BY ANNIE BLANC
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
Del. Keith Hodges, R-Urbanna, said expects to have more 80 percent of his sponsored legislation made into law this legislative session, keeping his “batting average” on par with those of the 2015 and 2016 sessions.
Hodges said he was focused on economic development this session, proposing a suite of bills that focuses specifically on the unique needs of the rural areas of coastal Virginia. Hodges’ district is one of the most rural districts in Virginia, containing 1000 miles of shoreline, he said.
Lewis Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, said he believed that Hodges’ suite of proposed bills would create opportunities for development within the Middle Peninsula. A constituent of Hodges’ jurisdiction, Lawrence recognizes that Hodges is working toward becoming a successful spokesperson for rural coastal Virginia, Lawrence said.
One of Hodges’ bills, HB 1686, directly concerns Lawrence and has been passed by the Senate, House and Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. The bill would allow Indian tribes recognized by the federal government to join Planning District Commissions (PDCs) as members and to negotiate the terms of such membership.
According to the Virginia Association of Planning District Commissions’ website, PDCs exist to address various regional problems in order to facilitate local and state government cooperation and implement public policies and services. The potential addition of tribal members to local PDCs would create a unified, more consistent voice for the needs of the district, Lawrence said.
The Pamunkey Tribe, which currently exists inside of the Middle Peninsula, would be most affected by HB 1686, Lawrence said. Tribe officials have not commented on whether they would accept a position within the PDC, he said.
Hodges’ suite of proposed bills also includes HB 1774 and HB 2009, which together address various environmental and economic issues specific to coastal Virginia by identifying 23 different programs to protect the state’s waterways, Hodges said. Hodges’ bills are intended to harness excess stormwater in order to use them for jobs and other forms of economic development, he said.
“I want to look at stormwater in a completely different way,” Hodges said. “These bills are a game changer for economic development as well as water quality.”
The bills, which are an extension of Hodges’ request in the 2016 General Assembly to conduct further research on stormwater legislation, focus on creating opportunities for more innovative and cost-effective approaches to problems with coastal water, said Larry Land, director of policy development at the Virginia Association of Counties.
“HB 1774 opens the door to more approaches to coastal water management that take into account specific characteristics of rural Virginia,” Land said.
Land said that he was optimistic about the outcome of Hodges’ stormwater legislation and how it might help develop rural coastal Virginia both economically and environmentally.
Hodges also has four pieces of legislation concerned with charitable gaming, two of which are awaiting signature or vetoes by the governor – HB 2178 and HB 2177 – and two of which were left in Committee, according to the Virginia Legislature website.