By Melissa Quinn
The expansion of Medicaid, voting access and uranium mining topped residents’ concerns for the upcoming General Assembly session in a public meeting last week with the city’s state lawmakers.
About 25 people met with state Sens. Dick Saslaw (D-35), George Barker (D-39) and Adam Ebbin (D-30) as well as state Delegates Charniele Herring (D-46) and Rob Krupicka (D-45) at City Hall on December 6.
Residents worried about the impending fight to expand Medicaid and possible creation an insurance exchange in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act as constitutional.
“Medicaid expansion — of course I support it,” Herring told constituents. “But the argument you’re going to see on the other side is that the federal government may pull out and that we’re left holding the bag. That’s going to be the continuing theme.”
Barker, who began representing a portion of Alexandria’s West End after the last round of redistricting, promised to keep the health care debate in the limelight.
“Efforts are going to be made in the Senate to push the issue,” he said.
Attendees also stressed the need for relaxed early voting rules, telling the Richmond delegation about long waiting times they experienced at polling stations last month. Marilyn Doherty, an election official, recalled more than 2,000 voters lined up Election Day. The state needs to ease restrictions on early voting, she said.
Krupicka, who succeeded former Delegate David Englin in a special summer election, pledged to address the issue once the session begins early next month. He vowed to throw his support behind either removing restrictions on early voting altogether or adding more reasons for voters to cast ballots before Election Day.
“If we add enough excuses [to vote early], maybe they’ll realize how crazy it is they have that list of excuses in the first place” Krupicka said.
In addition to health care and early voting, concerns surrounding uranium mining — and potential pollution from the process — edged their way to the forefront of discussion.
Despite the possibility of the moratorium being lifted, Saslaw reassured residents that mining would have little effect on the region’s waters, primarily the Potomac River. At the heart of the debate is a massive lode, potentially worth as much as $10 billion, in south central Virginia.
“It’s not going to float back up here,” Saslaw said. “That’s not how it works.”
While lawmakers accepted many suggestions willingly, they were quick to highlight issues that would face substantial opposition from their Republican counterparts.
Saslaw wasted no time in explaining that amendments expanding gun control — brought back into the national discussion after Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend before turning the firearm on himself — and a woman’s right to choose likely would die in chambers.
“I suspect that if someone goes into that building out there on I-66 and Route 50 and shoots that place up, [then] you might then get sensible gun control,” he said. “The building that I’m referring to is the national headquarters of the National Rifle Association.”
Saslaw also took the opportunity to quell common misconceptions about activity in Richmond.
West End resident Sarah Clement complained about the possibility of Northern Virginia Community College constructing a residential building on campus, which would back up to her townhouse. Clement said the General Assembly approved the concept for expansion of the school, though funding has yet to be allocated.
“We are absolutely agog that a community college could become a residential college within a stone’s throw of our community,” she said.
Saslaw, who represents a portion of the West End, was quick to explain Richmond allowed the school to solicit private donors for the structure, which would not include any state funding.
“I can tell you this — that’s got to be as low on their priorities list as you can imagine, because they are screaming about not getting any state funding,” he said.
Despite the city’s continued loss of affordable housing, only one attendee raised the issue with state legislators. Development, particularly along the waterfront, similarly was not mentioned — despite the ongoing local debate.