By Deanna Davison
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Senate Democrats said Tuesday they are excited to work with Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and continue Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s progress in this year’s General Assembly session.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke of Hampton said Virginia generated more than 200,000 new jobs and has enjoyed a “thriving economy” under McAuliffe.
“Virginians want economic security,” Locke said. “We must keep trends moving in the right direction. It is incumbent upon us to ensure no Virginian is left behind.”
She spoke at a telephone press conference during which the caucus outlined its agenda for the 2018 legislative session, which begins Wednesday. The agenda’s theme is “building safe, secure communities.”
Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said the Democrats plan to continue to push to expand Medicaid, the health care program for low-income people funded by the federal and state governments.
Barker said that under Medicaid expansion, Virginia’s savings would outweigh the state’s share of the cost.
Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, emphasized the Democrats’ commitment to improving conditions for working women and families by fighting to close the gender pay gap and achieve paid family leave.
“Parents should never have to choose between caring for a sick child and earning a day’s wages,” Ebbin said. “Access to paid family leave is not only the right thing to do – it makes good business sense.”
Sens. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg highlighted issues like ensuring quality education and voting rights and decreasing the incarceration recidivism rate. Lucas emphasized the achievement gap for students of color and disabled students. The Democrats said they plan to fight for universal pre-K and 21st-century job training, giving more Virginia students the opportunity to succeed.
Dance said the Democrats will continue McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights to released inmates who served their sentences. She also mentioned implementing “no excuse” absentee voting, especially for the elderly.
“Every Virginian should have an opportunity to succeed, regardless of mistakes they have made in the past,” Dance said. “These people need to know their votes matter. Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.”
The senators also discussed plans to reform mental health and substance abuse treatment, citing long wait times. Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, said Virginia must reform the system and ensure quality, affordable services for those who need help.
“We have to do these things this year, and I am confident we will,” Barker said.