RICHMOND — The Virginia House of Delegates will reconvene for a scheduled veto session on April 22 despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but when it does, it will likely be outdoors, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Friday.
“I have determined that when we reconvene, we will not reconvene in the House chamber, out of concern for the health and safety of my members, staff, the public and their families,” Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said.
“It is my preference that we hold the session outside, with a contingency plan for moving inside.”
Filler-Corn said the location has not yet been determined, but the gathering will happen in Richmond. It could be an outdoor space within or outside the Capitol grounds, said Filler-Corn, adding that she is working with House Clerk Suzette Denslow to narrow down a list of options.
“We’ve gone through many of those options. We are speaking daily, working on a final location,” Filler-Corn said.
The speaker said her decision has been communicated to House Republicans, the office of Gov. Ralph Northam and Senate leaders.
House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, posted on Twitter Friday afternoon, shortly after the decision was made public: “It was so nice to learn about this on Twitter.”
A spokeswoman for the Senate Democratic Caucus said leaders in that chamber are still working through the logistics of their gathering.
“The Senate is still working diligently on its plans for the reconvened session on April 22 in Richmond,” spokeswoman Allison Lawrence said. “As you can imagine, there are lots of logistical matters that have to be worked out. Once details have been finalized, they will be shared with the public.”
Filler-Corn cited her authority to move the meeting location under the House rules, which say that the speaker can, “in the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise, or other emergency circumstance,” convene the House in a different location.
The General Assembly is required to meet in public, and the open-meeting law does not allow it to convene by conference call or television hook-up.
Under the Virginia Constitution, the legislature is required to reconvene in order to accept or reject the governor’s proposed amendments to bills lawmakers approved over the winter.
This veto session will be retooled as a way for lawmakers to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to high unemployment rates, strain on the state’s health care system and a drop in state revenue.
Lawmakers will almost certainly rework the state’s budget to account for the loss in revenue, as well as reconsider legislation that could help impacted citizens or that could be difficult to implement amid the unknowns of the pandemic.