RICHMOND, Va. – As the 2018 session draws to a close, the influence of House Democrats, who picked up 15 seats in November’s wave election, can be felt through a range of legislation that will benefit working families throughout the Commonwealth.
The newly-configured House of Delegates has delivered results for Virginians in the areas that include health care, economic development, education, the opioid crisis and criminal justice reform.
“We got a lot done this session, bringing about much-needed change that Virginia voters wanted to see in Richmond when they went to the polls last fall,” said House Democratic Leader David J. Toscano and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring. “We delivered on our number one campaign promise of passing Medicaid expansion in the House of Delegates, which will extend access to affordable health care to nearly 400,000 people. We also passed key bills to address student loan debt and the opioid crisis, and we moved the ball forward in areas ranging from criminal justice reform to the school-to-prison pipeline -- all while remaining laser-focused on ways to bring good jobs to Virginia. There is still plenty of work to be done, especially in the areas of women’s equality and the gun violence crisis, but we are proud of the change we were able to achieve with our muscular minority this session. If this is what 49 looks like, imagine all we can do with 51.”
The budget passed by the House included Medicaid expansion, a monumental breakthrough in a more than five-year-long fight to extend health care access to nearly 400,000 Virginians. The influx of federal dollars due to expansion will allow the state to save millions of dollars, allowing for historic investments in every level of education as well as raises for teachers and correctional officers.
Additionally, Caucus Chair Charniele Herring passed a bill that would make it easier for Department of Health practitioners to treat sexually transmitted diseases, and Delegate Wendy Gooditis passed a bill that will require the Department of Behavioral Health to report information related to their anti-suicide programs yearly.
House Democrats were instrumental in the passage of a bipartisan bill that would incentivize businesses to bring good jobs to Southwest and Southside Virginia. Delegate Lashrecse Aird worked with Republicans on this initiative that will help galvanize regions struggling with economic development.
Delegate David Bulova passed a bill that that would require the Board of Education to develop curricula in career investigation, which would help even elementary school students to become exposed to technical and trade education. This initiative will help students become career-ready and help businesses have access to a skilled workforce.
Student Loan Reform
House Democrats are fighting to ensure that all Virginians have access to affordable, high-quality education.
Delegate Cia Price passed legislation to help borrowers navigate student loans by establishing a student loan ombudsman. In addition to helping Virginians understand their financial commitments, the ombudsman will also help resolve complaints from borrowers against companies that engage in predatory practices.
Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg passed a bill to protect people who struggle to make their student loan payments from losing their professional licenses. The New York Times recently published a story on states that suspend the professional licenses of people with unpaid loans and the policy’s devastating effects on working people.
Criminal Justice Reform
The House of Delegates passed a key longtime priority for House Democrats by raising the felony larceny threshold from 200 dollars to 500 dollars. Virginia’s felony bar has not been raised since 1980 and is tied with New Jersey for the lowest in the nation. Raising the threshold has been a major criminal justice reform focus for Democrats for at least two decades. In 1999, then-Delegate Brian Moran introduced a bill to increase the threshold, versions of which have been introduced by Democrats for seven out of the last eight years.
House Democrats made significant progress toward ending the school-to-prison pipeline by reducing the maximum length of school suspensions. Delegate Jeff Bourne led the charge on this issue, and his bill passed with strong bipartisan support. This measure helps address the disproportionate harm that students of color and students with disabilities face with long term suspensions.
House Democrats are fighting to end the opioid crisis, passing measures that will help limit the number of people who become addicted and to revive those who are overdosing.
Delegate Charniele Herring passed a bill that will encourage schools to incorporate the dangers of prescription drug addiction into health education, an important step in addressing this crisis.
Delegate Jeff Bourne passed a bill that will allow correctional, probation and parole officers to dispense naloxone, the life-saving drug that can reverse an overdose.