Mason holds meeting with college students

svaughan@vagazette.com

WILLIAMSBURG — Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, had a meet and greet Thursday evening with the Virginia 21 chapter at the College of William & Mary.

Virginia 21 is a non-partisan group that advocates on issues affecting students.

The appearance was originally planned as a debate, but Mason's opponent Lara Overy declined the invitation.

"I'm sorry Lara couldn't be here," Mason said. "This was the premier debate two years ago. This room was packed."

Thursday there were about 30 students present to listen to remarks from Mason and ask questions.

Among the issues discussed were sexual assault on campus legislation which came up as the result of the abduction and slaying of a University of Virginia student last year.

"Some people were really insistent that any assault reported to the college had to be reported to the Commonwealth's Attorney," Mason said. "The problem was that 70 to 80 percent of assaults aren't reported. If that pushed one more percent not to report the assault, that's not what we want."

Mason said a compromise was reached when a team was set up which included school police, councilors and college officials.

"Now if it comes up that the name of an assailant has come up before, they have to say, 'I'm sorry, we can't respect your privacy, this has to be reported to the Commonwealth's Attorney."

Among issue he's prioritized, Mason talked to the students about early-childhood learning, K-12 education and higher education.

"We finally held the line on public education last year, we didn't cut it again," he said.

But, since the General Assembly hasn't made up the cuts to education it made in the last two gubernatorial administrations, he said local school divisions still have to deal with more students with less money than they once received.

And that means, Mason said in a response to a student question, there's not much chance that the General Assembly can improve the higher education funding situation this year.

"There's not much money and there are a lot of needs, so really the prospects for that don't look too good," he said.

He said one way the legislature could free up some money would be to expand Medicaid and tap into the Affordable Care Act funds available.

He said last year the state's two public teaching hospitals spent nearly $250 million providing indigent care, money that came out of the state's general fund.

"And Riverside estimates that it spent $100 million," he said. "Do you know how much we reimbursed them? Zero."

He said expanding Medicaid would cover the state's cost for that and provide coverage for some of the most vulnerable workers.

He said many workers who don't have health care are seasonal.

"So when you check into a hotel here or you eat at one of our restaurants, the hard working people who take care of you are among those who don't have health care coverage," he said.

Mason said one issue students should be more concerned about is the push for non-partisan redistricting.

There is a student group, One Virginia 2021, that is an advocate on that issue.

"More districts should be like mine," Mason said.

The 93rd House of Delegates District has changed hands in each of the last three elections. Mason said it's one of about 10 competitive House districts in the states.

"I talk to friends in the legislature and they're like 'You've got an opponent. Oh, that's too bad,'' he said.

"Seriously, this is as important as anything you'll hear while you're at William and Mary," Mason told the students.

Vaughan can be reached at (757)345-2343.

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