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Virginia Senate Will Meet in Pavilion Behind Science Museum

Person working at a picnic table in front of the Science Museum of Virginia
The Science Museum of Virginia remains closed to visitors due to the spread of COVID-19. (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

The state Senate will make a temporary new home in an 800-person pavilion behind the Science Museum of Virginia when they meet again in two weeks. 

The new digs will serve as the Senate's base for what is generally a one-day veto session on April 22. Senators, a few staffers, and a handful of reporters will gather in the Garner Pavilion, an 11,000 sq. ft. space constructed over former railroad tracks behind what was once Richmond's largest train station. 

Susan Schaar, the clerk of the Senate, made the announcement to senators on Monday in an email obtained by VPM News.

“They have a great sound system, table desks and seating, internet infrastructure AND 250 parking places!” Schaar wrote. 

The General Assembly is set to meet on April 22 to consider Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed changes to legislation and the state budget. Lawmakers have been looking for alternative venues to their chambers at the Capitol to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

In an interview with VPM News, Schaar said the space would allow for sufficient social distancing, with lawmakers at their own “table-desks” and fully equipped with microphones and voting machines.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax will be given a podium on a stage overlooking lawmakers to oversee the Senate’s business, according to Schaar.

The space will include a limited area for press and will be streamed online, but will not include space for the public. Legislative aides will not be allowed. Schaar said Senate leaders empowered her to choose an alternate venue and coordinate logistics.

Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) has signaled she wants that chamber to meet somewhere outdoors but she hasn’t announced a venue yet. Her communications director, Jake Rubenstein, said the Capitol Square grounds were under consideration as one possible location.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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