Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Wednesday, Feb.17

Xzavier Hill was a Black teenager Virginia State Police killed in January.

By Megan Schiffres

February 17, 2021

The General Assembly will consider a criminal justice reform bill, UVA tightens restrictions and #JusticeForXzavier gets an update.

Daily Number

7 – That’s the number of oyster boats Virginia governor William Cameron seized on Feb. 17, 1882. Confused? It’s a bit of state history known as the Oyster War.

Cameron had been notified that some people from outside of Virginia were illegally dredging in the Chesapeake Bay. Annoyed at the “invasion,” the governor went into the Bay with two steamers, determined to capture the men. Cameron’s group captured seven boats, but only one was not Virginian. Afterward, it was jokingly called “The Oyster War of 1882.”

Committee To Consider Major Criminal Reform Bills

The House Courts of Justice Committee meets two hours after the House adjourns today. Members will consider two controversial pieces of legislation during their meeting which could have far reaching implications.

Senate Bill 1165, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D – Eastern Fairfax), would abolish the death penalty in the Commonwealth.

This bill seeks to change references to capital punishment in the Virginia Code to life in prison. Those with sentences of life in prison may be eligible for parole and other privileges, unless their conviction is for killing a police officer. You can read more about it in this piece from Dogwood editor Brian Carlton.

The second bill is Senate Bill 1443, introduced by Sen. John Edwards (D – Roanoke). It would eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences in Virginia’s Code. The mandatory minimum charges the bill eliminates include everything from illegally selling cigarettes to manslaughter and gang activity. You can read more in this piece by Dogwood’s Brandon Carwile.

#JusticeForXzavier Movement Continues

The movement for justice in the case of Xzavier Hill, a Black teenager Virginia State Police officers shot and killed in January, is still going strong.

Hill’s family members and supporters held a demonstration yesterday calling on the police to release the footage of his death. That’s because the victim’s mother says the tapes prove her son’s innocence. Dogwood’s Arianna Coghill covered the event and here’s some of her Twitter feed.

You can follow her full Twitter thread on the protest here.

RELATED: Where Are The Tapes? Protestors Demand Footage of Xzavier Hill’s Death

UVA Puts In New Restrictions After COVID-19 Cases Climb

We’ve talked a bit this week about areas where COVID-19 cases are dropping. Unfortunately, that’s not true for all of Virginia. The University of Virginia announced new restrictions Tuesday night, changes that will last until Feb. 26. At that point, UVA officials will re-evaluate.

The new restrictions include:

  • No more in-person events or gatherings, with some exceptions. Activities will be remote.
  • Classes will remain in-person and athletic activities will continue, but with no audience. Research activities will also continue.
  • Students living on campus can only leave their residence hall for essential activities. That means going to class, eating on campus, running or walking, picking up mail, going to the bookstore and going to a job.
  • All recreational facilities on campus will be closed until at least Feb. 26. The library will only allow contactless pickup.
  • Employees are encouraged to work remotely if possible.

People, Inc. Needs Support

A community action organization is begging the community for emergency assistance. People, Inc., which provides Southwest Virginians with a range of services, says it’s spending three hundred times the amount it usually spends to assist houseless people.

“Right now we have zero money available for homeless services,” said People, Inc. President and CEO Rob Goldsmith during the press conference Monday.

Our freelance reporter Ashley Spinks Dugan has more on the story here.

You can help support People, Inc. by calling (276) 623-9000 to volunteer or by donating online

Question of the Day: Do We Need a Teachers Reserve Corps?

Senate Committee Approves Elections Bill

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted in favor of advancing several critical, overdue reforms yesterday. When it met yesterday, the committee voted without discussion to approve House Bill 1890.

The bill, introduced by Del. Marcia Price (D – Newport News), prohibits any voting qualification, standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgment of someone’s right to vote based on their race, color, or membership to a language minority group.

Committee members voted 8-5 to report the bill to the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations. Who on the committee voted in support? Click here to see.

Campaign Finance Reform Bill Moves On

The same committee also advanced a bill prohibiting candidates and elected officials from using campaign money on personal expenses on Tuesday. The bill, HB 1952 was introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D – Fairfax), who says this is long overdue.

“The way we’d written the Code, it was only unlawful to convert campaign funds to personal use at the end of your campaign when you were winding it up,” Simon said. “We didn’t have an explicit prohibition prohibiting personal use of campaign funds anywhere else during your campaign.”

However, candidates and elected officials can still spend campaign money to pay for child care. Advocates say this will ensure low income people and young parents can run for office.

“We believe that this rule will encourage a greater diversity of Virginia candidates, particularly women with younger children, who would otherwise not be able to run for elected office,” said co-chair of the Arlington chapter of the League of Women Voters Lisa Gerchick.

The bill reported out of the committee 11-2-2. Senators Deeds, Howell, Vogel, Ebbin, Spruill, Surovell, Mason, McClellan, Boysko, Bell, and Dunnavant cast votes in favor of advancing the bill. McDougle and Peake voted against reporting the bill. Reeves and Ruff abstained.

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