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Bill to strike Lee-Jackson Day, make Election Day state holiday advances in General Assembly

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday.

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By Zach Armstrong

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday. Other legislation that would extend citizen access to voting — part of the 11-point “Virginia 2020 plan” put forward by Gov. Northam — has yet to clear committees.

Senate Bill 601 designates Election Day as a state holiday to give more citizens the chance to cast their ballot. The bill also would strike from current law Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the birthdays of Confederate generals. The legislation, introduced by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the Senate Tuesday.

“Even on Election Day, people have to go to work, people have to handle childcare, people have to go to class and often it can be hard to make it to the polls,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon. “It just makes sense that those folks should be given the opportunity to come out and vote in a time window that works for them.”

A bill that removes the need for an excuse to cast an absentee ballot passed the Senate Monday. SB 111, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote.

Several other bills that facilitate ease of absentee voting are SB 46, removing the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot provide a reason to receive the ballot; SB 455, extending the deadline when military and overseas absentee ballots can be received; SB 617, authorizing localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; and SB 859, making absentee voting easier for people who have been hospitalized.

Legislation in the House includes a bill that would also allow for no excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. In the Senate, a bill would pre-register teens 16 years old and older to vote and one bill in the House would reduce the period of time registration records must be closed before an election. All House bills are in an Elections subcommittee.

“Restrictive voting provisions almost always disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals because those are the groups that move more frequently, work multiple jobs and have less spare time,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The House and Senate also introduced bills that would remove requirements that voters present a photo ID when voting. Under the legislation, voters can show voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Neither bill has made it past committee.

Virginians currently must present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, to vote in person. According to a 2012 study by Project Vote, an organization that works to ensure all Americans can vote, approximately 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID. This is especially true of  lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Voters can provide their social security number and other information to get a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification Card, but some legislators said that service is unknown to many.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed SB 1256 into law mandating voters have a form of ID with a photograph. Virginia is one of the 18 states with such voting requirements, according to the National Conference of Legislature.

In 2016, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement after attorneys for the state Democratic Party challenged the law, arguing it had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority voters.

“People are fed up with our overly restrictive and racist voting policies, and the legislature is finally getting rid of some of the biggest roadblocks to progressive reform,” said Glass. “This has been a long time coming.”

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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.

Community

Storm the Gates with Art 180, All City Art Club, and Supply.RVA

Bridging the divide between street art and gallery spaces with street signs, black book works, graffiti pieces, and creative public art activities.

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Art 180, All City Art Club, and Supply.RVA is bringing you their first exhibition of 2023, Storm the Gates, a gallery takeover celebrating graffiti artists, illustrators, cartoonists, and people painting in the corner of their bedrooms and garages. Bridging the divide between street art and gallery spaces with street signs, black book works, graffiti pieces, and creative public art activities.

Join them this Friday during February @rvafirstfridays where they’ll unveil a mural collaboratively painted by All City Art Club and ART 180’s program alumni and current participants.

Friday, February 3
5-9 p.m.
ART 180’s Atlas Gallery
114 W Marshall St.

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Business

Greater Richmond Convention Center marks 20 years serving region

Since 2003, the complex has hosted a total of 7,034 conventions, consumer shows, sports tournaments, and other events, bringing millions of people and dollars to the region.

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Virginia’s largest meeting and exhibition venue celebrates two decades of welcoming events and visitors to the Richmond Region this year. The Greater Richmond Convention Center officially opened on February 28, 2003, as cheerleaders from across the country flipped in the American National Cheer and Dance Championships in the building’s exhibit hall.

Since then, the GRCC has hosted a total of 7,034 conventions, consumer shows, sports tournaments and other events bringing millions of people and dollars to the region.

The GRCC replaced the 62,000-square-foot Richmond Center, which opened in 1986. Stretching across a six-block area, the 700,000 square-foot GRCC incorporates some of the steel and pillars from the original facility.

Construction for the project began in 1999 and was supported by a $10 million investment from former Governor George Allen and the regionwide transient lodging tax.

“It is the best example of regional cooperation in the history of this whole area,” said late Lt. Gov. John H. Hager during a 2002 press conference.

The Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority – a political subdivision of Virginia with representation from the city of Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties – oversaw the financing, development and construction of the GRCC. The Authority’s 25th anniversary is this year.

We’re immensely proud of the legacy and the positive impact the Greater Richmond Convention Center has had on tourism,” said Lincoln Saunders, City of Richmond Chief Administrative Officer and Chair of the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority. “Millions of people are introduced to the Richmond Region through events and competitions that are hosted at the facility every year. These visitors support our economy by shopping at our small businesses, eating at restaurants and visiting attractions.”

To examine the viability of the GRCC, regional leaders commissioned a feasibility study by C.H. Johnson Consulting in 1999. The researchers projected hotel tax collections to reach $30 million by fiscal year 2020. Hotel tax collection revenues reached $30 million by fiscal year 2019.

Throughout the GRCC expansion phases, groups were welcomed to the region to use completed portions of the building. About 1,200 women from the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority were the first to use the facility’s new ballroom during a three-day conference in May 2001.

When the GRCC was officially completed in 2003, Richmond Region Tourism had booked 18 conventions through 2008.

Interest and bookings have experienced a dramatic uptick over the years. During its last fiscal year, the GRCC hosted over 180 events.

From USA Fencing tournaments and ice dancing competitions to offshore wind conferences and comic conventions, the GRCC has hosted various large-scale events since it opened.

“The convention center is a shining example of regional collaboration,” said Jack Berry, president and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “The success of the convention center demonstrates how investing in tourism results in positive economic development for our entire region. Richmond Region Tourism and its partners are committed to working alongside our community to continue tourism’s positive momentum.”

The GRCC went through extensive upgrades to modernize the facility in 2020.

GRCC’s technological and cosmetic improvements include new LED lighting and RGB color lighting, monitors, digital signage, and a new digital sound system.  Its interior spaces were updated with new tile, accents, paint scheme, and pub-style tables and seating. The facility also features a new executive lounge and a renovated food court and service desk.

Today the GRCC features 178,159 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, a 30,550 square foot grand ballroom, and 50,000 sq. ft. of additional meeting room space.

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Downtown

Animal welfare advocates disappointed bill to declaw cats failed

House Bill 1382 would have made the declawing of cats a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill failed to advance when it was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

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By Cassandra Loper

A proposal to outlaw the declawing of cats, a procedure that animal rights advocates call cruel and unnecessary, failed to advance from a House subcommittee last month.

House Bill 1382 would have made cat declawing a $500 civil penalty for the first violation, $1,000 for the second violation and $2,500 for the third or any subsequent violation. The bill was tabled by a 6-4 vote in a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee.

The bill is important because cats’ claws are natural and used for stretching, marking territory, balance and more, according to Molly Armus, Virginia state director of the Humane Society of the United States.

Declawing cats is actually an “incredibly painful procedure,” according to Armus.

“I think it’s up to us, as people who are taking these cats into our homes, to learn more humane and less invasive ways to manage scratching,” Armus said.

An onychectomy, or declawing, is a surgery that includes 10 separate amputations, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world, according to its website.

Declawing is typically performed for convenience, according to the Animal League Defense Fund. Many people declaw their cats to prevent scratching, its website states.

“Localities around the nation, a couple of states, including our neighbor Maryland, have passed a declawing ban,” said bill sponsor Del. Gwendolyn Gooditis, D-Clarke, in the committee meeting.

New York and Maryland are the only U.S. states that have outlawed declawing. Multiple U.S. cities have passed declawing laws, with the most located in California, according to PETA.

“Declawing cats means, look at your hands, it would be the equivalent of your fingers and your toes being chopped off at the first knuckle,” Gooditis said.

The procedure can cause impaired balance, as much as a person would after losing his or her toes, according to PETA. Declawed cats may have to relearn how to walk.

“It’s a removal of that last bone,” Gooditis said.

Susan Seward, a lobbyist for the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, or VVMA, testified against the bill in the committee meeting. The VVMA strongly opposed the bill, Seward said.

“I think one of the unintended consequences would be setting up a really unpleasant and adversarial relationship between animal control and veterinarians, and that is certainly not a relationship we want to diminish,” Seward said to the committee panel.

Alice Burton, program director for nonprofit animal welfare organization Alley Cat Allies, said the organization was disappointed the bill failed.

Alley Cat Allies mission is to protect and improve the lives of cats. according to its website. The organization operates a trap-neuter-return program to help stabilize the cat population. A cat is transported to a veterinarian, spayed and returned to its original location.

It’s an act of cruelty to declaw cats, according to Burton, who was an animal control officer for 15 years.

“They no longer have their nails as a defense, so their first instinct is to bite,” Burton said. “So all of a sudden they’ve got these bites on their record, which obviously does not bode well for them.”

Declawed cats also struggle to use the litter box because the litter hurts their paws, she said. Many cats who have been declawed will stop using the litter box and soil where they aren’t supposed to, Burton said.

“I would say most of the time these negative effects lead to these cats being surrendered to the shelters or rescue groups,” Burton said. “They would, in most cases, be deemed unadoptable and they would be euthanized.”

There are many other humane options out there, according to Burton.

Humane alternatives to declawing include trimming a cat’s claws regularly, using deterrents such as double-sided tape on furniture, rubber caps for the nails and providing a variety of scratching options, according to Alley Cat Allies.

“We’re not giving up,” Burton said. “We’re going to come back and keep fighting.”

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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