RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The General Assembly’s finance committees won’t accept amendments from lawmakers during next week’s special session, a plan criticized by Republicans who say the limits will cut them out of negotiations on how Virginia should use $4.3 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian (D-Prince William) sent a memo on July 19 informing state delegates that the House committee, along with the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, would not be considering proposed amendments and that potential changes to the state’s regular budget will be discussed next year.
“It simply would be impossible to thoroughly evaluate those items in what is expected to be a short and expeditious Special Session,” Del. Torian wrote in the memo.
Republican leadership in the House of Delegates contested the assertion that there would not be enough time to debate proposed amendments in the two weeks set aside for the session.
In a virtual press conference Tuesday, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said that his caucus believes there is plenty of time to debate proposed changes to the state’s investments with the federal funding.
“It is not too late to change course. Of course, our colleagues can still open this process up. We’ve been told we need to be there for two weeks. If they’re just going to shove this down everyone’s throat I have no idea why we need to be there more than two hours,” Del. Gilbert said. “But if we’re going to be there for two weeks, they might as well open this up and let us all participate. Let us do our jobs.”
Gov. Ralph Northam called for the special legislative session, which begins Aug. 2, to allocate funding from the American Rescue Plan and fill judicial vacancies.
House Republicans who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference complained the move would allow only members of Gov. Northam’s administration and the Democratic leadership to decide how the state will use the $4.3 billion in funding, effectively cutting out state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Virginians.
“It will fall far outside the traditional process and really not allow for the kind of back and forth and contemplation and deliberation that we normally expect of a deliberative body like the General Assembly,” Gilbert said. “The oldest ongoing legislative body in the New World is all of a sudden being turned into a rubber stamp for the governor’s ideas.”
Torian reiterated the purpose of the special session in a statement Tuesday, adding that the governor’s office has already been sharing how the state plans on spending the funding.
“It would be impossible to thoroughly evaluate amendment submissions in the short time frame of this unique Special Session; our priority is expediency in getting relief funds where they’re needed,” Torian said in the statement.
Northam has announced investment proposals with the federal funding ahead of the session, including putting $700 million toward expanding broadband infrastructure in Virginia, $353 million to aid small businesses, $250 million to upgrade air quality systems in public schools and $411 million to reduce water pollution and increase access to clean water.