Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

February is Black History Month. From Barbara Johns to President Obama, there are many individuals who readily come to mind who have been trailblazers and influential leaders in their professions and in the social sphere. I salute the Black legislators whom I have served with over the years in the Commonwealth.

Based on constituent outreach, the rollout and distribution of the vaccine is front and center on people’s minds. For the record, we are nearing 800,000 vaccinated Virginians with about 8 percent having had the requisite two doses. In Fairfax County there is a waiting list with 100,000 eligible people trying to schedule an appointment. The priorities in Phase 1b continue to be first responders, essential workers, teachers, and individuals that are responsible for providing government services. Rebuilding the economy, getting people back to work, and reopening schools are the prizes we are keeping our eyes on for administering the vaccine.

We need to focus on ramping up production and bolstering the “shots in arms” effort that includes hospitals, medical providers, health districts and large-scale organized vaccination events. After a slow start, Covid-19 vaccinations in the Commonwealth have seen a marked turnaround.

Virginia is fifth in the nation in the number of vaccine doses administered per day, despite being the 12th largest state. More than 84 percent of our first doses have been put in arms. That is more than triple the daily vaccinations we were doing three weeks ago.

Highlights of the war on Covid-19 include the announcement that Johnson and Johnson is seeking FDA approval for its one shot vaccine. At the same time, President Biden is taking steps to get additional doses delivered to the states as quickly as production permits. Back here in the Commonwealth, we are receiving a 16 percent increase in our share of the vaccine. I am asking you to be patient and do your part to curb the spread of this pandemic.

The legislative session is operating at warp speed and we are now at Crossover, the time for each chamber to finish work on its own bills and take up the others. The days are extremely long and intense. Policy change should be deliberative and driven by facts. It actually does require a thoughtful deep dive to prevent unintended consequence.

I am the chief patron of the “G3” bill (SB1405) working its way through the Senate. “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” is a pathway for Virginians to retool for the future. Climbing out of the depths of this economic downturn caused by the pandemic, we need a skilled workforce to rightfully reclaim our place in the global economy. This is timely and appropriate legislation. Funding for this investment has been proposed in the budget.

Legalizing recreational use of marijuana has been front and center during the General Assembly. SB1406 addresses simple possession, criminal penalties, as well as expungement. The bill has been in full committee, subcommittee, and worked on daily among legislators to get it to its best place. I have no doubt when it gets to the floor of the Senate, there will be a lengthy debate. I have followed this initiative closely and plan to vote for final passage once due diligence is completed.

A bill to abolish the death penalty is also before legislators. This is a complex issue with advocates on both sides making compelling arguments. The questions that have divided Virginians rest with humanity from this ultimate punishment, whether it is a deterrent, as well as how to address the most heinous offenses resulting in the death of a victim. I have voted for passage of SB1165.

Criminal Justice Reform continues with debate on many related issues. I believe until we can incentivize and retain the best in public safety, we have a bigger problem. To that end I’ve submitted budget amendments. The Senate will deliver its amended budget on Sunday.

The Senate took an action to censure one of its members, Amanda Chase, for conduct unbecoming an elected official. Make no mistake about it, the action we took came after much reflection and debate. In her short career, Ms. Chase has a long history of what could easily be deemed behavior unbecoming an elected official. In a dramatic address to the Senate, she was unapologetic and inappropriately attacked many others in the room. SR91 passed mostly along party lines, 24 -9. Six members elected NOT to vote on the matter.

Sine Die is scheduled for Feb. 11. Stay tuned as the details for completed legislative business continues to evolve.