The 2021 General Assembly Session is Now Underway

Jan 13, 2021

Lawmakers are back in session at the General Assembly for a session unlike any other.

Members of the House of Delegates gaveled into a virtual session, and members of the state Senate are socially distanced in a building away from the Capitol, although senators are now able to participate virtually if they feel like their health is at risk.

The General Assembly session for 2021 will be constrained by a tight calendar and safety protocols. But Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says he still expects many of the same ideological debates this year.

"Mandatory prison sentences or not, decriminalizing marijuana or not, removing the restrictions on the automatic restoration of the right to vote for felons or not," Kidd explains. "The normal things that Republicans and Democrats normally argue about."

Virginia state senators lay roses Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Richmond, Va., on the empty desk of a colleague, Ben Chafin, who recently died from complications of COVID-19. The Senate, which convened for its first day of the 2021 session Wednesday, is meeting in an event center instead of the Capitol because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit AP Photo / Sarah Rankin

But don't expect a session with a lot of earth-shattering legislation during an election year, says Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington.

"I tend to think this is going to be the year of the cautious caucus," he says. "The lawmakers who don't want to make too much in the way of big changes in this short session right before an election year particularly when you also add in the fact that they're also going to be running in districts that haven't even been designed yet."

One of the seats in the Senate will be draped in black for the duration of the session because of the death of Senator Ben Chafin. He died of COVID-19 last month, and his seat will be empty for the duration of the session. A special election for his Southwest Virginia district is scheduled for March 23rd.

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