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Michael Lee Pope

Stories by Michael Lee

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Student Growth Outpaces Staffing

Number of new teachers hasn't kept pace with surge in enrollment.

Since 2008, Alexandria schools have added more than 4,000 new students. But a new report from the Commonwealth Institute shows staffing has not kept pace. City schools have added only 100 new teachers during that time, and the number of teacher aides has actually declined by 10 positions.

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'Fauci Should Be Jailed'

Republican candidate for Congress in the 8th calls for incarceration of medical advisor.

The Republican candidate for Congress in the 8th Congressional District is calling for President Biden's chief medical advisor to be "jailed," a comment she made during a candidates forum hosted by the Alexandria Republican City Committee earlier this month.

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Taking on Beyer

Five Republican candidates seek nomination in convention to challenge incumbent congressman.

Usually Republicans have to recruit candidates to run against four-term U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8). Not this year. Five Republicans are seeking the Republican nomination for the 8th Congressional District in a convention later this month.

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Privacy Advocates Urge Veto

Opponents of facial recognition technology call on governor to reject social-media dragnet.

Police departments across Virginia may soon have the ability to use billions of images scraped from social-media sites like Facebook and Instagram to track down suspects, a development that is concerning to critics who say the technology is invasive and a violation of privacy. The governor is now considering the bill, and critics are urging him to veto it or amend it to require a warrant.

A Government Divided

Lawmakers end session with little to show and no budget.

Budget talks

Ditch Warfare

House Republicans push for tax cuts; Senate Democrats push back.

Taxes

Oops! They Did it Again

Lawmakers accidentally gave overtime protection to farmworkers and domestic workers, now they're taking it back.

They didn't mean it. Seriously. And now they're about to undo what they did last year. Lawmakers say the vote last year to create a cause of action for farmworkers and domestic workers to seek overtime pay was a mistake. Senators say they were misled, snookered by the blitzkrieg pace of the General Assembly. Now they're taking action to rectify the situation, stripping farmworkers and domestic workers of the ability to sue for overtime.

Commemorating Hidden History in Arlington and Alexandria

Local 'Green Book' locations may soon be designated historic sites.

Green Book

Green Rollback May Hit Blue Wall

Republican efforts to undo environmental laws to face opposition in Democratic-led Senate.

Environmental laws

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Reconsidering Marijuana

Pot is still legal, but the plan to regulate its sale is in jeopardy.

Marijuana

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Republican Sweep

Democrats lose statewide for the first time since 2009.

Virginia has a long tradition of offering a counterpoint to presidential elections starting after the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter for president in 1976.

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Virginia at a Crossroads

Voters to determine direction of state government.

Two years ago, Democrats seized control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation. Now Republicans are hoping this is their moment to "Take Back Virginia," the name of a recent rally in support of the GOP statewide ticket that featured a call-in appearance from former President Donald Trump, who used the opportunity to repeat baseless claims about widespread election fraud.

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Bag It?—Not Any More

Arlington to consider a new five-cent tax for each plastic bag.

Bag Tax

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Facing Eviction

Virginia has new protections for renters, but temporary measures expire next year.

The clock is ticking for renters across Virginia who are in danger of being evicted. People of color and low-income Virginians are most at risk.

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Big Money for Big Biz, Not as Much for Poor

Lawmakers go on a spending spree with billions of dollars from Uncle Sam.

Big business cleaned up this week, taking home the biggest prizes in the special session to spend $3 billion in stimulus cash. Meanwhile, low-income Virginians didn't fare quite as well.

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Spending Spree

General Assembly returns to Richmond to appropriate federal stimulus cash

In the 1985 hit movie "Brewster's Millions," Richard Pryor is given the task of spending $30 million in 30 days.

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Marijuana Is Now Legal

The long strange trip from a failed war on drugs to social equity licenses

Smoke 'em if you've got 'em because pot is now legal in the commonwealth of Virginia.

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Democrats Choose Northern Virginia Ticket

Primary voters select candidates with gender and racial diversity but lacking in regional balance.

As election returns started rolling in from the Democratic primary Tuesday, Republicans started boasting about having the most diverse statewide ticket in Virginia history.

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Democrats Decide

Voters to determine direction of party in June 8 primary

The June 8 primary will determine the direction of the Democratic Party in Virginia at a critical time, when the commonwealth is emerging from the pandemic and trying to recast itself as something other than a party in opposition to former President Donald Trump.

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Convention Done, Primary Ahead

Republicans get a head start in the general election; Democrats still fighting each other

The way Democrats talk about Donald Trump, you'd think he was on the ballot in 2021. And in many ways, he is. The former president may be out of the White House and kicked off of social media, but he's still eager to see himself as a kingmaker.

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Seven Republicans Running for Governor

May 8 convention to determine direction of party heading into November.

Republicans haven’t won a statewide race since 2009, when Attorney General Bob McDonnell received 59 percent of the vote against Democrat Creigh Deeds. Since then, Republicans have been shut out of the Executive Mansion. Ken Cuccinelli lost to Terry McAuliffe in 2013, and Ed Gillespie lost to Ralph Northam in 2017. Now Republicans are about to determine their statewide candidates in a May 8 convention, which will take place at 37 locations.

Running for Second in Command

Thirteen candidates are running for lieutenant governor in Virginia.

Seven Democrats and six Republicans are trying to secure their parties' nomination to be the candidate for lieutenant governor on the November ballot.

Green Summer

Alexandria delegation works with the governor to legalize marijuana on July 1.

Alexandria is about to become the capital of marijuana in Virginia. The city's legislative delegation is at the center of an effort poised to legalize weed this summer, years ahead of an agreement that was struck behind closed doors at the end of the General Assembly session in February.

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Starting from a Clean Slate

Compromise on expungement: automatic for some misdemeanors, petition for some felonies.

Marijuana convictions will be automatically expunged under a bill now under consideration by Gov. Ralph Northam, although convictions for crack cocaine will require missing a day of work and probably hiring a lawyer to go to court and seal the record. The legislation is a compromise crafted late in the General Assembly session by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring of Alexandria and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), who clashed repeatedly over the last year about how the process should work.

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The Strange Career of Felon Disenfranchisement

Amendment targets Jacksonian-era restriction weaponized during Jim Crow.

Felons have been prohibited from voting in Virginia since 1830, when the "right to suffrage" was denied "to any person convicted of any infamous offense." But it was during the era of Jim Crow that felon disenfranchisement became weaponized to prevent Black voters from influencing elections.

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Sealing the Record

House and Senate Democrats disagree on how old convictions should be expunged.

For people haunted by a conviction for felony drug possession or misdemeanor disorderly conduct, a debate now happening in the Virginia General Assembly is one that could have dramatic consequences for finding a place to live or landing a job. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow those people to seal their criminal record, expunging old convictions and helping them wipe the slate clean. But Democrats are bitterly divided over how to accomplish that goal.

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Fully Baked

Alexandria senator leads effort to legalize marijuana in Virginia.

The so-called "war on drugs" was a failure, locking up generations of Black men and tearing Black families apart. Now lawmakers in Richmond are finally coming around to realizing the damage that the prohibition against marijuana caused in minority communities. Last year members of the General Assembly approved legislation decriminalizing marijuana. This year, they may be on the verge of legalizing recreational use of marijuana — ending the failed war on drugs and adopting new equity measures to address some of the damage it caused.

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Killing the Death Penalty

Lawmakers consider bill to abolish capital punishment in Virginia

Virginia has executed people longer than any other state, a tradition that stretches back into colonial days when Captain George Kendall was executed for treason. Over the years, the commonwealth has executed more than 1,300 people. Now, Virginia may be about to join 22 other states that have abolished the death penalty.

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Privatized Incarceration

Alexandria senator leads fight against profiting from prisoners

Housing inmates in Virginia prisons costs the state about $70 a day for each inmate. But the private sector can do it a lot cheaper, about $50 a day. Lawmakers are about to debate whether that's a savings they can afford.

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Essential Leave

Advocates for paid sick days try to build support among Virginia Senate Democrats

Before the pandemic hit, Senate Democrats stopped a proposal requiring businesses to offer paid sick days. During the pandemic, they rejected it again during a special session. Now as lawmakers prepare for the upcoming General Assembly session, advocates are hoping they've finally got a strategy to persuade reluctant Senate Democrats to approve a new law increasing the number of workers in Virginia who have access to paid sick days.

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Appealing Bad Rulings

Lawmakers to consider expanding appeals court, providing new oversight to judges.

Virginia is the only state in the country that does not guarantee a right to appeal, allowing circuit court judges to make decisions with little oversight or scrutiny. Critics have been calling for reform ever since the Court of Appeals was first created in 1985. The Supreme Court of Virginia recommended an appeal of right as a "long term goal" in 2018. Now, Gov. Ralph Northam says he wants lawmakers to add four judges and support staff "to ensure the court can hear more appeals cases in a timely manner under an increasing workload."

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Absurd Leverage

Lawmakers to reconsider mandatory minimum for assaulting law enforcement

Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have ditched the mandatory minimum sentence for assaulting a law-enforcement officer. Now the General Assembly is about to consider the issue again.

Drawing the Line

Newly created redistricting commission zooms toward new maps in 2021

Now that voters have approved a constitutional amendment creating a new redistricting commission, the pieces have already started falling into place for how the commission will work and who will serve on it.

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The Pandemic Election

Virginia voters support Biden, Warner and a new redistricting commission.

Twenty years ago, Virginia was a red state. Republicans scored Virginia's electoral votes in every presidential election since LBJ was reelected in 1964. Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats. The Grand Old Party had all the statewide offices, a majority of the congressional delegation and both chambers of the General Assembly. That was the environment when Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, ran for governor and lieutenant governor.

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Hiding at the Top of the Ticket

Race for Senate features two-term incumbent versus first-time candidate.

When Mark Warner ran for governor in 2001, opponents knocked him for wanting to be governor without having ever run for office before.

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Limiting Neck Restraints

Lawmakers negotiate behind closed doors on how to curb police use of chokeholds.

When lawmakers began their special session on criminal justice reform in August, hopes were high that the General Assembly would send the governor a bill that banned police from using chokeholds. But now that the protesters have gone home and the lawmakers have moved behind closed doors to negotiate in a secret closed-door conference committee, advocates for criminal-justice reform are worried about what will emerge in the conference report that will be presented to the House and Senate.

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An Election about Elections

Voters to determine how redistricting works next year.

When Republicans were in charge of drawing political boundaries for the General Assembly and Congress, Democrats supported an amendment to the Virginia Constitution creating a new mapmaking commission. The idea was to take the power of political gerrymandering out of the hands of the majority and hand it over to a group that wouldn’t be quite so focused on screwing the opposition. But then Democrats seized control of the General Assembly, and most House Democrats flip flopped on the issue.

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The Fight for Paid Leave

After effort for paid sick days falters, lawmakers move toward paid quarantine leave.

The fight for paid sick days is on hold for now, and advocates have moved to a fallback position for the special session of the Virginia General Assembly: quarantine leave.

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Automated Justice?

Lawmakers to consider automatic expungements for misdemeanors.

Virginia is one of 10 states that offers almost no way for people convicted of misdemeanors to expunge their records, creating roadblocks for people trying to get a job or rent an apartment. Even when a jury finds defendants in Virginia not guilty or when prosecutors dropped charges, allegations remain on records as a stain that can cause problems for years to come. That’s why lawmakers are about to consider a proposal from the Virginia Crime Commission on automatic expungement, which is expected to be released early next week.

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Reforming the Police

Lawmakers consider sweeping set of proposals to change policing in Virginia.

Only a few hours into a special session of the General Assembly earlier this week, members of a Senate panel passed a sweeping bill on policing reform that does everything from banning no-knock warrants and limiting chokeholds to creating use-of-force standards and requiring de-escalation training.

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At the Crossroads

Lawmakers to slash the state budget and consider criminal-justice reforms.

The threadbare Franklin and Armfield office on Duke Street stands at the crossroads between racial injustice and economic crisis. It’s a ramshackle building now, but it was once the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States, present at the creation of the systemic racism that plagues Virginia cops and courts. It’s also the city’s latest acquisition, and the state budget was to include $2.5 million to help transform it into the Freedom House Museum. But then the pandemic hit, and the governor hit the pause button on that line item as well as all the other spending priorities of the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

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Loan Sharks in the Water

Lawmakers crack down on predatory lending, although reform won’t happen for eight months.

The LoanMax on Mount Vernon Avenue in Arlandria is open for business during the pandemic, and colorful signs in the windows announce in English and Spanish that the car-title lender remains open during a stay-at-home order — offering loans at 200 percent annual interest during a time when unemployment claims in Alexandria are skyrocketing. Those kinds of interest rates will be illegal under the Fairness in Lending Act, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed last week after lawmakers signed off on some last-minute changes. But the ban on such high-interest lending won’t take effect until New Years Day 2021, which means high-interest lenders have eight months to engage in an unprecedented lending spree during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

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Mounting Layoffs

Businesses notify state officials of 5,000 layoffs in Northern Virginia.

Businesses across Northern Virginia are flooding the Virginia Economic Commission with thousands of layoff notifications, an indication of how deep the region’s economic uncertainty is becoming as the COVID-19 crisis continues its devastating path. Since the beginning of March, the commission has received notification of about 5,000 layoffs in Northern Virginia. That’s more layoffs in one part of the state than all the other regions in Virginia combined.

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Banks to the Rescue

Small businesses wait for banks to get federal money from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Like many business owners across Northern Virginia, Cyrille Brenac is still waiting to hear back from his bank about his application to the Paycheck Protection Program. That’s the $350 billion program that was part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law designed to offer money to small businesses who can demonstrate they are keeping their employees. For Brenac, who lives in the Cherrydale neighborhood of Arlington, the money would help him rehire about 50 employees of his two French restaurants he laid off when the economy abruptly shut down as the result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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Justice Delayed

When does a defendant no longer have the right to a speedy trial?

Judges across Northern Virginia are about to be presented with a difficult question: Does the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic trump a defendant’s right to a speedy trial?

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Are Hospitals in Northern Virginia Ready?

Projections show a critical lack of hospital beds and ICU beds.

Northern Virginia’s health care system could be overwhelmed by an influx of patients infected with the novel coronavirus, according to an assessment from the Harvard Global Health Institute. The projections show hospitals in Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria could quickly fill their available beds with patients, forcing administrators to either expand capacity or make the kind of life-and-death decisions about care that Italy has been forced into by the crisis.

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Generational Divide

Senior conservative Democratic senators from Fairfax undermine labor agenda.

When Democrats won both chambers of the General Assembly in November, hopes were high that the new majorities in the House and Senate would move forward with a progressive agenda that had been rejected when Republicans were in power. Labor groups were particularly excited about the prospect of passing a $15 minimum wage, collective bargaining for public employees and a requirement that all employers offer five paid sick days. But the General Assembly session ended this week without fully accomplishing these goals.

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House Versus Senate

Conservative upper chamber undermines progressive House of Delegates.

Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly like to see themselves as adversaries. The real enemy, they like to say, is down the hall.

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Mapmaking Politics

Legislative Black Caucus leads effort to undermine redistricting amendment.

Virginia has a horrible history with racial gerrymandering. It started with the ratification of the Constitution, an effort led by Virginians who wanted to count slaves as three-fifths of a person so representation in the south wouldn’t suffer because so many of its inhabitants were non-voting enslaved people. It continued all the way to 2011, when the Republican leaders engaged in a scheme of packing black voters into House districts to dilute their influence elsewhere, a plan the United States Supreme Court later determined was unconstitutional. Now members of the Legislative Black Caucus are worried a proposed amendment might enshrine racial gerrymandering into the Virginia Constitution.

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Why a Regional Wage in Virginia?

Effort to raise minimum wage hits snag on Senate floor, leading to regional approach.

It’s shortly after 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) is working the Senate chamber to save the minimum wage increase. This particular Tuesday isn’t just any day of the week. It’s the final deadline for Senate bills to cross over to the House, so the pressure is building as the clock winds down. Senators are tired and cranky, and they will be working past midnight.

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