Virginia Republicans Plan to Hold General Assembly Hostage

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

By Brian Carlton

November 16, 2020

Minority leaders announced Monday they will refuse to allow session to go longer than 30 days.

RICHMOND-The Virginia General Assembly’s regular session this year lasted 65 days. They followed it up with an 84-day special session this fall. House and Senate Republicans announced Monday they wouldn’t allow a repeat of that next year. 

Republicans in both parts of the General Assembly sent out statements Monday, saying they will oppose any attempt to extend the session past 30 days. They refer to Article IV, Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution, which spells out how long each session should last. 

“No regular session of the General Assembly convened in an even-numbered year shall continue longer than 60 days,” the Constitution says. “No regular session of the General Assembly convened in an odd-numbered year shall continue longer than 30 days.” 

As 2021 is an odd numbered year, that puts it in the 30 days or less category. There is, however, one way to change that. It takes a vote “of two-thirds of the members elected to each house,” which then allows the session to be extended for another 30 day period. 

“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 Virginia Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City). “This year’s regular session lasted 65 days and the special session stretched out over 84.” 

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) echoed Norment’s opinion. 

“The Constitution limits the duration of General Assembly sessions to ensure we have a citizen legislature, not one populated by full-time politicians,” Gilbert said in a statement. “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.”

‘Short-Sighted Behavior’ 

Republican Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) was a bit more blunt as to why his party planned to limit the coming session. 

“We’re doing what we can to limit the amount of further destruction Democrats can inflict on the Commonwealth in their remaining 12 months in power,” LaRock wrote on Twitter. 

Republicans had problems with the majority of bills passed in this fall’s special session. The majority banned ‘no knock’ warrants, restricted the use of chokeholds and changed the sentencing rules, giving power to judges and taking it away from juries. Democrats also increased the power of citizen review boards. But the major issue, which led to days of heated discussion in both the House and Senate, involved the changes made to election rules.   

After Monday’s announcement, Democrats argued Republicans failed to see the long-term impact of a move like this. 

“I’m not aware of anytime during 22 years of GOP control that Dems in the minority denied the majority such a motion,” Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News ) wrote on Twitter. He was referring to the motion a majority party makes to extend a legislative session. “Unnecessary and futile actions such as these threaten to turn Richmond into Washington D.C. This is very short-sighted behavior.” 

Even though Democrats control the General Assembly, their majority isn’t big enough to provide the two-thirds needed to extend the session. The same has held true for every majority party, which until the 2019 election, was the Republicans. And while minority parties have not pushed to prevent a session’s expansion before, at least in the last 20 years in Virginia, lawmakers warned that could change. 

“When we were in the minority, we followed the governing norms that allowed us to do the people’s work,” Del. Schuyler Van Valkenburg (D-Henrico), wrote on Twitter. “Budgets completed, informal and formal norms upheld. It would be unfortunate if the Virginia GOP were to take us down the path of Trumpism and DC gridlock.”

The next session convenes Jan. 13, 2021.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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