Governor

Governor Northam Proclaims March Women’s History Month in Virginia

Virginians encouraged to participate in virtual events, honor the leadership and contributions of women in the Commonwealth and throughout history

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today issued a proclamation and made the following statement on Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in Virginia and nationwide during March to honor trailblazing women who have helped move the country and the Commonwealth forward.

“Virginia has no shortage of pioneering women who have made history by overcoming doubt and discrimination, by daring to step into roles that had never been held by a woman, and by breaking down barriers for those who would follow. During Women’s History Month, we celebrate milestones in gender equality, and we uplift the stories of women who have impacted our world with their creativity, advocacy, service, invention, and discovery.

“As we honor the progress we have made, we must also acknowledge that many of these gains were not inclusive of all women, particularly women of color. In Virginia, we will continue to lift up all who identify as women as we strive for a more equitable future.

“We went into the 2020 General Assembly session calling it the ‘year of the woman’, with Eileen Filler-Corn becoming the first female speaker of the House of Delegates, and L. Louise Lucas becoming the first female and African American President Pro Tempore of the Senate. In addition, Charniele L. Herring became the first female and first African American legislator to serve as House Majority Leader, and Suzette Denslow became the first woman to serve as Clerk of the House of Delegates and Keeper of the Rolls of the Commonwealth. Her counterpart, Susan Clark Schaar, has served as Clerk of the Senate for two decades.

“Following decades of advocacy and with women at the helm, Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which brought the nation one step closer to ensuring true gender equality is enshrined in our Constitution.

“Finally, 2021 was ushered in with Kamala Harris taking office as the first woman and first Black and South Asian Vice President of the United States. I am proud to stand alongside so many brilliant and intrepid women leading our country and this Commonwealth forward, especially in my cabinet, across our Administration, and directing our state agencies. Women’s History Month is both an opportunity to recognize the importance of women’s representation wherever decisions are being made, and to learn about the women who have helped us reach this moment, paving the way for the change makers of today and tomorrow.”

 

The theme of Women’s History Month in 2021 is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced,” which extends last year’s recognition of the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the continuing fight for suffrage for all women.

Virginians are encouraged to participate in Women’s History Month events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of some of these events can be found here.

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

Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Successfully Launches Fifteenth Resupply Mission to International Space Station

Spacecraft named for pioneering Black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson

RICHMOND—The 15th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station successfully launched on Saturday, February 20 at 12:36 p.m. from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A located on Wallops Island. The mission, designated NG-15, is a partnership of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman’s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft launched on the company’s Antares rocket, carrying approximately 8,200 pounds of cargo that included scientific investigations, crew supplies, and hardware. A secondary payload of thirty ThinSats, which are small satellites that carry scientific experiments into space and are capable of transmitting data from low earth orbit, was integrated on the second stage of the Antares as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) student outreach program.

The Cygnus spacecraft has been named in honor of longtime Virginia resident and pioneering Black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and in celebration of Black History Month. Northrop Grumman traditionally names each spacecraft after an individual who has played a pivotal role in the legacy of human spaceflight. Johnson’s hand-written calculations were critical to the success of America’s early human spaceflight missions. She was among the group of Black women mathematicians at NASA who were celebrated in the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures,’ based on the nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly with the same title. The February 20 launch date also marks the 59th anniversary of the launch of Friendship 7, a mission that made John Glenn the first American astronaut to orbit Earth. Glenn asked Johnson to verify the complex orbital trajectory calculations prior to his flight.

“This important mission honors the legacy of Katherine Johnson, who broke through barriers of gender and race, and whose mathematical skill has been integral to the advancement of human spaceflight,” said Governor Northam. “Her work also paved the way for the delivery of critical equipment and scientific experiments to the International Space Station, like that which is aboard this spacecraft bearing her name. We remain committed to making strategic investments to support the growing aerospace industry in Virginia and help shape the future of space exploration.”

The S.S. Katherine Johnson will arrive at the International Space Station on Monday, February 22, and will remain attached to the space station for approximately three months. NG-15 is the thirteenth successful Antares launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, which serves as the homeport of the Northrop Grumman Antares launch vehicle. The Commonwealth built the $120 million launch pad to accommodate the Antares 230+ rocket configuration and Cygnus spacecraft. 

Once the S.S. Katherine Johnson is deployed to the International Space Station filled with the primary cargo payload, the ThinSats will be released into Extreme Low Earth Orbit (ELEO) from the second stage of the rocket. Students will be able to collect and analyze data relayed from their satellites for approximately five days before they deorbit and burn upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Today’s mission marks the second time Virginia Space has launched ThinSats on a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket—the inaugural launch was on April 17, 2019. First Lady Pamela Northam witnessed the liftoff and participated in a virtual ThinSats team meeting with students ahead of the launch.

“As a former science educator, I understand the importance of sparking curiosity and inspiring young minds to explore their world,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “I am so pleased to be able to watch this innovative STEM initiative launch the dreams—and possibly careers—of students across the country thanks to the amazing team at Wallops.”

The Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority (Virginia Space), in partnership with Northrop Grumman, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and Twiggs Space Lab, created the ThinSat Program, a low-cost initiative to increase student engagement in STEM-related fields. Through this program, students in grades 4-12, as well as university-level students, have developed satellite hardware, tested sensor components with low and high-altitude balloon flights, analyzed data, and as of today, launched an actual payload into space. 

Satellites for the ThinSat NG-15 mission were built by students from more than 50 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities located in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. Princeton University, Salisbury University, and Taylor University, along with Virginia institutions Old Dominion University, George Mason University, and Virginia Tech designed custom payloads for the ThinSat NG-15 mission. Learn more about the ThinSat Program and the custom payloads here

“We are living in such an exciting time for space exploration,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Today, we launched an Antares rocket carrying a spacecraft that bears the name of NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson, witnessed the ingenuity of students, and marked the fifteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station.” 

“The Virginia Space ThinSats mission for NG-15 was especially challenging for schools during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Virginia Space CEO and Executive Director Dale Nash. “Like the vigilant Virginia Space workforce that has safely continued mission essential work during COVID-19, these students and their instructors persevered, showing tremendous resilience and grace.” 

The Cygnus spacecraft is also carrying critical materials to directly support some of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during future expeditions. The scientific investigations launching on Cygnus are part of commercial and academic payloads across a variety of disciplines, including:

  • Micro-16, a study of muscle strength changes in worms that will help scientists better understand the cause of decreased muscle strength that astronauts experience in microgravity. The findings could support the development of countermeasures to help maintain crew member health and support new therapies to combat the effects of age-related muscle loss on Earth.
  • The European Space Agency Dreams experiment will serve as a technology demonstration of the Dry-EEG Headband in microgravity, while also monitoring astronaut sleep quality during a long duration flight mission.
  • Spaceborne Computer-2 will build off of the success of its first study to explore how commercial off-the-shelf computer systems—those without radiation shielding or other modifications—can advance space exploration by processing data significantly faster in space, speeding scientists’ time-to-insight from months to minutes.
  • The Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing experiment builds upon an earlier project and will examine how microgravity may optimize production of artificial retinas or retinal implants, which could benefit millions of people on Earth who suffer from retinal degenerative diseases.
  • The International Space Station serves as a testing ground for technologies that NASA plans to use on future Artemis missions to the Moon. The Artemis HERA on Space Station (A-HoSS) is a radiation detection system developed for the Orion spacecraft and certified for use on NASA’s Artemis II mission. The investigation will evaluate this hardware in the space radiation environment prior to the Artemis II mission, the first mission on which astronauts will orbit the Moon in the spacecraft.
  • Previous research has shown that microgravity produces larger, clearer protein crystals that can be used to help better understand diseases and identify treatments. Real-Time Protein Crystal Growth-2 will test new ways of growing protein crystals in space and allow scientists to make real-time adjustments to the growth conditions throughout the duration of the experiment.
  • The Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) is a critical element of regenerative life support technology that provides clean air and water to the space station crew. The Exploration ECLSS: Brine Processor System investigation will upgrade to the space station’s life support system to help provide more clean air and water.
     

This will be the fourth mission under Northrop Grumman’s Commercial Resupply Services-2 (CRS-2) contract with NASA, for which the company will fly a minimum of eight missions to the International Space Station through 2024. Launch pad modifications in 2019 made it possible to accommodate the loading of time-sensitive experiments into the Cygnus spacecraft up to 24 hours before liftoff, shortening the previous four-day pre-loading requirement. This is the fourth official mission to use this late loading capability, which has made the facility eligible for missions that include life science investigations in the payload.

Last year marked 25 years since the Virginia General Assembly established Virginia Space Flight as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the 75th anniversary of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Wallops Flight Facility. Twenty successful missions have launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. 

Virginia Space owns and operates the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the MARS Payload Processing Facility, and the MARS Unmanned Systems Test Range. The facilities are all located on the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where their mission is to provide low-cost, safe, reliable, and “schedule-friendly” access to space and secure facilities for testing unmanned vehicles for integration into the National Air Space. Virginia continues to play a key role in national security and assured access to space, as one of only four states in the United States hosting a spaceport licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch spacecraft into orbit or on interplanetary trajectories. For more information, visit vaspace.org.

Governor Northam Announces Second Annual ‘Black History Month Historical Marker Contest’

Submission period open from February 15 to March 15

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today invited Virginia students, educators, and families to participate in the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest.

This initiative offers opportunities to learn about African Americans who have made important contributions to Virginia history, provides teachers with resources to guide history discussions, and includes a contest where students can submit ideas for new historical markers to the Department of Historical Resources. 

“This contest is a new Virginia tradition, and one of many ways we are working to tell a more accurate and comprehensive story of our shared past,” said Governor Northam. “Historical markers are a unique and visible way to educate the public about our history, and we need to do a better job of recognizing Black Virginians who have played prominent roles in areas like improving education, championing equal justice, deepening faith communities, and advancing science, technology, and medicine throughout our history. I remain committed elevating initiatives like this one that help make our Commonwealth a more just, compassionate, and culturally rich place to live, work, visit, and learn.”

Virginia’s Historical Highway Marker Program began in 1927 with installation of the first markers along U.S. Route 1, and is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Historic Resources, the program is an effort to recognize and chronicle events, accomplishments, sacrifices, and personalities of historic importance to Virginia’s story. The signs are known for their black lettering against a silver background and their distinctive shape.

“These markers bring Virginia history to a large audience, including people who may not have another occasion to learn about Virginia history,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Virginia’s markers bear the state seal, so they should provide a clear indication of our values. This annual contest helps ensure Virginia’s historical markers more equitably represent Virginia’s diversity.” 

Virginia has erected more than 2,600 markers along its roadways, but as of January 2020, only 350 markers honored African Americans. Last year on Juneteenth, Governor Northam announced 20 newly approved state historical highway markers addressing topics of national, state, and regional significance to African American history in the Commonwealth. Ten of the markers were submitted by Virginia students through Governor Northam’s inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest and included civil rights pioneer Barbara Rose Johns, entrepreneur Maggie Lena Walker, Sergeant William H. Carney, and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.

“As a classroom teacher, I believe that Black history is the cornerstone to build a better tomorrow,” said Dr. Shavonne Ruffin, a Northampton County Public Schools elementary school teacher. “The Governor’s Black History Month Historical Marker Contest allowed my students an opportunity to discover the stories of influential African Americans in Virginia. It was remarkable to watch them light up as they learned about heroes like Katherine Johnson, and to witness their joy when they found out that due to their efforts, her important contributions would be forever memorialized through a historical marker.”  

“I liked the contest because I got to learn about amazing people who inspire me to be a better kid and make a difference in my community,” said Javier Rodriguez-Aragon, a fifth grader in Fairfax County Public Schools. “Last year, I nominated William H. Carney and Barbara Johns for Virginia historical markers so that more people can learn their stories and be inspired.”

Learn more about the winning markers submitted by students in the inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest here.

The contest web page includes a lesson plan and classroom activity guide developed by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood, which is designed to help teachers and administrators navigate these discussions thoughtfully and inclusively and can be used for in-person or virtual classroom settings.

“As an educator, I believe deeply in the power of learning through the exploration of local history,” said Dr. Underwood. “Since 1619, stories of incredible African American Virginians have frequently been ignored. This contest allows for students to discover local heroes and provides students an opportunity for civic engagement inviting them to suggest new historical markers.”  

Governor Northam’s Black History Month Historical Marker Contest begins on Monday, February 15, and suggested historical markers must be submitted by Monday, March 15. The Department of Historical Resources will review all submissions and will select the top five, in consultation with Governor Northam and members of his Cabinet.  

“As the leaders of tomorrow, it is critically important for students to develop a deeper understanding of Black history in the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “The Black History Month Historical Marker Contest provides students and educators alike an opportunity to celebrate the incredible contributions of Black and brown Virginians. I invite all educators and students to help us tell a more complete Virginia story through participating in this contest.”

More information about how to participate in the second annual Black History Month Historical Marker Contest is available here.

 

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.

Governor Northam Delivers State of the Commonwealth Address

RICHMOND—Tonight (January 13, 2021), Governor Ralph Northam will deliver the annual State of the Commonwealth address before a virtual joint session of the General Assembly. He will discuss Virginia’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight accomplishments from his third year in office, and share his vision to continue building a stronger, fairer, and more equitable Virginia. He will detail his proposals to support small businesses, give teachers a raise of more than two percent, expand access to early childhood education, legalize marijuana, and abolish the death penalty.

Governor Northam’s remarks as prepared for delivery available below. Watch the live address on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY:

Good evening. Madam Speaker Filler-Corn, Madam President Lucas, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, ladies and gentlemen—thank you for inviting me to speak with you tonight.

To my wife Pam, to Attorney General Herring, Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the State Corporation Commission, and my Cabinet and staff, thank you for your service to our Commonwealth.

We do this every year. This speech is one of our rituals as Virginians, when elected leaders come together, from different branches of government, from different political parties, representing every part of Virginia, and every person who calls our Commonwealth home. It’s part of who we are and what we do, and it’s important to maintain this tradition, even in this most unusual year.

But many things are different this year, of course. Normally, more than 200 people are in this room. Tonight there are fewer than 20.

Another thing that’s different is a part of the ritual that I will miss. In a normal year, when I say something my friends like, they stand up and cheer. That’s a nice feeling! And at the same time, the other side of the room sits quietly. But I know you’re secretly cheering in your hearts!

Here’s some good news: Tonight, you don’t have to be quiet. If you’re watching from home, when I say something you like, feel free to stand up and cheer me on—no one has to know!

During these challenging times, kindness and calmness must prevail. So many things are different, in all parts of our lives right now. The changes are always on our minds and in our hearts. We miss what was comfortable, and we don’t like uncertainty. We don’t like being apart, and we long for the day when we can come together again. We are social people, and we are meant to be together. The separation and the absence remind us of what has been lost. It’s a heavy burden to carry.

More than 5,000 Virginians have died from COVID-19, including Senator Ben Chafin, from Russell County in Southwest Virginia. He was my friend, and I miss him. Whether on the Senate floor or in my office, his presence always brightened my day.

The stories around his initials, A B C, always were entertaining. I hope that fond memories of Ben will help his family through these difficult times. I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to honor Ben, and everyone who has lost their lives to COVID-19.

We’ve all experienced loss this year, and it has made us all stop, and ask ourselves some basic questions: What’s really important? What do I believe in? Am I taking actions that reflect my values? These are some of the most fundamental questions of life.

We need to ask these questions as a Commonwealth too, and that’s what I want to talk to you about tonight. We need to talk about who we are as a state, what we believe in, and the actions we’re taking to live out our values.

I want you to know that my heart is filled with optimism and hope when I think about this. Because while we have just come through a tough year that brought everyone pain and sacrifice, I’ve seen something remarkable.

Over and over again, I have seen you taking care of one another. I’ve seen neighbors helping neighbors. People like Anthony Gaskin, a UPS driver in Chester. He has been delivering packages for 16 years, delivering more than 180 packages a day—always with a smile.  Patti Friedman lives on his route, and she organized her neighbors to thank Anthony.

So one day, as Anthony drove down the street, he saw his route lined with people to thank him with signs and cheers.  Patti said she did it "to show gratitude and appreciation for simple acts of kindness on his part.” When Anthony saw the response, he got emotional. He said, “I was in shock. My heart was overjoyed. In the world, regardless of what’s going on … people still genuinely care.”

Or Emily, who is a nurse who lives in Southwest Virginia, who spoke to us about caring for patients in their dying hours. How painful it is to care for them and how dangerous this virus is. She had the courage to share her story and empathy to care for people who are sick. There are thousands more like her who are health care heroes across our Commonwealth.

Or Katie Gaylord, a school counselor in Williamsburg, who created a T-shirt that said, “Virginia is for Kindness.” She did it to raise money for the local food bank. When people asked why, she said, “when we help someone ... you feel more connected to each other, and I think we feel less afraid.”

Or our National Guard members, who have their own jobs and lives, but have spent months working to help with our pandemic response, helping with testing and—soon—vaccinations.

Here’s my favorite example: the Virginia State Troopers who protected the Capitol of the United States during the insurrection last week. When the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and the leaders of Congress said to me, “send help fast”—these men and women dropped everything and raced to defend our country’s temple of democracy. Our Guard members went there too.

While others hesitated, Virginians were first on the scene. It made me proud to see that line of State Police cars racing across the 14th Street Bridge. Senator Tim Kaine told me that when all 100 senators were evacuated to a secure location during the insurrection, they saw TV footage of Virginia troopers entering the Capitol, and they cheered them on, knowing help was on the way.

But sadly, many were injured because of the coup attempt, and two Virginians died. They were officers in the United States Capitol Police. Please join me in a moment of silence for Officer Brian Sicknick and Officer Howard Liebengood.

While the fact that our help was needed is terrible, I am proud we were able to help avert more tragedy. There is nothing to celebrate about the fact that our nation needed help—especially to defend our Capitol from fellow Americans—but we can all be proud that Virginia stepped up.

That’s what Virginians do. That’s what service means. And this is what it means to live out our values. And that’s how I know—with all my heart and all my soul—that we will get through this pandemic: It’s because of our limitless ability to care for one another. We are one Virginia.

These stories inspire me, and I want you to know that your government is following your lead—taking action to help people. And we’re going to move even faster in this new year.

When we met a year ago, before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, we met in a spirit of celebration. We celebrated new leadership, and the first women to lead the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia. Congratulations again to Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and President Pro Tem Louise Lucas. What a difference their leadership has made.

Together, we embarked on a path that was more progressive and forward-looking than ever before. We took these steps because voters sent us here to take action. So we did.

We passed landmark clean energy legislation.

We passed common-sense gun safety measures.

We raised the minimum wage.

We advanced important criminal justice reforms, such as raising the felony larceny threshold, and ending the practice of taking away someone’s driver’s license because they couldn’t pay court fees. 

We took important steps forward in treating everyone with dignity and respect, becoming the first Southern state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, and requiring schools to develop plans for transgender students. 

We repealed nearly 100 instances of racist and discriminatory language from our law books. 

These actions were about living out our values. Virginia is a large and diverse state that welcomes everyone, and we took action to demonstrate that.

We ended last year’s winter session on a high note, having delivered on the commitments we made to you. We were just finishing this historic session when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. It seemed as though one minute we were living our normal lives, and the next those lives were literally turned upside down. Over the months that followed, we all took a lot of hard actions, to protect ourselves, our families, and each other.

I want to thank the General Assembly, our local elected officials across the Commonwealth, and you, Virginia—especially the nurses, doctors, first responders, and volunteers. Nothing about this has been easy.

In the ten months since then, we have learned a lot about this virus. Today, we have more tools to fight it. 

We now have the best tool: vaccines. As a doctor, I can tell you the incredible effort and cooperation it took to develop these vaccines. It shows us what we can do when people work together for the common good. 

The vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. The vaccines, and continuing to follow the guidelines on masks, distancing, and hand washing. Tonight, Virginia, I urge you to get vaccinated when your turn comes. I will do it, and so will my family. 

This is how we get back to a new normal. This is how we reopen our schools and rebuild our economy: through the vaccine. It is the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. And while it is a massive undertaking, and it will take some months to get to everyone, I promise: your turn is coming, and soon.

Here’s where we are. According to the CDC, only nine states have given more doses than Virginia, and each of those states is larger than we are. We are currently receiving initial shipments of about 110,000 vaccine doses each week for Virginia—and we expect to be receiving more soon.

I appreciate the hospitals, the local health departments, and everyone working to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. I’ve set a goal of ramping up to 25,000 vaccinations per day as soon as possible.

Just last week, I called on our federal partners to release all the doses they have. I am pleased that the incoming Biden administration has agreed to do that, and the outgoing administration has agreed as well.

Also yesterday, they authorized states to go ahead and start vaccinating people age 65 and up. We’ll be moving forward with that quickly—I’ll be talking to local health directors and hospitals tomorrow about how we make this happen.

The teams are moving fast. This week some local health districts began vaccinating older people and essential workers like our teachers, our front line workers, law enforcement, and more. Vaccinating teachers and other K-12 staff is an important step forward in getting our schools open—a goal I know we all share.

I’m counting on the people who work in our public health departments to push hard to get this done. You’re not alone. We’re all with you. We have partners in hospitals, businesses, colleges, and universities—everyone in Virginia is ready and willing to help.

Getting everyone vaccinated is the largest deployment of volunteers that we have ever seen, and we need you to help. The Virginia Medical Reserve Corps is already training new volunteer vaccinators. If you have medical experience, you’re a retired doctor or nurse, or you just want to help with the logistics, please reach out to that program.

That’s a message we’ve heard over and over again this past year, in every part of our country: I want to help, and let’s get moving. People sent a clear message throughout the year: Move faster. People are no longer willing to wait for change, and they expect their public officials to act. And this year, we will continue taking actions to help people.

When my team and I wrote the budget that I proposed last month, we focused on two things: helping Virginians who are hurting because of this pandemic, and laying the groundwork to help the economy rebound.

So let’s start with healthcare, and some good news. Virginia is the only state in the nation where the rate of people without insurance actually dropped from 2018 to 2019. That was the first year we had the Medicaid expansion program in place. And thank goodness we took that action. Ahead of the pandemic, we are seeing vast improvements in health metrics. Hospitals seeing fewer uninsured patients. More new mothers with health coverage in the first year after giving birth. Fewer people with medical debts or with unmet medical needs, and a reduction in health disparities.

When we expanded Medicaid three years ago, we could not have foreseen the pandemic, of course. But the pandemic has proven that was the right decision. I am so grateful that when the crisis came, this safety net was in place. 

Just a few weeks ago, we marked 500,000 Virginians who are covered through the expansion program. That’s half a million Virginians who would feel a lot less secure about their health during this pandemic if they were uninsured. I want to thank everyone who came together in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to get this done. It was the right thing to do.

Now it’s time to take further steps, because the pandemic has highlighted the need to modernize the way we fund public health in Virginia. Here’s the issue. In Virginia, both the state and local governments have a role in operating our public health departments. That takes money, of course, but we allocate state money to cities and counties using an outdated formula, written a generation ago. Virginia’s population has nearly doubled since then, and we’ve grown into a much more urban and suburban state.

But the funding plan has stayed the same. In 2021, we’re funding public health like it’s 1980. In lots of places, local communities are paying more than their fair share, because the state is paying less than it should. Counties that thrived a generation ago with the coal economy are now hurting. They’re paying more to the state each year for basic health services like opioid recovery, even as their population decreases.

At the same time, urban areas such as Richmond and Petersburg are paying more too, even as their tax base has changed. This is fundamentally inequitable and wrong. The formula should have been updated all along. But it wasn’t, and that has created winners and losers.

So this year, we’re taking action. I want to thank Delegate Lamont Bagby for sponsoring legislation to address this. We’ll make sure the localities that need more resources get them, and no one will get less. It’s the right thing to do, and now is the time to act.

Our budget proposal also includes funding for doula services for pregnant women. Doulas provide non-clinical support to pregnant women through their pregnancy and after they give birth, and multiple studies show they improve health outcomes for the mother and the baby. I’m grateful to Delegates Cia Price and Lashcrese Aird for their advocacy on this issue. We know it means a better outcome for mothers and babies. And we’re providing dollars to increase access to long-acting reversible contraceptives.

These actions help women control their own reproductive decisions. There is no excuse that a group of legislators, most of whom are men, should be telling women what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their bodies.

But I am glad that more and more women are entering our legislature—a record number of women are serving in our General Assembly now, and I hope that number will only go up.

It’s also time to help people by taking more action on affordable housing. We have made record investments in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund that helps make more affordable housing available, and the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program has put almost $54 million into helping people make their rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic. That program has helped nearly 17,000 families so far.

We’ve also worked to put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for those having trouble paying their rent or mortgage. Now, we need to take action to do more. So we have proposed $25 million new dollars to the trust fund. This record is more than we have ever invested in helping make sure people have stable housing, and we need to get it done this session.

We need to take action to protect jobs, especially in small businesses. We all know our small businesses need a lot of help to make it through the pandemic—the restaurants, the small gyms, the barber shops and thousands of other small businesses that are struggling to keep the doors open.

The Rebuild VA program has given nearly $120 million in grants to more than 2,500 Virginia small businesses and nonprofits, to help them get through this. Two thirds of those grants have gone to businesses that are minority, woman, or veteran owned. More than $40 million has gone to businesses in low-income areas. That money was exhausted fast, but the need is huge. This need won’t be around forever, but for now, it’s urgent.

So I’m proposing to use revenue from the so-called “gray machines” to help small businesses. These gaming machines are in convenience stores, truck stops, and restaurants across Virginia. They bring in a lot of money—upwards of $90 to $100 million in revenue from these taxes.

Last special session we did the right thing and earmarked this money for education in the event that revenues slipped. Well, they didn’t slip, and this money can once again be used for its original purpose—to help our small businesses. That could double the number of small employers who get help, and for many, that could mean surviving instead of going under.

The need is great. Rebuild VA has helped non-profits like the Blue Ridge Discovery Center in Troutdale, restaurants like the Alpine Chef Restaurant in Fredericksburg, and small businesses like the Richmond barber shop A Cut 2 Perfection. More businesses are in line for help, so we need to take action now.

We also need to take action on broadband. Broadband is as critical now as electricity was in the last century. Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office. And the pandemic has highlighted how urgent this is—for workers, for businesses, for students, for telehealth. 

For the past ten months, you have been fortunate if you have a job that can be done from home, and access to a fast Internet connection to make your meetings easier and your child’s virtual education possible. But if you have a job that can’t be done remotely, or you live an area where Internet access is out of reach, then you’ve had a very different experience during this pandemic. You’ve put on a mask and crossed your fingers when you go to work. You’ve driven your child to the public library parking lot so she can get a good enough Internet signal to do her school work. 

Make no mistake, this is about equity. In 2018, we estimated that 660,000 Virginians didn’t have access to broadband. Since then, we’ve cut that number by 20 percent with projects that connected more than 130,000 homes and businesses. And we are far from finished. My budget provides $50 million in each year to maintain our historic level of funding for broadband. We need to get it done.

We need to take action on education. I know that everyone wants to get our schools open and our students back into their desks, and to do it safely. So do I. So we are taking action. Just yesterday, I visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, where teachers and school staff were getting their COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinating teachers is just one way we’re working toward the shared goal of reopening schools and making sure students are getting the support they need.

Education is the best tool we have to make our Commonwealth a better, more equitable place for everyone. Education helps start our smallest Virginians—our littlest learners—off on the right foot. It trains workers for new jobs. And when we do it right, it gives everyone access to opportunity to build the life they want.

In this pandemic, it’s especially important that we continue to invest in education, so that when it’s over, we’re not just in a position to rebuild—we already have a strong foundation, one built not on sand, but on solid rock.

That’s why we’re making sure schools don’t suffer harm from the challenges of this school year. That means putting $500 million into schools to make sure they don’t lose funding from drops in enrollment this year. We’ve proposed more than $26 million to increase the number of school counselors. We also put additional dollars into providing more needed resources for English Language Learners.

Students need counselors now more than ever. School staff and teachers have made great sacrifices this year, and I thank them. But our children have been champions, and I want to thank them as well. They’ve been through a lot these past ten months. They’ve made sacrifices and endured a lot of change. We are all grateful.

Investing in education includes giving teachers a pay bonus. We were all proud in 2018 to give our teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years. Last year, I proposed an additional three percent pay raise. That had to be cut from the budget last year. When I first proposed the bonus for teachers a few weeks ago, I said that if revenues improve enough this month, we should convert that one-time bonus into a permanent raise. Well, tonight I have good news: revenues look good, and we’re going to have more money than we thought. We need to make this teacher bonus a raise, and make it more than two percent. I look forward to working with you all to get that done.

For children who have not yet entered kindergarten, I’m proposing a pilot program to provide three-year-olds access to early childhood education programs, and grants to address pay equity for early childhood educators. We want every child to enter kindergarten ready to learn, and to provide equal opportunities to underserved children. I want to thank my wife Pam, the First Lady, for her work and leadership on early childhood education.

To help people get the skills training or education they need, particularly if they’re out of work because of the pandemic, my budget invests in the G3 program—Get skilled, get a job, give back. That program helps people get tuition-free job skills training in high-need fields, through our community colleges—and provides the financial aid to help them do it.

We also allocated $30 million more for financial aid at public colleges and universities across our Commonwealth, and we’ll increase Tuition Assistance Grants for students at private institutions to $4,000. This helps a wide range of schools, like Hampton University, Virginia Union, and Marymount University—recently designated as the first Hispanic-serving institution in Virginia.

We’re also going to propose additional tuition assistance for our National Guard members. I sat down with Major General Timothy Williams last week, and told him how grateful I am for the work of the Guard. He said one thing we can do to help those Guard members is to provide more access to an affordable education. Our Guard members have been a huge support with the pandemic and now with the threats of violence in Washington, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this done.

We have also proposed additional assistance for our public historically black colleges and universities, Virginia State University and Norfolk State University, which have long been underfunded.

While Virginia is not immune to the economic impacts of the pandemic, we’re doing better than many states. They’ve had to lay off workers, cut services, and borrow money to cover operating costs. But here, our finances are solid, and the actions we have taken have kept our triple-A bond rating secure.

And while those other states are borrowing money or raiding their retirement plans, we’re doing the opposite. Our budget proposes investing $100 million in our retirement plan for public school teachers, the state employee health insurance credit program, and benefits for our first responders through the Line of Duty Act. This is sound fiscal policy, and it means more security for our public servants.

We need to take action to protect the outdoors. The pandemic has reminded us of this too. From the coast to the mountains, Virginia is simply a beautiful state, including our 40 amazing state parks. We’re committed to keeping it that way, and to helping Virginians—and visitors—enjoy all the natural beauty we have to offer.That’s why my budget includes $5 million to develop more regional trails, specifically those more than 35 miles long.

Anyone who lives near the Virginia Capital Trail here in Richmond, or the Virginia Creeper Trail in Southwest Virginia, knows that they are great assets to a community. They’re places for locals to walk or ride bicycles, and they attract visitors—and visitor dollars—from all over.

The pandemic has shown us how important it is to be able to get outside. More trails means more opportunity to enjoy nature. I want to thank the General Assembly’s Outdoor Recreation Caucus, and Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate David Bulova, for their work to put a spotlight on outdoors activities.

We’re also putting nearly $12 million into water quality, air quality, and land conservation initiatives at natural resources agencies. This includes DEQ staffing to make sure the permitting process is more robust and thorough. These are important investments to ensure that we don’t fall behind in protecting these critical assets, and ensuring that DEQ can continue to protect our natural areas.

And we’re investing in making it easier to move around the Commonwealth. Our budget invests $50 million in right-of-way to open up more rail service into the Roanoke area. This has been a priority for a generation. We know it’s needed: in the past decade, Amtrak ridership along the U.S. 29 I-81 corridor has increased 77 percent. And the current Roanoke train is the only Amtrak service in Virginia that covers 100 percent of its operating costs through ticket sales. So we need this, and it’s time we do it.

We also need to keep taking action to treat people more equitably. That starts with humility and forgiveness. Those are two words we don’t hear much these days, but they matter. Humility means acknowledging that we may have done wrong ourselves sometimes. We are all human. Forgiveness is welcoming other people back after they have done wrong. We have begun that journey, and we must keep taking action.

If you break the law in Virginia, you’ll be punished. But right now, part of the punishment follows you for the rest of your life—even after you’ve paid your debt to society. You lose your civil rights—like the right to vote—and you don’t get them back unless the governor acts to give them back. 

Virginia is one of just a few remaining states where, if you have a felony conviction, someone has to act to restore your civil rights to vote or run for office. It’s not automatic, but it should be. I’ve made it a priority, restoring civil rights for more than 40,000 people, and I have pardoned more Virginians than any Governor in our Commonwealth’s history. But that shouldn’t be up to one person, and you shouldn’t have to ask for your basic civil rights to be restored.

So I’m proposing to change Virginia’s constitution to make that process automatic. If we want people to return to their communities and participate in society, we need to welcome them back fully. It’s wrong to keep punishing people forever. This is the right thing to do.

It will take a constitutional amendment, and that will take two sessions, so I’m calling tonight on the folks in the General Assembly now, and the people who want to be in my position and in the General Assembly next year, to commit to doing it.

It’s also time to acknowledge ways that our criminal justice system treats different people unfairly. Marijuana is a great example. We know that while White people and Black people use marijuana at similar rates, Black people are three and a half times more likely to be charged with a crime for it. And they’re almost four times as likely to be convicted.

That happens because that’s how the system was set up generations ago. In fact, one of the early leaders of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency was clear that marijuana laws should be written explicitly to target people of color. And so they were, and they’ve been targeting people for years.

It’s time to join 16 other states and make marijuana legal, and end the current system rooted in inequity. We’ve done the research, and we can do this the right way, leading with social equity, public health, and public safety. Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone.

Marijuana has become a cash crop that rivals tobacco—even here in Virginia. But as an illegal crop, it makes no money for Virginia. By legalizing and taxing it, we can use the revenue to help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws. 

For example, just half of the potential annual revenue could pay for two years of quality Pre-K to every one of Virginia's most vulnerable three- and four-year-olds—children who deserve the best start in life.

Rooting out inequities includes expunging the records of people who were convicted of this and certain other crimes in the past. It’s time to act, during this session, to have the robust debate about how to best conduct the process of expunging people’s records. This will make our system more just and equal, and it needs action this session.

Forgiveness is important. But when we all agree that a crime deserves the strongest punishment we can give, it’s still vital to make sure our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably.

We know the death penalty doesn’t do that. But make no mistake—if you commit the most heinous crimes, you should spend the rest of your days in prison. But here are the facts about the death penalty. Virginia has executed more people than any other state—more than 1,300 people. And here’s another truth: a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white, than when the victim is Black.  

Now, some of that is because Virginia is an old state. 400 years of history. But it’s also true that we’re near the top of the list in the modern era too, since federal law allowed executions to resume in the 1970s, after a long moratorium.

Over that time, most countries in the world have turned away from capital punishment. So what parts of the world continue to use capital punishment? Here’s a list, in order: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. But that’s changing. In the U.S., 22 states have said, no longer will the state take a life, even when someone has killed another. There are a lot of reasons. It doesn’t work as a deterrent. It’s expensive. And the drug companies refuse to supply the lethal chemicals.

There’s another important reason: What if the system gets it wrong? If you think it can’t happen, you’re wrong. It can happen, and it has happened, here in Virginia.

Remember the case of Earl Washington. In 1984, he was convicted of capital murder. He spent 18 years in prison in Virginia, including 9 ½ of them on death row. But he didn’t do it.

By the early 2000s, the technology behind DNA evidence showed that he was innocent. In the time it took to get the right people to look at that evidence, this innocent man came within nine days of being executed. Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot do this. If ten days had passed, we would ask ourselves today—How did Virginia execute an innocent man? For all of these reasons, the death penalty is much less common in Virginia than before. Today, only two people are on death row. It’s time to change the law, and end the death penalty in Virginia. We’re taking these actions because we value people, and because we believe in treating people equitably. That matters in policy, and it matters in symbols.

No accounting of the state of our Commonwealth in 2021 would be complete without examining how we are moving away from the burden of our past. Virginia’s history is deeply complicated, and progress has not come without struggle. The Lost Cause has had a long reach here. For 150 years, the Confederate insurrection against the United States has been celebrated in Virginia.

We started changing that last year—ending holidays that celebrate Confederate leaders, giving cities and counties the right to remove monuments, and changing the way that Virginia represents itself in the halls of the U.S. Capitol.

It was important progress, and throughout the year, we heard the call to move faster. The people said, it’s past time for these monuments, these echoes of revisionist history, to come down. 

We saw that most clearly in our capital city, and Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will soon come down. But that’s just a first step. Now, it’s time to engage the community and ask, what’s next?

So I have proposed a plan to help our capital city reimagine what the famous Monument Avenue should look like, as Virginia consigns the Confederate cause to the dustbin of history. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the world’s leading museums, and is an ideal partner in this work.

It’s an important step in showing who we are and what we value. Another important step is in another part of our capital city. It’s just outside the windows of this room, at the bottom of the hill, just a few blocks from where I’m standing.

Virginians operated one of the country’s largest slave-trading markets there in the early days of this country. In time, it would become one of the biggest—second only to New Orleans. It was a place where Virginians would sell men, women, and children for profit.

That’s an important part of our history. It’s not pretty, but it’s part of who we are. People need to know about it, and children need to learn about it. That’s hard, because right now there are just a few small plaques around the area. It’s not enough. So I have proposed to work with the city of Richmond and Mayor Levar Stoney to preserve the site known as the Devil’s Half-Acre, or Lumpkin’s Jail, and the African Burial Ground nearby. This project will turn this sacred ground into a heritage site that will tell the story of slavery and the people who experienced it. I want to thank Delegate Delores McQuinn for her advocacy on behalf of this project.

North of here, along the Potomac River, we will restore gravestones that were taken from Columbian Harmony Cemetery, an historic African American burial ground in D.C. People buried there included one of D.C.’s first Black policemen; many Black Union Army veterans; Elizabeth Keckley, confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln; two sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass; and Phillip Reid, who helped create the statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol dome.

In the 1960s, the cemetery was moved to make way for commercial development. The grave markers were dumped or sold for scrap stone, a dehumanizing act—and that was part of the goal. Today, they are being used as “riprap”—rocks to protect erosion on the Potomac River. It’s time to change this, and I thank Senator Richard Stuart for his leadership on this issue.

And in our nation’s Capitol, we have removed the Confederate statue that represented Virginia for more than a century. Soon, civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns—who fought to right the wrongs of racism—will represent Virginia there. That is thanks in large part to the work of Senator Louise Lucas and Delegate Jeion Ward. They told me this work was one of the most important experiences of their legislative career. Thanks are also due to Congressman Donald McEachin and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton.

Let’s get that done this year, together. We honor Barbara Johns for her work to integrate public schools in Virginia.

But at the same time, Virginia also continues to celebrate a man who worked against integration—Democrat Harry Byrd, the architect of Massive Resistance, which closed public schools to children like Barbara Johns. It’s time to stop this celebration too, and remove this monument from Capitol Square.

One week from now, this nation will inaugurate our next President, Joe Biden.

And just one week ago, a mob of domestic terrorists stormed our nation’s capital. They were egged on by conspiracy theories and lies from a president who could not accept losing. Their goal was simple: overturn a legal and fair election. Those were scenes I don’t believe any of us ever expected to see in our lifetime. But none of that “just happened.” None of it was an accident, and nothing was spontaneous. Those who want a government that serves only themselves don’t care about democracy. And they will always come with violence to try to end it.

Tonight I say to every elected official in Virginia, you can be part of our democratic institutions, or you can use falsehoods to try to destroy them, but you can’t do both. Words have consequences. Inflammatory rhetoric is dangerous. This is not a game.

When elected leaders purposely reject facts and truth, and fan the flames of conspiracy, all in pursuit of power, they are taking dangerous steps. We have now seen where those steps can lead. God forbid we see anything worse.

We have a duty to tell the truth. Voters deserve the truth, even when it’s hard to hear—not lies that will comfort them. Because as we saw last week, lies do not quell outrage. They encourage it. And that creates real damage. Americans are better than this, and I pray that we all can summon the better angels of our nature in this new year.

I also pray that we take action. People are hurting, and they sent us here to do a job. They are counting on us. We can do a great deal of good this session. I’m excited to get to work with all of you, so we can keep making progress in, and for, this Commonwealth.

A wise man once wrote, “adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” The adversity of the past ten months has revealed a strong, resilient Virginia.

Virginians have lost a great deal—jobs, livelihoods, and unfortunately, loved ones. But we are still here. We are poised and ready to rebound. We have laid a strong foundation for ourselves: sustaining government services that you rely on, using federal pandemic funds to help our neighbors get through this, making targeted investments in our long-term success. 

We are moving past the burden of our history, taking action to shape a Virginia that reflects who we are and what we value. We step into this new year with a lot of hope—that the vaccines will end this pandemic, that we can get back to normal life, and that we can return to a time when government was just part of the background noise of daily life, not the top headlines. 

But I hope we don’t just move back to those times when this crisis is over. I hope we move forward with a new understanding of what’s important. Things like hugging people, sending our children off to school every day, work lunches, concerts, and all the experiences that we miss. We need to remember that we care about each other.

We have learned a lot in this past year, but the main thing is that we are all connected. What I do affects you, and what you do affects me. We are one Virginia, and we need to keep taking care of each other.

I am proud of the state of our Commonwealth, and the foundation we have built to get through this pandemic and recover in a way that is equitable and fair. And I am proud of you, Virginia. You have made this the greatest state in the greatest nation in the world. And together, we are shaping a Virginia that once again leads the nation. So now, let’s get to work!

Thank you all, and may God bless our country and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Governor Northam Announces New Steps to Accelerate COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program and accelerate the pace of vaccinations across Virginia.

Governor Northam is taking the following steps to help providers increase the rate of vaccinations as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible:

  1. Vaccination goal. Governor Northam set an initial goal of vaccinating 25,000 Virginians each day when supply allows.
  2. ‘Use it or lose it’ model. Medical facilities will be required to put the vaccine they receive into arms as soon as possible, or risk having future vaccine allotments reduced.
  3. Danny T.K. Avula to lead vaccination efforts in Virginia. Governor Northam appointed Dr. Avula, who serves as director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments to coordinate work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals, and private providers.
  4. Expanded priority groups. Governor Northam announced that K-12 teachers and child care workers will be among the next priority groups to receive vaccinations after Group A, and outlined the populations that will be included in Groups B and C.
  5. Elevating the Virginia National Guard. As the Commonwealth receives more doses, the Virginia National Guard will provide logistical support and help local health departments will administering vaccines.

“Getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move our Commonwealth forward,” said Governor Northam. “By setting clear goals and appointing Dr. Avula to spearhead our vaccination program, we will have a clear vision of how this effort—the largest public vaccination campaign in modern history—is progressing. I plan to get vaccinated when my turn comes, and I encourage Virginians to do the same.”

Governor Northam also announced the next priority populations to receive vaccinations, based in part on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations form the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The Virginia Department of Health is developing an online portal to help people understand how to register to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Group B includes frontline essential workers in specific industries, K-12 teachers and staff, childcare providers, adults age 75 and older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps. Additional information about Group B, which is expected to start near the end of January, is available here.

Group C includes other essential workers, adults age 65 and older, and people age 16-64 with certain medical conditions or disabilities that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Additional information about Group C is available here.

Governor Northam Announces Advisory Committee on Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the leadership and members of a new advisory committee charged with making recommendations on culturally relevant and inclusive education practices in Virginia’s public schools.

The Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Education Practices Advisory Committee, which will hold its first meeting today, Wednesday, January 6, was established under House Bill 916, sponsored by Delegate Mark D. Sickles, and Senate Bill 853, sponsored by Senator Jennifer Boysko during the 2020 General Assembly session.

The legislation directed the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to select the committee’s members, and tasked the advisory panel with reporting its recommendations to Governor Northam, the Board of Education, and the Chairs of the House Committee on Education and Senate Committee on Education and Health, by July 1, 2021.

“Inclusive and culturally relevant learning environments are vital to creating equitable pathways to success for all Virginians,” said Governor Northam. “The work of this committee will advance our ongoing efforts to tell the complete and accurate story of Virginia’s complex past, improve our history standards, and give educators opportunities to engage in important conversations and lessons with their students.”

“When we teach an honest narrative of our past, students better understand their place in history and are equipped to work toward a better society,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This committee will build on the work of the Commission on African American History Education to ensure the content taught in Virginia classrooms is accurate and inclusive of perspectives which have been historically marginalized.”

The committee will be led by three co-chairs: Senator Boysko, Arlington County Superintendent and Board of Education Member Francisco Durán, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education Dean Andrew Daire.

Other committee members are as follows:

  • Chief Ken Adams, Virginia Tribal Education Consortium, Chief Emeritus, Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe
  • Kathryn Adkins, High School History Teacher, Henry County Public Schools 
  • Elena Baum, Director, Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater
  • Seyoum Berhe, State Refugee Coordinator, Department of Social Services, Commonwealth of Virginia
  • Kristin Bolam, Elementary School Principal, York County Public Schools 
  • Maria Burgos, Supervisor of Global Learning and Culturally Responsive Instruction, Prince William County Public Schools and Member, African American History Education Commission
  • Angela Byrd-Wright, Mathematics Curriculum Leader, Hampton City Public Schools
  • Steven H. Cregger, Elementary School Art Teacher, Washington County Public Schools 
  • Amaarah DeCuir, Professor, American University School of Education
  • Colleen Eddy, History and Social Science Content Coordinator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Veleka S. Gatling, Director of Diversity Initiatives and Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University
  • Rachel Gomez, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education
  • Jennifer Goss, Teacher, Staunton City Public Schools; Teacher Fellow, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Alfred J. Lerner Fellow, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous 
  • Tameshia Grimes, Superintendent, Nottoway County Public Schools and Member, African American Superintendents Advisory Council 
  • Austin Houck, Student, University of Virginia and LGBTQ+ Activist, Homoglobin 
  • Hyun Lee, Member, Virginia Asian Advisory Board and Adjunct Professor, IGlobal University
  • Steve Legawiec, Coordinator of Social Studies, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools
  • Divya Lobo, Student, Dominion High School and the Academy for Engineering and Technology
  • Deborah March, Division Administrator, Fairfax County Public Schools 
  • Herbert Monroe, Assistant Superintendent, Caroline County Public Schools 
  • Jared A. Morris, Division Curriculum Innovation Lead, Madison County Public Schools 
  • Jessica Morris, Director of Special Education, Giles County Public Schools 
  • Monica Motley, Member, Virginia African American Advisory Board
  • Kirk Moyers, Social Studies Coordinator, Harrisonburg City Public Schools and Co-Chair, Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium
  • Brenda Muse, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Franklin County Public Schools 
  • Ilham Nasser, Senior Researcher and Director, International Institute of Islamic Thought
  • Megan de Nobriga, Director of Special Education, Bristol Virginia Public Schools
  • Carla Okouchi, Education Subcommittee Chair, Virginia Asian Advisory Board
  • Monica Robinson, K-12 Academic Support Programs Coordinator, Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • Lyons Sanchezconcha, Spanish Teacher, Richmond Public Schools and Member, Virginia Latino Advisory Board
  • Jennifer Santiago, Director of Equity and Excellence, Falls Church City Public Schools 
  • Patty Smith, English Teacher, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology
  • Monica Starkweather, ESL Teacher, New Kent County Public Schools and Member, Virginia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • Ghassan Tarazi, Independent Consultant; Member, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights; and Retired, Fairfax County Public Schools
  • The Honorable Schuyler VanValkenburg, House of Delegates and High School History Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools 
  • Emma Violand-Sanchez, Retired Administrator, Arlington County Public Schools 
  • Carolyn Waters, ESL Teacher, Chesterfield County Public Schools 
  • Thelma Williams-Tunstall, Retired Content Specialist, Richmond Public Schools

Specifically, the Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Practices Committee will develop:

  • Recommendations to VDOE for consideration by the Board of Education during the 2021-2022 review of the History and Social Science Standards of Learning;
  • Recommendations for the development of Board of Education guidelines for local school division staff, including teachers and school counselors, on age-appropriate anti-bias education for students; and
  • Recommendations on professional development for school personnel related to culturally relevant and inclusive education practices, including, but not be limited to, considerations for:
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher preparation programs; and
    • Policies and regulations governing teacher licensure and professional development requirements for licensure renewal.

“The instructional, policy and equity staff of the department and I look forward to supporting the committee during the next six months,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to all of the educators and community leaders who graciously agreed to make this substantial commitment of their time and expertise to helping the commonwealth develop standards, practices, policies, and school cultures that support all learners.” 

The committee’s first meeting will take place virtually on Wednesday, January 6 and will be livestreamed on the VDOE You Tube channel, beginning at 2 p.m.

The agenda includes an opportunity for public comment. Members of the public who wish to comment must register in advance online. Speakers will be limited to two minutes each to ensure adequate time for all registered speakers to provide public comment.

Additional information about the committee and meeting materials can be found on the Virginia is for Learners website.

Governor Northam Statement on Violence at United States Capitol

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement today after he deployed members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police to respond to events in Washington, D.C.

“I have been working all afternoon and this evening with leaders in Washington D.C., the Virginia National Guard, Virginia State Police, and others in the federal government.

“The violence we saw at the U.S. Capitol today was nothing short of an armed insurrection and a humiliating assault on American democracy. The President incited this mob with his refusal to accept the lawful results of a fair and secure election. And the members of Congress who have enabled him—and who continue to encourage and praise his efforts—bear just as much responsibility.

“This did not come about overnight. When elected leaders purposefully reject facts and fan the flames of conspiracy theories, all in pursuit of power, they are taking dangerous steps. And now we are seeing where those steps can lead. God forbid we experience anything worse.

“I continue to pray for the safety of every member of the House and Senate, all the staff, the journalists, everyone who works in the Capitol. And I commend the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police for quickly stepping up in this time of great need.

“Let me be clear: Virginia will be there for as long as it takes to protect our nation’s capital and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.”

Governor Northam Announces 2020 Governor’s Honor Awards Recipients

Thirty-nine state employees recognized during virtual broadcast

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam today announced the recipients of the 2020 Governor’s Honor Awards during a virtual broadcast. The annual award program has 11 categories and recognizes state employees who have demonstrated exemplary service and commitment to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“This has been a challenging year for everyone, but our state employees continue to reach beyond themselves to improve the lives of their fellow Virginians every day,” said Governor Northam. “Ensuring state government delivers high-quality services, and does so efficiently, largely depends on the hardworking, competent, and professional workforce that diligently responds to the needs of the people they serve. I am pleased to recognize these outstanding individuals for demonstrating just how important and purpose-driven public service really is, and for making a difference in communities across our Commonwealth.”

“I am so proud of our state employees and their tremendous accomplishments,” said Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner. “These awards showcase the spirit of our employees, whether they are working as champions for change, providing innovative services, helping reduce the cost of government, or showing their commitment to our shared values of diversity, inclusion, and outreach to the communities we serve.”

A full list of award winners is available here.

Governor Northam Welcomes First Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine to Virginia

Frontline health care workers to begin receiving vaccine in coming days

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today welcomed one of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a Bon Secours hospital in Richmond, Virginia. This initial allotment of 72,150 doses is arriving today and tomorrow at health systems across the Commonwealth and will be administered to frontline health care workers as early as tomorrow.

“These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam. “With this remarkable medical achievement, we are beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Yet even in this moment of celebration, we must remember that this is the first step in a months-long process to receive, distribute, and administer the vaccine as it becomes available. I ask everyone to stay vigilant, take care of each other, and continue following the public health guidelines as we work to vaccinate Virginians in a safe, efficient, equitable manner.”

Initial shipments are being delivered to health systems across the Commonwealth this week, as expected, with vaccinations for health care workers beginning tomorrow. Health care workers that directly care for COVID-19 patients will receive top priority among providers in Virginia.

Virginia health systems expect to receive an estimated 480,000 doses of vaccine from two manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, by the end of December. This initial allocation will begin the inoculation process for nearly all health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. The Virginia Department of Health estimates that there are up to 500,000 individuals in these two top priority groups in the Commonwealth.

Governor Northam was joined by Kelly Sweet, PharmD, MSHA, Director of Pharmacy for the Bon Secours Health System today. Photos from the Governor’s visit are below and unedited b-roll footage is available here.

Governor Northam Signs “Breonna’s Law”

Virginia is the first state to ban no-knock search warrants in response to Breonna Taylor’s death

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam ceremonially signed “Breonna’s Law” today. Sponsored by Delegate Lashrecse Aird and Senator Mamie Locke, the law prohibits the use of no-knock search warrants in the Commonwealth. Virginia is the third state in the country to ban this practice—and the first state to do so since the tragic death of Breonna Taylor, 26, who was killed in March during the execution of a no-knock search warrant in her Louisville, Kentucky home.

Governor Northam was joined at the ceremony by Bianca Austin and Tahasha Holloway, Breonna Taylor’s aunts. Also participating was civil rights advocate and attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the family of Breonna Taylor in ongoing litigation and has represented the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake.

“Virginia is leading the way on policing reforms like this one, which will make our communities safer and our criminal justice system more fair and equitable,” said Governor Northam. “While nothing can bring back Breonna Taylor, and so many others, we honor them when change laws, when we act to right long-standing wrongs, and when we do the work to make sure more names do not follow theirs.”

Video of the signing ceremony is available here, courtesy of WTVR CBS6, and phots can be found below.

Governor Northam formally signed House Bill 5099 and Senate Bill 5030 on October 28, 2020. This year, Virginia passed sweeping new laws to advance police and criminal justice reform, including reducing the militarization of local policing, strengthening law enforcement training and the decertification process, and limiting the use of neck restraints. Additional information on these measures can be found here.

Governor and First Lady Northam, Cabinet Members Volunteer at Food Banks Across Virginia

Ongoing pandemic has put thousands of Virginia families at risk of food insecurity, increased demand for food banks

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam, First Lady Pamela Northam, and members of the Governor’s Cabinet volunteered at food banks throughout Virginia today, highlighting the critical role food banks are filling for Virginians facing food insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Food banks are an important first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity,” said Governor Northam. “Virginia food banks have gone to extraordinary lengths to increase capacity and streamline the distribution of food amid a growing need for their services. Our administration will continue to use a variety of programs and funding to ensure no Virginian goes hungry during this health crisis.”

Governor Northam, along with Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, volunteered at Feeding Southwest Virginia in Abingdon, packing bags with fresh fruit and vegetables to be distributed to people in need across Southwest Virginia. First Lady Northam volunteered at the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, and Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dan Carey, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins, and Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner volunteered at Feed More in Richmond. Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood volunteered with Congressman Bobby Scott, Congresswoman Elaine Luria, and Mayor Donnie Tuck at the Virginia Peninsula Food Bank in Hampton. A number of state legislators also participated in each event.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased food insecurity across the Commonwealth and as a result, more Virginians are using the services of food banks and other food programs. Prior to the pandemic, approximately 850,000 Virginians, including 250,000 children, did not know where their next meal would come from. Feeding America estimates that the ongoing pandemic could make up to 275,000 more Virginians food insecure.

“We rely heavily on volunteers to get donated food items packaged in a way that we can distribute it to our local partner agencies,” said President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia Pamela Irvine. “Volunteers are the backbone of our organization, and we welcome everyone who wants to come help provide this critical service in our community.”

The Federation of Virginia Food Banks operates seven regional Feeding America food banks across the Commonwealth that distribute food to partners within their regions. To support Virginia food banks or to learn more about volunteer opportunities, please visit vafoodbanks.org.

In July, the Commonwealth committed an initial $1.4 million in CARES Act funding to help launch a new statewide initiative with Sentara Healthcare, Truist, and the Federation of Virginia Food Banks called the “We Care” COVID-19 Virginia Emergency Food Support Plan, providing approximately 100,000 food boxes to Virginia families.

Earlier this month, Governor Northam allocated $7 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to help Virginia food banks to continue to provide food to Virginians who need it. This funding is in addition to $650,000 in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to support food bank services. In October, Governor Northam and the Children’s Cabinet released the Virginia Roadmap to End Hunger, a set of goals and strategies to prioritize food security during the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19 and beyond.

Photos from Wednesday’s (November 30, 2020) events are included below.

Governor Northam Hosts 343rd Annual Indian Tax Tribute Ceremony, Commemorates Native American Heritage Month in Virginia

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today hosted a small delegation from the Mattaponi Indian Tribe and the Pamunkey Indian Tribe at the Executive Mansion in Richmond for the 343rd annual Indian tax tribute ceremony. This follows a proclamation issued by the Governor earlier this month designating November as Native American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Indian tax tribute ceremony dates back to 1677 with the signing of the Treaty of Middle Plantation between a group of tribes and the Virginia Corporation—the predecessor to the Commonwealth of Virginia—establishing the first reservations in the United States. Each year, the chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey tribes honor the spirit of the treaty with a symbolic tax of wild game and hand-crafted gifts presented to the Governor of Virginia in return for continued possession of their tribal lands. The ceremony is the oldest continuing nation-to-nation ceremony in the country. While song and dance are a central component of the annual event, this year’s ceremony did not include these traditions to protect the health and safety of all participants amid the pandemic. Photos from this year’s ceremony can be found below.

“Virginia’s native people enrich our Commonwealth with their vibrant heritage, traditions, and continuing contributions,” said Governor Northam. “Native American Heritage Month is a celebration of the resilience of our tribal communities, and an opportunity to reflect on how we can better address the unique challenges they face and recommit to cultivating strong government-to-government relations with Virginia’s Indian tribes. Even during these difficult and uncertain times, let us remember that our diverse backgrounds only strengthen the Commonwealth we love.”

Governor Northam also released a video message to mark Native American Heritage Month in Virginia, in which he highlights a portrait from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that was unveiled in the Executive Mansion in 2019 depicting former Chief of the Pamunkey Walter Bradby wearing traditional regalia. The work is by Ethan Brown, one of his descendants.

“Virginia Indians are an integral part of our past, present, and future,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson. “We are committed to working with Virginia’s Indian tribes to protect the health and vitality of these communities and ensure that Virginia remains an inclusive place for all who call the Commonwealth home.”

Virginia is home to 11 state-recognized Indian tribes, which include the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Chickahominy Indians Eastern Division, Mattaponi Indian Tribe, Monacan Indian Nation, Nansemond Indian Tribe, Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia, Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe. Seven of these tribes are federally recognized.

In October, Governor Northam designated October 12 Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Commonwealth, the first such proclamation in Virginia history. And last year, Governor Northam announced a land acquisition by the Chickahominy Tribe and signed a land trust agreement with the Mattaponi Indian Tribe, two significant actions that help to rectify past wrongs when the Commonwealth allowed their reservation land to be encroached upon and ensure the sustainability of Virginia’s Indian tribes for future generations.

The Virginia Department of Education has instructional resources on the history of Native Americans in the Commonwealth available here. To learn more about Virginia’s Indian Tribes, visit commonwealth.virginia.gov/virginia-indians.

Governor Northam Announces New Statewide Measures to Contain COVID-19

Includes limit of 25 individuals for in-person gatherings, expanded mask mandate, on-site alcohol curfew, and increased enforcement

RICHMOND—As COVID-19 surges in states across the country, Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to mitigate the spread of the virus in Virginia. While the Commonwealth’s case count per capita and positivity rate remain comparatively low, all five health regions are experiencing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests, and hospitalizations.

“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” said Governor Northam. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”

Governor Northam shared a new video to update Virginians on the additional steps the Commonwealth is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which is available here.

The following measures will take effect at midnight on Sunday, November 15:

  • Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
  • Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
  • Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor. 
  • On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart. 

Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly-reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of approximately 1,200 in May. While Southwest Virginia has experienced a spike in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, all five of the Commonwealth’s health regions are currently reporting a positivity rate over five percent. Although hospital capacity remains stable, hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35 percent in the last four weeks.

On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced new contracts with three laboratories as part of the Commonwealth’s OneLabNetwork, which will significantly increase Virginia’s public health testing capacity. Contracts with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk will directly support high-priority outbreak investigations, community testing events, and testing in congregate settings, with a goal of being able to perform 7,000 per day by the end of the year.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five and sixth amended Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven will be made available here

For information about COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

Governor Northam Signs Sweeping New Laws to Reform Policing in Virginia

Measures ban no-knock warrants, strengthen officer decertification process, limit use of neck restraints

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced he has signed new laws that will significantly advance police and criminal justice reform in Virginia. Governor Northam has been working closely with legislators on these measures since early summer, when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor led to a national reckoning on racial bias in policing.

“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Governor Northam. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I am grateful to the legislators and advocates who have worked so hard to make this change happen. Virginia is better, more just, and more equitable with these laws on our books.”

Governor Northam took action on the following bills that reform policing:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5030, sponsored by Senator Locke, omnibus police reform legislation, which incorporates a number of critical reform measures passed by the House of Delegates:
    • House Bill 5099, sponsored by Delegate Aird, prohibits law enforcement officers from seeking or executing a no-knock search warrant. With Governor Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the third state in the nation to ban no-knock warrants.
    • House Bill 5049, sponsored by Delegate Helmer, reduces the militarization of police by prohibiting law enforcement from obtaining or using specified equipment, including grenades, weaponized aircraft, and high caliber firearms. Governor Northam amended this bill to clarify that law enforcement agencies can seek a waiver to use restricted equipment for search and rescue missions.
    • House Bill 5109, sponsored by Delegate Hope, creates statewide minimum training standards for law enforcement officers, including training on awareness of racism, the potential for biased profiling, and de-escalation techniques. Governor Northam made technical amendments to this bill to align it with Senate Bill 5030.
    • House Bill 5104, sponsored by Delegate Price, mandates law enforcement agencies and jails request the prior employment and disciplinary history of new hires.
    • House Bill 5108, sponsored by Delegate Guzman, expands and diversifies the Criminal Justice Services Board, ensuring that the perspectives of social justice leaders, people of color, and mental health providers are represented in the state’s criminal justice policymaking.
    • House Bill 5051, sponsored by Delegate Simon, strengthens the process by which law enforcement officers can be decertified and allows the Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings.
    • House Bill 5069, sponsored by Delegate Carroll Foy, limits the circumstances in which law enforcement officers can use neck restraints.
    • House Bill 5029, sponsored by Delegate McQuinn, requires law enforcement officers intervene when they witness another officer engaging or attempting to engage in the use of excessive force.
    • House Bill 5045, sponsored by Delegate Delaney, makes it a Class 6 felony for law enforcement officers to “carnally know” someone they have arrested or detained, an inmate, parolee, probationer, pretrial defendant, or post trial offender, if the officer is in a position of authority over such individual.
  • Governor Northam signed House Bill 5055 and Senate Bill 5035, sponsored by Leader Herring and Senator Hashmi, respectively, which empower localities to create civilian law enforcement review boards. These new laws also permit civilian review boards the authority to issue subpoenas and make binding disciplinary decisions.
  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5014, sponsored by Senator Edwards, which mandates the creation of minimum crisis intervention training standards and requires law enforcement officers complete crisis intervention training.

Governor Northam also took action on the following bills that make Virginia’s criminal justice system more equitable:

  • Governor Northam signed Senate Bill 5018, sponsored by Senator Bell, which allows individuals serving a sentence for certain felony offenses who are terminally ill to petition the Parole Board for conditional release.
  • Governor Northam amended House Bill 5148 and Senate Bill 5034, sponsored by Delegate Scott and Senator Boysko, respectively, which allow for increased earned sentencing credits. The Governor proposed a six-month delay to give the Department of Corrections sufficient time to implement this program.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery woke Americans to a longstanding problem that has existed for generations—and we know Virginia is not immune,” said Senator Mamie Locke. “These are transformative bills that will make Virginians’ lives better, and I’m so proud to see them signed into law.”

“Today is about progress,” said Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “After generations of work on this issue, we are finally taking steps to hold police accountable and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It’s a new day in Virginia.”

Governor Northam also signed measures to support COVID-19 relief. A full list of legislation signed by the Governor from the Special Session can be found here.

Governor Northam Invites Small Businesses and Nonprofits to Apply for Up to $100,000 from Rebuild VA Grant Fund

Program allotted additional $30 million, eligibility expanded

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Rebuild VA, a grant program to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, will expand eligibility criteria and increase the amount of grant money businesses receive.

Rebuild VA launched in August with $70 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Governor Northam is directing an additional $30 million to support the expansion of the program. Businesses with less than $10 million in gross revenue or fewer than 250 employees will be eligible under the new criteria, and the maximum grant award will increase from $10,000 to $100,000.

“We started Rebuild VA to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam. “These changes to the program will ensure that we can provide additional financial assistance to even more Virginians so they can weather this public health crisis and emerge stronger.” 

Rebuild VA will now be open to all types of Virginia small businesses that meet size and other eligibility requirements, from restaurants and summer camps, to farmers and retail shops. Businesses that previously received a Rebuild VA grant will receive a second award correlated with the updated guidelines.

Rebuild VA is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD) in partnership with the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Eligible businesses and nonprofits must demonstrate that their normal operations were limited by Governor Northam’s Executive Orders Fifty-Three or Fifty-Five, or that they were directly impacted by the closure of such businesses. In September, the program expanded eligibility to supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the pandemic. 

Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:

  • Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
  • Employee salaries;
  • Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
  • Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
  • Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.

For additional information about Rebuild VA and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.

 

Governor Northam Announces Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance to Build Wind Energy Workforce in Virginia

New College Institute, Centura College, and Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy will join forces to position Virginia as leader in offshore wind industry training

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the formation of Virginia’s first offshore and onshore wind workforce training collaborative, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance. The program will offer industry required certifications that are critical to the operations and long-term maintenance of wind projects. The Governor made the announcement addressing the 2020 Offshore WINDPOWER Virtual Summit hosted by the American Wind Energy Association.

The New College Institute, which will serve as the host institution, is joining forces with Centura College and the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy to create the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance (the Alliance). This partnership will bring courses certified by the Global Wind Organization and National Center for Construction, Education, and Research wind technician training to onshore and offshore wind projects to Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Building a strong wind energy workforce will give the Commonwealth a significant competitive advantage in attracting onshore and offshore wind projects,” said Governor Northam. “There is currently massive potential for offshore wind up and down the East Coast, and we look forward to working with our partners across Virginia and in neighboring states to grow this industry and reap the tremendous economic benefits for our communities, especially those that have been historically disadvantaged.”

The Alliance represents an important first step in what will be a much larger workforce development effort to support the renewable energy industries in Virginia. Course offerings will span a wide variety of wind energy related disciplines and provide students with a customizable portfolio of training options. Programs will range from specific certifications to a year-long wind turbine technician program that bundles several industry-recognized certifications and prepares students to serve as certified installation technicians, inspectors, and maintenance technicians. The Alliance plans to start offering programs in early 2021. 

“Virginia is actively working to welcome new and expanding business in the offshore and onshore wind sector,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “These companies require a skilled workforce to reach their highest potential, and fortunately, because of our deep maritime roots, that workforce is here.”

The wind industry in the United States continues to experience exponential growth, supporting 120,000 American jobs in 2019, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The AWEA also estimates that the wind industry has invested more than $208 billion in wind projects across the country with the capacity to produce at least 109 gigawatts of power to date. Dominion Energy and Avangrid Renewables have nearly 400 offshore wind turbines under development off the coast of Virginia and North Carolina.

“Clean energy jobs in construction and operations will serve as a catalyst for delivering clean, renewable energy to the Commonwealth,” said Josh Bennett, Vice President of Offshore Wind for Dominion Energy. “The formation of the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance is a critical step to developing a talented offshore wind workforce here in Virginia.”

“As Avangrid Renewables builds the future of clean energy offshore, establishing the workforce that will maintain and operate these projects for decades will be critical,” said Eric Thumma, Interim Vice President of Offshore Wind for Avangrid Renewables. “The Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance will facilitate the development of that workforce and the success of the offshore wind industry.”

“Virginia is taking important steps forward in harnessing the significant economic and job opportunities of American wind power,” said Tom Kiernan, American Wind Energy Association CEO. “Wind turbine technicians are America’s fastest growing career and today’s foresighted move to train additional workers in this field shows that the Commonwealth continues to lead our nation toward a cleaner and more prosperous energy future.”

Located in Martinsville, the New College Institute is a Commonwealth Higher Education Center that partners with industry and academia to provide post-secondary education, industry relevant workforce development and training opportunities in cutting-edge industries.

Centura College has seven education centers across eastern Virginia, including Tidewater Tech, which is home to the largest welding training center in the Commonwealth, with 100 welding booths. Centura is also parent to Aviation Institute of Maintenance, which has 13 aviation technician training centers nationwide and focuses on the repair and maintenance of aircraft including engineering fiberglass and composites.

Located in Norfolk, the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) is the largest training center for United States Coast Guard (USCG) certifications on the East Coast. MAMA is certified by the USCG to teach 90 deck and engineering courses that are critical to the safe operation of the United States commercial fleet.

For more information on the Mid-Atlantic Wind Training Alliance, please visit vaoffshorewind.org/workforce.

Governor Northam, VMFA Recognize Healthcare Workers and First Responders with Free Admission to “Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities”

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam and Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), today announced that healthcare workers and first responders can receive free admission to the exhibition Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities on view now through January 18, 2021.

First responders include 911 dispatchers, law-enforcement officers, professional and volunteer firefighters, professional and volunteer emergency medical services personnel, emergency management professionals, search and rescue teams, rescue pilots and divers, the Virginia National Guard, and members of other organizations in the public safety sector.

“Our healthcare workers and first responders have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, working tirelessly to keep our communities safe and healthy over the past seven months,” said Governor Northam. “We are extending this well-deserved ‘thank you’ from the Commonwealth and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and hope those who continue to serve Virginia so ably can experience this special exhibition.”

“VMFA welcomes first responders and all who work in healthcare to take advantage of free admission and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the wonders of ancient Egypt,” said Nyerges.

Among the nearly 300 objects featured in the exhibition are 250 works recovered from the underwater excavations of the ancient Egyptian cities of Canopus and Thonis-Heracleion. An additional 40 objects were loaned by museums in Egypt. Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities was curated by Franck Goddio, the director of the European Institute of Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) and organized for VMFA by Dr. Peter Schertz, the museum’s Jack and Mary Anne Frable Curator of Ancient Art.

Highlights of the exhibition include a nearly 18-foot-tall, 5.6-ton statue of the god Hapy, the largest stone statue of a god recovered from ancient Egypt, beautiful statues of other gods and rulers of that civilization, and fascinating objects used to celebrate the annual Mysteries of Osiris.

Healthcare workers and first responders should call (804) 340-1405 to make their reservations and show their employee IDs or badges at the Visitors Services Desk when picking up their tickets. One free ticket is available per badge. Reservations for first-available tickets to the exhibition can also be made in person at the Visitors Service Desk. Reservations may not be available on weekends due to heightened visitation on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are scheduled to help limit gallery capacity during the pandemic.

Visitors to VMFA will notice several measures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with the well-being of visitors, volunteers, and employees in mind. Masks are required in the museum and disposable masks will be provided to people who do not bring their own. For complete information about the museum’s safeguards please visit the museum’s website at VMFA.museum/covid-19.

Ticket Information
The exhibition is free for VMFA members, children ages six and under, state employees, teachers, healthcare workers, first responders, and active duty military personnel. Tickets to see the exhibition Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities are $20 for adults, $16 for seniors 65+, and $10 for youth aged 7–17 and college students with ID.

Sponsorship Information
Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities is presented by Dominion Energy. In addition to previous exhibition sponsorships, the museum’s Dominion Energy Galleries house one of the strongest public collections of African art in the United States.

Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities is organized by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology with the generous support of the Hilti Foundation and in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt. The exhibition program at VMFA is supported by the Julia Louise Reynolds Fund. Additional sponsors include The Reverend Doctor Vienna Cobb Anderson, The Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Exhibition Endowment, Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Cabaniss, Jr., Sharon Merwin, Capital One Bank, Mrs. Frances Dulaney, Mary Ann and Jack Frable, Virginia H. Spratley Charitable Fund II, Elizabeth and Tom Allen, Lilli and William Beyer, Dr. Donald S. and Ms. Beejay Brown Endowment, Wayne and Nancy Chasen Family Fund of the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond, The Christian Family Foundation, The VMFA Council Exhibition Fund, Birch Douglass, Jeanann Gray Dunlap Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Garner, Jr., Dr. and Mrs. William V. Garner, Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc., Francena T. Harrison Foundation Trust, Peter and Nancy Huber, The Manuel and Carol Loupassi Foundation, Margaret and Thomas Mackell, Deanna M. Maneker, Alexandria Rogers McGrath, McGue Millhiser Family Trust, Norfolk Southern Corporation, Richard S. Reynolds Foundation, The Anne Carter and Walter R. Robins, Jr., Foundation, Joanne B. Robinson, Stauer, Anne Marie Whittemore, YHB | CPAs & Consultants, YouDecide, and two anonymous donors.

About the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States. VMFA, which opened in 1936, is a state agency and privately endowed educational institution. Its purpose is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art, and to encourage the study of the arts. Through the Office of Statewide Partnerships program, the museum offers curated exhibitions, arts-related audiovisual programs, symposia, lectures, conferences, and workshops by visual and performing artists. In addition to presenting a wide array of special exhibitions, the museum provides visitors with the opportunity to experience a global collection of art that spans more than 6,000 years. VMFA’s permanent holdings encompass nearly 40,000 artworks, including the largest public collection of Fabergé outside of Russia, the finest collection of Art Nouveau outside of Paris, and one of the nation’s finest collections of American art. VMFA is also home to important collections of Chinese art, English silver, and French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, British sporting, and modern and contemporary art, as well as renowned South Asian, Himalayan, and African art. In May 2010, VMFA opened its doors to the public after a transformative expansion, the largest in its history.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the only art museum in the United States open 365 days a year with free general admission. For additional information, call (804) 340-1400 or visit VMFA.museum.

Governor Northam Directs More Than $220 Million in CARES Act Funding to Virginia’s K-12 Schools

All 132 school districts to receive at least $100,000 for COVID-19 preparedness and response

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a new allocation of more than $220 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to help K-12 public schools in Virginia. The funding will support COVID-19 preparedness and response measures for the 2020–2021 school year, including testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitization, and technology for distance learning. Funding will be distributed to all 132 public school districts using an allocation formula of $175 per pupil based on fall enrollment, with a minimum of $100,000 for each school division. 

“Students, teachers, principals, and parents are going to great lengths to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic amid a new school year, and we must do everything we can to support them,” said Governor Northam. “This additional $220 million in federal funding will give our schools the resources they need to continue operating and provide Virginians with a world-class education, whether safely in person or remotely from home.” 

This funding will supplement $66.8 million provided to Virginia through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and an additional $587.5 million allocated to the Commonwealth in May under the CARES Act. This included $238.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities. Additionally, the CARES Act provided $343.9 million for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

“This funding is critical as we continue to provide safe, high-quality education for Virginia students,” said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to Governor Northam for his ongoing support of public education—and I can assure you that his funding will immediately be put to good use.”

Governor Northam was one of the first governors in the country to close schools for in-person instruction when COVID-19 began to spread quickly during the 2020 spring semester. Virginia school divisions have been working overtime to adapt during the fall semester, and many continue to face challenges associated with maintaining public health protocols and increased technology needs. In June, the Commonwealth provided guidance for the phased reopening of PreK-12 schools, including guidelines for safely resuming in-person instruction and school activities.

“We applaud Governor Northam’s commitment of more than $220 million in federal CARES Act funding to our public schools,” said Dr. James Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association. “COVID-19 has brought huge new challenges for our students and educators, and members of the Virginia Education Association have made clear throughout the pandemic that additional, necessary services require additional funding. This action will help keep our students safe, healthy, and learning.”

“Virginia’s teachers are heroes, and they are doing an incredible job in the midst of this pandemic,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This funding will help ensure the safety of students, families, and teaching staff, all while providing critical support for our most at-risk students.”

“School divisions, teachers, and families are working overtime for the safety and wellbeing of Virginia’s students,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas. “Whether this funding is used for personal protective equipment, testing, or technology for distance learning, it will help keep our children safe and ensure no student is left behind.”

“This pandemic has disproportionately impacted vulnerable Virginians, including our most at-risk students,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler. “I am grateful to Governor Northam for this additional support, which will increase access to education for all families—including those who need it most.”

More information on the amount of funding allocated to each school division can be found here.

Virginia Raises a Glass to 32nd Annual Wine Month in October

Virtual Harvest Party celebrations held on October 17

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today invited Virginians to celebrate the richness of Virginia wine and raise a glass to the 32nd annual Virginia Wine Month this October. The oldest wine month in the country, the annual celebration occurs as winemakers traditionally harvest grapes off the vine and prepare their next vintages. This year, the month-long festivities will be held in accordance with social distancing guidelines and culminate with multi-faceted virtual Harvest Party celebrations on October 17. 

Home to 312 wineries, Virginia is now the sixth-largest wine region in the United States. The Virginia wine industry generates an estimated $1.37 billion in economic impact and 8,218 jobs for the Commonwealth and drew more than 2.2 million tourists to Virginia wineries in 2015, according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

“Virginia Wine Month is a time to honor the resilience and pioneering spirit that cultivated our world-class wines,” said Governor Northam. “Winemakers are no strangers to uncertainty, and the wine industry has demonstrated its ability to adapt and thrive despite the challenges created by the ongoing pandemic this year. This October, I encourage people across the Commonwealth to join me in celebrating the diversity, distinction, and unique character of our wine and the Virginians who make them.”

Virginia’s diverse landscape means winemakers have learned to listen to the land and craft wines that speak to the grace and grit of the Commonwealth. In recognition of their efforts and the end of the harvest season, the Virginia Wine Board has designated the third Saturday of October as the annual Harvest Party, a home-grown tradition that encourages revelers to gather safely in vineyards, restaurants, open fields, or virtual settings for a feast of Virginia food and wine.

“Nearly 50 years ago, a small group of Virginia winemakers embarked on an endeavor of viticulture, despite skepticism from the global wine community,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “This has yielded not only a thriving economic sector of agriculture and tourism, but also expressive and one-of-a-kind wines. Opening Harvest Party to a number of celebrations, in-person and virtual, allows Virginia wine fans anywhere in the world to join in on the festivities, and I hope to see those in the Commonwealth and beyond join me in raising a glass on October 17.”

Planned Harvest Party activities include virtual and socially distant events at vineyards featuring local food trucks, live music, and more, as well as restaurant-curated cuisine paired with a variety of Virginia Wine. Select wineries will offer “Harvest Party Bundles,” complete with wines and local artisanal foods. In partnership with SevenFifty Daily, a resource on the history and character of Virginia Wine can be found here

Individuals, wineries, restaurants, and retailers celebrating October Wine Month have access to how to-guides, seasonal recipes and wine pairing information and events planned across Virginia. Virginians can participate in a social media sweepstakes to win a virtual guided tasting with a local expert with tasty food and wine pairings included. As wineries begin to reopen, retailers and restaurants are participating in the Virginia Wine Board’s “Toast Our Local Bounty” program, which offers incentives to those creating Virginia Wine displays and by-the-glass and bottle promotions. Those interested in celebrating the richness of the region’s food, wine, and culture can visit the Virginia Wine Month homepage for more information.

To find out more information about Virginia wine and wine travel in the Commonwealth, visit VirginiaWine.org or click here to download the Virginia Wine App.

Governor Northam Announces More Than $8.4 Million to Support COVID-19 Recovery and Response Efforts in Rural Virginia

Funding will help small businesses and community partners with rent relief, equipment purchases

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced more than $8.4 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for 14 projects that will help rural communities across Virginia respond to recover from the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our administration remains committed to investing in rural communities during this unprecedented health crisis and as we work to rebuild Virginia’s economy,” said Governor Northam. “This funding will go a long way to address the immediate needs of Virginia families and provide relief to small businesses, so they are better prepared for economic growth despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.”

Since 1982, the federally funded CDBG program has been administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Virginia receives funding annually to distribute to small cities, towns, and counties, and funding is allocated among local government applicants through an open submission application process using objective scoring criteria developed in consultation with eligible localities. Large cities and counties receive direct allocation of CDBG resources from the federal government, so the state administered funds must focus on smaller and more rural regions of the state. This year, more than $20.4 million has been distributed to communities across Virginia through the CDBG program.

DHCD reallocated existing CDBG funding to assist with COVID-19 response and recovery activities. Funding can be used for: 

  • Construction or rehab of structures for shelters
  • Testing or equipment manufacturing
  • Training programs for healthcare workers or service industry jobs transitioning to food or pharmaceutical delivery systems
  • Acquisition costs for telework or telemedicine services
  • Job creation or business development for manufacturing of COVID-related materials
  • Business assistance for job training or re-tooling business services to reopen and adapt in a new environment
  • Small business recovery funds for rent/mortgage assistance
  • Personal protective equipment, sanitization, dining equipment, and barrier devices to meet social distancing requirements

“Virginia continues to take an innovative approach in providing resources to assist households and businesses throughout the Commonwealth as they navigate this pandemic,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “From housing to business assistance, this CDBG funding will create healthy and safe ways for Virginians to move forward with recovery efforts.”

The following projects (among others) will receive CDBG funding:

Brunswick County Small Business Recovery Assistance
$520,000
Brunswick County

Brunswick County will provide recovery assistance to small businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 for retooling and technology activities and up to $10,000 for three to six months of rent and mortgage relief. Brunswick County will work with its local partners to assist at least 40 businesses.

Mecklenburg County Small Business Recovery Assistance
$520,000
Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County will assist at least 40 businesses that have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 for retooling and technology activities and up to $10,000 for three to six months of rent and mortgage relief.

Governor Northam Announces Refinancing Plan to Save Virginia Colleges and Universities More Than $300 Million Over Next Two Years

FAIRFAX—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a higher education refinancing plan that will save Virginia’s public colleges and universities more than $300 million over the next two years. The Commonwealth of Virginia will take advantage of low interest rates by refinancing bonds issued by the Treasury Board of Virginia (TBV) and the Virginia College Building Authority (VCBA), which institutions of higher education use for capital projects. The Governor was joined by George Mason University President Dr. Gregory Washington and state legislators for the announcement at the university’s Fairfax campus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have tremendous impacts on higher education, including the fiscal health of our colleges and universities,” said Governor Northam. “Families all over the country are taking advantage of record low interest rates to refinance their home mortgages, and we want our public institutions to benefit as well. Refinancing will free up millions of dollars in savings allowing our colleges and universities to make critical investments, meet the needs of Virginia students, and continue offering a world-class education.”

Virginia has successfully avoided cuts to higher education during the pandemic. The Commonwealth has worked hard to maintain its valued AAA bond rating, which has allowed the state to be eligible for these favorable interest rates.

“Our public higher education institutions are critical to Virginia’s success, and we know they are hurting right now,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Janet Howell. “Allowing them to refinance some of their debt is an innovative way to save money when they need it most, and I look forward to supporting the legislative portion of this proposal next session.”

Many Virginia colleges and universities have seen a decline in revenue traditionally used for bond payments. These institutions are also navigating uncertainty regarding in-person learning, with many unsure when or how students will return to campus. Under the Governor’s plan, institutions will make no principal payments on their VCBA bonds through fiscal year 2023. The proposed restructuring would also extend institutions’ payment plans for two years beyond their current schedule, for both VCBA and TBV bonds.

“As stewards of the Commonwealth’s finances, we are always seeking creative solutions to financial issues,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Torian. “Helping public colleges and universities restructure their debt obligations allows them to focus their resources on the pressing needs they face right now as a result of the pandemic.”

As part of his plan, Governor Northam will work with the General Assembly to allow additional flexibility for higher education refinancing during the 2021 General Assembly session.

“Governor Northam is committed to supporting Virginia’s institutions of higher education,” said Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne. “These savings will make a tremendous difference for our colleges and universities as they navigate these challenging times.”

The following savings are expected:

  • Christopher Newport University: $14.4 million
  • George Mason University: $58.3 million
  • James Madison University: $43.7 million
  • Longwood University: $8.2 million
  • Norfolk State University: $8.2 million
  • Old Dominion University: $29.8 million
  • Radford University: $5.1 million
  • Richard Bland College of William & Mary: $320,000
  • University of Mary Washington: $9.3 million
  • University of Virginia: $344,000
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: $23.1 million
  • Virginia Community College System: $9.7 million
  • Virginia Military Institute: $2.8 million
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: $40.1 million
  • Virginia State University: $12.8 million
  • William & Mary: $33.7 million

Governor Northam Announces Expansion of $70 Million Rebuild VA Grant Fund for Small Businesses, Nonprofits Impacted by COVID-19

Eligibility criteria expanded to include businesses that received federal CARES Act funds, supply chain partners affected by closures

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Rebuild VA, the $70 million economic recovery fund launched in August, is expanding its eligibility criteria to allow more small businesses to apply. Businesses that received funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are now eligible to receive grants of up to $10,000. Businesses that have received federal funds must certify that they will only use the Rebuild VA grant for recurring expenses and that the grant will not be used to cover the same expenses as the other CARES Act funds.

Rebuild VA, which is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD), successfully launched on August 10. SBSD and its program partners, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, made the decision to expand eligibility criteria after analysis of eligible and ineligible applications received within the first 30 days of the launch.

“When we initially launched Rebuild VA, we focused on reaching the small businesses and nonprofit organizations most in need,” said Governor Northam. “I am deeply grateful for the work of our state agencies to swiftly adjust the parameters of this program so we can assist more Virginia businesses as they weather this health crisis and build back stronger.”

Eligible businesses and nonprofits must demonstrate that their normal operations were limited by Governor Northam’s Executive Orders Fifty-Three or Fifty-Five, or that they were directly impacted by the closure of such businesses. In March, Governor Northam took executive action to protect the health and safety of Virginians, which included limiting operations for food and beverage, non-essential brick and mortar retail, exercise and fitness, entertainment and public amusement, personal care and personal grooming, and private campground and overnight summer camps. Expanded business sectors now eligible to apply for Rebuild VA grants include small hotels and bed and breakfasts lodging facilities along with film companies supporting production in the Commonwealth. Businesses that provide goods or services for those identified in one or more of the eligible business categories previously mentioned are now eligible.

Businesses must also certify that they have not received grant or loan dollars from federal, state, or local CARES Act funded programs, or if they have received CARES Act funding, that they will use the Rebuild VA grant only for recurring expenses. These businesses must also certify that the Rebuild VA funds will not be used to cover the same expenses as other CARES Act funds.

Rebuild VA still requires that businesses and nonprofit organizations must be in good standing, have annual gross revenues of no more than $1.5 million, and have no more than 25 employees.

Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:

  • Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
  • Employee salaries;
  • Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
  • Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
  • Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.

For additional information about Rebuild VA, expanded eligibility criteria, covered expenses, and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.

Governor Northam Casts Vote in November General Election on First Day of Early Voting in Virginia

 

 

Reminds voters of options to vote absentee by mail or early in person, urges all Virginians to make a voting plan

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today voted early in person at the Richmond general registrar’s office on the first day of Virginia’s 45-day early voting period.

New laws allow all Virginians to vote absentee by mail, or in person at their local registrar’s office or satellite locations. The Governor signed legislation this year removing a previous provision that required absentee voters to provide a reason for voting early, so any Virginia voter may vote early without providing a specific reason.

“Virginians can be confident their vote is secure, and will be counted,” said Governor Northam. “While the pandemic has made this an unprecedented election year, Virginia voters have several safe and easy ways to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Voting is an essential part of our democracy, and I encourage every Virginia voter to know their options and make a plan for safely casting their ballot.”

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a higher number of Virginians are expected to vote by mail in the 2020 election. As of Thursday, the Department of Elections had received 824,000 requests for absentee ballots by mail. For comparison, 566,000 votes were cast absentee in the 2016 General Election—half by mail.

Virginians have several options for safely casting their ballots for the November General Election.

Absentee by Mail
Beginning today, September 18, Virginia general registrars will mail absentee ballots to voters who request them. Virginians can request a ballot online at elections.virginia.gov. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is Friday, October 23 at 5:00 p.m.

All absentee ballots will include a return envelope with prepaid postage. Ballots with a postmark of November 3 or earlier will be accepted until noon on Friday, November 6.

As an additional layer of security, every absentee ballot envelope is required to have an intelligent mail barcode and an election mail insignia. The insignia tells the United States Postal Service that this piece of mail is a ballot and should be prioritized. The barcode lets voters track their ballot once it leaves the registrar’s office—so a voter will know when their ballot has been mailed to them, and when it is delivered back to the registrar. Voters can track their absentee ballot using the absentee ballot look-up tool available here.

Drop-off Locations
Absentee ballots may also be hand delivered to your local registrar’s office or returned to a secure drop-off location, which include any satellite voting location. A list of drop-off locations is available on your county or city’s official website. On Election Day, you can also drop off your completed absentee ballot at any polling place in the county or city in which you are registered to vote.

For voters who prefer to vote in person, there are two options.

Early In Person
Starting today, September 18, Virginia voters can vote absentee in person at their local registrar’s office as Governor Northam did. Voters can simply go to their local general registrar’s office or a satellite voting location identified by the registrar’s office and cast their vote. Voters may use this option through Saturday, October 31—one of the longest early voting periods of any state.

Election Day
The other option is the traditional one: voting in person on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, at your polling place. Polls will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Virginia has allocated federal CARES Act funding to ensure that all election officers have personal protective equipment, and Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.

Virginia considers election security to be a top priority and has made significant progress in recent years to ensure a secure election process that places election integrity and voter confidence at the forefront. Additional information about election security in Virginia can be found here.

To register to vote or learn more about absentee voting in Virginia, visit elections.virginia.gov/absentee. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

Follow the Department of Elections on Twitter at @vaElect, on Facebook at @VirginiaELECT, and on Instagram at @va_election.

See below for photos of Governor Northam casting his ballot at the Richmond general registrar’s office.

Governor Northam Announces $4 Million to Expand Legal Aid Services for Virginians Facing Eviction

Governor will match $2 million IKEA donation with $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced $4 million in funding for the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, which will support 20 Legal Aid attorneys in providing services to Virginia tenants facing eviction for the next two years. This critical investment comes as thousands of Virginians continue to be at risk of eviction and is supported in part by a $2 million donation from IKEA U.S. Community Foundation. The Governor will match the donation with $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was approved by the General Assembly in April.

“Our Commonwealth faced an eviction crisis before COVID-19 arrived in early March, and the ongoing global pandemic is making this problem even worse,” said Governor Northam. “We are deeply grateful to IKEA for this generous donation that, coupled with money from the COVID-19 Relief Fund and other federal resources, will help more Virginians stay in their homes as we fight this virus. In an unprecedented crisis and financial uncertainty, we must be able to get relief to vulnerable populations quickly and efficiently—this additional funding will make that possible.”

IKEA Retail U.S. has stores in Norfolk and Woodbridge and employs approximately 550 Virginians. As part of the company’s efforts to support COVID-19 recovery across the country, IKEA is providing partner states with a donation equal to the amount given to their employees in the form of unemployment benefits. Housing security continues to be a top priority for Virginia amid the ongoing public health crisis, and Governor Northam asked that the $2 million donation from IKEA to the Commonwealth be directed to support eviction relief.

IKEA has continued to follow Governor Northam’s orders to protect the health and safety of both employees and customers. After Governor Northam issued a statewide Stay at Home order, IKEA closed its two Virginia retail locations to keep their staff and customers safe. Now IKEA is giving back to ensure the Commonwealth has the funding to provide essential services and goods to those who need it most.  

“We are appreciative of the ongoing support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, including the unemployment funds paid to our co-workers who were furloughed in the early weeks of the pandemic,” said Javier Quiñones, IKEA Retail U.S. president. “People are the heart of our business, and these unemployment benefits helped IKEA U.S. co-workers during a difficult time. We now have a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, and we’ve decided to pay it forward to support the ongoing relief efforts in our local communities.” 

This funding will be matched by $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is supported by tax revenue from electronic skill machines. Governor Northam proposed this one-year alternative funding mechanism as a way of providing additional support to small businesses, Virginians who are out of work due to the pandemic, and individuals struggling to stay in their homes.

Although $1.5 million per year for Legal Aid was unallotted from Virginia’s biennial budget, this $4 million in funding will allow for additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal Aid attorneys play a critical role in eviction diversion in the Commonwealth—Virginia families facing eviction have successful outcomes 72 percent of the time when represented by Legal Aid lawyers, as opposed to just 34 percent without representation.

Governor Northam also established the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) with an initial $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and proposed an additional $88 million in funding for the Housing Trust Fund over the biennium to prevent evictions and expand affordable housing. Since launching at the end of June, the RMRP has served more than 3,100 households in Virginia, and over 60 percent of the households served have children in the home.

The Legal Services Corporation of Virginia funds and oversees the work of nine regional Legal Aid programs and a statewide support center, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, that provide services to low-income Virginians in every city and county in the Commonwealth.

Watch the video of today’s announcement here.

 

Virginia Launches 19th Annual Checkpoint Strikeforce Campaign to Curb Impaired Driving

Governor Northam highlights increased enforcement patrols, reminds Virginians to travel safely

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today kicked off the Commonwealth’s 19th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce enforcement and public education campaign to combat impaired driving and prevent alcohol-related injuries and fatalities on Virginia’s roads. Modified to address safety and health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the period of increased enforcement will take place from August 26 through Labor Day weekend, and resume periodically around key holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve.

“This has been a challenging year, and now more than ever, we are all focused on keeping our loved ones safe,” said Governor Northam. “I am asking Virginians to apply the same collective action and shared responsibility that we have harnessed to stop the spread of COVID-19 to reverse the trends of drunk driving. The work of Checkpoint Strikeforce is a critical part of our efforts to reduce the number of fatalities on Virginia’s roads, and the message is simple: if you are old enough to drink, act like it—never get behind the wheel after you have been drinking.”

Last year, nearly one-third (31.9 percent) of traffic fatalities in Virginia were due to alcohol-related crashes, and 18,648 people were convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) in the Commonwealth. During Labor Day weekend alone, Virginia State Police personnel arrested 76 drunk drivers, averaging a DUI arrest every 75 minutes. Checkpoint Strikeforce is a crucial joint effort between public and private partners that works to stop these fatalities through surround-sound persuasion campaigning and high-visibility enforcement that reminds Virginians to get a safe ride after drinking or face arrest.

The Virginia State Police will work through Labor Day weekend as part of Operation CARE, or Crash Awareness Reduction Effort. Operation CARE is a nationwide, state-sponsored traffic safety program that aims to reduce traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries caused by impaired driving, speeding, and failing to use occupant restraints. Virginia State Police will participate in this program starting at midnight on Friday, September 4, 2020 through midnight on Monday, September 7, 2020.

“Last year, 264 Virginians died on our roadways in alcohol-impaired traffic crashes—but even one death is too many,” said President and CEO of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program Kurt Erickson. “This year, increased patrols will be complemented by an innovative ad campaign that reflects the changes to socializing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reminds Virginians that drinking and driving is not only irresponsible, it can be deadly.”

Since the inception of Virginia’s Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign in 2002, alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities in the Commonwealth have been reduced by more than a quarter (26.2 percent) and the number of alcohol-impaired traffic injuries annually occurring on the Virginia’s roadways have been nearly cut in half (46.3 percent).

The 2020 Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign launch is supported by new research from Lake Research Partners, which last month conducted a survey of Virginia drivers that are most likely to drive after drinking: 21- to 35-year-old males. The research showed that more than half (57 percent) of men surveyed admitted to having driven after consuming a few drinks or being driven by someone who has had a few drinks, despite a strong majority (95 percent) indicating that they believe it is important to make a plan to get home safely. Of the men surveyed, 52 percent said that they have needed a safe ride after drinking more or the same amount this year in comparison to last year, showing the desire to socialize despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to heightened enforcement, Checkpoint Strikeforce is continuing its “Act Like It” advertising campaign. The 30-second ad is an updated version of the spot which debuted in 2018 and was built on public opinion research that shows the campaign’s primary audience strongly agrees (81 percent, with 94 percent agreeing overall) that “people who drink and drive are not acting like responsible adults.” This year’s campaign will also include Spanish-language ads online and on streaming radio. The latest ad can be viewed at ActLikeIt.org.

Video of today’s virtual Checkpoint Strikeforce launch event is available here.

Checkpoint Strikeforce is part of a research-based multi-state, zero tolerance initiative designed to get impaired drivers off the roads using checkpoints and patrols along with education about the dangers and consequences of driving while intoxicated. Virginia’s Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign is supported by a grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to the nonprofit and Falls Church-based Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP).

Governor Northam Statement on the Passing of Former Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement today on the passing of former Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager.

“John Hager devoted his life to public service, and I admired his love for our country and for Virginia. 

“He served in the Army and worked as a businessman, but he will be remembered as a volunteer, an athlete, an author, and a patriot. 

“I first met John after running for public office, and he helped me learn the job of being Lieutenant Governor. Anyone who worked in Virginia politics quickly learned that John was everywhere, and no one outworked him. He earned victory and knew defeat, and he kept going. John held fast to his principles, and he knew when to reach across the aisle to compromise. Our country misses his example. 

“Most of all, John was a family man. Pam and I send our thoughts and prayers to Maggie, Jack, Henry, and the entire Hager family. 

“I have ordered Virginia state flags to be flown at half-staff for ten days in John’s honor.”

Governor’s Flag Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia

This is to order that the flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia is to be flown at half-staff over the state Capitol and all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in respect and memory of former Lieutenant Governor John H. Hager.

I hereby order that the flag shall be lowered until sunset, September 2, 2020.

Ordered on this, the 23rd day of August, 2020.

STATEMENT OF U.S. SEN. MARK R. WARNER

~ On the passing of John Hager ~

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement on the passing of John Hager, former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia:

“I’ve known John Hager for more than 30 years and I can attest that John epitomized the very definition of a true public servant. We worked together on the Virginia Health Care Foundation to ensure all Virginians had access to health care. And during my time as Governor, I was proud of the work he did on my Cabinet, serving as the Director of Homeland Security. John was a great Virginian, who, despite the remarkable obstacles he faced in his personal life, was able to persevere and give back to his community. John was a great friend to me and the Commonwealth he served.

“I want to offer my sincerest condolences to Maggie, the boys, and the entire Hager family on their loss. I will miss him greatly.”

Virginia Receives Approval to Expand Access to Health Care through State-Based Exchange

Federal approval puts Commonwealth on path to full state exchange by 2023

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia has been approved to proceed with a state-based health insurance exchange. Approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services allows Virginia to take over some functions of its current federal exchange beginning with open enrollment this November, and puts the Commonwealth on a path to full control by 2023.

“This approval could not come at a more critical time as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “The Trump administration is doing everything possible to gut the Affordable Care Act and kick families off their health insurance, and a state-based exchange will give Virginia the autonomy we need to expand access to care and reduce premiums. As governor and as a physician, I will never stop fighting for affordable, high-quality health care.”

By establishing the Virginia Exchange, the Commonwealth can implement policies to better address costs. The state will be able to work directly with insurance companies to meet the health coverage needs of all Virginians purchasing coverage, including small employers. Virginia will also be able to provide more targeted outreach and enrollment services and extend the time Virginians have to enroll in coverage, if needed. These strategies will expand access to health care and help increase overall affordability.

Increasing access to health care has been a top priority of the Northam administration. More than 452,000 Virginians have enrolled in new health care coverage since 2018, when Governor Northam successfully fought to expand Medicaid in Virginia. The expansion of Medicaid has proven a critical lifeline for Virginians during this health pandemic, with more than 125,603 Virginians, including 41,272 children, enrolled in Medicaid since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in Virginia on March 12 of this year.

The letter from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is available here.

Governor Northam Proposes Voter Protection Measures Ahead of November General Election

Additional budget amendments address evictions, broadband, historical sites, and dam safety

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced proposals to expand access to voting for the November 3rd General Election amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The measures were unveiled by the Governor during a virtual Joint Meeting of the House Appropriations, House Finance, Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees, and will be considered by legislators during the special General Assembly session set to begin this afternoon.

“As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we must take additional steps to make it easier to vote, not harder,” said Governor Northam. “With these measures, we will protect public health and ensure Virginians can safely exercise their right to vote in the November election. Whether you put your ballot in the mail or vote in-person, voting will be safe and secure in our Commonwealth.

Governor Northam is putting forward three proposals aimed at addressing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring all Virginians have safe and fair access to access to the ballot box for the November 3rd General Election.

  • Prepaid postage: Governor Northam’s proposed budget sets aside $2 million for prepaid return postage on all absentee ballots sent out for the November 3rd General Election.
  • Drop off boxes and drop off locations: The Governor’s proposal includes language expressly permitting localities to use drop boxes or implement drop off locations for Virginians who choose to vote absentee, under security standards to be set by the Virginia Department of Elections.
  • Absentee cure process:  This measure will ensure Virginians’ voting rights are protected by allowing them to fix an error on their absentee ballot. Currently, Virginians who make an error are not able to fix that error and therefore their ballot may be discarded. Many Virginians will be voting absentee for the first time this November, and this language will help ensure Virginians’ votes are counted.

The Governor’s proposed budget also includes funding for measures to reform policing; teach a more accurate version of Virginia history; expand safe, affordable housing; increase access to high-speed broadband; provide resources for urgent dam safety; and support Virginia’s public Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Additional information and presentations on the Governor’s proposed amendments to the 2020-2022 Biennial Budget can be found here.

Governor Northam’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Good morning, Chairman Torian, Chairwoman Howell, Chairwoman Watts, Speaker Filler-Corn, Leader Saslaw, members of the General Assembly, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the privilege of speaking with you this morning.

We’d rather all be together in person today, but in these times, we are being safe, and relying on technology. I want to thank our IT team for making the technology work.

I would like to recognize Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, First Lady Pam Northam, and members of our Cabinet and staff. 

I am here today to update you on the Commonwealth’s revenues for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. 

This is a late-August tradition in Virginia, but this is no ordinary year. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, our economy, and our budget. So I am also here to discuss actions I am proposing for the special session that begins today.

First, I want to discuss the latest efforts to fight the virus in Virginia. Overall, our daily case numbers seem to be trending slightly downward, which is a good thing. We’re now averaging around 15,000 tests a day, and our percent positivity is around 7 percent. These are positive trends, and we continue the work to increase testing and reduce the spread of the virus. We also continue reaching out to communities in need. For example, we’ve distributed more than 542,000 masks and 460,000 bottles of sanitizer to 40 localities through the Health Equity team.

The fact that we are doing this event virtually today speaks to the precautions we all are taking, and must continue to take.

***

Let’s turn to our economy. Last December, I stood before you to outline an ambitious and progressive budget that took Virginia in a new direction that the people demanded. That budget was built on revenues that were good, steady, and growing. This was possible because Virginia boasted a strong economy before the pandemic. We had near-record low unemployment, a stable budget, and strong financial reserves. 

So during the regular session, we worked together to craft a forward-looking budget that made generational investments in areas that had been underfunded. It advanced equity like never before, and cared for people who need help. Our budget included investments in early childhood education, tuition-free community college, public schools, affordable housing, our environment, state employees, and the largest reserve balance in state history. 

But even as we finalized the details of that plan, we could see that the pandemic was going to impact our revenues and our budget. What we didn’t know was how deep or long-lasting the impact might be.

We suspected it would be painful. And we were right. The United States continues to show recessionary trends. And it’s different from past economic downturns. This time, the cause is not an underlying problem in the economy, as we saw in 2008 when the housing market collapsed. No one could have foreseen that a pandemic would push the world into a recession. So there is no roadmap for how to get out of it. 

As a physician, I know the only way to solve our economic crisis is to solve our health crisis first. Our economy was booming before the pandemic, and it can fully rebuild only when this virus is behind us. This means that as we make budget decisions, this week and into the next session, we must keep in mind that we can’t know what is going to happen with the pandemic, when a vaccine will be available, or how much longer this will go on. 

So we need to follow the oath that doctors lead with: First, do no harm.

As we begin this special session, it’s important that we all make choices that preserve our financial options, especially for the period from now until the regular session in January. It’s also important to remember that every state is dealing with similar problems. No one has been immune to this crisis.

But states have handled it differently. Other states have slashed services, laid off workers, or furloughed employees to save money. Georgia cut nearly $1 billion from its education funding, while New Jersey is borrowing $10 billion to pay its bills. That’s half our general fund budget. Let me say that again—that’s half our budget.

We can all be very proud to say that in Virginia, we have been able to avoid cutting services or laying off large numbers of state workers. This is no accident. It is the result of taking thoughtful actions, and making prudent decisions. In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we put a freeze on hiring. We limited travel, and froze discretionary spending for state agencies. These actions contributed to unspent balances of $500 million.

At the reconvened session in April, my team worked with you to “unallot” most of the two and a quarter billion dollars in new spending that we had planned in the budget. We agreed that we would return to these important investments, once time had given us a better understanding of how this pandemic would affect our revenues. We also agreed not to make the draconian cuts that some called for. This would have hurt Virginia’s ability to serve people, and it would have slowed down our recovery. These decisions gave us a head start on the budget work we must do now and throughout the fall, and into the next regular session. I’ll talk more about that in a moment. 

Before we turn to that, it’s important to acknowledge that we have multiple ways to fund Virginia’s COVID response—not just our general fund. We have the COVID-19 Relief Fund, funded by a new tax on the so-called “gray machines.” We created this fund last session, and we set it up to last one year. It has a clear mission: to help pay for Virginia’s COVID response.

Another source is the federal CARES Act funding—approximately $3.1 billion. We have deployed this money strategically and prudently. We are allocating nearly 45 percent of it to local governments—roughly $1.3 billion. We have allocated more CARES Act dollars to localities than many other states, and we have done so more quickly. We know they are our partners, and they need help.

We have used these dollars to deliver basic services, and help people make it through. This means helping food banks, helping people pay their rent or mortgages, helping small businesses stay in business, helping people get the PPE they need, and a whole lot more. These actions have helped people. And they have kept this problem from being much worse.

So as we turn to the numbers, we all need to understand that the fiscal situation is serious in the Commonwealth, just like in every state. Virginia ended the 2020 fiscal year on June 30th with a $234 million shortfall in general fund revenue collections. While this is significant, it was less than projected, and we still saw an overall revenue increase of 2 percent over fiscal year 2019.

You will recall that some were calling on us to cut $3 billion from the last three months of the last fiscal year. We should be proud that this was not necessary. Looking forward, we now project that we’ll have $2.7 billion less than we expected in general fund revenue for the coming biennium. We feared worse. But this still requires serious and thoughtful budgeting and planning.

The drop in revenue was enough to trigger a reforecast of our economic outlook. The Joint Advisory Board of Economists and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Revenue Estimates have reviewed these numbers, and they have agreed on a revenue forecast that is recessionary.

This new forecast forms the basis of the budget we are presenting to you in the special session. Secretary Layne and our finance team will present the details in a few minutes.

***

Before we go into that, it’s important to remember where we are in the calendar, the budget cycle, and the pandemic response. In just four months, I will be back before you to present amendments to this budget. In fact, as soon as this special session wraps up, we will immediately begin that process.

In the budget cycle, we are only about six weeks into the fiscal year. Decisions that we make today will affect everything that happens throughout the rest of the two-year budget cycle. And this matters because we don’t know how long the pandemic will go on. Scientists offer a realistic hope that an effective vaccine will be developed in the coming months. Once that happens, it will take time to deploy and help Virginians gain that protection from the COVID-19 virus. We don’t know how long that will take either.

So I encourage all of us to follow a few guideposts for this session:

Number one: “cash is king.” That’s true for our family budgets, especially right now, and it’s true for government budgeting too. We need to preserve the liquidity that will enable us to operate the government, deliver services, and pay our bills. 

Number two: Don’t use one-time money to fund expenses that re-occur every year. If you receive an inheritance, and you spend it all today, you’ll have nothing tomorrow. This is common sense, and it’s also something the rating agencies reiterate with us every time they reaffirm our AAA Bond Rating.

Number three: When you DO have one-time money available, the right course is to invest in the future.

And finally, number four, we need to preserve financial options.

***

So let’s turn to specifics. You know that education has always been my top priority. For me, this meant a major expansion of early childhood education, and it meant tuition assistance and creating free community college for people going into high-need fields. I appreciate you endorsing these goals in the final budget you passed.

You will recall that we chose to “un-allot” these new investments earlier this year, once the pandemic hit. In the budget I present to you, I am choosing not to reinstate spending on my own top priorities. To be clear, I am doing this for one reason alone: To preserve our financial options so that we can make it through this pandemic. I need to be equally clear about the priorities we share: 

  • Teachers and state workers still need and deserve a raise. 
  • We need to invest more in behavioral health. 
  • The cost of tuition is still a major impediment.
  • And it remains important to invest in our transportation system, and in access to affordable health care.

We all share these priorities, and we will return to them in January, when the time is right. Just as our revenues now look better than we predicted when the pandemic began, we expect the December reforecast to show additional improvement about 16 weeks from now.

But for that to happen and allow us to return to these shared priorities, our economy must show improvement. For that, we need our businesses, large and small, to survive. I talk to CEOs and business leaders regularly, and many of them are facing real challenges. For example, airline travel has dropped 90 percent—that affects all the downstream businesses that supply that industry, many of which are based here in Virginia. Every time a business closes, people lose jobs, and communities lose part of their economic fabric. The pandemic is making businesses at every level rethink how they operate, which could create new opportunities for states looking to bring new business in.

Last year, we were all proud that CNBC named Virginia the best state in which to do business. We are still the best state for business, and as we move forward, we need to remember that keeping employers and jobs here will form the foundation of our economic recovery.

I fully intend to implement and carry out the progressive budget that you and I wrote together this past winter. It’s the right thing to do, and it reflects commitments we made to the people of Virginia.

But we have a crisis before us, so I am sending you a budget and legislation to address this crisis and the issues it has shined a spotlight on. This package will help people stay in their homes, with $88 million to combat evictions and expand affordable housing. This includes funding the eviction diversion pilot program, and making an historic $85 million investment into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund. Keeping people in their homes during this pandemic is a public health priority. That’s why we also created the Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, and it’s why we’ve previously allocated money to help people experiencing homelessness. 

This package will help bring more people online—to go to school, go to work, and get connected. It means $85 million for the infrastructure to expand access to broadband and high-speed internet. People in cities, small towns, and rural areas need this. Here’s why: 200,000 K-12 students, and 60,000 college students in Virginia lack access to broadband at home. This is long overdue, and as many schools prepare to start the school year virtually, their students need Internet access to participate.

This package will reform policing. It continues the reforms we began earlier this year, when we increased the felony larceny threshold, decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, began expanding eligibility for parole, and ended driver’s license suspensions that kept people from driving long after they finished their sentences. Now, it’s time to address the use of excessive force. Start training law enforcement officers better and more consistently, with more input from the community. It means civilian review panels, with real skills and standards. It means increasing diversity in the Virginia State Police, so troopers better reflect the communities they serve. And it means that when an officer goes rogue, they’re out of the profession, de-certified.

The package I’m presenting you reaffirms that we need to continue to make it easier to vote, not harder. Voting is fundamental to democracy. Thanks to legislation we passed in the regular session, photo ID is not required at the polls, and Election Day will be a state holiday. And any Virginia voter can vote early with “no excuse” absentee ballots—meaning you can vote early without having to give a reason.

Now, we need to help people vote safely. That means secure boxes to drop off your ballot, in addition to the standard postal service delivery. If you put your ballot in the mail, the state will pay the postage. All you have to do is turn on the TV to see why this is so important, but please know this: the Department of Elections is already working to prepare to start mailing ballots in just four weeks. For these reforms to matter in November, we must make them now. I ask you to move quickly to pass this budget, because the stakes are high for our country. To be clear, voting will be safe and secure in Virginia. Your mailed-in ballots will be counted. Virginia will take every action necessary to protect the vote.

***

When people vote, change happens. Virginians voted last fall, they demanded change, and we started delivering. But change doesn’t come only at the ballot box, especially when people are hurting. We’ve seen that this summer, across America and here in Virginia, as people took to the streets with a message that’s both simple and profound: Change faster.

So I’m sending you a package that lifts up Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, funds important cultural sites, and says to the world: This is American history. This package means more students visiting important sites. It means more historic sites and highway markers to tell a broader story. It’s time for Virginia to tell the whole story of American history, and I ask you to approve this package. 

And finally, my budget proposes investing $15 million for dam rehabilitation projects that can’t wait, along with other actions to preserve Virginia’s environment. We saw just this weekend across Virginia how important those infrastructure investments are. We had so much rain that 150 homes below a dam in Chesterfield had to be evacuated, and another dam near Pocahontas State Park would have failed had it not recently been upgraded.

Flooding in other communities, like Staunton and Hampton Roads recently, also speak to the fact that water management needs cannot wait. We must be responsible stewards of both the state’s money, and its infrastructure. Luckily, we are not starting from scratch. We have a base budget in place, and it would still allow us to operate the government, even if we made no changes in the coming months.

 We also have several options to fund COVID needs: federal CARES Act dollars, the gray machine funding, and our general fund budget. Additional needs for testing, PPE, and food security will require a large portion of the CARES Act dollars that remain. And as tax revenue from the gray machines starts to come in, I look forward to working with you to decide how we can best spend these dollars.

***

My friends, my fellow Virginians, these past few months have been an incredibly difficult time for literally everyone around the world. People have lost jobs. They’ve lost their businesses. Too many have lost their lives. Everyone is worried about what the future holds, and too many leaders are fanning the flames of anxiety. We need to change that too, and we will.

Here in Virginia, we need to plan for the long term, take actions that invest now, and preserve options for what we all hope is a brighter future. We have been making wise decisions throughout this pandemic, and I have faith that Virginia will again propel forward when this pandemic ends. I am proposing a budget and legislative package to make that happen, and I look forward to working with you all to pass these proposals. Thank you.

Virginia Takes Historic Steps to Secure a Clean Energy Future

Governor Northam ceremonially signs landmark Virginia Clean Economy Act, legislation to drive new investment in solar, energy storage

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today celebrated Virginia’s once-in-a-generation progress on clean energy by ceremonially signing historic legislation that accelerates the Commonwealth’s transition to a carbon-free future. The Governor signed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which establishes bold energy efficiency standards and provides a pathway for new investments in solar, onshore wind, offshore wind, and energy storage. Additional legislation signed by the Governor advances shared solar and energy storage programs, and dramatically transforms the rooftop solar market.

“We are at a pivotal moment to secure an affordable, clean energy future in Virginia,” said Governor Northam. “Together, these pieces of legislation put the Commonwealth in position to meet the urgency of the climate crisis, and lead the transition to renewable energy in a way that captures the economic, environmental, and health benefits for all Virginians. And these bills also send a strong, clear message about the broader impacts of pollution that must be considered when choosing our energy resources.”

For the first time in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Clean Economy Act establishes a mandatory renewable portfolio standard to achieve 30 percent renewable energy by 2030, a mandatory energy efficiency resource standard, and the path to a carbon-free electric grid by 2045. The bill also declares that 16,100 megawatts of solar and onshore wind, 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind, and 2,700 megawatts of energy storage are in the public interest. This provides a pathway for clean energy resources to be constructed, while ensuring that the investments are made in a cost-effective way. The Virginia Clean Economy Act protects customers with a program that helps reduce electricity bills and brings energy efficiency savings to low-income households.

The Governor also ceremonially signed legislation directing the State Corporation Commission to determine when electric utilities should retire coal-fired or natural gas-fired electric generation facilities, and how utility customers should pay for this transition.

Governor Northam signed additional legislation to support new investments in solar energy, including the Solar Freedom bill, which will help grow the rooftop solar market in the Commonwealth. Another bill he signed establishes a shared solar program, allowing communities to receive credit for the solar energy they generate through a subscriber system. With a minimum requirement of 30 percent low-income customers, this program will enable Virginians to reap the benefits of generating solar energy on their homes. The Governor also signed a legislation that will build an energy storage market in Virginia.

Learn more about the clean energy legislation passed during the 2020 General Assembly session here.

Watch the video of today’s bill signing ceremony here.

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