The Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday and a lot of conversation surrounding the annual gathering of state lawmakers this year is not on legislative agendas or hotbed issues under consideration, but on how long the session will last.
Intrigue over the session length began back in mid-November when Republican legislative leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates, Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), announced their intentions to limit the session to 30 days.
On Friday, Governor Ralph Northam said that he plans to extend the 2021 session – where issues like marijuana legalization, the COVID-19 pandemic and more are expected to take center stage – an additional 15 or 16 days by calling a special session if Republicans follow through with a 30-day limit.
“To say you can come in and do the work of the people in 30 days is just not realistic,” Northam told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“If they want to come in here and say, ‘We want to do it in 30 days,’ then I have the means and the plans to make it 45 days,” the governor continued. “I’ve had discussions with the leadership, and they know I’m not gonna sit back and collect dust for the last year I have.”
The crux of Republican lawmakers’ argument for a 30-day limit is based on the fact that the two sessions in 2020, first at the beginning of the year and then in late Summer to address COVID, the state budget and other matters, lasted longer than anticipated so there is no need to have another lengthy gathering.
Some Democrats, like Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond City), previously echoed Northam’s argument by saying that 30 days is simply not enough time to pass meaningful legislation and complete the necessary amount of work.
Even though Democrats hold majorities in both the Senate and House, they will need a certain amount of Republican support because it takes two-thirds concurrence from members of each legislative body to extend the session beyond 30 days.
Multiple Republicans Senators, including Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) and Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), have told The Virginia Star that they will not vote for an extension. Sen. Mark Obenshain said in a statement that neither the Senate nor House Republican Caucuses would be doing so.
And everything indicates that Republicans are steadfast, even with Northam vowing to call a special session.
“The Republican position on the 30-day limit has not changed,” Jeff Ryer, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, said in a brief interview with The Star on Monday.
The Star also reached out to Republican leaders in the House for comment on Northam’s remarks, but did not get any responses before press time.
Legislative sessions are mandated by the Virginia constitution to last 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days for even years. However, for the last several decades the norm has been to extend sessions during odd years to 45 or 46 days.
When the 2021 session kicks off on Wednesday, the Senate will be meeting in-person in a socially distanced space at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, while the House plans to convene virtually with only the Speaker, clerk and some legislative staff physically at the Capitol.
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