Category Archives: Public safety & health

The Solution Nobody Will Mention: DNR

By Steve Haner

This is how we solve the coming hospital bed crisis. This is how we stretch our ventilators supply. No politician is going to say this, neither Donald Trump nor Andrew Cuomo, and doctors won’t start this conversation. Lester Holt won’t bring it up on Nightly News.

It is called a “do not resuscitate” order. DNR. It can stand on its own or be part of package of advance medical directives and powers of attorney. If you don’t have one, sign one. If you are 40 and think yourself healthy, consider one anyway. Today.  Continue reading

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading

Northam Shuts Down Schools. What’s Next?

By DJ Rippert

Early Spring Break. Last Thursday Virginia Governor Northam somewhat suddenly decided to shut down all K-12 schools starting the next day. The shutdown is for “at least two weeks.” The question of how to manage continuing free and reduced price meals during the shutdown has been left up to the individual school districts. Yesterday a man in Virginia’s peninsula health district died of COVID-19. Today, Northam banned all gatherings of more than 100 people. As of this writing (1:30 p.m. .Sunday, March 15) there have been 45 cases of Coronavirus recorded in Virginia with one death.

After a “wait and see” start Northam now has Virginia taking actions in parallel with more aggressive U.S. states.  However, every state is taking action. West Virginia shut down its schools “indefinitely” despite the Mountain State being the only state in America to have no confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Future actions by the Virginia state government are hard to predict. Senior officials in the Trump Administration are urging a 14-day national shutdown which would obviously apply to Virginia. A good look at how the U.S. Coronavirus outbreak compares to other countries can be seen here. If the federal government does not declare a national shutdown, Virginia could still take any number of actions depending on the severity of the situation. Let’s look at what’s happening elsewhere.

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Three Bad Bills

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Each session there are bills that are introduced probably with the best of intentions and approved for those reasons, but are basically bad policy and are likely to have unintended consequences. They are not “big” bills and do not generate headlines, but skate under the radar. I want to highlight three that have come to my attention and are in an area with which I am familiar.

Inmate medical copay. (HB 281—Hope.) This legislation would repeal the authority of the Department of Corrections to charge inmates a co-pay for medical services. Inmates now are subject to a $5 co-pay for offender-initiated  medical visits. No inmate is denied medical services due to a lack of funds in his account. The revenue generated by the co-pay is used to support the agency’s telemedicine program. The House amendments to the budget bill include $405,000 from the general fund each to replace the revenue lost. Continue reading

Highway Safety Provisions Embedded in Omnibus Bill

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Included in the Governor’s omnibus transportation bill, discussed earlier here, are some major highway safety proposals that have proved controversial in the past.  The administration probably thought the chance of passage would improve if these proposals were wrapped up in a big package with lots of other stuff.

The items are the following (I have plagiarized Dave Ress’ well-worded summary in his Daily Press article):

  • No talking on a handheld cellphone while driving. (Currently, talking on a handheld phone is banned only in highway work zones. Typing or reading text on a handheld phone is banned anywhere.)
  • No open containers of beer, wine or liquor while driving. (Currently, you can’t drink while driving; the change would mean a fine of up to $250 just for having an open container in your car.)
  • Driving with your seat belt unbuckled would be a primary offense — that is, sufficient reason for a police officer to pull you over and give you a ticket. (Currently, you can be ticketed for this only after a cop has pulled you for some other violation.)

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Dueling Crises: Unaffordable Housing vs. Flammable Housing

by James A. Bacon

Citing housing affordability as the key issue, the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development has voted down an update to the state building code that would have mandated the installation of sprinklers in all new single-family homes and townhouses.

Virginia home builders have said that the sprinkler requirement would add between $15,000 and $25,000 to the construction cost of a new residence, according to reporting by WAMU, American University Radio. Keith Brower, a former Loudoun County fire chief has countered that the cost would be significantly less, about $5,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house. Whatever the case, there is no debate that the mandate would have added thousands of dollars to the cost of a dwelling unit.

WAMU summarized the home builders’ arguments this way:

Home-builders hailed the 10-4 vote taken Monday, saying that requiring sprinklers would only throw another obstacle in the way of the new housing construction that is needed to help close what officials say is a 75,000-home gap between what’s currently expected to be built across the region and what’s actually needed to keep pace with estimated job growth.

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A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In response to some of the comments to my recent post on crime and drug data, as well as to a running theme on this blog, I want to share a thought-provoking article that I recently encountered.

I have long felt that the use of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.  However, a recent New Yorker article caused me to have second thoughts.  The author does not take a stand on whether pot should be legal or not.  He is questioning one of the basic premises behind the drive to legalize it: that it is safe.  He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.

The point that stood out for me is that there is some evidence linking the heavy use of pot to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.  Also, some researchers have shown links between the use of pot and increases in violence.

All of this research is preliminary and much more needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  In any event, it is important to keep in mind that THC is a potent chemical and that the human brain chemistry is a delicate balance that can be affected, in good and bad ways, by the introductionof “foreign” substances.

Philip Morris: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

by Peter Galuszka

It’s been a very long goodbye. Faced with billions of dollars in health-related lawsuits and huge public relations problems in 2008, cigarette giant Philip Morris split itself in two very different companies.

It reminds me of the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliantly sarcastic war move, “Full Metal Jacket.” A colonel stops Private Joker and demands to know why he has born-to-kill and peace symbols on his helmet at the same time. “What does it MEAN?” growls the Colonel. “I dunno, Sir,” replies Private Joker, “I guess it’s the Jungian thing, you know, the duality of man.”

Duality of cigarette making is more like it. Back in 2008, Philip Morris split itself into a Swiss-based international firm while Richmond got Philip Morris USA and its holding company, The Altria Group. The latter is still a potent force with 3,750 local workers and a big honey pot of largess.

Philip Morris International boosted sales by creating such nicotine laden smokes as “Marlboro Wides” and Marlboro Max 9,” which sold in Third World countries that didn’t have the bucks or the court systems to challenge cancer causing products. Continue reading

Best Gun Violence Idea Not Proposed in VA?

Grandstanding with guns on the House of Delegates floor. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

by Steve Haner

The most effective gun violence prevention idea presented to the Virginia State Crime Commission Monday was one seldom discussed in the state:  Add violent misdemeanors to the list of convictions that prevent gun purchases from a licensed dealer.

Four states, including Maryland, have that provision and a Boston University study found it has lowered the firearms homicide rate better than 25 percent in those states. Right now, extending the ban from felons to violent misdemeanants is not among the scores of bills pending at Virginia’s special session on gun violence.

One of the least effective proposals, but one always at the top of many lists?  Prohibiting the sale of so-called assault or assault-style rifles.  The research on that is clear, Boston University research fellow Claire Boine said in one of the most useful evidence-based presentations from the long day. You can see her slides here and the full study hereContinue reading

Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

by Steve Haner

Proposed firearms regulations will pack a General Assembly meeting room Monday and Tuesday, and for that portion of the population not already locked into an ideological position either way, it could be useful to pay attention.

The Republican majorities have taken some political bashing for failing to act on the flood of proposals, many previously seen and rejected, that showed up when Governor Ralph Northam sought to railroad them through a hasty special session after the Virginia Beach shooting.  But the ideas are going to get a better hearing at the Crime Commission next week than they would have when introduced.  Continue reading

Exercising Your Second Amendment Right

Interesting scenario:  You are doing some shopping in Walmart. Alarmed by the recent nationwide shootings, you are carrying your recently legally authorized concealed handgun. A man walks in, carrying an assault-style rifle and a handgun strapped to his side, along with several magazines of ammunition. This also is legal in Virginia. What do you do?

  1. Say hello to your fellow gun-carrying customer
  2. Ignore him
  3. Pull out your handgun and confront him
  4. Shoot him because he is obviously a threat

Here are the laws governing this situation, which you may or may not know as you are trying to decide what to do: Continue reading

Recidivism Revisited

Sussex I State Prison

As has been noted in previous posts on this blog (here and here), the latest three-year recidivism rate of offenders released from the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was the lowest in the nation. In fact, DOC had the lowest rate in the nation for the last three reporting periods.  DOC can justly be proud of this record.

Nevertheless, a closer look at the data reveals some troubling trends.  Before delving into this data, in order to understand the data and ensuing discussion, there are some terms that need defining and clarifying: Continue reading

Police Antisocial Behavior, Not Addictions

It’s one thing to be intoxicated — another to pass out on a public park bench.

In an 8-7 vote, a federal appeals court has struck down a Virginia law punishing “habitual” drunks. The law targeted homeless people struggling with alcoholism, thus “criminalizing an illness,” reports the Washington Post. Further, the court found the law to be unconstitutionally vague.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. Alcohol addiction is an illness, and money might well be better spent providing treatment to homeless drunks rather than incarcerating them. On the other hand, the law provided local police a tool for maintaining public order. Eliminating the law invites drunks and derelicts to occupy public spaces where they might infringe upon the rights of others.

To my mind, it is crucial to distinguish between the illness and the behavior — and this applies to intoxication with marijuana and other drugs as well as alcohol. While addiction should not be a crime, police should address public intoxication when a person’s behavior becomes threatening or disruptive.

In perusing the Virginia State Police “Crime in Virginia 2018” report, I note the following numbers (combining figures for adults and juvenile): Continue reading

Yes, Mental Illness is Key, Says U.S. Secret Service

The United States Secret Service, probably not a tool of the gun-loving American right, has just issued a report on 2018 mass shootings with a strong focus on the mental health problems displayed by the shooters. Clearly it didn’t get the same memo received by our friends at Blue Virginia, who think any such discussion unfairly stigmatizes the mentally ill and distracts from the real villains: guns themselves.

Let me get this right: Democrats don’t want to stigmatize the mentally ill, but are all too happy to blame the millions of law-abiding gun owners and subject them all to new regulations or restrictions, up to and including search, seizure and confiscation?  Continue reading

Firearms Theater: Boring, Tiresome, Repetitive

It is easy to dismiss next week’s special session of the General Assembly on proposed gun control as meaningless political theater, because that it what it will likely amount to.  It is also boring, tiresome and repetitive.

Following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech, a group of well-intended and well-informed experts formed a non-partisan task force looking for insight, information and common ground.  There were state-level (here) and national (here) reports produced.  Continue reading