Summer is in full swing with a totally different experience than the summer of 2020. Our region has reached its vaccination goal of over 70 percent of the population with at least one dose. While the debate continues and some people have reservations about getting vaccinated, it is hard to argue with the results of the past six months since the vaccine became available.
Governor Northam has rescinded many of the Executive Orders that guided us through the worst of the pandemic. Through his leadership, we managed our way through the darkest days of Covid-19 and minimized the destruction it caused. With the end of the State of Emergency, in-person governing will be back, shelving the virtual meetings and floor sessions. The Capitol is open and will once again welcome visitors. State offices will also open to the public for in-person business.
The influx of federal funds has made it necessary to revisit the Commonwealth’s budget. The General Assembly will go into a Special Session on Aug. 2. The purpose will be narrowed to allocating nearly $4.3 billion in federal funds to localities and reallocating unplanned surpluses in our current budget. During that time, we will also make judicial appointments including those toward expanding the Appellate Court by six justices.
Businesses are beginning to reopen and many people will be expected to return to their offices. No doubt we are likely to see a new work week with more flexibility in some industries. Metro has been gearing up and is now operating a fuller schedule. Safety protocols are in place and Virginians are encouraged to get back on the train.
With the temperatures rising and hurricane season on the radar, it is hard to think about the fall, which typically brings with it another flu season. We remain focused on getting our kids safely back into their classrooms. Most colleges will require proof of vaccination as the academic year begins. Several health care providers like INOVA are requiring vaccinations for their employees.
July 1 is the traditional enactment day for most new legislation. More than 500 bills have become law including the legalization of recreational marijuana. There are still numerous details to work through and this initiative is guaranteed to be revisited by lawmakers. Federal law still prohibits possession. Equally significant was the abolishment of the death penalty in Virginia. I voted for the repeal and believe we have the safeguards in place to keep the most heinous offenders off the streets.
SB 1405 (Chief Patron Saslaw), “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” was a measure that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The G3 requires community colleges to provide financial assistance for certain low to middle income Virginia students enrolled in high-demand fields. This is a pathway to the future and cannot be undervalued in Rebuild Virginia.
State employees and state-supported local employees such as sheriff’s deputies, college and university faculty and employees, as well as teachers will soon receive a 5 percent raise. State troopers will receive an additional 3 percent plus compensation for each year of service. We are looking at nearly a third of vacancies within that agency. Virginia must do better in its efforts to attract and retain the best employees.
Chipping away at gun violence, new legislation will prevent individuals convicted of domestic violence from purchasing or possessing a gun for three years. Additionally, guns will be banned from the Capitol, its grounds, and state buildings. Only law enforcement will be permitted to carry a weapon into a polling place on Election Day. Further voting rights measures include prepaid postage for absentee ballots and designated local drop-off boxes for ballots.
Worker’s compensation laws were amended to take into account Covid-19 related death or disability as an occupational disease for health care providers. I carried a measure (SB 1375) that addresses the issue for first responders.
When the economy came to a screeching halt, the Virginia Employment Commission was grossly understaffed and ill-prepared to handle the tsunami of claims from workers that lost their jobs. There is still a backlog for the outstanding claims and payments. Concerns over PUA funds past due should not discourage employees from getting back into the workforce.
These are a few of the highlights of laws signed by Governor Northam. For a deeper dive, please visit the Virginia Legislature’s website. Have a safe summer and happy Fourth of July!