RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin says he wants Virginia to reimburse those “who paid unjust COVID-19 fines and fees” for violating state restrictions and to stop enforcing the regulations moving forward.
Youngkin signed an executive order Tuesday ordering a statewide review of all penalties imposed by Virginia under his Democratic predecessor Ralph Northam, who implemented coronavirus measures during the pandemic to stop the spread of the virus.
Virginia’s current governor took a swipe at Northam in his announcement Tuesday, describing shutdown measures imposed at the height of the pandemic before a vaccine was readily available as “draconian overreach.”
“In the previous administration, we saw our government shut down businesses, close our schools, and separate us from each other,” Youngkin said in his statement. “While we can’t undo the damage done during the Northam administration, we are taking action going forward to end COVID-era draconian overreach.”
The governor’s executive order directs all state agencies, boards and commissions to report the penalties imposed on people, businesses and nonprofits to Secretary of Finance Steve E. Cummings by Jan. 15, 2023.
Secretary Cummings or his designee will review the reports and make recommendations to Youngkin on any “corrective action can be taken under the law,” the executive order states. Under Youngkin’s directive, state agency includes the following:
- Secretariat Offices
- Executive Branch Agencies
- Institutions of Higher Education
- Authorities, Boards, and Commissions established within the Executive Branch by the Code of Virginia or designated under a Secretariat in the Code of Virginia
Youngkin also shared plans to propose budget amendments on Dec. 15 that would direct state agencies to stop enforcement of COVID-19 rules and call on Cummings to work with the agencies to establish “a reimbursement process for individuals and businesses who paid unjust COVID-19 fines and fees.”
The governor’s office said the amnesty wouldn’t apply to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that could have violated guidelines “intended to protect the health and safety of individuals, patients, residents, and staff of hospitals, nursing homes, certified nursing facilities, hospices, or assisted living facilities.”
“The fact that businesses are still dealing with COVID-19 related penalties and fines is infuriating,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Livelihoods are on the line.”
Then-Gov. Northam ordered several measures in 2020 to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, including mask mandates and social distancing rules, that led businesses to shut down and schools to rely on virtual learning.
Youngkin, and several other Republicans, criticized the guidelines and vowed to implement changes once he was elected.
The announcement from Youngkin comes after the owner of a Spotsylvania County restaurant said he reached out to the governor’s political advisor about the “raid” of his business by the Virginia Alcohol and Beverage Control.
Matt Strickland, the owner of Gourmeltz restaurant and a Republican state Senate candidate, said the raid was “over Covid mandates.” But the search warrant issued by ABC alleged the restaurant was selling alcohol without a license.
Gourmeltz did have its health permit suspended in 2021 for not following coronavirus guidelines ordered by Northam. Strickland criticized the governor’s office for not responding to his emails and later said Youngkin’s executive order was “a ploy to have the heat taken off” the governor.
“Glenn Youngkin the EO you dropped today does nothing. It’s the typical kick the can down the road political response,” he wrote on Facebook Tuesday. “You have proven how ineffective and weak you are as a leader. I won’t let you trick the people into thinking you’re ‘taking action.’”