Virginia General Assembly session kicks off

Virginia General Assembly
Posted at 10:17 AM, Jan 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 20:18:42-05

RICHMOND, Va. - The 2022 General Assembly session kicked off Wednesday at the Virginia State Capitol.

Lawmakers have spent much of the last two years working outside of the Capitol, but will be returning in-person this year.

Republicans flipped seven House of Delegates seats in 2021 to reclaim the majority by four seats. Democrats still have a slim 21-19 majority in the Senate.

House Speaker Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) was sworn-in shortly after noon. In a press conference prior to the session beginning, Gilbert acknowledged he'd have to work with the Democrats in the Senate.

"We think that we're going to be able to touch on every day kitchen table issues that don't take on a tone and get some things done," he said.

A showdown could be coming over education, which was a big topic during last fall's elections. Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin thinks parents should have more options for their children's schooling and wants there to be more charter schools.

Republicans plan to push the issue, but Democrats say their plan could take money away from current public schools.

"Past history has shown that the thing that charter schools are most adept in is draining public school money and the results on the testing just don't justify the draining of those funds," said Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

Republicans counter that Virginia's charter school laws already them considered to be public schools. "There will not be any funds utilized that go to a charter school that is not educating a public school child," said Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach).

Environmental issues could also lead to spirited debate. When Democrats had control, they passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, sweeping legislation meant to address the impacts of climate change. Republicans say it went too far.

"We are going to be trying to make some changes," said Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott), adding he didn't think Republicans would seek to completely rollback the law.

Democrats plan to stick up for it. "On this issue, just like all of the issues you have heard, we made generational progress in the last two years. Part of our agenda will be to protect that progress going forward," said Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond).

Another big issue will be marijuana legalization. Democrats voted last year to legalize possession of up to an ounce of it, but left it up to future legislative action to work out how sales will work, currently slated to begin in 2024.

Republicans say they've been left behind a mess that's led to a big black market popping up. "We've been handed a bill that doesn't work. We've got to figure out in a 60-day session how to regulate, how to work through the market," said Kilgore.

On Wednesday night, outgoing Gov. Northam delivered the State of the Commonwealth address. His successor, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, will take office on Saturday.