The 2023 General Assembly session kicks-off on Jan. 11, and lawmakers from this region figure to make some noise in the upcoming session.
We invited Tara Durant, Nick Freitas, Bobby Orrock, and Phillip Scott of the House of Delegates, as well as Bryce Reeves and Richard Stuart of the State Senate, to discuss their priorities. Orrock, Reeves, and Scott accepted.
Here’s what to watch for starting this week.
Reeves’ failure to win the Republican Primary in the 7th District last year hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for serving our area. His plate is full, but two issues will consume much of his time.
The first is our veterans. Last year the governor signed a bill to give a tax break to retired veterans age 55 and older. This year, Reeves is looking to lower that age threshold in a bid to keep veterans from leaving the state.
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“Virginia was growing our veterans’ population by 1% to 2% per year” before COVID, Reeves said. “After COVID, they started moving away to tax-free states like Tennessee, Texas, and Florida.” He attributes this to increased remote work policies that allowed younger military retirees working other jobs in the state to leave for no-tax states because they didn’t have to be here to work.
He’s also looking to score a win with his Veterans Promise for Higher Education bill. This would allow active military in Virginia to gain automatic admittance to Virginia universities, provided they meet all the requirements for admission.
His other focus is the gaming industry. Working with Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, Reeves is looking to create a new committee to deal with problem gambling. Calls to a hotline run by the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling have surged 143% over the past three years, and those numbers will only climb as gambling continues to grow.
Other issues Reeves will be involved with include: Addressing abuses of the Farm Use tag, school choice, Fentanyl, and health insurance.
Entering his 33rd year in the House of Delegates, Orrock’s primary concern is health care.
His big push will be establishing a nursing home staffing ratio. “The issue has been before us for 10 years or more,” he says. “Ideally, there’d be one staff member per resident, but that’s not economically feasible.” But that’s not the biggest challenge. “We don’t have the workforce, and we don’t have the training” we need now, Orrock said, to meet the demand.
Orrock wants to go through the Department of Health to work with regulators, who can then set up the guidelines for what proper staffing looks like. Regulators, he notes, can gather the appropriate parties and take the time necessary to get a sound policy in place.
Once in place, homes that don’t come up to standard would then work with the health department to identify where they’re struggling and find the appropriate solution.
He’s working with Democrat George Barker on the Senate side.
Another health matter of interest to Orrock is trying to give paramedics more latitude in the care they provide to hospitals when they are employed by a hospital. It’s one way to try and address the critical shortage of medical providers.
Other areas of interest include: Developing a state-wide book review policy for school districts, dealing with Medicare fraud, and finding a way to stop unsolicited text messages to mobile phones.
First elected in 2021, Scott’s focus this year will be mainly in the area of education.
His concern, he says, is to ensure “access to quality education” for every student. Working with Republican Glenn Davis in the House of Delegates, Scott wants to reallocate educational funding sources to “level the playing field” for students and their parents. He believes the best way to do this is to set up “Educational Success Accounts.”
ESAs, according to the Policy Circle, “enable parents to ‘withdraw their children from public district … schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses.” Parents then use those funds to purchase approved educational services for their children.
To help with the teacher shortage, Scott would like to incentivize military members to enter the teaching profession as a second career by allowing them to bring with them up to 4 years toward their retirement.
Another area of concern for him is growing the number of mental health workers.