Local Commentary

Delegate Marcus Simon’s Richmond Report

Virginia’s Nov. 3, 2020 election was the safest, most secure, most successful election in the history of the Commonwealth.

That’s the conclusion of the Virginia Department of Elections’ recently released Post Election Report.

Virginia voters set new records in all kinds of categories. Not only were 4,413,388 total votes cast — the most ever in any election in Virginia — we also had record numbers of newly registered voters participating in the election, and unprecedented levels of early voting.

Nearly 2.6 million people took advantage of some form of early voting. That’s 60 percent of all the voters in that election. This was made possible through legislation we passed last year like HB 1, which changed existing law to allow no-excuse absentee ballot requests.

Localities also increased access to satellite voting sites, offering more locations and expanded hours. The post-election report included an audit of all the voting machines and found nothing unusual.

Despite the unparalleled success of Virginia’s most recent election, thanks to legislative initiatives enacted during the 2020 Session to make voting easier and more accessible than ever, there continue to be those who would persist in efforts to cast doubt on the outcome of the election.

While they claim their agenda is an “election integrity” initiative, the bills we’ve seen introduced by my friends on the other side of the aisle seem calculated to reinforce the Big Lie, that the election was somehow stolen from former President Trump.

Last Friday, I gave a speech on the House floor highlighting our recent successes and asking those that would continue pushing this ridiculous narrative to end their negative campaign. We’ve got to move forward and stop looking for a bogeyman where it simply doesn’t exist.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our registrars and election officials for doing such a wonderful job in such a difficult year. Their dedication to a free and fair election ensured our right to vote was protected. You can view the full post-election report online on the Virginia Department of Elections website.

House Budget

Last week, the House also voted on its version of the state budget. I was pleased to help Majority Leader Charniele Herring and Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Torian navigate the procedural maneuvers on the floor to pass every single one of our budget amendments while keeping poison pill amendments out.

We passed several critical budget items to address the pandemic, including $30.2 million to support mass vaccination efforts across the Commonwealth, and $3.4 million to provide paid sick leave for Medicaid home health care workers, a budget line item I’ve been advocating for for several years.

To address the ongoing housing crisis worsened by the pandemic, we passed $15.7 million for the Housing Trust Fund and an additional $3.3 million to continue the Evictions Prevention & Diversion Pilot Program.

We prioritized education by allocating about $400 million to help ensure no school division receives less in state funding due to the pandemic, and $51.1 million need-based direct aid to school divisions for remediating lost learning time. We passed funding to ensure that there is at least one school counselor for every 325 students and included an item to restore need-based financial aid for in-state undergraduates starting next school year.

We included a 5 percent pay raise for our teachers and school staff, as well as a 3.5 percent pay increase for all other state employees.

To address some of our unemployment insurance issues, there is a $15.7 million allotment for staff, claims processing, and IT upgrades at the Virginia Employment Commission. We also included a second allotment of $300,000 for forgiving overpayment of unemployment benefits in some cases.

Because we are anticipating that marijuana will be legalized in the Commonwealth this session, we have allocated funding to marijuana regulation and marijuana conviction expungement.

For those interested in purchasing an electric vehicle, the House budget includes language to establish an Electric Vehicle Rebate Fund.

I am proud of the budget passed by the House this year because I believe it funds vital programs and initiatives that will help our Commonwealth be resilient in the face of crisis. While we are still a few weeks away from passing the final compromise budget, I am hopeful that many of these items will retain their funding and continue to be priorities for us here in Virginia.