While most were focused on events in and around Washington, the General Assembly was going about the business that we were sent to Richmond to do, represent the views of our constituents.
The capitol area was vacant over the prior weekend through Wednesday. Governor Northam had ordered the area closed in fear that actions in Washington would spill over to Richmond. Interestingly, all weekend and Wednesday there was absolutely no activity, much less demonstrations.
Committees have been meeting and handling legislative proposals. Those meetings are held at the Science Museum allowing members space to avoid spread of the virus. That, however, is not good for open government. The public can only attend virtually which makes it difficult for the public to properly understand and engage in the process. You can sign up to speak on bills before the committees, but committee chairmen are limiting all speakers for both sides of the issue two minutes to make their case. In most cases, the first speaker gobbles up most of that time. Additionally, communication within the committee is a challenge. Senators face a screen and have trouble seeing and understanding points that members are trying to convey. For me, communication is not just hearing the words but also seeing and reading a speaker’s face.
Brunswick and Nottoway Legislation
A few bills have already made it to the full Senate and are now on the way to the House of Delegates. Three of those were ones I had been asked to carry. One would correct the law so that it meshes with Brunswick’s now elected school board. Another was requested by Crewe that would allow the Town Council to serve four-year terms. The third recognized the lifetime achievements of Luther H. Foster, an educator that was well respected in our region, particularly in Brunswick and Nottoway counties.
While many bills that I will oppose are working their way through the system, I will address them as they come before us. One that did go through, before many understood the issue, would move all local elections to November. Current law allows cities and towns to continue to use the traditional May date or the November national election date. This might, at first blush, sound more efficient, however, it creates far more issues than it solves. It will create bedlam on election day for those working the polls. Consider, for example, Alexandria. The city is split between three Senate districts and three House districts and none of those lines correspond. Under Senate Bill 1157, the municipal districts would add additional lines. The city would have to use multiple ballots to match all of those lines. Candidates would have an almost impossible dilemma of trying to make their case to be elected when they are competing for the public’s attention against either General Assembly candidates or congressional candidates as well as school board and other local races. Many of the towns I represent are very unhappy with this proposal. The vote was evenly divided, but the Lt. Governor chose to vote for passage. Hopefully, the House will stop this before it becomes law.
The COVID-19 vaccination pace has been very controversial. No one is happy at the rate that the vaccinations are occurring. Some health districts were allowed to vaccinate earlier than others with no explanation as to why some regions should be left at greater risk. After we drew attention to the unfairness of this, the administration did open up to all health districts. The Governor’s administration was ill prepared and did not train or recruit the staff and volunteers needed to do the job.
Because of these bureaucratic missteps, a dozen of us offered emergency legislation to make this process work much better. It calls for bypassing regulations and streamlining the recruiting of volunteers and retired medical professionals to get past the logjam. It incorporates volunteers to handle many of the logistical responsibilities needed for things to move swiftly. This will not go into effect immediately, but all legislators understand the need to act and act quickly. When this fast-tracking kicks in, it will still take weeks to get every citizen that wishes vaccinated.
No system is perfect, but the state can do better. Please stay safe until you can get yours.