MOV chamber talks legislative issues

PARKERSBURG – The Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley shared its positions on education, tax reform and more with local members of the state Legislature Wednesday.

Around 20 people, including many chamber members, attended a meeting held in the City Council Chambers at the Parkersburg City Building where the chamber presented its 2013 Legislative Position Papers with its members and legislators. Delegate. John Ellem, R-Wood, and Delegate Anna Border, R-Wood, were present to hear the positions and offer feedback.

Each year the chamber’s Government Relations Committee prepares “positions” on key legislative topics. The committee reviews the state chamber’s stance on issues that may come before elected officials during the upcoming session in Charleston, which starts Feb. 13.

”We look at identifying the top issues and how those impact our community and our membership,” chamber President-CEO Jill Parsons said. ”We are a border community. What happens in the Mid-Ohio Valley and Parkersburg is different than how things might affect Charleston.

”We are always mindful of that when we are looking at our position papers.”

The Chamber wants to share these position with lawmakers so they can make an informed decision on how things might affect the local business community, Parsons said, adding chamber members were also available to talk with lawmakers about issues, if needed.

Members of the committee presented the chamber’s positions on education reform, broadband access, mandated health insurance, the West Virginia Wage Payment Act and tax modernization and reform.

In education, the chamber recognizes the crucial importance of improving education outcomes across the state.

”Education is going to be a huge hot-topic issue this session,” Parsons said.

West Virginia has ranked toward the bottom of a number of education polls nationwide with students needing improvement in a number of skill sets, she added. The chamber would like to see a significant return for the state on the money being spent on education.

”It is vital to the long-term economic health of our state that our students do better across the board in comparison to their peers in other states,” the position stated. ”The status quo is unacceptable and 49th is not good enough.

”They system needs to emphasize accountability at all levels to ensure that we are receiving the desired return on our investment in education and increased funding alone is not the solution.”

The availability of broadband Internet service that is competitively priced and has competitive speed and dependability is essential to the economic vitality of the Mid-Ohio Valley, the position papers stated.

Fred Rader of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council said West Virginia is at a disadvantage because such services rely on high customer density which the state does not currently have and potential customers the state does have available have a low utilization rate for broadband services.

”If there are state and federal resources made available to address that, the chamber supports that as long as it is vendor neutral and the most cost effective use of public funds,” Rader said.

The chamber supports the need to improve access to health care, promote personal wellness and appropriate workplace wellness, make available affordable health insurance and protect the business community from unfunded health insurance mandates, the position papers stated.

David McClure of the Camden Clark Medical Center said the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been challenged numerous times in the courts and is still moving toward insurance implementations in 2014.

”The one thing I would caution is the issue of health care exchanges,” he said. ”For the individuals that are either buying insurance on their own or small businesses who do not have the buying power to be able to cover large areas of health insurance.

”The federal government is helping individual insurance companies to set up exchanges where these people could go out and shop for insurance.”

McClure said the chamber wants the state to improve access to health care to promote personal wellness.

In other position papers, the chamber supports legislation that would amend the West Virginia Wage Payment Act to provide a more adequate and reasonable period of time for an employer to pay final wages to a discharged employee. The chamber urges the Department of Revenue and the Tax Department to continue to address the issue of “rule-making by tax audit” and they don’t want the tax department to apply any newly enacted tax law retroactively in a manner that will penalize a taxpayer for complying with prior laws. The chamber urges the tax department to undertake a review or modification, if necessary, of current legislative rules to bring about consistency with existing tax statutes and current business practices.

Attorney Aaron Boone from Bowles Rice gave chamber members a quick overview of the new Business Court system in the state.