03:37am, 09/17/14
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Updated 9/16/14 @ 3:35 pm

Last quota buyout checks headed to tobacco growers:
(Pittsylvania County, Va.) -- A local extension agent says Pittsylvania County farmers have already made the changes needed to adapt to a world without government price supports.
     The final checks from a decade-long, $10 billion quota buyout will be mailed next month.    
      Steve Barts says it’s a new era, but farmers have already operated without a safety net for the past several years, when they switched to direct contracts with tobacco companies. He says "it's not untraveled ground, but it is a bit of a change." Barts says it marks a "change in the way farmers do business," but adds that growers are extremely adaptable. And Barts says the changes are forcing local farmers to rely more heavily on overseas markets for their leaf.
       He points out that there is more tobacco acreage in the county today than was the case a decade ago, when farmers' quotas were bought out and the price-support program came to a close.

Local Republicans say cuts were necessary to keep bond rating:
(Richmond, Va.) -- A Southside Senator says Democrats and Republicans may not have agreed on Medicaid expansion, but they were able to come together to fill an $882 million budget gap and preserve the state’s AAA bond rating. Sen. Frank Ruff points out that New Jersey failed to respond and that state's bond rating fell as a result.
     Ruff says by acting now the General Assembly may have averted deeper cuts down the road.
      The cuts are still steep. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state lawmakers agreed to cuts of $192 million to state agencies, $90 million for higher education, and $60 million for aide to local governments over the next two years.  
     The budget plan won't affect K-12 spending and will not include any increase in fees or taxes.
        Danville Del. Danny Marshall says the bond rating service "liked the fact that (Virginia) made structural changes and not just short-term gimmicks." He added that this is "a bi-partisan issue... and Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate all came together to fix this."
      McAuliffe praised GOP lawmakers for their willingness to work with him to address a projected $882 million shortfall over the biennium, saying the bipartisan approach was needed "to send a signal to Wall Street" and preserve the state's sterling bond rating.
      The budget plan calls for using $705 million from the state's rainy day fund during the next two years. The fund currently holds about $940 million.


Va. hospitals lament limited health care expansion:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- With an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia all but pronounced dead, the state's hospitals and health care systems are bracing for tough decisions on how to balance their budgets.
      State lawmakers are holding a special legislative session on the topic starting Thursday, but there's been no sign that Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion has wavered.
      And Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has conceded that he lacks the executive power to expand the federally funded program on his own.
      Not adding 400,000 low-income adults to the rank of Virginia's insured has left the health care industry with some painful decisions that they say could have lasting impacts on the communities they serve.
      Others say expanding Medicaid is too big a risk for taxpayers and that, overall, Virginia's hospitals are financially healthy.

Herring sues world’s biggest banks:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is suing some of the world's largest banks for $1.15 billion in damages related to the housing market crash.
     Herring said at a news conference Tuesday that the banks misled the Virginia Retirement System about the quality of certain loans while selling mortgage-backed securities.
     He said the VRS was forced to sell those securities because of the junk mortgages at a loss of $383 million. Herring is suing for three times the actual damages.  
     The lawsuit was unsealed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court. Herring said it is the largest financial fraud lawsuit ever filed by Virginia.
     The Democratic attorney general said nearly 40 percent of the 785,000 mortgages backing 220 securities purchased by VRS were of significantly higher risk than the banks had represented.

Search for missing UVA student expanded:
(Charlottesville, Va.) (AP) -- Police are adjusting their search area for a missing University of Virginia student after getting a new report of a possible sighting the night she disappeared.
     Charlottesville police Capt. Gary Pleasants said Tuesday that the tip prompted authorities to move the search area farther east, though he could not provide details about the possible sighting.
      Police searched a large area northeast of the university on Monday and found no trace of 18-year-old Hannah Elizabeth Graham. Pleasants said authorities were making plans at midday Tuesday to resume the search. Virginia State Police and the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office were assisting.
      According to university officials, Graham is 5-foot-11 with blue eyes, light brown hair and freckles. Police released surveillance photos showing Graham wearing black slacks and a gold and black crop top.
 
Fewer Virginia schools make the mark on SOL tests:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- Virginia education officials say more than 30 percent of the state's public schools failed to meet full accreditation standards last year.
     The Department of Education reported Tuesday that 68 percent of the state's 1,827 schools were fully accredited based on Standards of Learning test results. That is down from 77 percent the previous year and 93 percent two years ago.
     The number of schools accredited with warning increased from 393 to 545. Ten schools were denied accreditation because of persistently low student achievement.
     Education officials attributed the poorer results to more rigorous standards implemented in 2011.
     To earn full accreditation, at least 75 percent of students must pass reading and writing SOL tests and at least 70 percent must pass the math, science and history assessments.


Drive-by leaves one person wounded on Claiborne Street:
(Danville, Va.) -- One person was hit and shots were fired into a home and a car on Claiborne Street Sunday night.
      Danville police responded to the 600 block of Claiborne Street just before 10 p.m. in reference to multiple shots being fired in the area. Officers found that a home had been shot into and a vehicle that was parked in the 700 block of Claiborne Street had also been hit by gunfire. One subject was treated and released at Danville Regional Medical Center for what were described as non-life threatening injuries.
      Police are asking anyone with information about this incident to call Danville Crime Stoppers at (434) 793-0000. You may be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000.00.


Cause determined in house fire:
(Danville, Va.) -- Firefighters made quick work of a fire at a home at 1255 West Paxton Avenue Saturday morning.
     Smoke was visible from the second story of the large, frame house when the first units arrived at 7:23 a.m. A small fire was found on the second floor.
    
Several units responded, along with rescue personnel, the Haz-Mat team, a ladder truck and 17 personnel. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze in 10 minutes and the ladder truck wasn’t needed.     
      No injuries were reported; the house is vacant and is being remodeled. Firefighters spent  the morning venting smoke and conducting clean-up operations.      
     Minor smoke, fire and water damage was noted to the home. 
     The Danville fire marshal determined that the fire was started by some improperly discarded smoking materials
. (Leonard Harville, photographer)

Trailer destroyed in weekend fire:
(Danville, Va.) -- A mobile home was destroyed in a Sunday evening fire in Danville. Firefighters were sent to 180 Liberty Bell Court Lot 20 at around seven p.m. Engine Six arrived and found a single-wide mobile home engulfed in flames.
      The heavy volume of fire prevented firefighters from going inside. They controlled the fire from the exterior, which took about 20 minutes. Firefighters remained on scene for some two hours dousing pockets of hidden fire.
      Water had to be shuttled in by fire engines because the nearest hydrant was far away. The mobile home was vacant and there were no injuries.
      The cause of the fire is under investigation.


The new home for the New College Institute

New College Institute moves into new home:
(Martinsville, Va.) -- The New College Institute in Martinsville isn’t “new” anymore, but the school does have a new home.  This weekend featured grand opening festivities for the three-story, 52,000-square-foot building on Baldwin Block.
     It houses NCI’s administrative offices and programs that have been established, or are evolving, in advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurship and health care technology. 
     The $18.5 million project took nearly a year-and-a-half to complete.

Danville leaders target three projects for state aid:
(Danville, Va.) -- Danville leaders are asking for the State’s help in adding a third lane to South Boston Road, running from the Airport to the Danville Expressway.
     That’s one of three projects expected to be included in the city’s application for Revenue Sharing funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
     City officials say that extra lane is needed to help traffic more safely slow down and exit on to the Expressway.
     The city’s application will also include a request for money to do sidewalk widening and streetscape improvements on Craghead Street, from Main to the Community Market. 
     The city will also ask that the state put in a permanent Emergency Traffic signal at the corner of Craghead and Colquhoun to help with fire engines leaving the new Public Safety Center. Right now, they have a temporary signal.


Hurt supports Employee Health Act:
(Washington, D.C.) -- Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt supports a measure that he says will help President Obama keep his promises.
     Hurt and the rest of the House last week passed the Employee Healthcare Protection Act.  It would allow insurers to continue offering group plans for the next five years, even if they do not meet the minimum standards outlined under Obamacare.
     Hurt says a study shows 250,000 Virginians will likely lose their current Health Care plans under the Affordable Care Act.
     The measure cleared the House last week by a wide margin, but faces an uncertain future in the Senate.


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