This week the General Assembly started its 60 day session. And, as, usual, the pace was quick. We will have to pass the biennial state budget, which will be more than $109 billion. We will undoubtedly consider over 1500 bills and resolutions. And we will have countless briefings on issues facing Virginia.
First, though, we had to organize, which happened on Wednesday. The whole General Assembly was sworn into office, the Rules of each chamber were passed, and we found out our committee assignments.
This was the seventh time I was sworn in and it was, as always, a moving moment for me. The scope of the responsibilities you have entrusted me with always affects me. I know how many people rely on state services and I know that every vote I cast will impact the lives of Virginians.
Before we can do any Senate business, we must pass the Rules of the Senate. Usually that is cut and dried as the Rules stay pretty much the same regardless of which party is in control.
Not this year. The Republican majority made some serious changes that I found so offensive that I voted against the proposed Rules. Without consulting with the Democratic leadership, they changed the number of Senators on three standing committees. Traditionally, each committee has fifteen members (occasionally the number on a committee was increased but never went below fifteen).
Why did they do this? They wanted to control -and in some cases with huge majorities- every committee. The problem they had was that the Senate is now 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats. There weren't enough Republicans to put super majorities on the most significant committees and still have a majority on every committee. So, in a creative move they reduced the membership on some committees.
Another rule change was stunning in its stupidity. They banished the press from the Senate floor! For as long as anyone can remember, the press has had access to two tables in front of the chamber. When we arrived on Wednesday, the tables were gone and the press was too. We need more transparency, not less!
We also learned our committee assignments. Mine were basically unchanged. I will be on Finance (ranking member), Education and Health, Courts of Justice, and Privileges and Elections (ranking member). No longer will I serve on Rules, but frankly that is not a great loss.
My aide Karol Straub and I have been working virtually nonstop on my legislation and budget amendments. I have introduced over twenty bills (My Bills) and thirty budget amendments. Next week I will outline some of them for you.
A fun moment this week was when my new license plate arrived. Our number is determined by our seniority. I am now #2. You better believe I am going to drive carefully with such a recognizable plate!
Meanwhile, thanks for your support and encouragement.