Confederate group goes to court over license plates … 

Street Talk

Judge to Decide If Flag Will FlyCouncil Prepares Assembly Wish ListCleanup Crisis Ends in KudosVCU Gets Money for Pain StudyPine Camp Celebrates Spruce-Up Judge to Decide If Flag Will Fly The battle's not over yet. The Sons of Confederate Veterans have taken their cause to court to force the state to manufacture license plates emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag. The organization has filed a suit for summary judgment in Federal District Court in Roanoke. Judge Jackson Kiser is expected to make a decision Nov. 20. If the organization wins, the Confederate battle flag will fly from the right side of license plates in Virginia. Many of the 3,000 Virginia members have expressed an interest in purchasing the plates, according to the group. The Southern-heritage organization proposed the idea in 1998. In 1999, it was introduced in the Virginia General Assembly's Transportation Committee. It passed there easily. But when it came to the House floor, some legislators and the NAACP opened fire on the plate design, calling it offensive to African-Americans. A voice vote ended the organization's plans for a plate. But the SCV leaders saw this as a First Amendment issue. So they took their case to the Rutherford Institute, a hard-right-leaning law firm in Charlottesville that is now representing the SCV. Bragdon Bowling, 1st lieutenant commander of the Virginia Division of SCV, sees opposition to the plate as an attempt to silence unpopular speech and erase Southern heritage. "This is an attempt by the NAACP to get rid of any Southern symbol," Bowling says. "The NAACP is always demanding people respect their rights and heritage. But this is no two-way street." King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia conference of the NAACP, didn't return a request for comment. But, in a hearing about the license request last year, he said the flag "represents intimidation, terror and lynching" to many. Khalfani also said the flag has been "expropriated by hate groups and white supremacists, and creates a divisive attitude and conflicts." Bowling, naturally, disagrees. He points to the wide number of specialty plates that honor everything from union membership to environmental concerns and asks why his organization is singled out for negative treatment. "The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a 104-year-old organization with no history of racism," Bowling says, and a win will mean it "will have the same constitutional rights as any civic organization in the state." Steven Aden, chief litigation counsel for the Rutherford Institute, says that they took on the case as an instance of viewpoint discrimination. "The viewpoint-discrimination doctrine under the free-speech clause of the First Amendment forbids government from weighing in on one side of a controversy," Aden says. The specialty-plate program, he adds, is "clearly a program that allows private citizens and groups to express their political and social views." — John Toivonen Council Prepares Assembly Wish List Oh, the pain of prioritizing. With pages of requests for money and legislation, members of Richmond City Council plan to meet next week to choose exactly what they want to fight for during next year's General Assembly session. "They always tell us to narrow it down to three, four or five priorities," says Councilman Joseph E. Brooks, "and we have not done that as yet." So far, the wish list includes the big - $4 million for the redevelopment of the Carpenter Center, and the little - a special Richmond license plate to "promote enthusiasm and engender pride" in the capital city. City Council will also consider asking for permission to create a transportation district commission that could add a 2 percent gas tax to fund regional transportation services and support the Greater Richmond Transit Co. Funding such a commission by tacking on a few cents at the gas pump wouldn't bother Councilman Manoli Loupassi. "That would improve the quality of our transportation and bring us into the 21st century," he says. The city also may throw its support behind proposals to prohibit racial profiling of Virginia drivers, restore voting rights to felons after they've completed their sentences and add sexual orientation to the list of conditions that constitute hate crimes. Councilwoman Delores L. McQuinn would like to see a program started to give Virginians a few cents back when they return bottles to stores to encourage recycling. But bending in part to store owners - who fear leftover sugar water in the bottles would attract bugs and rats - the General Assembly has passed on the idea for years. Speaking of rats, the city's sewer system continues to pose overflow problems in heavy rains. So Richmond has asked for at least $2 million from the state to go along with federal aid to fix the problem and clean up the river. Combating sewer overflow is one of the city's highest priorities - and a federal mandate, says Kelly C. Harris, the city's legislative liaison. "We want to abide by [the mandate] but it's just a matter of the cost. A quarter of our population is in poverty so it's very difficult for us." The Department of Public Utilities wants to be able to put a lien on properties with past-due gas accounts. In the case of a rental property, such a lien would affect the owner and not the tenants, Harris says. Along with a group of cities that belong to the Virginia First Cities Coalition, Richmond also hopes the state will give $10 million to its Housing Revitalization Zone Program and overhaul the way it returns income and sales-tax revenues to localities. "We participate in the revenues only as the state formulas pass them down to us," Brooks says. "So, from the standpoint of the economy we need to take a very close look at the revenue streams of localities." After a meeting next week with the Richmond-area delegates to the General Assembly, City Council could adopt its legislative packet by Dec. 11. — Jason Roop Cleanup Crisis Ends in Kudos On Nov. 4, nearly 60 Fan District Association volunteers had a doomed date with destiny. The neighborhood association had reserved the clean-up date with the Clean City Commission for more than a month. But instead of being swept off their feet at 7:30 a.m. at the SunTrust building at Allen and Broad streets by 14 city refuse trucks, Fan residents had to tidy up their neighborhood on foot. The alleys bulged with bulk. But the promised trucks and drivers were never delivered. The disappointed crew worried that without the help from the trucks, much of the debris wouldn't be cleaned up in time for the Fan Holiday House Tour 2000 early next month. "Of course it was disappointing for people to neatly pile up all their junk and then they didn't show," says Steve Nuckolls, environmental committee chairman and vice president of the FDA. Meanwhile, just a few streets away, West Avenue residents hauled away tons of trash - tables, rugs, yard waste, boxes — in two coveted refuse trucks that scoured their alleys. Despite being stood up, FDA volunteers "made lemonade out of lemons," says Nuckolls, cleaning graffiti, picking flyers off telephone poles and sweeping the streets for trash. What's more, two days later Nuckolls received an explanation that stunned him: Billie Raines, coordinator for the Clean City Commission, accepted full responsibility. "I screwed up," explains Raines apologetically. She says it's the first time in five years she's misplaced a neighborhood association's request for trucks. It wasn't until Nuckolls called Monday to find out what happened that Raines discovered the request for the trucks was still on her desk. It had never been sent to the office that dispatches the trucks. But Raines didn't stop with her apology to Nuckolls. She also sent the letter to Mayor Tim Kaine. In addition, she called on the waste-management division to help correct the situation. Willie McMillan, superintendent of solid waste, sent every available truck into the Fan neighborhood Wednesday to pick up everything that couldn't be removed from alleys on the scheduled cleanup date. In all, 95 tons of bulk trash and debris were picked up - 27 more tons than usual. "I couldn't be more pleased. It shows a lot of integrity rather than blame and they did a magnificent job," Nuckolls says. Raines says she hopes her mistake hasn't discouraged volunteers from turning out for future cleanup dates. And she's determined to make it up to them. "Next time," she vows, "they'll definitely have their equipment." Brandon Walters VCU Gets Money for Pain Study Researchers at the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, part of Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia, have received a $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes for Health to come up with a new approach for managing pain medications in patients with a history of abuse. The subject is huge: Current research suggests one in five patients with chronic pain abuse the medications that have been prescribed to them. Pain management through prescription drugs has sparked controversy among some researchers. But investigators in the VCU study are focusing on a kind of intervention that might be agreeable to everyone — physicians, psychologists and patients and families. "Most doctors out there have not been trained very well in pain management," says Deborah Haller, Ph.D., the associate chair of the Division of Addiction Medicine and principal investigator for the study. "We're trying to develop a new treatment for chronic-pain patients. … Our goal is not just to help the patients but to provide guidelines for health-care professionals." The four-year grant, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is the first of its kind to address the growing population of prescription-drug users who suffer from chronic pain, Haller says. While no one is sure how many people might fit that profile, it typically is used to describe those who suffer from pain that exists beyond the typical time of recovery — for instance, a person who has been in an accident and damaged his back and suffers months, years even, later. Or the person who suffers from perpetual conditions brought about by diabetes or arthritis, says researcher Sidney Schnoll, Ph.D., M.D. In all, 64 adult patients will be selected to be part of the pilot study. Each must be referred by a physician who specializes in pain. "The people we're going to focus on are not novices," says Haller. "The ones brought into the study are ones that have trouble managing their medications. … They're basically going to be cut off if they don't do a better job." The new VCU/MCV study aims to find the right method for pain intervention - combining a medicinal and behavioral approach. Researchers will then ask patients to describe their experience in the study. Has pain decreased? Has activity increased? Do they feel better? "These are people who could be living the rest of their lives in pain. Basically, we hope this treatment is promising enough that [NIH] will give us a lot more money for a long time," Haller says. B.W.

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