Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

The worldwide pandemic continues to dictate how we operate as a society, rebuild our economy, and define our quality of life.

Since taking office, President Biden has stepped up the supply of vaccine throughout the nation. In Virginia, we continue a very aggressive “shots in arms” campaign in every corner of the Commonwealth. The effort has been methodical, following CDC guidelines with a strategic coordination of supply and distribution. A little more than 16 percent of Virginians are now fully vaccinated. Additionally, well over 2 million more Virginians have received their first dose of the vaccine. The goal is to resume a more familiar lifestyle within the next couple of months. Unequivocally, this is attainable.

I am happy to share that most residents within the 35th Senate District have been eagerly signing up and receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. This has moved our kids back into their best learning environment (physical classrooms) and has many of the hardest hit service industries starting to emerge from the “pandemic winter”. The warmer weather holds the promise of renewed support for restaurants and their staff.

At the same time, I am concerned that opposition remains to receiving a life-altering vaccine. I found it disturbing that nearly 40 percent of nursing home workers chose not to receive the vaccine. The upside of inoculating the elderly is now the reopening of visitation for loved ones that have been isolated for nearly a year. After a long dry spell, we are now seeing an uptick in travel, another industry devastated by Covid-19.

All of these steps to resuming our lifestyles carries a potential for spreading the infection. I encourage you to remain diligent. Follow the safest protocols when out and about. Covid-19 is still very much entrenched in our world. It is important to note that new variants continue to emerge and are still claiming victims.

It has been nearly one month since we concluded the 2021 Special Session I, which followed a thirty-day regular session of the General Assembly. During those 46 days, we operated outside the Capitol, making it a year that we have not conducted business as we traditionally have done.

Despite bill introduction limits, over 900 bills passed both Chambers. The Governor has been reviewing these measures and will complete his work by midnight on March 31. In my opinion, the most consequential pieces of legislation focused on rebuilding our economy, criminal justice reform, and public education. To that end, we abolished the death penalty; created educational opportunities for low- and middle-income individuals with the G3 Program (Get skilled, Get a job, Give back); and prioritized getting kids back into school. We also made large investments in bringing broadband into underserved areas in Virginia. That includes Northern Virginia. As previously reported, I secured $10 million for the City of Falls Church/VT initiative.

The good news of additional federal funds coming into Virginia finds us with yet another reason to be called back into Special Session. Further, we have taken steps to expand the Court of Appeals. The initiative calls for an additional six judges to be appointed. Filling these seats along with balancing our budget will likely be the scope of the next Special Session. No date has been set but it is widely believed we will meet again in early summer.

Governor Northam and Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were joined by U.S. Transportation Sec’y Pete Buttigieg in Alexandria to announce big news for rail in Virginia. We have finalized agreements with Amtrak, CSX, and Virginia Railway Express, launching a $3.7 billion investment to expand and improve passenger, commuter, and freight rail in Virginia and create a vital connection in America’s national rail network between the Northeast and Southeast corridors. This is significant and promises to facilitate commutes, efficiently move goods, reduce pollution and provide relief to rail workers.

It is rather disturbing to note actions by the Governor of Georgia that purposely seek to suppress voter participation. Just like the pandemic, it is taking some time for the country to move on from the previous administration. In Virginia, we chose to expand and ensure access to voting for those eligible. In my opinion, the only fraud that happened in the presidential election of 2020 was perpetrated by false accusations from the loser.