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Local legislatures preview some of their plans ahead of the 2024 General Assembly

See story at The News &Advance...With the General Assembly convening a little more than a month away, the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance hosted “Policy & Pancakes” on Wednesday as a look ahead to the 2024 session.

Legislators representing the area had the opportunity to provide their viewpoint on the upcoming session and give a summary of different areas they will work closely on.

About 80 people — some university staff, local legislators and city officials — filed into the Liberty University Welcome Center to listen to the recently elected group and eat breakfast.

Sen. Mark Peake, Del. Wendell Walker, Del.-Elect Eric Zehr and Del.-Elect Tim Griffin attended the event.

Sen. Creigh Deeds could not be present, but he provided a written statement to guests apologizing for not being able to be there, but added the 2024 session “should not be about confrontation” and partisan disagreements.

He said minimum wage must continue to rise toward a living wage and abortion services should be available in the state.

Deeds added he will continue to work to protect the commonwealth’s natural resources, develop a sound energy policy and promote gun safety, adding “weapons of war do not belong in our schools or our streets.”

He said there will be a closer look into things both parties can find agreement on such as funding for K-12 education and working harder to fund mental health services.

“If we put aside our partisan stripes for a few minutes, we can make great progress together,” he said in his statement.

Peake said small businesses are the backbone not just of the state but the country, and protecting them will be a priority.

“We have to do everything we can to protect y’all,” Peake said during his speech. “We appreciate what you do. ”Peake told The News & Advance after the event he will continue to fight for public safety and give support to law enforcement. “We’ve got to support our law enforcement, and we’ve got to enforce small crimes. If you let people just get away with small crimes, they move up to bigger crimes,” Peake said. “I want to make sure we don’t fall into that trap.”

Walker said transportation is “one of the big issues” that needs to be worked on; and the standards of quality when it comes to education is going to be “another battle.”

Other key items the delegate named looking ahead to the session included mental health, public safety and as for the budget, money is going to be “a lot tighter.”

“You know, what we are going to be looking at is just common-sense legislation going forward,” he said. “Elections are over with, politics are behind us, it is all about policy … working together to make Virginia the best place to live, to grow and to work.”Walker told The News & Advance after the event, workforce is key to the area. He said funding for career and technical education programs is important, because it creates a pipeline of students coming out of school with some type of credentials.

This leads to another top priority of his — making sure the workforce has every tool it needs to be better and stronger.

“If we don’t have the workforce, while we have this great industry, then what do we really have at the end of the day,” he said.

“We’re going to protect our values. We’re going to stand up for our region and we’re not going to let them walk all over us and if they and when they try, we’re going to stand up, we’re going to be strong against them,” he added.

Both Zehr and Griffin will represent their respective districts in Richmond for the first time.

Griffin said in his speech Wednesday, they will learn from Peake and Walker and allow them to take a lead on certain issues with one being workforce development.

On a county level, Griffin said he will try to address issues with the Nelson budget.

In terms of Bedford County, he added he will seek to learn more from the experts and leaders in the county on what their agenda is, and what needs to be accomplished.
Zehr said one area Republicans will have to work with Democrats on is funding for schools. He added he doesn’t want to just add personnel, but make sure the money is actually educating children.

“So, we’re gonna be fighting to make sure that money is going into education, is going to the students and is going to actual education,” he said.

Overall, however, Zehr said “we got a fight in our hands.”

“We will make sure that we’re standing for the values that we hold here in this district,” he said.

During their speeches, Zehr, Griffin, Peake and Walker all alluded to the commonwealth having the Democratic majority in both the House of Delegates and state Senate.

Walker told The News & Advance the sky is not falling and for Democrats, the “shoe is on their foot” right now to make sure “they don’t go too far left.”

“The pendulum swings from one party to the other party and if the Democrats go too far in these next two years, then that sets the stage for a comeback,” he said.

Peake said he and other counterparts “have a lot of work to do,” saying in an interview that he’s “very much concerned.”

He alluded to the difficulty of passing the budget last year.

“As we’ve discussed as well, we’re not gonna have surpluses for the next two years, like we’ve had the past two years. Everything’s gonna be under a microscope. Funding is gonna be a lot harder,” he said.

The General Assembly convenes in Richmond on Jan. 10.