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The 2022 General Assembly session is now underway

Steve Helber/AP
Virginia House of Delegates speaker, Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, waves to visitors in the gallery prior to opening ceremonies in the Virginia House chambers at the Capitol Wednesday Jan. 12, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The General Assembly is now in session with Republicans in control of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County is now Speaker of the House of Delegates, securing a unanimous vote among all members of the chamber — Democrats and Republicans — in a longstanding House tradition of welcoming new speakers with undivided approval. Education is at the top of the agenda for Republicans, who want to expand charter schools and fund education savings accounts.

"There's an old joke, how many Virginians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Four, one to screw in the light bulb and three to talk about what a great light bulb that last light bulb was," Gilbert says. "We can't get stuck in that rut. We can't get stuck in the past. Innovation is the way forward."

Democrats are concerned about the new House rules, which give the Speaker discretion over who gets to participate virtually and who doesn't. Delegate Marcus Simon is a Democrat from Fairfax County.

"If he's routinely going to grant folks leave if they're sick, the rules ought to say he will grant and not he may," Simon says. "And being permissive opens the door for shenanigans."

If a close vote was expected, he says, the Speaker would have the power to deny Democrats the ability to participate virtually. That could end up being an important way this session functions if omicron rips through the tightly packed subcommittee rooms with dozens of people gathered in tight confines.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.