Virginia House Republicans took power on Wednesday with the formal election and swearing-in of Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). The first day of the 2022 General Assembly session was marked by ceremony and by minor squabbles between Democrats and Republicans over House rules. In the morning, Gilbert and other Republican leaders previewed their legislative goals for the session in a press conference.

“Our agenda for 2022 is a direct response to what we heard from voters on the campaign trail,” Gilbert said. “Throughout the campaign, voters consistently told us they were worried about their children’s education, inflation was making it harder to take care of their families, and they wanted to see the safety of their communities improved.”

Majority Leader Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City) said, “Entrepreneurs and business leaders cannot survive in a regulatory environment that crushes innovation and punishes prosperity. Through the Regulatory Reduction Pilot Program, we’ll reduce unnecessary government meddling and support new business, jobs growth, and opportunity for every Virginian.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) said ending the grocery tax and tax rebates would be a priority. House Courts of Justice Committee Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) called for a change in criminal justice policy.

“Anybody who’s watched the courts of justice committee do its work has seen that there was a sea change in approach over the last two years. We saw a large number of bills pass that made it harder to prosecute offenders to hold them accountable, reduce their sentences, made it harder to prosecute larceny cases, limited the ability for probation officers to manage probation, made it harder to keep someone on bond prior to trial,” Bell said.

He called for reforms to reverse some of those changes, and called for a pay raise for law enforcement, while promising to block qualified immunity repeal.

House Education Chairman Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) said Republicans would fight for high educational standards, protect advanced pathways, and support more funding for schools, while making it easier to create charter schools.

A reporter asked Davis about Critical Race Theory.

“In 2021, the House Republicans proposed a clause to block schools from compelling students to affirm, adopt, or hear to beliefs that any sex, any race, or any ethnicity is inferior to another, should be treated adversely, or responsible for past actions by their sex, race, or ethnicity. This bill was immediately blocked by the Democrats, and this year the House Republicans, and the governor-elect, will be bringing forth and working together to enact legislation like this pushing back against those teachings, both at the Board of Education level, and in our schools,” Davis said.

On Tuesday, Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) introduced HB 787, a bill that bans training or instruction of “divisive concepts” and requires the Department of Education to create a model policy that local school boards will have to imitate with their own policy.

Republicans signaled their policy direction with other actions on Wednesday.

When the Democrats took control of the House from Republicans in 2020, they changed the name of the Commerce and Labor Committee to the Labor and Commerce Committee. Now, that committee has been replaced by the Commerce and Energy Committee.

Plexiglass shields stood on delegates’ desks in the 2021 summer session. New COVID-19 rules from Gilbert say that plastic shields are optional. Republicans also passed rules for the House that, while mentioning harassment, leaves out the clause “on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities.” Democrats had introduced that language into their rules for previous sessions, and Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) sought to have it added back in, but Republicans defeated his amendments.

After the House unanimously elected him Speaker, Gilbert gave an address while his family watched.

Gilbert said, “It is my hope and intention that we will engage in spirited debate on this floor, and we will return to the inherently deliberative nature of this body. That we will argue our cases zealously but with mutual respect and proper order. I would hope all want the same things: a better future for our children, more prosperous families and communities, and a Commonwealth where everyone can live in relative safety. We just often disagree on how best to get there.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Todd Gilbert” by Todd Gilbert. Background Photo “Virginia House Floor” by Antony-22. CC BY-SA 4.0.