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VPM Daily Newscast February 19, 2021

VPM's daily newscast contains all your Central Virginia news in just 5 to 10 minutes. Hosted by Benjamin Dolle, episodes are recorded the night before so you can wake up prepared.

Listeners can subscribe through Apple Podcasts, Megaphone, and Spotify.

Here’s a recap of the top stories on the morning of Friday, February 19, 2021:

  • Last year, Virginia decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, instituting a $25 civil fine to those caught with drugs instead of a criminal charge. Still, a VPM analysis of court filings showed a racial disparity in enforcement. Black Virginians were nearly four times as likely to face citations for marijuana possession than their white counterparts, despite using the drug at similar rates.
     
  • Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin is facing a challenge from within her own party. Criminal defense attorney Tom Barbour is hoping to unseat her in a June primary. He says McEachin’s office has an inadequate system for holding police officers accused of misconduct accountable. He pledges to increase transparency if elected, saying he would make the office’s criteria for handling officer misconduct cases public. In response, McEachin told VPM News that her team has worked hard to be transparent and accessible to the public. During racial justice protests last summer, dozens of demonstrators were arrested. Two police officers were charged for their conduct during the protests, after McEachin presented 18 indictments to a grand jury.
     
  • Virginia Commonwealth University will begin offering in-person and hybrid courses on March 4, according to an update from the school’s president to students and staff. University officials say they made this decision after seeing improving COVID-19 rates on campus, and increasing availability of testing, isolation space and hospital capacity. VCU also cited mental health concerns, hoping that returning to in-person instruction will alleviate the social and emotional impacts of the pandemic on students. Everyone on campus will still be required to wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.
     
  • Vaccine supply has been the main hurdle for Virginia’s immunization efforts, but as shots of the COVID-19 vaccine become more available, the state may need more people to help administer them. Gov. Ralph Northam signed a provision into law this week expanding who can administer the vaccine. That law included medical students, such as those at VCU who are training to help if needed
     
  • Northam could soon sign into law expanded foreclosure protections in the state. The proposal would bar courts from taking someone’s primary residence for any debt less than $25,000, as well as a few other protections. Proponents of the bill say they hope it can help homeowners struggling during the pandemic and economic recession. 
     
  • Thursday afternoon, the NASA rover Perseverance touched down on the surface of Mars looking for evidence life once existed there. VPM’s partner station WHRV spoke with Hampton University graduate Moogega Cooper,  the lead planetary protection engineer for the project. She’s responsible for making certain no microbes hitchhike across space, contaminating the experiment.