07:55pm, 09/18/14
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Thursday, September 18, 2014
Updated 9/18/14 @ 4:45 pm

Lots of talk, little action on Virginia's Medicaid program:
(Richmond, Va.) (AP) -- There has been plenty of talking but little action Thursday as Virginia state lawmakers kicked off a special session to discuss whether the state's Medicaid program should expand.
     Republican leaders, who have stymied Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility since he took office in January, said they are holding a special session to discuss Medicaid expansion as promised. But GOP leaders in the House made clear shortly after the lower chamber reconvened that their opposition hasn't wavered.
     "Government programs meant to lift people out of poverty simply haven't worked," said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox. "Nearly 50 years after we declared war on poverty, things are getting worse not better."
     Several Democrats panned the special session as a waste of time, and mocked Republicans for not having any alternative proposals.
     "Where's your plan?" said Arlington Democrat Del. Patrick A. Hope. "We need to get to work."
     Earlier Thursday, McAuliffe said he remained optimistic that Republican lawmakers will change their minds, adding "Virginia should be a leader on health care."

Volunteers plan return trip to Mississippi:
(Danville, Va.) -- God’s Pit Crew will be making a return trip to Louisville, Mississippi next month to build a home for an elderly couple who lost everything when a tornado ripped through the town on April 28th.
     Crew Chief Randy Johnson says they met Randy and Diane in the spring and felt compelled to return and help them rebuild.
      But they need money for fuel to make the 700 mile trek to Mississippi.
      They’re accepting donations and the Checkered Pig has agreed to donate 15% of its proceeds from sales next Thursday.
      Johnson says they’re also looking for some skilled craftsmen who are willing to make the trip.
      Johnson says it will take about 14 days to complete the project.

Police seek escapee from Southern Virginia:
(Danville, Va.) -- Danville police have warrants on file for a man who escaped from Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute Wednesday.
      According to investigators, 27-year-old Michael Antwan Henderson of Halifax, Virginia escaped about 7:00 Wednesday night from the facility on Taylor Drive and is still at large. The Danville Police Department currently holds an arrest warrant charging Henderson with escape.
      Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Danville Crimestoppers at (434) 793-0000.

Former Halifax Supervisor arrested for embezzlement:
(Halifax County, Va.) -- A former Halifax County Schools employee is free on bond following his arrest this week. Earl Womack was taken into custody after being charged with taking money from the school system.
     Halifax County authorities say Womack was released after posting bail following his arrest Monday. A grand jury indicted Womack last week on six counts of obtaining money under false pretense and one count of embezzlement.
     Womack, who is also a former Halifax County Supervisor, is scheduled to appear in court next week.

Second arrest made in Henry County hold-up:
(Galax, Va.) -- A second man sought in the armed robbery of a Henry County convenience store has been arrested in Galax, Virginia. 29-year-old Joshua Lee Cloud of Martinsville was arrested Wednesday in Galax and is being held in the New River Regional jail without bond.
      Cloud and 31-year-old George Koulouris are charged with robbing the Village Market in Basset on August 7.
      According to Henry County investigators, the two men entered the store around 10 p.m., one armed with a handgun. Both were wearing masks and gloves and took money from the register and a purse belonging to one of the clerks before fleeing on foot.
     Both face robbery and firearms charges.
     Koulouris was arrested earlier and is being held in the Henry County Jail without bond.  

Videos show man was following UVA coed:
(Charlottesville, Va.) (AP) -- Police say they've reviewed additional surveillance videos from two businesses showing a missing University of Virginia student and others walking the night she disappeared.
     Charlottesville police Capt. Gary Pleasants said Wednesday night the videos of 18-year-old Hannah E. Graham taken early Saturday are from the Downtown Mall, a popular row of shops and restaurants.
     One video shows Graham walking by a shop's doorway, and a male who had stopped there steps out and follows her.  Another video filmed two minutes later shows the same male following Graham, who is next to someone else.
     Police released two other surveillance videos earlier Wednesday showing her walking past a pub and running past a service station.

US judge in W.Va. delays gay-marriage ruling:
(Huntington, W.Va.) (AP) -- A federal judge in West Virginia has delayed ruling on a lawsuit challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban, that while awaiting a ruling in a Virginia case by the nation's highest court.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers in Huntington says due to the "overlap of issues" presented in the West Virginia case and a similar one in Virginia, he put the case on hold this week pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
     In August the Supreme Court delayed a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, that struck down that state's gay marriage ban.
     A number of similar rulings around the country have been put on hold while appeals are pursued.
     The West Virginia lawsuit was filed on behalf of three same-sex couples and the child of one couple.
     The Supreme Court returns from recess in October.

Political intrigue in local judicial vacancy:
(Richmond, Va.) -- When lawmakers left Richmond in April, there was only one nominee being considered for a vacant Danville judgeship.  When they returned this week, there were four.
          Sandra Chinn-Gilstrap was nominated by the Danville Bar Association appeared to be the pick to replace Lee Stillwell earlier this year, but the nomination got caught up in the state budget showdown.  Since then, three more candidates have emerged.
          Danville Delegate Danny Marshall says he’s not sure which members of Southside’s delegation encouraged the other candidates to apply.
          All four candidates were interviewed Tuesday in a joint meeting of the House and Senate Courts of Justice Committee.  Marshall says local lawmakers will now caucus to decide who gets the nomination. He hopes to meet today with fellow Delegates Les Adams and Charles Poindexter; along with Senators Bill Stanley and Frank Ruff.
          The other candidates are A.J. Dudley, son of former delegate Allen Dudley of Rocky Mount.  Joan Ziglar, the former commonwealth's attorney of Martinsville and local attorney Bob Adams.  But Marshall says Chinn-Gilstrap still has HIS vote.
          The Danville Bar Association last week passed a second resolution, urging lawmakers approve Chinn-Gilstrap.  They could vote today or tomorrow.

Council approves domestic abuse shelter:
(Danville, Va.) -- A Good Samaritan will get to open a domestic violence shelter in Danville.  It’ll be the city’s first in four years.
          Alfrieta Bennett-Reaves is the founder of "Present Help Ministries."  They will open a shelter in a house on Stokes Street. They can house up to five victims, but for no more than sixty days
          It was four years ago when the Doves shelter closed in Danville. The next-closest domestic violence shelter is in Altavista.  Haven of Danville is set to open their shelter in Danville later this year.

More Pittsylvania Co. schools meet benchmarks:
(Chatham, Va.) -- Final scores from spring SOLs show 16 of 18 schools in Pittsylvania County are fully accredited. That’s up from 13 a year ago.
     The increase is in contrast to the statewide numbers. In 2013, 77% of schools were fully accredited.  This year, only 70% made the grade.
     Hurt and Kentuck Elementary are now listed as “Accredited with Warning.” All four county High Schools qualified under the Graduation Completion Index.
     In Danville, 3 of the 11 schools are fully accredited.  Galileo, GW High School and Forest Hills Elementary met all of the benchmarks.
     Also, Danville’s Alternative School at Langston will remain under what’s called “focus school” status, meaning students scored in the lowest five-percent of Virginia’s Title-One Schools. That requires that the Focus Center hire a turnaround specialist to help boost test scores.

NC police: ASU died about the time she disappeared:
(Boone, N.C.) (AP) -- North Carolina police say an autopsy on an Appalachian State University coed who was the subject of a search died not long after she was last seen earlier this month.
      Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said Wednesday the autopsy on 18-year-old Anna Smith of High Point found signs of suffocation and no injuries to the head, neck, chest, or pelvic area. Crawford said while Smith did not appear to have been killed, investigators continue to look for any clues pointing to homicide.
      The police chief said previously that a letter apparently written by Smith was found near her body, which was discovered Saturday in a heavily wooded area off campus. Authorities, family and friends had searched for Smith since she was reported missing from her college dorm on Sept. 3.

Apartment building on Marshall Terrace (2013 photo)

Zoning frustration at City Council:
(Danville, Va.) -- A zoning debate Tuesday night before Danville City Council ended in frustration for a local developer.
     Madison Whittle got a permit last year to revive a six-unit apartment complex on Marshall Terrace. But the property lost its multi-family zoning after it was vacant for several years during the housing crunch.  As a single-family lot, Whittle has to provide off-street parking, something that’s impossible at the site.
     City Manager Joe King called it an unintended consequence. Every member of council agreed this was a "glitch" in the code. Despite their unanimity, council could offer no relief over the short-term. Councilman Fred Shanks called it an unintended consequence of zoning changes dating back a decade.
    But with tenants ready to move in immediately, Whittle asked the city to turn the lights on ASAP.  Whittle needs a variance to bring the building into compliance. Only the Board of Zoning Appeals can do that, but not until October 16th.

Hurt backs regulatory relief bill:
(Washington, D.C.) -- A large package of bills targeting small business regulatory relief cleared the house Tuesday. It includes a provision introduced earlier this year by a local lawmaker.
     Fifth District Congressman Robert Hurt calls the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act a vital step in removing unnecessary federal regulations and allowing small companies to innovate and expand, creating new jobs.
      He says smaller companies are spending tens of thousands of dollars or more complying with a regulation requiring them to provide better access to investors. He says less than 10% of investors actually use the system.
      Hurt co-sponsored the Small Company Disclosure Simplification Act, making that reporting requirement mandated by the SEC optional for small companies.
     The package of bills now goes to the Senate.

Hurt man guilty on two counts:
(Chatham, Va.) -- A Pittsylvania County man will be sentenced later this year on two lesser counts filed after an incident last year at Leesville Lake.
      In May, Dontay Pannell was found not guilty of the most serious charges from what prosecutors called a gang-related attempted car-jacking last summer at Leesville Lake. The jury deadlocked on charges of participating in gang activity and attempted car-jacking.    
     Pannell was convicted on those counts this week. The jury recommended nine years in jail. Sentencing is set for November.

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.

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