2021-2-2

Two Bills Advance to Facilitate COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

By David Tran, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia House and Senate have unanimously advanced separate bills to facilitate administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

House Bill 2333, introduced by Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond, intends to strengthen the state’s vaccine distribution efforts and also bolster data collection.

The measure removes barriers on health care providers’ eligibility to conduct vaccination. Any person licensed or certified by the appropriate health regulatory board, who is in good standing within the past 10 years, can volunteer to vaccinate. This includes nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacy technicians. The bill also allows anyone to volunteer whose license was in good standing within 10 years before it lapsed.

Health profession students enrolled in statewide accredited programs who have been properly trained in vaccine administration will also be allowed to volunteer. 

The bill directs the Virginia Department of Health to establish a program where eligible individuals may volunteer and complete training. 

Institutions such as hospitals, medical care facilities and universities would be able to volunteer their facilities as vaccine administration sites.

The bill also requires the collection of race and ethnicity data of people receiving the vaccine. Bagby said during the House meeting that this will ensure a more equitable vaccination rollout. The bill also allows higher education institutions to assist VDH with data processing and analytics.

“(This emergency legislation) is essential to making Virginia safely and efficiently distribute the COVID-19 vaccine supply we will receive from the federal government,” Bagby said.

VDH does not mandate reporting data based on race and ethnicity, but vaccine providers are asked to enter such data, states the organization’s website. Over 300,000 vaccines have been administered without data collection of race or ethnicity, according to the department’s vaccine dashboard.

A similar bill cleared the Senate unanimously last week. That measure, introduced by Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, does not require data collection on race and ethnicities. Dunnavant’s bill, Senate Bill 1445, allows anyone licensed or certified by the Department of Health Professions with good standing to volunteer, including those whose licenses were in good standing within five years prior to lapsing due to retiring. 

Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, R-Bristol, chief-co patron of the House bill, said during the meeting that despite the two bills he “has no doubt that we can work through those differences expeditiously.” 

The bill’s House passage on Tuesday came hours after President Joe Biden announced efforts to increase the country’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines by 200 million by the end of summer.

The Biden Administration plans to distribute weekly a minimum of 10 million doses to states, tribes and territories. The move would add 1.4 million doses per week than what’s currently being distributed. Biden’s administration said it will try to maintain the distribution for at least the next three weeks.

Roughly more than half a million Virginians have been vaccinated as of Wednesday with at least one dose. That means nearly 67% of the available first doses Virginia received were administered, according to the VDH vaccine dashboard. Over 488,000 total COVID-19 cases have been reported in Virginia as of Wednesday. The 7-day positivity rate is over 12% throughout the state.

 "People want to help," O'Quinn said. "I think we can put a lot of people to work utilizing their skills that have been honed in our communities."

The bills now head to the other chambers.

Governor Northam Recognizes February as Black History Month in Virginia

Invites Virginians to reflect upon contributions of African Americans, participate safely in events throughout the Commonwealth

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued a proclamation and made the following statement on Black History Month, which is celebrated in Virginia and nationwide during February.

“Black history is American history and should be acknowledged and celebrated continuously as fundamental to the strength and diversity of our Commonwealth and our country. The celebration of Black History Month provides an important opportunity to tell a more accurate and comprehensive story of our past and honor the legacy of countless Black Americans that have shaped our history.

“As we continue working to build a more inclusive, equitable, and just future for all, we must also reaffirm our commitment to lifting up the people and places that for too long have been marginalized or forgotten. From business and science to sports and the arts, I encourage Virginians to find ways to recognize the many contributions and achievements of African Americans, not just during the month of February, but every month of the year.”

The theme of 2021’s national Black History Month is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” This year marks the 95th observance of Black History Month, which was originally founded as Negro History Week by Virginia native and historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926.

Virginians are encouraged to participate in events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of such events can be found here.

Click here to view a video from the Virginia Tourism Corporation that highlights artists, exhibits, and events that celebrate Black History in Virginia.

The full text of Governor Northam’s Black History Month proclamation is available here or below.

Lawmakers Advance Voting Rights Act of Virginia

By Cierra Parks, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the first day of Black History Month, legislators advanced a bill to help ensure voter protection for Virginia citizens. 

House Bill 1890, also known as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, cleared the House in a 55-45 vote. 

Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, modeled the bill after the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Price’s bill aims to eliminate voter suppression, intimidation and discrimination through changes in voting laws and practices by election officials. 

“Though the original Voting Rights Act was passed on the federal level in 1965, there are still attacks on voting rights today that can result in voter suppression, discrimination and intimidation,” Price said during the bill’s hearing. “We need to be clear that this is not welcome in our great commonwealth.”

 The bill prohibits localities from influencing the results of elections by “diluting or abridging the rights of voters who are from a protected class.” The measure defines the protected class as a group of citizens protected from discrimination based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. 

The bill also requires voting materials to be made in languages other than English if certain criteria are met. 

“HB 1890 requires that changes to voting laws and regulations be advertised in advance for public comment and evaluated for impact on Black, Indigenous and people of color communities,” Price said while speaking about the bill. 

The bill allows the attorney general to sue if a locality or official violates election laws. Fees or fines that are won in the lawsuit will go to a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established pursuant to the bill’s passage. The fine for a first offense can not exceed $50,000 and fines for a second offense can not exceed $100,000.

Barbara Tabb, president of the Virginia Electoral Board Association, believes that attaching fines to the bill has the potential to scare off election officers.

“This will result in definitely a much harder time in recruiting our election officials,” Tabb said. "That’s my concern about it.”

Price said this bill is important because the attack on the Voting Rights Act has not stopped since 1965. She said the landmark law was “gutted” on the federal level with the Shelby County v. Holder case in 2013.

“What this [HB 1890] will do is restore some of those protections and allow for Virginia to say, ‘We believe in the full Voting Rights Act and we know that it’s needed,’” Price said 

Legislators have passed a number of recent laws to make voting easier, including making Election Day a holiday, allowing early, in-person voting and permitting no-excuse absentee voting. 

Price said she compiled examples of voter suppression ranging from moving polling places off public transit lines, or from a community center to a sheriff’s office.

“Voter suppression doesn't always look like taking a box of ballots and throwing it out,” she said. “It can be implicit, it can be unintentional.”

Price said she worked with several groups to ensure the bill ends discrimination and voter suppression. In addition to community advocates, she consulted with lawyers currently representing impacted voters, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Advancement Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Senate Bill 1395, the sister bill in the Senate, was introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

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