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Virginia Lawmakers Convene In Person For Special Session

Jahd Khalil/Radio IQ

Although the Covid 19 pandemic sent legislators out of the Capitol almost a year and a half ago in a way it’s brought them back, to decide how COVID relief money will be spent.

At noon Monday, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn gaveled in a special session to decide how $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds are appropriated. After welcoming the delegates to the house chamber, they gave a standing ovation.

“We have gathered for the special session to provide more support and a more robust response, to help the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia while keeping our economy moving forward,” she said.

Legislators seemed happy to be around each other as they milled about Virginia’s historical capitol, schmoozing.

Republican Delegate Ronnie Campbell was also glad to be back.

“I don't think the citizens in the Commonwealth of Virginia were properly represented,” said Campell, of the virtual session that the House of Delegates opted for as a COVID-mitigation measure. “I just hope we never go back to a system like that.”

After delegates took their seats in the house chamber, the gathering undlined an obvious divide. Democrats mostly wore masks but Republicans did not.

Seats in the senate chamber was divided by plastic dividers as the session began, but the more-crowded house intiated proceedings without them. 

A small table sits above a bare piece of floor, surrounded by gold and red carpet. Sturdy wooden seats are in the background.
Credit Jahd Khalil / WVTF
A bare piece of floor marks the space a statue of Robert E Lee once occupied. 

Masking and plastic dividers may make this session look different, but future sessions will too, said Democratic Delegate Ken Plum.

“It used to be when we walk back and forth from the General Assembly we always walked by Harry Byrd, who for four decades really commanded Virginia in the times of Jim Crow and massive resistance and all that. He's no longer there. That's appropriate he's no longer there.”

Robert E Lee’s statue in the Capitol is also gone, and a bare piece of uncarpeted floor marks where it once stood in the Old House Chamber. Changes like that aren’t on the agenda, due to the rules being discussed by legislators. Just COVID money and a number of judicial and administrative appointments.   

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.