From the Well

November Special Session

At the center of the West Virginia state Capitol is an area known as The Well.

It is the informal gathering place for lobbyists, reporters, constituents and lawmakers.

Centrally located between the chambers of the House of Delegates and Senate,

The Well is often where information is shared, alliances are formed, and deals are made.


Senior Citizens


AARP suggests ideas to enhance adult care


AARP representatives spoke Monday to members of the Legislative Interim Committee on PEIA, seniors and long-term care following last month’s presentations by the West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services (WVDSCS) and the Bureau of Senior Services (BOSS) on improving funding and services for the state’s senior population.

AARP President Jane Marks, Policy Advocate Angela Vance and State Director Gaylene Miller applauded the efforts of the WVDSCS and BOSS to ensure that older West Virginians have access to food and care. The three West Virginia AARP representatives provided statistics and recommendations to improve senior access to home and community-based services.

Marks told committee members that West Virginia ranks low nationally in home-health services, and the state’s continued reliance on nursing homes is a major issue for the state.

“It costs the state $238 per day, and approximately $87,000 per year, for a senior to reside in a nursing home, and those financial costs make West Virginia one of the most expensive states in the country,” Marks said.

Vance and Miller provided suggestions for committee members to consider combatting workforce, home-based service and environmental-assessment issues. AARP recommended the creation of a task force to determine how federal American Rescue Plan Act money can be used to compensate in-home workers. In addition, Vance urged the expansion of adult day center programs in addition to providing money for one-time home repairs to help the state’s elderly remain in their residences rather than nursing homes. She said one-time investments by DHHR in a hot water tank, furnace or ramp for a senior’s home could save West Virginia millions in Medicaid dollars.

Miller, who previously served as Commissioner of the Bureau of Senior Services under Gov. Cecil H. Underwood, said AARP is committed to supporting the expansion of home-based and community services and holding DHHR accountable by creating a task force of those on the front lines. She encouraged the Legislature to approve new rules for adult day centers and also to use ARA money or even state funds for basic repairs that keep seniors independent and in their homes.


Committee reviews Senior Services audit


The Joint Committee on Government and Finance on the West Virginia Legislature has reviewed a performance review of the state Bureau of Senior Services.

The report, completed by the West Virginia Legislative Auditor Performance Evaluation & Research Division and available here, offered the following recommendations:

·    The Bureau of Senior Services should continue the process of consolidating regional Aging & Disability Resource (ARD) Centers to one statewide ADR Center to annually free up $225,000 to $305,000 or other services.

·    A seven-year accumulation of nearly $354,000 of unexpended appropriations for ADR centers remains idle because the Bureau has no authority to spend the funds, and the accountability of state funds granted to ADR centers is inadequate.

·    Eight county senior citizen centers generally meet federal accessibility guidelines for most requirements.

·    The Bureau of Senior Services’ website needs modest improvements overall to enhance user-friendliness and transparency.

The Joint Committee on Government and Finance made the report available to the Bureau of Senior Citizens in August. The Bureau responded in a Nov. 5 letter.


Foster Care


Pack cites challenges in foster system


West Virginia is one of many states struggling to place children in appropriate foster-care settings, and the Commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ new Bureau for Social Services told legislators Tuesday the problem will not be solved overnight.

Jeffrey Pack, a former delegate from Raleigh County who took over the Bureau for Social Services post in August, gave his impression of the agency’s challenges to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability. He formerly served as chair of the Health and Human Resources Committee.

Pack said the state does not have sufficient community-based services for children in the foster-care system. Some communities, he said, may have adequate support for children, but others – especially rural communities – do not.

In addition, Pack said the state has problems finding room for children in shelters on a short-term basis because COVID-19 has reduced the number of available beds.

Pack addressed Bureau staffing.

“Recruitment for CPS (Child Protective Services) workers is stable,” he said, “but retention is a problem.”

As a result, he said, caseloads become unmanageable, thus creating more challenges for case workers. He said the bureau is helping staff members learn to cope with stressful situations and how to de-escalate them.

Lack of pay remains a significant problem for the Bureau, and Pack said case workers recognize they can work in less stressful jobs for comparable pay.

He said the Bureau is working to streamline the information system to make data, such as a child’s health records, more readily available.

“We’re not there yet, but I made it clear that’s our expectation,” he said.

Pack said The West Virginia Children’s Home in Elkins could accommodate more children, but the state would have to spend more money there for staffing and support. Low pay remains a problem there, too, he added.

Commission member Amy Summers, a delegate from Taylor County, told Pack the president of Fairmont State University, Mirta Martin, oversaw a program in another state that placed former foster children in a college campus setting and provided them job training. Pack said he would contact Martin about the program.

Sen. Ron Stollings, a physician from Boone County and a Commission member, asked what the cost to the state would be if it did not increase spending on foster care given that many children in the system historically have ended up in prison.

Click here for additional coverage.


Redistricting and Voting


County officials devise new districts


Donald “Deak” Kersey, General Counsel to the West Virginia Secretary of State, and Brian Wood, President of the County Clerks Association of West Virginia, testified before the Joint Judiciary Committee on Monday about the effects of redistricting legislation on both of their offices.

They indicated they are working together to assist county clerks in modifying county precincts and magisterial districts to align with the newly created delegate and senatorial districts. Clerks have the statutory power to change those districts.

Both indicated clerks are using a variety of mapping vendors. The West Virginia Technological Information Center at West Virginia University also has assisted. They said all 55 counties have begun the process of realigning precincts and magisterial districts, and only seven counties have not selected a mapping vendor.

Wood pointed out that some counties have remained whole and unchanged, but most have not, and they recognize the work involved in moving from 67 delegate districts to 100. He reminded the committee the time involved in the public-notice requirements and the upcoming election make the clerks very busy.

The Secretary of State’s Office is considering legislation to incorporate both census block and precinct block information so precincts and magisterial districts also are considered as part of the redistricting process.


Secretary of State to offer voting bills


The Secretary of State’s Office said it plans to seek passage of the following 10 election-related bills during the next session:

Bill 1 – Expand deadline to request absentee ballot from six days to 15 days based on U.S. Post Office recommendations. A voter still may obtain a ballot after the deadline under an emergency provision.

Bill 2 – An election contest is currently filed in the court of record of the local governing body (county commission, city council). The bill would make the Circuit Court the new venue for an election contest. The rationale is that Circuit Courts are less likely to have a conflict and are better equipped to address evidentiary issues.

Bill 3 – Extend the electronic absentee ballot for physical disability, active military and overseas citizens to include first responders.

Bill 4 – Move municipal and levy elections to be on the county ballot to increase voter participation.

Bill 5 – Create a new independent entity or recruit a currently independent entity, such as the election commission, to have oversight of nonpublic funding sources to election jurisdictions.

Bill 6 – Clarify the deadline to register to vote electronically and create a uniform deadline. Eligible citizens currently can register online until the “close of business” on the final deadline day. Close of business is not uniform in all 55 counties.

Bill 7 – Address electronic voting machine security. Counties formerly had one vendor that used a uniform standard. Counties now have multiple vendors with multiple security protocols and standards. If a county uses touch-screen machines with paper trails, it must have “non-networked” machines, i.e., no Internet connection.

Bill 8 – Motor voter fund. Revenues have increased due to increased business registrations. Fifty cents for every driver’s license goes to the Secretary of State, per WV Code 3-2-12, and the bill would broaden discretion of what the money can be used for.

Bill 9 – Amending 3-4A-28, 3-6-9 would mandate counties send post-election audit results to the state for the public to view. West Virginia already does auditing prior to certification, but that information is not easily available to the public.

Bill 10 – Create the crime of interfering with voting or access to polls.




Suddenlink says its service is improving


Suddenlink Communications, which provides television, telephone and Internet services, had its turn Tuesday before a legislative committee to respond to complaints about poor service and customer care. A company executive said Suddenlink is improving.

A joint meeting of members of the interim Technology and Infrastructure committees heard Public Service Commission Chair Charlotte Lane discuss the public and evidentiary hearings the PSC held to hear from hundreds of Suddenlink customers. Lane said the Commission hopes to issue an order by the end of the year.

Jim Campbell, Vice President of State and Local Government Affairs for Altice, Suddenlink’s parent company, told the committee the cable company is improving its service and is negotiating a resolution with the PSC that will be better for West Virginia. He added that frustrations with field service and Suddenlink’s plant, along with customer care, were the primary issues.

Campbell told members the company has taken significant steps during the past year to improve in those areas.

“The idea of outsourcing field service didn’t work out well, but our technical problems are down 30% over last year,” he said.

Lane added the public’s testimony focused on a language barrier and long telephone waits for customers dealing with Suddenlink’s customer service. She also said calls for repeat technician visits also were a major complaint.

When asked whether the PSC is looking at other cable companies’ performances, Lane said: “Comcast was the only other cable company with complaints we looked at, but their number was dramatically lower. For example, in 2020, Comcast had 29 complaints compared to Suddenlink’s 1,005.”

For news coverage, click here.


Legislative Calendar


The West Virginia Legislature has scheduled interim meetings in Charleston for Dec. 5-7


The 2022 regular session is scheduled for Jan. 12-March 12.