RICHMOND, Va. – A special session of the Virginia General Assembly got underway in Richmond on Tuesday, with hot button issues up for debate surrounding the budget, the coronavirus pandemic and police reform.
This special session brings unprecedented changes, as lawmakers didn’t meet on Capitol grounds, but rather, other local venues for the sake of social distancing.
The House of Delegates met in the Siegel Center on Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus, while the Senate met across town in The Science Museum of Virginia.
Their lengthy to-do list is also unprecedented for a special session.
The General Assembly tackled several controversial issues, bringing out dozens of protesters Tuesday morning who wanted to make their voices heard.
Several militia members showed up in support of law enforcement, including Michael Fouche, who was protesting police reform.
“We understand that there are bad individuals in any group set. That does not taint the entire organization,” said Fouche.
Some college students showed up in support of police reform and defunding the police.
“I think that way too much money is going into these forces that are here to intimidate us; they’re not here to protect us,” said Sakina Ahmad.
Reopening schools was another hot topic. Several moms advocated to get kids back to the classrooms.
“He needs to be in school with other kids like him. Project-based learning, and doing all those things and interacting. Sitting behind a computer all day is not doing anything for him,” said Carolyn Ferraro.
Education is a top priority for local lawmakers, but each side has its own idea of what that will look like.
“It’s really critical that the kids have that experience with their teacher in the classroom in order to make sure that they keep up in academics and don’t fall behind,” said Del. Kathy Byron (R), representing Virginia’s 22nd District, which includes parts of Bedford, Campbell and Franklin Counties and the city of Lynchburg.
Del. Sam Rasoul (D), who represents Virginia’s 11th District, which includes part of Roanoke City, said safety has to be front of mind when it comes to reopening schools.
“Without a rapid testing system, it’s virtually impossible to do it safely in person,” said Rasoul.
However, of all the controversial issues, it’s police reform creating the sharpest divide, with both Democrats and Republicans vowing to stand their ground.
“We are sensible; there are common sense folks out here, so we have to trust the law enforcement because if we don’t, what gangs are going to be patrolling our streets?” said Del. Wendell Walker (R), representing Virginia’s 23rd District, which includes parts of Amherst and Bedford Counties and the city of Lynchburg.
Rasoul said the Commonwealth is hurting, and lawmakers need to listen.
“There’s a lot of pain happening all across the Commonwealth, and what we need to do is make sure that we are as responsive to those needs as possible,” said Rasoul.