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(The Center Square) – Legislation to amend Virginia’s budget with new federal COVID-19 relief funds advanced through the committee process in both chambers of the General Assembly and is headed to the chamber floors.

The House of Delegates and the Senate both considered Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget proposal within their respective chamber and did not consider any amendments. The legislation was advanced to the floors and amendments will be considered during floor discussion.

House Appropriations Chair Luke Torian, D-Dumfries, said the decision to forgo committee amendments was to speed up the legislative process and get relief funding to those who need it. Although Republicans protested the decision and accused Torian of trying to bypass debate, the chair said every member will have the opportunity to voice his or her objections.

“It’s not my intention to stifle any person’s voice,” Torian said during the House Appropriations Committee meeting Monday afternoon.

The bills, House Bill 7001 and Senate Bill 7001, would appropriate about $4.3 billion worth of relief funding provided by the federal government through the American Rescue Plan. About $800 million would remain unallocated in case unexpected issues need funding in the near future and the rest would be allocated to various projects.

One of the most expensive proposals include $700 million to speed up the commonwealth’s broadband expansion plan by four years. The proposal intends to ensure every Virginia home and business has access to high-speed broadband internet by 2024.

Businesses would also receive funding. The budget revisions would include $353 million to help small businesses that were the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It would include $250 million for the Rebuild VA economic recovery fund, $50 million earmarked for the travel and hospitality industries and $53 million earmarked for the Industrial Revitalization Fund and the Virginia Main Street program.

As public schools return to in-person education five days per week this school year, the governor’s proposal would also include $250 million to improve HVAC systems in the schools, which would be matched by local governments. This is designed to improve air quality and prevent the spread of airborne viruses, such as COVID-19 and the delta variant.

Republican lawmakers intend to propose amendments to the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope to complete the special session within the week. Democrats have a slim majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Monday was the first time the House and the Senate met in their chambers in about 500 days. The Senate had been meeting in the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond because it had more space and could facilitate social distancing requirements. The House had been meeting virtually.

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