RICHMOND — Virginia’s General Assembly failed to wrap up its session on schedule Saturday because of a dispute over parliamentary rules.
With lawmakers plowing through scores of final conference committee reports, the biggest item of business to finish was approving amendments to the state’s two-year, $117 billion budget.
But because the proposed tweaks to the budget were not made available to lawmakers until 11 a.m. Saturday, Democrats in the House of Delegates insisted that the chamber follow rules requiring 48 hours of public notice before voting.
Late Saturday, the House and Senate voted to extend the session by one day and cut the public notice to 24 hours. They said they plan to return at 11 a.m. Sunday to vote on the budget.
“It’s mostly a transparency issue, to give the public time to see [the budget proposals] and weigh in,” Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) said before the vote was taken.
Republicans who control both houses of the legislature had hoped to waive the rules Saturday to allow for a quicker turnaround on the budget vote. Conferees worked late into Friday to reach agreements on tweaks to the budget, and many lawmakers were ready to wrap up and go home after such a tumultuous session.
But Saturday night’s Democratic position was a degree of partisan payback. Republicans had refused to waive other House rules so that Democrats could introduce the Equal Rights Amendment for a floor vote earlier in the week.
“We had a long discussion about rules” earlier in the week, Simon said. “I don’t think there was support on our side to waive them.”
Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee, stood and requested delays on other votes even as boxes of pizza were delivered in the House for what appeared to be a protracted evening.
The session started Jan. 9 and was slated for 46 days — a “short session” for Virginia’s part-time legislature, alternating with 60-day sessions.
This one has been unlike any other. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was hit by scandal Feb. 1 — midway through the session — when a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook came to light. Northam at first took responsibility for the picture, which shows one person in blackface and another in Klan robes, but then disavowed it. However, he admitted to wearing blackface later in 1984 to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring admitted to his own blackface incident, saying he darkened his face for a party in college in 1980. And Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has denied sexual assault allegations from two women.
With national attention focused on one embarrassing revelation after another, the legislature kept working, managing bipartisan agreement on a major plan to provide income tax relief for residents and cutting a similar deal on adding money for teacher salaries, at-risk students and other priorities.