Virginia’s jobless rate falls to lowest since October 2008

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia’s jobless rate fell to 4.8 percent in December, marking the state’s lowest unemployment rate since October 2008. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was down from 5 percent in November and down from 5.2 percent a year ago. The Virginia Employment Commission says job gains were seen in six major industries, including leisure and hospitality and total government. Job losses were recorded in five other industries, including construction. Virginia has seen jobless rates of 4.9 percent during several months over the last year. But the last time the rate went below that was in October 2008 when it was 4.5 percent. The Labor Department says unemployment rates fell in 42 states in December, rose in four states and were unchanged in four. The national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent.

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House of Delegates panel kills Va. minimum wage proposal

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A Republican-led House committee has killed a proposal to raise Virginia’s minimum wage. The House Committee on Commerce and Labor voted Tuesday to table a proposal aimed at raising incrementally the state’s minimum wage above the current $7.25 an hour to $10 an hour by 2010. Proponents included liberal activists and labor officials. They said raising the state’s current minimum wage would help low-income workers escape poverty. But business groups said raising the minimum wage would result in higher unemployment and hurt Virginia’s business climate. The committee also tabled several other Democratic proposals, including a measure to ban pay discrimination based on sex and to enact new regulations for companies that provide short-term, high-interest rate loans.

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Ronald Hawkins named provost of Liberty University

Liberty University logoLYNCHBUG, Va. (AP) _ Liberty University has named Ronald Hawkins as provost. Hawkins had served as interim provost since Ronald Godwin retired last fall. Liberty President Jerry Falwell announced Hawkins’ appointment in a news release. He says Hawkins has been a stalwart at Liberty for decades. Godwin has served in the provost’s office since 2006. He was vice president for academic affairs and vice provost prior to being named interim provost. Godwin also was the founding dean of the new School of Behavioral Sciences, which was created last fall. He served as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences from 2000 to 2006. Falwell says Godwin was a professor at Liberty in the early 1980s when he was a student.

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Va. Senate rejects proposal for voter registration by party

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The Virginia Senate has narrowly defeated a proposal to allow voter registration by political party. The measure was rejected Tuesday on a largely party-line 21-19 vote in the Republican-controlled chamber, with Republicans backing the bill and Democrats opposing it. Two moderate Republicans, Sens. Walter Stosch of Henrico County and John Watkins of Powhatan County, broke ranks and voted “no.” Both have announced they’ll retire at the end of this session. The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham County, said it would bring Virginia into conformity with most other states, which ask people registering to vote if they’d like to state a party preference. He said the bill would give parties more control over their nominating process. Opponents said it would discourage voter participation and increase partisanship.

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Va. Senate panel votes to leave gay-marriage ban in law

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A state Senate committee isn’t ready to take Virginia’s overturned gay-marriage ban out of the state constitution. On an 8-7 party-line vote Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Privileges and Elections Committee rejected a proposal to begin the process of repealing the amendment approved by Virginia voters in 2006 defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The ban was effectively nullified by a series of federal court decisions last year, and same-sex couples have been getting married since October. Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, chief patron of the repeal measure, said it’s time to align the constitution with the court rulings. But opponents said that would be premature, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed this month to decide the gay-marriage issue for the entire nation.

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Va. panel votes to protect gays from job discrimination

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A Virginia Senate committee voted Monday to prohibit discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure proposed by Sen. Donald McEachin, a Henrico County Democrat, was approved by the Republican-controlled General Laws and Technology Committee on an 8-7 vote. Republican Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Fauquier County joined minority Democrats in support of the bill. Vogel also cast the key vote on another measure to prohibit state agencies from including on employment applications a question asking whether the applicant has ever been arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. The so-called “ban the box” bill was approved on an identical 8-7 vote. Measures similar to both bills have cleared the Senate in the past but were killed in the House of Delegates.

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Further reduction in school tests advances in Va. Senate

Education-News1RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A further reduction in high-stakes standardized tests taken by Virginia schoolchildren is advancing in the Virginia Senate. On a 3-2 vote Monday, a subcommittee approved a bill from Sen. John Miller that would reduce the number of Standards of Learning tests to the minimum required by federal law within three years. Miller says the number of required tests reached as high as 34 before being reduced to 29 by the General Assembly last year. The Newport News Democrat says his bill would cut the number of required tests in grades 3-8 to 14. Miller says the testing pendulum has swung too far in the direction of rote memorization, causing undue stress and stifling kids’ curiosity and creativity. The Virginia Education Association, the state teachers group, supports his bill.

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US Forest Service closing Va. forest roads for winter months

USDA ForestROANOKE, Va. (AP) _ The U.S. Forest Service is temporarily closing national forest roads in Virginia for the remainder of the winter. The closures announced Monday include forest roads in Craig, Botetourt, Giles, Bland and Monroe counties. The closures occur every year. They are intended to reduce damage to those roads from vehicle traffic during freezing and thawing temperatures. Closures also minimize soil erosion resulting from damage roads. The roads will remain closed until early April when temperatures consistently stay above freezing. The following roads are temporarily closed:

Craig and Botetourt Counties: Bunch (FS 5008), Cove Branch (FS 275), Enterprise Road (FS 742), Hall Road (FS 209), Hebron Road (FS 5064), Kelly Hollow (FS 267), Lignite Road (FS 180) between Oriskany and Bald Mountain, Mill Creek Road (FS 229), O & I Road (FS 5020), Patterson Road (FS 184), Potts Jeep Road (FS 5036), Price Mountain Road and trailhead (FS 5012 and 5012A), Rolands Run (FS 5027) and Tub Run (FS 257).

 Bland County: Round Mountain (FS 668) between Garden Mountain and VA 52 in Bastian

 Giles County: Dismal Road (FS 201) between White Cedar Horse Camp and Flat Top Communication Site.

 Monroe County, West VA: Wilson Branch (FS 5031)

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Va. Senate panel OKs mandatory campus sex assault reporting

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Legislation to mandate reporting of alleged campus sexual assaults to police is advancing in the General Assembly. A state Senate subcommittee approved a bill Monday submitted by Republican Sen. Richard Black of Loudoun County that would require any employee of a state college or university who learns of such an allegation to report it to a local law enforcement agency within 24 hours. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor. Black’s measure is one of 10 bills advancing in the Senate that were prompted by several recent high-profile cases of alleged sexual assaults on Virginia campuses. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Delegates. Clergy, attorneys and crisis counselors who obtain the information on a confidential basis would be exempted from the reporting requirement under Black’s bill.

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Va. Senate committee defeats gun control proposals

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A series of gun control measures has been defeated by a Republican-controlled Virginia Senate committee. The Senate Courts of Justice panel voted Monday against bills aimed at beefing up Virginia’s gun control laws. The proposals include limiting handgun purchases to one a month and closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows sales by private sellers without a criminal background check. Committee chairman Sen. Thomas K. Norment, Jr. said at the hearing that a bill to make it illegal for those convicted of certain violent crimes from transporting or possessing guns had passed the committee. But the General Assembly’s database of vote results later showed that the vote failed by a large margin. The panel also voted to allow gun owners to obtain a lifetime concealed carry permit.

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