Ken Plum: General Assembly session underway

ken plumAfter the usual business of organizing for a new legislative session, the General Assembly got underway without major incident. The House of Delegates has 11 new members with Republicans clearly in power with 66 members and Democrats 34. The House leadership remains the same with Speaker William Howell in charge. The Senate moved to Republican control 21-19. As is the custom, the Governor spoke to a joint session of the House and Senate in the evening of the opening day.

Among the very likeable traits of Governor Terry McAuliffe are his enthusiasm and positive outlook, and these were never more evident than in his speech to the General Assembly. A recovering economy that is providing more money for programs and services helps fuel the Governor’s optimism. But the members of the General Assembly can be a tough sell. For some, the Governor is just another politician with his own agenda. While the members of the majority party were polite, their response to his speech was subdued. Of course, some of his proposals are in direct contradiction to positions they have taken. Disappointingly, his factual, logical appeal to expand health insurance for the working poor seemed to fall on deaf ears. Hopefully some behind the scenes dealing can allow Virginians to access the billions of dollars in federal funds that are available to them.

The main thrust of the Governor’s address to legislators was that “we put partisan battles aside, and we get the job done.” At the same time we have to run the government today, we must make wise decisions for the future. “We must maintain that balanced budget while making strategic investments.”

Education is among the Governor’s highest priorities with more than a billion dollars recommended in new funds across all levels of education. He is proposing a fundamental change in Virginia’s approach to high school education to place a greater emphasis on hands-on learning, internships, early college courses, and industry credentials, rather than classroom seat time. “I believe that education is a prime example of the opportunity that we have this session to work together to strengthen our economy and make our state a better place to live. We all agree that is what Virginians sent us here to do.”

With all the talk on cooperation and bipartisanship, the Governor also made his position clear on a number of issues. “I am prepared,” he said, “to veto bills that roll back the progress that we have made on marriage equality and women’s access to health care.” And he added, “I will also reject proposals that limit this Commonwealth’s ability to keep Virginians safe from gun violence or to react to the very clear and present danger of climate change and sea level rise.”

The speech reflects the Governor’s thoughts on where we are in Virginia and where we need to go. Over the next 60 days the 140 members of the General Assembly will be making their decisions. For the full text of the Governor’s speech read here. Video is available at watch here.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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