State legislators convened at Alexandria City Hall last week to hear public comment on hot topics for their constituents, which included health care and voting rights with various other topics peppered throughout the discussion.
Senators Adam Ebbin, D-30; George Barker, D-39; and Dick Saslaw, D-35; along with Delegates Rob Krupicka, D-45, and Charniele Herring, D-46, answered audience questions during the event, hosted by the League of Women Voters.
There seemed to be a rare general consensus among the lawmakers and the speakers — mostly senior citizens — on the topic of health care that Virginia should set up a health care exchange. Citizens said the state should establish its own set of regulated health care plans before the federal government steps in and does so for the commonwealth.
Health care lawyer Michael Cook asked the state lawmakers to push for the state exchange, although he said: “It’s too late to do a full exchange, but it may be possible to do a hybrid.”
Newly minted statesman Krupicka said he believes the “economic and business case” for health care is “really strong.”
Herring said she supports Medicaid expansion but be prepared for the “other side” to argue that the “feds will pull out and we’re left holding the bag.”
Several residents, including Cook, Katy Cannady and election official Marilyn Doherty, pressed for allowing Virginians to vote early without being required to provide a reason why, as is current law.
Del Ray resident Dougherty said if her precinct had to handle the 750 voters who voted early under the current system, there would have been long lines seen in neighboring counties on Nov. 6.
Krupicka said he’s working on a few bills related to early access to voting.
“I really think in an area where commutes are so long that we need to have an opportunity for people to vote early with no excuse,” she said.
Cannady characterized Virginia is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to allowing voting rights for convicted felons. “I’d like to see the right to vote for felons who have served their time,” she said.
Several people spoke about affordable housing, asking the lawmakers if it was an issue important to them.
“That’s an issue that’s near and dear to my heart,” Herring said, adding that there have been budget challenges, but there is a bipartisan interest to address the issue.
“When families are able to be housed, they are in a better position to find jobs and take care of their families,” said Herring, who was just elected chairperson of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Barker said lawmakers during last session of the General Assembly added funding to the Housing Trust Fund, a state-wide tool designed to eliminate or reduce homelessness and address the issue of affordable housing.
“We’re not doing as much as some states, but we’re moving forward on that issue,” he said.
Some lawmakers split over the issue of lifting the ban on uranium mining. Saslaw said he’s in favor of it with the right, stringent safeguards, but Krupicka and Ebbin expressed concern with lifting the ban.
Lawmakers and others must ensure “that we’re not creating a false choice between economic development and people’s health,” Krupicka said, adding that he expects the issue will be “hotly debated.”
Other public comments asked for attention on hot-button issues such as dealing with gun control, same-sex marriage and women's reproductive issues. There were also requests for the lawmakers to focus on historic preservation, raising fees for commonwealth attorneys — especially those who deal with cases of abused and neglected children — raising the reimbursement rate for preschool providers and better attention to issues such as working elevators in high-rise buildings.