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2021 General Assembly Live: Ongoing Coverage

Building exterior
The Virginia State Capitol building. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

This year, Virginia's legislature is operating under unprecedented strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before lawmakers met, they told Ben Paviour they'll be focused on responding to the ongoing health crisis and helping Virginians manage the economic fallout in his General Assembly preview.
In addition to our regular reporting, we'll provide brief daily updates on this blog and an evening post wrapping up the day's events.

Jan. 21, 2021

Brandon Shillingford - 1:51 PM
Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) introduced a bill that would allow the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue identification cards to undocumented immigrants in the state.

A similar bill passed last year and went into effect this month that extends a right to driving privilege cards to undocumented individuals in Virginia. Guzman's house bill 2138, which made it out of the transportation committee with a vote of 13 - 6 today, would allow those individuals -- who don’t necessarily have an interest in driving or owning a car -- to get this form of state identification.

Jan. 20, 2021

Connor Scribner - 6:02 PM
It was a decidedly slower day for the General Assembly, with a few bills on interest making their way through subcommittees. 

One bill of interest for the Richmond area was HB 2152 from Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham). The bill placed strict limits on non-profit bail funds, barring them from posting bails over $2,000 or for people facing felony charges. It also would have given the Department of Criminal Justice Services the ability to license and revoke the licenses of community bail funds. Del. Adams said the seeking of donations from outside the localities where individuals are jailed necessitated the change. Across the state, community bail funds, including the Richmond Community Bail Fund, campaigned heavily against the legislation, saying it was an attempt to squash their efforts. The bill died today in the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee by a party-line 5-3 vote.

In other criminal justice news, the House of Delegates passed a bill today which would require law enforcement officers to render aid to any person the witness suffering serious bodily injury or a life-threatening condition. The bill also seeks to obligate law enforcement officers to report wrongdoing by other officers. This comes on the heels of a summer of protest for racial justice and against police abuses, and advocates say the bill will help hold police officers accountable. Chief Maggie DeBoard with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, says the bill is unnecessary and that officers are already compelled to testify in internal investigations. The bill passed 57-42 and will now head to the Senate. Read the full story here.

That’ll wrap up our coverage for Jan. 20, come back tomorrow to stay up-to-date on all the happenings in the General Assembly and keep an eye on vpm.org/general-assembly for our full coverage of Virginia’s legislature.

Roberto Roldan - 3:14 PM
A bill from Del. Les Adams (R-Chatham) that would have placed strict limits on non-profit community bail funds met a quick death in a House subcommittee on Wednesday. HB2152 would have banned community bail funds from posting bail for someone facing a felony charge and posting bail or bonds over $2,000. It would also prevent them from posting bond or bail outside of the locality where the non-profit is located.

Del. Adams said he sponsored the bill in response to concerns from the for-profit bail industry, which is regulated by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Rick Nagel, a lobbyist for the American Bail Coalition, said community bail funds do not have to operate under the same regulations.

“[Bail bondsmen] are required to account for funds, they’re audited in all their transactions and subjected to additional audits, if needed,” Nagel said. “Non-profit bail funds face no scrutiny, no audits, no background checks or professional requirements.”

Mary Bauer, a board member for the Charlottesville Immigrant Freedom Fund, which posts bail for people awaiting an immigration hearing, said the bill would regulate these community bail funds out of existence. “This requirement that a bond fund can only pay bond for the city in which the fund is based would result in CIFF being unable to continue our work,” Bauer said. “Immigrant detention centers are generally located in isolated rural areas far from where people live.”

The Legal Aid Justice Center, RVA Community Bail Fund, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and other progressive advocacy groups also opposed the bill. HB2152 was voted down along party lines.

Brandon Shillingford - 2:06 PM
A bill from Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) to codify Gov. Ralph Northam's G3 initiative into law was advanced by a House subcommittee this morning in a unanimous 8-0 vote. The bill is the product of a multi-year long process that began with the governor's “Get skilled, Get a job, Give back” initiative. The program aims to provide tuition-free community college for those seeking jobs in fields facing worker shortages. Students whose families making more than 4 times the federal poverty limit cannot receive tuition assistance from the program.

Previously, the program was funded by the governor's annual budget, but the bill would have it become a permanent fixture. The bill enjoys the support of a wide-range of companies, including Dominion Energy, Amazon and the Newport News Shipyard. Committee chair Mark Keam pointed to that broad support when introducing the bill. “It's rare to have so many different organizations and individuals come together on one bill,” he said. “It shows that this is something that is really needed in the commonwealth.”

Sara McCloskey and Joi Bass - 1:40 PM
A bill that restricts who you can call a school nurse is being evaluated by delegates. A majority of the House Education Committee voted to pass HB1736, sponsored by Del. Dawn Adams of Richmond, with minor adjustments.

Del. Schuler VanValkenburg, a teacher, explained the “bill just says you can’t call someone a school nurse if they aren’t a Registered Nurse.” Some lawmakers said it increases transparency for parents, so they’ll know the certifications of the person taking care of their child. Others were concerned this could be confusing for kids, who might not know the difference between a “school nurse” and a “health aide,” which is what some school districts call healthcare professionals.  

The bill still needs to be considered by a few more committees before making it to a full vote.

Ben Paviour - 11:06 AM
A panel in Virginia’s House of Delegates killed a proposal from Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) on Wednesday that would have made Virginia’s Board of Elections a bipartisan body of six members, half Democrat, half Republican. Under current rules, the governor’s party has the majority on the commission, which oversees Virginia’s election administration.

Cox, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, pointed out that the bipartisan system is found in other states and on the Federal Elections Commission. Wisconsin, New York, and Illinois all name a non-political appointee to head the election system. A 2018 report from the legislature’s research wing, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, said the Department of Elections “continues to be susceptible to political influence” because of a high number of political appointees.

Virginia’s Board is already growing from three to five people starting Feb. 1 under legislation passed last year. Several speakers from progressive advocacy groups said it was too soon to make further adjustments. Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) also argued the bipartisan system could deadlock the Board. Sickles said the FEC’s bipartisan makeup was no model, describing it as “the most dysfunctional government agency that's ever been invented.

“I would respectfully say to the proponent of this legislation that if he is successful in his pursuits this year, he will rue the day he supported this bill,” Sickles said. The bill was defeated in a 12-9 party-line vote.

Jan 19, 2021

Connor Scribner - 6:45 PM
A busy day at the remote Capitol Square today as the first bills of 2021 passed full chambers of the General Assembly. 

In the House, a bill set to bar restaurants and food trucks from packaging food in single-use polystyrene containers, better known by the brand name “Styrofoam,” passed 58-40. Every Democrat voted in favor of the measure, joined by three Republicans.

If passed, the bill will ban the containers in chain restaurants with 20 or more locations by July 2023 and in all food vendors two years later. The same bill was passed by the legislature last year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, but with a provision forcing this year’s Assembly to pass it again.

A house subcommittee also made moves to regulate the state’s burgeoning gambling industry. A bill was advanced to require casino operators to complete state-approved training on recognizing human trafficking. The legislature will also consider raising the limit on charitable gaming prizes this year. 

Over in the Senate, Chesterfield Sen. Amanda Chase has found herself in hot water following her attendance of the protest turned riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. It’s not the first time Chase has found herself embroiled in controversy. In 2019, Chase left the GOP Senate caucus, which later led to her being stripped of three of her committee assignments, leaving her with only one, until today. 

Her colleagues voted today to take even her last committee assignment away, with Republican Sen. Mark Peake of Lynchburg criticizing her for making decisions “in pursuit of her personal goals.” The vote was nearly unanimous with only Chase dissenting.

But Chase’s bad day was not over as a resolution to censure her stood before the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. Chase failed to show for that meeting, but that did not deter the committee from advancing the resolution, placing her censure before the full Senate. 

The Committee also stymied efforts by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) to reform the state’s campaign finance laws. Petersen hoped to limit an individual's political contributions to $20,000 per candidate per election cycle and bar public utility companies from donating to candidates, campaign committees or PACs. The bills were defeated 6-9 and 5-10, respectively. Petersen also introduced the bills last year, with the bills falling with the exact same margins.

That’s all for Jan. 19, continue to follow our coverage here, live or look for full versions of our stories on vpm.org/general-assembly.

Connor Scribner - 5:55 PM
The Virginia House voted today to bar restaurants and food trucks from packaging food in single-use polystyrene, better known by the brand name “Styrofoam.” The final vote was 58-40. Every Democrat voted in favor of the ban, joined by three Republicans.

If the bill becomes law, it would force restaurants with 20 or more locations to abandon the containers by July 2023, with all food vendors forced to comply by July 2025.

Governor Ralph Northam signed the same bill last year, but with a provision that the ban had to be OK’d by this year’s General Assembly as well. The bill will now make its way to the Senate for consideration.

Craig Carper - 3:45 PM
Virginia lawmakers continue to make changes to state law to support the state’s growing gambling industry. 

A House subcommittee today approved legislation that would require casino operators to complete a state approved training course in how to recognize and report suspected human trafficking. That bill now goes to the full committee.

The legislature will also consider a bill this year to raise the limit’s on charitable gaming prizes. Last year Gov. Northam signed legislation that would allow sports betting in the commonwealth and casino gambling in 5 cities, pending the approval of local referendums. 4 cities have already approved them: Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth. Richmond will consider a casino ballot referendum this November. Legal sports betting in Virginia will officially begin in just a few weeks.

Patrick Larsen - 3:24 PM
Almost a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Americans with the lowest hourly income are still more likely to be out of work than those making more, according to U.S. Census Bureau data presented to state senators today. Women and people of color, who are more likely to work in the hardest-hit industries and earn $20/hour or less, were disproportionately impacted. White males, who are more likely to earn $40/hour or more, did not experience significant job losses.

The disparity means that Virginians with the least economic power are more likely to still be out of work.

Joi Bass - 3:15 PM
This morning, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light hosted a press conference in support of HJ 538, a measure to recognize the importance of equal access to clean and safe drinking water as a basic human right, sponsored by Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg). 
Aird says access to clean and affordable water is a necessary human right: “At the heart of this pandemic, an issue that plagued households well before the pandemic was exacerbated. And that was a family’s lack of access to water."

Brandon Shillingford - 3:03 PM
CORRECTION: A prior update misstated a vote; it was to assign committees, not censure Sen. Chase.
The VA Senate voted 37-1 to not give Chase any committee assignments, following her departure from the Republican Caucus. The vote was 37-1; Chase was the sole senator opposing the action with Sen. Joe Morrissey not voting.

Connor Scribner - 2:59 PM
For the second consecutive year, Sen. Chap Petersen’s attempt to ban public utilities from making political contributions has failed to clear the Senate Elections Committee, failing to report by a vote of 5-10. All 14 returning committee members sustained their votes from last year on a similar measure, with Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), who replaced the late Sen. Ben Chafin, joining the no votes. Public utility companies are some of the largest donors in Virginia politics. According to VPAP, Dominion Energy and Comcast are the fourth and eleventh largest donors in the current cycle, respectively.

The committee further reiterated its rejection of Petersen’s attempts at campaign finance reform, voting down another measure that would limit individual political contributions to $20,000 per candidate per election cycle by a vote of 6-9. Petersen attempted to pass this legislation last year, as well, and all returning senators sustained their votes.

Jan. 18, 2021
Connor Scribner - 5:37 PM

A bit more action today in the Senate, as Virginia’s General Assembly session gets into full swing.

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill from Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) that seeks to abolish the death penalty in the state. Every Democrat on the committee voted in favor of advancement, as well as Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) who is a co-sponsor. The bill must now clear the Senate Finance Committee before making its way to the Senate floor.

When Virginia’s laws were adapted to comply with the Affordable Care Act in 2013, those changes came with the requirement that insurance policies sold on the state-run exchange could not cover abortions. In a sign of how rapidly Virginia politics have changed over the past 10 years, the Senate Commerce Committee voted today to move a bill that would strip that requirement to the Senate floor.

The bill, from Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), would not require insurance companies to cover abortion services, but would allow them to do so. A similar bill from Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) was left in subcommittee last year, but has been introduced again for this year.

The Commerce Committee also took up paid family and medical leave today, ending with a lukewarm take on the issue. They chose to advance legislation from Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) that would set up a study into the creation of paid family and medical leave insurance in the state. In light of the potential study, the committee also decided to kill legislation from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) that would have set a state-run program up immediately. 

After vigorous debate, the committee decided to wait for the results of the study before moving any further. If passed, study results will be available at the end of November, before next year’s legislative session.

That’s it for day 4 of our General Assembly coverage, we’ll be back tomorrow, bright and early, to keep you updated on all the action from the remote Capitol Square. Check vpm.org/general-assembly for our full coverage.

Connor Scribner - 4:05 PM
Paid family and medical leave won’t be coming to the commonwealth, at least not yet. A Senate committee first advanced legislation from Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) calling for a study into bringing a paid family leave program to the state, before killing a bill from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) that would have brought a program immediately.

Senators on the committee argued that implementing paid family leave before seeing the results of the study would be impetuous. If Favola’s bill makes its way to become law, the findings of the study would be released in November, prior to next year’s legislative session. Experts say the United States’ lack of paid family leave has harmed women during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the federal government did institute some additional paid leave requirements during the pandemic, they expired at the end of last year.

Connor Scribner - 3:06 PM
When the General Assembly adapted Virginia’s laws to comply with the Affordable Care Act in 2013, then Gov. Bob McDonnell had one recommendation: plans on state-run insurance exchanges should be barred from covering abortions. 
That recommendation was adopted by the then Republican-controlled legislature, but today, a Senate committee moved forward a bill that would strip that requirement. 
Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) is sponsoring the bill. She says abortion is the only legal medical procedure banned from the state’s exchange. Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Campbell) criticized the bill, saying it would lead to public funded abortions, something McClellan says is not true.

Sara McCloskey - 12:40 PM
While MLK Day is traditionally a day for Virginians to lobby their lawmakers, this year there is heightened security throughout parts of Richmond given threats of violence ahead of the presidential inauguration by extremist groups. 

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a major proponent of 2nd Amendment rights, is coordinating car caravans to go by the state Capitol and the Science Museum of Virginia, where the state Senate is meeting during the legislative session. So far, VPM reporter Roberto Roldan says there have been a few dozen vehicles going by - with more expected throughout the afternoon. Last year, more than 20,000 heavily armed gun rights supporters gathered in Downtown Richmond. That event ended without violence.

A virtual vigil is also happening this afternoon coordinated by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Gov. Ralph Northam is providing remarks at 1 p.m. The event requires those interested to register in advance.

Connor Scribner - 12:03 PM
Virginia Democrats have moved one step closer to abolishing the state’s death penalty.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-4 to advance Sen. Scott Surovell’s SB 1165. Every Democrat on the committee voted in favor of reporting the bill, joined by Surovell’s co-patron, Republican Sen. Bill Stanley.

The bill is likely to pass through both Democratically-controlled chambers of Virginia’s legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, who included death penalty abolition as a key priority during his State of the Commonwealth address.

For its next stop, the bill will have to clear the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, set to meet tomorrow at 9 a.m.

Sara McCloskey - 9:18 AM
Today, Virginians can take part in a virtual “Day on the Hill” event with state lawmakers to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Brown Virginia is hosting the “Dr. King Day of Action" to assist community members advocating for key policy priorities that impact people of color in Virginia. The virtual event will have speakers, including Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Janice Underwood. Northam is expected to speak at the event at 11 a.m. Register at  BrownVA.org.

Jan. 15, 2021

Craig Carper - 5:40 PM
A bill that would reduce the penalty for wearing a mask in public has been killed by a House subcommittee.

The bill from Democratic Delegate Lee Carter of Manassas would have reduced that penalty to a misdemeanor.

Carter says the law was originally added to the code to combat the Ku Klux Klan but that the law has strayed from its' actual purpose. “It has recently been used to harass and intimidate and arrest people protesting against hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan,” Carter said.

Exceptions for the mask ban currently exist for religious masks, traditional holiday masks and medical masks among other things.

Carter’s legislation would also make mask wearing a secondary offense, punishable only if the perpetrator was committing an act of intimidation, harassment against anyone of a protected class, or another crime.

Last Martin Luther King Day 22,000 gun-rights advocates protested in downtown Richmond. While most did not wear masks, a notable number did. Carter said law enforcement selectively chose not to arrest any gun-rights demonstrators but did arrest one counter-protestor who was wearing a mask.

Opponents of the legislation said it needed further scrutiny and raised concerns about unwittingly undoing the existing religious exemptions for mask wearing and limiting the free speech rights of people from non-protected classes.  The House Courts of Justice Criminal Law Subcommittee killed the bill on a vote of 6-2.

Connor Scribner - 5:21 PM
Another slow day at the remote Capitol Square, but a couple of Democrats hoping to make their home in Capitol Square next year made the news today.

This morning, Richmond Sen. Jennifer McClellan announced her plan for addressing childcare and early childhood education in the state. McClellan said the inadequacies of Virginia’s childcare system have been laid bare during the pandemic, but that her plan is not just about getting back to the way things were.

“We need to rebuild our childcare system and early childhood education system in a way that doesn't just take us back to where we were on March 12, but begins to address the lack of access to high quality, affordable, early childhood education and childcare,” she said during a virtual press conference. 

McClellan’s plan calls for $4 billion in relief to Virginia’s schools, daycares and families suffering financially during the pandemic. The proposal would expand access to affordable healthcare for more than half a million Virginia children and provide free child health care to families making up to double the federal poverty limit.

One of McClellan’s gubernatorial rivals, Del. Lee Carter of Manassas, had a bill tabled in subcommittee today. Carter’s bill aims to lessen the severity of a Virginia law which bans the wearing of masks in public or private property without permission. Currently, breaking the law is a felony offense, while Carter’s bill would lessen that to a misdemeanor. 

The proposal was tabled by the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee by a vote of 6 to 2. Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax) expressed interest in revisiting the bill, but motioned to table over concerns the language did not provide exceptions for religious headwear.

The subcommittee also voted 6 to 1 to advance a bill abolishing the common-law crime of suicide. While the law carries no penalty, Steve Mittendorff, whose wife Nicole died by suicide in 2016, said abolishing the crime is best for those who’ve lost their loved ones.

“It would be legislation that can and will help to alleviate the burden that is left for so many of us survivors to bear with,” he said. 

Subcommittee chair Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) held back tears following Mittendorf’s testimony, saying, “The issues that have struck your family have struck mine as well… So while I can’t understand your pain, I can certainly empathize.”

The General Assembly will reconvene Monday with committee meetings starting at 7 a.m. Expect more action in the coming weeks as bills start to make their way through committee and floor debate begins in earnest. 


Jan. 14, 2021

Connor Scribner - 7:25 PM
In what is likely to be the norm for early days in the session, today was a slow day for the Virginia General Assembly. With most bills just beginning to make their way through committees, not much floor debate took place, with the House meeting for only 17 minutes before adjourning for the day. 

Over in the Senate, Democrats set their crosshairs on Sen. Amanda Chase. The Midlothian Republican has caught the ire of her fellow lawmakers following her attendance of last week’s rally in Washington, which later devolved into a riot. While she left the scene prior to the mob breaching the Capitol, she has stood by rioters, calling them “patriots.” 

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw delivered as scathing review of Chase’s comments, saying, “having an American flag draped over your shoulder doesn't mean you're a patriot, especially when underneath it is a Nazi insignia or a Camp Auschwitz shirt." A bill to censure, or formally disapprove of, Chase has been filed and sent to committee. 

Whittney Evans is following a suite of criminal justice reform bills Democrats are backing. The party, which holds slim majorities in both chambers, hopes to abolish the death penalty, restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies and legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Read the story

Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that the state will be upping security ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. Capitol Square, which houses both the state Capitol and the Executive Mansion, has been closed to the public, roads have been closed across downtown Richmond and additional security will be implemented outside the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Senate is meeting. Read the story

Despite meeting virtually over COVID-19 concerns, the House will continue to take home its per diem payments, traditionally given to pay for food and housing as members come to Richmond for session. Senators have been given the option to join the session virtually, but they will not be eligible for per diem payments unless they are in Richmond. Read the story

That’s all for day 2 of the 2021 General Assembly session. VPM’s team of reporters will continue to follow all the action and keep you updated live, right here. Make sure to check vpm.org/general-assembly for all of our GA coverage.

Roberto Roldan - 2:42 PM
A bill from Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg to permit beer and wine to-go sales through 2021 was approved unanimously by a committee, the first of many steps in being adopted as law. The bill also makes it easier to deliver beer and wine. Roberto Roldan will continue to follow this legislation as it's debated.

Sara McCloskey - 1:35 PM
On the Senate floor, Democrats criticized Republican Sen. Amanda Chase, who has repeatedly, and falsely, claimed election fraud in the 2020 presidential race. Chase is facing a possible censure, a formal resolution showing disapproval, from colleagues. She is one of more than a dozen state lawmakers from across the country who were in the nation's capital last Wednesday and continues to defend the rioters. State lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, said, "having an American flag draped over your shoulder doesn't mean you're a patriot, especially when underneath it is a Nazi insignia or a Camp Auschwitz shirt."

Sara McCloskey - 11:35 AM
Gov. Ralph Northam will give a security update this afternoon with the City of Richmond related to potential violence at all 50 state capitals and Washington, D.C. This comes after an FBI warning about planned gatherings leading up to President-Elect Joe Biden's inauguration. The press conference will start at 2 p.m. today. VPM will stream it live on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.


Jan. 13, 2021

Connor Scribner - 8:10 PM
Virginia’s General Assembly was gavelled in for the first day of the 2021 session with somberness as both chambers took a moment to reflect on the life of Sen. Ben Chafin, who died late December at the hands of COVID-19.

Sen. Todd Pillion, a close friend of Chafin, choked up as he remembered him. “If God needed an attorney, a banker, a farmer, or just a really great friend, he’s certainly got one now,” he said.

But the spirit of bipartisan cooperation was not to last. Republicans blocked an effort to extend the session to 46 days, giving lawmakers only 30 days to “conduct the people’s business.” That’s likely to change, however, as Gov. Ralph Northam is widely expected to call for a special session immediately following the current session’s close.

Rounding out the day, Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn stripped three Republicans of their committee assignments. The move comes after the delegates asked Vice President Mike Pence to reject the certification of Virginia’s election. One of the delegates, Del. Dave LaRock, attended last Wednesday’s rally in D.C. which later broke into a riot, leading to the second impeachment of President Donald Trump this afternoon.

In the fallout of that riot, the state Department of General Service is upping security around Virginia’s Capitol. Capitol Square will close tomorrow and remain closed until at least Jan. 21. Additional security, including fencing, will be installed around Capitol Square as well. Official updates will be posted on Facebook and Twitter

While the traditional “Lobby Day'' protest outside Virginia’s Capitol will mostly be conducted by car this year, protesters were out in full-force today at the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Senate is meeting. Roberto Roldan spoke to advocates fighting for the restoration of voting rights for Virginians convicted of felonies and some pushing the state to expand access to affordable health care. Read the story

The day wrapped up with Northam’s State of the Commonwealth address where he reflected on a trying year and proposed a litany of policies to help the state recover from the effects of COVID-19. Included in his proposals were an expansion to affordable housing, new investments in education and criminal justice reforms, including marijuana legalization. 

In their response, Republicans hit back at Northam for the slow vaccine rollout, closed schools and his support of criminal justice measures, saying their party will continue to firmly “Back the Blue.” Read the story

That wraps up day 1 of the General Assembly’s 2021 session. Check back here tomorrow for more live updates throughout the day and follow vpm.org/general-assembly for all of our coverage.

Lyndon German - 4:53 PM
The House of Delegates unanimously approved a Senate amended proposal for a 30-day General Assembly session. Legislators who fought for additional time will likely seek a special session that will have legislative work continue past 30 days.

Ben Paviour - 4:50 PM
Democratic Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn rounded out the first day by stripping three Republican lawmakers of committee assignments. Del. Dave LaRock, Del. Mark Cole and Del. Ronnie Campbell all signed a letter earlier this month asking Vice President Mike Pence to invalidate the results of the 2020 presidential election. In a statement, Filler-Corn's spokesman, Kunal Atit, said the men had shown "exceedingly bad judement" in signing the letter a day before insurrectionists attacked the U.S. Capitol. "Their attempt to cast doubt on our elections process in order to impede the peaceful transfer of power between one President to another is an affront to our democracy and violates the public trust," Atit said.

Ben Paviour - 4:10 PM
Senate Democrats needed a two thirds majority to extend the session to 46 days. Instead, the vote was 22-17, meaning the General Assembly will officially meet for 30 days. Gov. Ralph Northam is all but certain to call a special session once that's over.

Man talking
Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News

Roberto Roldan - 3:46 PM
The first day of session in Richmond has also brought the first day of protesters hoping to influence policymakers. Outside the Science Museum of Virginia, where the Senate is meeting in-person, New Virginia Majority and other progressive groups were rallying in support of automatic voter rights restoration, eviction protections and access to affordable healthcare for undocumented immigrants. Richard Walker, an activist who was previously incarcerated says, “The Commonwealth of Virginia, who are they to decide that you can take my constitutional right from me? I think it’s been unfair since I’ve heard of it. Since I came home from prison I’ve been fighting it.”
Full Story

Ben Paviour - 3:40 PM
Virginia's Senate is now debating an arcane piece of procedure: should they extend this year's session to 46 days? Normally this is a routine, bipartisan "aye" vote, but Republicans this year are trying to limit it to 30 days. Democrats say this is a useless stunt; if Republicans follow through, they'll just tack a special session to the end, creating scheduling uncertainty. At least one Republican, Sen. Richard Stuart, spoke up in favor of the 46 day schedule on the grounds that it is more predictable. "I need to get back to work and support my family," he said.

Sara McCloskey - 1:59 PM
Additional security measures are being installed around Capitol Square and state buildings in downtown Richmond starting Thursday, and access will be limited through at least Jan. 21. Capitol Square will be closed until after next Wednesday's presidential inauguration. Official updates and advisories will be posted to @VACapitol2021 on Facebook and Twitter

Lyndon German - 1:48 PM
The House of Delegates adopted resolutions in memory of state Sen. Ben Chafin, who died after contracting COVID-19, and Brian Sicknick, a police officer who died after the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Del. Terry Kilgore introduced the resolution for Chafin, who he called a close friend and great man. Del. Vivian Watts offered the remembrance for Sicknick, reading comments from his family and friends.

Ben Paviour - 1:18 PM
Virginia's Senate has gone into recess after a somber series of speeches and a memorial resolution in honor of GOP Sen. Ben Chafin, who passed away from complications caused by COVID-19 earlier this month. Several lawmakers choked up as they remembered a lawmaker who was known for his quick wit, warm presence, and speeches sprinkled with idioms. Sen. Todd Pillion recounted a few of them in a floor speech  ("trust everyone, but brand your cattle") and choked up as he remembered his friend. “If God needed an attorney, a banker, a farmer, or just a really great friend, he’s certainly got one now," Pillion said.

Ben Paviour - 12:21 PM
Virginia GOP Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment motioned to allow members to participate remotely. His colleague, Sen. Ben Chafin, died just a few weeks ago from complications caused by COVID-19.

Sara McCloskey - 12:19 PM
The 2021 General Assembly is underway. Soon after Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn gaveled in from the chamber to begin the meeting, House Clerk Suzette Denslow reminded lawmakers to mute their microphones as they joined the virtual meeting. The reminder shows how different this year will be, with the House holding virtual meetings and the Senate meeting in a room designed for physical distancing at the Virginia Science Museum.