Youngkin’s Sec. Natural Resources Designee Andrew Wheeler Faces Tough House, Mild Senate Committee Interviews

Two General Assembly committees grilled former Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Youngkin’s pick for Secretary of Natural Resources. Senate Democrats may use their 21 to 19 majority to block his confirmation, a rare move in Virginia politics, but potential swing vote Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) may be open minded. On Wednesday, House Democrats hammered Wheeler in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee.

Before the meeting, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said she hoped Youngkin would rescind the nomination.

“Mr. Wheeler’s tenure as Donald Trump’s EPA Administrator set back our national climate policy by a generation. We cannot afford more of the same in Virginia,” Filler-Corn said in a press release.

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Seven School Boards Sue Over Youngkin Mask-Optional Order; Sen. Petersen Threatens Legislative Action if Schools Don’t Find Mandate Off-Ramp

Seven school districts are suing Governor Glenn Youngkin over Executive Order Two, which requires schools to allow parents to opt children out of mask mandates. The lawsuit challenges Youngkin’s authority over school boards and his ability to override Senate Bill 1303, which requires schools to follow CDC guidelines.

“At issue is whether locally-elected school boards have the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia over supervision of the public schools in their respective communities, or whether an executive order can unilaterally override that constitutional authority. Also at issue is whether a governor can, through executive order, without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly, reverse a lawfully-adopted statute,” Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) said in a Monday press release.

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Senate Committee Kills Republican Election Integrity Reforms, Obenshain-Chase Conflict Resurfaces, Surovell Criticizes Miyares for Firing 30 Attorneys

RICHMOND, Virginia — The Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections killed several Republican- sponsored elections integrity bills on Tuesday afternoon, including photo voter identification bills and a bill to repeal same-day voter registration. The committee also killed campaign finance reform bills from Senators Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) and Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax.)

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General Assembly Session Day Two: Filler-Corn Criticizes Speaker Gilbert for Tweet About Northam State of the Commonwealth

Eileen Filler-Corn

In a Wednesday tweet, Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert blasted Governor Ralph Northam’s final State of the Commonwealth address, leading House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn to respond in a floor statement on Thursday.

“Ralph Northam is leaving office as his own lost cause, condescendingly lecturing us all from some assumed moral high ground because he read the book ‘Roots’ and then went on a non-stop reconciliation tour. Saturday can’t come fast enough,” Gilbert wrote.

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Minority Leader Todd Gilbert Previews Republican Priorities for New Virginia House Majority

House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenadoah) outlined Republicans’ legislative goals for when they take majority control of the House, governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor’s seats. In a press conference Friday, he said that win did give Republicans a mandate, but said he was also aware of the need to work across the aisle since the Senate remains in Democratic control. He said the issues that Republicans raised during the campaigns would drive their agenda, including schools, cost of living, and public safety.

“We know we have a divided government now, and for lots of reasons, we think at least in terms of administration of the institutions, we will probably work better with the Democratic leadership  than the House leadership did,” Gilbert said.

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School Construction and Renovation on the Ballot Across Virginia

School construction and renovation projects are on the ballot in local funding referenda across the Commonwealth. Voters in six localities will decide whether to approve taking on debt for the projects. In Danville and neighboring Pittsylvania County, they’ll vote on instituting one percent sales taxes to help fund the local projects.

“It’s very typical,” Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) said. “Localities are allowed to issue public indebtedness in order to build schools. And typically, in order to bind the taxpayer with what’s called a general obligation bond, they have to go to a referendum. I’d say ordinarily most school systems have a referendum eight to ten years. Now, smaller jurisdictions, like where I live in Fairfax City, which is 25,000 people, it usually is less likely to go to a referendum unless you’re building a new school altogether, otherwise they’ll typically pay for these projects out of operating funds.”

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Virginia DMV Reopens Part-Time Walk-in Service

People at windows of DMV

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is now open to walk-in service three days a week, 16 months after first opening for appointment-only service following COVID-19 closures in Spring 2020. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday remain appointment-only, but the DMV now provides walk-in service Tuesday, Thursday, and for half days on Saturdays. Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) has been pushing for the DMV to reopen to walk-in service, but he isn’t satisfied with the DMV’s hybrid approach.

“I saw that they’re reopening for in-person again, three days a week, which, to me, I personally don’t understand that. I mean, we’ve required all our schools to be open five days a week for in-person instruction,” he told The Virginia Star

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Virginia Schools 2020-2021 Standard of Learning Tests Results Unsurprisingly Low

Virginia’s 2020-2021 standards of learning (SOL) pass rates are low: 69.34 percent for reading, 54.18 percent for mathematics, and 59.45 percent for science, according to Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) data released Thursday. The VDOE emphasizes that those results are due to COVID-19 and related factors, and followed national trends.

“Pass rates reflect disruptions to instruction caused by the pandemic, decreased participation in state assessment programs, pandemic-related declines in enrollment, fewer retakes, and more flexible ‘opt-out’ provisions for parents concerned about community spread of COVID-19,” the VDOE said.

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Virginia General Assembly Passes Compromise ARPA Allocation Bill

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sp ... inance Chair Senator Janet Howell.

RICHMOND, Virginia – After hammering out a compromise between the House of Delegates and the Senate, the Virginia General Assembly voted to send its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget bill to Governor Ralph Northam. The bill passed the House 78-20 and passed the Senate 23-16.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said that she and other senators fought for the Senate’s amendments in a conference committee with representatives from the House.

“As you look at the conference report you will see that on several items our position was affirmed, and on others we were able to compromise,” she reported to the Senate.

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Virginia Senate Republicans Angry After Democrats Interview Court of Appeals Candidates in Private

RICHMOND, Virginia – Republican legislators say that Democrats are leaving them out of the process of vetting candidates to fill eight Virginia Court of Appeals seats. Next week, legislators are expected to appoint judges to the newly-expanded court. But Democrats privately interviewed the candidates on Wednesday and only intend to advance eight candidates to be approved by the General Assembly, as first reported by The Virginia Mercury and The Richmond Times-Dispatch. On Thursday, Republican and Democratic senators went back-and-forth on the Senate floor about the process.

“I am confident that there were no Republicans who were invited to participate in those interviews and I just want to point out that it seems to be a little bit of a theme that has developed during the course of this session,” Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said. “There is way too much business that’s being conducted behind closed doors, out of the view of the public.”

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Virginia House of Delegates Quickly Passes American Rescue Plan Act Spending Bill

RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates met, passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by a 71-25 vote and adjourned in 30 minutes on Wednesday. Facing 107 pages of proposed amendments, a photo-op, and a series of lengthy recesses, the Senate had not completed its debate by press time Wednesday evening although it convened at 10 a.m.

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Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative Draws Concern Over Lowering Academic Standards

A proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) has Republicans concerned after Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin warned about the plan on Facebook, first reported by Fox News. Serotkin wrote that there are some good things in the initiative, like enabling students to take calculus in high school. But Serotkin also warned that the VMPI would end math acceleration before 11th grade.

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Virginia Opens Machicomoco State Park, the State’s 40th Park

Virginia has a brand-new state park — Machicomoco State Park, located along the York River in Gloucester County. On April 16, Governor Ralph Northam and other officials opened the 645-acre park, which features camping, picnic shelters, boat launches, and trails. One goal of the park is to tell the story of Virginia’s native tribes through interpretive areas.

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Northam Signs Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bills

Governor Ralph Northam signed marijuana legalization into law in a ceremony Wednesday afternoon, joined by legislators and marijuana advocates. The new law is a major piece of legislation from the 2021 General Assembly session. The law has many components involving regulation of cannabis production and retail that don’t take effect immediately, but a key portion allowing simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana takes effect July 1.

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Cox Calls for Small-Group and Individual Tutoring to Address Learning Loss

Gubernatorial candidate Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) agrees that schools need to be reopened immediately. But he says that’s not enough — policymakers need to address learning losses. Districts like Fairfax County have reported spikes in failing grades. Parents and medical studies have expressed concern over the long-term harms caused by a year of virtual learning. Cox is calling for tutoring programs to help students recover academically, and he says he is willing to be one of those tutors.

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Virginia Gov. Northam Signs Restaurant Styrofoam Ban, Issues Ban on Single-Use Plastics for Some State Agencies

Governor Ralph Northam signed a ban on executive branch state agencies using single-use plastics. On Tuesday, he announced Executive Order 77 at the Environment Virginia Symposium held at Virginia Military Institute. He also announced the signing of Delegate Betsy Carr’s (D-Richmond) food vendor Styrofoam ban bill.

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Special Election for Virginia’s 38th Senate District

Former Radford City Councilwoman Laurie Buchwald (D) and Tazewell County Supervisor Travis Hackworth (R) are battling for election to represent Virginia’s 38th Senate district; although early voting started in February, the final day to vote is Tuesday, March 23. The special election will fill a seat left vacant at the beginning of January when Senator Ben Chafin (R-Russell) became the first member of the General Assembly to die of COVID-19.

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Virginia General Assembly Approves Styrofoam Ban

The General Assembly passed a polystyrene (Styrofoam) ban for serving food in restaurants and similar vendors in Virginia. The bill, passed on Wednesday, will first take effect in July 2023 to large vendors with more than 20 locations; in July 2025, it will apply to all vendors, although vendors can apply for temporary exemptions to their localities. Violation can result in a $50 per day fine.

Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) pushed HB 1902 in the Senate as a compromise to allow the House of Delegates to pass a bill adjusting regulation of new recycling technology. Republicans opposed the polystyrene ban, saying it would harm small businesses, but supported Senator Emmet Hanger’s (R-Augusta) advanced recycling regulation bill.

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Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee Kills Ban on Cyber Flashing

Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler’s (D-Virginia Beach) HB 2254 passed with unanimous support in the House of Delegates. The bill would ban people from sending unsolicited obscene images to others. But after the House sent the bill to the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted eight to five to table the bill February 17, citing concerns that the bill could be applied too broadly.

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Bipartisan Effort to Create an In-Person Learning Bill Slowly Moving Through the Virginia General Assembly

Senator Siobhan Dunnavant’s (R-Henrico) SB 1303 requiring schools to provide both in-person and virtual learning options is still moving through the House of Delegates, but slowly. Dunnavant’s bill earned bipartisan support in the Senate, thanks in part to support from Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond.) But a House Education subcommittee initially introduced several amendments to the bill that would effectively leave the status quo intact, prompting opposition from House Republicans

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Legislation Requiring Virginia School Divisions to Offer In-Person Learning Option Advances in Senate

Legislation that would require local school divisions in Virginia to make in-person learning available to all students advanced out of the Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday with some bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 1303, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), just barely passed out of the committee by an 8-7 vote. All six Republicans voted in favor of the bill and two Democrats joined, while the rest of the committee members opposed.

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Virginia Senate to Vote on Legislation Giving Certain Health Insurance Plans Abortion Coverage Option

The Senate of Virginia on Friday will vote to pass legislation out of the body that would allow for private health insurance companies offering plans through the state exchange to have the option for abortion coverage.

Senate Bill 1276 was introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond City), who is also a gubernatorial candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, and co-sponsored by three other Democratic legislators.

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Virginia Senators Push Bill to Help Speed Up State Vaccination Effort

A bill to help Virginia speed up its mass vaccination effort by expanding who is allowed to inoculate citizens and where those injections can occur is being pushed by a bipartisan group of state Senators.

Flanked by various medical professionals, Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), Todd Pillion (R-Washington), Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) held a news conference to discuss Senate Bill 1445 in Richmond on Thursday.

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Bipartisan Group of Senators Call for Governor to Reopen Virginia’s Schools

Three Virginia state Senators called for Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday to reopen public schools across the Commonwealth and mandate in-person learning as an option for families struggling with virtual instruction. 

Just hours before the General Assembly kicked off its 2021 session, Senators Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond City), Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) held a press conference to discuss the matter.

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Virginia Senate Democrats’ Top Agendas for Upcoming Legislative Session

The Virginia General Assembly 2021 regular session is right around the corner on January 13 and the Democrats will again be calling all the shots for the legislature thanks to their majority in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

This means that the agendas and priorities of Democrats in the Senate – as well as their counterparts in the House – have quite a good chance of passing through each chamber if broadly supported. Yet, what exactly are Senate Democrats focusing on?

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