By Adam Hamza
Medicaid expansion and education topped the list of concerns when state legislators representing western Henrico County met with more than 100 constituents at a town hall meeting.
Five legislators, Democrats and Republicans, shared plans to improve Virginia’s education system while disagreeing on whether Virginia should expand Medicaid.
The town hall Saturday at the Tuckahoe Library was organized by Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. He was joined by two other Democrats – Dels. Debra Rodman and Dawn Adams – and by two Republicans – Del. John McGuire and Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant.
Medicaid expansion was the No. 1 topic at the town hall, and the most divisive. Constituents wanted to know each representative’s position on Medicaid expansion and the differences between the Democratic and Republican approaches to the issue.
Dunnavant and McGuire both said they oppose Medicaid expansion, calling it the wrong solution to Virginia’s health-care problems.
“There are many things we need to do to improve health care in Virginia, and there’s this expectation that Medicaid expansion solves the problem,” said Dunnavant, an obstetrician and gynecologist.
McGuire added, “Throwing money at this doesn’t fix the problem … We need to hold the state accountable for the way it’s spending money.”
Adams, Rodman and VanValkenburg said they support Medicaid expansion. Adams described it as “the right thing to do.”
“It’s more cost-effective to provide widespread preventative health care and a path to pay for acute health care than not,” Adams said.
Rodman agreed. “The majority of Virginians want Medicaid expansion,” she said.
Henrico priorities and Dominion concerns
On other issues, constituents had two broad questions for the legislators: How would their proposed laws benefit Henrico County, and what did they consider the most controversial issue in the General Assembly?
All five delegates agreed that the Dominion rate freeze is the most significant of the controversial legislation.
“It’s a big bill dealing with a big topic,” VanValkenburg said. “It’s important, and we need to get it right because it’s going to affect our economy to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars.” Dunnavant said, “I’m worried about the rate freeze because I feel like it’s not as transparent as I would like it.”
Rodman discussed her bill (HB 1223) to require that Virginia students receive “age-appropriate instruction in the prevention, recognition, and awareness of child abduction, child abuse, child sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse.”
Rodman said the legislation, nicknamed Erin’s Law, had been suggested by parents in Henrico. The bill was defeated Friday by a House subcommittee, but Rodman said she won’t give up.
“I’m going to keep fighting to make sure our teachers are well trained, and our children are getting age-appropriate education on child abuse,” she said.
Dunnavant detailed several bills she’s introduced dealing with education and health care. Among them is a bill (SB 631) that would standardize community college curriculums to ensure credits would transfer to four-year institutions. She said that would help reduce higher-education costs.
Another bill (SB 553) would expand the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program to include pre-kindergarten children as eligible recipients. According to the Virginia Department of Education website, the program provides state tax credits for persons or businesses donating “to approved scholarship foundations that provide scholarships to eligible students for qualified educational expenses incurred in attending eligible nonpublic schools in Virginia.”
Dunnavant also introduced a bill (SB 934) to allow the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses to develop a trust called a benefits consortium. These consortiums would provide health insurance to small businesses that couldn’t afford it otherwise.
VanValkenburg, who is also a high school teacher, said schools are the reason many people move to Henrico County. He has introduced a bill (HB 1119) to create a school climate survey that would evaluate school-level teaching conditions in Virginia. The goal of the survey is to collect information to improve teacher retention and student achievement.
Another bill (HB 1114) by VanValkenburg would repeal the state’s ability to revoke professional or occupational licenses because of defaults on student loans.
“Firefighters, lawyers, nurses and teachers can have their licenses revoked for defaulting on student loans,” he said. “That strikes me as backward because we need people to be able to work in order to pay off student loans.”
The short time for the town hall meant some questions went unanswered. Certain details, like work requirements for Medicaid expansion, were passed by so other topics could be addressed.
“I’ve seen a lot of numbers about how expensive (work requirements) are going to be to actually implement, and the monitoring of the work requirements,” said Liz Farver, a Henrico resident. “I wish they had gone into more details.”
Overall, though, Farver said she liked how the meeting was organized, and that both parties were present.
“It was really great that it wasn’t one specific town hall for Democrats or Republicans, and I think the questions and responses reflected that,” she said.