Local lawmakers lay out priorities for Virginia General Assembly session

RICHMOND, Va. - Lawmakers walked by a rally in support of Virginia ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment on their way into the State Capitol on Wednesday morning for the start of the General Assembly session.

RICHMOND, VA - FEBRUARY 09: A view of the Virginia State Capitol, February 9, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia state politics are in a state of upheaval, with Governor Ralph Northam, State Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment involved with past uses associations with blackface and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, accused of sexual misconduct by two women. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It's a sign of what to expect this year: Lots of energy on both sides as big issues are discussed.

"There's a sense of excitement that people are going to get to see some of the changes they've been wanting for a long time," said Del. Marica Price, a Democrat from Newport News.

Democrats are now in the majority in both the House of Delegates and the Senate and that means new leaders. Del. Eileen Filler-Corn made history when she was chosen as House Speaker, becoming the first woman and Jewish person.

"It better reflects the Virginia we are today, being able to see that there are more women and more people of color in the House than at any time in history," said Newport News Democrat Del. Mike Mullin.

There are plenty of new faces, but also major issues on the agenda like guns. Democrats want to pass what they call common sense gun safety laws. "No one is taking away rights. What we're doing is making sure people are safe in our communities, in our homes, in our Commonwealth," said Mullin.

Republicans say they're ready for the debate. "The gun debate is real easy. We've got to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals without impacting the rights and liberties of law abiding citizens," said State Sen. Bill DeSteph from Virginia Beach.

Lawmakers could also vote to legalize casino gambling. Both Norfolk and Portsmouth are interested in bringing casinos to their cities, but Republican Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment cautioned about having two in Hampton Roads.

"Norfolk and Portsmouth need to consolidate on one venue," said Norment. "If they both try to construct a casino, it's going to be mutual destruction and someone's going down."

That could set-up a spirited debate over the next 60 days here in Hampton Roads. Lawmakers on both sides are vowing to work together.

"We've been through this transition before," said Norment. "This is business. It's not personal. The Senate is used to going back and forth."

"It's about governance and doing what's best for all of Virginia," said Del. Cliff Hayes, a Democrat from Chesapeake.

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