WINCHESTER — Taxes, school choice and rural broadband are among Del. Dave LaRock’s legislative priorities ahead of the 2019 General Assembly session, which convenes Jan. 9 in Richmond.
The session is 45 days.
LaRock, R-Hamilton, says one of the General Assembly’s “highest priorities” should be to conform the state tax code to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed last year.
“The easiest step to help families would be to double Virginia’s standard deduction, which has been stalled at $3,000 for an individual and $6,000 for a couple filing jointly for decades,” LaRock wrote in a Friday email. “By doubling Virginia’s standard deduction, joint filers with one child would be allowed $14,790 in tax-free income.”
LaRock also plans to once again introduce a bill aimed at increasing the quality and availability of rural broadband internet service. His bill would give broadband providers and other telecommunication companies the right to attach wires and other equipment to utility poles, with restrictions on the fees a utility company can charge.
“Broadband is not the same animal as electric power,” LaRock said in a Saturday phone interview. “[Utility companies] have a bit of a monopoly on the poles.”
He said the bill would remove the roadblocks that can make it cost-prohibitive for broadband providers to connect to utility poles in rural areas.
For the past several years, LaRock has sponsored a bill to establish Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s) so parents could use state funds to send their children to private institutions. This would enable parents to spend 90 percent of their child’s Standards of Quality funds — state money allocated to public schools — for private school, educational therapies or services.
That bill, which has consistently been criticized by the Virginia Education Association as a way to siphon public monies for private schools, was twice vetoed by former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
During the 2019 legislative session, LaRock said he will introduce a bill to create Child Safety Accounts (CSA) that would do the same thing as Education Savings Accounts but would be available to parents who “feel, for whatever reason, their child is unsafe at school.”
“A CSA would empower parents to remove their children from unsafe schools and choose a safer education environment,” LaRock wrote in his email. “CSA funds could be used to pay for tuition at public charter, parochial, private, and virtual schools, as well as homeschooling and other education-related expenses.”
LaRock cited the highly publicized case of a girl who left John Handley High School this year because she felt the school system wasn’t doing enough to keep her separated from a 15-year-old classmate who pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting her in a local park. The girl, identified only by her first name of Francesca, transferred to a private school in Front Royal shortly after the start of the current school year.
LaRock said parents with children who have bullying problems should contact him at DelDLaRock@house.virginia.gov.
LaRock also will continue to seek the revocation of the tax-exempt status of Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, a local retirement community.
LaRock previously said that if Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury had been paying Frederick County real estates taxes, the payments from 2006 to 2016 would have been about $1.5 million. The Frederick County Finance Committee has asked that the facility’s tax-exempt status be revoked.
LaRock said the retirement community claims it provides the kind of “benevolent” care that gives charities the right to tax-exempt status, but he asserts that the facility’s high entrance fees and rents mean that those who live there is “very much based on who can afford it.”
Prior to 2003, all tax exemptions had to be granted by the General Assembly. In 2003, the legislature returned power to grant and revoke tax exemptions to localities, but only for applications after that year. Organizations granted tax-exempt status before 2003 were able to maintain their status and are still under the discretion of the General Assembly.