Two Republican state delegates released a joint statement on Tuesday calling for the Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) to work with members on finding a way to hold in-person meetings during January’s regular General Assembly session.
Delegates Christopher Head (R-Roanoke) and Joseph McNamara (R-Roanoke County) said in the statement they are preparing to be in Richmond for the start of the regular session.
“We are asking that Speaker Filler-Corn work with members of both parties to find a safe and effective method for in-person meetings,” Head said in the statement.
“If legislatures such as California, New York and the Senate of Virginia can have legislators on the floor during votes, then the House of Delegates can find a way to ensure that representatives can go to Richmond to fulfill their Constitutional duties,” McNamara said.
At the beginning of the special session, Democratic leaders decided the House would operate and hold meetings virtually over Zoom, while the smaller Senate met in-person.
The virtual method brought with it technological interruptions and other associated problems, to which many Republican members voiced complaints over.
“There were so many parliamentary issues and there were connectivity issues that continued to be a source of frustration for a lot of our members as we were deliberating things right on up until the last part of the debates,” Head told The Virginia Star. “The committee processes were difficult, you couldn’t see who from the public was there to be in support or opposition to any of the legislation.
“So, you couldn’t really get a feel for who actually was showing up like you can when in-person. Just so many parts of the process legislatively that don’t work if you don’t have the opportunity to be in one location.”
The one instance of the special session where the House did not meet via Zoom was on the first day when all 100 Delegates convened at the Siegel Center on Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus.
Head said similar venues or even the actual chamber at the Capitol would work well, but all options need to be under consideration.
The Star reached out to Filler-Corn and both political party leaders for comment, but did not get responses by press time.
Several other Republican members agreed with and echoed the opinions of Head and McNamara when asked about the subject, arguing that it would be extremely difficult to produce good legislation while virtual given the large scope of regular sessions.
Some Democratic delegates offered more nuanced thoughts, however.
“I think the science really should drive leadership’s decision making,” Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) told The Star. “If we are experiencing the kind of positive testing rate [in January] that we are now, I just think it would not be smart to [meet in-person].”
Sickles, who said he did not have a definitive answer yet, also mentioned the possibility of a combination of both virtual and in-person meetings for the session because some face-to-face discussions are necessary.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) said he would support whichever option was the safest since the well-being of the delegates, legislative staff and anyone else directly involved with the body was the number one priority.
One Democratic delegate, who asked not to be named, told The Star they believe the House should remain virtual and the special session went well despite some technological issues.
The decision ultimately rests with Filler-Corn though, who has not made any public announcements or statements on what she intends to do. A large factor in that decision will undoubtedly be the extent COVID-19 is still impacting Virginia in January.
So far there have been three Delegates reported to have tested positive for COVID: Tommy Wright (R-Lunenburg), Delores McQuinn (R-Richmond), Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke). Both McQuinn and Rasoul’s cases occurred last spring or over the summer, while Wright tested positive during the special session.
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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “House of Delegates” by the Virginia House of Delegates.