What’s the Point?

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Republicans in the General Assembly refused to go along at the beginning of the session with the customary practice of extending the “short session” from 30 days to 46 days.  They said that the Democrats had a long enough time during the very long special session to enact legislation.  Although they were in the minority, they had the upper hand because the state constitution requires approval of two-thirds of each house to extend a session.

So, what was the ultimate agreement?  The organizing resolution required each house to complete action on its bills by February 5 (last Friday), the budget committees to report their respective versions of the budget bill by February 7 (today), and the General Assembly to adjourn on February 11 (next Thursday).  That would have provided four days to accomplish what it usually takes about two weeks to get done.  Knowing this would be unrealistic, the organizing resolution provided for “legislative continuity”, which means that any bill can be carried over to a 2021 Special Session that the resolution explicitly assumes will be called.  Only one House Republican voted against this awkward approach, while nine Senate Republicans (half of them) objected.

Here is how matters stand now:

  • Governor Northam has called a special session to begin Feb.10.
  • The Senate Finance Committee on Friday carried over its budget bill to the special session and cancelled its meeting scheduled for this afternoon.
  • The House Appropriations Committee will meet this afternoon to carry over its budget bill.
  • The General Assembly will meet on Wednesday to adjourn the 2021 Regular Session and to immediately commence the 2021 Special Session.  (Somewhere in there, each committee will meet to officially carry over the bills that were reported from the opposite house.)

So, will someone please tell me what the point of all this was, other than for the Republicans to say we have to votes to foul up the process?  By the way, there is no time limit on the Special Session.