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General Assembly Roundup: Week One

Republicans seize power in the Senate; legislators receive committee assignments

Last Wednesday, the Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2012 legislative session. Though much of the first week is routine — swearing in legislators, assigning lawmakers to committees — this year's start had a spark to it, as the Republicans used Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's role as Senate president to seize control in an evenly split chamber, despite protests from the Democrats.

The Republicans, led by majority leader Thomas Norment (R-3rd District), stacked the Senate committees with legislators of their own party, giving them not just all the chairmanships but also majorities in 10 of the 11 committees — despite Senate rules that call for committees to reflect the party proportions.

The committee shakeup had a direct effect on one of Vienna's representatives: Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th District) lost his seat on the Courts of Justice committee.

Petersen, a lawyer for 18 years and equity partner at Surovell, Petersen, Isaacs & Levy PLC, had served on the committee for the past two sessions.

"Obviously I would have liked to stay on the Courts of Justice committee, where my experience and legal analysis could be best utilized," Petersen said in a statement. "I will continue my efforts to represent the people of Virginia in my other committee assignments."

Petersen's assignments are now the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, General Laws and Technology Committee and Privileges and Elections Committee. He has previously served on all three committees.

Vienna's other state senator, Janet Howell (D-32nd District), has seen a significant loss of power on the Finance Committee, arguably the most powerful committee in the Senate. As a senior member of the committee, she will still hold clout, but the Republican chairmanship and 9-6 Republican majority will make hers an uphill battle.

Howell has also been assigned to the Courts of Justice, Education and Health, Privileges and Elections, and Rules committees.

With a Republican majority that only grew larger in November's election, the House of Delegates has not had the same squabbles as its Senate counterpart. The House heard few, if any, objections to the committee assignments announced by Speaker William Howell (R).

Vienna is split among three House districts, represented by Dels. Mark Keam (D-35th District), Barbara Comstock (R-34th District) and Ken Plum (D-36th District).

Keam has been assigned to the Education and Finance committees, which because of newly acquired territory in last year's redistricting: Tysons Corner. Education is a new assignment for Keam, which replaces his seat on the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.

"As a product of public schools, I am convinced that I would not be where I am today without the great education I received, and I will use my position on the House Education Committee to ensure that Virginia public schools remain the best in the nation," Keam said in a statement. "Education and transportation have been my top two priorities throughout my two campaigns and in my time in Richmond, and I am eager to make progress for our constituents on both of these topics during this session."

Comstock did maintain a seat on the Transportation Committee, as well as the Science and Technology and Commerce and Labor committees.

Plum maintains his seat on three committees: Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources; Rules; and Science and Technology.

Each chamber's committees will begin consideration of proposed legislation today. To see legislation proposed by your representatives, click the following links:

Petersen and Keam will hold a town hall meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday at , 330 Center Street N. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided.

This article has been updated.

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