2645 Black Fir Court (Photo via Google Maps)

For months, there’s been a lot of buzz about homes across the country selling for over asking price. Why? It has to do with low inventory and high demand, thanks, in part, to the low interest rates.

Reston is no different with homes regularly selling for over asking. In the past four weeks, there were 141 home sales, according to Homesnap. Take a look at a few of the Reston homes that sold for over asking this month:

Want more? Check out the latest in Reston real estate.

Photo via Google Maps

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Meet Grace, this week’s Pet of the Week. Grace is a playful, talkative kitty who’s ready to show her new human lots of affection.

Here’s what Grace’s friends at Fancy Cats Rescue Team have to say about her:

Grace is a playful, energetic and lovable cat. She enjoys tossing her play mice in the air and leaping up to catch them. She is incredibly chatty and loves to meow for treats, attention and pets. Her favorite place to snuggle up is right beside you on the couch or in bed. She is a sucker for cat nip and loves to eat it and roll around in it.

Grace is very affectionate and often head butts for ear rubs and chin scratches. She enjoys sitting near a window and chirping at birds as they fly by. She is very acrobatic and loves to leap onto her cat tree and other high places to be the queen of her castle. Grace thrives in an environment where she can be the only kitty to receive all the love and affection.

Are you and Grace the perfect match?

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11990 Market Street (Photo via Google Maps)

The real estate market has been hot in 2021, and there were no signs of slowing down in May.

According to Homesnap, nearly 160 homes were sold in the past month, with 76 new listings hitting the market. The median list price was $450,000, while the median sales price was $495,000.

Take a look at a few of the most expensive homes that sold in the past month:

In the market? Check out the latest in Reston real estate.

Photo via Google Maps 

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Virginia is no longer requiring that people wear face masks indoors if they have been fully vaccinated, a move that reflects the COVID-19 pandemic’s waning threat in the state as vaccination rates rise and case rates fall.

However, there are some exceptions to the new rules. In addition to maintaining the state’s mask mandate for health care facilities, public transportation, and schools, the revised guidance lets businesses continue requiring masks within their establishments.

In the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement, some businesses are continuing to mandate masks for all customers, while others are letting fully vaccinated customers go mask-free, depending on local and state regulations, though a few, like Trader Joe’s and Starbucks, are still requiring masks for employees.

With masks still “strongly recommended” in all settings for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, however, businesses largely seem to be relying on an honor system, raising questions for parents with children who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet and service workers who have to interact with a wide variety of customers.

Gov. Ralph Northam said earlier this month that he has not ruled out the possibility of vaccine “passports” as a means for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated before participating in certain activities, but for the time being, there are no plans to implement any such system.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Reston Now that he is “not aware of any concerns” from businesses about enforcing the new mask guidelines.

“I’m not aware of any concerns we have heard at this point, but per state guidance, businesses can make their own decisions about masking,” McKay said. “I encourage our businesses to do what they feel is best for the health and safety of their staff and customers.”

What approach makes you most comfortable when it comes to masks right now? Would you prefer that retail stores, theaters, and other businesses keep requiring masks to minimize confusion and risk, or should they let customers and workers go without masks, trusting that they’ve been vaccinated?

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The number of unemployed Virginians increased from 145,294 in March 2020 to 482,111 in April 2020 causing unemployment insurance claims to increase ten-fold within a month! In addition to the rising number of unemployed, Congress created several temporary programs to extend unemployment insurance benefits and expand them to many previously ineligible workers. Since those federal programs are administered by the states, the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) was overwhelmed with claims. In the fall of 2020 VEC ranked lowest nationwide for timeliness in processing unemployment insurance claims that required further review. Citizens were understandably frustrated and upset with a process that has left some without benefits for many months. My office, along with that of other legislators, was deluged with e-mails and calls from those desperately seeking help. My legislative assistant has put in many extra hours helping constituents with their filings and follow up.

A review of unemployment rates throughout the Commonwealth reveals that the rise in unemployment was statewide with areas having a high rate of unemployment going into the pandemic getting hit the hardest, but more prosperous areas got hit as well. According to data on the VEC website, the rate of unemployment for March 2021, the last period for which numbers are available, ranged from a low of 3.2 percent in Madison County, an agricultural area in the center of the state, to a high of 12.9 percent in Petersburg City, one of the poorest areas in the state. On the low end of the unemployment numbers, Falls Church City was number 2 with a rate of 3.4 percent, and Fairfax County was 39th lowest at a rate of 4.6 percent. On the high end, Richmond was 7.1 percent, and the cities in the Hampton Roads region including Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hopewell ranged from 7.1 percent to 10.0 percent, just below Petersburg City.

The COVID-19 relief checks were very helpful in slowing the slide of the economy toward recession levels of unemployment. The additional funding now being debated in the Congress for infrastructure and additional relief will shore up the economy further until the normal activity of the economy returns with the end of the pandemic. I will leave to economists to debate the amount of stimulus needed to restore the economy, but I can say that the federal money that has flowed into the state has prevented widespread reductions in staff and services that would have been necessary without that funding.

For those who have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic I can only offer my sympathy and compassion for what you have had to endure. I continue to be impressed with the resiliency of individuals and communities in times of challenge like these. The response of state government in this pandemic was unsatisfactory. True the bureaucracy was swamped with requests, but we should have been quicker to respond. True our existing technology was not up to the demand, but the technology that was to have been upgraded should have been done years ago. As Chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission (JLARC), I promise that the results of the study that we are undertaking of VEC will address current concerns and provide recommendations to prevent this kind of situation from arising again!

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This opinion piece from Mary Barthelson, who is challenging Del. Ken Plum in the Democratic primary for the 36th House District seat, was submitted in response to Reston Now’s profile of the race. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now. Reston Now runs opinion columns from Plum every Thursday.

While speaking to voters, I have gotten frequent questions about topics ranging from criminal justice reform to my leadership style. Here are my short answers to your top asked questions.

What are your ideas on police reforms?

Police brutality is not something which only happens far away. We have seen police brutality in Virginia, including in Fairfax County. The Fairfax NAACP proposed maintaining the police budget along with 8 critical reforms which I support. In both the Donovan Lynch and Lt. Navario cases there were body camera failures. My background as a security engineer with experience developing body camera programs uniquely qualifies me to navigate expansion of Virginia’s program and ensure Virginia is utilizing technology appropriately in policing. Technology can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it’s used. Facial recognition has been discussed for its privacy concerns as well as its potential to inflame racial profiling due to higher rates of failure in identifying black people. There are, however, other forms of facial recognition which can be used to automatically obscure faces, which improve privacy. As innovation continues, the need to have a legislator present who can answer difficult questions in real time on the General Assembly floor grows. Virginia should not have to rely on the benevolence of lobbyists who are not elected by the people to ensure laws are getting passed.

Do you believe in campaign finance reform?

Virginia has some of the worst campaign finance laws in the country and attempts to change them recently have failed. There are currently no caps on personal contributions. Some of the financials I have seen in this election cycle as well as the past are deeply troubling. A few individuals hand picking elected officials and influence is undemocratic. Local communities should not have to compete with corporations and billionaires. Campaign finance reforms are important to ensure our legislators are representing the best interest of their voters. For that reason, I have not taken any corporate or PAC money. All of my donations have come from individual voters contributing an average of less than $100. I will do my part to get those campaign finance laws passed and hold elected officials accountable.

Do you support the legalization of drugs and sex work?

Having a moral disagreement with something does not mean that criminalizing it is the best way to address it. Drugs and sex work may be better addressed as civil and public health matters. Decriminalization helps collapse black markets which fund organized crime and human trafficking while also keeping consumers safe. In addition to two dozen teenagers dying in the last few years as a result of unregulated marijuana cartridges, Breonna Taylor was killed last year when police raided her home over drugs. The public understands there are risks to fighting crime. Children have been killed in their homes during drug raids and there was not a significant outcry. What was missing from the discussion around Breonna Taylor was that the response signaled a cultural shift away from seeing the war on drugs as legitimate crime fighting. People will not care whether or not police followed protocols if they don’t believe in the policies in the first place. We need to make sure the laws we ask our officers to enforce have public support. With more states and countries decriminalizing, we will have more examples to draw on to help craft new laws. I would like to carefully consider alternatives and discuss them with the General Assembly. The promising studies coming out of Johns Hopkins on the use of psilocybin for treating PTSD and depression could make reclassifying it from a schedule I drug the next realistic near-term goal.

Do you support affordable housing?

Quality housing is fundamental to family stability and well-being. I have pledged to reinstate the ‘Penny for Affordable Housing’ to ensure that we are meeting the need. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) is assisting in funding some housing for Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is setting aside an additional half cent to raise $14 million for senior and affordable housing in the County FY22 budget. In addition, I support measures to ensure occupancy restrictions take into account home size and easing restrictions on accessory dwellings to make existing housing available.

What politicians do you admire most?

I admire the leadership of Danica Roem and Jennifer Wexton. I decided to enroll in Emerge Virginia last summer to learn about running for office after seeing Danica Roem was an Emerge alum. It has been inspiring to watch her combat bigotry and bring a voice to trans people. I hope that I can also be a voice for those waiting to be heard. Jennifer Wexton exemplified strong leadership when she took on Barbara Comstock and defended women’s right to healthcare. I would be proud to be the first woman to represent District 36 as House Delegate.

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

One of the side-effects of the global pandemic and the resulting quarantine has been the difficulty of recognizing others after months of not seeing each other in person. There is the normal aging process that can alter our looks, along with little or no access to barbers and stylists, and a decline in interest to apply the usual make-up since no one is going to see you up close. All this can leave others looking quizzically at you with an “I believe I know you” look. Longer hair without additional coloring and a mask covering half your face can make it a challenge sometimes to even recognize our friends.

Facebook has or had a system to alert you if your photo appeared on someone else’s page. I have gotten dozens of such messages which when I investigated them found photos of persons who clearly were not me and for which I could find no resemblance. As clever as the technologists were who developed it, the use of facial recognition leaves serious questions about its application, particularly in law enforcement.

The challenges of recognizing even someone you know under today’s difficult conditions and the shortcoming of the systems now being used have raised questions about the propriety of collecting large numbers of photos and using them in criminal investigations. In the Washington Metropolitan area there is a little-known program called the National Capital Region Facial Recognition Investigative Leads System that has 1.4 million photos that can be used in criminal investigation but for which civil rights groups have little information.

Concerns about facial recognition technology came to the attention of Virginia legislators last year, and in the recent legislative session we passed a bill signed by the governor to require agencies that plan to use the technology to get specific approval of the legislature. With the high error rate in correctly identifying minorities among its other shortcomings, along with the civil liberties issues it raises, it is unlikely that such approvals are to be forthcoming.

Requests for legislation involving the use of new technologies are most often referred to the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) which was created from legislation I proposed and of which I was chair for many years. Learning about new technologies is always interesting but precautions must be taken when there are issues of civil liberties involved.

JCOTS’ usual procedure is to appoint a technical advisory committee that may involve as many as 25 persons from the advocate community, adversaries of the proposals, representatives from academia, and other interested parties to work through the issues involved.

The legislature will not get involved in proprietary issues around a particular technology but instead will involve itself with the civil liberties issues, impact on the community, and trade concerns, among other matters. Regardless of the complexities involved with a technology it is imperative that the legislature provide appropriate safeguards for the community.

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The cicadas are about to take over the world, or at least much of the East Coast, including Fairfax County.

After biding their time for the past 17 years, Brood X could start emerging in full force as soon as today (Monday), according to the first-ever cicada forecast by The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

From animals digging for a snack to holes in the earth made by cicada nymphs burrowing up from their underground lairs, signs of the insects’ impending arrival have become more plentiful in recent weeks. In fact, a few bugs have already been spotted, summoned out of their exoskeletons early by the rapidly warming weather.

The prospect of millions of winged insects crawling out of the ground might convince some people to stay inside until July, but as Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist and education and outreach manager Tammy Schwab told Reston Now in March, cicadas are harmless — even edible.

In addition, while some annual cicadas pop up every year, the once-every-other-decade appearances of the periodical variety are natural phenomena unique to the U.S., a product of the creatures’ unusually long life cycles.

Fairfax County has been doing its part to turn anxiety over Brood X into excitement, inviting community members to a game of Cicada Stroll Bingo and highlighting the environmental benefits of cicadas.

How are you planning to greet Brood X? Are you ready to embrace the swarm, or does the idea of stepping outside in the next two months fill you with dread?

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The highlight of last week along with Earth Day was the announcement by President Joe Biden that the United States is returning to the Paris Climate Agreement. The Agreement that was adopted by nearly 200 nations of the world came into being in 2016. President Barack Obama led the United States in joining the Agreement that united the world’s nations for the first time in a single understanding on global warming and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The only other example of something like this agreement previously was the Montreal Protocol in which 197 countries agreed in 1987 to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Scientists had discovered that CFC was causing a hole in the ozone layer which if not stopped would lead to disastrous health results. All nations banned CFC as a result. The United States estimates that because of the ban by the year 2065 more than 6.3 million skin cancer deaths would have been avoided and between 1985 and the year 2100 Americans avoiding suffering from cataracts would number 22 million.

With the Montreal Protocol the leaders of the world responded to scientific findings, prevented a huge amount of human suffering, and saved trillions of dollars in healthcare costs. On the subject of climate change and global warming there are those who want to continue to debate scientific findings and ignore the evidence that is becoming even more apparent that the earth is heating up and the consequences are going to be devastating if action is not taken right away.

The Paris Climate Agreement commits nations of the world to take action to keep global temperature well below the pre-industrial level of 2.0C or 3.6F and endeavor to limit temperature rise to 1.5C. The Agreement limits the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and water can naturally absorb. Each country sets its own emission-reduction targets that are reviewed every five years. The Agreement has richer nations helping poorer countries with financing to switch to renewable energy.

While the United States left the Agreement for a short time under the previous president the announcement by President Biden restores the United States to its rightful role of being a leader in ending climate change. Many states and cities had pledged to seek these goals even when the country for a short time seemed not willing to. After all the United States is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases exceeded only by China. Beyond re-joining the Agreement, the President is committing the United States to more aggressive actions to cut emissions by 2030 rather than 2050 that scientists now say is necessary if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Just as nations came together to rid the world of CFC and prevent major health horrors, I believe that nations can come together to provide responsible leadership and actions to stop climate change. It will cost money to do so, but the savings to the planet will be inestimable. We will end fossil fuel use, control carbon release, and adopt more alternative and resilient ways of living and doing things. Our country can and will be a leader in these planet-saving changes!

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

While public attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic many missed the epidemic surge in gun violence that has been occurring in this country. In the last month there have been 45 mass shootings in the United States, and that is just counting incidents in which mass shootings are defined as four or more people who are shot, wounded, or killed. By that definition there have been 147 mass shootings already in 2021 compared with 600 in all of 2020 and 417 in 2019. We are on course to set another record for mass carnage involving guns.

Surprised that the numbers on gun violence are so high? Our attention has been transfixed on the COVID crisis that forced some news stories to the back pages, and unfortunately the number of mass murders is becoming so common place that they do not receive the attention they once did. And for every news story on the front page about another mass murder there are dozens of stories buried in later pages of shootings of one, two, or three people including shootings in our community of Reston. I share the concern of many that we are becoming immune to the bad news for it happens so frequently. We cannot let these mass shootings become the norm!

If you were wondering why flags were flown at half-mast in Virginia last Friday, it was to remember the 32 people who were murdered and the 17 wounded at Virginia Tech in 2007. At the time it set a record for the number of persons killed in a mass shooting. It has since been eclipsed by shootings in Las Vegas and Orlando. Sandy Hook had almost as many victims, but we need to remember that they were little children in an elementary school. Eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past ten years.

I term the problem we have with gun violence an epidemic in that it is a problem unique to us among the developed and wealthy countries of the world as opposed to a pandemic that might exist more widely. According to a study by the United Nations, there are 29.7 homicides by firearms per one million people in the United States compared to 1.4 in Australia, 1.9 in Germany, and 5.1 in Canada.

One reason for the number of deaths by guns in the United States is their availability. The United States has more guns than people: 120.5 per 100 people. In comparison, the ratio of guns to people in Canada is 34.7 per 100, France and Germany are both 19.6, and Iraq is 19.4.

It is way past time to take action to end this epidemic. The Virginia General Assembly this year and last passed 20 different common-sense gun safety bills including my bill to require universal background checks for gun transfers that the Governor signed into law. Many of the features of these laws have been incorporated into a bill introduced in the United States Senate by Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. It comes as close as anything I have seen that will help end this epidemic. Join me in encouraging the Congress to pass it.

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The Herndon Town Council is currently considering an ordinance that would largely ban firearms on town property.

Specifically, the proposed measure would “prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property,” including public parks, community centers, and public streets during permitted events.

The ordinance includes some exceptions for law enforcement, security, and active-duty military personnel who are engaged in official duties. Unloaded firearms could also be allowed for educational activities or displays.

If adopted, the ordinance would bring Herndon in line with most other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria.

However, Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem announced on Tuesday (April 13) that a decision on the ordinance has been deferred until the town can hold a public hearing on the issue and staff can provide more information on the potential fiscal impacts of a ban.

Herndon Town Attorney Lesa Yeatts wrote in a staff report that possible budgetary considerations could include the costs of posting and removing signage required by Virginia law and enhancements to security measures like guards and metal detectors.

Town Manager Bill Ashton is not scheduled to report back to the town council until May 6, but in the meantime, what do you think of the proposal? Should people be allowed to have guns on town property?

Photo via Jeremy Alford/Unsplash

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

During its Reconvened Session last week the General Assembly approved an amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam that decriminalizes the possession by adults of a small amount of marijuana effective July 1, 2021. Virginia joins 26 other states and the District of Columbia that have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. This generally means certain small, personal-consumption amounts are a civil or local infraction, not a state crime (or are a lowest misdemeanor with no possibility of jail time). Based on the new law in Virginia, adults can grow up to four plants, gift it in private, or have an ounce or less in their possession if they are over 21. Selling, buying, or driving with marijuana remains illegal at this time. People given a summons for possession for an amount beyond the minimum will be issued a summons for marijuana possession for which they have the option of prepaying the civil penalty of $25 instead of going to court.

I voted for the Governor’s amendments as necessary to reflect the realities of marijuana possession and use. The people of Virginia will be no less safe as a result of these changes. Our jails will be less full of persons who use marijuana recreationally for themselves, and persons who do so will not be labeled a criminal. Previously marijuana possession was a criminal offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or up to a $500 fine. Public opinion polls have shown that 83 percent of Virginians support lowering criminal possession to a fine and 61 percent support ending prohibition all together.

I also supported the changes in laws related to the use of medical cannabis in 2017. The law enacted at that time permitted patients suffering from intractable epilepsy to use some types of cannabis oil with a doctor’s certification. Subsequent amendments to that law allow patients with any condition to receive recommendations to use and purchase cannabis preparations with no more than 10 milligrams of THC per dose. Extracts sold under the provisions of this law must be produced by processors approved by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Thirty-three other states have similar laws related to the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Retail sales of marijuana will not begin until January 1, 2024. Many complex issues remain to be resolved as to who will be certified to sell the product, how an illicit market will be controlled, and what the limitations on purchasing will be. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a 175-page report in November 2020, entitled “Key Considerations for Marijuana Legalization” that sets direction with options as to how the state should proceed with full legalization. There is a determination on the part of most legislators that the current system for labeling persons criminal and putting them in jail is not appropriate and that total reform is needed. Minority communities have been particularly hard hit by the current system. Much work remains to be done, but I believe Virginia is taking a responsible route to fixing the laws about weed.

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As we probably learned and as we teach our children, voting is the most important of civic duties. By choosing our leaders at election time and by deciding questions on referenda, we set the direction for our communities, states, and nation. Voting is a way to express our values and beliefs.

In one of the contradictions that strain the legitimacy of what we teach vs. what we do is to teach our children, proclaim in civic pronouncements and require for Scouting citizenship merit badges an acknowledgement of the importance of voting while at the same time making it difficult and sometimes impossible for some people to vote.

During the colonial period and early years of the state of Virginia, only white land-owners could vote. The Reconstruction era after the Civil War brought Black men into the electorate, but in a matter of decades that free access to voting was cut off by white supremacists who reasserted their power. An avowed purpose of writing a new constitution in 1902 was to disenfranchise Black men. It was successful in that the voting rolls were cut in half as most Blacks and poor whites were not able to make their way through the maze of requirements that one had to meet in order to vote. A blank sheet registration system and a $1.50 poll tax to be paid three years in a row at least six months before an election kept many from voting. White people in the upper crust of local society made it through these hurdles as the voting registrar who was part of the governing machine would provide them assistance while everyone else floundered at trying to get through the process.

Regardless of their race, women in this country have been able to vote for just over a hundred years, and that right came after incredible struggle. The Civil Rights era and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened up the electoral process for many Black people. Even now there are debates in the states about ways that access to the polls can be limited.

The Virginia General Assembly has put the Commonwealth on the path to supporting citizens carrying out their civic duty with several of the most progressive voting laws in the country. A headline in the New York Times last week proclaimed that “Virginia, the Old Confederacy’s Heart, Becomes a Voting Rights Bastion.” Over a fourteen-month period and two legislative sessions the General Assembly has passed and the Governor has signed bills to repeal a voter ID law, enact a 45-day no-excuse absentee voting period that permits early voting, made Election Day a holiday, and established a system for automatic voter registration for anyone who receives a Virginia driver’s license. The Virginia Voting Rights Act follows some of the provisions of the earlier federal law but applies to localities in the state to ensure that voting remains accessible.

In Virginia we will continue to say that voting is one of the most important of our civic duties, and now we will have a legal structure that demonstrates we believe it!

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia made history last week: The Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam signed the bill that made Virginia the first state in the south and the 23rd state in the nation to end the death penalty! I made the nearly four-hour trip to the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarrett where the “death chamber” is located to be at this momentous occasion when another of my legislative goals was realized.

While some have justified the death penalty as an appropriate “eye for an eye” punishment and a deterrent for other crimes, the history of the death penalty is much more complex. Virginia executed more people than any other state having executed 1,390 people over its 413 years. Its uneven application among the states and within the state itself is astounding. Virginia executed 94 women over its history, twice as many as the state with the next most executions of women. Of those, 78 were Black, 11 were White and five were of unknown race. Sixteen children below the age of 18 were executed including a slave girl about 12 years old who was hung in 1825. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court declared that the execution of those under the age of 18 at the time of their crime was cruel and unusual punishment and hence unconstitutional. It followed an earlier decision in a Virginia case that found that executing an intellectually disabled person as the state was poised to do was unconstitutional.

Until the first electrocution in 1908, executions in Virginia were carried out by hanging making them not unlike the lynchings of Blacks that had occurred throughout the South. From 1900 until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1977 for crimes in which no one was killed, Virginia executed 73 Black defendants for rape, or attempted or armed robbery that did not result in death, while no White defendants were executed for those crimes.

Other numbers show how the death penalty was more an act of White supremacy than for public safety. Between 1900 and 1999, there were 377 executions and of those 296 were Black persons and 79 White persons. For murder there were 304 executions, 223 Black and 79 White persons. For rape 48 Black persons and for attempted rape 20 Black persons executed, and in both instances no White persons were executed.

One of the most unbelievable stories in the history of the death penalty in Virginia was the execution of five Black defendants on February 2, 1951, and the execution of two more Black men on February 5, 1951, accused of raping a White woman. An all-White jury meted out the punishment after trials that lasted one day per defendant.

We cannot rewrite this dark chapter of Virginia’s history, but we must learn from it. Too many laws in the past were written to maintain White supremacy rather than protect the public equally. The General Assembly has made major strides at ridding the Code of Jim Crow laws. We can see the repeal of the death penalty as a major step in moving Virginia forward as a more just state.

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After a year spent largely cooped up inside (if you were lucky), even the most introverted individuals might feel a surge of anticipation at the prospect of mingling with a crowd in celebration or leisure.

The warming spring weather and accelerating pace of COVID-19 vaccinations suggest major communal experiences could once again be a reality. Starting today (Thursday), Virginia is easing limits on social gatherings, recreational events, and entertainment venues.

However, large, public events like ballgames and music concerts will still not be free of risk. Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that public health restrictions would be relaxed came amid declining COVID-19 transmission rates and increasing vaccine distribution, but cases have already started to tick back up again around the state.

As of March 31, Fairfax County was averaging 168.3 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days. The county recorded its lowest weekly average of 2021 with 133.6 cases on March 15.

On top of health concerns, event organizers must grapple with logistical and financial challenges.

For instance, the fate of this year’s Friday Night Live! — Herndon’s annual free summer concert series — remains uncertain in part because it depends on public services that could see their funding slashed in the town’s new budget.

Chairman Laura Poindexter believes having the series live and in-person is critical to local businesses and the community, but she also told Reston Now earlier this week that it would be hard to justify the expense of putting on the concerts if they are limited to under 50% capacity.

When taking all these factors into consideration, how do you feel about the possibility of crowded, public events returning? Are you ready to take in a game at Nationals Park or a local rock concert? Or should everything wait until herd immunity is reached?

Photo by Mikey Tate

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