Northam outlines priorities to lawmakers as session begins

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam delivered his state of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night to a largely empty chamber because of COVID-19 protocol.

During his speech, Northam recounted the ravages of the pandemic, but promised that the state will continue to help its residents and businesses.

“The adversity of the past 10 months has revealed a strong, resilient Virginia,” Northam said. “Virginians have lost a great deal, jobs, livelihoods and unfortunately loved ones, but we’re still here. We’re poised and ready to rebound. People are hurting and they sent us here to do a job; they are counting on us. We can do a great deal of good this session.”

The governor outlined a range of initiatives he’ll pursue during this session of the Virginia General Assembly including a bill to end the death penalty in Virginia.

“Virginia has executed more people than any other state, more than 1,300 people,” the governor said, noting the state’s 401 years of history.

Other measures the governor said he’ll work to advance include legalizing marijuana and other steps toward criminal justice reform. He said he’ll work to increase funding to state parks and provide access to education to members of the Virginia National Guard.

The governor also used his speech to condemn last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol and pointed with pride to members of the Virginia State Police who were among the first out-of-town law enforcement agencies to hustle to the District to help quell the riot.

The governor issued a warning to Virginia elected leaders who may have encouraged the violent protests in Washington.

“Words have consequences, inflammatory rhetoric is dangerous, this is not a game,” Northam said. “When elected leaders purposefully reject facts and truth and fan the flames of conspiracy all in the pursuit of power they are taking dangerous steps. We have now seen where those steps can lead.”

Soon after the address, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn said she backs Northam and his work to protect Virginians amid the pandemic.

“I support the Governor’s continued efforts to help struggling families and small businesses weather these difficult times, distribute the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible and get our kids back to school,” Filler-Corn said in statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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