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Trial date set for McDonnells

A trial date has been set for former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and his wife Maureen for July 28, following a Jan. 24 arraignment at a Richmond federal courthouse. Both pleaded not guilty to all 14 charges.

Federal authorities say the McDonnells repeatedly asked Johnnie Williams, a Richmond-area businessman, for loans and gifts totaling more than $165,000. The 43-page indictment alleges the McDonnells asked for money, clothes, golf fees, equipment, numerous trips and private jet rides in exchange for access to political clout.

The report states that under Virginia. law, certain state officials and employees – including the governor and members of his staff – are required to annually file a standardized disclosure statement of their personal economic interests on or before Jan. 15 each year.

The indictment describes specific charges against Maureen, stating she intentionally avoided annual reporting requirements by transferring a total of 5,000 Star Scientific shares into newly opened brokerage accounts in the names of her five children.

Federal documents state Williams took Maureen on an April 2011 shopping spree in New York City, in exchange for a seat beside McDonnell at a political event. The document states Williams spent about $10,999 at Oscar de la Renta, $5,685 at Louis Vuitton and $2,604 at Bergdorf Goodman, and later sat next to the governor.

Prosecutors allege that Gov. McDonnell helped promote Anatabloc, the company’s new product.

Gov. McDonnell denied helping Williams in a public address last week and said he has done nothing illegal, adding that his behavior is characteristic of many elected officials in his position.

“I will use every available resource and advocate that I have,” McDonnell said, “for as long as it takes to fight and prevail against these false allegations and the unjust overreach of the federal government.”

Judge David Novak said the McDonnell case will be tried in the courtroom and will not be tried in the media and ordered attorneys on both sides not to comment publicly on the case.

“The gamesmanship with the media ends now,” Novak said.

— James Galloway, Capital News Service

Senate committee says ‘No’ to dreamers

Virginia Senate legislation designed to give in-state tuition to undocumented childhood arrivals was defeated this past week by a Health and Education Committee vote of 6-7.

Senate Bill 249, patroned by Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Dist. 9) and known as the Virginia DREAM Act, sparked heated rhetoric on whether state or federal legislators should be held responsible for immigration-related measures.

“Shame on the federal government and people from both parties,” said Sen. Thomas A. Garrett, R-Hadensville. “I can’t vote on the bill because it’s unconstitutional. We can’t do this. It’s stupid.”

Republicans on the committee questioned the legal status of Virginia residents who’ve received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a memorandum that advises U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to grant undocumented people momentary pardon from being deported. The order was enacted by The Department of Homeland Security in 2012.

“I understand Senator Garrett’s position, but I think it’s not well-founded,” McEachin said. “This legislation wasn’t made to confer citizenship. All we’re trying to do is give them access to the public university system at an in-state cost.”

Members of the committee expressed frustration with similar measures repeatedly failing when introduced to the state legislature.

“We’ve been asking the federal government to do their job, but they’re not,” said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Dist. 32). “Meanwhile, we have a generation of students who’ve been deprived of a reasonably priced, higher-quality education. How long do they have to wait for the federal government to do its job? I think it’s our obligation to step forward and do ours.”

Two similar bills seeking in-state tuition were tabled in a House subcommittee on Tuesday.

—Chris Suarez, Capital News Service

Bills seek E-cig ban for minors

Electronic cigarettes could be banned from the hands of minors as Virginia legislators in the House and Senate push for regulation.

In response to the growing number of young people experimenting with smokeless tobacco products, Virginia lawmakers have introduced House Bills 1111, 26 and 218, and Senate Bills 96 and 17 to prohibit people under the age of 18 from purchasing or possessing e-cigarettes.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press release stated the percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes more than doubled to 4.7 percent between 2011 to 2012.

Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey stated more than 1.78 million middle school and high school students had tried e-cigarettes in 2012.

While the language of each proposed provision is slightly different, each bill summary defines electronic cigarettes as a vehicle of nicotine delivery.

HB1111, HB218 and SB96 specifically call for electronic cigarettes to be grouped beneath the umbrella of “tobacco products,” which may lead to regulation similar to that of traditional cigarettes.

A version of each bill — HB218 in the House and SB96 in the Senate — has passed out of committee and is awaiting further action.

The e-cigarette industry is predicted to have earned more than $1 billion in annual sales for 2013, according to statistics from the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

Some local e-cig retailers already have prepared for the repercussions of growth by carefully marketing their products.

“As a company we welcome legislation,” said Donovan Phillips, co-owner of the electronic cigarette specialty store and lounge, Avail Vapor in Richmond. “As far as the 18 and under situation, this industry needs this kind of legislation as it moves from the state of a novelty to a mainstream product.”

Avail Vapor, which has several store locations throughout Virginia, practices self-regulation to remain ahead of the curve.

— Dana Carlson, Capital News Service