General Assembly returns to session
As you read this, we have returned to Richmond.
At least the Senate has returned. What the House of Delegates is doing is something different. They have opted to operate by Zoom for the most part. Some of that is because of their fear of COVID-19, but I expect they believe it is a more effective way to tone down opposition.
As we saw in the special session in the fall, it was much tougher to get the media’s attention without the normal give and take with one reporter competing against other reporters to get the best story.
The Senate will once again be at the Science Museum because of the availability to use a larger room with more space between senators. We will be allowed a single aide in the Pocahontas office building. However, you, our constituents, will not be allowed to visit us and provide your thoughts on legislation in person. Those interested in contacting us will have to use email, mail, or call us. Because of these limits, we may not be able to respond as quickly as possible in this strange new world, but we will factor in your thoughts on issues before us.
At this time, the committees are scheduled to be in the Science Museum only. In the past, they were in both the Pocahontas building and the Capitol. Sadly, you will not be able to visit our floor sessions or those committee meetings. In my opinion, this stomps all over the concept of representative government. Many of the folks that have knowledge of the true effects of legislation on Virginians will be challenged to effectively get information to us. One needs to only look back to the special session in the fall to see how the public can be removed from the equation and questionable legislation can be made into law.
Coordination With the House
Traditionally, the House and Senate go into session at noon each day. This allows easy communications between the two bodies. This year, not only will the House meet around the state by Zoom, but they decided to have their sessions begin at 4 p.m. This will make coordination difficult. There will be a conflict as some of their committees will be meeting while we are on the floor and vice versa. That might work while hearing bills that originate in our respective bodies, but once we are considering their bills, they will have to miss important recorded House votes or not present their bills. That is a no-win situation. Our constituents will be very upset if we are not voting on important issues, but our bills will often die in committee if we can’t present them.
This is one reason that I expect little of this session. All of this played into our decision to try to hold the session to 30 days this year. Since the early 70s, when the state constitution was re-written, the General Assembly has convened every year. One of the changes that was made was to change from having one session every other year to holding sessions every year. In even years, the sessions are limited to 60 days and in odd years 30 days, which can be extended to 45 if a super majority agrees to it. One of the first votes on the first day, is always to extend to 45 days. Because of the issues above, the Republicans in the House and Senate have decided that we will not vote to extend this year. After 80-plus days in the special session last fall, we do not believe we need an extension this year.
As yet, there is little to report on what will be introduced this session. As always, there will be some bills of value but a lot more that should not see the light of day. Because there are so many legislators who have decided to run or are considering running for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, there will be plenty of bills designed to get the media to pay attention to them. Some of the candidates have only been in the General Assembly for a few years and have accomplished little. Now they dream they are ready for primetime.