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House of Delegates will meet virtually again for regular legislative session
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House of Delegates will meet virtually again for regular legislative session

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House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax

The Virginia House of Delegates will meet virtually to do its legislative work when the chamber gathers in January, a decision its leader said was fueled by the uptick in COVID-19 cases in Virginia and around the country. 

The legislative session, which starts Jan. 13, will see lawmakers continue to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic. Democrats, newly in the majority as of January 2020, also have a list of goals left unfinished during the regular and special sessions. 

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said that the work will be done virtually out of concern for the safety of members and staff. 

"My focus is keeping everybody safe while providing us the opportunity to conduct our business effectively, keeping in mind that this is a global pandemic," Filler-Corn said in an interview. "I've had the opportunity to speak with the health department folks, especially in light of what's transpired recently, with trends heading in a not-so-great direction."

The House met virtually for its special session on COVID-19 and police reform, clearing dozens of pieces of legislation but requiring nearly three months to do it. 

Sessions in odd-numbered years ordinarily run 45 days.

Immediately after Filler-Corn's announcement Monday, House and Senate Republicans wielded their minority power, saying they would not support any proposal to expand the length of the session from the prescribed 30 days.

Under the state's constitution, lawmakers could extend the regular session for an additional 30 days if they need extra time, but it would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber, which Democrats don't have. 

Republicans in both chambers have opposed virtual gatherings, saying it gives outsize power over proceedings to the majority. The House Republican caucus fought Democrats' virtual plans for the special session, eventually losing that battle to Democrats' majority vote. 

"The Constitution limits the duration of General Assembly sessions to ensure we have a citizen legislature, not one populated by full-time politicians,” said Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, in a statement.

“Given that we’ve already addressed the primary purpose of the upcoming session, amending the state budget, it makes sense that we keep within the constitutional minimum until the people of Virginia can once again fully participate in their government.”

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On Nov. 1, the seven-day moving average in Virginia for hospital patients with the virus was just above 1,000. By mid-month it has climbed to 1,250, and within 10 days it stood at 1,516. That was Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, the day when all across the state and country people ignored public health warnings and traveled to spend the holiday with families.

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