Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette Mail. September 15, 2022.

Editorial: Abortion ban won’t help West Virginia

The West Virginia Legislature, controlled by a Republican supermajority, passed a draconian abortion ban Tuesday that won’t do anything to improve the state’s rock-bottom economy, nation-leading population loss or massive shortage of skilled workers and teachers.

The ban is just another “Keep out!” sign hammered onto the exterior of a rickety tree house that no one was thinking about entering in the first place. It’s also an example of what happens when scoring political points backs legislators into a corner.

For years, the Legislature has been passing restrictions on abortion with little practical purpose or application, given federal protection for the procedure. But it allowed legislators to say they were “pro-life.” Then, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and states had to come up with real policies on abortion.

Make no mistake, plenty of far-right West Virginia legislators who believe it is their job to impose their morality on everyone else had been licking their chops for this moment. More-moderate Republicans realized the radioactive nature of codifying an abortion ban with midterms looming, and some, deep down, didn’t want anything to do with the issue. Despite what they might put on a campaign flier, some legislators know that abortion is a deeply complicated, personal issue that goes well beyond the false frame that people are either for or against “murdering babies.”

This was evident in a special legislative session, when Gov. Jim Justice, always the blind bull in a china shop, tossed legislation outlawing abortion onto the agenda in hopes that it would bolster the chances of passing his income tax cut plan. (Justice has denied this is why he added abortion to the agenda, but it’s his word, which isn’t worth much, against a lot of circumstantial evidence to the contrary.)

The House and Senate passed bills outlawing abortion, with some minor exceptions, but they couldn’t agree on a final bill. A significant amount of the abortion debate was about political maneuvering before, but the perception of failure in the special session likely made the issue almost entirely about the legislators, rather than the people of West Virginia — most of whom approve of abortion remaining legal, but with limitations.

In the fallout of the special session, Rep. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, announced that he would seek to replace House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jeffereson, said she would run to unseat Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. Blair had stalled on appointing a conference committee to meet with the House because he didn’t think there was a solution to be found. Now, he and Hanshaw were cornered.

It certainly appears that this division within the GOP supermajority played a large role in the Legislature throwing a bill together and passing it within a day while clearing protesters from the chambers’ galleries so they didn’t have to face the jeers in response to bad faith and, occasionally, downright callous arguments.

In the end, while this might have been about preserving life for some, it looked to be more about securing political power for others, some of whom probably didn’t want to tackle this issue at all, or at least not until the general election in November was over. Faced with a series of bad options, GOP leaders decided to get this done now and hope it won’t hurt them too badly at the polls. And it might not.

The bottom line, however, is that it’s bad policy that treats women as second-class citizens. It won’t stop abortion; it’ll only make it more dangerous for those who don’t have the means to travel elsewhere to get the procedure. It’ll also likely produce more children who can’t be properly cared for in a state with a foster system bursting at the seams. It’ll drive out physicians worried about government inquiries into whether they actually made a lifesaving decision. And it will certainly cause more young people to leave a state that’s been losing population for 70 years.

As has so often been the case, West Virginia legislators have shot themselves, and the state, in the foot and called it a victory.

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The Intelligencer. September 14, 2022.

Editorial: Audit Concerning For West Virginia

Remember when West Virginia’s lawmakers promised to “right-size” government? They’ve not made nearly as much headway as many had hoped.

But perhaps part of the reason for that is the enormity of the problem. It’s not easy to discover all the ways in which taxpayer money is being thrown away when it is part of the very fabric of state government in West Virginia. Over the weekend, lawmakers heard an enlightening report from the Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Research Division, which details an audit that showed more than $226 million was appropriated in the fiscal year 2022 executive budget in salaries and benefits for 4,857 vacant positions.

“Each year, several millions of dollars are appropriated for budgeted vacant positions, many of which have been vacant for several years with no evidence that agencies are trying to fill them,” said Lukas Griffith, senior analyst for PERD.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, voiced what many of us must have thought when he said simply “Wow.” Now it’s up to lawmakers to do something about it.

In private business, if a position has been vacant for years, with little to no effect on the operation, that position goes away.

With King Bureaucracy, things are different.

“… in many instances the budget bill provides permissive language that allows those agencies to transfer those funds that the Legislature has appropriated for personal services and employee benefits,” said Michael Cook, director of the State Budget Office. “That was one of the main concerns I had when I read the report. I didn’t want it to have the appearance that there were just millions of millions of dollars that could be swept in savings.”

But the audit showed in most cases the state agencies are not moving these unspent funds.

Lawmakers are in Charleston to represent and serve us, not the bureaucracy. Given the information they received Sunday, they know what they need to do.

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. September 14, 2022.

Editorial: Hope: Without it, addiction holds its grip

Those responsible for the start of the substance abuse epidemic that still plagues West Virginia continue to come to justice. Five doctors violated their oath to do no harm and have pleaded guilty to various charges relating to their time at the Hope Clinic, which had offices in Beckley, Beaver, and Charleston, W.Va., and in Wytheville, Va.

William Earley, 66, of North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Brian Gullett, 45, of Clarksville, Pa.; Roswell Tempest Lowry, 88, of Efland, N.C.; and Vernon Stanley, 79, of Fayetteville, W.Va. pleaded guilty in federal court to felony counts of aiding and abetting obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Mark Clarkson, 64, of Princeton, W.Va., pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the misbranding of a drug involved in interstate commerce.

We all know how they got the job done, by now. These folks wrote prescriptions — some providing up to seven pills per day — to as many as 65 customers (federal prosecutors do not refer to them as “patients”) per day. Oxycodone and other controlled substances were churned out with no legitimate medical purpose from 2010 to 2015.

It is good to know they now await their punishment.

But as the wheels of justice slowly turn, in the form of lawsuits and criminal convictions, what are we as a state doing to address the underlying causes of the continued substance abuse epidemic? Law enforcement and prosecutors are doing their work. What are policy makers and politicians doing?

There is a clue in the name used for the clinic for which these people peddled their wares. Hope.

Too many in West Virginia still have none. Too many are led by poverty, joblessness, mental health woes, insufficient education and opportunities, and any number of other socio-cultural challenges to seek a way out. Let the investigators and attorneys continue doing their jobs, by all means. But they must not be working alone.

If we are truly to stop this monster — which did not go away, it simply evolved — we have to be honest about some of the reasons it has been able to keep such a tight grip for so long. Only then will be have hope.

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