Democratic State Senator Scott Surovell of Virginia Discusses Top Priorities During Special Session, Complacent on Northam Emergency Powers

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Live from Virginia Monday morning on The John Fredericks Show –  weekdays on WNTW AM 820/ FM 92.7 – Richmond, WJFN FM 100.5 – Central Virginia, WMPH AM 1010 / FM 100.1 / FM 96.9 (7-9 PM) Hampton Roads, WBRG AM 1050 / FM 105.1 – Lynchburg/Roanoke and Weekdays 6-10 am and 24/7 Stream –  host Fredericks welcomed Democratic state Senator Scott Surovell to the show.

During the show, Surovell described the top priorities of Virginia’s special session and gave his impression of Governor Northam’s handling of emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Fredericks: Joining us now is the State Senator from Fairfax ,Scott Surovell. Senator Surovell, great to have you with us today.

Surovell: Hey John, how’s it going? It’s a beautiful day here in Richmond.

Fredericks: Good. I really appreciate you coming on. When you got to Richmond did you get there last evening? Are you there now?

Surovell: Yes. I came here for a bill signing yesterday and I’ve been here getting ready for today.

Fredericks: Were you at all taken aback by the destruction of the downtown area?

Surovell: No. I actually hadn’t been down there yet. Most of downtown’s un-boarded and there are a few buildings down here that are boarded up. But I was going to drive down Monument Avenue when I had a chance. I haven’t had a chance. I’ve seen the pictures in the paper.

Fredericks: It’s kind of sad.

Surovell: Now they came in and took down the statue before any of that happened in Alexandria. Obviously it didn’t happen here.

Fredericks: Yeah. Well it’s too bad because its a beautiful vibrant city and the destruction that has gone on down there every day has been just horrible. And I hope it stops soon. Scott Surovell, your leadership in the state Senate in Virginia, we have a special session today. Can you give us a birds-eye view? Can you give us an update on some of the leadership in the state Senate and your top priorities in the special session? What do you hope to achieve in the Senate?

Surovell: The first thing is to get the budget done. Anytime I get to come in and spend time with Phil Stanley it’s a good few days. But I’m looking forward to seeing him soon. I think he’s on your show in about an hour or so.

Fredericks: 8:30, yep. Following you.

Surovell: The first thing is to get the state budget fixed. We drafted a wonderful budget last session and the last week of the session it all fell apart. When COVID hit we had to pump the breaks. We have to un-spend all the spending we spent and now we have to figure out what we can afford to spend. And that’s sort of the number one priority is trying to get all of that straight. It’s not going to be easy.

Fredericks: You had a $2 billion shortfall. You can’t run a deficit. This is real. It’s not like the federal government just sends the Secretary of the Treasury out and he prints money.  You guys can’t do that.

Surovell: Yeah.

Fredericks: Where do you find $2 billion?

Surovell: Well, a lot of the money that we had spent was new revenues that were projected to come in. They are now no longer projected to come in. Now the amount of new revenues are much much smaller. And so its really a question of just cutting stuff that we had planned on spending.

So it’s really going to be a question of priorities. And it’s possible we could go back into and trying to find the monies of things that were priorities in prior years. But I’m a couple of retirements away from being on the finance committee so I don’t get to play in that sandbox as much as anybody else. The governor is doing a speech this morning about what he is proposing around 9:30.

Fredericks: So he has a speech around 9:30 as far as what he is proposing to cut the $2 billion. And you say a lot of the cuts are going to be stuff that was brand new spending based on revenue projections. Those are easy to cut because it hasn’t been spent.

Surovell: Yep.

Fredericks: Plus you have a rainy day fund.

Surovell: Actually the rainy day fund is the biggest its ever been. We passed an amendment that five years ago that required more money to be set aside for moments like this. So we actually have more money set aside than we’ve ever had in history for a rainy day fund. So at least we still have that to fall back on. I’m still worried about where this economy is headed.

With everything that’s going on right now and begins to settle in. I’m sure we’re going to budget conservatively. The governor comes out with his speech at 9:30. It will take us a couple of days to process that. My guess to come out with a Senate proposal. The House I think is doing their stuff next week.

So the budget is really number one. Number two, criminal justice reform is on the agenda. We have about 10 or 11 caucus bills that we are looking at. Plus there’s another 15 to 20 other bills that have been filed by members on both sides we have to look at.

Then there is a small number of bills related to COVID that we’ll look at. Tweaks and things that have been necessary by this pandemic. So those are the three things we are looking at. The budget is really the big thing. That’s really why we’re here. The main reason.

Fredericks: Scott, how long do you expect to be there? How long do you expect this special session to actually be in session?

Surovell: That’s a really good question. At least the Senate’s hope is to get out of here as soon as possible. You know we are part-time legislature. Folks aren’t planning on being here in August. I’ve actually got a couple of kids I’ve got to move into college this week. My second daughter is moving to college for the first time. I’m not missing that.

Fredericks: Good for you.

Surovell: Best school in the world. One of us has job responsibilities and other things. We are hoping to get out of here as soon as possible. The committees start meeting this afternoon as soon as we get organized. The committee meeting is today and tomorrow and Thursday.

We hope to start floor votes Thursday. We might be able to get out of here Friday or Saturday depending on what the Republican caucus lets us. Because under our constitution a bill has to be on the floor for three days before it can be voted on. And that can only be waived by an 80 percent vote.

Fredericks: It sounds like the earliest you guys are going to get out of there is the weekend but it could spill over until Monday. Is that fair?

Surovell:  Theoretically we’ll get out of her Thursday but it could be Monday. We’ll see. And that’s just the Senate by the way. We have to wait for the House bills to come back. And I don’t think the Housse is getting started till next week.

Fredericks: Where are you guys meeting?

Surovell: And undisclosed secret location. (Fredericks chuckles) We are back in the Science Museum where we met last time with a big event center out back. We actually have our committee meetings out there too so we don’t have to drive up and down Broad Street.

Fredericks: That makes sense. A couple of other issues. Senator Surovell, the governor’s executive power that he’s taken, you know, this was meant to be a temporary usurpation of authority like a hurricane or we are attacked or something and its a two weeks or three weeks. Like many governors, Northam has just decided that this is a pretty good deal and he still has these emergency powers in the state of emergency. Are you going to take up when that ends? Or does it just go on in perpetuity?

Surovell: We haven’t actually talked about that as a caucus yet.  I know my old law partner has some real concerns about it. I’ve talked to him about it.

Fredericks: Chad Peterson?

Surovell: Yes. Chad. And I think Steve might have filed a bill about this out there. We really haven’t talked about it as a group. But I’d be really surprised if we got into that because it takes doing open-heart surgery on a statute. I think it would require a lot of time and energy. I’m not personally, I don’t think its something we need to get into this session because it would take a lot of time.

Fredericks: Are you in favor of just giving the governor these unlimited power sin perpetuity?

Surovell: I’m never in favor, I don’t know if it’s fair to say its unlimited power in perpetuity. The courts are always there to check things when people take powers too far. The courts have now looked at what the governor has done 12 times and has said every single time that what he’s done so far is within the law. This law was adopted in what, the 1970s?

Fredericks: It wasn’t adopted to go on forever.

Surovell: There’s no question about that John. Yeah.

Fredericks: That’s what bothers a lot of people. We knew what was going on with the pandemic. We had the lockdown. Two weeks, three weeks, a month. Like everybody got it. Nobody knew. That’s why the emergency powers are there and that’s why you passed it in the 70s.

The legislators should be able to sanction this. It’s gone on now March, April, May, June, July, August. It’s gone on for six months. He’s going to keep these powers until he’s out of office. And the next person that comes in, do they automatically have them as well?

Surovell: A new governor would. First of all, we haven’t had a pandemic since 1918 and the world has changed a lot since then. If you read the Codes Act they clearly contemplate a pandemic. I’m not sure at the time it was adopted they thought a pandemic would last this long.

Listen to the full interview here:

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