The Northam Administration’s Safety and Health Codes Board agreed yesterday that COVID-19 in the state’s workplaces demands an emergency state response, but the nature and exact wording of that regulation remains undecided. If adopted, formal regulations come with the potential for heavy penalties for employers cited for failures.
Earlier versions of the key documents have already been revised by state staff, so should be reviewed again by concerned parties. The draft rules (here) and a related 200-page briefing package (here) were first made available June 12 and then revised June 23, right before Wednesday’s meeting. Further changes are likely.
A window for on-line written comments closed June 22, but more than three thousand were received, with the business community reaction overwhelmingly negative. To review the written comments already filed visit the meeting information page (here) and scroll down to a long list of documents. The massive set of online comments are on this related page on Virginia’s Regulatory Town Hall website.
The vote to proceed with something came after a contentious virtual emergency meeting where only members of the board and staff were able to speak. Three of the board’s members opposed the emergency declaration and three abstained, perhaps reflecting the broad and strong opposition the draft proposal generated from Virginia’s busines community. It will meet again to dive into the actual text soon.
An earlier motion to hold off action under further public comment could be received, perhaps allowing for in person discussions with affected parties, failed only narrowly, and only because two Northam Administration “ex officio” members of the panel voted against it. The motion was made by Richmond labor and employment attorney Courtney Malveaux, who served as director of the Department of Labor and Industry under Governor Bob McDonnell.
If agreed upon at the next meeting, regulations could take effect by July 15. The board did agree to use a specific emergency authority granted by Code of Virginia Section 40.1-22 (6a) that allows for adoption of a permanent regulation within six months, and that clearly is the goal of some.
The Washington Post and Virginia Mercury have stories about the meeting, but so far they are the only media paying attention. No such regulations exist in any other state, apparently, and past efforts to impose a specific set of rules related to a specific infectious disease have failed.
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