Veto Session Recap and COVID-19 Update

Last week, the General Assembly gathered for a historic Veto Session. to address the Governor's amendments to several bills, which can be found here. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and required social distancing, the Senate met at the Science Museum of Virginia, while the House met on the Capitol grounds. You can see a slide show of some of the more memorable images of the day from Virginia Mercury. Here are the highlights:
 
The Budget: All of the Governor's amendments freezing about $3 billion in new, discretionary spending across all agencies until revenues can be re-forecasted ,were adopted. This includes new funding for teacher raises, expanded pre-K access, increased provider rates for behavioral health services, overtime for personal care attendants, expanding Medicaid to provide coverage for new mothers for up to 12 months after delivery, adult dental benefits, and enhanced behavioral health services. I am hopeful we will be able to unfreeze these important priorities once the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic becomes more clear. 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.


May Elections: The Senate failed to adopt the Governor's proposal to move the May 5th local and special elections to November. I support delaying the elections to allow more time for people to vote and work the polls without having to worry about their safety. However, because moving the elections to November would constitute a new election, thousands of absentee ballots already cast would be discarded. Many of us would have preferred pushing the elections to June and providing for a more robust vote by mail program. But, we were unable to get a 2/3 vote of each house to call a special session while we were all gathered together last week. As a result, the Governor has issued an Executive Order postponing the elections to May 19th.   
  

Minimum Wage: Due to its fiscal impact on the state and local governments, the legislature reluctantly adopted the Governor's amendment delaying the increase in minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $9.50 per hour to May 1, 2021. The remaining increases will be on schedule, reaching $12 per hour by 2023. If the General Assembly re-enacts portions of the bill in 2024, minimum wage will increase to $15 by 2026.  
 

Early Release of Inmates and Parole: In an effort to mitigate the risk of spreading coronavirus among the state prison population and staff, we adopted the Governor's amendment authorizing the Department of Corrections to release or move to a lower level of supervision inmates with one year or less left on their sentence if they have demonstrated good behavior and are not a threat to public safety. We also adopted the Governor's amendment adding an emergency clause to my SB 793 and its companion HB 33 making "Fishback" defendants eligible for parole.  Those bills took effect April 22nd.


Eviction/Foreclosure Relief: We adopted the Governor's amendment adding an emergency clause to HB 1420 capping interest rates for late rent payments at 10 percent. We also adopted the Governor's amendments to HB 340  extended the designed eviction relief to furloughed federal employees to all renters impacted by the current pandemic. The amendments prevent eviction lawsuits from being heard for at least two months after state courts re-open and stay any foreclosure proceedings for 30-days. Renters and homeowners seeking the relief must demonstrate loss of income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both bills take effect April 22nd.


Predatory Lending Reform: We adopted the Governor's amendment to SB 421 and HB 789 to move the effective date from July 1, 2021 to January 1, 2021. These bills cap interest rates on payday loans at 36 percent, something we have tried to do for at least 15 years. I am proud to be a chief co-patron of the Senate bill. 

 

COVID-19 Updates 


Last week Governor Northam took a number of actions related to the COVID-19 crisis. 


Health-Related Actions: First, Governor Northam extended the ban on elective surgeries until May 1. You can read a Frequently Asked Questions guide on the order here. The Governor also amended Executive Order 57 to allow licensed physician's assistants with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement. Finally, acting on authority granted by the General Assembly during the Veto Session, the Governor signed Executive Order 58 to make it easier for Medicaid recipients to access medical care amid the current public health crisis by eliminating co-pays for FAMIS recipients; ensuring Medicaid recipients can obtain replacements for prosthetics, orthotics, and other durable medical equipment that are lost or damages without in-person verification or paperwork; and allowing personal care and companion providers to work for up to 60 days while background checks are performed. 

 
DMV Transactions: The Governor also extended the closure of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices until May 11th and extended the validity of driver's licenses and vehicle credentials that were due to expire through July 31st. You can read the revised directive here. Driver's licenses and vehicle registration renewals can be done online at DMV.virginia.gov.

 
Planning for Easing Health Restrictions: Finally, the Governor unveiled the Forward Virginia Blueprint outlining a phased approach to easing public health restrictions grounded in the CDC's guidelines. The Blueprint includes specific goals to contain the spread of the virus through increased testing, personal protective equipment and supplies, and medical capacity. Phase One will include continued social distancing, teleworking, limits on travel and public gatherings, and recommendations for face coverings. Phase One will begin once Virginia sees a 14-day downward trend in confirmed COVID-19 cases, among other factors. Any easing of restrictions will be informed by data, health experts, state and local officials and stakeholders, and the Commonwealth's COVID-19 Business Task Force, which the Governor appointed last week. Consisting of a diverse group of representatives from Virginia industries, scales, geographies, and backgrounds across the Commonwealth, the Task Force will provide advice and guidance to the Cabinet on a safe, responsible strategy for easing restrictions on businesses and individuals. The Task Force includes representatives from restaurants, breweries, wineries, small and large retailers, fitness centers, hair salons, barber shops, spas and estheticians, museums, hospitality groups, campgrounds, and entertainment venues.  

In the Community: Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund

 

The Community Foundation and the Emergency Management Alliance of Central Virginia have partnered to provide rapid support to meet the needs of those Richmond-area individuals and families most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund has provided grants to  support organizations and public agencies providing health care, housing, food access, childcare and senior care services in response to the pandemic.  Over $1.8 million  has already been awarded to 46 organizations through April 21, 2020.

To donate or volunteer, visit here

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