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MetroNews This Morning 3-3-21

Flooding continues in parts of southern and southwestern WV this morning as the Ohio River does a “slow rolling crest”. Covid 19 numbers continue to trend down in West Virginia, but there’s an outbreak on the campus of A-B in Barbour County. Governor Justice continues to answer questions about his bid to eliminate the state income tax. Several members of the Board of Public Works will push for a Constitutional Amendment creating more term limits. In Sports, Baylor down the stretch outlasts the Mountaineers to claim the Big XII regular season title. Those stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 3-3-21” on Spreaker.

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Gov. Justice Open to Recreational Marijuana Legalization

Governor Jim Justice’s opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes appears to be softening.

Justice opened the door just a crack during a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday, where the Governor was again pitching his proposed elimination of the state income tax.

A questioner—Dylan from Ripley—asked, “Do you support legalizing marijuana fully to bring in more money to our state so we can tax it?”  (The question and answer begin at aprox. the 22-minute mark of the town hall. Watch here.)

Justice began his answer with “I don’t,” and then quickly added, “but I am weakening on that position.”

The Governor went on to say that he is not educated enough on the issue to make a “really good assessment as of yet.”

He is worried that legalization would worsen the state’s already challenging drug problem, but he added that he has heard from some in the medical community that making marijuana legal could have the opposite effect and lessen the drug problem.

(Medical marijuana is already legal in West Virginia and eligible patients began registering last month at  www.medcanwv.org.)

Remember, Justice is looking for additional revenue to offset the loss of more than $2 billion from the General Revenue Fund by eliminating the state income tax.  Legalizing and taxing marijuana would bring in revenue, but how much?

Virginia’s General Assembly has just approved recreational marijuana legalization and Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bill. A study done for the Virginia Legislature last year estimated that in year five of legalization, the taxes would generate between $154 and $308 million in revenue.

But Virginia’s population is five times that of West Virginia.

Virginia’s legalization does not kick in until 2024.  Meanwhile, Maryland’s legislature is also considering legalization.  The Washington Post reports, “HB32 would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana…for adults 21 and older and also allow for expungement and release for individuals previously arrested or incarcerated.”

While Justice may be warming to the idea of legalization, he laid down a critical marker—the Legislature is going to have to take the lead.

“I do believe that (legalization) is coming and the wave is coming across all of our states, and as that wave comes, if our House Republicans and Democrats and Senate Republicans and Democrats would get behind that effort from a standpoint of legalization of recreational marijuana and they would be supportive of that, I would too,” Justice said.

That is a huge “if.”

The Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the Maryland and Virginia legislatures.  In Richmond, not one Republican voted for the bill.  In West Virginia, Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, meaning there is very little chance a legalization bill would even get a committee hearing, much less pass.

Still, based on the Governor’s comments, recreational marijuana legalization advocates in West Virginia now know Justice is at least open to the idea.

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West Virginia, Jobcase announce partnership

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has entered a partnership with the online platform Jobcase to attract more companies and workers to the state.

State officials announced the partnership Tuesday, with Jobcase set to host an online hiring event Thursday.

“West Virginia has some of the best jobs, the best workers, and the best companies in the country, and with Jobcase’s help we are going to connect thousands of people to the great opportunities in West Virginia,” Gov. Jim Justice said.

“These efforts will help West Virginia retain workers, expand our employment base, and bring more people and businesses into our great state for years to come. West Virginia is the best place to live and work and we are going to keep telling our story and bringing more people here.”

According to the governor’s office, the partnership will focus on promoting local and corporate jobs and connecting job seekers with West Virginia companies. The campaign includes an online “resource center,” which features a guide and insight on jobs and training opportunities.

“With a business-friendly environment, skilled workers, training partnerships, and employers looking to hire, West Virginia provides strong support for jobseekers and companies,” state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said.

He added: “Our upcoming March 4th online hiring event shows that West Virginia can meet the challenges in this moment and support our workers and employers.”

Information about registering for Thursday’s event can be found at https://www.jobcase.com/ru/West-Virginia.

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Baylor scores final six points in overtime to outlast WVU, 94-89

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the latest of what has become a series of compelling finishes at the Coliseum this winter, Baylor made the clutch plays at the end of regulation and in overtime to hold off West Virginia, 94-89.

Jared Butler’s drive to the hoop with less than three seconds left in regulation sent the game to an extra session and the Bears scored the final six points in overtime to secure the Big 12 regular season championship.

“That’s a very well-coached basketball team. We had every opportunity to win. We didn’t finish. We turned the ball over at the most inopportune times and really for no reason,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.

“When you are playing against some of the top teams in the nation, every possession matters on defense and offense,” said WVU sophomore guard Deuce McBride. “When you give a great team another possession and then another possession, it is just going to add up and they will take advantage of it at some point.”

Baylor built a ten-point lead before the first media timeout less than four minutes into the game. The Bears led 12-2 and extended that cushion to a dozen points at the 13:26 mark.

Baylor Bears guard MaCio Teague (31) drives baseline (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia slowly worked their way back into the game. Taz Sherman scored eight consecutive points for the Mountaineers and finished the first half with a dozen. Late in the half, Deuce McBride scored five in a row for WVU to get them within a basket at 32-30. Baylor took a four-point lead into the locker room after Jared Butler drilled a triple from the corner at the buzzer and the Bears led 35-31.

Sean McNeil caught fire in the opening minutes of the second half and a 10-0 WVU run gave them a 50-43 lead with 13:54 to play. McNeil scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half.

After Baylor scored the next five points to creep within a basket, neither team led by more than five points the rest of the way. The lead changed hands four times in the final two minutes of regulation. Trailing by two points with 13 seconds to play, Butler’s drive to the hoop tied the game at 81 and eventually sent the game to overtime.

In the extra session, WVU took a two-point lead with two minutes to play on a deep three-pointer from Jalen Bridges with the shot clock winding down. The Mountaineers led 88-86. The Bears however tied the score on the next possession when Butler scored his 24th and 25th points of the game. Baylor ended the game on a 6-0 run over the final 57 seconds.

“We played well in spurts, especially in the second half,” McNeil said. “Going into overtime, we kind of lost that fire, that energy. And we let is slip away.”

Butler led four Baylor (19-1, 11-1 Big 12) players in double figures with 25 points. Davion Mitchell scored 20, Matthew Mayer added 18 and MaCio Teague chipped in with 11.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) dunks the ball (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

Sherman led the Mountaineers with 26 points. McBride scored 19, McNeil added 18 and Bridges netted a dozen. WVU made 28-of-32 free throw attempts but two of the four misses came in critical points late in the game. McBride missed one with 13 seconds left in regulation that would have extended the Baylor deficit to three points. Sherman missed one with 1:15 to play in overtime.

“Down the stretch, we haven’t made free throws,” Huggins said. “We didn’t make them against Oklahoma. We didn’t make them against Texas. We didn’t make them against Florida. We don’t make them down the stretch. They made theirs. We didn’t make ours.”

“We made enough plays but we didn’t do the little stuff that matters,” McBride said. “Not talking on certain things, and not executing on offense great at the end. At the end of the day, they just did more of the little stuff to win the game.”

West Virginia (17-7, 10-5 Big 12) continues their regular season-ending four-game homestand Thursday against TCU (12-10, 5-8 Big 12).

(Bob Huggins postgame Zoom conference)

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Harrison commissioners analyzing how to address $900K budget shortfall

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The Harrison County Commission is approaching its next budget with caution as commissioners study how to address a $900,000 budget gap.

Commissioner Patsy Trecost told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM the financial hole is related to a drop in public utility valuations worth $43 million. According to officials, one gas company’s value of around $900,000 dropped to $1,400 this year. Thirty-six other West Virginia counties have reported similar decreases.

Trecost noted the decreasing price of natural gas has affected revenues, limiting what the county commission can do next year.

“Last year, we were able to give a 3% raise. We might not be able to give as much this year across the board,” Trecost said. “It goes back to we don’t want to lay anybody off, but through attrition, we may have to reduce our workforce.”

Trecost warned if state legislators are successful in changing inventory taxes, it would be another blow to the budget. Property owners pay taxes worth around 93% of a property’s value, but the number could change.

“If we do get rid of the inventory tax — which is about 25% of our budget — then will we have to go from 93% up which then means people are going to pay more money on their real estate tax,” he said. “Which of course trickles down to us, the middle class.”

The commission will meet twice next week to discuss the budget.

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Alderson Broaddus University reports coronavirus spike

PHILIPPI, W.Va. — Alderson Broaddus University is warning the campus community about a “significant and unprecedented spike” in positive coronavirus tests.

Ninety-three students and one employee have tested positive for the coronavirus since Feb. 15. Sixty-four students are in isolation, in which 49 people are isolating on campus.

Officials said they are hopeful early identification will allow the university to contain the virus and slow the possible spread. They also said campus community members should limit personal travel and practice pandemic-related protocols away from campus.

According to the institution, 163 employees and 65 health science students will be fully vaccinated by the end of the week.

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House Dems want changes in 2020 election cycle made permanent

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Democrats in the House of Delegates say some of the changes in the 2020 election cycle brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic should be made permanent.

The delegates introduced “The Election Security, Accessibility and Modernization Act of 2021,” Tuesday.

The measure, HB 2814, proposes 16 changes to state code when it comes to elections.

Doug Skaff

House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said many things that happened last year were successful and should stay part of future elections.

“All we’re asking here is, how can we continue that success? How can we continue to move forward and continue to get record turnouts each election cycle,” Skaff said at a Tuesday morning news conference. “You’ll see that bill helps us continue to move forward not to move backwards.”

Skaff praised the Secretary of State’s Office and county clerks for the adjustments made last year in a trying time.

“We have a test pilot and it worked last year. We had something that created one of the best voter turnouts we ever had, even during a pandemic. So why not learn from that?”

The bill would continue no-excuse absentee voting and do so by mailing voters applications like took place before the June 2020 primary. The bill also extends the early voting period and deals with voter fraud.

John Doyle

The measure proposes state code to prohibit a voter from being removed from the voting rolls because they are considered an inactive vote. Bill sponsor, Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said residents should be allowed not to vote.

“No one should be stricken from the rolls simply because they don’t vote,” Doyle said. “Every American citizen has a right to vote and every American citizen has a right to vote and every American citizen has a right to choose not to vote if he or she desire.”

Current state code allows removal if a voter doesn’t respond to a county clerk after not having voted in two consecutive general elections for federal office. The bill changes the wording to say, “If a voter fails to respond, the county clerk shall leave the registration record of that voter ‘inactive’. Nothing in this section allows a voter’s registration record to be canceled solely for
failure to vote.”

Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office said Tuesday that Warner, working with county clerks, has made voter list maintenance a priority since he took office in January 2017. As of Tuesday, a total of 274,214 outdated, deceased, out of state, duplicate and convicted felon voter files have been removed. During the same period, 243,170 new and eligible voters have been registered including 66,000 high school students.

Secretary of State Mac Warner

Warner’s office just received the 55-page bill Monday and was still reviewing its proposals Tuesday but the office did release a statement.

“Maintaining confidence in our election process will always be our highest priority. West Virginia’s county clerks administered a safe and secure election by keeping integrity at the forefront of their 2020 election administration. We look forward to reviewing and discussing every legislative proposal that seeks to modify election processes to ensure that West Virginia maintains the level of excellence we had in 2020,” Warner said.

Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said it only makes sense to take the current opportunity and the evidence of the recent past to move forward.

“Not only did we have more people voting in different ways but we had no increase in election fraud. So some of these things that we tried and experimented with last year we need to put in state code,” Hansen said.

The bill, which has no sponsors from the Republicans, who hold the super majority in the House, was sent to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

The November General Election had the second-highest voter turnout in state history at 802,722 ballots cast.

Warner’s office is expected to propose its own election-related legislation later this session.

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After tasting success last season, St. Albans boys eager to get going

When the St. Albans boys basketball team welcomes Hurricane for Friday’s season opener, it will do so nearly one year removed from claiming its first regional championship in 16 seasons.

Unfortunately for the Red Dragons, they never appeared in the 2020 state tournament, with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ending the season before it could be played.

Still, St. Albans has fond memories of last season. The Red Dragons won eight of their final nine games and compiled a 17-8 mark that included a postseason win over Kanawha County rival Capital and a regional final victory at Woodrow Wilson in convincing fashion, 68-53.

However, a senior class of Rodney Toler, Ethan Clay and Braxton Good that was largely responsible for the program’s turnaround over a three-year span, is no longer around. Toler captained the Class AAA second-team all-state last year, while Clay was an honorable mention pick.

“We lost three starters from last year and Ethan Clay and Rodney Toler were four-year starters,” Red Dragons’ coach Bryan England said. “They’re great kids and I owe them a lot for the experiences they gave me at St. Albans.”

Fortunately for England, a strong core of contributors returns this season, helping him keep the bar high as the Red Dragons move to Class AAAA.

This year’s team will also feature three seniors — returning all-state honorable mention pick Jaimelle Claytor, Bones Johnson and Ametrice Hall — in addition to junior Drew Reed, a returning starter and perimeter threat.

Claytor will start for a fourth season, while Johnson has been a major contributor the last two seasons. Hall, a Martinsburg transfer, is also expected to factor into the mix.

“I’m very excited about the guys that we have back,” England said.

Additionally, juniors Jamison McDaniels and Jerrelle Claytor and sophomores Cooper Lane-Sturgill and Michael Hindman got some experience at the varsity level last season.

“Those are guys I’ve coached before that I’m really excited about,” England said.

England is also raving about the program’s newcomers and added, “We have a crew of freshmen that is probably the best freshmen class I’ve ever had.”

Just how much the freshmen contribute remains to be seen.

“We have so much experience back with eight guys that have had varsity time that the (freshmen) are really having to compete,” England said.

England has liked what he’s seen in preseason practices.

“In my time at St. Albans, these are the most competitive practices we’ve had,” he said. “I like that these guys are getting after it. They’re learning about failure in practice, so that’s a good thing.”

England will soon discover much more about his team, which was tied with South Charleston for fourth in the Mountain State Athletic Conference preseason poll.

“I’m very thankful to be able to coach basketball again,” England said. “There was a point in time that we just didn’t know if we were ever going to get back to playing and coaching. We know it’s going to be a year of ups and downs. What we’ve been telling our team is try to control what you can control. We just have to control each day as best we can. I’m excited about St. Albans boys basketball and the prospects for this year.”

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House passes resolution aimed at keeping courts out of impeachment

Delegates passed a resolution that would specify that courts have no authority to intervene in impeachment proceedings.

The resolution passed the House of Delegates 78 to 21. It now goes to the Senate, where it would need to pass by a two-thirds majority vote because it could lead to a constitutional amendment.

If the full Legislature passes the measure, West Virginia voters could get the responsibility to decide for themselves whether to amend the state Constitution during the 2022 General Election.

Mike Pushkin

“We’re going to send it back to the people who I think, unfortunately, will be less worked up about it than some of us are,” said Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, arguing against passage.

The change amounts to one line:

No court of this state has any authority or jurisdiction, by writ or otherwise, to intercede or intervene in, or interfere with, any impeachment proceedings of the House of Delegates or the Senate conducted hereunder; nor is any judgment rendered by the Senate following a trial of impeachment reviewable by any court of this state.

HOPPY KERCHEVAL: WV Lawmakers Want to Clarify—Impeachment is THEIR Job

In 2018, West Virginia justices were impeached on a range of charges, including lavish spending on office renovations, the use of state vehicles for private travel, approving pay for some senior status judges above the legal limit and failure to hold each other accountable.

A lawsuit by Justice Margaret Workman contended the grounds for impeachment crossed over into the judiciary system’s own constitutional authority. She also contended the Legislature hadn’t precisely followed its own procedures.

Her case went to the state Supreme Court, where a panel of temporary justices decided the matter because the usual state Supreme Court had recused. The substitute Supreme Court ruled to block the impeachment trials of most of the justices.

Moore Capito

“We were essentially de-fanged from one of our constitutional responsibilities,” House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, said today while speaking in favor of the resolution.

Mark Zatezalo

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, said he served through that process and wouldn’t take it lightly.

“We need to take back our authority, and I hope it never, ever happens again,” Zatezalo said.

Democrats raised issues about checks and balances. They asked what would happen if a Legislature in the future failed to follow its own rules, impeached purely along party lines or made the broadest possible interpretation of concepts like maladministration.

There would be no possibility of judicial intervention, they said.

Barbara Fleischauer

“Any hyperpartisan and frivolous impeachment would be A-OK,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.

Capito said impeachments already have high hurdles, with a majority required in the House to impeach and a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict.

If citizens conclude the process has run off the rails, he said, the recourse would lie with voters.

“If they don’t like the decision, they can send us home,” Capito said.

West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections, a community organization focusing on electoral and judicial issues, has described the possible amendment as unnecessary. The organization says the legislative branch already has a power  laid out clearly in Article 4 of the state constitution.

Instead, the organization says, this is a power grab.

“HJR 2 would cut loose future impeachment proceedings of the state legislature from all constitutional restraint,” the organization wrote.

“The amendment would make it so that no court in the state could intervene to protect the right to a fair hearing of a public official facing impeachment, no matter how frivolous the charge or constitutionally flawed the process.”

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Marshall officials confident in plan for normal fall semester with face-to-face courses

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Jaime Taylor, the Marshall University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs said the state’s trajectory with COVID-19 vaccinations and case totals are behind the university’s announcement that the fall is being planned for a near-normal term with face-to-face courses.

Marshall President Jerome Gilbert and university officials made the announcement on Monday that health and safety and academic committees have been working to develop scenarios and recommendations for the fall term, aimed at ensuring the safety of students and employees.

Taylor said the university wanted to give students as much advance notice as possible to plan decisions for the 2021 fall term.

Jaime Taylor

“With the way things are rolling out in the state of West Virginia with vaccines and the great job the state is doing, we felt comfortable that right now that is our plan. We feel comfortable we should get back to a normal situation this fall,” Taylor told MetroNews.

As of Tuesday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) confirmed a seven-week downward trend of active COVID-19 case numbers continued with 6,692 in the state. That figure had been over 29,000 in early January.

More than 300,000 first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in West Virginia as of Tuesday and the DHHR reported 197,759 people fully vaccinated.

According to Marshall University’s COVID-19 dashboard, 892 faculty and staff have been fully vaccinated as of February 25. 1,364 first doses have been administered as of February 25. A total of 1,793 Marshall employees requested vaccination through the three surveys in December and earlier in February. Taylor said the university is confident every staff member who wants a vaccine will receive on well before the fall.

Since February 16, Marshall has recorded 15 new cases of the virus among students and four among staff.

“As vaccinations become more available and the positivity rate drops, we will move toward resuming pre-pandemic activities and behaviors,” Gilbert said in a release Monday. “I am confident we are seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel and I’m ready, like all of us, to return to a level of normalcy in the fall.”

VIEW: Marshall’s COVID-19 dashboard

Taylor said there was a small dip in enrollment over the past academic year at Marshall, as the university offered only in-person courses for freshmen and those in lab courses. Synchronous courses, such as Zoom and Team structured, were the main learning outlets for students.

He said the fall plan will be to get back to standard room capacities and may offer a handful of the synchronous courses for the convenience of students.

Taylor said there is a lot of value with in-person courses and the out-of-class experience on campus.

“When they are face to face, I think students feel more comfortable asking questions and raising their hands. Additionally, there are interactions that take place before the class gets started. Students and faculty may meet before or even after class,” Taylor told MetroNews.

SPRING COMMENCEMENT

In addition to the fall semester announcement, Gilbert announced the university’s spring 2021 commencement ceremony will be an in-person event on Saturday, May 1, at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium with pandemic health and safety precautions in place.

The ceremony will begin at 9 a.m., rain or shine, although in the case of continuing thunderstorms, Sunday, May 2, will serve as the alternate date. To maintain appropriate social distancing, each participating graduate will be provided with four (4) tickets for guests, a release said. Masks will be required for everyone in attendance.

Students planning to participate in the ceremony are asked to review graduation information with their individual academic colleges and to check with the registrar’s office for more information, Marshall said.

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