Sen. Janet Howell: Democratic response to State of the Commonwealth
Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) delivered the Democratic rebuttal to Gov. McDonnell’s final state of the commonwealth address. She highlighted areas where Democrats and Gov. McDonnell worked together, and new opportunities for the future.
“Now we look forward to working with Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe and our Republican colleagues — to expand Medicaid, protect women’s access to health care, reform Virginia’s ethics laws and improve our education system.
“Expanding Medicaid just makes sense. It will give 400,000 Virginians, most of whom are employed, access to affordable health care. This includes tens of thousands of Virginia’schildren. Expansion will save lives.
“Last year, the voters of the Commonwealth rejected extreme ideologies and embraced commonsense shared values. As new leaders take office, we pledge to work with members of both parties to find practical solutions for Virginia’s future, this year and in the years that follow.”
The full text of the rebuttal follows:
Good evening. I’m Sen. Janet Howell, and I’m proud to represent Arlington and Fairfax Counties in the Virginia Senate.
This evening we heard Governor McDonnell’s final address to our Commonwealth and we appreciate the service he has given over the last four years.
We haven’t always agreed, but we’ve been able to work closely with him on important issues that delivered real change and moved Virginia forward.
For example, last year’s comprehensive transportation package was a great success. For the first time in twenty-seven years, we passed a comprehensive plan that makes real progress towards ending our transportation crisis. Over the next five years, Virginia will provide more than $6 billion to reduce congestion, build new roads in the places that need them most, fix our crumbling bridges and tunnels and make significant improvement in mass transit.
We also want to commend Governor McDonnell’s efforts to speed up the rehabilitation of non-violent offenders. We want to build on his work to help thousands of people become productive and contributing citizens.
Governor McDonnell should also be commended for his work to address mental health reform in Virginia in the wake of tragedy. Governor McDonnell moved quickly to propose more money for mental health services, convening a panel to assess immediate needs and suggest reforms to enhance emergency care. We look forward to working with our fellow lawmakers to enact reforms to prevent future tragedies.
Now we look forward to working with Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe and our Republican colleagues — to expand Medicaid, protect women’s access to health care, reform Virginia’s ethics laws and improve our education system.
Expanding Medicaid just makes sense. It will give 400,000 Virginians, most of whom are employed, access to affordable health care. This includes tens of thousands of Virginia’schildren. Expansion will save lives.
Medicaid expansion is good for Virginia’s economy as well. It will produce a $3.9 billion economic impact every year, And, it will create more than 30,000 good paying jobs.
If we do not expand Medicaid, Virginia will lose $5 million each and every day that we wait.If we don’t expand Medicaid, Virginia taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars will go to other states. And if we don’t expand Medicaid, some of our hospitals will be forced to close.
We’re also determined to protect women’s access to health care. In last year’s elections, voters all over Virginia rejected an extreme ideological agenda in favor of commonsense ideas about women’s health.
We must work together to overturn laws that single out women’s health clinics. Onerous regulations have already forced clinics to close, reducing women’s health care options. These clinics provide crucial services like contraceptive information, preventative care and cancer screenings. Many Virginia women have no way to pay for these services.
We also look forward to working with Governor-Elect McAuliffe to keep the state out of private medical decisions. These decisions should be made by doctors and patients — not us politicians. No woman should ever be forced to undergo a procedure she doesn’t want — especially one that is medically unnecessary.
Looking to a new administration, we need to address the unfinished business of ethics reform. A cap on gifts for lawmakers and top officials will help prevent dangerous conflicts of interest. Virginians deserve modernized ethics rules that hold government officials and lawmakers accountable and provide the public with greater information and disclosure.
When it comes to preparing our children to compete in today’s economy, we believe Virginia should provide a world-class education for every student. We can do that by giving schools and teachers the resources they need while increasing access to pre-kindergarten education for our youngest citizens. And, we should do as much as we can to make college more affordable and accessible.
We also need to protect the rights of all Virginians. We will take steps to prevent discrimination everywhere in Virginia. Everyone deserves equal opportunity, justice and fairness. We will work harder than ever to protect Virginians’ right to vote. People deserve to be judged on their merits. Our democracy is strongest when every voice is heard and every vote is counted.
Last year, the voters of the Commonwealth rejected extreme ideologies and embraced commonsense shared values. As new leaders take office, we pledge to work with members of both parties to find practical solutions for Virginia’s future, this year and in the years that follow.
Thank you, and God bless the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States.