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State Legislature tackles budget amendments amid coronavirus fallout

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RICHMOND, VA. — The General Assembly’s reconvened session Wednesday was abnormal as the House dealt with technical difficulties, disruptive protests and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, collapsing at the podium.

Filler-Corn was standing for over three hours before she fell, just as the House was going into a break. Emergency medical services immediately attended to her, and she resumed her post after an hour break.

“She looked like she was ready for a break, and then I looked down and suddenly, I just heard a collapse,” said Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. “By the time I looked up she was down.”

Lawmakers considered holding this session remotely. Levine said Republican delegates were concerned there would be technical difficulties, so legislators opted to meet in person but not in their respective chambers.


“I think it was that they wanted to make it as difficult as possible because the Democrats are in control,” Levine said. “But they’re not going to stop us from going forward, if we have to risk our lives, we will risk our lives, but we shouldn’t have to.”

Delegates congregated under a tent on the lawn of the Virginia State Capitol. The session was punctuated several times by technical difficulties, even delaying the start. The Senate met a few miles away inside the Science Museum of Virginia.

Photo by VCU Capital News Service

 

Legislator sat at tables set up roughly 6 feet apart to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus. Many delegates wore face masks, but often removed them when speaking. Some delegates elected to wear gloves, though that was not the majority. Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, wore a mask and sat inside a Plexiglas structure that lawmakers jokingly called “the cage.” Lt. Gov. Justin
Fairfax kept his face mask on while at the podium, though Filler-Corn opted not to.

Virginians for Constitutional Rights 2020, formerly Reopen Virginia, gathered outside the Capitol to protest Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order. Northam’s order was recently extended to June 10. Protesters cited the tanking economy as the reason the state should reopen. The protesters, most in vehicles, honked their horns for nearly three hours as they drove a circuitous route around the Capitol. At times legislators strained to be heard amid the cacophony of horns.

The protest and technical difficulties did not impede the session from conducting business. Of the 100 delegates, 95 were in attendance. All 40 senators attended the Senate session. Some delegates elected not to attend due to COVID-19 related concerns, Levine said.

The House, with 97 items on the agenda, started by accepting Northam’s only vetoed bill: HB 119, a measure to define milk. The bill would only allow products that are “lacteal secretions” from a “hooved mammal” to be labeled as milk, excluding products such as almond, oat, and soy “milks.”

“Not only are [dairy farmers] not making enough money on their milk, they are now dumping it down the drain,” said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, the bill’s sponsor. “My bill was to send a signal that we sympathize with you and want to offer our support.”

Lawmakers grappled at length with issues related to the budget, which must be amended in response to the economic blow of COVID-19. Northam suggested 181 total amendments to the budget bills. The governor called for a freeze on many budget items and said that new circumstances required lawmakers to revisit initiatives such as early childhood education, more affordable college tuition, and pay increases for public employees and teachers. Northam said in his amendments that he may ask lawmakers to reconvene at a later point to vote on these items after they have forecast state revenues.

Northam’s recommendations included $55.5 million for “sufficient disaster declaration authorization” and $2.5 million for “deficit authorization for housing.” The House accepted these amendments.

Lawmakers rejected Northam’s budget amendment to delay existing capital projects “in order to address cash flow and debt capacity concerns resulting from the COVID-19 emergency.”
Northam’s proposal to push the May 5 municipal elections to November was contested. Initially, the House voted along with a slim majority not to adopt the amendment. After debate, confusion, and technicalities, the amendment passed with two votes. The Senate, which accepted most budget recommendations, did not vote on moving the May elections. Levine, who voted to accept the amendment, said this means elections will be held in May, despite public health concerns. He suggested that since the Senate did not vote to move the elections, the senators should man the polls.

Other budget recommendations approved by the House and Senate:

● Increase nursing facility rates by $20 a day per patient in response to COVID-19.

● Provide authority for the Director of the Department of Corrections to discharge or reassign certain inmates until July 2021.

● Expand access to long-acting reversible contraceptives.

● Authorize the governor to appropriate Congressional funding related to COVID-19.

Many of the other legislative amendments were technical and made minor changes to some pivotal legislation passed in the historic session. The session marked the first time since 1994 where Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. Two of Northam’s recommendations to the marijuana decriminalization bill, HB 972, were rejected, regarding an extension for the study on the legalization of marijuana and not allowing a trial by jury for the civil penalty of simple possession.

The governor’s recommendation to delay the $9.50 minimum wage increase from January until May 2021 was accepted after several impassioned pleas. Other lawmakers voiced concern that the economy can not handle increasing the minimum wage. In the Senate, Fairfax cast a tie-breaking vote to accept the bill’s delay.

A major concern during the reconvened session was that all in attendance take precautions amidst the pandemic.

“This is definitely unique,” Filler-Corn told the Washington Post. “Health and safety are a top priority.”

Levine wished that the session had been held remotely for safety reasons, but understands that it was necessary to meet, even if in person.

“Any of us could have [the coronavirus] and the longer we all stay in this environment around each other, the more likely it is that it will be transmitted,” Levine said.

Each session began at noon and after over eight hours of discussion, voting and interruptions, the House erupted in applause when they came to end. The Senate adjourned shortly after 10 p.m.

“Am I willing to risk my life to continue to serve this commonwealth?” Levine said. “Yes, I got elected for it, I’m going to take that risk, but we shouldn’t have to.”

By Emma Gauthier
Capital News Service

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Virginia Department of Elections announces results for the 2022 Risk-Limiting Audit of the 2021 November General Election

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The Virginia Department of Elections’ (ELECT) Commissioner Christopher Piper announced today that Virginia’s election administrators have successfully completed the 2022 Risk-Limiting Audit (RLA) of the 2021 November General Election.

During a live drawing held at the December 13 meeting of the State Board of Elections (SBE), the SBE randomly selected the 75th and 13th House of Delegates Districts for audit. The audit began on January 3 and concluded on January 20. The participating localities in the 2022 Risk-Limiting Audit included:

  • House of Delegates 75th District – Brunswick, Emporia City, Franklin City, Greensville, Lunenburg, Southampton and Sussex
  • House of Delegates 13th District – Prince William County and Manassas Park City

The audit confirmed with over 99% confidence that Otto Wachsmann was the winner of the House of Delegates 75th District contest and Danica Roem was the winner of the House of Delegates 13th District race.

“Once again, Virginia’s election administrators have successfully demonstrated their experience and dedication to ensuring secure and reliable election results by using the audit process,” said Christopher Piper, Virginia’s Commissioner of Elections. “The success of these audits is reliant upon the guidance of our local election leaders.”


Pursuant to Va. Code §24.2-671.1, ELECT is required to coordinate an annual post-election RLA of ballot scanner machines used in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  RLAs utilize statistical principles to empirically prove that the voting system software accurately reported the results of an election.

The 2022 Risk-Limiting Audit Report of the 2021 November General Election will be available to the public in March.

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Governor Youngkin announces School Choice Proclamation

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On January 26, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced this week as School Choice week, and issued a proclamation highlighting the importance of school choice for Virginia’s students and parents.

“As your governor, I will continually stand up for students and parents and will sign the largest education budget in Virginia’s history. Our goal is that every student will graduate high school ready to go to college or start a great career. Choice and innovation within public education is vital to achieving that goal. That’s why together we will not only raise standards and raise teacher pay, but we will invest $150 million to kick start 20 new charter schools in the Commonwealth. We must empower parents and students with choice and innovation in K-12 public education,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Read a full copy of the School Choice proclamation below.

Virginia School Choice Week


WHEREAS, all children in Virginia should have access to a high quality public education; and,

WHEREAS, Virginia recognizes the important role that a quality education plays in preparing all students in Virginia for success in life; and,

WHEREAS, quality education is critically important to the economic vitality and vibrancy of the communities of the Commonwealth; and,

WHEREAS, students have different needs and learning styles and a monolithic delivery of education does not serve the myriad needs of families;

WHEREAS, Virginia currently has only 7 charter schools, but its neighboring state of North Carolina has close to 200 and the District of Columbia has 123; and,

WHEREAS, School Choice Week is celebrated across the country by millions of students, parents, educators, schools, and organizations to raise awareness of the need for effective educational options.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Glenn Youngkin, do hereby recognize January 23 – January 29, 2022

as VIRGINIA SCHOOL CHOICE WEEK in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and

I call this observance to the attention of all of our citizens, and proclaim that:

Virginia must empower parents by creating innovation within K-12 public schools to best adapt to the needs of Commonwealth’s students; and,

Virginia is committed to increasing education options for its youth by seeking $150 million to help meet a goal of starting at least 20 new public charter schools in the Commonwealth; and,

Virginia will build partnerships between the Commonwealth and our great universities to create lab schools of excellence; and,

Virginia will raise education standards to elevate students to high performing levels and reinstitute merit-based acceptance to Governor’s and magnet schools; and,

Virginia will empower parents to make choices about the educational needs of their children.

 

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Virginia Department of Elections releases post-elections report

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Recently, the Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) released its annual post-election report for the 2021 November General Election; this report not only generates a historical record of the election, but it also highlights its successes and areas where improvements could be made.

The November 2021 General Election continued to pose the same challenges election administrators faced in November 2020: an ongoing global health pandemic and a monumental dissemination of misinformation and disinformation about the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Following each November General Election since 2018, ELECT has produced this report to highlight several areas of work done in 2021 to include law and regulatory changes impacting the administration of elections, participation in the election, key challenges/major issues, and election administration tasks completed.

The report also spotlights initiatives such as Virginia’s successful Voter Education and Outreach Campaign and collaborating with partners such as Virginia’s Medical Reserve Corps as well as the United States Postal Service to help mitigate challenges brought on by issues such as COVID-19.



“ELECT produces the post-election report annually to reinforce our agency’s continued commitment to transparency” said Christopher Piper, Virginia Department of Elections’ Commissioner. “We are proud to be able to document the work that the Commonwealth’s election administrators, electoral board members, and ELECT staff do to conduct secure and accurate elections in Virginia.”

The post-election report was presented by Commissioner Piper at the January 18 meeting of the State Board of Elections. You can find a copy of the report on ELECT’s website here.

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Governor Youngkin announces updated guidelines for parents, educators, and preK-12 schools

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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 helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Click here to read a full copy of guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Education.

Click here for the constituent services page.


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.
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Governor Youngkin announces legislative agenda priorities

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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.

Click here to read the full Legislative Day One Game Plan.

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Governor Youngkin announces Covid Action Plan

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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.

Click here to read the full copy of Executive Order # 11.

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