RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Ralph Northam used his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night to call the Commonwealth to action in time of crisis.
State legislators watched his remarks virtually as a pandemic precaution. It was a strange scene, as Governor Northam entered a virtually empty House chambers to wrap up the opening day of the final regular legislative session of his term.
Northam looked back at the last year, talking about how the pandemic highlighted the inequity in public health funding
“We’ll make sure localities that need more resources will get them and no one will get less,” Northam said.
He also commented on the lack in some places of broadband access, something he called as critical now as electricity in the last century.
Northam said the Commonwealth will have more money than originally thought in its budget. Teachers, he said, should reap the benefit and not just in the form of a one-time bonus.
“We need to make this teacher bonus a raise, and make it more than 2 percent,” Northam said.
The governor also looked ahead, proposing an amendment to the state constitution to make rights restoration automatic for felons who have served their sentences.
He called for marijuana to be legalized in Virginia, highlighting what he called a system rooted in inequity that has African-Americans much more likely to be charged or convicted for a marijuana-related crime.
“By legalizing and taxing it, we can use the revenue to help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws,” the governor said.
Northam wants to abolish the death penalty in Virginia, citing that a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white than when the victim is black.
He had this message for legislators as the session begins: “People are hurting and they sent us here to do a job,” he said. “They are counting on us. We can do a great deal of good this session”.
In the republican response, Delegate Kirk Cox critiqued the Northam administration’s handling of COVID vaccine distribution and unemployment benefits.
He also stressed the need for public schools in Virginia to reopen.
“We cannot condemn an entire generation of Virginia’s students to the enduring effects of an inadequate education” Cox said.
Senator John Cosgrove accused Northam and democrats of abandoning police and other measures that keep Virginians safe.