The 2020 Reconvened Session was memorable if for nothing else than for the first time in 400 years, the House of Delegates met outdoors. Republicans stood firm to protect jobs and our business community from increased costs, the integrity of our elections, and for the safety of our communities. I wanted to give you a breakdown of what happened at the Veto Session.
Jobs & the Economy
The new majority voted to briefly delay by only four months, a number of new laws and regulations that will burden businesses further during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democrats did this in defiance of logic. If bills such as a higher minimum wage, collective bargaining for public employees, and labor agreements for public works projects are enough of a problem to delay in an economic downturn, then they are bad for the economy – period.
They should have voted against the delays, asked the Governor to veto the bills, and revisit them next year when we have a better handle on the health of our economy.
Employers cannot pay higher wages if they go out of business. Employees can’t receive a raise if they don’t have a job. Local governments can’t pay more for public works projects if their tax base has collapsed.
Early Release of Prisoners
Democrats in both chambers voted to allow the early release of thousands of violent felons from prison in response to COVID-19.
The list includes murderers, kidnappers, arsonists, robbers, and more. The Governor could have limited the list to non-violent offenders only or only those serving time for drug possession, but he did not. The new majority instead chose to allow dangerous criminals back onto our streets. More than a third of those now eligible are deemed a “high risk” to re-offend.
This comes at the same time Democrats voted to make it more difficult for Virginians to purchase and own a firearm for self-defense. This move is irresponsible. We hope and pray that it does not lead to tragedy.
Major changes to the state budget were among the less controversial things approved by the House at the Reconvened Session. Members approved the Governor’s request to put on hold more than a billion dollars in new spending in the two-year budget.
No one wants to cut employee raises and other important items from the budget, but given the uncertainty of the current state of the economy, putting on hold the funds was the prudent thing to do. The moves essentially curtail all new spending in the budget.
The Governor has said he will call a special session in the summer to address the budget after a new revenue forecast. The House was also able to defeat attempts by the Governor to grant unprecedented spending authority to the Executive Branch.
The Senate defeated an amendment (HB29, Amendment 36) from the Governor that would have canceled the local May elections already underway and moved them to November. Republicans in the House opposed this and managed to defeat the amendment twice -- with Democrats holding vote after vote until they reached their desired result.
Moving the election to November would have required absentee ballots to be destroyed. Holding elections in November would also leave legal doubts as to the legitimacy of every town official whose term had been extended.
The Governor has the authority to push the election back by two weeks on his own, and once we returned home last week, he did announce that he would be moving the May elections from May 5th to May 19th, which could cost the towns additional money.
The Governor has already indicated that he will call us back at some point to address budget issues following a new revenue forecast. Given the large uncertainty of when that forecast will be ready, we don’t yet have any guidance as to the timing, other than sometime during the summer.
First and foremost, on everyone’s mind, including mine, is the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans sent a letter to the Governor last week asking that certain non-essential businesses be allowed to reopen on a limited basis, with a concrete plan and timeline for a fully open future date before they are "forced to close forever."
“There are a number of such plans being put into action across the country even now,” the letter stated. "Certainly, this cannot be done without implementing protocols to keep customers and employees safe, but a near blanket shut down for so long is smothering the search for safe and creative solutions."
Please continue to contact us if there is any way we can be of assistance. You can reach my office at 434.696.3061 or DelTWright@house.virginia.gov