More than 600 new laws took effect today. I joined my colleagues Tuesday evening to discuss the new bills - you can watch the recording here. You can review a summary of the new laws put together by our Division of Legislative Services: In Due Course: 2021 Changes to Virginia’s Laws.
This past year, we have taken historic steps to end systemic racism and address racial disparities in our criminal justice system. We passed laws making it easier to vote, raised teacher pay, expanded passenger rail, and made higher education more affordable, including free community college for high demand careers.
Criminal justice reforms include legalizing the simple possession of marijuana and creation of the Cannabis Control Authority to establish an equitable cannabis marketplace, sealing certain crimes from an individual’s record automatically, abolishing the death penalty, limiting the amount of active incarceration for technical violations of probation, and allowing sentencing by a judge rather than a jury in certain criminal cases.
The Voting Rights Act of Virginia reduces barriers to absentee voting and allows localities to provide access to early voting on Sundays.
We passed laws to strengthen our schools, providing our educators a 5% pay raise, increasing the number of school counselors, providing cultural competency training for teachers, giving middle and high school students one day of absence per school year to participate in civic or political engagement activities, and prohibiting schools from filing a lawsuit against students or their families because the student cannot pay for a school meal or owes a school meal debt.
We strengthened worker protections, passing the Virginia Overtime Wage Act, paid sick leave for home health workers, and prohibiting employers from taking retaliatory actions against employees who utilize leave. We extended employee protections, fair pay laws, and the Virginia Human Rights Act to domestic workers. Eligibility for workers’ compensation will include first responders who contracted COVID-19 on the job.
We continued to support Virginia’s transition to a clean energy future. My bill adds electrification of our transportation system to the Virginia Energy Plan. We also accelerated Virginia’s renewable energy transition by establishing the Commonwealth Clean Energy Policy and requiring car manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of electric or hybrid electric passenger cars.
We created the New River Valley Passenger Rail Station Authority to support the expansion of passenger rail west of Roanoke.
We advanced the rights and representation of LGBTQ+ Virginians by creating the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, striking the discriminatory LGBTQ+ “panic defense” in criminal cases, ensuring equal access to aging services for LGBTQ+ older adults, modernizing outdated criminal laws related to people living with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and my bill making adoption easier for unmarried LGBTQ+ couples.
Education is one of my highest priorities - all of our students deserve the opportunity to make the most of their hard work and talents. The G3 program provides tuition-free community college to low and middle income students who pursue degrees in high-demand fields. Other measures ban public institutions of higher education from asking about an individuals’ criminal record during the application process, prohibit colleges and universities from denying admission based on criminal history, and establish a program to provide scholarships to families of enslaved individuals who labored at Virginia colleges. My bill built on last year’s legislation providing in-state tuition to undocumented students who’ve attended high school in Virginia and pay taxes (or are the dependent of a parent or guardian who pays taxes) by ensuring that those students are considered for financial aid.
I also passed two bills that will help close the digital divide. We made permanent the pilot program to increase accessibility and affordability of reliable internet connections throughout the Commonwealth by allowing Phase I or Phase II electric utilities to petition the State Corporation Commission to provide broadband capacity in unserved areas of the Commonwealth working with public or private providers.
My second broadband bill authorizes school boards to partner with private broadband service providers to promote, implement, and subsidize broadband for educational purposes to the households of students with financial need.
We’ve continued our commitment to passing commonsense gun violence prevention measures by passing a law to prohibit individuals convicted of domestic assault from owning, purchasing, or carrying firearms for a three-year period and a ban on guns and explosive materials in Capitol Square and state government buildings.
We expanded access to healthcare for women by increasing access to contraception for Medicaid and FAMIS recipients (my bill) and removing the prohibition on abortion coverage within the state health insurance exchange.
With Governor Northam as he signs bills to increase access to quality, affordable care - including my bill to provide a 12 month supply to Medicaid and FAMIS recipients.
As Virginia recovers from the pandemic, many of our community members are looking for work. VEC now requires recipients of unemployment benefits to show that they have applied for two jobs each week. To support their efforts, I held a panel discussion this month with the people running our workforce programs - it is their job to help people find jobs. They can help with resumes, job applications, interviewing and identifying jobs. Much thanks to our inspiring panelists: Virginia Career Works - David Hunn, VEC Workforce - Melissa King, Loudoun Workforce Resource Center - Shelly Rodriguez, NOVA Community College - Dana Kauffman, our Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce President Joe Martin and my constituent Rengin Morro who shared her job search story and how she used the time to earn her real estate license. They offer training programs to strengthen job skills and help with transitions to high demand careers. There are training programs that pay you to learn. You can watch the panel discussion here. Please share with everyone you know who is looking for a job.
PS. If you are able (and only if it does not cause a hardship) and if you appreciate my work, please consider contributing so that I can continue the good work in our community.
Progress Fighting the Covid-19 Pandemic
Cases in Virginia and an Update on Vaccines
The Virginia Department of Health website continues to update the status of cases in Virginia. As of 5 pm yesterday, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Virginia is 680,564 with 224 new cases in the past 24 hours. Case numbers are climbing more slowly now as the number of vaccinated Virginians also increased - 50.8% of our population is now fully vaccinated.
Latest VDH Post on Masks: Masks are an Effective and Legal Way to Help Protect Yourself and Others
Today, the Virginia Department of Health posted a reminder on its website that while vaccination is the best defense against COVID-19, masks are also an important tool to protect yourself and others.
“Public health officials encourage Virginians to continue to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and allowed by state law. There is no legal barrier to wearing masks to protect oneself and others from the virus, nor should anyone be penalized for doing so. While the law prohibits wearing a mask for the purpose of concealing one’s identity, it does not prohibit wearing a mask for the purpose of preventing the spread of COVID-19. This is true even now that Virginia is no longer under a statewide declaration of emergency.
COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors than outdoors. The CDC recommends wearing a mask in indoor public places for anyone aged 2 or older who is not fully vaccinated, and for anyone with a weakened immune system regardless of vaccination status. Although it is not generally necessary to wear masks outside, people who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks in crowded settings, particularly in areas with high numbers of cases.
Masks must be worn by persons aged 5 or older while indoors at a public or private K-12 school, pursuant to an Order of Public Health Emergency issued by the State Health Commissioner and in effect from July 1 through July 25, 2021. Federal law requires masks on planes, buses (including school buses), trains, and other forms of public transportation. Even when not required, people who are fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks whenever they would be more comfortable doing so.
Businesses are generally free to adopt their own mask requirements. Employees of some workplaces may still be required by state regulations to wear masks, even if fully vaccinated. For more information, employers should refer to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Standard and Frequently Asked Questions.
Masks may be especially important now that recent cases of the “Delta variant” (B.1.617.2) have been identified in Virginia. This variant can spread more easily and might cause more severe illness than others. Although current COVID-19 vaccines appear to be effective against the Delta variant, additional mitigation measures (such as wearing masks, keeping distance from others, washing hands frequently, and cleaning surfaces) help lower risk even more.”
Free Vaccines Available for All Over 12 Years of Age
More than 70% of Virginians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Schedule appointments directly through the Vaccinate Virginia vaccine system by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).
All COVID-19 vaccines are free regardless of health insurance or immigration status. Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Videoconferencing in American Sign Language also is available by videophone at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682) or online by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.
The free COVIDWISE app can be downloaded in the App Store and Google Play. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data.
Free COVID-19 Testing
Virginia is still seeing new cases of COVID-19, including variants. You can find free COVID-19 testing using this website.
Mental Health Support - Virginia COPES Warm Line
Many people are experiencing anxiety, depression and other health effects from the ongoing stresses of the pandemic. Please continue to take care of yourself and check on others. Please reach out if you need support and share this resource with others.
Call or TEXT Toll Free: 877-349-6428
9 am - 9 pm Monday - Friday
5 pm - 9 pm Saturday - Sunday
You can find more information on Virginia COPES and other resources available to Community Service Boards from state agencies here.
Unemployment Assistance, Resources for Job Searchers, and More
VEC now requires that people receiving unemployment benefits show proof of job searches each week. Support for finding a job is available from Virginia Career Works and Loudoun Workforce Resource Center. They can help identify training programs, job opportunities, and help with resumes, emails, and interviewing skills. Please reach out if you are looking for a job. See my letter above for a link to our job search panel discussion.
I know that many of you are still struggling to pay bills. Please visit Virginia’s CommonHelp website to figure out if you qualify for assistance. You can also reach out to your county - your local government will review your financial situation and connect you with resources. In Fairfax County, contact Coordinated Services. In Loudoun County, contact Information and Referral. Here are additional resources for food. If you are struggling to pay rent or at risk of eviction or foreclosure, it is best to reach out for help early.
Many of the calls and emails to my office are from constituents who are frustrated and struggling because of the break in benefits that has occurred as they exhaust benefits under regular unemployment and move to benefits under one of the federal programs enacted to help those who are unemployed due to the pandemic. We are also hearing about problems with the identification verification system. VEC has been ordered to speed up the processing of unemployment claims as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center, Legal Aid Works, the Virginia Poverty Law Center and others.
Please contact my office if you have filed for unemployment benefits and have not received a decision regarding your eligibility or are still waiting for payments or need help with the identification system.
Further guidance is expected from VEC regarding Applications for Waiver of Overpayments. I expect this section of the VEC website will be updated, VEC Application for Waiver of Overpayment. Claimants with outstanding balances will receive written notice with instructions on how to apply for the waiver of overpayment.
Virginia Private College Week, July 26 - 31, 2021
With three or more virtual or in-person tours, you can apply to three private colleges for free. Learn more at vaprivatecollege.org.
Get Help with Your Broadband Bill
Eligible households for Emergency Broadband Benefits can enroll through a participating broadband provider or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) using an online or mail in application. Eligibility and enrollment information is available by visiting www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, or by calling 833-511-0311.
Learn more about Redistricting
Beautiful Day to Celebrate the New Interchange at Rte 7 and Battlefield Parkway
Effective July 1, 2021, there is a new bike law in Virginia. Learn more here: New Bike Law in Virginia that will make our roads safer for cyclists.
In the News
Once again, FAITH has helped our office by providing food for our constituent in need. I am so grateful to Ambreen and her staff. Please help FAITH with this important work if you can. Learn more here.
Saturdays, year round, 8 am- noon (May – Oct), 9 am – noon (Nov – April)/Leesburg Farmer’s Market, located at the Virginia Village Shopping Center, 30 Catoctin Circle, SE, in Leesburg.
Sundays, April - December 2021, 9 am - 1 pm/Cascades Farmer’s Market, located at 21060 Whitfield Drive (Parking lot of the Senior Center) in Sterling, VA.
Thursdays, April 22 - November 4, 8 am - 12:30 pm/Farmer’s Market in Old Town Herndon By the Red Caboose.. See here for information on all of Fairfax County Farmer’s Markets.
Sunday, July 4 - 10:00 am/Downtown Leesburg Independence Day Parade
Sunday, July 4 - 6:00 pm/ Concert and Fireworks at Ida Lee Park
Sunday, July 4 - 9:30 pm/ Herndon Centennial Golf Course Celebratory Fireworks Display
Starting July 7/Fairfax County Summer Entertainment Series
Friday, August 6- Sunday, August/Virginia Sales Tax Holiday
We welcome notices about events that are free or very low cost.
Keep in Touch
I am working hard in District 33. My team includes my Chief of Staff Karen Harrison, and aides, Kathy Shupe and Alec Fischbein.. For constituent services, appointments by telephone, and to schedule meetings with your community group, please call (703) 437-0086 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.