Virginia New Majority, a civil rights group, announced a campaign on Monday to expand voting rights and health-care access in the state.
At a Capitol Square news conference with community groups and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), Virginia New Majority laid out its legislative priorities for the 2013 General Assembly session.
Among the goals of its “Common Promise” campaign: to automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons once they have served their sentences. Currently, ex-felons must apply to the governor to have their voting rights restored after a waiting period.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has restored more felons’ voting rights than either of his Democratic predecessors and has sped up the application process, but advocates for ex-felons say restoration should be automatic.
The group also plans to support legislation allowing for “no-fault” absentee voting, meaning citizens would not need an excuse for seeking to vote by absentee ballot. Another bill would allow eligible public high students to be given the chance to register to vote in school as part of annual Constitution Day activities.
In the area of health care, the group plans to push for the state to expand its Medicaid program under the federal health-care law. In its ruling on the law in June, the U.S. Supreme Court said participation in the expansion must be optional. McDonnell has said he is considering opting out.
The group also plans to push for measures to make it easier for low-income seniors to receive home and community-based care rather than more expensive placements in nursing homes and other institutions.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), who spoke by way of a pre-recorded video, said members of the General Assembly’s Progressive Caucus would embrace the group’s goals. But he also suggested that getting them through the legislature would be no easy task.
“Every single year, we, the members of the Virginia Progressive Caucus, try to expand ... the ability of people to vote like, for example, trying to expand voting-rights restoration for ex-felons or true absentee voting,” Hope said. “And every single time, these attempts are defeated by lawmakers who don’t want to expand access or the ability of people to vote. Likewise, we, the members of the Progressive Caucus, try to expand the eligibility in health-care or Medicaid for [the] poor, our seniors and people with disabilities, trying to increase in-home support to home care or home- and community-based services. And these efforts are also defeated by people who just don’t believe in trying to let people stay in their home or stay in their community. ... We need to move in these areas.”