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Photos: Education Rally

Thousands of teachers, staff, concerned parents and children dressed in red for ed were at the Capitol on Monday to fight for more funding.

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According to the Virginia Education Association (VEA), Virginia ranks 40th in the country in direct pupil aid, down an estimated eight percent since the recession when adjusted for inflation. Virginia ranks 32nd in teacher salary, lagging $8,500 behind the national average.

Those numbers are more depressing when you take into account a 2019 five percent pay raise for teachers, which was the largest single-year raise in 15 years. Infrastructure is also suffering just last week George Mason Elementary was closed due to a busted pipe.

From VEA:

“It’s way past time for them to live up to their obligations to the children of this Commonwealth and to the people who work with them!” boomed VEA President Jim Livingston to an enthusiastic crowd of over 2,000, who responded raucously as Livingston added a promise: “We will be ever vigilant to hold them accountable for what they’ve promised they would do—and if they don’t vote to support our students and our schools, we’ll help them pack their stuff and go!”


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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

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Downtown

Legislature delays minimum wage increase amid budget concerns

The identical bills, introduced by Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, originally would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor’s amendment pushes the start to May 1, 2021.

Capital News Service

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By Will Gonzalez

Labor advocates and Virginia legislators worried the recently passed bill to increase minimum wage might die during the reconvened General Assembly session Wednesday.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s amendment deferred the start date of the original bill by four months in response to the economic blow dealt to the state from the coronavirus pandemic. The recommendation was one of many made to trim the $135 billion, two-year budget passed in the spring. Republican lawmakers wanted to reject the amendment in order to stall the passage of the bill and have the governor amend it further.

During the relocated Senate floor session held at the Science Museum of Virginia, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, argued that now is a risky time to consider raising the minimum wage given the COVID-19 crisis. He said the legislature should reject the governor’s recommendation and send the bill back for reconsideration.

“Voting ‘no’ on this amendment keeps this issue alive,” Obenshain said. “It sends it back to the governor, and the governor has one more chance to do what’s right, not just for businesses, but for workers.”

Lawmakers who oppose minimum wage increases argued that those working minimum wage jobs in Virginia are young people entering the workforce, not people trying to support families. Other legislators pointed to the essential workers now serving the public from the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak, many of whom make minimum wage.

“Quite frankly I find it hard to believe we’ve got people in here who don’t think somebody working full time in any job should earn at least $19,600 a year,” said Senate majority leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “There’s no one in here … that would work for that kind of wage. No one.”

There were impassioned pleas from several House members to accept the recommendation instead of risking the bill being vetoed, though one delegate voiced resentment at having to make the choice. Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, said the COVID-19 crisis has spotlit “one of the most glaring contradictions in our economy” — that workers paid the least are often deemed most essential to society.

“We are saying to these people ‘you are not worth a pay raise come January,’” Carter said. “I’m not gonna fault anyone that votes ‘yes’ on this, for taking the sure thing four months later rather than taking the chance, but if that’s what we’re gonna do … I can’t be any part of it.” Carter did not cast a vote on the amendment.

Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, said that some legislators’ notion that families don’t depend on minimum wage is a myth.

“I’m glad they acknowledge that there are people in Virginia who cannot live off minimum wage,” Guzman said. “Actually, what they do is they get a second job, or a third job in order to make ends meet.” Guzman immigrated to the U.S. from Peru at the age of 18 and worked three jobs to afford a one bedroom apartment.

The House of Delegates voted 49-45 to accept Northam’s amendment to their bill. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax made the tie-breaking Senate vote when its version ended in a 20-20 tie.

The identical bills, introduced by Sen. Saslaw and Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, originally would have raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. The governor’s amendment pushes the start to May 1, 2021.

The wage will then increase to $11 in 2022, $12 in 2023 and by another $1.50 in 2025 and 2026. Every subsequent year the bill is to be re-amended to adjust the minimum wage to reflect the consumer price index.

Virginia’s cost of living index is very close to the national average, but it ranks in the top four among states where the minimum wage equals the federal rate of $7.25, according to an analysis of data from the Missouri Economic Research and Development Center.

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, said now is not the time for Virginia to turn its back on low wage workers.

“We have been fighting for a decade to push for people who are working hard to make ends meet, to support their families and to be able to do so with dignity,” Scholl said. “That’s what raising the minimum wage is about.”

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Downtown

Editorial: Misguided Rally Taking Place on Wednesday

“Federal and Commonwealth officials are recommending at least a 14 day period of declines in positive tests before baby steps are taken to re-open businesses. It’s the height of selfishness not to follow this basic benchmark. One person’s desire for a haircut shouldn’t cost someone else’s life.”

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On Wednesday a group plans to exercise their Freedom of Speech rights to protest the current Federal and Commonwealth guidelines in the fight against COVID-19. Protesters will be driving around the Capitol grounds, honking their horns in an effort to pressure Governor (a medical doctor) Northam to lift the mandatory business closures that are in place. The rally coincides with the Legislature’s one day Veto session.

This rally is being promoted by Senator (not a medical doctor) Amanda Chase who just happens to be running for Governor.

The rally has provided talking points for the protestors if contacted by the media. Simple logic, which is not likely to be found at the rally, shows how this event is misguided and, frankly, dangerous.

  1. “Government Coronavirus projections have proven markedly inaccurate, as evidenced by them being continually revised downward” – Projections are a fickle beast. They’re never going to be perfect. These projections were also impacted by the shut-down and social distancing efforts.
  2. “Even at the Coronavirus peak, in such hot spots as New York City, the predicted hospital bed and ventilator shortages did not materialize, and hospitals remained well below capacity.” – This is a good thing and shows that efforts taken can and will work. There are several analogies bouncing around the internet, my favorite is, “The parachute is slowing my descent, I can take it off now.” Let’s wait until we land before we cut the cord, shall we?
  3. “Due to the Governor’s orders, hospitals are not allowed to perform ‘non-essential’ procedures. Patients needing cancer surgery, joint replacement, and other vital hospital services are unable to receive them.” – This is true. However, if we get another spike from – I don’t know – gatherings of people protesting gatherings and business closures will stretch on even longer.
  4. “ALL jobs are essential. The costs of the Governor’s economic shutdown far outweigh the short-term Coronavirus benefits, in the Commonwealth.” – Yes, all jobs are essential. But having your customer base or employees continually getting sick or dying will not be beneficial for anyone’s bottom line.

As of this morning, 300 people have died in the state of Virginia as a result of COVID-19. People are dying at an unprecedented rate. As of this morning 41,114 deaths in the United States and 165,939 worldwide. The United States is leading the world in deaths by this disease.

The good news is that today was the third day in a row the number of people testing positive has declined, but even that comes with a caveat. The number of those tested reached 56,735. Without more extensive testing we have no way of knowing how many asymptomatic folks are in the community. This is not the time to relax our guard. This fight isn’t over and we certainly haven’t won. Federal and Commonwealth officials are recommending at least a 14 day period of declines in positive tests before baby steps are taken to re-open businesses. It’s the height of selfishness not to follow this basic benchmark. One person’s desire for a haircut shouldn’t cost someone else’s life.

There is no denying the economic and psychological cost is immense, but we can and will get through this if rational minds prevail.

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Northam delays upcoming elections; others push for November alternatives

Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he is delaying the June primary election by two weeks and is calling on the General Assembly to approve moving May elections to November.

Capital News Service

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By Joseph Whitney Smith

Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he is delaying the June congressional primaries by two weeks and is calling on the General Assembly to approve moving May elections to November.

“We have wrestled with our options and none of them are ideal or perfect,” Northam said. “Voting is a fundamental right, but no one should have to choose between protecting their health or casting a ballot.”

State legislators will have to sign off on the governor’s proposal to move the May local and special elections. Northam proposed that these races appear on the November ballot. All absentee ballots already cast would be discarded, the governor said. Additionally, those officials whose terms expire as of June 30 will continue in office until their successors have been elected in November.

The primary for Congressional races and a few local races has been postponed to June 23.

“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” Northam said.

Groups and state leaders have been calling for proactive measures such as mail-in voting for the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, fearing ongoing impact from the coronavirus pandemic. Virginia Democrats recently joined other Democratic groups nationwide calling on federal lawmakers to create voting alternatives for the presidential election due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The groups are asking for provisions such as free or prepaid postage, allowing ballots postmarked by election day to count, in addition to extending early voting periods for in-person voting. Two possible alternatives to replace voting in person are mail-in and absentee ballots, according to Stephen Farnsworth, a professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg that specializes in media and elections.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, supports the idea of a universal mail-in ballot, regardless of the current pandemic. An MIT research study found that universal vote by mail cuts costs, increases turnout and improves election reliability. However, the success of these programs depends on transparency, accuracy and accessibility. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah have introduced mail-in only ballots.

“We need to take up this essential task of giving all Virginians an opportunity to participate in a safe and inclusive election,” Carroll Foy said in an email.The delegate recently filed paperwork to run for governor in 2021, according to the Virginia Mercury. 

Carroll Foy said the mail-in method is preferable to absentee voting because individuals need to opt in to register for absentee voting. Mail-in voting allows any registered voter to mail in their ballot without opting in, Carroll-Foy said. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states using the mail-in method mail ballots to every registered voter, while absentee ballots are first requested and voters must qualify to receive the ballot.

“We want to make sure that everyone feels safe and secure in these uncertain times, and that their constitutional rights are protected and easily accessed — mail in ballots are the best to achieve both,” Carroll Foy said.

Farnsworth believes it’s unlikely that the November U.S. presidential election will be delayed, but said voters may see changes at the polls.

“Even for states that don’t make the switch away from largely in-person voting, you can expect much greater opportunities for no-excuse-required early and absentee voting,” Farnsworth said.

During the General Assembly 2020 session, legislators passed House Bill 1 to allow a no excuse requirement to vote absentee. This removes prior requirements such as work, illness or travel to justify requesting an absentee ballot.

Farnsworth said a mail-in only option is the most likely alternative over traditional in-person voting if the nation is still on lockdown in November.

According to Anna Scholl, executive director of advocacy group Progress Virginia, postponing elections is the right move for Virginia voters.

“Postponing elections is a serious decision but it is the right move for our communities,” Scholl stated in a news release. “We strongly encourage the General Assembly to ratify this plan when they meet on April 22nd.”

The deadline to have an absentee ballot mailed for the June primary is June 2. Absentee ballot request forms can be found at www.vote.virginia.gov.

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