First day of special session testy between House and Senate — session may be longer than expected

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — As Virginia deals with COVID-19, there’s actually good news. According to Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Virginia), our economy is not as bad as projected.

But the bad news: it’s still as bad as we have seen in recent history. 

Northam addressed state leaders by virtual meeting. Delegates and senators know there is pain ahead.

“Looking forward, we now project we will have $2.7 billion dollars less than we expected in general fund revenue for the coming biennium,” Northam said.

The good news is that fiscal growth was up 2 percent from what was projected for the turn of the fiscal year that ended in June.

“Virginia ended fiscal year 2020 on June 30 with a $234-million shortfall in general fund revenues collected. While this is significant, it was less than projected, and we still saw an overall revenue increase of 2 percent over fiscal year 2019,” Northam added. 

In Northam’s remarks, he reminded legislators he is a doctor, and a doctor’s first rule is ‘do no harm.’ He urged legislators to do as little harm as possible.

“The COVID pandemic has upended our lives, our economy, and our budget… What we didn’t know how deep and long-lasting the impact might be, and we suspected it to be painful and we were right,” he said. 

The most powerful Republican state Sen. Tommy Norment says he sees two things as the big issues.

“Amending the budget to make allowance for the shortfall in revenues resulting from the pandemic. Secondly, dealing with social injustices reform that many of our Democratic friends have been advocating,” he said.  

As for Northam, he does not support $10 million for refurbishing Building 2 following the May 31 tragedy.   

Northam did put funds in the budget for housing and evictions, money to take down some statues and money to help with pandemic relief.

Norment and Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are livid how the House of Delegates has turned the special session into something much more than that.  

Norment does not approve of how Democrat leadership in the House of Delegates has failed to establish rules for the special session.

“And I’m telling them to get your act together and get back to do the work of the people. That’s where we are with the House of Delegates,” he said. 

Norment had thought delegates had adjourned, but they were in virtual meetings. Democrats are meeting on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus while the state Senate is meeting at the Virginia Science Museum.  

“After three months you would think they would establish a calendar, sessions, and events to conduct the business of the people, and they have demonstrated they are totally incapable of it, and it is perplexing to the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats.” 

Late Tuesday afternoon, state Del. Steve Heretick, (D-Portsmouth), offered the following explanation of what was going on in the House.

“We will be meeting virtually daily starting Wednesday to take up a rule change to allow virtual committee hearings. These sessions will take place daily beginning at noon until the final rules change is passed on Sunday.”

Heretick says beginning on Monday, committees will begin meetings to take up legislation, during which the public will be able to participate, 

“Because the Senate wound not agree, the House is unilaterally limiting itself to no more than three bills per member, which will be limited in scope to addressing the budget issues relating to the COVID-13 crisis, emergency and other matters related to the pandemic itself, and criminal justice reform measures. There is no current forecasted completion date.” 

It is clear the House is treating the special session as a regular session, possibly lasting weeks instead of the original time period the special session was supposed to last.  

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