Jan 20, 2022
Virginia 2022 Legislative Session Preview
The Virginia 2022 General Assembly convened Jan. 12, 2022, in Richmond for a 60-day session, and Glenn Youngkin was sworn into office on Jan. 15, 2022, as the commonwealth’s 74th governor. Given the changes in the House of Delegates as well as the governorship, expect a major shift in the legislative agenda this session. Republicans will focus on education, tax relief and rolling back some of the policies and regulations Democrats enacted over the past two years. Democrats, who control the Senate, indicated they will focus on education, healthcare and minimum wage in 2022.
New House Leadership
After two years of being in the minority, Republicans in the House of Delegates returned to Richmond in January with a 52-48 majority after flipping seven seats in November. Democrats previously held a 55-45 majority in the lower chamber. Given the change in majority in the House of Delegates, there have been many changes in leadership and committees. Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) currently serves as speaker of the House, Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City) was elected House majority leader, and Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) is House Appropriations Committee chair.
Outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam presented his two-year budget proposals for the new budget cycle to the legislature’s money committees on Dec. 16. Key components of the proposed budget include major investments in education, behavioral health and the environment. Various tax cuts and pay raises for teachers, public safety officers and state workers were also notable highlights. With a change in leadership at the executive branch and the split control in the Virginia General Assembly, legislators and Gov. Youngkin will have to work together to develop a budget that both sides can support.
The proposed budget language includes $297 million for Virginia’s historically Black colleges and universities. The budget would expand the state's G3 program that provides tuition-free community college for low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields. For K-12, $500 million in grants would go toward school construction or renovation and another $268 million would support at-risk students.
Regarding behavioral health, the budget proposes $263 million for community-based services to individuals with behavioral health needs. Historic investments were proposed to support Virginians with developmental disabilities. $675 million would go toward community-based services and provide eligibility for Medicaid waiver services.
Gov. Northam proposed $410 million for land and water conservation efforts. The cities of Richmond, Alexandria and Lynchburg would get millions to improve wastewater systems. The proposed budget also sets aside $245 million for multi-use trails and state parks in Virginia.
The budget proposal would make up to 15 percent of the federal earned income tax credit refundable for eligible families.
Gov. Northam proposed increasing compensation by 5 percent per year for Virginia teachers, for a cumulative increase of over 10 percent over two years. Under the proposed budget, Virginia state troopers, correctional officers, deputy sheriffs and regional jail officers would also get raises. Additionally, state employees would get a 10 percent pay increase over the next two years.
After the bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use was passed and signed into law this year, there have been concerns about what a Republican-led House could mean for this going forward. The bill, which legalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and up to four cannabis plants and launches recreational sales by 2024, passed with a reenactment clause. This requires the bill to pass again in the 2022 General Assembly session without any changes, which may present a challenge given the new Republican majority in the House.
Many Republicans, including Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert, issued statements suggesting they will not seek to discontinue plans for retail sales of recreational marijuana. Others said they are even open to expediting the timeline to allow retail sales. Additionally, Gov. Youngkin said he would not seek to repeal marijuana.
However, the social equity provisions included in the bill are not popular amongst Republicans. The bill gives priority for receiving marijuana business licenses to individuals charged with marijuana-related offenses and to individuals who graduated from historically Black colleges or universities. Last session, several Republicans made it clear they would not support a bill that set aside business licenses for people with marijuana convictions, as they believed it could send the wrong message of rewarding people for violating the law.
Education will be one of the top priorities this session, especially for Republicans since education played a key role in Gov. Youngkin’s victory in the November elections. Republicans will likely focus on school choice and increased funding for education in 2022. Additionally, House Republicans will likely revisit certain education-related provisions enacted when the Democrats had the majority, such as restoring requirements for schools to report potential crimes to local law enforcement if a student commits a misdemeanor. As for the upper house, Senate Democrats have stated that under their leadership, historic investments in education have been made and they will continue to advocate for schools and students in the future.
Rollback of Democrat-Led Policy and Executive Orders
House Republicans will also look to roll back some policies Democrats have enacted over the past two years. Speaker Gilbert said rolling back clean energy regulations would be a priority for Republicans in the House. For example, the Clean Economy Act led the commonwealth to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and commit to a transition to total carbon-free power by 2050. Republicans in both chambers have argued that such goals are not practical and will end up costing Virginians a lot more money if fossil fuels are eliminated.
The Voting Rights Act of Virginia is another bill Republicans could look to roll back. The measure, championed by Democrats and criticized by Republicans, aimed to eliminate restrictive voting practices. Republicans have commented that it would increase the workload for local governments and create potential for voter fraud. While Republicans may be successful in passing legislation to undo policies in the House, it will be difficult to pass sweeping changes in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
In the first few hours of his term, Gov. Youngkin issued nine executive orders and two executive directives, some of which will have impacts on topics previously discussed. Executive Order No. 9 requires a reevaluation of Virginia’s participation in the RGGI and enacts a process to end it. Other orders and directives include:
- Executive Order No. 1 ends the use of divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, in public education.
- Executive Order No. 3 terminates the current Virginia Parole Board, names five individuals to the board, directs the secretary of public safety to perform a programmatic review of the board’s procedures, and requests that the attorney general conduct a full investigation.
- Executive Order No. 4 requests the attorney general to initiate and coordinate investigative and prosecutorial efforts and to take actions deemed appropriate in relationship to an incident that occurred in the Loudon County public school system in 2021.
- Executive Directive No. 1 directs executive branch entities to take steps necessary to reduce regulations not mandated by federal or state statute by at least 25 percent, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.