Facts From the Science Museum Floor: Reconvene Session

April 24, 2020
Facts From the Science Museum Floor: Reconvene Session and COVID-19 Update 4/24/20

Hello Friends,

I know this email may seem a little long but I do hope you stick around til the end… lots of information to pass along about what’s happening in Virginia!

If you’re not wanting to read the update, please take a moment to fill out my end of session survey to fill me in on what’s important to you going forward: http://www.jenforva.com/2020-general-assembly-session-survey/
I know we are all getting tired of being stuck in our homes. We miss our jobs and friends. We miss our churches and schools. We miss going out to eat and going on vacation. I’m actually to the point now where I see mass gatherings of people on TV shows and it looks strange to me! We’ve done a good job at not overwhelming our hospital systems, and we have given the medical community time to understand COVID-19 a little bit better, how to treat it, who’s at risk, and how to prevent further spread. Now it’s time to START to reopen our state and get our economy back on track. Many states have made plans and started to get back to work and now it’s Virginia’s turn.

Unfortunately, we’ve (appropriately?) instilled a lot of fear in people which will take time to undo. In Hampton Roads, we are approaching our busiest season for tourism of the year. I would love to see us begin to reopen our small businesses, restaurants, our workplaces while wearing masks, limiting number of people in one place, and keeping our vulnerable and people in poor health AT HOME. In my perfect world, we’d focus more on protecting the older adults in long-term care and other cluster communities who have some of the highest fatality rates and who were not protected initially. There is MUCH room for improvement in our nursing homes and protecting those who do not have a loud voice. The Governor put out a plan at his press conference today (4/24)- let’s hold him to it!

As state legislators, we are not involved in the decision making process in regards to the Governor’s Executive Orders. We hear for the first time what he is planning when you do: at his press conferences. I sent a letter from my Senate office to the Governor with concerns of my constituents and my local business community but it has fallen on deaf ears. The reconvene session that was held in Richmond on April 22 was a session to vote on the amendments proposed by the Governor on the legislation passed in January and February. We also voted on budget amendments. To clarify, there was no discussion or debate about reopening our state for business. 

I want to cut straight to the chase about the reconvene session this past week. It was surreal to show up at the Science Museum of Virginia with our folding table desks ten feet apart, everyone wearing masks, caucus held in a tent, and one senator who was quarantined in a plexiglass box all day! (The House met in a tent on the Capitol lawn while out-of-work Virginians honked horns to reopen Virginia and Speaker Filler-Corn fainted briefly before recovering and returning.) The Senate staff did a fabulous job of ensuring our voting boxes, microphones, and electricity outlets were all functioning and ready to roll. We jumped right in and started by voting on legislation affecting our business community who will need support to recover from the damage that’s been done.

Here is a summary of some of the senate legislation voted on during the day:

SB7/SB182/SB939: Minimum wage increase/project labor agreements/collective bargaining: The Governor’s amendment pushed back the enactment dates of these bills to May instead of January. Republicans held the hard line that these bills are even worse now as many employers and small businesses are hurting and will be recovering for some time, and we had requested they be vetoed so the 2021 General Assembly could take a closer look at our economy then before they were put into place. These votes fell on party lines and the Governor’s amendments were adopted with the bills and will be put in place in May, 2021.

SB235/SB861: Association health plan bills: The Governor put a re-enactment clause on this bill which means the House & Senate would have had to re-vote next session to have the bill passed. Instead we voted NO to the Governor’s amendments and the opportunity for consortium health plans and expanded opportunities for all Virginians to have healthcare passed 35-5 out of the Senate. I have always supported this bill and was happy to vote NO to the re-enactment amendment.

SB793: Early parole/prisoner release bill: The Governor’s amendment put an EMERGENCY re-enactment clause on this bill so it would go into effect immediately instead of waiting the usual July 1 to become a law. This bill passed along almost party lines. Additionally, in the budget, the Governor allows the Department of Corrections to start releasing prisoners now who have less than a year left on their sentences including those with who have committed violent crimes and who are repeat offenders (almost 5000 prisoners would qualify). As I did during session, I voted against this bill and its amendment.

SB971: Skilled gaming bill: The “games of skill” found in restaurants, bars, and some convenience stores were banned during our legislative session. The Governor’s amendment put a re-enactment clause on the ban and allows games of skill one year to be taxed and regulated with the proceeds going towards COVID-19 relief spending. It is estimated to generate $150 million for the relief fund. I have always supported games of skill as they help our small businesses and restaurant owners. This bill gives them one more year of life with the Governor’s promise to kill them next session.

SB316: Date of Primary Elections moved back one week in June (normal election years): The Governor’s amendment put a re-enactment clause on the bill so it would need to be voted on again next session to pass. I was the patron of this bill and proposed it as a school safety bill to allow for polling places in our schools after students are dismissed for summer. This bill had been requested by the Department of Elections and had been supported by educators. Despite the myriad of election reforms bills passed this session making voting easier (& more fraudulent?) than ever in Virginia, opposition continued to insist my bill would stifle voter turnout (still not sure how!) and the Governor’s amendment was added. My bill has to be voted on again next session and its fate in unknown.

HB29 (Amendment 36): This is the “caboose bill” for the budget where the Governor added an amendment to push the date of the primary May elections back to November. He is not able to move an election date over two weeks without the approval of the General Assembly. After much debate and some bipartisan agreement, the Senate voted against the Governors amendment (which would have required the destruction of the thousand of ballots of people who have already voted absentee). Interestingly, the House voted to approve this amendment (by a very small majority). The Governor at his press conference today (4/24) stated the May primaries would now be held on May 19th and he suggests people vote absentee and ensured that precautions would be taken to hold safe elections in person on that date.

If you are interested in learning more or reading more of the bills and amendments that were discussed at our reconvene session, please visit this link: http://dls.virginia.gov/pubs/vetoes/vetoes2020.pdf

I leave you with my favorite part of my newsletters- My five most shocking things seen in the Senate this week! I thank you all for keeping up with government in our Commonwealth and I implore you all to get involved and stay involved. Virginia has changed and we need to keep watching to understand the implications that has for our future.

Thank you all for the opportunity to represent you in the Virginia Senate. It is an honor of a lifetime. If there is anything my office can do to assist you or your family or business during this time, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us: district07@senate.virginia.gov or call: 757-990-3080.

SENATOR KIGGANS’ TOP FIVE MOST SURPRISING THINGS SEEN IN THE VIRGINIA SENATE THIS PAST WEEK:

1- I’m not sure where the Senate Clerk got 40+ bottles of Purell hand sanitizer but we each had one sitting on our desks for personal use during session! (But were reminded at the end to leave them and not take them with us!)

2- I hope we didn’t pay extra for it but there was a chandelier hanging in the middle of the tent that the Senate set up for us to hold our Republican and Democratic caucus meetings. Maybe that was supposed to make it feel fancier? Not sure but it sure was windy and I was worried about the tent blowing over the whole time we were out there!

3- Having Senator Barker sitting in that plexiglass cage for the entirety of session was truly distracting. I believe he had underlying health issues and needed an extra layer of protection but it really felt like he was either the drummer for the live band we didn’t have or a DJ waiting for the right moment to spin some tunes. I heard the Clerk’s husband made the booth for him which was a very kind gesture. Maybe we’ll bring it back to our chamber and use it as a timeout box of sorts!

4- It’s always a bad sign when they order a bunch of pizzas around 5-6 p.m. That means we’re in for the long haul! We adjourned just after 10 p.m. after starting at noon. Good thing I’m a night person!

5- Most importantly, I saw this week that putting a mask over someone’s mouth doesn’t make what they say any less egregious or terrible or wrong!! Some crazy stuff coming out of our new “progressive” majority….! Stay tuned, vote in every election, and get ready to flip the House back RED in 2021!

Take care & stay well!
-Jen
A few pics from our Reconvene Session
Meal Delivery with SSSEVI was happy to help Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia (SSSEV) deliver meals! They have been delivering over 5,800 meals weekly to seniors throughout the southside of Hampton Roads. After that, I dropped off homemade masks made by our wonderful volunteers to SSSEV in Norfolk. Overall a great day!

Special thank you to my Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership classmate Jason Inge for coordinating delivery to those in need in our community!

Senator Kiggans statement on Small Business:
I went out to pick up lunch today and was so sad to see so many small businesses in shopping centers closed while big places like Target, Walmart, & Home Depot (which I all equally love and shop at) have packed parking lots and lots of unmasked people walking in and out. Seems like it would make more sense to open more doors and spread people out so we are not all packed in the same few locations. Wear a mask or stay home if you’re sick, at risk, in poor health, or geriatric but we can do a better job opening our businesses while still following CDC guidelines!

Many of you have emailed, called, or asked what direct influence does the General Assembly have to change the Governor’s Executive Orders and the answer is “none”. We are not asked for input nor have any advanced knowledge of what will happen. We hear the order and ask our constituents to follow it. I will tell you to use your voice to write or email the Governor’s office and to register to vote in the next elections. Bad leaders are elected by good citizens who don’t vote. Better yet, get involved and stay involved. Virginia needs our help now more than ever.

Senator Kiggans statement on Testing:
Many of you have asked my thoughts on COVID-19 testing, its availability, and prioritization of who to test. As you are all aware, there is a continued shortage of test kits available with the majority of ones in use reserved for symptomatic patients in acute care settings. There are a variety of reports out there documenting the actual number of tests available to states, and it’s difficult to get an accurate number as it varies depending on what you read. New tests with faster result times are in development along with antibody test kits, which may or may not prove immunity to COVID-19. Sentara now has an in-house COVID lab which is working up to processing 1000 tests per day with results in 24 to 48 hours. Many providers have been treating patients with probable mild COVID-like symptoms without official testing then giving them the same instructions as if they had had a positive test: quarantine and symptom management.

While we are still waiting for a plentiful and portable test kit supply to exist, it is not necessary to require people to have a negative test as a requirement to go back to work at this point. We should continue to prioritize testing for patients in acute care and hospital settings in order to dictate care with a close second priority going to testing all people who live in affected clusters such as nursing homes, jails, and shelters. We are all aware of the tragedies that have occurred in long-term care facilities around the country where the virus has been able to spread rapidly from asymptomatic staff and patients to infect an incredibly vulnerable population ultimately leading to death. The Canterbury Rehab and Healthcare Center in Richmond reported 49 deaths as of Friday with a total of 128 positive cases, more than half of which had been asymptomatic at the time of testing. Testing everyone in our nursing homes and jails allows staff to dictate care guidelines, separate residents who are positive and who are not, and empowers staff to prevent further spread to other communities.

Despite the development of antibody test kits, most virologists and epidemiologists claim that there is no evidence serological tests can show whether a person has immunity or is no longer at risk of becoming re-infected. Long story short, assume everyone (even yourself) is an asymptomatic carrier. Wear a mask, wash your hands, follow the CDC guidelines, and stay away from vulnerable populations. Get enough sleep, eat well, and get some exercise. Stay healthy so we can all get back to work and “normal life” as soon as possible!

COVID-19 Updates

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 24th, 11,594 positive cases have been reported here in Virginia. Additionally, we currently have 331 cases in Virginia Beach and 141 cases in Norfolk.

Unemployment Update:
Individuals are asked to file for Virginia Unemployment first and if denied to follow the steps below:

Any constituents who received a denial based on insufficient base period wages or no base period wages if they are self-employed, a 1099 filer, independent contractor or gig worker to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) by accessing this link: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/html/pua.html

Under the CARES Act if you can demonstrate an attachment to the workforce, you may be eligible for PUA if you meet one of the Covid-19 scenarios. 
A) The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
B) A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
C) The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
D) A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work.
E) The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
F) The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
G) The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
H) The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
I) The individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19. For example:An individual was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the individual no longer has COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that render the individual objectively unable to perform his or her essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
J) The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
K) The individual meets any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section.

The Secretary has determined that, in addition to individuals who qualify for benefits under the other criteria described above, an individual who works as an independent contractor with reportable income may also qualify for PUA benefits if he or she is unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited his or her ability to continue performing his or her customary work activities, and has thereby forced the individual to suspend such activities.For any self-attestation to one of the above conditions, you must have available proof if we ask for it and sign that you are knowingly committing fraud if you make a false statement.

CARES Act FAQ from U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.This link provides additional information for consumers, renters, homeowners, small business owners, investors and others who may have questions about how the CARES Act will benefit them.
Virtual VirginiaGovernor Northam announced a dramatic expansion of Virtual Virginia, the Virginia Department of Education’s existing online learning system, to allow every teacher in the Commonwealth to host virtual classes while schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. These resources include a platform that enables all Virginia public school teachers to share lessons and activities with their students through June 30. The full press release on this announcement can be found here.

Childcare for Essential WorkersGovernor Northam and First Lady Pam Northam announced $70 million from the CARES Act that will go towards childcare for essential personnel. Background on this funding can be found here.

Extension of Non-Essential Business ClosuresGovernor Northam announced that he is extending Executive Order 53 for an additional two weeks.

As a reminder, E.O. 53 ordered the closure of recreation and entertainment businesses, as well as personal care services. It also banned gatherings of more than 10 people. A full press release on the extension of the order can be 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