Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Friday, Feb. 5

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, right with fur hat, are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington. A judge ordered corrections authorities to provide organic food to an Arizona man who is accused of participating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol while sporting face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

By Brian Carlton

February 5, 2021

General Assembly faces special session, voting rights bill heads for a Senate vote.

RICHMOND-The General Assembly isn’t going anywhere, even after this session ends. Also it’s Crossover Day, the National Guard’s bill is coming due and a voting rights milestone could happen later today. Here’s a look at today’s Dogwood Download.

Governor Calls General Assembly to Special Session

Virginia’s General Assembly needs a special session to finish its work. Gov. Ralph Northam made that announcement Thursday.

The Constitution of Virginia limits sessions on odd-numbered years to 30 days or less. However, these sessions have historically been extended to at least 46 days. You need two-thirds of both Chambers to vote in favor of extending the session before it can be lengthened. Without Republican support, the majority party can’t keep the Capitol open later than February 12. That’s where Northam stepped in.

He says the goal is to simply add another 16 days, in order to provide 46 as usual for work. However, there is no set time limit on a special session, as we saw last fall.

Northam said in a statement he’s doing this to make sure the Assembly finishes budget work and COVID-19 relief.

“People across our Commonwealth are facing tremendous challenges, and they expect their elected officials to deliver results,” he said. 

The special session starts Feb. 10.

Crossover Day Arrives For General Assembly

As for the Assembly, today marks an important milestone for the current session. It is Crossover Day. Basically you can expect a flood of bills to come through the House and Senate, as patrons push to get them over before the deadline.

Crossover Day determines if a bill survives or dies for the session. If a bill goes through three reads and passes (or crosses over) from one chamber to the other, then it moves on. If not, then it’s considered dead. Committees can still meet to discuss it, but if it doesn’t meet the deadline, there’s no possibility of it becoming a law right now.

Recognizing that it might be a long day, both the Virginia House and Senate are set to meet this morning at 10 a.m. If you want to follow along, there’s a couple ways. First, you can watch the live video here. Or if you don’t have time for that, Dogwood will be producing Twitter threads and graphics to outline what happened, which you can follow here.

And of course, if you just want to check your email Saturday morning for the breakdown, we’ll be covering the results of Crossover Day here in the Download.

National Guard Bill Comes Due

We’re finally learning how much it cost to send 26,000 National Guard troops to secure the Capitol. On Thursday, military officials presented their projections and explained why the bill doesn’t just cover time spent in Washington.

The operation cost taxpayers $500 million, Homeland Security and Department of Defense officials told the Associated Press. Part of the cost comes from transport, as troops arrived from all 50 states and four territories. It also covers salaries and benefits, as well as housing costs.

Now there were other costs as well. The troops were activated for more than 30 days. Under the law, that means their health benefits are covered. Senator Mark Warner and Capitol Police officials said some of the Guard members, including 1,000 from Virginia, will be returning home soon. However, not all of the units are leaving.

After the Department of Homeland Security issued a terrorism warning about more potential attacks, the decision was made to keep between 5,000 to 7,000 troops in Washington D.C. through March 14.

UVA Considers Tuition Hike During Pandemic

Costs could be going up for University of Virginia students. On Thursday, the school’s Board of Visitors announced plans to consider tuition and fees increases next month.

That includes both the main campus in Charlottesville and UVA-Wise, which could see undergraduate tuition climb by 3.1%. Also, the other mandatory fees could go up 1.5%. In a statement, Board of Visitors members say the extra money is needed, to handle increases in operating costs. As students returned to in-person classes this semester, the increased costs covered COVID-19 precautions.

The board will discuss plans for both locations at their March 5 meeting. But first, they’re asking for the public to weigh in. UVA’s board plans to hold a workshop on the concept Feb. 17, with a public comment period included.

Want to weigh in? You have to send an email to [email protected] in order to be put on the list to speak at the virtual workshop. They ask that you give your name, contact information and how you’re connected to either the school or the community.

Anyone who registers will then get a Zoom link on the morning of the meeting.

Horned Attacker Moved to Virginia

We’ve all seen the photos of Jacob Chansley. He’s the man caught storming the Capitol in facepaint and a furry hat with horns. He’s been transferred to a Virginia facility while he’s awaiting trial. It’s not due to crowded facilities or anything like that. It’s because of his diet.

Chansley has refused to eat while in custody, because the detention center doesn’t provide organic food. As a result, he’s lost 20 pounds. Calling himself the QAnon Shaman, Chansley argued it was a situation involving religious freedom. He said organic food was part of his shamanic belief system. So what does that have to do with Virginia? Well, the District of Columbia’s Department of Corrections asked the U.S. Marshals to move Chansley, as they couldn’t meet his requests for all organic meals.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sent Chansley to the Alexandria Detention Center instead, with the order to provide him fully organic meals.

He currently faces charges of civil disorder, obstruction and disorderly conduct for his role in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Voting Rights Bill Heads to Full Senate

A constitutional amendment could be a few days from being finalized in Virginia. Sen. Mamie Locke’s proposal restores voting rights for those with felony convictions, as well as others who lost the right over the years.

Specifically, SJ272 says people would only need to be a citizen of the United States, at least 18 years old, and a resident of the Commonwealth in order to vote in Virginia. 

“The amendment further provides that any person who meets those qualifications has the right to vote and that such right cannot be abridged by law,” it states.

According to the Advancement Project, in 2016 Virginia disenfranchised 7.8% of its population by banning people with felony convictions from voting. That year, Virginia took the right to vote from 21.9% of the African American population. 

Virginia incarcerated 29,336 people in 2019 and had 69,626 under supervision. In 2017, Virginia’s incarceration rate per 100,000 people was higher than the national average by almost 70 people. 

In the Commonwealth, anyone with felony convictions automatically loses their civil rights. The rights they lose include the right to vote. They also lose the right to serve on a jury or run for office. People with felony convictions can not become a notary public or carry a firearm in Virginia. Only the governor himself can restore these rights, not including the right to carry a firearm. 

The amendment will be voted on by the full Senate today. If successful, it heads to the House next week.

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