RICHMOND, Va. — From a contentious election season to major moves on healthcare, 2018 has been an eventful year for politics in Virginia.
After years of trying, the General Assembly passed massive Medicaid expansion during Governor Ralph Northam’s first year in office. It was a major part of the budget.
It extended coverage to nearly 400,000 low-income Virginians. The new coverage is available to men and women, ages 19 to 64, who are not eligible for Medicare. Income requirements vary by family size. Among many things, the expansion will cover mental health services and fight the opioid crisis. It will also help others get access to primary care doctors for routine care, like mammograms and blood testing for high cholesterol or diabetes.
As of last week, more than 200,000 eligible adults signed up. We spoke with a Prince George County woman who got help enrolling at Southside Regional Medical Center earlier this year.
“I’m at the prime age that anything can happen,” Debbie Nash said. “I’ve just kind of been hanging loose on healthcare… It’s really making me feel good just about getting it done and hopefully it will all work out.”
Coverage for new enrollees starts Jan. 1, 2019. Enrollment is happening all year long.
GERRYMANDERING AND FUTURE ELECTIONS
Tensions mounted in the chambers during a special session this summer. Delegates tried to come to an agreement on how to redraw 11 house districts that a court deemed unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering, which means the district lines were drawn in a way that separated voters by race.
Lawmakers worked on three proposals, choosing one in the committee to move forward to the house floor but Gov. Northam said he wouldn’t support any of the bills because it was a “partisan process.”
So, the courts appointed an independent person to draw the maps.
In the meantime, a proposal for a constitutional amendment has come forward from a citizens committee formed by the nonprofit organization OneVirginia2020. The amendment would create an independent committee to redraw these district lines every ten years, as opposed to having lawmakers do it.
The measure has support from two senators. It would need to pass in both the 2019 and 2020 sessions for voters to make the final decision on this amendment at the polls in November of the latter year.
Associate Political Science Professor Rich Meagher at Randolph-Macon College says the redistricting could play a role in the 2019 election since all of the House of Representative seats are up.
This past election, three key congressional seat races flipped from red to blue, with three women making their way to Congress: Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton.
While Democrats had a strong turn out at the polls, Meagher says there were serious gains for Republicans in the Senate and in governorships.
“If you add up all of the votes of all of the elections across the country Democrats outpaced Republicans by something by 9 percent and that’s a big gap in such a divided country,” Meagher explained. “When we say blue wave it doesn’t mean Democrats run the country, but it means that our politics are trending in a democratic direction.”
SCHOOL SAFETY SPENDING
Following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fl. House Speaker Kirk Cox formed the House Select Committee on School Safety to come up with ways to keep your kids safe in the classroom. They released about two dozen recommendations on how to do that ahead of session.
One of the ideas is to also give teachers a bigger raise. This past year, the General Assembly passed a 3 percent increase in salary for educators, which will go in effect July 1, 2019. If the governor’s proposal makes it through, the raise would go up to 5 percent.
“Our children, our business and our community should have the same chance to thrive from Lee County to Loudon County,” Gov. Northam (D- Virginia) said.
As we countdown to the New Year, we’re also counting the days to session. Lawmakers will meet at the Capitol next Wednesday, Jan. 9, at noon.