This week in wins: Virginia makes history with its first woman speaker of the House

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Virginia welcomes its first woman speaker of the House of Delegates the same week New York legislators pass a bill making it easier to vote, and Kansas worked to expand health care to 150,000 more residents.

The year 2020 is here, and progressives are already seeing victories from the coasts to the heartland. This week saw Virginia welcome its first woman speaker of the House in the state's 400-year history, while Kansas worked to expand health care to tens of thousands of residents. Citizens in New York could soon see automatic voter registration soon, and the notorious RBG starts the new year cancer-free.

Read on to catch up on this week's wins.

Eileen Filler-Corn becomes Virginia's 56th speaker of the House of Delegates

After electoral victories in 2019, Democrats reclaimed control of the Virginia House of Delegates and elected Eileen Filler-Corn as the first woman to be speaker of the House of Delegates in the commonwealth's 401-year history, WTVR reported on Wednesday.      

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"I must acknowledge the tremendous honor I feel at being the first woman Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates," Filler-Corn said. "This session brings many firsts. We will have the first women of color to lead committees, and have a historically diverse group of committee chairs and vice-chairs," she added.

Democrats now control both legislative chambers and all state-wide elected offices, including the governor. The party has laid out an ambitious progressive agenda for the coming year, including gun safety legislation, measures to expand access to voting, and criminal justice reform, according to WTVR.  

Kansas governor brokers deal to expand health care to 150,000 residents

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly worked out an agreement with state lawmakers to expand Medicaid in the state. The agreement could lead to an additional 150,000 Kansas residents receiving health insurance, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.   

"Compromise is hard," Kelly told supporters at a news conference, "but it is so worth it." She noted that the agreement will still need to be approved by the legislature and signed into law, and that she is "more optimistic than ever that Kansas will reach that point."

Kelly made Medicaid expansion a key platform in her 2018 campaign, the AP noted. Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach in that race, and Kelly spent the weeks since the election negotiating with Republican legislators in order to fulfill her promise. 

If Kansas expands Medicaid, it would be the 37th state to do so since the Affordable Care Act was passed into law. A recent study found low-income people in southern states are less likely to see their health deteriorate in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced she started 2020 free from cancer

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced Wednesday that she is cancer-free, CNN reported.  

The 86-year-old justice, who was treated in 2019 for a malignant tumor on her pancreas, told CNN, "I'm cancer free. That's good."  

Ginsburg is widely acknowledged as one of four liberal justices on the Supreme Court, and has faced down cancer four times since 1999, according to CNN.  

New York Senate passes automatic voter registration bill

Led by a Democratic majority, the New York state Senate passed a bill on Thursday making it much easier for state residents to register to vote, CNN reported. Under the bill, residents would be automatically registered if they use the services of certain government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles or the state health department.

"At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault, New York must live up to its potential as a progressive leader," state Sen. Michael Gianaris, the bill's sponsor, told CNN. "Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting automatic voter registration would go a long way towards improving our democracy."

If the bill is passed by the New York Assembly and signed into law, it will go into effect in two years.

Federal court blocks effort to penalize immigrants for using public benefits

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked an attempt by the Trump administration to prevent immigrants who use public benefits from becoming permanent residents, the AP reported on Wednesday. The court ruling is the first one to put forth a nationwide injunction on the proposed rule being implemented.   

The Trump administration rule seeks to deny green cards to immigrants who would potentially need to use public benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps, the AP noted. Further, immigrants make up a very small portion of those who receive public benefits, since many are ineligible to receive them.  

California governor takes steps to help the homeless population

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that his administration is making surplus public land available for temporary homeless shelters, KGO/ABC 7 News reported. The announcement came via an executive order signed by Newsom, which also calls for mental health and drug treatment services.  

"I believe that there is no issue that Californians agree on more than the need to end homelessness," Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told ABC. 

The executive order came out of a request Newsom made last summer, asking agencies to find surplus land that could be used to address homelessness. The Newsom administration created a map with 100 such locations.

Check back next week for more good news.