WINCHESTER — As the 2022 General Assembly gets underway, area legislators discuss their priorities for the session, which began Wednesday in Richmond.
Republicans now control the House of Delegates and governor’s office, while Democrats retain control of the Senate.
With divided party control, area legislators don’t know if the two political parties will be able to work together to accomplish their agendas or if there will be gridlock.
Thirty-third District Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, said that while Republicans regained control of the House, the fact that Democrats control the Senate means “there is no clear, obvious path” to undoing legislation passed by Democrats in the last two years.
One factor that could shake up the dynamics in the General Assembly is the recent redistricting approved by the Virginia Supreme Court.
“There’s a lot in play with redistricting, [which] will no doubt have an effect on how people are behaving, whether they are going to be more conservative, less conservative, more progressive,” LaRock said. “It’s really hard to say depending on which district they serve. There’s a lot of incumbents who may be primaried against each other.”
Still, LaRock says there is now “a healthy balance in power” and that Democrats who want to see their bills passed will be inclined to negotiate with Republicans.
LaRock hopes to undo what he considers “egregious” bills passed in recent years regarding the election process. In particular, he opposed not requiring a photo ID, believes 45 days of early voting is “way too much,” and dislikes the use of ballot drop boxes. He also wants to repeal various gun bills that he says “impose unnecessary restrictions on people’s right to carry in different places.”
He also aims to pass a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks gestation and legislation that would notify parents “when there are sexually explicit materials in course materials” at schools. Another bill he proposes would give parents a say on what materials are in school libraries.
He also would like to limit the emergency powers of the governor. He was critical of how outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, imposed restrictions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One that’s really important to me is I have a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of vaccine status,” LaRock said. “Meaning if someone chooses not to participate in the covid medical experiment that’s called the vaccine that they would not be discriminated against in the workplace or be punished or prevented from going to college or school or things like that.”
The CDC says COVID vaccines are safe and effective.
10th District Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, says her top priority is “to defend the progress for people that we made as Democrats, including the minimum wage which just got raised to $11 this month.” She also said she wants to defend “the environmental progress we’ve made” and criticized incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin for wanting to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Some legislation she intends to carry includes a bill to obtain workman’s compensation for domestic workers and legislation to combat disinformation on social media and “discourage the types of posts that lead to violent action, whether it’s murder or suicide.” She also hopes to pass legislation restricting nutrient credit trading and preserving farmland. Restricting nutrient credit trading was the top legislative priority listed by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors.
She also does not want funding for public schools to be diverted to other types of schools, like charter schools or homeschooling.
“I hope the incoming governor and speaker-elect of the House understand that creating a whole separate school system in the form of numerous charter schools is not going to fix our teacher shortage problems and is not going to help the public schools we already have that offer education to every single child,” Gooditis said. “And we have to continue to support teachers because we are losing them right and left. We have to pay them more. And we have to support our public schools that educate every child and not divert funds into a whole separate system in the middle of a pandemic.”
Gooditis also opposes removing vaccine and mask mandates, noting that Virginia has seen a drastic increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, with the vast majority of patients being unvaccinated. For example, on Tuesday, there were 187 people hospitalized due to COVID at Valley Health hospitals. Of these, 159 were unvaccinated, while only 28 were vaccinated.
29th District. Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester, says one of his top priorities is providing resources for mental health facilities at the local level and relieving police and law enforcement from staying with patients with mental illness at hospitals.
“I would think it’s more of a bipartisan issue,” Wiley said. “This is not something that’s a partisan issue. It’s really something that needs to be addressed and be addressed quickly.”
He also wants to restore traffic enforcement powers to police and help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on aiding small businesses.
He said Republicans won’t be able to ramrod all of their legislation through the General Assembly as they will have to negotiate with the Democratic-majority Senate. However, he is hopeful there can be bipartisanship during the session.
Wiley appreciates that the session will be held in person instead of virtually this year.
“At the end of the day, if you really want to get business done, it’s really about meeting people face to to face and hammering out issues and working together,” Wiley said.
Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, said the top priority this session is passing the state budget.
“This is a budget year,” she said. “[The budget] impacts every part of government. Education, infrastructure, transportation, technology. All major priorities. We have some big opportunities with a new administration, and I think people are very eager to get to work.”