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Governor Tomblin Issues Statement After Signing New Substance Abuse Reforms into Law

Proposals introduced by the governor during annual State of the State address
The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV – Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued the following statement after signing two new substance abuse reforms into law. The governor introduced the two proposals as part of his annual State of the State address in January.

“Last night, I was honored to join U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for the opening session of the fifth annual National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit to share the work we’re doing in West Virginia to combat the substance abuse epidemic in so many of our communities. Substance abuse has become one of the greatest struggles our state has ever faced, and our work to address these challenges is turning heads among leaders in the fight against substance abuse on the national level.
“That’s why today, I’m proud to have signed into law two of my proposals to strengthen our state’s efforts to give West Virginias access to the substance abuse treatment and recovery services they need to return to their families, communities and workplaces.
“Senate Bill 431 strengthens my 2015 proposal to expand access to opioid antagonists, by making Narcan available to any West Virginian – without a prescription. Today, family members and friends of those struggling with addiction can walk into their local pharmacy and purchase this life-saving drug, receive training to safely administer it – giving those struggling with an opioid addiction the opportunity to get help.
“Senate Bill 454 will help us ensure West Virginians in need have access to licensed medication-assisted treatment and recovery services. By establishing licensing requirements for these facilities, we can make sure Suboxone and Methadone are used as part of a comprehensive approach to treatment – that includes behavioral and addiction therapies – to give those seeking treatment the support they need to begin the recovery process.
“These two pieces of legislation are another step forward in our effort to help West Virginians find help and hope here in the Mountain State, and I appreciate the Legislature’s overwhelming support of these initiatives.”

Teachers Praise SCOTUS Union Ruling

The Free Press WV

In a deadlocked decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of public-sector unions to charge so-called “fair share” fees. Teachers and unions are positively crowing.

By its 4-4 the court let stand a Ninth Circuit ruling that the California Teachers Association can charge the fees. They offset the unions’ cost for contracts and grievance procedures for teachers who opt not to join the union but are still covered by collective bargaining.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen-Garcia said fair-share fees have worked well enough that even some employers asked the court to keep them.

“Local and county governments,“ she said. “There were school boards that said, ‘You know, this actually makes sense. We’re on the side of the unions on keeping the ability to do this.‘ “

Garcia, who was a teacher for 20 years, said people think bargaining only covers wages and benefits, but it also can cover the other things that teachers care about and that impact learning.

“We had some of our colleagues in Seattle collectively bargaining recess for their elementary kids,“ she said. “You end up with people bargaining things like whether or not a school has a school nurse.“

This is the second deadlocked case since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The unions claimed it was an attempt at union-busting. Garcia said groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers went so far as to cold-call teachers to recruit plaintiffs. In her view, the case was motivated by ideology.

“The same people who want to keep wages low, keep public services like public schools under-funded, have always been out to silence our voice,“ she said.

Conservative groups backing the lawsuit argued that fair-share fees violate nonunion members’ free-speech and free-assembly rights. The unions have said that even people covered by their contracts are not required to join and don’t have to pay to back any of their political efforts.

More information is online at nea.org.

National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit

The Free Press WV

President Barack Obama is taking additional steps, in his final year in the White House, to address the U.S. drug epidemic.

On Tuesday afternoon, he was scheduled to detail those new measures during a speech at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin spoke during Monday’s summit welcome session as part of a panel that also included Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).

“I was the only governor that was asked to speak there and I think it’s because, early on in my administration, we made this one of our top priorities and we’ve made some major strides as far as changing the abuse landscape in West Virginia,” Tomblin said.

“Not to say that we’re getting close to conquering it but, at the same time, I think that we’re moving in the right direction.”

The summit, in its 5th year, is described as the “largest national collaboration of federal, state and local professionals working to address prescription drug and heroin abuse.” According to Tomblin, attendance has grown over the years.

“What that tells us is, what we’re facing here in West Virginia as far as substance abuse, it’s not only happening here, but it’s happening all across the country,” Governor Tomblin said.

On Tuesday afternoon, President Obama travelled to Atlanta to announce additional public and private sector actions in the fight against prescription opioid abuse and the heroin epidemic.

The initiatives designed to expand access for treatment included the following, according to information from the White House:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed rule to increase the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorders from 100 to 200 patients with the goal of expanding access to this evidence-based treatment while preventing diversion.

  • HHS released $94 million in new funding to 271 Community Health Centers across the country earlier this month to increase substance use disorder treatment services, with a specific focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders in underserved communities.

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is releasing a new $11 million funding opportunity for up to 11 States to expand their medication-assisted treatment services. SAMHSA also is distributing 10,000 pocket guides for clinicians that include a checklist for prescribing medication for opioid use disorder treatment and integrating non-pharmacologic therapies into treatment.

Other initiatives include establishing a mental health and substance use disorder parity task force so that mental health treatments are covered the same as physical or surgical health issues; implementing mental health and substance use disorder parity in Medicaid; adding to access to naloxone; expanding public health-public safety partnerships to combat the spread of heroin; investing in community policing to address heroin; tackling substance use disorders in rural communities; and implementing syringe services programs.

More than 60 medical schools also announced that, beginning this fall, students will be required to take some form of prescriber education to graduate. Those courses will be in line with the new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dealing with the prescribing of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.

The medical schools on the list included West Virginia University’s School of Medicine, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine and Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

In Atlanta, Tomblin touted a number of similar drug efforts already underway in West Virginia, including the creation of his Advisory Council on Substance Abuse in 2011, legislation dealing with the tracking of medication sales and the expansion of the availability of naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal medication.

In September, a 24-hour substance abuse helpline, 1-844-HELP4WV, was created in West Virginia to provide referral support for people seeking treatment and recovery services in their local communities. In its first six months, Tomblin said the helpline has already connected more than 1,000 West Virginians to available resources and treatment.

“Having a substance abuse problem is not a criminal act, it’s an illness people have,” Tomblin said.

“What we’ve got to do is really concentrate on prevention as well as trying to get the help and services out in entire communities that people need to get them back on track and have a productive life.”

Earlier this year, President Obama requested $1.1 billion in new funding for substance abuse treatment. Most of that funding, as proposed, would go directly to states “to ensure that every American who wants treatment can get the help they need,” White House officials said.

Vilsack was also charged with leading the USDA’s new “Rural America Opioid Initiative,” an interagency effort focused on struggles in rural America with heroin and opioid abuse.

Drug documentary Debuts at Fairmont State

Federal investigators don’t mince words on the end result of a nationwide drug epidemic.

“Any abuse of opiates and the use of heroin, it will take your life,” said Stephen Morris. “It may take it longer for some than others, but eventually you will lose.”

Morris is the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division in Clarksburg.

Working together with the DEA and U.S. Attorney’s office for the northern district of West Virginia, the FBI will debut a powerful documentary, “Chasing the Dragon, The Life of an Opiate Addict”, at Fairmont State University April 07.


It is the brain child of two FBI field agents in Washington, DC.

“Over the years, they continued to see the same folks surface in some of these investigations. What really struck them was not so much the individuals involved in the trafficking of drugs but the impact it had on those individuals and their families and their lives,” explained Morris.

According to Morris, the number of prescription opiates written from 1991 to today has more than tripled from 76 million a year to 200 million.

Addiction, hospitalization, prostitution and prosecution become a way of life for many drug abusers, Morris said. If anyone can raise awareness of the dangers, it’s the addicts themselves.

“It used to be said you put the fear of God into your kids sometimes when you want them to really understand something. But, I think what this video does is put the fear of reality in some of these kids,” Morris stressed.

The showing of the documentary will include an open discussion with authorities on how close the epidemic hits home.

“It is really particularly hitting this area from Pittsburgh all the way through West Virginia pretty hard. So, I think showing this movie next week is an appropriate place to start,” said Morris.

Fairmont State’s criminal justice department will host the 6 p.m. showing at the Colebank Hall gymnasium April 70.

In West Virginia….

The Free Press WV

►   West Virginia to Expand Prescribing Powers for Nurses

Some West Virginia nurses will soon have expanded abilities to prescribe treatments.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the nursing bill Tuesday after the Republican-led Legislature passed it. It takes effect in June.

Advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, can now prescribe through collaboration with a doctor.

The new law will let them prescribe medications without a doctor, with exceptions.

For example, they won’t be able to prescribe Schedule II drugs, including powerful painkillers, on their own. They could only prescribe Schedule III medications for up to 30 day supplies without refills.

Advocates said it will help care for underserved rural areas.

Doctors had opposed it because nurses don’t undergo the same training as doctors.

Twenty-one other states and Washington, D.C. let advanced practice nurses prescribe Schedules II-V drugs.


►   State to Mull Public Health Plan Cuts in Budget

West Virginia is revisiting the idea of larger cuts to state employee and retiree health plans as a state budget stalemate drags on.

West Virginia’s Public Employee Insurance Agency Finance Board is meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss options amid a budget fight that has seen funding options for health plans die, including a higher tax on tobacco products and e-cigarettes.

In December, the board approved plans to cut $120 million from health plans, which would affect state employees, teachers and retirees. They would affect the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 01.

The Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin have not yet reached a budget agreement. The House of Delegates has resisted tax increases, including the tobacco tax.

Open enrollment for members is April 02 to May 15.


►   Opponent of TANF drug testing legislation says other states have shown it’s not productive

CHARLESTON, WV — A Wayne County delegate predicts West Virginia will soon join the list of states where legislation requiring the drug testing of welfare recipients, in cases where there is a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use, proves to be unproductive.

“We’re taking the poorest of the poor who are actually trying to get up out of that hole and we’re saying, ‘Hey guys, we really don’t trust you,‘” said Delegate Don Perdue (R-Wayne, 19) during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

The legislation creates a three-year pilot program for the screening of recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also called TANF.

As written in SB 6, which Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law earlier this month, the “reasonable suspicion” required for drug testing exists in the following circumstances:

– A case worker determines, based upon the result of the drug screen, that the applicant demonstrates qualities indicative of substance abuse based upon the indicators of the drug screen

– An applicant has been convicted of a drug-related offense within the three years immediately prior to an application for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program and whose conviction becomes known as a result of a drug screen.

Federal courts have found programs in Florida and Michigan, which required testing of all applicants without a “reasonable suspicion” requirement, unconstitutional.

The presentation of a valid prescription for a detected substance that is prescribed by a health care provider is an “absolute defense” for failure of any drug test administered, as the law reads.

“We’ve got to stop the cycle of drug addiction and the abuses that go along with it,” Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley, 15), a supporter of the legislation, previously said.

Approval from the federal government is required before the West Virginia law can be implemented.

With it, an applicant who fails a drug test on the first offense will maintain benefits, but will be required to enroll in a drug treatment program or job training program. On the second offense, the applicant has the potential to lose benefits for up to 12 months while completing the same programs. The third offense calls for a loss of benefits for life.

“In the states where they’ve done that, they have not had the effects they expected to have, so they have not proven to be productive,” Perdue said.

According to a report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, Kansas received 2,783 applications for TANF benefits from July 2014 to December 2014. Of those, 65 applicants were referred to follow-up drug testing and 11 applicants tested positive at an estimated cost of $11,000.

In Missouri, more than $336,000 was budgeted in 2014. In all, upwards of 38,970 applicants were initially screened and, after follow-ups, 48 tested positive for drug usage.

On Monday, a TANF testing law in Arkansas took effect. With it, an applicant will be asked about drug usage and, if that yields “reasonable suspicion,” the applicant will be required to submit to a drug test or lose TANF benefits for six months.

Like West Virginia’s legislation, there are treatment options within the Arkansas law.

Under West Virginia’s law, costs of administering drug tests and initial substance abuse testing programs fall to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The total possible costs were not immediately clear.

Perdue argued the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“Folks on TANF are no more likely to be substance abusers than anybody else, any other portion of society,” he said.

“Our efforts, rather than spending a lot of money on a pilot program for a given group of individuals whose only real criteria for being there is they’re poor, is why aren’t we looking at the whole of our society in terms of providing the services that need to be provided?”

If a parent is deemed ineligible for TANF due to drug test failures, a dependent child’s eligibility will not be affected. Instead, an “appropriate protective payee” will have to be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child.


►   Tomblin signs “brunch bill” to allow for earlier Sunday alcohol sales

CHARLESTON, WV — Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed the so-called “brunch bill” into law.

The measure (SB 298) allows for earlier Sunday alcohol sales at restaurants, private clubs and wineries. The new sale time would begin at 10 a.m. instead of the current law that prohibits those sales before 1 p.m.

It passed the state Legislature during this year’s Regular Legislative Session.

The bill includes a county vote requirement, which was added by the House of Delegates after the bill unanimously passed the Senate.

Supporters say the legislation would create jobs, increase state revenue and would improve the overall tourism experience for those visiting West Virginia.


►   WV AG returns $5 million to the state

CHARLESTON, WV — State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Tuesday that his office recently returned $5 million to state coffers.

The transfer marked the fourth consecutive year that Morrisey’s office has voluntarily returned money to the state’s general fund, totaling $23.5 million.

“This is the people’s money,” Morrisey said. “Taxpayers should realize the benefit of the hard earned work and efficiency of our office.”

Morrisey returned $2 million in 2015, $9 million in 2014 and $7.5 million in 2013. He expressed hope that the money could help the struggle to balance the state budget.


►   2 WV mayors looking to demolish dilapidated properties

NEW CUMBERLAND, WV — Officials in two northern West Virginia cities are looking to demolish dilapidated properties in their communities.

The State Journal reports New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil and Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti are teaming up with their local development group to get rid of their towns’ eyesores.

McNeil and Simonetti say they chose dilapidated structures in high-visibility areas specifically to try to reshape public perceptions about their towns.

McNeil says two adjoining buildings on the city’s main thoroughfare will be replaced with a small park.

Simonetti says Wellsburg is in need of a facelift since the community is old and there are a lot of rundown properties.

She says they’ve targeted three buildings based on their high visibility and potential for redevelopment. One has already been razed.


►   West Virginia enviro officials propose $93K fine for Antero Resources

West Virginia environmental officials have proposed a $93,000 fine on an Antero Resources natural gas company for polluting waterways.

In a consent order, state Department of Environmental Protection and Antero Midstream LLC agreed earlier this month on the proposed fines for northern West Virginia pipeline activity.

The order says Antero pipeline projects in Ritchie, Pleasants, Doddridge and Tyler caused pollution in nearby waterways in 2013 and 2014, among other issues.

Antero Resources is headquartered in Denver, Colorado.

G-Eye™: Gilmer County Senior Center

What a great performance for our local senior citizens by This Lady
The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Did You Know?

The Free Press WV

WHO’S UNDER FIRE ON ABORTION

Donald Trump is fighting to convince a skeptical Republican Party he can improve his standing among women, even as he takes back an explosive comment about abortion and attacks the credibility of a female reporter.


WHERE U.S. DOLLARS MIGHT SOON START FLOWING

Officials say the U.S. may soon tell foreign governments and banks they can start using dollars in some instances to facilitate business with Iran - a change that could prove significant for Tehran’s sanctions-battered economy.


AP UNVEILS HOW KENYAN RUNNERS’ DOPING WENT UNDETECTED AT SMALLER US RACES

An AP Exclusive on a probe by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the IAAF into Kenya’s offshore running industry is zeroing in on a Russian agent with a string of doping positives and associations in her Kentucky camp.


WHY ASIAN DIPLOMACY IS ON THE SIDELINES OF A NUCLEAR SUMMIT

As Asian leaders converge on Washington, tensions in North Korea and the South China Sea are running high, and side meetings on those hot-button issues could attract more attention than the summit itself.


SYRIANS RUSH TO RESCUE HISTORY

Syrians have risked their lives in a successful effort to save antiquities threatened by Islamic State militants.


INDIA’S SMOG LEAVES A GOLDEN TEMPLE LOSING ITS LUSTER

The chronic air pollution blanketing much of northern India is now threatening the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, making the once-gleaming walls of the Golden Temple dingy and dull.


A LONG WAIT FOR ANSWERS IN MINNESOTA ENDS WITH MORE QUESTIONS

Activists from the black community in Minneapolis express frustration and distrust after a prosecutor clears two white police officers in the fatal shooting of a black man during a confrontation.


WHAT’S AN ICE WALL AND HOW WILL IT WORK

The destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant’s operator activated a costly last resort to try to stem the underground flow of radioactive water from the plant. Use of one so huge is untested.


MURDER-FOR-HIRE PLOT SEEN ON TV HEADS TO TRIAL

In the attempted murder-for-hire case against Dalia Dippolito, her defense says police overreached for “Cops” TV, which aired a special edition about the allegedly murderous newlywed.


HOW THE FINAL FOUR GOT THERE

March Madness lived up to its billing, filled with upsets, crazy finishes and memorable performances. Now that the calendar has turned to April, it’s time for the main event: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Villanova and Syracuse in the Final Four.

In USA….

The Free Press WV

►   Apple vs. FBI – What Happened?

Apple’s legal standoff with the FBI ended Monday, but experts say the issues behind it will come up again, as more tech companies take measures to guard their customers’ messages, photos, business records and other files.

After weeks of heated debate, in which Apple had resisted the FBI’s demand for help, authorities say they found their own way to get the data from an encrypted iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino mass shooters.

Confused by all the back-and-forth in this high-stakes dispute? AP explains:


WHAT WAS THE FIGHT ABOUT?

At the Justice Department’s request, a federal judge ordered Apple Inc. last month to help the FBI unlock an encrypted iPhone used by Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in December. Specifically, the government wanted Apple to create software that would override an “auto-wipe” feature which is designed to kick in after anyone makes 10 wrong attempts at guessing the iPhone’s passcode. Once that feature is activated, it renders all the data on the phone permanently unreadable.

Apple said it could create the software the government wanted, but it argued vehemently that doing so would be a bad idea. CEO Tim Cook said the order would set a precedent for more government demands, both in the United States and around the world. Apple also said the software could be stolen by hackers and used against other iPhones.

Federal authorities insisted they were only asking for Apple’s help in a single case, although prosecutors nationwide have said they wanted similar assistance in other cases where iPhones have been seized. While it’s unclear if any useful information was stored on the iPhone, FBI Director James Comey said authorities owed it to the San Bernardino victims to leave no stone unturned in their investigation.


WHY DID THIS TURN INTO SUCH A BIG DEAL?

The case crystalized some long-simmering frustrations and conflict between the tech industry and law enforcement authorities.

Apple and other tech companies have been steadily increasing their use of encryption and other safeguards to protect their customers’ data, following a wave of recent hacking attacks and revelations about government data-collection by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Law enforcement officials, including Comey, have complained that encryption and other data safeguards are helping dangerous people hide their activities, while interfering with the government’s ability to investigate crimes.

In the San Bernardino case, Apple drew support from other leading tech companies, computer security experts and civil liberties groups. They filed court briefs arguing the government was going too far in trying to force a company to create software that threatened its own customers’ security. Meanwhile, top officials in the Obama administration, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, denounced Apple’s stance and accused the company of trying to rewrite the rules for government investigations.


WHAT DID THE JUDGE DECIDE?

The judge didn’t have to rule. Cook had said he was prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. But last week, just one day before Magistrate Sheri Pym had planned to hold a hearing on the dispute, the Justice Department asked for a delay. Authorities said an unnamed “outside party” had come forward with a technical solution to unlocking the phone, which the FBI needed time to test out.

Then on Monday of this week, the government reported that it had successfully accessed the iPhone’s files and no longer needed Apple’s help. For that reason, the Justice Department asked the magistrate to withdraw the order she issued in February.


SO WHO WON?

Each side can claim a victory: Authorities say they achieved their goal of getting into the iPhone, while Apple successfully resisted a court order that it contends would be harmful to its customers.

Even so, the FBI may have lost some credibility. After repeatedly insisting that only Apple had the means to help authorities unlock the phone, it turned out there was another way.

In the court of public opinion, Apple made a strong case that it was standing up for its customers, and an important principle. But some people may believe the company should have done more to help law enforcement.


DOES THAT END THE MATTER?

It probably ends the dispute over one iPhone, but it’s not the last we’ll hear of this issue.

Law enforcement officials around the country still want to get into other iPhones. The FBI hasn’t said how it got into the San Bernardino iPhone, but it may be able to use the same method in other cases. And we don’t know who provided the solution that the FBI used. It’s possible the method was devised by a private forensics expert or firm that will sell the service to other clients in the future.

Apple, of course, wants to know what method the FBI used so the company can decide if there’s an iPhone vulnerability that needs to be fixed. Even if the FBI doesn’t tell them, security experts predict Apple and other tech companies will keep adding more security measures to its products.

That could set the stage for more legal confrontations. Meanwhile, Congress has held hearings on the issue. Some legislators have discussed limiting how much help the government can demand of tech companies, while others want to require tech companies to provide more assistance in the future.


►   What Day Job? Supreme Court’s RBG Tries Acting

Art often imitates life, and that will ring true for none other than Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this summer as she throws off her court garb and dons stage attire for her role in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Vox reports. The 83-year-old justice’s cameo appearance in the July performance will take place in its namesake Italian city, which is marking the 500th anniversary of Venice’s Jewish ghetto, ABC News reports. Ginsburg will play a judge holding court over the trial of the loan shark Shylock.

Ginsburg is no first-time performer: In 2014, Politico noted she’s found her way onto DC stages before, including playing Dick the Butcher in Henry VI, in which she spoke the line: “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,“ with her own ad-libbed “…and next the reporters” tacked onto the end. (More on the Venice ghetto’s anniversary in the Washington Post.)


►   First-Graders Busted in Plot to Poison Classmate

Authorities in Anchorage, Alaska, say they’ve uncovered a surprising murder plot—dreamed up by three first-graders. In a letter sent to parents on March 22, Principal Shanna Mall of Winterberry Charter School explains three students planned to use silica gel packets “to poison and kill another student,“ per KTUU. Silica gel, used in packaging to prevent moisture, is non-toxic, but students believed the packets were dangerous because they were marked “do not consume,“ per the Alaska Dispatch News. A rep for the Anchorage Police Department tells KTVA that the students brought the packets to school “with the intent of putting them in another student’s lunch,“ but one or two students overheard the plot and came forward before it could be carried out.

A school resource officer spoke with both the students and their guardians, the rep adds. No charges were filed, but “all three students received significant consequences,“ says Mall. Each has been suspended and could still be expelled, says a rep for the Anchorage School District. She adds the children’s ages are among the “most surprising” details of the incident. “Given such a young age, it’s not clear if they knew what they were doing, if it was just a threat or something more serious,“ she says, noting “there are a lot of conversations to get an understanding of what actually happened, how the students were feeling.“ School psychologists are involved.


►   Principals Charged in Bribery Scheme

Detroit’s battered public school system got another black eye on Tuesday when federal prosecutors filed bribery charges against 12 current and former principals over an alleged school supply scam. US Attorney Barbara McQuade says the sordid scheme involved businessman Norman Shy, who allegedly scammed Detroit Public Schools for millions, paying more than $900,000 in kickbacks along the way, CBS reports. The 74-year-old “would submit fraudulent invoices for school supplies. The principals would approve those invoices and then he would provide some, but not all, of the goods that he promised to sell,“ McQuade says. “In exchange for approving these fraudulent invoices, Norman Shy paid bribes to these principals.“

The alleged payoffs ranged from $4,000 to $194,000. Prosecutors say Shy tried to disguise the kickbacks, which were delivered through cash, gift cards, and in at least one case, renovation work on a principal’s home, the Detroit Free Press. Shy and a school administrator have also been charged over the scheme, which McQuade says is a “punch in the gut"—but is not connected to the huge financial problems of the school district, which has been overseen by a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009. “Public corruption never comes at a good time,“ she says.


►   Cruise Company Charges Man Extra Because His Wife Died

In December, Colorado resident Tom Ast lost his wife of 45 years, Marilyn, to cancer, KDVR reports. On her death bed, Marilyn told Ast to go on the Mediterranean cruise they had planned before she became sick. He didn’t want to at first but decided it would be a good way to celebrate his wife’s life. That’s when, in Ast’s words, Viking River Cruises decided to kick him when he was down. He called the cruise company to let them know he would be traveling alone due to the death of his wife. And despite not wanting to change rooms, dates, or even get a refund for Marilyn’s half of the cruise, he was informed he would have to pay an $853 “rebooking fee,“ according to Consumerist.

Viking River Cruises considered the situation a rebooking because Marilyn’s name was being removed from the reservation. Even if Ast found someone to take her place, he’d still have to pay the fee to change the name on the reservation. And if he didn’t pay the fee, he would lose the entire $11,000 he and Marilyn had paid for the trip. “About the lowest point in your life, and they’re trying to take advantage of it,“ Ast tells KDVR. Ast eventually went to news station for help, and the cruise company waived the fee. But, as Consumerist notes, grieving wives and husbands shouldn’t have to count on media coverage to avoid such outlandish fees: “If someone’s companion dies…shouldn’t it be enough that they have that person’s fare but one fewer person to feed and entertain?“


►   American Speed Flyer Disappears in Swiss Alps

Family and friends are launching their own search for a 28-year-old Colorado man who disappeared Saturday while speed flying in Switzerland, KDVR reports. According to the AP, speed flyers use special parachutes to fly close to the ground at high speeds while descending mountains. Mechanical engineer Harrison Fast was speed flying with a group of people on Jungfraud mountain—one of the tallest peaks in the Swiss Alps—on Saturday when the weather turned bad and the group lost track of him. The rest of Fast’s group either got off the mountain on their own or were rescued by helicopter. “We’ve always known it was a risk,“ Fast’s sister tells the Denver Channel. “He had injuries before, but we didn’t expect him to go off, potentially go off a cliff.“

After three days of fruitless looking, Swiss authorities called off the search on Monday. Now Fast’s family and friends are raising money to keep the search going. They’ve already raised more than $45,000—three times their goal—on an online fundraising page. And they’re holding out hope. “I don’t really go to that place where bad things live,“ Fast’s brother-in-law tells KDVR. “I keep joking with the family that he’s in some mountain-side bar, talking to a girl, with a dead cellphone, not knowing what we are all going through.“ Fast had been posting updates on his European trip to Facebook up to the day before he disappeared.


►   Archaeologists Dig at Malcolm X’s Childhood Home

Archaeologists are digging at a boyhood home of Malcolm X in an effort to uncover more about the slain black rights activist’s early life as well as the property’s long history, which possibly includes Native American settlement. The two-week archaeological dig began Tuesday outside a two-and-a-half story home in Boston’s historically black Roxbury neighborhood that was built in 1874, the AP reports. City Archaeologist Joseph Bagley said his office chose to dig up the site because it’s likely that work will be needed soon to shore up the foundation of the vacant and run down structure. “This is kind of a now-or-never dig,“ he said. “If we don’t do this, the site will be destroyed. We can’t afford to wait.“

Among Tuesday’s early finds was a large piece of fine porcelain that Bagley says was likely part of a dish set owned by the family of Malcolm X’s sister, which still owns the house. Bagley says once the initial rubble is cleared, a ground-penetrating radar survey will be used to determine the best locations to dig. Major excavation work is expected to dig up to four feet into the ground. The site will be open to the public throughout to observe the work. The former Malcolm Little was a teenager in the 1940s when he lived with his sister Ella Little-Collins and her family at 72 Dale St. The house was designated a city landmark in 1998 because it’s the only known dwelling from the outspoken activist’s formative years in Boston still standing.

In The World….

The Free Press WV

►   Woman Ships Box of DVDs With Her Cat Inside

Always double-check your boxes before sealing them up and mailing them: That’s the lesson one British woman recently learned after she accidentally mailed her cat. Cupcake had climbed into a box of DVDs the woman was planning to ship, as cats are wont to do, and the woman didn’t notice. The Siamese managed to survive an eight-day, 260-mile journey, per a blog post (picked up by Time) from the veterinary office that treated the cat for extreme dehydration.

The recipient of the box called the RSPCA after finding Cupcake, and the RSPCA arranged for her treatment. She was microchipped, so her owner—who had been posting missing flyers and searching for the feline—traveled to pick her up. They had a tearful reunion, per the BBC. “When I realized she was missing, it was the most horrible, scary feeling,“ her owner says. “We looked everywhere for her.“


►   Swimmer Stranded at Sea Trying to Reach Cruise Ship

A 65-year-old British woman in Portugal’s Madeira Islands tried to swim out to her passing cruise ship in the mistaken belief that her husband was on board, an official said Monday. She was rescued after four hours in the sea, reports the AP. Susan Brown told police that she and her husband had decided Saturday to fly home early from their cruise aboard the Marco Polo, which had stopped over that day in Madeira. However, Brown told police she later lost sight of her husband at Funchal airport after they argued and was “feeling desperate.“

She said she had tried to swim out to the ship from an area by the seaside airport when she saw it sailing out of Funchal in the evening, thinking that her husband might have been on board. Police have since ascertained that her husband boarded a flight to Bristol, England. Brown only had her handbag with her when a local fishing boat came across her in the Atlantic after midnight. The sea temperature in the archipelago off northwest Africa was 64 degrees Fahrenheit. She was taken to hospital with advanced hypothermia and was later moved to a psychiatric ward.


►   UN: Falklands Are Actually in Argentina

Argentina’s government celebrated on Monday a decision by a UN commission expanding its maritime territory in the South Atlantic Ocean by 35% to include the disputed Falkland Islands and beyond. The Argentine foreign ministry says its waters have increased by 0.66 million square miles and the decision will be key in its dispute with Britain over the islands. Argentina lost a brief, bloody 1982 war with Britain after Argentine troops seized the South Atlantic archipelago. The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf sided with Argentina earlier this month, ratifying the country’s 2009 report fixing the limit of its territory at 200 to 350 miles from its coast. The foreign minister calls it “a historic occasion” that “reaffirms our sovereignty rights over the resources of our continental shelf.“

Oil exploration is already pumping millions of dollars into the Falkland Islands economy. Many islanders remain concerned about Argentina’s claim as well as the potential for problems from rapid change brought by the new industry. The UN commission’s finding included the caveat that there is an unresolved diplomatic dispute between Argentina and Britain over the islands. The Falklands are self-governing, but Britain is responsible for its defense and foreign affairs. The British government says islanders cannot be forced to accept Argentine sovereignty against their will. The Falkland Islands government says it is seeking clarification from the British government on “what, if any, decisions have been made, and what implications there may be” for the territory. Further: “Our understanding has always been that the UN would not make any determination on applications for continental shelf extension in areas where there are competing claims.“

Tyler Moore Chosen as a Carson Scholar

The Free Press WV
The Free Press WV

Gilmer County Circuit Court Report

The Free Press WV

Chief Judge Jack Alsop appeared in Gilmer County on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 1:30 PM and heard several cases.


•  Four fugitives from justice were before the Court, all represented by Kevin Hughart of Sissonville.

All 4 waived to return to their state as follows:

1) Gregory Clyde Butler to Virginia;

2) Martin R. Lovly to New York;

3) Michael Terry to Ohio; and

4) Anthony Kevin Todd to Maryland.

Authorities in those states have until 4 PM Thursday, April 07, 2016 to pick these men up at Central Regional Jail or they will be released.


•  Two juvenile matters were also heard.

Should Governor Sign The Education Bills Altering Standards and Allowing Banked Minutes

The Free Press WV

CHARLESTON, WV — Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has about two days to make two big decisions on whether to sign a pair of bills that will affect education in West Virginia.

One bill would alter teaching standards now referred to as College and Career Readiness Standards, while the other would allow the use of banked time to count toward making up days lost due to inclement weather and meeting the 180 day requirement.

The State School Board opposes both. President Mike Green said standards have already been vetted and reviewed, and there’s no need to repeat the process.

“We went through this last summer in our review of all of our standards, and we feel that we don’t need to do this again,” Green said. “We’ve been through that, we’ve vetted our standards and we’re happy with the way they are. WVU did a great a job in their spotlight review and pointing out anything that needed to be changed. I think that particular issue should be behind us and we need to move on to more important (ones).”

One stipulation of the bill would have WVU and Marshall select several members to review standards in math, English and science and make recommendations back to the board. The bill also would remove the Smarter Balanced Assessment standardized test, something else Green didn’t agree with.

“That gives us great concerns. We recently had a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that did a review of several of the assessments that were out there, and Smarter Balanced was the one that was most aligned with our standards,” Green said.

Green pointed out that he respected the legislature and believed it has the best interests of students at heart, but the board should have the authority to select its own testing service, and that politics should stay separate from education.

“We believe the people making these decisions and recommendations should be the people in the classroom, our administrators, principals and superintendents, and those who deal with education every single day.”

The proposal would replace Smarter Balanced with the ACT college entrance exam for high school students, the argument being that students are more likely to take the ACT seriously than a test which is not reflected in their grade. Green said the board was working on ways to change that.

“Certainly we don’t want our kids to come to school and ‘tank’ those types of tests,” he said. “So we’re looking at situations whereupon that test will actually count for something. In the future, we’re looking at end of course exams, where that particular assessment at the end of a particular grade in high school would actually count toward your grade, and this way kids will perhaps take this a little more seriously.”

Green was also not in favor of the use of banked minutes counting toward make-up school days.

“We think this particular thing about minutes and so on is really just a mathematics game,” Green said. “We really want our students to be in school for 180 days. That’s not punitive; we really believe students need to be in school 180 days in front of a qualified teacher.”

The banked minutes legislation would prohibit school systems from starting the school year before Aug. 10, and the latest school could let out in the summer would be June 10.

Tomblin has until Friday, April 1, to decide whether he will sign both bills.

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