With the Virginia General Assembly just past the middle of its 2022 session, Governor Glenn Youngkin has had plenty of free time to get noticed on Fox News because he doesn’t have many bills to sign yet.
This is hardly a surprise. With the House of Delegates under Republican control and the Senate still controlled by Democrats, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that deadlock could be the rule rather than the exception.
The governor’s rhetoric of unity and bipartisan fulfillment was overshadowed on his first day in office by executive orders that seemed tailor-made to keep the culture wars burning, including the vague but alarming ban on the teaching of “dividing concepts” in schools.
Ironically, the most high-profile bill Youngkin has signed to date, one he calls bipartisan due to three Democratic defectors in the Senate, appears to be as controversial as it gets, at least in some quarters. Others are relieved to see it: Parental choice, at least when it comes to whether or not a child wears a mask at school to protect against the spread of COVID-19, is now the Commonwealth law, which is expected to come into full force on March 1.
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The bill also prevents school districts from switching to virtual learning except in limited circumstances. The bill allows the governor to suspend its provisions if there is a threat to public health — and it will be up to an as yet unknown Youngkin appointed to the state health commissioner to determine when such a threat exists.
Tensions at recent school board meetings in Franklin and Montgomery counties indicate that, unlike Sen. Chap Petersen’s pledge, D-Fairfax City, the end of mask mandates has not meant the end of debates on the masks.
The Virginia Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, calls the bill signed by Youngkin “a major overreach” that “could very well exacerbate the problem that schools face with respect to the shortage of teachers, substitute teachers and bus drivers”.
At least Youngkin and Petersen are both on the hunt for vaccines. “The vaccine works and is widely available,” the Democratic senator said, while the governor stressed, “Please get the vaccine, please get the booster. This is the best way to protect yourself and your family.
Youngkin argued that encouraging people to get vaccinated will work better than using mandates to make vaccination mandatory. Time will tell, but given that this is the path we are on now, let him be right.
Although Youngkin has so far expressed only superficial interest, we also hope that he sees the wisdom in a more lasting and constructive contribution to state schools and throws his charismatic affability behind the projects of school building legislation passed by the Senate (in which Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, had a hand). Surely the House would at least seriously consider granting their passage if Youngkin requested it. We hope that, regardless of the governor’s positions, the House of Delegates will be more receptive to bills to fix the state’s crumbling schools crisis in the second half of the legislature. None of the versions of these bills in the House were defeated by the committee.
However, as widely documented by journalist Luke Weir, who covered the General Assembly for the Roanoke Times, a number of valid bills from both sides of the aisle are still in play (February 17, “A look at halftime General Assembly stats”) and will now traverse from house to house to meet their final fate.
The Senate should support Del’s quest. Wren Williams, R-Patrick, to see what it will take to reopen a hospital in Patrick County. This legislation will direct the Virginia Department of Health to investigate the feasibility of reactivating Pioneer Community Hospital to some degree — and if that doesn’t work, the bill directs the Department of Health to explore alternative sites that could be used to respond to much-needed healthcare. and EMS services.
Likewise, Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, wants to study what it would take to renovate the Catawba Hospital campus into a state-of-the-art facility dealing with addiction issues as well as mental health care. A bipartisan majority in the House agreed with Rasoul’s case, and hopefully the Senate will agree as well.
Of the. Marie March, R-Floyd, pushed a bill that would require governments to post all minutes of their meetings online, to which we at the Fourth Estate say kudos! Great, too, that another sun bill from Sen. David Suetterlein of R-Roanoke County, which would make Virginia’s parole board votes a public record, continues to rise through the ranks.
For now, several bills by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, aimed at reforming the justice system are still in effect, including one that raises the age threshold for delinquency cases within the jurisdiction of the courts to minors and family relations from 18 to 21 years old; and another that would make potential waivers available to eligible workers barred from certain jobs due to barrier crime convictions. We wondered if the Republican-led House would support those reforms — now that’s being tested.
Another relatively unknown piece of Edwards legislation would allow juvenile courts to review and approve or deny foster care plans filed by the local department of social services commissions, while requiring departments show how placement issues are resolved and if and what alternative plans were considered.
Given the sore lack of central oversight and regulation of social service problems (examined in depth in the excellent series “Social Services Under Strain” by Roanoke Times journalist Alison Graham), the steps Edwards wants to take to correct this problem could do a world of good. The bill also provides for studies to look for ways to further improve the handling of these types of cases. The House should support this bill.
Another Chamber member from our area, Del. R-Roanoke County’s Joe McNamara led bills directly related to Youngkin’s most ambitious campaign promises: eliminating the state grocery tax and doubling the standard food tax deduction. state income tax.
The end result of these bills must determine whether Youngkin can boast on Fox News of an achievement that is genuinely, rather than barely, bipartisan.