Legislative & COVID-19 Update 4/13/20

April 13, 2020
Hello Friends,

While we were busy doing our best to celebrate Passover & Easter and staying socially distant from our places of worship and our loved ones as the government told us to do, our Governor was very busy over the weekend signing into law the legislation that was passed by the new majority in the General Assembly during our session in January & February including:

-Gun control measures (including one handgun/month, mandatory background checks, & red flag laws) which, in my opinion, violate our Second Amendment rights and fail to provide the due process we are guaranteed by law. (Meanwhile, my mental health continuity of care bill was killed in a House subcommittee along a party line vote 3-2.)

-Pro-abortion legislation which removes critical protections for the unborn who cannot speak for themselves and repeals provisions such as informed consent & the 24-hour waiting period for women who are making difficult decisions in a crisis situation. Additionally, these bills will also allow non-physician providers to perform abortions at locations that do not meet hospital standards for safety.

-Election Reform bills including bills which repeal Virginia’s voter ID law (meaning you no longer have to show a photo ID to vote), expands access to early voting up to 45 days prior to an election, allows no excuse absentee voting, permits automatic voter registration at DMV, and extends in person polling hours from 7pm to 8pm. This is in addition to the Governor’s proposal to move the May elections in Virginia to November complete with new filing and registration deadlines and the destruction of already cast ballots (which requires approval from the General Assembly & which I do not support).

The Governor does recognize that the $135 billion biennial budget passed in March is no longer feasible nor realistic and has ordered a hiring freeze of state employees and asked executive branch agencies to find areas to cut costs in order to save at least $2 billion in budgeted expenses. He has suggested he will postpone raises for teachers and state workers and has hinted at calling the General Assembly in for a special session to address a now impractical budget. Our teachers have been one of the few professions who have answered the call to continue to work and serve the children of Virginia in the most challenging of times by teaching them in a new digital world. We should be finding ways to give them a higher raise or bigger bonuses and not suggesting we freeze their budget in place of some of the new social programs put in place this past session. This is infuriating and unfair to our educators!

In a half-hearted attempt to recognize that the struggling businesses community will need help getting back on its feet, the Governor proposed delaying the implementation of the minimum wage increase and collective bargaining until May 1, 2021 (moved back four months from January 1, 2021). He also is seeking a year delay banning electronic skill games in restaurant, convenience stores, and truck stops with a plan to tax their profits and use the money for a COVID-19 response fund.

One of the most frustrating things for me to watch this past week are the numbers of elderly people who are dying in our nursing homes across the country, the most prominent being the Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Henrico where 42 people have died as of Sunday evening. I read over and over that the nursing home death numbers are blamed on chronic staffing shortages that have been made worse by the coronavirus crisis, a shortage of protective supplies and a continued lack of available testing. As a geriatric nurse practitioner and advocate for my patient population, I proposed legislation this past session dealing with staffing ratios in nursing homes and requirements for patient care hours to improve living conditions for our most vulnerable Virginians. My bill was not passed and was turned into a work study to make recommendations on increasing the availability of clinical workforce in nursing homes. I look at the some of the budget items passed in March ($5 million for illegal immigrant drivers licenses, $56 million for inmate healthcare, $20 million in land conservation, $10 million for rebuilding oyster reefs,….) and I can only imagine what we could do for staffing shortages in long-term care facilities in the hopes of preventing a tragedy like COVID-19 from happening again.

Ronald Reagan once said, “Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty”. I believe our representative government works best when it truly represents ALL the people of a state or country. In Virginia, our power structure has become so one-sided that a significant number of our citizens’ voices are not able to be heard. As we come to live in the “New Virginia” that has been “flipped blue”, let us also not forget that voting is how we exercise our voice. Take time this week to think about our Commonwealth, the direction we are headed, and decide what should be done next to protect the Virginia we all love before it becomes unrecognizable.

Take care & stay well!

-Jen

Here are this week’s COVID-19 resources as communicated from the Governor’s office:

Cases in Virginia:
The Virginia Department of Health website continues to update the status of cases in Virginia. As of 9 a.m. today April 13th, 5,747 positive cases have been reported here in Virginia. Additionally, we currently have 251 cases in Virginia Beach and 99 cases in Norfolk.

Workforce Frequently Asked Questions
The Office of the Governor’s Chief Workforce Advisor has published an FAQ page for workers in both Spanish and English. Those documents are attached below.
Click here for English Click here for Spanish

Virginia Dept of Education
The Virginia Department of Education (DOE) has published an in-depth FAQ page regarding special education and student services. That FAQ page can be found here.

Small Business Administration Loans
The SBA continues to put out information on their Coronavirus Relief Options for small businesses. Those updates can be found here.

Employee Retention Tax Credit
The IRS has published an informational page on the Employee Retention Tax Credit. This program is a component of the CARES Act, and more information on it can be found here.

May and June Elections
Governor Northam today requested the General Assembly move the May General Election and all special elections scheduled for May 5, 2020 to the November 3, 2020 General Election date to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Governor is also exercising his statutory authority (§ 24.2-603.1 of the Code of Virginia) to move the June primary elections from June 9, 2020 to June 23, 2020.

Virginia ABC Directives
Governor Northam directed ABC to allow establishments with mixed beverage licenses, such as restaurants and distilleries, to sell mixed beverages through takeout or delivery. This will be effective at midnight on Thursday, April 9th.
Additionally, the Governor directed the Virginia ABC authority to defer annual fees for licenses and permits that would be up for renewal through June.

Long-Term Care Facilities
Governor Northam announced that Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner at the VA Dept of Health, will head up a task force to oversee the Commonwealth’s COVID mitigation efforts in long-term care facilities. This task force will ensure that nursing homes and long-term care facilities have the necessary financial resources, strengthen their staffing and infection control measures, and ensure access to information on where the virus is appearing.

VDEM Information Portal
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management has established a portal through which you can find a wide variety of COVID-related material. It encompasses waivers, memoranda and guidance; available disaster grants and loan programs; and instructions for private sector partners who seek to aid the Commonwealth in our COVID response. Those resources can all be found here.

VDH Frequently Asked Questions
The Virginia Dept of Health website has published a comprehensive page of health-related FAQs. Please distribute this link to any constituents with relevant questions.

Guidance for Faith Leaders
Virginia’s COVID Unified Command has published guidance documents for faith leaders. These guidelines are published in EnglishSpanishArabic and Korean. Additionally, the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion has published an FAQ Guide, found here.

Additional Information:
For a comprehensive list of actions Governor Northam has announced to combat COVID-19 in Virginia, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus.

The COVID19JIC@vdem.virginia.gov email is now operational. The email address account will be monitored by our Joint Information Center (JIC) staff and relayed to the appropriate subject matter expert. If you have questions, please reach out using the above email.

There are so many resources to help out there. If you are overwhelmed or need help finding specific answers to questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office. The email is: district07@senate.virginia.gov and our phone number is: 757-990-3080. As always, it continues to be an honor to serve and represent you all as the State Senator from the 7th district. Stay safe and well out there! We can get through this together!

For information about best practices from the CDC, Click Here
For updated information from the Virginia Department of Health, Click Here
For updates from the City of Virginia Beach, Click Here