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Date Set for Special Session on COVID-19, Police Reform

photo of the front of the Virginia state capitol building
(Craig Carper/VPM News)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced this morning that he is calling lawmakers back to Richmond for a special session on August 18.

For months, lawmakers have discussed holding a special session this summer. They originally intended to address budget shortfalls due to COVID-19. Officials had projected a $1 billion loss in tax revenue because of the economic shutdown, but the final figure was much lower. As protests against police brutality erupted across Virginia, the scope of the special session widened to include police and criminal justice reform.

In a statement Friday, Northam told state legislators, “Let’s get to work.”

“We have a unique opportunity to provide critical support to Virginians, invest strategically in our economic recovery, and make progress on policing and criminal justice reform,” Northam said.

Last month, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus released a long list of reforms it plans to address through legislation introduced at the special session. Many of the bills are a direct response to demands for transparency and accountability from anti-police brutality protesters.

Del. Lamont Bagby, who chairs the Black Caucus, said the members want to try to pass the legislation while the attention of lawmakers and the public is focused on police brutality.

“If we have protests and nothing comes from it related to justice or laws being changed, then we failed,” he said. 

Members of the Black Caucus are also looking to increase protections for frontline workers during the pandemic, including providing paid sick leave and ensuring access to personal protective equipment.

With the General Assembly planning to tackle so many complex policy areas, lawmakers are preparing for a special session that could last days and even weeks.