The 2021 General Assembly convened on Wednesday, January 13 for the start of a legislative session that promises to be fast-paced and wide-ranging. Somber moments punctuated the day, as legislators and Governor Ralph Northam reflected on the loss of Virginians to the coronavirus, including Senator Ben Chafin, who was remembered by colleagues as a kind and strong advocate for Southwest Virginia.
After lengthy discussion and attempts to secure agreement to a standard “short session” of 46 days, both chambers agreed to a procedural resolution that sets out the schedule for a 30-day session, but also provides a framework for legislation considered in the regular session to carry over into any special session that may be subsequently called. There is an expectation that the Governor will call a special session in order to finalize work for the 2021 General Assembly Session, but it is unclear what topics might be covered in such a special session. Completion of the state budget is one possible option for an extended session; some discussion regarding the length of the session centered around the timing of the state’s receipt of updated revenue data that would be essential in finalizing the state budget, as well as the issuance of more detailed federal guidance regarding use of funds in the recently-enacted relief package.
Even with the new, stricter limits on bill introductions to accommodate the compressed session schedule, action on legislation will be rapid in order to complete consideration of bills by the deadlines outlined in the procedural resolution. Both chambers began considering legislation on Wednesday afternoon.
Key dates in procedural resolution:
- Last day to pre-file bills: January 13, 10a.m.
- Last day to file bills (except for certain legislation specified in the resolution): Friday, January 22
- Crossover: Saturday, February 6
- Money committees report budgets: Sunday, February 7
- Adjournment sine die: Thursday, February 11
- Reconvened session: Wednesday, March 17
Shortly after committee work concluded for the day, Governor Northam delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address, an event that is traditionally held before a joint session of the legislature, but this year took place before a small audience of legislative leadership, with most legislators watching remotely. The Governor remarked on the hardship of the recent year, but saluted Virginians’ resilience and pointed to the accelerating roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine as a harbinger of better times ahead. He reviewed some of his major initiatives in his budget, including protecting school divisions from reductions in state funding associated with pandemic-related fluctuations in enrollment, updating the formula for funding local health departments, investing in broadband deployment, expanding early childhood, restoring funds for tuition assistance for job skills training offered through community colleges, and shoring up the Virginia Retirement System. He announced that state revenues had turned in a strong performance in December, and pledged to work with the legislature to convert the 2 percent bonus proposed for teachers in the introduced budget into a salary increase. He also announced support for several initiatives designed to address long-standing inequities in the criminal justice system: the legalization of marijuana, a Constitutional amendment providing for automatic restoration of civil rights for individuals with felony convictions, and the abolition of the death penalty. The Governor also offered stern words regarding the violent events of last week, but closed on a hopeful note, noting that “[t]he adversity of the past ten months has revealed a strong, resilient Virginia.”
A frenzy of legislative activity can be expected in the coming weeks. VACo will be providing regular updates to members in future issues of Capitol Contact.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle