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Chambers of Commerce Track Legislative Issues

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Checking the pulse of job creation across the state can be as simple as checking with a local chamber of commerce.

Chambers of commerce throughout the state keep economic development at the top of all their to-do lists, and the upcoming legislative session keeps them busy.

At the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, a government affairs committee focuses on pending legislation then reviews and discusses the potential ramifications for its business community.

That chamber's executive director, Tina Combs, said a recent luncheon featured 13 of the region's 14 lawmakers, each speaking for six minutes about their goals for the legislative session. She said the most talked-about issue was education, and transportation concerns were next on the list.

Some of the chamber's specific issues to track include tax and legal reform along with health care. The chamber supports comprehensive right-to-work legislation along with restructuring prevailing wage laws and rules.

The chamber also would like to see a new bond issued to support a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and state employee pay raises that include a "cost to compete" supplement for Berkeley County Schools and state employees.

In the Northern Panhandle, the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce hosted a breakfast sponsored by Consol Energy and attended by about 160 early birds who wanted to meet their officials.

"This gathering gives new and existing businesses and industries in our area the opportunity to become partners in selling, purchasing and working together locally," said Marshall County Chamber Executive Director Dave Knuth. "This is what networking is all about."

Knuth said it was important to see Consol Energy sponsor the event, since the annual coal tonnage produced in Consol's two Marshall County mines is the second-largest county capacity in the state. Knuth

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, told attendees that deep cuts to the state budget are on the way because of a $300 million gap coming up for the fiscal year 2013-14 budget.

He also stressed the need to invest in the state's teaching force, and the looming problem with prison overcrowding. Kessler said West Virginia's prison population has increased three times faster than the national average in the past 10 years.

At the state level, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce keeps a 36-page document outlining its policy initiatives for the upcoming session on its website.

Those are listed under the categories of: civil justice, fiscal stability, good government, health and human resources along with a few federal policy issues.