Opportunity time

1/10/2020, 6 a.m.
The 2020 Virginia General Assembly session started on Wednesday with several historic markers of note.

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly session started on Wednesday with several historic markers of note.

First, Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn of Northern Virginia was sworn in as the first woman Speaker of the House in the 401-year history of the Virginia legislature.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus now has a record number of members — 23. During this session, seven of the 14 House of Delegates committees will be chaired by VLBC members. Another two VLBC members will chair committees in the state Senate.

Additionally, VLBC member Sen. L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth will serve as president pro tempore of the Senate — a historic first — while Hampton Sen. Mamie E. Locke and Alexandria Delegate Charniele Herring are blazing new trails. Sen. Locke is the first African-American majority caucus chair in the Senate. And Delegate Herring is the first woman and first African-American majority leader in the House of Delegates.

We also must note that for the first time in 24 years, Democrats control both chambers of the legislature as well as the governor’s office. The House has a 55-45 Democratic majority, while the Democrat-Republican split in the Senate is 21-19.

It is opportunity time.

While we know that African-American legislators, like African- American voters, are not monolithic in their political beliefs, we believe this is one of those harmonic convergences where all factors have lined up for progress. It’s the time for Virginia to move forward with the passage of legislation the public has clamored for but been unable to actualize because of GOP repression.

It’s time for Virginians whose voices and needs have been unheeded in the past to finally be reflected in new laws and policies that promote equity, fairness and justice.

It’s up to this new and diverse General Assembly to advance legislation that will help Virginians the most.

Among the advances we expect to see: gun safety, including universal background checks before all gun purchases; a hike in the minimum wage to help families working yet living in poverty; expanded voting rights and access; more funding for urban public school districts such as Richmond’s, with high needs and high concentrations of students living in poverty; action on climate change, particularly along Virginia’s coastal areas; protection of women’s health and reproductive rights; elimination of racial disparities in maternal health; elimination of the state holiday honoring Confederate traitors, as well as granting local control over such public statues; eliminating laws feeding the school-to-prison pipeline; and addressing eviction, homelessness and joblessness for veterans and others.

It’s a long list and, yes, there’s even more. But as the adage goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

As Speaker Filler-Corn acknowledged after her swearing in on Wednesday, there is a big responsibility that accompanies this op- portunity.

“The public expects us to build a safer, more equal, more prosperous and more inclusive Virginia,” she said. “And that is exactly what we will do.”

We, who helped vote in this new legislature that better reflects the diversity of Virginia, will be pushing to make sure that happens.