Sen. Louise Lucas uses new chair position to block sports arena bill; Youngkin remains optimistic for project

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RICHMOND — During the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee’s Monday meeting, Portsmouth Democrat Louise Lucas stonewalled a bill that would get Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plans for a professional sports complex in Northern Virginia off the ground.

“The governor’s proposed bill has many unanswered questions and potential conflicts of interest,” said Lucas, who chairs the committee. “The governor refuses to negotiate and simply believes this co-equal branch of government should rubber stamp the Glenn dome.”

The governor reached a tentative deal in December with the parent company of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals to move those teams from Washington, D.C., to Virginia. The plan, which needs funding to develop an arena and convention center in Alexandria, requires the legislature’s approval.

Crossover day is Tuesday, meaning bills that haven’t passed in their respective chambers by that date won’t progress to the other body.

However, this doesn’t mean the stadium project is dead. A similar bill in the House has made it through committees and passed its first floor vote. Funding for the project could also potentially be worked out during state budget negotiations.

In a Monday statement, Youngkin spokesperson Rob Damschen said the governor remained optimistic. He asserted that the stadium project would create 30,000 jobs and generate billions for the state, including money that could be used to fund expanded toll relief in Portsmouth — a priority for Lucas.

“The Governor is confident at the end of the day that the General Assembly will come together because this project is good for the entire Commonwealth,” he wrote.

While Democrats hold the majority in House and Senate, it’s not by a veto-proof margin — meaning they will need the governor’s buy in and signature for legislation to become law. But Lucas has already signaled that if the governor isn’t willing to compromise with Democrats, that their “cooperative tone” could quickly change.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell told the Associated Press on Monday that his caucus has concerns about whether the governor is truly willing to consider Democrats’ priorities, including legislation to establish recreational cannabis sales and further increase the minimum wage, in negotiations over the arena legislation.

Senate Republicans took issue with Lucas’ refusal to hold a vote on the arena bill, calling it a “pocket veto.”

Bills that aren’t on a committee docket can’t be put to a vote.

“Previous chairs have used the same prerogative and no one made a fuss about it,” Lucas said. “I admire the customs of the Senate but it is simply not a rule.”

Senate Minority Leader Ryan McDougle argued the bill should still be put to a vote.

“The issues you just articulated about the bill are ones that we should all talk about, they’re ones that we should debate in public and ones that we should all cast votes on,” he said.

Youngkin drew ire from Lucas this weekend after he slammed Democrats during a speech at Washington and Lee University.

“Today’s progressive Democratic party does not believe in, nor do they want, a strong America, an America with no rivals,” Youngkin said. “They are content to concede, to compromise away, to abandon the very foundations that have made America exceptional.”

Lucas quickly took to social media to fire back.

“This is the speech he gives while wanting us to compromise with him and give him the Glenn Dome?!” she wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

The bill in question would establish the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Authority as a political subdivision tasked with financing the construction of a sports and entertainment campus.

The authority would consist of nine members — six appointed by the governor and three appointed by the city of Alexandria — and would be permitted to hire independent contractors, enter contracts, acquire property and borrow money.

On Monday, Del. Barry Knight — a Virginia Beach Republican and seasoned member of the House Appropriations Committee — appeared unfazed by the drama.

“Everything is still up for negotiation,” he said.

Katie King, katie.king@virginiamedia.com