Local Commentary

From the Front Row: Kaye Kory’s Richmond Report

I believe that elected representatives have a particular responsibility to lead by example, particularly in crisis situations. Therefore I strongly support the option of remote voting for the members of the General Assembly during this state of health and economic emergency. It is imperative for us to conscientiously conduct the commonwealth’s business while following the health safety guidelines we all have come to know all too well. We will hold the reconvene session tomorrow to vote upon all of the governor’s 102 amendments to the bills we passed earlier this year. We will also be voting on changes to the existing budget which will be in effect until the end of this fiscal year.

Since Virginia operates on a two-year budget cycle, the governor has announced the need to hold a special session in June to adjust the biennium budget according to the fiscal forecasts at that time. It is unlikely that the pandemic will have passed by that time and we will need the option of remote voting at that time as well.

Know that I am standing by the values expressed in all the legislation we have passed; and will not forget your strongly supportive voices.

Gun violence prevention, environmental justice, women’s reproductive healthcare, educational equity, anti-discrimination and the prohibition of hate crimes all demonstrate those values — the values we share.

The House Democrats have brought sweeping change to our 2020 legislative session, as we became the first Democrat majority in a generation.

The governor has sent us his amendments to passed bills — many are simply technical, some are substantial policy changes. We will vote on a budget “time out,” which will pause all new spending until a reliable fiscal forecast is available later this year. Like many Virginians, I find it frustrating to pause the implementation of the historic legislation we have passed. However, this worldwide pandemic is an unprecedented public health, public safety and economic crisis. Covid-19 has drastically changed our finances and the changes we expect cannot be quantified at this time. Therefore a realistic budget cannot be adopted yet. Fortunately, Gov. Northam has already signed the majority of the bills passed and they will become law on July 1.

Unfortunately, “Liberate Virginia!” protesters are driving in circles around the Capitol Square loudly honking their horns in an attempt to disrupt our work. We are determined that we will carry out our constitutional duty despite the irresponsible protests and despite the Covid-19 pandemic emergency.

First a quick explanation:  the Virginia Constitution requires the governor to act on all legislation, including the budget, sent to him by the General Assembly by April 11.  His options are to approve, amend or veto our bills.  The bills he has amended or vetoed are returned to the General Assembly in what is termed the Reconvene Session on April 22, giving us the opportunity to support or deny his amendments and vetoes.  Votes cast in this session are only on a veto or the proposed amendments–not on the underlying bill itself. For example, HB 1090 establishes minimum vaccination requirements for attendance at school or daycare.  The governor added two amendments: to change the dosage of the HPV vaccine to the dosage recommended by the CDC, and to delay the enactment to July 1 20221 in order to coincide with the academic year.  Each amendment requires an up or down vote, but does not affect the bill itself.  The bill has already passed both Houses successfully.  Several constituents called to ask me to vote “no” on HB 1090.  However,my “no” vote would only relate to the amendments.  The bill remains passed no matter if the amendments pass or not. My “no” votes would not kill the bill.  This year, many of the Governor’s 102 amendments were technical language changes causing very little debate.That is often not the case.  Some amendments drastically alter or reshape a bill.  As always in legislation, the devil is in the details.

In my last newsletter I wrote that I believe the members of the General Assembly deserve the right to vote remotely in floor votes and committee votes during this state of emergency. This ability to vote remotely should be available until the state of emergency is lifted. 

Since the rules of the House do not mention remote voting, the House would have to vote to consider changing its rules and then vote to accept a rule change allowing remote voting during states of emergency as was proposed in yesterday’s Reconvene session.When asked to vote, the Republican members of the House of Delegates voted in party lock-step, refusing to consider ANY rule change and denying a vote to House members whose vulnerable health condition (or the health condition of anyone who shares their living space) prevents in-person attendance in during a state emergency.

We must have a special session this summer in order to adjust our biennium budget according to timely fiscal forecasts reflecting the economic damage from the Covid-19 pandemic.  Doubtless that session will again be one held during a state of emergency, and safely held in accordance with CDC guidelines — thus a need to allow remote voting to protect the legislators, staff and the public from the spread of the Covid-19 virus.  I am sorely disappointed that the Republican members of the House of Delegates will not agree to allow remote voting at any time during this state of emergency.

My husband suffers from COPD, a chronic, progressive lung disease.  The CDC recommends that those afflicted with COPD ‘refrain from contact with others’ during this pandemic and reminds us that those with COPD have a fatality rate from Covid-19 that is nearly three times the rate of those without COPD.  I cannot expose my husband to the risk posed by my attending a legislative session in Richmond — especially a gathering at which not everyone is wearing a mask or consistently observing social distancing.  I am saddened to know that Republican Delegates are so partisan in their worldview that they could not vote to even consider such an option, let alone vote on the option itself. I doubt that the need to vote remotely will be limited to Democrats. The vote against a remote voting option along strict party lines was blind partisanship and discrimination at its most blatant.  

Fortunately the outcome of nearly every vote taken at the reconvene session, except the vote refusing to delay the May 5th local elections, is a decision that I supported during the earlier 2020 session.  I discussed the Reconvene calendar with my Caucus members on conference calls for hours over the past weeks and was solidly confident in our united vision. I am proud that the House Democratic Caucus operates democratically, although our legislative body does not reliably do so.  I am frustrated, as are you, to have to delay implementation of so many of our hard-won policy victories.  But I understand the necessity due to our current economic uncertainty.  Remember, delay is not denial.  We will definitely see the delayed legislation become reality.  Rest assured that your voices make a difference.

Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.