RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic Gov.-elect Ralph Northam said Tuesday that expanding Medicaid in Virginia and implementing universal background checks for gun buyers will be two of his top legislative priorities after he takes office this weekend.
Northam spoke with outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe at a press conference Tuesday, one day before the start of this year’s General Assembly session. The two laid out a joint legislative package they said they had worked on together.
“It is nonpartisan. It is commonsense,” Northam said of the package of bills. “It is something that I think ... will have support from both sides of the aisle.”
McAuliffe has pushed unsuccessfully for four years to expand Medicaid, a key component of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. The GOP-controlled General Assembly has opposed it, calling it fiscally irresponsible.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government picks up almost all of the cost, gradually phasing down to a 90 percent share.
Democrats in the legislature have also previously pushed unsuccessfully for universal background checks, including mandatory checks at gun shows.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist and former Army doctor, campaigned heavily on gun control and Medicaid expansion. The November election results show Virginians support the proposals outlined Tuesday, he said.
The 60-day legislative session begins Wednesday. Lawmakers will be tasked with passing the biennial state budget in additional to tackling other issues.
Along with McAuliffe, who did most of the talking at the press conference, Northam also endorsed expanding absentee voting and increasing the threshold for what’s considered felony larceny from $200 to $1,000.
A similar effort to raise the threshold failed last year.
They are also calling for a ban on the personal use of campaign funds.
Federal law and the laws in most other states have campaign contribution limits and prohibitions on lawmakers spending campaign funds for personal use, but Virginia’s campaign finance system is largely unregulated. Lawmakers can accept donations of any size and spend the money on anything they want, including themselves.
Also among the proposals: a bill that would adjust a carbon cap-and-trade program announced in November, giving the General Assembly a say in how the revenue is allocated.
Another bill would create new requirements for student loan servicers and create a state ombudsman for student debt who would help borrowers understand their payment options and keep them on track.
Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate and, unless Democratic challenges in two extremely close races result in a last-minute change, they’ll also control the House. It remains to be seen what level of GOP support the measures will have.
“Over the coming weeks we will continue to roll out a robust agenda to help better the lives of the people we serve,” said Parker Slaybaugh, spokesman for Del. Kirk Cox, who is slated to be speaker should the Republicans maintain their majority.
GOP leaders in both chambers have previously suggested a willingness to expand health care coverage but have said it likely won’t come in the form Democrats are calling for.
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