The Virginia General Assembly will reconvene in Richmond today for a special session to address judicial vacancies, the state’s budget and discuss the allocation of more than $4.3 billion of federal relief funding received from the American Rescue Plan Act.
However, local legislators are voicing concerns after House Democrats decided not to accept amendments on the state’s biennial budget during the special session.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, said Friday he received a memorandum from House Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian, D-Prince William, stating both finance committees won’t accept budget amendments as the General Assembly discusses allocations of federal funds.
“That is shocking,” Obenshain said.
Del. Chris Runion, R-Bridgewater, called the decision “disappointing,” adding that discussing how to spend $4.3 billion should be bipartisan.
“It’s hard to be operating an effective and compassionate government when you don’t talk to people,” he said.
Gov. Ralph Northam, who called for the special session on June 23, stated in a press release five priorities he and Democratic leaders would like to see federal funding used for, such as public health, small businesses, workers, public schools and broadband.
Northam stated federal funding can be used to modernize public school buildings across the commonwealth by upgrading facilities and improving air quality and HVAC systems. Funding can also be used to accelerate a 10-year plan to ensure universal broadband access within the next 18 months, according to a press release.
“Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we have a unique opportunity to fund public schools, support small businesses, achieve universal broadband access, and make generational investments in our shared future,” Northam said in a press release. “I look forward to working with legislators to get it done.”
Obenshain described the upcoming special session as one being “crafted behind closed doors,” adding that he would like to see federal funds be used to solve pay inequities for sheriffs and law enforcement officers and invest in mental health needs.
“I want to use funds in a way that will make a difference,” he said.
Runion said he wanted to see federal funds used on mental health needs, improving rural broadband and Interstate 81, replenishing the state’s rainy day fund and unemployment trust fund.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, said in a press release he was disappointed input and debate wouldn’t be allowed when discussing federal fund allocation, but not surprised.
“[Democrats] are on the wrong side of a number of issues critical to Virginia families, whether that’s indoctrinating our children with a curriculum based on Critical Race Theory, the broken Virginia Employment Commission, rising crime in communities across Virginia, or the lawbreaking Parole Board,” he said. “This is no way to govern.”
With input on the budget limited, Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, said he didn’t know what lawmakers would do during the week they are in session.
“I don’t know what we will be doing,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.”
Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said he did have an opportunity to share ideas on how to spend the $4.3 billion, adding that the “big ticket items I am in agreement with.”
Hanger said he support spending funds on mental health, unemployment and broadband.
Hanger said he is hoping the legislators can go straight to business and wrap up the work needing to be done within two weeks.
The last time the Virginia General Assembly was called to meet for a special session during the summer was in 2020, and that session lasted 85 days.
Going into the special session, Obenshain said he didn’t know what to expect in terms of how long the session will last.
“We have no idea,” he said.