Being sworn in Wednesday in Richmond are, front row from left, Sens. Walter Stosch (R-Henrico), Emmett Hanger (R-Agusta), John Watkins (R-Chesterfield) and Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach). (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

Virginia’s General Assembly gaveled to order Wednesday afternoon.

The House of Delegates swore in 15 members and the Senate swore in six members. Family and friends of new members crowded the floor of the chambers along with retiring members, including Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington).

Legislators will spend much of the session considering thousands of bills and passing an $85 billion, two-year budget. But Wednesday was marked by pomp and circumstance as members awaited the expected fight over control in the evenly divided Senate.

Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) rose to ask that the members recognize Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Prince William), who by signing the oath of office for his 10th term became the longest-serving state senator in Virginia history, surpassing Sen. Henry Taylor Wickham, who served 36 years, starting in 1889.
“He is the last remaining member of the General Assembly who is a World War II veteran,” Saslaw added.

The newly sworn in senators proceeded with the niceties of a new session, with veterans rising to formally introduce freshmen – and their spouses, children and other relatives. Afterward, the Senate adjourned so that the new senators and their families could gather in the ornate Senate chamber. 

Sen. Thomas Norment (R-James City), who would become Senate majority leader if Republicans succeed in gaining control, called for a recess as soon as the Senate reconvened. He said they had to wait for the new proposed Senate rules to be printed, with proposed changes made in red so that they will be conspicuous and no one can be accused of slipping anything through.

In the House, 100 delegates unanimously reelected William J. Howell (R-Stafford) as speaker. Del. David Toscano (Charlottesville) gave his first speech as minority leader.

Howell promptly announced the shuffling of committee assignments — one of the most anticipated announcements as the new session begins. Committee memberships are based on proportion to the body as a whole, which now has a hefty 68-member GOP majority. That means most committees will now include 15 Republicans and 7 Democrats.