Attorneys ask judge to try former Va. governor and his wife separately

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and former first lady Maureen McDonnell want separate trails and are asking a federal judge to dismiss the corruption charges against them. Attorneys for the former governor say a joint proceeding would prevent Maureen McDonnell from taking the witness stand to exonerate her husband.

According to the Richmond Dispatch-Times, McDonnell and his wife face a 14-count indictment for accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans they accepted from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., who, at the time, was CEO of Star Scientific.

“The political corruption charges leveled against former Governor McDonnell are based on an unprecedented interpretation of federal law that would, if adopted by this court, criminalize many basic practices of democratic politics,” the former governor’s attorneys said in a memorandum supporting their motion to dismiss the corruption counts against him.

The McDonnells have pleaded not guilty to all charges and the trial is scheduled to begin in July. 

Virginia snow clean up could go $200 million over budget

Virginia’s Department of Transportation (VDOT) allocated $157 million this year for winter clearing efforts. Due to a large number of winter storms and heavier snow fall than usual, officials predict the original budget will not cover cost of clearing Virginia’s roads.

The VDOT predicts the clean up will cost $350 million by June 30, the end of Virginia’s fiscal year.
Richmond alone has allotted $700,000 for up to 60 snow plows to remove snow this year.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane said, “This winter has put a strain on our maintenance budget… funds will be spent as necessary for snow removal, incident management and other maintenance needs.” The extra funds will come out of the Department of Transportations’ general maintenance budget.

Oprah Winfrey to attend fundraiser for Northern Virginia congressional hopeful

Lavern Chatman, one of the 11 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Rep. James P. Moran’s Northern Virginia congressional seat, announced that Oprah Winfrey will attend a fundraiser on her behalf. The fundraiser will be in Arlington County on April 5.

“I’m delighted she is coming to town to help with my congressional campaign,” said Chatman. “Oprah is a good friend and we both share a passion for empowering women and girls for leadership,” said Chatman, who served as CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League from 2004 to 2011.

In a statement, Chatman said the fundraiser will feature “several prominent leaders speaking on women’s issues, globally, nationally, and in the 8th District of Virginia.”

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Moran (D-8th) is retiring after holding the seat since 1991.

Virginia Educators Advocate for State Funding

The Virginia House of Delegates left without reaching a budget agreement late February, to the frustration of the Virginia Education Association (VEA). Lawmakers will reconvene on March 24 for a special session, attempting to approve the state’s budget. VEA is working to gain the attention of politicians in hopes that education funding will be addressed at the meeting.

State funding for education hasn’t increased since the recession, resulting in serious consequences in and around the classroom. The smaller budget means less staff and larger class sizes around the state as well as difficulties in hiring replacement teachers. Low pay and reduced retirement benefits simply can’t attract the most talented educators. VEA believes that underfunding schools isn’t in the state’s best interest. Virginia currently ranks 36 in the nation for teacher salary and spends $235 less  per student compared to the 2009 budget.

In a media advisory, VEA President Meg Gruber said, “Virginia is in very grave danger of being unable to find qualified teachers to lead our classrooms, because of low pay and reduced retirement benefits… Our teachers earn $7,456 under the national average. We know that teachers are the #1 school-based factor when it comes to student achievement. Virginia students deserve the very best teachers we can give them.”

McAuliffe vetoes firearms bill

 Governor Terry McAuliffe used his veto power for the first time Tuesday, rejecting a bill that would have “made it clear all legitimate gun owners could carry a weapon in an unlocked glove box or console of their cars.”

According to The News and Advance, McAuliffe had asked the lawmakers to amend the bill before they adjourned their regular session, and the House of Delegates voted 70-30 to reject the amendment on March 7, one day before their regular session adjourned.

Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County and sponsor of the vetoed bill, would need 67 votes in the House of Delegates and 27 votes in the Senate to override the veto. McAuliffe’s actions would leave the state law as it currently stands, saying anyone who owns a gun can carry it secured in a container or compartment, such as a console or glove compartment of a vehicle or vessel.

Cline stated that he was “disappointed that Gov. McAuliffe’s first veto is in opposition to a bill defending the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Virginians.”

McAuliffe forms ‘Common Good VA’ PAC

In an e-mail released on Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the creation of a leadership PAC, Common Good VA, to “support like-minded candidates and issues important to him.” According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, McAuliffe told recipients they “helped bring common sense back to Virginia last year by electing me as your governor.”

“I formed Common Good VA to make sure that the ideas that led us to victory in November don’t get lost in the partisan battles being waged in Washington and to ensure that those of you who have been with me every step of the way continue to have your voices heard across the Commonwealth,” his e-mail reads.

The Roanoke Times reported that the announcement of the PAC’s creation came about two weeks after adjournment of the regularly scheduled General Assembly session, during which lawmakers and the governor are barred from raising money.

McAuliffe has called lawmakers back to Richmond for a special session on March 24, focused on discussing a state budget and debate on Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders in the House of Delegates opposed to Medicaid expansion said the governor’s announcement Monday confirms that he “seems more interested in playing politics than governing.”

Fairfax delegate dropping out of congressional race

Delegate Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax, announced last Wednesday that he is no longer running for the Northern Virginia congressional seat of retiring Rep. James P. Moran, D-8TH. Sickles said he chose to drop out of the race after he reviewed an internal campaign survey. 

“I wish that I could report that there was a clear and viable path to victory for me,” Sickles wrote. “Last night, I looked at the results of our survey of likely Democratic primary voters with respect to the candidates who have expressed interest in the nomination. I wish that I could report that there was a clear and viable path to victory for me.”

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sen. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, is among the remaining contenders for the Democratic nomination. The winner of the primary is expected to win the general election in November in the strongly Democratic district. 

Increasing Health Care Coverage in Virginia, Medicaid Expansion on Hold

According to the Times Dispatch, Virginia exceeds federal expectations for healthcare enrollment. At 103,000 Virginians enrolled, the state is already 1,500 above federal target mark. An estimated 1 million Virginians are still uninsured, but they have until March 31 to get covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Virginia House Republicans and Democratic lawmakers are currently at odds over Medicaid expansion. The Virginia Senate approved the expansion, but the General Assembly adjourned without approving a budget or expanding Medicaid on Saturday.  Governor McAuliffe called for a special session of the general assembly that will begin on March 24th, 7 days before the Affordable Care Act deadline.

McAuliffe will travel around Virginia for the next two weeks, meeting with health care providers and encouraging support for the Medicaid expansion. The governor hopes the approved budget will accept Medicaid funds to expand publicly financed health insurance for uninsured Virginians.

Uninsured?
Here’s how to buy insurance under Obamacare if you live in Virginia.

For more information or to apply for coverage, visit healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596. Check out more videos like the one below for quick tips and other useful information.

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Virginia’s Top Education Superintendent, Patricia Wright, to retire in May

            Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright announced on Tuesday that she will retire on May 1 after serving six years in the state’s top education job and nearly three decades with the state’s Education Department. In 2008, Wright was appointed by former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, and reappointed two years later by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. In a statement, Wright said, “It has been a great honor to serve as state superintendent and collaborate with so many outstanding educators across the commonwealth.”

Wright taught mathematics for 10 years at the secondary and middle school levels in Sussex and Chesterfield Counties before joining the state agency in 1985. Now a veteran employee at the Department of Education, Wright has administered some of the most significant reforms of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration targeted at K-12 education, including expanded access to charter and virtual schools, implementing an A-F grading system and the state’s Standards of Learning tests and creating a statewide school division to take over failing schools.

A replacement must be appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and confirmed by the General Assembly.

Military widows, widowers may soon be exempt from property taxes in Va.

Loudoun County Delegate David Ramadan’s proposal “to exempt military widows and widowers from paying property taxes” advanced in the General Assembly and is one step closer to becoming a law.

Constitutional amendment HJ 8 provides that the “General Assembly may provide real property tax exemption for the primary residence of surviving spouses of members of the military who are killed in action. Such tax exemption may not be claimed by a surviving spouse who has been remarried.”

Complementary to bill HJ8, HB 64 “provides for a referendum at the November 4, 2014, election to approve or reject an amendment to allow the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of a soldier killed in action,” as stated in a summary of the legislation.

According to the Loudon Times, “the measure, following the signature of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, will be placed on the ballot for referendum in this November’s election. If the proposal is approved by majority vote, the law will go into effect in January 2015.”