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Delegate Porterfield says he is sorry for forcing legislative slowdown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Delegate Eric Porterfield says he is sorry for a legislative slowdown he caused.

Porterfield, R-Mercer, issued his apology today in a speech during the House floor session.

“I want to just tell you I’m very, very sorry,” Porterfield said.

Legislative progress drew to a crawl last Wednesday after Porterfield insisted bills up for passage would be read in their entirety. The bills wound up being speed-read by House clerks.

The long floor session resulted in some committee meetings being delayed or canceled. This was all as the legislative session comes closer to its conclusion.

His action drew widespread West Virginia news coverage and generated editorials.

Porterfield was mad about a confrontation with another delegate, Brandon Steele, on a sidewalk outside the Capitol. Porterfield had left a committee meeting before what wound up being a tie vote that killed a bill that would have pushed spouses of public employees  to accept insurance coverage outside of PEIA.

Both delegates have acknowledged the angry exchange took place.

Porterfield said he had taken his concerns to the Capitol Police and House leadership, urging further action against Steele.

Porterfield made the entire House pay by objecting to bills being explained in lieu of being read aloud.

Today, having heard objections, he said he’s sorry.

“The spirit of narcissism and being full or pride is probably one of the biggest challenges I have as a Christian,” he said.

Porterfield, who was blinded years ago in a fight outside a bar, leads an organization called Blind Faith Ministries.

He was the subject of public controversy last year when he first used a slur about sexuality during a committee meeting and later indicated in a local television interview that if he had a gay son or daughter, “I just want to make sure they could swim.”

His apology today for the legislative slowdown was addressed to practically everyone, including his fellow Republicans, the Democratic leadership and his constituents in Mercer County.

“This is the result of a lot of people’s prayers, a lot of my friends telling me I’m going down the wrong path,” he said.

“People that usually aren’t on my side are telling me you may not want to do this. I’m going to get off of that road. I’m going to go back to the high road.”

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Charleston Police Department releases 2019 crime report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Police Chief Tyke Hunt is crediting the work of every member of the police department when it comes to the numbers seen in the year-end report for crime in 2019.

The report was released over the weekend and Hunt says he is proud to see a “downward trend.” The numbers show mixed results as certain crimes are down, up and nearly the same as 2018.

CPD

Charleston Police Chief James “Tyke” Hunt

According to the report, there were eight murders in Charleston in 2019, up one from 2018 but down from 2016 and 2017. Seven of the eight murders in 2019 occurred in the West District of the city.

Fifty-one rapes occurred over the past year, the same number in 2018. That is down from 55 in 2017 but more than the 36 in 2016.

Robberies have been dramatically declining, according to the report. 55 were reported in 2019, nearly 100 less than robberies in 2016.

Eighty-three malicious woundings were reported last year, which is trending down from 114 in 2016. Larcenies are also on a downward trend from more than 2,000 in 2014 to 1,177 in 2019.

Breaking and entering autos and motor vehicle theft were also down in 2019 compared to 2018.

“This is complemented by the community assistance we have received. Over the years the number of Neighborhood Watch groups and partnerships with other organizations have grown,” Hunt said in a release.

VIEW: The full report by CPD

Other numbers released by the CPD includes a dramatic decrease in traffic warnings and seatbelt violations. DUIs saw a large increase with 613 in 2019, compared to 237 in 2017.

There were 222 overdoses reported in 2019, up from 182 in 2018 but down from 279 in 2017. Deaths because of overdose totaled 18 in Charleston last year, seven more than 2018 and 11 less than in 2017.

In 2018, more than 5,800 people were arrested. In 2019, around 5,300 people were arrested.

“I plan to increase the number of new relationships between the Charleston Police Department and the community while strengthening the partnerships we have in place,” Hunt said in a release.

“I know there is still a lot of work to be done and this collaborative effort is how we can build a safer community.”

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Struggles likely to continue for West Virginia hospitals

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state of healthcare in West Virginia puts the future of small, rural hospitals in the state in doubt.

Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association, said there are daunting challenges which lie ahead for those facilities.

“You can’t just keep buying hospitals with the population staying the same and having the same number of hospitals treating fewer people, that math just doesn’t work,” he said in a recent appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” from the state capitol.

During 2019 the Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling closed its doors and last month Thomas Health Systems was forced put it’s two hospitals in Kanawha County into bankruptcy protection to see if they could ride the tide until better time prevail. Other smaller hospitals have been forced to seek a lifeline with partnerships with larger hospital systems like WVU Medicine, Mon General, CAMC and other larger umbrella organizations.

Among the myriad of problems for those hospitals is the loss of commercial insurance carriers among patients. Currently 70 to 75 percent of patients in West Virginia are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or PEIA. Letnaunchyn added the Medicaid expansion was a positive in that it allowed many West Virginians to finally get healthcare coverage they needed and they were able to get healthier with that coverage. However, it wasn’t financially helpful to hospitals who are forced to treat patients with the coverage at whatever rate the payer plans to pay.

“The good news is they were covered, the bad news is the payment for all of those is below cost and we have no negotiating ability,” he said.

Letnaunchyn said until now, hospitals in West Virginia had accepted that system because it was the community mission to help those who are sick get well. But the financial strain is starting to become more than some small hospitals are able to bare.

“There are others on the bubble. We could be hearing news sometime this month, next month. I keep hearing there’s going to be some news coming out of these hospitals,” he said.

He didn’t offer any names of hospitals teetering on the bring of bankruptcy or takeover, but given the climate it is likely any of them or all of them.

“I think there’s a combination of economic development opportunities in West Virginia so that we’re getting people moving back into West Virginia rather than leaving West Virginia. Otherwise, we’re going to see more hospitals facing difficult challenges,” he said.

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Foster care bill is a step from passage in W.Va. House

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that establishes a bill of rights for foster families while also raising per diem for foster families is headed toward passage in the House of Delegates.

House Bill 4092, relating to foster care was subject to one amendment on Monday and would be up for passage on Tuesday.

The bill enumerates certain rights for foster families. It increases the per diem for foster families while also establishing an equivalent rate for kinship families — those who have taken in a child but who haven’t gone through certification.

And it spells out more clearly what guardians ad litem, the people who officially speak on behalf of children, are required to do prior to the adjudication of the process.

That aspect is meant to provide more assurance to foster families that guardians ad litem are truly speaking with children and hearing them out.

Eric Nelson

One amendment approved on the House floor enhances the bill a little bit. It just says foster or kinship families may use family child care to watch a child under reasonable circumstances.

“Myself, the cosponsor and others have heard from many that this will improve overall child care,” said Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, one of the sponsors of the amendment.

Jeffrey Pack

Delegate Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, rose and added his support to the amendment.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea and something overlooked in the committee process,” said Pack, vice chairman of the House Health Committee.

The bill was assigned to — and passed — through three committees during its journey through the Legislature. That is sometimes a way to assure a bill doesn’t make it through — but in this case was meant to provide oversight for a complicated bill.

The increased per diem for kinship families was a committee amendment and created a significant price that hadn’t been considered previously.

Under the bill, families fostering through DHHR would be paid at least $900 per month per child placed in their home, or about $30 a day — an increase of about $300 per month. The reimbursement rate for kinship families would be raised to an equivalent amount.

The state’s share of the cost was estimated to be about $16.9 million.

With a flat budget proposed by Gov. Jim Justice, no one has specified yet how the state would come up with this additional amount.

West Virginia’s foster care system has been growing at an alarming rate, related to the state’s struggles with drug addiction.

More than 7,000 children are in state custody. About 450 of those are out of state, mostly in group residential homes or long-term psychiatric facilities.

The House of Delegates on Monday passed another bill related to the foster care system.

House Bill 4101 requires a court to verify certain conditions are met before a child who has been removed from a home may be returned to that home.

Explaining the bill, Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said that amounts to confirming whether parents in substance abuse treatment have completed the program before the child is returned home. That bill passed 97-0.

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University girls basketball team hopes it’s peaking at right time

Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

University girls basketball coach David Price talks to his team during a timeout.

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Considering University’s girls basketball team had more losses by the first week of February than it did all of last season, it’s hardly a stretch to say the Hawks haven’t accomplished everything they aspired to.

A 67-48 setback to Wheeling Park in an Ohio Valley Athletic Conference semifinal left University at 11-7 overall on Feb. 3 with four games remaining in its regular season.

However, UHS has reeled off three consecutive wins since and ahead of Wednesday’s regular season finale at Lewis County, the Hawks (14-7) hope they’ve found their stride at the perfect time.

“We’ve been talking in practice and (head coach David Price) has been saying we’re finally at that point where we’re about to play championship basketball,” senior wing Ashten Boggs said.

The message seems to have gotten across to Boggs. A Class AAA first-team all-state selection a season ago, Boggs poured in 36 points last Thursday to lead the Hawks to an impressive 67-56 win over defending Class AA champion Fairmont Senior.

That performance followed a 25-point win over Weir in an OVAC consolation game and came two days before Saturday’s 41-point win over Spring Mills. The Hawks’ most recent victory came in far easier fashion than when they beat the Cardinals 53-40 on Jan. 4.

“We’ve been working on finding each other more and we’ve found a little more chemistry, which is what we’ve been looking for all year,” Price said. “I’m happy with that.”

Still, seven losses through 18 games was at least somewhat unexpected for a team that returned a strong nucleus from last season’s 22-6 squad, which finished runner-up in Class AAA.

The first five of those seven defeats came by single digits, while three have come against Wheeling Park (19-3) — the top team in the MetroNews Power Index following its third win of the season against UHS.

University’s only losses by 10 or more points came in back-to-back games (a 62-52 loss to Greenbrier East at the Big Atlantic Classic and the 19-point defeat to Park).

“Our emphasis lately has been defense, because we’d been letting teams put up a lot of points against us, and we’re not a fan of that,” Boggs said.

Boggs is one of five seniors on the roster and classmates Mallory Napolillo and Abbie Coen offer plenty of production and experience in the post. Fellow senior Isabella Bowers is a complementary piece in the backcourt. 

Add in a pair of underclassmen guards — sophomore Lauren Dean and freshman Emily Sharkey — and the Hawks can get production from a number of players.

Still, Boggs is at the forefront of her team’s success. At 5-foot-11, she has the size and aggressiveness to do plenty of damage in the paint. Yet Boggs also handles the ball and is plenty comfortable on the perimeter, making her a tough matchup for any opposing team.

“She was nursing an ankle about midway through the season, and now that she’s getting healthy again, the last four or five games she’s really played outstanding for us,” Price said. “She really did what you would expect a player of her caliber to do against Fairmont.”

With sectional play looming for the Hawks, they’ll need to be at their best if they hope to get back to Charleston next month.

Boggs believes that all starts with getting stops.

“We need to play defense and it’ll lead to the offense,” she said. “Fairmont was our third to last game of the season and going into bracket play, it boosts our confidence because we played outstanding defense.”

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One dead in Huntington fire

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — An early morning house fire in Huntington has left a woman dead. There were two people inside the home when the blaze broke out around 6:30 Monday morning.

There was an early report somebody might be inside and firefighters did their best, but the flames were too intense to go very far into the house for a search and rescue mission. The woman was trapped on the second floor and fire fighters were driven back by heavy flames and smoke as they attempted to get inside.

The woman is identified as Dreama Adkins, 70, of Huntington. She was trapped on the second floor. Her son was also in the house at the time, but managed to escape unharmed.

The fire was already spreading through all three floors of the aging structure when fire fighters got to the scene. Officials say the older age construction of the house, which was built in 1900, added to the intensity of the fire and its rapid spread.

Adkins’ body was discovered after the fire was finally out.

It was Huntington’s first fatal fire of 2020.

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First responder PTSD bill heading to full House; delegate, former deputy, calls for action

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill is heading to the full House of Delegates that would provide first responders in West Virginia an opportunity to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

David Kelly

Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler, spent 20 years in law enforcement. He spoke in the favor of the bill during Monday morning’s House Judiciary Committee meeting. Kelly said Monday’s discussion “pulled” at him.

“When I wore a uniform we couldn’t get help. We had to find other ways to fight our demons,” Kelly said. “I learned to self-medicate just to try and forget the things I was seeing.”

Kelly said even today, years later, the smallest thing can bring back those traumatic scenes to his mind.

“It can be a smell. It can be a word. Shoot, it could be something you see on television that triggers this. I think it’s time we do something,” he said.

The committee passed a similar bill last year but it didn’t make it through the process. HB 2321, approved by the committee Monday, now heads to the full House for consideration.

Kelly called for a unanimous vote from the committee and he received it on a voice vote.

“We need to do whatever it takes to make sure they at least have the ability to seek help, without having to feel shame or embarrassment, without having to feel like someone is going to redicule them for being weak, we really need to stand up and go to bat for our state’s first responders,” Kelly said.

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West Virginia Army Guard regiment marks 285 years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Monday marked 285 years since the establishment of what was the first militia company for what is now West Virginia, the modern-day West Virginia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment.

It is considered the oldest active National Guard unit and the longest continuously serving unit in the entire U.S. Army, according to Guard information.

“Even before West Virginia was a state, loyal militiamen gathered together to serve a cause greater than themselves,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general for the West Virginia National Guard, in a statement.

On Feb. 17, 1735 in Berkeley County, Morgan Morgan was commissioned to the rank of captain to lead the First Virginia Regiment.

It was a new company of riflemen that would go on to serve in the American Continental Army.

In 1889, the unit became part of the newly-created West Virginia National Guard’s First Infantry covering the northern part of the state.

Since then, the regiment has served in every U.S. conflict including current deployments to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield.

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Deadly traffic weekend in Mountain State; 5 deaths reported

STATEWIDE, W.Va. — It was a deadly weekend on West Virginia highways with at least five traffic-related deaths reported.

A Friday night crash on U.S. Route 60 in eastern Kanawha County claimed the life of Shawn Hancock. The crash took place in Quincy.

State troopers in Wayne County said a man was thrown from a vehicle and killed in a Saturday night wreck near Kermit. The victim is identified as Sammy Spaulding, 32.

According to police, a man jumped in front of a tractor trailer Sunday morning on U.S. Route 522 near Berkeley Springs in Morgan County. Ryan Christopher Ogden, of Berkeley Springs, was 44.

A crash on Route 94, Lens Creek Road, in Boone County Sunday left one person dead. The wreck happened at about 4 p.m. State police are investigating.

One person was killed in a two-vehicle collision Sunday night in Fayette County. It was reported at around 7 p.m. near the intersection of U.S. Route 19 and state Route 612.

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Morgan County man struck, killed on Route 522

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — A Morgan County man is dead after police confirm he was struck by two vehicles.

West Virginia State Police said the crash happened near 2340 Valley Road, also known as Route 522, shortly before 5:30 Sunday morning. An off-duty Morgan County EMT was first on the scene.

Troopers identified Ryan Ogden, 44 of Berkeley Springs, as the deceased. An investigation has revealed Ogden was first struck by a tractor trailer, then a sedan. The tractor trailer driver was unable avoid striking Ogden and the sedan’s driver did not see him.

Route 522 was closed for about two hours as crews were on scene. Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire responded with Morgan County EMS.

West Virginia State Police continue to investigate the crash.

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