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Several construction zones surround the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia on June 3, 2022. A new tunnel will connect the Capitol to the new General Assembly building. (Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

After taking no action on Wednesday on the main case that brought lawmakers back to Richmond, the Virginia General Assembly entered a new battle over how to leave town.

The session ended — partially — without the legislature filling the third and final vacancy in the Crown Corporations Commission, while limiting the powers of the governor and leaving the status of legislative action in limbo.

The Republican-led House of Delegates was adjourned sine die, an action that would end the special session of the legislature for much of the year after it took longer to complete the state budget. But the Democratic-controlled Senate did not adjourn sine die, putting the two chambers at odds over whether or not to end the special session.

This difference matters because when the legislature is not in session, Governor Glenn Youngkin is granted additional powers to make appointments and set dates for special elections to fill vacancies in the General Assembly.

The Virginia Constitution provides that neither legislative chamber may adjourn more than three days without the consent of the other. But the ramifications of the standoff weren’t entirely clear as lawmakers left the Capitol.

Youngkin’s spokesman, Macaulay Porter, declined to say whether the governor intended to make an appointment to fill the CSC vacancy.

Filling the vacancy in the CSC, one of the most powerful regulators in the state for energy, business, insurance and more, was seen as the main reason for Wednesday’s session. after the nomination was rescinded earlier this year.

The vacancy was created when the House let the appointment of former commissioner Angela Navarro expire.

Two judges currently serve on the State Corporation Commission, which oversees massive utility projects under the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020, such as the Virginia Coastal Wind Turbine project and utility rates.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, said the failure of the state Senate to adjourn sine die leaves room for the special session to be reconvened, even during the 2023 regular session, to occupy the remaining headquarters of CSC. However, he said Senate Democrats did not discuss the ramifications of not adjourning.

“Today’s session date was agreed to in June for the express purpose of filling the vacant CSC position,” Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said in a news release. after the end of the session. “It is unfortunate that today’s session resulted in no action despite the waste of taxpayers’ money.”

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said Youngkin did not ask the Republican-controlled House to keep the CSC seat open in order to take his own nomination.

“I would ask him not to,” the speaker said when asked if he expected Youngkin to try to make such a date.

Gilbert said he hopes the legislature will reach an agreement on the seat of the commission when the regular session begins in January. The House adjourned sine die, he said, because “we are through with our business.”

The split decisions of the chambers on adjournment could cause other problems. More than two dozen bills passed during the special session are tied to the end of that session and will not come into effect without adjournment. This legislation deals with issues ranging from the construction of schools to the confidentiality of medical records. Several bills, however, are tied to budget measures allowing them to take effect, Surovell said.

Despite the lack of action on the CSC vacancy, the Legislature was successful in making several other judicial appointments in local courts across the state.

Speeches on abortion, but no bill

As abortion rights advocates rallied on Capitol Hill against potential anti-abortion legislation that failed to materialize on Wednesdayseveral Democratic lawmakers took the opportunity to criticize the GOP’s plan to pursue a 15-week abortion ban and ding Gov. Glenn Youngkin for his out-of-state political travels.

“They know if they try to push through a ban in Virginia today or any other day, it would be a big mistake,” Del said. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, in a floor speech. “And that’s why they didn’t try today.”

Scott also took issue with Youngkin’s decision to travel to Maine this week to campaign for the state’s former Republican Governor Paul LePage, who has a history of inflammatory racist remarks. Scott called LePage “a shameless racist and MAGA Republican”.

“To go to Maine to stand with someone like that today while we’re working here is shameful,” Scott said.

Asked about a response to such criticism, Porter called it “a baseless partisan attack on a governor who is gaining popularity for keeping his promises.”

“Virginia’s Democratic supporters have spent the better part of the last decade overtaxing Virginians, telling them what cars to drive and chasing parents out of their children’s classrooms,” Porter said. “The governor donates his salary and pays for his political trips.”

In her own speech on abortion, Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, held up a chart showing 40 weeks pregnant and said Democrats should explain where they think the threshold should be. Brewer, who noted that she herself was 31 weeks pregnant, accused Democrats of trying to “stir the pot” on the issue.

“Are you okay with 40 weeks?” said Brewer. “Are you okay with the timing of the birth? Does it suit you? »

Several delegates rose to praise former Democratic Del. Fairfax County’s Mark Keam, who announced his resignation this week and did not attend Wednesday’s session. Earlier in the day, Gilbert announced he had set a special election for Jan. 10 to fill the empty seat, ending any uncertainty over whether Republicans would try to keep the seat open for the 2023 session in order to deprive Democrats of a vote in the House.

“Every Virginian has the right to have their voice heard in Richmond,” Gilbert said in a statement.

by Graham Moomaw Virginia Mercury

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