Virginia House and Senate grapple over pandemic aid bill in special session

Debates between the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate over a $4.3 billion COVID-19 aid spending package  resumed for a fifth day on Friday, delaying the passage of the budget bill that Democrats hoped to achieve quickly. 

 

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The Virginia General assembly convened Monday for what Democrats hoped would be a short special session to distribute federal pandemic aid funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In June, Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislators issued a joint statement that listed their priorities going into session, such as providing relief for workers and universal broadband. 

HB 7001 includes several public health initiatives: 

  • More than $487 million to expand broadband services in the Commonwealth
  • A combined $89 million to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) for community outreach programs, implementing an electronic health records system and other public health improvements 
  • $45 million for direct care staff at state behavioral health facilities and intellectual disability training centers
  • $31.1 million to the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) in payments to Medicaid-eligible nursing homes and specialized care providers

Here is what happened during session so far: 

Tuesday, Aug 3: The Democratic-controlled House (55-45) took only two minutes to stop Republican delegates from passing their own version of the budget bill.

Wednesday, Aug 4: The House passed the original version of the bill by a 71-25 vote. The bill moved to the Senate, which drafted a substitute that included a $189 million boost in funding to sheriff’s offices. 

Thursday, Aug 5: The substitute passes the Senate (25-14). The House unanimously rejected the substitute, with the Senate unanimously insisted on the substitute. Both chambers appoint members to conference committees, which will decide the final version of the bill.

Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) told the Washington Post he was unsure which amendments would make it into the final version. Additional legislation specified only bills relating to pandemic relief would be discussed during the special session. 

“We have a few things in there that aren’t directly tied to COVID relief, it’s just that they were emergencies or the ability to fix something temporarily, and that fits in the category. I’m not sure if it’s going to survive or not.”