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New draft Virginia legislative maps released

The new maps for the U.S. House of Representatives, the House of Delegates, and the state Senate are out for public review in advance of public hearings at the court December 15th and 17th.

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By Peter Galuszka

Special redistricting experts working for the Virginia Supreme Court have submitted redrawn federal and state legislative districts.

The new maps for the U.S. House of Representatives, the House of Delegates, and the state Senate are out for public review in advance of public hearings at the court Dec. 15 and 17. The court will consider the comments and approve new maps by Dec. 19.

Legislators and others were scrambling Thursday to review the proposed maps. 

Conversations with some of them show that the efforts by special masters Sean P. Trende and Bernard N. Grofman met expectations for maps drawn with communities, not political incumbents, in mind.

“This gets pretty close to being fair,” said Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg.

One key principle that the masters kept in mind was the idea of “communities of interest” in which actual groupings of voters around related cities, towns and counties were given more weight than drawing oddly shaped districts designed to maintain the political status quo.

“We carefully drew districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements,” Trende and Grofman wrote in their summary released Dec. 8. “In doing so, we minimized county and city splits, while respecting natural boundaries and communities of interest (“COIs”) to the extent possible.”

That, said Liz White, director of OneVirginia2021, a nonprofit that pushed hard to take redistricting out of the hands of the majority party in the General Assembly, is “a huge part of the national redistricting movement.” 

“At a glance they look fair as part of a partisan balance,” White said. “It’s great they are out so soon to give the public a chance to look at them.”

Takeaways from early reviews of the maps tended to show that the maps tend to favor Democrats more than Republicans because they are concentrated around natural social centers, such as cities. 

The proposed redraw of the 7th Congressional District, however, was immediately controversial because the special masters recommended that the entire district be moved farther north to include Stafford and Prince Williams counties that are quickly diversifying and growing more Democratic.

The current 7th District would be distributed between the 5th and 1st Congressional Districts, seats now held by Republicans Bob Good and Rob Wittman.

The loser in the plans appears to be U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, an up-and-coming politician who has received national attention and has been a major GOP target. She had planned to run for a third term, but if she wants to do so now, she’ll have to run elsewhere. 

Possibilities include running in the 1st District and facing Wittman, who would be a strong competitor or the new 7th District, which is 50 miles from her home in Henrico County.  

“That’s bad news for Spanberger but good news overall for the Democrats,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. 

White, of OneVirginia2021, said “it is not the job of the special masters to protect anyone.” Spanberger’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, gave a positive review of the new proposed 57th district, which she currently represents. The map places Charlottesville squarely in the center of the district with suburbs extended outward “like a doughnut,” she said. “It’s natural. Voters can work in the city and live, shop and play just outside of it.” Several Republican lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment on the new maps. Garren Shipley, a spokesman for incoming GOP House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said “We have a blanket no comment policy on redistricting.”

After the public hearings and the Supreme Court’s final decision, the new maps will be set. There won’t be a legislative or gubernatorial review, White says.

Map redrawing has long been a controversial process because the party in charge of the General Assembly typically got its way to make new maps that kept their people in power.

Fed up, voters approved a Constitutional amendment in 2020 calling for a 16-member redistricting commission comprised of eight citizens nominated by legislators and eight lawmakers.

The commission, however, was paralyzed by partisanship and acrimony, failing to agree on a single set of maps.

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Senate panel shoots down bill that would make mask and vaccine mandates illegal

Democrats in the Virginia Senate voted down GOP legislation Monday that would have classified mask mandates and vaccine requirements as illegal discrimination.

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Democrats in the Virginia Senate voted down GOP legislation Monday that would have classified mask mandates and vaccine requirements as illegal discrimination.

The measures, proposed by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, drew unanimous support from Republicans on the Senate’s General Laws Committee.

“It’s time to give people the freedom to breathe and the freedom of choice,” Chase told the panel.

Her bills would have prevented schools, businesses and other public places from requiring people to wear masks or disclose their vaccine status.

Witnesses who spoke in support of the legislation said they opposed masks for a variety of reasons. One mother told lawmakers that masks gave her child nightmares. One man said that masks gave him seizures. A third witness said masks made her dizzy.

“We are being discriminated against,” said Doris Knicks, who spoke to the panel remotely.

On vaccines, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, a practicing OBGYN, called it “egregious and a complete violation of an individual’s right to privacy” for businesses like restaurants to require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We shouldn’t be using this as a litmus test for people to be able to get into stores,” she said.

Democrats on the panel noted vaccine requirements are not unique to COVID-19 and said businesses should have the authority to take steps to keep their employees safe.

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Community

Venture Richmond Offering Up 10k Broad Street Tenant Recruitment Grants

Venture Richmond was awarded a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development to help recruit ten new tenants to Broad Street in Downtown Richmond. Each new tenant will get a $10,000 grant for moving in and opening by May 15, 2022.

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From Venture Richmond

Venture Richmond was awarded a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing & Community Development to help recruit ten new tenants to Broad Street in Downtown Richmond. Each new tenant will get a $10,000 grant for moving in and opening by May 15, 2022. Venture Richmond is partnering with the Metropolitan Business League (MBL) to help recruit existing small, women, and minority (SWaM) and immigrant-owned businesses to ­fill street-level vacancies in the area.

​The new businesses will join many galleries, retailers, restaurants, and small businesses who already call Broad Street home, as well as businesses that attract thousands of out of town visitors annually like Quirk Hotel, Richmond Marriott, the Hilton Hotel, and the Convention Center. Gather, co-working space, has a location in the area. A popular neighborhood happening is RVA First Fridays Artwalk which is a monthly celebration of the arts and galleries along and around Broad St. This section of Broad Street is also a part of Richmond’s Arts District and adjacent to Jackson Ward, near the VCU Monroe Park Campus and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) to the west and City and State offices and VCU Health to the east.

THE CRITERIA FOR ELIGIBILITY INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:

  • Eligible once the business has moved into the space and opened for business by May 15, 2022.
  • Veri­fied 1-year minimum lease
  • Lease street-level space on Broad Street between Belvidere and 5th streets
  • New business to Downtown, not the relocation of an existing business in the General District/BID.
  • Existing businesses in the General District, who want to open an additional location on Broad Street.
  • Existing businesses located outside of the General District, who want to open another location/outpost on Broad Street.
  • Types of qualifying businesses include retailers, restaurants, makers, entrepreneurs, startups, and other creative businesses.
  • One $10,000 reimbursement grant per storefront, if a group of small businesses wanted to share space there would only be one grant available for the group.
  • Only eligible once
  • Availability based on ­first come fi­rst served

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR ASSISTANCE, CONTACT:

Micah White

Business Development Manager

The MBL

804-356-9298

[email protected]

Lucy Meade

Director Economic Development & Community Relations

Venture Richmond, Inc.

804-248-8372

[email protected]

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Downtown

Virginia lawmakers propose decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms

“It is increasingly a recognized treatment for refractory depression and PTSD,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, a nurse practitioner whose legislation would also decriminalize peyote, a cactus that contains the psychedelic compound mescalin. “It’s changed people’s lives.”

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By Ned Oliver

Two Virginia lawmakers have introduced legislation that would end felony penalties for possession of psychedelic mushrooms, citing the drug’s growing acceptance in medicinal contexts.

“It is increasingly a recognized treatment for refractory depression and PTSD,” said Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, a nurse practitioner whose legislation would also decriminalize peyote, a cactus that contains the psychedelic compound mescalin. “It’s changed people’s lives.”

The legislation would reduce the penalty for possession — currently a Class 5 felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison — to a $100 civil fine.

Sens. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, and Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

The bill would put Virginia at the forefront of a nascent decriminalization movement that has primarily been limited to cities, including Washington, D.C. So far, Oregon is the only state to legalize medicinal use of psilocybin, an active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms.

The bill likely faces long odds, especially in the House of Delegates, where the newly reinstated Republican majority has historically resisted efforts to loosen drug laws. That said, Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, who leads the chamber’s Courts of Justice Committee, said he is open to hearing arguments in favor of the legislation.

“That is not something we’ve taken up before,” he said. “I’d be interested in hearing what (Adams) has to say.”

Even if the legislation were to pass, the drug would remain illegal, albeit with reduced penalties. That makes it unlikely medical providers in Virginia would embrace psychedelics as a treatment option, but Adams said it would nonetheless be a step in the right direction.

“If we decriminalize it, it allows people to learn,” she said. “It doesn’t egg people on (to use the drug). It tries to open the door for us to continue to study the positive effects on people’s mental health going forward.”

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