Northam gives State of the Commonwealth Address

RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Governor Ralph Northam delivered the State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday evening, kicking off this year's General Assembly session.

Northam reassured Virginia that things are looking up: Virginia's economy is growing with the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years and more jobs are coming with Amazon moving to Northern Virginia and Microsoft expanding in Mecklenburg County.

"We can say with certainty, that the state of our beloved Commonwealth is as strong as ever," said Northam.

He said one of his biggest successes in 2018 was expanding Medicaid.

"No longer will these Virginians have to worry about whether they can afford to see a doctor," said Northam, referring to the more than 200,000 adults now enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program.

Republican Senator Steve Newman of Bedford County said on behalf of Republicans in a response following Northam's address, they are not happy with the state of Virginia's health care. They plan to change that this session.

"Although the federal law places many restrictions on health insurance plans, states are allowed leeway in policies. Disproportionately Virginia has failed to take full advantage of many the options and choices the federal government permits under the law," said Newman. "These failures have resulted in many Virginians, usually those in the middle class not being able to use their coverage when they need it, because of the high deductibles."

Northam announced many proposals for the General Assembly, including a teacher pay raise, decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana, and making higher education more accessible with fewer costs, all while providing targeted tax relief.

"I've put a proposal on the table to respond to the federal tax changes by making our existing earned income tax credit refundable," said Northam. "When corporate stockholders benefit, but a teacher does not, that isn't what I call a fair system."

Republican Delegate Bob Thomas of Stafford County, who joined Newman in responding to Northam, said Republicans have a different idea of fairness than Northam.

"Republicans are committed to stopping Governor Northam's tax hike on the middle class," said Thomas. "We will insist that state government balances its books without taking more of your families earnings."

One major issue that both Republicans and Democrats agreed on is how Virginia schools can become safer.
Northam said he is proposing an "extreme risk law," removing firearms from people deemed dangerous.

Newman and Thomas did not have a response to this solution directly, but Thomas said a select committee was established by the House to come up with recommendations for school safety. This included threat prevention, improved mental health services, and increased training for school personnel and security.

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