Virginia Lawmakers Begin 2019 Legislative Session
Virginia lawmakers have kicked off the 2019 legislative session Wednesday, Jan. 9. Gov. Northam will update lawmakers on the state of the commonwealth later in the day.
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - The first day of the 2019 General Assembly session is in the books.
State lawmakers convened at the Virginia Assembly House around noon Wednesday, January 9, to begin work on their legislative priorities. Much of the focus during this session is expected to be on state tax policy, and whether to expand gambling in the commonwealth.
“Most of my time is going to be consumed with the budget," said 24th District Senator Emmett Hanger (R). "We’re in a situation where the economy is growing a little more quickly or better than we had anticipated over the last year, looks reasonably good on the horizon. So we will have some adjustments to make to the budget.”
58th District Delegate Rob Bell (R) says mental health reform and school bus safety are some of his top priorities.
“I’m on a number of year-round study groups that have come up with various ideas,” Bell said. “So the [Senator Creigh Deeds] Commission - that’s the Mental Health Reform Commission - I’m going to be carrying bills on reforming mental health care in jails, trying to keep the mentally ill out of jail, and if they end up in jail, get them better care.”
“My focus remains the same," 25th District Sen. Deeds (D) said. "I’m trying to build a mental health system that works for people in need no matter where they are in Virginia. Access to care shouldn’t depend upon your zip code or your bottom line.”
Meanwhile, 57th District Delegate David Toscano (D) says he is focusing on the Equal Rights Amendment, energy, and campaign finance reform.
“Some of the bills will be controversial, and some of them won’t. Some of the bills I have on campaign finance reform, where I’m trying to prevent contributions in excess of $10,000 or preventing publicly regulated utilities from giving at all,” Toscano said.
Overall, taxes will be at the top of this year's agenda. A 2017 federal tax overhaul that limits how businesses can account for losses and what kind of deductions individuals can take is set to provide a multibillion windfall in state taxes. Republicans, who control the General Assembly, want to give most of that money back to taxpayers. However, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam wants to use the money on school construction, boosting reserves, and other areas.
Also, lawmakers will consider approving sports betting and legalizing casinos. The governor has proposed a study, but deep-pocketed gambling interests are pushing for action this year.
The General Assembly session is scheduled to last 45 day, ending on February 23. This is considered a short session for lawmakers.
Things will culminate in Richmond Wednesday night, when senators and delegates come together to hear Northam deliver his State of the Commonwealth address.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.