Saturday, June 15, 2024

2024 Post-Session Legislative Forum Offers Round-Up of a Unique Session

Local members of the General Assembly pose for a 2024 Post-Session Legislative Forum photo with event dignitaries. (Christopher Six/WYDaily)

WILLIAMSBURG — The Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2024 Post-Session Legislative Forum at the Williamsburg Regional Library on Friday, April 26.

The forum, moderated by Mindy Carlin of Access Point Public Affairs, included the all-Republican delegation of Sen. Ryan McDougle, Sen. Danny Diggs, Del. Amanda Batten, Del. A.C. Cordoza and Del. Chad Green.

Following what the panel described as an ‘odd’ General Assembly session, the attending legislative members seemed restrained.

“Certainly, when we look at any legislative session they take on somewhat of a personality of their own. This session tended to take on the personalities of some of the leaders. It took some of the personality of Sen. Lucas, Speaker Scott and Gov. Youngkin. And, as we worked through those things sometimes that created a lot of controversy that you might have seen on Twitter,” said McDougle in his opening remarks and referring to the social network now known as X.

Many on the panel discussed how the number of newly elected representatives, as well as getting settled into the new General Assembly building, had an impact on the session.

“We had a number of new members, including Danny (Diggs), and as group, even when we had some vehement disagreements on policy, we were still able to do it in a respectful, courteous way and one where information was able to be obtained by all members regardless of where you live geographically, or which party you were elected from,” said McDougle.

“Boy, what an adventure for me! One of the takeaways that I had was — I don’t know what happened in the ‘Wild West’ of the House. Crazy going-ons — but over in the Senate it’s a really nice atmosphere where we can have disagreements about various issues,” followed Diggs. “There was open communication between Senate Republicans and Democrats talking behind the scenes. I had an outstanding first experience.”

From her perspective in the House, Batten explained she felt this was a really interesting session.

“There was a lot of ‘new’ this year. There was a record-setting number of new legislators entering the General Assembly,” she said. “It was interesting, because you don’t know their personalities, individual interests, or what their priorities might be. There was a lot of just trying to get a feel for how things would operate.”

“I’ve heard the word ‘interesting’ thrown about and I have no reference to compare this. I was one of 34 new delegates,” Green said. “I figured out how to get six bills forward and I figured out how to get one budget amendment — knock on wood — through. So, I had a good session!”

Tension among the House of Representatives and the Senate was also noted, including the lack of an approved budget.

“I believe there were over 750 bills that were passed, the majority of which were unanimous in the Senate and House and will go into law on July 1, but the focus always tends to be on the ones that were not unanimous and where there were party divides,” stated McDougle.

Commenting on that sentiment, Batten said, “The tension that makes the headlines as far as Republicans versus Democrats is interesting because there’s always an ongoing tension between the House and the Senate — we are not the Wild West, we just actually know how to have a good time and enjoy each others company. But, a lot of the headline-grabbing things were conflicts between the Democrat legislature and our Republican Governor.”

Gov. Youngkin vetoed 153 bills from the 2024 General Assembly session, which is more than any Virginia Governor has vetoed in their entire four-year term.

When asked about collaborating with Youngkin, Cordoza said, “Working with the Governor has been a great experience. I have been in constant contact with the Governor’s staff, and in many cases the Governor himself, about my bills and my opinions on bills the Governor has introduced. I can say say our Governor has been very accommodating and helpful to me in the legislative process.”

Some positive outcomes from the session that the delegation highlighted included the passage of the Virginia Critical Operation for a Disappeared Child Initiative, also known as the Codi Alert program, spearheaded by Cordoza in honor of four-year-old Codi Bigsby, who went missing from Hampton in 2022.

Also, the Kinship as Foster Care Prevention Program, led by McDougle, which will expand the pool of relatives a child can be placed under the current kinship care program.

“It will make sure kids have the ability to be placed with family members if they end up in the unfortunate situation where they can not be with their parents,” explained McDougle.

Green implemented a bill that will increase the jury pool numbers by raising the age of juries from 70 to 73, in addition to a bill that will add an extra judge to the 9th Circuit.

“This judge will be a true circuit rider that will be between York County, James City County, Gloucester and New Kent. It will help alleviate the load on the judicial system,” stated Green.

And, Batten noted  “there were a number of education initiatives that were successful this year.”

When concluding the forum, Carlin asked each what their focus would be in the upcoming year, Green said, “making life more affordable for the average Virginian.”

Batten said education, while Cordoza, Diggs and McDougle all responded that public safety will continue to be a major focus.

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