Richmond — The House of Delegates Democratic Caucus announced their legislative priorities for the 2019 session in a press conference on Tuesday morning. Members of leadership and delegates from across the Commonwealth discussed a myriad of Democratic proposals to make Virginia work for everyone.
While by no means an exhaustive list, the policies highlighted represent areas of broad agreement across the Caucus, capturing the overarching themes of the Democrats’ agenda and their vision for a better Virginia.
In her opening remarks, House Democratic Leader Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn discussed the Commonwealth’s successes in recent years, but emphasized that there is still a lot of progress to be made. “Last year, we showed Virginians what a larger and stronger House Democratic Caucus can do for them. They cast their votes for 15 additional Democratic Delegates in 2017, and we were finally able to pass Medicaid expansion to provide health care for more than 400,000 Virginians,” she said. “Our legislative agenda aims to build on last year’s progress. We will continue to show that House Democrats are fighting for greater opportunity and for the rights of all Virginians.”
Delegate Charniele Herring, the Democratic Caucus Chair, took the podium to highlight proposals to make voting easier. Virginia has the ignominious distinction of having some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. Delegate Herring’s HB 1641 would provide for no-excuse absentee voting, available in many other states, and Delegate Carr’s HJ 639 would establish a sorely-needed independent redistricting commission. “Generations of Americans have fought to secure their right to vote, and we should be doing everything in our power to encourage participation and to make exercising this fundamental right easier. Democracy is at its best when all eligible voters can cast a ballot,” concluded Delegate Herring.
Democrats’ push to make sure all Virginians enjoy the full protection of the law does not stop at the ballot box. Unfortunately, many people are still treated as second-class citizens under the law. Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy celebrated recent strides but argued that we cannot stop working to make Virginia better for everyone, highlighting bills like her HJ 579, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and Delegate Levine’s HB 2421, a comprehensive nondiscrimination protection for the LGBT community. She emphasized, “Any progress we make is meaningless unless everyone can reap the full benefits of it. The Democratic Caucus will not stop fighting until every Virginian enjoys equality under the law.”
House Democrats are also committed to investing in Virginia’s schools. Delegate Cheryl Turpin, a teacher from Virginia Beach, said, “Education is the key to a bright future for our children and the generations to come. Virginia can continue to lead the nation in education, but only if we commit to invest in our teachers and our school systems. We must not let this progress stagnate.”
Delegate Jeion Ward talked about the ways Democrats will ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of Virginia’s outstanding economic growth in recent years. Virginia, she noted, ranks last in the nation for workers’ rights and protections, adding, “We cannot strengthen our economy without strengthening our labor force. We depend so much on our laborers, and they should be able to depend on us. It’s time to support Virginia workers with a living wage and better protections.” The House of Delegates will support several proposals to make Virginia’s minimum wage into a living wage, including Delegate Simon’s HB 1850.
Virginians also deserve protection from the rising cost of rents and mortgages. A recent study by Virginia Commonwealth University found that 5 of the top 10 cities for with the worst eviction rates in the country are in Virginia. Delegate Lamont Bagby discussed bills filed to address the housing crisis, saying, “Every Virginian deserves a safe place to call home. By supporting more affordable housing while leveling the playing-field between tenants and landlords, we can address the devastating impacts of Virginia’s high eviction rates.” His HB 2229 would make it easier to construct affordable housing in areas that sorely need it.
Delegate Alfonso Lopez discussed the urgent need to address the crisis of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. For example, Delegate Carroll Foy has introduced legislation, HB 2121, that would take initial steps to reform the draconian bail system, which can destroy lives even before people have been convicted of a crime. Delegate Herring’s HB 2370 would decriminalize marijuana, following the lead of many other state around the country. Delegate Lopez noted, “The numbers show that our approach to criminal justice is not always equitable. While Virginia has made great strides in reducing recidivism and crime rates, we need to ensure that our policies don’t overburden certain groups so that we can use our resources more effectively to secure a safe, and fair, Virginia.”
Delegate Wendy Gooditis highlighted Democrats’ proposals to protect our environment. As the threat of climate change grows every day, it has become apparent that we can no longer wait to safeguard the natural world. Delegate Carroll Foy has introduced HB 2105, a proposal to address the danger posed by neglected coal ash ponds; Delegate Gooditis’s HB 1809 will ensure that Virginia modernizes its electrical grid for the future. Gooditis said, “Parents want clean air and water so their children can flourish. Communities want prosperous local economies. The people of Virginia want us to move energetically toward a new, greener way of life. It’s time.”
Delegate Vivian Watts, the Caucus’s Policy Chair, closed the press conference with a call to action. The Democratic Agenda is an uncontroversial package that would make Virginia a better place. Delegate Watts declared, “We believe in a Virginia where everyone has the freedom and the opportunity to pursue their dreams – a House for All Virginians.”