General Assembly and COVID-19 Update

It seems like forever since the 2020 Virginia General Assembly Session adjourned just over a month ago. In the 30 days after we adjourned in the midst of navigating this pandemic, the Governor took action on 1,291 bills. We need some good news.  And by the deadline on April 11th, the Governor signed quite a few historic bills:
  • Gun Safety Legislation, including legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, enacting an Extreme Risk Protective Order, mandating reporting of lost and stolen firearms, preventing children from accessing firearms, and reinstating Virginia's one-handgun-a-month policy.
  • The Reproductive Health Protection Act, which I sponsored in the Senate, repeals medically-unnecessary restrictions on women's healthcare such as the mandatory ultrasound law  and 24-hour waiting period and "TRAP" restrictions on women's health centers. 
  • The Virginia Values Act, making Virginia the first state in the South to enact comprehensive protections for the LGBTQ community against discrimination in housing, employment, public spaces, and credit applications. This bill incorporated my SB 66 prohibiting housing discrimination. 
  • Historic Justice, Equity Legislation that repeals racist and discriminatory language from Virginia's Acts of Assembly, give localities the ability to remove or alter Confederate monuments in their communities, and begin the process of replacing Virginia's statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the United States Capitol. This includes my SB 722 repealing the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and other racist laws of general application.
  • Criminal Justice Reform Measures, including raising the felony larceny threshold to $1,000 (my SB 788); permanently eliminating driver's license suspensions for unpaid fines, fees, and court costs; raising the age of juvenile transfer to adult court; and reforming parole.
  • New Laws to Support Virginia Workers including legislation to combat worker misclassification and wage theft, ban workplace discrimination, and prohibit non-compete covenants for low-wage workers. This includes my Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, which makes Virginia the 28th state to extent worker protections to pregnant women and new mothers by prohibiting pregnancy discrimination, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth, and creating a private cause of action for workplace pregnancy discrimination, and my Domestic Workers Bill that now entitles domestic workers to minimum wage protections ( more info on this bill below). 
In addition, the Governor proposed several amendments to bills, which can be found here. These include amendments to two of my bills:
  • Adding an emergency clause to SB 793 making "Fishback" defendants eligible for parole so that it takes effect upon signing; and
  • A technical amendment to my SB 717 establishing redistricting criteria to facilitate collection of prison population data for redistricting purposes.     
Because it will take some time to know the full economic impacts of COVID-19, the Governor has proposed amendments to the budget to freeze new, discretionary spending across all agencies until revenues can be re-forecasted. You can see the Governor's proposed  amendments to the current fiscal year budget here and to the biennial budget begging July 1, 2020 here.
 
The Senate will reconvene at the Science Museum of Virginia to vote on the Governor's actions at noon on April 22nd. The House will reconvene on the Capitol grounds. VPM's Ben Paviour shares details here.

 

 

COVID-19 Updates 


Last week Governor Northam, researchers from the University of Virginia's Biocomplexity Institute, and the nonprofit RAND Corporation released new infectious disease modeling on the impact of COVID-19 mitigations in Virginia. Current models show that social distancing efforts beginning in mid-March outlined in the Governor's Executive Orders have paused the growth of the COVID-19 epidemic. While the data is limited, we can draw a few key conclusions:
  • First, social distancing is important, and it's working in Virginia.
  • Second, while we continue to work closely with our hospital systems and other health care partners to prepare for a potential surge in acute cases, we are optimistic about our statewide hospital bed capacity.
  • Finally, lifting social distancing restrictions too soon can quickly lead to a second wave.
The Administration is using these models to help prepare for how we can move forward in a way that does not trigger another medical surge. 

To that end, the Governor has extended 
Executive Order Fifty-Three through Friday, May 8, 2020. This is the order that bans crowds of more than 10 people; closes recreation, entertainment, and personal care businesses; and limits restaurants to offering takeout and delivery services only.  Executive Order Fifty-Five, the Stay-at-Home order directing Virginians to stay home unless they must leave for essential services, remains in effect until June 10. A Frequently Asked Questions guide about Virginia's Stay at Home order can be found 

The Governor also signed Executive Order Fifty-Seven
allowing physicians offices and other health care facilities licensed outside of Virginia to provide in-state care.  The order also allows Virginia-licensed nurse practitioners with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement; provides additional flexibility to hospitals in the supervision of interns, residents, and fellows; allows hospitals to use fourth year medical students in the provision of care; and allows out-of-state physicians who have current Virginia patients to continue to treat their patients via telehealth. 
 
In addition, the State Corporation Commission has extended its order prohibiting disconnections of electricity, gas, water and sewer utility services during the  coronavirus public health emergency until June 14, 2020.

In the Community: Support for Domestic Workers

 

My mom, aunts, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all  domestic workers for white families in segregated Mississippi. As Mom tells it, that's all they could do. As elsewhere in the South, employment options for Blacks-especially Black women-were limited. And as I explained in this op-ed, for over 400 years, the American economy has been built on the backs of domestic workers, yet worker protection laws at the state and federal level excluded domestic works.  As a result, domestic workers are excluded from minimum wage, unemployment compensation, and workers compensation laws and have no remedies for workplace harassment and discrimination or nonpayment of wages. Without these protections, many workers tolerate low or no pay and abusive situations. 

Last week, the Governor signed my SB 804 making Virginia the first Southern state to begin extending worker protections to domestic workers. My SB 804 eliminates the domestic worker exemption from Virginia's Minimum Wage Act and creates a working group to study and make recommendations on how to extend other employment protections to domestic workers. 

In the meantime, domestic workers are on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus. And they need out help. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 17% of domestic workers live in poverty.  In 2018, the national median annual salary for domestic workers was $18,720, but it could go as low as $14,976 among house cleaners.

That's why the National Domestic Workers Alliance launched the Coronavirus Care Fund to provide emergency assistance to domestic workers in need.

My staff and I continue to monitor events and will share updates as they become available. Although our offices are closed, our team is still working remotely. As always, you may contact us at (804) 698-7509 or district09@senate.virginia.govYou can also stay informed about General Assembly activities and the latest coronavirus updated by following me on Twitterliking my Facebook page, and following me on Instagram
 
Sincerely,
Signature
Jennifer L. McClellan
Senate of Virginia, 9th District