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Two Capitols Consulting Legislative Update: 

2020 General Assembly Special Session I

On Tuesday, August 18, 2020 the Virginia General Assembly will convene in Richmond for a special legislative session. Governor Ralph Northam issued a proclamation on July 17 announcing this special session will focus on the budget as well as criminal and social justice reform. Due to precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, both the House of Delegates and the state Senate will meet outside of their regular chambers. The House of Delegates will meet at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center, a few blocks  from the Capitol. The Senate will meet at the Science Museum of Virginia, the same venue the Senate used for the Reconvened Session in April. Both gatherings will be restricted to legislators and essential personnel only as well as the press; legislative business will be livestreamed for the public. Legislator offices in the Pocahontas Building are also closed to the public until October.

Attorney General Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion in May clarifying that state budget language allows the legislature to conduct business remotely due to the state of emergency. However, both chambers of the General Assembly will still need to amend the rules to do so. This change requires a high threshold of support - ⅔ of both chambers. With the retirement of Delegate Chris Collins (R) leaving the 29th District seat vacant, the House is now split 55-44 and the Senate 21-19 with Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) breaking any ties. 

During Reconvened Session, both chambers agreed to a series of Governor’s amendments to the biennial budget, which was passed in March. In essence, these amendments “unalloted” or froze the $2.2 billion in new spending in response to the anticipated budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As economic uncertainty decreased over the summer, the Secretary of Finance and the Joint Advisory Board of Economists were able to do reforecasting to develop a more accurate fiscal outlook for the Commonwealth. The General Assembly will return in August to consider these new numbers and develop another budget based on this new, more accurate information. Furthermore, they will re-examine priorities that were “unalloted” in April as well as new costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the revised revenue forecast, if none of the “unalloted” funding was re-appropriated, then the Commonwealth would still face a deficit of more than $200 million for the current fiscal year.  The Governor and the General Assembly’s two money committees will have to work together in the Special Session to put in place a revised balanced budget.

After tackling the budget, the General Assembly will consider criminal justice reform. The House of Delegates has been hosting joint virtual meetings of the House Public Safety and Courts of Justice committees through the summer to hear presentations from experts in the field as well as public comment. Similarly, the Senate’s Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, Judiciary Committee, and Finance and Appropriations - Public Safety Subcommittee have been meeting to discuss and hear presentations about criminal justice reform. All three entities have been taking divergent approaches to the issues, and many details will need to be hammered out in committee meetings. The Senate Democratic Caucus released its 33-page bill related to criminal justice reforms the end of last week.  The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released its set of priorities a few weeks ago.

With the General Assembly returning to Richmond in a little over a week, Two Capitols Consulting will keep you informed of any further developments. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any comments or concerns. 

David Hallock, [email protected]
CJ Stolle, [email protected] 
Randy Pearson, [email protected] 
Devon Cabot, [email protected] 
Elizabeth Parker, [email protected]