Latest on 2021 session: General Assembly reconvenes for special session as lawmakers decry edited video removing senator’s cursing

Virginia Politics

Virginia State Capitol

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Days after adjourning its regular session, the Virginia General Assembly reconvened Wednesday for a special session as lawmakers begin to focus on bills from the other chamber and debate over legislative details in order to ensure key proposals are passed into law.

While the particulars still need to be hashed out, the state legislature agreed to abolish the death penalty in Virginia and legalize marijuana for those 21 and older. Those historic measures have taken the headlines but lawmakers continue work on several bills, including criminal justice reforms and vital legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Legislators wrapped up the regular session, which was scheduled to officially end Feb. 11, on Monday after Gov. Ralph Northam called for a special session to begin Wednesday in order to extend the session and give lawmakers additional time to go over a slew of bills introduced during session.

Republicans had fought to limit the session to only 30 days, but Northam’s proclamation has extended it for a 46-day session, the customary length for odd-numbered years.

What you may have missed

The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates unanimously passed emergency bills — both introduced by lawmakers representing Henrico from other sides of the aisle (Republican state Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant and Democratic state Del. Lamont Bagby) — to expand the pool of vaccinators eligible to dole out the COVID-19 vaccine during the current state of emergency.

“The bill defines ‘eligible health care provider’ and provides that the program shall include (i) a process by which an eligible health care provider may register to participate in the program and (ii) the training requirements for participating eligible health care providers related to the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, including training on the intramuscular injection of the COVID-19 vaccine and contraindications and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The bills would also establish vaccination sites and require those who administer the vaccines to collect information, “including data related to the race and ethnicity of the person to whom the vaccine is administered,” according to the legislation.

Delegates advanced a measure to require employers to provide sick leave to certain employees (essential workers who work an average of 20 hours per week or 90 per month). The Senate agreed to further study the proposal, putting its passage in doubt. Read more about HB 2137 here.

REVIEW: The bills passed by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates

Questions over transparency concerns in the General Assembly have arisen this week, but not ordinary complaints surrounding the parole board’s voting process or campaign finance rules. The focus has centered on claims that archived video from a public meeting Tuesday was edited before being posted online after one senator began to curse on a hot mic.

Katie Uston, the former assistant bar counsel with the Virginia State Bar and an adjunct professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, was being interviewed for a position as a circuit court judge in Alexandria. State Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) questioned Uston’s qualifications, prompting other lawmakers to raise concerns over the need to hear from the public during the hearing.

“Mr. Chair, how much longer are we going to allow this to go on?” Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) asked Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke), the co-chairman for the joint House/Senate judicial interviews. “I think we have a number of people we need to interview today.”

Morrissey then addressed the fact that Uston’s husband and Simon are law firm partners, which Uston did not disclose on her questionnaire as she said she assumed the question referred to her specifically and not her family members.

When members of the public spoke, they began addressing personal experiences with the State Bar and Uston. This led legislators to ask for specific time limits for public speakers and the chaotic meeting eventually drove one Republican senator to let loose on a hot mic.

According to reports, state Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) complained that the proceedings were a “f**king s***show” multiple times on a hot mic. McDougle apologized for the language but said he stood by “the sentiment.”

“Today’s certification hearing violated the General Assembly’s established procedures and protocols for conducting judicial interviews. Although the language I used while believing myself muted was wrong, I stand by the sentiment I expressed,” he wrote on Twitter.

When the video was uploaded Wednesday morning, the moment was cut out and pushed several lawmakers to share their concerns.

“It raises a great question around transparency and authenticity of what’s actually occurring in these meetings,” Del. Lashrecse D. Aird (D-Petersburg) wrote on Twitter.

“It shouldn’t have been edited. Bleeped out maybe but we don’t edit any other graphic debate or testimony any other time,” Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) added.

“I know of no authority authorizing editing of any committee meeting that is live and in session,” Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria), a contender in Virginia’s Lt. Gov.’s race, also wrote on Twitter. “That would seem contrary to our rules regarding transparency that I fought so hard for as Chair of the Virginia Transparency Caucus.”

Debates to look out for

Committees in both the Senate and House of Delegates have gone over bills passed by the other chamber before Friday’s “crossover day” deadline, advancing some measures but also rejecting those that previously received bipartisan support.

Stay with 8News for updates.

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