State lawmakers made their way back to Richmond last week, starting their 46-day session off with discussions about the revenue windfall and the possibility of Virginia becoming the last state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. 

As the 140 senators and delegates file bills, vote in committee meetings and meet with constituents, it's the people behind the scenes at the Capitol that make everything function smoothly. 

On this week's Virginia Politics podcast, we hear from some of the people behind the scenes who make lawmakers' jobs a little easier. Like Barbara Carter, who works at the concierge desk for the Senate. Or Denise Gittens, who runs the cafe on the second floor. 

Ever wonder how offices get assigned to representatives? Or what goes on in the bill room? Listen to this week's podcast to get a better sense of what goes on while everyone else is paying attention to legislators. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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On Wednesday, state lawmakers will gather in Richmond again to tweak the biennial budget and pass legislation. 

It'll be a short and intense session. On this week's podcast, politics reporter Dave Ress returns to the podcast to join Marie Albiges in discussing what we can expect from our 140 legislators at the capitol. 

There's few billion dollars of extra revenue to spend, and tax reform to consider. 

Virginia's been floated as the final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Gambling might take center stage, with proposals of casinos in various parts of the state coming forward. 

Local legislators are filing bills too -- related to criminal justice reform, school safety, high-interest rate loans, guns, domestic terrorism and more. 

All these bills are being filed in an election year at a time when some legislators won't even know where they're running because district lines are still being decided. 

Stay tuned after the podcast for bloopers.

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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One year ago, the balance of the General Assembly rested on one vote.

In the race between Republican incumbent David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds in the 94th district -- which encompasses Newport News -- the election came down to a recount, and then a tie vote. 

The winner -- whose name was picked out of a bowl -- would decide whether Republicans maintained the majority in the House, or whether there would be a 50-50 split.

One of those recount officials was Ken Mallory, a middle school civics teacher who questioned an irregularly-marked ballot. 

On this week's Virginia Politics podcast, Mallory reflects on the recount on its one-year anniversary. 

"It seems like it would be hard for there to be a discrepancy, so I was interested to see what kind of ballots are we talking about that was going to be counted, and what’s the process and procedure for that," he said. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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School counselors in Virginia have been getting some attention lately. 

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday he'd like to spend $36 million to hire more counselors, and to eventually bring the student-to-counselor ratio down to the recommended 250-to-1 ratio. 

He says increasing the number of counselors will make schools safer because students would be receiving more behavioral, mental and emotional support. 

This is in line with what a select committee on school safety recommended in November. The safety committee also recommended hiring more testing coordinators so that school counselors had more time to focus on students' needs. 

On this week's podcast, school counselors Stephanie Smith-Durkin from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia and Katie LaRue from Poquoson Elementary School address some of these recommendations. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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There’s been some new developments in everyone’s favorite topic – redistricting.

An anti-gerrymandering group on Thursday said it wants to amend the Virginia constitution to create a 10-member commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and four independent voters. 

To amend the Virginia Constitution, legislators must first approve it in two annual sessions separated by an election — in this case, in 2019 and 2020 — before it can be added to the ballot as a statewide referendum in the 2020 general election.

In the meantime, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, asked the lower court Wednesday to halt any remedial map drawing mandated by the lower court until the Supreme Court hears arguments in the gerrymandering case stemming from 2014. 

William and Mary Law professor Rebecca Green came on to talk about what this means for Virginia and for 2019. 

She served on the committee tasked with coming up with the ballot language, and she explains how they came up with the map-drawing criteria and the process for creating the commission. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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What happens to an inmate after he or she gets released from jail or prison?

Sandra Brandt with Step Up, Inc. has built an agency that helps recently-released inmates get back on their feet and stay out of jail.

She started the company 43 years by happenstance, first offering female inmates opportunities for job training and placement, and later expanding the services to men.

Today, she and her staff help inmates prepare for release by helping them prepare for and find a job and a place to stay, giving them counseling and helping them navigate other responsibilities that come with reintegration into society.

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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Del. Cheryl Turpin, D-Virginia Beach, spent her first year in the General Assembly focusing on education, voting and coastal flooding. 

A high school teacher for decades, Turpin is not new to politics. 

She ran in the special election for the 85th district seat in 2016 when Scott Taylor got elected to Congress and gave up his state delegate seat. 

She lost by 342 votes to Republican Rocky Holcombe, a captain at the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office. 

In 2017, she ran against him again, and this time she won, becoming one of 15 Democrats to flip their seats that year. 

She said being elected to serve Virginia Beach was the "adventure of a lifetime". 

While none of the bills she put forward this year passed, she says she's not going to be as reserved this year. 

She's focusing on helping Virginia become the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and she's looking at more legislation to support teachers and help with flooding issues in Virginia Beach. 

The episode is the final in the Virginia Politics podcast series on freshman Hampton Roads delegates.

Find all the episodes with the new delegates at dailypress.com/podcasts.

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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Kelly Fowler's goal of one day representing Virginia Beach residents was born after she attended the Women's March in Washington, D.C. in January 2017. 

Coming home with a desire to change the political atmosphere after the events of 2016, Fowler, a Democrat, ran a campaign to defeat Republican incumbent Ron Villanueva. 

She was successful in flipping the seat blue, along with 14 others in the state which brought the House of Delegates to 51-49 for Republicans. 

In our third episode featuring first-time Hampton Roads lawmakers, we speak with Fowler about being the new kid in school, so to speak. 

A former public school teacher who now runs a real estate company, Fowler learned the legislative process as she went, and she's got a few lessons to take with her as she heads into next year's session. 

Her biggest focus leading up to 2019? Flooding

Fowler joins Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, and Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, as a featured speaker on the Virginia Politics podcast. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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When Del. Emily Brewer was 10 days old, she was adopted. 

Thirty-four years later, the first-time Suffolk state Republican representative has brought her experiences with adoption to the capitol, where she's filing legislation for adoption and foster care reform. 

In the second episode of our series on freshman Hampton Roads legislators, we talk about what her first session was like, what she thinks are going to be big topics of conversation in the 2019 session (hint: it involves money) and what it meant to her to have adoption legislation pass

In addition to Suffolk, Brewer has also served residents living in Smithfield, Isle of Wight County and Surry County since she was elected in November 2017. She was named freshman legislator of the year by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce this year. 

Missed the first episode in our freshman legislator series? Listen to Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, about his "surreal" experience as a first-time lawmaker. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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On this episode of Virginia Politics, and for the next few episodes, we speak with freshmen Hampton Roads delegates about what went well — and what didn't — in the 2018 session, and what we can expect in 2019.

This week, Del. Jay Jones from Norfolk is on the show. He's no stranger to the General Assembly, but he called his first session "surreal".

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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