November has been a busy month, and it’s not even over yet! In this newsletter, we’ll recap the end of the special legislative session, review the Governor’s latest update regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and cover some local news.
Special Session Recap
At the start of this month, the General Assembly reconvened to consider the Governor’s proposed amendments to several pieces of legislation, including the state budget. After voting on the Governor’s recommendations, we officially concluded the special legislative session. This special session was unlike any other session I’ve participated in, and I’m proud of what we accomplished. We passed legislation to ensure that all of Virginia’s voters could safely participate in this November’s election; legislation to help renters harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic; and legislation to reform our criminal justice and policing systems.
Relief for Renters
During the special session, we passed budget language to prevent evictions for non-payment of rent through December 31st. Until then, a landlord can only begin eviction proceedings if a tenant refuses to cooperate with their landlord and apply for rental assistance through the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. Beginning on January 1, 2021, a landlord can only proceed with eviction after working with their tenant to apply for rental assistance. This legislation puts into place a stronger system than what exists under current federal protections.
Criminal Justice and Policing Reform
The special session was called in part to address the need for reform in our justice system. Although there’s still work to be done, we made important progress during the special session. Here are some of the reforms that we passed:
- HB5043SB5038 establishes a “Marcus Alert” system that will deploy mental health crisis response teams along with police to respond to mental health emergencies. Through this system, the primary response to mental health emergencies will be a behavioral health response, not a law enforcement response.
- HB5055SB5035 allows local governments to establish civilian review boards (CRB). The legislation outlines various powers that localities may give their CRBs, including the ability to investigate and issue findings on civilian complaints regarding officer conduct, and investigate and issue findings on use of force incidents.
- HB5104 improves information sharing between law enforcement agencies during the hiring process. The legislation ensures that information involving misconduct and excessive use of force, will be shared with any prospective law enforcement employers.
- SB5030 establishes a duty to intervene for law enforcement officers; establishes minimum statewide training standards, to include de-escalation training, for all law enforcement officers; prohibits the use of no-knock warrants; requires law enforcement officers to exhaust all other means before resorting to the use of deadly force; significantly limits the use of chokeholds; expands the decertification procedures for law enforcement officers, and expands law enforcement data collection requirements on motor vehicle stops.
- HB5062SB5033 carried by myself and Senator Scott Surovell, ensures that Commonwealth’s Attorneys have the ability to dismiss charges when they find it to be in the best interest of the community and cannot be overruled by a judge, unless there’s evidence of bribery or bias. Our Commonwealth’s Attorneys are elected by, and answer to, the public. That’s why they should be the ones able to make this decision, not an unelected judge.
You can find the full list of legislation passed during the special session, here
Earlier this week, the Governor signed the budget we passed during the special session. As you may remember, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the General Assembly to revise the budget we passed earlier this year during the 2020 regular session and hit pause on most of the new spending priorities. The budget we passed during the 2020 special session addresses the most urgent needs of our Commonwealth, while remaining fiscally responsible. Most of the new spending in this budget comes from the CARES Act relief bill passed by Congress earlier this year.
The budget we passed includes investments in our health care systems to protect the most vulnerable Virginians; more than $200 million for our K-12 schools to help them address COVID-19-related expenses; $30 million for broadband infrastructure projects; a moratorium on evictions through December 31st while also investing in the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program and the Virginia Housing Trust fund, and more. This summary from the Commonwealth Institute is a great resource to help understand key parts of the final budget, as well as how the budget changed throughout the legislative process. You can find the complete budget, here
Governor’s Announcements on the COVID-19 Pandemic
Amid record high numbers of COVID-19 cases, Governor Northam announced last week that Virginia will take additional steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The following measures took effect last Sunday at midnight:
- All public and private social gatherings must be limited to 25 people, down from the old cap of 250. This includes both indoor and outdoor settings.
- The mask mandate has been expanded to apply to all Virginians aged 5 or over
- All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must now follow statewide guidelines for social distancing, mask wearing, and enhanced cleaning
- An alcohol curfew of 10 PM in all restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, and other dining establishments.
I encourage you to read the press release regarding this announcement and the amended Executive Orders if you have any questions. You can find the full news release outlining these new measures here. You can find the full text of amended Executive Order 63 here and amended Executive Order 67 here. The Governor also explained these new measures during his press briefing earlier this week, he starts to discuss these measures around the 5:30 mark
We’re seeing record high numbers of COVID-19 cases here in Virginia. If we want to protect our communities, then we have to follow the guidelines that we know work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Please wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid group gatherings, and practice social distancing. Following these basic precautions is the best thing we can do to protect those around us. I also strongly encourage you to download the COVIDWISE app. The app alerts you if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and lets you share that information with others, while remaining anonymous. COVIDWISE is a great tool that will help you protect yourself and those around you.
Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Groundbreaking
On October 29th, we officially broke ground on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Expansion Project. The expansion will add two new tunnels underwater to add four additional lanes and bring the total number of lanes to eight. When the expansion is complete, it will increase the capacity of the HRBT, reduce congestion, and make travel times more reliable. The groundbreaking was certainly an exciting day for our region!
Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign Kick-Off
I had a great time participating in the Williamsburg Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign kick-off last weekend. The money raised through the Red Kettle Campaign goes right back into our community to help those in need. Keep an eye out for Red Kettles and their accompanying bell ringers (who will be wearing masks and following safety guidelines) around the Williamsburg area. The Salvation Army is also running a virtual Red Kettle Challenge this year that you can learn more about here
We’ve got less than two months until the start of the regular legislative session on January 13th, so it’s full steam ahead as we work to get everything ready. I’ll keep you up to date on any and all developments as we get closer to January. Until then, be safe and be well.
Michael P. Mullin