Good afternoon. I hope you’re enjoying your snow day. It is beautiful out there but I hope you don’t have to go anywhere. It’s nice when it snows on a Sunday right? Everybody can stay home. Quick review as we look at things with COVID numbers. I am so happy to say that cases are down and hospitalizations are down and most thankfully, deaths are down. In fact, both hospitalizations and deaths, deaths particularly, are back in the range that we would call kind of baseline. You see an undulating… we’ve talked about this before… kind of a low level of constancy of some deaths around 10 or 12 per day all through June, July, August, September, October, and November. Really, until we saw the spikes in December and thankfully now they’ve fallen back down into that range and that’s incredibly comforting. Hospitalizations are beginning to back off which is a thankful relief for our healthcare workers and our hospitals. And cases as well. So, hopefully we’re going to get to a better place from which we can launch our vaccine efforts.
Talking real quickly about bills this week. I’m going to go through the bills that I had. We had a really big week where most of my bills moved through committees and onto the floor of the Senate. That means this week the Senate will be taking a vote on all of those and will decide if they actually ever go to the House. So, we’ve got open schools. This is probably my number one issue for the Senate this year in session. To make sure that we get our schools open. The bottom line is that the science is so compelling and overwhelming that the risk of COVID is small and the risk of closed schools is enormous. Any weighted judgement makes us move towards open schools. We do not need to wait for teachers to be fully vaccinated. We definitely don’t need to wait for students to be vaccinated. Especially since there is no childhood vaccination indication at this time. We need to get schools back open to address the issues of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, actually suicide, food insecurity, safety, abuse going unrecognized because our first responders for abuse are our teachers, and all of the other reasons we have talked about so many times in the last few months. I am happy to tell you there is a bipartisan coalition. We have a large group of people who are willing to vote for this so that this can pass the Senate. In order to put in an emergency clause on this bill we would need 31 Senators. We don’t have that many but we do have 3-4 Senators that I know of that are Democrats that are willing to put themselves out there against the ideology and position of their party which is to wait on opening schools and listen to the school boards and the teachers unions. Those are Chap Petersen, Lynwood Lewis, and Joe Morrissey. I know that they’re all going to vote for that. So, with the Republicans that gives us 21 and we can get it out of the Senate. Not 31 to get out of the Senate with an emergency clause. So, we’re going to take the emergency clause off. We’re going to move that to the House and put them on the record for how they’re going to vote on opening schools. Worst case scenario that means schools must open by July 1. We may be able to amend later and get that emergency clause back on there. So, stay tuned. Some of this is the process of legislating and not just the content of the bill. So, we’ll be working on that and we’ll be back in touch with you.
I have the bill for open enrollment which is the beginning of allowing parents to have a say over which school, within a school division, their kids go to. Right now, the beginning of that is very merited based on all the evidence we have about how you help kids actually have a chance when they start out at a disadvantage. Those are our lower income kids. We’ve talked about generational poverty before. Open enrollment would be for those kids who are measured as in that poverty group. The way we do that is free and reduced lunch. Those parents would be able to choose another school within the same school division for their children. That got out of committee. I again have bipartisan support. I can’t get anything passed without bipartisan support because there are only 18 Republicans. 19 when Amanda Chase votes with us. We can’t win in the Senate without having Democrats. I am succeeding in persuading them to vote with us.
We have a diagnostic tool. I know this was so important to all of you parents out there. Irrefutably, our children have lost ground. They have profoundly lost ground in their ability to master the subject matter that is grade level appropriate. What we’re going to do is change around SOLs. We’re not going to be doing that scary end of the year test. What we're going to be doing is we're going to do an assessment of the kids based on the principles of SOLs but targeted towards helping the kids achieve. So, when your kids go back to school this fall they will have a diagnostic assessment of where they are on grade level performance. In the winter, before they go home for Christmas, another diagnostic. Not a threatening, scary test that they have to get a certain score on but a measure of where they are so we have this semester and next semester to help them succeed and be in a better position. Then, when it comes to the spring time they’ll have a much smaller progress assessment to see if we’ve been able to move them from where they started to where they need to be. So, that’s an important piece of legislation that’s gotten through.
We’ve got improvements in how to work on special ed. That was really egregiously analyzed by our audit group for the Senate. We have legislation going in to improve how that process is done, how to fund it better with federal dollars that are available to us but Virginia never took advantage of.
HOA meetings can now be electronic. A lot of people had trouble about that over COVID. That has now moved to the floor of the Senate. It is out of committee.
Grandparent visitation. We haven’t talked about this before. You’re going to see some blogs on this. This is a real success story. There are some grandparents out there who have lost a child and because they have a difficult relationship with the spouse of their child, or the other parent. Their child is longer there to advocate for them. They have no access to these children. There is no real legal recourse in Virginia the way the language is written. We have a piece of legislation that allows them establish the intent of their dead or incapacitated child, the intent of that parent, for them to have a relationship with the children. That’s going to help thousands of grandparents across Virginia who are suffering with this especially with the opiate crisis. This is a way to protect both parental rights but also give these grandparents a chance to have a relationship with those grandchild. Look. The data supports this. Extended family support reduces trauma for children. It improves their success rates. It makes them less likely to have issues with depression and anxiety. This is a good thing to do and we’re doing it within the confines of the law and parental rights.
Another piece of legislation I introduced this week has now moved on to Finance is local refreshment areas. This is a way for localities to set up the ability for a cluster, let's imagine Scott’s Addition, where they would have a permit where you can move around with a drink in that area. You know everybody put up outside stuff in play for COVID so that they could follow best practices but also make money. Now, we're going to be able to coalesce those areas so that there's movement and the ability to, not every day but maybe every weekend, have movement around those areas and create these outdoor refreshment areas that are permanent and still have really good oversight by ABC and the state. It's a way to help our small businesses succeed again and maybe even succeed while we’re still making the transition.
That’s my legislation that’s this week. Pretty much of all that is going to be on the floor of the Senate this week and moved out of the Senate and into the House because I expect them to pass based on what I know now. Then we have just a few bills that I want to go over that are bills from other people that I took votes on that I want to talk to you about. We’ve had a lot of conversations about immunizations. My vaccine bill is coming to the floor of the Senate this week. That is the one I wrote that’s going to absolutely rip open access to all of the different components of rapid vaccination that we need in Virginia. We have vaccines that are stockpiled that we haven’t used yet that we need to use. We also have more vaccines coming every week from the federal government. We’d like to see that weekly number go up and it will because there's more vaccines available. We need to make sure that happens but it won’t matter if we don’t have the people to give the vaccines and a place to go. Right now, the system has been so horribly mismanaged. Nobody knows what’s happening. Nobody knows how to sign up. That's probably the number one email I get to my Senate office. This legislation that I wrote works to fix that. The House took my bill and rearranged it to put their bill in. It’s the same bill really. They just wanted to have the House version. Those two bills now are on the precipice of being passed out of both Houses. They do have an emergency clause. That means they’ll go into effect immediately. They should be at the Governor's desk next week. The Virginia Department of Health ought to have those vast resources which include the data resources from Universities so that they can actually communicate with you when you’ve signed up so you don’t wonder when you’re supposed to go get your vaccine. You’ll get regular updates. We had some other immunization legislation this year in the legislature. One was to protect religious freedoms. I, of course, voted for that. You need to know that you have a patient's bill of rights. The number four entry on patients' bill of rights is that you can decline anything. That is true to this day. There is some other legislation on vaccines that I didn’t support which said that businesses didn’t have the right to tell you you needed to have the vaccine to work with them. I don’t support that. I think businesses need to be able to define what the expectations are. That’s a contract between them and their employees. I did support that the state government couldn’t tell you that you couldn’t come on state property if you didn’t have the vaccine. Those are a couple of things that came up this week that I wanted to touch on.
Next week we're going to have a conversation about the death penalty. I have to tell you, as a pro-life person, I have qualms with the death penalty but as a woman who empathizes with the horrible stories you hear of people who commit murder I want justice for families that have suffered these horrible, horrible losses. There is a bill on the Senate floor to abolish the death penalty but there is an amendment that would make it so that if you were convicted of a Class 1 felony, which is murder, you would never be able to be paroled and you would have to spend your life in prison. I think that is almost worse than ending your life sooner. As a pro-life person I would support that. I want you to know that going into that. I don’t think I can support it if there is not that absolute mandate that that person can not get paroled. Especially when we look at what happened here with parole and the parole board during COVID where somebody who murdered a police officer after being released went to prison and was paroled during COVID. That cannot happen again. That is not what the rules are and rules have to be followed and they can’t be changed midstream. That is another piece of legislation that's coming up that is controversial that I wanted to touch on. I'm going to reach out to my team and see if I have any questions coming in that I need to answer on this. Ok. It doesn’t seem like I do. Let me see if I can scroll through here. If there are any questions you did get up here that we didn’t answer I will send an email to you and we’ll get back to you. Wait, one just came through.
Is there a way to Henrico schools back even if the teachers can’t get vaccinated?
Yes. My legislation. 1303. I hope that you will write emails and call all of the legislators in the Senate and tell them thank you if you supported my legislation, well post who they are, and if they haven’t supported it before or were uncertain I want you to email them and ask them to support it. That legislation can get them to go back if it has the emergency clause. I also want you to know that that legislation alone is not the only vehicle for us to get this done. We are going to use the budget and say that unless schools open up and they open up for real. Right now some of this in person school that you’re seeing are classrooms where students are all doing the online education with a proctor in the room but they’re not actually getting grade specific education from the teacher in the room. So, we're going to have an outline of the language to make it very specific about schools offering legitimate in-person education that we all know is what has happened all through the past years and what needs to be happening now. Many kids are not succeeding in front of the screen. Look, didn’t all the evidence and science tell us that kids shouldn’t be sitting in front of a computer screen? It doesn’t work. It’s hard on them and it's actually not good for their brain development. We need to make a change. Lots of kids need to have in person school. We are pulling out every stop that we can play whether it's budget or legislation or emergency language or whatever we have to do to compel the school divisions to provide in-person education. That’s what we’re going to keep doing. Again, it's bipartisan. We’re doing that together. But we need your help because this is the time for grassroots action. We’ll post online who you need to reach out to. A petition will be coming out tomorrow. We’re going to send that all over the state. Share that with all of your friends. I know one of the groups that is really active in getting schools open is going to send out a petition. We’re going to share that with you. They will let all of the legislators know who has signed up with the petition and how many of their constituents want them to support that legislation. So, I have a question:
Do you have the option to not partake in the vaccine?
100%. We believe that herd immunity occurs somewhere between 75-85% of the population vaccinated.You always have the power. Doctors provide advice. We provide advice to you. You make the final decision about what parts of our advice you accept and buy into but you always have the power. I hope you’ll get the vaccine. It’s really safe. There may be a few of you that have legitimate reasons that you can’t get them. Follow your doctor's advice on that. I want you to be protected and I want the rest of the community to be protected. So, I hope you’ll get the vaccine but nobody has the ability to compel you to put a needle in your arm. That's battery. It doesn’t have to happen. I hope you’ll get it done but you always have the possibility to decline.
What is the bill I have about the vaccines?
Its Senate Bill 1445. We wrote it and got it out to the Senate about two weeks ago Monday. It went through the Senate in one week which is unheard of. That piece of legislation, again, is bipartisan. This is how your state does things together. It's through leadership and building communities and building support and that’s what I’ve done in the Senate. 40 Senators signed on to that. Every Democrat and every Republican co-patroned my legislation, Senate bill 1445, and sent it to the House in one week which is unprecedented. That’s that legislation. I don’t think anybody in their right mind is going to vote against it. That is the way forward and that’s how we’re going to give the tools to the state to get that done. In any case, that’s everything I have. I am looking to see…
Did I just say you could not come on state property without the vaccine?
No, I did say that. Nobody can say that you can come on state property. I supported legislation that would make that law but that’s not practical. No, they cannot do that unless he comes up with a crazy executive order and then we’ll fight like hell. So, no that is not true you can go anywhere. They’re going to ask you to wear a mask but other than that they can’t tell you you can’t come on state property. I think that’s about everything.
Thanks everybody. Appreciate your time and look forward to talking to you next week at 1 o’clock. Bye.