8/25/20 Facts from the Floor: Special Session Edition

August 25, 2020
Dear Friend,

We’re back! The Senate reported for work at noon last Wednesday and dug right in to doing the work of the people to debate and vote on bills related to the budget, criminal justice reform, and COVID-19 issues. Or so we thought. There have been over 200 bills submitted so far for this special session which is now predicted to be at least three weeks long. The first week was off to a rough start…. The House left Richmond after a few hours and decided to work virtually from home (raising a whole host of logistical questions and accountability issues- plus they continued to collect per diem $210/day while at home). The rules for the House and Senate were never agreed upon so many legislators have filed more than 3 bills and many do not deal with the issues defined by the special session. Public comment on bills in committee was taken virtually but many who signed up to speak had technical issues and were not heard. Also of note, our morning prayer which we say after the Pledge of Allegiance has been turned into a “moment of silence” at a time when prayer is more important than ever.

The Science Museum was the same set up as the veto session we held in May. We were spaced about ten feet apart, we had hand sanitizer at each desk, and we were required to wear masks all day. We now have TWO senators in plexi-glass boxes who have health issues and do not wear masks. Interestingly, there were very few press in the room with us as we started this session. Normally, the press sits in a certain area and types away all day while bills are debated and voted on. I’m not sure if they are waiting until we begin the floor session or if they are just afraid to report on all the bad bills out there.

This past week we began the discussion of criminal justice reform. There was much debate between the two parties with Democrats continually pushing for rights of criminals while Republicans continually advocated and defended victims’ rights. Although I do not sit on the Judiciary Committee, I know they have started hearing bills and voting on which ones will make it to the floor of the Senate. A few of the bills they heard this past week include:

–     SB 5010 (Norment- R): Increases the penalty for committing an assault or an assault and battery against a judge, lawyer, law enforcement officer, EMS, or firefighter from a Class 6 felony with a mandatory term of confinement of six months to a Class 5 felony with a mandatory term of confinement of one year. The bill also provides that if such violation occurs during a state of emergency then such person is guilty of a Class 3 felony with a mandatory term of confinement of two years. This bill failed out of committee along a party line vote of 9 (D)- 6(R).

–     SB 5032 (Surrovell-D): Eliminates the mandatory minimum term of confinement for an assault and battery committed against a judge, lawyer, law enforcement officer, EMS, or firefighter and provides that such crime can no longer be committed as a simple assault and must result in a bodily injury. This bill passed out of committee along a party line vote of 9 (D)-5 (R).

–     SB 5035 (Hashmi-D): Establish law enforcement citizen review board (https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?202+sum+SB5035). This bill passed out of committee along party line vote of 8(D)- 5 (R).

There were several bills to hear in Education and Health including my school nurse bill (see below) and nursing home isolation bill (see picture below). Both of these bills passed out of committee with the school nurse bill headed to the Senate Finance Committee where it will be up to the committee (& Governor) if he wants to prioritize spending for school nurses or not. My nursing home bill addresses the isolation we have placed on our residents in these communities and requires long-term care facilities to provide once/week visits either virtually or socially distant in person with a family member or loved one (following CDC & facility guidelines). The nursing home bill will move to the floor of the Senate to be voted on hopefully this week. Other bills which moved through the committee included a bill for transparency in communicable disease reporting at nursing homes, expansion of tele-health services, and paid sick leave up to 14 days for teachers exposed to COVID-19 (sent to the Senate Finance Committee). Bills that failed included school vouchers, requiring schools to give students technology devices and internet service if virtual learning is required, and making community college dual enrollment courses for students in grades 11 and 12 available through the Virtual Virginia program.

Including my bill (SB 5022), there were four Senators who presented bills to expand worker’s compensation to cover law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders exposed to COVID-19. When more than one legislator has the same idea for a bill, they are all rolled into one bill with normally the senior lawmaker retaining the bill number and authorship. My bill was, therefore, rolled into Senator Saslaw’s SB 5066 and I became chief co-patron. This bill passed out of committee 12-3 and moves to the Senate Finance Committee for debate and a vote before getting to the floor of the Senate. The bill was also expanded to cover healthcare workers and correctional officers.

The list goes on and on but the last bill I’ll mention is SB 5120 which allocates $2,000,000 to spend on stamps for pre-paid absentee ballots for this year’s November election. This bill passed out of the Senate Finance committee yesterday on a party line vote of 11(D) – 5 (R ). Apparently of all the spending priorities in Virginia, this one is at the forefront for the Democrats (not education, healthcare, roads, etc.). In short, your taxes are paying for absentee ballot stamps for everyone. The bill also states that the general registrar must notify the absentee voter of any ballot errors within three days of such finding. The absentee voter then shall be entitled to make necessary corrections before noon on the third day AFTER the election and his ballot shall be counted. Absentee ballots may now be returned via mail, in person to registrar, or to a “drop-off” location (which is new and unprecedented for Virginia). Check out the bill here: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?202+sum+SB5120

All the bills I discussed above are beginning their journey and moving through the Senate committee process. They will still need to be voted on by all 40 Senators on the floor of the Senate. Then the bills will need to go to the House committees then House floor then sent to the Governor’s desk for signing before becoming actual laws. I will be sure to keep you posted on their outcome!

If you remember nothing else, remember these two things: 1- the media is selective and is powerful. Make sure you are getting the whole story from an unbiased source every time. 2- Elections have consequences. Where do your priorities align? It is a numbers game up there and there is a unilateral Democratic majority in each lawmaking body in our Commonwealth. This is not good representative government in my opinion and it needs to change. 2021 and 2023 are coming. Vote!
Take care,JenFacebook Updates from Special Session

First Day Back (8/18)And we’re back…. off to a slow start discussing rules and procedures…. #SpecialSession2020

House of Delegates (8/18)Here is a picture of where the House of Delegates met today (VCU Siegel Center). What you need to know is that while the Senate sat and held committeee meetings in person at the Science Museum in Richmond, the House majority voted today to go home and conduct the special session 2020 via Zoom while legislators are paid tax-free per diem ($210/day) from their homes without the need for travel, food, or lodging. I’m not a lawyer but that just doesn’t sound right….!

Click Here to Read News ArticleSchool Nurse Bill (SB5004) (8/19)* Big news! SB5004 – my school nurse bill- was passed by the Health and Education committee! It now heads to Finance committee to be heard. I’m thankful for all the support from both sides of the aisle that we have received for this bill!

Nursing Home Visitation (SB5042) (8/19)* A bill very important to me passed out of Education & Health committee … my bill, SB5042, requires nursing homes to allow virtual or socially distant caregiver visits at a minimum of once per week and to communicate the visitor policy in writing for families. Being able to advocate for our older adults is an honor and I am proud to be their voice! Thank you to all of you who spoke in support of my bill today. It will go to the floor of the Senate in a few days. Please email or call you representatives to continue to support it!

Click Here to Read News ArticleCriminal Justice Reform (8/20)At the end of each day of session, we make time for “Points of Personal Privilege” where any senator can stand and speak their opinion on any subject for as long as they’d like.Last week’s Personal Privilege time was filled with an unscheduled (almost hour long) debate between Democrats defending criminal justice reform and Republicans defending victims rights.
There are many bills (some good but many bad) concerning police and criminal justice reform that are beginning to be heard in committee meetings this week.
Check them out here:https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?202+sbj+SBJ
Click here to watch session:http://virginia-senate.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=3

Election Reform (8/21)What would you do with $2,000,000?! Virginia will be spending that much on prepaid postage for absentee ballots this November if SB 5120 passes in special session. The bill also states that the general registrar must notify the absentee voter of any ballot errors within three days of such finding.
The absentee voter then shall be entitled to make necessary corrections before noon on the third day AFTER the election and his ballot shall be counted. Absentee ballots may now be returned via mail, in person to registrar, or to a “drop-off” location.