RICHMOND, Virginia – Most of the action in the General Assembly is occurring in committees as legislators decide which bills will survive to be voted on by the full Senate and House of Delegates. House Republicans advanced some key bills on local gun control repeals, elections reform, and school misdemeanor reporting. Senate Democrats sent through some key bills, but much of their work has been in killing Republican-introduced legislation.
“What has not surprised me is there has been a conspicuous partisan divide with Democratic pushback against Governor Youngkin’s agenda, particularly in the area of tax reform and education reform, and masks,” State Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) told The Virginia Star.
“It’s been a professional exchange, but insistent,” Norment said.
Both chambers have already passed some lower-profile legislation, including Senate Bill 8 from State Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) which allows hunting on Sundays, and SB 472 from State Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) allowing all counties and cities to hold referenda to implement an additional sales tax to fund school construction. The House passed fewer bills, including Delegate Karen Greenhalgh’s (R-Virginia Beach) HB 55 to require the State Registrar of Vital Records to send weekly updates of decedents to the Department of Elections, and Delegate Carrie Coyner’s (R-Chesterfield) HB 228 eliminating authority for the Department of Juvenile Justice to send juvenile delinquents to juvenile boot camps.
The slow pace has gotten attention from the minority party in both chambers.
“I’m a little surprised, at least on the Senate side, that we’re moving quite as deliberately as we are,” Norment said. “I think that there’s a fair amount of legislation that is backed up that has not been addressed. There’s a variety of reasons for that. We do expect that the pace will be accelerating this next week. Some changes have been made. The chairman of our finance committee [State Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax)] has been out with COVID, so there’s some conspicuous reasons that we’ve gotten backed up.”
Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) commented on the slow pace in the newly-Republican-controlled House on January 19, a week after the session began.
Simon said on the floor of the House, “I understand that change can be difficult. I know that we’ve got a lot of new people in new roles chairing committees they have not been on before, in subcommittees they haven’t seen before. And I know that frankly, there’s been a lot to do on your side, a lot of celebrating, and there’s been a lot to celebrate and folks are fairly jubilant on your side of the aisle about the way things have gone, but Mr. Speaker, members of the House, we only have 60 days in session to accomplish the work that needs to get done here.”
“I’m expecting that the next two weeks will be a little more contentious as we get down to really challenging pieces of legislation where there is a continuing partisan divide,” Norment said
Norment added that now that legislators have been in session for about two weeks, patience is starting to wear down.
“There are those who feel like they’ve got to demonstrate their legislative brilliance and speak on everything so they can get covered with press like you guys,” Norment said.
Legislators are also evaluating Governor Glenn Youngkin’s cabinet nominees, who have been meeting privately with legislators and facing public interviews in committee. Most of the nominees seem set for confirmation by both Democrats and Republicans, but one or two may face resistance from Senate Democrats, especially Secretary-designee Andrew Wheeler, formerly Trump’s EPA Administrator.
With Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in control of the Senate, many bills that pass out of one chamber are likely to be killed when they pass into the other chamber.
“It’s not a waste of time. It’s the nature of the legislative process. That has not surprised me at all,” Norment said. “The Republicans in the House of Delegates are going to be supportive of their agenda and Governor Youngkin’s agenda. The Senate Democrats may envision themselves as being the ultimate stopper. The Democrats feel in the last two years they made very significant progress and have been very progressive. They don’t want to back up on that.”
“What really hasn’t come into play yet as you work through the legislative process as the Republican House passes bills, the Senate Democrats start killing them — he’s [Youngkin] got the veto power. He’s got the veto power,” Norment said. “And the Democrats do not have the numbers to override his veto.”
He said, “I think it’s going to be interesting to watch how firm this new governor wants to be.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Doug Francis CC BY 2.0.