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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bob McDonnell-BEYOND APRIL 16, 2007


Vivid Images Have Prompted Changes . . .

Wednesday, Apr 16, 2008 - 12:30 AM Updated: 03:32 AM


One year later the images remain vivid.

We see the familiar campus buildings of Virginia Tech, a special place for many thousands of Virginians. We see terror on the faces of students and relive that terrible morning. Words are inadequate to describe the emotions. We mourn still over precious lives lost and families forever changed.

We saw horror on April 16, 2007, but we also saw goodness that rushed to fill the void. We saw the greater love that causes one person to lay down his life for others. We saw the injured cared for and the broken comforted. We saw the power of prayer. We saw the resilience of the Virginia Tech community. We have long known of its excellent academic and athletic programs; now we know also the character and compassion of the Tech community.

SINCE LAST April, Virginia's leaders have sought to respond properly to this unprecedented tragedy. Changes were needed in our laws and systems, and they are being made. The legislative and administrative reforms that are underway truly are nonpartisan, resulting from the efforts of all three branches of government and the leadership of Virginia Tech. There has been a shared purpose in learning from this tragedy.

Two weeks after the shootings, Gov. Tim Kaine worked with the Office of the Attorney General to craft Executive Order 50, which harmonized state and federal law to prevent gun purchases by those adjudicated mentally ill. Subsequent legislation has codified this executive order.

This initial step was followed by the most significant revision of Virginia's mental health laws in a generation. Dedicated career attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General continued their work with Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy Hassell's commission, initiated in 2006, to reform mental health laws and services. They drafted legislation, testified before committees, and provided the necessary research for these reforms.

Virginia's mental health laws have undergone sweeping changes in five key areas: involuntary commitment criteria, mandatory outpatient treatment, procedural improvements, privacy and disclosure provisions, and firearms purchase and reporting requirements. In addition, the mental health system received an infusion of more than $41 million as requested by Gov. Kaine to increase service capacity, particularly at the community level.

THE OFFICE of the Attorney General has continued to advise all state agencies of duties and responsibilities under federal law, with particular attention to interpreting the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This office has provided guidance for crafting a model policy for law-enforcement personnel to provide death notifications with accuracy, sensitivity and respect. Our office and other state agencies have worked closely with Gov. Kaine to facilitate the implementation of numerous recommendations of the Virginia Tech Review Panel, including improving campus safety and coordinating more effective exchanges of information.

These actions by the commonwealth's leaders reflect renewed dedication to the values that have sustained us since that terrible morning one year ago. This year's work manifests our resolve to improve our laws and processes in the face of great tragedy. In so doing, the commonwealth honors the memories of those killed and wounded.

Today we pray again, for all affected, that God's healing hand will touch them anew.

Bob McDonnell is Virginia's attorney general.

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