McAuliffe signs bill freezing electric utility rate reviews

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Gov. Terry McAuliffe has signed a bill that allows Virginia’s two largest electric utilities to bypass regular base rate reviews for several years. The governor signed the bill Tuesday saying it would be a “net positive” for Virginia. McAuliffe also signed an executive order directing various state agencies to ensure the implementation of parts of the new law aimed at increasing solar energy production and providing aid to low-income electric users. The legislation was largely crafted by Dominion Virginia Power, the state’s largest electric utility. The company said the new law will benefit customers by freezing base rates in place and preventing large rate hikes associated with proposed federal environmental laws or natural disasters. Opponents said the new law will allow Dominion and Appalachian Power to lock in higher-than-necessary rates.

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UPDATE: Amherst Co. grand larceny suspect in custody

Cody Stewart

Cody Stewart

UPDATED 10:15 AM February 24: Cody Stewart was arrested this morning following a call from a concerned citizen.

From the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office: We are looking for Cody E Stewart on a felony warrant for Grand Larceny.  Mr. Stewart is a 23 year old male who stands 5’ 11” and weighs 150’. He has blue eyes and brown hair.  He was last known to live in the Izaak Walton Road area of Madison Heights.  Anyone that has any information is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-798-5900. Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 for information regarding this crime. All information is totally confidential.

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Va. Senate panel kills bill on prayer at government meetings

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A Virginia Senate committee has narrowly rejected a measure to authorize public prayers at government meetings. Del. Richard Bell, a Staunton Republican, said his bill was intended to clear up confusion among state and local government bodies about whether they can legally open their meetings with prayer. Passed by the House of Delegates 69-30 earlier this month, the measure would have allowed invocations to be given either by a chaplain chosen by the public body or by speakers selected from a list of established religious congregations in the community. The bill was supported by the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia but opposed by Baptist and Jewish groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee killed the measure on an 8-7 vote Monday.

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Lawmakers have tentative agreement on Va. state budget

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Leaders in the Virginia House and Senate say they’ve come to an agreement on a proposed state budget that will include small raises for state employees and teachers. Lawmakers announced Monday that the proposed budget will restore $30 million for local governments that had previously been cut. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe did not include across-the-board pay increases for state employees in the budget he proposed in December, but has said he supports them. Virginia’s budget situation has brightened in recent months due to higher-than-projected revenues and other factors, giving lawmakers more money to spend this session. The full General Assembly is expected to vote on the budget as early as Thursday.

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Deadline pushed back to redraw Va. congressional district

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A federal court is extending a deadline for the General Assembly to redraw a congressional district that judges ruled was improperly drawn to make adjacent districts safer for Republican incumbents. The court said Monday that it was pushing back a deadline imposed on lawmakers, from April 1 to Sept. 1, to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in. A panel of federal judges ruled 2-1 last year in favor of two Virginia voters who accused the General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering” by packing African-Americans into state’s 3rd Congressional District. The GOP holds an 8-3 advantage in Virginia’s congressional delegation while all statewide elected offices are held by Democrats.

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Va. Senate defeats measure aimed at attorney general

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The Virginia Senate has narrowly defeated a measure aimed at forcing the state attorney general to defend state laws when they are challenged. The bill sponsored by Del. Brenda Pogge, a Republican from James City County, was prompted by Attorney General Mark Herring’s decision last year not to defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment was ultimately overturned in federal court, and gay couples have been getting married since October. Herring, a Democrat, determined that the Virginia amendment violated the federal Constitution, angering many Republicans Pogge’s bill passed the House 68-32 earlier this month. It was rejected Monday by the Senate when Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, cast a “no” vote to break a 20-20 tie. One Republican, Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan County, also voted “no.”

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Va. governor announces higher education agreement

STATE-NEWSRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia’s public institutions of higher education and economic development officials are teaming up to meet the business needs of employers and deliver the jobs graduates seek. The partnership was announced on Monday by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He said College and university leaders signed an agreement to carry out the mission of creating a new Virginia economy. The agreement is with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the Center for Innovative Technology. The partnership has several elements. They include increased connectivity between higher education and business interests. The governor’s office says the agreement builds on a prior partnership signed in 2012. The new agreement places greater emphasis on working together on economic development issues.

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Va. fines CSX $361,000 for April Lynchburg derailment

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

F RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia environmental officials are proposing a $361,000 fine against CSX Transportation for an April 2014 train derailment that dumped nearly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the James River in Lynchburg.   The state Department of Environmental Quality announced the proposed consent order with the rail company on Monday. The April 30 derailment saw 17 cars derail, with three going into the river and one catching fire. The DEQ says of the crude oil that escaped the tank car, 98% was consumed in a fire. The department said water quality checks of the James from Lynchburg to Richmond several days after the derailment found no environmental problems. The consent order also calls for CSX to pay more than $18,500 for DEQ’s investigative costs.

Click here to read the entire proposed consent order

Here is an extended interview with DEQ Spokesperson Bill Hayden:

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Civil War book study begins today

Campbell CountyCampbell County is celebrating its 150th birthday and the same anniversary for the end of the Civil War by examining three books at the public library … we have more from WLNI’s Gene Marrano on the “Civil War Study Event” :

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Heading to the governor: bill to apply photo ID law to more absentee voters

WLNI-GENERAL-ASSEMBLYA bill that would change Virginia’s voter photo ID law is now headed to Governor McAuliffe’s desk. Right now, anyone voting in person or applying in person for an absentee ballot must show a photo ID. As WLNI’s Evan Jones reports, the bill would require more people applying to vote absentee by mail to also submit a photocopy of their ID.

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