The Back Pew: September 22 - West Virginia Daily News
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The Back Pew: September 22

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Hello, folks!

There is no offseason in public service. Below are several major issues before our region which I wanted to provide an update about.

SUDDENLINK One of the complaints I receive regularly from folks involves Suddenlink’s customer service–can’t get through to an actual person, can’t understand the people you do finally get, schedule an appointment but no one comes, waiting on hold for long time periods. Last week, their new Vice President came to my office in Charleston to talk about all these issues our people face. He pledged to begin a new training program for their customer service employees, increase the capacity of technicians, and to join an upcoming Broadband Council meeting with us to discuss how to do better in the future. We’ve talked the talk with these major media companies for long enough; it’s time to walk the walk.

BROADBAND Speaking of which…let’s talk about broadband. Politicians have been promising better internet for years now, but it never comes. Earlier this year, I decided I’d had enough of all the talk and would dive into the issue fully. Federal funds will help, state legislation will help, but in the end local communities will be the ones to solve this problem. A number of communities organized their efforts around Broadband Councils, and we are about to see the dividends with project and grant announcements upcoming.

REDISTRICTING In October, the legislature is expected to vote on a redistricting plan as required by the constitution every ten years following a census. It will contain new Senate districts, new House districts, and new Congressional districts. This will all likely cause confusion come the 2022 elections, so pay attention as this unfolds.

FOSTER CHILDREN A new report by Mountain State Spotlight raises serious concerns about the plight of the 10,500 children in West Virginia who spend time in foster care on an annual basis. (That’s up 71% since 2010.) There aren’t enough homes or resources for foster kids across the state, resulting in hundreds being sent to out-of-state group homes. Not only is that costly (upwards of $300/day per child as compared to $30/day for a foster child placed in the home of a family member), but it leaves kids across the country without a support system and without anyone checking on them. Several of the facilities where WV sends foster kids have been accused of heinous behaviors. Our children don’t need more institutionalization; our children need families. It’s a complex problem related to our substance use issues, poverty, and more, and the bottom line is that enough is enough. Our most vulnerable children need to be a priority, not just another statistic.

SPECIAL SESSION A contingent of folks across the state is pushing for a special session of the legislature to ban private businesses from implementing measures to stop the spread of COVID. I strongly oppose that effort for two reasons. One, we are in the height of the pandemic with high transmission rates, full hospitals, and people dying. This is not the time to ban ways to stop COVID. Two, private business is private. If a private business wants to require vaccines or masks for the good of their business, they have that right.

FLOOD COMMITTEE At a meeting of the Flood Committee last week, the Department of Commerce responded to my inquiry about the “Clearance & Demolition Program” with an extensive presentation. It boils down to this: Over 200 flooded structures which were slated for demolition as early as 2018 have yet to be demolished. The $5 million program has only managed to demolish 43 structures in three years. Commerce now says they’re out of money. Local citizens received denial letters this year after being initially accepted into the program. I demanded that Commerce find a way to do right by everyone affected, and I will stay on them until they do.

That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you.

Senator Stephen Baldwin is the Minority Leader and a local pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or stephen.baldwin@wvsenate.gov. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.

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