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RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia General Assembly’s August special session dealing with budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic, criminal justice reform and policing policies convened on Tuesday.
Due to COVID-19, state leaders are not at the Virginia State Capitol building. For social distancing, state senators are meeting at the Virginia Science Museum and delegates on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.
One of major topics was whether Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas would be in the session Tuesday afternoon despite Portsmouth police issuing two felonies warrants against her in connection to an incident at the city’s Confederate monument on June 10. The charges were announced just the day before.
Lucas (D-Portsmouth) was on a virtual meeting for the budget on Tuesday morning, but was notably absent from the initial gaveling in of the Senate. She eventually showed up to the science museum around 2 p.m. and said “I will be vindicated,” but didn’t comment further.
WAVY News 10’s Jason Marks spoke to Lucas’ attorney, Don Scott, Tuesday who confirmed that Lucas turned herself in to police and is currently out on bond.
Watch Lucas’ response below:
Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax was at the session on Tuesday and joined the calls of support for Lucas, calling the charges against her “outrageous.”
With Virginia expecting a $2.7 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday, the only guaranteed funding appears to be for education.
“We are going to try wholeheartedly to get those budget items that deal with education, but we really will not know until we get to the session and start dealing with the budget,” Lucas told 10 On Your Side on Monday before the warrants against her were issued.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Steering Committee will hold a Press Conference on Wednesday at 5:30 pm in front of the Portsmouth Judicial Complex in response to the arrest warrants.
Budget shortfalls meant $10 million to refurbish Building 2 following the May 31, 2019, mass shooting was unlikely, said Del. Jason Miyares, (R-Virginia Beach). On Tuesday, Gov. Northam confirmed that the funding would not be in the budget. “We will return to them … when the time is right,” Northam said.
“May 31 is one of the most extraordinary events in commonwealth history, so my hope is we can find some way to get funding. Obviously, we have to make some hard decisions,” Miyares said.
Miyares said he expects Democrats to come out with policies to further restrict police following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Every day, cops show up for work, they deal with people having their worst day. We should recognize how hard the job is.”
Lucas thinks there is common ground with Republicans like Sen. Tommy Norment.
“He will be introducing a ‘no chokehold’ bill, and that is a piece of legislation that is being carried by Democrats, and there will be some bipartisan support,” Lucas said.
Lucas also supports giving the state attorney general more power in police department oversight.
“I want to elevate and standardize the training for police enforcement so that all law enforcement in Virginia have the benefit of bias training, de-escalation skills, and making sure those officers who are unfit are removed from the profession,” state Attorney General Mark Herring said.
Lucas added she hopes legislation will help limit aggressive interactions between the public and police.
“We want legislation that stops people from being stopped willy-nilly for any reason other than a vehicle violation. I mean just to have the smell of marijuana on somebody … doesn’t mean aggressive treatment.”
Meanwhile, Miyares counters Lucas’ point.
“We should not be making it easier to assault a cop, so we are aren’t getting rid of mandatory minimums on assaulting a police officer.”
Democrats will be considering advice from Herring, who wants more authority to oversee.
“My office, my team and I will have more authority to investigate police departments that engage in patterns and practices that lead to systemic unconstitutional policing.”
Herring also said Republican claims that Gov. Ralph Northam excessively used his executive powers to close down businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic are misguided.
“Republicans are completely wrong. These COVID mitigation measures are put in place in order to help keep Virginia safe,” he said.
The only thing clear for this special session is whatever Democrats want, Democrats have a stronger chance of getting. The House of Delegates, state Senate are both controlled by Democrats and the governor is a Democrat.
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