The Virginia General Assembly has gaveled in for the beginning of a 46-day legislative session in which lawmakers will consider key issues such as road funding, school security, whether to expand Medicaid and whether to lift the state's decades-old ban on uranium mining.
The House of Delegates briefly convened to be sworn in and to take the roll. In the state Senate lawmakers began by introducing the young pages who will work during the session.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is scheduled to deliver his State of the Commonwealth Address to a joint session in the House of Delegates at 7 p.m.
The House planned to adjourn in the memory of Leeser Boone Howell, the wife of Del. Algie T. Howell Jr., D-Norfolk. Mrs. Howell died Dec. 21. The Howells had been married for 49 years. In an emotional speech, the delegate thanked his colleagues in both parties for their good wishes and prayers.
Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford, delivered brief remarks as the House convened.
"We have a responsibility as elected officials to work on the issues that are facing our state and important to the people we serve," he said. "The most important among them is creating good jobs and growing our economy. This is and will continue to be the top focus of the House of Delegates this year.
"Transportation, education and public safety are just a few more of the many important issues we will work on this year. I urge all legislators, whether Democrat or Republican, to renew their focus on the core issues facing our commonwealth," Howell said.
The Senate convened with a new member, Sen. Kenneth C. Alexander, D-Norfolk, who was elected in September to fill the 5th Senatorial District seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Yvonne B. Miller.
Sen. Ralph S. Northam, D-Norfolk, the city's senior senator, introduced his new colleague as one of Miller's "most prized students." Alexander received a standing ovation, which Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling joked might be the last times he's applauded unanimously by members on both sides of the partisan aisle.
Alexander previously served for 10 years in the House of Delegates and is former chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. He is a Norfolk native and graduate of Old Dominion University. He and his wife, Donna, have two sons.
Miller died in July. She had served for 24 years in the Senate and four years in the House.