It is a welcome relief that we turned the calendar page on one of the most arduous years of our lifetimes. As this column goes to press, we are mourning yet another victim of Covid-19. On Jan. 1, we learned of the passing of a Senate colleague, the Hon. Ben Chafin. Kind, decent, and thoughtful readily come to mind when describing this dedicated public servant. Virginia has now lost more than 5,100 individuals due to complications from the virus.
Since this pandemic began, I have talked about the realities of the Coronavirus. As a nation, there are over 20 million positive test cases and more than 330,000 lives have been lost. This virus is mutating and still very active in our communities.
Many constituents are reaching out to get specifics about the vaccination program. As with everything else about this medical emergency, once again the federal government is M.I.A. The states have been left to make the administration policy to orchestrate this campaign.
To date, Virginia has secured storage units, has a safe handling plan, and has already begun inoculating its front-line medical workers. Local health districts are reaching out to medical practices to move further into the health care provider system. Additionally, nursing home workers and residents are also receiving the vaccine. More information from the Governor’s office about the vaccine rollout in the Commonwealth is expected this week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is allocating vaccine to states based on population and is making recommendations for the recipients in Phase 1b and 1c, guidelines which Virginia is adopting.
Phase 1b recipients will include persons aged 75+ and frontline essential workers who are non-health care workers. It is currently recommended Phase 1c includes individuals aged 65 – 74 yrs. as well as persons aged 16 – 64 years with high risk medical conditions and other essential workers not included in Phase 1b.
Implementing a successful vaccine rollout is critical to curbing the spread of Covid-19. The specific timeline for the program is still very fluid. As it changes, information is being updated on the VDH dashboard as well as with local health departments. Supply determines how deeply the program reaches.
A number of new laws went into effect on Jan. 1. I believe the most critical measure is the ban on holding a personal electronic device while driving. Simply put – no texting and driving; no looking for phone numbers; no reading emails while driving. The initial fine will be $125 and a subsequent fine will move to $250, which is the fine for work zone abuse. Additional laws governing elections, handguns, and disposable plastic bags are also of note.
Looking ahead, we are preparing for the 2021 General Assembly. The Constitution of Virginia says that the odd year session shall last for 30 days with a two-thirds vote to increase the number of days. In light of the volume of legislation and requirement to fine tune the budget, it has been usual and customary for legislators to vote for a 45-day session. Putting the pandemic behind us and rebuilding the Commonwealth are Virginians’ priorities I am hearing loud and clear.
The abbreviated session necessitates limiting introduced bills and a tight schedule for committee operations. All committee meetings will be virtual with individuals and organizations pre-registering to provide testimony on issues before that committee. Rest assured, we will stay laser focused on Virginia’s economy, jobs, health and education.
In this the odd year, amendments to the biennial budget will be made. It is unlikely the revenue numbers will be available prior to the adjournment of the 2021 legislative session. In their wisdom to keep it “short and sweet” the Republicans are essentially teeing up the need for another special session. While the Governor has already proposed amendments, the responsibility rests with the General Assembly to lay out the spending plan for the Commonwealth. Senator Howell is the first woman to chair the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. My Senate Democratic colleagues and I stand firmly with her as we balance the budget with priorities that best serve all Virginians.
Once again, I would like to extend my best wishes to you and yours for a healthy and prosperous New Year. I encourage you to stay in touch through email and register for e- newsletter at dicksaslaw.com.