I hope you and yours are well and staying safe. I wanted to provide you some information on a number of things, including COVID-19 data, the General Assembly’s special session, and an update on the results from bills I sponsored and passed during the beginning of the year.

This past Tuesday, August 18th, our General Assembly began its special session. The House of Delegates met in person on Tuesday, but we have since been holding our session virtually. It is certainly an unprecedented manner of convening our legislative body, but this is certainly an unprecedented time. For the sake of the health of my colleagues, General Assembly staffers, their families, and the local residents of the Richmond area, I am proud we have made this historic step. It is important that all of us social distance when we can so we can mitigate the dangers COVID-19 continues to present to Virginia.

In the meantime, please continue to check on our friends, neighbors and family. Just because we are physically separated from each other doesn’t mean we have to be emotionally separated.

We must also do a wellness check on one another, especially our most vulnerable.  Please remember, if you or someone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or the Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990

If there is anything that I can do to help or if you know someone that is in need of help, do not hesitate to reach out to our office at 804-698-1051 or via email at DelHayala@house.virginia.gov.

 

COVID-19 Data and Information

  • According to the VDH website:
    • 110,860 persons have tested positive for COVID-19.

    • 9,071 of those individuals have been hospitalized.

    • 2,436 of those individuals have lost their lives to this virus.

  • This virus has been shown to disproportionately affect the African American and Hispanic/Latino population throughout the country. As such, Virginia has begun to collect race/ethnicity information. With the 84,780 cases we have racial and ethnicity data on, 21,533 are African Americans and 29,220 are Hispanic or Latino.

 

Special Session

This week was historic on many fronts. This special session began this past Tuesday in the Siegel Center, but it has since moved onto a virtual platform. This is historic as it is the first time our body has met like this. We were called to address three very important issues: criminal justice reform, COVID-19, and its subsequent impact on our budget.

2020 has thrown a lot at us, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the exposure and need for true racial and criminal justice reform. Since the General Assembly gavelled out from our normal session in early March, we’ve seen so much suffering and hardship. We’ve been touched by the pain felt by so many across our Commonwealth and country. Now, we take action. During this special session, we will begin the process of healing.

As a member of both the House Democratic Caucus and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, I am proud of the goals we have set out for this session.

With regard to criminal justice reform, some of these objectives include:
- Expanding the definition of hate crimes to include false 911 calls made on the basis of race.
- Implementing the “Marcus Alert” to require behavioral/mental health professionals to respond to those thought to be having mental health crises.
- Banning the use of chokeholds and other lethal restraints used by law enforcement.
- Ending Qualified Immunity and making changes to Sovereign Immunity
- Passing “Breonna’s Law” to end no-knock warrants.

In terms of COVID-19 and the health and economic struggles it has brought, we will vote on proposals such as:
- Prohibiting garnishments of stimulus relief checks. (Office of Attorney General bill which I will be carrying)
- 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.
- Protecting Virginians from eviction during a public health emergency.

Finally, we will pass a budget that addresses the revenue shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we certainly knew the revenue coming in this year would be smaller than years past, it is good news that the revenue shortfall is not grave as we once suspected. Earlier this week, the Governor, the Secretary of Finance, and the Director of the Department of Planning and Budget gave a detailed report on our revenue and their proposed budget amendments in the Joint Meeting of the House Appropriations, House Finance, and Senate Finance & Appropriations Committees, of which I am a part of and was in attendance. If you’d like to hear the full Joint committee hearing, please go here.

We will begin the process of reform and action during this special session. I am looking forward to what we will accomplish for all Virginians during these coming weeks. If you would like to learn more about our priorities for the special session, please go here to see the full House Democratic Caucus priority list, and please go here to see the full Virginia Legislative Black Caucus priority list.

All of the special sessions and our committee hearings will be live-streamed and archived here.

 

Elections in Virginia in 2020

This year has brought challenges to all facets of our daily lives. Since the pandemic has begun, our Department of Elections has been hard at work to ensure we can exercise our right and duty to vote in November. Additionally, a number of bills passed during this year’s session, including the 45-day period of excuse free absentee voting and making Election Day a holiday, will help in this mission.

Voters are encouraged to mail in their ballots this year. If you would like to vote absentee by mail, please go here. Absentee ballots will begin going out to voters’ homes on September 18th.

It is important to note that ballots postmarked before the 7 pm closing time for polling locations on Election Day will be counted, so long as they arrive before noon on the Friday after Election Day. Because of the expected increase in mail-in ballots this year, voters are encouraged to send in their ballots as soon as they can after they receive them by mail.

VPAP has put together a detailed webpage on the recent tweaks to the vote-by-mail procedure, I would recommend you take a look at it here.

 

UPDATE:  Coal Ash Ponds Surveying and Testing

During the normal General Assembly session earlier this year, I sponsored and passed two important pieces of environmental legislation. The side effects of coal ash ponds, engineered structures used at fossil fuel power stations that contained disposed coal combustion products, have had harmful effects on many Virginians living near these sites.

As such, the two bills I introduced would require utility companies to survey private wells within 1.5 miles of a coal ash pond, and perform water quality testing of such identified private wells before July 1st, 2021. Residents who live within 1.5 miles of a coal ash pond will be notified of these developments as well.

Working with stakeholders, we found common ground and were able to pass these bills for the wellbeing of our residents and our environment. This week I received an update, and I am proud to say that Dominion Energy has begun the surveying and testing process, and has already sent out notifications to nearby residents. I look forward to seeing more updates on this issue in the coming months.

 

COVID-19 Executive Orders

Since the pandemic reached Virginia more than a month ago, the Governor has issued numerous executive orders to address it. Here is a brief explanation of each, as well as the links to the full Executive Orders.

Most recent Executive Orders:

Executive Order 65: Phase Two Easing of Certain Temporary Restrictions Due to Novel Coronavirus

Executive Order 66: Establishing Juneteenth as a State Holiday

Executive Order 67: Phase 3 Easing of Certain Temporary Restrictions Due to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Executive Order 68: Additional Restrictions on the Eastern Region due to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Executive Order 69: Declaration of a State Emergency Due to Hurricane Isaias

Executive Order 70: Addressing the Impact of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Commonwealths Psychiatric Hospital System

Link to all Executive Orders here.

 

Moratorium on Evictions

Late last week, the Virginia Supreme Court granted Governor Northam’s request to place a moratorium on evictions until September 7th. During this time, no eviction proceedings will take place in Virginia, extending this necessary protection for tenants who don’t have the ability to pay their rent. Those who need assistance to pay their rent or mortgage can go here to see if they apply for relief funding. Additionally, all tenants should be aware of their rights and other relevant resources. Please go to www.StayHomeVirginia.com to find more information.

 

COVID-19 Resource Page

I have a page on my website dedicated towards providing resources offered by the state, local government, and other entities, to those who need it. If you need assistance please visit the webpage now!

Additionally, there are other helpful, informative links that I would recommend you take a look at so you can stay up to date on this dynamic situation. You can visit the webpage here.

Ve aquí para español.

 

Comcast Updates

Comcast has recently announced that they will extend the free internet service to low-income customers they have been giving through the rest of 2020 as well as keeping their free public WiFi hotspots open through the end of the year. Please check out the following press releases from Comcast for more information:

Internet Essentials 60 days of free Internet service extended through 2020

Comcast extends free public WiFi access to everyone for the remainder of 2020

 

My Contact Information

Email to: delhayala@house.virginia.gov, or call my office at: (804) 698-1051.

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In closing, I am here for you as is our Governor and our government agencies who are readily available to help during this tough time. It is important we prevent the spread for the safety of everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable.  In addition, let's focus on caring for one another and beating this virus together.

 

Sincerely,

Hala Ayala