A major winter storm is moving across parts of our Commonwealth today. The Virginia Department of Transportation, Dominion, and other utilities have placed equipment on standby and are ready to respond to snow-covered roads and power outages.
Whenever we have severe storms it is usually best to stay home and avoid traveling if possible. If you do have an emergency, of course you can call 911.
I wanted to share several links that could be useful in the event the weather.
Contact information for reporting outages is below.
The 2021 General Assembly session has reached its halfway point, known as crossover. This is the point where the House and Senate complete work on bills originating from the respective chambers, and the successful bills “crossover” to the other chamber.
Debate on Repeal of the Death Penalty
On Thursday, House Democrats began their push to eliminate the death penalty in Virginia. The power of the state to take a human life isn’t something that we consider lightly. It is the ultimate punishment, and it can’t be taken back. That being said, there is a place for this sanction in cases where a killer has committed a truly heinous act or will be a danger to society or even his fellow inmates going forward. We spent a great deal of time on the floor arguing that we cannot and must not forget victims and their families in this debate.
Democrats insist that life in prison is enough to keep offenders locked up and protect our society. But given the number of convicted killers who received that very sentence but are now out on the streets thanks to our Parole Board, I have strong doubts that this is the case.
Repealing Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Virginia Democrats also began their final push to eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences for crimes in Virginia. As of now, someone who sells drugs to children, someone who commits a second offense involving child pornography, someone who uses a gun in the commission of a felony, and other crimes face a mandatory minimum sentence — a floor that a judge or jury can’t go below — if they’re found guilty.
Mandatory minimum laws are in place to prevent a runaway jury or judge from letting someone get away with a slap on the wrist. For example, in a famous case from California, a young man convicted of rape served only a few months in jail. Virginia has one of the lowest violent crime rates and rates of recidivism in the nation. Repealing our mandatory minimum laws will likely reverse that and lead to a less safe Virginia.
Legislation Leading to Forced Union Membership
One bright spot from this week was a spirited defense of Virginia’s Right to Work laws from an unexpected source: the Democratic majority. One House Democrat, a self-described socialist, attempted to force a vote on his bill which would have repealed Virginia’s Right to Work law. Had he been successful, Virginian’s would no longer have the freedom to work without the possibility of being forced to join a union.
But most Democrats, realizing the serious blow to Virginia’s economy this repeal would mean, joined Republicans to defeat the measure. For now, at least, Virginians can continue to work and choose to join a union, or not join a union, as they see fit.
Much of our attention this week was focused on Virginia’s effort to get the COVID vaccine out the door and into the arms of Virginians. Vaccine is moving from the Federal Government to Virginia, but the last mile — getting it out of the freezer and into arms — has been plagued with problems.
Thus far, the rollout has been a disaster. Our phone lines are jammed with people just like you, desperate for any sort of information about where and how to get the vaccine, or even how to get on a waiting list.
Unfortunately, Governor Northam and his team weren’t prepared for this phase of the pandemic. Other states, like West Virginia and Maryland, have done much better. I’ve heard of some citizens crossing state lines in an effort to bypass the local health departments.
Our local health districts are working as hard as they can, but they received practically no guidance from the Governor’s team, leaving them to stand up a mass vaccination program on their own.
Because of this failure of the Executive Branch, we are advancing legislation to try to address the situation. Unfortunately, legislative action by its nature is not as fast as executive action, but we are trying to get more vaccines to Virginians that want and need them!
The instant I have more news about how and when you can get vaccinated, I will share it with you.
Reopening of Schools
We’re also working hard to get our schools back open as soon as possible. The longer we go with schools closed or in virtual learning, the more we learn about the terrible impact it has on our children.
Stories come into my office every day from teachers and parents who see children languishing on Zoom calls for six hours a day. They’re not learning — they’re just existing. In Las Vegas, a rash of elementary school suicides prompted the district to reopen to help children fight depression.
In Virginia, we’ve seen poor children and children in minority communities fall behind at an unacceptable pace. Some children simply need face to face instruction to succeed, and all children deserve the chance to learn in person and be around other children.
That’s one reason I’m supporting a measure that will tie school funding to in-person education resuming. If schools aren’t going to teach our children, they shouldn’t get state funding. The science is clear — schools, with proper procedures in place, are safe for kids and teachers. And just this week we learned that having kids in school may actually slow the spread of COVID by keeping children out of environments with higher rates of transmission.
The clock is ticking, but we’re not going to stop until schools are open again.
The first full week of the General Assembly has come to an end, and I wanted to take just a moment to update you on what occurred this week in the House of Delegates.
Vaccine Distribution I’ve heard from many of you that you’re frustrated with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Rest assured, you’re not alone. My colleagues have heard the same thing. We’re working to get more information as quickly as we can, and we’re putting pressure on the Governor to come up with a plan that works.
Many of you have asked what’s gone wrong. As best we can tell at this time, the Governor’s team decided to use the Department of Health and local Health Districts to administer the vaccine in many cases. That’s just not a workable solution — local health departments don’t have the manpower or expertise to vaccinate that many people quickly.
That’s why we’re calling on the Governor to do two things: First, ship more vaccines to hospitals and other large health providers. They have the manpower and know-how to run large vaccination clinics. Second, we’re asking the governor to engage private sector expertise to help the process go faster.
The private sector understands complicated logistical challenges and solves them every day. The private sector knows how to do this. Governor Northam should ask them to help.
Our caucus met with the Governor’s vaccine leadership team on Thursday to try to get more information about what’s slowing down the process. Unfortunately, what we received were excuses. Governor Northam can’t explain why other states are doing a better job getting shots out of freezers and into arms.
Election Integrity On another front, I know many of you were frustrated with the way the 2020 Election was handled in Virginia, and in other states. A raft of changes made to election laws by Democrats in 2020 eroded the transparency in our system and left too many Virginians with less faith that our elections are free and fair.
Restoring confidence in our elections has been one of our biggest priorities this session. Working with my Republican colleagues, we have introduced legislation to require signature matching for those who cast absentee ballots. We’ve also put in bills that would bring back photo ID requirements for voting, and others that would make last minute instructions to registrars and other officials readily available to the public.
Other legislation we’ve put forward would put an end to late night absentee ballot “dumps” by counting those ballots ahead of time and reporting them in the precincts where they would have otherwise been cast. We’ve also put in legislation to require those ballots to be counted on video.
Democrats, unfortunately, have decided that there’s no room to improve our election laws, and are on track to kill all of these bills before they even make it to the floor for a vote. If they succeed, we will try again next year, hopefully with 51 Republican votes behind it.
Repeal of Mandatory Minimum Sentences The news on the public safety front isn’t much better. Democrats have filed their bill to remove mandatory minimum sentences for crimes ranging from drunken driving to the rape of a child. These sentences were put in place by the General Assembly for a reason — in some crimes, there must be a safeguard to ensure that these serious felonies receive adequate punishment.
Worse, this legislation would give many of these dangerous felons a chance to be re-sentenced. That would drag victims back before the courts for a second time, forcing them to relive the trauma they lived through, or to recount the loss of the loved one. I will oppose this bill.
We say it often, but it remains true: this is an unprecedented session of the General Assembly, and it presents unprecedented challenges. Nonetheless I remain committed to be your voice in Richmond
The 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly opened this week in Richmond. Unfortunately, the session is a ‘virtual’ one, not unlike the recently completed Special Session. Regardless, I am proud to be your voice in the House of Delegates.
Concerns that arose during the 2020 Special Session have not been addressed. Issues such as technical difficulties for both delegates and the public remain. On the first day, members of the public were unable to testify before a House subcommittee. As was the case during the 2020 Special Session, many bills are being rushed through by Democrats with little to no debate. I find this unacceptable and my staff and I continue to push for changes to provide more transparency.
Not all of the news coming from Richmond has been bad, though. Virginia has received roughly 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the two approved providers, and efforts to vaccinate as many Virginians as possible are ramping up.
Denise Bonds, MD, MPH Acting District Director Rappahannock Health District 1320 Central Park Blvd, Suite 300 Fredericksburg, VA 22401 firstname.lastname@example.org 540-899-4797 Office 540-785-3407 Fax
Wade Kartchner, MD, MPH District Director Rappahannock/Rapidan HD 98 Alexandria Pike, Suite 42 Warrenton, VA 20186 email@example.com 540-347-6363 Office 540-347-6373 Fax
Unfortunately, the efforts have been hampered by Governor Northam’s failure to prepare for this effort. Virginia ranks near the bottom in terms of vaccine distributed as a share of vaccines delivered. My office and I are keeping a close eye on the vaccination rollout and will keep you up to speed on new developments.
In the meantime, my Republican colleagues and I are fighting to safely reopen our schools for as many students as possible. The science and data has been consistently clear that not only is this virus not transmitted readily in safe school environments, the negative impacts on children who are learning remotely are serious. Students in lower income communities are falling behind, and we’re seeing an epidemic of failing grades all across Virginia,
We’re working every day to get schools open, and until then, get families the help they need to make up the difference for their children. House Republicans are once again supporting legislation that would take federal aid and use it to pay for things like tutoring, books, computers, or whatever parents need for their children. We also have legislation pending that would cap fees for students in college whose classes are virtual.
Our colleagues, sadly, don’t seem to be listening. They continue to support legislation that makes life easier for criminals and more difficult for crime victims and law enforcement. Rest assured, I am working to stop these destructive bills.
We’re also working to restore confidence in our elections. Democrats changed a number of rules last year that opened the door for doubts about election security. The more secure and transparent our elections are, the more people will trust the results.
That’s why we’re working to end policies that could allow for ballot harvesting, reinstating photo ID to vote, and interference with poll and count watching volunteers. None of these changes will make voting more difficult, and will instead shed light on what has been an opaque process.
As we look toward Inauguration Day, I would encourage everyone to stay away from Capitol Square until after January 20. Legislators have been briefed by the State Police about threats against the Capitol, and they are serious. Unlike the riots in Richmond over the summer, Governor Northam seems to be taking these threats seriously.
In the interim, let’s remember that we all live here together. A little grace goes a long way.