General Assembly special session set for Aug. 18
Lawmakers will amend budget, discuss police initiatives
Gov. Ralph Northam set the General Assembly’s special session for Aug. 18 in a proclamation Friday. Lawmakers will adopt the biennial budget based on the revised revenue forecast, and they also plan to discuss policing measures in light of ongoing protests against police brutality.
A finalized agenda has not yet been issued, but the House of Delegates and Virginia State Senate must pass a final budget, which was postponed in April due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor, along with legislators, froze $2.2 billion in new spending passed during the regular session to prevent cuts to programs, and the General Assembly also postponed by one year a ban on so-called “gray machines,” slot-like games that were set to be prohibited this year in Virginia. Income from the games is going toward a coronavirus relief fund to assist Virginians with housing insecurity and small business loans.
In May, Northam signed an amended $135 billion 2021-2022 state budget with the spending freezes.
In the August meeting, lawmakers will consider several items that saw their budgets frozen in April, including tuition-free community college, broadband access, early childhood education and affordable housing. The session will be held after the governor presents his end-of-fiscal-year report to the General Assembly’s money committees. Although state officials predicted earlier this year a possible shortfall of $1 billion, the deficit is now at $236.5 million, Northam announced July 9.
It’s not clear if the House and Senate will meet in person in Richmond next month, due to ongoing coronavirus concerns. In April, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, attempted to adjourn the special session — held under a tent on the Virginia State Capitol grounds — to hold a virtual version, but she was defeated in a party-line vote.
In recent days, though, the governor and some Hampton Roads officials have expressed concern about a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the region, which could impact a decision on a virtual session in August.
Also on the agenda are measures to address policing, which has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks following the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis and subsequent protests. In recent weeks, police in Virginia have been criticized by activists and some elected officials for using tear gas and pepper spray against protestors — including a couple of delegates participating in street protests. In Richmond, protestors have taken to the streets nightly since the beginning of June, protesting the city’s police department and some elected officials, including the mayor and commonwealth’s attorney. In early July, the city removed all five city-owned Confederate monuments, and the state is currently in court, defending its plan to take down the state-owned Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, which has been stopped by court injunction.
According to the governor’s office, the General Assembly will take up measures in August on police use of force, increased training of officers, accountability and oversight, and hiring and decertification. The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Virginia African American Advisory Board, the governor’s Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law, and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will advise the administration in developing policy initiatives.