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Virginia politicos explore possible outcomes of 2020 election

Election Day winners could influence key issues over the next four years such as the pandemic, police reform and foreign policy, according to Virginia-based political analysts. 

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By Joseph Whitney Smith

Election Day winners could influence key issues over the next four years such as the pandemic, police reform and foreign policy, according to Virginia-based political analysts.

Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden need their respective parties to land a majority in Congress. It’s the best way they can accomplish what they’ve promised on the campaign trail, said Stephen Farnsworth, professor and director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

Democrats currently control the House of Representatives (235-199), while Republicans hold the most seats in the Senate (53-45, and two Independents). All 435 House seats are up for grabs on Election Day. Thirty-five out of 100 Senate seats are up for election. Pundits believe the Democrats’ odds of winning the Senate have improved in recent weeks. The party needs to pick up four seats for a majority, or three if Biden wins.

It’s unlikely that  Democrats lose a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the chances are split that Democrats will gain control of the Senate, Farnsworth said. The next president will have a harder time getting legislation through Congress without a matching party controlling each chamber.

COVID-19

Politicians will continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which has led to 230,380 U.S. deaths and 3,658 deaths in Virginia. Bob Holsworth, a political analyst and managing partner of Richmond-based consulting firm DecideSmart, said he expects Trump to continue promoting the reopening of the economy and schools. Trump also is likely to continue downplaying the COVID-19 crisis, Holsworth said.

Trump will likely continue to sideline expert opinions on the pandemic’s impact, Holsworth said. Since the pandemic began Trump has publicly criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

Trump and Biden have both advocated for an accelerated development of a COVID-19 vaccine. In July, Trump hoped to have 300 million doses of vaccines available by early 2021.

If Biden wins the election, Holsworth said Americans can expect a different COVID-19 strategy.

“You’ll probably see sort of an empowerment of people like Dr. Fauci,” Holsworth said. “You’re going to see decisions that are going to be based on what he considers to be the basic science in this manner.”

A vaccine must be free to the public whether or not an individual is insured, Biden said during a campaign rally in Wilmington, Delaware.

“It will still be many months before any vaccine is widely available and we need a president who will take responsibility for making sure it gets to every single person in this country in a way that is equitable and accountable,” Biden said.

Trump’s administration announced agreements just weeks before the election with CVS and Walgreens to provide COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities with no out-of-pocket costs.

Police Reform

Biden will attempt to find balance between social justice and law and order, Holsworth said. Biden is walking a line between progressive activists who want to implement police reform and individuals that believe reform is not necessary, he said.

If Biden wins with a democratic majority in both the House and Senate, expect a shift in police reform, Farnsworth said.

Biden doesn’t support defunding the police, but he advocates giving police departments resources to implement reform.

“I’ve long been a firm believer in the power of community policing — getting cops out of their cruisers and building relationships with the people and the communities they are there to serve and protect,” Biden said in an opinion piece published in June.

He seeks to provide $300 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program, which seeks to advance community policing.

Trump touts the passage of the First Step Act under his administration, which eliminates excessively long sentences and lowers the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences from 20 to 15 years.

Over the summer, Trump enacted an executive order that bans law enforcement’s use of chokeholds unless a police officer’s life is at risk.

The Trump administration also provided $98 million in grants to hire 800 community policing officers. The majority of that money was flagged for jurisdictions that assist with federal efforts to detain undocumented immigrants, Newsweek reported.

Foreign Policy

If re-elected the Trump administration’s foreign policy will mimic the previous four years, Farnsworth said. Trump’s foreign policy promotes the reassertion of American sovereignty and the independence and right of nations to determine their own futures.

The current president promotes increased military pay and the idea of “peace through strength.” The Congressional Research Service, a federal legislative branch agency, reported recently that Congress must assess if the role of the U.S. in the world has changed. The report details how Trump critics and supporters each have differing views on the current administration’s actions and the U.S. role in the world.

The agency stated that a change in the U.S. role could “have significant and even profound effects” on national security, freedom and prosperity. Such consequences could affect policy with allies, defense plans and programs, trade and international finance, foreign assistance and human rights.

Expect more alliances with countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia if Trump is re-elected, Farnsworth said.

“You might see changes in alliances where he has criticized Europe and the fact that there are U.S. troops in South Korea,” Holsworth said.

The president will continue to push toward pulling away from traditional alliances, such as the World Health Organization and furthering alliances with Russia President Vladimir Putin, he said.

Holsworth and Farnsworth said that Biden would attempt to re-strengthen relationships with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance between 30 North American and European countries. NATO was originally established to help deter and counter attempts by the Soviet Union (now Russia) to dominate influence in Eurasia. Trump has called on NATO support this year, in the Mideast.

Political experts also said that Biden would rejoin the 2015 Paris climate agreement, a collective of countries working to combat climate change. Trump officially announced last year the U.S. withdrawal from the 189-country pact and the official exit is the day after the election, the AP reports.

Other sharp policy divides between candidates include immigration, expanding the Affordable Care Act, and financial regulation.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Delegate celebrates Senate passage of limited paid leave bill

The Virginia Senate passed an amended version of a bill by Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Woodbridge, mandating paid sick leave. The substitute bill, which now only extends to some in-home health care workers, heads back to the House where the initial bill passed on a 54-46 vote. Guzmán said she will encourage delegates to approve the substitute and send the amended bill to Gov. Ralph Northam.

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By Zachary Klosko

After four years and multiple bills, Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Woodbridge, is on the cusp of being able to secure paid leave for some Virginia workers.

“It feels really good,” Guzmán said. “I think about the amount of people who are going to get this benefit and how they will have peace of mind to stay home and take care of family members if they are unwell.”

The Virginia Senate passed an amended version of the delegate’s legislation that mandates paid sick leave for some in-home health care workers. The substitute bill heads back to the House, where the initial bill passed on a 54-46 vote. Guzmán said she will encourage delegates to approve the substitute and send the amended bill to Gov. Ralph Northam.

Guzmán took to Twitter after the Senate’s 21-18 vote to express her excitement.

“Thank you!!” Guzmán wrote on Twitter. “We did it!!”

House Bill 2137 originally offered the benefit to many essential workers, including first responders, retail workers, cleaning workers, teachers, jail and prison employees and transportation workers.

 The bill advanced from the House with an amendment for small businesses; it did not apply to retail businesses with fewer than 25 employees. The Senate later amended the bill to only offer the benefit to in-home health care workers who serve patients with Medicaid coverage.

The substitute still requires employers to set aside one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees must work at least an average of 20 hours per week or 90 hours per month to qualify. Once covered, workers will be allowed paid leave if they are sick or if they need to care for a sick family member. Unused sick leave can be carried over to the year after it was earned.

The amended bill will protect 25,000 workers, according to a press release by Guzmán.

Guzmán says her work is not done.

“I will continue to fight as lieutenant governor, I will continue to fight as a delegate,” Guzmán said. “Whichever role I’m in, I will continue to fight.”

Guzmán is running for lieutenant governor. Among others in the race, she is facing Del. Hala Ayala, another Democrat from Prince William County. If successful, Ayala or Guzmán would become the first Latina to serve in the role.

If signed into law, those covered will begin to accrue paid leave hours on July 1.

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City hires former Richmond 300 project manager as the manager of new Office of Equitable Development

In her new position and in leading the new office, she will focus on working across city departments to plan for and facilitate the creation of the more sustainable, beautiful, and equitable city envisioned by Richmonders in the master plan.

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Maritza Mercado Pechin will serve as a Deputy Director within the Planning & Development Review Department and will manage the city’s new Office of Equitable Development.

Pechin formerly served as the project manager for the city’s master plan, Richmond 300: A Guide for Growth. In her new position and in leading the new office, she will focus on working across city departments to plan for and facilitate the creation of the more sustainable, beautiful, and equitable city envisioned by Richmonders in the master plan.

“Richmond 300 is a roadmap for the Richmond we want to be after 300 years of tumultuous history,” said Mayor Stoney. “This office, under the leadership of a tested public servant and planning professional, will start us down that road.”

The office is housed under the Department of Planning and Development Review but will work laterally across the entire Planning and Economic and Community Development portfolio. This will allow office staff to coordinate and collaborate with staff citywide to realize the vision detailed in Richmond 300: A Guide for Growth.

Pechin will report directly to DCAO for Economic and Community Development Sharon Ebert and work closely with the Office of the CAO and Mayor.

“The process to create Richmond 300 was expansive and inclusive, and now, the fun of implementation begins. I am honored to join the city staff to execute the recommendations outlined in the plan so that Richmond 300 is truly a guide to creating a more equitable, sustainable, and beautiful Richmond, and not just a plan that sits on a shelf,” said Pechin.

“Richmond 300 set a new bar for community engagement,” said Acting CAO Lincoln Saunders. “Establishing this office will enable the administration to work across the department to build on that model, pursuing growth in an inclusive and equitable way.”

“I am delighted to be working with Maritza,” said DCAO Sharon Ebert. “Her expertise in planning, organizing and implementing inspired great confidence throughout the community engagement process for and writing of the Richmond 300 Plan.”

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Virginia will join 22 states in abolishing the death penalty

Two bills to abolish the death penalty passed the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates this week. As Governor Northam voiced his support for the measure earlier this month, Virginia will soon become the 23rd state to eliminate capital punishment.

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By Christina Amano Dolan

Virginia will become the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty after two bills passed both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly on Monday.

In a release issued earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam said he looks forward to signing a legislation that outlaws the death penalty.

Under current state law, an offender convicted of a Class 1 felony who is at least 18 years of age at the time of the offense and without an intellectual disability faces a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

The identical House and Senate bills eliminate death from the list of possible punishments for a Class 1 felony. The bills do not allow the possibility of parole, good conduct allowance or earned sentence credits. The measures will also reclassify capital murders to aggravated murders.

The move will change the sentence for the two remaining inmates on death row to life imprisonment without eligibility of parole, good conduct allowance or earned sentence credits.

House Bill 2263, introduced by Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, passed the Senate Monday on a 22-16 vote following a lengthy floor debate. While both parties reached an agreement on eliminating the death penalty, Republicans argued for a proposed amendment to remove the possibility of a shortened life sentence.

Under current state law, judges are able to suspend part of life sentences, with the exception of the murder of a law enforcement officer. Neither bill will change this policy.

In Monday’s hearing, Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin, argued for a floor substitute that would replace capital murder charges with a mandatory minimum life sentence. The government should not have the ability to sentence people to death due to the possibility of false convictions, but those who commit “heinous” crimes should never face the possibility of parole, he said.

“If you kill multiple people, or under the circumstances under our death penalty statute, you should not see the light of day,” Stanley said. “You should not taste liberty and freedom again.”

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the Senate bill that passed the House, said adopting Stanley’s amendment would introduce 14 new mandatory minimum life sentences.

“I think it’s awfully presumptuous for us to just decide that these 14 situations deserve this one and only punishment,” Surovell said.

Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Richmond, furthered the argument against the amendment by mentioning a Washington Post article on the recent release of Joe Ligon at age 83. Ligon was sentenced to life imprisonment at 15 years old, pleading guilty under the impression that he would be eligible for parole 10 years later, Morrissey said. He was released from prison after serving 68 years.

“That seems to be inconsistent,” Morrissey said, referring to Stanley’s argument that while juries can get it wrong, a convicted person sentenced to life imprisonment should never be able to seek parole. “If you get it wrong, and somebody is executed, you can also get it wrong when you sentence somebody to life in prison.”

Judges currently have the authority to ensure life sentences and will have the same authority with the bill’s passage, Surovell said.

The floor substitute by Stanley was rejected. The bill passed 57-43 with no amendments.

Concluding the hearing, Surovell offered final remarks on the importance of Virginia’s step to abolish the death penalty. He believes the new measure speaks to the commonwealth’s humility and value of human life.

“It says a lot about how our commonwealth is going to move past some of our darkest moments in terms of how this punishment was applied and who it was applied to,” Surovell said.

Surovell hopes that the measure’s passage will “send a message to the rest of the world that Virginia is back to leading on criminal justice.”

Northam; House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw issued a joint statement regarding the legislations’ passages.

“Thanks to the vote of lawmakers in both chambers, Virginia will join 22 other states that have ended use of the death penalty. This is an important step forward in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair and equitable to all.”

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