Youngkin ends Virginia’s COVID fines, talks reimbursements

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


Earlier this week, Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order that brought to a close a system of fines and penalties levied against businesses that failed to adhere to the COVID policies imposed by former Gov. Ralph Northam. 

“I am today requiring a statewide review of COVID-19 related penalties imposed by the Northam administration,” Youngkin said in a statement. “The fact that businesses are still dealing with COVID-19-related penalties and fines is infuriating. Livelihoods are on the line.” 

Northam, like many Democratic governors, enacted a series of strict COVID guidelines – mask mandates, social distancing requirements, etc. – and empowered state agencies to fine businesses that failed to comply. 

Youngkin indicated that he would explore ways to return fine money to businesses. 

“In the previous administration, we saw our government shut down businesses, close our schools, and separate us from each other,” Youngkin said. “While we can’t undo the damage done during the Northam administration, we are taking action going forward to end COVID-era draconian overreach. 

“I look forward to working with the General Assembly to address this, forgive COVID fines and fees and restore licenses that were unjustly suspended.”

Fox News reports that Youngkin’s reimbursement plan would not apply to fines levied against various types of healthcare and nursing facilities.

The timing of Youngkin’s move was strange.

While business owners no doubt were relieved the fine system was over, the end of the program comes after most of the rules that resulted in fines have been relaxed or otherwise done away with. There is no indication that fines have been doled out with any real frequency in 2022. 

Youngkin began defanging Northam’s COVID policy almost immediately upon assuming office. The executive order is meaningful inasmuch as it prevents more penalties from being assessed, but it does little in the here and now and virtually nothing – save offering vindication – for the people who were punished in the past. 

Even the announcement of reimbursements comes with a qualifier. Specifically, Youngkin did not order reimbursements. He only announced he planned to provide them.  

This distinction has led to some criticism of Youngkin. 

WRIC-TV, a Richmond-area ABC affiliate, quoted one business owner – who, it must be noted, is also involved in state politics – as having accused Youngkin of making more of his executive order than was warranted. 

“Glenn Youngkin[,] the EO you dropped today does nothing,” WRIC quoted the business owner as having written on Facebook. “It’s the typical kick the can down the road political response, 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.’”

It would be unfair to characterize Youngkin’s announcement as merely empty political posturing. The governor has, to the delight of his supporters and the frustration of his detractors, proven capable of pushing forward on his promises. 

Youngkin earned his current position in large part by going long on promises of reforming Virginia schools. Whether or not one supports Youngkin’s efforts, no one can deny that he has worked to effect wide change in his state’s education system. 

This should give the reimbursement plan at least a puncher’s chance.