The General Assembly passed a bill that aims to increase access to renewable energy for lower-income communities. House Bill 573, introduced by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, amends an existing solar development pilot program that requires utility companies to invest in renewable energy.
Keam’s bill adds the criteria of low-income communities to the current law. The pilot program allows utility companies like Richmond-based Dominion Energy to supply residential and commercial customers with solar power from independent solar farms throughout the state. Keam’s bill mandates that utility companies have to ensure some of these farms are within a low-income community. He said Virginia needs to prioritize renewable energy and has fallen “really behind” in moving from fossil fuels to cleaner energy.
“It’s a creative way of trying to encourage more solar to be provided and incentivized at every level of Virginia,” Keam said.
The bill defines low-income communities as places where 50% of households have incomes lower than 60% of the area median gross income or have a poverty rate of 25% or more.
“This is a way to help identify a community through a pilot program and work with various stakeholders to pool our resources,” Keam said. “It allows one community to find it’s own generated solar to serve themselves, make a little profit and use the excess energy for other needs.”
Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, said he co-sponsored the bill because it focuses on low-income communities. Hurst represents the 12th District, which includes low-income communities such as Radford with a poverty rate of 30.4%, nearly three times the national average.
“It is imperative that we advance renewable energy solutions for Virginia families—part of that is making it affordable for everyone,” Hurst said in an email. “Too often we find ourselves addressing issues retroactively even when valuable technology already exists.”
Hurst said that the situation was urgent, especially for low-income families.
Kristin Vinagro, director of communications for Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, said the bill would have a positive impact on the organization’s clients.
“At Richmond Habitat for Humanity, the majority of our homeowners earn below 60% of the area median income, which means they are living on a very fixed budget with little disposable income at the end of the month,” Vinagro said in an email.
She said the bill could help decrease utility costs and increase monthly savings.
Rayhan Daudani, media relations manager for Dominion Energy, said Dominion is in the process of establishing a site for Community Solar, the official pilot program name.
“Community Solar is a way for interested customers to opt into a program to access clean energy for part or all of their usage,” Daudani said in an email. “Dominion Energy’s first site will come online later this year. We appreciate efforts to provide access to solar for low-income residents.”
Devin Welch, CEO of Sun Tribe Solar in Charlottesville, thinks the bill will help expand solar use to more communities. Sun Tribe Solar works with businesses, schools and government organizations to provide solar, including in rural areas of Southwest Virginia.
“Building a clean energy future we can all be proud of starts with ensuring that more communities throughout the commonwealth have a chance to see the benefits of solar power,” Welch said in an email. “With this legislation, we can take another step forward towards making that future a reality.”
Keam also introduced HB 572, which removes the 1% cap on the amount of solar or renewable energy that can be net metered in a utility service area. The bill allows residents, nonprofits, and schools to more easily seek and secure alternative energy sources such as rooftop solar. That bill and a similar Senate bill are both in conference committees.
“Other states have gone way above us in terms of encouraging [renewable energy] by having tax credits, subsidies, or allowing for their power utility to provide solar as part of their energy offerings,” Keam said.
He said the state’s economy has remained strong, but “it doesn’t mean that everybody in Virginia is doing well.”
“For every wealthy family in Northern Virginia, where I represent, there are many, many lower-income families struggling in other parts of our commonwealth,” he said.“My goal is to ensure that one of their fixed costs, the energy bill that they pay every month, is reduced as much as possible.”
HB 573 now heads to the governor’s desk.
Macy Pressley – Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets.
Governor Youngkin announces updated guidelines for parents, educators, and preK-12 schools
On January 21, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced updated guidelines for parents, educators, and schools per Executive Order 2, which creates a parental opt-out from mask mandates at both public and private schools in the Commonwealth. The guidelines were developed by the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Education.
“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents. I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal and trust the legal process. If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The updated guidance is redesigned around Governor Youngkin’s key principles of parental rights, keeping kids in the classroom five days a week, and keeping kids safe and healthy. The update guidelines:
- Emphasizes alternative mitigation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 including vaccination, distancing, and outbreak awareness.
- Provides a clear decision tree for parents to review when trying to determine how to keep and return children to the classroom.
- Strongly encourages test-to-stay and other strategies to keep and return kids to the classroom as quickly as possible
- Gives schools practicable flexibility on contact tracing, distancing, and other strategies.
Governor Youngkin announces legislative agenda priorities
RICHMOND, VA—On January 21, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced the legislation, budget amendments, and initiatives he will be supporting to further his Day One Agenda priorities.
“Today, I am proud to share the more than 59 pieces of legislation and a package of more than 25 budget amendments that I will be supporting. These reflect bipartisan priorities like fully eliminating the grocery tax, doing more to train and equip our workforce, and providing funding to create 20 new innovation schools across the Commonwealth. These initiatives will make Virginia’s communities safer, restore academic excellence, lower the cost of living, and I look forward to seeing these bills come to my desk,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Governor Youngkin announces Covid Action Plan
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA – On January 20, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced his COVID Action Plan concurrent with Executive Order Number Eleven to provide hospitals, health systems, nursing facilities, and other healthcare providers the tools necessary to combat COVID-19. The plan also includes issuing clear testing guidelines to prioritize the use of COVID rapid tests and marshaling further resources to encourage Virginians to get the vaccine.
“While many families have experienced tragedy over the last two years, Virginians have truly embodied the spirit of Virginia as they came together to fight a common enemy—COVID-19,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “Today’s announcements are designed to give Virginians the tools and resources needed to make the best decisions for their families, strengthen our hospital systems, and ensure a strong recovery as we encounter new challenges associated with the pandemic that has become part of our everyday life.”
COVID-19 Vaccine Marshall Plan for Virginia
Governor Glenn Youngkin will devote additional resources and efforts to encouraging the nearly 1.6 million Virginians who are still unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Data shows that people vaccinated from COVID-19 are 4 times less likely to be hospitalized than those who are not. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:
- Directing the Secretary of Health to re-prioritize resources toward vaccine education and outreach, including expanded efforts in disproportionately unvaccinated communities.
- Plan to host and attend COVID-19 vaccine events across the Commonwealth.
- Working with Governors across the country to learn best practices on vaccine education.
- Empowering Virginia with choices, not mandates.
- Expanded Healthcare Flexibility & Support
Governor Glenn Youngkin signed Executive Order #11 to give healthcare providers flexibility and support to battle staffing shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and unconstitutional federal mandates on healthcare workers. Virginia’s hospitals and healthcare facilities are in crisis. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:
- Allowing hospitals and nursing homes to rapidly expand bed capacity by waiving regulations.
- Providing flexibility for qualified out-of-state nurses and healthcare professionals to practice in Virginia.
- Creating appropriate exemptions to the scope of practice requirements to allow healthcare providers to care for patients in this difficult time.
- Expanding the number of providers available to offer the Covid-19 vaccine.
- Expanding flexibility, overtime hours, and availably for personal care workers.
- Prioritized Testing Guidelines
Governor Glenn Youngkin will prioritize testing guidelines to mitigate supply-chain shortages for COVID-19 tests. The Governor will discourage mass testing for the purposes of pre-screening, discourage asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urge healthy individuals with mild symptoms to stay home and use discretion on testing. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:
- Expedite pending orders of rapid tests.
- Redeploy unused tests at state agencies and other non-essential facilities to schools, hospitals, and nursing facilities.
- Directing the State Health Commissioner to issue new guidelines that prioritize the use of rapid tests for key categories including Students potentially exposed to COVID-19 who need to test to remain in school. Essential healthcare professionals and other essential workers needing to be tested to return to work. Vulnerable citizens including those in nursing facilities and over the age of 65. Those with serious medical conditions and their caregivers. Those who need to be tested after consultation with a healthcare provider.
Virginia State Police welcomes 58 new troopers to serve
On Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, the Commonwealth will graduate its 135th generation of Virginia State Troopers. The 58 new troopers will be presented their diplomas during commencement exercises at 10 a.m. at the State Police Training Academy located at 7700 Midlothian Turnpike in North Chesterfield County. Governor Glenn Youngkin will speak at the graduation ceremony.
“Completing the training here at the Virginia State Police Training Academy is no easy feat, and when you add the challenges COVID has brought, the bar is raised even higher,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “These 58 Trooper-trainees have put their heart and soul into becoming the very best troopers they can be. I am impressed with their resiliency and dedication during the last 27 weeks.”
The new troopers have received more than 1,300 hours of classroom and field instruction in more than 100 different subjects, including de-escalation techniques, strategies to assist people in mental health crisis, ethics and leadership, fair and impartial policing, constitutional law, emergency medical trauma care, and public and community relations. The members of the 135th Basic Session began their 27 weeks of academic, physical and practical training at the Academy July 6, 2021.
The soon-to-be graduates of the 135th Basic Session are from every corner of the Commonwealth, as well as Ohio, Oklahoma, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Vermont and the countries of Germany and Mongolia.
Upon graduation, the new troopers will report to their individual duty assignments across Virginia the week of Jan. 31. For their final phase of training, each trooper will spend an additional six weeks paired up with a Field Training Officer learning his or her new patrol area.
135th BASIC GRADUATING CLASS
Name – Hometown – Assignment
- Alijia Danielle Monet Annon – Henrico – Henrico
- Justin Aaron Armes – Stuart – Henrico
- Zachary Cole Bailey – Ewing – Fluvanna
- Stone Lee Baker – Boykins – Surry
- Kennedy Jerome Barbour, Jr. – Williamsburg – James City
- Jonathan Y. Bazil – Lynchburg – Charles City
- Lucas Jeffrey Beall – Accomack – Accomack
- William Brady Blankenship – Powhatan – Culpeper
- Johnathon Daniel Blitz – Richmond – Henrico
- Michelle Lynn Carney – Roanoke – Culpeper
- Christopher John Caudill – Old Bridge – Prince William
- Mark Wade Chamberlain – Mount Airy – Hanover / Henrico
- Jeffrey Michael Dense – Alpine, New York – Fairfax
- Austin Lee Edwards – Pounding Mill – Henrico
- Robert Lane Faulkenberry – Lane, Oklahoma – Dinwiddie
- Dimitrice John Finley – Chesapeake – Springfield
- Justin Carl Grable – Louisa – Clarke
- Nathanael Scott Hall – Forest – Dinwiddie
- Sarah Francis Halperin – Hardwick, Vermont – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Jonathan Wesley Hawk – Emporia – Sussex
- Nicholas H. Henderson – Cape May, New Jersey – Prince William
- Logan Allan Hinnant – Fredericksburg – Prince William
- Nicole Noelle Hobbs – Hiltons – Frederick
- Emma Clare Hodge – Powhatan – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Alex Jamal Holley – Newport News – Springfield
- Matthew Samuel Honey – Fairfax – Springfield
- Luke J. Horvath – Schenectady, New York – Campbell
- Logan James Houston – Quinton – Mathews
- Steven Rex Huffman – Louisa – Hanover / Henrico
- Brian D. Hurlimann – Rochester, New York – Stafford
- Kenneth Ray Jamison – Danville – Bedford
- Scott Andrew Jeltema – Bitburg, Germany – Springfield
- Jeffrey Scott Keeney – Virginia Beach – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Corey James Klak – Chesapeake – Norfolk / Virginia Beach
- Alexis Mykayla Kovach – Chesterfield – Henrico
- Sean Michael Laychak – Springfield – Prince William
- Kortney M. Leazer – Remington – Bedford
- Joo No Lee – Plainview, New York – Springfield
- Griffin Downey Martin – Bracey – Cumberland
- Kortney Evan Terrell McGhee – New York, New York – Highland
- Michael Ryan Middleton – Ashburn – Fairfax
- Chance Allen Morris – Powhatan – Springfield
- Robert Dale Morris – La Crosse – Henrico
- Samuel Patrick Norris – Pulaski – Roanoke
- Alex Hoon Pak – Fairfax – Fairfax
- James Robert Davis Pettry – Big Stone Gap – Bedford
- Andrew Schuyler Poff – Shawsville – Botetourt
- Justin Alexander Ratowski – Hunlock Creek, Pennsylvania – Prince William
- Joshua Tyler Stahl – Toronto, Ohio – Hanover / Henrico
- Malik Rashad Staton – Clinton, Maryland – Prince William
- George Pendleton Stephenson, Jr. – Seaford – Hanover / Henrico
- Eli Steven Thies – Harrisonburg – Henrico
- Gungaajargal Turek – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – James City
- Daniel Ryan Urban – Yorktown – Cumberland
- Eric Grant Vitatoe – Haysi – Gloucester
- Alexander B. Wallace – Staunton – Orange
- Matthew Dennis Weinholtz – Buffalo, New York – Fairfax
- Daniel Andrew Wood – Powhatan – Hanover / Henrico
VDOT crews focus on secondary roads tonight – drivers should watch for refreezing and drifting
STAUNTON – (5:00 p.m.) Plow crews in the Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District continue with snow removal operations following a major winter storm on Sunday, January 16. With interstate and most primary roads now clear or in minor condition, work will focus on secondary roads. Crews will plow and treat roads throughout the night. If possible people should not park along the road so that plows can fully clear snow from the neighborhood and other residential roads.
With temperatures dipping below freezing, drivers who travel tonight and tomorrow morning may encounter damp areas of roadways that are frozen, creating black ice. Caution should be used when traveling. Ice is prone to form first on bridges, overpasses, and other elevated surfaces.
High winds are forecasted for the area. Blowing and drifting snow covering plowed roads may occur. Crews will continue to monitor and plow as needed. Travelers should be aware of possible snow-covered areas on previously plowed roads.
Here are the road conditions as of 5:00 p.m. in the Virginia Department of Transportation Staunton District:
Interstate 64 – Minor conditions in Alleghany County. Clear conditions in Rockbridge and Augusta counties.
Interstate 66 – Clear conditions in Warren County.
Interstate 81 –. Clear conditions in Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Frederick counties.
Primary roads – Minor conditions in Alleghany, Highland, Bath, Shenandoah, Frederick, and Clarke counties. Clear conditions in Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham, Warren, and Page counties.
Secondary roads – Minor conditions in Warren County. Moderate conditions in Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, Alleghany, and Bath counties.
For winter weather road conditions go to http://www.511Virginia.org, look at the orange bar on the top of the page and click on “Text Views” and then click on “Road Condition Table”. Look at the pull-down box that lists all jurisdictions. In this box, individual counties can be chosen to view.
On the go? Then visit VDOT’s Free Virginia 511 Tools to get your 511 app for android or iOS. Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can be accessed through its mobile-friendly website at https://my.vdot.virginia.gov/. Agents are on site 24/7 every day of the year to assist the public. People can also call the VDOT Customer Service Center at 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623).
The Staunton District Snow Page is on the VDOT website under Travel Center Snow Emergency Pages. The Staunton District Twitter feed is at @VaDOTStaunton.
The Staunton District Twitter feed is at @VaDOTStaunton. VDOT can be followed on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube. RSS feeds are also available for statewide information. The VDOT Web page is located at http://www.VirginiaDOT.org.
The VDOT Staunton District serves Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, Alleghany, and Bath counties.
Road condition definitions:
Severe – drifting or partially blocking the road.
Moderate – snow or ice on major portions of the roadway.
Minor – bare pavement except for isolated spots of snow, ice, or slush.
Governor Glenn Youngkin delivers address to the Joint Assembly
On January 17, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin delivers to the Joint Assembly in Virginia’s State Capitol.
As prepared for Delivery
Standing here before you, and looking around this room, I’m struck by the history that’s been made in this place, the people’s house.
As well as the fact that the work you do here has great consequence for the people of Virginia. And so it is as we gather here today.
Mr. Speaker, Madam President, Lt. Governor Earle-Sears, Chief Justice Goodwyn, and Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the General Assembly, my fellow Virginians, today we begin anew, all of us together.
After years of fractured politics, a deadly pandemic, lives and livelihoods lost, soaring mental health incidents and drug overdoses, rising crime rates, ever-increasing costs for housing, food and fuel, Virginians have sent us here to turn the page.
They came out in record numbers to make their voice heard. They chose a new vision for the future.
Today, I want to speak to that vision and begin our partnership to address the priorities of the people.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many of the members of these two legislative bodies both Republicans and Democrats.
You have invited me to your homes. We’ve shared meals together. We’ve done community service together. And I thank you for that.
We’re all part of Team Virginia.
And as I shared on Saturday, we can take inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King’s life which we celebrate today and his words that “we may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
The work we have to do, we must do together.
And there isn’t a better example of people coming together on behalf of Virginia than the brave crews, the law enforcement heroes, and the first responders who worked during yesterday’s storm in the freezing cold, ice and snow to keep our streets safe, the lights on and our hospitals open.
Before I speak to the work ahead, I want to recognize someone who has traveled with me every step of the way.
She inspired me to live a life of faith as a younger man. She is an example of humility and strength not just to our children but to women across this great commonwealth.
She is the best partner I could ever imagine our First Lady, Suzanne Youngkin.
After a year of campaigning at diners, senior centers, schools, housing projects, courthouses…even pickup basketball games, I’ve taken the measure of our people.
I’ve found them to be resilient, optimistic, courageous. I listened to their hopes and concerns their dreams and fears. Their stories of inspiration and stories of tragedy.
Some cried on my shoulders. Some prayed over me. And some spoke bluntly maybe a little too bluntly at times.
Almost all expressed a desire for a Virginia worthy of the ambitions of its people.
I come here today to echo their clarion call for change.
To form a government that works for ordinary citizens. That’s a catalyst for opportunity and not an obstacle. And that addresses the kitchen table concerns of working families that are real and mounting.
It’s been said that all great change starts at kitchen tables across America.
You see, that’s where families talk about what matters to them. It’s also where parents discuss their worries stagnant wages in the face of rising expenses caring for an elderly parent and trying to find a way to save for their kids’ future.
I want to share with you something that we’ve all heard from voters.
They’re genuinely concerned that the cold halls of government are disconnected from the cold realities families face while sitting at their kitchen tables every day.
In that respect, we shouldn’t misconstrue record revenue for government as economic success for Virginians.
The view from the people, whose labor generates those tax receipts is quite different than the talk in Richmond.
They see an economy whose growth has stalled at less than 1% per year for 8 years. With household incomes stagnating over the last year — as the cost of living has sky-rocketed.
They see declining schools, they see violent crime reports dominating the news, they see record low labor participation, they see small businesses struggling, and they see government failures and encroachments on their liberties.
From the perspective of every day Virginia families times are tough. And the state of our Commonwealth is not what it should be.
Today we’re at the proverbial “tipping point” where the cash flow to the government from rising tax burdens is very high.
And yet the impact of high costs and high taxes, and an increased regulatory burden are clearly being felt in the real economy and the real lives of Virginians.
The good news is that we have the ability to course-correct before this poor performance becomes permanent.
With current and projected tax driven surpluses we can lower the tax burdens on Virginia families.
And make crucial investments in those critical pillars to the great Virginia promise of a lower cost-of-living, excellent schools, safe communities, a rip-roaring economy that lifts up all Virginians, and a state government that works for Virginians.
To do that, I’m asking each of us in this body Republican and Democrat alike to come together.
To rise above the Richmond of divisive, special interest politics, the small and the parochial to usher in a sweeping vision of change
And to put this commonwealth on a pathway to prosperity.
On day one, we hit the ground running, signing 11 executive actions, and swearing in a full cabinet, outstanding individuals, who are qualified and share Virginia’s values.
As of today, we’ve worked with legislators to introduce 59 pieces of legislation to tackle our day one agenda.
And we’ll be submitting a package of 25 budget amendments to reflect our bipartisan priorities.
We’re addressing issues that are critical to the future of this commonwealth. And that every member in this chamber can get behind.
Virginians have given us a license to lead. They have charged us all to deliver on a Day One agenda.
We know on some issues there’ll be deep disagreement.
But I believe this chamber is big enough for us to talk through our differences. And there is more that binds us than divides us.
For we all share a common goal to leave a better Virginia for our children.
We’re going to start by investing in Virginia classrooms.
Education is the key to opportunity. The means by which all children and their parents can realize their greatest dreams.
Virginia schools have a lofty reputation. But lately we’ve not lived up to that reputation.
In fact, our education standards for math and reading are now the lowest in the nation.
Unelected political appointees lowered standards which inevitably led to a decline in student performance.
60% of our students don’t meet national proficiency standards, including over 70% of Latino students, and over 80% of black students, failing to meet standard on the math NAEP tests. Remarkably, despite these dramatic declines noted by the National Center for Education Statistics only one Virginia school has been deemed failing
because accreditation standards were lowered.
Starting now we’re ending the accountability shell games intended to make us feel good but amount to the often stated “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Let’s stop cheating our kids.
On this we should join arms and purpose together so that when our time here is done we’ll collectively have raised education standards from the lowest to the highest in the nation.
I’m also calling for $150 million to help us meet our goal of starting 20 new charter schools.
Whether they’re called charter schools, lab schools, or schools of innovation – it doesn’t really matter.
I don’t care what we call it I just care that we do it.
We’re joined today by the students of Green Run Collegiate Charter School in Virginia Beach. Green Run Collegiate shares a facility with Green Run High School.
They have an innovative curriculum. They provide access to every child in the school district to attend the collegiate program. They’re thriving and their parents are thrilled.
Please join me in welcoming these future Virginia leaders to our commonwealth’s capitol.
We’re going to build partnerships between the commonwealth and our great universities to create lab schools of excellence.
It could be a lab school in Southwest Virginia in partnership with UVA Wise.
It could be an entrepreneurship or entertainment industry-focused school partnering with one of our amazing historically black colleges and universities.
Or a partnership with Old Dominion University for opportunities in offshore wind development or maritime projects.
When it comes to the education budget, I’ve heard consistent bipartisan agreement from all of you that the budget you’ll pass, and that I’ll sign will reflect a record investment in education including a significant boost in teacher pay.
With the exception of a parent or guardian no one impacts the future of a young child more than a quality teacher.
We will attract quality professionals to Virginia schools. And we will pay teachers as the professionals they are.
We must also recognize that the people most responsible for a child’s education are parents.
My message to parents is this,
You have a fundamental right, enshrined in law by this General Assembly, to make decisions with regard to your child’s upbringing, education and care.
And we will protect and reassert that right.
Hear me clearly when parents are empowered and engaged, a child’s life is enhanced.
I’ve heard the concerns of parents about curriculum.
Virginia parents want our history – all of our history, the good and the bad to be taught. And they want their children to be told how to think, not what to think.
That’s why we should not use inherently divisive concepts like Critical Race Theory in Virginia. And why we should not be teaching our children to see everything through the lens of race.
That’s also why I want to give parents the right to be informed before their child is exposed to sexually explicit materials.
Please, send me the same bill you passed on a bipartisan basis in 2017 and I will sign it.
The classroom environment must be safe, so children can learn.
I’m asking members of this general assembly to prioritize school safety by putting a school resource officer on every campus.
I also ask you to join me in protecting students from sex trafficking organizations that recruit them on and off campus.
Let’s train educators to see the signs of trafficking. And to stand in the gap for children at risk of being preyed upon.
Let’s also involve local law enforcement agencies in the approval of school safety audits.
And whenever someone preys upon a child in a Virginia school — we must require it to be reported to local law enforcement for investigation.
No more cover-ups. No more sweeping it under the rug. Parents deserve to know if their child is at risk.
Schools exist for the educational benefit of children, and for that reason they must remain open. I strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated for Covid-19 and get the booster.
As we battle covid, its parents that should decide the health measures taken for their children.
That is why I signed an executive order that allows parents to opt-out of mask mandates in schools. This is a matter of individual liberty.
Again, this body passed a law that protects parent’s fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of their children.
And health care workers should get to make those decisions too.
And I will continue to oppose President Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate for health workers as we continue to fight a crisis of staffing in Virginia’s healthcare system.
Our fight against COVID-19 will move forward based on this simple principle we will protect lives and livelihoods.
That means no more mandates and no more shutdowns. As I said on Saturday it means Virginia is open for business.
It also means the science since the beginning of the pandemic has not been static. We now have therapeutics better testing protocols and fortunately a less severe variant.
And of course, we have vaccines. It means, educating our friends and neighbors and encouraging them to get the vaccine and the booster.
There are 1.6 million unvaccinated Virginians today.
And speaking to you as your Governor, I’ll never tell you what you must do. But speaking to you as a friend and a neighbor I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine.
The data is clear people who do not get the vaccine are four times as likely to be hospitalized.
The vaccine will not only help keep people out of the hospital, it will also keep people working, earning a paycheck and growing our economy, something that has to remain a top priority for us all.
Our Day One Plan will jump-start jobs.
We’re going to repeal needless regulations. We’re going to invest in job training. We’re going to foster innovation. And we’re going to win the competition for jobs and corporate re-locations.
I support a significant investment in mega-sites.
To make sure we don’t lose the next advanced battery manufacturing plant after seeing several go to Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.
And while we’re at it let’s broaden the baseball stadium authority to include football. And perhaps we’ll get one of those too.
I want our rural Virginians to know we’re spreading prosperity far and wide. And rural Virginia won’t be left behind.
We’re not only bringing jobs, we’re bringing high-speed broadband.
Every governor for the last decade has stood in this chamber and told you that rural broadband was a priority. This time we’re going to get it done.
We’re also going to make certain that key projects at our ports and our highways are completed.
So the message is clear, if your cargo container ships is stuck off the coast of another state come to Virginia.
We’re ready for your business. And we won’t make supply chain problems worse with regulatory red tape.
And let me be clear, I believe in the fundamental right to work.
If anyone tries to bring me a bill that creates forced unionization it will meet the business end of my veto pen.
The states around us have created more jobs, grown their economies faster, and took steps years ago that we must take now, lower taxes, business-friendly regulations, workforce development, and more.
This is a real competition, and to win, we have to “play to win.”
One of the other challenges businesses face especially small businesses is the high cost of providing health care for their employees.
Over the last three years, you sent the governor eight versions of an association health plan bill to make it easier for workers to get health care.
It was vetoed eight times. Pass that bill again and I will sign it.
Virginians are struggling with the high cost of living, in a commonwealth with skyrocketing housing costs, rising fuel prices, and the silent wage theft of inflation.
There are economic fundamentals we don’t control in Virginia – that must be dealt with at the federal level.
But Washington continues to fiddle in the face of real supply chain challenges. And allows our nation to be overly-reliant on China for critical goods and services.
But there is one vital thing we can do to help Virginians. And that is remove some of the tax burden — added on top of rising prices for groceries, gasoline and housing.
That’s why I support suspending the recent gas tax increase for a year and fully eliminating the grocery tax immediately.
There’s bipartisan support for eliminating the grocery tax. Together, we will give Virginians real relief.
We also need to give Virginians a real break on their personal income tax by doubling the standard deduction. And providing the largest tax rebate in Virginia history.
These tax cuts benefit the people who need it the most.
And represent the largest tax relief ever given to the people of Virginia $1,500 this year for the typical Virginia family.
But beyond the economic implications of this package, I believe we have a special obligation to a group of individuals that have served our country with distinction our military veterans.
Those who risk life and limb for country and community don’t do it for the pay. They do it because service is in their blood.
The care and support of our veterans, have always transcended partisan politics.
That’s why I’m asking this General Assembly to act on something long talked about.
Let’s eliminate the tax on the first $40,000 in military retirement pay together.
Anyone who wears the uniform risks their life each day on the job. And this includes police officers, firefighters, EMTs, every first responder that keeps us safe.
We’re in a fractious era and no group of individuals is under greater scrutiny today than our law enforcement.
A culture of lawlessness has filled the void in Virginia with violent crime on the rise.
In November, Police Officer Michael Chandler of the Big Stone Gap Police Department was violently gunned down by a vicious criminal.
Incidents like this are all too common today.
We’ll never know the depth of his loss to his family but we grieve with them and pray for them.
In Virginia, we must stand with our law enforcement agencies. And therefore, I’m asking you to fund our police to protect our communities.
Officer Michael Chandler’s widow — Natasha Chandler is also a member of law enforcement. She’s a Wise County Deputy Sheriff who even after losing her husband, insisted on returning to serve.
She’s watching this afternoon.
Please join me in recognizing the sacrifice that her husband, Michael, made on our behalf.
The budget submitted to this General Assembly includes pay raises for troopers, sheriffs’ deputies and corrections officers.
Those are strong first steps I know we all support.
But we need to provide more funding for our police departments. And more funding for training and equipment.
Together, we should dedicate $100 million in ARPA funds to a training and equipment grant program for law enforcement. And provide capital funding for a new state police training facility.
Furthermore, I’m asking you to dedicate $26 million in state funding for police departments. But only in localities that are increasing funding for their police departments.
We’ll also fund community violence intervention by dedicating at least $5 million to Operation Cease Fire.
It’s time to take down the temperature around discussions of policing.
The solution is constructive engagement and dialogue. Not inadequate funding which creates more lawlessness.
And when it comes to lawlessness, I want to be crystal clear.
If we won’t tolerate it in communities across the commonwealth then we certainly won’t tolerate it within a state agency.
On Saturday, I fired the entire parole board.
And I asked Attorney General Miyares to begin an investigation into what happened there.
The violations of law and the Constitution, the unconscionable refusal to notify families, of victims about pending decisions to release murderers, were simply unacceptable.
We will not accept selective violations of our constitutional rights. We will protect all of them.
We don’t get to pick and choose the parts of the Constitution we want to preserve and protect.
In order for our government to work for the people, we must also reform the institutions of government that fail to serve the people.
I’ll admit I’ve never run a government agency. But I know something about running a business.
And we’re going to bring business efficiency to government bureaucracy.
That’s why I appointed a Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer — to oversee government transformation.
We will make government more responsive, more efficient, and more transparent and we’ll start by fixing the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Employment Commission.
Furthermore, we will be innovative in leveraging federal transportation funds to address the challenges of growth and gridlock.
In Virginia, we are going to build roads, bridges, rail lines and utility lines.
We are going to be better prepared for weather events that strain our highways and the electric grid.
And we will marshal our resources to make our infrastructure the most reliable in the nation.
As I travel Virginia, I remain in awe of the raw natural beauty of our Commonwealth.
The mountains, waterways, beaches, parks, farm land, livestock, vineyards, and natural resources testify to our Creator’s artistry.
I deeply treasure the natural beauty of Virginia. And my administration will dedicate itself to protecting and promoting it as a core principle of our service.
That’s why we will end the dumping of raw sewage in the James River once and for all.
I also support fully funding best management practices on our farms in order to protect our soil and water from the Chesapeake Bay to the Jackson River.
And we are going to see the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay to the finish line.
Coastal resiliency is critical to me.
And it’s critical to our nation because of our Port and military assets in Hampton Roads.
That’s why we’re going to create the Coastal Virginia Resiliency Authority to battle rising seas and make sure the federal government does its part too.
Let me state our goal.
Let’s work together in partnership. To build a government as virtuous as our people. One that serves.
You don’t have to look too far to find examples of that spirit among the people of Virginia.
I met a veteran of our military on the campaign trail by the name of Natasha Barijon (BEAR-ee-un).
She’s an immigrant. And like so many first generation immigrants, she loves this country with a passion few can understand though certainly our lieutenant governor can.
Natasha knows what life is like in other parts of the world.
Which is why tears flowed down her face when she told me about her journey to America her pride in serving in our military and the hopes and dreams she has for her daughter to grow up in a better America.
Natasha represents the best of America.
She may not have been born here but she is every bit American as someone who was. Because she has lived the ideals of this great land.
Natasha is also watching today.
Please join me in recognizing her service to our country and her dreams for her daughter.
Virginia is home to heroes. Many living and many who lie in eternal rest.
I attended the funeral of one such hero last month, in Virginia Beach – the Commanding Officer of SEAL Team 8, Brian Bourgeois.
Brian could light up a room with his laugh and he could put his subordinates at ease during the most tense moments.
He gave his life in service to freedom. And he left behind a wife, Megan, and five children. One of which – Barrett – led us in the pledge of allegiance on Saturday.
What price would we in this room put on freedom?
For some freedom is so precious they would offer everything in its defense.
Those of us who live in the freedom they so valiantly protect must live lives worthy of their sacrifice. Set aside petty divisions. Set aside ego and self-advancement. And join together to make this Virginia we love better, stronger, freer.
My friends in this esteemed legislature, I’m inspired to be with you this afternoon. And to be working with you to build a future of limitless opportunity and strengthen the spirit of Virginia.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia.