What to know when the Virginia General Assembly opens its session in 2023

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia lawmakers are in Richmond for the first day of the 2023 General Assembly session.

They will consider proposals on issues such as abortion, taxes, education, gun control, marijuana, housing and the state’s minimum wage in a legislative session that is scheduled to last 30 days but is likely to last longer.

After a prayer breakfast and two morning press conferences on Wednesday, state senators and delegates will gather at noon in their chambers at the Virginia State Capitol to officially begin the 2023 session.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) will then lay out his “Day Two Agenda for Virginia” before the General Assembly when he delivers his State of the Commonwealth address at 4 p.m.

The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Power in the General Assembly is divided, with Democrats holding the majority in the Virginia Senate and Republicans controlling the House of Delegates. Fields in each chamber would allow them to block proposals put forward by the other, requiring lawmakers to cooperate on priorities they want to pass into law.

The 30-day session – usually extended to 46 days to allow lawmakers to complete their work – comes before all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for a vote later this year.

Given those factors, Randolph-Macon College politics professor Richard Meagher told 8News he doesn’t expect many major legislative initiatives to move forward this year.

“Obviously important things are going to happen, but I feel like it’s going to be more like what happened today and tomorrow we’ll move on to something else,” he said. “And then at the end of the session, we’ll look back and say, ‘Well, the governor got a thing or two, the Democrats got a thing or two, the Republicans got a thing or two, but no major item. »

A woman holds a sign reading ‘Stop Abortion Now’ at a protest outside the US Supreme Court in Washington on May 5, 2022, left, while another woman holds a sign during a press conference for reproductive rights in response to a draft that leaked the Supreme Court’s opinion on will overturn Roe v. Wade in West Hollywood, California, on March 3, 2022. (AP Photo)

Access to abortions was expected to be a top item in the session after the US Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion last June, putting women’s reproductive rights under the control of the states.

While there are several abortion measures in place, the focus is Governor Youngkin’s push to ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Democrats have vowed to use their Senate majority to once again protect abortion rights in Virginia — which currently allows the procedure up to about 26 weeks and into the third trimester when three doctors conclude the mother’s life is in danger — including pressing for enshrining this right in the state constitution.

Republicans are likely to block any effort to amend the constitution, but House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) acknowledged Monday that he would be “very surprised if anything substantial comes out” of the session on abortion from the for splitting the government.

Todd Gilbert, Eileen Filer-Korn, Israel O'Quinn
Virginia House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, left, speaks with former Speaker Eileen Filer-Korn, right, D-Fairfax, and Delegate Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, center, during a House session on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

On Tuesday night, Democrat Aaron Rouse declared victory over Republican Kevin Adams in a special Virginia Senate election for the seat left vacant after Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) took her congressional seat.

If Rouse is certified as the winner, Democrats will be protected from any defections on abortion access, most notably state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), with a 22-18 majority.

Another key issue and point of contention for the General Assembly is the creation of a system to regulate the sale of marijuana.

Virginia allows people to possess small amounts of cannabis — up to an ounce — and grow up to four plants. But it is still not possible to buy it legally.

Marijuana plants are close to being harvested in a grow room at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond, Virginia, June 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

There are various bills laying the groundwork for the recreational sale of cannabis introduced in the session, including a Republican measure that proposes to repeal the “social justice” provisions that Democrats called a priority when legalization was proposed.

Speaker Gilbert criticized Democrats for the lack of a regulatory framework, saying the party left Virginia with a “mess” for allowing legalization to move forward without one.

“We have this friction, that natural friction between people who want it and people who don’t and people who could fix it if they had the chance,” Gilbert said during a virtual press conference Monday .

Gilbert added that he is weighing how long to focus on efforts to create the system, saying House Republicans will wait for Youngkin’s recommendations because they don’t yet know what the governor intends to do with the legislation.

Virginia Del. House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) gestures during personal privilege during the House session at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber )

Last week, Democrats in the General Assembly outlined their priorities for the session, a framework that includes plans for gun control, ensuring the state’s minimum wage continues to rise and ending the Youngkin administration’s rollover of Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

“Our vision for the commonwealth is to make sure we’re addressing real issues: common sense gun reform, world-class education and an economy that works better for hard-working Virginians,” House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth). the statement said.

The Democratic platform calls for barring Republicans from repealing gun laws like Virginia’s the “red flag” law.and closing loopholes that allow people who are prohibited from owning guns to buy them.

State Democrats will also seek to protect the party-led 2020 plan to raise the minimum wage. The plan calls for raising it to $15 an hour by 2026, but that requires approval in the state legislature.

Glenn Youngkin
Governor Glenn Youngkin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Gov. Youngkin (R) wants lawmakers approve a $1 billion tax cut in the biennial budget. The governor’s proposed budget amendments include significant tax cuts for corporations, tax breaks for small businesses and lower income taxes for Virginians.

Youngkin is also earmarking more than $2.6 billion in new spending, including more than $420 million for public education and nearly $150 million for behavioral health. Despite support for some of Youngkin’s proposals, Democrats also expressed concern about the governor’s plan to lower the corporate tax rate.

Virginia Democrats really want to do state tax credit for low-income households is fully refundable, according to the platform. A 15% federal credit is currently available to eligible Virginia residents refundable on state tax returns.

This session, lawmakers will also debate and vote on proposals to increase funding for public education and raise teacher pay, initiatives both parties say they support. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are also supporting law enforcement pay raises in Virginia during the session.

Stay tuned to 8News.

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