The General Assembly will hold a special session on Aug. 18 to address the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s budget and introduce additional criminal justice and policing reform measures.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called for the special session on July 17. A special session is necessary to adopt a budget based on the revised revenue forecast in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement the governor’s office. The General Assembly will adopt a final budget, a process that was postponed earlier in the year due to COVID-19.
In April, lawmakers froze more than $2.2 billion in new spending in Virginia’s new biennial budge to allow time for the commonwealth’s fiscal outlook to stabilize. Legislators will now consider a number of items previously considered for funding — including investments in early childhood education, tuition-free community college, affordable housing and broadband.
“While Virginia’s revenue hasn’t been as negatively impacted as anticipated, COVID-19 has still hurt our state economy,” said Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th). “During the special session, we will have to figure out what to do with frozen budget items so that we can help as many Virginians as possible while being fiscally responsible.”
The special session was initially intended to deal solely with the budget, but the focus has now been expanded to include proposals on criminal justice and police reform.
Criticism of the criminal justice system has amplified in recent months after the May death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. His death has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
According to the governor’s office, policing initiatives are expected to include measures aimed at police accountability and oversight, use of force, increased training and education as well as officer recruitment, hiring and decertification.
“After George Floyd’s tragic murder, there were calls across the commonwealth to take up criminal justice in the special session, as well. The Virginia Black Legislative Caucus has really led on this issue and have released their policy proposals for the upcoming session. I intend to support their efforts to address racism in our criminal justice system,” Gooditis said.
Northam has directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Virginia African American Advisory Board and the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to assist the administration in developing policy initiatives.
“General Assembly leadership is being very thoughtful as they craft the legislative agenda for this session,” Gooditis said. “There will be three virtual public meetings of the Joint House Courts of Justice and Public Safety Committees in July and August to hear expert testimony regarding criminal justice reform. I am hopeful we will have a productive and meaningful special session.”
The Washington Post reported that House Minority Leader C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, criticized Northam for not including schools in the mandate for the special session.
Northam “issued a statement on the special session today with no mention of addressing the looming crisis in public education and the thousands of children who will be negatively impacted,” Gilbert tweeted, according to The Post. “Hoping things will improve is not a plan of action, and kids need to be in school.”