On January 8, 2020, 400 years after Virginia’s legislature met for the first time, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn from Springfield, was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House. The vote was a unanimous 99-0, following a nomination by Democrat Charniele Herring, which was seconded by Republican Delegate Lee Ware.
Additionally, Charniele Herring was voted as the first woman and first African-American to serve as House Majority Leader.
Finally, rounding out an entirely female dais, the House appointed its first ever female Clerk, Suzette Denslow.
And it doesn’t end there. In the House, 7 of the 14 Committees are chaired by women, including 4 women of color. In the Senate, 4 of the 11 Committees are chaired by women, including 2 women of color. Both the House and Senate Finance Committees are chaired by women.
House Republicans even added two women to their ranks, Amanda Batten and Carrie Coyner; and Senate Republicans added Jennifer Kiggans.
In a humorous exchange in the Senate on Wednesday, some Republican senators were complaining about the committee assignments having too many Northern Virginia senators on them, and Janet Howell explained that she picked members for her Finance committee mostly by seniority with one exception: she wanted the Republicans to have one woman on the committee, so Jill Vogel jumped ahead of her fellow Republican Benton Chafin in line.
ERA moves towards ratification on first day
The first order of business as soon as the Senate was organized and committee assignments were made, was to hold a meeting of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, chaired by Senator Creigh Deeds, to vote on passing the resolution for Virginia to become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
There were two identical resolutions filed, SJ1 and SJ5 with chief co-patrons Jennifer McClellan, Mamie Locke, Emmett Hanger, Janet Howell, Richard Saslaw, and Scott Surovell. SJ5 was “rolled into” SJ1.
A Deputy in the Attorney General’s office testified that although the ratification deadline has passed, there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents Congress from extending the deadline or removing it altogether.
There were a handful of people allowed to testify. Notable was a fierce twelve year old girl, who said that she was tired of legislators “patting her on the head, and then voting against her interests.”
A woman from the Family Foundation testified against it, arguing that it would cost Virginia taxpayers “millions of dollars” in litigation as the ERA moved through the courts following ratification. Senator Surovell then asked the Deputy AG whether it would cost millions, and she stated that it absolutely would not cost the taxpayers anything, that their current staff is sufficient.
Adam Ebbin made the motion to report SJ1 out of committee and to a floor vote.
On a 10-5 vote, the Committee voted to advance the resolution to the floor, with Republican Senator Jill Vogel joining the Democrats to vote in support.