I attended the Women’s Legislative Roundtable pre-session meeting Wednesday in Richmond. The event was moderated by The League of Women Voters of Virginia. A number of the women in attendance were League members from throughout the state, with a large contingent from Hampton Roads.
The morning session consisted of ten speakers from various governmental and advocacy organizations, most of them presenting their agency’s legislative agenda. I have included a brief summary of each speaker, including links to their organizations where available, below the fold. There was a wealth of information shared. You may want to bookmark this post for future reference ;)
Our first lunch speaker was Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, who gave us an update on the election and announced the chairmanships of the Senate. Also joining us was the political editor for the Richmond Times-Disptach. The last speaker of the afternoon provided information on how to use the Virginia Legislative Information System. (I have to admit that I left before this presentation, mainly because I’m pretty adept at using the system. Besides, I much prefer to use Richmond Sunlight ;) )
Overall, it was an informative session and I had a great time meeting and talking to people from all over the state. (As fate would have it, sitting next to me in the morning session was Jane Barker, wife of Senator-elect George Barker.) I applaud the Women’s Roundtable and the LWV-VA for hosting such a fine event. (There is a local meeting of the Women’s Roundtable as well. The first meeting is coming up December 15. Email me if you want details.)
Starting off the morning session was Ben Greenberg, legislative director of the Virginia Organizing Project. The VOP’s agenda for this year includes tax reform, an increase in the minimum wage, more work on racial profiling, predatory lending reform, particularly payday lending. He mentioned that his organization is a partner in the new Working Families Child Care Coalition, which is being administered by Voices of Virginia’s Children. This new coalition is pushing for an increase in the child care subsidy.
Rich Brown, director of planning and budget for the Commonwealth, was up next. His presentation included much of the data presented in this FAQ. He talked a bit about the challenges coming for the next biennial budget. Interesting note: there was $63 million in Medicaid money not used in this fiscal year (due to lower than anticipated claims) that will be carried over to next year and used to help close the budget gap.
Nancy Rodrigues, the relatively new (93 days) Secretary of the State Board of Elections, spoke briefly about her background and what she hopes to accomplish. Virginia has a relatively high rate of registering voters – I believe she said something like 90% – but low voter turnout. She’d like to see the voter turnout higher.
Cathy Glaser spoke about the Governor’s Start Strong Initiative, which is the pre-K program we have all been hearing about. She mentioned the expansion of the definition of eligible at-risk students, from just those eligible for free lunch to include those eligible for reduced-price lunches. She also talked about the recent JLARC study on the issue and how that, along with the Start Strong Council’s recommendations (pdf) are shaping the Governor’s proposal for this program.
Melanie West, who introduced her boss, Rich Brown, earlier, spoke about the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall. This website, which I have never even heard of, much less used, provides a way to find and track regulations and proposed changes on them. Not only that, but it takes citizen comments on items under consideration! West indicated that this is a powerful tool, allowing for email notification of specific regulatory actions and meetings. This is a site worth bookmarking and I’ve already added it to my useful links in my sidebar.
One of the chairs of the Million Mom March, Andrew Goddard, spoke about how he became a gun control advocate on April 16: his son was wounded in the Virginia Tech tragedy. He spoke of supporting instant background checks for gun purchasers, and opposing open carry laws on college campuses.
The next speaker was from the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition. This bipartisan group is dedicated to maintaining a women’s right to choose. On its legislative agenda are a budget amendment to provide money to pay for the treatment of pregnant women with mental health/substance abuse issues, the inclusion in the Family Life curriculum of information on FDA-approved pregnancy prevention medications, and stipulation that FDA-approved medications are not abortions.
The Virginia Conservation Network was up next. I apologize for not having notes on most of this gentleman’s remarks. He did mention an effort to keep certain boards from being rolled up into one board and that legislation to this effect was to be introduced by David Englin. Their legislative agenda can be found here.
Ivy Main, the policy director for New ERA for Virginia, spoke about verified voting. (ERA stands for Electoral Reform Alliance.) The alliance has a couple of issues that they would like the legislature to adopt. First, the current recount process does not look at paper ballots even when they are available (op-scan sheets). The alliance would like to see that happen. Second, there should be random audits of voting machines.
Our last speaker was David Solimini from the Virginia Redistricting Coalition. This group is committed to bipartisan redistricting and already has gotten legislation in the works that will follow the Iowa model. (For more information on the various redistricting models, see the LWV-VA study.) Creigh Deeds and Ken Stolle will introduce the bill in the Senate and Brian Moran and Harry Morgan will introduce it in the House.