialogue” between lawmakers and citizens to better address the concerns across the commonwealth.

Gun rights advocates expressed opposition to Senate Bill 16, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, which would have prohibited the sale and transport of assault firearms and certain types of firearm magazines.

Saslaw withdrew the legislation Monday. However, House Bill 961, introduced by Del. Mark Levine D- Alexandria, is seen by many Second Amendment supporters as worse than Saslaw’s original bill. Levine’s bill would prohibit the sale and transport of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers, and trigger activators, as well as outlines penalties.

Critics say the bill expands what constitutes an “assault firearm.” Opponents say the bill would ban the usage of almost all common rifles, even though rifles have been rarely used in crimes committed in the commonwealth.

Sam Edwards, a Virginia resident and NRA supporter, said that in 2018, fewer murders were committed by “long guns of any kind” than were committed by handgun. He cited a 2018 report by the FBI breaking down weapons used by type in crimes by state. The data from that report show eight murders were committed with rifles, five by shotguns, 141 by handguns and 143 by “firearms type unknown.”

“This bill will criminalize almost 3 million Virginia gun owners, it’s not about stopping crime, it’s all about control,” Edwards said.

Levine’s bill includes language that any person who legally owns an assault firearm, large-capacity firearm magazine, silencer, or trigger activator on July 1, 2020, may retain possession until Jan. 1, 2021, unless they have the required permitting from state police allowing them to keep it after that date.

Despite Second Amendment supporters’ efforts to reach lawmakers, four gun control bills reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, all on 9-5  party line votes.

The bills that reported out of committee include SB 70, which requires a universal background check when people sell firearms. SB 69 limits handgun purchases to one a month, while SB 35 allows localities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event. SB 240 allows authorities to take away the firearms of someone deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, a measure known as a red flag law.

A small local contingent with the national group Moms Demand Action showed up in support of stricter gun-control legislation.

“It used to be that if you talked about gun rights, then you wouldn’t get elected, well now it was the top polling issues for voters leaving the polls,” said Karen Vaught a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. “They voted for gun sense, and they got gun sense.”

Some Second Amendment supporters voiced their displeasure with the NRA, citing the perceived silence from the organization in the aftermath of the 2019 election, even though it is headquartered in Fairfax.

“There’s hardly been a peep out of the NRA, I’ve been shocked by their lack of response,” said Ed Sugg of Loudoun County. “Everyone here, this is all grassroots-driven, and there’s a local organization the VCDL [Virginia Citizens Defense League] that has been 50 times more active than the NRA.”

The NRA responded to some of these claims during a press conference that involved members of the Virginia House Republican Caucus and D.J. Spiker, the Virginia director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

“I would disagree that we have been silent, I think the better word would be strategic,” said Spiker. “We have behind the scenes meetings going on, we’re meeting with our members and engaging with our members.”

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, said he was happy to see so many citizens show support for gun rights and to oppose Democratic-sponsored legislation.

“For years all we were told was that nobody wants to take your guns, all anybody wanted was some common sense regulations,” Freitas said, “And then the moment they took control, we see gun confiscation bills, we see the criminalization of otherwise law abiding citizens who haven’t hurt anybody.”

Freitas said he is frustrated to see what is going on with the Democratic majority, and the issue isn’t just about guns, but civil liberties.

“It’s been no surprise that you have this grassroots response to all of this,” he said.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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City of Richmond announces Small Business Disaster Loan Program

The Richmond Economic Development Authority on Thursday created the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program (COVID-19), which will offer interest-free emergency loans of up to $20,000 to small businesses within city limits.

RVAHub Staff

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The Richmond Economic Development Authority on Thursday created the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program (COVID-19), which will offer interest-free emergency loans of up to $20,000 to small businesses within city limits.

The program is intended to provide relief to small businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Monies will go toward paying employee wages, empowering local, small businesses to continue operating and keep employees on their payroll.

“Small businesses have made Richmond the thriving cultural capital we love,” said Mayor Stoney. “They’ve been understanding, patient and selfless in adapting to the recent social distancing guidance, no matter the economic consequences for them. This loan program is one way we can help provide some relief and support in this tough time.”

The maximum loan amount for the program is six months of current employee wages or $20,000, whichever is less. Loan payments will be disbursed over six months.

Repayment of the loans will be deferred for six months, followed by 48 months of no-interest payments.

Small businesses interested in applying should fill out the application and provide the required documentation via email. The application will be available starting Monday, April 6.

Funding is limited. Applications will be considered in the order they are submitted.

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Downtown

Schools, nonprofits hustle to feed over a half million Virginia students: ‘It’s incredible’

Richmond school bus driver Tyrone McBride is still driving a big, yellow bus through Richmond neighborhoods, but these days, he’s transporting boxes of food for kids in need. More than a week has passed since Gov. Ralph Northam announced students will not return to school this academic year, and volunteers are still fighting to feed the 590,000 children in Virginia with free or reduced lunches who were ordered to remain home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Capital News Service

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By Hannah Eason

Richmond school bus driver Tyrone McBride is still driving a big, yellow bus through Richmond neighborhoods, but these days, he’s transporting boxes of food for kids in need.

“It gets me out of the house,” said McBride, who has been a school bus driver for 18 years, “and you know, you’re doing a great deed and helping people out.”

More than a week has passed since Gov. Ralph Northam announced students will not return to school this academic year, and volunteers are still working to feed the 590,000 children in Virginia eligible for free or reduced lunches who were ordered to remain home during the coronavirus pandemic. Schools have been closed since March 16, though students were originally slated to return by March 27.

Whitcomb Court resident Simone Sanders said her children are now eating at home during the day, but she didn’t receive an increase in food stamps. One child is disabled, which prevents Sanders from being able to work.

“It’s affecting us bad, especially in the projects, and there’s nothing for the kids to do all day,” Sanders said. “And then you have to worry about your child just being outside getting shot.”

Sanders said she’s grateful for the food from Richmond Public Schools, and says she occasionally gives food to neighborhood kids who say they’re hungry.

The Richmond Public Schools meal distribution program, like others around the state, continues to evolve during the coronavirus pandemic that caused a surge of Virginians to file for unemployment. Almost 46,300 Virginians filed for unemployment between March 15 and March 21. The previous week 2,706 people filed an unemployment claim, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

The program started with 10 school sites, and has since grown into at least 43 sites throughout the community and 10 school sites.

Erin Stanley, director of family engagement at Richmond Public Schools, said volunteers, bus drivers and the district’s nutrition staff have made the efforts possible. Volunteers were using personal vehicles to drop off food, but RPS decided that school buses would better suit the cause.

“We did that for a couple of reasons,” Stanley said. “One, so we can get more food out, and two, because school buses are a bit more well known and probably more trusted than individual volunteers going in with their personal vehicles.”

Plastic bags filled with milk cartons, sandwiches, apples and snacks are handed out in neighborhoods found on the Richmond Public Schools’ website. School distribution sites are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and neighborhood times vary by location. Any student in the school district can use the program, Stanley said.

Volunteer Natalie Newfield said many families she gave meals to lost jobs in the restaurant industry.

 “They’re changing the way they do deliveries, which is amazing,” Newfield said. “Every day you give them a count. If they need more food, the next day, all of a sudden your bus has more food. It’s incredible.”

Statewide efforts to feed children in Virginia

When schools closed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture activated the Summer Meals Program, which funds public schools and local organizations to serve breakfast and lunch during the summer.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, pressed the USDA to change its policy which required parents to have their child with them when picking up food.

Roem said it was difficult for a Prince William County mother to access food for her two children. Her daughter has an immune system deficiency caused by recent cancer treatments, making her susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.

“When you’re talking about a 7-year-old with cancer, we have to really evaluate what is it that our policy is trying to prevent that is more important than feeding a child with cancer,” Roem said.

Roem said she was able to bring groceries to the family, who live in the representative’s district. As they carried bags of food inside, Roem said the mother told her children, “We’re eating tonight.”

“I fought with the USDA for a full week and won a major, major victory for kids throughout Virginia and across the country, and especially immunocompromised kids, to make sure that they stay safe, that they stay home,” Roem said.

The USDA waived the restriction last week, and states can now choose to waive the in-person policy for students to receive food.

No Kid Hungry, a national campaign launched by nonprofit Share Our Strength, is offering emergency grants to local school divisions and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants can help people who are trying to make meal distribution possible, but may lack the equipment necessary to feed children outside of a school setting.

Sarah Steely, senior program manager at No Kid Hungry Virginia, said the grants can fund necessities like vehicles, gas, coolers and equipment to keep food safe during distribution.

“Those might not be resources that folks already have, because those aren’t service models that were expected of them before,” Steely said, “so we’re here to support community organizations and school divisions as they figure out what it is they need to distribute to kids.”

The organization works with YMCAs, childcare centers, libraries and all 133 of Virginia’s public school divisions.

The organization recently activated their texting hotline for those unsure of where their next meal is coming from: text “FOOD” to 877-877. The hotline is generally used during the summer months, but was reactivated to combat food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Steely called the hotline “a tool in a bigger toolbox of resources” and encouraged families to contact their local school board for updated information about their locality.

“They count on that as a primary source of nutrition, so with schools closed, we want to make sure that the students who are accessing meals at school are now accessing those meals at home,” Steely said.

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Community

Use Exact Change or E-Zpass on Powhite Parkway Starting Today

There will be no manned booths taking money on Powhite for the foreseeable future.

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The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has temporarily suspended cash exchange tolls on Powhite Parkway extension and the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge. This means there won’t be someone to take your money so either have exact change, pay too much, or use an E-Zpass. No mention of any changes to Nickel aka Boulevard Bridge.

As of April 1, if you make an unpaid trip on a Virginia toll facility, you may be able to pay that toll through the “missed-a-toll” process before receiving a notice/invoice. The “missed-a-toll” payment process must take place within six days of the unpaid toll trip.

The standard administration fee associated with “missed-a-toll” has been suspended temporarily.

Exact change can still be dropped into the coin basket at the Powhite Parkway Extension.

E-ZPass is now the most convenient and safest way to pay tolls.

For more information or to order your own E-ZPass, click here.

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