West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Daily Mail on holding the state Supreme Court accountable:
In 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court established the “shock-the-conscience” test. The test prohibits conduct by state agents that falls outside the standards of civilized decency, according to the Free Dictionary’s legal section.
It’s safe to say that the conscience of taxpaying West Virginians has been shocked following the news, revealed by WCHS-TV Reporter Kennie Bass, of $500,000 office renovations, a $32,000 couch, a $7,500 inlaid office floor and much more spending extravagance at our state Supreme Court.
What was originally budgeted as $876,000 worth of remodeling for Supreme Court chambers and offices in the historic Capitol building has ballooned to more than $3.7 million, much of it for items which appear well beyond what state taxpayers should be paying for.
It is understandable that remodeling done in the 80-plus year-old structure will be more expensive than an average office building. But that doesn’t justify Justice Robin Davis’ excessive redesign with glass countertops and stainless-steel cabinets and shelves.
It doesn’t justify Justice Allen Loughry agreeing to an inlaid wooden floor, where each county is cut from a different type of wood and his home county is inlaid in blue granite. No matter how inexpensive Loughry claims fired administrator Steve Canterbury told him the floor would be, one would expect all of the justices to temper their decor decisions out of respect for taxpayers.
But what has become known as “couchgate” reveals a shocking lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and an apparent lack of respect for the taxpaying voters who put the Supreme Court justices into office and entrusted them with vitally important decisions.
The Supreme Court oversees the operation of 74 general jurisdiction circuit court judges, 47 family court judges and 158 magistrate court judges.
With all that responsibility, what internal measures has the court adopted to improve efficiency, effectiveness and outcomes of the court system? Has the court ever evaluated the process through which cases come from magistrate level through circuit court to the appellate level?
Does it ever ask plaintiffs, defendants and friends of the court how and where the system can be improved in order to be both more just and more effective for all the parties involved — especially the taxpayers?
Have justices ever considered establishing dashboard metrics, viewable by the public, that tell where a case stands, how long it has been going through the courts, and what its next step is? Does the court system ever review metrics to compare itself to systems in other states?
Has the Supreme Court taken steps to ensure magistrate courts and circuit courts have adequate equipment to track cases and make online filings?
Since this story broke, there is talk to put the court’s heretofore untouchable budget under legislative review, like every other state agency.
Some argue that doing so would threaten the independence of the judiciary. But every taxpaying citizen of West Virginia must live within a budget; why shouldn’t the court?
If there is a good reason to keep the court’s budget independent, justices need to be out front, explaining every cent spent and showing taxpayers how they are accountable and improving. West Virginians don’t need anymore shocks to their conscience.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on a task force that is charged with developing a plan to combat sexual abuse of children:
A West Virginia task force charged with developing a plan to combat the sexual abuse of children is expected to finalize its recommendations later this month, and one of the possible suggestions is bringing the subject into the state’s schools.
If such a recommendation indeed is included, it likely will be a sensitive issue for many parents who may not welcome the idea that the topic should be broached in the classrooms. But the problem has become so pervasive that educating children and the school staffs responsible for their well-being certainly is worthy of a close look. After all, in a large percentage of child sexual abuse cases, the offenders are parents, other close relatives or family friends that the children should be able to trust. And offenders certainly aren’t interested in protecting the children from abuse.
The task force working on the issue was a result of the legislature’s passage in 2015 of what was called Erin Merryn’s Law, named for an Illinois woman who works to pass sexual abuse prevention legislation. Specifically, she wants states to require sexual abuse prevention education in schools, but the bill passed in West Virginia didn’t go that far, according to a report by The Charleston Gazette-Mail. It instead established the task force to study the issue. Its members include representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Resources; the state school board; teachers; principals; school service personnel organizations; social worker organizations; teacher preparation programs; the legal system and law enforcement; and organizations that work with victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.
Many of the members as well as lawmakers who sponsored the legislation and are now responsible for moving forward with its provisions are hopeful that educating children and educators about sexual abuse and preventing it will be part of the road map. They believe it would be helpful to have age-appropriate curriculum for students and more information for educators about how to detect whether a child is being sexually abused.
What’s clear is that more should be done to confront the problem. In the past year, West Virginia’s 21 children’s advocacy centers served 3,914 children, an 11 percent increase from the year before and about two-thirds more than were served five years ago. More than 60 percent of those children were victims of sex abuse.
What’s most troubling is that 40 percent of offenders in all cases handled by the centers were the children’s biological parents, while 16 percent were either a stepparent or a parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend. The abuser was known to the victim in 99 percent of cases.
Many children simply can’t trust the ones who are supposed to protect them. That’s why trying to arm children with information so that they will know inappropriate behavior when they experience it is so important.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph on the opioid epidemic costing the state economy nearly $1 billion from deaths, lost or underperformed jobs and public resources:
When considering the deadly toll the opioid epidemic has taken on the Mountain State, attempting to equate an actual dollar amount to the great harm that has already been done seems almost impossible.
Still that is just what West Virginia University’s chief economist has done, and the figure is certainly telling. According to John Deskins, director of WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the opioid epidemic has cost the state economy nearly $1 billion from deaths, lost or underperformed jobs and public resources.
The estimate includes $322 million in productivity lost from fatalities, $316 million in productivity lost from those who are addicted and working below peak levels and $320 million tied up in health care, addiction treatment and police, courts, jails and prisons, Deskins told the Associated Press last week.
“It is a steep investment of time, skills, knowledge and resources that could be spent on tackling other problems,” Deskins said.
The Mountain State reported 884 overdose deaths in 2016 with 756 involving at least one opioid, according to data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
That’s higher than the 735 fatalities reported in 2015, when the Centers for Disease Control found that West Virginia’s death rate led all states at 41.5 per 100,000 people. The comparative state data for 2016 has not yet been released, but the state’s rate among its relatively small population of less than 1.8 million increased last year to about 49 deaths per 100,000.
As of October of this year, 558 drug-related deaths have been reported in West Virginia. While still certainly alarming, that number is a decrease from 2016 and 2015.
The new findings from WVU are another unfortunate reminder of just how devastating the opioid epidemic has been on the Mountain State.
And these statistics should be viewed as a call to action from the local city council and county commission level to the statehouse in Charleston and the halls of Congress in Washington.
Inaction is no longer an option when it comes to this crisis. And all options should be on the table when it comes to saving the lives of those who are in danger of an overdose death.