RICHMOND, Va. – With the start to the new legislative session in the General Assembly Wednesday, major changes could be on the way in Virginia, including new gun laws.
It was largely a day of ceremony and pleasantries, but the drama is expected to begin soon.
Dozens of people supporting gender equality demonstrated outside the capitol, pushing for the Equal Rights Amendment, which is one in a long list of proposals from Democrats like Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
“There are a lot of wonderful things we’re going to focus on to lift up all 8.5 million Virginians, including our friends in Roanoke, and I really appreciate all the support we’re getting from around the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Fairfax said.
The fiery debate over stricter gun laws is expected to begin early this session. Some gun rights supporters demonstrated outside the capitol Wednesday.
“More gun control laws will be followed by all of these people because we’re law-abiding citizens, but the very criminals that break the laws now, will not follow these new laws,” said Franklin County resident Steve Huff.
His representative, Republican Senator Bill Stanley, who also represents parts of Southside, shares those concerns over the Democrats’ policies.
“We’re going to bring the debate to them and hopefully bring some common sense to what they’re trying to do right now,” Stanley said.
Democrats’ bills include expanding background checks, instituting red flag laws for people deemed dangerous to themselves or others and banning the sale of certain guns.
In order for those bills not to pass, there will have to be some “no” votes from Democrats, who have a one-member advantage in the Senate and a five-member edge in the House of Delegates.
“We need to find at least two Democrats who believe the Second Amendment is as important as every other amendment. I’m not confident that that’s going to happen,” Stanley said.
Democrats largely agree on these issues. They’re on the same page when it comes to the concepts behind the policies, but there’s room for disagreement on many of the specifics, including on how an “assault weapons” ban would be implemented.
Chris Hurst, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 12th District, encompassing Blacksburg, Radford, Pulaski and Giles Counties, said these bills will get scrutiny from him.
“Anything that doesn’t allow individuals to keep the firearms they currently own is going to be problematic for me,” said Hurst.
He’s not sure about Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's idea that gun owners would have to register some weapons.
“I’m very sensitive to people who are concerned about a registry and what that could open the door for in the future,” Hurst said.
10 News asked him if that means he may vote “no” on a proposal involving an assault weapons ban.
“I think that I’d need to take a real, hard look at any proposal that deals with regulating assault-style firearms, for sure,” Hurst said.
Hurst’s comments come as many localities around Southside, Southwest and Central Virginia have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, pledging to resist new gun laws and potentially refuse to enforce certain restrictions.
Democrats also say they’ll focus on transportation funding. An increase to the gas tax has already been proposed to boost revenue. They’ll also look to raise the minimum wage, to which Republicans are voicing concerns from small business owners. Democrats will also look at increasing education funding, which may be an issue where both parties can find common ground.
Stanley is also raising questions about how much focus his region of Virginia will receive this session.
He said he's worried that Democrats will focus too much on northern Virginia and Hampton Roads when it comes to funding improvement projects.
“We need to think about all of Virginia. We need to put regionalism aside and focus on what’s good for everybody. I’m hopeful that will happen but I’m not confident yet," he said.
Hurst said he’s certain that Southwest Virginia and Southside will be well-represented in legislation, from transportation to education.
“We’ve been stymied in the past on things we know that Virginians want us to take action on so we’re really looking forward to this opportunity to get to work on behalf of all Virginians," he said.
The session is scheduled to last 60 days in Richmond.