The 2018 General Assembly Session opened on January 10th. This year will be a longer, 60-day session where we craft a new biennial budget and tackle important issues such as healthcare, the opioid crisis, and the teacher shortage across Virginia among other issues.
While the Senate was gaveled into session by Governor-elect Ralph Northam on the first day, by the second day of session he was bidding our chamber farewell. As the Senate President Pro Tempore, I was honored to preside over the Senate for the second and third days of session as we awaited the inauguration of our new presiding officer, Lt. Governor-elect Justin Fairfax. It is a high honor to run the Virginia Senate session at the Capitol and I was pleased to allow our next governor time to prepare for the hard work ahead. I look forward to working with Governor Northam for the best interests of the Commonwealth.
The inauguration of a Virginia governor is a very formal affair. It is held on the south steps of the Capitol, a setting that has appeared in several films as a stand-in for the United States Capitol. My additional responsibilities as Senate President Pro Tempore allowed me to lead the Virginia Senate during the Inauguration ceremonies. I joined the Speaker of the House and new Lt. Governor on the stage as we heard from our new Governor during the State of the Commonwealth address. During the course of the day, I participated in many formal ceremonies that are part of every Virginia inaugural. Every aspect of the Inauguration is based on longstanding traditions. Being a part of those traditions serves as a reminder of just how fortunate I am to have been elected to serve in the Senate of Virginia.
The House of Delegates is very different than it was last year. They have a new Speaker, Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights, who was elected on the opening day of session. And, they have 19 new delegates. Of those new delegates, 16 are Democrats and 3 are Republicans, and the House’s partisan balance is now 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats. That’s a lot closer to the 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the Senate.
Sessions that occur in the year immediately following a gubernatorial election are always filled with changes. But, the differences at the Capitol this year are exceptionally numerous. In addition to the changes in our statewide elected officials and the House of Delegates, all 40 senators and 100 delegates have new offices in a different building.
The Pocahontas Building, across the street from the Capitol’s entrance on Bank Street, will serve as our temporary housing for the next four years. While the exterior of the old General Assembly Building is still up, it is in the process of being razed. In a week or so, legislators and staff will likely acclimate themselves to the new building. But for now, those trying to find their way around the new building often have confused looking faces, as legislators, staff, and visitors adopt the characteristics of lost tourists.
The first week of session always brings visitors to Capitol Square, and this year they got to be just as confused getting around the Pocahontas Building as the rest of us. I am happy to report that our office had some friendly faces from home, including our local bankers and members of the Republican Women’s Clubs who were here for their annual luncheon on opening day of Session.
Our offices in the Pocahontas Building are in Room E604. The main entrance to the building is at 900 East Main Street in Richmond. One thing that hasn’t changed is how you can contact our office during session. Our email address is still District23@senate.virginia.gov and our phone number is still (804) 698-7523.