COVID-19 Guidance

[Updated May 20, 2020] On behalf of the Board and staff of the VASWCD, we hope that you, your families, your colleagues, and your employees are and remain healthy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

VASWCD is committed to providing Virginia’s districts with factual, reliable, and timely information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on our organization and customers. If you are interested in educational resources for online learning, to assist with the closure of schools in Virginia for the remainder of the academic year, please visit the VASWCD Educational Resource Page.

GUIDANCE: OPERATING DURING COVID-19

EO 61: PHASE ONE EASING OF CERTAIN TEMPORARY RESTRICTIONS DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) : This Order shall be effective 12:00 a.m., Friday, May 15, 2020. This Order further amends Executive Order 55. This Executive Order shall remain in full force and effect until 11:59 p.m., Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

EO 55: Stay-At-Home Order: On March 30, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Order 55 (EO 55), directing Virginian’s to “stay-at-home” to combat the spread of COVID-19. The Executive Order reinforces the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19 and furthers Executive Orders 51 and 53.

Message for Forestry & Agriculture: On March 29, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring, Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh, and State Forester Rob Farrell released a video thanking Virginia’s forestry and agriculture industries and discussing how our VDACS and VDOF are handing the current health emergency. Please click here to view the video. 

EO53: On March 23, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Order 53 (EO 53), placing operating restrictions on Virginia businesses. Governor Northam’s EO 53 banned public and private gatherings of more than 10 individuals, and required the closure of certain recreational, entertainment, non-essential retail, and brick-and-mortar personal service business.

EO 53 establishes guidelines for the continued. Districts are strongly encouraged to follow guidance issued under EO 53 and EO55, including:  

GUIDANCE EXECUTIVE ORDER 53 – MARCH 23, 2020
1. “Utilize teleworking as much as possible” Districts are encouraged to implement teleworking policies and procedures to the greatest extent possible for office and administrative functions that can be performed in the remote environment.

Virginia Department of Human Resource Management (VDHRM): COVID-19 webpage has provided teleworking considerations and resources for businesses, managers and employees.  

2. “Where telework is not feasible, such business must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and apply the relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.” There are very obvious examples where teleworking is not feasible. The guidance from state and federal authorities that has been cited by Governor Northam’s administration as critical to continuing operations can be found below:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)Includes: guidance on cleaning and disinfecting common surfaces, best practices on social distancing, reducing transmission among employees, and maintaining healthy business conditions and working environments.  

U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA): “COVID-19 Control and Prevention Website” Includes: general guidance for all workers and employers, interim guidance for most U.S. workers and employers of workers unlikely to have occupational exposures to COVID-19, and interim guidance for U.S. workers and employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to COVID-19.  

VA Department of Labor and Industry (VADOLI): “COVID-19 Resource PageIncludes: FAQ documents on Executive Order 53, links to additional federal and state resources.
GUIDANCE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

March 2020 – Attorney General Herring has issued a ruling on public bodies meeting during an emergency. The opinion can be found at the following link and remains in line with previous guidance offered to districts – https://oag.state.va.us/files/Opinions/2020/Sullivan-Opinion-Request.pdf.

Governor Northam addressed the opinion in his press conference on March 21 stating, “We understand that while everyone is focused on this epidemic, the business of government must be able to continue. Attorney General Mark Herring has issued an opinion that says public bodies in Virginia may conduct business of meetings electronically if the purpose of the meeting is to address the emergency. That includes meeting to make decisions that must be made immediately and where failure to do so could result in irrevocable public harm.”

“General Herring’s opinion makes clear that public bodies should ask themselves is the action we are taking truly essential? If not, they should defer it until they meet in person again. We’re not throwing out public accountability and transparency measures because there is an emergency. Bad policies can happen that way. The regular features of public meetings remain critical including the need for public access, proper public notice, publicly available agendas, roll call votes and recorded minutes.”

The VASWCD has been in touch with Grant Kronenburg, Assistant Attorney General, representing SWCDs across the Commonwealth to seek guidance asking the following questions:

1. Does the district have ability to meet as a public body for approvals of ag cost share contracts specifially, or other projects via electronic means?

2. Can the district board meet electronically (or in person if below the 10 person limit but with quorum) and delegate responsibility for approvals of state agricultural cost share contracts to a committee or to any one individual on the board? While DCR has discouraged this, if this delegation is possible provide an understanding of liability and responsibility that the Director or individual assumes by taking this responsibility until the full board can ratify his/her decisions.

Other examples provided to OAG for consideration of district board business as to whether it meets “immediate need and irrevocable public harm”

  • Septic – Emergency and/or Repairs, Replacements
  • Cost Share increases (farmer needs to pay contractor now, not months from now).
  • Personnel Items – Hiring, Firing, Layoffs, Payroll, Leave (any new categories)
  • Dam Related Repairs, Letters of Support for Dams in our area that need repairs, etc.
  • Grant Applications that are due in the next 30 days, etc. Need Board Approval.
  • Scholarship application and award approvals
  • Other examples of district concern include year-end DCR grant deliverables and requirements including: Personnel reviews, Raises, FY21 Budget, Secondary Considerations for CS, Annual Plan of Work and Strategic Plan, CS Carryovers, Review of policies

The VASWCD will continue to work with and coordinate with the OAG in order to better understand FOIA law and the use of electronic meetings for SWCD needs. As additional guidance is received it will be shared. The SWCD Representative in the OAG office can be reached at:

Grant E. Kronenberg
Assistant Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
202 North 9th Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-0085 Office
GKronenberg@oag.state.va.us
http://www.ag.virginia.gov

April 2020 – Additionally, Governor Northam proposed the following amendment in HB29, the Caboose budget, to relax FOIA and allow for electronic meetings. The Virginia General Assembly considered this proposal when it met during it’s regularly scheduled reconvened session on April 22, 2020. With the Governor’s signature the amendment has become effective. The VASWCD, DCR and Districts await further guidance from the FOIA Council and OAG for electronic meetings. It is legal for districts to hold electronic meetings in accordance with this language.

Amendment 28: Allow policy-making boards to meet virtually during emergency declarations Item 4-0.01 Operating Policies

Operating Policies

Page 280, after line 26, insert:

“g. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any public body, including any state, local, regional, or regulatory body, or a governing board as defined in § 54.1-2345 of the Code of Virginia may meet by electronic communication means without a quorum of the public body or any member of the governing board physically assembled at one location when the Governor has declared a state of emergency in accordance with § 44-146.17, provided that (i) the nature of the declared emergency makes it impracticable or unsafe for the public body or governing board to assemble in a single location; (ii) the purpose of meeting is to discuss or transact the business statutorily required or necessary to continue operations of the public body or common interest community association as defined in § 54.1-2345 of the Code of Virginia and the discharge of its lawful purposes, duties, and responsibilities; (iii) a public body shall make available a recording or transcript of the meeting on its website in accordance with the timeframes established in §§ 2.2-3707 and 2.2-3707.1 of the Code of Virginia; and (iv) the governing board shall distribute minutes of a meeting held pursuant to this subdivision to common interest community association members by the same method used to provide notice of the meeting.

A public body or governing board convening a meeting in accordance with this subdivision shall:

  1. Give notice to the public or common interest community association members using the best available method given the nature of the emergency, which notice shall be given contemporaneously with the notice provided to members of the public body or governing board conducting the meeting;
  2. Make arrangements for public access or common interest community association members access to such meeting through electronic means including, to the extent practicable, videoconferencing technology. If the means of communication allows, provide the public or common interest community association members with an opportunity to comment; and
  3. Public bodies must otherwise comply with the provisions of § 2.2-3708.2 of the Code of Virginia.

The nature of the emergency, the fact that the meeting was held by electronic communication means, and the type of electronic communication means by which the meeting was held shall be stated in the minutes of the public body or governing board.”

Explanation: This amendment currently under consideration provides authority for public bodies, including agencies, boards, and common interest communities to conduct electronic meetings during a declared state of emergency when it is impracticable or unsafe to assemble a quorum in a single location.

May 20, 2020 – Below is the information the Department has received from the Office of the Attorney General regarding the holding of electronic meetings. ****

This guidance is provided to Soil and Water Conservation Districts in order to provide an overview of compliance with the new authority for conducting electronic meetings.

Chapter 1283 of the 2020 Acts of Assembly, also known as the “Caboose Bill,” includes language addressing the ability of public bodies to conduct electronic meetings without the need for a quorum being present in a single physical location (“Electronic Meeting”). We understand that Soil and Water Conservation Districts have questions about the application of the Electronic Meeting provisions in the Caboose Bill. The following is intended to provide guidance by way of further explanation about the Electronic Meeting provisions in order to assist Soil and Water Conservation District Boards of Directors in determining whether they may meet via an Electronic Meeting pursuant to the Caboose Bill. The full language of the Caboose Bill addressing Electronic Meetings is at the end of this communication.

The Caboose Bill allows public bodies to hold Electronic Meetings when the Governor has declared a state of emergency pursuant to §44-146.17 if: “(i) the nature of the declared emergency makes it impracticable or unsafe for the public body or governing board to assembly in a single location; (ii) the purpose of the meeting is to discuss or transact the business statutorily required or necessary to continue operations of the public body…and the discharge of its lawful purposes, duties, and responsibilities…” §4-0.01(g). The Caboose Bill also has language regarding recordings and transcriptions of Electronic Meetings.

The Caboose Bill does not allow public bodies to hold an Electronic Meeting to discuss or transact business for any purpose. Rather, they may do so as long as the agenda items that the public body plans to take up are: (a) statutorily required or (b) necessary to continue operations and discharge lawful purposes, duties and responsibilities.

It is the public body’s responsibility to determine whether “the nature of the declared emergency makes it impracticable or unsafe for the public body or governing board to assemble in a single location.” The public body should make this determination by motion and vote on the record at the start of the Electronic Meeting. If the motion fails, the Electronic Meeting should end at that point.

It is important to remember that the Caboose Bill requires compliance with the provisions of § 2.2-3708.2. Therefore, in accordance with § 2.2-3708.2.D.2, public bodies must include a telephone number that may be used to notify the public body of any interruption in the telephonic or video broadcast of the meeting. Additionally, if there is an interruption in the broadcast, the meeting must be suspended until public access is restored. Live-streaming open meetings simultaneously on a separate platform or using a webinar-style format have been relatively successful at providing the requisite public access and avoiding disruption.

Those provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act not addressed by the Caboose Bill remain in effect. All questions regarding FOIA or the Caboose Bill provisions for Electronic Meetings, as well as any other legal questions, should be directed to counsel and all Districts are encouraged to consult with counsel in advance of public meetings.

Below is the Caboose Bill’s language in full:

g. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any public body, including any state, local, regional, or regulatory body, or a governing board as defined in § 54.1-2345 of the Code of Virginia may meet by electronic communication means without a quorum of the public body or any member of the governing board physically assembled at one location when the Governor has declared a state of emergency in accordance with § 44-146.17, provided that (i) the nature of the declared emergency makes it impracticable or unsafe for the public body or governing board to assemble in a single location; (ii) the purpose of meeting is to discuss or transact the business statutorily required or necessary to continue operations of the public body or common interest community association as defined in § 54.1-2345 of the Code of Virginia and the discharge of its lawful purposes, duties, and responsibilities; (iii) a public body shall make available a recording or transcript of the meeting on its website in accordance with the timeframes established in §§ 2.2-3707 and 2.2-3707.1 of the Code of Virginia; and (iv) the governing board shall distribute minutes of a meeting held pursuant to this subdivision to common interest community association members by the same method used to provide notice of the meeting.

A public body or governing board convening a meeting in accordance with this subdivision shall:

  1. Give notice to the public or common interest community association members using the best available method given the nature of the emergency, which notice shall be given contemporaneously with the notice provided to members of the public body or governing board conducting the meeting;
  2. Make arrangements for public access or common interest community association members access to such meeting through electronic means including, to the extent practicable, videoconferencing technology. If the means of communication allows, provide the public or common interest community association members with an opportunity to comment; and
  3. Public bodies must otherwise comply with the provisions of § 2.2-3708.2 of the Code of Virginia.

The nature of the emergency, the fact that the meeting was held by electronic communication means, and the type of electronic communication means by which the meeting was held shall be stated in the minutes of the public body or governing board.

PARTNER RESOURCES

National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD): COVID-19 Guidance & Resources

This page contains resources and guidance for conservation districts for determining protocol and response in the wake of COID-19. This page includes USDA guidance, National Association of Counties support info, EPA guidance links, National Association of State Conservation Agency details, guidance for remote work, and more.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: VCE COVID-19 Resources

Cooperative Extension has compiled a number of useful resources for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes preventative measures that you can take at the grocery store, with takeout or during other public interactions. The site also contains educational material including: activities for kids, resources for parents and some diet and exercise recommendations during quarantine.

Re-Opening Guidelines Provided by Partner VCE for Districts to use as a Resource (Posted May 14, 2020)

Virginia Farm Bureau:  Support for COVID19

Virginia Farm Bureau has compiled many useful resources for members and all Virginia farmers with timely and relevant information related to farm operations.

Virginia Municipal League (VML): Coronavirus Resources

VML has compiled a wealth of resources on electronic meetings, continuity of operation plans, business plans and more.

Virginia.gov: COVID-19 Resources and Latest State-Level Actions

Virginia’s most concise gathering of state government actions/resources regarding COVID-19 can be found on the Virginia.gov website.

Department of Conservation & Recreation: COVID State Park & General Resources

The Department will direct you to VDH sources but also includes updates on state parks and other operations.

USDA/NRCS: Coronavirus & USDA Service Centers

This page primarily provides information on USDA Service Centers and the continued support of farmers and ranchers through FSA, NRCS, and Risk Management Agency offices.

Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA): Telework Resources

Concern over COVID-19 is compelling a change in the business culture of state agencies. Gov. Northam issued guidance to agencies and the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) continues to provide additional guidance as it becomes available. VITA is providing the following resources to assist in agencies getting started with telework. This hub was created to house technology resources, job aids and important links for remote employees to easily access in one location. VITA will continue to add more resources to this page. Additionally, through a joint effort with the Department of Human Resource Management, a guide to teleworking is coming soon.

DISTRICT RESOURCES

SWCD materials developed including policies, guidance and work resources will be posted here as shared with the Association. Please note these resources provided by SWCDs are posted only for information and help to all 47 SWCDs and have not been reviewed by legal counsel. The SWCD Admin/Ops Committee is holding regular committee conference calls during the health emergency to discuss SWCD operations. Materials below have been discussed on these calls. If you are interested in joining these calls please contact Kendall.Tyree@vaswcd.org. The next scheduled call is planned for May 1, 2020 at 10:30am.

SWCD FFCRA Guidance and Requirements as of 16-Apr-2020 (Provided by Terri Higgins, Henricopolis & Loudoun SWCD Associate Director & Senior HR Specialist Henrico County)

Department of Conservation & Recreation Revisions to the FY2020 BMP Manual, Policies, and Grant Deliverables Impacting SWCDs (Posted April 16, 2020)

Piedmont SWCD Plan of Continued Operations during Coronavirus Crisis (Posted April 17, 2020)

Piedmont SWCD Essential Agricultural & Infrastructure Employee Work Permit (Posted April 17, 2020)

Hanover-Caroline SWCD Coronavirus Guidelines Adopted (Posted April 17, 2020)

Admin/Ops Committee Compilation of Video Conferencing and Electronic Resource Information (Posted April 29, 2020)

Phase One Return To Work Guidelines – Hanover-Caroline SWCD Board Approved (Posted May 14, 2020)

Remote Participation Policy – Thomas Jefferson SWCD Board Approved (Posted May 14, 2020)

Additional Reopening Gudelines/Checklists as Further Resources:

Forward Virginia Phase One Guidelines for All Business Sectors: Physical Distancing, Enhanced Cleaning & Disinfection Practices & Enhanced Workplace Safety Practices

American Institute of Architects: Office Re-occupancy Assessment Tool

Returning to Healthy Business Operations in the Age of COVID-19: Advance Planning Checklist & Considerations

FEDERAL & STATE COVID-19 DOCUMENT LIBRARY

Throughout the federal and state government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a number of guidance documents and formal responses that continue to be referenced. Below is a library of PDF documents and/or webpages for your reference regarding the response to COVID-19:

Federal Document Library

U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (DHS-CISA)

Guidance on the Critical Infrastructure Workforce (March 19, 2020) 

U.S. Department of Labor

Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (April 1, 2020)

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights (April 2, 2020)

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (March 2020)
OSHA COVID-19 Resource Page (March 2020)

State: Virginia Governor’s Office

Executive Order 51 – Declaration of State of Emergency Due to Novel Coronavirus (March 12, 2020)

Executive Order 53 – Temporary Restrictions on Restaurants, Recreational, Entertainment, Gatherings, Non-Essential Retail Businesses and Closure of K-12 Schools Due to Novel Coronavirus (March 23, 2020)

Executive Order 55 – Temporary Stay at Home Order Due to the Novel Coronavirus (March 30, 2020)

Virginia State Police Enforcement Practices of Governor’s Executive Order and Directive (April 2, 2020) – The press release reiterates that Virginia State Police will not be making random traffic stops on vehicles nor conducting checkpoints to determine if a driver is traveling for a permissible reason, as granted by EO 53 and EO 55. The current Governor’s Executive Orders related to COVID?19: Do not require an individual to carry documentation related to one’s purpose of travel; Do not close Virginia roads/interstates to Virginia residents; Do not restrict non?Virginia residents from traveling into and/or through Virginia; Do not prevent Virginians from traveling out of the state.

OTHER RESOURCES

Analysis of CARES Act (Stimulus) Provisions:  The CARES Act Stimulus Package that was signed into law by President Trump March 27. The $2 trillion measure includes the following provisions for individuals, corporations, and small businesses (including the expansion of the current SBA 7(a) loan program). CARES Act Provisions for Individuals:  $1,200 payments for individuals with income at or under $75,000; $2,400 for married couples at or under $150,000. In addition, they are eligible for an additional $500 per child.

Consistent with previous disaster-related relief, the provision waives the 10-percent early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes made on or after January 1, 2020. In addition, income attributable to these distributions would be subject to tax over three years, and the taxpayer may recontribute the funds to an eligible retirement plan within three years without regard to that year’s cap on contributions. Further, the provision provides flexibility for loans from certain retirement plans for coronavirus-related relief.

CARES Act Provisions for Corporations: Net Operating Losses (NOLs) relaxes the limitations on a company’s use of losses from prior years. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act had eliminated for most taxpayers the use of so-called net operating loss (NOL) carrybacks. Package would allow losses from 2018, 2019, or 2020 to be carried back five years. The provision also temporarily removes the taxable income limitation to allow an NOL to fully offset income. The goal of this language is to allow companies to utilize losses and amend prior years’ returns, which will provide critical cash flow and liquidity during the COVID-19 emergency.

Deferred Social Security Tax Payment allows employers and self-employed individuals to defer payment of the employer’s share of the Social Security tax they otherwise are responsible for paying to the federal government with respect to their employees. Employers generally are responsible for paying a 6.2-percent Social Security tax on employee wages. The provision requires that the deferred employment tax be paid over the following two years, with half of the amount required to be paid by December 31, 2021 and the other half by December 31, 2022.

Refundable Payroll Tax Credit authorizes a refundable payroll tax credit for 50 percent of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers whose (1) operations were fully or partially suspended, due to a COVID-19-related shut-down order, or (2) gross receipts declined by more than 50 percent when compared to the same quarter in the prior year. The credit is based on qualified wages paid to the employee. For employers with greater than 100 full-time employees, qualified wages are wages paid to employees when they are not providing services due to the COVID-19-related circumstances described above.

Corporate AMT Credits. The corporate alternative minimum tax (AMT) was repealed as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but corporate AMT credits were made available as refundable credits over several years, ending in 2021. The provision accelerates the ability of companies to recover those AMT credits, permitting companies to claim a refund now and obtain additional cash flow during the COVID-19 emergency.

Business Interest Limitation. Temporarily increases the amount of interest expense businesses are allowed to deduct on their tax returns, by increasing the 30-percent limitation to 50 percent of taxable income (with adjustments) for 2019 and 2020. As businesses look to weather the storm of the current crisis, this provision will allow them to increase liquidity with a reduced cost of capital, so that they are able to continue operations and keep employees on payroll.

U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Federal Income Tax Filing Deadline Extension Until July 15, 2020

Regardless of amounts owed, the extension includes individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as those who pay self-employment tax.IMPORTANT NOTE: As of March 25, 2020, Virginia has not extended its April 15, 2020 filing deadline for state income taxes.

U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Additional IRS COVID-19 Relief and Updates

Includes additional information on IRS relief measures, including: agency operations, paid leave for workers, eligibility of high-deductible health plans to cover COVID-19 expenses.

Virginia Department of Taxation: State Sales Tax Filing and Payment Extension & Penalty Waiver

Businesses impacted by coronavirus can request an extension of the due date for filing and payment of their February 2020 sales tax return due March 20, 2020, for 30 days. When granted, businesses will be able to file and pay no later than April 20, 2020 with a waiver of any penalties.

 Virginia Department of Taxation: Income Tax Payment Extension & Penalty Waiver 

Any income tax payments due during the time period of April 1, 2020, to June 1, 2020, will now be due on June 1, 2020. This includes individual and corporate income taxes paid to Virginia Tax. All income tax filing deadlines remain the same, including the May 1, 2020 individual income tax filing due date. Late payment penalties will not be charged if payments are made by June 1, 2020. However, interest will still accrue, so if you can pay by the original filing due date, you should.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL): FFCRA Paid Employee Leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020, includes requirements that certain small employers provide two weeks (10 days) of emergency paid sick leave. In addition, FFCRA may require paid FMLA leave to take care of a child when their school or daycare has been closed.

On March 25, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor issued the above interim guidance via a FFCRA Fact Sheet for Employers

Virginia State Corporation Commission: 60-Day Suspension of Utility Cut-Off

Suspends utility disconnections for a period of 60 days, beginning March 16, 2020.

Virginia Employment Commission: Relaxed Eligibility Requirements for Filing Unemployment Claim

Virginia employees may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if an employer needs to temporarily slow or cease operations due to COVID-19. Governor Northam has directed that the one week waiting period and the requirement to conduct a weekly job search both be suspended for those receiving unemployment insurance benefits.