Special Session Not So Special – Or Necessary

As I write this, it has been just over two weeks since the Virginia General Assembly convened for a special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam. Yet, almost as soon as they met, they adjourned for a four-month recess.

It should be obvious what the nature of any “special” session is. It is not routine. It is extraordinary and necessary.

In this case, the extraordinary – and incomprehensible – reason for the session occurred Friday, May 31, at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Northam felt that the legislature should gather to debate gun regulation without the benefit of an investigation and based largely on his and many of our neighbors’ justifiable disgust over far too many gun deaths.

Unfortunately, while having strong emotions frequently stimulates action, letting raw anger, frustration, sorrow and fear be the impetus for lawmaking does not result in respectful, conscientious and lasting law.

Equally unfortunate is that the governor knew before the Virginia Beach shooting victims’ funerals had even been conducted that he would create a political sideshow. It’s almost as if he was looking for a lifeline for his own political survival.

Of the legislation submitted at this special session, there were only a handful of pieces that truly met the criteria of possibly having some sense of urgency. They were submitted by state Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach.

Knight filed three resolutions, two of which were passed on a voice vote, celebrating the lives of those killed in the mass shooting and commending the first responders who helped so many on that day. The third resolution, seeking federal tax benefits for the victims’ surviving families, has been referred to the House Committee on Appropriations.

Knight also filed three bills that were directed to the appropriations committee:

► HB 4013 Taxes on income, wills, and administrations; exemption for victims of the Va. Beach mass shooting.
► HB 4022 Virginia Beach Municipal Center; grants for the renovation of Building 2.
► HB 4023 Treasury loans; renovation of Building 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

This practical legislation does what you would expect from state government after a tragedy – help the affected community by advancing efforts sought by its leaders.

“I submitted my four pieces of legislation for the victims and the city of Virginia Beach,” Knight told me. “That was my focus.”

But Knight also told me something incredibly disturbing. When Democrats were asked about the scope of the “special” session, they unequivocally stated that they would not entertain these appropriations bills and that the session’s sole purpose was to debate guns. Knight minimized that point during our conversation. His bills will eventually be considered and in time to be put to good use.

The tax bills, if enacted, will be passed in advance of next year’s filing deadlines, and funding for Building 2 will be appropriated in time before any major renovations commence.

So, where does that really leave us? Was this “special” session really all that urgent?

No. Every year, the legislature gathers, examines, debates and votes on more than 2,000 bills. Many of them the very same gun bills proposed year after year — background checks, regulation on bump stocks or silencers, open or concealed carry in public buildings, permitting localities to make their own rules, etc. Nothing new under the sun.

When Northam learned of the adjournment until November, he reacted with emotion rather than logic: “It is shameful and disappointing that Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to do their jobs, and take immediate action to save lives. I expected better of them. Virginians expect better of them.”

Reality: None of these proposed gun regulations would have prevented what happened here on May 31. Are the proposals worthy of discussion? Of course, but in due course.

Instead of pulling this community together with strong leadership or acting rationally to support Virginia Beach, blatant partisanship has been on display. The one who should be ashamed resides in the governor’s mansion.

This column appears in the Roanoke Times and in the print issue of The Princess Anne Independent News