RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The General Assembly finished Thursday’s calendar after 5 p.m. on Friday.
Lawmakers extended the legislative day by never formally adjourning. The move allowed them to continue to put bills in conference committees, small groups of lawmakers chosen to work out the differences between House and Senate bills on the same issue.
Democrats have already made good on a number of campaign promises. On Friday morning, party members celebrated the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which will transition the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.
“We have leapt from the back of the pack as far as energy policy to the front and we really should be proud of that,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who sponsored the bill.
With one scheduled day left in this year’s General Assembly, more than 100 bills are still being disputed. Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) said he wouldn’t support extending the session.
“This is going to end this weekend whether people like it or not,” Petersen said.
In the time remaining, lawmakers are expected to finalize a bill to legalize casino gambling in five economically distressed localities: Richmond, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol and Danville.
“We’re still working on the tax rate, the timeline of the local referendum as well as the position that historic racing will play in this piece of legislation,” Sen. Todd Pillion (R-Washington County) said.
Del. Christopher Collins (R-Frederick) said an agreement was recently reached on decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, though he pushed for a lower half-ounce threshold. The legislation would make possession a civil penalty punishable by a fine of $25.
“We’re going to probably be working towards legalization next session,” Collins said.
Lawmakers are also wrapping up a massive transportation bill. Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William) said the chambers compromised on a 10 cent gas tax increase over two years. As part of this package, Gov. Ralph Northam originally proposed eliminating annual vehicle inspections in Virginia.
“We will continue to have annual auto inspections because of what’s coming out of the conference report,” Roem said.
Sen. Petersen said the House and Senate also came to a consensus on gun control legislation. A bill limiting handgun purchases to one a month now includes an exception for concealed-carry permit holders. The “universal background checks” bill will only apply to firearm sales, not transfers.
Petersen said proposals impacting private business, like one mandating paid sick leave, may not make the cut this year.
“You’re going to see a lot of bills that don’t make it to the finish line just because you have a hundred different disputes on material issues. These are not small issues,” he said.