With the opening of another legislative session in Richmond, we have seen some of the changes brought about by the sweeping electoral change from November. In the House of Delegates there is more diversity — a chamber that is starting to more closely represent the people who live in our Commonwealth. With the makeup of the chamber shifting significantly to 51 Republicans to 49 Democrats (from 66-34), the verdict is out on what effect the shift in numbers will have on the kinds of legislation that can pass. We have seen progress in some areas already — better committee representation and more transparency in committee votes. You can even watch committee meetings on the General Assembly website, if you want to be involved in the process from Alexandria.
There will be a number of high profile issues that come to the forefront this session like Medicaid expansion, voting rights, criminal justice reform, and education access. Of all of these issues, Medicaid expansion has the ability to have the quickest and most far-reaching effect. This issue has incredibly strong bipartisan support, as a recent Public Opinion Strategies survey showed that 83 percent of Virginia voters support Medicaid expansion. That is why last week the House and Senate Democrats stood together at a press conference to express the importance of this issue and our desire to work with our colleagues across the aisle so that we can stop turning away $6.6 million a day in federal dollars that would help nearly 400,000 Virginians gain access to real healthcare.
Federal failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, further entrenches that it is the law of the land. We can drive economic growth, create jobs, and stabilize healthcare access in many rural areas — all by accepting our money back from the Federal Government and expanding Medicaid to include people that make $16,643 or less a year (or $22,411 for a family of two). This issue has economic and moral imperatives which is exactly why I am optimistic that we can come together and make Medicaid expansion a reality this year.
I am also hopeful that we will see Virginia’s voting laws move into the 21st century. That is why I have submitted HB57 which will bring no-excuse absentee voting to the Commonwealth. Voting is the fundamental building block of democracy, and ensuring every eligible voter can cast their ballot and have their voice heard is an obligation I take very seriously as a legislator. Every year long lines dissuade voters and those that can vote absentee under our current system have trepidation about the validity of their excuses. I am confident that we can join 27 other states that allow people to vote in person or by mail early with no excuse, whether it be this year or the near future.
Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice and Counties, Cities, and Towns Committees. You can follow Delegate Herring online at www.charnieleherring.com.