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Legislators Turn Focus on Supreme Court Spending Following Report on Luxury Purchases

The Free Press WV

The issue of the lack of legislative review of the judiciary’s budget has been simmering at the State Capitol for a few years now.  Some lawmakers object to the State Supreme Court’s power to determine its own budget with no oversight from lawmakers.

The judiciary’s budget autonomy is written into the state Constitution. Article VI, Section 51, Subsection A(5) actually states that the legislature does not have the authority to decrease the judiciary’s budget.

In theory, the court could ask for significant budget increases every year and there’s nothing the legislature could do about it.  In practice, however, the court has generally worked with lawmakers to craft a reasonable budget that is in line with state spending.  That shows restraint.

The General Revenue portion of the judiciary’s budget this fiscal year is $141,759,670.  That’s a lot of money, but it has increased less than two percent over the last three budget years.

In 2016, the legislature considered a joint resolution to amend the state Constitution by eliminating the judiciary’s budget protection, but it didn’t go anywhere.  There was no groundswell of support or particular constituency motivated enough to take on the State Supreme Court.

However, that changed this week with the revelation by WCHS TV of excessive spending and waste on Supreme Court office furnishings—a $32,000 couch and $7,500 for an inlaid wooden floor in the state’s design in Chief Justice Allen Loughry’s office; $28,000 rugs and an $8,000 chair in Justice Robin Davis’s office; a $9,000 sofa in Justice Margaret Workman’s chambers, to name a few.

All paid for with taxpayer dollars.

The luxury furnishings were part of a general renovation of the Supreme Court’s Capitol offices.  The initial estimate was $900,000 back in 2009, but that ballooned to $3.7 million with changes, additions and, yes, fancy furniture.

Legislative leaders say the luxury spending has renewed interest in the constitutional amendment.  “This just isn’t right,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) on MetroNews Talkline.  “We’re going to make an effort to change that.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott said he has no issue with upgrades to the historic Capitol building that are “appropriate and necessary,” but he adds that he “was stunned and angered by the amount that was spent for some of the furnishings that are more temporary.”

Changing the Constitution is not easy.  It requires a two-thirds vote by both chambers of the legislature and then approval by the voters.  Additionally there will be compelling arguments against it.  Would legislative oversight inject more politics in to the judiciary?  Would justices and judges feel compelled to craft decisions that meet approval of those who control the purse strings?

Those are rational questions that will need to be debated during the upcoming session. However, it’s going to be hard for lawmakers and the public to get the image out of their minds of a $32,000 couch.

“We’ve had some very difficult financial times.  We have state employees at nearly every agency that are not well paid,” Shott said.  “The thought that someone would spend that kind of money on a piece of furniture in view of those situations is just really troubling.”


11.18.2017 Arts & EntertainmentMediaTV & RadioNewsWest VirginiaOpinions | Commentary | G-LtE™ | G-Comm™ | G-OpEd™Politics | Government | ElectionState-WV

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

The justices are part of the aristocracy. Does anybody think that they care what the peons think?

By Skip Beyer  on  11.18.2017

This is nothing new.  It has been happening for years and no attempt to stop it.  Just quiet it down when word leaks out.  The court system thumbs their noses and laughs at ‘their hillbillies’.

Remember the hub-bub about $100,000.00 bathrooms in the Capitol building a few months ago?

Think they have them all remodeled so those whom you elected can krap in style the next legislative session?  lol

By Web  on  11.18.2017

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Holding VA Medical Providers Accountable

The Free Press WV

Following a USA Today investigation revealing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concealed poor care and mistakes made by its medical workers, two senators have introduced legislation to hold the VA accountable.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced Monday the VA Provider Accountability Act, which would require the VA to report major adverse actions to the National Practitioner Data Bank and state licensing boards.

The bill would also prohibit the VA from signing settlements with fired or dismissed VA employees that allow the VA to conceal serious medical errors or purge negative records from personnel files.

“The vast majority of VA healthcare providers are well-trained, caring, patriots who work hard to take care of our nation’s veterans,” Manchin said in a release. “But, just like in any healthcare system, there are bad apples.”

Manchin, a member of the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the VA Provider Accountability Ace is a commonsense piece of legislation to ensure that incidences of malpractice do not go unreported to state licensing boards and the National Practitioner Data Bank.

“It also stops those who commit malpractice from receiving a settlement so they will quietly resign and become a provider outside of the VA. By imposing these oversight measures on the Department of Veterans Affairs, we are ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all Americans.”

Heller added that the USA Today investigation findings were “downright shameful.”

“We need action immediately to ensure that the VA does not hide medical mistakes or inadequate care.”

He continued, “It is our responsibility to stand up for those who put their lives on the line for this country and provide them with the world class medical care they expect and deserve. The VA lists integrity as its first core value, and VA employees make the promise to act with high moral principle and adhere to the highest professional standards. Our legislation will make sure of it by holding the VA’s feet to the fire so that the veterans the agency exists to serve have trust in their caretakers.”

McKinley & Thompson Stand Up for Rural Patients, Hospitals

The Free Press WV

Representatives David B. McKinley, P.E., (WV-1) and Mike Thompson (CA-5) introduced H.R. 4392 to reverse a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule cutting $1.6B for drugs purchased by certain hospitals covered under the 340B program. These cuts jeopardize care for millions by directly reducing revenue to hospitals that care for vulnerable patients in underserved and rural communities, without addressing the underlying price of the drugs.

“Protecting access to prescription drugs for low income communities should be a priority. Unfortunately, CMS’s misguided rule jeopardizes the ability of rural hospitals to provide vital services. This would have a huge impact on West Virginia hospitals’ ability to provide affordable care. We led a bipartisan letter to CMS with nearly 250 signers, urging them to reconsider, but they didn’t listen. This bill ensures that hospitals are able to continue providing affordable services, and gives rural families peace of mind,” said McKinley.

“This rule dramatically undermines the ability of hospitals across the country to deliver care to our nation’s most vulnerable populations. I’m disappointed that CMS did not listen to hospitals, nor a majority of members in the House and Senate, and approved a rule that puts both hospitals and patients at risk,” said Thompson. “I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stop this rule and ensure the 340B program can continue to serve low-income populations as Congress intended.”

“The AHA thanks Representatives McKinley and Thompson for leading this bipartisan effort to protect patient care by preventing CMS from reducing Medicare Part B payments for some 340B hospitals,” said Tom Nickels, Executive Vice President of the American Hospital Association. “For 25 years, the 340B Drug Pricing program has been critical in helping hospitals expand access to lifesaving prescription drugs and comprehensive health care to low-income patients and other vulnerable populations in communities across the country.”

“The AAMC would like to thank Representatives McKinley and Thompson for introducing this important bipartisan bill to prevent major Medicare cuts to safety net hospitals that participate in the 340B Drug Pricing Program,” said Atul Grover, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President of the Association of American Medical Colleges. “This program provides savings to many teaching hospitals, allowing them to maintain vital services for patients at no cost to taxpayers.”

“We thank Congressmen McKinley and Thompson for their leadership and support for low-income Americans and their essential hospitals,” said Bruce Siegel, MD, MPH, President and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. “They understand the damage this policy will cause to communities in West Virginia, California, and across the country, and we appreciate their efforts to protect patients. We urge all House members to support access to affordable drugs by supporting this critical legislation.”


Background

On November 01, 2017, CMS cut the reimbursement rate for Medicare Part B drugs purchased by certain hospitals covered under the 340B program by around $1.6B. This legislation would completely negate the effects of this rule.

Since 1992, the 340B program has used mandated discounts offered by drug manufacturers to help hospitals and other covered entities provide discounted drugs and lifesaving services to their patients. The CMS rule eliminates funding that hospitals use to support the unreimbursed cost of care for those who need it the most.

On September 28, 2017, McKinley and Thompson organized a bipartisan letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma urging the administration to withdraw its harmful proposal to cut the 340B Drug Pricing Program. This letter was signed by 228 Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who understand that protecting access to affordable care is a top priority.

WV Revenues Match Expenditures, Keeping The Budget In Balance

The Free Press WV

West Virginia state government’s budget looks decidedly better four months into the new fiscal year than at the same time the two previous years.

Figures released Monday by the State Department of Revenue show the state collected $354 million in October, matching almost exactly the projections.  It’s critical to meet the monthly projections because the budget is based on the expected collections. If revenue falls too far short, mid-year cuts have to be made.

So far this fiscal year revenue collections are just slightly below estimates, by $8 million, but that’s not much considering the General Revenue budget is over $4 billion.  The collections-to-expenditures match is positive news for the state.

“We are in a much better place,” said State Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy. “Because the revenue projections are spot-on we don’t have to make the painful decision about recommending mid-year budget cuts.”

That has not been the case in the last couple of years, when a significant slowdown in the coal industry and a drop in natural gas prices wrecked the state’s economy and caused tax collections to spiral downward, well below projections.

Last year at this time revenue collections trailed estimates by $87 million.  That hole was serious enough for then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to impose a two-percent midyear spending cut. The state faced a similar shortfall in 2015, forcing Tomblin to cut four percent from most state agencies and one percent from public education.

But now the state’s economy is showing some improvement.

For example, for the first four months of the year the state has collected $80.7 million in severance taxes—the taxes on coal, gas and timber—for the General Fund.  While that figure is $13 million below projections, it is still 68 percent higher than the same period last year.

Personal Income Tax collections are up, due in part to a slight rise in employment.  However, sales tax collections are running behind projections because West Virginians are not spending as much as expected on taxable goods and services.

“We are keeping an eye on sluggish sales tax numbers, but we aren’t worried at this point,” Hardy said.  “And we are excited to see marked improvement in our Personal Income Tax and energy industry revenues.”

The revenue projections and collections are indicators of the strength or weakness of the state’s economy.  The most recent numbers show some positives, but more importantly they indicate the worst of the state’s economic downturn is behind us.

The Results of The October Special Election in WV

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner issued a proclamation yesterday that the results of the October 7th special election for a constitutional amendment allowing the issuance of road bonds are now certified.

Voters cast 122,419 ballots in the October 7th special election, with 72.85 percent of voters approving the Roads to Prosperity Amendment of 2017, and 27.15 percent voting against the amendment. Voter turnout was 10 percent of those registered to vote by the September 18th deadline.

“Thanks to quick work by county clerks and county commissions, we can now release the official results of October’s special election,” said Secretary Warner. “I’m thankful for those who took the time and effort to let their voices be heard. I am also thankful for the hard work put in by our 55 county clerks, their staff, and the poll workers who gave their time to ensure a smooth election process.”

County commissions, working as the Board of Canvassers, canvassed the results. Once canvassed, the county commissions sent copies of the certifications to the Secretary of State’s Office. The amendment provides for the improvement and construction of roads in the state by the issuance of bonds not to exceed $1.6 billion.

Board of Education Takes Action on Policies to Provide Flexibility to Counties

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) adopted two policies and placed another two on 30-day public comment during its November meeting in Charleston. Adopted policies were previously available online for a 30-day comment period, and comments were considered in the adopted policies. A brief description of each policy can be found below.

Adopted Policies

     
  • 3234 – School Calendar: Six faculty senate meetings are now required, with one being held before the commencement of the instructional term, and one at the end of the employment term. The revised policy also states that instructional minutes are now part of state code requiring a minimum of 315 instructional minutes for elementary schools, 330 instructional minutes for middle schools and 345 instructional minutes for high schools. Additionally, counties now have the option to add 30 minutes to the minimum instructional day to accumulate time equivalent for up to five days to use for school cancellations due to inclement weather, and up to five days for professional learning experiences for teachers when students are not present. This policy will be effective on December 11, 2017.
  •  
  • 5202 – Minimum Requirements for the Licensure of Professional/ Paraprofessional Personnel and Advanced Salary Classifications: Policy revisions are intended to provide additional flexibility for the licensure of aspiring educators. Requirements have not changed, but have been expanded and provide additional options to meet existing requirements. Additional options include exemption from the Praxis content test for individuals who hold a master’s degree and five years of directly related work experience or a doctorate in a content area. The revised policy also allows for individuals who hold a master’s degree and who completed a Speech Language Pathology Program, are licensed to practice in another state, hold a valid West Virginia Board of Examiners in Speech Pathology and Audiology license and valid national certification by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and passing scores on the current Praxis exam to teach in West Virginia for two years conditionally without a school certificate. The revised policy also allows for the use of eLearning courses to be used for certification renewal with the option to renew for one year with only three semester hours. Finally, the revised policy allows an individual in a medical field to serve as a temporary replacement for up to three days for the assigned coach or trainer during a season, while individuals holding a valid Professional Student Support certificate are eligible to coach without the Coaching Authorization. This policy will be effective on December 11, 2017.

Policies Out for 30-Day Public Comment

     
  • 2510 – Approval for Educator Preparation Programs: The revised policy is intended to ensure students are college and career ready, while providing additional flexibility to counties. Major revisions include changing the minimum number of required graduation credits from 24 to 21 and changing the number of required high school social studies credits from four to three. Finally, the revised policy changes the non-weighted course grading scale to a grading scale used by virtual schools and most colleges, which will make 0-59 an F, 60-69 a D, 70-79 a C, 80-89 a B and 90-100 an A. The additional changes focus on personalizing education to meet the needs of individual students while maintaining rigorous educational standards.
  •  
  • 2460 – Educational Purpose and Acceptable Use of Electronic Resources, Technologies and the Internet: The revised policy is designed to set forth recommendations, guidelines and responsibilities for any individual using the K-12 network and electronic devices. Districts must use Policy 2460 as their Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) but may incorporate additional, more stringent guidelines closely aligned with local directives. Each user on the K-12 network is made aware of the contents and must agree to the AUP prior to using any electronic device on the K-12 network. Individuals without a signed AUP would be prohibited from using any electronic device on the K-12 network. For students under 18, a parent signature is required. Language throughout the document was updated to encompass the ever-widening presence of social media and to comply with updated local, state and federal laws and policies.

To review Board policies and comment online, visit: http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies/


11.10.2017 EducationNewsWest VirginiaPolitics | Government | ElectionState-WV

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Policy 2510 is an admission by the West Virginia Board of Education of their own failure.

Dumb down the standards in order that students can get a passing grade.

You grand pooh-bahs in Charleston BOE should be ashamed of yourselves!  But you have no shame. Obviously so.

Steve Paine, leading the failure of education in West Virginia.

By # 2510 policy--WVBOE ADMITS OWN FAILURE  on  11.10.2017

All high schools in WV have ACT Profile Reports for each graduating class.

The only performance information typically cited in school districts is average ACT scores for graduating classes.

If you can get copies of Reports for your high schools read them to independently evaluate testing results for career and college readiness, science, technology engineering and math (STEM), and other categories.

Chances are that your local administrators gloated that average ACT scores for graduating classes are commendable to give your high schools passing marks, but other testing outcomes in the Reports may show otherwise.

It is doubtful if LSIC members for your high schools know about the Reports to be grounds for demanding academic improvement plans. Check Reports for high schools in your school district to make up your own minds.

By WVDOE Fact Checker  on  11.11.2017

Fellow West Virginian’s.  What is being seen here is Paine’s return to ‘power’ and the continued 20 years charade by the WVBOE.

They spend your tax dollars.  They do their best to cover their failed efforts.  They cheat our children of a good education. 

They play (think manipulate) with the grading system every couple years, making it impossible to follow students upward or downward progressions.

Don’t expect any good, any progress, any improvement to happen in West Virginia.  It’s not in the cards.  Well, that is not in the ‘administrators’.

By 20 years of WVBOE 'playing' school  on  11.12.2017

What is this “LSIC” commenter speaks about?
Who and what is that all about?

By reader  on  11.12.2017

LSIC=Local School Improvement Council. Each WV school has one. Google to learn what each one is supposed to do to improve a school. Ask for plans for your schools.

By POGO  on  11.13.2017

LSIC plans are short on specifics for measurable academic improvements to be achieved. That way no matter what happens extraordinary successes can be proclaimed. The strategy is designed to make meaningful accountability impossible for school system administrators.

By More Of Same For WV Schools  on  11.15.2017

Why are Gilmer’s voters kept in the dark about activities of the two LSICs in the County? No published agendas before meetings, no published meeting minutes, and plans with details for school improvements are not disclosed. Violation of WV’s open meeting laws? To top it off memberships of LSIC’s and who selected the individuals are kept secret from voters.

By Gilmer Voter  on  11.16.2017

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What Does the Virginia Election Say about West Virginia?

The Free Press WV

Democrats are understandably pumped after Tuesday’s elections.  Democrats won the governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey and scored additional victories across the country.  The Dems erased a 32-seat Republican advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates and, depending upon recounts, could become the majority in the House.

Democrats are crediting their victories to energized voters response to Donald Trump’s presidency.  Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam capitalized on Trump’s unpopularity among a majority of the voters of the Commonwealth to defeat Republican Ed Gillespie.

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry—and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,” Northam said in his victory speech Tuesday night.

So do the Virginia results provide any early signs of what might happen in West Virginia next year, especially in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin and, on the Republican side, either Congressman Evan Jenkins or Attorney General Patrick Morrisey?

Virginia had been more of a purple state, although it is clearly bluer after Tuesday.  Hillary Clinton won by five points in Virginia, the only southern state to back the Democratic nominee. By contrast, Trump carried West Virginia by a whopping 42 points over Clinton.

Clinton won the Washington, D.C. suburbs and urban areas while Trump won rural areas of Virginia, including every county that borders West Virginia (except Loudoun County, which is just outside of D.C.).

The Trump counties in Virginia, especially those in Appalachia, are demographically similar to West Virginia—largely rural, white and poorer.  Gillespie carried nearly every county Trump won last November.

Gillespie was particularly strong in counties that border West Virginia. He captured an average of 71 percent of the vote in 13 of the 14 counties. The lone exception, just like last year, was Loudoun County, where Northam won with 60 percent.

Here’s another way to look at the results:

Twenty-five of Virginia’s counties are considered Appalachian.  Trump won all but one of those counties (Montgomery) last year with an average of 74 percent of the vote.  Gillespie’s results were identical. He won 24 of the 25 Appalachian counties with 74 percent.

All 55 counties in West Virginia are considered part of Appalachia and Trump won every county in the state in 2016.

Nationally Democrats need something to build on after 2016, and they should be energized after Tuesday.  However, the Virginia vote also showed Trump’s base remains strong. That’s a positive sign for Republican candidates in West Virginia next year and an area of concern for Senator Joe Manchin and the rest of the Democrats in the state.

Update on $160M Settlement with Frontier

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Frontier Communications has increased internet speeds for approximately 43 percent of customers impacted by its estimated $160 million settlement with West Virginia.

Frontier Communications entered into a settlement to resolve complaints about internet speeds provided to its customers. The agreement, announced in December 2015, marked the largest, independently negotiated consumer protection settlement in West Virginia history.

“This agreement continues to deliver improved connectivity for thousands of West Virginians, however significant work remains,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “My office will continue to monitor Frontier’s progress to ensure compliance with the settlement’s terms for the advancement of West Virginia.”

The multi-faceted agreement requires Frontier to invest at least $150 million in capital expenditures to increase internet speeds across West Virginia and lower monthly rates for affected consumers.

Frontier, to date, has spent $93.3 million in capital expenditures, funds which the company reports has increased internet speeds to 11,836 customers throughout West Virginia, according to the company’s most recent quarterly report filed with the Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office, between 2013 and 2015, received multiple complaints from customers paying for Frontier’s high-speed service, which advertised Internet speeds up to 6 megabits per second.

Many consumers advised their Frontier service was slow or did not meet expectations. The subsequent investigation found many customers expecting Internet speeds “up to 6 Mbps” frequently received speeds 1.5 Mbps or lower.

Frontier denied any allegation of wrongdoing and entered into the settlement to resolve disputed claims without the necessity of protracted and expensive litigation.

The settlement specifically required Frontier to invest $150 million, in addition to its $180 million in planned upgrades as part of the federal government’s Connect America Fund II program.

The discounted monthly rate set bills for approximately 27,500 affected customers at $9.99 – a reduction expected to cost Frontier $6.25 million per year, which will shrink with time as the discount remains in effect until mandated improvements allow Frontier to increase existing download speeds.

Those with further questions can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800.368.8808 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

Human Trafficking Can Happen Here

The Free Press WV

When many hear the phrase “human trafficking,” they may think of people from abroad being smuggled into this country to work.

However, this heinous crime also takes place within the United States, and can happen right here in the Mountain State, where all too often difficulties in victim identification causes human trafficking to go unreported or underreported.

This must change.

I believe increased reporting will arise from greater awareness of this issue by West Virginia citizens and at all levels of government.

Defined as modern-day slavery involving the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act, human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal enterprise behind drug trafficking. Millions of men, women and children are trafficked each year, bringing in billions for those who harm others for their own gain.

Victims of human trafficking may be sold or recruited into labor or commercial sex.

Law enforcement officers agree the serious drug abuse epidemic heightens the threat of human trafficking in West Virginia. This provides an environment in which human trafficking can thrive given the need of opioid addicts to supply their habit without means of financial support.

Sadly enough, victims may not be recruited at all, but sold into labor or sex by families looking to fund a drug addiction.

The digital age increases the risk and potential for traffickers to recruit youth online, making their criminal activity sound like a legitimate job offer. A young woman may be contacted by someone saying she is attractive. She may be asked to join their so-called modeling agency. The trafficker may ask her to send photos of herself, usually explicit, and then threaten to leak the photos if she seeks a way out.

Traffickers will also recruit at schools, using a popular student to influence his or her peers. They typically target girls 12 to 14 years old and boys ages 11 to 13.

This heartbreaking reality means everyone must be on the lookout for telltale signs common amongst victims of human trafficking; that includes parents, teachers and other mentors or guardians.

There could be a sudden change in the victim’s behavior or attire. Victims may stop attending school altogether or run away from home. Tattoos can be a common way traffickers brand their property and may incorporate gang insignia.

Government also plays an important role and my office is committed to rescuing victims of this heinous crime.

This year, my office created a set of guidelines aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking. The initiative received support from more than six law enforcement agencies across the state, as well as the Cabell County prosecuting attorney.

My office also works closely with law enforcement and child protective services across the state to host intensive training on how to identify and counteract human trafficking. This equips law enforcement officers and others with valuable information and fulfills continuing education requirements. These training seminars have taken place in Bluefield, Charleston, Fairmont, Logan, Martinsburg, Oak Hill and Whitehall with plans for more in Cabell, Raleigh and Wood counties as well as other areas of the state.

Additionally, we have joined a coalition of 50 state and territorial attorneys general in urging Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act, a law created to protect children from explicit content online. Those on the front lines of the battle against the sexual exploitation of children – state and local law enforcement – must have clearly-defined power to investigate and prosecute facilitators of these atrocious crimes.

Human trafficking reduces people to property, forces victims into dangerous situations and may go undetected due to victims’ distrust of authority or willingness to protect their trafficker out of fear.
   
We must work together, watch for indicators of human trafficking and speak up when things seem out of place. Together, we will protect vulnerable members of our population and help West Virginia reach her full potential.

Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.

West Virginians Are InvitedTo Submit Photos For Military, First Responders Recognition Trees

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice and First Cathy Justice are inviting all West Virginians to honor the state’s military men and women and first responders by submitting photos to be showcased on the two recognition trees located in the Governor’s Reception Room during the upcoming the holiday season.

“We owe everything to our state’s service men and women and first responders, who have dedicated their lives to protecting us and the freedoms we hold dear,” said Governor Justice. “The recognition trees in the Reception Room have become an important part of the State Capitol holiday celebrations, and Cathy and I are excited to continue this tradition.”

“This time of year, it is especially important for us to recognize the men and women whose service we depend on every day,” added First Lady Justice. “The Governor and I hope these recognition trees will showcase West Virginia’s hometown heroes and honor their service to our country, our state and our communities.”

Anyone who wishes to submit photos of their loved ones or friends who have served, or are currently serving in the military or as a first responder, please do so as soon as possible. All photo submissions from years past have been retained and will be used alongside this year’s submissions. The recognition trees will be displayed in the Governor’s Reception Room at the State Capitol Complex during the upcoming holiday season.

All photos, along with the submission form and tag, must be received no later than Monday, November 27, and should be emailed to or mailed to:

West Virginia Governor’s Mansion
ATTN: Tina Amburgey
1716 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, WV 25305

Please submit photo copies. Submitted photos will not be returned.

The military recognition form and tag may be downloaded here.

The first responder recognition form and tag may be downloaded here​.

WVDEP Announces Permit Adjustments for Mountain Valley Pipeline

State Stormwater Permit includes enhanced inspection and enforcement, stronger environmental guidelines for project
The Free Press WV

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Cabinet Secretary Austin Caperton announced today that the agency has lifted the suspension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) state Stormwater Permit. The suspension of the state Stormwater Permit was put in place in September to allow the agency to properly respond to all public comments received.

Additionally, the state has chosen to waive the individual 401 Certification of the federal permits for the MVP. The Army Corps of Engineers recently reissued, with provisions that are specific to West Virginia, the Nationwide 12 permit which is used for stream crossings. These new conditions, when combined with specific requirements that are included in the state’s storm water permit, will allow for better enforcement capabilities and enhanced protection for the state’s waters.

“This is a case where the public review and comment system worked especially well,” noted Secretary Caperton. “This summer, after months of diligent work, WVDEP put forth for public review and comment a draft certification and permit for the MVP pipeline. As a result of some of the issues that were included in those public comments, our agency developed a revised strategy that will better utilize the state storm water permit to provide significantly stronger safeguards for the waters of West Virginia.” 

West Virginia is unique among all surrounding states in that it has a stormwater permitting program for oil and gas activities that it created nearly five years ago. The program was purposely designed to provide protection from the impact of large-scale projects like the MVP that are otherwise exempt from federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit conditions.

For more DEP news and information, go to www.dep.wv.gov. Also, be sure to connect with the agency on all social media platforms. Follow @DEPWV on Twitter and find us on YouTube by searching “Environment Matters.” For specific information about our REAP (Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan), West Virginia Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), West Virginia Watershed Improvement Branch, Youth Environmental Program, and Human Resources initiatives, connect on Facebook.


ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTATION

- WVDEP letter to US Army Corps of Engineers

- WVDEP letter to FERC

- WVDEP order issued to Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC

- WVDEP response to comments

Trump’s Declaration on Public Health Emergency - Opioid

The Free Press WV

Statement by Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), regarding Donald Trump’s Declaration of a Public Health Emergency:

“Governor Jim Justice and the West Virginia Legislature have worked diligently to ensure the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has the support necessary to fight substance abuse.  My hope was that the President’s declaration would’ve resulted in additional resources and an even better partnership with Washington to combat this devastating crisis.  West Virginia has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country (41.5 per 100,000 residents in 2015, age-adjusted) which is more than double the national average.  We are losing a generation of West Virginians to drug abuse, and in some cases, two generations.  The Department is working across its bureaus, Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, Bureau for Medical Services, Bureau for Children and Families, and the Bureau for Public Health, to address this issue.  Any additional resources that could be directed toward this fight are critically important in our efforts to slow the progression of a problem that is devastating so many families and communities in West Virginia.”

Governor Justice, DOT Sec. Smith Announce First GARVEE Bond Sale for Roads, Bridges

Largest Transportation Bond in state history to have 2.145% interest rate, closes on Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith are pleased to announce that the interest rate for the first GARVEE bond sale of $260 million, the largest transportation bond in state history, is set at 2.145% and will close on Thursday, October 26, 2017.

“This is another win for West Virginia,” said Governor Justice.  “As a businessman, I know how important it is to aggressively pursue low rates for wise investments and we thought that the interest rate would be in the neighborhood of 3.5%. To get a 2.145% interest rate is great news. I am encouraged by the strong investor demand and these attractive borrowing rates for my Roads to Prosperity Highway Program. West Virginians voted October 7 to climb out of the ditch and stop being 50th and this first bond sale is a fantastic start. We’re on the move.”

“This is a crystal-clear confirmation of the need for wise investment while rates are extremely attractive,” said Secretary Smith.  “A rate of 2.145% is significantly less than the cost of construction inflation and sets us moving exactly in the right direction for the delivery of Governor Justice’s infrastructure program.”

This first of three GARVEE sales will target 18 bridge replacement projects and 13 interstate rehabilitation projects across the State.

Governor Justice Announces Passage of Six Bills during Special Session of West Virginia Legislature

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice announced the West Virginia Legislature has passed six bills he had presented during a special session that concluded late Tuesday.

“It is gratifying to know that our lawmakers have come together to enact laws that will continue to move West Virginia forward,” said Governor Justice. “During the last few months as I’ve traveled across the state and listened to our citizens, these pieces of legislation were critical for us to do the will of the people-which is to put West Virginians back to work as quickly as possible, to take care of our Veterans and to provide incentives to those who will preserve and redevelop our historical areas.”

Lawmakers passed legislation presented by the Governor that:

  • Strengthens enforcement of the West Virginia Jobs Act by requiring employers to hire at least 75% of its employees from West Virginia and enhances civil penalties.
  • Shortens the time period for hiring personnel for the Division of Highways and Tax Division.
  • Permits the sharing of information between the Division of Highways and Tax Division to ensure compliance with all state laws.
  • Exempts military retirement income from personal income tax.
  • Increases tax credits for rehabilitation of certified historic structures.
  • Approved technical corrections to State Court of Claims payments.

Justice Proclaims October as General Aviation Appreciation Month

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice proclaimed October 2017 as General Aviation Appreciation Month in the Mountain State.

In West Virginia, general aviation and local airports play a critical role in the lives of citizens, businesses, communities and the state of West Virginia, the proclamation stated.

General aviation supports 5,300 jobs, which results in $256 million in labor income, and contributes over $1 billion to the state’s total economic output annually.

General aviation also plays a vital role in the state’s response to natural disasters, medical emergencies, search and rescue operations, firefighting, public safety and law enforcement, as well as recreation and tourism, according to the proclamation.

It is directly tied to the future growth and prosperity of the Mountain State, which is why Justice said he is working to make sure West Virginia continues to support the vitality of general aviation, the aerospace industry, local airports, aircraft manufacturing and repair stations, and aviation education.

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