Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates offered their own proposal Tuesday for how to spend billions in federal rescue funds, floating a plan they said would ban door-to-door vaccination campaigns, give $5,000 bonuses to every police officer in the state and limit how students are taught about race and discrimination.
After a two-minute floor speech by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, the measure was promptly voted down by the Democratic majority.
“I would have hoped that in this process we would have at least been afforded the opportunity to explain our bill,” Gilbert said before his time expired.
The General Assembly gaveled into a special legislative session Monday to direct spending of American Rescue Plan Act funding.
Democratic leaders had announced in advance that they had already agreed on an array of spending priorities and would not entertain proposed amendments. Their spending plan devotes $700 million to achieve universal broadband coverage, $250 million to improve school HVAC systems and nearly $1 billion to bail out the state’s unemployment trust fund, among other priorities.
The GOP proposal left some of those ideas intact, including funding for the broadband plan, which a caucus spokesman credited as a good idea.
In other areas, they pursued tweaks. Instead of limiting school improvement funding to HVAC, the GOP proposed making it available for any renovation project — something Democratic leaders have said is restricted by federal rules.
The GOP also proposed devoting more money to public safety, including by expanding Democrats’ plans to give $5,000 bonuses to all Virginia State Police troopers to include all law enforcement officers in the state. They also proposed dramatically increasing the $2.5 million Democrats plan to devote to gun violence prevention programs.
The plan also included language touching on hot-button conservative issues that have dominated right-leaning news outlets.
Garren Shipley, a caucus spokesman, said the legislation would have barred door-to-door vaccination campaigns, limiting $20 million in outreach funding to other marketing and outreach efforts. However the actual text of the GOP proposal does not include the restriction, an oversight Shipley attributed to the rushed approach Democrats have taken to the legislative session.
And it would have adopted language recently passed by Idaho’s legislature that takes aim at critical race theory without specifically blocking it from being taught.
According to the Associated Press, Idaho’s legislation “prohibits forcing belief systems onto students that claim a group of people as defined by sex, race, ethnicity or religion are inferior or superior to others.”
Democrats have dismissed complaints they shut the GOP out of the legislative process by refusing to consider their proposals.
In a speech on the House floor Monday, Appropriations Chairman Luke Torian, D-Prince William, said he “never shut the door” on his colleagues. If Republicans wanted to be more involved, he said, they should’ve taken it upon themselves to engage ahead of time.
“The letdown is not from the majority party,” Torian said. “The letdown is from their own leadership.”
On Tuesday, Gilbert said GOP lawmakers “didn’t want to have to knock on the door to the smoke-filled room. … We wanted to participate in this process.”