House Democrats roll out legislation to support working people
The Democratic press conference on these core economic issues followed a GOP press conference in which Republicans complained about “tone.”
Delegate Marcus Simon, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, Delegate Jennifer Boysko, Delegate Cheryl Turpin, Delegate Marcia “Cia” Price, Delegate Debra Rodman, and Delegate Mark Levine spoke on their proposals that include raising the minimum wage, instituting paid sick and family leave, ensuring equal pay for equal work, helping Virginians refinance student loans, and prohibiting discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the workplace.
Caucus Chair Herring introduced her colleagues and their initiatives and discussed the important economic reforms that will help working people in Virginia. “Working Virginians need more protections, now more than ever. We have seen the middle class in this country erode as now it is harder to make ends meet. It is getting harder and more expensive for this generation to go to college, to buy a house and to improve their overall station in life…This caucus plans to roll out a bold set of reforms, all of which have been introduced in other sessions that will help strengthen the middle class and galvanize our economy”.
Delegate Marcus Simon spoke on his bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Simon said that efforts to ensure Virginians see more money in their paychecks have “to happen from the bottom up, and it’s not going to trickle down…Minimum wage earners make an average of 14,000 dollars a year, try to imagine paying rent, or having a place to look after your kids when you’re at work on 14,000 dollars a year. It can’t be done.”
Delegate Boysko led off by saying, “To build the New Virginia Economy we need to make sure that all Virginians that work hard and play by the rules have a fair shot at success. In the year 2018, it’s still appalling that women, many of whom are the main income earners, earn 79 cents on the hour to men.”
Delegate Turpin added that “These bills help level the playing field for all qualified hardworking employees to succeed in our economy. Let’s close the wage gap.”
Delegate Elizabeth Guzman spoke on her bill that would ensure working Virginians have access to at least forty hours of paid medical and family leave. She shared a story from one of her constituents, who told her “‘I am grateful for having health insurance under the ACA, but how am I going to use my health insurance if I can’t take off from work to go to the doctor? My employer won’t pay me if I don’t come to work to go to the doctor. That is my reality and the reality of 100 employees who are my coworkers.’”
Delegates Marcia Price and Delegate Debra Rodman discussed their bill to set up a Virginia Student Loan Refinance Authority, this will ease the economic insecurity that faces many Virginians.
“When we talk about the New Virginia Economy, there is a segment of Virginians that find it hard to fully participate in this economy because of the crushing burden of student loan debt,” said Delegate Price. “As of 2017, over one million Virginia borrowers owed over $30 billion on student loans, an amount that is growing each day”.
Delegate Debra Rodman, a college professor, spoke passionately about her students, “I see the burden of debt in the eyes of my students as they strive to achieve the American Dream…This is not a partisan issue this is an American issue. The future of our commonwealth depends on how accessible and affordable education is for all of us.”
Delegate Mark Levine, who has introduced a bill to ban discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the workplace, shared his personal story of choosing to come out to his employer so that he could take leave to care for his partner. While his employer was supportive, Delegate Levine pointed out that the LGBTQ community shouldn’t have to fear for their jobs due to who they are or whom they love. “People all over Virginia are afraid to come out.” He went on to say, “this is about making sure that the best people are there to the best job and that they don’t have their love life dictated by their employer.”
Delegate Levine’s bill would also protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in other arenas, including in housing and public accommodations.
House Democratic Leader David J. Toscano closed the press conference, emphasizing that these Democratic proposals were not new, “but this is a New General Assembly.”
Leader Toscano also expressed concern that House Republicans have sent several pieces of progressive legislation to the Rules Committee that have not been historically directed there.
“We have some concerns that those bills are perhaps being sent there to die,” Leader Toscano said, although he noted that he hoped that would not be the case. He also added that the partisan make-up of the Rules Committee is not currently proportional, even though rules passed last week by the House of Delegates require the Rules Committee to be proportional.