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Next General Assembly Session May Happen Online

Giant white tent with folding chairs beneath Virginia State Capitol
Last month, the House of Delegates met in a tent beneath the Capitol. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia lawmakers may soon be taking votes from their living rooms.

An opinion signed by Attorney General Mark Herring on Wednesday says the General Assembly can meet electronically during an emergency, including the current pandemic.

The news comes as a relief to Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who asked for Herring to weigh in.

“The best way we can do the people’s business is to limit large meetings and gatherings, and that means remote voting would by far be the best option,” Filler-Corn told VPM. 

Filler-Corn argued remote voting is the safest option for the 100-person body, which met last month in a giant tent on Capital Square in an attempt to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

But House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) argued that lawmakers would need to still vote on a rules change -- an effort that failed when Filler-Corn proposed it last month. 

“Always delightful to see @MarkHerringVA check in to selectively do his job as the politics warrant, but I hope Speaker @EFillerCorn isn’t suggesting here that she doesn’t need to pass the very same change to the House rules that she already proposed to make this happen,” Gilbert wrote in a Tweet.

Filler-Corn’s spokesperson, Jake Rubenstein, maintained that the speaker could use an existing House rule that allows her to relocate the legislature in an emergency to allow an emergency session. 

Gilbert and other Republicans have questioned the reliability and user friendliness of any remote meeting technology.

Filler-Corn said 96 of the body’s 100 members have already trained on the proposed remote voting system.

Top Democrats in the 40-person state Senate did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their plans. Senate leadership did not show much interest in meeting virtually leading up to the special session in April.

Filler-Corn said she expects Gov. Ralph Northam to call a special session to take up issues related to the pandemic.

But she said she’s not sure when that might happen or what specific issues they’ll take up. 

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