The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

RICHMOND – In a legislative shakeup three weeks into this year’s General Assembly session, the Senate Democrats on Friday tapped Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, co-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently chaired by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke. Deeds and Edwards will lead the 15-member panel for the remainder of the session.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County

“We are dealing with a lot of bills this year, there’s so much work in there,” Deeds said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. Deeds has previously chaired the Senate Privileges & Elections Committee, which is now helmed by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria. “We’ve gone through most of P&E agenda, so I’ll be working with Senator Edwards instead. This is just a way to make sure we have a fairly even workload,” Deeds said.

Edwards, when reached by phone Friday, said that the decision to bring on Deeds as co-chair was made in the Senate Caucus meeting Thursday. Per the Senate rules, committees are assigned by the majority caucus. The caucus submits a nominations report for all committees that must be approved by a majority vote of the chamber. Committees are assigned at the start of each term.

“It’s a big committee, we have a lot more bills, and it’s a lot more complicated,” Edwards said of his work on the panel, adding that he did not feel sidelined by the decision of his caucus. “It’s no big deal, Creigh and I are running the committee together, we are good friends and we’ve always gotten along well,” he said.

State Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.

Edwards was assigned chair of  the Judiciary Committee in January 2020, after Democrats flipped the state Senate in 2019. The committee meets twice a week during session. He also serves on the Education and Health, Finance and Appropriations, Commerce and Labor, and Rules committees. 

Deeds, Edwards said, is a qualified co-chair because he also serves on several related subcommittees, including Civil Law and Criminal. “It was a good idea to ask him to join me as co-chair, it makes sense,” Edwards said. He did not want to say whose idea it was to bring Deeds aboard, as caucus meetings are confidential. 

Edwards said that there are 175 Senate bills in his committee this year, with about 80 still pending before the panel takes up legislation coming from the House of Delegates next month. He said he has handled a heavier docket before – in 2020, his first year as the committee chair, there was a total of more than 400 bills on the docket, from both chambers. “That was brutal. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, we often had to go into overtime,” he said. 

Both Deeds and Edwards underscored that having two senators co-chair a committee isn’t unusual, referring to the 2014 session, when then-Sens. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, and Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, served as co-chairs. 

State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, welcomed Deeds’ inclusion as co-chair. “The workload this year on the committee is heavy and probably requires a tag team, and that’s what we are seeing now between John and Creigh,” he said that Republican members of the panel weren’t informed of the change until Friday. “John is a man I’ve respected very much for many years as an attorney and as a human being, regardless of politics,” Stanley said. 

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Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.