Virginia 2021 Legislative Preview

January 4, 2021

Pardon Our Dust

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The Virginia 2021 General Assembly session will be unlike any we have seen in the past. Coming off a months-long special session, Republicans in the Senate and House of Delegates intend to keep the session to the 30-day constitutional limit. Typically, the legislature extends short sessions to 45 days, but any extension requires approval from two-thirds of both chambers. A 30-day session poses logistical challenges of moving bills through committees and out of each chamber in two weeks while meeting virtually. Both chambers have set bill limits. Each Delegate may introduce seven bills and each Senator may introduce twelve. Despite the short session and bill limits, the General Assembly is set to tackle big issues facing the Commonwealth.

Recreational Marijuana

Following a report of the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, Governor Northam offered his full support of the legalization of recreational marijuana and included funding in his 2021 budget proposal to lay the groundwork for legalization. The challenge for the legislature will be to get consensus on a bill that adequately regulates the industry and preserve various interests.

Special Session Carry Over

Even though Virginia had a long special session in 2020, several pieces of legislation did not pass. Legislators failed to come to an agreement on COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and paid sick leave. The General Assembly may revisit both matters in the January, especially in light of Congress excluding liability protections from the latest COVID-19 relief bill.


In December, Governor Northam presented his proposed amendments to the 2020-2022 biennial budget. For COVID-19 response efforts, his budget provides over $500 for K-12 to prevent reductions to school division funding due to decreased enrollment during the pandemic. It also appropriates more than $15 million for broadband. The proposed budget provides funding for various criminal justice reforms, the regulation of recreational marijuana under Virginia ABC, and restores some allocations that were frozen earlier this year. The economic outlook for the Commonwealth looks stable, and revenues are exceeding the official forecasts.

The General Assembly will consider the Governor’s budget proposal during session and may make amendments to reflect their own priorities.

In light of the potential for a shorter session and virtual proceedings, we can expect a vigorous agenda for the 2021 Virginia General Assembly session.