On New Years Eve, Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) struck a deal with leaders of the Virginia General Assembly that will provide space for constituents to meet with legislators near the Capitol grounds even though the Pocahontas Building and Capitol Building remain closed to outsiders due to COVID-19.
DeSteph said the out-of-court settlement was a win. “This will allow citizens, subject matter experts, and other professional staff to meet face-to-face with legislators during the upcoming regular session. This is a huge victory for the First Amendment and for open access to government for all Virginians,” the press release states.
State Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) and attorney Tim Anderson filed a petition for injunction against Democratic legislators to preserve constituents’ in-person access to General Assembly members. State Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Chair of Senate Rules, and Speaker Eileen Filler Corn (D-Fairfax) decided to close the Pocahontas building to the public, which hosts office appointments for both the House of Delegates and State Senate.
“The closure of the legislative office building to the public is contrary to the explicit historical purpose of the building to allow the public access to its elected legislative members, especially during the General Assembly Session,” read the lawsuit. “Most importantly, the right to assemble and address lawmakers at the state and federal levels is fundamentally protected by the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution: a. ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.'”