On January 13th, the Virginia General Assembly will gavel into the 2021 session during an unprecedented time. As Virginia grapples with the impacts of COVID-19, legislators convened for a 65-day regular session and 84-day special session last year resembling traits of a full-time legislature. And as COVID-19 continues to snatch lives, the Virginia Senate was not immune. Senator Ben Chafin (R-Lebanon) recently succumbed to his battle with the virus.

In odd-numbered years, the General Assembly convenes for a “short session” which is 30 days as prescribed by the Constitution. Since the Constitution was amended in 1971, both political parties have voted to extend “short sessions” to 46 days. This year, Republicans announced that they will not vote for the extension which requires two-thirds approval from both chambers. In response, the Governor has stated he will call a special session at the conclusion of the 30-day regular session to finish any necessary business.

What we know is that the House of Delegates will continue to meet virtually for all its meetings and the Senate will meet in person at the Science Museum of Virginia. This adds a sharp complexity to advocacy as impromptu meetings with legislators in the hallway and office visits to discuss issues are now eliminated.  As a replacement, elbowing for Zoom meeting slots, texting, and emailing legislators will be the unfortunate norm this year as modes of communication. In conclusion, it will be paramount to make each “touch” with a legislator count and being judicious on how often we hit the “send” button on any email or text message.

Please note the following key dates of session:

  • January 13 – General Assembly session convenes
  • January 22 – Bill cut-off
  • February 9 – Bill crossover
  • February 27 – Sine die
  • April 7 – Reconvene session

AIA Virginia’s Legislative Priorities

This year, legislators will have tighter limits on the number of bills that can be submitted. Members of the House will be limited to seven bills while members of the Senate may submit 12 bills. This, combined with lawmakers meeting virtually and offsite, have led to a change in advocacy strategy this year. Due to these challenges, AIA Virginia will not file any bills this year. However, please be on the lookout for weekly General Assembly updates on the bills we are actively engaging and monitoring once session commences.

Instead, we will use this year to relentlessly focus on connecting legislators with their architect constituents – thus positioning you and our profession as a valuable resource to them. The result is that our elected officials will have a face to go with the terms “architect” and “architecture”. The AIA Virginia Advocacy Advisory Council is working on a virtual program to deploy in 2021 that will accomplish this goal. Stay tuned!

We tested this concept successfully on January 6 with Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Richmond). In conjunction with the American Council of Engineering Companies of Virginia, AIA Virginia held a one-hour industry roundtable discussion that covered the environment, infrastructure, schools, affordable housing, and energy. The result is that Sen. Hashmi recognizes AIA as a valuable asset on any of these topics.

Special thanks to the following roundtable participants who either live or work in Sen. Hashmi’s district:

Lori Garrett, FAIA: Senior Principal at Glave & Holmes Architects
Stephen Halsey, AIA: Principal at Moseley Architects
Burt Pinnock, FAIA: Chairman of the Board at Baskervill
Jacob Sherry, AIA: Architect at 510 Architects

These individuals were joined by Advocacy Vice President, Kathy Galvin, AIA.

Also, please support our advocacy efforts by investing in our PAC at Virginia American Institute of Architects PAC.  We can’t do the great work we are doing without your support.