West Virginia State Gov’t News

“Your Week in the Know” June 29, 2018



WV Supreme Court


WV House committee granted power to consider Supreme Court impeachment

The West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday gave authority to its Judiciary Committee members to investigate the possibility of impeachment against West Virginia Supreme Court justices, less than a week after Justice Allen Loughry was indicted on federal charges.


The House of Delegates approved a resolution authorizing the investigation into the justices by an 89-0 margin.


Delegates adjourned just after 1:30 p.m., ending a roughly 90-minute session, and they will remain adjourned until called back to hear the recommendation from the Judiciary Committee at the conclusion of its investigation.


Gov. Jim Justice issued a proclamation Monday evening calling the special session with the purpose of pursuing the investigation and possible removal of office of “one or more” of the Supreme Court justices.


H2C Partner, Ex-WV lawmaker who led 1989 impeachment says latest effort ‘daunting’

As one of 20 Republicans in the 100-member West Virginia House of Delegates in 1989, Marc Harman said he knew he was going to have a tough fight ahead of him if he was serious about impeaching then-state treasurer and Democrat A. James Manchin.


But when Harman assessed what members of the 2018 House Judiciary Committee were up against in investigating whether to impeach members of the West Virginia Supreme Court, he said it was a much more daunting task than what he and other lawmakers faced almost 30 years ago.


Harman addressed members of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon, about 30 minutes after the House approved a resolution allowing the committee members to investigate and determine whether to impeach any one of the members of the West Virginia Supreme Court.



The Governor / Administration


Fact-checking Justice’s list of whiteboard accomplishments

Rare is the news conference where Gov. Jim Justice shows up without his whiteboards.


Since he began making public appearances as a governor, Justice has kept the whiteboards by his side. As his news conferences have become more frequent amid questions about the RISE West Virginia flood recovery program, the state’s deal with China Energy and other issues, Justice has been filling the boards with a list of what he says are his accomplishments in office.

Some of them are true. Some of them are not. Some of them are statements of the governor’s position, not accomplishments.


The Gazette-Mail examined points that appeared on the boards during Justice news conferences on June 15 and June 18. The Governor’s Office was asked questions about the items below; only one topic received a response.


Lawsuit seeks to make China Energy deal information public

A nonprofit law firm has filed a lawsuit against West Virginia University after the school failed to hand over public records about a deal between West Virginia and a Chinese energy company.


The $83.7 billion investment deal, forged in November 2017 between the state and China Energy, was the largest of several agreements China made with the United States. At the time, Gov. Jim Justice called the memorandum of understanding “the largest investment in our state’s history.”


Audit: WV unlawfully executed flood relief contracts worth millions and helped no one

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As West Virginia recognizes the two-year anniversary of a deadly flood, legislative investigators have issued a scathing report about contracts that were supposed to provide the framework for the state’s long-term response.


West Virginia has been operating under multiple long-term flood relief contracts worth millions of federal dollars unlawfully, a report from the Legislative Auditor’s office has concluded.


The conclusion applies not only to a highly-scrutinized contract with a consultant meant to manage flood relief but also for contracts for millions of dollars more with construction companies that are supposed to be doing the work.


What’s worse, the Legislative Auditor questions whether any homes actually have been completed under the Rise West Virginia housing reconstruction program, according to the report presented to state lawmakers on Sunday.


DHHR Secretary Crouch apologizes over vacated property payments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s secretary for Health and Human Resources says he’s sorry about continued payments on office suites the state vacated in 2015.

“I apologize to the people of West Virginia, to our legislators. We certainly did not intend for this to happen in any way, and we’re fixing this so it won’t happen again,” Bill Crouch said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”


State officials have produced a new letter saying the property is vacated and that the lease should be considered canceled. On Friday, they also released receipts from certified letters, including one for General Acquisitions.


Crouch said it should be clear the state vacated the mall property and that it should go after the money it paid since then.


“We were not using the building. The building was vacated by DHHR. The dates it was vacated were clear,” he said.





Low favorable marks for Manchin (39%), Morrisey (30), Justice (27) & Legislature (17%) in latest PPP poll

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin has a 7-point lead over state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the race for U.S. Senate in latest polling from Public Policy Polling.


Manchin is ahead 49-42, which is close to the margin of most other polls that have come out in the last several weeks.


“There have been three internal Democratic polls that have found Manchin up somewhere in that 7 to 10 percent range and then there have been a couple of independent polls as well,” PPP Director Tom Jensen said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” “There seems pretty broad agreement in the polls, at least at this point, that Manchin is starting out with a decent advantage.”


MORE Read poll results here 


Candidates in WV’s 3rd District Congressional race discuss policy issues
Opioid Use, medical marijuana, and health care were topics discussed.



The Legislature


House of Delegates ponders who will be new Speaker of the House

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he has heard several names mentioned as likely candidates for Armstead’s position, including House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, D-Kanawha; Del. Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; Del. Riley Moore, R-Jefferson; Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor; and Del. Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, who is a member of the House Liberty Caucus.



Public Safety


Thousands of Unfilled Jail Jobs, Millions in Overtime, ‘Zero Room for Error’

Late last summer, Rodney Miller, the executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association and a state lawmaker, witnessed some things that shocked him.


He and other West Virginia legislators visited the state’s prisons and jails, observing from towers and from cell blocks. They saw inmates exchanging contraband drugs, inmates brought to medical care bloody from fights, and sleep-deprived guards struggling to respond to it all.


“Corrections officers were working six or seven days a week, 10- to 12- and sometimes 16-hour shifts. Some of the corrections officers were having to sleep at the facilities and then going back to work,” says Miller, who worked in law enforcement for 33 years and says he’s never seen prison workforce shortages as severe as they are now.





Justice calls for Blue Ribbon Commission on higher ed in WV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says he wants a Blue Ribbon Commission for Four-Year Higher Education.


Justice made the announcement in a brief Thursday afternoon release.


“Our West Virginia colleges and universities are so critical to our communities, and the continued erosion of their stability deeply concerns me,” Justice stated.


“My hope is that every possible solution will be considered and evaluated, all colleges and universities will be consulted, and that the Commission will find the right solution for our higher education system in West Virginia.”


The statement didn’t elaborate on examples of erosion of stability.

The Governor’s Office said the commission will be officially created by executive order and is expected to be signed by this coming Monday.


Hundreds of comments submitted for college funding formula proposal

WVU President E. Gordon Gee submitted a detailed comment, criticizing several parts of the formula and the commission’s process for writing it. He begins by criticizing a so-called “hold harmless” provision, which would ensure that schools don’t lose money in the first three years of the formula. After that, any revenue losses would be phased in.


“As a result, a reduction in funding of the magnitude proposed by commission staff, particularly given the recent declines in appropriations, would be devastating,” Gee wrote. “And the message that this model sends to the university is that the state does not value the service and outcomes it provides.”


“Overall, the idea of a student focused funding formula has merit,” wrote Tracy Pellett, president of Glenville State College. “However, any funding model that creates dramatic reductions for any single college needs careful consideration and extensive analysis. GSC will be unequivocally financially damaged with a decrease in state appropriation by over 17 percent of its current state appropriation.”


Pellett said a potential nearly $1 million loss to its budget would be “catastrophic” and would make the school unaffordable to the students who need it most.


For First Time, Tuition Is Public College’s Biggest Revenue Source
State colleges and universities are relying more on tuition dollars to fund their operations even as state funding rises and colleges come under pressure to keep tuition low.


Last fiscal year, for the first time, tuition revenue outpaced government appropriations for higher education in the majority of states, according to the annual higher education finance report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association The association represents chief executives of statewide governing, policy and coordinating boards of postsecondary education.


Tuition dollars are becoming a more important revenue source as more students head to college, tuition prices rise, and state lawmakers struggle to return higher education funding to the per-student levels seen before the Great Recession.





State revenue officials confident West Virginia will end fiscal year in the black

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy assured lawmakers Monday that the state will meet or exceed its revenue projections for fiscal year 2018.


“It’s been a really exciting April in the Department of Revenue,” Hardy told members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance during interim meetings in the state Capitol.


“We will meet estimate for fiscal year 2018 in June,” Hardy said. “We will definitely meet estimate, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we will exceed estimate.”


West Virginia legislators promote state’s progress; hear concerns from business leaders

WHEELING, W.Va. – Policy and progress, those were the topics of a meeting hosted on Thursday by the West Virginia Business & Industry Council.


Government representatives spoke about and celebrated the progress West Virginia is making as a state, but were still able to have important conversations with area business leaders about changes they would like to see made in Charleston.


“People not only throughout America, but throughout the world are recognizing the progress and the changes that are occurring in West Virginia,” said West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael.



Sports Gaming


The Greenbrier signs with a sportsbook

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The Greenbrier is the first casino in West Virginia to sign-on with a sportsbook to manage sports betting under the state’s new sports betting law.


The Greenbrier announced Tuesday it has finalized an agreement with New York-based FanDuel.


The Greenbrier said its private casino will have sports betting on site and through a mobile app. It hopes to have both services running by this fall.



Health Care


States rethink approach to foster care due to parental drug addiction

The opioid crisis gripping states and communities across the country has spawned a new focus on the way child and family welfare agencies think about addiction, and whether mothers and fathers should be allowed to keep custody of their children as they undergo treatment.


Many states have seen a surge in the number of children entering foster care systems, an increase likely tied to the prevalence of opioids. In the past, those states considered substance abuse a form of neglect, sufficient to remove children from dangerous homes.


Now, some states are creating programs aimed at keeping children with their parents during treatment. They hope that approach will encourage parents to seek the help they need, without adding the trauma caused by removing children from their homes.


Wisconsin task force makes recommendations for foster care
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A state task force aimed at streamlining foster care in Wisconsin says the system is headed in the right direction, but there’s more work to be done.


Wisconsin Public Radio reports that the Speaker’s Task Force On Foster Care issued its final report Thursday.


Republican Rep. Patrick Snyder of Schofield co-chaired the task force. He says the state should provide children more education and career training. The report also recommends a focus on drug abuse.


The task force has recommended 13 bills aimed at streamlining the foster care system and helping families before they go into the system. Gov. Scott Walker has signed 11 into law.

Democratic Steve Doyle of Onalaska co-chaired the task force. He says the bills give foster parents more access to funding.


Opioid Crisis Mapping and Collaboration Effort Continues Expanding

There are essentially two facets to participating in the Opioid Mapping Initiative. The first is sharing data sets for use on the map, which is powered by the gov tech company Esri. This map, primarily, shows the locations and stories of deaths related to opioid use.


The second facet of participation is a monthly phone call with the other agencies to share the work being done These calls have already yielded results. For example, Tempe, Ariz., recently described a dashboard it was using to map EMS responses to overdoses. The Northern Kentucky Health Department subsequently reached out to Tempe and swiftly replicated their work in its own jurisdiction.


Screening Wastewater Could Help Cities Track Opioid Use
Cities may soon have a new tool in their efforts to contain the opioid epidemic: residents’ own urine.


Biobot Analytics, the winning startup in a pitch competition judged by mayors this weekend at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, measures the concentration of opioids in sewage to estimate levels of drug use in different neighborhoods.



The Courts


Supreme Court’s union ruling won’t have huge impact in West Virginia

CHARLESTON — In Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 27 that public sector employees will no longer be forced to contribute to unions that represent them in collective bargaining agreements, but the landmark decision will have little impact on West Virginia.


Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia (AFT), explained that public sector unions in West Virginia don’t have collective bargaining.





Steve Roberts: West Virginia is radiating energy and vigor

West Virginia enjoyed the nation’s eighth highest gain in gross domestic product in 2017. Our wages were the eleventh fastest growing in the country during the last 12 months. And tax collections provide the proof. These gains in the economy are leading to real, quantifiable gains in state tax collections and that is proof positive of a growing economy.

Steve Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.


Why Do We Value Country Folk More Than City People?

The great, gradual migration of the human population from the countryside to the city has transformed the world, but we’ve barely begun to reckon with its political implications. Over generations, urbanization has sorted us on the traits — ethnicity, education level, personal temperament — that draw us toward cities or keep us away.

Will Wilkinson is a contributing opinion writer and the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center.



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