Insight to the Virginia General Assembly from the RTD political team.

Richmond Times-Dispatch - Test

Here they come


The virtual Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday, with prime-time speeches from several presidential and vice presidential runners-up, including Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Gretchen Whitmer, before former first lady Michelle Obama caps the first night's proceedings.

In Richmond, virtual reality gets real this coming week on campus - as 4,000 students head to classes at Virginia Commonwealth University amid COVID-19 - and at the state Capitol, as the General Assembly kicks off a high-stakes special session focused on pandemic relief and police reform.

Kenya Hunter reports that some VCU students are voicing trepidation, despite the school's safety precautions. Senior Bianca Eaton, who started a petition opposing in-person instruction, said: "It just takes one person to slip up in any capacity for people to get sick." READ MORE

John O'Connor reports that at the University of Richmond, where first-year students began moving in on Friday, the rule is BYOT - bring your own thermometer. UR also has a new COVID dashboard to update the campus community on the school's testing totals and how many have tested positive. READ MORE

- Andrew Cain

Special session to focus on COVID-19, police reform


Mel Leonor reports that state legislators convene in Richmond on Tuesday for a special session charged by a summer of COVID-19 and protests of racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Among the many police reform proposals, House and Senate Democrats plan to introduce legislation calling for the creation of Citizen Review Panels to study police misconduct at the locality level.

Despite differences and GOP warnings of overreaching, Leonor reports that Democrats and Republicans might find common ground on some police-related measures, including banning chokeholds and making it easier to permanently remove officers with records of egregious misconduct — measures that have support from many in law enforcement. READ MORE

Michael Martz reports that Gov. Ralph Northam expects the state's revenues to be $2.7 billion less than projected because of the pandemic. While a lot of new spending is going by the boards, the governor expects to avoid layoffs of state workers and cuts to essential services. READ MORE

'It started to feel like us against them'


Michael Martz reports that issues of race and class in the long-term-care industry have come into stark focus during a public health emergency that has killed nearly 1,300 people in nursing homes, assisted living and other continuing care retirement communities in Virginia, while infecting almost 5,700 workers in a wide range of health care professions.

The former assistant director of nursing at Morningside at Bellgrade, an assisted living facility in Chesterfield County that had been ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak during the spring, tells Martz that the nightly Black Lives Matter protests pushed her to her emotional limit.

As a Black nurse, she felt she was caught between the front line of long-term care and the front office of a corporation that she said had refused urgent requests for help in a desperate battle to control the spread of COVID-19 through a vulnerable population.

"It started to feel like us against them," she said. "It was just too much for me to bear."

Five Star Senior Living, which owns Morningside and about 250 other long-term care facilities in the U.S., denied former employees' allegations.

VCU's Shawn Utsey (above) a professor of psychology and interim chair of African American studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, says "the pandemic has magnified the issue of inequity." READ MORE

Some area schools already are dealing with positive COVID tests. What's next?


Chris Suarez reports that with Richmond area-schools set to begin the academic year next month, recent exposures already are testing how local divisions will disclose COVID-19 case information to school communities and the broader public.

Henrico, Richmond and Chesterfield County students will continue online learning for the first nine weeks or first semester of the year, but school officials in the counties plan to gradually phase students back into schools this fall.

Meanwhile, about 60% of Hanover County students will be back in schools when the year begins; the system allowed families to choose to send students back into classrooms. READ MORE

Above, a teacher at Glen Lea Elementary School in Henrico hugged a student goodbye on March 13.

A photo to file away

Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

Our shop got out of the predictions business after Dave Brat knocked off Eric Cantor and Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

That said, given the historic nature of the next two Novembers, the above photo might be a keeper.

On Oct. 29, 2017, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, spoke at a Democratic get-out-the-vote event at Blue Bee Cider in Scott’s Addition. Standing to the left is Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

This was more than a year before Harris formally began her presidential bid. Now, of course, Harris is Joe Biden's running mate and could make history as the first woman and the first person of color to be vice president.

McClellan also hopes to make history. If elected next year, she would be the first woman to serve as governor of Virginia and the first Black woman governor in the U.S.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, another candidate for governor, also would achieve those firsts if elected next year.

In their statements praising Biden's pick of Harris, McClellan and Carroll Foy noted they were proud of the message it sends.

McClellan said: "I can’t help but think of how my grandparents and great-grandparents would react to see this day. And I am so proud to tell my children, Samantha and Jack, that the Democratic Party has made history today."

Carroll Foy tweeted that when she was growing up, "I never saw women who looked like me in positions of power. I’m grateful that little girls in Petersburg will soon be able to look to our first Madam Vice President and see themselves and their own limitless potential."

As for others in the photo, in the background are former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who was running for reelection, and Justin Fairfax, who was running for lieutenant governor. Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, is in the foreground.

Herring and Fairfax also plan to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.


• Republicans around the state will vote Saturday to pick the next chairman of the state GOP. The contenders are incumbent Jack Wilson, a lawyer from Chesterfield County; Rich Anderson, a former delegate from Prince William; and Northern Neck GOP leader Michael Schoelwer.

• Colleen Curran reports that Richmond's real estate market is on fire and buyers are paying more for houses than sellers are asking. READ MORE

• Hold your horses. Wayne Epps reports that Colonial Downs has canceled the rest of its 2020 races due to positive COVID-19 tests. READ MORE

• Christopher Newport University says an off-campus student reported a case of COVID-19. Norfolk State University is delaying the start of in-person instruction. Virginia Tech reversed course on a planned increase in some fees at its counseling center. Here are some campus notes. READ MORE

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Photo of the week

BOB BROWN/times-dispatch

A man took a free mask from Southside Community Services employees James Robinson (center) and Tonya White on Friday as part of a new program in Richmond to provide free masks to anyone who wants or needs one.

Quote of the week

"It just seems like no one really knows how to handle it."

- Savannah Gross, a student at VCU, which starts classes Monday amid COVID-19