The Washington Post

Va. lawmakers prepare for first day of session, with or without Senate’s cooperation

In 1995, bickering kept the Democratic-led House and Senate from beginning work on the first day of the legislative session.

That meant the governor, George Allen (R), could not deliver his annual State of the Commonwealth Address from the historic House chamber. Instead, he was relegated to speak from his office.

It’s customary for the House and Senate to pass one joint resolution on organization at the start of the session — which also officially invites the governor to give the speech to the 140 legislators.

But there is no possibility of that happening Wednesday night, state officials say, even if the Senate fails to organize, as some predict.

As the Senate again fights over who controls the chamber, contingency plans are being made to get the General Assembly working.

House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said he has spoken to House Clerk G. Paul Nardo about proceeding with House business even if the Senate can’t organize. Nardo said that if the Senate did not organize then the House could pass their own resolution and still invite Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to speak in the chamber.

The squabbling in the Senate prompted Clerk Susan Schaar to postpone making decisions on which senators would be given coveted leadership offices and seating arrangements in the chamber.

It even delayed the selection of which schoolchildren would serve as pages because the senior senator from the majority party in the 11 congressional districts helps lead the effort — and there was some confusion about who that was.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairxfax), the chamber’s Democratic leader said senators have stayed in touch since the election and are working on a strategy.

“If we don’t organize it’s not the end of Western Civilization,’’ he said.

But McDonnell doesn’t want to hear any of that. His advice: Be civil and get working.

“After you just have an election, people are just a bit tense because there was a lot of money spent, there was an intense battle in some of those Senate races,’’ the governor said. “People are still a little bit sensitive, but I think that once people get up here and the gavel comes down I expect all of our statesmen on both sides of the aisle to govern themselves like statesman and do what people sent them here to do.”



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