The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce is gearing up for an “interesting” Virginia General Assembly session with a change in party control in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates, said Clayton Medford, Vice President for Government Relations at the Chamber.
After November’s election, the 40-member Senate, 100-member House and Governor’s Mansion will all be under Democratic control for the first time since 1995.
“The most encouraging part about the upcoming session is a lot of familiar faces in leadership positions,” said Medford. “Because of the change in party control, many committee chairs and House and Senate leadership roles will be filled with Northern Virginia representatives.”
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax is expected to be elected Speaker of the House when legislators convene in mid-January, and Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria will be majority leader.
Medford said the Chamber has done a great job forming partnerships with legislators from around the state, but it helps when leadership knows Chamber members well and understands “how critical the economic success of Northern Virginia is to Virginia’s success.”
But Chamber officials expect to face some big challenges with “mandates on businesses and threats to our stellar business-friendly reputation,” Medford said.
One of those threats may include an effort to repeal Virginia's right-to-work law, which prohibits employees from being forced to join a labor union. Virginia is among 27 right-to-work states, a point of pride among Virginia business leaders.
“The Chamber has worked diligently in preparation for discussions with the General Assembly on the impact of any proposed legislation, including that in our priorities, may have on business which affects Virginia’s economy and people,” said Tom Rust, co-chair of the Chamber’s Policy Committee.
The chamber was still preparing its 2020 legislative agenda at press time, but expects priorities will look familiar to members, with some updates and changes based on proposed legislation.
For the first time, the Chamber plans to discuss issuing a climate resiliency statement and will highlight support for a regional bus system, Medford said.
The Chamber will also ask legislators to keep a foot on the gas in terms of education incentives announced when Amazon chose Northern Virginia for its new National Landing headquarters.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced investments of up to $375 million over 20 years for new master’s degree programs in computer science and related fields at George Mason’s Arlington campus, and for Virginia Tech to establish a new Innovation Campus in Alexandria. The governor also promised an investment of $50 million over 20 years in K-12 tech education and internship programming to connect higher ed students to tech jobs.
“We’re … redoubling our efforts to focus the legislature’s attention on the needs of our educational system to produce the workforce of the 21st century,” Medford said.