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Under New Democratic Majority, Northam Proposes Gun Reforms, Free Community College

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam addressing the General Assembly at the State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam addressing the General Assembly at the State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gave his annual State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday night.

Northam outlined his agenda for the General Assembly session. And with a new Democratic majority in both houses, his speech carried more weight than in previous years.

Watch the full address:


Governor Northam began his speech Wednesday night by highlighting the new representation in the General Assembly. 

“It’s a proud moment to look out and see a General Assembly that reflects, more than ever, the Virginia that we see everyday.”

Wednesday was a day of firsts as Democrats assumed control of both houses. On the opening day of the General Assembly, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax was elected as the Democratic speaker of the house. She’s the first woman and the first Jewish speaker. Delegate Charniele Herring of Alexandria also became the first African American majority leader. 

Northam’s proposals this year centered heavily on the economy. 

While Virginia’s unemployment rate is at a record low, Northam says not everyone is seeing the benefits. Many people, he says, are underemployed or not making a living wage.

Northam threw his support behind Democratic efforts in the General Assembly to raise the minimum wage. Many of the bills would raise it gradually to $15 per hour.

“The people who are building our economy should benefit from it.”

Northam wants to create Virginia’s first Office of Offshore Wind. He’s proposing $40 million dollars to upgrade the Portsmouth Marine Terminal in the hopes of attracting new wind turbine manufacturing jobs to Hampton Roads.

To train workers for the new economy, Northam wants funding for providing free community college to Virginians. Known as the G3 program, the state would provide students with money for tuition and books if they pursue a career in an in-demand field. 

“This program is about people. But remember this: This is an investment in our economy too.” 

Criminal justice reform is also a top priority for Northam. 

He called on lawmakers to permanently end drivers license suspensions for unpaid court fines and decriminalize marijuana.

“Our criminal justice system doesn’t provide a second chance. If you make a mistake at a young age, and even if you pay your debt to society, your punishment follows you throughout your life.”

Northam ended his speech addressing what is likely to be the most controversial issue of this year’s General Assembly session: gun control.

In the shadow of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach last summer, Northam welcomed a conversation about new gun regulations. Democrats have filed a series of bills that among other things would create a new red flag law and institute universal background checks.

“I know that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are important and well intended, but Virginians spoke in November and they expect votes and laws to make Virginia safer.”

While Northam derided partisanship and divisiveness in his speech, some Republicans found it highly partisan. 

Todd Gilbert, the now former House Majority Leader from Shenandoah Valley, says he did not see a lot of common ground in the agenda Northam outlined.

Gilbert says Republicans will resist the governor’s call for more gun control. 

“I don’t think the governor’s paying close enough attention to how upset people are all across Virginia. When that pendulum begins to swing back the other way, when we have a different political environment, they will rue the day that they tread so heavily on people’s rights to defend themselves and their families as they see fit.” 

But this year, the pendulum of power has swung to Democrats. And it’s unclear what if anything Republicans can do to stop these changes from happening.


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