RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Virginia Democrats are rolling out a plan to tackle the heavy burden of student loan debt.

Lawmakers are introducing bills aimed at lowering interest rates, and having the commonwealth play a role in issuing new loans.

Democrats argue Virginia's economy is being held back because graduates are unable to invest much in the economy. Legislators believe they are delaying buying homes, as well as starting their own families or business because of their debt.

"We cannot move forward with a new Virginia economy when our next generation of leaders come out of school crippled with debt," said 95th District Delegate Marcia Price (D).

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus would like to resurrect the Virginia Education Loan Authority, which would allow students to refinance their loans in a way similar to a home mortgage.

"What we'd like to propose is a very robust, new Virginia student loan authority that has the power to make new loans for incoming students, as well as refinancing the loans of folks who've been out of school for a while," 53rd District Delegate Marcus Simon (D) said.

Democrats estimate Virginians collectively owe more than $30 billion in student loan debt.

Del. Simon says the commonwealth could look to states like Rhode Island, Connecticut and North Dakota for reform. "We're not the first ones to think of this, and we're not the first ones to try it," the delegate said.

The plan would take some money in the state budget to get the new infrastructure off the ground, but Simon then expects a loan authority to show a return on investment for the state.

"It's a good business for the commonwealth to be in for a variety of reasons, not just because it generates money but because it really helps out Virginia students and Virginia professionals who've been through school and need some relief so that they can really fully participate in the economy," Simon said.

Although Del. Simon says he doesn't think these proposals would be expensive, he admits there is a hurdle given the state is currently facing a budget shortfall. He doesn't have an estimate for how much the loan authority would cost initially, but says they're doing everything to reduce the price tag.

The 2017 General Assembly session opens on Wednesday, January 11.

Release from Virginia House Democrats:

RICHMOND, Va. – At a press conference held at the state capitol, Virginia House Democrats today announced new legislation that would allow borrowers to refinance student loan debt.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church), would revive the Virginia Education Loan Authority (VELA) and empower the entity to re-finance high-interest student loans.

An estimated 629,000 Virginians could benefit from re-financing their loans.

“Virginians collectively owe more than $30 billion dollars in student loan debt,” said Delegate Simon. “This is creating a crisis that is hampering our Virginia economy. Interest payments are preventing our young people from buying homes, forming households and making significant purchases. We’ve studied the issue thoroughly. Now is the time for action. I look forward to the support of my colleagues across the aisle for these proposals, which will boost our economy and build our local communities.”

“Graduates of community college, technical school and universities have worked hard to gain the education they need to participate in the New Virginia economy, but too often their debt burden prevents them from ever finding financial success,” said Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), House Democratic Caucus Chair. “I call upon members from both sides of the aisle to stand together with our students -- they are the future of our economy.”

Simon’s proposal to create a Student Loan Debt Refinancing Authority was referred to the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), Virginia 529 and the Virginia Treasury for further study during the 2016 session.

After nearly a year of study with input from stakeholders across the commonwealth, SCHEV issued a 25-page report summarizing options available to the General Assembly. The report suggested that lawmakers should mitigate risk to the commonwealth by serving a large pool of borrowers or by working in partnership with private sector lenders to serve a smaller pool of borrowers.

“As a young person still in my first year of college, I fear that the additional debt I take on to complete my degree will affect my ability to be a full participant in the economy,” said Carl Warf, who a student at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I thank the House Democratic Caucus for its support of this important bill, and I look forward to its passage.”

Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) will introduce the Senate version of Simon’s bill.

Delegate Marcia Price (D-Newport News) will introduce an alternative bill that would create a Student Loan Debt Refinance Authority modeled on the existing Small Business Finance Authority. This entity would provide guarantees and gap financing to private sector lenders who might otherwise be unwilling to take on the risk of refinancing student loan debt.

“As one of the few members of the General Assembly who is still in the process of repaying student loans, I’m keenly aware of the impact these loans can have,” said Delegate Price. “The cost of education should not be negatively life-altering. The student loan reforms being proposed are huge for Millennials and the benefits extend to Virginians of all ages. We cannot move forward with a New Virginia Economy when our next generation of leaders comes out of school crippled with debt.”

At an event in Blacksburg on January 4, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a series of Education and Workforce proposals to further his efforts to create a New Virginia Economy. Among his proposals were the creation of an office of Student Loan Ombudsman and the adoption of Student Borrower Bill of Rights.

video recording of the press conference is available for view on the Facebook page of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus.