Virginia COVID-19 Update: Coronavirus Numbers Rising Throughout the State, Vaccine Expected by Year End, Officials Say

As the winter months, colder weather and the holiday season are approaching, the coronavirus numbers, encompassing a number of different metrics, have been increasing throughout Virginia over the last month or so, according to government officials.

At a televised briefing Tuesday afternoon, Governor Ralph Northam said the state is seeing a rise in cases, percent positivity – now at 6.2 percent – and hospitalizations.

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Senate Passes Majority of Gov. Northam’s Amendments, Concluding Lengthy Special Session

The Virginia Senate on Monday adopted a number of slight changes to legislation and the budget recommended by Governor Ralph Northam, including language for the implementation of the recently-approved redistricting commission.

Overall, including the budget, the Senate passed amendments for ten bills from the House and Senate. Most passage votes were primarily along party lines with a couple amendments garnering unanimous support.

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Governor Signs Sentencing Reform Legislation into Law

Last week Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation into law from the Virginia General Assembly special session, which gives judges sentencing power instead of juries in most criminal cases.

Sponsored by Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond City), Senate Bill 5007 changes a 224-year practice in the Commonwealth where juries had the authority to pass sentences after a conviction had been made.

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Constitutional Amendment on Redistricting Commission Approved by Virginia Voters

The majority of Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment this week aimed to prevent and stop political gerrymandering by changing the Commonwealth’s redistricting process.

Sixty six percent of Virginians answered yes to constitutional amendment question 1 on ballots and, overall, voters in every locality were in support except for Arlington, while 34 percent voted no to the question, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

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Attorney General Mark Herring Fights Trump’s Order on Diversity Training

Ahead of the election, Attorney General Mark Herring asked President Donald Trump to rescind his executive order on diversity training.

Herring co-signed a letter complaining about the potential limitations imposed on “implicit bias trainings for federal contractors and federal grantees.” Implicit bias refers to the idea that individuals aren’t aware of their attitudes or stereotypes about others.

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Governor Northam to Sign Bill Giving Earned Sentence Credits to Violent Offenders and Sexual Predators

Governor Ralph Northam will sign a bill granting earned sentence credits to violent offenders and sexual predators. Certain inmates will be eligible to reduce their sentencing by up to fifty percent.
The bill, House Bill (HB) 5148, includes those sentenced for certain classifications of murder, rape, robbery, abduction, kidnapping, lynching, terrorism, domestic assault, strangulation, genital mutilation, child pornography, and stalking.

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Group of Monument Avenue Residents to File Legal Brief Supporting Lee Statue Removal

Roughly 50 or more Monument Avenue residents who live nearby the Robert E. Lee statue intend to file an amicus brief with the Virginia Supreme Court in support of Governor Ralph Northam’s plan to remove the controversial monument, a lawyer representing the group said.

Local residents organized the group called Circle Neighbors after a Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled earlier this week against three plaintiffs, who also live near the monument, seeking to block the Commonwealth from removing the statue.

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Governor Signs Executive Order Allowing for Return of High School Sports in December

After months of uncertainty in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia high school sports will finally return in December.

On Thursday, Governor Ralph Northam cleared the way for high school sports to resume and for the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to proceed with its Championship +1 schedule when he signed the fourth amendment of Executive Order 67, adjusting statewide restrictions on recreational sports.

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Richmond Judge Sides with Northam on Lee Statue Removal

A Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the Commonwealth and Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday, allowing for the removal of the controversial Robert E. Lee statue on Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue.

In his decision, Judge W. Reilly Marchant lifted the temporary injunction, ordered by a separate judge back in August, which barred Nortam from taking action, but said the statue could not be removed until a proper appeal process has taken place.

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Cancel Culture Claims Another: Virginia Military Institute Superintendent General Peay Resigns

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) Superintendent, retired four-star Army General J.H. Binford Peay III (’62), resigned on Monday. Peay shared that Governor Ralph Northam prompted the resignation.
“On Friday, 23 October 2020, the Governor’s Chief of Staff conveyed that the Governor and certain legislative leaders had lost confidence in my leadership as Superintendent of Virginia Military Institute and desired my resignation.”

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Virginia Sheriffs Demand Northam Amend Anti-Law Enforcement Language

The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association (VSA) sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam on Monday asking him to amend two bills to allow law enforcement agencies to acquire armored military vehicles, which they argue are vital in extreme weather rescues as well as the protection of officers and citizens from gunfire. 

Written by John Jones, VSA executive director, the letter asks Northam to amend House Bill 5049 and Senate Bill 5030, both of which were sent to the governor’s desk last week.

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Justin Fairfax Says He is Poised to Help All Virginians as the Next Governor

If elected governor, Justin Fairfax is determined to bring the Commonwealth and its residents out from underneath the current issues plaguing Virginia brought forth by the coronavirus pandemic and a destructive political landscape. 

Last month Lt. Gov. Fairfax officially announced his entrance into the 2021 gubernatorial election, hoping to follow in the footsteps of former state governor L. Douglas Wilder and become the second black man elected to the Executive Mansion. 

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Bill Giving AG Increased Authority to Investigate Patterns of Misconduct by Police Signed into Law

Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill into law on Wednesday that gives the state attorney general additional powers to investigate unlawful patterns or practices by law enforcement officers and file civil action to stop the misconduct.

Introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), Senate Bill 5024 was one of several bills approved by the governor this week.

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Mask Usage Only Encouraged, Not Required at Polling Locations on Election Day, Officials Say

Voters in the Commonwealth that arrive at polling places on Election Day without a mask or face covering and refuse to wear one or vote outside will not be turned away, according to election officials.

The Virginia Department of Elections (VDOE) has given election workers throughout Virginia guidance on what to do when a voter goes to a polling precinct without a mask and does not wish to put one on.

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Virginia Department of Education Releases New ‘Equity Audit Tool’ as Most Schools Continue Distance Learning

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released a new “equity audit tool” last week. The tool is part of VDOE’s “Navigating EdEquityVA,” which focuses on providing tools and resources to dismantle inequities in education.

Included within the checklist are evaluations of “anti-racism,” various biases such as gender and ethnic bias, support of racial justice groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Black Power, proportional disciplinary action across races, and equal representation throughout groups and classes.

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Staff Report: Governor Northam Signs New Laws to Support COVID-19 Response, Reform Policing

Governor Ralph Northam’s office announced Thursday the signing of eight COVID-19 response bills and three criminal justice reform bills. He also proposed amendments to three other bills related to healthcare, COVID-19 relief and criminal justice reform. Northam’s announcement is below:

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Virginia Senate Gives Governor Power to Oust Police Officers

The Criminal Justice Services Board (CJSB) will have the responsibility of decertifying officers engaged in misconduct or criminally charged and implementing statewide conduct standards for law enforcement, if the Senate’s omnibus policing and reform legislation is signed into law.

Last Friday, the president of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Delegates both signed the legislation, and on Wednesday the bill was communicated to Governor Ralph Northam for final approval.

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Trial to Decide Fate of Robert E. Lee Statue Underway in Richmond

The trial over a lawsuit aiming to stop Governor Ralph Northam from removing the statue of former Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee began Monday morning in Richmond.

After the death of George Floyd, the Lee monument and other Confederate statues throughout the city became a focal point of the summer protests over racial inequality and police brutality in Richmond.

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Juneteenth Is Now a Legal Holiday in the State of Virginia

Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation this week passed during the General Assembly 2020 special session into law making Juneteenth an officially recognized holiday in the Commonwealth.

Juneteenth will now be a permanent, statewide holiday allowing all state employees to get a paid day off from work.

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Senate Lawmakers Pass Conference Report for Criminal Justice Reform Legislation

During potentially the final day of the lengthy 2020 special session, Senate legislators adopted and passed the conference committee report on a bill that allows judges in certain criminal cases to issue the sentences instead of the jury. 

The conference report that was unanimously agreed upon by the six conferees, two Republicans and two Democrats, passed the Senate by an almost exact party line vote of (Y-22 N-16). 

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Legislation Allowing Localities to Establish Law Enforcement Civilian Review Boards Heads to Governor’s Desk

Compromised legislation that gives localities the authority to establish law enforcement civilian review boards (CRB) successfully passed final votes in the Senate and House of Delegates Wednesday afternoon, and now goes to the governor’s desk for final approval.

Joint conference committee reports for Senate Bill 5035 passed the Senate (21-Y 17-N) and for House Bill 5055 passed the House (53-Y 35-N), mostly along the party lines of both chambers.

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Senate and House Advance Budget Legislation to Conference Committee

Lawmakers in the Senate and House of Delegates advanced their biennial budget to a formal conference committee on Wednesday and assigned conferees to represent the bodies, but much of the work on compromising has already been conducted.

Before the two legislative bodies agreed to send the budget to a joint conference committee, however, the Senate first had to adopt a batch of seven committee amendments to the budget legislation. 

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Severed Fiber Cable Causes IT Issues for Department of Elections on Last Day to Register to Vote

A severed fiber cable in Chesterfield County caused Virginia’s voter registration system and other systems used by state agencies to fail Tuesday. 

The outage came on the final day Virginians can register to vote for the upcoming November election.

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Newly Proposed Law to Reduce Traffic Stops Relating to Marijuana and Other Traffic Offenses, Law Enforcement in Opposition

A bill that aims to reduce unnecessary and targeted traffic stops by limiting what police officers are lawfully allowed to pull drivers over for recently passed the General Assembly and is now awaiting a decision from the governor. 

Nevertheless, law enforcement opposes the legislation on the grounds that it would hurt public safety and lead to more dangers while driving. 

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Northam Announces More Money for Closed Schools

Governor Ralph Northam is sending an additional $220 million of Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to Virginia’s schools, according to a Thursday press release. The money is intended to help purchase testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitation, and virtual learning technology.

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State Inspector General Substantiates Multiple Allegations Against the Virginia Parole Board

The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) has released reports substantiating multiple allegations that the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) violated state statutes as well as its own policies and procedures after investigating complaints regarding the parole of specific Department of Corrections offenders.

On Tuesday, the OSIG released copies of the reports, originally sent to Governor Ralph Northam’s administration, to media outlets who requested them that were mostly redacted and did not offer the specific findings of the investigation into the VPB.

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Virginia House and Senate Pass Another Bill to Further Decriminalize Marijuana

Virginia’s House and Senate passed another bill further decriminalizing marijuana. Under the bill, the drug’s scent would no longer be a sufficient cause for searching a vehicle.
The House passed the bill in a 51-45 vote. On Friday, the Senate approved to substitute some of the language of the bill.

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SCC Denies Northam’s Request to Extend Utility Shutoff Moratorium

The Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) denied Governor Ralph Northam’s Thursday request to again extend a moratorium on utilities shutoffs until December. The moratorium will end October 5. The SCC had previously warned that they would not consider any further extensions.

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