On Friday, February 5th, the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate have both passed legislation from Attorney General Mark R. Herring and sponsors Senator George Barker (SB1469) and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (HB2322) to direct funds secured through Attorney General Herring’s ongoing lawsuits against drug manufacturers and distributors toward opioid abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery, ensuring that the most money possible goes to actually address the opioid crisis.
If enacted into law, this proposal would make Virginia one of the first states in the nation to have a legislatively enacted framework for directing funds from opioid litigation, like the $13 million Attorney General Herring recently secured through a settlement with McKinsey and Company for its role in “turbocharging” the opioid crisis, towards opioid abatement, treatment, and recovery, instead of diverting it to other uses.
“The opioid crisis has upended lives and devastated communities and families in every corner of the Commonwealth. It’s a unique crisis, and solving it will require a unique, thoughtful approach,” said Attorney General Herring. “I’m going after the pharmaceutical companies and distributors who helped create, prolong, and profit off this crisis, and I want to make sure that, when we’re successful, the money is used to address the crisis, expand our capacity for treatment and recovery, and to save lives. I really appreciate the partnership and leadership of Senator Barker, Delegate Herring, and their colleagues in the legislature who supported this really important framework, and especially those in the recovery community who have our back in this fight.”
“Attorney General Herring and his team have helped create a really thoughtful, effective approach for handling abatement money that may come available through his suits against the pharma companies that are, in many ways, responsible for the opioid crisis,” said Senator George Barker. “This framework will put Virginia at the forefront of the national movement for accountability, and help ensure that judgments or settlements are used wisely to help end the opioid crisis.”
“I really appreciate Attorney General Herring stepping up and holding big drug companies accountable for their role in creating and profiting off the opioid crisis,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “This is a really proactive and responsible step to create structures for using the abatement money AG Herring is able to secure in a way that does the most good as quickly as possible, and really expands our capacity to treat opioid use disorder and help Virginians enter long-term recovery. We want to make sure this money is actually used to turn the crisis around, and we think this approach will help ensure that happens.”
SB1649 and HB2322 from Attorney General Herring, Senator Barker, and Majority Leader Herring 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. It will help bring order and predictability to the distribution process if funds are secured, rather than forcing the Commonwealth to wait for a potentially significant influx of money, and then having to decide how to handle it.
The bill 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. If approved, the Board of the Opioid Abatement Authority would include:
1. The Secretary of Health & Human Resources or their designee
2. Two medical professionals with expertise in public and behavior health administration or opioid use disorders and their treatment
3. A representative of the addiction and recovery community
4. An urban or suburban representative from a CSB
5. A rural representative from a CSB
6. A law enforcement official
7. A local government official
8. A local government attorney
9. As non-voting members, House Appropriations and Senate Finance & Appropriations Directors (or legislators from the committees, in the Senate version)
The legislation calls for the abatement funds to be partitioned in the following way:
• 70% for opioid abatement split evenly (35% each) between 1) regional projects and 2) projects identified as effective by the Board of experts.
• 15% reserved for state-identified abatement initiatives
• 15% reserved for locality-identified abatement initiatives
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. Additional multistate investigations and legal actions remain ongoing.
Governor Northam announces COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state workers; rising cases and hospitalizations
On August 5, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam held a press briefing to discuss the state’s rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Dr. Anthony Fauci joined Gov. Northam and other Virginia health leaders earlier in the week to discuss the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges ahead.
“Vaccination works, it is that simple,” said Governor Northam. “Nearly every single person who has died from COVID was unvaccinated.”
Governor Ralph Northam also announced that Virginia will require its state workers to show proof that they are fully vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 every week. This policy will impact approximately 122,000 employees and will go into effect on September 1.
Governor Northam’s action comes as the highly transmissible Delta variant is driving up cases across the Commonwealth and around the country, primarily among unvaccinated people. Nearly 73 percent of Virginia adults have had their first shot, and 54 percent of all Virginians are fully vaccinated against the virus, which is higher than most states.
“The only way to end this pandemic is to for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “As head of state government, we have a responsibility to lead by example and ensure the safety of our employees and the people they serve. The three vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available, and I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get their shot. The time for waiting is over.”
Last week, President Joe Biden announced a vaccination requirement for federal workers, and Governor Northam’s executive directive is consistent with this policy. The full text of Executive Directive Eighteen can be found here.
“Our valued state employees are dedicated to public service, and I am confident they want to do what is necessary to keep themselves, their co-workers, and the public safe,” said Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson, who oversees the Department of Human Resource Management.
Virginians who have not been vaccinated are encouraged to go to vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) to find a nearby vaccination clinic. For answers to frequently asked questions or to learn more about vaccination for COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine
Vaccinate Virginia: A Conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Healthcare Providers
Research consistently shows that a healthcare provider’s recommendation is among the most influential factors in a person’s decision to get vaccinated. This virtual event will focus on strategies for building confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines, engaging communities about the importance of vaccination, and collaborating with trusted messengers.
Governor Ralph Northam
Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia Vaccination Coordinator
Dr. Chris Ghaemmaghami, Professor of Emergency and Internal Medicine, UVA
Dr M. Norman Oliver, State Health Commissioner
Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Director of Health, Fairfax County
Dr. Erin Brickley, MountainView Pediatrics, Marion
Students submit suggestions for new highway markers through inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest
On August 3, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam announced five new state historical highway markers that highlight topics of national, state, and regional significance to Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history in the Commonwealth. These markers were submitted by Virginia students through the inaugural AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest. This afternoon, the Governor was joined by First Lady Pamela Northam and members of his Administration for a virtual event yesterday recognizing the students and educators with this year’s winning submissions.
“Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have made significant contributions to our Commonwealth and our country, but too often their stories remain untold,” said Governor Northam. “As we continue working to tell a more comprehensive and inclusive Virginia story, I am grateful for the efforts of Virginia students and educators in helping elevate the voices of prominent AAPI Virginians with these five new historical markers.”
Launched in May, the AAPI Heritage Month Historical Marker Contest invites students, teachers, and families to learn more about Asian Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history and submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources.
“Through the Governor’s historical marker contests and various other initiatives, the Department of Historic Resources is determined to highlight untold stories, and I am grateful to all the students and educators who have helped make this vision a reality,” said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “These students have made a meaningful contribution to our historic justice efforts and worked hard to ensure our markers are inclusive, diverse, and tell the full Virginia story.”
The student winners and descriptions of the five new markers selected for installation are as follows:
• “Filipinos in the U.S. Navy” (Virginia Beach), nominated by students from Cherry Run Elementary School in Burke, Virginia, and by the adult English as a Second Language (ESL) program in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
Filipino members of the U.S. Navy have served in Hampton Roads since at least the Civil War. A full Filipino-American community began emerging after the Philippines achieved independence in 1946 and the Navy began recruiting Filipinos for all positions. Today, spurred by the Navy and a large nursing community, Hampton Roads is the second-largest Filipino community on the East Coast.
• “Kim Kyusik” (Salem), nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.
In 1903, Kyusik graduated from Roanoke College, which today funds a fellowship in his memory. He held several roles in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea including foreign minister and vice president and was a representative at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. He was kidnapped by North Korean factions after World War II and died in captivity.
• “Arthur Azo Matsu” (Williamsburg), nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland, Virginia.
Matsu graduated from William & Mary in 1927, where he was the first Asian American student. The son of a Scottish mother and a Japanese father, he became a leader on campus even as Virginia introduced a series of laws in the 1920s to prevent “race-mixing.” He became the first Japanese-American football player in the National Football League as a quarterback, after guiding William & Mary’s high-octane offense from 1923 to 1926 and leading the program to its first postseason win.
• “W. W. Yen” also known as Yan Huiqing (Charlottesville) nominated by students from Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston, Virginia.
Yen graduated from the University of Virginia in 1900, where he was the first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree and the first Chinese student to earn a degree. One of China’s key early 20th century leaders, he served as premier five times and held a series of important cabinet and diplomatic posts. The University of Virginia now has a dorm and scholarship fund named after him.
• “Vietnamese Immigrants in Northern Virginia” (Falls Church) nominated by students at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church, Virginia.
The Vietnamese community began solidifying in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood during the 1970s, becoming known as Little Saigon by the end of the decade. The fall of the South Vietnamese government spurred a surge in immigration, with the D.C. area becoming the third-largest Vietnamese community in the country. Climbing rents pushed much of the Vietnamese commerce west to the Eden Center in the 1980s, which over the ensuing years has expanded and become at one point the largest Vietnamese shopping district in the country.
“The Historical Marker Contest helped me learn more about Virginians who made a big impact, like Arthur Matso, the first Japanese-American to play in the NFL,” said Andrew Crenshaw, a rising 6th grader at Cumberland Middle School. “As I researched Arthur Matso, I learned how much he did for the sport of football and for Virginia. He played quarterback at William & Mary and coached football at several Virginia high schools, inspiring students like me to work hard and do their best.”
Virginia’s historical highway marker program began in 1927 with the installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1 and is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Co-managed by the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Department of Transportation, the program is an effort to recognize and chronicle events, accomplishments, sacrifices, and personalities of historic importance to Virginia’s story. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape.
“The AAPI Historical Marker Contest gives students, teachers, and families another way to think critically and intentionally about Virginia history,” said Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood. “The incredible students who participated in this contest are helping advance the ONE Virginia mission of telling a more complete version of our shared identity as Virginians, which includes contributions by our diaspora of AAPI residents.”
Virginia has erected more than 2,600 state historical markers. The five new markers will be formally submitted to the Board of Historic Resources in September and are expected to receive approval in the coming months. Once installed, they will be among the first to focus on Asian American and Pacific Islander history in Virginia.
“The AAPI Historical Marker Contest provides students an opportunity to guide their own learning by researching local heroes and discovering untold stories,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “These students have suggested new markers that will make a tangible impact on the way we remember our shared history forever, and I hope the experience will empower them to make a positive impact for years to come.”
Attorney General Herring urges Congress to pass legislation to ensure elections are conducted freely, fairly, and with integrity
Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined 22 attorneys general in sending a letter to Congress urging immediate action to safeguard democracy. In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues ask congress to pass legislation protecting against both voter suppression and election subversion. Attorney General Herring and his colleagues also share their concerns about what may come in future elections, if action is not taken urgently.
“This past year, we saw baseless efforts to overturn the 2020 election and anti-democratic attempts to suppress voters across the country,” said Attorney General Herring. “My colleagues and I worked hard to ensure that our voters’ rights were protected, and the election was conducted fairly and freely in our respective states. It’s time for Congress to act at the federal level to stop disenfranchisement and protect our elections in order to prevent similar situations in the future. This country was founded on democratic principles, and we must ensure that those remain intact, no matter who is in office.”
In the letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues describe how their offices worked to ensure that the 2020 general election was conducted freely, fairly, and with integrity. They add that several factors contributed to the failure of former President Trump and his allies to overturn a democratic outcome, saying, “The legal arguments made by those seeking to overturn election results were generally so extraordinarily weak that they did not even have the veneer of legitimacy. Certain election officials – both Republican and Democratic – refused to buckle under pressure at critical points, placing election integrity and our democracy, ahead of partisanship. And the attack on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, while dangerous, was inept.”
Without new federal legislation strengthening protections for voting rights and preventing election subversion, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues are concerned that the nation cannot confidently rely on the incompetence of subverters to protect the will of the voters in future elections.
Several states have passed laws that create new barriers to voting or make it easier to overturn election results. In a statement issued on June 1 of this year, more than 100 democracy scholars explain, “[W]e have watched with deep concern as Republican-led state legislatures across the country have in recent months proposed or implemented what we consider radical changes to core electoral procedures in response to unproven and intentionally destructive allegations of a stolen election.” They observe that “[s]tatutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration” and “seeking to restrict access to the ballot.” And they warn, “[T]hese laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislators or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election.”
In their letter, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues say, “The truths upon which this nation was founded are self-evident. They are not self-executing, however. The profound challenges confronting our democracy demand that Congress act to prevent voter suppression and election subversion. Irrespective of one’s views on the value of the filibuster in general, it must not be allowed to stop Congress from addressing these issues so fundamental to our Constitution and our democracy.”
Attorney General Herring made it a top priority last year to protect voting rights and protect Virginia voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls. Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.
Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring’s work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.
Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.
Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person, including:
• An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
• An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home
Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration’s drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for a preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:
• Issuing an advisory opinion outlining the protections in both state and federal law against voter intimidation and harassment in response to some reports of potential voter intimidation at a polling place in Fairfax, the day after early voting began in Virginia
• Reiterating the voter intimidation protections and outlining the actual duties of poll watchers in Virginia, following President Trump’s alarming rhetoric at the first presidential debate where he urged his supports to “go into the polls and watch very carefully”
• Writing to key law enforcement and elections stakeholder organizations asking for their commitment to ensuring a safe, fair, free, and accurate election, and outlining protections in both state and federal law to prevent voter intimidation and harassment
• Producing a short training video that walks law enforcement and elections officials through his voter intimidation opinion and the various tools that they can use to address potentially unlawful conduct
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending this letter are the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhodes Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
American Rescue Plan funding to increase support for victims of crime, provide hazard pay for law enforcement and correctional officers
Governor Ralph Northam announced on July 29, 2021, that Virginia plans to direct more than $114 million in federal and state funding to support public safety initiatives across the Commonwealth. The Governor’s proposal includes $62 million in hazard pay and compensation for public safety officials, $35 million to address COVID-19 in correctional facilities, and $17 million for crime reduction and prevention programs and services for victims of crime.
“We are grateful for Virginia’s public safety officials who have worked overtime throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam.” This critical investment will give us more resources to recruit and retain law enforcement and correctional officers, bolster our efforts to reduce gun violence, and help ensure the safety of families and communities across the Commonwealth.”
The proposed investment includes state funding as well as federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The Governor’s plan provides hazard pay for local and state law enforcement and correctional officers who served during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as funding for recruitment and retention. The Governor’s plan includes $20 million for Virginia State Police, $10 million for the Department of Corrections, and $11 million to address critical staffing shortages at local and regional jails and sheriff’s departments. This also includes compensation for medical contractors, cafeteria and janitorial workers, and other support staff. The two-year budget that Governor Northam submits in December will include an additional $20 million to address pay scale compression for the Virginia State Police.
“The last year and a half have been tough on everyone, and this investment in public safety will provide much-needed relief to local and state law enforcement agencies and help localities to continue supporting victims of domestic and gun violence,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This funding is in recognition of the critical jobs they perform.”
“Recruitment and pay compression issues have led to an increasing number of vacancies at State Police over the past several years—these issues were only magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wayne Huggins, Executive Director of the Virginia State Police Association (VSPA).” VSPA is encouraged that this issue is being addressed in an ongoing and comprehensive manner. We appreciate the Governor’s support and commitment.”
This investment also includes $35 million to address COVID-19 within facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice. Funding will allow for rate increases for medical contractors and staff positions to support COVID-19 management. It will also provide testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilation modifications in correctional facilities, quarantine spaces, and tents to enable outdoor visitation.
“Today’s announcement shows that we are dedicated to protecting Virginian’s families and keeping our communities safe,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “I am proud of our strong investment in crime prevention measures and the commitment to supporting survivors of domestic violence.”
“This has been a difficult year, and it is crucial we use the available ARPA funds to support Virginia’s COVID-19 recovery,” said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. “Law enforcement compensation has been a long-standing issue, and I am pleased we are able to address it now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the demand for domestic violence and sexual assault programming and support services for crime victims in the Commonwealth. Since 2019, the number of individuals seeking shelter and contacts to the Virginia Statewide Hotline has risen significantly. The funding proposal includes $12.2 million in new resources for victims of crime and survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse. An additional $1 million will be dedicated to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Victim Fund, which will provide funding for prosecution and victim support.
The funding proposal designates $2.5 million for gun violence reduction initiatives within the Office of the Attorney General and more than $500,000 for the Department of Forensic Science to increase capacity to analyze firearms evidence. An additional $800,000 for the Department of Criminal Justice Services, which will administer a one-time grant to the City of Hampton to support an employment program for court-involved youth and adults facing barriers to employment, expand services for those participating in or at risk of participating in gun violence, and provide counseling or mental health services for those exposed to violence. These programs will work in conjunction with the Governor’s proposal to invest ARP funds in community-based services and substance abuse treatment.
“I am proud of this substantial investment in gun violence prevention in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “I have been a strong advocate for violence prevention measures and know this funding will provide critical services to impacted community members.”
“This funding will help address current public safety needs, including first responder staffing shortages and support for victims of crime, and help us to prepare for the future,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “Throughout this difficult year, Virginia has shown that smart investments pay off for the public.”
“Handling the issue of salary compression and hazard pay for our local and state law enforcement officers and the Department of Corrections will help us to recruit, train, and retain more qualified and diverse officers,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. “All Virginians will benefit from this comprehensive public safety funding, which includes necessary financial support for law enforcement offices and assistance for victims of violence.”
Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate; mask recommended but not required
On July 29, 2021, Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate. Northam did say that wearing masks in public indoor settings with a higher risk of coronavirus transmission “is not a requirement, but a recommendation.”
The Governor’s Twitter account also sent out the following:
The Governor said that more information would be released soon.