Members of the Virginia House of Delegates will most likely meet in Richmond for the General Assembly’s reconvened session later this month. But in order to follow social distancing rules, they might not be meeting inside.
In an interview Friday, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said she fully intends for the House to meet in person on April 22 to finalize the state budget and deal with any legislative vetoes or amendments handed down by Gov. Ralph Northam.
To ensure the “health and welfare of all 100 members and the staff and the public,” Filler-Corn said, she feels the best option is to hold an extraordinary open-air session at a to-be-determined outdoor location, with an alternate, indoor location designated as a backup.
“The goal would be to reconvene in a manner that allows us to complete the people’s business,” Filler-corn said.
Filler-Corn said that packing all 100 delegates into their normal workspace, where legislators’ desks are definitely not six feet apart, is no longer an option due to the social distancing measures everyone is trying to observe to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will not be reconvening in the House chamber,” Filler-Corn said.
Rumors have been swirling that the legislature could meet at a larger site in Richmond such as the Greater Richmond Convention Center or Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center. Outdoor options could potentially involve local stadiums.
The speaker did not disclosure specific sites under consideration, but said she’s “working through all the options.”
House rules allow the speaker to choose a different meeting location “in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise, or other emergency circumstance.”
Though the General Assembly finished the bulk of its work in early March just as the coronavirus crisis began to take hold, legislators have to reconvene for an unknown number of final votes. The reconvened session typically only lasts a few hours, but the pandemic has raised a variety of new policy decisions for state lawmakers to consider. Chief among them is figuring out how to balance a state budget that seemed to be in good shape a month ago but now looks far different with the economy at a standstill, unemployment claims skyrocketing and revenues uncertain.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, public bodies throughout the country are revamping their meeting protocols, with some state legislatures considering remote voting as a way to avoid in-person meetings altogether.
It’s not yet clear if Virginia laws would allow that.
Senate leaders have not revealed their plans for the reconvened session, but Filler-Corn said it’s possible the House and Senate could meet at different locations.