As the Pandemic Continues, Should Next Month's Special Session Go Virtual?

Jul 23, 2020

A scene from the main General Assembly session earlier this year.
Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

Lawmakers are about to return to Richmond for a special session to reconsider the budget and take up criminal-justice reform efforts.

It’s 2020, a year that at least sounds kind of futuristic. People are having virtual classes and even virtual happy hours. So why not a virtual session of the Virginia General Assembly?

Delegate Cia Price is a Democrat from Newport News, and she says it’s time for the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere to join the 21st century. 

“So, It’s not impossible. It is totally possible," Price says. "In 2020, when you’re trying to keep 140 people safe plus their staff plus the clerk’s staff. It just seems like the most reasonable route to go.”

But is it really all that reasonable? Some people on the other side of the Capitol aren’t so sure.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to be there," explains Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw. He says the senate’s experience meeting in the Science Museum of Virginia earlier this year was a success — proof positive that lawmakers can meet in person and practice social distancing while conducting legislative business. 

“So I don’t see that as a problem. You’re spaced out, you know? Hell, we were at least 15 feet from the next nearest person, not six," Saslaw says. "We were about 10 or 15 feet.”

The question of virtual meetings isn’t just about having the technology to make it happen or even the legal authority to pull it off. For many lawmakers, the real stumbling block is setting a precedent for the future.

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