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PHOTOS: “Reopen Virginia” protesters bring the noise, bombard Capitol with honks

Horns blared and flags waved from vehicle windows as hundreds of Virginians converged Wednesday on Capitol Square to protest restrictions implemented by Gov. Ralph Northam during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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By Chip Lauterbach

Horns blared and flags waved from vehicle windows as hundreds of Virginians converged Wednesday on Capitol Square to protest restrictions implemented by Gov. Ralph Northam during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protesters reiterated the message of similar demonstrations taking place in state capitals across the country. The groups hope to influence governors and lawmakers to scale back strict social distancing guidelines and allow businesses and churches to reopen.

“At first we were compliant,” said protester David Decker. “Now it seems like it’s being forced upon us more and more, and we’re absolutely sick of it.”

Many protesters said they disagree that liquor stores are considered an essential business, while many smaller businesses were ordered to close.

“I am against any policy that gives liberty to a corporation over the citizens,” said Jeffery Torres. “Corporations get their interests served while the interests of citizens get ignored.”

A small group of around 20 people — some brought the entire family — gathered near the Capitol Square entrance. Few wore masks or observed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s suggested social distancing recommendation of 6 feet of space.

Virginia imposed strict social distancing guidelines in late March. Northam issued a series of executive orders closing nonessential businesses and outlining which businesses could remain open. The stay at home order was later extended until June 10. Restaurants closed dining rooms and shifted to carry-out and delivery only. Recreational and entertainment facilities were shuttered, along with beauty salons, spas, massage parlors, and other nonessential establishments. Essential businesses such as grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies, pet and feed stores, electronic and hardware retailers, and banks can remain open.

The Virginia Department of Health reports approximately 10,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the commonwealth as of Wednesday. Northam and health officials maintain that social distancing is keeping cases from skyrocketing.

Unemployment claims have had a dizzying ascent, with the Virginia Employment Commission reporting on April 16 that 410,762 claims were filed since March 21.

The event was not without counter-protesters, among them Dr. Erich Bruhn, a surgeon from Winchester. Bruhn wore a facemask and carried a sign that read, “You have no right to put us all at risk, go home.”

“I came out here today to tell the other side that the majority of people do not agree with this,” Bruhn said. “We want the economy to open up, but it is just too soon according to most scientists.”

As the interview with Bruhn was wrapping up, a female protester leaned out of her car window and shouted at Bruhn, “How long are we supposed to stay inside?”

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, who has announced her intent to run for governor next year, voiced support for the rally.

“There will be a number of people at this rally, and it has been well-publicized,” Chase said during a Facebook live stream. “I think it sends a great message to the governor to reopen Virginia in a smart, wise way.”

Protesters drove around the Capitol perimeter honking their horns for three hours. The event coincided with the General Assembly reconvening to respond to Northam’s vetoes and amendments. The House of Delegates, which met under a tent on Capitol grounds, was bombarded by the ongoing ruckus. There were no incidents of violence reported, though one Capitol police officer joked he had a headache from all the noise.

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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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Virginia female lawyers, lawmakers remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is being mourned by the country, and in Virginia, lawyers and legislators are reflecting on her legacy. Some called her a role model, others called her a trailblazer, but they all admired the impact she left. 

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By Noah Fleischman

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is being mourned by the country, and in Virginia, female lawyers and legislators are reflecting on her legacy. Some called her a role model, others called her a trailblazer, but they all admired the impact she left.

Ginsburg died Friday at age 87 from complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Alison McKee, president of the Virginia Bar Association, said Ginsburg was one of the most empowering women in the law profession. The VBA is a membership organization of state attorneys who promote legislative changes.

“She was an extraordinary force in attempts to overcome gender inequality,” McKee said. “Overall, to borrow a phrase from Sheryl Sandberg, she leaned in for all women in our profession and helped to close the gap on gender inequality.”

Ginsburg’s fight for gender equality changed a Virginia college’s admissions process in the 1990s. She wrote the majority opinion in the 1996 case that allowed women to attend the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. VMI was the last male-only college in the United States until the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion that since a 1971 ruling, the Court “has repeatedly recognized” laws incompatible with the equal protection principle and that denied women access “simply because they are women, full citizenship stature-equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.”

Ginsburg was also a longtime advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that seeks to guarantee equal rights for all regardless of sex. The ERA first passed Congress in 1972 but could not collect the three-fourths state support needed to ratify it. In January, Virginia became the final state needed to ratify the amendment, though the 1982 deadline has passed. A congressional bill to eliminate the ratification deadline passed the House in February and is sitting in a Senate committee. Over the years Ginsburg has still vocalized support for the ERA, though in February she said she would like “it to start over.”

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, was a co-patron of the ERA in Virginia.

“I think we’re carrying on her work, carrying on her legacy to make life, liberty, and justice for all include all and include women equally,” McClellan said. “We carried on her work with that, very much an inspiration there too.”

Del. Hala Ayala, D-Woodbridge, who was a co-patron on the ERA in the House of Delegates, called Ginsburg “our firewall to protect civil rights, voting rights and everything that we fight for” in a statement Friday night. 

“My life’s work for women’s equal justice, including championing the Equal Rights Amendment in the Virginia House of Delegates, was inspired by Justice Ginsburg’s work,” Ayala wrote. “Her determined spirit gave me the motivation to fight every day for what is right, knowing that we would make our Commonwealth and our country a better place.”

Ginsburg was a pioneer for women in the law profession, becoming the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 after Sandra Day O’Connor.

Margaret Hardy, president of the Virginia Women Attorneys Association, said seeing someone that looked like her in the law profession is “critically important,” and that’s why diversity is important—so everyone has a role model.

“I think that just seeing a woman because in her case, in many instances, she was the woman, not just one of many,” Hardy said. “I think just for anyone seeing someone in a profession that you’re entering who looks just like you is an inspiration.”

Lucia Anna “Pia” Trigiani, former president of the Virginia Bar Association, called Ginsburg a role model for all lawyers, not just women.

“For her to do what she did, she also showed not only women that it could be done, but men,” Trigiani said. “She showed everyone that it could be done.”

McClellan equated Ginsburg to civil rights lawyer and former Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“I think she for women’s rights was what Thurgood Marshall was for civil rights,” McClellan said. “I as a woman lawyer, as a woman lawmaker, stand on her shoulders.”

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Virginia bill seeks to guarantee free school meals to students advances to Senate

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill this month to provide free school meals for 109,000 more public school students in the commonwealth.

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By Aliviah Jones

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill this month to provide free school meals for 109,000 more public school students in the commonwealth.

House Bill 5113, introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, passed the chamber unanimously. Roem’s bill requires eligible public elementary and secondary schools to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

“School food should be seen as an essential service that is free for everyone regardless of their income,” Roem said.

The program allows all students in an eligible school to receive free breakfast and lunch. Currently, 425 schools are eligible for CEP but don’t take part in the program, according to a document that details the financial impact of the legislation. More than 420 schools and 200,000 students participated in CEP during the 2018 to 2019 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

The bill allows eligible schools to opt-out of the program if participating is not financially possible.
Most Virginia food banks have purchased twice as much food each month since the pandemic started when compared to last year, according to Eddie Oliver, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.

“We’re just seeing a lot of need out there and we know that school meal programs are really the front line of ensuring that kids in Virginia have the food they need to learn and thrive,” Oliver said.

Virginia school districts qualify for CEP if they have 40% or more enrolled students in a specified meal program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It also includes homeless, runaway, migrant, and foster children, Roem said.

Sandy Curwood, Director of the Virginia Department of Education Office of School Nutrition Programs, said school districts receive federal reimbursement based on a formula.

“Making sure that children have access to good healthy food, and particularly through school meals I think is a great opportunity,” Curwood said.

The federal government will reimburse schools that have more than 62.5% students who qualify for free meals, Roem said. Schools with between 55% and 62.4% of students enrolled will receive between 80% and 99% reimbursement.

“If HB 5113 is the law, how their children will eat during the school day will be one less worry for students and their families,”, said Semora Ward, a community organizer for the Hampton Roads-based Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. The meals are available whether children are physically in schools or attending virtual classes.

The Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative has raised $8,000 in the past three years for unpaid school meals in Hampton and Newport News, according to Ward.

“While we are pleased with these efforts and the outpouring of community support, we should have never had to do this in the first place,” she said.

Roem was one of several legislators that took on the USDA earlier this year to not require students to be present when receiving free school meals during the pandemic. The Virginia General Assembly passed Roem’s bill earlier this year that allows school districts to distribute excess food to students eligible for the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program administered by the USDA.

HB 5113 has been referred to the Senate Education and Health Committee.

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Jackson Ward Interior Design Firm Starts New Venture

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News out of Jackson Ward.

Today, Flourish Spaces, the Jackson Ward-based retail and commercial interior design firm, is announcing the opening of its retail showroom, The Flourish Collective, later this fall.

For Founder Stevie McFadden, interior design started as a passion before evolving into a career. As such, she is uniquely familiar with the struggles of both groups: design-lovers who want to curate their own homes, desperate to access product lines only available through designers, and interior designers running out of stores where their clients touch and feel samples before making a major purchase. The Flourish Collective solves for both problems.

The Flourish Collective will showcase custom furniture, fixtures, art, and home accents. Interior designers can bring clients to peruse before purchasing, while design-lovers can shop sought-after product lines while tapping into the expertise of the collective’s members who will be staffing the showroom on a rotating basis.

Inaugural members of The Flourish Collective include Flourish Spaces (interior design), Jamie Coffey (furniture, linens, and decor ), Wendy Umanoff (lighting design), Whittney Forstner (art and art curation), Sarah Rowland (wall coverings), Jason Lefton (dimensional wall murals), and Devon Cushman (tablescapes and holiday decor).

The Flourish Collective will be located at 221 E Clay Street. The space was previously occupied by Flourish Spaces, which has moved to the building’s second floor. At the time of opening, The Flourish Collective will be by appointment only, for both the public and designers.

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