Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Monday, Feb. 8

By Brian Carlton

February 8, 2021

Daily Number

1693 – King William III of England and Queen Mary II grant a charter to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.

The Percentage Drops (Yes, That’s Good News)

Last month, medical officials hit the panic button over Southwest Virginia. By mid-January, Ballad Health reported a 35% positive rate on COVID-19 tests. In fact, the area’s been surging since November, as some people refused to follow the rules.

What a difference a month makes. On Sunday, Ballad’s seven-day test rate stood at 15% for the region. What caused the change? First, vaccine distribution is picking up. Second, in the wake of State Sen. Ben Chafin’s death from COVID-19, more people are wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Still, Ballad Health officials say they don’t feel confident claiming the virus is under control. To do that, they want a seven-day positive test rate of 5% or less.

What Happened With the Amendment?

Despite same-sex marriage being legal for five years, there’s still language in Virginia’s constitution that discriminates against some families. Dogwood’s Arianna Coghill detailed the issues in this article, including the fact nobody ever repealed the 2006 constitutional amendment that defines marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.”

The Virginia House voted to repeal the amendment on Friday by a 60-33 vote. Here’s a list of who voted on which side, as we’ve had requests to start doing that more often. The bill, HB 582, went to the Virginia Senate and was referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. On Sunday, the committee unanimously voted 15-0 to hold off on discussing the bill until the special session, which starts Wednesday.

Del. Mark Levine talked with Dogwood’s Meg Schiffres about the proposal and some history behind it in this Instagram interview clip.

So Let’s Talk About Donations For a Minute

Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Monday, Feb. 8
A look at the top campaign donors for members of the Virginia House and Senate

As we enter the last two days of this short session for the General Assembly, it’s important to provide some context for why lawmakers act and vote in the way that they do. The legislature has made substantial progress in areas such as marijuana legalization, marriage equality, and abolishing the death penalty.

But one thing the Assembly didn’t do is approve bills like House Bill 1756 and Senate Bill 1236 to ban campaign donations by utility companies. That’s no surprise, because Virginia’s biggest utility company, Dominion Energy, is also the largest contributor to members of the General Assembly.

We take a look at how money flows through the Assembly, and in particular how Dominion Energy is involved in Virginia politics, in this story by Jakob Cordes.

Important Dates Coming Up

  • Special Election for Local Offices in Southampton County (2/9)
  • Joint Meeting of the House Judicial Panel and Senate Judiciary Committee (2/9)
  • General Assembly Special Session Begins (2/10)
  • Charter Day Ceremony for William & Mary (2/11)

“It’s time for Virginia to close this legal loophole.” 

Judy Shepard, in her testimony before the Virginia House against the ‘panic defense’

The General Assembly took a step toward following Judy Shepard’s advice last week, as the House repealed the “panic defense.” On Friday, the group passed HB 2132 by a 58-42 vote. Dogwood’s Ashley Spinks Dugan outlined what the “panic defense” is in this story.

Like many of the bills passed late last week, it will be a couple days before the Senate votes. By a unanimous 14-0 decision, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted to delay discussion until the special session.

Death Penalty Repeal Needs One More Vote

The headline may sound weird. After all, we mentioned the House voted to repeal the death penalty on Friday. That followed an epic Senate vote last Wednesday to do the same. So what’s the holdup?

Honestly, not much. It’s mainly just a requirement for each chamber to vote on the other one’s bill. But that takes time.

  • Each bill has been sent to committee (Courts of Justice in the House, Judiciary in the Senate).
  • That committee votes to recommend it, then sends the bill to the full chamber for a vote.

That process won’t start until Wednesday. The Senate on Friday voted to hold off on a vote for HB 2263 until the special session. The House is expected to do the same today with SB 1165.

Fact vs. Fiction About The Death Penalty

As far as the death penalty goes, what do we really know about it? How much of what we believe is fiction instead of fact?

Former Virginia House of Representatives candidate and Northern Virginia lawyer Qasim Rashid often takes a look at challenging topics in his Dogwood column. This week, he breaks down some long-held myths about the death penalty, such as:

  • Claim: The death penalty is a deterrent to violent crime.
  • Claim: The death penalty is equally applied across economic and racial class.

You can read Rashid’s analysis of those and other claims in his Monday column.

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