West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Gazette on a bill to allow people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors to be released on their own recognizance:
For the second consecutive legislative session, a bill that would allow those charged with nonviolent misdemeanors to be released on their own recognizance — that is, without having to post bail — has overwhelmingly passed the West Virginia House of Delegates.
The bill not only would help with overcrowded jails and skyrocketing county jail bills, but would allow those who don’t have the means to pay bail to be at home before trial. They can maintain other aspects of their lives — keeping a job, caring for children, etc. — that would be disrupted by an unnecessary, lengthy stint in a regional jail.
Yes, these are people charged with committing a crime. And not everyone would be eligible. Even if it is a nonviolent offense, a defendant would not be allowed release without bail if the victim of the alleged crime is a minor. If use of a deadly weapon was involved, that’s also a disqualification, along with certain traffic offenses, like DUI or negligent homicide. The prosecutor also has the ability to oppose release on a defendant’s own recognizance if they feel there’s a reason that person shouldn’t be out of jail.
From a fiscal perspective, the proposal makes a lot of sense. Information given to the House Judiciary Committee last week revealed that, in 2018, counties paid regional jails $1.9 million to lodge inmates who couldn’t post bail of $1,000 or less.
Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Coleman told the committee that 3,750 people charged with misdemeanors spent 11 days in jail, on average, until they could pay their bail or were released for other reasons. One inmate remained in jail for 127 days on $500 bail. Even if a defendant is found guilty, the maximum incarceration time for the highest level of misdemeanor offense is 12 months.
This proposal is an easy way to alleviate some of that spending and make the regional jails more humane by reducing overcrowding.
Last year, the West Virginia Senate did not take up the bill once it passed the House of Delegates. This year, the House passed the bill 91-4, a similar tally to last year’s margin. It’s not as if it is a partisan issue — or even a controversial one. The Senate needs to give this bill serious consideration in the 2019 session and pass it on to the governor to be signed into law.
Charleston Daily Mail on a teachers’ union-signed letter in response to education improvement proposals:
The reason West Virginia’s education rankings remain low in so many measures became clear once again this week, when the education establishment dropped off a letter to every lawmaker in the West Virginia Legislature.
The letter said — not literally, but in effect — “Just give us more money for teacher pay raises and dump millions more dollars into our health insurance program, but don’t ask us to make any changes that might actually improve educational outcomes because we are comfortable with our staid, outdated, non-responsive, bureaucratic, top-down public education system.”
The letter is in response to plans by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, who indicated that education improvement proposals like public charter schools and education savings accounts might be rolled into a single comprehensive bill that also includes the promised 5 percent pay raise and $150 million in additional funding for the Public Employees Insurance Agency for school personnel, the Gazette-Mail’s Ryan Quinn reported Tuesday.
But before the bill is even introduced, the education establishment is already expressing united opposition to any change in the way education is delivered in West Virginia while, of course, glowingly supporting pay raises, additional funding to PEIA and banking sick days.
“We believe unrelated items should be voted on separately and they should pass or fail based on their own merits,” the letter from the status quo coalition states.
Unrelated items? Give parents, students, teachers and taxpayers a break! Starting a journey down new paths to improve education is certainly related.
The letter is signed by leaders of the state American Federation of Teachers, the WV Education Association, the Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, the Association of School Administrators, the School Service Personnel Association and the Association of Secondary School Principals.
Are these leaders so in a rut they oppose anything new despite the numerous measures showing West Virginia severely underperforms in educational outcomes compared to other states?
The staid education establishment is not doing the teachers and lower-level administrators — nor the students, parents and employers of West Virginia — any favors by favoring the status quo.
Understand, there are many great teachers, great schools and great administrators in West Virginia. They are excelling at teaching many of the state’s kids and sending them off into the world as prepared as they can be. But those teachers and schools are doing so despite the bureaucratic educational system that falls below satisfactory performance in so many measures, not because of the system.
Fortunately, some lawmakers understand.
“The most important thing is to let educators do their job,” Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, chair of the Senate Education Committee, told WV MetroNews. “Give them the tools they need to raise student outcomes, support the teachers and make the decisions that are best for them instead of a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy from on high.”
“We want to empower the teachers to ply their trade and to use their skill sets to raise the performance level of our students,” Carmichael told WV MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval Tuesday. “We realize that returning control of this education system to the counties, to the teachers, to the administrators is the right way to implement comprehensive education reform in West Virginia.”
Getting the statewide education establishment and its embedded bureaucracy out of the way is a great way to begin to improve education in West Virginia.
The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register on a bill to create a special veterans court program:
State legislators ought to make it plain that West Virginians consider the debt we owe to veterans of military service a greater priority than ensuring justices of our Supreme Court have fancy offices.
State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, has introduced a bill to establish a Military Service Members Court program under the high court’s oversight. It could offer special help to veterans whose crimes can be attributed to their service to our country, perhaps because of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many of those who have served in the armed forces come home changed, sometimes not for the better. Surely they have earned some help to get their lives back on track.
As Weld has noted, a veterans court existed at one time right here in the First Judicial Circuit. “It was a great program. But (disgraced former) Chief Justice Allen Loughry got rid of the program in 2017, because he said there was no funding.”
It turns out there may have been money for the program had some Supreme Court justices, including Loughry, not spent lavishly on their offices.
Weld’s measure, SB 40, ought to be enacted — to correct an injustice.