Va. Legislative Black Caucus Introduces 2014 Legislative Agenda

Margaret Summers | 1/9/2014, noon
Reproductive rights, Medicaid expansion and limits on celebratory gunfire are among the items on the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus 2014 ...
Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus introduce their 2014 legislative agenda during a news conference at the state Capitol on Jan. 8. From left are Delegate Rosalyn R. Dance (D-63rd District), state Sen. and caucus chair Mamie E. Locke (D-2nd District), Delegate Delores L. McQuinn (D-70th District) and state Sen. Henry L. Marsh (D-16th District). (Courtesy photo)

Reproductive rights, Medicaid expansion and limits on celebratory gunfire are among the items on the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus 2014 agenda.

Several African-American delegates and senators marked the first day of the General Assembly session on Wednesday by introducing their agenda during a press conference at the state Capitol.

The group is hopeful its agenda will break through any efforts to block it in the GOP-led House of Delegates.

“We are going into this year’s session with optimism because we will have a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general,” said Second District Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton), who chairs the caucus. “We think this year we may have a better chance of our bills being passed.”

The 18-member Virginia Legislative Black Caucus works to improve political, social, educational and economic conditions for the Commonwealth’s African-Americans and other underrepresented groups. Its annual legislative agenda results from researching the status of these constituents and seeking ways to bring about social change legislatively.

Locke said not all of the measures it supports are authored by African-American delegates and senators.

“But they are bills we are adamant about passing, and they are high up on our agenda,” she said.

One such bill pushes for Medicaid expansion and was supported by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe during his campaign. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states can opt for Medicaid expansion. In Virginia, it would mean 400,000 low-income residents would have health care.

“The federal government will pay for expansion for three years,” Locke said. “If Virginia doesn’t accept Medicaid expansion, affected Virginians could move to those states which have it, taking Virginia’s tax dollars with them. That makes no sense.”

The agenda calls for repeal of laws and policies that place restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, Locke said. Among them is the “TRAP” or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, which requires first trimester abortion clinics to meet the same construction specifications as newly built hospitals, and the mandatory ultrasound law, which requires women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion.

Job creation, workforce development and training, and small business development are among the economic items on the agenda.

“Either these or other economic measures pass legislatively, or by executive order from the governor,” Locke said.

An agenda item calling for restrictions on celebratory gunfire in Virginia’s cities was prompted by incidents of individuals being injured by bullets from guns fired in the air.

“A boy in my district who was hit by gunfire on New Year’s Eve had to go to a hospital for surgery,” Locke said. “A child, who lived in the district of state Sen. Henry L. Marsh (D-16th), was killed by a celebratory stray bullet.”

To ensure that these and other agenda items pass during this year’s legislative session, which ends in March, Locke encourages grassroots participation in the legislative process.

“I always tell constituents I address in my district’s town meetings that they have a right to come to Richmond and voice their opinions,” she said. “We (caucus members) tell our constituents to attend General Assembly gatherings in large numbers.”