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Roanoke County response: Judge has no jurisdiction over Confederate monument status

A more than century-old Roanoke County Confederate monument will not be moved by one circuit court judge’s order, according to legal responses from the county board of supervisors, filed with the Supreme Court of Virginia.

In July, Judge Charles Dorsey filed an order to remove the confederate statue that is located a few paces from the Roanoke County Circuit Court building. Dorsey’s order said the monument, which has stood tall on Salem’s Main Street since 1909, obstructs proper administration of justice in the courthouse.

But in a response filed with the state Supreme Court and sent to Dorsey on Monday, the county board of supervisors said the circuit court “has no authority to exercise jurisdiction over the monument at issue.”

PETITION FOR WRIT OF PROHIBITION

“No one doubts the sincerity of Judge Dorsey’s deeply held feelings,” the response said. “However, his Order… is itself a threat to the administration of justice, the rule of law, and the separation of powers.”

A state law changed in 2020 gives local governments — in this case the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors — power to remove, relocate, contextualize or cover any public memorials for war veterans, only after holding a public hearing on the matter and publishing notice of intent in a newspaper.

The circuit court order infringes on that power vested in the board, according to the supervisors’ response. It said Dorsey assumed jurisdiction in a civil action he created on his own.

“Judge Dorsey’s correspondence and his self-initiated Miscellaneous Order reflect a determination to take matters into his own hands, despite the lack of jurisdiction to do so,” documents read. “Judges could rely on this precedent to achieve whatever public policy they desired, regardless of the will of the citizens and their elected representatives.”

Further, the response said Dorsey’s order provided no specific examples of the monument obstructing administration of justice inside the courthouse.

For those reasons, the supervisors’ attorneys requested the state Supreme Court issue a “writ of prohibition” to prevent Dorsey from taking any further action on the monument’s removal.

Supervisors Chairman Jason Peters said the board simply needs more time than the judge allowed to decide a best course of action for the monument. Officials have previously discussed contextualizing the statue, rather than moving it.

Contextualizing a monument could include reflecting the truth of the times, and to represents all aspects of history, including the Black experience in America.

“We have the utmost respect for Judge Dorsey, and there’s no question about that,” Peters said. “We just feel like there needs to be more of a public process.”

Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources continues to develop regulations regarding the contextualization of monuments. Peters said the supervisors are still awaiting those guidelines before they make any decisions.

“We haven’t made any additional decisions yet, because we haven’t received anything out of Richmond,” Peters said.

The monument depicts a Confederate infantryman, and was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1909, according to an etching on the back. It stands on the corner of Salem’s Main Street and College Avenue, outside the historic Roanoke County Courthouse.

The old courthouse, adjacent to the current one, is presently used by Roanoke College for business, economics, public affairs, religion and philosophy classes. The college has offered to pay for the statue’s relocation, but it rests on county land and needs board of supervisors’ approval to move.

“This monument is owned by the citizens of Roanoke County,” Peters said. “We need to allow the public process to take place.”


Local
CASEY: Counting down the days on a Virginia medical marijuana license

We last took up the subject of Virginia medical marijuana licenses early in August.

By then, I had scored an official cannabis-use recommendation from a Virginia-licensed physician. That required a two minute phone call and it cost $135.

Next, I paid the commonwealth $50 as my medical-weed license fee, which brought my total investment up to $185.

Then I sent a copy of the teledoctor’s recommendation and an image of my driver’s license (which established identity, age and address) to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Processor program.

Which brings us to Aug. 12, when I got a confirmation email from suburban Richmond.

“The Board is currently receiving a high volume of applications,” it said. “All efforts will be made to process applications within 30 business days of receipt.”

Did that mean I could expect my license by Sept. 24, which was the 30th business day? Yippee, I thought. Then I learned the answer to that question was “no.”

Turns out, the operative word in the email’s second sentence is “process.” We’re dealing with a bureaucracy, after all. And in the context of a Virginia medical marijuana license application, the verb “process” is defined as “to ascertain whether one meets the qualifications.”

It also turns out that “issuance” of the license is a different step, which has its own defined waiting period.

On the 23rd business day — Sept. 15 — another email from the Board of Pharmacy showed up in the old inbox.

“Your application and supporting documents have been reviewed and approved. A registration card will be mailed out to you,” it said. Then came the kicker: “Please allow up to 21 business days for it to arrive.” (It also included my medical marijuana registration number, which does me no good without the actual card.)

Seriously? I have to wait 21 more business days? That suggests I might not have my card until Oct. 15. And if the experience of a friend in Blacksburg is any indication, it also might not arrive by then. (Because he’s shy about being known as a weed whacker, he shall remain nameless.)

His application was processed and approved Aug. 12. Today is the 29th business day since then. His license is more than a full week late. He’s running out of patience. The poor guy must be jonesing.

Curious about the backlog, I contacted the Virginia Department of Health Professions, of which the Board of Pharmacy is a part. Here’s what I learned from Diane Powers, the department’s spokeswoman:

My friend and I are two of 31,551 adult patients registered with the program, she said. That work out to roughly 3.5 registrants for every 1,000 Virginia residents.

As of Sept. 10, there were also 205 parents or guardians who had registered to purchase medical weed on behalf of their children.

The Board of Pharmacy maintains no records indicating the number of applications awaiting processing, or those that have been denied. So it’s hard to get a decent picture of how swamped the license-pipeline is.

The board currently has three workers processing medical marijuana licenses, and it’s looking to hire three more. And, the agency “is actively acquiring a new licensing software system that will facilitate a more efficient licensure process,” Powers said in an email.

Little of the above offers any clue as to when my friend and I can expect to receive our licenses. But at that time we’ll be able to go shopping at RISE on West Main Street in Salem, the local medical-pot dispensary.

Among other things, they’re currently selling (to registered license-holders only) edibles at $50 to $55 for a 10 pack, “concentrate” (which resembles hashish) for $90 per gram and four grades of medical weed: CrescendO, Gshers, Jack Frost and something called Purple Pineapple.

The list prices on the latter are $65 for 3.5 grams — that’s an eighth on an ounce. All four are currently “on sale” for $55.25 per eighth-ounce. That sale price works out to $442 per ounce. (By the way, RISE accepts cash only, but there’s an ATM on the premises.)

If those prices strike you as high, join the club. You can see some of the same cost angst in the reviews on the company’s website.

For CrescendO, one verified purchaser wrote: “These Prices are robbery!!! You can get higher quality flower for $100 an ounce in Colorado. This is Insanity. I feel like I’m in middle school and getting ripped off by the seniors.”

A purchaser of Jack Frost called it, “Best out of the nug[s] I tried from [gLeaf, which is the brand]. Outrageously priced and absolutely not worth it.”

My son in Berkeley, California, reports that 3.5 grams of high-potency recreational weed costs $10 at the state-licensed dispensary near his apartment — or $2.80 per gram. Ounces go for less than $80, Zach said.

In other words, so far I’ve paid $185 for the “privilege” of vastly overpaying for legal weed, at some point in the future, when and if I ever receive my license.

Virginia ought to be able to do better, eh?


National
Biden works to win over progressives

WASHINGTON — Time growing shorter, President Joe Biden labored to thrash out stubborn final issues with fellow Democrats on his “build back better” agenda Wednesday, working to bridge intraparty divisions in Congress ahead of crucial voting deadlines.

Biden and Democratic House and Senate lawmakers met in hours of back-to-back-to-back private White House sessions stretching into the evening, called at a pivotal juncture for Biden’s $3.5 trillion package as lawmakers struggle to draft the ambitious effort. With Republicans solidly opposed, Democratic leaders are counting on the president to galvanize consensus between progressives and centrists in their party.

Biden first conferred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, while the White House’s communications team headed to Capitol Hill to huddle with other House Democrats. Biden listened intently, lawmakers said, but also indicated he wanted progress soon, even by next week.

“We’re in good shape,” Pelosi told reporters back at the Capitol after the hour-plus meeting.

The White House’s intense focus on Biden’s expansive domestic proposal showcases how much is at stake politically for the president and his party in Congress. The administration has suffered setbacks elsewhere, notably with the Afghanistan withdrawal and prolonged COVID-19 crisis, and Democrats are running short of time, anxious to make good on campaign promises.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate are at a standstill over a separate package to keep the government funded past the Sept. 30 fiscal yearend and to suspend the federal debt limit to avert a shutdown and a devastating U.S. default on payments. Senate Republicans are refusing the House-passed bill, sparking a fiscal standoff.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said at a press conference Tuesday that failing to extend the debt limit is “just not something we can contemplate or we should contemplate.”

As for Biden’s build-back plans, the House faces a deadline Monday to vote on the first part of Biden’s plan — a nearly $1 trillion public works measure that was already approved by the Senate but has become tangled in disputes over the broader package.

Centrist Democrats support the slimmer bill but have raised concerns about the price tag of Biden’s broader vision — which entails revamping federal taxes and spending to make what the president views as overdue investments in health care, family services and efforts to fight climate change.

The $3.5 trillion package would impose tax hikes on corporations and wealthy Americans earning beyond $400,000 a year and plow that money back into federal programs for young and old, along with investments to tackle climate change.

House Speaker Pelosi has promised centrists a vote on the more modest $1 trillion public works package. That bill of roads, broadband and public water projects enjoys bipartisan Senate support and should easily pass the House even with growing House Republican opposition, but has become sidelined by the bigger debate.

“I’m confident we’ll have the votes,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a leader of the centrist coalition who was attending a later White House meeting.

But progressive lawmakers view the public works bill as inadequate and plan to vote against it unless it is considered alongside the bigger Biden package. Some 50 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus plan to vote against the bipartisan measure.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the progressive caucus, emerged from an hour-long meeting with Pelosi late Tuesday saying its position had not changed and the two bills must move “in tandem” to win the progressive votes. Jayapal also will attend the meeting with Biden.

Publicly, the White House has remained confident both bills will pass, and Democratic leaders are pushing ahead as they draft the details.

Tensions are high as the Biden agenda is a key campaign promise not only from the president but most of the the Democratic lawmakers, including those in the House who face re-election next year.

All told, more than 20 lawmakers were invited to confer with Biden, moderates and progressives in separate meetings stretching into the evening, making their best pitches. Key centrist Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, were to be among them.

Despite disputes, many Democrats are saying they expect the final product to align with Biden’s broader vision and eventually have robust party support, even if that version is adjusted or scaled back.

“These are really popular things,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, of Kentucky, chairman of the Budget Committee.

But Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., a leader of the centrist Blue Dog caucus, expects to vote Monday on the smaller package but said the bigger one will take more time. “I’m not sure that we’re at a place of closing out just yet,” she said.

On Capitol Hill, Biden’s communications director Kate Bedingfield unfurled a 24-page presentation to House Democrats, much of it focused on the potential economic benefits and popularity of the package with voters, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private session.

While all this is going on, the government faces a shutdown if funding stops on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Additionally, at some point in October the U.S. risks defaulting on its accumulated debt load if its borrowing limits are not waived or adjusted.


National
Biden boosts COVID vaccine donations

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the United States is doubling its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to share with the world to 1 billion doses as he embraces the goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population within the next year.

The stepped-up U.S. commitment marks the cornerstone of the global vaccination summit Biden convened virtually on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where he encouraged well-off nations to do more to get the coronavirus under control. It comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations have grown increasingly vocal about the slow pace of global vaccinations and the inequity of access to shots between residents of wealthier and poorer nations.

“Global health security until now has failed, to the tune of 4.5 million lives, and counting,” UN Secretary General António Guterres told the summit, referring to the confirmed global death toll from the coronavirus. “We have effective vaccines against COVID-19. We can end the pandemic. And that is why I have been appealing for a global vaccination plan and I hope this summit is a step in that direction.”

The U.S. purchase of another 500 million shots brings the total U.S. vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022. About 160 million shots supplied by the U.S. have already been distributed to more than 100 countries, representing more donations than the rest of the world combined. The remaining American doses will be distributed over the coming year.

“To beat the pandemic here, we need to beat it everywhere,” Biden said. He added that with the new commitments, “For every one shot we’ve administered to date in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world.”

The latest purchase reflects only a fraction of what will be necessary to meet a goal of vaccinating 70% of the global population — and 70% of the citizens of each nation — by next September’s U.N. meeting. It’s a target pushed by global aid groups that Biden threw his weight behind.

Biden is pressing other countries to do more in their vaccine sharing plans.

“We need other high-income countries to deliver on their own ambitious vaccine donations and pledges,” Biden said. He called on wealthy countries to commit to donating, rather than selling the shots to poorer nations, and to provide them “with no political strings attached.”

The European Union committed to donating 500 million doses — a slight increase from its earlier announced plans — according to a joint statement between the bloc and the U.S. “We call for nations that are able to vaccinate their populations to double their dose-sharing commitments or to make meaningful contributions to vaccine readiness,” the statement said.

They also committed to working with the U.S. to bolster global vaccine supply.

Biden, in his remarks, said the U.S. would also increase its funding to global aid groups that are administering shots.

The American response has come under criticism for being too modest, particularly as the administration advocates for providing booster shots to tens of millions of Americans before vulnerable people in poorer nations have received even a first dose.

“We have observed failures of multilateralism to respond in an equitable, coordinated way to the most acute moments. The existing gaps between nations with regard to the vaccination process are unheard of,” Colombian President Iván Duque said Tuesday at the United Nations.

More than 5.9 billion COVID-19 doses have been administered globally over the past year, representing about 43% of the global population. But there are vast disparities in distribution, with many lower-income nations struggling to vaccinate even the most vulnerable share of their populations, and some yet to exceed 2% to 3% vaccination rates.

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said the “triumph” of speedy vaccine development was offset by political “failure” that produced inequitable distribution. “In science, cooperation prevailed; in politics, individualism. In science, shared information reigned; in politics, reserve. In science, teamwork predominated; in politics, isolated effort,” Piñera said.

The World Health Organization says only 15% of promised donations of vaccines — from rich countries that have access to large quantities of them — have been delivered. The U.N. health agency has said it wants countries to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges “immediately” and make shots available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship vaccines to all countries has struggled with production issues, supply shortages and a near-cornering of the market for vaccines by wealthy nations.

Also on Wednesday, the General Assembly pledged to redouble its efforts to combat racism around the world, commemorating a landmark but contentious 2001 anti-racism conference by holding an anniversary meeting once again riven with divisions.

Looking back on the two decades since the conference in Durban, South Africa, the assembly adopted a resolution that acknowledged some progress but deplored what it called a rise in discrimination, violence and intolerance directed at people of African heritage and many other groups — from the Roma to refugees, the young to the old, people with disabilities to people who have been displaced.

At a meeting focused on reparations and racial justice for people with African heritage, the assembly pointed to the effects of slavery, colonialism and genocide and called for ensuring that people of African descent can seek “adequate reparation or satisfaction” through national institutions.

“Millions of the descendants of Africans who were sold into slavery remain trapped in lives of underdevelopment, disadvantage, discrimination and poverty,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told the gathering via video.


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