General Assembly reconvenes on somber note after losing senator to COVID-19 complications

30-day session started Wednesday

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia lawmakers are back at work, as the General Assembly reconvened Wednesday afternoon amid threats of violence in the coming days at the state capitol in Richmond.

As with the special session last fall, the House is meeting virtually, while the Senate is meeting at the Science Museum of Virginia.

It was a somber start to the regular session Wednesday morning, as lawmakers honored the life of senator Ben Chafin, who died earlier this month after contracting COVID-19.

[Date set for special election to fill seat of late Virginia Senator Ben Chafin]

Each senator laid a rose on a desk draped in black to honor the late senator from southwest Virginia.

Losing a colleague to COVID-19 added importance to the issue that’s top of mind for lawmakers right now.

“It is a constant reminder to be very careful with this very dangerous virus,” said Sen. Steve Newman, R, Lynchburg.

Local lawmakers said they’re focused on COVID-19 relief, and everything from getting kids back in school, to helping small businesses get back on their feet. Some say the COVID-19 vaccine has a lot to do with getting everyone back on their feet.

“...To make sure everybody gets vaccinated. It’s critically important to get vaccinated,” said Sen. John Edwards, D, Roanoke.

Edwards highlighted other key issues.

“I want to make sure we get an authority to the New River Valley to build a passenger station...make sure we expand broadband, and then finally we’re going to expand the Court of Appeals of Virginia,” said Edwards.

Democrats are pushing to end the death penalty, legalize marijuana and continue criminal justice reform, setting up what’s sure to be heated debate. Still, the goal is to work collaboratively.

“I’m very hopeful that Republicans and Democrats will come back together as we’ve done for so many years and go back to supporting our police officers, making sure that our children are going back to school,” said Newman. “We’ve got a lot of work to do just to defend Virginians as it relates to some of the criminal justice activity here at the capitol.”

This session is only scheduled to last 30 days.

“We can’t get the budget done in 30 days,” said Edwards.

There’s a push by Governor Ralph Northam to extend the session by 15 days if needed, but so far, Republicans are opposed to that.

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