Gov. Ralph Northam today unveiled his administration’s key priorities for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly special session, set to begin on Tuesday, August 18.
Legislators will reconvene to address Virginia’s biennial budget, which has been severely impacted by the ongoing global pandemic. In addition, Northam is proposing several measures to advance equity, reform policing, and protect the safety, health, and welfare of Virginians during this crisis.
“Virginians are hurting, and the Commonwealth is stepping up,” said Northam. “Our country is battling both a health crisis and an economic crisis at once, so Virginia is advancing new programs to help people stay in their homes, care for the ones they love, and feel safe in the community.
“This starts with sound fiscal management and smart investments in our future. Careful planning has kept us from having to gut critical services or lay off state workers, like other states have done. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to advance long overdue police reform and pass record investments in affordable housing and broadband, so we can continue to support Virginians during this unprecedented time,” he said.
Below are several of Northam’s priorities for the upcoming special session. Additional priorities will be announced at the Governor’s annual speech to the General Assembly Joint Money Committees, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 18.
Safe, Affordable Housing
Access to safe and stable housing is critically important, particularly in the midst of the ongoing health crisis. Northam is proposing $88 million in state funding to combat evictions and to expand access to affordable housing. These investments include a historic $85 million investment in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, which will complement federal CARES Act funding to expand access to affordable housing, reduce homelessness, and protect Virginians from eviction. Northam also is proposing $3.3 million in funding to establish an Eviction Prevention and Diversion Pilot Program to reduce evictions in communities across the Commonwealth.
In addition, Northam is proposing a pause on evictions until at least April 30, 2021, tied to the requirement that landlords and tenants work together on a payment plan and seek out financial assistance, including through Virginia’s statewide Rent and Mortgage Relief Program.
While Virginians remain safely housed, they also need access to critical utility services. Northam’s package includes a moratorium on utility disconnections for electric, water and natural gas utilities until 60 days after the current state of emergency ends.
Access to Broadband
A recent SCHEV report found that nearly 200,000 K-12 students and 60,000 college students across Virginia lack access to broadband at home. This disparity is particularly troubling as many school districts across Virginia plan a virtual start to the school year. To address this, Northam is proposing a record $85 million to expand access to broadband for unserved communities. This investment in the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI) will fund last-mile broadband infrastructure across the Commonwealth during this time of need.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Historically Black Colleges and Universities play an essential role in reducing educational inequities, many of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Northam is proposing a $15 million investment in Virginia’s public HBCUs to increase support for underserved students and fund needed technology upgrades.
Police and Criminal Justice Reform
In July, Northam directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and the Commission to Examine
Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to develop policy recommendations and share input with the administration. Northam has also communicated regularly with activists, community leaders, and law enforcement officials, and incorporated their feedback into his policy priorities.
Northam’s special session priorities include measures to:
Expand the criteria for which a law enforcement officer can be decertified, to include officers who are terminated due to law or policy violations or resign during an ongoing investigation;
Empower Virginia’s Criminal Justice Services Board to initiate decertification proceedings when de-certifiable conduct is brought to the Board’s attention, regardless of written notice from a local law enforcement department;
Require law enforcement officers to intervene when they see a colleague engaging in or attempting to engage in unlawful use of force;
Standardize law-enforcement training across Virginia through development of statewide minimum training standards, curriculum, and lesson plans, to include use of force tactics;
Mandate information-sharing between hiring agencies and previous employers and strengthen the vetting process of newlyhired officers;
Create best practices for Civilian Review Panels and empower localities to establish review panels;
Diversify the Criminal Justice Services Board’s Committee on Training to include representatives from civil rights and community organizations and require opportunities for public input into the development of training standards.
In addition, Northam and his administration are working closely with legislators on measures not outlined above, including proposals related to behavioral health, fair and free elections, and racial equity. Additional proposals will be announced at his annual speech to the General Assembly Joint Money Committees.