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Thanks to redistricting, the Bedford area will now be represented by three people in the House of Delegates when the Virginia General Assembly reconvenes.
This is because the 23rd House District has been expanded westward to include a portion of Bedford County. The 2010 census reflected an eastward population shift, which caused western districts to expand geographically. Lacey Putney’s district, which still includes large parts of the Bedford area, now reaches to the West Virginia line.
The 23rd House district is currently represented by Scott Garrett, a retired surgeon who was first elected to the seat in 2009. Garrett, a Republican, unseated incumbent Shannon Valentine, a Democrat. He is running for reelection in November and is currently unopposed.
Along with Putney, Delegate Kathy Byron continues to represent portions of the Bedford area and Garrret said that he worked closely with Putney and Byron during the last two General Assembly sessions.
“Lacey is a solid voice of reason,” Garrett commented.
Garrett, who noted that he was 4 years old the year Putney began his first term in the House of Delegates, said that the Bedford delegate has been a valuable source of advice for him.
“I’ve been very blessed to have his help,” Garrett said.
Of course, these district lines are not official yet. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires Virginia and several other states to submit redistricting plans to the Department of Justice for approval. Garrett expects that to happen soon and, once the shape of his district is official, he plans to launch a concerted effort to introduce himself.
Although Garrett is retired, he said that he still keeps his medical license active. What he gave up was an office practice and a hospital practice. His surgery practice included trauma surgery, which meant lots of emergency calls. He finally reached the point which he figured he was getting a little old to be rousted out of bed at 2 a.m.
Along with giving him expertise in medical issues, it affects his philosophy toward legislation. Legislation, he notes, can always be changed if it doesn’t work as expected.
“At the end of the day, the patient is not going to die,” he notes about legislation, which can be fixed if there’s a mistake, unlike in surgery.
Prior to running for the House of Delegates, Garrett served on Lynchburg City Council. He said that this allowed him to see first hand how state-level actions impact localities. This was one reason for his decision to seek the House of Delegates seat. He said that the other reason is that he felt Valentine’s values did not reflect those of the district.
Garrett is pleased to have taken part in the General Assembly’s success at closing a $4.2 billion budget deficit without raising state taxes. He said this contrasted, in 2010, with outgoing governor Tim Kaine’s plan to balance the budget by raising taxes. Garrett said that this is important because people couldn’t afford more fiscal pressure.
He said he also supported a measure, in 2010, that provided tax credits for businesses that create jobs, as well as supporting efforts to reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses.
Garrett said that a newly elected delegate doesn’t get to do much, his first year, beyond vote and listen. This year, he carried a bill, which passed unanimously, that outlaws synthetic marijuana. The law makes possession a misdemeanor and manufacturing or selling it a felony.
He also introduced legislation that provides a tax credit to farm wineries and farm vineyards. Garrett said that this will help existing wineries and vineyards as well as help new ones get started.
“It’s an outreach in agricultural tourism that makes sense,” he said. “Tourism is something that’s near and dear to my heart.”
Garrett serves in the House Finance Committee, which deals with tax policy, the House Transportation Committee and the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.
Looking to the future, he is concerned about “ObamaCare” which he said will have a major impact on how much Virginia pays for Medicaid. According to Garrett, it will add between 275,000 and 420,000 people to the Commonwealth’s Medicaid rolls. Currently, Virginia provides Medicaid benefits to 910,000 people.
Providing medical services to more people creates another issue, in addition to the challenge of paying for it. Garrett said that there aren’t enough doctors to handle the influx. He said that President Obama’s initiative has laudable goals, but it does nothing to address the availability of medical professionals or the affordability of medical services.
“ObamaCare” is one of what Garrett considers 800 pound gorillas facing the General Assembly. Maintaining a firm commitment to education is another. Garrett said that public education has always been a core government function. He said that not every high school graduate will benefit from going to college and he wants to see more vocational and technology education in the schools to prepare students for quality jobs when they graduate.
Transportation and energy are other key issues, he said. Two of the world’s top manufacturers of reactors and nuclear power equipment, AREVA and Babcock & Wilcox, have facilities in this area. Furthermore, 40 percent of Virginia’s electricity is produced by coal-fired power plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is another. EPA regulations are impacting agriculture to the point of regulating farm ponds. He said that a new regulation concerning these will take effect in August.
For now, he’s waiting for the Department of Justice to approve Virginia’s redistricting plan so that he can meet his new constituents.
“I’m very excited to get out into the county,” he commented.