Some Virginia delegates already going virtual under COVID-19 rules

By: - January 19, 2022 4:15 pm

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, enters the chamber after being elected to lead the House. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A handful of Virginia House of Delegates members have already been given permission to legislate remotely, a privilege granted only to members isolating due to a COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis.

Anyone hoping to find out exactly who is dealing with COVID-19 issues has to tune in to the beginning of each day’s floor session, when Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, announces which members are attending virtually. 

On Tuesday, three out of 100 members had gone virtual. On Wednesday, the number grew to four, two Republicans and two Democrats.

Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said there were no plans for the speaker’s office to disclose COVID-19 cases beyond Gilbert’s announcements on remote participation. Those announcements do not include specifics about whether a member has tested positive for the virus or is isolating as a precaution.

The four members participating remotely Wednesday were Dels. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, Otto Wachsmann, R-Sussex, Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, and Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax.

Bell, the chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Pandemic protocols became a point of contention earlier this month with the transfer of power in the House from Democrats to Republicans. 

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who relinquished the speaker’s gavel to Gilbert, proposed mandatory reporting of COVID-19 symptoms and a mask mandate in the House chamber for anyone unvaccinated. When he laid out his own rules, Gilbert said KN95 masks would be available but not mandatory.

More than 1,300  bills and resolutions have been filed in the House, but, so far, daily floor sessions have been focused on speeches, procedure and ceremonial resolutions. Democrats are getting increasingly vocal about the slow start after facing similar criticism from Gilbert when Filler-Corn took the top office.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, took to the floor Wednesday to note that no bills have come to the floor and scheduled committee meetings are frequently being cancelled.

“We won’t be able to vote on any bill until Monday at the earliest, the 13th day of our 60-day session,” Simon said. “That worries me a little bit.”

David Cary, Filler-Corn’s chief of staff, said the new GOP majority’s decision “not to take COVID-19 seriously” is “already hamstringing the House’s ability to do the work of Virginians.”

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, the House GOP’s deputy majority leader, assured the body the pace would pick up soon.

“Obviously we had an outgoing governor, then we had a lull, then we had an incoming governor. Then of course we had a new speaker elected who was not able to refer bills until such time as he is actually elected,” O’Quinn said. “So I know we’ve had several people ask: ‘When’s my bill going to be heard? When’s my bill going to get docketed?’ To that I would say, be careful what you wish for.”

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]