A newly established state agency that supports the development of nuclear power has drawn criticism from environmentalists and open-government advocates because it won’t have to comply with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other laws.
During its 2013 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed two bills that authorized the creation of the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority, and Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bills into law. That group will create the nonprofit Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC), consisting of experts from the private sector, education and nonprofits.
The VNEC will not be a government agency, meaning it won’t be subject to FOIA, the State and Local Government Conflict of Interests Act and other laws governing public agencies. Legislators feared that organizations would not agree to participate in the consortium if its meetings were made public, as well as the possible release of trade secrets under FOIA.
““The release of trade secret information is certainly reasonable, and there are exemptions within FOIA to deal with that,” Virginia Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Megan Rhyne said. “They can certainly protect that information without exempting the entire body from FOIA.”
Rhyne added: “They are spending taxpayer dollars and advising a public body, and those kinds of organizations and entities need to be subject to sunshine.”
Virginia Del. Scott Garrett, who introduced the House bill that created the authority, noted that Virginia has an offshore wind authority and consortium that is subject to FOIA, although “personal and financial” information about offshore wind energy projects must be kept confidential.
Study: Women Earn 78 Cents for Each Dollar Paid to Men
A recent study (PDF) from the National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF) shows that women employed full-time in Virginia earn 78 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to a yearly wage gap of nearly $12,000.
That figure puts Virginia slightly ahead of the national rate of 77 cents for every dollar paid to men who hold full-time jobs. African-American women (64 cents) and Latinas (55 cents) fare worse when compared to white, non-Hispanic men. The study was based on U.S. Census Bureau data.
According to the NPWF, the wage gap has been closing at a rate of less than 0.5 percent per year since 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed.
Study: Long-Term Care Costs Rising Rapidly in Out-of-Home Facilities
The survey found that the cost of care in assisted living facilities grew 4.6 percent over the last year to $41,400. Care at nursing homes grew 3.6 percent to $83,950.
Over the same period, the cost of homemaker services rose 1.4 percent to $18 per hour, while the cost of home health aide services grew 2.3 percent to $19 an hour.
“Since we first did this study, we have seen a steady move away from traditional nursing home care to less expensive options that include in-home care, assisted care facilities and adult day care,” Genworth Vice President Bob Bua said.
Fewer Virginians getting insurance through employers
Two out of every three Virginia residents got their insurance through their job in 2011, down from three-quarters in 2000. The percentage of private-sector employers offering health insurance coverage fell from 60 percent to 56 percent over the same period.
The rate of employees taking employer-sponsored insurance dropped from 82 percent to 75 percent over that period.
Home sales picking up in Northern Virginia
According to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR), home sales in the region rose in March, marking the third consecutive month that sales increased over the year before.
NVAR reported that 1,499 homes were sold in Northern Virginia in March, up 4 percent from March 2012. The median home price was $442,500, an increase of nearly 8 percent from the year prior.
The average home price for March rose 10.5 percent to $531,950, while the year-to-date average price rose nearly 10 percent to $512,079.