2020 Special Session

We just wrapped up our nearly 3 month long special session. This session was called for two very important reasons: to combat racial injustice, and to address the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. While our Commonwealth still has a way to go before we can achieve true equality and security, I am so proud of the progress we made. Please take a look at what we did:

RACIAL AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Like so many throughout the country and the world, I was angry and hurt when I heard about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. But the one thing I unfortunately could not say was “I am surprised”. This kind of injustice is not unique to our times, it’s been going on for decades. Virginia was once the capital of the Confederacy, the bastion that defended slavery. And while the Union won the Civil War and slavery was abolished, the seeds of racism it sowed would go on to plague our Commonwealth and country for too many years after. 
 
We can’t ignore our past, but we can change our future. My colleagues in the General Assembly and I have been personally touched by the pain felt by so many across our country. 
 
The legislation on racial injustice passed during this special session will begin the process of healing. Highlighted are a few of the pieces on criminal justice reform here:

  • HB 5029: Requires law enforcement officers, who while in the performance of their official duties witnesses another law enforcement officer engaging or attempting to engage in use of excessive force, to intervene and prevent the further use of such excessive force.
  • HB 5043: Establishing a Mental Health Awareness Response and Community Understanding Services (MARCUS) alert system - a system where “community care teams” (group of mental health service providers) would work with emergency service providers to stabilize individuals in crisis situations.
  • HB 5045: Prohibits law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual conduct with arrestees.  
  • HB 5049: Prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from militarizing through the acquisition of such weaponry and equipment.
  • HB 5051: Establishes a process by which law enforcement or jail officers would be decertified should they engage in serious misconduct and be in violation of established standards.
  • HB 5055: Gives localities authorization to establish a law enforcement civilian oversight body.
  • HB 5069: Prohibits law enforcement officers from using neck restraints in the performance of their duties, unless it is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person.
  • HB 5098: Makes it a hate crime to make false 911 calls based on race (raises penalty from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony).
  • HB 5099: Prohibits any law enforcement officer from seeking, executing, or participating in the execution of a no-knock search warrant.
  • HB 5104: Provides the process by which law enforcement officers being hired in other agencies in Virginia will be subject to psychological examination and a check on their history.
  • HB 5109: Requires the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop an improved curriculum and lesson plans for training of law enforcement officers in areas that include: (a) relevant state and federal laws; (b) awareness of cultural diversity and the potential for bias-based profiling; (c) de-escalation techniques; (d) working with individuals with disabilities, mental health needs, or substance use disorders; and (e) the lawful use of force, including the use of deadly force only when necessary to protect the law-enforcement officer or another person.
  • HB 5148: Establishes a four-level classification system for the awarding and calculation of earned sentence credits. 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

At the time we adjourned our regular session (in March of this year), the COVID-19 pandemic had reached Virginia. So many lives in our Commonwealth have fallen victim to this insidious virus, and our entire daily lives have been altered.
 
While Virginians banded together to slow the transmission of this virus, the effects of this pandemic have clearly crippled the health and financial security of so many. Because of this, the Governor called a special session, and we in the General Assembly took action by passing legislation that included my bill, HB 5068, which prohibits the garnishing of relief funds, that will aid with pandemic relief. 
 
Additional COVID relief legislation is as follows: 

  • HB 5046: Increases telemedicine services.
  • HB 5047: Prohibits price gouging during a state of emergency.
  • HB 5048: Requires information on outbreaks of communicable diseases of public health that take place at any congregate care facility or facility operated by any Virginian agency to be disclosed by the Department of Health and available to the public online.
  • HB 5050: Grants the Governor authority to purchase and distribute Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during disasters caused by a communicable disease of public health.
  • HB 5064: Requires landlords who own more than four rental dwelling units, or more than 10 percent interest in more than four rental dwelling units, before terminating a rental agreement due to nonpayment of rent, to provide a written notice informing the tenant of the total amount due and offer the tenant a payment plan by which the tenant can pay their rent back.
  • HB 5068: Prohibits the garnishing, or seizing, of stimulus relief checks given to individuals during this pandemic or future similar emergencies.
  • HB 5106: Protects renters with COVID-19 related credit damage.
  • HB 5115: Provides an extension of time by which tenants can stay at their housing before facing eviction should they not be able to pay their rent due to lost wages from a state of emergency.

BUDGET

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed the most progressive and forward thinking budget in Virginia’s history. However, because of the pandemic, the revenue our government received expectedly declined. When called into special session, we knew we needed to address the $2.8 billion revenue shortfall while ensuring we funded all the necessary budgetary items.
 
While this may be a normal process in any other year, we had to make some very difficult decisions during special session. Keep in mind that many of these decisions are short-term as we deal with the revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic while protecting Virginia’s AAA bond rating.
 
I look forward to coming back in January to reevaluate the budget, with the hopes of furthering the priorities our General Assembly put forth earlier this year. With that said, please take a look at some of the budgetary highlights from this special session’s:

  • Allocates funding to implement the police and criminal justice reform legislation passed which includes (but is not limited to): the MARCUS alert system, earned sentence credits, and the myriad of new law enforcement conduct and training standards.
  • Restores funding for additional public defender and district court clerk positions.
  • Invests $85 million into the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to expand access to affordable housing and address homelessness caused by the pandemic. An additional $4 million will be allocated to increase the number of eviction attorneys to represent low-income Virginians.
  • $85 million have been directed to broadband infrastructure projects, including $50 million for the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) to expand broadband internet.
  • Extends FAMIS MOMS health insurance coverage through 12 months postpartum.
  • Eliminates the “40 quarter” barrier to health insurance coverage for legal permanent residents.
  • Provides $17.5 million to fund Medicaid adult dental benefits and includes $13 million in overtime pay for the Medicaid personal care attendants caring for our most vulnerable Virginians.
  • Restores funding to expand early childhood education, and supports funding for childhood nutrition and school meal programs.Restores $35.2 million in expanded At-Risk-Add-On funding for educational resources for low-income students and provides $26.9 million in federal funds provided to local school divisions’ virtual learning technology needs during the pandemic.
  • $95.2 million in relief to local school divisions, as well as allocating $80 million to maintain affordable access to higher education.
  • Restored $36.4 million in DD waivers.

A PERSONAL NOTE

In closing, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in all of our lifetimes. While we’ve seen some of the worst difficulties this world will throw at us, we’ve also seen the best traits our community can muster in the face of these obstacles. Because of the strength, resilience, and compassion Virginians all over the Commonwealth have exhibited, I am very hopeful for the future.
 
I will always continue to fight for the 51st District and Virginia. Even if we are physically separated, know that my office is open to you. If you need assistance, please call us at (804) 698-1051, or email at DelHAyala@house.virginia.gov.
 
Sincerely,

Hala Ayala