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Charleston residents hold unity march honoring Taylor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A group of 60 Charleston residents marched through Charleston’s West Side on Sunday to show unity following the death of K.J. Taylor.

Taylor, 18, died Wednesday after being shot at the corner of Central and Glenwood avenues. Taylor was well known in the community and a standout football and basketball player at Capital High School. The Charleston Police Department is leading an investigation.

Charleston residents, including Capital High School students, held a vigil Friday evening at the site of the shooting, which also served as the starting point of Sunday’s march to Magic Island.

“No one needs to feel like they’re alone. That’s why these kids are out in the street right now,” said Martec Washington, who helped organize the event. “They feel like they’re out here fighting for their lives, and they feel alone and hopeless. If we start showing them love and our community love, we can actually change things.”

Washington, a lifelong West Side resident, described Taylor as an “outstanding young man.” He said raising awareness of community issues and holding discussions about the West Side will be instrumental in addressing the community’s grief.

“To see all these people come out means the world,” Washington said. “It means that people understand and they finally see what’s going on. They’re not just complaining, writing a letter or making a Facebook post. Now, they’re here to help, and I’m glad because now we can make a difference.”

The Charleston Police Department released images of a vehicle allegedly connected to the shooting. Police are looking for a gray 2000s model Ford F-150.

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West Virginia nears 7,400 coronavirus cases as numbers continue increasing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Active coronavirus cases in West Virginia are again approaching the 7,400-mark, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The agency updated its statewide dashboard on Sunday, showing West Virginia with 7,392 confirmed active cases. West Virginia first surpassed 7,400 active cases on Nov. 10, 2020, and fell below that mark on Feb. 27.

Officials received 415 new cases between its Saturday and Sunday reports.

The department also reported three additional deaths — a 79-year-old male from Greenbrier County, a 70-year-old female from Raleigh County and a 95-year-old female from Lincoln County — bringing the statewide total for the pandemic to 2,745.

More than 460,000 West Virginians are fully vaccinated, and around 662,000 people have received at least their first vaccine dose.

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Parkersburg Catholic leads list of Class AA contenders (playoff preview)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Parkersburg Catholic has not lost a game since the 2019 Class A final and Marty Vierheller’s Crusaderettes are one of the favorites in the Class AA girls basketball playoffs. Greg Carey and Joe Brocato break down the field.

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Wriston urges patience, caution amid Work Zone Safety Awareness Month

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — April is Work Zone Safety Awareness Month, and the West Virginia Division of Highways wants West Virginians to pay attention to road work as crews work on various projects.

This year’s awareness campaign comes as road crews remain busy completing multiple construction projects as well as pothole patching efforts. The state has spent nearly $990,000 since the end of February on patching potholes.

Jimmy Wriston

Deputy Highways Commissioner Jimmy Wriston told MetroNews affiliate WMOV-AM drivers need to be careful in work zones.

“Imagine, if you would, in your workplace, someone driving through at 70 miles per hour and you’re concentrating on what you’re doing, and someone goes through there and does not pay attention,” he said. “Distracted driving and speeding takes people’s lives. These guys have got to come home in the evenings to their families, and their fate is in your hands.”

Wriston urged drivers to practice commonsense and not go faster than the work zone speed limit.

“You risk all those lives for one car length. It just makes no sense,” he said. “When you’re operating a vehicle on these highways, you’re operating a piece of machinery, you have a weapon in your hands.”

Transportation crews are beginning an extensive project in Kanawha County; officials broke ground last week on a new bridge for Interstate 64 between Nitro and St. Albans. The project is slated to finish in October 2023.

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Photo gallery: Martinsburg defeats Washington, 81-55

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Martinsburg’s 81-55 win over Washington.

(Photos courtesy of Christopher C. Davis/@EP_BigCameraGuy)

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Senate adopts resolution that could lead to personal property tax changes

Senators swiftly adopted a resolution that could allow lawmakers to lower personal property taxes paid by businesses on inventory, machinery and equipment as well as the taxes people pay on their vehicles.

As the legislative hour grew late on the final day, the chairmen of Judiciary and Finance withdrew amendments adopted by their committees, possibly to make it easier for delegates to just acknowledge a version they’d already passed March 31.

Senators adopted the resolution 29-5. There was no debate at all tonight.

That’s not the end of the process. Voters would weigh in on the possible amendment to the state Constitution, where property taxes are defined.

Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said that issue would be on ballots for the next General Election in 2022.

HJR 3 could lead to a Constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to make changes to the property taxes that businesses pay on inventory, machinery and equipment. The exemptions also could apply to people’s automobiles.

Manufacturers point to West Virginia’s position as an outlier in taxing inventory, machinery and equipment, saying the taxes create a competitive disadvantage for the state.

If voters approve a constitutional amendment to give the Legislature more flexibility, future lawmakers could decide to change those tax rates or provide exemptions.

A fiscal note reached no conclusion about the potential cost: “There is no way to know what exemptions for real and personal property, rate changes or changes to assessment levels that future Legislature may enact.”

Most of the money from personal property tax goes to county school boards, county commissions and municipalities.

Representatives from those government bodies have already expressed concern about how the money might be made up.

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Justice says he’ll let bill restricting transgender students’ sports options become law

Gov. Jim Justice says he’ll let a bill restricting how transgender athletes can participate in school sports become law in West Virginia.

“What I’ll plan to do is either let it go into law or sign it,” Justice said during a Saturday night briefing about the end of the legislative session. “I don’t know which one quite yet.”

If he does that, Justice would become the fourth governor in America to accept such a bill. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was the latest governor to sign a similar bill into law, joining Mississippi and Arkansas.

West Virginia would join dozens of states placing restrictions on transgender athletes’ participation on sports teams.

The state Senate passed a bill on Thursday, and the House of Delegates voted to agree the next day, completing legislation.

Advocates for the bill said it would protect young female athletes from competing against stronger athletes who were born male.  Justice, who is also a high school girls basketball coach, was in that category. “From the standpoint of our girls, especially, in middle school and high school it discriminates,” he said.

Opponents said the bill is discriminatory, mean-spirited, a likely turnoff for business investment and a possible conflict with competition under the NCAA.

Andrew Schneider

“If this bill becomes law, it will be a legal and financial disaster for our state,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia.

The Senate Education Committee changed an early version of the bill, dropping a requirement for proof of gender and instead saying “any student aggrieved by a violation” may bring an action against a county board or state institution of higher education. And the committee extended the bill to apply to sports at the college level.

NCAA guidelines permit transgender athletes to compete for college teams after at least a year of testosterone-suppression treatment. More than 500 student-athletes have signed a letter  to the NCAA, pushing a halt to championship events in states that restrict or aim to restrict transgender athletes.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued a partial veto of a similar bill, citing caution over how intercollegiate athletics organizations might react. Noem later issued a weaker executive order.

Justice said he supports the bill’s application at the middle school and high school levels. “I am 100 percent for the bill from the standpoint of the middle schools and the high schools,” he said.

But he expressed concern about it at the collegiate level.

“It concerns me that we may miss out on a really important sporting event or something that could come to West Virginia that we miss out on,” the governor said.

Advocates for LGBTQ communities have said the bill could further ostracize young transgender students who may already struggle with their place in society. Fairness West Virginia had been urging Justice to veto the bill.

“He needs to veto this bill as soon as it makes its way to his desk,” said Schneider of Fairness West Virginia.

In the end, Justice said, he approves of the bill.

“I think the benefits of it way outweigh the bad part of it,” he said.

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Legislature passes a syringe exchange bill with more restrictions, including ID requirement

Senators amended a bill regulating syringe exchanges in West Virginia communities to make it more restrictive.

Once the amendment was adopted, Senators passed the bill 27-7. A few hours later, the majority in the House of Delegates agreed to the amended version and passed it 67-32 after impassioned debate, completing legislation.

Barbara Fleischauer

“There are people who are going to die,” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who opposed the changes. “Our neighbors who didn’t need to die will die.”

The amendment adopted today in the Senate would require identification for those who use community harm reduction services, including needle exchanges. Advocates of the programs have said identification requirements often deter participants, potentially discouraging them from participating in other aspects of harm reduction such as vaccinations or addiction counseling.

Mike Maroney

“The ID part is more restrictive, and that’s been a point of contention between the two sides,” said Senate Health Chairman Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.

But he seemed to suggest the ID requirement could also promote buy-in from participants.

“Having an ID and taking that first step and having an identification card is maybe the first big step towards potential recovery,” Maroney said.

Another change would require any existing provider not offering a full array of harm reduction services to cease offering a syringe exchange program.

That includes wellness checks, wound treatment from needle sticks, screening from communicable diseases, vaccination availability and counseling.

“The wraparound services, to me, that’s the most important part of this bill,” Maroney said.

“These programs are intended to hand out needles and syringes that are clean for a period of time with the hopes of keeping those clients safe from disease until maybe a certain percentage of them can benefit from some of those wrap around services. If the wraparound services were not part of this bill, I’d really wonder what we’re doing. I’d urge adoption.”

Senate Bill 334 has generated significant debate because of the high stakes for communities facing the health consequences of addiction. West Virginia has been among states with the highest rates of death from drug overdoses. West Virginia communities are also at risk for HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks.

The bill would establish a licensing requirement for syringe exchange programs and establish a goal of one-to-one exchange of needles. The bill includes immunity for providers and civil penalties for non-compliance, from $500 up to $10,000. On Friday, delegates amended the bill to add in a requirement of municipality support.

Tom Takubo

“Some feel it’s too restrictive, some not restrictive enough,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha. “There are things inside this bill that I think have high value, not only for West Virginia but for the country.”

Takubo, a doctor, spoke approvingly of an element of the bill that would require syringes being marked specifically to identify the community program that distributed them.

“This potential legislation has some benefits to answer some really big questions,” Takubo said. “It gives us the opportunity not only help the indiviuals but to answer some questions about the programs.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says syringe exchange programs are an important way of reducing HIV and hepatitis C infections.

“For people who inject drugs, the best way to reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting disease through injection drug use is to stop injecting drugs,” according to the CDC.

“For people who do not stop injecting drugs, using sterile injection equipment for each injection can reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting infections and prevent outbreaks.”

Maroney, a radiologist, said he once thought a bill like the one up for passage in the Legislature was not in line with expert recommendations. But he said he has started taking community concerns into consideration.

“There’s more to science than this issue. There’s more to society,” he said. “I didn’t grasp the big picture last year.”

He concluded, “We tried to find a hybrid between what the science tells you and what the community tells you.”

Critics of the bill as it first passed the Senate said it would be so restrictive that no syringe exchange programs could be sustained in West Virginia.

That criticism remained today as senators passed the bill again.

Ron Stollings

“This is too restrictive in a state that’s experiencing an HIV and Hep C epidemic,” said Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone.

Stollings, a doctor, said the legislation would take away the ability of people with addictions to access clean syringes.

“I think we’re setting up a recipe for disaster,” he said. “This is a kneejerk response to needle litter. So I urge a no vote.”




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Governor says he’ll hit the road right away to persuade citizens about tax bill

Gov. Jim Justice says he won’t give up on his big tax plan that was voted down 0-100 by the House of Delegates a day ago.

“I’m going to go out on the road immediately,” Justice said during a Saturday night briefing meant to address the end of the regular legislative session.

The governor reiterated his belief that a sharp income tax cut would make West Virginia enticing for people to move. He contends the move would result in significant population growth for the state.

But he said citizens may not see it his way yet.

“I’m telling you, when the voice of the people really hear this, they’re not going to go away quietly,” the governor said.

The governor has talked about a big income tax cut since the day after the General Election. He made that push the central point of his State of the State address. Then he had a series of town hall events to promote the cut.

Senators narrowly passed a bill, 18-16, Wednesday evening to make a big initial income tax cut while also raising and expanding sales taxes. The governor praised the Senate for embracing that plan.

Delegates have worried about how increasing sales taxes would affect West Virginia households and small businesses. The House’s Republican supermajority passed an earlier plan that cut $150 million a year in income taxes, anticipating a phase-out over about a dozen years, without the offsetting tax increases.

At midday Friday, Justice criticized the House of Delegates for not taking up the bill. He suggested they would just table it. “I would hate to be a delegate that is sitting on their hands,” he said.

A couple of hours after that, delegates voted it down 0-100.

“To be perfectly honest was a grandstanding kind of move,” Justice said tonight. “They are so proud to say the vote was 100 to goose eggs.”

He suggested many of those delegates actually voted against their true view of the bill.

“When politics gets going with the snowball going down the side of the mountain, it gets out of control,” he said. “We all know it’s physically impossible to think that a hundred of those folks — that there isn’t a goodly percentage of those folks are all on board. But when leadership is pushing and everything, it gets going downhill.”

Roger Hanshaw

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw on Friday said he hadn’t expected the complicated bill could pass during the 60-day session, given how late lawmakers received a bill and how far apart the chambers seemed. He was open to ongoing consideration, though, and said he would like further, rigorous examination.

“Look, this goal is important. It’s important to the entire Legislature. It’s important to the governor, and I believe it’s important to the people of West Virginia,” Hanshaw said.

“But we will not do it recklessly. We will not do this without some basis for the decisions we make. And a gut feeling and a positive reaction is not a basis on which to make any decision, much less a decision about half the state’s entire general revenue budget.”

The governor tonight reiterated his belief that delegates have been swayed by “out-of-state” lobbyists.

“I just think the out-of-state lobbyists drive a lot of what’s going on,” he said. “The lobbyists can become a real problem.

“Let’s just be brutally honest: When I’ve got out-of-state people that are lobbyists that are putting on a fundraiser for me, and I’m running in the House of Delegates and it takes $30,000 or $40,000 to get me across the finish line every year, and I can pick up $20,000 or $25,000 from these guys, well, I can’t go against ’em.”

Organizations like the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Business & Industry Council, the West Virginia Beverage Association, the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and the West Virginia Farm Bureau have been critical of its tax shift.

Justice said he would meet with those groups to try to talk through differences.

“I’ll call all those groups in and hope like crazy that we can get a general consensus of a path forward. And I’ll continue to meet with the House and the Senate and see if we can find a path forward,” he said.

“Once I see a path forward, I’ll call the session.”

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Pinkett shines as GW defends their MSAC championship

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senior guard Mason Pinkett scored 12 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter as George Washington pulled away from Huntington in the MSAC Championship game, 62-51 Saturday evening at South Charleston High School.

The Patriots used a 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to build a ten-point lead that they would not relinquish. Pinkett scored seven points during that decisive run.

“I am thinking that I am not trading benches”, said George Washington head coach Rick Greene on Pinkett’s play. “Alex (Yoakum) did a great job early for us. Ben (Nicol) in the third quarter, he got going offensively and scoring points, that takes a lot of pressure off our guards. I think they are the best backcourt in the state or as good as anybody.”

Huntington used an 8-0 first quarter run to take a 15-13 lead after the opening stanza. GW responded with an 11-0 second quarter run to take a four-point lead but the Highlanders scored the final seven points in the frame and led 27-24 at halftime.

A buzzer-beating three-pointer from Pinkett gave the Patriots a 43-41 lead at the end of three quarters. Huntington trailed 45-44 at the seven-minute mark before GW pulled away with their nine-point run.

Yoakum scored 17 points for the Patriots (10-1) while Taran Fitzpatrick added 10 points.

“If we can get 8-12 points out of those forwards, then we feel like that takes a lot of pressure off our guards.”

Jaylen Motley led Huntington (9-2) with 17 points while Amare Smith added a dozen.

Playing in their seventh MSAC final, George Washington completed a successful title defense after winning the title last winter.

“There’s two seasons. And in our minds, we just won the regular season. Obviously, that gives you confidence. I think it helps to play in this game no matter what, because this is the pressure for a championship. I think it will help and will build more momentum. I think conference championships are really important. It is really hard to win one. You have to be really consistent all year and you have to be ready to go on a certain night.”

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