Senate Democratic Caucus announces 2013 agenda
Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) said, “Historically, Virginia has been third or fourth in the nation in terms of educational achievement. We need to ensure that success benefits all Virginians, and we can do that with targeted programs to eliminate achievement gaps.
“Teacher salaries are one of the issues that we’re dealing with this year. We have a budget amendment in to increase teacher salaries by 3% during the second year of the biennium. We’d like to go higher than that, but we want to operate within the budget constraints that we have,” added Sen. Barker.
Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said, “About a million Virginians who add to our economy through service jobs, including construction, tourism, and social services, lack health insurance. We must help these hardworking people by expanding Medicaid and providing them with quality health care.”
Sen. Favola continued, “Reforming Medicaid will also put $29 billion into Virginia’s economy, creating about 30,000 new jobs. Let’s improve the health of Virginia, grow jobs, and help our families. Let’s expand Medicaid.”
Virginia Dream Act
Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said, “Thousands of undocumented children live in Virginia without hope of attending college because it’s so expensive. These children were brought into this country by their parents. They live in our neighborhoods and go to PTA meetings. Their families pay taxes. They deserve the same chance to earn an education as any one else.
“Today, we are proposing the Virginia Dream Act, which allows the children of undocumented workers to pay in-state tuition to Virginia state colleges,” said Sen. McEachin.
The Virginia Dream Act grants in-state tuition benefits to undocumented students if they meet certain conditions:
1. They must have graduated from a Virginia high school and lived in Virginia for at least three years.
2. They must be approved to stay in the United States under Homeland Security’s “deferred action” status.
3. They or their parents must have filed Virginia income taxes for at least three years.
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said, “First off, we cannot take money from the General Fund. Any money. We are 48th in America in what we give transportation. We are the 7th wealthiest state. Our education budget for 2012 is back slightly below 2007 levels. Our education system doesn’t have the money it needs right now. The last thing we should do is take money out the General Fund that pays for our schools.”
Sen. Saslaw added, “Getting rid of the gas tax is folly. I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks we could save the people of Virginia 17 cents per gallon by getting rid of the gas tax. All last summer, North Carolina, which is 21 cents higher than Virginia, was even with us on a statewide average. Sometimes, they were lower than ours.”
Gun Violence Prevention
Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Burke), an expert on violence and murder reduction strategies, said, “Mass shootings are coming at such frequency that overwhelming numbers of Virginians want something done. We must fund the changes we made to our mental health system after the tragedy at Virginia Tech. And we must expand the requirements for background checks for firearms sales to keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill.”
Making It Easier to Vote
Regarding ex-felon disenfranchisement, Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) said, “We have hundreds of thousands of people that are disenfranchised, most of them men but women also, and we believe it’s important to reintegrate them into society. So we are going to be carrying that measure.”
Sen. Petersen also spoke about access to voting. “It’s great to have the right to vote, but it’s not so great if you have to stand in line two and a half hours to vote. We saw that happen on Election Day. The lines were inexcusable and should not be tolerated. I’ve put forward a bill, SB 739, that mandates that we should have a voting machine for every 500 voters, so that we can move people through those lines more efficiently.” he said.
“Sen. Janet Howell also has a bill for no-excuse absentee voting. We believe that allowing people to vote before the election without having to specify an excuse will make voting easier and more accessible.