State Senator Dr. Siobhan Dunnavant on Limiting the Executive Powers of Virginia Governor Northam and Reopening Schools



Live from Virginia Monday morning on The John Fredericks Show –  weekdays on WNTW AM 820/ FM 92.7 – Richmond, WJFN FM 100.5 – Central Virginia, WMPH AM 1010 / FM 100.1 / FM 96.9 (7-9 PM) Hampton Roads, WBRG AM 1050 / FM 105.1 – Lynchburg/Roanoke and Weekdays 6-10 am and 24/7 Stream –  host Fredericks welcomed Virginia State Senator (R) Dr. Siobhan Dunnavant to the show.

During the show, Dunnavant informed of an upcoming special session to be held in order to rid Governor Northam of his emergency powers and limit executive orders to 30 days unless they are renewed by legislature. She also added that she will be advocating for the reopening of schools supported by data and adding a dynamic she calls the student-specific assessment which will aid kids to get back on track on their level.

Fredericks: State Senator Dr. Siobhan Dunnavant is joining us now. Dr. Dunnavant, great to have you.

Dunnavant: Thank you so much for having me, John. I’m thrilled to be here.

Fredericks: So let’s talk about the special session tomorrow. We know that Levar Stoney in Richmond, this was our lead story today on the Star. He doesn’t care about the city burning down. Or windows being smashed at the Omni. Or people’s lives being threatened. No, he wants everybody to get stoned. (Dunnavant chuckles)

He wants everybody to get high. He said his number one priority is to legalize pot. If we do that in Richmond then I guess the city stops burning down or something. I’ve already belabored that. What is the agenda items that you have to grapple with Dr. Dunnavant?

Dunnavant: I would say first and foremost that Republicans view this special session as an opportunity for a practical referendum. And the Democrats see it as a political one. And Virginia deserves a little pragmatism. So first and foremost we need to make sure the voice of the people is expressed through the legislature and their representative government is never silent for so long again.

So you are going to see many people coming forward with legislation that limits executive orders to 30 days unless they are renewed by the legislature. And that’s the way to be consistent with the constitution but also make sure the governor does not govern so long. It was never the intent of the code or the constitution that a governor do so unilaterally for so long.

But he has really stretched that meaning and we will clarify it. We have lots of other things we want to talk about. We need to talk about data. We need to talk about rapid testing. We need to talk about the epic health issue for our state and that is our children. And the risk to our children is not this virus, it is schools not being open.

And we can go through all that information and that data and why that’s so important and imperative. We also need to make sure that schools do reopen. We also have to pivot and make sure we help families until they do. And we also need to look very carefully about what they are talking about with this police reform.

We want to make sure Virginia never ever becomes like Minneapolis or Baltimore or any of those other police forces that can’t hold their own accountable. And the reason they can’t is because of collective bargaining. And the greatest threat to police accountability in the state of Virginia is the legislation that the Democrats passed last year. And that’s collective bargaining.

Fredericks: Let me go back to this school’s issue when you say you have data that you want to present. First of all its not up to the General Assembly. That’s number one. It’s up to the various school boards. Do the Democrats care about data?

Aren’t they primarily closing schools so that they can hurt Trump? Isn’t that the whole national agenda? so parents can’t go back to work so people are depressed so nothing is normal so they get rid of the incumbent? So if that’s the case like I think it is, why would the science and data matter to them.

Dunnavant: Well I think its time to have a public discussion of that right? I never know what somebody else’s motivation or intent is. But I know this. I cannot fathom why we are where we are because the science and the data is so extraordinary clear that schools need to be open.

If we look at this, 40 percent of our children are on free and reduced lunch. One-third of them are on Medicaid. 200,000 do not have broadband in their home. And 173,000 have no computer terminal in their home. Virtual education is an important option.

Its a really really important part of this solution but not in the absence of an open school option. So we need to be very clear that there is no better subject matter expert than the Academy I assume at some point in time our governor belonged to. And that’s the American Academy of Pediatricians. And they have said let nothing be an obstacle in your way. Open schools.

Fredericks: I don’t think there is any question that closing schools the way they are doing this that kids can’t get an education. Plus you’ve already been over all the trauma they go through and the fact that there are no in-room classes which is hurting kids both intellectually, educationally, and emotionally.

And again, the teachers’ unions don’t care.  Now they have some of them in Fairfax saying they don’t even want to teach over the internet because I don’t know, the virus is maybe transferred through computer chips or something. I really couldn’t understand what they were talking about. I guess they just want to get paid to stay home.

But let’s get to the governor’s executive power here. This emergency power. You said when he came on the show Dr. Dunnavant, the powers that these governors’ have usurped across the country were not meant to be perpetuous. A hurricane. A flood. A natural disaster. Did you really think that they were meant to just go on forever?

Dunnavant: No. And in fact, I will say that Virginia has some of the least defined languages on that. And if you look at the language there is both constitutional language about how a special session can be called. And then there’s codified language about what the powers of the governor and other people are during an emergency order.

But clearly, it says in that order language and I’m not quoting directly along the lines of when the General Assembly cannot be called back in. It doesn’t say at your convenience. It doesn’t say when you have a better idea of revenue. It basically is if you can’t get the legislature there you must govern until you can. And that’s why I believe the intent of our code, our law, and the constitution has been violated by this governor.

Fredericks: So, what are you going to do? Are you going to ask for a vote? Shouldn’t the General Assembly vote like what they did in Wisconsin? Wisconsin had a special session and they voted on whether or not the governor there could continue these emergency powers. They voted it down and that was the end of it.

It was over. All of his orders went away immediately. Are you going to call for a vote and hold Democrats accountable to allowing this governor Northam to have perpetuous power? Are you going to make them go on the record, Dr. Dunnavant?

Dunnavant: Yes. 100 percent yes. We have several pieces of legislation with varying dates. I support the one that says he doesn’t have powers without a legislative action within 30 days. 30 days is more than enough to manage a crisis and get us back. We can even reconvene. Look at us at the Science Museum.

We can reconvene through almost any crisis. And that’s the intent of our founders. And yes there will be several votes. I can tell you right now this has bipartisan support. The legislature understood regardless of party, that there is a balance of power that is integral to voices being heard.

And even a Democrat or a Republican majority when you have all three seats of power would have supported this because they understand the importance of that differing opinion. I will tell you right now, the place everyone needs to focus on is the House because this will pass in the Senate. And we’ll need to lobby them to get it passed or hold them accountable.

Fredericks: So you are saying that you have at least two Democrats in the Senate that are going to vote to end this governors executive power?

Dunnavant: I think you are exactly right when you say feel. I feel I have. I haven’t whipped any votes. But I will tell you that the Senate more often than not understands the importance of the balance of power. So I can’t promise you that. I haven’t called in which votes.

But I have listened to conversations across time and I’m pretty sure this is going to pass the Senate. I want to talk a second about school openings because I think you made a really good point. One of the things that we’ve heard from parents across the state that is getting no traction with the Democrats is that their kids aren’t learning.

They are behind. And now we’ve just changed accreditation for our schools which look at some of our accountability measures. I’ll be carrying legislation to make sure that we have a student-specific assessment to look at that student’s progress. This isn’t about schools.

This is about students. We need to know where they are so we can measure and figure out how to get them back to grade level. And so I’m going to ask the Department of Education to develop that student-specific student growth assessment because that’s what we want.

We want to know our kids are learning. We want to know where their deficits are. And we want to make sure that we fix the problem that’s been caused by the education weaknesses we’ve had for the last year. I think it’s going to be close to a calendar year.

Fredericks: It’s unbelievable. I mean you look at many of these schools closed on the second or third day of March and they’re not going to open until January. That’s a year of no school. And forget the whole online thing and the Zoom meetings. If you are in the third grade or fifth grade, I mean c’mon. Right? You’re just not learning. Everybody knows that even if you are in high school.

And all these studies are out there at any given time show that 50 percent of the time kids aren’t even logged in and those that are logged in are doing something else. They are just logged in.  The whole thing is ridiculous. We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. You’ve got kids not going to school for an entire year. It’s unfathomable to me. These kids are going to fall so far behind.

Listen to the full show here:



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