West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette on politics surrounding the impeachment of the West Virginia Supreme Court:
Something had to be done. The outrageous sense of entitlement at the West Virginia Supreme Court — the ridiculous amount of money court justices spent on their offices, Justice Allen Loughry carrying state property home (and then returning it when caught), Justice Menis Ketchum resigning and pleading guilty to federal charge involving his misuse of a state car, justices developing a system to overpay some judges — made the need for corrective action obvious.
The trial started Tuesday in the Senate for the court’s three remaining justices — Loughry, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker. Workman and Walker offered a deal to lawmakers Tuesday morning to acknowledge the overspending, accept censure and develop policies to prevent future abuse. That seemed a constructive step, but the Senate rejected it.
It is difficult to see the impeachment of the entire court as anything other than a political power grab by the Republican Party, which already controls both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office.
Technically, the Supreme Court, like all judicial offices now, are nonpartisan. That is a polite façade, but the players still keep track of the teams. (For the record, the court started the year with three members who were elected as Democrats — Ketchum, Workman and Robin Davis; one elected as a Republican — Loughry; and one who ran as a Republican before winning a seat in a “non-partisan” election — Walker.)
The court has legitimate problems, but they might have been corrected with less power grabbing and disruption to the work of the state’s judicial system.
On November’s ballot is a referendum that would give the Legislature more control over the Supreme Court’s budget. We editorialized earlier that such oversight might prove an irresistible temptation to lawmakers who could retaliate for rulings they didn’t like by squeezing the court’s budget (which affects all levels of courts, including magistrates, circuit courts and family courts). That conclusion was premature.
The worry that this or any Legislature could be tempted to abuse its power is demonstrably justified.
But lawmakers set court budgets in other states, just as they do for other state offices, mostly to good effect — certainly better than how West Virginia is functioning at the moment.
Such a check on Supreme Court spending over the years might have prevented this entire situation. Also, lawmakers are voted in and out more frequently than Supreme Court justices, so the people would keep a check on lawmakers’ budget decisions.
Instead, West Virginia has this runaway, largely partisan process. It is difficult to take over the state’s highest court, working within the system, in a single year, or even a decade. That is by design. There are five justices, and their terms are long — 12 years — giving members time to grow into the work and to insulate them from the mercurial nature of public opinion. Their terms are also staggered, so the court, unlike the Governor’s Office or to a lesser extent the impeaching House of Delegates, cannot be completely remade in a single year.
But they are not completely insulated. West Virginia elects its justices, after all.
By going for this most extreme solution to the admittedly serious spending and entitlement problems at the Supreme Court, the Republican-controlled Legislature showed its own tendency to yield to the temptations of power. Two branches aren’t enough. It must be all three, apparently at all costs.
The court is on track to end the year with at least a majority of Republicans, possibly 4-1.
It’s hard to believe that is simply justice taking its course.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on Purdue Pharma announcing it would offer a multimillion grant to help develop a low-cost naloxone spray:
Purdue Pharma, known for manufacturing OxyContin and, more recently, for being the subject of lawsuits filed by at least half a dozen states and hundreds of municipalities, now hopes to be known for something else — contributing research toward a lower-cost, life-saving antidote for opioid overdoses.
Some question the motives behind the company’s announcement Wednesday that it would offer a $3.4 million grant to Harm Reduction Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, to help develop a low-cost naloxone nasal spray. After all, the company’s trademark OxyContin became synonymous with the rampant rural pill abuse that destroyed countless families, landing our country in the midst of the heroin epidemic that continues to claim lives daily.
But whether this move is an honest attempt at chipping away at the problem affecting an entire generation of Americans, or a small gesture of goodwill amid a sea of negative headlines — even some combination of the two — it would be wise to offer support, instead of criticism, to Purdue in regard to its efforts.
Naloxone has helped turn the tide of the opioid epidemic, offering substance abusers a greater likelihood that they will remain alive long enough to pursue treatment for their drug addictions.
Last week, Dr. Michael Kilkenny of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department noted that wider use of the opioid-reversal drug has helped decrease the likelihood that an overdose in Cabell County would be fatal — from a 1 in 3 chance to now an estimated 1 in 8 chance.
First responders, health professionals and even family members and friends of those using drugs all have begun carrying naloxone in recent years. Over the summer, West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources purchased a $1 million supply of naloxone, about 34,000 doses, as part of Gov. Jim Justice’s plan to help combat the opioid crisis.
A dose can range in cost from the approximately $30 bulk rate charged to the state, to closer to $90 for individuals who are obtaining it through local pharmacies or health departments. If pharmaceutical companies and researchers can develop a way to drive down costs even further, it would become easier to get more naloxone into more people’s hands, further stemming the tide of fatal overdoses.
The skepticism greeting Purdue’s recent action is easy to understand. It’s difficult to argue companies such as Purdue didn’t start the opioid epidemic and perhaps even turn a blind eye toward its rapid progression. In federal court in 2007, three top current and former employees for Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, admitting that they had falsely led doctors and their patients to believe that OxyContin was less likely to be abused than other drugs in its class, according to the New York Times.
Maybe the establishment of this research grant is the first of many steps by drug distributors and manufacturers to make partial amends. No, it’s not enough to heal the country from the wounds the drug epidemic has inflicted, and it shouldn’t be enough to buy favor from the judge assigned to determine just how great the impact from those pills has been.
But it’s a small step forward, which is what every plaintiff needs to continue the healing process, and it’s a small effort at redemption for the company that seems to finally be owning up to the outcomes of its decisions over the years.
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on supporting children in foster care:
In a report released at the end of August, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said there are 6,623 children in foster care from the state, but nearly 400 of them are being housed out-of-state, mostly in group homes or long-term psychiatric facilities.
And, according to Zeke Davis, who works for the Necco office in Logan, “There are DHHR workers who are living with children in hotels for days and even weeks.”
Necco places children in foster families, supports kids transitioning out of the system and provides other services to foster families. In Davis’s estimation, according to The Herald-Dispatch, the need for foster families is triple the number available, and the need is greatest for older kids or those with special needs.
Among the issues discussed as various groups try to tackle Appalachia’s challenges — from the substance abuse epidemic to the struggling economy — is that most of them are linked, and they all find fuel in the perception that many people have no sense of community, no feeling that they have a support network.
Families who step forward to foster children are proof that there IS still a community for these kids. There IS still support.
According to Davis, a wide range of people can qualify to foster. Single, married (same-sex or not), two people living together ... as long as a person is between the ages of 21 and 65 (older folks can get a waiver from a doctor if they are physically able), and has a sufficient source of income, he or she is eligible to apply.
West Virginians often think of themselves as one big family. Thousands of kids need that family now more than ever. If you are willing and able, consider becoming part of the foster care network.