So, You Want To Know About the 2020 Special Session?

You’ve probably heard by now that the General Assembly convened on August 18 for a special session to address the impact of COVID-19 on the state budget and police reform. But you might be wondering what it’s going to look like, what we’re looking for, and, most importantly, how to make sure your voice is heard on these vital issues despite the pandemic’s chaos. 

What Will Special Session Look Like?

For safety reasons, no one will be allowed to lobby or advocate in-person during the special session. However, there’s still plenty of important work to be done to ensure our legislators respond progressively to the dual crises currently facing the Commonwealth.  

Likely, the House Courts of Justice and Public Safety committees and subcommittees, as well as the Senate Judiciary and Social Services and Rehabilitation committees, will meet during the special session. 

Suppose you want to get some insight into the direction that these committees are going. You can check out the recordings of the joint meetings between the House Courts of Justice and Public Safety committees and the Senate Judiciary and Social Services and Rehabilitation committees that have taken place in advance of the special session. 

The full session should be streaming online starting on Tuesday, August 18, so make sure to check out the House of Delegates and Virginia State Senate streaming websites to see what is happening on the General Assembly floor! 

What We Need to See

Our Commonwealth and nation are in crisis because of the virus ravaging our people and our economy and the injustices plaguing every level of our criminal justice system. And with the federal government deadlocked, we’re looking to leaders here in Virginia to step up and take action. 

For starters, the additional $600 a week that the federal government has used to supplement unemployment checks during the pandemic ended just as special session began. And with the federal moratorium on evictions lapsing on of August 1, those who are unable to pay their rent due to the pandemic will soon be forced out of their homes unless the General Assembly takes action to provide relief to renters during this time. The state moratorium was recently extended, but we all know this pandemic is far from over.

We are also facing a national moment of reckoning on issues of racial injustice and police brutality against Black people. The General Assembly must pass legislation to address the racial biases and violence that persist in police departments throughout Virginia and work to correct the grave injustices that result from them. If you want to know what legislators are looking to do about racial justice and police reform, check out the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus’s priorities and Senate Democrats’ proposals on the topic.  

Finally, the budget will be on the table during special session. COVID-19 has severely impacted the state’s revenue, but the governor is proposing that we keep Virginia’s $1.1 billion rainy day fund intact. If we start slashing the state’s budget, the most vulnerable communities that have already been the most severely impacted by this pandemic will suffer the consequences. Instead of cutting back the state’s support for Virginia residents when they need it most, now is the time to use the state reserves to help families and small businesses throughout the Commonwealth that have been financially devastated by COVID-19. 

What Will Activism Look Like?

The fact that in-person advocacy won’t be an option means it’s more important than ever for activists to be vigilant and determined to make sure their voices are heard! Reach out and contact your legislators via phone or email to let them know that you demand to see action on police reform for the Commonwealth and tell your friends and family to do the same!