Virginia lawmakers hold special session on Monday

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Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced in June that he was calling lawmakers to Richmond to fill judicial vacancies and pass an updated budget bill to reflect the infusion of money coming to Virginia from the federal American Rescue Plan. The sweeping relief bill President Joe Biden signed into law in March directed $350 billion in aid to state, local and tribal governments. It also extended unemployment benefits, sent direct payments to millions of Americans, increased the child tax credit and contained aid for schools and businesses.

Here’s a look at what’s expected at the Capitol this week, with work getting underway Monday: BUDGET BUSINESS No Republicans in Congress supported the bill, though some have promoted it since. Many said the measure was too expensive and not focused directly enough on the pandemic.

The aid to states is intended to help meet pandemic response needs and bolster the economy. It has some restrictions on how it can be used, though the plan lawmakers will be considering is wide-ranging. Northam announced his budget proposal piece by piece leading up to the session and has indicated it has the support needed from Democratic leaders to pass. The plan calls for spending on all kinds of initiatives, including: increasing broadband access, supporting small businesses and tourism, paying for air quality improvements in public schools, boosting mental health and substance-abuse treatment, and backfilling the state’s unemployment trust fund. It also contains provisions that would offer some protections against evictions and utility disconnections.

The text of the budget bill did not become publicly available to view until Friday afternoon. A PARTISAN DIVIDE Democratic lawmakers, General Assembly staff and officials from the Northam administration worked together to craft the budget bill lawmakers will take up at the session, Clark Mercer, Northam’s chief of staff, has said.

That’s drawn the ire of House Republicans, who say Democrats shouldn’t have been working behind closed doors to decide how to spend such a massive amount of money. The minority party has also taken issue with guidance from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Torian, who wrote in a memo sent to lawmakers in July that neither the House nor Senate money committees would be accepting amendment requests to the bill as introduced. In response to the criticism, Torian said in a statement that it would be “impossible” to thoroughly evaluate amendment submissions in the short time frame of the session. “Our priority is expediency in getting relief funds where they’re needed,” he said.

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