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Teacher rally leads straight into Saturday event for all WV public employees

The Free Press WV

Teachers filled the Capitol as the Legislature convened on Friday, and Saturday there will be even more public employees at a rally at the Capitol grounds.

Some of the teachers who rallied at the Rotunda on Friday said they’ll be back on Saturday and out among other public employees pushing for higher wages and greater stability for the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Saturday’s rally will be for teachers, school personnel, law enforcement, state employees and community members from across West Virginia.

That event is to start at 1 p.m. Announcements about it set the conclusion at 2 p.m., although that doesn’t seem set in stone.

Rally speakers will include educators, school support personnel, a state trooper and community members.

The rally is hosted by the West Virginia AFL-CIO on behalf of about 30,000 teachers, school support personnel and other public employees.

“We want to advocate for ourselves, for our communities, for our schools,” said Deidra Roberts, a speech language pathologist who has worked in Lincoln County schools for 20 years.

Roberts was among those who gathered at Friday’s rally.

Saturday’s rally will be different, she said, because it involves even more groups.

“It’s more of a unifying effort for all educators to come together and all public employees to come together,” she said.

Last Sunday, members of the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia voted to authorize a work action.

For the first time in its 52-year history, the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association voted Wednesday to authorize action.

Roberts said she doesn’t want to strike but believes it may be necessary.

“We’re here trying to be pro-active and stop that from happening — but we’re ready to do that if it needs to happen,” Roberts said.

Mary Schwertferger, a career-tech business education teacher in Brooke County, said her colleagues decided to stay overnight so they could be at Saturday’s rally too.

“It’s not about being loud. It’s just about being heard,” she said. “And actually it’s not even about being heard. It’s about being seen. I’d rather be seen.”

She’s a 38-year school system veteran who also went through the strike in 1990. She’s about to retire but remains concerned about her health insurance costs.

She considered Friday’s rally a success.

“I think it was unity being shown and strength,” she said. “Nobody wants to go on strike. Teachers don’t want to be on strike.”

~~  Brad McElhinny ~~

West Virginia Senate OKs new appeals court

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Senate has voted 23-11 to create a new intermediate court with six judges that would hear appeals of civil judgments from circuit courts, as well as decisions from family courts and final rulings from state agencies.

The judges would be chosen by the governor from a commission’s lists and confirmed by the Senate.

They would serve 10-year terms and be paid $130,000 a year.

West Virginia’s Supreme Court, which currently appeals, has estimated it would cost $11.7 million the first year to establish the new court then about $10 million annually.

Republican lawmakers backing the proposal estimate the cost below $3 million, especially if the Legislature and voters approve their proposed constitutional amendment that would give them budgetary control over the courts.

Ambulance, dispatch companies fined $1.4M for slow response

The Free Press WV

An ambulance company and a dispatch company have been court-ordered to pay a fine for their slow response that resulted in a West Virginia teenager’s death.

Kanawha County Ambulance Authority and Kanawha Metro 911 were ordered Monday to pay a total of $1.4 million to 15-year-old Leland Brown II’s family for “failure to provide timely and proper care.”

Brown’s mother called 911 when he collapsed May 24, 2014. The lawsuit says one hour and one minute after the first call — after getting lost and failing to administer medication commonly used for Brown’s symptoms — Brown was pronounced dead at a hospital from cardiac arrest.

It says Brown died the same day a funeral was held for an industry member, and ambulance stations weren’t properly covered.

West Virginia Senate backs fines, jail for disability fakers

The Free Press WV

West Virginia’s Senate has voted to make it a crime to impersonate a blind or disabled person to obtain any special rights or privileges.

Labeled the “white cane law,” the bill approved unanimously would make it a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $200 and 10 days in jail.

It also would be a misdemeanor to get privileges for your dog or other animal by falsely representing that it is a service animal for the disabled.

Second offenses would carry punishments up to 30 days in jail and $1,000 fines.

Teachers taking a statewide work action

The Free Press WV

There were apparently no major breakthroughs in a meeting at the state capitol between leading lawmakers, representatives of the governor’s office and the leaders of the two teacher groups.

The stalemate on several issues is moving teachers closer to some kind of statewide action, West Virginia Education Association Dale Lee said.

“Unless things change we’re headed toward a work action,” Lee said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.” “We have to discuss all of our possibilities and all of the avenues we would take and make the decision to go from there.”

West Virginia American Federation of Teachers President Christine Campbell said more people are attending the closed door meetings with leading lawmakers but there’s been no significant movement on the issues.

“We don’t see a path in a different direction for this 2-1-1-1 (the House of Delegates pay raise bill). We have to assess where we are and our current assessment is not looking good,” Campbell said on “Talkline.”

Senate Majority Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio) was part of the meeting Tuesday. When asked during a “Talkline” appearance if he thought a strike was imminent. Ferns said there is a “real threat.”

“I think it would be a major mistake,” Ferns said. “I just don’t think a strike is going to force a resolution.”

The Senate has passed Governor Jim Justice’s pay raise bill of one-percent a year raise for five years.

Campbell said many want to keep talking about the pay raise and PEIA issues but there’s not been much said about other concerns like attacks on seniority and the paycheck protection bill.

“Two of the issues have to do with money and two of the issues don’t. We haven’t seen any commitment on the issues that don’t have to do with money either,” she said.

Lee said the teacher groups aren’t concerned about the legality of the work stoppage.

“Let’s say you fire 15,000 people, how are going to replace them? The reality is that’s really not an issue for us. That’s really not an issue in making the decision we are going to make,” Lee said.

He added the statewide action would come at the most strategic time and parents would be given notice.

“I think regardless of what we do we’ll let the parents know ahead of time. Our first priority is the kids,” Lee said.

Both Lee and Campbell both said if county school superintendents call off school ahead of time then teachers would still be paid when days are made up. If schools are open and then closed teachers might lose pay.

Campbell said she considers herself a fairly optimistic person but after Tuesday’s meeting it was difficult to find a lot of positives.

“I don’t feel that good about what’s happening right now,” she said.

Ferns said the legislature’s primary duty is to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.

“A teachers strike isn’t to change that,” Ferns said.

~~  Jeff Jenkins ~~

Indigent burial bill passes West Virginia House

The Free Press WV

West Virginia’s House of Delegates has passed a bill to reduce the amount the state pays for indigent burials.

The House passed the bill Wednesday on a 65-33 vote.

It now moves to the state Senate.

The bill would reduce the amount from $1,250 to $1,000.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the indigent burial program is expected to run out of money February 28 — at least the sixth straight year that’s happened before the end of the fiscal year.

The DHHR has paid for 1,137 indigent burials since July 01.

The state allocated about $2 million for them this fiscal year.

Taylor County Republican Amy Summers says the bill specifies a preference for less-expensive cremations over burials, which would allow the state to assist 400 more people.

West Virginia bill to protect historic displays advances

The Free Press WV

A West Virginia bill that aims to protect historic displays is advancing.

The “West Virginia Monument and Memorial Protection Act of 2018” passed out of the Senate Committee on Government Organization.

The bill prohibits the removal, renaming, alteration or relocation of any statue, monument, memorial, school, street, bridge, building or park more than 50 years old that is recognized by the state Historic Preservation Office.

The protected items also have to be named in honor of historical, military, labor, civil rights or Native American events, figures and organizations and on public property.

Legislators say the bill is in response to ongoing debate over removing Confederate monuments.

The policy director of the ACLU-West Virginia, Eli Baumwell, says the bill’s an “inexcusable waste of our Legislature’s limited time.”

It now heads to the Senate Committee on Finance.

West Virginia natural gas alternative rejected

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia House is advancing legislation to authorize drilling for natural gas where 75 percent of a West Virginia property’s landowners agree, rejecting an amendment to raise the threshold to 90 percent.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, a Morgantown Democrat, says if lawmakers are going to permit taking property rights they should raise the threshold.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, a Weirton Republican, says majority owners now can’t exercise their rights to drill and 75 percent is a fair balance.

The bill says nonconsenting co-tenants can choose a prorated share of the highest owner royalties without postproduction expenses, or else a share of production revenues and costs.

The House has adopted an amendment to use unclaimed royalties to support funding for public employees’ health insurance after co-owners can’t be located for seven years.

Forecasters: More flooding possible in Appalachia

The Free Press WV

Forecasters are warning that heavy rains could cause more flooding in some areas of Appalachia already hit by rising waters in recent days.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch from Wednesday evening through Friday evening for portions of northeast Kentucky, southeast Ohio, southwest Virginia and much of West Virginia.

The weather service says an approaching storm system has the potential to produce 1 to 3 inches of rain on already-saturated ground, causing flooding along rivers and low-lying areas.

Recent heavy rains caused flooding that prompted emergency declarations in four Kentucky counties, while mudslides occurred in West Virginia and southeast Virginia.

NBA, MLB Criticize West Virginia Sports Betting Bill

The Free Press WV

A bill moving through the West Virginia Legislature has drawn criticism from the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

The organizations issued separate statements pointing out the bill’s weaknesses and suggesting improvements. They say the bill doesn’t protect consumers or prevent players from betting on their own sports, in addition to lacking proper safeguards.

An attorney representing both leagues, Scott Ward, proposed four possible provisions to the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, including advertising restrictions and leagues being able to opt out of specific betting forms they believed aren’t sufficiently monitored. He also supported a 1 percent “integrity tax” to help investigate and monitor games in real time.

MLB and NBA executives hadn’t responded to the newspaper’s request for comment as of Monday.

Chemical that soiled N Carolina water found in West Virginia

The Free Press WV

The little-studied compound that was found in a North Carolina river last year has also been found in a well under a West Virginia Chemours facility.

The News Journal of Wilmington reports Chemours, a Delaware-based company that sells fluoroproducts, is testing drinking water this month near its Washington Works facility in Parkersburg, West Virginia, per a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency request.

The EPA’s acting water protection director, Kate McManus, had said in a January letter to Chemours that GenX was found in four wells near the facility, and the agency is concerned about area drinking water contamination like in North Carolina.

The chemical is used to make nonstick cookware and other products, and has been linked to several forms of cancer in animal studies.

22nd West Virginia History Day taking shape at state Capitol

The Free Press WV

Organizers expect dozens of history groups to present displays at the state Capitol during the 22nd West Virginia History Day later this month.

The event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. February 22. Exhibits will include photographs, historical documents and artifacts, and publications highlighting the work of historians, genealogists, educators and others.

An awards program will be given at 9:30 a.m. in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theater in the Culture Center.

Sponsors include the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Archives and History Commission, West Virginia Historical Society, West Virginia Humanities Council, Mining Your History Foundation, Preservation Alliance of West Virginia Inc. and West Virginia Association of Museums.

West Virginia county to unveil school bus arrival mobile app

The Free Press WV

Officials in one West Virginia county will unveil a new tool to keep parents informed about when school buses arrive to pick up their children.

The Journal reports Jefferson County’s school system will debut a mobile app on March 1. It is aimed at giving parents an estimated time of bus stop arrivals.

County schools Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson says the app will help reduce the time that students have to wait at bus stops, especially in bad weather. She calls it a better communication tool with parents.

West Virginia House votes to raise jail guards’ pay

The Free Press WV 

West Virginia’s House has voted unanimously to raise the salaries of jail and prison guards by $6,000 over three years in an effort to fill hundreds of vacancies and reduce turnover.

Corrections officials in August said low pay remained a fundamental problem despite a $1 an hour increase added by Gov. Jim Justice’s administration that raised starting pay to $11.87 an hour or $24,664 a year.

The $2,000 annual raises backed by the governor would begin with the new state fiscal year on July 1.

House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson says those raises apply to staff who have direct contact with inmates.

Delegate Tom Fast, a Fayetteville Republican, says the state pays $15,000 to train correction officers and about half currently leave within the first year and a half.

Marshall University receives $2.1M grant for obesity study

The Free Press WV

Marshall University has received a $2.1 million federal grant to study obesity-related disorders.

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins announced the U.S. Health and Human Services grant. He said in a news release it will be used to help fund research at the university’s Appalachian Center for Cellular Transport in Obesity-Related Disorders.

Jenkins said obesity is a critical issue in the area. He said the research will lead to better understanding of the condition and disorders related to it.

Marshall University President Jerome A. Gilbert said the funding highlights the importance of work being done at the center on obesity and related disorders.

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