If you are wondering how seriously Republicans in the General Assembly took Governor Northam’s special session call to address gun violence here in the Commonwealth, you can start watching the Lion King on Netflix. By the time the closing credits wrap on this movie designed not to exceed the attention span of the typical 4-year-old, you will have spent as much time as it took Republicans to adjourn.
Had I known that was going to be “their play” as Senator Amanda Chase described it on the radio recently, I probably wouldn’t have headed to Richmond on Monday night to review the eight bills the Governor had proposed.
While I was working with bill patrons to restore Virginia’s one handgun a month purchase limit and working on a procedural resolution that would have required these bills to come before the full House for a vote, the NRA was huddled in the Speaker’s Conference Room in the General Assembly, mobilizing the opponents of these popular, common-sense gun violence prevention bills.
On the Capitol grounds, hundreds of Virginians associated with Moms Demand Action, Everytown, Giffords, Brady, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence rallied to support the intent of the special session – to finally address gun safety, all unaware that the script had already been written and the play had already been called.
By the time we gaveled into session that day, more than 60 bills had been introduced. Most of them we had seen before – requiring universal background checks, establishing a red flag law, instituting an assault weapons ban, increasing penalties for recklessly leaving loaded firearms within reach of children, and banning weapons in government buildings – to name a few.
First order of business was to vote on the procedural rules that would govern the special session. Not surprisingly, my Republican colleagues introduced a very broad resolution that simply said legislation related to “public safety.”
As the Parliamentarian, I submitted an alternative procedural resolution on behalf of House Democrats establishing a timeline for the introduction of bills, a deadline for committees to act on those bills, and requiring each house to reconvene on a date certain to vote on the committee recommendations even if it meant we had to vote to discharge the bills from committee.
The resolution also included specific language, stating that we would only consider legislation related to firearms safety. Adopting this resolution would have meant that we had a clear, concise agenda for moving forward and for ensuring that we completed the work we were tasked to do all by July 30th.
Unfortunately, my version failed to pass and the Republican procedural resolution which contained no timeline for action was adopted. I spoke against the resolution, pointing out that if we passed it we might adjourn today and never come back.
As it turned out, we only stayed in session for a slightly extend morning hour, during which several of my colleagues offered heartfelt speeches as to why it is past time that we address gun violence prevention. I highly recommend that you watch them – the video archive can be accessed via VirginiaGeneralAssembly.gov.
Quite abruptly, the Speaker called for us to adjourn until November 18th for a lame duck session after November’s elections.
Then an announcement - House Militia, Police, & Public Safety (MPPS) Committee would meet 45 minutes after adjournment and the House Courts of Justice Committee immediately upon adjournment of House MPPS. I happen to serve on both committees, so I held out some hope that the bill patrons would at least have an opportunity to present their bills and we could have some discussion of next steps.
MPPS met first. No sooner had we begun than the committee chair announced that all the referred legislation would be sent to the Virginia Crime Commission for review per a letter from the Speaker of the House. The motion was quickly moved and seconded. There was no discussion.
Moving to House Courts, the same script was read. Everything is going to the Commission, which has announced that it will meet on August 20th in Richmond.
As reported in some news stories, the 90-minute special session cost taxpayers nearly $45,000 in per diem and mileage reimbursement for all 140 legislators. This does not include projected overtime costs for Capitol Police or having additional officers on hand during regular shifts.
Maybe we all should have gone to the movies instead.