Reconvene Session Update
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
To the Constituents of the 19th House District, This past Wednesday, the General Assembly met to consider the Governor’s amendments and veto. As with most things these days, Reconvene Session was abnormal in many ways. While the Senate met in an enclosed setting, the House of Delegates convened in a tent outside the Capitol Building. The result was unsurprising. Technical difficulties resulted in a roll call that took almost an hour to complete, microphones frequently malfunctioned, and consistent troubleshooting was needed to accurately record each delegate’s vote.
The House of Delegates is a deliberative body, and bills that are introduced on the floor require healthy and robust discussion before they are acted upon. Remotely attending session severely hinders the opportunity for this to occur. For these reasons, I voted against the majority’s attempts to change the House Rules to allow for remote voting. There are simply too many unnecessary issues that arise, and Virginians deserve to have their elected officials representing their respective interests in person. Remote voting falls short of providing the environment needed to confer, deliberate and vote efficiently and effectively.
That being said, the House worked through the night to consider the Governor’s nearly three hundred amendments in order to complete its work for this session’s calendar year. I stood with my Republican colleagues to protect jobs and our business community from increased costs and regulations, the integrity of our elections, and the safety of our communities. This included voting in favor of pausing any new spending in the budget until Virginia can better understand the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has on our state budget revenues. I anticipate that the General Assembly will be called back for a Special Session this summer as the impact of the pandemic to Virginian’s financial health becomes more clear.
Thanks to policies implemented over the past decade, Virginia is ranked the number one state for business in the nation. Unfortunately, the laws enacted this session were going to place this in jeopardy even before the pandemic’s effects took hold on our economy. The recent increase in unemployment and business closings will only exacerbate the difficulties entrepreneurs will continue to face in the months and years ahead. A telling example is the Governor’s amendment to delay the majority’s minimum wage hike by four months. This will do nothing to address the underlying issue at hand and will not provide any measurable relief from the burden small businesses face as they work to recover from forced closures and an uncertain economic environment.
Virginians’ enterprising spirit should be cultivated and strengthened, not hindered by increased costs - especially when they have been asked to sacrifice for the overall health and safety of our Commonwealth. We should be preparing ourselves for the day when it is reasonably safe to open business. Doing so means providing the men and women who keep our economy running the ability to focus on reopening their businesses, rather than having to decide whether or not these new laws make it economically feasible to do so. To this regard, the House did take a step in that direction by voting to move the income tax filing and payment deadline forward to June 1, while also waiving interest on late payments.
Though the House majority pushed through the Governor’s amendment to cancel local May elections and move them to November, the Senate defeated the measure with a bipartisan vote. We were very close to setting a precedent of destroying votes and I am thankful that we did not disenfranchise any Virginians. The Governor retains the authority to push the election back by two weeks, and my Republican colleagues and I are supportive of moving the election into June should the need arise.
Just as protecting the integrity of elections is a priority, so too is ensuring the safety of Virginians. The health and wellbeing of incarcerated individuals is not something to be taken lightly, especially during this period of uncertainty. However, it should not be used as an excuse to make our neighborhoods and communities less safe. Unfortunately, Democrats voted to allow the release of thousands of violent felons from prison, using COVID-19 as justification. Though the Governor had the ability to relieve the strain on correctional facility resources by limiting his amendment to nonviolent offenders, or those with drug possession charges, he chose instead to include perpetrators of manslaughter, robbery, assault, arson and burglary in his authorization to grant early release.
As we continue to find our way through this situation, my Republican colleagues and I will continue to urge the Governor to consider a more nuanced and targeted approach to reopening Virginia. These blanket ban provisions are increasingly unsuitable for the dynamic and complex world that we live in. And it is clear that the past month and half have given our health systems time to prepare for any potential flare ups. In fact, this Thursday the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) wrote a letter to the Governor stating that hospitals are willing and able to resume so-called nonessential services and urged him to rescind his ban on elective surgeries – he subsequently extended it another week to Friday, May 1st. This is just one example of how the Governor must do better to listen to the people with firsthand knowledge when deciding what is best for our health and for our economy.
My office continues to closely monitor the situation in Virginia and will keep you advised as we learn more. I encourage you to read below and to visit https://www.virginia.gov/coronavirus/faq/as well as my Facebook page for answers to the most frequently asked questions concerning Executive Orders, school closures and guidelines for businesses.
You can also stay up to date with various health and safety measures being recommended by state officials visiting https://www.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call or email my office at (540) 254-1500 or DelTAustin@house.virginia.gov.
COVID-19 Resources State and Federal officials have made it easier to file for unemployment benefits and have increased the maximum weekly benefit by nearly 20%. Benefits will now be paid during the first week of unemployment, and the requirement to search for a job during this period has also been suspended. For more information, please visit: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/unemployed
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been replenished thanks to action by Congressional Republicans, giving smaller businesses a lifeline in the form of forgivable loans to keep people on payroll until the economy opens again. For more information, please visit: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/
https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources. The Governor’s “stay at home” order remains in effect until at least June 10th. The CDC has recommended that Virginians wear some sort of fabric covering over their mouth and nose when they go out. If you have to go out, consider covering your face.
General Closings and Cancellations Reminders Courts The Supreme Court of Virginia has ordered all non-essential, non-emergency court proceedings to suspend through May 17th. This includes a suspension in eviction hearings. If you have ongoing matters before the courts, you may wish to reach out to your attorney or the appropriate clerk’s office for specific questions. DMV The DMV’s service centers remain closed to the public through at least May 11th. Virginians with business before the DMV are encouraged to perform their transactions online:
https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/#/. For those who must appear in person for license renewal or other similar business, a 60 day deadline extension will be granted for all expirations occurring before May 15. Visit here for more details: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#covid19.asp
The Virginia State Police have also been instructed to not enforce the state’s vehicle inspection program for 60 days. If your vehicle inspection is about to expire, you have an additional two months to drive without fear of a citation. For more information please visit: https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/ED-8-Directing-the-Superintendent-of-the-Virginia-Department-of-State-Police-to-Take-Certain-Administrative-Action-Due-to-the-Novel-Coronavirus-(COVID-19).pdf
Utilities The State Corporation Commission (SCC) order remains in effect directing all publicly regulated utility companies to suspend disconnections. That order remains in effect: https://www.scc.virginia.gov/newsreleases/release/2020-00048