Virginia’s legislature kicks off 2021 session amid pandemic

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s state lawmakers kicked off the 2021 legislative session away from the state Capitol because of the surging coronavirus pandemic.

The session started Wednesday at noon, with the House of Delegates meeting remotely while the state Senate gathered at an event center more than 2 miles (3 kilometers) away.

This will be the second year in which Democrats are in full control of the General Assembly since flipping the chamber in the 2019 elections. Major issues they are set to address this year include COVID-19 relief efforts and legalizing marijuana.

“We will do the people’s work and we will let no obstacle stand in our way,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn.

The Senate started its first session with a moment of silence for Sen. Ben Chafin, a southwest Virginia GOP lawmaker who died at the start of this year due to complications related to the coronavirus.

Lawmakers then passed a resolution celebrating Chafin’s life, giving speeches in honor of a man widely admired for his collegiality and entertaining, heartfelt floor speeches.

“Whether you were for him or against him on a bill, it didn’t matter. Ben was going to treat you as a friend,” said Sen. John Cosgrove, a fellow Republican who said he “just plain lost it” when he learned of Chafin’s death.

Chafin’s desk sat empty, draped in black fabric, and lawmakers each placed a red rose in vases atop it.

Senators were distanced at individual tables, and two had plexiglass dividers around their desks, including GOP Sen. Amanda Chase, who said she has a medical condition that prevents her from wearing a mask. The chamber approved a motion to let members participate remotely.

Gov. Ralph Northam is set to address lawmakers Wednesday evening.

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