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Virginia lawmakers to start special session amid pandemic

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Virginia lawmakers will meet Tuesday for a special session to address both the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread calls for criminal justice reform sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Democrats, who took full control of the General Assembly earlier this year, have promised an expansive session whose proposals range from banning police chokeholds to increased spending on high-speed internet for virtual schooling.

The session could take several weeks to complete and lawmakers are meeting outside of the Capitol so they can practice social distancing. The House plans to meet at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center and could hold some hearings virtually. The Senate plans to meet at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration announced that it’s projecting a drop of $ 2.7 billion in revenues because of the pandemic. Northam officials believe the state has enough money to keep its base budget without making draconian cuts like in other states. But the Democratic governor believes the state will have to postpone spending for new initiatives or ongoing expenses like state employee and teacher pay raises.

Northam wants to make one-time spending on expanding broadband internet access and boosting funds for affordable housing. He’s also seeking to extend a moratorium on evictions until next May.

Democratic lawmakers have promised broad action on criminal justice reforms, including banning no-knock warrants, giving prosecutors unrestricted access to all reports and disciplinary records of police officers and downgrading the charge of assault on a police officer from a felony to a misdemeanor in cases where the officer is not injured.

Virginia is one of several states to push for such reforms after the May death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after struggling to breathe under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.

The session could expose fault lines between the party’s moderates and more liberal members. Possible sources of friction could include state spending and a proposal to mandate that private employers provide paid sick leave.

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Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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