The Voice of West Virginia
GRANVILLE, W.Va. — Sights from West Virginia’s 9-3 victory over Marshall on Wednesday at Monongalia County Ballpark.
(Photos by Teran Malone)
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Governor Justice is fond of spicing up his speeches with old adages and bits of folksy wisdom. One of my favorites that he used during the tax debate was, “We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move.”
In other words, do not get bogged down in the details; pass the tax bill.
But here is another idiom Justice should have kept in mind: be careful what you wish for.
Last Friday, Justice pounded the House of Delegates relentlessly for failing to consider a modified tax bill that narrowly cleared the Senate 18-16.
“If I were in the supermajority, I’d be dog if I’d sit there and say we’re not even going to take it up,” Justice said.
He went on to accuse Delegates of kowtowing to special interests and of being afraid of a tough vote.
“I would hate to be a Delegate that is sitting on their hands today,” Justice continued. “When the people of this state believe you cost them significant money in their pockets. I’d hate like crazy to stand on that.”
Most House Republicans were never supportive of the Governor’s plan, or the modified proposal from the Senate, because it included increases in the state sales tax, as well as other taxes, to offset the decline in revenue.
There was no point in taking up the bill in the House because the votes simply were not there. However, once goaded by the Governor, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw decided to give Justice what he wished for.
The bill did not receive one single vote. It failed 0-100… an unheard of outcome in the chamber. Hanshaw then made the understatement of the session: “The Governor suggested perhaps that we were afraid to take a vote, and we were happy to do that—and we did.”
That was a stunning rebuke of the Governor, and it confirmed the prevailing wisdom throughout the tax debate—there simply was not a groundswell of support for the tax plan. If Republican Delegates had received a bunch of emails or phone calls in favor of the plan, somebody in the House would have voted for it.
Not one did.
As I have said many times, Governor Justice deserves credit for thinking big and pushing proposals he believes will be transformative for West Virginia. However, Justice is also a businessman and surely knows the theory of fair market value—the price at which a willing buyer and a willing seller can agree.
Justice was a willing and motivated seller of his idea for a major overhaul of the state’s tax system, but there were no willing buyers in the House of Delegates. That was obvious even before he pressed for a vote.
Or, put another way, if House Republicans were to borrow from the Governor’s lexicon, they were wary of buying a pig in a poke.
GRANVILLE, W.Va. — West Virginia pitcher Jake Carr hasn’t had the type of sophomore season the Mountaineers envisioned from him to this point.
Improvement from Carr could be critical to the Mountaineers turning their season around, and the St. Albans native took a big step forward in that department Wednesday to help West Virginia get even with Marshall.
Carr threw four solid innings, allowing one run on two hits and settling in after the first inning to help West Virginia defeat Marshall 9-3 at Monongalia County Ballpark.
“We need somebody else to step up and give us some starts — it’s no secret,” West Virginia manager Randy Mazey said. “I say it every time somebody interviews me that starting pitching is the key to this thing. We’re trying to find pieces here and he has a history of being able to start. It was good to see him throw up some zeros and get some of his pitches back.“
The victory allowed West Virginia (13-14) to even the season series with the Thundering Herd, who fell to 4-20 with a 13th straight setback. Marshall’s last victory came over the Mountaineers back on March 23 in Huntington, 7-1.
“I didn’t have any idea that they had a losing streak,” Mazey said. “I just told the guys you can’t let your in-state rival beat you twice in one season, especially on your home field.”
Carr entered with an 0-2 record and an earned-run average north of 13 in eight appearances and four starts. He got off a shaky start against MU, which got a single from Ryan Leitch to score Geordon Blanton for the game’s first run in the top of the first inning.
But Carr induced an inning-ending double play ball to shortstop Mikey Kluska and had little trouble the rest of the way.
WVU jumped on top for good in the second as Kevin Brophy’s fielder’s choice allowed Hudson Byorick to score and Austin Davis singled home Vince Ippoliti.
Carr didn’t surrender a hit after the first inning and struck out Cole Williams with a pair of runners on to end the fourth, which also ended his outing.
Austin Davis’ two-out double in the fourth allowed Brophy to score for a 3-1 lead, but McGwire Holbrook was thrown out at the plate on the play to end the frame.
Byorick’s fifth-inning triple was misplayed in right field and enabled Victor Scott to score West Virginia’s fourth run. The lead grew to 5-1 later in the inning when Byorick stole home.
A fielder’s choice from Tyler Doanes brought home Brophy in the sixth, and Byorick drew a base-on-balls with the bags packed to score Holbrook for a 7-1 advantage.
“Even when we were losing and had lost five in a row at one point, I kept telling them the offense is getting better,” Mazey said. “In four or five of those losses, we had a lead at some point in the game. The offense is doing their thing. We have to find some pitchers that once we score can keep the other team from scoring.”
Marshall struck for two runs in the seventh on a Devin Ward RBI single and a throwing error by WVU pitcher Zach Ottinger that allowed Tyler Cox to score.
But the Mountaineers regained their six-run lead in the home half of the seventh when Doanes drove in Davis and Dominic Ragazzo on a two-run single.
Doanes finished with two hits and three RBIs, while Byorick was 1-for-2 with a pair of runs and RBIs. Holbrook was 3-for-3 and Davis added two hits and two RBIs in the victory.
Carr, who struck out three, picked up his first win of the season.
Marshall was held to three hits, including one over the final eight innings. Starting pitcher Ryan Capuano took the loss after allowing two runs in 1 1/3 innings.
The Herd used eight pitchers, while the Mountaineers had seven players toe the rubber.
“It’s all about those guys on the mound,” Mazey said, “and it was refreshing to see some guys throw well tonight.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For the second year in a row April 15 is not the usual tax deadline day in West Virginia or around the country.
Last year, because of the pandemic, the due date for taxes was pushed to July 15. This year, because of the pandemic, taxpayers have until May 17 to submit their federal and state returns for the 2020 tax year.
State Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said it’s important to point out that if you pay estimated taxes, your first quarterly payment for the 2021 tax year is still due Thursday, April 15.
April 15 is usually the best day of the year for the state’s revenue collections because of estimates payments and payments due from the previous tax year but now the impact will be split because of the May 17 deadline, Hardy said.
“Everybody has to settle up for 2020 in May. The estimate (taxes due Thursday) will be a nice piece of change,” he said.
The state had $200 million on July 15 last year because the deadline was moved and that helped with a head start in revenue for the current fiscal year.
Those who were on unemployment in 2020 recently learned they won’t have to pay any federal or state taxes on the first $10,200. Congress provided the benefit in the latest pandemic funding at the state legislature followed suit after a request from Gov. Jim Justice.
“You had taxpayers that thought they would be paying taxes on unemployment but they found out much later in the game that they won’t be paying taxes on unemployment,” Hardy said.
The state hasn’t based any of its revenue numbers on those taxes that now won’t be paid.
Meanwhile, the state Tax Department is processing state returns at a good pace, Hardy said.
“Tax (Department) is not backlogged. They’re right up with the workload and I think we’re going to have a pretty smooth April and May which is much better than where we were a year ago,” Hardy said.
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — WVU Medicine has received approval to add 32 beds at Fairmont Medical Center.
WVU Hospitals opened an emergency department at Fairmont Medical Center last June with 10 beds. Services at the facility have expanded to cardiology and vascular care.
“We are continually looking for opportunities to expand the services available at Fairmont Medical Center for the residents of Marion County,” said Albert Wright, the WVU Health System president and CEO. “As the demand for inpatient and outpatient care grows, we will do what we can to ensure that those in the greater Fairmont area receive the care they need close to home.”
The addition brings the number of inpatient beds to 42, which will result in 100 new employees.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s position on legislation affecting transgender athletes has not shifted, even after the NCAA’s position opposing such measures.
Justice, during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing, maintained his stance that the bill will become law — possibly without his signature — in which he added he has no plans to veto the measure.
The Legislature approved the measure during its regular 60-day session, which prohibits transgender athletes from playing on school sports teams aligned with their gender identity. Supporters of the measure argue the bill protects female athletes, but opponents say the bill targets transgender youth when there have been no reported issues related to allowing transgender athletes on West Virginia sports teams.
“I just can’t possibly get through my head that it is the right thing for at a middle school level or a high school level in our state for me not to support the bill,” Justice said.
West Virginia would be one of multiple states to approve such legislation; Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee already have similar ordinances in effect.
The NCAA Board of Governors said Monday it is reviewing legislation affecting transgender athletes and promotes an environment focused on inclusion and fairness for all athletes.
“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the board added.
Justice recognized the possible effects of allowing the bill to go into law.
“The addition of the college aspect could cause some ramifications,” he noted.
West Virginia University officials told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM they are still reviewing the legislation and the impact it will have on the institution.
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Gov. Jim Justice continues to blast the House of Delegates for voting down a big tax plan 0-100 while saying he’ll take the plan out to persuade the people of West Virginia.
For months, Justice has touted a big income tax cut offset by increased and expanded sales taxes. Delegates overwhelmingly voted down his proposal at the end of the legislative session. But since then, Justice has repeatedly called their judgment into question while saying citizens just don’t understand yet.
“It’s almost like the people were surrounded by a scare tactic, a bubble, a bubble that was saying to the people ‘We’re going to tax you more,'” Justice said at a briefing today. “And it scared ‘em to the point that they absolutely did not understand. We took the money out of the people’s pocket. We denied ourselves an opportunity to grow.”
Referring to delegates, the governor continued, “I could give a hoot in every way what the House did with their grandstanding effort. I only care just about this: Their grandstanding and showing their behind really just mooned our people. That’s what they really did. That’s what I care about.”
Justice, a Republican, made an income tax cut the focal point of his State of the State address.
The state Senate, with a Republican supermajority, narrowly voted in favor of the plan last week, 18-16.
The House of Delegates, which also has a Republican supermajority, then unanimously voted it down. Delegates expressed concern about the effects of the increased sales tax. They had planned to just quietly table the bill, but then put it to a vote after the governor said at a midday Friday briefing that delegates should be ashamed of themselves for letting it fizzle.
“To quote our governor, there is no way, shape, form or fashion I could ever support any portion of what is suggested,” Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said right before the vote. “”It is time for us to let the governor and the Senate know that tax shifts are not a tax cut.”
Now the governor, who had objected to letting the bill die quietly, says the vote amounted to showing off.
“For us to be childish and say ‘Oh we all got together and showed the governor and everything, it isn’t a matter of showing the governor. It’s a matter about the importance of what this is for West Virginians,'” the governor said at a briefing today that was supposed to be about the state’s pandemic response.
During a Saturday night review of the legislative session, Justice suggested many of those delegates actually voted against their true view of the bill.
“When politics gets going with the snowball going down the side of the mountain, it gets out of control,” he said. “We all know it’s physically impossible to think that a hundred of those folks — that there isn’t a goodly percentage of those folks are all on board. But when leadership is pushing and everything, it gets going downhill.”
Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, who pushed for the bill in that chamber, made a similar claim Monday on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio — that delegates followed leadership to the 0-100 vote mainly to spite the governor.
“It started picking up momentum that we could go into the House,” said Tarr, R-Putnam, referring to the short period after the Senate’s 18-16 vote.
“When the governor did his press conference that the Speaker took offense to, I think the Speaker was able to rally the votes to make a message to the governor that you don’t control the House, and I think that’s where that vote came from.”
Although there probably wouldn’t have been a vote had the governor not made his comments, delegates had been saying publicly and privately for weeks that they could not support the tax shift.
“We were halfway through session before we actually got a bill,” Delegate Jeff Pack, R-Raleigh, today on “Radio Roundtable” on WJLS-AM. “The fact that nothing happened on that this session isn’t terribly surprising.”
Pack said it’s a good idea for the governor to go out and talk to people about the tax plan.
“He definitely needs to go on the road. During all this time, I’ve spoken with one person in my district who said ‘You know what, maybe we ought to try that.’ Every other person said ‘No, this is a bad idea.’
“If he wants this to succeed in the Legislature, he does need to go out on the road and try to convince people. There’s no support for it right now.”
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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Martinsburg’s 87-81 win over Jefferson.
(Photos courtesy of Christopher C. Davis/@EP_BigCameraGuy)
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People closest to West Virginia harm reduction programs in West Virginia are urging a veto from Gov. Jim Justice, saying a newly-passed bill is too restrictive and will result in the spread of serious disease.
“We believe Governor Justice should veto the bill,” said Danny Scalise, executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, which represents doctors.
“Too many of the regulations put in place are going to prevent harm reduction programs from operating, which will increase HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B among other poor health outcomes.”
Senate Bill 334 has generated significant debate because of the high stakes for communities facing the health consequences of addiction. West Virginia has been among states with the highest rates of death from drug overdoses. West Virginia communities are also at risk for HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks.
The Legislature passed the bill on Saturday evening, the final night of the regular legislative session. The bill would establish a licensing requirement for syringe exchange programs and establish a goal of one-to-one exchange of needles. The bill includes immunity for providers and civil penalties for non-compliance, from $500 up to $10,000.
Governor Justice is deciding whether to sign the bill but has indicated he favors it.
“I’m really concerned about our West Virginia neighbors that are struggling from substance abuse disorders. This bill does not follow the science,” Laura Jones, executive director of Milan Puskar Health Right in Morgantown, said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
She doesn’t disagree with some oversight of harm reduction programs, but believes that aspects of the bill — particularly an identification requirement for participants — are onerous and out-of-step with federally-recommended best practices.
“The goal here is harm reduction. It’s to prevent further illness from taking place. If we’re required to do what is proposed in this bill, we absolutely will see an increase in HIV,” Jones said, also referring to the likelihood of increased cases of hepatitis C, a liver infection, and endocarditis, a heart infection.
Jones said she doesn’t object to some regulation.
“This bill went steps beyond that,” she said. “Minimum requirements, absolutely. Even the issue of licensure. That’s not a problem. The issue is, the bill went beyond that and prevents us from operating anonymously initially with clients.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) April 14, 2021
Late in the session, lawmakers amended the bill to include a requirement of local government support as well as the identification requirement.
Asked about the bill early this week, Governor Justice acknowledged not knowing many of its specifics but said his impression is that it strikes a balance.
“I am not an expert in this field at all,” Justice said. “But I really believe that everyone kind of came together on this thing and developed a real good, scientific balance that can aid and help the public in every way, but does so with good science and everything.
“It prevents the problems that we were having with needles all over the place that could cause all kinds of different problems in communities. But it still aids in helping those folks that we need to try to reach out and keep them safe too.”
Public Health Officer Ayne Amjad today said state officials are ready to follow the requirements of the legislation.
“That bill was a hot topic on the legislative floor. We support the governor’s decision. We have informed him about it, and it was discussed,” Amjad said at a briefing. “Our job right now is to follow whatever the Legislature has put into policy.”
ACLU-West Virginia sent a letter to the governor today, requesting a veto. The letter includes signatures by dozens of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, aides, psychologists, social workers, counselors, recovery coaches, advocates, and researchers.
“Governor, you have been misinformed,” they wrote. “SB 334 does not strike a balance. This legislation will all but eradicate syringe service programs in West Virginia. Senate Bill 334 would require syringe service programs to operate in a manner in direct contravention of CDC guidance, guidance which is based on 30 years of peer-reviewed science.”
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention concludes that syringe services programs help prevent people prevent transmitting bloodborne and other infections when they inject drugs. And, the CDC has concluded, when people who inject drugs use a syringe program they are more likely to enter treatment for substance use disorder.
The identification requirement is likely to discourage people with addiction problems, said Jones of Health Right in Morgantown.
“That’s very difficult for some of our folks. The idea of harm reduction is frightening for some people when they first come to the program,” she said. “If we ask them to bring ID, that really deters people from coming to the program in the first place.”
Rather than using names, she said, at first people are assigned a number. Names may be used if someone is referred to medical care or treatment. “For the purposes of getting them in the door, requiring an ID is not evidence-based,” Jones said.
Another change would require any existing provider not offering a full array of harm reduction services to cease offering a syringe exchange program.
That includes wellness checks, wound treatment from needle sticks, screening from communicable diseases, vaccination availability and counseling.
Jones said some organizations may be able to operate those programs and others may not.
“The most important part of harm reduction is the syringe. The syringe is the thing that prevents people from sharing needles,” she said. “The goal here is harm reduction. It’s to prevent further illness from taking place.”
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education will permit 14 county school districts to continue in-person instruction under four-day-a-week schedules for the rest of the school year.
Board members had a long, detailed discussion about the waivers at their meeting Wednesday. The waivers were granted earlier this year to the systems after the state board had ordered all counties back to five-day-a-week in-person instruction in connection with the pandemic.
The board took no formal vote Wednesday.
State Board President Miller Hall said Wednesday he wanted the waivers lifted and the counties to return to full schedules for the roughly six weeks remaining in the academic year.
“We are struggling with education and as much as possible we need to get those students in school, in-person, as best as we can. To me, it’s a great benefit,” Hall said.
But other members, including Debra Sullivan, said the school districts “have figured things out” and to make them switch back now would create a burden.
“We have six weeks of school left and to throw a monkey in the works right now and force people to change—I don’t know if that’s wise,” Sullivan said.
Hall said he constantly talks to students and they are concerned.
“I know kids and I know some of them are not getting a good education. How do I know? They tell me,” Hall said.
Sullivan said she’s visited Logan and Upshur counties in recent weeks and observed four day schedules that appear to be working well.
The fifth day is used for cleaning or for teachers, who do in-person instruction, to spend time in virtual education efforts. Also in some counties, students come to the building on the fifth day to receive special services which include tutoring.
“They’re on a plateau right now and sometimes being on a plateau is okay for the moment,” Sullivan said.
The counties include Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Lewis, Logan, Marion, Mason, Mingo, Preston, Ritchie, Roane, Summers and Upshur. Most of the waivers are for grades Pre-K through 8 but there are some counties that also have waivers for their high schools.
Board member Dr. James Wilson said he supports full-time instruction but it’s probably too late to lift the waivers this school year.
“At this point it’s not worth the aggravation, what’s going to go through if we’re going to something where we’re enforcing strictly the five-day,” Wilson said.
Several board members discussed concerns about broadband access in connection with students learning virtually.
Board member Dr. Daniel Snavely said he was “puzzled by the numbers.” He noted Logan County had the highest number of virtual students at more than 40% while Nicholas and Braxton counties, which are also operating under the waiver, only have a little more than 1% of their students under the virtual option.
The board was told many students are being raised by their grandparents who have been very reluctant to send their children back to school.
Several board members, including former board president Tom Campbell, said a full schedule of in-person instruction would be the priority when school resumes in the fall.
“In my perspective let’s continue to try to encourage five days now but we expect five days in the fall,” Campbell said.
Hall said he wanted to make it clear what would be expected in the 14 waiver counties and all other counties when school resumes after the summer break.
“Come fall, five days a week,” Hall said.
Department of Education Communications Director Christy Day said the discussion would continue over the summer.
“The WVBE will be looking closely at the causes behind the four-day instructional model moving into the fall to ensure all counties are prepared for five days of in-person instruction,” she said.
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