RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates met, passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) by a 71-25 vote, and adjourned in 30 minutes on Wednesday. Facing 107 pages of proposed amendments, a photo-op, and a series of lengthy recesses, the Senate had not completed its debate by press time Wednesday evening although it convened at 10 a.m.
Senate Republicans introduced many of the amendments; some focused on law enforcement funding, elections laws including a voter ID requirement, and removing the requirement that school districts adopt a transgender policy. Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) said she had intended to introduce an amendment to call for a forensic audit of Virginia’s 2020 election, but hadn’t had enough advance warning.
The Senate approved Senator Travis Hackworth’s (R-Tazewell) $66.6 million amendment to pay $5,000 bonuses to sheriff’s deputies and officers at regional jails.
“The sheriff’s department and deputies, they are the primary law enforcement in 86 counties in Virginia,” he said. “They are vastly understaffed.”
Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) opposed the amendment, noting that a study will be completed in October with recommendations for law enforcement compensation. She said that she was trying to avoid using one-time ARPA funds for General Fund items, which can be budgeted for in regular session. Republicans warned that even though Democrats had moved away from defund-the-police language, inflation and market forces could effectively decrease the amount of spending power available to law enforcement.
“You can do that [defund police] passively,” Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) warned.
A Republican amendment to add more funding for the Virginia State Police (VSP) to address pay compression was defeated in a party-line vote.
Howell said the ARPA proposal already had more money than the VSP had asked for in its own request.
“That is a very unusual situation. As you know, we are usually having to cut requests,” she said. “We have a major study coming out in October 1st as to what the real needs are and what the long-term solutions are likely to be.”
Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) introduced amendments focused on state employees who are still working from home and on ending the appointment-only model at DMVs. Both amendments passed.
One amendment requires the Department of Human Resource Management to report to the House and Senate appropriations committees the percentage of virtual employees and also provide historical data.
“This is important information. We have over 100,000 state employees. We need to know where they are,” he said.
Petersen’s re-open the DMV proposal got more support from Republicans than Democrats.
“We have very few issues that upset our constituents much more than their inability to get into the DMV,” Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said.
“Most Virginians don’t know we’re here, most Virginians don’t know we’re in session, most Virginians don’t know we’re voting on a budget,” Senator Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier) said. “If they heard, or do hear, that we’re dealing with the DMV, they will know that we are here.”
Democratic leaders including Howell and Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) warned that with the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise, there could be a hazard to forcing the DMV to reopen, especially without input from the DMV itself.
The Senate recessed until the 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with more than a hundred pages of amendments left to consider
After passing its version of the bill, the Senate will consider the House of Delegates version, which does not have the Senate Amendments. The House will also have to consider the Senate bill. If both chambers insist on their own versions of the bill, a conference committee will be created to work out a compromise.
Saslaw explained the timeline before the Senate recessed.
“If we get everything done tonight, and we should and we will, with respect to the budget, because after we hear all these amendments and vote, then we’re going to go to final reading, and final vote,” Saslaw said. “The House is sending us theirs today. That will go to committee tonight, and they’ll vote it out tonight, after we get off the floor, and it will be on second reading tomorrow, and then we can waive the constitutional reading or just do it on Friday, which is what the original schedule was, and the House budget is amendable on third reading. So that’s essentially the tentative schedule. So we’ll come back in tomorrow, probably noon, and hopefully we’ll be able to meet this schedule.”