Event highlights upcoming session
ELKINS — Elected officials addressed Randolph County constituents Thursday about what they could possibly expect to see happen during the upcoming 2018 West Virginia legislative session.
The discussions took place at the Arts Center in Elkins, as part of the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Luncheon. Chamber members and the public were invited to hear from elected officials about their concerns and goals for the upcoming session.
“The Chamber is committed to bringing you, the business community, information that is both current and relevant regarding local and state issues that may affect your business,” said ERCCC President Mike Bell during the event. “This affords us an opportunity to talk with them one-on-one and hear first-hand their thoughts on issues that may come before the state Legislature this session.”
Topics of discussion ranged from education and tourism to finance and taxing.
Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, said he believes it is important to bring qualified instructors into the education system in rural areas throughout Randolph and Pocahontas counties. He also noted he believes home schooling is becoming more prevalent in the state because some people are not satisfied with their county school systems.
“There is probably more home schooling in West Virginia right now than any other time in history, and that’s because people are unhappy, generally, with what’s going on in our schools,” Hartman said. “Somehow we have to attract qualified people to get involved in education, and I think you may see charter school discussion.”
Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, said last year’s legislative session gave more flexibility to county school systems, including finances.
“The biggest thing that we can do is continue to push accountability and responsibility down to the local boards of education,” Karnes said.
He noted that in the 2018 session, there may be discussion related to the introduction of charter schools in the state.
“One of the things that can improve any system is a little competition, so a little bit of competition for the public school system may be a good thing,” Karnes said.
In regards to tourism, Karnes said he hopes to see more definitive planning and details so the state can “be on top of the game” and effectively promote tourism.
“When West Virginia can establish itself as the most ATV-friendly destination on the East Coast … if we could pull that off, you almost don’t need to advertise because people who engage in that sport are going to know about it and they’re going to be here,” Karnes offered as an example. “A lot of folks in this room have businesses that would benefit from that, even if you’re not directly tied to it — whether it’s a restaurant, hotel or gift shop.
“Point being, there are things you can do that cost money and you’ve got to do that and be very responsible about how we do it, but there are other things that we can do that simply promote West Virginia in the minds of people outside of the state that is, essentially, free advertising,” he added.
Hartman echoed Karnes in saying he believes more planning should be done before more funding is put into tourism.
Hartman went further to say he believes regional tourism promotion could be beneficial in some areas of the state, including House District 43 which encompasses Pocahontas County and part of Randolph County.
“I would be a proponent of some regional tourism promotion,” Hartman said. “I think Randolph, Pocahontas and Tucker (counties) are ideal areas for regional promotion. We have most of the skiing in the state and national forests — instead of each county spending money, I think if we advertised as a region, it would be far more effective.”
Karnes and Hartman both noted additional topics they expect to see discussed during the 2018 West Virginia Legislative Session, including health care, tax reform, net neutrality, drug issues and even free or reduced cost for technical schools or community colleges.
Thursday’s luncheon was sponsored by Dominion Energy, with lunch catered by Beander’s.
In addition to Hartman and Karnes, Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, and Delegate Phil Isner, D-Randolph, were invited to participate in the event.