Research and Anaylsis
August 28, 2020
The second full week of the Virginia General Assembly Special Session saw both houses begin to settle into a work rhythm. The Senate established its work schedule for that body with committee meetings and floor sessions on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The House, after completing the procedural process for a rules change to allow virtual meetings and voting, began its committee meetings and daily floor sessions early in the week as it moved to advance bills and get more in sync with progress in the Senate.
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August 21, 2020
The first week of the Special Session ended today with much Senate activity, while the House remained stagnant, mired in procedural changes required for a completely virtual House session. In contrast, Senate Committees met every day in-person at the Science Museum of Virginia in a socially distanced room with meetings video streamed to the public. While the Senators and staff have all been in the same room, witness testimony was presented live through virtual connections displayed on large screens in the meeting room. Many of the meetings were quite lengthy as Senate Committee chairs made an effort to hear every bill submitted and spent considerable time in debate and discussion as they worked through the more prominent pieces of legislation.
A significant number of bills being reported out of these committees were re-referred to the Finance and Appropriations Committee for further fiscal impact review. Additional committee meetings are expected next week, as Committee chairs continue to work through their bill dockets. Notably, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee did not meet this week and Committee Chair Senator Janet Howell confirmed yesterday that the committee would not be accepting amendments to the Governor’s introduced budget from individual Senators. The effect of this action is that changes to the Governor’s budget proposal will originate with the Senate Finance Committee members and its staff and will be shown as “Committee Amendments.”
The House leadership was unable to muster the 2/3 majority needed on Tuesday to immediately amend House rules Tuesday to allow for a virtual House session (meaning committees could meet and vote virtually and the floor session could also be completely virtual, including debate and voting). As a result, the process of reading the rules change on the floor of the House for five consecutive days, after which a simple majority can amend the rules, has been occurring. These sessions have been held virtually with the only order of business being the reading of the proposed rules change. There have been several technical issues during these daily sessions, including one member being unable to access the site because it had exceeded the limit on attendees. These types of technical issues, including broadband quality and access by House members in more remote parts of the state, and a stated belief that ‘the people’s business should be conducted in person by the assembled members’ have resulted in united opposition by the House Republican caucus to virtual sessions and remote voting in particular. The House Democratic caucus’ leadership has cited the public health danger from the pandemic in its push for going virtual. The House Appropriations Committee did meet virtually (as it had been doing every month since the end of the regular session) to hear a staff briefing on the Governor’s proposed budget changes. In contrast to the Senate, the committee did open a small window to receive budget amendments from House members. That window closed yesterday at noon and Committee staff has indicated that they did not receive as many amendments as they had anticipated.
At this point, some 221 bills have been introduced, (118 Senate bills and 103 House bills). Nearly all of these bills deal either with aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic (executive authority, treatments/vaccines) or criminal justice reform. Since the two chambers could not agree on operating rules (the procedural resolution) for the Special Session, there are no limits on bill introduction nor are there any deadlines for action on bills or the budget. This has resulted in the two houses basically operating with little coordination, something that the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle has complained about and blamed on the House majority leadership several times in floor remarks.
Looking forward, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee will hold its first meeting on Monday morning. It has announced that the focus will be on the Governor’s proposals regarding pandemic-related election law changes and funding, but other unspecified business will be on the docket. With SB 5030 (Policing reform; acquisition of military property, training of officers in de-escalation techniques) currently before the Committee and the concerns of law enforcement addressed by Judiciary Committee amendments, we expect that the Committee may advance this and related bills to the floor (see the list below). Other Senate Committees have also set additional meetings for next week, including the Judiciary, Commerce and Labor, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Education and Health Committees. The entire Senate will convene in-person to consider Senate bills that have moved to the floor beginning Wednesday through the remainder of next week.
At this writing, the House has not announced any meetings beyond the virtual floor session set for tomorrow for the fifth and last required reading of the proposed rules change. We anticipate the full House reconvening in person for a vote on the rules change to allow virtual voting either Sunday or Monday. We expect the rules change will be approved with a committee meeting schedule announced immediately thereafter. While bills have been filed by members of both parties in the House, only bills introduced by Democratic members have been assigned to Committees for hearing at this point. In response to a question from the minority leader as to whether Republican bills would even be heard, the majority leader has responded that the bill dockets will be under control of the Committee chairs. Bills must be assigned to a committee before they can appear on a committee docket.
Special Session Legislative Analysis &
Virginia Budget Analysis
July 15, 2020
Last month, we provided an update on the COVID-19 impact on the state’s revenues. That report showed better performance in May than March and April, but still contained many cautionary notes on how the pandemic would continue to impact state finances. The Secretary of Finance has now produced a preliminary FY 2020 year-end revenue report which includes the impact of COVID-19 on the State’s revenue collections. (Note: the state’s fiscal year ended June 30, 2020). The Governor will deliver a complete year-end report to the joint money committees of the General Assembly on August 18.
That report will include any post June 30 accounting adjustments. When combined, these amounts will be used to adjust previous projections (made in December, 2019) of the amounts that will be carried forward for expenditure in FY 2021 (which started July 1, 2020). The preliminary year-end general fund revenue report shows that the trend seen in May continued through June, resulting in a total general fund revenue shortfall of $236.5 million. While any shortfall is troublesome, this is actually positive news. For perspective, in March and April the Secretary of Finance was estimating a shortfall of $1 billion in FY 2020 as well as in each of the years of the biennium that started on July 1.
This is an excerpt of a report prepared for Advantus Strategies clients. It was prepared by Managing Director Ron Jordan, and Director of Business Services Craig Whitham. Ron has 30 years in state and local government that includes positions as a long-time senior staff member of the Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations Committee and in the governor’s cabinet. Craig served as a senior advisor to former Rep. Frank Wolf and as legislative advisor to Virginia DMV.
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