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West Virginia editorial roundup

January 30, 2019

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Jan. 28

Charleston Gazette on overdose deaths:

The scale of the opioid crisis is undeniable. More than 70,000 Americans died in 2017 because of drug overdoses.

The narrative of the problem is well-established, too. Overzealous drug companies seeking profits pushed an obscene amount of pills into rural areas while some doctors played fast and loose with their own ethical obligations and regulatory agencies didn’t do their job. Pill mills sprouted up, then, eventually, were stamped out. Addicts turned to heroin and fentanyl after they couldn’t find or afford pills.

It’s a tidy story that, overall, paints a somewhat accurate portrait of the problem. Like any broad narrative, though, there are untidy details that fall through the cracks.

There are many unintended victims of the opioid crisis, but one group often overlooked includes those who took the medicine as prescribed, because they actually needed it and still do.

There is a man from Logan County who writes into the Gazette-Mail frequently, and occasionally calls. He’s a disabled coal miner, whose torso and legs were crushed in an industrial accident nearly 30 years ago. As he has aged and his body has deteriorated, new pain pills like oxycodone and hydrocodone that hit the market in the late 1990s were what he needed to stay functional.

Some of the doctors he used to see have been shut down because they were engaging in illegal activity. Others stopped prescribing opioids, as state and federal regulations tightened and the drugs themselves developed a stigma.

This man ... has had to deal with a stigma of his own. He says most of the people he talks to, from personnel in a doctor’s office to government officials he looks to for help, view him as an addict looking to obtain pills for an illegitimate purpose. Most everyone has blown him off, he says, and he’s trying to start a federal court action to take on state law just to get the medications he needs to relieve the agony he suffers. He’s, more than once, offered to come into the newsroom to show an editor or reporter his physical condition, even though the trip would be a great hardship for him ...

Unfortunately, prescription painkillers, although prescribed at a much-reduced rate these days, are still killing people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 people die every day from an overdose of a prescription opioid. Of the 70,000 who died in opioid overdoses in 2017, more than 17,000 were from prescription pills, the highest amount over any other drug ...

Pill mills are, for the most part, gone. Heroin and fentanyl are now viewed as the major culprits in overdose deaths. But the first problem was never completely solved. The pills are still there, they’re still causing deaths, and the medical community still struggles with how to get those medications to people who actually need them in an appropriate dose and keep them away from addicts ...

There are still going to be people who need these prescription opioids, though. That also means there will still be people who try to obtain them for illegitimate use. But the system shouldn’t be punishing those who need the medications by dismissing them as addicts. Both groups need to be viewed compassionately as the state, as laid out by Gov. Jim Justice, oversees coordination of services to get everyone the help they need...

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Jan. 30

Charleston Daily Mail on the state’s education system:

For readers who are employed in the private sector, where personal performance and market conditions drive pay and benefit decisions, try this experiment:

Go to your boss and demand a pay raise, demand more funding for your health care benefits, and steadfastly refuse to adopt any new work related measures intended to improve the company’s performance. Get your co-workers to join you.

Then report back on how well that worked for you.

Yet this is the approach the education establishment in West Virginia is taking with the state Legislature and — in effect — their funders, the taxpayers of West Virginia.

Despite rapid changes in the way the world does business, the drastic upheaval of the social environment many kids today live in, and the need for bold and innovative new strategies and ways of thinking, the education establishment sees no reason to budge from its Depression-era system of public education.

In an attempt to modernize public schooling in West Virginia, the state Senate is considering an omnibus education package bill. The howls of protest from West Virginia’s entrenched education establishment against improvement are deafening.

While most opposition to the bill has been along party lines, with Democrats opposing, two Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee stated opposition to the bill, Jake Zuckerman reported in Tuesday’s Gazette-Mail. And Tuesday afternoon, the Democrat-turned-Republican-back-to-sounding-like-a-Democrat Gov. Jim Justice expressed his opposition to the omnibus package as well.

“We don’t need uncertainty today, and we don’t need to create a food fight for next to nothing,” Justice said in a news conference.

Said Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe: “We may be pushing dead last in education, but we’re number one in the drug problem, we’re number one in the poverty level problem. These are huge factors that present themselves and make it a challenge for our teachers. I think they’re at their wits’ end.”

Mann’s statements are exactly the reasons parents and students need school choice and other improvements the package offers, as opposed to the state’s long-held mandatory “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Likewise, Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, said that, while he likes some aspects of the bill, such as increased funding for small counties, the negatives — he cited charter schools, paycheck protection, increased classroom size and others — outweigh the good.

How are these negatives? Charter schools — while not a magical panacea for all of West Virginia’s education problems — are effective in improving educational outcomes for students in many states. The paycheck protection clause simply requires school personnel who are members of a union to complete a simple form to re-up their dues deduction every year — in a way similar to how many employers manage their employees’ annual charitable giving.

And the slight increase in classroom size does not mean school classes across the state will be larger, it simply means that county school districts will have more flexibility every year as they juggle dwindling enrollment.

As reported by Ryan Quinn in Tuesday’s Gazette-Mail, state Board of Education President David Perry said he believes the bill would “inflict great harm on our system,” ignoring the evidence that our state’s entrenched “system” is inflicting great harm on educational outcomes and holding West Virginia back.

The educational establishment is showing not that it cares about education in West Virginia, but that it cares about keeping the under-performing public education system intact no matter how much evidence shows the need for change and improvement. And West Virginia taxpayers have a right to demand more than they are getting for their substantial investment in education.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Jan. 29

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on the Home Rule Pilot Program:

More than ten years probably is long enough to decide whether most things work. Yet for 34 municipalities, one of the most important laws on the books in West Virginia remains a pilot program.

Legislators are on their way to changing that. A bill doing so may be approved by the state Senate this week.

If enacted, it would make the Home Rule Pilot Program permanent. As it stands, the initiative is a temporary experiment.

Home rule is simple: Municipalities approved for it have substantially more freedom in adopting their own rules. A state board considers and often approves their requests to diverge from state laws on a variety of subjects.

For example, home rule has allowed Parkersburg, Vienna and other cities to adopt local sales taxes — and reduce the burden of business and occupation taxes that hinder job creation. It gives municipalities new tools to deal with dilapidated buildings.

Home rule is not loved universally. Some critics object to giving cities more taxing power.

Fair enough. But municipal council members who enact such taxes have to face the judgment of voters — who can boot them out if they feel taxing authority is being abused.

Changes adopted by some home rule cities have been in effect for about a decade. Important decisions for the future have been made in the assumption those local initiatives would remain in effect.

Scrapping home rule in such cases would be extremely difficult.

So it is time to make the program more permanent. Nothing lasts forever, of course; at some point in the future, the Legislature can amend or rescind any state law.

Senators should adopt the home rule bill, which is SB 4. Then the House of Delegates should follow suit and Gov. Jim Justice should sign the measure. A decade is long enough for a pilot program.

Online: http://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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