Sixth District Perspective for June 17 Edition

By Rep. Ben Cline

 

As our nation battles the coronavirus and looks at ways to unify the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, we returned to Washington this week to continue discussions regarding these and other pressing matters facing America. There is much that needs to be done, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in these trying times to move the nation forward. 

Judiciary Committee Hearing on Police Reform

Across the street from the Capitol above the Supreme Court is inscribed “Equal Justice Under Law.” In these troubling times, I stand with my fellow Americans in condemning the brutal killing of George Floyd and so many others who have been denied that equal justice under the law. This week, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss bipartisan solutions to encourage greater transparency, training, and accountability in our police departments. And while this Committee has enacted significant reforms to our criminal justice system in the recent past, I am disappointed that so many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle seem less focused on enacting real reforms and more focused on “defunding the police.” This simply is not a realistic option. Our dedicated police officers who serve our communities work to ensure that lawlessness does not prevail in our streets and neighborhoods. The anarchy unfolding within Seattle’s “Autonomous Zone” is a perfect example of what “Defund the Police” would look like across America.

Walter Scott Notification Act

As Congress strives to make reforms to policing, I was proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Walter Scott Notification Act this week. Named for Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by the police, this bill will require states that receive federal policing grants to include in their reporting additional information about officer-involved shootings. Under the legislation, states would be required to submit several data points including, name, race, description of event, and overall circumstances that led to the weapon being discharged. States that fail to abide by the requirements could be subject to a reduction in federal grant funds. 

Shenandoah National Park

As of June 11, the Shenandoah National Park began to increase access within the park as part of Phase Two of the SHEN COVID-19 Adaptive Recovery Plan, which is in line with the statewide Phase Two of Forwarding Virginia.

The National Park Services have worked diligently to ensure a safe reopening of our beloved parks. Park opening information is as follows:

  • The entire park will be open 24 hours a day.

  • The backcountry, including shelters and huts, will be open for overnight camping. Backcountry campers should be self-reliant and review camping regulations online or at kiosks to self-register their backcountry permits. Kiosks are located at: Entrance Stations, Loft Mountain Wayside, North and South entry points of the Appalachian Trail, and the Old Rag Trailhead parking area. 

  • Campgrounds will open at 12 noon at a limited capacity to meet the Forward Virginia guidelines of a 20-foot separation between campsites to encourage distancing. There will be limited first come-first served sites at this time. No new reservations can be made but we will honor reservations previously made.

  • Old Rag and Whiteoak Canyon/Cedar Run circuit trails will reopen from both Skyline Drive and the boundary. Entrance fees will be collected at the boundary trailheads, unless you have a current pass, and parking will be limited to available parking spots in designated parking areas only. Vehicles parked along the roadside will be ticketed and towed.

  • Boundary trailheads will reopen. Vehicles parked illegally will be ticketed and towed.

  • Picnic grounds will reopen at 12 noon. Dickey Ridge Picnic Grounds (mile 4.7) is currently closed and will reopen when construction activities are completed.

  • The Park Store at Byrd Visitor Center will open. It will operate five days a week (Thursday through Monday) from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. A limited number of patrons will be allowed at one time and masks will be required.

Concession-operated services by Delaware North will open as follows, masks will be required:

  • June 11, 2020: Elkwallow Wayside (mile 24), Skyland Lodge 9mile 41.7 or 42.5), Big Meadows Showers and Woodyard (mile 51), Lewis Mountain Cabins and Campstore (mile 57.2), Loft Mountain Campstore (mile 79.5)

  • June 25, 2020: Big Meadows Lodge

  • June 25, 2020: Loft Mountain Wayside

     With public health in mind, the following facilities remain closed at this time:

  • The picnic pavilion within Pinnacles Picnic Grounds (mile 36.6)

  • Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.6) and the information desk and exhibit in Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51).

  • Massanutten Lodge and Rapidan Camp historic structures

More information about the parks reopening process can be found on their website at nps.gov/shen/phase-two.htm.

Salem VA Medical Center

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been hard at work making sure our nation’s veterans receive top-notch care, while testing over 195,000 veterans and employees for COVID-19. 

Additionally, veterans will benefit from Salem VA Medical Center having been selected as the Lead Site to begin resumption of health care services in a slow phased approach in order to ensure a safe environment for veterans and staff. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that on May 26 the Salem VA Medical Center entered Phase 1 which resumed services which included the addition of some imaging studies such as MRIs and CTs.

On June 15, Salem VA Medical Center entered Phase 2 in a staggered manner. They will gradually increase health care services and appointments in various clinics with the understanding that they will reassess based on any rise in facility or community positive COVID-19 cases. The increases of Phase 2 services will be based on the patient volume levels before the coronavirus pandemic. Operating room cases will increase to 50 percent, outpatient clinics to 25 percent, imaging studies to 50 percent, and medical procedures to 50 percent.

During all phases, the medical center will continue to encourage veterans to call their provider any time they feel ill and encourage the continued use of VA Video Connect and telephone appointments when clinically appropriate. All veterans coming onto the Salem campus are screened upon arrival for any signs of coronavirus infection, and a no visitor policy will continue to be implemented. Those veterans who do visit the campus are encouraged to wear face coverings and should contact their provider if they are medically unable to cover their face. Ongoing precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of staff and the veterans who visit the medical center.

Personal Protective Equipment

FEMA is now leading the federal response for operations for the Vice President’s Task Force. FEMA is requesting that entities requiring supplies including PPE first seek additional supplies through commercial channels. If supplies are not available, entities should work through their State Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), as they would in any FEMA response effort. Requests for assistance from local entities must go through the state for fulfillment. Through the state EOCs and FEMA Regional Offices, FEMA is receiving requests for masks, swabs, test site supports, ventilators, and more. Providers, such as hospitals, should contact local and state officials for assistance. Additionally, if a constituent or health care provider has questions or is experiencing spot shortages of personal protective equipment or other supplies, they should call the FDA’s toll-free line at 1-888-463-6332 (1-888-INFO-FDA), then choose option (*). 

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431. 

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