STAUNTON — Ahead of the 2020 General Assembly session, Augusta County’s delegation answered questions on what’s on the horizon for the region at the Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast on Tuesday morning.
John Avoli, R-Staunton; Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge; Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon; and Chris Runion, R-Rockingham identified different first priorities for the upcoming session that convenes Jan. 8, but all agreed that broadband access in rural areas needs to be expanded.
“It’s going to be dependent on what our financial capabilities are. More money is necessary,” Runion said. “If we can figure out how to bring private partnerships into the public so that it’s a fair economic exchange — everyone has some skin in the game and we have some innovation and some entrepreneurship. We’re going to get this figured out.”
Runion, who was elected to represent the 25th district in the House of Delegates, noted that broadband is one of his no. 1 priorities, as well as advocating for those with developmental disabilities.
Avoli, 20th District House of Delegates-elect, said he’ll be focused on education and mental health.
“My background is education and I’m a huge, huge supporter of public education and any education specifically in the vocational and technical trades,” Avoli said. “The other issue is mental health. Mental health for me is a primary concern in this area. Early childhood intervention is important.”
Campbell, who is preparing for his second legislative session, said that his priority this session is to continue to foster bipartisan relationships.
“I think it’s important that we work with the Democrats. We are all Virginians, and we need to be sure that the things that we do in Richmond are the best for the state,” he said.
Hanger will represent the 24th District Senate seat for his seventh term this session after defeating Democratic challenger Annette Hyde in a landslide vote in November. Hanger, who previously served as chair of the Senate finance committee, identified the budget as one of his main focuses.
“I still will be one of the senior members of the finance committee,” he said. “Dealing with the state budget from start to finish will really be the no. 1 priority for me because it encompasses a lot of the policy decisions that we will make throughout the session.”
In addition to legislative priorities and broadband, the delegation tackled questions on Virginia’s right-to-work laws, behavioral health and areas for bipartisan opportunities and support.
All four agreed that they were supportive of Virginia’s right-to-work laws. Hanger noted that he has had conversations with democrats and doesn’t think the votes are there to repeal current legislation.
“I think it’s something we should put to rest but not take it for granted because it’s one of the fundamental things that we have out there that helps us be the number one state for business in the nation and we want to protect that,” Hanger said.
On the issue of bipartisan support, each identified a different issue that could be addressed — but all agreed to do what’s best for the Commonwealth.
Hanger said gerrymandering could be an area of bipartisan effort; Runion identified business matters, workforce development and broadband; and Avoli focused on mental health, substance abuse.
Campbell said he’ll support the best thing for the district.
“If it’s beneficial for the citizens in the 24th district, then I support it. If we can do something that’s beneficial for our people, I will be with the Democrats talking about it,” Campbell said. “I don’t care what party they’re in. I was elected to represent the 24th district, and that’s what I’m going to do.”