General Assembly session extended as lawmakers scrutinize state budget

RICHMOND, Va. -- Many Virginia lawmakers were anxious for the 2019 General Assembly session to end for a host of reasons, but on the final scheduled day of the regular session, state lawmakers had to extend the session by one more day.

Negotiators finished working on amendments to the bi-annual state budget, but an agreement was never made to bring those amendments before a vote by both the House of Delegates and Senate. Instead, state lawmakers voted to extend session by one day and take up the budget work on Sunday morning at 11 a.m.

Saturday was filled with hours of waiting and final negotiations on key pieces of legislation. Any bill not passed by Saturday is likely dead until 2020.

For example, the House of Delegates voted down an amended version of the “hands free driving” bill that previously passed both chambers. By not agreeing to the changes suggested by a conference committee, it is likely the measure will not become law this year.

Still, lawmakers beat the legislative “shot clock” and approved several measures that have received attention this year.

Del. Chris Peace's ’s bill to stiffen the penalty for drivers failing to move over for emergency vehicles passed with hours to spare.

“Incredibly important. We would’ve had to wait another year before that important change would be made," Del. Peace, R-Hanover, said. "We want to protect those serving our community, the red and blue lights on the side of the road helping others.”

That bill was written in memory of Hanover County firefighter Brad Clark, who was killed after a tractor-trailer struck a firetruck working an accident during Tropical Storm Michael.

Both Democrats and Republicans said that while many will remember 2019 for scandals that rocked the executive branch,  their work has made changes that many people may not have heard about.

"Virginia just became the first state in the nation to acknowledge with profound regret the existence of racial terror lynchings," Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said. "That’s a huge deal."

Additionally, Del. Peace said legislators make great strides on tax reform and  passed "major legislation" Saturday on redistricting reform.

"We’re about to vote on a budget that increases teacher pay," Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico,  said. "We’re about to vote on a budget to increase the student-counselor ratio."

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