Each year before West Virginia lawmakers begin their 60-day session, Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce (BRCCC) presents position statements that reflect the voice of our local business community to our legislators. These position statements are created by the chamber’s Governmental and Education Affairs Committees, which are composed of bipartisan community leaders representing both private and public sector organizations throughout Raleigh County.
Highlights that came from the work of both committees are touched on in this month’s column.
Civics Education: Recent events revealed the importance of Americans’ participation in civic life to sustain our democratic form of government. Without it, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people will not last. Of increasing concern to many is the declining levels of positive civic engagement across the country. The Annenberg Public Policy Center says that only 1 in 4 of Americans is able to name the three branches of government, and the Pew Research Center says that only an unnerving 17 percent trust the government in Washington to do the right thing.
In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “Civic education, like all education, is a continuing enterprise and conversation. Each generation has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it.”
We agree with CivXNow, a bipartisan coalition of over one hundred academic and research institutions, learning providers, and philanthropic organizations, which says that civic education must include a focus on:
Civic knowledge and skills where students gain an understanding of the processes of government, prevalent political ideologies, civic and constitutional rights, and the history and heritage of these rights.
Civic values and dispositions where students gain an appreciation for civil discourse, free speech, and engaging with those whose perspectives differ from their own.
Civic behaviors where students develop the civic agency and confidence to vote, volunteer, attend public meetings, and engage with their communities.
The Legislature should enact legislation requiring a comprehensive policy be adopted at the state level that requires more classroom time devoted to civics education beginning at the elementary level and continuing through high school and the corresponding teacher professional development and support required to make this a reality.
Broadband Access / Virtual Learning: According to NewAmerica.org, WV is one of the least broadband-connected states. Service as a whole is slower and more expensive compared to plans across the country. It is even more problematic in rural areas. Many rural citizens live in areas not covered by any internet provider. Lack of connectivity narrows opportunities for economic growth and costs WV’s citizens in terms of access to employment, healthcare, government services, federal benefits, and education.
As we are seeing from COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning has become a reality. Sadly, it has made the education of our citizens just one more victim in the war on the digital divide.
The Legislature should support and/or enact legislation that 1) makes broadband affordable for low income families by implementing cost-saving or cost-limiting initiatives, 2) encourages at the Federal level significant broadband penetration into unserved and underserved rural areas that limit “density shopping” by broadband providers, 3) encourages broadband providers to deliver fiber to areas with sufficient population density to cost-effectively serve customers while also offering fixed-base wireless service beyond the fiber footprint to reach unserved populations, and 4) ensures that policymakers have accurate pricing information for broadband plans and comprehensive information on availability and speeds.
The other Education positions within our paper include Student Health and Wellness, Arts in Education, Employment First and Job Skills Training. The full position statements can be found at www.brccc.com
Energy: The Chamber continues to support clean coal research and alternative uses for coal. While supporting coal and its continued use, the Chamber also recognizes the growing importance of energy diversification in the state’s and nation’s energy mix. The broadening of energy sources in the region would create an economic development opportunity for the region and is a positive step in attracting new businesses and commerce. The legislature should support all energy sources that will prove beneficial to our region and the state.
Medical Cannabis: The West Virginia Legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Act in 2017 thereby allowing a limited amount of grower, processor, and dispenser permits to be issued throughout the state. Those permits were approved based on certain qualifications and requirements. Raleigh County was the first county in the state to announce that it would “approve a medical cannabis organization to be located or operate within the County” (WV State Code §16A-6-13b2). As a result of this proactive approach on behalf of the Raleigh County Commission and by support of the BRCCC and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Raleigh County was able to secure 2 of the 10 state-wide grower permits. These businesses will be located in facilities at the Raleigh County Memorial Airport Industrial Park and will create 150+ jobs.
Based on research showing that medical cannabis benefits cancer patients suffering from nausea, we recommend that the West Virginia Legislature continue to explore the benefits of it in the leaf and flower form.
The other Legislative positions within our paper include Government Modernization, Tax Reform, Highways and Infrastructure, Redistricting and Substance Abuse/Rehabilitation The full position statements can be found at www.brccc.com This year’s legislative session begins February 10, 2021.