Virginia lawmakers return to State Capitol after 17 months

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 8:07 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia lawmakers returned to the State Capitol Monday for the first time in 17 months.

They found new COVID precautions, and a continuing debate on the allocation of $4.3 billion in federal funding.

In some ways it seemed like old times.

Union members rallied on one side of the Capitol entrance, while supporters of Republican Sen. Amanda Chase called for a forensic audit of Virginia election results.

Inside, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn gaveled the chamber into special session at noon. “I would like to start with two words,” she told the Delegates, “Welcome Back.”

But the special session is also unlike any other to come before.

Lawmakers began the process of allocating more than $4 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Governor Northam’s priorities include more than $900 million to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, more than $700 million to extend broadband and more than $400 million for clean water projects. And the list doesn’t stop there.

Democrats, including Blacksburg Del. Chris Hurst, say they received input from the public that helped to tailor their priorities.

“We know from talking to small businesses, talking to school divisions, they want us to bring broadband, they want us to help with the trust fund, they want to make sure we make meaningful investments in our mental health system,” Hurst told WDBJ7.

But Republicans say they, and their constituents, have been shut out of the discussion.

“The concern that we’ve got is that we’ve been largely left out of the process,” said Botetourt Co. Delegate Chris Head.

“Being shut out of the budget process is sending the wrong message,” added Del. Wendell Walker.

“My hope over the next two weeks there will be some give and take,” said Roanoke Co. Delegate Joe McNamara.

Whether they see any “give and take,” lawmakers will be dealing with COVID precautions as the session continues.

In the House of Delegates, mask-wearing appeared to fall along party lines.

And in the Virginia Senate, members struggled to hear one another at times on Monday, with their desks now enclosed by clear plastic screens.

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