Gavel drops on 2016 GA session; lawmakers tout bipartisanship on day one

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RICHMOND, Va -  Virginia legislators will be busy in the 2016 General Assembly session; more than 1,900 bills and resolutions have been proposed so far for the 60-day session.  The big question facing Virginia politics as the gavel drops Wednesday:  how will the relationship between Governor Terry McAuliffe and Republicans will play out?

The GOP holds a majority both houses of the General Assembly two years in a row.  At least on day one, leaders in both parties said they believe they can find common ground with their political opponents in 2016.

William Howell (R-Stafford) was unsurprisingly voted Speaker of the House again.  During his introductory remarks to the chamber, Howell said he believes policies that promote education reform and small business growth have a good chance of making it to the Governor's desk.

The one piece Howell seemed adamantly against was Medicaid expansion.  McAuliffe included monies from expanding the federal health insurance program for the poor in his 2016 budget proposal.  Virginia Republicans have long opposed the move.  They argue federal dollars could eventually dry up, leaving the state to foot the bill, and leaving the newly insured in limbo.

"This chamber has expressed its will on Medicaid expansion no fewer than five times in the last two years.  Our goal should rather be improving access and keeping costs low," said Howell.

Legislators must file proposed amendments to McAuliffe's budget by Friday.

Leading Democrats remained optimistic the legislature will push through meaningful legislation this year.

State Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico, Richmond) said too often media reports focus on the controversial issues that parties are ideologically far apart on.  McEachin hoped the theme of bipartisanship will continue throughout the 2016 session.

"I think we'll see something in the area of privacy.  I think we'll see something in the area of criminal justice reform.  Even the in the area of the environment, they'll be some surprising areas of agreement," he said.

Political experts said gun control, abortion regulations, and religious liberty items will be a major part of the narrative for this session.