By George Copeland, Jr.
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus pledged their commitment Wednesday to legislation that would help underprivileged Virginians by bringing improvements in education, health care, the economy and the criminal justice system.
Outlining their agenda on the first day of the 2018 General Assembly session, caucus members said at a news conference that increased Democratic representation in the House of Delegates and the election of Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor were a boon for the group’s goals.
“We are in a great position to pass some legislation that will benefit all Virginians,” said Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg, who presented the caucus’ policies for health care. “Not only is Medicaid expansion the right thing to do, but it will save Virginians money. Right now, we have the opportunity to be on the right side of history.”
Newly elected Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, announced 10 criminal justice bills stemming from her experience as a public defender to ensure a state that was “smart on crime” rather than punitive.
Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, emphasized the importance of healthy and affordable food for marginalized communities.She pledged the caucus’ support for the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund, which she said would also create jobs in the private sector.
“We know that it works; it has worked across the country,” said McQuinn, “and we are pushing this as one of the ways of bringing economic prosperity and wellness to the various communities.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, summarized the caucus’ slate of education policies. She said caucus members “would fight any legislation that diverted public school funds to private schools.”
Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said caucus-backed voting rights bills would make voting a constitutional right for non-violent felons and lower the voting age to 16 for local elections. The caucus is also supporting redistricting reform, and said that ballot confusion in the 28th District led to an “injustice” in the defeat of Democratic hopeful Joshua Cole.
“We want to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again, said Del. Rasoul. “We firmly believe that voting is not a privilege, rather that it’s our due as Americans and Virginians.”
Near the start of the conference, new Caucus Chair Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, introduced Lt. Gov.-elect Fairfax as the “21st member” of the caucus. Fairfax highlighted the caucus’ part in the November Democratic victories and described his future role in the Senate as “breaking ties in favor of progress.” Fairfax said he was looking forward “to working with every single one of these brave leaders.”