The Virginia State Capitol.. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
The Virginia House of Delegates is still expected to convene in person next week in Richmond on the Capitol grounds. But Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn says she’s now exploring options for a remote voting plan that could allow legislative work to be done virtually.
In an interview Wednesday, Filler-Corn said the House has the ability to meet electronically and she intends to ask delegates to vote on a virtual work plan at the April 22 reconvene session in order to comply with social distancing guidelines and limit the spread of COVID-19.
“I just think it’s imperative that we as a House give ourselves remote voting capability,” Filler-Corn said. “Members should not have to choose between participating in the session and their health and safety.”
The speaker said she hopes remote voting will be an option available to lawmakers for any meetings held later in the year, including the special session on the state budget Gov. Ralph Northam has indicated he’ll call over the summer. But if remote voting can be implemented in time, she said, it’s possible the House could conduct some of the reconvene session virtually.
“We’ve been in constant contact with the clerk and with the IT staff,” Filler-Corn said. “And I will know more possibly today or tomorrow. If it can be done, I want it done.”
Filler-Corn had previously said she felt having an open-air session was the safest way for the House to meet. She said the House will meet outside the Capitol building, next to the South Portico steps. The state Senate is planning to meet at the Science Museum of Virginia.
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 to act on amendments and vetoes sent down by Gov. Ralph Northam.
Much of that work involves only technical fixes, but legislators will also be voting on Northam’s emergency proposals to rein in state spending and delay a planned minimum wage hike in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The governor has also proposed reversing the General Assembly’s plan to ban the thousands of unregulated, slots-like gaming machines that have appeared in bars, convenience stores and truck stops without any explicit legal exception to the state’s anti-gambling laws. Under Northam’s proposal, those machines would be allowed to remain but the state would regulate and tax them, directing most of the revenue to a COVID-19 relief fund.
The General Assembly will also take up the governor’s proposal to postpone May’s municipal elections to November, a move that would require discarding thousands of ballots already cast in those races.
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