In November 2017, Danica Roem made history by becoming the first openly transgender state lawmaker in the United States. The 33-year-old beat incumbent Bob Marshall, the transphobic politician who authored the state’s failed anti-trans bathroom bill.
Since being sworn into the Virginia House of Delegates, Roem is delivering on exactly what she promised to do while running for office.
“The last piece of literature my campaign handed out had three items listed on it: fixing Route 28, expanding Medicaid, and raising teacher pay,” she told INTO over the phone while rushing between meetings.
In less than a year, she’s already delivered on two of her promises and is well on her way to fixing the congestion that’s been plaguing Route 28 since before Roem was even born.
“The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) last month just voted to spend 124 million dollars on Route 28 improvement,” Roem claimed. “We’ve been waiting for this for 30 years.”
The NVTA is a transportation organization that specifically deals with regional cost-efficient, congestion relief in Northern Virginia. Roem has fought for increased appropriations to fix Route 28 since the beginning of her campaign in 2017.
While this is undoubtedly a great start, Roem is still working hard to pass House Joint Resolution 68. Also known as HJ 68, the legislation is a feasibility study directing the Virginia Department of Transportation to study alternative intersection designs, such as roundabouts, jughandles, flyovers, and removal of traffic lights.
Her goal is to create “flow and go” along the Route 28 corridor.
Route 28 is a massive undertaking and will take years to complete, but Roem is dedicated to fixing the route in Prince William County: “It’s a number one priority issue for me last year, and it remains number one.”
But in regards to expanding Medicaid, Roem has already succeeded.
“Thirty-eight hundred of my constituents will be covered next year, so that’s clearly great,” she claimed. “We need to make sure everyone who needs to be covered is covered.”
This year, the Virginia General Assembly expanded Medicaid to 400,000 state residents, and Virginians will be able to start signing up on January 1, 2019.
The 13th district delegate was pivotal in getting the bill passed.
“They are working people who are living below the poverty line,” Roem explained. “These are hand-ups, not handouts. They’re working people, and we should be taking care of them.”
As for the third item on her to-do list — raising teacher pay — Roem recently crossed it off, too. Virginia just passed a bill raising the yearly income of teachers by three percent statewide. The increases will go into effect starting July 1, 2019.
“This is at a time when teachers are going on strike in Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Kentucky,” Roem said. “We’re taking care of our teachers here in Virginia.”
With two of her three key campaign promises already accomplished, Roem has been expanding her scope. She has introduced a number of constituent service bills, including legislation to ban corporate service companies from being able to fund political campaigns. The proposal was suggested by a constituent, Roem claimed.
Another constituent requested school boards provide a training document to all school employees to identify signs of suicidal ideation among their students.
“That came from a mother in my district who outlived her child,” Roem explained. “The hell and torment she has to live through every single day — no parent should have to endure that. And we should do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”
“I’m a child of suicide myself,” she candidly added. “My dad died when I was three years old, so obviously this is important to me.”
Another constituent, who is an amputee, reached out the delegate to report that her insurance would not cover a medical prosthetic, declaring it a “luxury.” In response, Roem immediately drafted another bill mandating health insurance companies cover the cost of prosthetic devices.
“Apparently tying your shoes, scratching your back, and driving a car some people consider a luxury,” she said.
The state legislator is now “working really hard to find a way to bring this back up to committee next year.” In the meantime, she’s working with nonprofits to see if she can get her constituent a mechanical arm.
Roem also co-sponsored a bill mandating that health insurance companies cover transition-related healthcare in Virginia — as the high expense of hormones and surgery can be prohibitive for those paying out of pocket. The average transgender person will spend $20,000 on transition care in their lifetime.
But the lawmaker maintained this legislation isn’t about her. It’s about her LGBTQ constituents. Having run on a platform of expanding health insurance, Roem claimed it means LGBTQ-inclusive care “as much as for any of my other constituents.”
“My insurance through the state government covers my transition-related healthcare,” she said. “It’s about my trans constituents so every single trans person in Virginia can meet this coverage. Trans-related healthcare isn’t a want — it is a need. You are following your doctor’s orders.”
In addition to preparing for the next fight in the 2019 Virginia General Assembly Session, she’s already helped pass multiple pieces of legislation.
Roem served as a chief patron on House Bill 1113, which would have expanded autism-related healthcare coverage on insurance plans for individuals over the age of 10. Currently in Virginia, young people with autism are only covered between the ages of two and 10 years old.
“Autism doesn’t go away once you turn 11,” she said. “So that seems silly and frankly, cruel.”
While her bill was killed, she was, however, able to support allocating funds from the state budget so that state healthcare programs would now cover autism-related healthcare expenses up until age 18.
While it’s not covered universally by healthcare plans, Roem called it a “big win.” She said, “It’s a great, great first step.”
One of Roem’s proudest accomplishments following her first seven months is office is the passage of House Bill 50, which she also co-sponsored. The bill prohibits school districts from engaging in a practice called “lunch shaming,” in which schools enact embarrassing measures for students carrying lunch debt.
Some of the common practices to shame students who couldn’t afford to pay their lunch tabs included forcing them to wear a wristband, marking an X on their hands, or making the kids do chores in order to eat. All of those acts are now banned.
“No matter the financial situation of the parents who are trying to rectify their debt, you never take it out on the kid,” she said. “It’s not the kid’s fault.”
During her phone interview with INTO, it was abundantly clear Roem is passionate about representing marginalized communities and won’t allow any obstacle to hinder her progress. The straight-shooter is unwavering in her morals, listens to the people, and if she sets out on a mission, she won’t stop until she reaches her goal.
Simply put, Virginian Delegate Danica Roem gets it done.
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