The Voice of West Virginia
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker is applauding the state Legislature for passing a bill during this year’s 60-day session that will help high school students pay for dual enrollment courses.
HB 2005, which currently awaits Gov. Jim Justice’s signature, would establish a four-year pilot program for high school students to take dual credit college courses where they receive credit at both their high school and the higher education institution.
Tucker said students taking the most dual enrollment courses come from families that can afford it, leaving students from low income families in the dark.
“This bill gives those students the opportunity to be successful in college classes, to get some courses under their belt at a significantly reduced cost and it will lessen the time that it takes for them to earn a college degree,” she said.
Having the governor sign the bill into law could double the college-going rate, Tucker said.
“The current college-going rate is about 46 percent, so we really want to see that number increase dramatically,” she said. “When other states have implemented dual enrollment programs like this, what they have found is the college-going rate for low-income students more than doubles.”
The bill allows the Legislature to appropriate money to the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community & Technical College Education to directly pay the higher education institution for the tuition and fees incurred by the students for those courses.
West Virginia’s program would cost around $4.2 million in the first year and around $5.8 million in future years, Tucker said.
“We’ve budget for just over 10,000 students to take two dual enrollment courses per year,” she said.
Tucker said the bill could also close huge workforce gaps in the state. She said more opportunities for high school students leads to more successful outcomes.
“We want to make sure that our students who are not thinking about college or who don’t necessarily believe that they have the ability to go to college, are thrown a lifeline while they are still in high school to show them that, yes, they too can be successful.” she said.
Tucker said she expects Gov. Justice to sign HB 2005 on Tuesday.
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Wheeling Hospital, which indicated months ago that it would stop taking patients with state-provided insurance plans, now plans to accept those patients because of recent changes in the reimbursement rate.
“They will be fully participating in PEIA,” said Jim Kaufman, president and chief executive of the West Virginia Hospital Association.
Will there be changes with PEIA at the Wheeling Hospital following the latest PEIA changes, especially the increase of the reimbursement rate for in-hospital stays from 50% of Medicare to 110%. Jim Kaufman, @WVHospitals, discusses this with @hoppyKercheval. pic.twitter.com/e7kcOacpLr
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 20, 2023
On Friday, Gov. Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 268, which makes a range of changes to the Public Employees Insurance Agency out of concern that the agency faces growing financial stress.
Before the most recent legislative session began, Wheeling Hospital announced it would move toward not accepting PEIA patients because of the low reimbursement rate. That raised alarm that other medical providers would do the same, and one aspect of the bill signed by the governor raises the reimbursement rate to 110 percent of what Medicaid pays.
After Friday’s bill signing, WVU Medicine put out a statement put out a statement assuring continued service: “We are grateful to Governor Justice and the West Virginia Legislature for stabilizing and improving PEIA. Because of their work, Wheeling Hospital will be able to continue participating with PEIA.”
Kaufman of the West Virginia Hospital Association also expressed gratitude toward state officials who moved toward the higher reimbursement rate.
The reimbursement rate for West Virginia medical providers has long been an issue. The state-defined reimbursement rate for PEIA had amounted to 59 percent compared to the Medicare reimbursement rate.
“That was a major fiscal challenge,” Kaufman said. “We are very thankful the governor and the legislature addressed that access-to-care problem so the hospitals have the resources they need to recruit providers and nurses.”
He said, though, that economic challenges for West Virginia hospitals are likely to continue.
“Right now the average hospital in West Virginia is looking at a negative 7 percent operating margin,” he said. “And I do think you’re going to see other hospitals continue to look at how to cut costs. That was why Wheeling originally announced they were not going to accept PEIA. You may see other changes, but I don’t think it’s going to be specific to PEIA in the future.”
One way the recently-passed PEIA legislation attempts to get a handle on finances is by returning insurance costs to an 80-20 split between state government and employees.
A return to 80-20 will alleviate financial pressure on state government, but it will mean a significant and rapid adjustment for employee out-of-pocket costs, estimated to be up to a 26 percent premium increase.
Another lightning rod in the bill would require spouses who have other insurance options to buy into the program if they want to participate in PEIA. That’s estimated to be a $147 monthly cost.
Lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill said those changes needed to be made to shore up the program and ensure medical options continue to be available for those enrolled.
“Have we really given a benefit if you get a card that nobody will take? We have to stabilize this plan for the hard-working people of the state of West Virginia,” Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said earlier this month on the day the PEIA legislation passed.
At the time, Rohrbach said that without legislative action there’s no question other medical providers would have followed Wheeling Hospital in declining PEIA coverage. “Failure to act was simply not an option,” he said.
But Rohrbach acknowledged an ongoing, challenging balance among the costs for insured state employees, taxpayers and medical providers.
“Certainly I’m concerned that long term our providers are going to continue to take 100 percent of Medicare when commercial insurance plans are typically between 150 and 180 percent,” he said. “So this certainly doesn’t fix the problem with the providers. It simply puts a Band Aid on it.”
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CHEAT LAKE, W.Va. — Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer said Monday the remains found Feb. 26 in the Cheat Lake area have been identified as those of Bryn Hargreaves.
Hargreaves, originally from England and former professional rugby player, was last seen near his Whispering Creek apartment off South Pierpont Road on Jan. 16, 2022.
Several searches of the area were conducted last year by the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, Morgantown Police/Fire Search and Rescue, the FBI, the Mountaineer Area Rescue Group, MECCA 911 and several individual volunteers, with no success.
The body has been sent to the state Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.
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Gov. Jim Justice announced today that he has accepted the resignation of State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill, who has held that role since the administration first took office.
Cahill’s resignation follows a broader investigation of the State Police, although the results have not yet been publicly revealed. The governor’s office indicated the resignation took place at 9:30 a.m. today.
The governor plans a 1 p.m. news briefing to discuss the resignation and to name an interim superintendent.
Last week, Justice said an administration investigation into the State Police was nearing its end.
The investigation the governor referenced started with an anonymous letter that made a range of allegations about monetary and sexual actions involving troopers. The administration began looking into the validity of the allegations after being asked about them by television news reporters.
The governor has acknowledged an investigation in recent weeks but has provided few public details about specific allegations or findings.
Justice at the time made specific reference to Cahill, who has been in that role since the administration took office in 2017. Previously, Cahill had been the sheriff in Greenbrier County, where Justice has long made his home.
The original allegations did not directly implicate Cahill, but he is the top official at the agency.
“You know, Jan’s been a friend and you know I hope to goodness that the investigation comes in differently than I think it’s going to come in, but I don’t think this is going to be a good day for several folks once it’s completed,” Justice said last week.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A man wanted for murder in Statesville, North Carolina is in custody in Charleston following an arrest by the U.S. Marshal Service.
Tevin Seymore, 24, was arrested Saturday at 1300 Renaissance Circle in Charleston by the Marshal Service’s CUFFED Task Force and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team.
Authorities allege that Seymore and two other men were part of a drive-by shooting earlier this month in Statesville that claimed the life of Zion Wilder, 19.
A 15-year-old boy was shot in the head and remains in critical condition, authorities said.
Seymore is being held in the South Central Regional Jail awaiting extradition to Iredell County, NC.
He’s charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha County circuit judge agreed Monday to move a murder trial to late July.
Circuit Judge Kenneth Ballard granted a motion from prosecutors to reschedule the trial of Michael Wayne Smith from this week until July 24.
Smith, 43, allegedly killed Cheyenne Johnson in 2021. Her body was found in a deep water well in the Sissonville area.
A co-defendant in the case, Virginia Smith, 30, no relation to Michael Smith, pleaded guilty to first degree murder on Feb. 23. She’s scheduled to be sentenced on April 10.
Kanawha County Assistant Prosecutor Debra Rusnak told Ballard during Monday’s hearing that a key witness is currently unavailable.
“The medical examiner that performed the autopsy in this matter is out on medical leave,” Rusnak said.
Michael Smith’s attorney, Lauren Thompson, said given the circumstance she realized the defense couldn’t object but she did indicate July was a long time for her client to wait for trial.
“That seems like a long wait judge,” Thompson said. “I hope that when July comes it won’t be continued again.”
Smith remains in the South Central Regional Jail without bail. He appeared at Monday’s hearing through Microsoft Teams.
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Today on MetroNews This Morning:
–A man charged in a 2021 murder is expected to stand trial today in Charleston
–Governor Justice signs more bills from the regular session into law
–Monongalia County school officials await results of an investigation into allegations of abuse of special needs students at a Morgantown elementary school
–In Sports: celebrating state titles at four WV high schools this morning and WVU’s women’s basketball team is in search of another coach.
Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 3-20-23” on Spreaker.
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WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — Members of an advocacy organization fighting for the Tug Fork River hope to have a strong turnout for a public meeting about the river’s future this weekend.
The Friends of the Tug Fork River will hold the event this Saturday, March 25, at the Williamson Fire Hall from 3-5 p.m.
“We want anyone and everyone to come and talk about why they love the Tug Fork and any concerns they might have about the Tug Fork,” said Madison Mooney, a member of the Friends of the Tug Fork River Board.
The meeting will serve several purposes. It’s aimed at creating like minded support for the waterway and its future by documenting and celebrating the success stories up and down the waterway. The pep rally of sorts will help encourage support for the river and create a sense of value within the community. However, the meeting will also be a chance to prioritize the list of needs for the waterway going forward.
“Our goal is to try and get funding to help our natural water resources,” said Mooney.
A representative from the National Wildlife Federation will be on hand for the meeting and will document public comments to find out what issues are of most interest to stakeholders who live along the waterway or those who use the waterway frequently. According to Mooney it could be anything from funding to help advertise for improved care for the river to help paying for sewerage treatment plants along the river to improve water quality. The NWF plans to use information from the meeting to build a grant request for federal money to protect and improve natural waterways.
“Anyone that lives along the Tug Fork or uses the Tug Fork, we want them to come out and speak about what they’ve experienced, what they’ve seen, and what they wish to improve,” she said.
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Sixty years ago this June, President John F. Kennedy came to West Virginia for a celebration of the state’s centennial. Despite the rain, an estimated 10,000 people stood in the State Capitol courtyard to see and hear Kennedy.
The bad weather prompted the President to shorten his planned 20 minute speech to just three-minutes and 20 seconds, but the words he spoke were impactful. “The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do,” said Kennedy.
That famous line was literal because of the rain, but also metaphorical. Kennedy traveled the hills and hollows of the Mountain State for weeks prior to the 1960 Primary Election. His victory here propelled him to the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency.
He witnessed firsthand the poverty and the hardships of West Virginians, but he also looked deeper and saw the inherent goodness of our people.
“It has known sunshine and rain in 100 years, but I know of no state – and I know this state well – whose people feel more strongly, who have a greater sense of pride in themselves, in their state and their country, than the people of West Virginia,” he said that day.
This is how we see our aspirational selves—proud, loyal, faithful and possessing a propriety that requires us to help others, whether they be family, friends or strangers. We are guided by what President Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
At the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 4, former President Donald Trump gave a speech where he sought to appeal to voters in the 2024 election. “In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice.’ Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution,” he said.
Retribution conjures up feelings of punishment and suffering for one’s enemies. It suggests that if we can just get even, a wrong will have been righted and we will feel better.
The concept is foreboding, and it appeals to a basic survivalist instinct. For some, retribution is a salve for wounds, real and imagined.
But I do not want to believe that is who we are as West Virginians. Kennedy saw firsthand the poverty, the suffering, the hardship, but he looked deeper and saw a spark, the light of goodness, that strong sense of virtue that is our true selves.
We are all neighbors, bound together by a sense of pride in being West Virginians. And with that comes a sense of responsibility to follow the guidance of our ancestors in the ways we treat others. The hand we extend is to help, not hurt.
Donald Trump remains popular in West Virginia. He will likely get the votes of most Republicans in the 2024 presidential primary and, if he is nominated, carry the state in the General Election. Trump has said and done many things that appeal to most West Virginians.
But for the West Virginians that Kennedy came to know, retribution is not an impulse to admire in a president.
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FAIRMONT, W.Va. – The search for a new top executive at Fairmont State University, aided by search firm Buffkin/Baker has been reduced to 12 candidates.
“The Committee is thankful for all of the work Buffkin and Baker have done for and alongside us,” said Dr. Chuck Shields, search committee tri-chair sent in a late week news release.
Applications and nominations will continue to be accepted until a successful candidate has been appointed; the initial application/appointment deadline was February 17. At that point, the search committee began reviewing applications and scheduling preliminary meetings. Eighty-four applications were received, and, after initial screening by Buffkin and Baker, 23 were forwarded to the full Search Committee for consideration.
The full search committee narrowed the field to 12 candidates for first-round interviews in a meeting last week. The interviews will be held off-site on April 3-6 with the full search committee. It is expected that on-campus interviews will take place toward the end of April.
“We are hopeful that our next president will be one of the 12 candidates that will meet with the committee in the coming weeks,” said Shields. “The Search Committee is pleased to have such a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates from which to choose. We know Fairmont State is a wonderful place and are glad others see that too.”
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