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Thanks to Gov. Jim Justice’s administration, and public health officials, West Virginia has been among the best in the nation in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

However, COVID-19 has presented many challenges for West Virginians that we must address in the 2021 legislative session: keeping our essential workers safe, ensuring our kids continue to receive a high-quality education and broadband expansion.

We have to work together, across party lines, to address these issues.

Small businesses and families across West Virginia and the rest of the country are struggling to survive the challenges of COVID-19. West Virginians face unprecedented challenges, and the inaction of Congress makes our role as locally elected leaders even more significant. We are our constituents’ last line of defense to address these challenges, and we must deliver.

Our essential workers have played a thankless role in the pandemic. Pharmacies have extended their hours and services to ensure patients receive much-needed medications. Law enforcement officers have continued to keep our communities safe, and medical professionals have safeguarded us from the virus. Teachers have continued to educate our children, online and in person. We must make sure these heroes receive adequate personal protective equipment and testing, to keep them and their families safe.

Like our essential workers, the kids in our school system face unprecedented circumstances. Between 30% and 50% of the students in West Virginia do not have broadband internet access at home, making it difficult to learn. This is unacceptable. We must implement guidelines that keep our kids safe, so they may attend schools and participate in sports.

We must expand broadband access to ensure our kids can continue to receive a strong education. A strong education provides our youth with the foundation to succeed in any career field, and athletics provides that avenue for furthering education for many. If we fail to provide these opportunities, we are failing a generation of our kids, educationally and athletically.

We need to expand broadband access, not just for the children, but to also expand access for telehealth, to improve delivery of medical services. This will enable West Virginians with COVID-19, and those most vulnerable to COVID-19, the ability to speak with their medical professional virtually, without compromising theirs or others’ health.

Broadband expansion also will encourage businesses and professionals to settle in West Virginia. After all, West Virginia is the perfect place for businesses and professionals to call home. We have some of the best corporate, individual and property taxes in the country. The Mountain State provides wonderful scenery, and outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, hunting and fishing.

As a former chairman of the Finance Committee in the House of Delegates, I successfully worked with my colleagues to address unprecedented challenges our state faced. I led the effort in passing four balanced budgets, a pay raise for our teachers, service personnel and state employees, without raising personal income taxes or cutting essential services, such as substance-abuse programs.

This fiscally responsible leadership enabled West Virginia to adequately fund our substance-abuse efforts, causing the state to see a 10.9% decrease in our drug-overdose death rate from 2017 to 2018.

To expand broadband access, address challenges our education system faces from COVID-19 and to keep our essential workers safe, we must work together in a bipartisan fashion. West Virginians are counting on us, and we must provide relief that our neighbors deserve.

If elected to West Virginia’s Senate District 17, I will use my experience as a crisis manager and financial leader to help ensure these needs are the focus for this next legislative session.

Eric Nelson, president of Nelson Enterprises, represents the 35th District of the West Virginia House of Delegates and is the Republican candidate for the state Senate’s 17th District.