Legislative season likely to bring controversy

By Heather Michon

The Virginia General Assembly convenes in Richmond on Jan. 11, and it looks to be a wild – if very short – ride.

In odd-numbered years, the legislature sits for just 30 days, rather than 60. Sessions can only be extended with the vote of two-thirds of the members of both chambers.

Despite the shorter schedule, members are poised to take up a number of controversial issues, including abortion rights and legalization of marijuana. 

Education is also likely to take center stage, with the Richmond Times-Dispatch noting that at least a dozen bills have been filed by members in recent weeks. 

Some of the bills include the creation of model policies to guide the selection and removal of books from school libraries, the allocation of per-pupil dollars into savings accounts parents could use to pay for private schooling, the expansions of provisions under the Virginia Literacy Act, and the creation of age-appropriate instruction on mental health issues for each grade level.

Still other bills focus on banning transgender athletes from competing on teams conforming with their gender identity and prevent schools from changing the name of a trans student without a court order. 

Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) has introduced a bill that could create a streamlined process for transferring records of students who have received services for mental health disabilities to their local community service boards after they graduate. Bell recently told NBC29 that it’s something he’s been working on for many years, “and the Commission on Youth has finally come up with recommendations. We’re pretty excited that [it] may actually be something that could happen.” 

Del. John McGuire (R-Goochland) has entered two bills: one that would remove minimum educational requirements for parents wishing to homeschool their children, and one that would open school boards up to lawsuits by parents who feel their rights have been violated by school policies.

McGuire has announced his bid for the Virginia Senate as a candidate in the newly drawn 10th District, which includes Fluvanna County. 

How much legislators get done during this sprint is an open question. This is also an election year, with all 140 seats going to the ballot in November. 

Stephen Farnsworth, a political analyst at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, told The Washington Post that he thinks the main goal for lawmakers this session “will be to get back to the district and run for reelection as soon as possible. Anything that can be delayed likely will be delayed.” 

Currently, Republicans hold the House of Delegates by 52-48 and Democrats hold the Senate 21-19. 

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