On January 9, the State lawmakers assembled at the Virginia Assembly House around noon, marking the first day of the 2019 General Assembly Session.
All 140 representatives from the Commonwealth convened in Richmond to begin work on their legislative priorities. The lawmakers this year are expected to decide multiple key issues, including education spending, a proposed tax cut, gun control and others.
In Virginia, Republicans control the two chambers of legislature, House and Senate, by just a couple of seats. The governor seat is held by Democrat Ralph Northam, who delivered the State of the Commonwealth Address.
The Democrats are expected to surmount more measures, including the ratification of a Constitutional Amendment passed nearly 50 years ago by Congress.
As the protestors greeted the lawmakers on Wednesday morning before the general assembly, they hoped Virginia to become the last state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a law which guarantees that women are equal with men.
Delegate Carroll Foy said that it relates to allowing women to attend the Virginia Military Institute. “I remember sitting in my high school class and watching the VMI decision on TV, and hearing Justice Ginsburg say, ‘you cannot deny women into your doors,” said Foy.
The Wednesday session was a historic ceremony, being the 400th anniversary of the first ever General Assembly meeting in Jamestown in 1619.
Governor Northam spoke about his objective to increase education funding by $268 million. This year, he also wants to cover repairs and more security at Virginia schools after several mass shootings. Northam stated that this is what citizens need and want.
“I have listened to people across the Commonwealth,” he said.
Northam would pay for these objectives with an expected windfall from the federal tax cut. However, the Republicans call for a state tax cut instead. They want to change a state law requiring taxpayers to take the state standard deduction, as more taxpayers will take the newly doubled federal-standard deduction. The Republicans raised a concern that taxpayers will pay too much.
House Speaker Kirk Cox said, “It will allow Virginians to itemize, to still itemize. That will go away the way Virginia works, and those are solid middle-class people. And we’ve also raised the standard deduction.”
“Republicans are committed to stopping Governor Northam’s tax hike on the middle class,” said Republican delegate Bob Thomas of Stafford County. “We will insist that state government balances its books without taking more of your families earnings.”
Governor Northam announced several proposals at the General Assembly Session, including making higher education more accessible with fewer costs, a teacher pay raise and decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana, while providing targeted tax relief.