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General Assembly: Getting Started Week Moving In, The Chair And Unusual Activity
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond – The Monday and Tuesday before session starts each year on the second Wednesday of January — a much too early start as many lawmakers, staff and lobbyists alike are still adjusting from the dizzying array of personal, professional, Christmas and New Year, and legislative preparation business — are peaceful. It’s a great time to walk the floors of the Pocahontas Building and re-establish relationships, meet new people and break the ice with legislators moving into their offices. Its ever so pleasant — everyone is smiling and optimistic.

The biggest news seemed to happen last Friday. That’s when the old Speaker’s chair, made in Williamsburg in the 1730s, was recalled to Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol from the Colonial Capitol, where it is on an indefinite loan, to be placed in the old House chamber (a functioning museum), until the end of March. It’s part of the General Assembly’s quad-centennial celebration as the oldest legislative body in the western hemisphere.

If it could speak ... it has served the commonwealth from the heady days of the 1760s and 1770s, heard Patrick Henry’s "if this be treason ..." and survived the early years of the War of Independence, escaped harm during the 1747 fire that destroyed the Colonial Capitol, was moved to the new capital of Richmond in 1780 and survived the carnage inflicted when Benedict Arnold torched that city 238 years and one week ago (that raid was reenacted over the weekend, including a presentation of House and Senate resolutions commemorating the new capital’s defense), and yet another devastating conflagration during that other war.

But it wasn’t all slow and ceremonial. Also on Friday, the House GOP leadership unveiled its tax reform plan to prevent an automatic tax increase on 600,000 middle class Virginians if no changes are made to rectify an incongruity to the commonwealth’s code resulting from the 2017 federal tax reform. It would provide a small tax cut paid for by the huge surpluses rolling in from economic growth sparked by the federal tax cuts. Democrat Governor Ralph Northam prefers to do nothing and use the windfall tax receipts to increase spending and provide payments to those who don’t pay state income taxes.

On Monday, a Senate Finance sub-committee heard testimony on Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed spending increases to various health agencies. Room 500-A in the Pocahontas Building was crammed with lobbyists spilling out into the hall, straining to listen the nonamplified discussions.

It’s a jump start on the short, 45-day session. With several contentious issues ahead — tax increases or cuts, new spending, coal ash ponds, redistricting, school safety and renovations and even marijuana legalization, the old Speaker’s chair is going to hear a lot more.


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