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Herring isn't giving up on Medicaid plan
Thursday, June 12, 2014
By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said Wednesday that a change in the balance of power in the General Assembly this week is a setback for efforts to expand Medicaid in the state, but he’s not giving up on the idea.
Herring, a Democrat, spoke Wednesday morning in Martinsville before his appearance at the Senior Appreciation Day Picnic of the Martinsville/Henry County TRIAD S.A.L.T. Council at Jack Dalton Park.
He said he was disappointed that Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett of Lebanon resigned from the assembly on Monday, giving the GOP a 20-19 majority in the state Senate to go along with its control of the House of Delegates.
That has cleared the way for Republicans to pass a state budget without the Medicaid expansion provision that Democrats had insisted upon. Legislators are scheduled to meet today on the issue.
“I was disappointed that he decided to resign and retire from the Senate,” Herring said. “In terms of moving forward on Medicaid expansion and some other things, it’s a bit of a setback. But I’m the kind of person that is always looking forward, and so we’ll look to see what candidates emerge in the district and work hard to win a special election.”
Herring said he supports the Medicaid expansion but, as attorney general, he has no vote on the matter. His role is to be prepared to give the governor and state agencies the best legal advice possible to deal with any scenario that occurs, he said, such as spending powers if no state budget is approved by June 30 and what types of executive actions may be taken.
Wednesday’s stop here was his second since he took office in January. In late March, Herring met with area law enforcement officials to learn their problems, issues and concerns.
Those concerns included prescription drug abuse and growing incidents of meth labs and the high cost of cleaning them up. Herring said his office is looking at ways it can help localities, possibly including grant opportunities for meth lab cleanups.
In other parts of the state, Herring said he found concerns about gangs and increasing use of heroin. To help combat gangs, he said his office is working to make sure law enforcement agencies have the latest information and techniques, and it can help agencies work across jurisdictional lines, including with multi-jurisdictional grand juries.
“Gangs and networks that smuggle drugs are not limited to one county,” he said. “They operate in a much larger area,” and grand juries that span several localities can be effective.
Other subjects Herring discussed included:
Herring said he feels the issue of illegal immigration has not been dealt with in a comprehensive way on the federal level now and in recent years, and that has resulted in problems trickling down to the states and localities.
He noted that he recently instructed Virginia colleges to grant in-state tuition to potentially thousands of students who were previously considered ineligible because of their immigration status.
Also, he said, immigration status is routinely checked now when people are taken into police custody, which reduces the risk of racial profiling.
One of Herring’s first acts as attorney general was to support overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage. He said he believes the state’s law would be found unconstitutional if it went before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Herring said he weighed the fact that voters had approved the measure in a constitutional amendment but made a decision that “had to be firmly grounded in the law.” He said when a state constitution conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, the federal document prevails.
Also, he said, in the past Virginia argued on the wrong side of numerous issues, including school desegregation, mixed-race marriages and gender equality, and it was “time to be on the right side.”
The “groundswell of support” he has received for his decision far outweighed the opposition, Herring said.
Six months in office
Herring said his biggest surprise since taking office has been the scope of work the Attorney General’s Office handles, everything from public safety to representing the public on utility issues and child support legislation. The office has 425 employees, and half are attorneys, he said.
“I absolutely love the job,” he said.
Among the issues he said are ahead for the office are dealing with criminals who use new technology and improving the office’s efficiency, especially considering the warnings of a state budget shortfall.