by Gene Marrano
Freeda Cathcart spent part of the late winter and early spring in Richmond, making her position known on several bills that made their way through the General Assembly session. The former Democrat candidate for the 17th House of Delegates district seat last November – she lost to Republican Chris Head – also won’t rule out running again in the future.
In the meantime she’ll be content to home school her boys, act as president of the Grandin Court Neighborhood Association and keep an eye on goings-on in the capitol. The state legislature has not taken any action on uranium mining but the existing ban is still in place. (Cathcart and some other environmentalists want it upheld.) But she is concerned about a “working group” Governor Bob McDonnell has set up to explore uranium drilling and mining legislation in the future – should the moratorium be lifted.
Cathcart said the way the Uranium Working Group was set up, it does not require the public to be involved, nor is it subject to the Freedom of Information Act. “Our tax dollars are paying for it,” said Cathcart, who also contends that the working group flies in the face of recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, which believes “the public should be involved at every step. [The working group] is very dismissive of the public.”
Cathcart doesn’t think there is adequate storage of uranium core samples taken several years ago at a Pittsylvania County site, wondering what would happen if a tornado tore those containers apart and unleashed uranium from the core samples into the air and waterways, just 50 miles from Roanoke. Cathcart said there is bipartisan support for continuing the ban on uranium mining. “There’s not the need to put at risk our environment. Radiation lasts for tens of thousands of years.”
State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) helped sponsor a bill that Cathcart championed, one that would require women to receive more information after mammograms about any dense breast tissue that might have been seen during their examination.
Dense breast tissue can conceal cancer but many times women were not getting the full story about its presence, which could indicate the need for more testing. Cathcart was pleased that a bill sailed through the General Assembly and was signed by the governor, one that will require more information to be given to women who have dense breast tissue.
Cathcart also took issue with the ultrasound bill passed, mandating that women in certain stages of pregnancy have an ultrasound and take 24 hours to think about their decision if considering ending the pregnancy. She is pleased that the more invasive form of ultrasound was taken out of the bill; but worries that poor women without easy access to transportation may have trouble getting to an ultrasound center, or will find the 24 hour waiting period before they can have an abortion a financial and logistical imposition.
She also worries that placing the independent Pesticide Control Board under the auspices of the state Agriculture Department – something McDonnell touted as a way of streamlining– will allow for lesser control of pesticides that are not related to farming. “People use exterminators to come to their house – it’s a different type of [pesticide] industry.”
Cathcart, who took part in several Richmond rallies on issues like the ultrasound bill, said the old pesticide board was funded by chemical manufacturers that paid fees, and was manned by volunteers. “There was no cost to the taxpayer,” she insisted. The new board provides “more of an opportunity for mistakes to happen and less accountability,” in her estimation.
The General Assembly may still be a calling for Cathcart – or at least making another attempt at wresting the seat away from Chris Head, who replaced the retiring Bill Cleaveland. “I haven’t ruled it out. I really enjoy helping people and however I can best serve the public … that’s where I’ll be.”