The 2019 Session Is Upon Us
Since my election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2005, my goal has always been to serve this region with honesty and integrity while pushing the progressive measures which reflect this community’s values. For all of this time, Democrats have been in the minority in the House, with the result that many of the initiatives our region supports have not yet been adopted. Nonetheless, we have achieved some major victories, not the least of which occurred in the last session when we were able, after 5 years of trying, to pass Medicaid expansion, and provide access to health insurance to over 300,000 Virginians. It was the most consequential vote in decades.
Working with others in the General Assembly, we have been able to raise teacher salaries, make more investments in environmental protection and mental health, and provide monies for critical investments in transportation, including roads and mass transit. We have worked to restore and increase funding for education that was cut during the Great Recession. And we have fought efforts to restrict the reproductive rights of women and deny the rights of our LGBTQ and immigrant communities. As Democratic Leader for the past seven years, I was proud to help lead these fights. Under the McAuliffe Administration, Virginia’s economy expanded and many new jobs were created. Under the Northam Administration, growth rates have increased and we have been able to better meet the needs of all citizens in the Commonwealth. I remain committed to the following principles and will work to see policies embodied by them passed in upcoming sessions.
Good Jobs that Honor Work, Provide Opportunity, and Build Prosperity: Virginians Need a Raise
Hardworking Virginians should be able to earn a livable wage and have a decent standard of living, including the ability to access paid time for family leave, vacations, and sickness. Opportunity and prosperity are ensured when employees are protected at work, and have access to health care and other benefits. Virginia families want their children and grandchildren to succeed and not be forced to move from their communities to seek a better life. To that end, we should pass laws to ensure:
- A concrete plan to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour, lowest in the nation, to $15 per hour.
- Strong paid family leave policies.
- Contracting procedures that reward companies which provide health care and benefits to their employees while ensuring workers’ rights to a safe and secure workplace.
- Equal pay for equal work.
- Nondiscrimination in hiring and employment.
- Incentives to ensure that all Virginians have access to affordable and quality health care.
- Prohibitions against wage theft in the workplace.
- Better workforce training linked to good jobs in the community.
- Greater investments in Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, directing these monies for local use (similar to the $1 million grant we obtained for Habitat’s Southwood initiative).
Access to Affordable and Quality Health Care
Virginians continue to experience problems with accessing health care at affordable rates. Large numbers of Virginians remain uninsured, and in many parts of the Commonwealth insurance premiums take too large a percentage of a family’s income. Medicaid expansion will permit a larger number of Virginians access to quality insurance, but there are other areas where reforms are necessary. I support:
- Effective implementation of Medicaid expansion.
- Expanding health care insurance options to increase access and hold down costs.
- Transparency in providing information about the costs of services and prescriptions so that consumers can make educated choices.
- Investment in public health centers and free clinics to assist those who are unable to pay for medical procedures and prescriptions.
- Emphasis on preventive public health rather than expensive emergency medicine.
- Increasing investments to ensure that food insecurity is eliminated among Virginians.
- Protecting women’s reproductive rights.
- Lowering drug prices under Medicaid by leveraging the purchasing power of state agencies.
- Protecting consumers from surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers.
- Ensuring that persons with pre-existing conditions do not lose insurance.
- Enhancing the ability of our Bureau of Insurance (BOI) to rein in health insurance premium increases.
Improving our Educational System at All Levels
The future success of the Commonwealth and its citizens will be built on a strong educational system where your ability to get ahead will not be determined by your zip code. Our initiatives should:
- Expand Early Childhood Education.
- Continue reforms in the Standards of Learning (SOLs) to better measure learning.
- Transfer more monies to local schools from lottery funds.
- Increase high school graduation rates to grow our talent pool.
- Raise teacher salaries above the national average.
- Improve refinancing options for student debt.
- Strengthen the ability of community colleges to provide credentialing options linked to jobs and provide more low-cost options for those seeking higher education.
- Ensure adequate funding for higher education to limit tuition increases and reduce student debt.
Empowering People over Special Interests
More accountability needs to be built into campaign finance, and the right to vote needs to be expanded, not diminished. To that end, I support:
- Limiting campaign contributions for statewide elections.
- Prohibiting the personal use of political funds.
- Prohibiting publicly regulated utilities like Dominion Energy from contributing to political campaigns.
- Expanding access to the vote, and increasing the ease of casting it, by enacting no-excuse absentee voting.
- A constitutional amendment to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission.
- Increasing ease of restoring voter rights.
- Providing local options to try out “ranked choice” and “instant runoff” voting.
Creating a Criminal Justice System that Penalizes Crime While Providing More Options for Rehabilitation and Diversion
More and more studies indicate that criminal justice is applied inequitably in our country, and that certain population groups are disproportionately incarcerated independent of their crimes. Moreover, it is increasingly difficult for offenders to reintegrate into communities after their incarceration, with the result that they continue to be a burden on, or a threat to, society. I support:
- More diversion for youngsters who have been convicted of crime and who would benefit by intervention so as to avoid prison.
- Decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana possession.
- Continuing policies to reduce the “school to prison pipeline.”
- Restructuring youth prisons with an eye towards more rehabilitation.
- Creation and utilization of drug and mental health courts.
- Reforming the system of cash bail.
- Modifying the parole system, to provide more options to those who utilize their time during incarceration to improve themselves.
- An end to racial profiling.
Promoting An Energy and Environmental Revolution That Harnesses Innovation to Fight Climate Change, and Provide Clean Air and Water
The dangers of long-term climate change are obvious, especially in Virginia, where sea-level rise threatens our safety, our livelihoods, and our quality of life. We need to accelerate the building of a renewable energy future that celebrates American ingenuity and innovation, invest more in clean water systems that can enhance productivity, and improve the quality of our air. To that end, I support the following:
- Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce carbon emissions, and channeling monies derived from it into jobs in water and air quality.
- Development of a Mandatory Renewal Portfolio Standard that will require utilities to purchase the majority of their energy from renewable resources.
- The safe and clean closure of coal ash sites in Virginia.
- Renewed efforts to restore, maintain, and enhance the Chesapeake Bay, from stormwater management funding to BMPs on farms.
- Expanding energy efficiency and energy storage programs.
- Development of offshore wind power.
- Requirements that new state-funded buildings be “zero net energy” ready by 2021.
- Abandoning costly and inefficient pipeline projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
- Stronger emphasis on distributed power and energy storage, to wean the Commonwealth from reliance on fossil-fuel power generation.
Equal Opportunity and Promotion of Diversity
One key to the future economic success of the Commonwealth and prosperity of our citizens is a welcoming environment that promotes equality, justice, and diversity. To that end, the Commonwealth should:
- Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) so that it will become a part of the United States Constitution.
- Prohibit discrimination in employment and housing.
- Allow all persons residing in the Commonwealth to obtain a license to drive a vehicle and require them to obtain auto insurance (or pay into the uninsured motorists fund).
Reinvest Budgetary Surpluses
Without state action, the recently enacted Trump Tax Plan will hurt middle-class Virginians by forcing them to pay higher taxes to the Commonwealth. I support using budget surpluses generated from the federal changes for targeted tax relief for middle- and lower-income working Virginians, and for strategic investments in schools, transportation, and job creation.
Common Sense School and Gun Safety Initiatives
Gun violence is occurring with increasing frequency. Most recently, we witnessed the mass shootings at places of worship, schools, and public gatherings, including the attack on the Temple of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall, which left 11 people dead in the largest mass shooting of Jewish worshipers in our nation’s history. This follows only 3 years after an assault by white supremacist Dylann Roof during a prayer group meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, yet another incident where members of a racial minority were targeted for murder. And we cannot forget numerous other mass shootings, including Las Vegas in 2017 (59 dead), Orlando’s Pulse dance club in 2016 (50 dead), Sutherland Springs in 2017 (27 dead), Parkland in 2018 (17 dead), San Bernardino in 2015 (16 dead), and Santa Fe High School in 2015 (10 dead). And there are thousands more killed with guns each year, either in smaller confrontations in communities, in accidents, or as victims of suicide. Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough to respond to these outrages and tragedies. Virginians want common sense gun measures to be passed, and more initiatives in schools to ensure our students, teachers, and school personnel are safe. I will work with others to ensure:
- Funding to increase the number of mental health counselors in our schools.
- Greater investment in the school technology grant fund.
- Universal background checks in Virginia.
- Programs that can remove guns from the home when a family member has a severe mental health crisis.
- Greater flexibility for localities to enact common sense gun safety measures.
Invest in Infrastructure to Create Jobs, Spur Innovation, and Protect Communities from Natural Disasters
Among the core services of government is building and maintaining our infrastructure: our roads, rails, transit systems, ports, and information technology. This essential task produces jobs and enhances the quality of life for all Virginians. In recent years, we passed a major transportation bill that raised additional revenue for maintenance and improvements, and we have also invested in our ports and airports. But more is needed. I support:
- Expanding access to reliable and affordable broadband to enhance opportunity and create jobs, especially in areas with the greatest need.
- Make strategic investments in Virginia’s ports, the I-81 corridor, and rail capacity across the Potomac as gateways to commerce.
- Ensure our schools and public buildings are properly maintained, retrofitted for security and energy efficiency, and that new structures are constructed to the highest standards.
- Develop more robust coastline resilience programs to address sea-level rise brought on by climate change.
- Preserve prudent state tax and budget management policies, to maintain Virginia’s leading position as a sound place to do business and expand employment opportunities.
I have been honored to be given the opportunity to represent so many of you during these past 13 years, and my promise remains the same today as it was when I was first elected — to fight for the values we hold dear with the honesty and integrity you expect from your Delegate. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.