‘Mr. Speaker’ Cox takes helm of state assembly where he has served 27 years ‘Mr. Speaker’ Cox takes helm of state assembly where he has served 27 years
Kirk Cox enjoys his job, and as the 55th speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, he hopes to continue in that post for... ‘Mr. Speaker’ Cox takes helm of state assembly where he has served 27 years

Kirk Cox enjoys his job, and as the 55th speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, he hopes to continue in that post for several more years.

Cox, R-Colonial Heights, became speaker in January when he began serving his 28th year in the state Assembly.

He was elected to the state House in 1989 and began serving in 1990 when the Republicans were “way in the minority.” At that time, serving as speaker was “not on my radar,” he said last week following an evening presentation before the Chester Lions Club.

The former government and history teacher replaced Bill Howell, R-Stafford, who had been in the post for 14 years. Cox noted that he is the first speaker to have been in the teaching profession. He taught for 30 years including 25 years at Manchester High School in Midlothian.

Cox said he wants to be known as a man of integrity who focuses on making policy.

Last week, he noted some accomplishments that the Legislature has made, including the recently-completed legislative session.

The Legislature provided $12 million last year and $4 million this year for career and technical education, he said, citing examples of welding and other technical apprenticeships and internships.

Cox said the state told community colleges that it would help pay for credentialing programs for students who complete the programs.

He cited a new online learning program offered by Old Dominion and George Mason universities for adults who have some college credits but never finished. He noted there are 1.1 million such people in the commonwealth. The Online Virginia Network offers more than 37 degree programs.

Less regulation was something he and Aubrey Layne, the secretary of finance, worked on, Cox said. They agreed that the departments of Professional and Occupational and Regulation and Criminal Justice Services would cut their regulations by 25 percent over the next three years. “This was the biggest regulatory reform in the last 20 years,” he said, referring to HB 883, which established a pilot program.

In addition, he said the Legislature held the line on tax rate increases, noting it turned down some $770 million in proposed new taxes.

In regard to school safety, Cox recently announced the formation of a select committee that will make recommendations to the Legislature in 2019. Twelve Republicans and 10 Democrats will serve on the select committee, he said.

Another accomplishment is a compromise on public safety that resulted in the threshold for felony larceny increasing from $200 to $500 in exchange for requiring those wanting parole to pay restitution. Cox noted that some $8.3 million has been paid in restitution over the years but hasn’t gotten to the victims.

Although the House and Senate were not able to come to an agreement on the budget and will start a special session April 11 in regard to that, Cox said he believes the state will begin paying more for commonwealth’s attorneys to help ensure that they are closer to 100-percent funded to prosecute felonies. County Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle has said the state only funds 18 1/2 of the 28 commonwealth’s attorneys in Chesterfield, for example.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, has proposed requiring localities to hire one entry-level assistant county attorney for every 50 body cameras worn by police. Cox said the latter proposal is not a top priority for the House, but noted that it is subject to negotiation in the special session.

A Medicaid expansion that would increase the qualification threshold from 100 to 138 percent of the poverty level is being sought by Gov. Ralph Northam. The state House has agreed, Cox said, but wants a work requirement and a “kill switch” if federal government funding drops below 90 percent for new enrollees. Noting that the Senate does not want a Medicaid expansion, Cox said he believes the work requirement will be strengthened. A work requirement for welfare recipients that the state passed under former Gov. George Allen was effective, Cox said.

He lauded Northam, a Democrat, for having no ambitions past the governor’s chair. “He’s very ‘down home’ and cares about the issues,” Cox said.

He notes that the state Assembly is the oldest legislative body in the “new world,” descended from the House of Burgesses and will celebrate its 400th anniversary next year.