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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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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 28, 2020; Phase 2 could start June 5th

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

The Governor said that earliest the state could enter Phase Two would be Friday, June 5. Phase Two would look like this: stay at home for vulnerable populations, no social gatherings of more than 50 individuals, continued social distancing, continued teleworking, face coverings in public, and further easing business limitations.

He also mentioned the requirement to wear face masks starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.

Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.

Here’s the latest briefing:

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Governor Northam announces Microsoft Corp. to create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County

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~ Company will invest $64 million to establish software development and R&D regional hub ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 27, 2020,  announced that Microsoft Corp. will invest $64 million to establish a new software development and R&D regional hub, which will create 1,500 new jobs. The company will occupy 400,000 square feet in the Reston Town Center in Fairfax County for its new location, anticipated to be ready for employees in summer 2021. The plans include a new retail space for engaging directly with customers. Governor Northam met with Microsoft on an economic development mission at its headquarters in Washington in 2019.

“Virginia, like the rest of the nation, is facing unprecedented job loss due to COVID-19, so this announcement couldn’t come at a better time,” said Governor Northam. “Microsoft Corp. and Virginia share a strong history, and we are proud that this major operation in Fairfax County will add to the company’s significant job count across our Commonwealth. Virginia is a leader in the information technology industry, and Microsoft’s continued investment here is a testament to our top-ranked business climate, infrastructure, and world-class workforce.”

Microsoft has had a presence in Virginia since 2002, with corporate locations in Reston and the Richmond area as well as an enterprise data center in Mecklenburg County.

“Microsoft is a valued corporate partner, and we are excited to see the company expanding its footprint at its new software and R&D regional hub in Fairfax County,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The creation of 1,500 new, well-paid jobs is obviously very welcome news during these economically challenging times. The demand for cloud services is steadily increasing, and Microsoft’s newest operation will serve its growing customer base while developing cutting-edge software and creating 21st-century tech jobs.”

Established in 1975 and headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is a publicly held corporation with revenues surpassing $125 billion and nearly 156,000 employees worldwide. The company enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge.

“One of Microsoft’s core principles is actively listening to our customers, so we can build and improve our technology based on their feedback. Being close to our customer base is extremely important to our ongoing collaborations,” said Terrell Cox, general manager at Microsoft. “We’ve had a presence in Reston for many years now, and this expansion will allow Microsoft to deliver even more solutions from a region known for its innovation and passion for technology.”

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia. Microsoft will be eligible to receive a MEI custom performance grant of $22.5 million, to be paid post-performance, subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly. Microsoft plans to utilize the custom performance grant to fund partnerships with local colleges and universities to develop the tech talent pipeline for cloud computing and related degrees to support its local expansion.

“Microsoft can choose from any number of technology hubs for its operations, and we are so pleased that the company chose to expand its operations in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia,” said Victor Hoskins, President, and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “Because of our wealth of technology talent and the tech ecosystem here, this area is a great match for the company’s talent needs as well as its business goals.”

“Reston is proud to welcome Microsoft’s expansion in our Town Center,” said Senator Janet Howell. “Microsoft Corp. has been an important corporate citizen for many years. The decision to grow here is yet more proof that our region is a major technology hub.”

“I am thrilled that Microsoft has chosen to locate this significant operation and create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County,” said Delegate Kenneth Plum. “The Commonwealth and the County have a longstanding relationship with Microsoft, and this operation will only strengthen it. We look forward to welcoming the software development and R&D regional hub to the Reston Town Center.”

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Traffic crashes claim eight lives during 2020 Memorial Day weekend

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The 2020 Memorial Day weekend not only netted a reduction in overall traffic volumes on Virginia’s highways, but also a decrease in traffic deaths. Preliminary reports indicate eight people lost their lives during the four-day, holiday statistical counting period. During the same statistical counting period in 2019 and 2018, traffic crashes on Virginia highways resulted in 11 deaths.

Of the eight individuals killed this year on Virginia highways, two were riding on motorcycles and one was a pedestrian. The statistical counting period began at 12:01 a.m. Friday (May 22) and ended at midnight Monday (May 25). Virginia State Police statewide responded to 480 total traffic crashes during this past holiday weekend.

The fatal crashes occurred in the city of Virginia Beach and the counties of Caroline, Montgomery, Pittsylvania, Prince William, Rockingham, Southampton and Sussex. The two fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in Pittsylvania and Rockingham counties. The pedestrian, who was pushing his bicycle when he was struck and killed, was in Sussex County.

“Even though we are thankful for the slight decrease in traffic fatalities over the Memorial Day weekend, eight deaths are still too many,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “It is also concerning to see reckless driving citations and DUI arrests practically on par with last year’s holiday weekend. Fewer drivers should have demonstrated a significant decline in the number of citations and traffic deaths. Sadly, that was not the case and too many motorists were putting too many lives at risk due to reckless choices and deadly driving behaviors.”

During the weekend’s statistical counting period, Virginia troopers statewide cited 2,489 reckless drivers and arrested 70 impaired drivers. During the 2019 Memorial Day weekend, state police cited 2,548 reckless drivers and arrested 75 drivers for DUI.

“Considering that traffic was much less than what we normally see on this particular holiday weekend, it is very concerning to have only reduced the death toll by three in comparison to the past two years,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “As Virginia continues to gradually re-open through the Governor’s ‘Forward Virginia’ plan and more motorists return to the highways, it is imperative that Virginians make traffic safety a priority.”

The Virginia State Police holiday enforcement efforts are part of the Department’s annual participation in the Operation Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.), a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries due to impaired driving, speed and failing to wear a seatbelt. During the 2020 Operation CARE Memorial Day statistical counting period, Virginia troopers also cited 2,469 speeders and 224 seatbelt violations. State police assisted 1,460 disabled motorists during the holiday weekend.

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

For more information on traffic safety and how to keep Virginia “Moving Toward Zero Roadway Deaths,” go to www.tzdva.org.

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Governor Northam announces face covering requirement and workplace safety regulations

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~ Face coverings required in public settings starting Friday, May 29 ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 26, 2020, signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Governor also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

Governor Northam also signed an amended Executive Order Fifty-One, extending Virginia’s state of emergency declaration.

The new executive order supports previous actions the Governor has taken to respond to COVID-19 in Virginia and ensures workers and consumers are protected as the Commonwealth gradually eases public health restrictions. The Governor’s statewide requirement for wearing face coverings is grounded in science and data, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings. Face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” said Governor Northam. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals. Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

• Personal care and grooming businesses

• Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retailers including grocery stores and pharmacies

• Food and beverage establishments

• Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open

• Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas

• State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services

• Any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Exemptions to these guidelines include while eating and drinking at a food and beverage establishment; individuals who are exercising; children under the age of two; a person seeking to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, for which the mouth needs to be visible; and anyone with a health condition that keeps them from wearing a face covering. Children over the age of two are strongly encouraged to wear a face-covering to the extent possible.

The Governor is also directing the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards for occupational safety that will protect employees from the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces. These occupational safety standards will require the approval by vote of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and must address personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping of incidents, and hazard communication. Upon approval, the Department of Labor and Industry will be able to enforce the standards through civil penalties and business closures.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five is available here.

The text of amended Executive Order Fifty-One is available here.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 26, 2020; face masks required starting Friday

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

Starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.

Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.

Here’s the latest briefing:

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Virginia receives USDA approval to join SNAP online purchasing pilot program

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Governor Ralph Northam announced on May 22, that for the first time, more than 740,000 Virginians who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be able to pay for their groceries online and have them delivered after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Virginia to participate in an innovative online purchasing pilot program.

“This continued public health emergency has made access to healthy, affordable food challenging, particularly for Virginians who live in food deserts, have disabilities, or face transportation barriers,” said Governor Northam. “Allowing Virginia families who receive SNAP benefits to purchase groceries online and have them safely delivered to their homes will give vulnerable populations additional flexibility to put food on the table without putting themselves at unnecessary risk.”

The program will launch statewide in Virginia on Friday, May 29 with online shopping access available through the Amazon and Walmart online platforms. Retailers interested in participating in the program can find more information and apply by contacting USDA. Transactions will take place using SNAP customers’ secure Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay for fees of any type, such as delivery, service, or convenience fees.

“With so many Americans already opting to stay safe at home by ordering their groceries online, it’s only right that we make every effort to ensure our most vulnerable families are also able to take advantage of these services,” said United States Senator Mark R. Warner. “After having pushed USDA to approve Virginia’s participation in the SNAP online purchasing pilot program, I’m glad to know that many more families in the Commonwealth will soon be able to access nutritious food without requiring them to leave their homes.”

“I’m grateful that following our request, the USDA has approved Virginia’s inclusion in the SNAP online purchasing pilot program,” said United States Senator Tim Kaine. “Especially at this time of great food insecurity, it’s critical that Virginians have the resources they need to safely access food.”

The pilot, which was mandated through the 2014 Farm Bill, was designed to test the feasibility of allowing USDA-approved retailers to accept online transactions. The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) administers SNAP in the Commonwealth.

“Agencies and leaders across the Commonwealth are constantly collaborating on innovative ways to meet the needs of individuals, families, and communities during this pandemic,” said VDSS Commissioner S. Duke Storen. “Addressing the adaptive needs of Virginians right now, particularly expanding access to food, remains at the forefront of everything we are doing.”

Additional information about SNAP benefits in Virginia is available on the VDSS website.

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