RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers reconvened in Richmond on Wednesday for a one-day session to consider Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin's vetoes and proposed amendments to a wide range of legislation.
The divided General Assembly faced a full calendar with amendments - some technical, some controversial - to over 100 bills, in addition to the governor's 26 vetoes.
House Democrats started the day by dealing with a dose of internal caucus strife, voting to remove their leader, Eileen Filler-Corn, months after an unsuccessful election cycle that saw the party lose full control of the state government. Members said they did not immediately select a new leader.
"We're going to have an election and we have to set up. It'll come soon. Next time we're in town probably," said Del. Mark Sickles (D-43rd), who added the vote was 25-22 to remove Filler-Corn and said he voted to keep her. "I voted to retain the most productive, outstanding, hardworking, extraordinary fundraiser we've ever had in our history."
"I thank the people of Virginia and my colleagues in the House of Delegates for allowing me to serve as the first woman and first person of Jewish faith to serve as Speaker in the 403-year history of our Commonwealth - truly the honor of my life," wrote Filler-Corn. "I was proud of all that we accomplished after taking the majority in 2019 and was willing to step up as Minority Leader once more to regain that majority. Our caucus is made up of 48 talented and diverse individuals and I look forward to working with them to retake the majority."
Both chambers then convened around noon. One of the key measures awaiting debate dealt with hemp regulations and attempts to rein in the retail sales of products containing delta-8, a psychoactive form of THC.
Youngkin’s amendments, which both chambers would have to approve, would prohibit the retail sale of products containing synthetic delta-8 as of Oct. 1.
His proposed changes would also create two new intermediate misdemeanor penalties for possession of marijuana. Those changes likely mean the measure faces an uphill climb in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where members have pushed in recent years to end penalties for using and possessing the drug, which state figures showed were being disproportionately enforced against Black Virginians.
The Senate did not take up that bill, SB 591, until the end of the calendar and took several votes to determine its fate. At first, lawmakers voted 20-20 to pass the bill by for the day — which would have effectively meant the Governor's amendments could not be accepted and it would go back to Youngkin's desk to sign or veto the original bill. Because of the tie, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears cast the tie-breaking vote to pass it by.
However, after a brief recess lawmakers then came back and, at the request of the bill's sponsor State Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-24th), the senators voted to reconsider.
This time they voted 40-0 on a procedural vote that the Governor's amendments were not separate and severable, which sent it back to a senate committee to consider. That effectively killed the bill as the committee's chair told the senators she would not hold any committee hearings this calendar year.
Lawmakers were also to consider Youngkin's amendments to a measure that took aim at Loudoun County Public Schools, a suburban Washington district that has drawn outsized attention for controversies over curriculum debates, COVID-19 policies and the district’s handling of two sexual assaults.
The governor’s proposed amendments to a Democratic legislator’s bill that dealt with the staggering of school board terms would force the entire board to face election this fall.
As for Youngkin's vetoes - all of which targeted Democratic bills - they were either uncontested by the bills' sponsors or failed to garner the two-thirds votes to override them.
Lawmakers also kicked off a special session earlier this month focused on ending a budget stalemate. Instead of opting to extend their regular session as the deadline approached in mid-March, the assembly opted to carry the matter over, along with dozens of other unfinished bills.
Budget negotiators have held sporadic talks since then, but still don't have a deal to consider.
Only one special session matter was to be taken up Wednesday. On a bipartisan vote, a Senate committee defeated legislation the governor requested that would roll back the gas tax, then gradually restore it after the three-month holiday. A House version of the measure is still alive but would almost certainly meet the same fate once sent to the Senate.
"The real problem is inflation and inflation affects all prices, not just gas -- housing prices, vehicle prices, and we can't stop inflation by having a tax holiday," said State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th) during the committee hearing.
In brief remarks to reporters, Youngkin said he was disappointed.
"The runaway inflation, the cost of living escalation in Virginia is hurting Virginians and the second thing we have to recognize is it's Virginia's money, Virginian's money. Not government's money," said Youngkin. "We have a billion dollars in our Commonwealth Transportation Fund, more than we thought. This money belongs to Virginians and is a chance for us to give Virginians a break when they need it most."
Action was also planned Wednesday outside the Capitol, where organizers said they were expecting a crowd in the thousands for the 4th annual Virginia March for Life. Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears was among the scheduled speakers, and Youngkin was scheduled to attend, according to his spokeswoman.