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Republicans having their way during Virginia General Assembly session

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Posted at 3:07 AM, Feb 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-23 14:59:22-05

RICHMOND, VA (WTVR) - At the halfway point of the General Assembly session the story at the Capitol is one of growing Republican dominance.

Since the beginning of the session, conservative Republicans have been able to move a repeal of the state's one-handgun-a-month law to the Governor's desk, and advanced conservative positions on abortion, illegal immigration, schools, home-schooled students, education and teacher reform, and making welfare recipients undergo drug tests.

In the past Democratshad been able to block many of these positions, but the results of November's elections gave Republicans a supermajority in the House of Delegates and a tie in the Senate with Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling having the tiebreaker vote.

"If you look at this General Assembly session, it's been nothing short of remarkable," says political analyst Bob Holsworth. "It shows that elections really do matter. The Republicans have felt that there was a lot of pent-up demand for conservative positions that passed in the House but used to get squashed in the Senate. If you look at what's happened so far in the assembly session, it's been one major social issue after another that's been passed in the House, and in many instances in the Senate."

The makeup of the Senate committees is at the heart of the change. Thanks to a controversial Lt. Governor Bolling tiebreaker vote Republicans have slim majorities in some of the major committees that see the most controversial legislation. Committees where bills passed by the more conservative House of Delegates used to wither away.

Dr. Holsworth sees this as a session that will have long-lasting impacts on Virginia.

"Right now this has been a remarkable session for conservative Republicans, they are really reshaping Virginia, and my sense is that we look back at history this is going to be one of the most distinctive sessions where you've had legislative leadership, not just gubernatorial leadership really changing the social and political landscape of the Commonwealth."

Holsworth says he expects Democrats to try to make the changing landscape an issue in the next election, but that isn't until November 2013. Until then he says Democratic leadership should shoulder the blame for losing on so many issues.

Those Democrats though say Republicans are being irresponsible for using their new found power.

"I've never seen a crossover session as bitter and as acrimonious as what we just went through," Del. Joe Morrissey of Henrico told CBS 6. "The bills were so over the top that it was almost indefensible."

"The Republicans are leading a U-Turn to the right," lamented Sen. Donald McEachin(D-Henrico).

McEachin said he's pleased that his bill to install ignition interlocks on the cars of all first-time DUI offenders, he's concerned by many of the bills carried by Republicans, especially one that would require applicants to Virginia's Welfare to Work program to undergo drug testing.

"This was a bill to perpetuate a stereotype against poor people," he said.