In divided Va. House, Dems seek bipartisan accord

Del. Marcus Simon (D-District 53)

Updated Jan. 4.

Incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey emerged victorious against Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds Thursday in Virginia’s District 94 House of Delegates race by winning a random drawing held in Richmond.

Yancey originally won the race by 10 votes, but a recount on Dec. 19 showed Simonds winning by one vote. A three-judge recount court declared the race a tie the next day after allowing a previously uncounted ballot to count for Yancey, and ruled that the election would be decided by a random drawing.

Yancey’s victory means Republicans will retain a 51-49 majority in the House.

As lawmakers prepare for the Jan. 10 opening of the legislative session, the body’s three Jewish legislators, all Democrats, see opportunities for compromise.

The new composition in the House has left Democrats, with newly captured seats, optimistic that they may achieve their long-sought goal of opting into the federal Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act.

Del. Mark Levine (D-District 45) called Medicaid the “single most important issue” of the session, and said he knows at least one Republican state senator and two Republican delegates who have indicated support for the program in the past. “I would say it’s likely we’ll get it passed, and before I would have said it’s impossible,” he said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has advocated for Medicaid expansion, but received no support from Republicans in the legislature. Roughly 400,000 additional Virginians would benefit, according to a report in Politico. Virginia’s Medicaid program reported that it had more than 1 million participants in 2016.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41)

Asked last week before the drawing in the District 94 race what its implications would be, Levine didn’t mince words.

“It’s everything,” he said. “Flipping the coin determines the future of Virginia, and that’s why it’s hard to say what’s going to happen.”

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41) said last week that she thought the outcome of the drawing would be pivotal to the Commonwealth.

“What’s at stake is control of the House of Delegates,” she said. “You’re talking about potentially determining whether 400,000 Virginians can get access to health care.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-District 45)

Beyond Medicaid expansion, Filler-Corn’s other priorities include bills similar to ones she sponsored last session that failed.

One would create a sales tax exemption for the purchase of a gun safe if the price is less than $1,000. Last year’s version did not advance beyond committee, but she is hopeful the addition of the newly elected leaders will help it pass this year.

Another bill Filler-Corn plans to introduce adds the importance of “personal privacy” to the curriculum of family life courses taught in Virginia schools. “I introduced it last year and it made it to the floor, but this year I’m hopeful it will pass,” she said.

Filler-Corn said she is hopeful that Democratic gains from the November election will yield dividends in the form of more legislative victories overall.

“We now have 15 new members of our [Democratic] caucus who are more like-minded and will share some of my concerns,” she said.

On Levine’s legislative agenda are two bills focused on gun control. One would place required universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers in Virginia. Federal law only requires background checks for licensed gun dealers. The other bill would ban bump stocks — devices used on semiautomatic rifles to increase the number of shots fired per second.

“This is something that gun owners can support,” he said of the bump stock ban. “I don’t see why this can’t become law.”
District 53 Democratic Del. Marcus Simon said he is less optimistic than Levine about the chances for passing gun control measures in 2018.

“I think the margins are too tight,” he said. “The Republicans have enough votes to block that. It’s a big difference even though it’s only one vote.

Simon thinks this will be the year Virginia repeals an old statute banning same-sex marriages and civil unions, a law that’s obsolete in the wake of a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

“We want to send a signal that Virginia is in the 21st century, so we want to get that statute off the books,” Simon said.

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