Virginia General Assembly kicks off 60-day session

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia General Assembly met Wednesday for the first day of the 2016 legislative session. State senators and delegates convened at noon for the start of 60 days at the Capitol.

The General Assembly is expected to take on a multi-billion dollar budget, education, health care, and gun control, among other issues.

Delegate Bill Howell (R) returned to his role as Speaker and said lawmakers have a long road ahead and won’t always agree.

“The first day is always very exciting, getting started. Everybody’s greeting everybody, so it’s always a big pile of love on the first day,” said Sen. Mamie Locke (D) of Hampton.

Sen. Locke is working on bills related to penalties for driving through flood water and ending a requirement for ultrasounds prior to abortions.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he expected a focus on economic development this year.

“We want to bring manufacturers, businesses, jobs into the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

Republicans control the House and Senate and face a Democratic governor, who is seeking to expand Medicaid and implement new gun control laws.

“It’s OK to disagree, and we can be opponents. What I do worry about sometimes is we don’t need to be enemies, and that’s some of the message that I bring forward,” Northam said.

WAVY News asked him about key concerns for Hampton Roads.

“I think the number one challenge from an economic development perspective is transportation. We need to make sure that we have the funding in place, like the third crossing that we’re working on…We just need to get people and our products from point A to point B,” he said.

It’s the first session as Senator for Republican Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach.

“Public safety, transportation, education, infrastructure — we’re going to focus on it all this year,” he said.

The session is the 25th for Sen. Frank Wagner (R), also of Virginia Beach.

“We’re going to have a long discussion about whether we want to put tolls up or whether we want to increase the effort on gas taxes,” Wagner said.

The General Assembly is expected to sift through as many as 3,000 pieces of legislation.

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