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Bone Receives GSC Faculty Award of Excellence

Glenville State College’s newest Faculty Award of Excellence recipient is Associate Professor of Music Dr. Lloyd Bone. He received the award at the 143rd Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 06, 2017.

“Receiving this award is truly an honor. The GSC faculty ranks are full of so many talented people who have been recognized nationally and internationally in their fields. There are so many deserving faculty and I am honored to represent all of them. However, it must be stated that awards like this do not happen in a vacuum. I would never have gotten to this point without the help of so many people. I first must thank my incredible wife of 22 years Susan and my children Casey, Tobias, and Phineas. They have sacrificed hundreds of hours of me being away. They are the ultimate blessing. Also, my previous teachers R. Winston Morris and Timothy Northcut and the fantastic mentorship from colleagues and friends. Also, our students and alumni. I would have never received this award without all of their hard work, care, passion, and love. Lastly, my mother and father who sacrificed so much for me to be in music; I will never be able to thank them enough,” Bone stated.

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GSC President Dr. Peter Barr with Dr. Lloyd Bone (right)


A nomination from a current student called Bone, “the most influential and passionate instructor I have ever had” and noted that he, “loves and supports his students 100%, every day.” Another student said, “you will rarely find someone as open, accepting, warm, or inviting as Dr. Bone – he always has something encouraging to say to everyone.”

Bone has been a faculty member at GSC since 2004. In addition to his teaching duties, he also directs the Pioneer ‘Wall of Sound’ Marching Band, the Brass Ensemble, and the Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble. He has published the world’s first guide book for the euphonium, led several groups of GSC students around the world to meetings of the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference, and was nominated for a Music Educator Award by the Grammy Foundation®. He completed his Doctor of Musical Arts in Euphonium Performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 2015. Shortly after arriving at GSC, Bone began the GSC Honor Band and Honor Choir Festival which will enter its tenth year this coming spring. The event has become very popular and attracts students from all over West Virginia.

Bone has led the Glenville State College Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble to five straight invitations and performances to the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference. Something that, in the history of the conference, only a small number of schools around the world have accomplished. He also was personally invited as a guest artist to these conferences in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013. The Ensemble also performed at the 2007 United States Army Band Tuba and Euphonium Conference in Washington, D.C., the 2013 Midwest Tuba and Euphonium Conference at Illinois State University, as well as several West Virginia state music conferences.

Due largely to his efforts, the GSC Brass Ensemble is invited annually to perform on the busiest shopping day of the year (the Saturday before Christmas) at the Town Center Mall in Charleston. The yearly repeat performances have garnered a popular following from shoppers all over the Charleston region who come out to hear the band perform.

During his years at GSC, Bone has been involved in numerous campus committees and social organizations such as the Music Educators National Conference (now the National Association for Music Education), Baptist Campus Ministry, and as and a Cheerleading advisor. Along with members of the marching band, Bone has been to all home football games and GSC Homecoming Parades over the past 13 years, including when two of his children were born during the week of Homecoming. He directed GSC’s Pep Band for seven years, attending numerous men’s and women’s basketball games. However, according to Bone, his favorite part of being involved is through recruiting for the whole of GSC. “When I go out to speak to a high school band I am talking to potential students for all departments and often much more so than music as most bands usually only have a few students looking to major in music. I love representing the campus in this regard as my fellow faculty are so very easy to brag about with potential students!” he added.

“My favorite thing about teaching at GSC is hands down the students. We have the best students. They are some of the hardest working, determined, and caring individuals I have ever known. What many of them overcome to attain their education is just awe-inspiring. In short, our students are just blessings!” he said.

Each spring, the campus community is invited to nominate an outstanding faculty member for this award. Faculty Award of Excellence recipients must be full-time and have taught at GSC for at least two years to be eligible. Names of the honorees are displayed on a permanent plaque in the Heflin Administration Building.

Several GSC Artists Featured in Buckhannon Art Exhibit

Three Glenville State College Department of Fine Arts students and two alumni were recently featured in an exhibit titled ‘The Importance of Dreams.’

The Artist Collective of West Virginia, the Blaxxsmith Shop in Buckhannon, West Virginia, and Alien Gold collaborated to hold the art exhibition.

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(L-R) Ezekiel Bonnett, Heather Coleman, Ryan Spangenberg, Sarah Normant,
Heather Chambers, Danielle Shepherd, and Christopher Cunningham at
‘The Importance of Dreams’ exhibit opening | Photo by Mike Normant


An opening reception took place on Friday, April 07 at the Blaxxsmith Shop.

GSC students Heather Chambers, Chris Cunningham, and Danielle Shepherd, GSC alumni Sarah Normant and Ezekiel Bonnett, and GSC Academic Support Center employee Heather Coleman all had work showcased in the exhibit.

In preparing for the show, the students learned more about being ‘gallery ready’ with their work in addition to networking, communication with clients, sales and commission, how to create business cards, how to sell their work and show professionally, and the communication process with gallery owners. Coleman said, “The students had a very enriching educational experience at this gallery.”

Each student had two pieces in the show including oil paintings, collage, ceramics, and glass sculpture. GSC Assistant Professor of Art Chris Cosner is a member of the Artist Collective.

The exhibition was on display Friday and Saturday nights from 4:00-10:00 p.m.

24th Letters About Literature Writing Contest to Announce Winners

Read. Be Inspired. Write Back.
The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Center for the Book at the West Virginia Library Commission will hold the 2017 Letters About Literature awards ceremony at the state Culture Center on Thursday, May 18th, 2017, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. Letters About Literature is a national reading and writing program, supported locally by the WV Center for the Book, an affiliate of the National Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Local author Belinda Anderson will speak at the event, where participating state students will be honored.

The theme for this year’s writing competition was How Did an Author’s Work Change Your View of the World or Yourself? Students in grades 4-12 (divided by Levels 1-3) wrote letters to authors (living or dead) telling them how a book, poem, or play by that author affected them personally. “It is amazing how students of all ages are impacted by the “written word” in very personal and meaningful ways; their letters leave their own lasting impression,” explained Gayle Manchin, Cabinet Secretary of Education and the Arts.

This year, 723 students from West Virginia were among the more than 47,000 students nationwide who wrote Letters About Literature. National screeners selected 117 of the West Virginia entries for state level judging. Judges, chosen by the West Virginia Center for the Book, determined the top letters in each competition level for the state. Entries for state level judging were selected on how well they met the required criteria of: audience, purpose, grammatical conventions, and originality.

Those receiving “Top Honors” advance to national level judging. The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress selects a panel of judges to award national winners and national honor winners. Karen Goff, WVLC Executive Secretary, says, “The Letters About Literature competition allows the most gifted students in the state to showcase their skills. The WVLC is proud to support this program, which creates a forum for students to excel in both reading and writing.”

The Library of Congress will announce all National and National Honor Winners and awards and will list all state-level winners on its website: www.read.gov/letters/.

West Virginia Library Commission encourages lifelong learning, individual empowerment, civic engagement and an enriched quality of life by enhancing library and information services for all West Virginians. WVLC is an independent agency of the Office of the Secretary of Education and the Arts. To learn more about WVLC, please visit www.librarycommission.wv.gov or call us at 304.558.2041.

Obamacare Repeal No Panacea for Republicans

The Free Press WV

The four Republicans in West Virginia’s Congressional delegation (Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Congressmen David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins) have all pushed for repealing Obamacare.

House Republicans fulfilled that campaign promise last week by narrowly passing (217-213) The American Health Care Act. However, for some Republicans, the action feels like the barking dog has finally caught the car it was chasing.

For example, 3rd District Representative Jenkins clearly has reservations.  “This was a tough call,” he told me on Talkline last week.  “Is it a perfect solution? No,” he said.  “It goes to the Senate. Work will continue.  Doing nothing wasn’t an option.”

It sounds like Jenkins and a number of his fellow Republicans can scratch “Repeal Obamacare” off their To Do lists, but they are also hoping the Senate will save them from themselves. The issues are particularly sensitive in West Virginia, where the population is older, sicker and poorer.

The Medicaid Expansion program has over 170,000 West Virginians enrolled, with the federal government picking up a larger share of the cost than the typical reimbursement. However, under the Republican plan the federal government will reduce funding for expanded coverage after 2019, leading to an expected decline in coverage.

When supporters of the replacement say no one on Medicaid will lose their coverage they are technically correct.  However, the system has a certain amount of churn, so as the Washington Post Fact Checker reported, “If they try to get back into the system, however, the planned reductions in funding may mean they no longer find themselves eligible for the program, or that their benefits have been scaled back.”

Also, the Kaiser Family Foundation says the AHCA allows for higher out-of-pocket costs for older people. “Generally, people who are older, lower-income, or live in high-premium areas (like Alaska and Arizona) receive less financial assistance under the AHCA,” Kaiser reports.  “Additionally, older people would have higher starting premiums.”

Congressman Jenkins is correct that doing nothing was not an option because the exchanges are flawed. There simply are not enough young healthy people willing to pay skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket expenses to subsidize the sickest people or those with pre-existing conditions.

The alternative high-risk pool makes sense, as long as it’s fully funded.  As columnist Holman Jenkins wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “By giving new options to the states, the House bill would make subsidizing pre-existing conditions a general obligation of the taxpayer as it always should have been.”

Republicans banked for years on “Repeal and replace Obamacare” as an instant applause line, but West Virginia has quickly become dependent on Obamacare to provide coverage for a large chunk of the population, and many providers prefer the known of existing law to the unknown of the legislative process.

Controlling Medicaid costs and making premiums more actuarially sound make fiscal sense, but they are going to be a hard sell in West Virginia and elsewhere.  Government benefits build constituencies and expand government power. Those trends are not easily reversed.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

Study Finds Most Folks Don’t Buy Fake News

The Free Press WV

Despite claims by some politicians, fake news, social media and search algorithms don’t sway public opinion, according to a study by a group of international researchers.

William Dutton, the report’s lead author, says if search engines did help create so-called filter bubbles – where users only get links to information with which they agree – the impacts on the democratic process could be huge.

But he says surveys in seven nations including the U.S. found it’s not as big a problem as recent media coverage suggests.

“On social media and on the Internet generally, they find a lot of viewpoints that their friends and family, that they disagree with,” he states. “And they often go to search to check the reliability, validity of what they hear on social media.“

After Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton, pundits and pollsters struggled to find answers and many tagged social media for hosting numerous posts that were outright lies.

Dutton says while a minority of Internet users are not skilled in vetting facts, most are not so easily fooled.

The research – commissioned and funded by Google – was conducted independently by Oxford University, Michigan State University and the University of Ottawa.

Dutton says fears of social media echo chambers also are overstated. He notes the survey of 14,000 people found users agree and disagree with political posts on platforms such as Facebook.

And Dutton says people also are exposed to a variety of perspectives on television, radio and print outlets. He adds users rarely unfriend or block people with whom they disagree.

“Most people who are very interested in politics are relying on all sorts of sources of information and not simply search, or not simply social media,“ he stresses.

Dutton adds a small percentage of Internet users are not adept at fact checking, and it’s important for schools at all levels to give people the tools they need to navigate the Internet’s resources when it comes to accepting online claims at face value.

“Every effort to create training and education around media literacy in a multimedia digital environment is still valuable,” he stresses. “But it’s not a problem for most users, but it is a problem for some users.“

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

State Budget Impasse. Now What?

The Free Press WV

The special session of the West Virginia Legislature has recessed until May 15. Lawmakers met for two days to consider the latest budget-related proposals, but could not reach a consensus.

The revenue measure agreed to by the Senate and the Governor lowered income tax rates, but raised the consumer sales tax, corporate income tax and added a wealth tax. Separate, but related, is a plan to increase gasoline taxes and DMV fees to fund road repairs and construction.

The House quickly voted down the revenue package along party lines. The Senate took up the bill anyway and passed it 32-1, causing the House to take a second vote where the bill again failed.

Following those votes, the Legislature left town with plans to return in ten days.

It would be overly simplistic to dismiss the two-day special session as a waste. As previously pointed out here, it was important for the lawmakers to get votes on the record. We know for certain now the proposal pushed by Governor Justice and the Senate is not acceptable to a united Republican majority in the House.

I’ll come down on the side of optimism and say that’s progress… sort of. Now it is necessary for the negotiators to seriously contemplate what they are willing to change in their positions. George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Of course, change is not easy, especially if one’s position is based on a deeply held principle, and we have those among the legislators and the Governor.

Justice is convinced state government cannot make deeper cuts into services and that additional revenue, including a taxpayer-financed road plan, is essential to the state’s recovery. Senate Republicans will abide by higher consumption and business taxes if income taxes are lowered to stimulate growth. House Republicans say they have a responsibility to their constituents to hold the line on spending and higher taxes.

The two day session and the votes have firmly established those positions, so today it is difficult to imagine where change can come from, but change they must. The only alternative is a government shutdown on July 1 which would be a disaster.

Given what has happened so far, it’s time to move away from an approach where an agreement can be reached where all sides are pleased. It does not appear that common ground exists. The fallback position is a budget where none of the principles are satisfied.

Then we will know that they have truly reached a compromise.

Crutchfield Selected for Barr Professional Development Award

Glenville State College Public Relations Specialist Dustin Crutchfield has been selected to receive the 2017 Pete and Betsy Barr Professional Development Award. The award is rotated annually between GSC faculty and staff and must be used within eighteen months of being awarded. The award is designed primarily for the recipient to further their professional growth, although the awardee can use the money to further their particular area of interest in lieu of traditional professional development activities. Crutchfield has used the funds to purchase assorted recording equipment in order to make online and social media video content.

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GSC Public Relations Specialist Dustin Crutchfield with some of the equipment purchased with the Barr Professional Development Award


“Video has been and continues to be a popular format to share information online. Outside research has shown it to be an effective way to communicate with a variety of groups, especially younger audiences like potential students,” Crutchfield said. “My intent when applying for the award was to acquire some compact, easy-to-use equipment and software that would allow us to be a little more agile with our online content; something that would allow us to go from idea to output a bit more seamlessly, especially for brief messages.”

The addition of the equipment will mark the first time that the Marketing and Public Relations office will be generating their own video content. “I’m hoping that we can work to slowly begin integrating more video content into our everyday communications to both current and prospective students, alumni, the general public, and others,” he said. Crutchfield says he expects a learning curve and looks forward to working with some experts on campus to acquire new skills.

“I was pleased and surprised to learn that my proposal had been selected. The goal is to live up to the high standards set by the eight previous recipients in their professional development efforts to assist the campus. I extend my thanks to the Barrs’ for funding the award and to the numerous well-wishers who have congratulated me since hearing of the award decision,” said Crutchfield.

Crutchfield graduated from Glenville State College with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree with an emphasis in marketing in 2009. He is currently in the process of completing a master’s degree from the West Virginia University Reed College of Media. He is a Burnsville, West Virginia native.

Previous recipients of the Barr Award have included: GSC Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Sara Sawyer (2010), Administrative Secretary for the GSC Athletic Department and Title IX Coordinator/Senior Women’s Administrator Amanda Frymier (2011), Associate Professor of Business Cheryl Fleming McKinney, CPA (2012), Registrar’s Office Certification Analyst Denise Ellyson (2013), Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Megan Gibbons (2014), GSC’s Sports Medicine Staff (2015), and Professor Dennis Wemm (2016).

The next Barr Award will be presented in January 2018 to a selected faculty applicant. A committee comprised of two faculty members and two staff representatives reviews all applications and selects the awardee.

For more information about the Pete and Betsy Barr Professional Development Award, contact Vice President for College Advancement and Executive Director of GSC Foundation and Chairman of the Pete and Betsy Barr Professional Development Award Selection Committee Denny Pounds at or 304.462.6381.

Energy Severance Tax Rates Provide Another Hurdle In State Budget Battle

The Free Press WV

One of the many challenges in reaching agreement on a proposed state budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 has to do with coal and gas severance taxes.  The current rate is five percent, but at issue during informal budget discussions are proposed sliding severance tax rates, depending on the market price for the resource.

The West Virginia Coal Association has sent a letter to each member of the Legislature in support of the variable rate schedule for steam coal. Those rates range from 2.5 percent when steam coal is selling for less than $42 a ton, up to 10 percent when the price reaches $74 and higher.

Northern Appalachian steam coal market price has been fluctuating from $40-$46 a ton for the last year, meaning under the scale proposed by the Justice administration the severance tax would vary from 2.5 percent to 3.25 percent, well below the current rate.

(At least those are the most recent figures available, but those numbers can and do change rapidly as budget discussions continue.)

While the Coal Association is on board with the severance rates for steam coal, its members are adamantly against a similar sliding scale for metallurgical coal that’s used in making steel.  West Virginia produces from 40 to 50 million tons of coking coal a year and business is very good, at least for the moment.

Several weeks ago, a major cyclone damaged Australia’s key rail lines, interrupting shipments from Queensland which supplies more than half of the world’s coking coal. That caused prices to surge to between $180 and $260 a ton depending on the grade, sending met coal producers here scrambling to meet the demand and take advantage of the higher prices.

Under the Justice administration’s proposed sliding scale severance tax rates, met coal producers would see their tax rate double to ten percent beginning July 1, hitting them with a big expense just as they are getting back on their feet. Additionally, Australia will soon have those repairs completed, putting its coal back in the global market and bringing the price back down.

Meanwhile, the state’s natural gas industry is also worried about the possibility of higher severance taxes. One trade group, the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, did sign off on a Senate-passed bill that included the variable rates, but only because it included co-tenancy and joint development, two provisions that would make it easier for gas companies to conduct horizontal drilling. That bill failed in the House.

Governor Justice’s concept from the beginning has been for the state to give the natural resources industries a break when prices are low, but require them to pay more when times are good. That may sound like a reasonable concept, but it’s a tough sell with the state’s energy sector which has been battered by low prices and regulatory constraints.

Also, commodity prices are notoriously volatile. The sliding scale severance tax rates would make it even more difficult for companies to anticipate their production costs.  As the Coal Association said in its letter to lawmakers, “Certainty is key for sustaining our operations.”

Right now, there is no certainty because there is not yet a budget for next fiscal year, and it remains unclear whether severance tax rates will change significantly just two months from now.

The Long Road to ‘Iowa’

The Free Press WV

At one point during the budget debate last month, Governor Justice recoiled against any budget compromise that included deep budget cuts.  Justice used one of his now famous metaphors to make his point.

“It doesn’t make one hill of beans of sense to me to say ‘you like the desert, and I like Alaska, so we’re going to end up in Iowa.’ Let’s only end up in Iowa if that’s the right place to end up,” he said.

Well, ten days after the end of the regular session of the Legislature (including one additional day to work on the budget), we’re nowhere near a hospitable gathering of the Governor, the Senate and the House in Des Moines.

However, there are at least some road maps that might just lead them there.

The Justice administration and Senate leaders are coalescing around a framework for a budget. The plan, which was unveiled in the final hours of the regular session, includes a lot of what the Governor wants—additional revenue from a sales tax increase, a commercial activities tax and temporary wealth tax, higher fuel taxes and DMV fees to build roads and a pay raise for classroom teachers.

The Senate side of the deal includes a modification of the state income tax, reducing the current five tiers to three and lowering of the rates when certain fiscal benchmarks are met with the possibility of eliminating the tax eventually. Senate supporters believe lowering the income tax will lead to economic growth.

But that route toward a deal doesn’t even show up on the navigation system of House Speaker Tim Armstead. The Kanawha County Republican has told the Justice administration and Senate leaders time and again that higher taxes are a non-starter in the House, even if they are accompanied by possible income tax reductions.

But Justice’s team, while negotiating with Armstead, believes there could be an avenue toward agreement—the House Democrats.  Justice is trying to rally support among the 36 Democrats to get behind the Justice/Senate plan. He’s reportedly going to make his pitch to them today.

The Dems will need some convincing. They don’t want to be out front on tax increases without Republican support, fearing that will be used against them in the next election. The Democrats need assurances of a significant number of Republicans.

So here’s the question: How many House Republicans, if any, would be willing to defy their Speaker and support the Justice/Senate plan?  The Governor said last week that some Republicans called to urge him to veto the Republican-passed budget (he did), suggesting they might be open to another pathway.

We know the House Republican caucus is not unified—the breakdown over medical marijuana demonstrated that—but it’s difficult to predict how many members the Justice administration could pick up by lobbying individuals.

To continue with the Governor’s metaphor, for now Iowa remains a long distance away.  It will be challenging, but not impossible, to get there.

Living in West Virginia

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Why would millennials come to live in WV?

As the black hole that was the 2017 regular session imploded upon itself last week, I happened to receive a copy of a survey by the WalletHub website ranking the best and worst states for millennials.

Not surprisingly, West Virginia ranked dead last — 51st, behind all other states and Washington, D.C.

Despite ranking seventh in affordability, West Virginia ranked 42nd in education and health, 49th in quality of life, and 51st in economic health. It also ranked 50th in millennials as a percentage of the state population, and 44th in average monthly earnings for millennials.

In other words, according to the survey, there’s not much here to attract or retain young adults.

That led me to envision the state as an apartment, with a landlord trying to pitch it to a millennial:

Here we have a two-bedroom, one bath unit with lovely scenic views. Sorry that the driveway and parking lot are so torn up. We just haven’t had money to repave, but once you’re here awhile, dodging the potholes will become second nature.

Yes, it’s heated with a coal stove. We never upgraded because we kept thinking coal was coming back, but you can use space heaters, just as long as you don’t plug in more than one at a time, because the wiring is antiquated.

No, there’s no broadband, but from the bedroom facing northeast, you can get a pretty decent cellphone signal.

The neighborhood? It used to be pretty good, but now there’s a lot of drug activity and there aren’t as many cops on the streets, so you probably don’t want to be out after dark. We used to have a lot of good restaurants and entertainment venues, and the city used to host concerts and festivals, and that building at the foot of the hill once was a public library.

Our schools aren’t that good, and a lot of good teachers left over the years because of low pay, so if you have kids, you’ll probably want to ship them off to private school, if you can afford it.

Clearly, no millennial in his or her right mind would ever consider renting the place.

Imagine in this scenario that Gov. Jim Justice became a part-owner of the apartment, and being a good businessman, realized he needed to spend some bucks to fix the place up if he ever hoped to attract young professionals as tenants.

Despite Justice’s sound plan for renovating the apartment, applying this scenario, one of the co-owners just wanted to spend the bare minimum to slap a coat of paint on the place, hoping that would disguise its flaws, while the other co-owner was adamant about not spending an additional penny, instead proposing yanking out and selling the kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures to raise some money.

During the session, Justice has focused on one question for all legislation: Will it bring people to the state, or drive more people away?

Likewise, legislative leadership came into the session with a theme of creating jobs and balancing the budget, and it is ending the session with little to show on either account.

Another question might be: Did the 2017 session do anything substantive to improve West Virginia’s ranking as the worst state for millennials?

A second straight year of budget impasse also doesn’t seem like a way to build investor confidence or encourage people to relocate to the state.

It didn’t help that holes got blown back into the budget, with the Senate’s rejection of legislation to eliminate the $9 million Racetrack Modernization Fund — a matching fund that lets out-of-state casino corporations use state money to upgrade their West Virginia casinos, freeing up funds that they can use to make improvements to their casinos in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland that compete directly with West Virginia casinos — and with Justice’s veto of legislation to finally eliminate the $15 million state subsidy of greyhound racing purse funds.

Being that I’m on Twitter as a condition of employment, I’m not in a position to delete my account, although over time, I’ve blocked most annoyances.

That House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, deleted his Twitter account at the height of the push to get the House to take up the medical marijuana bill (Senate Bill 386) does not speak well for his interest in seeking input from constituents.

Given the lack of couth on social networks, it’s not surprising that some of the many tweets sent to Armstead did not look favorably on what proponents of the measure saw as his attempts to obstruct the bill, or that some of those tweets wished upon him horrible diseases the pain of which he would not be able to ease with medical marijuana.

While we may wish that there were a higher level of public discourse, Armstead must recognize that his party, at the state and national level, and its benefactors have contributed mightily to the toxic environment that exists in politics today.

Finally, I can’t say I get to watch the evolution of a bill from creation to passage very often, but I did have that opportunity with the daily Cardinal passenger rail service compact bill (SB 2856).

Following the Amtrak-sponsored conference in Cincinnati back in September to build a coalition of support for daily Cardinal service, the Friends of the Cardinal organization (in which my participation consists mainly of showing up at meetings) was tasked with pursing legislative support for the concept of operating the Cardinal daily, perhaps through a resolution.

Lawyer, lobbyist and railfan Larry George showed up at the Friends’ November meeting, and suggested that the group pursue legislation as opposed to a resolution. (My two cents’ of input was that simple resolutions aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.)

George worked with Friends co-chairmen Chuck Riecks and Bill Bartley to come up with the draft legislation, and Riecks did the heavy lifting rounding up bill sponsors in the House.

Once Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and state Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby endorsed the proposal, it breezed through the legislative process. (This after I suggested back in November that Friends members not get their hopes up, because even noncontroversial bills rarely pass on their first try.)

Friends now has a new assignment from Amtrak, to visit the state’s eight stations on the Cardinal route and update information for those facilities — specifications such as platform lengths, waiting area amenities and perhaps, most importantly, availability of parking.

Charleston, for instance, has five long-term parking spaces in what once was the station’s taxi stand — which is inadequate for current demand, let alone the likelihood of increasing ridership by more than double with daily service.

~~  Phil Kabler,  Gazette-Mail ~~

Lawmakers Want Schools To Teach More About Founding Documents

The Free Press WV

Earlier this session, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation and sent it to the Senate requiring public schools to dedicate a week to the specific study of the concepts of freedom and liberty.

West Virginia already has a requirement in code (18-2-9) that the Constitution be taught in civics class, but HB 3080 includes a more detailed prerequisite.

The bill designates “Celebrate Freedom Week” for early September each year, when social studies classes must include “in-depth study of the intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with an emphasis on the Bill of Rights.”

The bill also requires high school students to take a test that is “the same as or substantially similar to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service” to measure their achievement in civics.

This is a growing trend across the country.  The Associated Press reports “Kentucky last week and Arkansas on March 16 became the latest of more than a dozen states since 2015 that have required the high school studies curriculum to include material covered by the 100 questions asked on the naturalization exam.”

It would be presumptuous to assume what the late Senator Robert Byrd would have said about this trend, but we know he revered the Constitution, carried a well-worn copy in his breast pocket and lamented how little many Americans knew about the document.

In his biography “Child of the Appalachian Coalfields,” Byrd referred to a lecture he gave in Morgantown in 1998 where he cited poll numbers showing “only 66 percent (of Americans) recognized that the first ten amendments to the Constitution constitute the Bill of Rights; 85 percent mistakenly believed that the Constitution says, ‘All men are created equal’.”

“They tell us that while our educational system is good at ingraining feelings of respect and reverence for our Constitution, that same system is apparently very poor at teaching just what is actually in the Constitution and just why it is so important,” Byrd said.

It was Senator Byrd who attached an amendment to an omnibus spending bill in 2004 that designates September 17 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

It is reasonable, however, to question the extent to which West Virginia’s Legislature should dictate to the public school system what to teach and how to teach it.  The Department of Education maintains considerable autonomy and, in theory at least, is governed by the state Board of Education and local school boards.

If the bill becomes law, there will no doubt be some grousing by civics teachers who already devote considerable time to the founding documents or resent being told by politicians what is best way to teach government and history.

That’s understandable, but the values and principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the bedrock of our country and our culture. Comprehending them is the key to truly knowing what it means to be a citizen of this country.

So, What Exactly Is the Status of Budget Talks?

The Free Press WV

One of the most commonly asked questions at the State Capitol now is, “What’s the latest on the budget?” The answer is complicated, and here’s why.

You cannot narrow the discussion to one particular plan because there isn’t one. There are multiple plans, frameworks, concepts and proposals being floated by Governor Justice and lawmakers.

These concepts sometimes change rapidly during stakeholder meetings. What appears to be on the table going into a meeting may come off the table by the time they break up. In the meantime, a totally new concept may have been introduced.

Not all the stakeholders meet at the same time. The Governor or his representatives may meet with House Republican leaders and that will be followed by a caucus where the leaders take the concepts back to their members.

While that is going on, the administration is meeting with Democratic leaders to take their temperature, and they then report to their caucus.

These caucuses are critical because that’s where the leaders can gauge the support or opposition to particular proposals. It’s also where the whips can do some vote counting to try to determine what can pass and what won’t.

The leaders then have to get back to the Governor’s people with what they have learned, and that can start the process all over again.

Additionally, even the principals involved in the discussions often emerge with very different views of what’s on the table. Numerous times in the last few days I’ve had one primary source tell me one thing and another person in the same meeting give me a very different story.

The kind of “shuttle diplomacy” that is taking place is, by its nature, given to misunderstandings, but that’s why you keep it going. The process, when done in good faith, can weed out discrepancies, while zeroing in on what is and what is not in play.

I hear the frustration in the voices of the players, but I’m actually encouraged. They are talking—frequently—and ideas are popping out like the spring blossoms on the Capitol grounds. The posturing has given way to discussion of specifics on how best to spend the limited resources of the state, whether to raise new revenue and, if so, how best to do that.

Like any such discussions, they could blow up at any moment, but I don’t think they will. Legislative leaders and Governor Justice can agree on one thing: a lengthy special session to get a budget for the second year in a row would be a public relations disaster and failing to get a plan by the start of the new fiscal year July 1 would be a catastrophe.

The federal government has budget tricks it can play to keep operating, but West Virginia would have to turn out the lights.

So, I can’t tell you at this moment exactly where the budget talks stand—it’s like trying to zero in on multiple moving targets shrouded in thick fog—but they are trying to get a budget, and they know time is running out.

The Worsening Toll of Drug Addiction In West Virginia

The Free Press WV

The extent of West Virginia’s drug problem is nearly incomprehensible. As the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Eric Eyre reported in his award-winning series last December, “wholesale drug distributors shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia over six years (between 2007 and 2012).”

What followed was rampant addiction to the powerful painkillers and a rise in the number of people who overdosed and died as a result. When the medical community and authorities clamped down on the prescription opioids, addicts became more dependent on heroin.

That was followed by the introduction of fentanyl and carfentanyl. These synthetic opioids are similar to morphine, but are 50 to 100 times more potent. Dealers mixed the drug with heroin and overdoses skyrocketed.

Eyre reported last week that the latest figures show 844 people died from drug overdoses in West Virginia last year.  That’s already well above the previous year’s number of 731, even before all of the statistics for 2016 are in.  “The drug overdose death toll has climbed 46 percent in four years,” Eyre reported.  A person dies in West Virginia from a drug overdose every 11 hours.

West Virginia’s Secretary of the State Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), Jeff Sandy, tells MetroNews that drugs are an increasing problem in the state’s correction system.  Nearly half of the 44,000 inmates booked into regional jails last year had to be placed on detox or withdrawal programs.

Locking people up does not necessarily separate them from illegal drugs. Sandy, who took over January 16, says drug use is widespread throughout our jail and prison system. Last month, 35 inmates at the minimum security prison at Pruntytown overdosed inside the jail and 14 had to be sent to Grafton City Hospital.

Sandy says drug-addicted inmates devise creative ways to sneak drugs into prison. One of the most popular methods has been for family and friends to soak writing paper in a liquefied drug and mail the letter or photo to the prisoner.

“It’s disgraceful, and we’re going to do something about it,” Sandy said, and Friday DMAPS announced a shift in the mail policy.

“Inmates in West Virginia’s 10 regional jails now receive photocopies of all mail from family, friends and businesses,” DMAPS announced in a release on Friday.  “The originals are shredded.”  A similar policy will also be implemented at the state’s 16 prisons and work release facilities.

Sandy also pledges to continue to emphasize drug treatment efforts within the prison system so inmates have a chance for a drug-free life when they are released.

West Virginia’s problems are not unique, but they are extremely serious; we have the highest per capita overdose death rate in the country. The drug scourge feels more intimate here because we are such a small state.  Who among us has not been touched personally or know someone who has been impacted by drug addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, based on scientific research, the basis of any treatment program consists of detoxification, behavioral counseling, medication, evaluation and long-term follow-up to prevent relapse.  Recovery may be a life-long struggle, but as the latest statistics show, the alternative can be fatal.

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

G-ICYMI™: Raising Property Taxes for Schools

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Senate Finance amends bill to raise property taxes for schools


West Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee changed Monday the bill that would cut about $79 million in state funding to public schools next fiscal year into more of a straightforward statewide county property tax increase bill.

In the new version of Senate Bill 609, county school boards could decide to opt out of the tax increase on their residents if they’re willing to take the significant financial hit. Kanawha County would see the largest total funding loss if it chose to completely opt out of the tax increase: $9.3 million.

The bill was amended in a voice vote, then it passed out of the committee to the Senate floor on a 12-6 party-line vote, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats opposed.

The previous version of SB 609 the Senate Education Committee passed would’ve cut the $79 million and newly allowed school boards to vote to opt in to increasing their regular levy property tax rates to make up for the state funding loss.

Amy Willard, executive director of the state Office of School Finance under the Department of Education, said if school boards raised their regular levy tax rates to the maximum allowed under the previous version of SB 609, they would effectively have no funding change next fiscal year.

The new version of the bill automatically would increase the regular levy rate to the maximum in each county. Willard said the current planned rate for class 2 property next fiscal year — owner-occupied residential property and farms — is 38.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, and the new rate under the bill would be 45.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

She previously has said the change would mean a person with a home appraised at $75,000 would pay $31.95 extra on his or her annual tax bill for that home, while someone would pay $42.60 extra on a $100,000 home.

“I know that my counties in the southwest coalfields are distressed,” said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. “There is a lot of homes that are in bankruptcy, a lot of cars that are repossessed, a lot of people are trying to move, a lot of homes for sale, and the last thing they need is a tax increase.”

But he said he heard “optimistic news today that there are some things moving in the House that might actually raise some revenue for us, maybe a food tax, maybe a sales tax, that would pre-empt this.”
“I think we ought to have our big boy pants on and be able to do this ourselves without pushing it back to the counties,” Stollings said.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, noted on Saturday, Democrats and Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, expressed concerns about the previous version of the bill possibly violating the state Constitution and the Recht decision if not all school boards agreed to raise taxes.

“How is this any different from that perspective if we’re pushing everybody up and then some back it back down?” Palumbo asked.

In the landmark 1980s Recht decision, Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht found the state’s public schools failed to meet a “thorough and efficient” standard demanded by the state Constitution and ordered an overhaul of school financing with the idea that children from high and low property value counties should receive the same education.

“There are those people who believe that if the Recht decision were revisited the outcome may be different,” Hall said after the meeting. “So it’s not unconstitutional until a judge says it is.”

“It’s obvious that this bill has not made it all the way to passage, this is its first start, it’s not its destination, should other revenue sources surface, this bill will be absolutely unnecessary,” Hall said.

He said the Democrats are “in a position to vote no on any tax increases, and they’ve got us in an odd position of trying to find revenue,” for public education and other programs.

“They’re going to vote no so they can probably say to the voters out there, ‘Hey, we didn’t raise your taxes, they did,’ but the economy didn’t fall apart under us, it fell apart under them,” Hall said.

~~  Ryan Quinn, Gazette-Mail ~~

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