Hi everybody. Just going to give everybody a couple of minutes to get on. I see all these names coming up. Hi. Thanks for being on. We’re going to get started. Let’s go through the week. It was a really long week. I won’t kid you but I got a lot of stuff done. So, I’m going to run through it real quickly and just give you kind of a synopsis.
First thing is the vaccination bill, which has an emergency clause on it. It got out of the Senate and onto the Governor's desk this Wednesday. There is a House version which is essentially a copy of my bill that they have rearranged so that they could put their names on it. I think that’s flattering. That has gone to his desk, too. So, both of those emergency bills are there. He should sign that. He has seven days to sign it. There are a couple of days that it could be reported but hopefully that is going to go into action in the next week. It is good to see the data in the state showing that the vaccines that we have are getting into arms. We need to be ready for when the volume of vaccines that we get increases and we are prepared with a workforce to vaccinate. Still, we get calls every day about 75-year-old parents and grandparents that can’t get the vaccination even though they qualify. This is so important. There is a study where they are tracking this in Israel, where Israel is way ahead of the curve on vaccinating their population. They are doing high risk population as well. In two weeks, they have seen a significant drop… they categorize this out based on the number in people in ICUs, the number of people who were dying, the number of people who were hospitalized, based on age group because they’re vaccinating by age group, and they’re able to demonstrate in the age groups that they’re vaccinating, even after the first vaccine, the incidents of illness are down, the instances of hospitalizations, deaths, and ICUs are down. That’s compared to the same age population that hasn’t gotten the vaccine and other age populations that are not yet eligible for the vaccine. So, the vaccine has demonstrated in two weeks it can make a significant difference in disease load and in death. That’s why it’s so important we work quickly. Because Virginia was able to get through its backlog of vaccines we are now able to get more each week. The federal government is rewarding people who have efficient processes. We want to keep on that path but we can’t keep going without a workforce and that’s what our bill does. It provides locations and workforce and resources to overcome all the obstacles they have.
Where are we with Covid now?
We’re down off of the peak. We’re still higher than we were last summer for positive testing for hospitalizations and for ICUs, but it’s all still in a manageable level. So, that’s good. We’re not in crazies. We’re not short on beds or anything like that, but we would like to see the results of our vaccination process. You have to get a bulk of each age group vaccinated to achieve that. So, I think it’s a really good time to have a conversation about why we feel like we’re seeing so much more. You may have noticed that we have strains that are coming out of the UK. You may have heard a lot about that one, South Africa, that the virus is mutating in a way to change its characteristics. Fortunately, those mutations are not changing whether or not the vaccine will protect you. The vaccine protects against everyone of these strains and fortunately this virus is not mutating to be more deadly or more virulent in that it makes the illness worse. It’s the same illness but it’s incredibly more contagious. So it’s so much easier to catch it and that’s the mutation we’ve been seeing a mutation. A mutation that will be checked by mass vaccination as well. So, that’s vaccination.
Another big, epic story of the week is open schools. We’ve really had an impressive course on this bill. This bill has almost died several times. It almost didn’t get out of committee. We resurrected it. It kept tying in committee. So, if you don’t actually fail because you have more votes against it and you don’t actually succeed because you have more votes in favor, it stays in committee and you can call it up. This bill tied in subcommittee. So, I was able to move it to committee. It tied in committee. I was able to bring it back up the next week when we had one more republican present. It passed and went to the floor and I want you to know, after two hours of debate about opening schools, we got eight democrats to vote with us. We started with two, Petersen and Morrissey. We had Lynwood Lewis supporting us in committee to help us get it out of committee. By the time we were done debating this, and I’m gonna say this is a response to the army of moms that we have connected with who did the grassroots work. This is a grassroots bill. It’s a very simple bill. It just says you have got to provide in person and virtual depending upon the parent choice. Which doesn’t give that the school divisions the wiggle room to talk around it. They have to do it and they have to let the parents decide which their kids get. So, they hate this bill and they’ve been lobbying against it a lot. So, we got that all the way off the floor of the Senate, 26 to 13, and low and behold within two days the Governor has a press conference to say that in-person school has to be provided and it has to happen by, I think it’s, March 15 is the date. Listen, we are not done. I read all of his guidelines about how to open school and all of his information on open schools. It was completely obscure. It just really gave the guidelines what precautions you take but it didn’t say that you need to provide in person school. It said start thinking about it. By March 15, you could have something but that could be hybrid… two days a week. It could be only for special education. It could be for special education and elementary school which would be a fine start. It didn’t say anything other than start planning for return to school for all age groups. So, we have galvanized a bipartisan coalition. The budget comes out this week and we will have language in the budget that ties money that the schools want to the requirement that they provide in-person. So, that’s the next few days at this stage of the fight. We have really galvanized an army all over the state of Virginia that are doing phone calls, hundreds, maybe, thousands of phone calls, and emails to the Democratic representatives. Now we need to turn on the House. The House is always looking for a way to position themselves as if they are the as if they are the problem solvers or they are the ones that introduced an idea. You know that they want to have credit for a lot of these things. So, now I hear tell that there’s a bill that may come out of the House that’s kind of like my bill. We’re not supposed be able to have any new bills because we’re now after crossover. But maybe there’s a bill that’s going to come out of the House that a Democrat proposes. I know that I’ve already seen the lines being drawn in the sand. People are saying we can’t provide virtual. What if we have a snow day and this says we had to have in person… This is going to be a part of the code. Those are all possible deniability reasons that they’re going to get Democrats to say you don’t really have to vote for this because you can say you agree with the idea but the implementation isn’t going to work because the bills is this, that, or that. So, be looking for that. We are going to just keep pummeling them. If you want to become a part of the team and you have a bunch of moms and dad‘s that you know are fed up with this bring it on. Contact the office. We’re going to put you on our list because we need all hands on deck to have a grassroots response to this. The school lobbies are formidable and they are able to pay a lot of money. They put a lot of money into campaigns, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they are able to persuade legislators to vote against something that seems common sense like opening schools with all the data we have now.
Some other things that happened this week. I want the kids and we all want the kids to be assessed when they go back to school because we know there are huge deficits. I’ve got a bill to do that. It keeps getting chopped a little bit, which is a frustrating process, but it’s better than it dying. Right now, we basically have testing for kids from K-8 covered, but because of cost and the limited amount of money in the economic circumstances we have, it has to be a bill that can be paid for we CARES Act money. There’s only so much I can get. So that’s where we are but it’s better than nothing. This would replace SOLs. You’d have a diagnostic tool that uses the standards that we have written as being important for what kids need to know. It’s taking away that end of the year, scary, do you know what it, you better perform component. It’s breaking it into testing that is to the advantage of the child. It’s not just about the school and the teacher. So, it’s a diagnostic test in the fall and in December to see where are they based on the standards so that we have time to intervene and help them catch up. Then it’s a short unintimidating progress test in the spring to see did we catch them up. Something that I really believe in is individualized education and that is still alive and has gone to the House. I have it funded. I’ve taken away as many reasons as I could for the House to kill it.
We’ve got the special education bill where we’re taking all of the insights from the the audit that was done on special education in Virginia. That showed it was really in trouble. We’ve actually had very helpful amendments come from the Attorney General's office and the Board of Education. So, that bill seems to be safe and in good shape. We’ve got a bill to help schools with funding to pay for services for kids whether they be special education or not. That includes telemedicine. So, we hope they’re gonna be able to now be able to set up some mental health services for kids in school and interventions. This is just really going rip open and the potential of what we can do to take care of other issues that make it hard for kids to learn. We can ignore them but the kids aren’t going to learn. If we can identify them in schools and get them to help they need when we already have them at school I think we have a much better chance of helping a lot of kids.
The grandparents visitation bill was kind of a controversial bill because people misunderstood it. There are grandparents whose children have died or have become incapacitated and because we are parental rights state we want to not take away the rights of a parent. What happened was we now had a silent parent that was the access of the grandparents to the family and when this parent was no longer around their wishes were disregarded. This bill doesn’t say grandparents have standing to compete with parents. This bill says if there’s a child that is deceased or incapacitated the grandparents can show the courts that there was intent for that relationship. With that intent a conversation about visitation can happen. So, you’re actually respecting parental rights. You’re respecting the parental rights of the parents who is not around anymore. So lots of other things that came through but those are basically the hot things for me.
Some other hot topics that came through… There was a bill that took away all mandatory minimum sentencing. I do think there is some jeopardy with mandatory minimums everywhere. This is a little outside of my arena so I did a lot of extra research. What they have done is very inappropriate. Years ago… there’s 30 years of investment and research and studies done by the Crime Commission, the Courts, and the Supreme Court, and the Sentencing Commission. The Sentencing Commission was actually set up to ensure there was not bias in sentencing. So, there’s no parole in Virginia since 1994 on. Even though you hear people being paroled they committed crimes before that time. When you have no parole you should take away all the mandatory minimum sentences from felonies. That never happened. I would’ve supported a bill that did that because you can’t have it on both ends. You can’t stack mandatory minimums when you have truth in sentencing and that makes sense. They took it away for all misdemeanors too instead of discerning and that is a problem. It’s a problem because we were reduced the misdemeanor level for a lot of those crimes and then made them mandatory minimum. So, there was a balance there. In any case, that went through. I didn’t support it.
There is an adult regulation marijuana bill that I did support. It’s still a mess. That bill needs a lot of work but it’s about three years before will ever actually be implemented. So, I think that we need to keep working on it and I intend to do that.
Death penalty came through. As I told you last week, I would have probably supported that bill if instead of the death sentence, which as a pro life person I’ve always had a hard time with and have been convinced that the evidence doesn’t support that it’s deterrent, that if they had substituted for the death penalty life without parole I would’ve supported that. That seems to be where most people are but they didn’t. They didn’t say that it had to be life without parole and that sentence can be reduced and as a result I thought it went too far. I think if somebody is doing some of the heinous crimes and murders we’ve heard about they shouldn’t be able to get out. I actually think that’s a worse sentence than the death penalty.h at passed, anyway. I know it’s boring but it’s synopsis of where we are and, you know, what we’re doing. I want to give you an update. That’s what we do. Week to week I can give you more details in the weeds of what’s going on. I have a couple of questions. Looks like the only question I have is:
Have you ever thought about having doctors office close one day a week and serving as vaccine clinics?
I will tell you that the strategy for getting vaccines out to 4500 doctors offices is much harder than it is to get it out to maybe 50 mass vaccination centers for the state of Virginia. So, that is not a decision I am making. What I did do was make it easy so that all of the staff in a doctors office could volunteer incredibly easily so long as they were qualified and did some basic review stuff that they had to do. So yes, in a way, but my way is different than you’re saying. Instead of the vaccine going to the doctors office the doctors office would close and go to the vaccine center. My bill did make that very possible that it could be done. So, I think that’s everything. I’m not seeing any questions but I’m going to ask my team to let me know.
So, I’m looking at everything and I think that pretty much covers it. If we didn’t get an answer to you I we’ll get it by email. The team will reach out to you. My team is so extraordinary. They’re doing such a great job coordinating so many different things at once. I’m so grateful to them and I’m grateful to you tuning in on a snowy Sunday. I hope you have a good week. Now, we have had crossover. So, all the Senate bills have been processed and sent out of the Senate. All of the House bills have been processed and sent out of the House. So they cross over to the other houses. I will spend the next three weeks or so processing House bills and going back-and-forth if we disagree on amendments and the status of different bills in conference committees to sort that out. Thats the second half of session. We have the budget coming out this week. We’re looking for some January budget numbers from the state. I think then you’ll see the Senate budget. That’s kind of where we are. That’s the update. I will be looking forward to talking to you next week. Bye everybody. Take care.