A breakdown of news and notes from around the Commonwealth, designed to keep you up to date.
RICHMOND-Not everything needs a detailed breakdown. That doesn’t mean they’re any less important, but sometimes two or three sentences can sum up the situation. That’s where the Dogwood Download series comes in. It’s meant to be a quick trip through some of the headlines of the day, whenever you’re reading this.
Is Harry Byrd’s Statue Coming Down?
There could soon be one less statue near the Virginia Capitol building. By a 63-34 vote Wednesday, the House of Delegates passed a bill to take down the statue of Harry F. Byrd Sr.
Byrd, who served as Virginia’s governor and as a U.S. senator, was a segregationist who fought against school integration. He died in 1966 and the statue went up in 1976. Governor Ralph Northam has said he supports the measure to take it down.
Rita Davis, counselor to the governor, spoke to the House during the bill’s introduction last Friday, saying it was time to change.
“Had Mr. Byrd had his way, I would never have the opportunity to be before you because I am Black,” she said. “Certain members of the General Assembly would never be able to serve because they’re not white.”
The bill now goes to the Virginia Senate.
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The Census Data Will Be Late
If you read our story from Monday, you’ll know redistricting is pretty much in a holding pattern right now. Until Virginia gets the 2020 Census data, the state’s redistricting committee can’t draw up maps or submit plans to state lawmakers. There’s some good news and bad news about that.
On Wednesday, Census officials announced some of the results will be released on April 30. Only the data for congressional districts will be released then. For states like Virginia that are also redrawing statewide districts, that information won’t be available until at least July 30, said Kathleen Styles. The Census Bureau official gave a presentation at the National Conference of State Legislatures Wednesday.
It means there’s basically no way to run elections under redrawn districts this year in Virginia. First, the primaries have to be done before early voting starts. If the data arrives in August, there’s no way to finish maps, hold hearings and present the results to the General Assembly before September.
That means primaries will be held as planned in June, with redrawn districts taking effect next year.
Politicians Go Into Quarantine
You won’t see Virginia Sen. Mark Warner on the U.S. Senate floor for the next two weeks. Warner’s staff announced Wednesday that he’s going into quarantine, due to a close contact who tested positive. Warner’s staff said he’ll still call in for votes and be working remotely.
Also on Wednesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced he tested positive for COVID-19 and would quarantine. “Definitely not feeling 100%, but I’m managing my symptoms from home,” Stoney wrote on Twitter. “This should serve as a reminder to everyone that the pandemic is still very real. We can’t let our guard down.”
This marks the second time in three months Stoney’s quarantined himself due to COVID-19. Right after the November election, the city registrar’s office had a COVID-19 outbreak and as a precaution, he worked remotely for two weeks. As a result of his illness, Stoney postponed the State of the City address until February 11.
Will Access to Water Be Labeled a Human Right?
In an age where hand washing seems more important than ever, access to clean water is critical. The Virginia General Assembly took a step Wednesday towards recognizing that fact, as the Virginia House of Delegates passed HJ 538.
The bill, which still needs to pass the Virginia Senate before becoming law, declares “access to clean, potable, and affordable water is a necessary human right.” It comes right on the heels of a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, proving that a freeze on water utility shutoffs could’ve saved countless lives last year.
The Senate sent the bill to the Committee on Rules. There’s no specific timeframe for when it’ll come up for a vote.
Criminal Reform Bills Advance in Assembly
Wednesday was a big day for criminal justice reform, as multiple bills advanced out of committee.
For example, you may have heard of Virginia’s three strikes rule. It basically increases penalties, including jail time, if you’re charged two or more times with a crime. HB 2290 adjusts that a bit, removing it for misdemeanor larceny charges. HB2286 meanwhile would have courts appoint an attorney for you if you can’t afford a lawyer at your bail hearing. Finally, HB 2038 changes the sentence a judge is allowed to hand down for probation violations.
All of these bills now go to the full House of Delegates for a vote. If they pass, then it’s on to the Senate.
New Candidates Declare in Governor’s Race
The field for governor got larger this week, with two new Republicans joining the group. Glenn Youngkin is a millionaire, valued at $265 million. He stepped down as co-chief executive of The Carlyle Group, a Washington-based private equity firm, in order to run. In his announcement video, Youngkin said he wasn’t a politician. He was a political outsider, looking to change Richmond.
If the name sounds familiar, you might have read about his other project in this publication. Working with his wife Suzanne, Youngkin created Virginia Ready. If you’ve been laid off due to the pandemic, the nonprofit connects you with training programs that’ll help you get another job. You can read more in Amie Knowles’ story here.
Also joining the Republican field is Pete Snyder. The former Fox News contributor, who founded New Media Strategies, Snyder runs Disruptor Capital now. The company’s website labels it as an angel capital investment firm. Angel investors help fund start-up projects, in exchange for an equity share in the business. Disruptor’s website says it focuses on “funding and growing disruptive technologies, ideas and entrepreneurs.”
Again, if Snyder’s name sounds familiar, that’s because it probably is. He ran for the Republican lieutenant governor nomination in 2013, losing that race.