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AP-US-EQUAL-RIGHTS-AMENDMENT-VIRGINIA

Virginia moves to brink of becoming 38th state to ratify ERA

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia has moved to the brink of becoming the crucial 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The vote by both of the state's legislative chambers Wednesday is a momentous victory for many women's rights advocates. But it is far from certain the measure will ever be added to the U.S. Constitution. The vote came nearly a half-century after Congress sent the ERA to the states for approval in 1972. Lawsuits are expected over the fact that the deadline set by Congress for ratification ran out in 1982 and other thorny legal issues.

VIRGINIA GUN BAN

Northam declares state of emergency ahead of gun rally

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says he is declaring a state of emergency over threats from militia groups ahead of a gun-rights rally next week. Northam's emergency order will ban weapons of all kinds, including firearms, from the Capitol grounds starting Friday because of potential violence during a gun-rights rally scheduled for Monday. Northam says some of the rhetoric used by groups planning to attend the rally is similar to what was said in the lead-up to a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Democrats in the statehouse are advancing a number of gun-control bills that gun-rights advocates are fiercely opposing.

INFANT INJURED-BABYSITTER

Babysitter sentenced to jail for injuries to infant

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — A Virginia woman accused of harming a baby was sentenced to a year and a half behind bars. News outlets report 30-year-old Leanna Pagans was sentenced Tuesday. The Roanoke woman had been accused of causing injuries to a four month old child she was babysitting in 2017. Prosecutors said the child showed signs of hemorrhages and bone fractures. The baby went to a hospital for treatment and made a full recovery. Pagans pleaded no contest in October. Her attorney says Pagans struggled with opioid abuse and says she didn't know what happened at the time of the child's injuries.

TACO BELL-KNIFE

Virginia man charged with pulling knife on Taco Bell workers

FALMOUTH, Va. (AP) — Police in Virginia say a man has been charged with lunging at Taco Bell employees with a knife after becoming upset about the type of food they gave him. Stafford County Sheriff's spokeswoman Amanda Vicinanzo says 39-year-old Octavious N. Hodges is accused of entering the Falmouth restaurant on Monday and trying to order from the dollar menu, despite only having 70 cents. Employees gave him a free taco, but he became upset about the type of taco he received and eventually pulled a knife on the workers. Police say he lunged at the workers and made threats. Hodges is charged with attempted malicious wounding, among other counts.

MARIJUANA CONFERENCE

Marijuana reform advocates split on legalization

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Advocates dressed in black stood Wednesday at the base of the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial to voice their support of marijuana legalization, repeating a variation of, “the time is now,” in each of their statements. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, along with Marijuana Justice and RISE for Youth, a campaign committed to promoting alternatives to youth incarceration, held a press conference promoting House Bill 1507, patroned by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William. The bill wants to exclude marijuana from a list of controlled substances that are illegal to possess.

PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY-ABSENTEE VOTING

Absentee voting to begin for Democratic presidential primary

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Absentee voting is set to begin for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Elections says in-person absentee voting for the March 3 primary will begin Thursday, Friday or Saturday, depending on office hours and observation of state holidays. Registered voters may request an absentee ballot be mailed to them by going online. They can also find the form online and mail it to their local voter registration office. Virginia Republicans will choose delegates to their national convention at a state convention. Therefore, no Republican candidates will appear on the ballot in the presidential primary.

VIRGINIA GUN BAN

AP EXCLUSIVE: Northam to ban guns from Capitol grounds

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam plans to declare a temporary emergency Wednesday banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights. That's according to two state officials who were briefed on the plans but not authorized to speak publicly about them. One official says the Democratic governor plans to announce the plans at a news conference Wednesday afternoon because of credible threats of potential violence and extremism.

VIRGINIA REDISTRICTING

Virginia Democrats weigh differing redistricting reforms

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Democrats say they still favor redistricting reform but are split on how to do it. At issue: whether to support a proposed constitutional amendment that passed the GOP-led General Assembly last year with broad bipartisan support or to support a different proposal that might be friendlier to the new Democratic majority. Redistricting has long been a hot-button issue in Virginia, where federal judges have struck down both the legislative and congressional maps as racially discriminatory. Some Democrats are worried that Republicans on the state Supreme Court will end up having too much influence on the results, and that minority communities will lose representation.