On January 27, 2021, the General Assembly committees considered two landmark pieces of legislation from Attorney General Mark Herring. The first bill, carried by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, will make AG Herring’s Office of Civil Rights a permanent fixture of the Office of Attorney General. The second, carried by Senator George Barker, will create a framework to support opioid abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery using funds recovered as part of AG Herring’s lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
What: HB2147, Making permanent the creation of the Office of Civil Rights within the Office of Attorney General (Delegate Charniele Herring)
Who: House Courts of Justice Committee (Docket here)
When: 1 p.m.
Attorney General Herring created the Office of Civil Rights within the Office of Attorney General to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to protect Virginians from discrimination and to secure and expand the rights of all Virginians. The designation of the Office of Civil Rights was the culmination of a multi-year plan to expand the authority and resources dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Virginians and to place the protection of civil rights at the center of the mission of the Office of Attorney General.
This legislation will make the Office of Civil Rights a permanent feature of the Office of Attorney General, ensuring that the protection of Virginians’ civil rights will always be a priority. This year’s legislation has been developed in conjunction with House Majority Leader Charniele Herring after previous efforts by Del. Alfonso Lopez and AG Herring to create an Office of Civil Rights were blocked in Republican-controlled committees.
What: SB 1469, Establishing the Opioid Abatement Authority (Sen. Barker)
Who: Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology (Docket here)
When: 30 minutes after adjournment of the floor session
This bill will create a structure and framework for ensuring that “opioid abatement” funds recovered as part of AG Herring’s ongoing lawsuits and investigations against opioid manufacturers and distributors are used to fund opioid abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery, rather than diverted to other uses. It will establish an Opioid Abatement Authority controlled by subject-matter experts who will ensure that funds are used wisely to support prevention, treatment, and recovery.
The opioid crisis has been one of Attorney General Herring’s top priorities, and as part of this work he has focused on accountability for pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors who helped create, prolong, and profit from the opioid crisis in Virginia and around the country. Attorney General Herring has filed suit against Purdue Pharma; the Sackler Family, owners of Purdue Pharma; and Teva/Cephalon for the roles that they played in creating the opioid epidemic. Additionally, Attorney General Herring reached a $1.6 billion global settlement with Mallinckrodt that came as part of a multistate investigation into opioid manufacturers and distributors, and additional multistate efforts remain ongoing.
Governor Northam directs Virginia Employment Commission to speed up processing of unemployment claims
On May 18, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam directed the Virginia Employment Commission to invest $20 million to dramatically expand the agency’s ability to process complicated unemployment insurance claims. Executive Directive Sixteen requires the agency to add 300 new adjudication staffers, make immediate technology upgrades, and complete a full modernization of the Commonwealth’s unemployment insurance system by October 1, 2021.
While Virginia ranks sixth in the nation for the timely payment of benefits to eligible applicants, the Governor’s action will speed up the resolution of cases flagged as potentially fraudulent or ineligible. These cases represent approximately four percent of all claims.
“Virginia is a national leader in getting unemployment benefits to eligible individuals, but it’s clear that complex cases must be resolved more quickly,” said Governor Northam. “That’s why I’m directing the Virginia Employment Commission to invest $20 million to significantly speed up its adjudication process and immediately implement long-overdue technology upgrades. This action will address many of the issues that have caused delays and ensure that we continue to deliver relief to Virginians who need it.”
Virginia’s unemployment system was set up to benefit businesses, not workers, and it has remained one of the lowest funded systems in the country for generations. In fact, Virginia ranks 51st out of 53 states and territories for the amount of federal funding it receives relative to what Virginia businesses pay in taxes. The problem was hidden by years of low unemployment and a consistently strong economy, and the pandemic has highlighted this reality.
Despite being underfunded, the Commonwealth’s unemployment insurance (UI) system has successfully distributed $12.9 billion in benefits to more than 1.3 million eligible Virginians since the pandemic started. Approximately 85 percent of Virginia applicants receive unemployment benefits within the first 21 days, making Virginia sixth in the nation—and first in the Mid-Atlantic region—for delivering unemployment benefits to eligible individuals.
If an individual’s initial claim is flagged for potential ineligibility or fraud, federal law requires the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) to adjudicate the claim before proceeding with payment. Most individuals that are placed in the adjudication process are ultimately found ineligible for benefits.
Executive Directive Sixteen directs the VEC to take four immediate actions to adjudicate claims faster:
• Set a clear goal for resolving UI claims. Governor Northam has directed VEC to increase the number of adjudications being processed per week from 5,700 to 10,000 by June 30 and to 20,000 by July 31, 2021. This will be accomplished, in part, by finalizing a $5 million contract for over 300 additional adjudication officers. VEC is also coordinating with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) to identify employees across Virginia’s state agencies who can temporarily support VEC.
• Continue investment in Customer Contact Center. Since the onset of the pandemic, VEC has quadrupled its customer service capacity in order to provide information and support to Virginians with questions about their claims. Governor Northam has directed VEC to expedite an additional contract for services and staff to augment the current expansion.
• Modernize the benefits system. Historic claim volume during the pandemic had previously delayed VEC’s progress in modernizing its 41-year-old benefits system. The agency has resumed the project, executing a contract for $5 million in state funding for technology upgrades. October 1, 2021, has been set as the target date for completing the final phase of the system. VEC will be implementing additional technology upgrades for customer service in the coming weeks to increase capacity.
• Collaborate with the Virginia congressional delegation to resolve federal funding disparity. States receive unemployment support from the federal government. The amount is based on how much Virginia businesses pay in federal unemployment insurance taxes. For Virginia, that ratio is among the lowest of all states and an increase typically requires businesses to pay more in taxes. This formula has underfunded Virginia’s UI system for years with respect to upgrading technology and maintaining staffing levels.
“As Virginia’s chief workforce official, I am always thinking about the Virginians behind the unemployment numbers,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “As we move into the next phase of our recovery, the Governor’s actions will create additional capacity for processing the historic number of claims with indeterminate eligibility.”
Virginia has made a wide range of additional assistance available to those whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19. Low-income Virginians should refer to the Virginia Department of Social Services CommonHelp for guidance on applying for food, cash, childcare, and other assistance. Support is also available through the Virginia Career Works Referral Portal for those interested in workforce training, going back to school, or getting a job. This includes $36 million in funding through Governor Northam’s ‘Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back’ (G3) Program, which makes tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields.
“Starting the pandemic with low federal support and record low UI claims, the VEC has faced a greater than 1000% increase in workloads,” said Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess. “I am proud of the work our team has done and continues to do in the face of truly unprecedented demand. Weekly claims still exceed pre-pandemic levels, but each and every day, the dedicated public servants of the VEC continue marching forward and serving their fellow Virginians.”
The full text of Executive Directive Sixteen is available here.
Virginia launches Nation’s first statewide Health Equity Dashboards
On May 18, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam unveiled the nation’s first public statewide health equity dashboards, providing a snapshot of the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts and making key data more accessible to Virginia residents.
“The pandemic has placed a spotlight on longstanding health inequities and the harm caused by structural racism,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia continues to embed equity into every part of our COVID-19 response and recovery and while we have made great strides, there is still important work to be done. These dashboards will bring additional visibility to our most pressing challenges, allowing the Commonwealth to better serve vulnerable populations and ensure the equitable distribution of resources.”
The two dashboards—Equity in Action and Equity at a Glance—were created by the Virginia Health Equity Leadership Taskforce (ELT) in partnership with several state agencies. The dashboards are being launched as a part of Virginia’s commitment to operationalizing equity, and in response to two key pieces of legislation: House Joint Resolution 537, which declares racism as a public health crisis in the Commonwealth, and Virginia Code Section 2.2-435.12, which requires Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer to conduct statewide equity assessments.
“Our equity dashboards serve as a national exemplar for increasing transparency and making data more accessible,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer. “The launch of these two dashboards reinforces Virginia’s leadership position, highlights the equity work being done across the Commonwealth, and serves as a call to action in closing gaps and improving the health and well-being of all Virginians.”
The Equity-in-Action dashboard is a snapshot of the progress Virginia has made across its COVID-19 response and recovery and other initiatives that advance the equitable distribution of resources and services. The Equity-at-a-Glance dashboard is a transparent assessment of social determinants of health and other factors contributing to health equity. Future versions of these dashboards will include an expanded set of topic areas, such as workforce diversity and criminal justice.
“These dashboards enable the Virginia Department of Health and other leaders to get the information we need to confront inequity across social determinants of health,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “Public health officials, community leaders, and policymakers can use these resources now as we work to recover from the COVID-19 public health crisis and beyond.”
“This interagency project shows us how data can be used to measure Virginia’s standing in many areas including COVID resources, health care, unemployment, education, food access, and broadband across 133 localities,” said Chief Data Officer Carlos Rivero. “This is a best practice in data sharing and sets a positive precedent for increased collaboration across state agencies.”
An overview of the dashboards and underlying data can be found at governor.virginia.gov/diversity/equity-dashboards/overview.
To learn more about the Health Equity Working Group, please visit governor.virginia.gov/diversity.
For more information about the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, please visit governor.virginia.gov/diversity. Members of the media or organizations interested in scheduling a background briefing on the equity dashboards should email email@example.com.
Governor Northam urges Virginians to participate in “It’s Our Shot, Virginia Statewide Day of Action”
Only May 17, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam reminded Virginians about the “It’s Our Shot, Virginia: Statewide Day of Action” taking place tomorrow, Tuesday, May 18 to help Virginia residents make a plan to get vaccinated. Virginians are encouraged to get involved in their communities by serving as trusted messengers and amplifying the Commonwealth’s vaccination efforts.
“I’m proud of Virginia’s vaccination progress, which has helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in our Commonwealth to its lowest level in over a year,” said Governor Northam. “Putting this pandemic behind us once and for all requires everyone doing their part—that means making sure you are informed, getting your free COVID-19 vaccine, and helping your friends, family members, and neighbors make a plan to get vaccinated.”
To participate in the It’s Our Shot, Virginia: Statewide Day of Action, Virginians are invited to:
Get your shot and help others make a plan to get vaccinated. Getting a shot has never been easier—vaccines are readily available at many supermarket pharmacies, hospitals, doctor’s offices, local health department clinics, and state-run Community Vaccination Centers. To find a vaccine provider near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov, call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682), or text your zip code to GETVAX (428829). Call center representatives are available from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. All Virginia residents ages 12 and over are eligible to get vaccinated.
Share your vaccination story on social media. Add a Facebook profile photo frame, upload a backdrop to your next virtual meeting, and record a short 30-60 second video highlighting why you chose to get vaccinated using the hashtag #VaccinateVirginia.
Become a COVID Community Ambassador. Ambassadors will help share COVID-19 updates and materials from top experts and sources with their networks and in their local community. Sign up to become a COVID Community Ambassador here.
Fight misinformation. Do you want to get the facts and counter common vaccine myths? Do you want to better understand COVID-19 vaccines, how they are made, and why they work? Do you need help talking to your employees, loved ones, or family members about the vaccines? Even if you aren’t a COVID Community Ambassador, you can still share important information with your community by visiting the resource library and downloading the mythbusters toolkit here.
Virginians also are encouraged to visit any of the Commonwealth’s Community Vaccination Centers (CVCs) between the hours of 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. to get vaccinated. CVCs will offer both Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and all sites are now taking walk-ups, so no appointment is required. Virginia’s CVCs include:
Prince William County: former Gander Mountain, 14041 Worth Avenue, Woodbridge, Virginia 22192
Portsmouth: Portsmouth Sportsplex, 1610 Summit Avenue Recreation Center, Portsmouth, Virginia 23704
Suffolk: Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront, 100 East Constance Road, Suffolk, Virginia 23434
Petersburg: Virginia State University (Multi-Purpose Center), 20809 2nd Avenue, Petersburg, Virginia 23803
Hampton: Hampton Coliseum, 1000 Coliseum Drive, Hampton, Virginia 23666
Fairfax: former Lord & Taylor, 7950 Tysons Corner Center, McLean, Virginia 22102
Virginia Beach: Virginia Beach Convention Center, 1000 19th Street, Virginia Beach, Virginia 23451
Newport News: 13785 Warwick Boulevard, Newport News, Virginia 23602
Since March, the Commonwealth has deployed Educate Vaccinate organizers to provide culturally competent vaccination information and ensure equitable, easy access to vaccines in many communities hit hard by the pandemic. Educate Vaccinate organizers are on the ground in the cities of Richmond, Hampton, Roanoke, and Danville, and Prince William County, Henrico County, Nottoway County, Buckingham County, Prince Edward County, Bland County, and Wythe County.
If you are interested in joining the Educate Vaccinate team, apply online here or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about paid opportunities to serve your community.
Virginia has administered over 7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. More than 4 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, representing over 63 percent of Virginia’s adult population. Governor Northam remains confident the Commonwealth will meet President Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.
Additional information about COVID-19 vaccinations in Virginia is available here.
Governor Northam lifts mask mandate to align with CDC guidance, announces Virginia to end COVID-19 mitigation measures on May 28
On May 14, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam lifted Virginia’s universal indoor mask mandate to align with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Governor Northam also announced that Virginia will ease all distancing and capacity restrictions on Friday, May 28, two weeks earlier than planned. The updates to Virginia’s mask policy are reflected in amendments to Executive Order Seventy-Two and will become effective at midnight tonight along with previously announced changes to mitigation measures.
Virginia is able to take these steps as a result of increasing vaccination rates, dramatically declining COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and statewide test positivity rates, and revised federal guidelines.
“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” said Governor Northam. “That’s why we can safely move up the timeline for lifting mitigation measures in Virginia. I strongly urge any Virginian who is not yet vaccinated to do so—the vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19. The message is clear: vaccinations are how we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back to being with the people we love and doing the things we have missed.”
The CDC guidelines state that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear masks in most indoor settings, except on public transit, in health care facilities, and in congregate settings. Businesses retain the ability to require masks in their establishments. Employees who work in certain business sectors—including restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, and entertainment—must continue to wear masks unless fully vaccinated, per CDC guidance. Those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear masks in all settings.
The state of emergency in Virginia will remain in place at least through June 30 to provide flexibility for local government and support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Governor Northam will take executive action to ensure individuals have the option to wear masks up to and after that date. Masks will continue to be required in K-12 public schools, given low rates of vaccination among children.
To encourage all Virginians to take advantage of available COVID-19 vaccines, Governor Northam is inviting Virginians to participate in the “It’s Our Shot, Virginia: Statewide Day of Action” on Tuesday, May 18.
Virginians can take part in the Day of Action by:
• Signing up to be a COVID Community Ambassador. Ambassadors will help share COVID-19 updates and materials from top experts and sources with their networks and in their local community. Sign up to become a COVID Community Ambassador here.
• Sharing your vaccination story on social media. Add a Facebook profile photo frame, upload a backdrop to your next virtual meeting, or record a short video highlighting why you chose to get vaccinated using the hashtag #VaccinateVirginia.
Virginia has administered nearly 7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. More than 4 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, representing over 63 percent of Virginia’s adult population. Governor Northam has said he remains confident the Commonwealth will meet President Biden’s goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and the percent of positive tests continue to fall throughout the Commonwealth. Virginia is currently reporting a positivity rate of 3.5 percent, which is lower than at any time since the start of the pandemic. The Commonwealth’s seven-day average of new cases is 555, the lowest number in over 10 months. Virginia is currently recording its lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 684. For additional data on COVID-19 on Virginia and vaccination efforts, please see the Virginia Department of Health’s data dashboards.
Virginians over the age of 12 can schedule a vaccination appointment by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Beginning Monday, May 17, the call center hours will change to 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
The full text of Seventh Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine, which takes effect on May 15, can be found here.
The full text of Executive Order Seventy-Nine, which takes effect on Friday, May 28, can be found here.
Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.
Joint Statement from Governor Northam and General Assembly Leaders on Shared Priorities for American Rescue Plan Funding
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today released a joint statement with the leaders of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia, outlining shared plans and priorities for distribution of more than $4.3 billion in federal assistance the Commonwealth expects to receive through the American Rescue Plan.
Joint Statement of
Governor Ralph Northam
House Speaker Eileen Filler Corn, Majority Leader Charniele Herring,
Caucus Chair Richard ‘Rip’ Sullivan,
Appropriations Chair Luke Torian, Vice Chair Mark Sickles
Senate President pro tem Louise Lucas,
Majority Leader Richard Saslaw,
Caucus Chair Mamie Locke,
Appropriations & Finance Chair Janet Howell,
Vice Chair George Barker
Virginia expects to receive more than $4.3 billion in federal funds in the coming days through the American Rescue Plan. Like most states, Virginia breathed a sigh of relief when President Biden signed this into law in March.
On Monday, we received further guidance on how these dollars may be used. They are to help states respond to acute pandemic-response needs, fill revenue shortfalls, and support communities that COVID-19 hit hardest. Virginia intends to follow these rules, and we are eager to move forward.
It’s important to understand the magnitude of this $4.3 billion package. This is one of the largest economic recovery efforts ever. It is one-third larger than the $3.2 billion CARES Act funding Virginia received last spring. And the Commonwealth chose to immediately distribute half of those dollars to help local governments. This new law funds cities and counties separately with about $2.7 billion in new funds, for a total of nearly $7 billion coming into Virginia state and local governments.
Virginia is unique: This package comes at a time when state revenues are rising, more people are working, and unemployment is declining. Few states can say this, but it is no accident. This is the result of careful stewardship.
This is a unique opportunity to invest in Virginia’s long-term future. We intend to be good stewards of these taxpayer dollars, in full compliance with fiduciary guidelines. We reject calls to refuse these federal dollars, and we support the law’s prohibition on cutting state taxes to substitute federal dollars. We embrace this rare opportunity, and we choose to invest.
We stand united on how to position Virginia for the future. We intend to meet in special session this summer for the express purpose of allocating federal dollars to five specific needs:
• Help public health. The pandemic highlighted the need to upgrade state and local public health services, which have been long underfunded in Virginia, as well as the need to help people with the cost of housing and utilities.
• Help small businesses. Virginia’s small businesses need help—especially those that were first to close and last to re-open. We intend to fully fund the Rebuild Virginia small business recovery plan and augment relief dollars for the hardest-hit industries—restaurants, hotels, museums, gyms, and theaters. We will invest in Virginia Tourism’s work to recruit visitors back to Virginia, and help our Housing and Community Development team invest in Virginia’s main streets, small towns, and industrial revitalization.
• Help workers. The Unemployment Trust Fund needs a major infusion of new dollars to keep relief funds available for workers who lose their jobs—and avoid increased costs on Virginia businesses. The Virginia Employment Commission needs to continue upgrading its computer systems and hiring staff for a system that historically has been one of the lowest-funded unemployment systems in the country.
• Help public schools. The pandemic highlighted the need to modernize public school buildings across Virginia. This includes rehabilitating and upgrading existing facilities, improving air quality and HVAC systems, and improving safety. We expect that other federal dollars will enable additional future investments.
• Fully deploy broadband across Virginia. The pandemic highlighted a fundamental economic reality: People without broadband get left behind. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let’s accelerate a 10-year plan over the next 18 months—and bring broadband to all of Virginia’s cities and rural areas.
Virginia has two options: Invest these dollars in Virginia’s future, or reject them and let Congress use our dollars for some other federal purpose. We choose the future.
President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law in March. It is a $1.9 trillion economic recovery plan that includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments. All Republican members of Congress voted against the law, including those representing Virginia.
Price gouging protections in effect following State of Emergency declaration
RICHMOND (May 12, 2021) – In response to the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack that has disrupted gasoline supply throughout the Commonwealth, Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency has triggered Virginia’s anti-price gouging statutes designed to protect consumers from paying exorbitant prices for necessities during an emergency.
“This ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline could create disruptions in the gasoline supply across the Commonwealth, and unfortunately, bad actors could take advantage of this just to line their own pockets,” said Attorney General Herring. “Virginians should not have to worry about paying exorbitant prices for gas and other necessary goods during this time. I want to encourage any Virginian who believes they may have a price-gouging complaint related to this incident to reach out to either my Consumer Protection Section or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”
Enacted in 2004, Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty-day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, generators, batteries, home repair materials and services, and tree removal services. The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster.
Violations of Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. Complaints should be reported for investigation to the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Section, except for claims related to gasoline and motor fuel prices, which are handled by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
During Governor Northam’s state of emergency that was issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office has received more than 500 complaints and e-mails alleging possible price gouging activity and has sent more than 150 investigative letters to businesses. Investigation of these complaints has largely revealed that many price increases occurred further up the supply chain with manufacturers or distributors that were beyond the reach of the state’s price gouging laws, and this prompted Attorney General Herring to successfully seek amendments to the state’s price gouging law during the 2020 General Assembly special session.
Additionally, in April, Attorney General Herring led a national effort to address price gouging in the PPE supply chain, urging 3M as one of the largest manufacturers of PPE, particularly masks, to do more to address price gouging within its supply and distribution chains that were causing hospitals and healthcare providers to pay exorbitant prices for PPE.
If a Virginia consumer suspects they are a victim of price gouging, they can call the Consumer Protection Hotline or download a complaint form from the Attorney General’s website and submit it in-person, by mail, or by fax. Consumers are encouraged to keep any relevant documentation and submit copies of their complaints. If consumers believe they are a victim of price gouging specific to motor fuel they can also reach out to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for information or file a complaint: