Changes in Richmond
The fourth week of the eight-week Virginia General Assembly session is now under way. Officially the session began on Wednesday, January 11, preceded by lengthy public hearings at George Mason University’s Dewberry Hall, and the Fairfax County government center.
This year’s session is the longer of the two General Assembly annual sessions, and it typically ends the first week in March. Next year’s “short” session ends two weeks earlier.
Each year the members of the Senate and the House of Delegates from Fairfax County, Fairfax City and Falls Church offer opportunities for citizens to express their opinions and preferences about issues that need the attention of the “long” session of the Assembly.
Last fall’s elections resulted in new Assembly members representing Loudoun County, Arlington, Alexandria, Prince William County, and Falls Church. In the House a total of eighteen new members were sworn in on January . Seventeen are Republicans, and one is a Democrat. With 32 members, the House Democratic Caucus has the fewest members in memory.
The House has new Democratic leadership while Republican leadership remained the same. Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville is the new Democratic Leader. Toscano also represents a portion of Albemarle County.
Speaker Bill Howell of Stafford County remains in his post, and Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights continues as Majority Leader.
Delegate Mark Sickles of Lee District in Fairfax County is the Democratic Caucus Chair. Charniele Herring is Chief Democratic Whip. Delegate Ken Plum is House Caucus Leader Emeritus.
Many of the most important issues facing the last General Assembly remain critical for the new House and Senate. New leadership now controls the Senate, with the former Republican Leader Tommy Norment back in the same position as result of the 20-20 tie in the Senate.
Lt. Governor Bill Bolling remains at the helm of the Senate. His tie-breaking authority resulted in major changes in committee membership and leadership, with no Democratic members in leadership positions.
While the Senate membership is still 20 to 20, the operational authority is now clearly in Republican hands in both Houses.
As the new majorities began their new terms, they have had important business to address . Among the most important of these is status of the state retirement system known as VRS or the Virginia Retirement System, and adequate funding of the Commonwealth’s highly regarded higher education system. Both systems are underfunded, but, with the leadership in both Houses opposed to increasing taxes, it is difficult to see how improvements can be made. The headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch is “Workers to Pay VRS more?” And the Norfolk Virginian Pilot opined that the state has underfunded higher education by as much as 40%.
Delegate Scott represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]