COLUMN — Looking forward to a brighter future

Published 9:20 am Thursday, November 5, 2020

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Thankfully, it is human nature to have faith in a brighter future. If not, 2020 would drive us crazy.

Most of the year, COVID-19 has dominated the news. The deaths associated with it have truly depressed us all. Hearing story after story of rising cases and deaths cannot be ignored, nor should they be. However, those stories have focused on the rising number of cases rather than the number of people that have recovered and are now doing well. It has amazed me also that so very many people have such great 20/20 hindsight. They now say they knew how to solve the puzzle of an unknown virus but, for whatever reason, chose not to share it with the world earlier. If they had, maybe Governor Mario Cuomo of New York would not have forced elderly back into nursing homes.

In the past, I have written of the changes in government policies coming out of Richmond this year. They are not the same values of most outside Northern Virginia. Since Northern Virginia has taken power, focus has changed in Richmond. Once we focused on doing those things that attracted employers to Virginia. Now the focus is how to regulate business in ways that will make it harder to attract employers at the same time that small businesses are weighed down with more challenges and costs.

Once we were all committed to showing respect for law enforcement. This year the focus has changed to how can we help those who flaunt the law, risking the safety of our families.

However, because I believe in a better future, let’s look to how could 2021 offer a better Virginia and hope for the best.

Gov. Ralph Northam

While I disagree with Gov. Ralph Northam more than I agree, he reached out to the Center for Rural Virginia for our thoughts on the path forward. We offered many thoughts on the challenges that small business and the agriculture communities face.

I raised the issue of how poorly the Virginia Employment Commission was doing. Several years ago, I started looking into how effective, or rather how ineffective, the VEC is. I questioned why we were allowing the department to use an antiquated system designed in the first half of the 20th century when we are well into the 21st century. When I asked how many job openings were filled by the VEC, I was shocked that less than half of 1 percent were associated with the Employment Commission. Most people today who want a job go to private employment companies that charge no fees to the worker but rather collect from the employer. You hear them advertised regularly. Likewise, employers turn to those companies because they match potential employees with the skills required.

Effectively, the biggest role VEC has is to provide unemployment checks. When I started to question this, they explained they have a task force to work with those close to the end of benefits. I asked why not with people when they first lose employment, either a new job or training for new skills. Hopefully, the governor will consider this.

I also raised the issue of rural counties and school systems being at a disadvantage regarding the cost of health insurance for employees. We have tried to improve this situation for a number of years. I first, and Senator Ben Chaffin more recently.

Several years ago, the Department of Human Resources did calculations of our proposal to allow local school and county employees into the state healthcare. They determined the cost would be negligible to the system, but only if all cities and counties were included. Our friends from Fairfax County and Northern Virginia selfishly killed that plan because it didn’t benefit them. The same goal could be accomplished by following the policy of North Carolina. Twenty-five years ago, they made teachers state employees. Using either method would reduce the cost of health insurance and allow localities to spend money on their responsibilities.

There will be other ideas on these issues, and other issues that can be of value to you as citizens, employees, and business operators. Let’s hope that we can work together for the good of hard-working Virginians.

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is