Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

December is traditionally a busy month. It brings with it a series of holidays and gatherings of friends and family. This year, these would-be gatherings also come with a heightened risk of getting sick. Despite the good news of a vaccine for Covid-19 soon coming online, Virginia is joining the ranks of other states with rising infection and hospitalization rates. As we go to print, across this country we see increased social activity, growing fatigue from the duration of this pandemic, and a surging increase of positive tests, hospitalizations, and deaths.

As President-elect Biden aptly put it, there were over a quarter of a million empty seats at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Sadly, these numbers are on the rise as we look ahead to the end of this year. You can make a difference in those statistics by simply wearing a mask (encouraging others to do so as well), keeping your distance when in public, and frequently washing your hands. I ask you to do your part to curb this pandemic.

With guarded optimism, the Commonwealth is preparing for the initial shipments of the new vaccine coming online. The plan will be based on the production and limited supply of the vaccine. There will be a priority for inoculating individuals who need it most. Clearly, front-line medical workers, the residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term facilities top that list for distribution. Sixteen Virginia hospitals, including INOVA, have been identified as capable of storing the vaccine. This is a good news story in the fight against Covid-19.
For the last month, we have witnessed a bad case of denial from the leader of the free world. However, our democratic principles have proven to withstand this unprecedented situation. It is refreshing and inspirational to see the Biden/Harris team ascend to power. I applaud the patience and the efforts of Joe Biden to lead with compassion with an understanding of issues and consequences. He is laser-focused on uniting the nation, containing the pandemic, and rebuilding our economy.
Six weeks remain until the Virginia Legislature convenes for its annual session. While both the House of Delegates and the Senate have Democratic majorities, the Republicans are taking a lesson from across the Potomac River to obstruct and derail thoughtful policy and productive lawmaking. Being deliberative is essential to getting policy correct. Shutting the window of opportunity to thoughtfully conduct the people’s business can be as lethal as the pandemic we are fighting.
We will have a busy session as we continue to address the fallout from the pandemic and many other pressing issues during a compact period of time. To begin with, we are fast approaching a full calendar year with many children not being able to attend school in-person. The digital divide is pronounced not only in other parts of the Commonwealth but in certain sections of our region as well. This has created an academic disadvantage and eventually will have a long-term spill-over into the workforce pipeline.
The General Assembly will look to address the inequities in our public schools as well as make adjustments going forward to applicable benchmarks, testing, and appropriate funding. This is an obligation we will rise up to meet despite the political games some wish to play with our children’s future.
It’s no state secret that frontline and essential workers have been asked to step up and lead during this pandemic. Many have put themselves at risk to serve others. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice and others may yet not know the long-term effects of their mission. At the Capitol, we are likely to see labor, medical, and economic issues that must be addressed.
Fine-tuning the Commonwealth’s finances and budget will continue to dominate the legislative session. It is unclear what additional assistance will come from Washington with the new administration. What is abundantly clear is Virginia must operate in the black with a structurally-sound plan. Secretary of Finance Aubrey Lane has unveiled a forecast that calls for moderation. Governor Northam will deliver his proposed budget amendments on Dec. 16.
These are a few of the key issues we will tackle beginning Jan. 13. With 140 elected lawmakers, we are never at a shortage of ideas. Over the last several months, I have been “meeting” (zoom, telephone) with numerous groups, stakeholders, and individuals on a plethora of issues. I encourage you to visit my website, www.dicksaslaw.com for resources that you may need to get through the coming months. To stay informed on legislative matters, consider signing up for my e-newsletter.