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Rep. Bobby Scott seeks clemency for drug offenders

U.S. Reps. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, and John Conyers, D-Michigan, sent a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday seeking clemency for people convicted and sentenced for crack cocaine offenses.

Under prior law sentences for crack offenses were much stiffer than sentences for the powder cocaine by 100 to 1 ratio - meaning a sentence for five grams of crack cocaine was a mandatory five years, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner a five-year sentence. In 2010 that discrepancy was lessened to an 18 to 1 ratio under the federal Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which both Scott and Conyers worked for years in Congress to achieve.

Scott and Conyers - along with 20 other memebrs of Congress who signed the letter - are asking Obama to begin a process of reducing the sentences of felons convicted under the mandatory 100 to 1 ratio to terms compatible with the new sentencing laws.

"With the strong national consensus, including within the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary branches of the federal government, that the 100 to 1 sentencing ratio is unfair to crack defendants, it is unconscionable that we still have people serving mandatory sentences under the 100 to 1 ratio," Scott and Conyers wrote."Therefore, we are calling upon President Obama to exercise his constitutional clemency authority to right this wrong by setting up a process for according those whose sentence length is based on a mandatory sentence for a crack violation, a reduction equivalent to an application of the FSA 18 to 1 reduction."

Scott and Conyers suggested Obama take a page out of President Gerald R. Ford's book when he set up a commission in the mid-1970s to make recommendations on offering clemency for people who dodged the draft rather than fight in the Vietnam War.

"Without the President’s intervention through his clemency authority, men and women will continue to be held accountable to unfair sentences, some involving life imprisonment for non-violent crimes that resulted from romantic or familial relationships with other offenders, such as the so-called ‘girlfriend problem’ where the defendant was a bit player in the boyfriend’s drug offense," They wrote. "It is appropriate and necessary for the President to close this gap in fairness in the application of our drug laws.”

Gov. McDonnell to form School Safety Task Force

In the wake of Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. which took the lives of 28 people including 20 young children, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Monday he is forming a School Safety Task Force to review safety procedures at the state's K-12 public schools.

McDonnell asked the state's Secretary of Education Linda Fornasch and the Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker to review safety auditssubmitted by local school divisions and work with school superintendents to identify any changes that need to be made to procedures.

He is also forming a panel ofeducators, public safety experts, local leaders and legislators to review school safety procedures, look into best practices and identify challenges the state's public schools face in these areas.

“While we all seek answers surrounding the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, it is incumbent upon me, as governor, to ask our experts to reflect upon and review our system<" McDonnell said in a press release. "That is why I am calling upon a team to do just that in the form of this task force. Virginia must evaluate safety in our schools and ensure that we are providing our young people with the best opportunity to learn. Getting a quality education cannot happen if students and parents are worried about safety in the classroom. Experts in education and public safety will carefully review our process, procedures, laws and initiatives in order to determine how we can best identify safety and security best practices, review our state efforts and responses and support localities as they look to invest or reallocate resources to improve safety and security. It is our duty in state and local government to do everything we can to ensure our young people from kindergarten through college are able to learn and thrive in a safe and secure environment.”

The governor is also creating a school and campus safety coordinator position within the state Department of Criminal Justice Services based on a recommendation from the Governor’s Domestic Violence Prevention and Response Advisory Board.

Sen. McEachin 'morally compelled' to introduce legislation following Connecticut school massacre

State Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, said Monday he felt "morally compelled" to introduce legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session on mental health and gun violence following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Friday in which a gunman killed 28 people, including 20 six and seven year olds, before turning the gun on himself.

“In light of last Friday's events, I feel morally compelled to introduce concrete legislation in the General Assembly Session in January," McEachin said in a press release. "Over the coming weeks, I will consult with my fellow legislators and announce specific plans that will help stem this horrific tide of gun violence."

McEachin, who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus, did not offer specific legislation but said laws were needed that dealt with both the state's mental health system and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

"We must work as a nation to improve and strengthen our mental health system. We must ensure that teenagers and adults get the help they need and are not just pushed, ill and unready, into society," McEachin said.
"And we must address the tide of gun violence, fed by an unlimited supply of ever more dangerous guns. We can no longer pretend that the wide availability of dangerous weapons has had no impact on the brutal killings committed over the past year. In Newtown, not one child survived the hail of bullets from a semiautomatic assault weapon. I call on our national leaders to finally have a serious conversation about how to stop criminals and the mentally ill from accessing dangerous weapons."



General Assembly Dems respond to Gov. McDonnell's budget amendments

Democratic members of the General Assembly offered the following responses Monday to Gov. Bob McDonnell's amendments to the fiscal years 2013-2014 budget:

Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax:

"We need a comprehensive statewide plan to solve transportation. We cannot build and pave roads by taking money out of our classrooms.  It's time we got real."

Senate Democratic Caucus chairman Don McEachin of Henrico:

 "The state's budget should be a moral document that reflects the values and priorities of  Virginians. I find unconscionable the Governor's decision not to include any funding for the expansion of Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Virginia's working poor. Expanding Medicaid will provide essential health care to hard-working Virginians who are struggling to support families as well as create jobs. In the coming General Assembly Session, I hope to work with my colleagues in the legislature and the Governor to grow jobs and increase health care for Virginians by expanding Medicaid."

Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia and Del. from Alexandria Charniele Herring:

"As we continue to dig ourselves out of the worst economic period we've seen in decades, it is critical that we focus on a pragmatic approach to sustain Virginia's future as the best place to live, work and raise a family.

The Governor's budget fails to address some of the Commonwealth's core priorities. Raiding money from education to fund transportation not only fails to address the need for Virginia's roads and infrastructure but diverts much-needed funds away from Virginia students.

"As we move in to the 2013 legislative session it is my hope that the members of the General Assembly will put politics ahead of ideology and move forward to do what's best for Virginia's hard working families." 

House of Delegates Democratic Caucus Chairman Mark Sickles of Fairfax:

"Governor McDonnell had the opportunity to make a substantial investment in Virginia's diverse and growing health care economy. McDonnell's failure to address routine health care for over 400,000 Virginians is irresponsible and counterproductive.  I look forward to working with members of the General Assembly over the next few months to expand access to Medicaid and affordable health care for Virginia seniors and working poor."  

Speaker Howell on Gov. Bob McDonnell's budget amendments

Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell, R-Stafford issued the following statement Monday on Gov. Bob McDonnell's amendments to the fiscal years 2013-2014 budget:

"The continued uncertainty surrounding our nation's economic outlook, as well as Washington's self-inflicted fiscal cliff, requires us to be as cautious and conservative as ever," said Speaker William J. Howell. "House Republicans have worked closely with Governor McDonnell as he crafted these amendments, and we will continue to do so as the budget process moves forward.

"Governor McDonnell's amendments include several items that fit very well with our legislative priorities - job creation, K-12 Education and government reform. The over $75 million in new money for education and other key investments throughout the Commonwealth represent our shared commitment to job creation and economic development in Virginia. The strategic reforms the Governor has proposed to state agencies demonstrates our shared commitment to continuing government reform.

 

"One of the biggest differences between Washington and Virginia is that we balance our budget here in Virginia. That makes our state more attractive to job creators and allows us to make key investments without saddling our children with debt. Our philosophy is simple: don't spend more money than you take in.  

 

"As the Governor's proposals, as well as the proposals of Republicans in the House of Delegates, move forward, I am confident we can craft a budget bill that invests in the core functions of government and maintains Virginia's sound fiscal position."

Rep. Scott to participate in webinar on African-Americans and the fiscal cliff

U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News will participate in a webinar focusing on the issues and consequences of the federal fiscal cliff and blacks on Wednesday.

The webinar titled "African Americans and the Fiscal Cliff: Understanding the Issues and Consequences," will take place at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and include William E. Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO, and will be moderated by Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions.

To register to participate in the webinar click here.

Kaine statment on Conn. elementray school shooting

U.S. Sen.-elect Tim Kaine issued the following statement on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Friday:

"Words fail to express the profound sadness I feel for the families of those who were lost and those who will carry the scars of this tragedy. Our Commonwealth knows too well the pain of senseless gun violence. Like all Virginians, Anne and I offer our thoughts, prayers, and heartfelt condolences to the community of Newtown."

Bolling lays out opposition to lifting uranium mining ban

 

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling saidhe is opposed to lifting the ban on uranium mining in Virginia at a press conference in Danville Friday because "there are just too many unanswered questions, and the potential for adverse economic and environmental impacts is too great, to remove the ban."

Bolling said he had three major concerns over lifting the ban:

“First, I am concerned that removing this ban could have a chilling impact on our efforts to recruit new business, industry and jobs to Southern Virginia, and it could also have a harmful impact on numerous existing businesses in the region.  Over the past three years we have worked hard to get the economy of Southern Virginia back on track, and we should not do anything that could work at cross purposes with the progress we have made.

“Second, even though two well respected organizations have completed reviews of the efficacy of removing the ban on uranium mining and milling, I believe there are still too many unanswered questions regarding the potential impact that an incident at the mine might have on the environment and, subsequently, citizens in Southern Virginia and beyond.  Given these legitimate environmental concerns, I believe the ban on uranium mining should remain in place.

“Third, almost every member of the Southern Virginia delegation of the Virginia General Assembly opposes removing the ban on uranium mining, and the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce has expressed its opposition to removing the ban as well.  If political and business leaders in the region that could benefit the most from uranium mining believe the ban should stay in place, politicians in Richmond should not lift the ban against their wishes."

Bolling made clear that his position was his own and not the official position of Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration. McDonnell has said recently he is still undecided on the issue.

State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, has introduced legislation for the upcoming session that would start the process of allowing the state to develop regulations that would allow uranium mining to go forward in the state.

Watkins said Friday that he was disappointed by Bolling's opposition.

"The legislation I am working on is not even complete and may very well address his concerns," Watkins said in a press release. "I would have expected a more thoughtful approach to this issue from Bill given his commitment to creating jobs, particularly in Southside.

"The legislation will not authorize uranium mining, it will only set the rules and standards required of any company seeking a permit to do so. Those rules will protect the public and the environment, and provide the opportunity for other economic development projects to thrive.

"Taking a position that denies people even the possibility of well-paying jobs and the opportunity to help the commonwealth and the nation meet its energy needs, is incredibly short sighted and deeply disappointing.”

Rep. Bobby Scott on Conn. school shooting

U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott issued the following statement on the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Friday:

"Our schools, and especially our elementary schools, are meant to be sanctuaries of peace and safety.  Words alone cannot describe the anguish of this shocking tragedy that the community of Newtown, Connecticut and our entire nation are feeling at this moment.  My thoughts and prayers are with all the students, parents, and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary.

"In the near future, we need to review all the recent mass shootings to ascertain what can be done to prevent these types of senseless tragedies from happening."

Terry and Dorothy McAuliffe statement on Conn. school shooting

Democratic candidate for governor Terry McAuliffe and his wife Dorothy issued the following statement on the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Friday:

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of those caught in the horrible tragedy in Newtown.  As parents of five children we can't imagine the pain and heartache of losing a child, especially to a terrible act of violence like this one.  We solemnly join our fellow Virginians and all Americans in mourning for the entire Newtown community."









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