(House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah)

by Brandon Jarvis

Republicans in the House of Delegates and state Senate voted against extending the 2021 legislative session by 16 days in what has typically been a procedural vote for the last five decades. 

The Constitution of Virginia states that the legislature must meet for a minimum of 30-days in off-year sessions. Both chambers have voted to extend the session, without conflict, in every single off-year meeting since 1971.

In order to extend the session, a two-thirds majority is needed in both chambers. The Democratic majority of 55-45 in the House and 21-18 in the Senate means that Republicans will have to vote in support of the extension.

Republicans blame the special session for their reasoning behind opposing the longer session. “Just about two months ago we made substantial changes to the state budget,” said Gilbert on Wednesday. 

Every single Republican voted against the extension on Wednesday, limiting the session to 30-days.

This was not a surprise to Democrats. Republicans announced in November that they would be making this move. “The Constitution limits the duration of General Assembly sessions to ensure we have a citizen legislature, not one populated by full-time politicians,” said Gilbert at the time. “Given that we’ve already addressed the primary purpose of the upcoming session, amending the state budget, it makes sense that we keep within the constitutional minimum until the people of Virginia can once again fully participate in their government.”

Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment (James City) echoed the same sentiment in November. “Considering the lengthy regular and special sessions held this year, the General Assembly should be able to complete its work for 2021 in the 30 days the Constitution allows,” said Norment.  “This year’s regular session lasted 65 days and the special session stretched out over 84. 

Democrats pushed back against the Republicans on Wednesday by accusing them of not wanting to work for their constituents. “Businesses are hurting, and our Republican colleagues want to work less,” said Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington/Fairfax), after reading the latest COVID-19 statistics on the House floor. “If Republicans have a better place to be they should let the rest of us do our job.” 

Republicans say they made an effort to compromise on the length of the session – offering to back off the 30-day limit if Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn would have agreed to let the House meet in person. “Leader Gilbert offered to back off the 30-day session if we could meet at VCU as we did on the opening day of the special session,” said Garren Shipley, the communications director for Gilbert.  

This comes on the same day that the Senate Republicans honored state Senator Ben Chafin’s (R) memory on the floor. Chafin passed away on January 1 from COVID-19 complications and the impact of his death was evident on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The Senate will be meeting in person at the Science Museum of Virginia for this session, but Senator Norment vowed on the floor Wednesday that Republicans will support suspending the rules of the chamber to allow any senator to work digitally if they choose.

The House met virtually during the special session in 2020 and will continue to meet virtually as Speaker Filler-Corn has declined the deal with Gilbert. “Democrats wouldn’t budge,” said Shipley.

“[Virginia House Republicans] just voted to work less while Virginians are hurting,” wrote Kunal Atit, communications director for Speaker Filler-Corn. “I’m sure their constituents will be eager to hear why.” 

Later in the day, the Senate failed to pass the same joint resolution.

Democrats have options to extend the session moving forward, including potentially re-convening for a special session to accomplish everything in their agenda. Democratic leaders have yet to officially comment on whether they would push for a special session, which can be convened by Governor Ralph Northam if he chooses.

Virginia Scope is an independent news publication that is funded largely by donations and subscribers. As local newsrooms are losing writers each day, we are trying to fill the void to ensure that the public is informed and that leaders are held accountable for their actions. If you can chip in a monthly subscription of whatever you can afford, even $1, it will go a long way to helping us. Subscribe here. You can also make a one-time donation below:

By vascope