January 15, 2021
The 2021 Session of the Virginia General Assembly looks like none other in the history of the Commonwealth. Although the legislature convened as scheduled on Wednesday, January 13, the customs, ceremonies, and collaborations are absent this year. Indeed, much remains unknown about the upcoming weeks.

Virginia’s Constitution stipulates that the legislature is to convene for sixty days in an evenly numbered year (a “long” session) and thirty days in an oddly numbered year (a “short” session). The reason for the difference is the biennial budget, which is crafted during the “long” session and tweaked during the “short” session. Historically, however, the General Assembly has voted to extend the short session to forty-six days in order to have a couple of extra weeks to finish work on the budget.

Unsurprisingly, this year is different. Due in part to the fiscal impact of the pandemic, the legislature spent more than eighty days in a Special Session during 2020. The budget was adjusted during that time, leaving little substantial work remaining to be completed. Additionally, because the Senate is meeting in person in the Science Museum while the House is convening virtually via Zoom, there is minimal room for direct citizen input. For this reason, the Republican members of the General Assembly do not support an extension of the session and will vote to keep the session at the Constitutionally established 30-day limit. With that being said, the Governor has indicated his intent to subsequently convene a Special Session so that additional bills can be heard. Details remain murky.

Speaking of the Governor, on Wednesday, he provided his annual State of the Commonwealth address, wherein he outlined his legislative priorities. Absent from his wish list was the prioritization of the safe return of children to schools. Also absent was acknowledgement of Virginia’s inexplicably slow administration rate of the COVID-19 vaccine. Another glaring omission from the Governor’s remarks? The interminable delays Virginians are experiencing in receiving unemployment benefits. Instead, the Governor prioritized elimination of the death penalty and legalization of marijuana (among other things). These are broad changes that merit robust discussion—a near impossibility during this year’s quasi-virtual session.

In summary, the 2021 session is off to an unsettled beginning. During the upcoming weeks, I will continue providing you with weekly updates regarding important legislation and processes. Following is information regarding the status of my legislation as well as the COVID-19 vaccine administration.
House Bill 1869
Remember last summer/fall when hundreds of thousands of Virginians received unsolicited Absentee Ballot (AB) applications? The applications were often addressed incorrectly or mailed to individuals who were deceased or ineligible to vote due to age, registration in another state, etc. Some applications appeared to come from an official source, and many voters incorrectly believed they were actual ballots (as opposed to an application form). Additionally, numerous people received multiple applications, which led to further confusion amongst voters and an increased workload for the voter registrars who often processed multiple applications from a single voter (though only one ballot would ultimately be mailed to the voter).

To address these problems and promote transparency, I introduced House Bill 1869, which requires third parties that mail unsolicited AB applications to procure their mail list from the Department of Elections’ list of registered voters. This would eliminate the distribution of AB applications to deceased and unregistered Virginians. Of equal importance, these third parties would be required to disclose—either on the envelope or on the first page of the mailing—that the application is NOT being sent by any local or state government entity.

HB 1869 garnered support from an array of diverse stakeholders including the League of Women Voters as well as Virginia’s voter registrars. No technical problems were identified with the legislation when it was heard in the House Privileges and Elections on Wednesday. Instead, with no questions from the Committee members, a Democrat member moved to kill the bill for the stated reason that I am a Republican and Republicans have a history of voter suppression. And with that, a commonsense bill that would have reduced voter confusion was killed by the Democrats. 
COVID-19 Vaccine
“How on earth can I get a COVID-19 vaccination?!” For the past few weeks, we have been pushing on the Governor’s administration as well as the Health Department to learn the source of the delays. During his State of the Commonwealth address, the Governor proudly touted the number of vaccines that have been administered. This was outright deception. Virginia is one of the WORST states for administration of vaccines. As of today, Virginia has only administered 268,330 of the 943,400 doses that have been received. Why the delay? Candidly, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has essentially acknowledged that they lacked a viable plan for distribution. To me that is unconscionable.

Nevertheless, here is where we stand. The three phases of vaccine administration are as follows:

  • Phase 1a: vaccinate healthcare personnel and residents of long term care facilities
  • Phase 1b: vaccinate frontline essential workers, persons aged 65 years and older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps, people aged 16 through 64 years with a high risk medical condition or disability that increases their risk of severe illness from COVID-19
  • Phase 1c: vaccinate other essential workers

The 96th District is currently in Phase 1a; however, the VDH indicated to my office that they will overlap Phases 1a and 1b. In short, Phase 1a will not need to be fully completed before Phase 1b begins.

To determine your phase, click HERE
For Peninsula-specific information, click HERE
For assistance via phone, contact the Peninsula Health District Vaccine Hotline at 757-594-7496
As a reminder, Richmond legislative offices are closed to the public by order of the House Speaker. No constituent or interest group is allowed inside the Pocahontas Building. For this reason, my district office will be open and fully staffed throughout the entirety of session. If you’d like to schedule a meeting, please email Ms. Dayle Brittain at [email protected] or call 757-741-7001.

Because in-person testimony is not permitted, written public comment on House legislation will be accepted electronically. Please click HERE to provide written testimony on legislation.

I look forward to hearing from constituents during the upcoming weeks. As always, legislation may be viewed on https://lis.virginia.gov/. Also, my 2021 Session Survey is available by clicking HERE. Lastly, my office remains available to assist with constituent service. If you have a problem with a state-related matter or agency, please call 757-741-7001 or email [email protected].

To end on a good note…happy Friday, and enjoy your weekend!
Contact Delegate Batten
Legislative Aide: Dayle Brittain
Mail: P.O. Box 194, Norge, VA 23127
Phone: 757-741-7001
Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Amanda Batten