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Virginia cryptocurrency investors want lawmakers to create regulation

Virginia cryptocurrency investors hope lawmakers will consider regulatory policies for the digital asset industry in the 2023 General Assembly, saying a framework is needed with the increasing number of investors and recent market volatility.

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By Chloe Hawkins 

Virginia cryptocurrency investors hope lawmakers will consider regulatory policies for the digital asset industry in the 2023 General Assembly, saying a framework is needed with the increasing number of investors and recent market volatility.

Cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11. It was one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges, valued at $32 billion in January. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried released a statement on Twitter, saying he was “shocked to see things unravel the way they did.” 

The company did not have enough emergency reserves to float the “bank run” of customer withdrawals, which led to bankruptcy, according to a statement released by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Massachusetts. Lynch is the chairman of the Task Force on Financial Technology. 

At least $1 billion of FTX customer assets “are currently missing,” according to the release, though multiple reports include the total could be much higher.

FTX was headquartered offshore, and Lynch pointed to the need for “thoughtful regulation” to protect U.S. investors and maintain stability in the digital assets industry. 

Only a few Virginia bills related to cryptocurrency have been previously introduced. Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, introduced House Joint Resolution 153 in 2018. The measure would have created a one-year subcommittee of 13 members — legislative and nonlegislative members — to study the potential implementation of blockchain technology in things such as government record keeping, delivery services and information storage, and also to study how blockchain technology could stimulate growth in Virginia’s information technology industry. 

Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill this year to create a two-year, 20-member subcommittee to identify opportunities and establish a potential regulatory framework for cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies. 

The Virginia Blockchain Council is a tax exempt trade organization based in Central Virginia. Its mission is to build community through education and blockchain-based web technologies, according to its website. The organization was founded in 2017 by executive director Greg Leffel, and has approximately 1,600 members, he said. 

Cryptocurrency trade groups organized in response to the rise of investors, according to Leffel. He said he would like to see the General Assembly tackle sandbox regulation. 

Sandbox regulation ultimately provides more consumer protections. It improves business models in an isolated software environment such as cryptocurrency, according to the Financial Conduct Authority, or FCA. The FCA regulates financial services firms and financial markets in the U.K.

Policy such as sandbox regulation helps companies innovate but with oversight. It can build cooperation between the regulator and the companies, according to FCA.

At least 20 other states including Maryland have passed blockchain technology legislation. Some states, including Nevada, Arizona and Utah, have established sandbox regulation. It is the newest policy being discussed at state level, Leffel said.

Two bills were introduced in the past General Assembly session to create a Department of Regulatory Innovation that would oversee a “Virginia Regulatory Sandbox Program.” The bills did not advance to the legislative floor, although a health care sandbox regulatory agency proposed by Davis made it through the House. Davis did not respond to multiple interview requests by phone or email.

The main purpose of sandbox regulation, Leffel said, is to let other companies and markets know Virginia is “open for business.”

“It’s a signal that we’re willing to support its [cryptocurrency] place in the marketplace,” Leffel said. 

Cryptocurrency security is important, according to Leffel. The protection of the average investor is what matters most — knowing what the product is, and what they’re actually investing in, Leffel said.

“People need to understand that there are scammers, like the chance of rug pull,” Leffel said. 

Rug pull is a cryptocurrency scam where people or companies hype up the value of the product to attract investors and obtain their digital coins before shuttering, according to Leffel. “We want to make sure that there’s a framework there that protects [investors],” Leffel said. “I’m also a huge advocate for seeing how this technology is going to impact everyday life.” 

The Virginia Blockchain Council partnered with the Virginia Commonwealth University Blockchain club last year, according to Leffel. The VCU Blockchain club is not student-exclusive, according to club president Francesca Bercasio. Bercasio is a senior seeking a finance technology degree. 

“I chose to join because I believe this technology will disrupt so much due to the features it has,” Bercasio said. “Also I think the culture the club promotes is inclusive; I’ve always felt seen and heard.” 

Cryptocurrency will impact technologies such as engineering, marketplaces and even art curation that rely specifically on third parties, Bercasio said

“For example, financial transactions are now settled in minutes, rather than days,” Bercasio said. 

VCU Blockchain plans to expand, and connect with more people off campus, according to Bercasio. She hopes the university will consider teaching blockchain to increase literacy.

“We want to encourage VCU to add a cryptocurrency curriculum,” Bercasio said. “And instituting a program either in lectures or through the da Vinci Center at VCU.”

The da Vinci Center for Innovation at VCU is an academic workshop space which promotes innovation and entrepreneurship through cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Richmond local and VCU Blockchain member Dave Benz joined VCU Blockchain in 2021, he said. Benz joined because he was interested in cryptocurrency for “quite awhile.”

Benz has learned many things from his VCU Blockchain members, and is grateful that they are accommodating to his lack of knowledge on the new technology, he said. 

“They’re very knowledgeable and up-to-date folks,” Benz said. “I always learn something new when I go [to meetings].”

Benz said he is the oldest member in VCU Blockchain by decades, but is grateful for how accepting everyone is. 

“Everybody has been very friendly, and helpful with my lack of understanding on certain things,” Benz said. “They’re also willing to listen to my thoughts and ideas which is great.” 

Virginia resident and college student Johnnie Walker III invests in cryptocurrency as a “safety net,” although he said he does not have other investments. 

“Slowly investing throughout the years and into the future will set me up at a certain point when I don’t want to work anymore,” Walker said. “If something were to come up, I have that money.”

Walker began investing in cryptocurrency during his junior year of high school in 2017, he said. 

“I kind of just ride the waves of highs and lows in the market,” Walker said. “I have made a comfortable amount; it’s been good.” 

Walker wants to see more preventative and security policy around cryptocurrency investing. He anticipates cryptocurrency “taking off” in the future, Walker said.

“I feel comfortable as an investor as long as they continue to develop it,” Walker said. “It would make me lean more towards putting my assets into crypto rather than banks.” 

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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.”

Will you help support independent, local journalism?

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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