RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – One Democrat says late nights in the General Assembly are an indication that his party took on too much this session.
Both chambers adjourned at 1:20 a.m. on Thursday morning after working since noon on Wednesday. Lawmakers had until midnight to send bills with a fiscal impact to conference committee, a group of members from both parties chosen to work out disputes between House and Senate drafts.
“There were so many bills that impacted the budget it literally was impossible to get our business done before midnight,” said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34). “I’ve been doing this for 18 years and this is the first time I can remember that.”
According to Petersen, it was the second time in two weeks that the General Assembly let out after midnight and it likely won’t be the last. With just over a week left in the session, there are still hundreds of bills pending and a budget to finalize.
According to Legislative Information System statistics, there were 2,829 bills introduced this session and even more resolutions. That’s 223 more bills than 2018, the last 60-day session when Republicans were in control of both chambers.
Del. Ken Plum (D-36) is the longest serving member in the House of Delegates with 40 years under his belt. He says the content of bills is what’s making this year so challenging.
“This is an exceptional year because the state went from red to blue and when it did that a whole lot of issues popped to the top that have been submerged for two decades,” Plum said. “This is the first time the Democratic party as we know it today has been in power.”
As the new majority takes bold steps on gun control, abortion, immigrant rights and LGBTQ discrimination, Petersen thinks the party may be taking on too much.
“We have a massive transportation funding bill we passed that I think very few people had a chance to read because there’s so much going on,” Petersen said. “Typically in a session like this, we would spend a week debating it. I feel like we spent 20 minutes debating it. We need to slow down.”
Peterson said, next year, lawmakers should consider adding a fee for filing legislation or setting a cap on bills. He said in a post on Facebook Wednesday night that it’s the “only way to avoid this train wreck.”
Plum disagreed, saying the party can’t delay action on issues that need urgent attention. “People expect a response and by golly we will give them a response,” Plum said. “If I have to stay up late night to do that, I’m willing to do that.”