By Delegate Rob Bloxom
I traveled to Richmond last Tuesday to begin a special session called by Governor Northam. The original purpose of the session was to adjust the state budget to account for reduced revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in light of recent events, the session will now include “(i) police reform and social justice reforms; (ii) impact on health, education, state and local governmental operations, business, and the Commonwealth’s economy from the effects of COVID-19; (iii) budget bills.”
The first order of business was to agree to the rules and to a rules change. The rules of the House of Delegates require that you are physically present in your seat to vote. The Speaker can move the location of the vote, which she did after the Health Department made a recommendation on the space requirements for social distancing. In keeping with this recommendation, we met on the basketball court of VCU’s Seigel Center. A change in the rules requires 60 “yes” votes to suspend the rules and change them. The Speaker preferred a virtual session, which, as a full-time small business owner, was far more convenient for me. That being said, I voted against virtual meetings and a virtual session. My fear, which has since been confirmed, was that the internet speed and bandwidth in many rural districts throughout the state is not strong enough to support the three devices which are required during the virtual session. Buffering and lost connections aside, in a virtual session you also lose the face-to-face contact that facilitates negotiation to fix issues with legislation.
The Speaker lost the initial vote on the rules change, but she redrafted the bill to a House Joint Resolution, which ultimately succeeded in changing the rules. This resolution passed on a party line vote. Another House Joint Resolution was for per diem expenses, which are daily payments to legislators to compensate them for travel and lodging expenses. I voted against this resolution as I will not be incurring any travel expense while holding the virtual session from home. This measure passed along a party line vote as well, led by the Democratic majority. I have written to the Clerk’s office to let them know I will not be accepting any per diem payment for the virtual special session. As of now a host of bills has been introduced, and I invite you to look through them online at the Virginia General Assembly website. (https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/). As a footnote, the Senate is meeting in person in Richmond doing the people’s work.