Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. The first Monday in September is a federal holiday designated to recognize American workers. There’s no question we owe a lot to the front line who have kept us going during these challenging times. The declining unemployment rate is good news on the road to recovery and getting families on more steady ground.

Public schools, colleges, and universities have opened their doors. Many businesses have adopted a hybrid work plan for employees. Commutes are getting longer. Metro is a safe option after many months of renovations.

On Sept. 11, we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the most heinous attack within our nation’s shores. The visions of that day are permanently embedded in our minds. We recall the shock and great sorrow of deep loss. At the same time, we saw unconditional bravery and selflessness. Out of the ashes, we rebuilt and remembered what a united country can achieve.

Since taking office, President Biden has led the nation in the effort to achieve herd immunity. Going into summer, we thought that masks would have been history but the Delta variant is generating yet another surge. This virus has been merciless and humbling. Covid-19 has attacked all ages and ethnic groups. It is finding enough unvaccinated victims to mutate and spread. The debate continues over the merits of following CDC guidelines that include wearing masks indoors at work and school. Being highly transmissible, it makes sense to follow the proven effective protocols to minimize exposure and transmission. After 18 months of unprecedented hospitalizations and deaths, it’s time to embrace the science and data going into the traditional flu season, period.

2020 presented serious challenges to learning. Our elementary and middle school kids have suffered in many ways from this pandemic, and learning loss is at the top of that notorious list. From an academic standpoint, the Department of Education has released performance results from the Standards of Learning tests. Student performance in reading, math, and science has dropped significantly.

Last month, we met for another special session to revisit the budget and disburse American Rescue Plan Act funds. Of note, funding was allocated to keep kids and their teachers safe and address learning loss. I strongly supported this action, which is more than wishful thinking.

The US evacuation from Afghanistan is now complete. Northern Virginia is providing support to Afghan refugees fleeing the war-torn country. The Dulles Expo Center is serving as the site where refugees stay for a day, on average, before heading to their next destination. There are numerous religious-based social services groups helping these refugees resettle. Personal care and food donations are needed.

Virginia is heading into the final lap for the Nov. 2 statewide elections. Through the efforts of the current Democratic trifecta, Virginians have options without voter suppression hurdles. In-person early voting begins on Sept. 17 at local registrar offices. Acceptable forms of identification must be presented at the time of voting. Absentee voting does not require an excuse. Applications for ballots can be done online at the State Board of Elections website.

Another legislative plus is the ban on weapons in polling places. Imagine that — elections without intimidation or “acceptable excuses.” I am supporting the Democratic ticket that includes Terry McAuliffe, Hala Ayala, and Mark Herring. I’ve served under Governor McAuliffe and with both Mark Herring and Del. Ayala. Under Terry’s leadership, we enjoyed a robust economy, set the stage for providing access to affordable healthcare for hundreds of thousands Virginians, and started serious gun violence prevention initiatives. We know what this team is about and capable of doing.

The census data has finally been released. The Commonwealth’s population is shifting to the “golden crescent” of Northern Virginia, Greater Richmond, the Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach areas with a decrease in rural communities. The Redistricting Commission is on a fast track to provide new maps for legislative and congressional districts. They recently voted to scrap the old maps and start with a clean slate. The maps will need to be approved by the General Assembly. That could prove to be the bigger challenge in this process.

Best of luck to all of our young scholars as they return to the classroom this month.

Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.