Hi everyone. Just giving this a minute in case a few people got our message that we’re going to be on. I know it’s a strange time. Hello and happy Sunday. Thanks for being on at an unusual time. I want to make sure that despite COVID and despite the inability for people to get to us physically, that I remain accessible to you during the session and keep you updated on what’s happening. Things really do happen so quickly that as we get weekly, I already have so much to tell you about. We’re about, I guess, 10 days in. We started Wednesday the 13th. So, please know that in addition to trying to do this every week, we really do want to get your questions. So email them to us so we can make this a town hall meeting. We’ll answer questions that you put on here today as well. But, I’m going to let you know what’s happening with my bills, I’m gonna let you know what’s happening with everything else, and we’re going to answer your questions.
So, this week for my bills, what did I have up? I had in-person education. We actually have a bill that says schools must provide both in-person and virtual education based on the parents’ request. Plain and simple. We launched this initiative the first day of session with a press conference on Wednesday. This is a bi-partisan effort to get this done. I expected this bill to get killed instantly, but it is not dead. We were short one republican vote in the committee where it was heard last week and we should have that person in this week. It tied, which means it didn’t fail or succeed and we will hear that bill again this week. I expect and hope that we will be able to retain those democrat votes and get that to the floor of the Senate and put everybody on the record for voting on schools being open or closed. That will not be the end of this debate, because there will be budget language as well. Budget language will basically say that schools are not going to get the money that has been allocated to them in the budget if they do not provide in-person school. Interestingly, the day after that press conference, the Governor came out and said: yeah yeah, we want to open schools too and we have new guidelines. But, I need to tell you: his guidelines are not what we are pushing. We are pushing that in-person must be offered by parental choice. He is saying that there are some extenuating circumstances where we will provide in-person. Quite frankly, he is saying that for special ed it will be in person. I can tell you that the guidelines from the state of Virginia said this whole time that special ed should have been provided in-person. So, any closure on that was not even in keeping with the guidelines. So, it sounds the same, but it’s different. What we’re doing actually gets us to what we want where parents have control over whether their children are in person or are in virtual education. Whatever works best for you is what I want. I just want in-person to be available.
The next piece of legislation that I got...I really had 100% this week. All of my legislation got out of committee. So we’ll see how it goes from there. There’s a piece of legislation that I’m carrying to provide open enrollment for students. That means that a parent can pick what school in a school district children can go in. This has been an incredibly controversial issue over the past many years and I’m really focusing on it. This is an issue of equity. We have great data. As a physician, social determinants of health are the means by which you contribute to a person’s health. It’s not just healthcare. In fact, healthcare is like the end of the line. Things that help people be healthy and actually help them have a chance at participating in the American dream are education, safety, housing, and many other things. This will allow children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, those that are at the greatest jeopardy, for their parents to be able to choose that they can go to another school. These parents can’t move to a better school district like most of us can. But, they ought to be able to ensure, just like we fight for our kids to be in a good school, that they have a chance for that too. This is going to create competition in our schools, and that is going to make our schools better. Right now schools are preoccupied with what the school board says and what unions say, we want them to be preoccupied with providing the best quality education at every school. Competition works.
The next thing is...I want our children to be measured after COVID. We’ve talked about this many times before. My previous bills got killed. This is a way where we are going to break up testing to kids, take away SOLs at the end, but use the same valuable standards that we have in the SOLs. We want all schools across the state to be held accountable equally. But, we want to do it in a way that we can actually help kids succeed. So, this is translating to an assessment of our children, a diagnostic assessment. In the fall, when they come back, where do they start? Then we do another diagnostic assessment in December after that first semester so that we can see: are they progressing? That gives us two separate opportunities to redirect that individual child to success. At the end of the year, we have a progress test. These are short tests. They’re not long like the SOLs and they are not intimidating like the SOLs. They’re actually about getting at the root cause of how every single child succeeds. We can’t just be doing these big, broad things where we’re not looking at the individuality of every child. So that got through to committee.
We also have, I have, legislation to talk about special education. It’s pretty unacceptable in Virginia where we are now. Even the federal government has given us a scalding report of how special ed is being managed in Virginia. We have a report from our own audit and review committee at the Legislature that itemized a multitude of things we can do to fix that. This bill that I have on special education will address that.
Really big news is the vaccine bill. I have spent the last few weeks, 2-3 weeks, working on figuring out: is there legislation that can help solve this vaccine problem because it just seems to be so scattered. I just don’t understand why it’s so disorganized. I know you all are frustrated. That is the number one call I get in my office is why can’t I get my father a vaccine for COVID? So, we are hoping...one problem is how much vaccine we have. There is a lot of debate about how much that is. There seems to be a surplus in Virginia that’s not in arms, but exists and we don’t understand why that surplus can’t get to people. We’re working on that. The bill that I carried, which by the way, every single senator co-patroned. So, all 40 Senators signed onto my ideas on how we’re going to solve this vaccine problem. That is to mobilize our workforce. Doctors, nurses, dentists, hygienists, everybody that can give a shot. All the students from all of those arenas, as long as their schools verify that they’re in good standing and they’ve been trained to do vaccinations. All EMS providers, which is how Israel was able to rapidly deploy their vaccine. It also mobilizes any entity in a community as a potential place where you can give vaccines. This can be churches, community colleges, universities, high schools if they’re empty, I hope they’re not going to be empty. Wherever we have a space, that now is going to be an easy process to volunteer to be a vaccination center. I believe vaccination centers are the way to go. I know we’re trying to get it to doctors offices, but there’s so much infrastructure required to do that. We have to do max vaccination quickly. It also mobilizes our universities, which are amazing resources, for data processing and data entry. Let them help the Virginia Department of Health get this done. The Department of Health is not designed for a max vaccination program. That is a whole different horse. We need to give them tools that can help them get this done. They need to open this up and stop thinking they can get this done the way they get other things done, because it’s not working. So, vaccines. A huge thing. What’s great about that vaccine bill is that it was not one of my early bills, because obviously those were written back in December, and this really came up at the end of December, beginning of January. So, I had to submit it. We had to get it written and, of course, the people who write legislation were under assault from all directions with new legislation. But, we got that into the Senate. It didn’t go to a subcommittee. It went straight to committee. It went to the floor of the Senate, and then we moved it through in one day off the floor of the Senate and sent it to the House. It’s already at the House. Now, the House can pull this together if they choose to and get it done in less than a week. That is emergency legislation. As soon as it’s signed, it is a go. So, very proud of that, very proud of the consensus we built, and very glad people recognized I had really done hard work to figure out how we could make this better. I hope the House sees it the same way.
Another bill that I got through is dealing with auxiliary grants. This is a little bit in the weeds, but basically the state government gives money to assisted living facilities to cover the cost of elderly who don’t have a place to live. This is a great investment for the state of Virginia because these individuals are still very much independent. But, the state pays abysmally. It’s actually egregious. We heard about so many crises during COVID of elderly that were really trying to survive COVID in isolation, trying to protect themselves. I have a bill in to help increase the payment to those elderly that need that help. So that’s one other.
What do I have coming up this week? Probably all of the rest of my bills. We’ve got a different way for schools to be able to charge to provide school based services, which includes telemedicine in schools. This is a real opportunity for us to start early intervention for kids that need it, so they can succeed. Again, social determinants of health. There are so many that kids have: maybe depression, maybe they have childhood trauma, maybe they have a learning challenge. All of those things make it hard for them to succeed in school, but if we fix those things, they could succeed. We are not fixing these things for children. We are losing children. Really, the cost is unbearable to me. As a doctor that delivers those babies, I want them to have a chance to succeed. So, we’re going to make sure that the localities have enough money to provide those services and, if necessary, things like telemedicine.
We’ve got grandparent visitation coming up. There are thousands of grandparents in Virginia, and hundreds of thousands across the country, who have either had a child die or have some other circumstance, a child becomes incapacitated, and they don’t have any ability to negotiate visitation with that child. We just want the courts to be able...we are parental rights state. Parents have the final word. But, when one of those parents is missing, we just want to make sure that the grandparents have a chance to be heard, and right now they don’t. The legal threshold for them to have any say is so high that these grandparents are left without a relationship with their grandchildren. Many other states have solved this problem legally and within the constructs of the constitution. Virginia can too. We want to protect all those constitutional rights of parents, but give the grandparents a chance to actually have a conversation about whether or not they can have visitation.
We’ve got some other things about HOA’s being able to meet electronically and we’ve got a piece of legislation that looks at making sure independent contractors, people who want to get an extra job without being a fully benefited employee, can still do that. California tried to take that right away. There was a total uprising and a referendum we went through. These are people like Uber and DoorDash and taxi drivers, that the businesses aren’t suited to having full-time benefited employees, but the democrats came in and wanted to force those employees all to be benefited. We want to kind of put some standards in place in Virginia to prevent that from even happening. We have to have a robust economy; that takes a lot of different kinds of employment, not everything is full-time employment. I have a piece of legislation that's going to protect that.
Let me, real quickly before we go, talk to you about a couple pieces of legislation I saw this last week that bothered me. First of all, we had more voting changes. We have that you do not have to have a witness signature on your absentee ballot. I think that’s a mistake. I want to see absentee ballots made more secure, so that we don’t have any doubt that our elections are secure. Making this less clear does not help that, and I want everybody to be able to vote, but there are ways to do that without being careless, and I think a lot of this legislation, like removing the witness signature, is careless for absentee ballot voting. I did see something interesting go through, I don’t have the bill number here, but it was a piece of legislation that allowed registrars to outsource the mailing of absentee ballots. This is a secure process, it follows the same pathways, but it’s cheaper for the state because they can get better bulk rates, but the interesting thing, when I asked about this legislation, I just have an everyday Amazon kind of question about this. Why can we not just track our absentee ballots from when they leave the registrar till they come to me, till I sign it and send it back to the registrar, just like my Amazon boxes are tracked. If we outsource, we can have that kind of mechanism in place, so there’s absolute security, and an absentee ballot voter right now, they never know if their ballot got back, they don’t know if their vote was counted. We need to make sure everybody knows their vote was counted, and that there’s security of that, and with the technology we have now, we can do that. We just may not be able to do that through the infrastructure of the state because they lag behind, obviously, the private sector, so that’s one.
We had some legislation that came through this year to basically protect religious exemption on vaccinations, and that did not pass. Those exemptions were not protected, and I made the argument on the floor of the senate and in committee that the patient’s bill of rights, specifically states, number four item, patient’s bill of rights, that they can decline any intervention, so to say that the state has the ability to do that, what are you going to do, force somebody to get a vaccine? I think we can educate people, and I will say in all honesty, they thought fewer people were going to be interested in a vaccine, then that are now. We don’t really have a problem here. Enough people want to get vaccinated for herd immunity, but I have a problem with the state thinking they can tell somebody they have to do it, whether they want to or not.
We still are looking to see the limitation of executive orders bills go through. I supported these in a special session, they failed, they’re back now. I’m co-patroning one of them. The governor should not be able to reign in perpetuity. As soon as the legislature can be called back in, both bodies of the government ought to be in play as decisions are being made. That’s how we keep from making bad mistakes, and that’s how we respect the idea of our republic, is that we have both those, because he doesn’t always get what he wants.
We had another really frustrating situation this year. We had some activists, no localities, activists, that wanted to move local elections to November. Now in Henrico and Hanover, our local elections are in November, but there are other places where they’re not, and those localities like it that way, they feel like their local elections get a better opportunity to talk about local issues. There’s also a real threat as we move local elections to November or December that allows that investment of out-of-state money, other special interest groups funding that turnout for that election, without really people engaged in the local issues. Bottom-line is, I don’t think they should be forced to do that. This is not a permissive bill, and so that passed, and unfortunately, every republican voted against it, Amanda Chase voted with it, and that was the winning vote. I’m not sure what she was thinking on that, but that was a real disappointment, because that’s a real threat to a lot of the localities, they’re very upset about that.
Naturopathic doctors, I’ve had a few people send me some emails on that. Naturopaths are people who go through a different pathway for education, they don’t use prescription drugs, well some do, but most do not, but there are two different bodies for Naturopathic doctors. They’re already practicing in Virginia. They want to be licensed, but that means choosing which one is going to be the one pathway, and my stand on that is we have a body of subject matter experts at the Department of Health Professions. That review licensees in the state of Virginia. Whenever we have a license question we send it to the Department of Health Professions and get their expert recommendation on whether or not this entity should be licensed. The Department of Health Professions came back and said no. There was some debate in there and there is some committee work that disagreed with that, but that’s the bottom line. Why do we have bodies of experts if we don’t listen to them, so I think there’s something there that we need to do, but I think we need to get a few people together, so Senator Petersen is carrying that, and I think he’s going to look at seeing if there’s a way forward for that. Whereas consensus can be built and it’s the right thing to do, and we have all of those boxes checked from our subject matter experts.
So those are the big things that I wanted to talk to you about. I now have some questions that came in from my team. I’m going to go over those real quickly.
Will students be required to get the vaccine before returning to In-person in Henrico County?
No. First of all, there is no recommendation for children to get vaccinated. This vaccine is for twenty and older. They don’t even know if it works in children, and there’s absolutely no indication for children to get vaccinated. That is school union BS coming at you when you hear that. Quite frankly, school teachers do not all have to be vaccinated before we go back. I would aspire and hope that we can get school teachers vaccinated as quickly as possible, but we’ve talked about this so many times. The risk for children, we just another report out of Las Vegas, that they had to open up the schools because the student suicide risk was so high, it created a crisis. We have seen trends like that in Virginia. We need to be honest about the risk to children and the risk of COVID, even if we’re not fully vaccinated, is not nearly as significant as the risk to students not being in school. We need to open schools immediately. That is supported by all the data we’ve gone over lots of times before, but when you hear people say we can’t go back until the teachers are all vaccinated, the private schools are all back, they’ve been back, and we didn’t have vaccination then, childcare centers have all been back, and everybody else has been functioning in the rest of our community as essential workers without vaccines. We can go back, but for children the answer is no?
I have two T1D teenagers, I have gone to their Endo and was told to the health department website to enroll them in 1B. I have done that, but haven’t heard anything. Where can I go to learn about when 1B will be available and where to go?
I’d have to find out about teenagers with health risks, if they have the indication to get the vaccine, I don’t one-hundred percent know that answer, but I will tell you we’ve had lots of people call in and say I’m 1B. If you look at 1A and 1B provisions for vaccination, it’s about fifty percent of the entire state of Virginia, when you include all essential workers and healthcare workers, so 1B is still a huge obstacle for us to accomplish, and in 1B there is a hierarchy that probably starts with the severely high at-risk elderly, and then works its way down, so right now, if you’re 1B, you can go to the Department of Health and be measured, and they know you’re there, they will save you, they’ve got that you’re in 1B, but they’re going to attribute the vaccines as they come available and as they have people to vaccinate. Starting with the highest risk groups in 1B, and some localities, I’m sad to say, haven’t even finished 1A. I think most are moving quickly into 1B, and getting the rest of 1A as they go, but that is the answer on why if you’re 1B, you have not yet been called up. It’s because there are so many people that have to be called up, but that doesn’t mean your registration didn’t count. Now, the follow-up question about teenagers getting vaccinated if they have health risks, I’ll find out, and hopefully because Hannah and Katelyn are watching on this, we’ll know who to reach out and give you that answer to, and put it out to everybody if need be.
Can you work on protection for employers from COVID liability please? I’m working 24/7 because I’m afraid to hire anybody because of liability for both employees and customers!
You have protection from COVID liability, and we will get you information on that, but we put those protections in place. There is pre-existing protections in the emergency for COVID for your employees, but we also put in, it’s basically like a site protection, if somebody comes on your site, your business, or your school, you are also protected from liability from them if they choose to come on, but you do have protections for liability. We will get you that answer and get it out to you, and I’m sure Hannah and Katelyn are looking at that too and find it out.
Ok great! I’m not seeing any other questions, unless Hannah and Katelyn want to tell me that there are more that I need to answer. It’s hard for me to look on the phone while I’m doing this, but here, I want to make sure you know a couple of things. We are accessible, we have zoom with anybody from our localities that want to get on and talk to us. I try to be there but my committee and floor timetables are just so unpredictable. If it’s not me, my team is there, and I get a full written report of that entire conversation. That's every Monday, go to my website or reach out to my team if you want to know how to sign up for that, to let me know about something you’re worried about. We’re going to try to do this each Sunday at one pm, there may be some Sundays where we don’t do it, but right now we’re on board to go every Sunday, and we want to be accessible to you. Keep sending us your emails, we want to hear from you, and just so you know, everyday when I take those votes and I look at my docket, every bill I have has comments on there that my team has collected from emails, phone calls, and whatever other way you’ve gotten in touch with us. I don’t vote without knowing what my constituents are thinking, and then I have to discern with all the information I have. Hopefully we’ll agree most of the time, if we don’t, I’ll always explain what I was thinking when I took a vote. Because that’s what I think is important when I’m representing you. So, that’s all of it, I’m going to say goodbye, and I’ll see you guys next week, and thanks for the support, and thanks for tuning in on a Sunday, I really appreciate it. Bye!