Delegate Dawn Adams held a policy roundtable Oct. 24 at Bon Air Library, where she discussed her legislative priorities going into her second year representing Virginia’s 68th House District. With a group of about 20 constituents, Adams outlined issues she’s focused on, including:
Healthy Virginia Commission. Since her election last year, Adams, a nurse practitioner, has been advocating for state policies to prioritize citizen health as a first principle. It can be hard for people to understand that health and health care are not the same thing, she says. Health refers generally to a state of well-being in physical, mental, and social aspects of life; health care usually addresses deficiencies in health. Adams wants a health commission made up of state lawmakers from various committees to define objectives related to citizen well-being and to recommend policies supporting that goal.
Voter access. Adams wants to make it easier for Virginians to get voter IDs, which are supposed to be free of cost but which can be difficult, in practice, to find and obtain. She wants to increase the number of locations where Virginians can pick up a voter ID and is proposing a license plate honoring Martin Luther King Jr. to fund the initiative.
This modest improvement caught my attention because a study by Northern Illinois University recently concluded that Virginia is the second-hardest state to vote in, trailed only by Mississippi. As The Virginia Mercury’s Mechelle Hankerson reported:
Authors of the study considered whether states allow voters to register on Election Day, register online, extend voting rights to convicted felons and if there is automatic voter registration. Voter ID laws also factored into the ranking, as well as early and mail-in voting practices.
In Virginia, residents can register to vote online, but have to do so a month before Election Day…. Virginia allows mail-in and in-person absentee voting that can be done before Election Day, but voters must have an approved reason, so there is no true early voting in the state. Virginia also requires a photo I.D. at the polls, and will give voters a free photo I.D. card if they don’t have their own.
Adams was optimistic about getting bipartisan support for her voter ID initiative, but was measured about more ambitious efforts to improve Virginia’s standing relative to other states. She noted that Virginia’s governance is still fairly conservative and, especially in light of recent concerns about election hacking, will probably be a slow mover as to broader proposals to increase participation.
Addiction recovery. In discussions with Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard, who’s emerged as a state leader in addressing addiction, Adams said she learned that monetary penalties for addiction-related crimes can compound in multi-jurisdiction areas like greater Richmond. When multiple jurisdictions are involved in an arrest and detention, each can impose its own costs on the perpetrator, creating a somewhat arbitrary financial burden that becomes an obstacle to subsequent recovery. Adams said she supported law-enforcement efforts to see what role they could play in addiction recovery, including potential coordination between jurisdictions to avoid unnecessary penalties.
State employee salaries. Looking to the future, Adams sees an aging public workforce that may be held back from attracting new talent. The culprit: Starting salaries explicitly tied to what you made at your last job. State job applicants are required to disclose their past salaries, and Adams says state law imposes a strict cap on increases on what their last boss paid. The restriction makes state employment infeasible for young workers who took low-paying first jobs to get good experience.
Adams didn’t mention this aspect, but past-salary reporting also has a significant gender discrimination component. Unequal pay is a persistent problem that hits women especially hard after they have children. By explicitly relying on past pay to set public compensation, the state perpetuates pay inequities that may be the very reason that prospective workers want to leave their current jobs. To counteract that effect, states are experimenting with explicit bans on past-salary questions. While that approach may not be as effective as its proponents hope, Virginia’s opposite policy of requiring disclosures almost guarantees that existing pay disparities are locked in for incoming employees.