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Governor Northam to call Virginia General Assembly into Special Session to address gun violence

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will call members of the Virginia General Assembly into special session for the purpose of addressing gun violence in the Commonwealth.

“No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home,” said Governor Northam. “But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence… I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”

Governor Northam will announce the date of the special session in the coming days. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below. The governor’s remarks are also available on Facebook, here.

REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY:

Thank you, Secretary Moran. Good morning. Thanks to all of you for being in attendance. I’d like to start by thanking all of our first responders, state and local police, and public health and state officials for all that you do. It has been a long few days here in the Commonwealth.

12 years after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, our Commonwealth has suffered another terrible tragedy.

Once more first responders displayed heroism, and ordinary Virginians showed extraordinary courage and compassion.

Once more, hearts are broken, lives are shattered, and families are crushed.

Once more, a community is in shock and pain and grief.

And once more we will hear folks offer their thoughts and prayers.

We do appreciate and need them. As I said this weekend in Virginia Beach, God is in control.

But we must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve.

Virginia is heartbroken. We are heartbroken for the families who have lost their loved ones. Their lives are forever changed. The pain and suffering that Virginia Beach is experiencing is the same pain communities across Virginia and around the country suffer every day due to gun violence.

As an Army doctor, I have seen firsthand what a bullet does to a body, and I saw it again this weekend. I can’t imagine the devastation these families are suffering.

It is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques, into battlefields. No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home. Our elementary school children regularly practice lockdown drills. That is what our society has come to, because we have failed to act on gun violence.

It is wrong that we now view these mass shootings as the new normal. In fact, it is wrong that we view gun violence in general as the new normal. Tragic mass shootings draw our attention, but shootings happen in our communities every day. A 15-year-old boy was shot and killed in Norfolk Sunday. A little girl was shot and killed at a cookout in Richmond on Memorial Day weekend. Four people were shot, and one killed, in Portsmouth this past weekend.

It is past time to change it.

Back in January, I asked the Virginia General Assembly to work with me to stop this violence. I asked them to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

I asked them to make background checks universal—a policy that 90 percent of the public supports. I asked them to create an Extreme Risk Protective Order – a way for law enforcement to ask a court to keep guns away from someone who poses a substantial danger to themselves or others, a concept supported by President Trump’s own School Safety Task Force.

I asked them to reinstate Virginia’s successful “One Handgun a Month” policy. I asked for tougher penalties for anyone who leaves a loaded gun around a child, and to require anyone whose gun has been stolen to report the theft within 24 hours.

And I have supported, and will continue to support, legislation giving localities more authority to regulate firearms, including in their own government buildings.

None of these ideas are radical. None of them violate the Second Amendment. None of them would impair any of my fellow Virginia hunters or sportsmen.

None of them would limit anyone from owning a gun who wasn’t a felon or a domestic abuser or declared by a judge to be a danger.

And none of them passed. In fact, some failed with just four votes against them in small subcommittees.

We lost 1,028 Virginians due to gun violence in 2017. That’s almost three people a day. Incredibly, that is more deaths than those due to vehicle accidents.

This weekend’s tragedy, as well as the tragedies that happen every day across Virginia, must instill in us a new level of urgency to act. If we can save one life because we acted now, it is worth it.

And so, by the power vested in me by Article IV, Section 6, and Article V, Section 5 of the Constitution of Virginia, I will summon the members of the Senate and the House of Delegates to meet in Special Session for the purpose of passing common sense public safety laws.

I will propose many of the same ideas that we have proposed before:

• Universal background checks;
• A ban on assault weapons, to include suppressors and bump stocks;
• An extreme risk protective order;
• Reinstating the one-gun-a-month law;
• Child access prevention;
• Requiring people to report lost and stolen firearms; and
• Expanding local authority to regulate firearms, including in government buildings.

I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.

And I ask that the Members of the General Assembly engage in an open and transparent debate, and that the bills brought before the legislature are put to a vote by the entire General Assembly.

That is why our legislators are voted into office and sent to Richmond.

Business as usual, with leadership shielding most of their members from taking tough votes by setting early morning hearings before small subcommittees, won’t cut it. Virginians deserve leadership, and they will be watching. The nation will be watching.

From the moment the first shots were fired in Virginia Beach, our first responders knew what to do. They rushed to the sound of the gunfire. They responded in less than two minutes to the shooting. Our first responders acted to save lives—and indeed, they did save lives.

Now, I am calling on the elected officials of this Commonwealth to become second responders. Your duty is clear: rush to the scene, and put a stop to this violence. Heal our Commonwealth. Show Virginians that it doesn’t matter what party you are in, we are all Virginians first, and we care about the safety and security of every Virginian, no matter who they are or where they live.

There will be those—there are already those—who say it’s too soon after the tragedy to talk about responses. I would ask those people, when is the right time?

Delay only means what it always means—that there will be a next time, another tragedy, more deaths of innocent people, and when it happens, those same voices will again proclaim that it is too soon to talk about protecting our citizens.

I want this to be the last time.

I know this will be hard. Doing the right thing is often hard. But this work is not nearly as difficult as the task ahead for the Virginia Beach families who now have to carry on. Or for the more than a thousand Virginia families who lost a loved one due to gun violence.

It is right to respond to this tragedy with decisive action. Let Virginia set an example for the nation that we can respond to tragedy with action. That we can turn pain into purpose.

Let’s get to work.

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Statewide teen seat belt challenge launches “Buckle Up” design contest and free traffic safety kits

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SALEM, VA — Students, schools, and youth groups across Virginia are kicking off a statewide campaign this week to increase seat belt usage rates among teens and youth.

Through a new, virtual format, the five‐week campaign, Drive for Change: Buckle Up and Slow Down will encourage youth and teens to develop a lifelong buckle up habit by reminding them that seat belts are their best defense against injury and death in a crash. In 2019, 65 teens aged 15-20 were killed in crashes in Virginia and of those teens, 56% were not wearing seat belts. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), 2020 preliminary data reveals 37 teens have been killed on Virginia’s roadways from January 1 through August 31, 2020 and of those, 19 (59%) were unbelted.

“The simple step of buckling a seat belt saves lives but, sadly, we are seeing an increase in the percentage of unrestrained teens killed in crashes in Virginia this year,” said Mary King, YOVASO Program Manager. “Through the ‘Drive for Change’ campaign, we are challenging our teens to change that statistic by influencing and encouraging each other to always buckle up. We hope every teen in Virginia will join the campaign and use their creativity to help save lives.”

In addition to buckling up, the campaign will also address speed prevention which remains a key factor in all fatal crashes involving a young driver with approximately half of fatal teen crashes being caused by excessive speed.

As part of the campaign, Virginia students ages 11-20 will be encouraged to participate in the #DriveForChange Sticker Design Contest by designing a sticker/decal with a buckle up and/or slow down message that will influence youth and teens to wear their seat belt and follow posted speed limits. The winning design will be selected by popular vote on social media during National Teen Driver Safety Week (October 18-24) and announced on October 23. Prizes will be awarded for the top five designs with first place receiving $100, having their artwork produced as a sticker for YOVASO’s 2021 Arrive Alive campaign, and will also receive 100 stickers to share with his/her friends. The other four finalists will receive $25. Contest Guidelines can be found online at www.yovaso.org/driveforchange.

Students may also participate in the campaign by registering for a #DriveForChange kit that includes driver and passenger safety resources, project ideas, and other fun items! Additional options for schools, youth groups, and parents to get involved can be explored on YOVASO’s website.

Drive for Change: Buckle Up and Slow Down is funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles with additional funding from State Farm, which supports prizes and educational incentives and materials.

“State Farm’s primary goal is to keep drivers safe behind the wheel,” said State Farm spokesperson Kate Beadle. “This campaign is a creative reminder to young drivers to always wear seat belts and obey the speed limit. With these actions, the number of accidents, serious injuries and deaths will be reduced.”


For more information or to register for free campaign materials for your school or youth group, contact Casey Taylor, Program Development Coordinator at 540-739-4392 or visit yovaso.org.

Schools and Youth Groups participating in the 2020 Drive for Change: Buckle Up and Slow Down campaign:

  • Auburn Middle School, Montgomery Co.
  • Bristol’s Promise, Washington Co.
  • Central Academy Middle School, Botetourt Co.
  • Eastern Montgomery High School, Montgomery Co.
  • Fluvanna County High School, Fluvanna Co.
  • Forest Middle School, Bedford Co.
  • Galileo Magnet High School, Danville City
  • George Wythe High School, Richmond City
  • Heritage High School, Newport News City
  • Hidden Valley High School, Roanoke Co.
  • Jefferson Forest High School, Bedford Co.
  • L.C. Bird High School, Chesterfield Co.
  • Liberty High School, Bedford Co.
  • Louisa County High School, Louisa Co.
  • Louisa County Middle School, Louisa Co.
  • Luray High School, Page Co.
  • Mallory’s Movement Against Drunk Driving, Chesterfield Co.
  • Narrows High School, Giles co.
  • Page County High School, Page Co.
  • Randolph-Henry High School, Charlotte Co.
  • REACH Homeschool Group, Orange Co.
  • Rockbridge County High School, Rockbridge Co.
  • Walker-Grant Middle School, Stafford Co.
  • Woodrow Wilson High School, Portsmouth City
  • William Byrd High School, Roanoke Co.

Students are also participating from the following schools and universities:

  • Beverley Manor Middle School, Augusta Co.
  • Breckinridge Middle School, Roanoke City
  • Bridgeway Academy, Chesapeake City
  • Broadwater Academy, Northampton Co.
  • Broadway High School, Rockingham Co.
  • Brooke Point High School, Stafford Co.
  • Centerville High School, Fairfax Co.
  • Christiansburg High School
  • Christopher Newport University
  • Colgan High School, Prince William Co.
  • Dinwiddie County High School, Dinwiddie Co.
  • Floyd County High school, Floyd Co.
  • George Wythe High School, Wythe Co.
  • Glenvar High School, Roanoke Co.
  • Graham High School, Tazewell Co.
  • Hanover County High School, Hanover Co.
  • James Madison University
  • John I Burton High School, Norton City
  • John P. Fishwick Middle School, Roanoke City
  • Jouett Elementary School, Louisa Co.
  • King George High School, King George Co.
  • Lancaster High School, Lancaster Co.
  • Menchville High School, Newport News City
  • Milboro Elementary School, Bath Co.
  • Monacan High School, Chesterfield Co.
  • North Stafford High School, Stafford Co.
  • Oak Knoll Middle School, Hanover Co.
  • Park View High School, Mecklenburg Co.
  • Patrick Henry High School, Roanoke City
  • Penn Foster High School, King George Co.
  • Prices Fork Elementary, Montgomery Co.
  • Radford High School, Montgomery Co.
  • Rodney Thompson Middle School, Stafford Co.
  • Salem High School, Salem City
  • South County High School, Fairfax Co.
  • Staunton River High School, Bedford Co.
  • Stuarts Draft High School, Augusta Co.
  • Tabb High School, York Co.
  • William Campbell Combined School, Campbell Co.
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Virginia House bill to guarantee free school meals to students advances to Senate

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Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill this month to provide free school meals for 109,000 more public school students in the commonwealth.

House Bill 5113, introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, passed the chamber unanimously. Roem’s bill requires eligible public elementary and secondary schools to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

“School food should be seen as an essential service that is free for everyone regardless of their income,” Roem said.

The program allows all students in an eligible school to receive free breakfast and lunch. Currently, 425 schools are eligible for CEP but don’t take part in the program, according to a document that details the financial impact of the legislation. More than 420 schools and 200,000 students participated in CEP during the 2018 to 2019 school year, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

The bill allows eligible schools to opt-out of the program if participating is not financially possible.

Most Virginia food banks have purchased twice as much food each month since the pandemic started when compared to last year, according to Eddie Oliver, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.

“We’re just seeing a lot of need out there, and we know that school meal programs are really the front line of ensuring that kids in Virginia have the food they need to learn and thrive,” Oliver said.

Virginia school districts qualify for CEP if they have 40% or more enrolled students in a specified meal program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It also includes homeless, runaway, migrant, and foster children, Roem said.

Sandy Curwood, Director of the Virginia Department of Education Office of School Nutrition Programs, said school districts receive federal reimbursement based on a formula.

“Making sure that children have access to good healthy food, and particularly through school meals I think is a great opportunity,” Curwood said.

The federal government will reimburse schools that have more than 62.5% of students who qualify for free meals, Roem said. Schools with between 55% and 62.4% of students enrolled will receive between 80% and 99% reimbursement.

“If HB 5113 is the law, how their children will eat during the school day will be one less worry for students and their families,”, said Semora Ward, a community organizer for the Hampton Roads-based Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. The meals are available whether children are physically in schools or attending virtual classes.

The Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative has raised $8,000 in the past three years for unpaid school meals in Hampton and Newport News, according to Ward.

“While we are pleased with these efforts and the outpouring of community support, we should have never had to do this in the first place,” she said.

Roem was one of several legislators that took on the USDA earlier this year to not require students to be present when receiving free school meals during the pandemic. The Virginia General Assembly passed Roem’s bill earlier this year that allows school districts to distribute excess food to students eligible for the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program administered by the USDA.

HB 5113 has been referred to the Senate Education and Health Committee.

By Aliviah Jones

Capital News Service

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Governor Northam casts vote in November General Election on first day of early voting in Virginia

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Governor Ralph Northam voted early Friday morning, September 18th, in person at the Richmond general registrar’s office on the first day of Virginia’s 45-day early voting period.

New laws allow all Virginians to vote absentee by mail, or in person at their local registrar’s office or satellite locations. The Governor signed legislation this year removing a previous provision that required absentee voters to provide a reason for voting early, so any Virginia voter may vote early without providing a specific reason.

“Virginians can be confident their vote is secure and will be counted,” said Governor Northam. “While the pandemic has made this an unprecedented election year, Virginia voters have several safe and easy ways to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Voting is an essential part of our democracy, and I encourage every Virginia voter to know their options and make a plan for safely casting their ballot.”

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a higher number of Virginians are expected to vote by mail in the 2020 election. As of Thursday, the Department of Elections had received 824,000 requests for absentee ballots by mail. For comparison, 566,000 votes were cast absentee in the 2016 General Election—half by mail.

Virginians have several options for safely casting their ballots for the November General Election.

Absentee by Mail
Beginning today, September 18, Virginia general registrars will mail absentee ballots to voters who request them. Virginians can request a ballot online at elections.virginia.gov. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Friday, October 23 at 5:00 p.m.

All absentee ballots will include a return envelope with prepaid postage. Ballots with a postmark of November 3 or earlier will be accepted until noon on Friday, November 6.

As an additional layer of security, every absentee ballot envelope is required to have an intelligent mail barcode and an election mail insignia. The insignia tells the United States Postal Service that this piece of mail is a ballot and should be prioritized. The barcode lets voters track their ballot once it leaves the registrar’s office—so a voter will know when their ballot has been mailed to them, and when it is delivered back to the registrar. Voters can track their absentee ballot using the absentee ballot lookup tool available here.

Drop-off Locations
Absentee ballots may also be hand-delivered to your local registrar’s office or returned to a secure drop-off location, which includes any satellite voting location. A list of drop-off locations is available on your county or city’s official website. On Election Day, you can also drop off your completed absentee ballot at any polling place in the county or city in which you are registered to vote.

For voters who prefer to vote in person, there are two options.

Early In Person
Starting today, September 18, Virginia voters can vote absentee in person at their local registrar’s office as Governor Northam did. Voters can simply go to their local general registrar’s office or a satellite voting location identified by the registrar’s office and cast their vote. Voters may use this option through Saturday, October 31—one of the longest early voting periods of any state.

Election Day
The other option is the traditional one: voting in person on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, at your polling place. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Virginia has allocated federal CARES Act funding to ensure that all election officers have personal protective equipment, and Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.

Virginia considers election security to be a top priority and has made significant progress in recent years to ensure a secure election process that places election integrity and voter confidence at the forefront. Additional information about election security in Virginia can be found here.

To register to vote or learn more about absentee voting in Virginia, visit elections.virginia.gov/absentee. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

Follow the Department of Elections on Twitter at @vaElect, on Facebook at @VirginiaELECT, and on Instagram at @va_election.

See below for photos of Governor Northam casting his ballot at the Richmond general registrar’s office today.

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In-person voting starts September 18

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RICHMOND, VA — The Virginia Department of Elections announces that in-person voting begins Friday, September 18, 2020. Also, absentee ballots will be sent to all voters who have requested a ballot by mail.

Voters no longer need a reason to vote absentee. Any registered voter may request an absentee ballot, either in-person or by mail. Voters can request a mailed ballot online at elections.virginia.gov/voterInformation. They can also find a vote-by-mail ballot form at elections.virginia.gov/forms. Or they can contact their local voter registration office and ask them to mail them an application. Contact information for local registrars can be found at www.elections.virginia.gov/localGR.

The last day to request an absentee ballot is Friday, October 23, 2020 at 5pm. Absentee ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Election Day, November 3, 2020 and received by the local voter registration office by noon on Friday, November 6, 2020. Voters can also drop off their marked and sealed ballots at a drop off location at their local voter registration office or polling place up to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Early in-person voting ends October 31, 2020. Voters do not have to fill out an application to vote in person. Voters can simply go to their general registrar’s office or satellite voting location, show ID and cast a ballot. More information about what IDs are considered acceptable can be found at elections.virginia.gov/vote.

Because of the anticipated high volume of mail-in votes, The Department of Elections is urging all those who wish to vote by mail to request and return their ballots as soon as possible. Voters can track the status of their ballot applications online at www.elections.virginia.gov/voterInformation. They can also call their local registrar’s office to determine the status of their application.

If you believe you may not safely have a witness present while completing the absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020 Election, you are not required to have a witness present. Also, if you are blind or have low vision or have impaired manual dexterity, you have the option of voting an absentee ballot using an electronic ballot marking tool.

Voters with questions about absentee, mail-in and in-person voting or any aspect of the November 3, 2020 election may call the Virginia Department of Elections at (800) 552-9745, email the department at info@elections.virginia.gov, or visit our website at elections.virginia.gov. Voters are also encouraged to follow us on Twitter at @vaElect, Facebook at @VirginiaELECT and Instagram at @va_election.

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SCC utility service cut-off moratorium will end on October 5; Governor requested extension from September 16

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The general moratorium on utility shutoffs is extended through October 5, 2020. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) issued the order following a request from Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam. The moratorium was originally set to end on September 16.

In a letter to the Commission on September 14, the Governor said, “My request for an extension will give the General Assembly the time they need to address this issue, finalize their budget, and complete their important work during this special session.”

In granting another extension, the Commission said it will not extend the moratorium beyond October 5, 2020. The Commission urged the Governor and General Assembly to appropriate funds for direct financial assistance to those customers who are unable to pay their bills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission said, “We hope the General Assembly uses this additional time to act on this recommendation.”

The Commission wrote, “Since we first imposed the moratorium on March 16, 2020, we have warned repeatedly that this moratorium is not sustainable indefinitely. The mounting costs of unpaid bills must eventually be paid, either by the customers in arrears or by other customers who themselves may be struggling to pay their bills. Unless the General Assembly explicitly directs that a utility’s own shareholders must bear the cost of unpaid bills, those costs will almost certainly be shifted to other paying customers.”

The SCC’s latest extension order means the moratorium will have been in place for more than six months. It was originally imposed on March 16, 2020, as an emergency measure to protect customers from the immediate economic impacts of the COVID crisis.

The end of the Commission-directed moratorium on October 5 does not mean the end of protections for customers in arrears who are making a good-faith effort to pay their bills over a longer time period. Customers who enter such extended payment plans with their utilities will continue to be protected from service cut-offs even after the end of this moratorium.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – September 15, 2020

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response.

Highlights include:

  • The Southwest Virginia region increase in COVID-19 cases.
  • Promoted the COVIDWISE, the contact-tracing app.
  • Early voting
  • Continuation of the moratorium on utility disconnection for another month needed says Governor.
  • Authorized $42 million in CARES funding for personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing.
  • 2020 Census – please complete the form.
  • Flu shots
  • Suicide Awareness month
  • Multi-state collaboration on antigen testing talks continue.
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