Legislative black caucus releases 2008 agenda


RICHMOND The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced its 2008 General Assembly policy objectives, which include economic opportunity, voting rights, equal educational access, health promotion, homelessness and a fair criminal justice system.

The policy objectives are true to the caucus stated mission of voicing the legislative concerns of people of color and other historically under-represented groups throughout the commonwealth, said Delegate Dwight C. Jones, D-Richmond, who also serves as the VLBC chairman

Our number one budget priority continues to be funding for the proton-beam-treatment facility in Hampton Roads, Jones said. The caucus is united in its support for ending payday-loan abuses and expanding the commonwealths pre-K education programs as recommended by the governor.

Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, said the black caucus is taking a leading role in Gov. Tim Kaines initiative to reform the commonwealths mental health programs related to evaluation and treatment of mentally ill criminals.

Reforming our mental health system is a bipartisan priority following last years tragedy at Virginia Tech, McEachin, said. We are pleased that the black caucus can provide leadership on this important issue.

Protecting voters rights and including restoration of rights to those who have served their debt to society was another key issue on the caucus agenda.

We need to do more to assure that all voters can get to the polls and make informed choices once they enter the voting booth, said Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk.

Miller says the caucus is focusing on encouraging more community participation in the voting process.

The caucus is again introducing legislation to amend the Constitution to permit greater legislative involvement in the restoration of rights, Miller said. And to amend our laws to assure fuller access to the ballot box for all Virginia voters particularly our senior citizens and those without private transportation.

Criminal justice reform is another important part of the caucuss plan for 2008.

Ensuring that the criminal justice system works fairly and in a manner free from bias is a matter of essential vigilance for the VLBC, said Delegate Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke. One of our budget initiatives will be to secure funds for a full-time staff person in the Department of Criminal Justice Services to work on training and other matters related to bias-based policing and racial profiling.

Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, D-Portsmouth, closed the meeting.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus is reaching its maturity, Melvin said. Weve reached the point where we have a great deal of influence, and we plan on using it to advance our agenda.