As the Virginia Delegation prepares to convene for a special session on August 18th, the Hampton Roads Chamber connected four lawmakers with members for a virtual forum on July 31st. Budget, regulations changes, COVID-19 relief, and social justice are expected to be topics of concern for the special session.
Senator Jen Kiggans, 7th District, expressed what many Virginians are feeling. “2020 has been a year like no other. Every aspect of our life has been affected, from day to day routine, to doing business. So many changes on every front. I applaud our business community who has been brave. I see so many doors are closed, and so many hours are reduced. It needs to be a group effort on the city, state, and federal level on getting our businesses through these challenging times.”
Senator Monty Mason, 1st District, is not quite sure what to expect when they convene. “Going into a special session, a lot of us are trying to figure out how this works, obviously going in for budget, but the matters of the day mean there will be criminal reform and COVID relief. Need to talk budget." Mason said the most recent figure he has heard is a 1.4 B dollar shortfall.
Delegate Joe Lindsey, 90th District, believes the discussion will differ from when they last convened. "I believe in light of what we have going on in terms of pandemic and social concerns. It will be about social justice initiatives in the general assembly session.”
Delegate Jason Miyares, 82nd District, is passionate about getting mental health care funding and reopening Virginia. “We are facing challenging times when you think about our life as of March 1st and what it is like August 1st. This is the first government-mandated recession in U.S. history. As a result, the government will have to come up with a way to respond. We can address some safe harbors for those businesses facing COVID-19. All have to work together to get Virginia reopened again.”
When asked about the new Department of Labor and Industry guidelines, all four lawmakers felt the government should be doing all it can to help businesses, not shutter them.
Kiggans feels the new regulations were put forth without enough discussion. “I would have liked an opportunity for business to interact more before the Department of Labor and Industry released new guidelines. I support a safe harbor rule, liability protection for our businesses are doing their best. They are putting up signs, wearing the masks, having customers wearing the mask. We have to work together. This is a group effort.”
Lindsey is not sure whether mandates should be more substantial. "We are in a very critical time in history. The loss of human life is very real. I don’t think there is a set answer on how this will work out for the legal outcome. There will be challenges that make doing business harder, but they should not be so draconian as put people out of business.”
Mason and Miyares both believe business owners should not fear enforcement if they do their best to interpret and follow the guidelines. Mason wants to advocate for changes for the business community. “There are guidelines to try to keep employees and customers safe. I would appreciate we are all doing certain things to protect, but a few of the guidelines are hard. As legislators, we can go back and say this one is hard to figure out and get more clarification.”
Miyares believes the administration is not looking to put people in jail or to prosecute. “I hope we can all practice smart, sensible policy. The quickest way for this to end is for people to wear a mask and social distancing. Everyone has to have some responsibility.”
These lawmakers expressed concerns over a mounting mental health crisis. With increased isolation, many Virginians are experiencing anxiety and depression. Miyares wants his fellow delegates to look at the big picture when making decisions. “What is a smart, balanced approach to reopen our economy and reopen our schools? A ripple effect is happening in our society. It is heartbreaking to see what is happening to our mental health, what is happening to our children, what is happing to our businesses. That frustrates me.”
Kiggans is worried about children getting back to school, and seniors isolated in nursing homes. “I agree about the repercussions of mental health. I think there are non-budgetary changes we can make to help long-term health patients who are isolated. We have had 2000 deaths in Virginia, 1200 have been in nursing homes. I would like to see our facilities do virtual visits and social distancing visits. Deal with isolation issues now, or we will see horrible results in the future.”
When it comes to how to balance the budget, none of these lawmakers had the magic answer. Lindsey is concerned about unfairly shifting dollars around. “I am not going to recommend cutting anyone’s budget at this time. I’m listening. I want to take a discerning view of the whole picture. We can’t just take from one area to fund another area.”
Miyares believes this is only the beginning. “We are going to have to make hard choices and harder choices in January.”
Mason is stunned by the date of the special session. “What surprised me is we are going back into session the day we get our first view of what the framework of the budget will be. I would have liked some time to digest. It looks like we will have to be doing it on the fly.”
Kiggans is dedicated to opening schools safely as soon as possible. “We want our children in school; the question is how we will do it safely. As a healthcare provider, I understand that. I sponsored the School Nurse Bill that requires a nurse in every school. This is not a new bill, but it is time to act. Times are changed. We need a healthcare provider in place to do health education, monitor masks, and hand sanitizer, prevent infection, and teach health maintenance.”
On the topic of social justice, Lindsey was the first to comment. “This is a very serious issue—one of the chief social moments of the day. I don’t know if there is one answer. There is no question, we as lawmakers have to give our citizens confidence that they are safe to live life. We have to have a balanced process that looks at some of the systemic racism and don’t be in such a hurry to respond that we don’t respond inappropriately.”
Mason agrees patience is required. “I think we always risk as legislators to reacting to what has happened. We have to be careful of overreaching. We have to be supportive of our first responders who protect us.”
These lawmakers are counting on the business community to tell them what they want from the special session. The discussion is expected to focus on budget recommendations, regulation changes, COVID-19 relief, and social justice.
The Hampton Roads Chamber thanks our Legislative Affairs Partners for sponsoring this virtual legislative forum: Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Sentara Healthcare-Optima Health, and Clark Nexsen.