RICHMOND, Va. – A session that was to have dealt with adjusting the state budget in light of the pandemic has taken a new twist: Democrats in Richmond are expected to shift their focus to criminal justice reform as the General Assembly meets in special session next week.
And some Republican leaders are fighting back, saying some of the measures under consideration are anti-police and pro-criminal.
Both the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia will take up the COVID-19 response and the resulting budget issues. Democratic leaders say Virginians have demanded police and changes in police policies in the months after George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Lawmakers will convene at noon on Tuesday. The length of the special session hasn’t been determined.
Virginia House Democrats are also planning to use the upcoming special session to mandate employers provide paid sick days.
A top proposal is the paid sick days measure, which failed earlier this year before the widespread transmission of the coronavirus in the U.S.
Democrats took full control of the General Assembly in January for the first time in a generation and overhauled many labor and employment laws. But a bill to provide paid sick days died on the last day of the regular session after intense opposition from business groups.
Under the measure proposed earlier this year, businesses with 15 or more employees would have been required to provide up to five paid sick days per year. Smaller employers would have been required to provide up to two unpaid sick days per year.
Supporters said it would protect public health by allowing workers to stay home when they or their children are sick. Business groups said the requirements would be overly burdensome, particularly for smaller businesses and those with part-time employees.
“A one-size-fits-all paid leave plan would make it very difficult for smaller businesses, and such a rigid policy would add costs at a very trying economic time,” Nicole Riley, the Virginia director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said Thursday.
As for the budget, House Democrats also said Thursday their priorities include extra funding for high-speed internet service for students learning remotely, more spending to prevent evictions and increasing funds to conduct a safe and secure election this fall.