The General Assembly wrapped up what should've been a pretty sleepy session at the end of February, but with the top three state leaders getting national media attention and facing calls for resignation, lawmakers headed home with a sigh of relief. 
 
Amid all the chaos in Richmond, they passed a budget, provided tax relief to Virginians and drew up some new legislation, much of which will take effect July 1.
 
Among the new laws to expect: raising the tobacco age to 21, giving tenants more time to pay rent if they're threatened with eviction, and higher fees for leasing oyster grounds. 
 
The Virginia Politics podcast is taking a break for a while to make a few changes we hope you'll like.
 
Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.
Each year, around 60 of Virginia's young students get a front row seat at the General Assembly. 
 
The 13 and 14-year-olds come from across the state to stay in Richmond for the duration of the session and participate in the Senate and House page programs. 
 
On the last week of session, six pages from Hampton Roads discuss what it's like to work alongside legislators, learn the lawmaking process and debate bills. 
 
One of the pages, Drew Goodove, takes the lessons he learns a bit further by talking about the General Assembly in a series of Youtube videos he sends to his civics class every week. He's even interviewed Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. 
 
Applications for the program open Aug. 1 every year and applicants must get a letter of recommendation from their representatives.
 
Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

On Episode 37 of the Virginia Politics podcast, Marie Albiges talks about the tumultous two weeks in Richmond since racist photos were discovered on Gov. Ralph Northam's college yearbook page.

Since then, the top three elected officials in Virginia -- all Democrats -- have resisted calls to resign.

You may have watched or read the coverage of the scandals, but Albiges will describe the chaotic scene in Richmond, from Northam's infamous press conference at the Governor's Mansion to officials dodging the media in the hidden corridors of the Capital.

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

Over the weekend, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam became embroiled in a controversy over a racist yearbook photo. 

 

The Daily Press and the Virginian-Pilot first learned of the photo's existence through a conservative blog, Big League Politics. 

The newspapers' first move was to verify the photo was real. 

In this episode of Virginia Politics, Virginian-Pilot reporter Gordon Rago walks us through his trip to the EVMS library, where he found the yearbook from Northam's senior year and confirmed the existence of the racist photo. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

Virginia may be getting new legislative lines in 2019 after a three-judge panel ruled last year that the current House of Delegates map is unconstitutional. 

While we're waiting for a fix -- which that same three-judge panel is going to choose -- the Virginia Politics podcast looked at what new electoral maps means for local voter registrars. 

Walt Latham is the president of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia and the voter registrar for York County. He's been through a number of redistricting cases, both through the U.S. Census Bureau count that happens every decade and in instances like 2016, when the Congressional map had to be redrawn. 

On Episode 35, Latham talks about how legislative maps are adopted at the local level and thousands of people are notified that they've moved districts and are represented by someone new. 

Music: Puzzle Pieces by Lee Rosevere.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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