By Steve Haner
The coming Special Session of the General Assembly will be narrowly focused but filled with controversy, based on the legislative wish list just released by House of Delegates Democrats. Only two bills listed fall outside of the major categories of “COVID-19 Relief” or “Criminal Justice and Police Reform.”
Under the heading “COVID Relief,” the Democrats wish to reopen their drive for employee paid leave, and as predicted want to designate COVID-19 as a workplace disease.
The Senate Democrats have their own list, released in June and reiterated in a more recent news release. The release claims that one of the bills is ready for public viewing, but provides no link and the bill mentioned is not yet available through Legislative Information Services. Neither caucus has yet revealed any thoughts on how to amend the state budget, a task where Governor Ralph Northam naturally takes the lead.
Here is the list from the House Democratic Caucus, with some thoughts following:
- Requiring businesses to grant paid sick leave for Virginia workers.
- Prohibiting garnishments of stimulus relief checks. (Office of Attorney General bill)
- Establishing a presumption of workers’ compensation for first responders, teachers, and other high-risk essential workers.
- Providing immunity from civil claims related to COVID-19 for complying with health guidance.
- Combating price gouging for Personal Protective Equipment. (Office of Attorney General bill)
- Protecting Virginians from eviction during a public health emergency.
- Creating a Commonwealth Marketplace for PPE Acquisition.
- Mandating transparency requirements for congregate-care facilities during a public health emergency.
by James A. Bacon
College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.
“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights. “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”
Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”
The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
As K-12 schools, community colleges and universities shift ever more learning online, the so-called “digital divide” — disparate access to high-speed Internet access and computers — is looming as a bigger problem than ever before.
A new analysis by the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) finds that more than 200,000 K-12 students (14%) and more than 60,000 college students (10%) lack broadband subscriptions in the home. The survey also found that 173,000 K-12 students (12%) and nearly 23,000 college students (4%) lack a laptop or desktop computer.
The lack of access to broadband is most acute in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure is spottiest, but is widespread in Virginia’s urban areas as well. Half of all students without devices live in urban areas.
“The research looked at whether students actually had broadband service in the home,” said Tom Allison, SCHEV’s senior associate for finance and innovation policy and author of the report, “rather than if it was available in their area. That is important because a household might have a dozen companies to choose from, but won’t benefit if they can’t afford it.” Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
File this under “You just can’t win.”
Parents of Fairfax County school children have had enough. For decades these folks were accustomed to excellence in public education. They proudly sat atop the Virginia educational heap. Shoot, Fairfax is home to Thomas Jefferson High School, widely considered the best public high school in the country:
“Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is a Fairfax County public magnet school so competitive that its 17-percent acceptance rate is identical to Georgetown University’s. Since 2008, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have both ranked it the number-one high school in the country three times,” according to Washingtonian Magazine.
So, imagine parents’ chagrin when they found that the county was completely unprepared for distance learning when the governor ordered the schools closed last spring. Fairfax County’s experiment in virtual education was a complete disaster.
This is not what families in one of Virginia’s wealthiest counties expect or will tolerate.
To make matters worse, militant teachers groups in Northern Virginia — including a bona fide union, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers — made their opposition to in-person learning abundantly clear earlier this summer. Continue reading
Camp Mount Shenandoah: less screen time, more time outdoors
by James A. Bacon
A philosophical question to ponder: If the Commonwealth of Virginia shuts down an entire industry by executive order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, what moral obligation does it have to help the businesses survive the epidemic?
Literally no industry in Virginia has been more impacted by the emergency shutdown than overnight summer camps. Summer camps do not comprise a particularly big industry — one guesstimate is that 75 establishments generate in the realm of $100 million a year — so they cannot be said be be economically “essential.” But they are essential, camp advocates say, for the mental health of thousands of Virginia kids, who need physical activity and social interaction.
Many industries have been slammed by the emergency shutdown. However, none but the summer camps have been entirely shuttered for all three phases. Camps generate 90% or more of total revenue from seven to 12 weeks during the summer, and if they are forced to close during that period, there is no way to make up for lost revenue. Continue reading
W&M President Katherine Rowe
by James A. Bacon
We won’t know for another week or two, when kids show up on campus, what enrollments will be at Virginia’s colleges and universities. Due to massive uncertainties engendered by the COVID-19 epidemic, no one is sure how many students who committed to attend will appear when dormitories open in the next week or two. Higher-ed institutions across the state are bracing for the worst. Indeed, uncertainty is so acute that some college presidents and senior officers are proactively taking pay cuts.
College of William & Mary President Katherine Rowe and two senior colleagues, the university’s provost and chief operating officer, are the latest. Rowe, who earned $672,000 last year, is asking the Board of Visitors to reduce her compensation by 15% through the end of the year. The other two executives have voluntarily taken cuts of 12%.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and other school leaders have announced 10% salary cuts. Ryan racked up $1,189,000 in compensation last year. Virginia Commonwealth University has said that “employee furloughs may be necessary.” Among those furloughed would be President Michael Rao. Continue reading
The Pellerito family: “We go through each day just trying our best. What are the new rules? What is right?”
by James A. Bacon
Give Amanda Chase credit for one thing: She knows how to get into the news. Whether the resulting headlines help the Chesterfield state senator win the Republican Party nomination for governor is quite another matter. The latest brouhaha over her refusal to wear a mask in a Harrisonburg restaurant is not likely to help.
After making a campaign stop in New Market over the weekend with rock musician Ted Nugent, Chase visited Vito’s Italian Kitchen in Harrisonburg for a meal. She did not wear a mask. On two separate occasions, according to her Facebook account, employees denied her service, even though she explained that she had an underlying health condition that did not allow her to wear one. Upon providing a letter from her doctor, she was provided service but “not without being harassed and belittled in front of other store patrons.”
Katharine Nye Pellerito, who owns the restaurant with her husband, posted her own version of the encounter on Facebook. Chase got confrontational and threatened to sue, she wrote. “The uncertainty of Covid … as it threatens our ability to maintain our restaurants has been exhausting, to say the least. Last night was tough. We go through each day trying our best What are the new rules? What is right? What does the law expect? Who is going to yell at us for trying to do the right thing today?” Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
There has been extensive discussion here about minimizing residential evictions in Virginia in the time of COVID. I will offer a constitutional approach to achieving that objective.
A Broad Consensus
The Governor and General Assembly want to avoid evictions of residential tenants who are unable to pay rent due to COVID-related issues beyond tenant control. So does every landlord in Virginia. And indeed I think every citizen. We have broad consensus on that point.
The Democratic Governor and Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly can do whatever they wish with legislation. In this case they may wish to create a temporary, COVID-related rent payment program.
But they will have to pay for it, as opposed to asking landlords to eat the costs. That seems to me a valid and effective use for federal COVID money.
And the executive branch will have to administer it, not the courts and not the landlords.
A Virginia voting booth. How quaint!
by James A. Bacon
It’s been twenty years since the Bush-Gore presidential election that brought the term “hanging chads” into common parlance. But that controversy, which plunged the nation into intense partisan acrimony, was mere dress rehearsal for what could be coming. Thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic, there likely will be an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election. And if you thought it was difficult determining votes from punch cards that left dangling bits of paper, just wait until we start sorting out the confusion over mail-in ballots.
The potential for electoral chaos was driven home here in Virginia by the recent mass mailing of mail-in ballot request forms by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, the Center for Voter Information. A new Virginia law allowing no-excuse early voting for the 45-day period before election day. Asserting that voting by mail “keeps you healthy and safe,” the mailer urged voters to “just sign, date and complete the application.” The application forms had the recipient’s name and address pre-filled out.
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook because of the absentee ballot forms,” Susan Saunders, Suffolk’s voter registrar, told the Suffolk News Herald. “It has created vast confusion.” Continue reading
A more realistic depiction of an eviction
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
As has been reported on this blog, the Virginia Supreme Court granted Governor Northam’s request to extend the moratorium on evictions related to non-payment of rent.
The court was closely divided, 4-3. The dissenting opinions are quite convincing. It is obvious that the majority, cognizant of the dilemma caused by thousands of tenants out of jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and facing eviction from their homes, decided to give the Governor, General Assembly, and (implicitly) Congress one more chance to come up with a solution.
Rather than debate the merits of the Court’s decision, I am largely responding to, and following up on, Jim Bacon’s recent post regarding evictions and what happened to the federal CARES funding that has been provided. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
I just completed a survey of the 50 states to see how many of their legislatures were in regular session or special sessions called to deal with COVID issues between April 1 and August 15, 2020.
That 4.5-month period started when enough was known about COVID to start taking legislative action to back up Governors’ emergency decrees. It ends just before Virginia’s General Assembly will convene in special session to deal with COVID-related measures and other issues.
Thirty-eight of the 50 state legislatures have been either in regular session during that period or in special sessions called to deal with the COVID emergency.
Virginia is one of the 12 whose legislatures have not been in session. The others are Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Continue reading
By James C. Sherlock
I want every tenant who cannot pay his rent because of COVID to be able to stay in his home. I want every landlord who supports them to be paid for their forbearance so they can pay their own bills.
This post starts with both of those goals in mind.
It is about a Governor and a Virginia Supreme Court who created horrible judicial precedents that never needed to happen.
Jim Bacon’s column this morning well summarized the issues with the Virginia Supreme Court’s August 7 order: IN RE: AMENDMENT OF EIGHTH ORDER EXTENDING DECLARATION OF JUDICIAL EMERGENCY IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 EMERGENCY.
That order reimposed until September 7 a previous Supreme Court denial of residential landlords’ access to the courts to gain adjudication of unlawful detainer actions by tenants accused of failure to pay rent and it banned eviction orders on that same basis.
The Governor and the General Assembly
Governor Northam has been hesitant to call the General Assembly into session because he cannot ultimately control what legislators do when they meet. Republicans and some Democrats appear poised to try to limit, especially in duration, some his virtually unlimited emergency authorities under Virginia law. When written, the drafters of that law simply did not imagine an emergency that would last for more than a month or two.
The Virginia State Supreme Court extended yesterday the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings for another 28 days. The split decision prompted a blistering rebuke from D. Arthur Kelsey, which L. Steven Emmert summarized yesterday in the post below, republished here from his blog, Virginia Appellate News & Analysis. — JAB
Today the court responds to the Governor’s request for reimposition of the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings. A bare majority of the court grants that relief, suspending the issuance of writs of eviction from August 10 (that’s next Monday) through September 7, a period of 28 days. The moratorium only applies to writs sought for nonpayment of rent; a landlord can still evict a tenant who has breached a lease agreement in other ways.
With two exceptions, all previous judicial-emergency order have been unanimous. The exceptions are the first, issued March 16, where the chief justice acted before he could consult his colleagues; and the June 8 modification to the fifth order. That one cites “the agreement of a majority of the Justices of this Court,” and also suspended writs of eviction, among other landlord remedies. The order didn’t state which members of the court didn’t go along.
Today the court names names. Justice Mims signs the two-page order for his colleagues, Justices Goodwyn, Powell, and McCullough. This majority notes that the pandemic fits the definition of a disaster, since the Code defines that term to include a “communicable disease of public health threat.” It goes on to note that that statute is triggered when the disaster substantially impedes the ability of citizens to avail themselves of the court system. The court accordingly does as the Governor had requested, in the terms that I mention above. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Here’s a question my wife and I have been asking ourselves recently: What if COVID-19 doesn’t go away?
From the beginning of the epidemic, we assumed that we (along with the rest of the country) were enduring a temporary inconvenience. We’d hunker down, restrict our social interactions, wear masks in indoor public places, avoid airplanes, and the like, and in a few months — by the end of the year at latest — it would be over and we could return to normal.
Now it is August, and the virus is spreading with no sign of respite. Our thinking has swung to the other extreme. We’re wondering, what if nothing works? What if the much-touted vaccinations are only partially effective? What if antibodies confer only temporary immunity? What if the virus mutates? What if all our efforts at “flattening the curve” do nothing but delay the inevitable and everyone — including us, and those we love — gets exposed to COVID-19 eventually?
Will there ever be a return to “normal”? And, if not, how long can we sustain the partial shutdown of our economy, the shuttering of public school buildings, the gusher of government red ink, and the helicoptering of relief dollars, all of which were predicated on the assumption that the virus would be tamed and all emergency responses would be temporary? Continue reading
by Carol J. Bova
In a July 29 tele-press conference, Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia’s Commissioner of Health, said, “We’ve made a concerted effort at testing in nursing homes and other congregate settings. … We’ve done 456 such point prevalence surveys [PPS] covering all of our skilled nursing facilities and correctional facilities.”
As of June 5th, the Department of Health had recorded 224 outbreaks with 5,230 cases in long term care facilities (LTCF) — nursing homes, assisted living and group homes — and 30 outbreaks in correctional facilities with 1,568 cases.
By August 5th there were 100 more outbreaks with 3,090 additional cases in nursing homes and similar facilities, and 18 more in correctional facilities with another 1330 cases.
That’s a total of 372 facility outbreaks, 11,218 cases, from the 456 facilities where PPS testing was carried out. There have been no recent statements on what impact the PPS testing had in reducing cases. Did the testing come too late in the pandemic, or did outbreaks occur in spite of the testing because of infection control failures? Continue reading