Responding to the pandemic is one of the major legislative areas still unresolved, though the topic has created some moments of unity amid the usual partisan bickering.
Measures to make more people eligible to administer the coronavirus vaccine, identify outbreaks of the virus and clear the way for front-line workers to get benefits if they become infected have all won votes from both sides of the political aisle.
But other aspects of the pandemic response are mired in partisan disagreements or differences between the Senate and the House of Delegates.
Since convening Jan. 13, each chamber has finished work on its own bills and sent them to the other for consideration. Because of a procedural clash between Democrats who control the legislature and the Republican minority, the regular session was kept to 30 days instead of the customary 46 for an odd-numbered year. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called a special session beginning Wednesday to make up the difference.
Here is a roundup of major legislation related to the coronavirus that is advancing in one or both chambers:
●The House and Senate passed legislation meant to make it easier for health-care providers to distribute doses of vaccine as volunteers. Both votes were unanimous.
The measures set out requirements for training for administering the vaccine and allowing for someone who owns a large facility to offer it for use as a mass vaccination site. Under amendments introduced on the House side and later adopted by the Senate, the measures also require the submission of racial and ethnic data about people who receive the shot.
Submitting such data is now encouraged but not required, and Virginia — like other states — has struggled to get sufficient demographic details about vaccine recipients.
Both bills contained an emergency clause allowing them to go into effect as soon as Northam signs them.
●The Senate approved a bill that would require public disclosure of “worksite cluster” coronavirus cases, defined as five or more cases within a 14-day period. The measure, which passed on a bipartisan 27-to-11 vote, would apply to any workplace with 50 or more employees. The employer would report the cases to the state Health Department, which would be required to post the name of the employer and the number of its reported cases on a publicly accessible department website. The bill has moved to the House for consideration.
●The House passed a bill to provide paid sick leave for front-line workers, with all Republicans voting against it and all Democrats but one voting for it. The measure could face trouble in the more business-friendly Senate, which approved a bill to study the issue.
●The House and Senate passed bills that would establish a presumption that covid-19 is an occupational disease for firefighters, law enforcement officers, corrections officers and emergency medical personnel. That change would make workers’ compensation available to those who die or are disabled from the disease. The votes were unanimous in both chambers, aside from one delegate who abstained.
●The House voted unanimously to expand the state’s child-care assistance voucher program for use during the pandemic by families who meet eligibility requirements. The measure now moves to the Senate.
●Both chambers passed bills that create a state fund for reimbursing farmers who donate food to charitable groups and that expand access to telehealth services.
Two items related to the pandemic are facing more complicated debate.
Both the House and the Senate have wrestled with how to tax grants received by businesses under federal coronavirus relief programs for offsetting expenses and keeping employees on the payroll. Northam proposed taxing businesses as usual, arguing that allowing them to deduct expenses paid with tax-free federal funds amounts to “double-dipping.” The House and Senate want to carve out exceptions but are far apart on dollar figures.
And the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that requires school systems to offer an in-person instruction option to all parents. Seven Democrats joined all 18 Republicans in voting for it, and GOP leaders in the House are enthusiastic about the measure.
At least one Democrat has promised to introduce a substitute version of the bill that would lay out specific guidelines for reopening schools. Last week, Northam called on all schools to offer some kind of in-person instruction by March 15.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the number of Republicans in the Senate.