(House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Dhenandoah)

by Brandon Jarvis

The House Republican Leader, Del. Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah) issued a statement on Monday criticizing House Democrats after members of the public were not able to speak in a House Education subcommittee meeting.

“Parents have every right to be upset. They came to the ‘virtual’ session in good faith, logging on well before the 7 a.m. start time to ensure their place in line,” said Gilbert. “But it appears that Chairman Schuyler VanValkenburg only wanted to hear from people who were in favor of the bill. He allowed extended testimony from supporters, but cut off testimony from opponents after only one witness.”

Chairman of the subcommittee, Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico), said it was a mistake that the members of the public were unable to speak at the meeting on Monday morning. “We had a vigorous 45-minute debate on the bill,” VanValkenburg. said. “We did accidentally not call on some people in the back and forth.”

Gilbert said in a statement on Monday that this is why Republicans advocated against a virtual session. “Situations like this are the reason Republicans cautioned against ‘virtual’ sessions in the first place. Had this been a normal session these witnesses would have been seen by the public, had a chance to talk with legislators afterward, or at least get the attention of a Republican member who could plead their case to the Chairman.”

VanValkenburg expressed regret for the mistake and said it will be rectified when the bill comes up in the full committee on Wednesday. “We will make sure they can testify in full committee on Wednesday.”

The Republican Leader still believes that the virtual session is being used to silence opposition in the House. “Virtual sessions make it easy to silence opposition. And that should scare anyone who believes in democracy.”

VanValkenburg disagrees and said that he runs the subcommittee in a way to let both sides speak. “I think all advocates and people in both parties would say I run that subcommittee fairly – ensuring all voices are heard,” said VanValkenburg. “The best proof of that is we spent 20 minutes listening to people criticize my bill.”

The bill passed the committee with amendments and will be up in the full House Education committee on Wednesday.

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By vascope