Virginia DMV Reopens Part-Time Walk-in Service

People at windows of DMV

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is now open to walk-in service three days a week, 16 months after first opening for appointment-only service following COVID-19 closures in Spring 2020. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday remain appointment-only, but the DMV now provides walk-in service Tuesday, Thursday, and for half days on Saturdays. Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) has been pushing for the DMV to reopen to walk-in service, but he isn’t satisfied with the DMV’s hybrid approach.

“I saw that they’re reopening for in-person again, three days a week, which, to me, I personally don’t understand that. I mean, we’ve required all our schools to be open five days a week for in-person instruction,” he told The Virginia Star

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Virginia Redistricting Commission Sees First Maps of Whole Commonwealth

Partisan map drawers presented the first set of maps of the whole commonwealth to the Virginia Redistricting Commission Monday. The commission is nearing the end of its allotted time to create maps for the Virginia General Assembly; the maps are expected to be submitted between October 10th and October 24th. But the maps presented to the commission are drafts, and the commission still needs to analyze public comment and political data and how that should affect the maps. Additionally, the commission has to find a way to turn the two sets of proposals from the Republican and Democratic map drawers into one final draft.

“We’re three weeks away from when we’re supposed to vote on final maps to be presented to the General Assembly. So the clock is really moving quickly now. So think about your ideas on how to reconcile the two versions of each map that we have,” Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) told the commission.

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Virginia Senate Republicans Angry After Democrats Interview Court of Appeals Candidates in Private

RICHMOND, Virginia – Republican legislators say that Democrats are leaving them out of the process of vetting candidates to fill eight Virginia Court of Appeals seats. Next week, legislators are expected to appoint judges to the newly-expanded court. But Democrats privately interviewed the candidates on Wednesday and only intend to advance eight candidates to be approved by the General Assembly, as first reported by The Virginia Mercury and The Richmond Times-Dispatch. On Thursday, Republican and Democratic senators went back-and-forth on the Senate floor about the process.

“I am confident that there were no Republicans who were invited to participate in those interviews and I just want to point out that it seems to be a little bit of a theme that has developed during the course of this session,” Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said. “There is way too much business that’s being conducted behind closed doors, out of the view of the public.”

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Virginia Senate Passes Amended American Rescue Plan Act Allocation Bill

RICHMOND, Virginia — The Virginia Senate passed its amended version of the $4.3 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation bill late Wednesday evening, after hours of debate on amendments. Although some Republican amendments, including a key law enforcement bonus proposal, were incorporated into the spending bill, many were not. Rejected amendments included a sweeping election integrity amendment and an anti-Critical Race Theory amendment. The final vote on passing the bill was 22-18. Many Republicans said that while they supported some elements of the bill, they disapproved of the process Democrats used, including a vote Wednesday evening to limit debate on each amendment to just three minutes.

Right before the vote to pass the budget, the Senate GOP caucus went into conference. When the senators returned, Minority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr. (R-James City) hinted that many of his caucus would vote against the bill. He said, “It is not so much about the substantive provisions of the budget that we have amended. Rather I believe that the vote you are about to see is going to be a reflection of the frustration and the indignation of the entire process.”

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Some School Boards Oppose Virginia Transgender Policy Mandate; Enforcement, Consequences Unclear

As culture war issues spread through public hearings at Virginia’s school board meetings, school boards are starting to oppose adopting new transgender policies mandated by state law. Amid complaints and demands from public speakers, the Pittsylvania County Schools (PCS) Board voted four to three on Tuesday to reject adopting the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools.

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Virginia Gov. Northam Proposes $353 Million for Small Business Recovery, Tourism from ARPA Funds

Governor Ralph Northam issued his first proposal for spending American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds Monday. Northam’s $353 million proposal includes $250 million for the Rebuild VA small business fund. It also includes $50 million for state agency the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC), and $53 million for the Industrial Revitalization Fund and the Virginia Main Street program.

“Virginia is roaring back stronger than we could have imagined one year ago, but small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they need additional support to get back on their feet,” Northam said in a Monday announcement.

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Virginians No Longer Required to Disclose HIV+ Status to Sexual Partners

It is no longer a crime for Virginians to fail to disclose their HIV+ status before engaging in sexual activities with an unknowing partner, after legislation from the General Assembly’s spring session took effect Thursday. 

The new law says that it is not a crime to unknowingly transmit the virus, for which there is no cure, unless the person transmitting intended to do so. Under the new law, an accuser must also prove that they contracted the virus. 

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Virginia General Assembly Special Session Set for August

The Virginia General Assembly’s second 2021 special session is scheduled for August 2. One of the top priorities for the legislators will be allocating American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Although Virginia has already received the money, it can’t be spent until the legislators allocate it.

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Virginia’s Attorney General Appeals In Equal Rights Amendment Ratification Lawsuit

Mark Herring

Attorney General Mark Herring has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in a lawsuit seeking to have Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) recognized.

“The United States cannot continue forcing women to wait to be recognized as equal under this country’s founding document,” Herring said in a May 3 press release.

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Northam Proposes Legalizing Marijuana in July

Marijuana legalization is back on track for July, after Governor Ralph Northam announced amendments to legalization legislation. In February, legislators surprised marijuana policy watchers by delaying the effective date of legalization until 2024, leading the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia to blast the bills as worse than nothing. Since then, legalization advocates have lobbied Northam to amend the legislation to go into effect in July, when most other recently-passed bills take effect.

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General Assembly Will Need Another Session to Allocate American Rescue Plan Funds

The General Assembly will probably have another special session in 2021, which is necessary to allow the legislature to allocate federal funds granted to the Commonwealth in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) passed by Congress and signed by President Biden Thursday.

Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said, “It will require another session, but it probably will be sometime in the future weeks or possibly months because the Governor has made no decision. But part of that is because we have not received a specific certification on the actual monies yet from the Feds.”

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Virginia General Assembly Kills Bill to Require Equal Educational Opportunities Across All Schools

After passing in the Senate 34 to one, Senator Bill Stanley’s (R-Franklin County) constitutional amendment to require equitable educational opportunities in all Virginia schools was killed by the House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee. Virginia’s constitution requires that free school be provided for all school-aged children. Stanley’s bill SJ 275 would have added a requirement that those schools include “equitable educational opportunities” for all school-aged children.

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Governor Ralph Northam Extends 2021 General Assembly Session

Virginia Democrats will get more time to pass legislation after Governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session to begin February 10. Northam’s announcement effectively adds 16 days to the current regular session, which is scheduled to end February 11. The proclamation comes after Republicans blocked a move to extend the 30-day regular session, hoping to limit their losses in a Democrat-controlled legislature.

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Free Tuition for Low, Middle-Income Students in Two-Year Programs for High-Demand Jobs Passes Virginia House

Governor Ralph Northam’s Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back (G3) program passed the Virginia House of Delegates with near-unanimous support Thursday. HB2204 establishes a fund and program to provide free community college to low and middle-income students taking community college degrees in high-demand fields. The program is one of Northam’s signature policy proposals that he first called for in his campaign for governor, according to his January 2018 address to the Joint Assembly.

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Virginia Senators Push Bill to Help Speed Up State Vaccination Effort

A bill to help Virginia speed up its mass vaccination effort by expanding who is allowed to inoculate citizens and where those injections can occur is being pushed by a bipartisan group of state Senators.

Flanked by various medical professionals, Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), Todd Pillion (R-Washington), Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) held a news conference to discuss Senate Bill 1445 in Richmond on Thursday.

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Virginia Senate Strips Amanda Chase of Final Committee Assignment

The Virginia state Senate on Wednesday voted to update the body’s standing committees for 2021 and simultaneously stripped GOP gubernatorial candidate Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) of her lone committee assignment from the previous year, resulting in a lengthy debate that highlighted the disconnect between the lawmaker and her colleagues.

The standing committee’s membership was updated at the request of Republicans in order to fill the vacancies left by the late Sen. Ben Chafin, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on New Year’s Day, according to Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

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Democrats Introduce Two House Bills Expanding Abortion Coverage

Virginia House Democrats have introduced two bills expanding healthcare coverage of abortions. HB 1922, introduced by Delegate Cia Price (D-Newport News) would expand Medicaid abortion coverage and require private employers who offer health coverage to cover abortions. HB 1896, introduced by Delegate Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville), removes a Virginia prohibition of abortion coverage under Obamacare.

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Northam Administration Moves to Tax PPP Loan Recipients

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s administration has recommended to the General Assembly that the state not conform its tax code to specific provisions included in the recently-signed federal emergency relief bill that gives businesses who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans a significant tax benefit.

Under the provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), signed into law by President Donald Trump in late December, businesses in the Commonwealth that got forgivable PPP loans would not be taxed on that income and could deduct their business expenses covered by the federal payment.

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Second Amendment Advocates Pour Into Virginia’s Capitol for Lobby Day 2021

Buses, a decommissioned ambulance, and lots of cars and trucks traveled through Richmond for hours on Monday afternoon as part of the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s (VCDL) Lobby Day 2021 demonstration. Most vehicles sported VCDL flags and decals; a few also waved Trump flags and other paraphernalia.

“When the first bus came, it just seemed like car after car after car, decked out, horns honking, people waving,” VCDL President Phil Van Cleave said. Car caravans came from all corners of the Commonwealth.

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Virginia Senate Convenes for General Assembly 2021 Regular Session

The Virginia General Assembly 2021 regular session began on Wednesday in Richmond with a relatively standard yet important first meeting of the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

Just as it was during last year’s special session, the Senate and its 39 members met in-person in a socially distanced space at the Science Museum of Virginia while the House of Delegates convened virtually.

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Virginia Governor Northam Plans to Extend Upcoming General Assembly Session

The Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday and a lot of conversation surrounding the annual gathering of state lawmakers this year is not on legislative agendas or hotbed issues under consideration, but on how long the session will last.

Intrigue over the session length began back in mid-November when Republican legislative leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates, Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) announced their intention to limit the session to 30 days

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Legislative Leaders Pick Citizen Finalists for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The four legislative leaders of the House of Delegates and state Senate picked 62 citizen finalists last Friday to be considered for eight available spots on Virginia’s new redistricting commission.

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) were responsible for making lists of 16 citizens out of more than 1,200 applicants. 

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Overview of Virginia’s Newest Laws in 2021

The new year is here at last and for Virginians throughout the Commonwealth, the arrival of 2021 means a number of laws passed by the General Assembly last year have now gone into effect and bring several important changes. 

Here is an overview of some new laws that Virginians should know about. 

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Candi King Faces Heather Mitchell in Special Election for Virginia House 2nd District Today

Election day for the Virginia House of Delegates 2nd District race has finally arrived and the winner will fill the vacant seat left by Jennifer Carroll Foy before the General Assembly begins its next session on January 13th.

Community activist Candi King (D) and military wife Heather Mitchell (R) are vying for a seat that could play a role in keeping a Democratic majority in the House or assist Republicans in their efforts to flip the legislative body in 2021.

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Bill Allowing Religious Exemptions for COVID-19 Vaccines to be Considered Again by General Assembly

With multiple COVID-19 vaccines now being distributed and administered across the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Republican state Senator is looking to revisit the topic of religious exemptions to immunizations when the General Assembly convenes for its regular session in ten days.

Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) has introduced and pre-filed Senate Bill 1116, which would allow for a parent or guardian to object to the vaccination of a child on the grounds that immunization conflicts with their religious practices or tenets, even during an emergency declared by the state board of health.

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New Virginia Law Bars Debt Collectors and Creditors from Taking or Garnishing Emergency Relief Payments

Thanks to a recently implemented law from the Virginia General Assembly, emergency relief payments from the federal government to Virginians will be protected from being seized or garnished by debt collectors and creditors.

The new law, stemming from House Bill 5068, comes as Virginians and Americans from across the country are starting to receive a second round of relief payments relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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More Than 1,200 Citizens Apply for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The application window for citizens to apply for the Virginia Redistricting Commission closed on Monday and a final tally from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) showed that 1,238 Virginians are interested in serving on the extremely important and influential panel.

Just two weeks ago, however, only 88 citizens had applied for the commission since November 30 and Virginia Division of Legislative Services (DLS) Director Amigo Wade said they received 600-650 applications during the final days before the deadline.

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Senator Mark Obenshain Still Wants More Transparency from Virginia Parole Board

When the Virginia Senate convenes next month in Richmond for its 2021 regular session, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) will continue to push legislation that brings greater transparency and accountability to the state parole board.

With 14 days left until the session starts on January 13, Obenshain has already pre-filed two bills this month relating to the parole board.

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Issue of Paid Sick Leave Returning to Virginia General Assembly in 2021

The debate over whether or not businesses should be required to provide eligible employees with paid sick leave will again be taken up by the Virginia General Assembly when it convenes for its regular session on January 13th.

After multiple bills calling for paid sick leave were killed by a Senate committee during this past summer’s special session, those same lawmakers are once again intending to offer legislation on the issue.

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Virginia Senate Democrats’ Top Agendas for Upcoming Legislative Session

The Virginia General Assembly 2021 regular session is right around the corner on January 13 and the Democrats will again be calling all the shots for the legislature thanks to their majority in both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

This means that the agendas and priorities of Democrats in the Senate – as well as their counterparts in the House – have quite a good chance of passing through each chamber if broadly supported. Yet, what exactly are Senate Democrats focusing on?

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Governor Northam Outlines Budget Recommendations with Focuses on COVID-19, Education

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled his recommendations for the biennial budget on Wednesday with big spending toward the state’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public education and other items.

The governor presented his budget proposals to lawmakers during a joint virtual meeting of the House of Delegates and Senate appropriation committees.

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Virginia Republicans Blast Northam’s Budget Proposal to Expand Court of Appeals

After Governor Ralph Northam made a number of proposals to the state’s biennial budget on Wednesday, several Republican legislators rebuked the Democrat’s recommendation to expand the Virginia Court of Appeals and claimed he was trying to pack the court.

Northam presented his budget proposals during a virtual meeting with the House of Delegates and Senate appropriation committees.

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Virginia Undocumented Immigrants Allowed to Legally Drive in 2021 Under New Law

Beginning January 2nd, 2021, undocumented immigrants living in Virginia will be able to apply for official driving credentials, called a driver privilege card, with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), allowing non-citizens to lawfully drive within the Commonwealth for the first time.

The change in the state code stems from legislation the Democratic-controlled General Assembly passed earlier this year during the 2020 regular session and signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.

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Princess Blanding Slams Virginia Governor, Legislators Over Marcus Alert Bill

Princess Blanding, the sister of Marcus-David Peters who was shot and killed by Richmond Police during a mental health crisis, blasted Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Democratic lawmakers over legislation named after her brother during the bill signing ceremony on Tuesday.

In attendance alongside Northam were the three legislative sponsors of the bill: Senators Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond City) and Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William) and Delegate Jeff Boure (D-Richmond City).

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Holding a Phone While Driving Will be Illegal in Virginia Come January

Virginia drivers who like to use their phone while behind the wheel will need to break that dangerous habit once the new year begins or be ready to cough up money.

Thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly last spring, starting January 1st it will be illegal to hold a phone while driving in the Commonwealth.

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Virginia to Stop Accepting Online Training for Concealed Handgun Permits

Virginians will no longer be able to get concealed handgun permits through online classes after January 1, 2021. A law passed last March by the General Assembly amends Virginia Code § 18.2-308.02 to require in-person firearms training or safety courses.

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Virginia State Senator Sues Democratic Leaders Over Public Access to Office Building

Republican Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) is suing Democratic legislative leaders over plans to restrict the public’s access to the Pocahontas Building during the upcoming regular session due to a rise in COVID-19 numbers.

On Tuesday, DeSteph filed a complaint in Richmond Circuit Court against Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County), Senate Rules Committee Chair Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), both the clerk of the House and the Senate as well as the Virginia Division of Capitol Police.

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Heather Mitchell Is Running for the Virginia House of Delegates’ Second District Seat in Special Election

Following Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) resignation from the legislature, Northern Virginia resident Heather Mitchell is running as a Republican candidate in the upcoming special election for the House of Delegates 2nd District.

After Rich Anderson, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, said multiple people were considering runs for the seat, Mitchell confirmed her bid in an interview with The Virginia Star.

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Injunction Filed Against Democratic State Legislators for Shutting Out Public from General Assembly

State Senator Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) and attorney Tim Anderson filed a petition for injunction against Democratic legislators to preserve constituents’ in-person access to General Assembly members. State Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Chair of Senate Rules, and Speaker Eileen Filler Corn (D-Fairfax) decided to close the Pocahontas building to the public, which hosts office appointments for both the House of Delegates and State Senate.

“The closure of the legislative office building to the public is contrary to the explicit historical purpose of the building to allow the public access to its elected legislative members, especially during the General Assembly Session,” read the lawsuit. “Most importantly, the right to assemble and address lawmakers at the state and federal levels is fundamentally protected by the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution: a. ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.'”

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Blacksburg Council Considering Ordinance to Ban Carrying of Firearms in Certain Locations

The Blacksburg Town Council will consider passing a proposed ordinance that bans the carrying of firearms on town property as well as in public spaces when being used for or next to a permitted event.

Localities in the Commonwealth are now allowed to take such action after the General Assembly passed legislation during the 2020 regular session last spring and took effect in July. 

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Delegate Jason Miyares Announces Run for Attorney General

Virginia State Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) announced Wednesday that he is running for the GOP nomination of attorney general in 2021.

Miyares, who has represented the 82nd District of the House of Delegates since 2016, made the announcement through a video posted to his Facebook profile.

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Applications Open for Citizen Members of Virginia’s Redistricting Commission

Starting on Monday, applications for state residents to become citizen members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission are now open and available online.

Virginians have until December 28th, or just under a month, to apply for the possibility to serve alongside eight lawmakers on the commission and take part in the state’s new process for drawing legislative and congressional district lines.

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Pandemic, Unrest, Stimulus, Election Year Driving Virginia’s Ammunition Shortage

Bullets are flying off the shelves again, like after Barack Obama’s two presidential election wins. But gun shop owner Bob Marcus said the cause is not just traditional fear of what a Democratic administration might do.

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The 2021 VCDL Lobby Day Will Be a Car Rally

The annual pro-gun Lobby Day in Richmond will feature a Trump-Train style rally in January 2021. The anti-gun group Virginia Center for Public Safety (VCPS) and three other anti-gun groups obtained permits for the Bell Tower in the Capitol Square early in 2020, leaving only a 6 a.m. and a 6 p.m. slot for the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) to hold its traditional rally. As a result, VCDL President Philip Van Cleave said that cars from across the state will drive through the Capitol on January 18.

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Upcoming General Assembly Session Will Have Legislation Limits

When the General Assembly starts its 2021 regular session in January, the volume of legislation will be much different from years past because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), both the Senate and the House of Delegates will impose limits on the amount of legislation members can introduce for the session.

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Tim Anderson Announces Run for Virginia House of Delegates

Prominent Virginia Beach lawyer Tim Anderson is running for the House of Delegates 83rd District as a Republican candidate.

Anderson, who is already involved with GOP state politics, officially announced his campaign on Tuesday through a press release posted to his Twitter and Facebook profiles.

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Republican Delegate Kirk Cox Launches His Candiacy for Virginia Governor

Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) announced his candidacy for Virginia governor on Tuesday. He has 30 years of experience as a Virginia delegate, including a stint as Speaker of the House.  He thinks his brand of conservatism and results is what Virginia is looking for.

“I do think I have a record,” Cox said, “but I also feel like we need to bring back civility and respect.”

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Governor Northam Says He Supports Marijuana Legalization in Virginia

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Monday that he supports the legalization of Marijuana use for adults in the commonwealth.

“Legalizing marijuana will happen in Virginia,” the governor said during a briefing on Monday.

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Virginia House Will Remain Virtual in 2021; Republicans Leaders Want to Keep Regular Session at 30 Days

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) announced Monday that the Virginia House of Delegates would continue to meet virtually during the upcoming 2021 General Assembly regular session, just as they did during the special session, because of the current status of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the emailed statement, Filler-Corn’s decision was made after discussions with the Clerk of the House and officials from the Virginia Department of Health, which includes a letter from Virginia State Health Commissioner, Norman Oliver, strongly recommending the House hold sessions virtually “to the greatest extent possible.

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Delegate Sam Rasoul Announces Run for Lieutenant Governor, Joins Crowded List of Hopefuls

Democratic House of Delegates member Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) announced his bid for the lieutenant governor position earlier this week, officially entering the 2021 race.

Rasoul, who has served as a state legislator since 2014, made the announcement Tuesday morning through a video posted to twitter.

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