Afternoon Keynote: Reviewing the Virginia 2021 Legislative Session

In the afternoon Keynote of the 2021 Virginia State of Reform Health Policy Conference, a bi-partisan and bi-cameral conversation highlighted actions from the legislative session regarding the state’s COVID-19 response, as well as a look ahead at upcoming elections. Joining the conversation was Sen. Louise Lucas, Chair of the Education and Health Committee, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, member of the Education and Health Committee, Del. Mark Sickles, Chair of the House Health, Welfare and Institution Committee. 

The conversation began with an overview of actions addressing the impacts of COVID-19, where Dunnavant focused on passing legislation to reopen public schools and improve vaccine distribution to the general state population.

 

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Lucas also addressed the impact of COVID-19 on schools, passing a joint senate resolution to audit the pandemic’s impact in schools. 

Sickles then recapped actions regarding insurance and managed care facilities, citing setbacks as they transition from a fee-for-service to an oversight agency. He also commented on addressing these issues in a way that encompasses Virginia’s diverse communities.

“We have a lot of disparity in Virginia, in rural areas and in our inner city areas that our caucus wants to work on resolving, and it makes it a little more difficult in our delivery mechanisms, like our Community Service Board (CSB) system.”

Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Dunnavant stressed the importance of addressing health policy in conjunction with social determinants of health such as access to education, housing, adding how crucial it is to apply this to Virginia’s youth population. 

“We really haven’t changed the poverty rate in Virginia in 20 or 30 years,” says Dunnavant. “We haven’t drastically changed population health outcomes. I think starting with the kids and making sure we take every opportunity to intervene there on their behalf is the way we move forward to a better future.”

Other goals for the next legislative session include investing and improving workforce issues in skilled nursing centers. 

Lucas spoke of her priorities for the next several months. When the state legalizes marijuana on July 1, she will work to ensure Virginians, especially those under the age of 21 are adequately educated on the health effects of consumption. 

One of Lucas’ closing points for the session involved criminal justice reform and ensuring that Virginia’s Black and Brown populations are not forgotten. 

“All Virginians have an opportunity to drive, walk, wherever they choose to be without being harassed by police officers,” says Lucas. “There’s still a lot to be done around criminal justice reform, and for me that’s a health issue for Black and Brown people.”