By Sarah Danial and Brandon Celentano
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — The Women’s Equality Coalition is supporting a legislative agenda focusing on issues ranging from Medicaid expansion and birth control to redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting.
Coalition representatives from Progress Virginia, Community Mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and their supporters called on lawmakers to advance rights and programs for women and families.
Coalition members said they are focusing on three umbrella issues in legislation they hoped to see filed and considered this session — women’s health, economic justice and democratic participation.
In addition to Medicaid expansion, no-cost birth control and ensuring a right to abortion, the group supports workplace and economic reforms. It backs legislation to raise the minimum wage in Virginia to $15 an hour, establish pay equity and combat employment discrimination. The group additionally wants improvements in paid family and medical leave.
The coalition also supports the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
At its news conference Monday, the group also called for non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting.
‘“Every citizen has the right to make their voice heard, but in too many parts of Virginia, women don’t have a say in choosing their representatives because the election outcome has already been rigged,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.
“Non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting would allow women to more fully participate in our democracy and give responsible Virginians across the Commonwealth the ability to have their voice heard, even if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.”
Joyce Barnes, a home health care worker and a member of the Service Employees International Union, spoke in support of the coalition.
“I work for minimum wage, and I currently have two jobs. I don’t get home until 10 p.m. and I miss time with my family and friends. I never get a vacation or time off because I have to put food on my table and pay my rent,” she said. “We need to pass these bills so that women like me can live like everyone else and get the compensation they deserve.”
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, noted that Virginia is one of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has said that Medicaid expansion will be a priority in the coming legislative session.
Keene said legislation that would confirm abortion as a fundamental right and prioritize birth control said it is “a common sense bill which makes Virginia lives better.”
Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Virginia General Assembly. A spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus declined to comment on the coalition’s goals. Requests for comment to the Family Foundation, which seeks to “empower families in Virginia by applying a biblical worldview” to public policy. were not returned.
More information about the Women’s Equality Coalition and its legislative agenda is at vawomensequalitycoalition.org.