This past weekend we welcomed the year 2022 with open arms and the hope for better days ahead. Once again, Mother Nature took control with a powerful snowstorm that followed balmy weather that started the New Year. Due to the volume of precipitation, the number of wrecks, and the intensity of the storm, VDOT could not do its job effectively. This comes as no consolation for thousands of travelers trying to get ahead of the weather by driving directly into the bullseye of the storm. It was a brutal start of the year. Is there any doubt climate change is affecting our planet?
The Covid-19 pandemic is surging with its highly transmissible Omicron variant. To date, Virginia has seen more than 1.1 million cases and sadly lost more than 15,000 individuals. More than 78% of adults in the Commonwealth are vaccinated against the virus and more than two million have received a booster shot. Additionally, 50%+ of 5 to 17-year-olds are vaccinated. Despite the contagiousness of the new variant, deaths from the virus are still well below peak numbers in February and March 2021.
January 6, 2021 marks the infamous anniversary of a heinous attack on our democracy. Mob violence inspired by the loser of the presidential election, perpetrated a barbaric assault at the US Capitol. This brutal attack threatened the Vice President, members of Congress, as well as resulted in numerous deaths of Capitol Police that were beaten and outnumbered until reinforcements were sent to reclaim the Capitol. Rising to its Constitutional duty, Congress was able to certify the election of President Joe Biden.
Last November 2, Virginians cast their ballots in races for the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and House of Delegates. On January 15, Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Myares will take their oaths of office at the Virginia Capitol. By contrast, this inauguration will follow tradition with members from both sides of the aisle escorting the governor-elect to the ceremony. It will be a seamless transition of power from Governor Northam and his Administration. Once again, Virginia, the cradle of democracy will show the nation what the founding fathers envisioned with fair elections.
The year 2022 marks the enactment of additional laws here in the Commonwealth and in the 35th District. The minimum wage in Virginia increased to $11/hour on January 1 thanks to work by Democrats in the VA House and Senate. The rate will increase again on January 1, 2023 to $12/hour.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2022 through Jan. 1, 2025 car insurance liability policies will cover more in cases of bodily injury or death. Liability insurance will now cover $30,000 when one person is injured or killed instead of $25,000. In cases involving two people, coverage goes from $50,000 to $60,000.
Starting January 1, Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria began to impose a 5-cent tax per disposable plastic bag used at retail establishments and grocery stores. This nation uses 100 billion plastic bags a year, each of which takes 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill. The environmental toll is severe and the solution is easy… reusable and durable bags as well as easily-recyclable paper bags. The tax starts April 1 in the City of Falls Church.
Looking ahead to the upcoming General Assembly, nurturing our economic comeback and keeping Virginia the best place to do business remain top priorities of mine. The health and well-being of businesses directly correlates to putting food on the table for Virginians. Covid-19 has certainly left its mark on the workplace demonstrating a need to revisit paid leave for working families, worker’s compensation guidelines, and worker protections.
Key elements of public education will be front and center in 2022. The workforce of the future will require different skills and certifications and is likely to morph due to a shrinking pool of workers. I remain steadfast in providing the support needed to fill that critical pipeline that best positions Virginians.
It is widely rumored attempts may be made to roll back some of the progress made in areas of the environment, women’s reproductive rights, and the election process. Virginia has taken great strides enabling voter participation and ensuring safe and secure elections in the previous legislative sessions. I will lead the fight to protect these past legislative gains.
I am sure there will be no shortage of hot button issues during session. As Majority Leader, I will do my part to ensure a civil and democratic review of the things that matter most to Virginians.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]