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    Authorities in Virginia and Tennessee are continuing their search Friday for two inmates who escaped from a regional jail. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office says the inmates escaped Thursday afternoon from a recreational yard at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority in Abingdon. On Friday, police found a stolen Cadillac SUV that they believe was used by the inmates on state Route 66 in Bulls Gap, Tennessee. The inmates _ 51-year-old Johnny Shane Brown of Rogersville, Tennessee, and 31-year-old Albert Lee Ricketson of Abingdon, Virginia _ are considered armed and dangerous. The sheriff’s office says Ricketson was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder. The U.S. Marshals Service is offering a $5,000 reward each for information leading to their arrest.

      Virginia House Republicans have voted down a range of bills that would have added new restrictions on firearms. Among the measures defeated in a marathon Thursday subcommittee meeting were a ban on assault-style weapons, a college campus gun ban and a gun-storage bill that were priorities for Democrats. The votes underscore that major action on gun laws is unlikely this year, given the divided control of the General Assembly. The House Public Safety subcommittee also advanced measures supported by gun rights groups that are likely to be defeated in the Senate.

        A bill that would let Petersburg hold a public referendum on a proposed $1.4 billion casino while blocking Richmond from a second shot at a project rejected in 2021 has cleared an early hurdle. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the measure from Democratic Sen. Joe Morrissey advanced from a Senate subcommittee 7-2 Thursday. Morrissey and Petersburg officials argued Richmond does not need the economic boost that a casino would bring. A bill similar to Morrissey’s has been proposed in the House of Delegates.

          Several years of pandemic restrictions and curriculum battles have emboldened longtime advocates of funneling public funds to private and religious schools in statehouses throughout the country. Republicans and parents’ rights activists are pushing voucher-style education savings account proposals in a dozen states that would allow students to use taxpayer dollars toward education outside traditional K-12 schools. The debates have inflamed teachers’ unions and resurfaced concerns about efforts to gradually privatize public education. If enacted, they could transform the nature of state government’s relationship with the education system and deepen contrasts between how going to school looks in many red versus blue states.

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