Hi everybody! Can you hear me okay? Next week is my last week at the session. I am really excited. I’m tired. It’s pretty exhausting. Especially when I am running back and forth between the medical practice and getting to deliver a baby. At least one to two babies every week, this session. So, it’s been a wild one.
A couple of things to start off updating on is, number one, COVID reports are really good in Virginia now. That is so reassuring. We’re seeing a significant drop-off in the number of cases but for an even longer, more significant drop off we’ve been seeing fewer hospitalizations and, thank God for quite a while, many fewer deaths. We’re leveling back down to more of a constant place where we were before the holidays last year. All the way really from July until the holidays where there was occurrence but not significant acuity or deadliness. So, that’s a really good sign. I don’t know how much the vaccine contributes to that because we’ve vaccinated about one quarter of Virginians. Excuse me. One eighth of Virginians. We have 8.5 million Virginians. We believe, now, that we have vaccinated 1 million people. So, we know from Israeli’s studies, where they have been much faster on vaccinating the high risk groups, that they saw a dramatic drop in the cases in the age groups they’re vaccinating. Those were high risk ages groups 65 and older. We can put that study up. It’s a study that we have pulled. It’s actually from the Economist I believe. They look at what the risk factors are for different age groups. More of the younger age groups get positive infections. More of the older age groups get hospitalized and put on a ventilator. The oldest age groups end up dying. So, they’ve looked at the risk factors in those ages groups and within two weeks of being vaccinated about 80% of the elderly… all of those numbers changed. They started dropping off in their acuity and their hospitalizations in the ICU. So, very exciting. I am happy to see that in the forming weeks we have more vaccinations coming into Virginia. We’re getting very close to 200,000 a week. I would love to see us at more than that. I would love to see us at 300,000-500,000 per week. Now that we’ve had Doctor Danny Avula improve the website that is new and up and running and is something we asked them to do. We wish it had been done in the beginning before we started. We now have the legislation I carried on vaccinations to mobilize students and everybody else. It is now law. That has an emergency clause so it has gone into effect already. So, students are trying to vaccinate. We will have a robust workforce for vaccination and locations to do that. Now we're moving to the part where we can really execute. We just need to have the vaccines here. We need the federal government to really up-regulate that. That is where we are on all of that.
The big thing that I will have this week is my open schools bill. I’m going to be honest with you. I knew that there was profound political opposition to this bill. It was pretty much straight down party lines except for the two democrats that I made a pact with before we started this session that we were not going to get out of session without mandating schools open. We had language in the budget to go into effect July 1. We had my bill which went from emergency legislation which means it would go into effect within 7 days of being signed. In order to pass emergency legislation you have to have 4/5 of the body agree to it. That is a lot of Senators. We would have to get a lot of Democrats onboard. We got 8 Democrats but not 4/5. We were able to get it through so that it would start July 1. When it got to the House I wasn’t sure if they were going to hear the bill or what they were going to do. What they did is they put their own bill on top of mine and claimed credit which is not unusual. Their bill was not in keeping with what I wanted. Some language in there I thought was potentially valuable but I have reworked that bill. Tomorrow morning I will have a substitute that should be available on our website now. We’ve really been working very closely Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg who I’m going to say has really compromised on this. I really appreciate his help and his input. The way that the substitute they gave us has changed, based on my language, I am going to explain to you now. Number one, I defined what in-person is. It is a definition where both the student and the teacher are in the classroom and there is real education going on. It does not include remote education in the classroom. So many of you came to me and said “hey my kids are going to school but they’re opening their laptops and they’re doing virtual education with a proctor in the room.” We saw that is what Fairfax did. Fairfax hired 800 proctors, put the kids in the classroom, and kept teachers home and did virtual education. That does not help us overcome the shortcomings of virtual education. We need that interaction. We need that teacher using their skill set to assess when that student is getting what they’re being taught and also screening kids. We’ve got a definition of in-person that is solid. We have that they have to be full-time. We have that they have to be doing in-person for a minimum number of hours required by law in Virginia for a school year. We have guidelines that they’re to use not community spread to decide when schools should abate or quarantine or do something else. They must use the VDH guidelines of school impact. Those are very different because while you might track schools community spread the VDH guidelines are very clear about the number of outbreaks in the school and then they convert to the guidelines where they quarantine or isolate just the necessary number of children. It might be a classroom but that does not mean the whole school needs to close. They also have to confer with the local health department. The school boards have to bring in the health experts. We don’t want them deciding this on their own because there has been some decision making without following evidence-based practices. We’ve got protections for teachers so that if they need to quarantine they can do that. Same thing for kids. If they need to quarantine they can do that. We don’t want people coming to school sick. In that case, they can teach virtually from home so that we have that workforce. We want them to get their vaccinations but it is not a requirement to start teaching. We want them to have access to get those vaccinations. We have health exceptions for those that have significant disabilities or reasons they may not be able to come into the school and be safe. We’ve got all of that built into that bill. It’s a good bill. The bill, again, starts July 1. There is only one flaw with the bill in my opinion and that is that it doesn’t have the emergency clause. The Governor came out after Senate Bill 1303, my open schools bill, passed the Senate and said “yes, yes we have to open schools.” But, he was completely unclear about what that meant. Furthermore, Biden has come out and said he wants schools open within 100 days of him being sworn in. By Biden’s time table that would be April 30 which is sooner than July 1. By the Governors timeline it would be March 15. I would like them to adopt this definition. I would like to see if the House can put in an emergency clause on this bill because the more science that we see the more evidence we have that we need this now. We should have reopened schools last fall. It’s just unequivocal. The science is absolutely persuasive. So, we need to get schools open as soon as possible. Maybe we can get the House, with your phone calls and your support, to get an emergency clause put on this so it goes into play sooner. If not, I think we should press the Governor. If he said March 15, let this become the definition of what open schools are and let him apply an emergency clause and send it back to the legislature. With his endorsement Im sure we can get the Democrats we need to vote for this. That is the current position of that bill. I do think getting schools open is the most important thing we are doing at this session because it is a community health crisis for our children. We are supposed to be there protecting and advocating for our children. So, the number one thing we can do this session and I’m really happy this bill didn’t die like I was suspicious it could. That is a lot of credit to the moms and the families and everybody out there who put pressure on the legislature to say stop playing politics with this issue and get the job done based on the science. That his what this bill does.
A couple of contentious bills. I have to tell you there is a lot of stuff going through the Senate that is seemingly innocuous but I foresee it as being incredibly detrimental to Virginia. I’m going to talk about two bills along those lines real quickly. The first bill is House Bill 1778. This is a bill that has changed the rules for localities. They can, your locality, can create an ordinance like local law and give themselves the power to remove what they call “clutter” from their yard. It’s disturbing. Just so you know, they already have the ability, only if its a safety issue, to remove trash, garbage, refuge, and litter from your yard without your permission and charge you for it, by the way. Now they’ve added clutter. So, clutter includes mechanical equipment, household furniture, containers, and similar items. No longer is it an issue of safety. They can do this if they say that clutter could be detrimental to the wellbeing of the community. So I asked, where is the definition of the wellbeing of the community? That is completely subjective. Your interpretation of wellbeing may not be mine. This is giving the power to the locality, your local government, to make a judgment about what you can and cannot have in your yard and to remove it without your permission on your private property and charge you for it. I think this is egregious. We tried to kill it. I tried to kill this bill several times. We did have it killed at one point in time and the Democrats came back and put pressure on the Democrats who had voted to kill it. They ended up passing it. It’s bill, after bill, after bill like this. This is the difference between Democrats and Republicans. One of my most important values of Republican principles is that the individual is what makes America great, not bureaucracy. Individual freedoms should be protected. That is the intent of the Constitution, to protect those individual freedoms. Remember, we are a republic, so it’s not just mass rule. It’s not just majority rule. A republic is a democracy that values individual constitutional protection. That is what makes us separate and better and these are being eroded by the Democrats at the legislature with meaningless and useless legislation like this that we can’t kill. I know it seems like a little thing but with so many little things its a huge garbage pile. No clutter pun intended. One other concept I will say…. In Virginia, we believe there ought to be a lot of similarities between the localities because that keeps people from getting trapped in strange local law. It also makes it so that businesses can operate nimbly between different localities and make sure we have strong economic opportunity in Virginia. The powers awarded to localities are limited and specifically voted on by the legislature. Localities have always determined how they run their own local elections. The Democrats are always about giving more power to the localities for more power to tax. Let them tax people extra. We don’t think you should be able to do that or it should be a universal plan. Or give the localities the power to decide where they ban guns. I don’t think we should do that. Somebody is going to go to a farmers market in one locality and then go to a farmers market in another locality and not know what the rules and ordinances are. It is confusing and it is dangerous for unnecessary criminal justice issues. In this case, many localities we don’t in Henrico and Hanover, but many localities have local elections in May because that is when they think they can argue about local issues more clearly.
When you roll your local elections into November elections sometimes the bigger picture elections, whether it’s gubernatorial or Senate or something else, drowned out the conversation about local issues. Well, a piece of legislation went through this year to force all localities to change their day of election to November. The thing that disturbs me about this is that it is linked to a piece of legislation that went through last year and that is collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is the opportunity for unions to come into Virginia. If you want to talk about what happened with schools this year, it is the teachers unions not the teachers, the teachers are innocent in this and there are a few teachers linked to the unions, but it is the teachers unions trying to flex their muscle and say we’re going to, regardless of the harm or damage, we’re going to take the teachers perspective only into view. Not the big picture. Not the kids. We’re going to be your guardian and your defense mechanism therefore you should pay dues to us and we should be a value to you. That is what’s happening right now with schools.
At this point in time Senator Dunnavant's audio cut out due to technical difficulties.