RICHMOND (February 23, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 30 attorneys general in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund internet connectivity and internet-enabled devices to K-12 students whose schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who are learning online at home or other locations.
“Internet and broadband access have become crucial to Virginians’ daily lives during the COVID pandemic as they have been forced to move to school, work, healthcare, and almost everything else online,” said Attorney General Herring. “Our children have been learning remotely for almost a full year now, and we should be making it as easy as possible for them and their parents to have access to affordable internet services and devices.”
This month, the FCC asked for comment on petitions urging the commission to temporarily waive some restrictions on its E-Rate program to allow schools to extend their broadband internet networks to students’ homes and to allow E-Rate funds to support Wi-Fi hotspots or other broadband connections for students who lack adequate internet connectivity to participate in remote schooling.
In their comment letter to the FCC, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge the commission to promptly take action to unlock the doors of the virtual classroom while physical schools remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The E-Rate program provides funding to better connect schools and libraries in all parts of the nation—urban, suburban and rural. Now, all parts of the nation are struggling with the best means to educating K-12 students during the waves of a pandemic.
At least 55 million K-12 students in the U.S. have, at one time or another, been forced to rely on online learning when their classrooms were closed. When schools are closed, the living room, bedroom, or basement becomes the classroom and deserves the same E-Rate support.
School districts stand ready to use E-Rate funded services to rapidly connect their students to high-speed internet. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 E-Rate program participants, 93% reported that they would use E-Rate funds to connect students at home for virtual schooling if allowed by the FCC.
Attorney General Herring and his colleagues also state in their letter that, given the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC is authorized to amend or waive E-Rate program rules as necessary to provide broadband connectivity for remote schooling.
Joining Attorney General Herring in today’s effort is the attorney general of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Subcontractor Pleads Guilty to Felony Worker Misclassification
RICHMOND (December 8, 2021) – Richmond Drywall Installers Inc., a subcontractor that has been working on the new General Assembly Building, has pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement charges based on worker misclassification brought by Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s Worker Protection Unit, following an investigation by the Office of the State Inspector General. In October, Attorney General Herring’s Worker Protection Unit brought the first worker misclassification-related charges against the subcontractor for allegedly misclassifying their employees as independent contractors to avoid paying state taxes. As part of the plea agreements, Richmond Drywall Installers Constructors Inc. will pay a total of $21,000 in fines and restitution.
“Businesses that take advantage of their workers through misclassification, wage theft, or payroll fraud are not only stealing from their hardworking employees, but they are also stealing from the Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Herring. “I am committed to rooting out worker exploitation in Virginia and protecting our workers from abuse and mistreatment by their bosses. I want to thank both my Worker Protection Unit for their hard work, as well as our partners over at the State Inspector General’s office for their help on investigating this important case.”
In Richmond City Circuit Court today, Richmond Drywall Installers Constructors Inc. pleaded guilty to five felony embezzlement counts and were ordered to pay a $2,500 fine for each of the five counts and $8,500 in restitution.
“It is the first time worker misclassification charges were brought by the OAG’s new Worker Protection Unit, and I am proud that our special agents were part of the investigation that brought this issue to the forefront,” said State Inspector General Michael C. Westfall.
These were the first worker misclassification-related charges brought by Attorney General Herring’s Worker Protection Unit since its creation earlier this year. Worker misclassification – one of the most common forms of worker exploitation – involves falsely identifying individuals as “independent contractors” when they are really employees. This allows employers to avoid paying unemployment and other taxes on workers and to avoid the costs of covering the employees with workers’ compensation and unemployment insurances, and it has been consistently shown to drive down the wages of other workers.
Proposed budget to increase funding for regional trails, state parks, and Office of Outdoor Recreation
On December 8, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam continued the ‘Thank You, Virginia’ tour, announcing that he is proposing a two-year budget that will include nearly $245 million for outdoor recreation and Virginia’s world-renowned natural lands. The new funding will help significantly expand Virginia’s network of regional trails, Virginia State Parks, and the Office of Outdoor Recreation.
“Virginia is home to a robust outdoor recreation economy, with 41 state parks and more than 450 miles of recreational paths,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “Our natural assets draw tens of thousands of visitors each year, opening up countless opportunities for economic development across Virginia. This increased funding will make significant progress towards both preserving the beauty of Virginia’s landscape and ensuring that this critical industry continues to thrive for years to come.”
This funding will go towards supporting existing trails as well as developing new trails like the Eastern Shore, Shenandoah, and Fall Line trails. The budget proposal will also ensure that the Office of Outdoor Recreation, launched by Governor Northam in 2019 with the goal of coordinating outdoor recreation efforts across multiple state agencies, will have funding to support two full-time employees.
“Active transportation is a critical component of our multimodal transportation network, providing the final link to schools, workplaces, and transit stops,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Not only do Virginia’s regional trails create safer alternatives for existing pedestrians and cyclists, they also attract thousands of non-local visitors each year, significantly enhancing economic development prospects for the localities they pass through.”
Outdoor recreation employs more than 197,000 people and contributes an estimated $22 billion to our economy. This industry also generates $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenues. Visitation to Virginia State Parks increased 13 percent in 2020, with nearly 8 million visits. Some of the Commonwealth’s natural area preserves doubled the number of visitors compared to pre-pandemic numbers, and these increases have continued in 2021.
Virginia is also home to a number of trails that have a sizable economic impact, including the Capital Trail, running from Richmond to Williamsburg, the New River Trail from Galax to Pulaski, and the Creeper Trail from White Top and Abingdon. The Capital Trail and the New River Trail generate $9 million and $28 million respectively in annual economic impact. More than half of the visitors to the Creeper Trail are coming from outside the area, boosting Virginia’s tourism revenue.
“Outdoor recreation provides an important boost to local economies,” said Senator Emmett Hanger, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly. “When a community has a multi-use trail, or a state park or forest, it is not only a draw for visitors, it improves the quality of life for those who live there. These investments will ensure more access to Virginia’s beautiful landscape for generations to come.”
“The pandemic has really highlighted how valuable our award-winning state parks and natural areas are,” said Delegate David Bulova, co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Caucus in the General Assembly. “By supporting staffing and access, we ensure that Virginians and visitors can continue to enjoy all the outdoor beauty the Commonwealth has to offer.”
The Governor made the announcement on Brown’s Island in Richmond.
Proposed state budget to include increased funding for State Troopers, correctional officers, Deputy Sheriffs and regional jail officials
On December 7, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam continued his ‘Thank You, Virginia’ Tour, announcing that his proposed two-year state budget will include the largest dollar investment in public safety in Virginia history. The Governor is proposing pay increases for Virginia State Troopers, correctional officers, deputy sheriffs, and regional jail officers, building on his record of law enforcement pay raises over the past four years.
“Law enforcement officers carry a heavy burden as they work to protect Virginians, and this raise is the right thing to do,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia is committed to training officers, funding alternative response systems, and investing in communities. It is also important that our officers are paid enough to create a positive work environment free from as much stress and burnout as possible. This raise and increased funding is a huge step forward.”
Under the Governor’s proposal, newly-sworn state troopers will receive a 7.7 percent pay raise; the starting salary for new correction officers will increase by 25 percent, and the average entry-level salary for deputy sheriffs and regional jail officials will increase by approximately 20 percent. The Governor’s budget also includes significant funding to address pay compression and provide additional raises to a range of targeted officers and sworn personnel. Virginia gave one-time bonuses of $3,000 to $5,000 to public safety officials in 2021, in addition to a one-time bonus of $500 in 2020.
“I am proud of the men and women in law enforcement who work tirelessly to keep us safe,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “Governor Northam’s proposed budget will significantly improve our law enforcement institutions, the safety of our communities, and encourage more young people to join Virginia’s talented pool of public safety officers.”
“I want to thank Governor Northam for continuing to prioritize Virginia law enforcement,” said Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel Gary T. Settle. “The bonuses and pay raises given to public safety officials every year during the Governor’s term have boosted morale and changed lives. This announcement comes just in time for the holidays and will mean so much to all of the officers and their families.”
The Governor made the announcement at the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial in Richmond.
Virginia takes monumental action to build a resilient coast, combating climate change and rising sea levels
On December 7, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam released the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, providing a foundational and fundamental step towards protecting Virginia’s coast.
Virginia’s coastal areas face significant impacts from rising sea levels and increased storm flooding. The Commonwealth, regional and local entities have to take meaningful and continuous action to ensure the long-term sustainability of Virginia’s coastal resources and communities.
“We must acknowledge that climate change is permanently altering the physical limits of our coastal lands,” said Governor Northam. “The only way we can adapt and maintain our thriving communities is with thoughtful planning, reliance on science, and a willingness to make tough decisions. This Master Plan will guide decisions by the Commonwealth and our local government partners.”
Earlier this year, the Commonwealth worked with 2,000 stakeholders to build the Coastal Resilience Master Plan. This plan documents which land is exposed to coastal flooding hazards now and into the future, as well as the impacts of those future scenarios on coastal Virginia’s community resources and manmade and natural infrastructure.
The Master Plan concluded that between 2020 and 2080:
• the number of residents living in homes exposed to extreme coastal flooding is projected to grow from approximately 360,000 to 943,000, an increase of 160%;
• the number of residential, public, and commercial buildings exposed to an extreme coastal flood is projected to increase by almost 150%, from 140,000 to 340,000, while annualized flood damages increase by 1,300% from $0.4 to $5.1 billion;
• the number of miles of roadways exposed to chronic coastal flooding is projected to increase from 1,000 to nearly 3,800 miles, an increase of nearly 280%; and
• an estimated 170,000 acres, or 89%, of existing tidal wetlands and 3,800 acres, or 38%, of existing dunes and beaches, may be permanently inundated, effectively lost to open water.
The Coastal Resiliency Database and Web Explorer is a publicly available database that shows the impact of coastal flood hazards, current and proposed resilience projects, as well as funding sources. This database will serve as a vital tool to support resilience efforts at the state, regional, and local levels.
“The Master Plan recognizes that flooding affects many Virginians but does not do so equally. This initial effort highlighted many unmet needs in underserved communities,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources and Chief Resilience Officer Ann Jennings. “Working closely with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, DCR will continue outreach and engagement for those communities moving forward.”
“This work is the culmination of a significant collaborative effort on the part of stakeholders across coastal Virginia, and in particular, the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), who advised us during this process,” said Rear Admiral (Retired) Ann C. Phillips, Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection. “The TAC, and seven TAC Subcommittees, including Agency Directors and Commissioners, Academia, the eight Coastal Planning District and Regional Commission Directors, USACE, DoD and other Federal partners, Tribal Representatives, NGOs and other invited stakeholders, worked tirelessly this year. We are deeply grateful for their continued support and advice to adapt and protect Coastal Virginia.”
The Commonwealth intends to develop successive updates of the Master Plan on at least a five-year cycle, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation in consultation with the Chief Resilience Officer, the Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection, and the Technical Advisory Committee.
The next phase of the Master Plan is anticipated by 2024, which will aim to address recommendations of the TAC to broaden the analysis of natural hazards by including rainfall-driven, riverine, and compound flooding, expand and improve the inventory of resilience projects. by continuing to add efforts and working with project owners to better understand the benefits of projects, and extend this critical work beyond the coastal region to encompass statewide resilience needs.
“The Master Plan reflects the Technical Advisory Committee’s hard work and dedication to the safety and economic resilience of Virginia’s coastal communities,” said Elizabeth Armistead Andrews, Professor of the Practice and Director, Virginia Coastal Policy Center, William & Mary Law School. “Now comes the long-term work of successfully implementing the Plan, which will require adequate funding and policies to address the distinct needs of our rural, urban, Tribal, and socially vulnerable communities.”
“This Coastal Master Plan gives Virginia its first strategic approach to dealing with sea-level rise,” said Wetlands Watch Executive Director Skip Stiles. “This Plan, together with a range of other initiatives taken during the Northam Administration, constitutes a body of work that places Virginia in a national leadership role for addressing climate change and resilience needs.”
“A strength of Virginia’s Plan is its reliance on science,” said Dr. Mark Luckenbach, Associate Dean of Research and Advisory Service, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, William & Mary. “Members of the Technical Advisory Committee drawn from Virginia institutions of higher education helped ensure that the Plan was informed by state-of-the-art science, as well as policy and legal reviews. As the Commonwealth moves forward with implementing and updating the Plan, Virginia’s universities are poised to provide data, analyses, and expertise on wide-ranging topics that will be essential to its success.”
“As Chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, we enthusiastically support the continued development of the Coastal Resiliency Master Plan,” said Clark Nexsen Senior Principal Chris Stone. “All along our coastal communities, sea-level rise, increased storm intensity, and frequency, recurrent coastal flooding along with increased levels of precipitation are negatively affecting our residents and businesses. And while it may be impossible to eliminate these risks, with this announcement today, we can reduce that risk, increase our resilience, and protect the natural and cultural resources of our coastline, leading to a more economically diverse, prosperous, and resilient region for future generations.”
“As a stakeholder in the creation of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, the Navy remains committed to continue being an engaged partner with the Commonwealth to continue the important work of addressing climate resiliency and to ensure strategy alignment as we moved forward on these efforts,” said Rear Admiral Charles W. Rock, Commander. Navy Region, Mid-Atlantic. “We have long recognized the interconnected relationship of community and military and have proactively engaged with surrounding communities through multiple forums to help address climate resiliency efforts.”
“Outside of New Orleans, the Hampton Roads region is the most threatened area in the nation due to sea-level rise and intense flooding caused by climate change,” Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. “The Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan is a bold step in addressing our region’s resiliency concerns.”
An overview of the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan may be found here.
Next two-year budget will include includes 10% pay raise for teachers, further expanding largest teacher raises in 15 years
On December 6, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam launched his ‘Thank You, Virginia’ Tour, announcing that he will propose a two-year state budget next week that includes record funding for public education, including a 10 percent pay raise for teachers.
Virginia has already increased teacher salaries by more than 10 percent under Governor Northam—the largest increase in 15 years. This latest raise will push Virginia’s teacher pay above the national average.
“Paying teachers is the right thing to do and a wise investment,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia has invested in teachers in a big way over these past four years, and now it’s time to do much more. Our country has asked teachers to carry a heavy load, especially during the pandemic. They have delivered, and they deserve to be rewarded. This raise is possible because of strong, steady fiscal stewardship. Virginia’s strong economy has delivered booming revenues. What we’ve been doing these four years is working, and Virginia should continue it.”
Governor Northam’s proposal will increase compensation 5 percent a year in each of the next two budget years, for a cumulative increase of 10.25 percent. When matched by local funds, the increase will push compensation for the typical Virginia teacher above the national average.
Governor Northam noted that local budgets have been significantly augmented by federal and state pandemic relief dollars. These funds include more than $1.3 billion of federal CARES Act dollars that Virginia allocated to localities in 2020, and another nearly $3 billion in federal ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan) for counties and cities in Virginia earlier this year.
“Teachers deserve to be paid more, and Governor Northam has delivered,” said Secretary of Education Fran Bradford. “That’s an important tool in recruiting and retaining talented teachers. It matters in normal times, and it’s critical today.”
“Virginia has taken dramatic steps to fund public education over the past two years, especially to raise teacher salaries and hire more counselors,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “Virginia’s public schools are delivering for parents and students, and we all appreciate Governor Northam taking this latest step to build an even stronger future.”
“There is no greater value for the taxpayer than investing in public education, which has far-reaching effects for all Virginians,” said Majority Leader Dick Saslaw. “The education pipeline begins in Pre-K, continues through K-12 and into the handoff to post-secondary education or a workforce credential. But every investment costs money, and Governor Northam has delivered over these past four years.”
The Governor made the announcement at Alexandria City High School, Westside Elementary School in Roanoke, and Glen Allen High School.
Virginia Offers a World-Class Education:
• Under Governor Northam, early childhood education is now available to more Virginia families than ever before:
• Since 2018 Virginia has more than doubled public Pre-K funding to serve a record total of more than 25,000 three and four-year-olds.
• Virginia has expanded access to affordable child care to more families than ever before, serving over 27,000 children and exceeding pre-pandemic participation.
• The Commonwealth has received national attention for investing in an early childhood teacher incentive grant program that has cut turnover in half in participating classrooms.
• Virginia’s tuition-free community college now helps working people who choose career paths in high-demand fields.
• You may be eligible if you pursue a career in Healthcare, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and Skilled Trades, Early Childhood Education, or Public Safety.
• The message is simple: Get skilled, get a job, give back.
• Virginia’s K-12 public schools benefit from record funding:
• Virginia has increased teacher salaries by more than 10% under Governor Northam–the largest increase in 15 years.
• Virginia is helping students by hiring more counselors. School counselors are now responsible for 325 students on average, down from as many as 500.
• Virginia is making it easier to go to college.
• Virginia has made the largest-ever investment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities—$328 million over three years. This includes $297 million for capital projects and nearly $32 million in operating support.
• Students attending Virginia high schools are now eligible for financial aid and in-state tuition, regardless of their citizenship status.
Governor Northam announces Commonwealth to remove Monument Avenue pedestal, convey state-owned land to City of Richmond
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced December 5, 2021, the Commonwealth will remove the pedestal that formerly displayed the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, as part of a plan reached with the City of Richmond to convey the state-owned land to the City. Preliminary work at the site is expected to begin Monday morning. The removal process will be substantially complete by December 31.
“This land is in the middle of Richmond, and Richmonders will determine the future of this space,” said Governor Northam. “The Commonwealth will remove the pedestal and we anticipate a safe removal and a successful conclusion to this project.”
Once the pedestal has been removed, the Commonwealth will convey the circle of land to the City of Richmond. The Commonwealth will safely disassemble and store the pedestal until the next steps have been determined.
If the 1887 time capsule is recovered during the disassembly process, it will remain under the control of the Commonwealth and will be removed for preservation.