2020 has finally come to an end. As we journey together into this new year, let’s continue to lead with compassion and empathy towards our neighbors in HD-93 and our fellow Virginians throughout the Commonwealth. To ring in the new year, I thought I would provide you with a brief overview of the things we accomplished in 2020, Virginia’s COVID-19 response and the vaccine, as well as our plans for the upcoming legislative session.
2020 Regular Session & Special Session Recap
During the 2020 regular session, the General Assembly passed 828 bills – a 37% increase over the 2019 legislative session. Together, we raised the Virginia minimum wage, implemented universal background checks for all prospective gun owners, decriminalized marijuana, and ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Several of my own bills also passed this session including:
- HB 256: Focuses on ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
- HB 475: Provides increased services to survivors of sexual assault.
- HB 1004: Ensures that people subject to a protective order do not have access to a firearm.
Our work did not end in March. In August, Governor Northam called a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and criminal justice reform. To combat the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the General Assembly worked in partnership with the Governor’s Office to allocate funds received through the federal CARES Act. These funds will be used to support a plethora of programs including $12 million to expand the rent and mortgage relief program, $120 million to assist small businesses and nonprofits through the Rebuild VA economic recovery fund, and $30 million to help unemployed Virginians receive training in high demand fields
Beyond COVID relief, our other large focus during the special session was criminal justice reform. We came in with an ambitious agenda and I am proud of the final bills we were able to pass. During the special session, bills banning no-knock warrants, limiting the use of choke-holds, and establishing minimum training standards for all police officers in the Commonwealth of Virginia all passed. My bill (HB 5062) to give Commonwealth’s Attorneys increased ability to dismiss charges when they find it to be in the best interests of the community also passed. All of these reforms were long overdue and I hope that we build upon our work by continuing to address criminal justice reform in the upcoming 2021 regular session.
New laws in effect on January 1, 2021
The start of the new year means that several new laws have gone into effect in Virginia. These include:
- No more holding a cellphone while driving: Police will begin enforcing the law banning the use of cell phones while driving. A first offense will get you a fine of $125 and that will get bumped up to $250 for subsequent offenses. So please, don’t text and drive!
- Limits on the cost of insulin: This legislation prohibits health insurance companies and other carriers from setting an amount exceeding $50 per 30-day supply of insulin for Virginia residents.
- Protections against balance billing: Virginians will now be protected against balance billing, also known as surprise billing, when they receive emergency services outside of their insurance provider network.
- To learn more about what bills have gone into effect since January 1, click here
COVID-19 Response & Vaccine Updates
COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed throughout the Commonwealth and Virginia is currently in phase 1A of vaccine distribution. Virginia is following guidelines recommended by the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Their guidelines suggest certain groups of the population receive priority for vaccine allocation.
- Group 1A: Healthcare providers and residents of long-term care facilities
‘Healthcare providers’ includes all paid and unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials, including body substances; contaminated medical supplies, devices, and equipment; contaminated environmental surfaces; or contaminated air.
- Group 1B: Frontline essential workers, people aged 75+, people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps:
‘Frontline essential workers’ includes fire fighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, USPS workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff, daycare workers)
- Group 1C: People aged 65-74, people aged 16-64 years with underlying medical conditions, and other essential workers
‘Other essential workers’ includes workers are in sectors essential to the functioning of society and/or are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 such as workers in the energy sector, food service, higher education institutions, and officials needed to maintain continuity of government
More information about the ACIP recommendations can be found here. Information on Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan can be found on the Virginia Department of Health’s website. I also recommend that you watch this video of Governor Northam’s press conference yesterday where he provided additional information on Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the ongoing vaccine distribution effort. If you have additional questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic or vaccine distribution, please call the Virginia Department of Health at 877-ASK-VDH3 (877-275-8343).
Upcoming Session Information
Session starts on January 13th. It’s now easier than ever to participate in meetings at the General Assembly and meet virtually with elected officials, no driving to Richmond required. To review bills, access our meeting calendar, view committee live streams, and more visit the LIS website. Although we won’t be meeting at the Pocahontas Building in Richmond this session, there are still plenty of ways to make your voice heard! Visit the iHOD website to attend online committee meetings and reserve your spot during public comment periods. Here is a step-by-step guide:
Visit lis.virginia.gov and click on “Meetings.”
You are now viewing the Meeting Schedule. Click on the hyperlink next to the meeting you would like to attend.
You will be brought to the HOD Speak homepage. This is where you can sign up to speak during the public comment period of your meeting of interest. Note: you have to list the bill number of the bill you are speaking to when you sign up. Do not use the bill name.
My office would love to hear from you! Fill out this survey to let me know what your priorities are or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to set up a meeting with my office during the legislative session to discuss specific pieces of legislation or issues, please email us at email@example.com to schedule a meeting. I look forward to hearing from you more as we get into the hustle and bustle of the 2021 session.
Michael P. Mullin