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Virginia Updates for May 2, 2023

Hey there, fellow Virginians! We hope you're all doing well and staying safe. Big news out of Virginia – the DMV is getting a facelift with new, more secure driver's licenses and ID cards.

The redesign includes a larger photo, new background image, and a tactile feature for those with visual impairments. Plus, a new combination of letters and numbers will be used for the license number.

In other news, Virginia's student absenteeism rates have spiked, with some schools reporting rates as high as 50%. Mental health, family instability, and disengagement from school may all be factors. The state is working on solutions to improve attendance, and we'll keep you updated.

Virginia is also set to remove thousands of people from the Medicaid program as the COVID-19 pandemic emergency ends. Learn what this means for healthcare access in the state and what options are available for those who are impacted in our latest newsletter.

A tornado hit the Virginia Beach area last week, causing significant damage to homes and buildings. Find out what's being done to help affected residents and how you can support recovery efforts in our latest newsletter.

Read everything you need to learn about and more below.

Drivers License Update

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has announced a redesign of the state's driver's licenses and ID cards.

The new design features several enhanced security features, including a larger primary photo, a new background image, and a tactile feature that allows people with vision impairments to easily identify the cards. The cards will also display a new format for the driver's license number, which will now include a combination of letters and numbers.

The new design will be phased in over the next few months. Existing driver's licenses and ID cards will remain valid until their expiration date.

The DMV is encouraging residents to take advantage of their online services to renew their license or ID card and avoid visiting a DMV office in person.

For a full list of examples of the new driver’s licenses and ID cards, visit the DMV website.


School Attendance Decline

Virginia is experiencing a significant decline in student attendance.

According to a report from the Virginia Department of Education, absenteeism rates increased by nearly 2% in the 2020-2021 academic year, with some schools reporting absentee rates as high as 50%. In addition, chronic absenteeism, defined as missing more than 10% of the school year, has increased by 10% statewide.

The concern is that some schools may not meet the state's minimum attendance rate of 75%, which could put their accreditation status in jeopardy. Accreditation is important for schools because it affects their ability to receive funding and attract students.

The impact of the pandemic is likely a contributing factor to the rise in absenteeism, with many students facing challenges such as illness, quarantine, and lack of access to technology for remote learning. However, experts also cite other factors such as mental health issues, family instability, and disengagement with school as potential reasons for the decline in attendance.

The state is taking action to address this issue, with the Virginia Board of Education considering changes to the school accreditation process to allow for more flexibility in determining accreditation status. Additionally, the Virginia Department of Education is providing resources and support to schools and families to address absenteeism, including social-emotional learning programs, mental health services, and truancy prevention initiatives.

The state’s ENGAGE Virginia program also aims to provide students with an academic success coach to help them navigate academic and life challenges, ensuring children remain on track and in school.


Medicaid Unwinding

Virginia is set to remove thousands of people from the Medicaid program as the COVID-19 pandemic emergency ends.

According to reports, the state has already begun removing individuals who do not meet the eligibility requirements. This move will impact more than 300,000 Virginians who were enrolled in Medicaid under the emergency provisions.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra toured the Birmingham Green senior living facility in Manassas with Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton on the day Virginia began unwinding its pandemic-era Medicaid rolls.

A lot of Americans will qualify for Medicaid again, they just have to re-enroll,” Becerra told WUSA9.

While the move is expected to save the state millions of dollars, many healthcare advocates are concerned that this will result in individuals losing access to much-needed medical care.

The state is encouraging enrollees to make sure their records are updated with their current contact information. And the Virginia Poverty Law Center is directing people who do lose coverage to their Enroll Virginia program for help finding alternatives.


Tornado Aftermath

On Sunday, April 30, a tornado hit the Virginia Beach area, causing damage to many homes and buildings.

The National Weather Service confirmed that the tornado was an EF-3, with wind speeds as high as 150 mph. The storm affected several neighborhoods and businesses in the area, causing power outages, road closures, and the displacement of families from their homes.

The Virginia Beach City Manager declared a local state of emergency, and the city is working with various agencies to help affected residents. Officials have advised individuals to avoid the impacted areas, as there is still debris and downed power lines on the roads.

The tornado was part of a series of severe weather events in Virginia and other states. The heavy rainfall has also caused significant flooding in some parts of Virginia, with officials warning that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of such events.

Virginia communities have been deeply affected by flooding in the past and in recent years. The commonwealth has also seen an increase in risk for flash flooding and landslides. A study by researchers at Climate Central has predicted that Virginia could lose 42% of tidal wetlands to sea level rise by 2100.


Virginia Headlines

WSET ABC 13: Virginia Senators push for ratification of Equal Rights Amendment in historic vote. Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are pushing for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex and was first proposed almost 100 years ago. In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, which met the required threshold for the ERA's adoption into the U.S. Constitution. However, there has been a legal battle over the ratification deadline, and the amendment has not yet been formally adopted. In April 2023, the Senate will vote on whether to extend the ratification deadline for the ERA, which could pave the way for its adoption. Senators Warner and Kaine have stated their commitment to ensuring equal protection for women under the law and believe that the ratification of the ERA is long overdue.

Virginia Mercury: Following new utility law, Dominion files for bill reductions. Dominion Energy, Virginia's largest utility, has filed a proposal with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to lower bills for its customers starting in July 2023. This is in response to a new state law that requires Dominion and Appalachian Power to return tax savings to ratepayers, as well as cut rates as a result of federal tax cuts that took effect in 2018. Dominion has proposed a $1.2 billion plan to cut rates, which will reduce the average residential customer's bill by around 6.4%. This comes after years of criticism from customers and lawmakers over the utility's high rates. The SCC will review Dominion's proposal and hold public hearings before making a final decision.


As always, if you have any questions or comments, we'd love to hear from you.

Thanks again for reading and to stay up-to-date on Virginia news, follow us @we_vote_va!


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