From the Well


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 situated between the chambers of the House of Delegates and Senate,

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


86th West Virginia Legislature

September Interim Meetings


September 13, 2023


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In This Edition


·     TRANSPORTATION: The Executive Director of the Parkways Authority gave legislators an overview of major plaza projects, saying he’s been pleased with the progress.

·     SENIOR CARE: Thirteen programs that provide care for senior citizens sued state agencies, citing changes that allowed for-profit companies to capitalize on providing services.

·     EMERGENCY SERVICES: Legislators learned that first responder post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rates are triple the general population.

·     CORRECTIONS: Legislators heard from officials who work on sentencing and bailing out people accused of crimes.

·     HEALTH AND HUMAN RESOURCES: Department officials updated legislators about sweeping changes involving the Department of Health and Human Resources.

·     FRAUD: The Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard presentations about whether legislation is needed to address fraud and financial exploitation.

·     GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS: The Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization heard several in-depth presentations on regulatory boards and human resources processes for West Virginia state government.

·     VETERANS: The Veterans Affairs Committee discussed the veterans treatment court program in Raleigh County.

·     EDUCATION: The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability received state Superintendent Michele Blatt’s report about the state of public education and a review of two state Board of Education policies and other required public education reports

·     ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Mitch Carmichael, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, updated members of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism, noting the economic successes West Virginia has seen in recent years.

·     AGRICULTURE: The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development heard reports about the West Virginia State Farm Museum, West Virginia Grown marketing program, and the West Virginia Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture program.




Parkways chief pleased with progress


Jeff Miller, Executive Director of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, began with an in-depth presentation, updating the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability on Tuesday about ongoing construction projects.

He discussed the reconstruction of the Beckley and Bluestone travel plazas, noting the contractor, Areas USA, and the projected completion date.

Areas USA won the West Virginia Parkways Authority bid to revamp and operate the travel plazas. Director Miller mentioned the countless hours involved in working with the contractor and subcontractors.

“They’ve become a great partner,” Director Miller said. “They assumed control of operations at Morton and also the rest area at mile marker 69 on Feb. 1. Since then, they’ve already completed some upgrades and made improvements to both of those sites that are still operating.”

Director Miller said Areas USA laid out a good plan for the operations of Beckley and Bluestone plazas when the sites reopen.

Director Miller provided details on the progress of the work, as well as plans to keep certain services operational during construction. He also outlined an ongoing toll-system upgrade project involving new roadside-collection technology and a customer-service system overhaul.

Additionally, Director Miller covered other capital improvement projects, such as bridge painting and repairs, highway paving, and safety enhancement initiatives, including median barrier wall extensions and high-friction surface treatments. He shared timelines and progress for those projects. Miller also presented traffic and revenue statistics for the previous fiscal year.

Joe Pack from the Division of Highways then gave a brief report. He highlighted maintenance work completed across the state, including ditch cleaning, mowing, and pothole patching. Mr. Pack also provided updates on ongoing construction projects. He mentioned sections of the Coalfields Expressway and Corridor H. He said federal funding for paving projects and internal revenue transfers are being used for contractor work and equipment purchases.

In total, the presentations provided a comprehensive overview from the two transportation authorities on maintenance activities, current construction initiatives, and the use of various funding sources across West Virginia. Committee members asked follow-up questions regarding specific projects and data reporting.


Senior Care


13 aging programs sue DHHR, HCA


Thirteen aging programs have sued the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and the state Health Care Authority (HCA), citing changes that have allowed for-profit companies to take money from those programs.

The facilities filed their complaints Aug. 31 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the DHHR and HCA, as well as HCA Executive Director Stacy Pridemore and Interim Director of the HCA’s Certificate of Need Program Timothy E. Adkins.

According to the complaints, county aging programs across the state have been providing in-house personal care services to eligible citizens through programs administered by the state Bureau of Senior Services.

Plaintiffs attorney Rich Walters told the West Virginia Record that the purpose of the programs is to give individuals the ability to live at home as long as possible instead of living in a facility. When seniors end up living in a facility, the state pays more to take care of them than it does when county aging programs provide support, he said.

In many counties, senior programs provide services to all eligible West Virginia Medicaid recipients. The complaint says “there is no unmet need for these services.”

A company must obtain a certificate of need (CON) from the HCA to provide Medicaid personal care services.

“For years it has been determined that in most counties, the senior services programs are capable of providing all necessary Medicaid personal care services and, thus, new CON applications have been rejected as there is no unmet need among Medicaid-eligible recipients,” the complaint states. “Unfortunately, the HCA has arbitrarily and capriciously changed the methodology it uses to determine unmet need to artificially inflate the actual need despite clear evidence that there is no unmet need.”

Click here to read the story from the West Virginia Record.


Emergency Services



Committee hears about responders’ stress


Firefighters are more likely to take their own life than to die in the line of duty.

First responder post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rates are triple the general population.

Those are just two of the many devastating statistics House Education Committee Chief Counsel Melissa White laid out in a Tuesday interim meeting of the Joint Committee on Volunteer Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services.

“A journal of Emergency Medical Services reported that 37% of EMS first responders contemplated suicide and 6.6% attempted suicide, making them 10 times more likely than the CDC average,” Ms. White said.

Ms. White told lawmakers that combining EMS and firefighter duties made the individual six times more likely to report a suicide attempt than just firefighting duties alone.

“Here in West Virginia, in the month of September 2022 alone, four suicidal first responders were referred to inpatient treatment through the assistance of local non-profit organizations,” she said.

Click here to read the story from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.




Hearing focuses on incarceration, bail


The West Virginia Legislature did not pass legislation during its special session last month to change bail procedures and add reporting requirements meant to limit the number of people being held behind bars without a conviction. On Monday, legislators heard from individuals who work on both sentencing and bailing out people accused of crimes.

Delegate David Kelly of Tyler County, Chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Correctional Facilities, said the Committee had one hour to hear five speakers discuss pretrial release, forms of bail, amounts of bail, and conditions of release on bail.

Speakers were:

·     Maryclaire Akers, Circuit Judge, Kanawha County;

·     Joseph L. Mendez, Magistrate, Logan County;

·     Luke Furbee, Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney and President of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Association;

·     Ronni Sheets, Kanawha County Public Defender; and

·     Tommy Weatherholtz, Weatherholtz Bail Bonding.

Delegate Tom Fast of Fayette County asked bail bondsman Tommy Weatherholtz whether the state is putting non-violent alleged offenders in jail. Mr. Weatherholtz responded that some magistrates set cash-only bonds, but he also sees personal recognizance (PR) bonds that he doesn’t support.

“I do believe there are some bad calls being made,” Mr. Weatherholtz said.

Delegate Fast asked Magistrate Mendez the same question. He responded that it often depends on whether the person is a repeat offender or is out on multiple bonds. He gave an example of a repeat offender charged with stealing Christmas decorations who eventually was denied bond and put in jail.

Senator Jack David Woodrum of Summers County asked Prosecutor Furbee, “Is there a better way?”

Mr. Furbee responded that prosecutors would like to see more emphasis and effort put into electronic monitoring and pre-trial supervision.

Senator Woodrum asked Public Defender Sheets whether more consistency is needed county to county.

“We are always short on data,” Ms. Sheets responded, noting it’s hard to track inconsistencies. She added that about 500 people are being held statewide on pre-trial misdemeanor charges, and half of that number is serving sentences for misdemeanors convictions. Ms. Sheets said those who have family and friends may be able to post bond. She said serving time in jail often means the incarcerated lose their jobs.

Ms. Sheets also recommended alternatives for pre-trial incarceration, such as supervision at a day-report center.

Kanawha County has five-day bond hearings, and Ms. Sheets said the defense attorney and prosecutor appear at those, resulting in a lot of people getting out of jail on a personal-recognizance (PR) bond.

“If a PR bond is appropriate in five days, why wasn’t it at the beginning?” Ms. Sheets asked.


Judge Mary Claire Akers responded to a question from Chairman Kelly about the use of bail bondsmen.

“I do not find it to be effective,” she said, explaining that factors, such as the seriousness of a previous record or likelihood of appearance in court, have to be considered.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Chairman Kelly asked for suggestions.

Public Defender Sheets reiterated the need for data that shows who’s in jail and why.

Click here to read more from West Virginia Watch.


Health and Human Resources


Panel hears about department’s overhaul


Chair Delegate Amy Summers of Taylor County opened the meeting of the Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability on Tuesday for presentations on shared services and updates about the reorganization of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).

Dr. Sherri Young, Interim Secretary for DHHR and incoming Secretary for the Department of Health, began the discussion of the reorganization of DHHR, saying leadership is looking at every vacant position and identifying priority areas. In January 2023, she said there were 1,532 vacancies, including critical vacancies in Finance.

Cynthia Persily, incoming Secretary for the Department of Human Services, continued the discussion on organization, noting the department has had success with a reduction in vacancies in Child Protective Services (CPS). She credited salary increases provided by the Legislature.

Secretary Persily added that CPS workers now have access to behavioral health support to help them deal with the trauma they experience as part of their work.

In discussing shared services, Secretary Persily explained that each Bureau has different needs, but they can share services such as technology. She pointed out that media needs are very different for each Bureau and, ideally, they would have one person assigned to each department as subject-matter experts.

Michael Caruso, incoming Secretary of the Department of Health Facilities, told the committee he currently has seven hospitals with seven CEOs. The Department has brought in an accounting firm to do a benchmark study.

“We don’t pay our people enough on an hourly basis,” said Mr. Caruso, emphasizing the vacancy rate is high.

Mr. Caruso added that his team is looking at future planning and will request proposals for a financial advisory firm.

“Every one of our facilities is old,” he said, adding the department needs to plan for the future.

In response, Delegate Summers said, “I’m seeing a lot of growth at the top, and that concerns me,” adding that front-line workers are needed. “I think the legislative goal was shared services,” she said.

Senator Bob Plymale of Wayne County asked about facilities and costs. Caruso answered, “We can’t stay the same. We are on a train wreck right now with respect to our facilities.”

Delegate Summers asked for more information at the next interim meeting on vertical bureaucracy and how that will decrease and an explanation of the steps in their purchasing process.

Cindy Beane, Commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Medical Services, explained the unwinding of the Medicaid Continuous Enrollment Provision. She gave a brief history and said in March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, nobody was to be taken off the Medicaid rolls. That practice continued for three years, and Medicaid numbers increased from 504,000 prior to the pandemic to 665,000 in March 2023.

She said Medicaid is not like private insurance.

“You can come on to Medicaid at any time,” she said, explaining that services can even be backdated up to three months.

While the agency is policing enrollment numbers diligently, she said, “Medicaid is an entitlement program.”




Judiciary panel hears about exploitation


The Joint Committee on the Judiciary, after opening Monday with a moment of silence to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, heard presentations about whether legislation is needed to address recurring fraud and financial exploitation.

The discussion began with Angela Vance, Associate Director of AARP WV, who explained the difference between automatic renewal contracts and continuous contracts. She said the Uniform Law Commission is drafting model legislation to address those issues while at the same time the Federal Trade Commission is working on a proposed rule requiring disclosures.

Ms. Vance said AARP recommends waiting for completion of the FTC requirements prior to consideration of the uniform legislation.

“Scammers steal millions every year,” Ms. Vance said, pointing out that those incidents can be financially and emotionally devastating with little chance of restitution.

In 2022, the state received 12,967 reports of fraud from West Virginians that included identity theft, imposter scams, prizes from lottery or sweepstakes, online banking, and others. She said scammers are increasingly using “smishing,” which is phishing by text to obtain personal information.

AARP’s Fraud Watch provides outreach and education, but Ms. Vance said it is proving insufficient to prevent fraud or recover losses. AARP recommends legislative solutions that would include prevention and strengthen protections for consumers. That includes legislation to help curtail gift-card scams that caused $228 million in losses in 2022 by requiring stores to post notices about gift-card scams and training employees to recognize fraud.

Another recommended legislative solutions include preventing unfair service agreements and further restricting robocalls. AARP also supports creating a fraud fund to help consumers recover financially.

Jane Marks, AARP President, emphasized prevention of fraud and financial exploitation, describing it as “the fastest growing silent crime of the 21st century.” She said AARP has created a task force to address financial exploitation, and AARP’s Fraud Watch Network provides up-to-date insights and alerts about scams.

Chairman Moore Capito of Kanawha County asked Ms. Vance about current fraud trends. She responded that the trend now is texting (smishing) rather than calling to say a utility is going to cut off service or that a grandchild is in peril.


Government Operations


Committee hears rundown from agencies


The Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization on Monday featured several in-depth presentations on regulatory boards and human resources processes for West Virginia state government.

Linda Lyter, Executive Director, West Virginia Board of Acupuncture, discussed trafficking and the sex labor industry in West Virginia. She detailed how organized crime syndicates fraudulently obtain massage licenses or operate without licenses while forcing women into nonconsensual sex work. Most of the women and are brought to the U.S. under the guise of obtaining legitimate massage therapy training and licensure. She discussed the need for increased penalties for parties operating houses of prostitution.

John Sylvia from the Legislative Auditor’s Office discussed the termination of the Board of Hearing Aid Dealers. He summarized the board’s compliance with statutory requirements for distributing its remaining funds, property, records, and other assets.

Keith Brown from the Legislative Auditor’s Office presented findings from a review of the Division of Public Transit. He outlined three key issues: the division’s vehicle database lacks adequate data controls; it does not have a formal plan for expanding services; and licensing policies for elderly/disabled transit providers are inconsistent.

Mr. Brown provided details on ridership declines in recent years and the need for the division to use regional planning council reports when identifying areas that lack transit access. He recommended that the Division develops a long-term strategic plan for increasing ridership statewide.

Harry Koval from the Legislative Auditor’s Office discussed the Board of Physical Therapy. Mr. Koval said the board regulates the practice of physical therapy in the state. He summarized the Legislative Auditor’s findings from its review of the board, which determined that continued regulation is necessary to protect public health and safety. The board was found to comply with most statutory requirements, though some accessibility issues were noted with the board’s office building.

Sheryl Webb, Director of the Division of Personnel, provided an overview of her agency’s role and addressed common misconceptions. She said the Division of Personnel oversees classification and compensation for about 15,000 state employees. However, it is a hybrid system. Agencies have autonomy over human resources functions, such as hiring after they receive applicant lists from the Division.

Ms. Webb then delved into details about the hiring process. She described how job applications are submitted through the Division’s website and placed into applicant pools. The timeline for hiring was outlined, including requirements to post open positions internally for 10 days and publicly for 15 days. Ms. Webb noted efforts taken to speed up various stages of hiring in recent years.

In the second half of her presentation, Ms. Webb focused on compensation. She said the division uses a job-content methodology to determine pay grades based on position requirements and responsibilities. She provided details on the pay-scale structure, minimum qualifications, and pay increases for experience. She also discussed special hiring rates that can be approved for positions with documented recruitment problems.

Ms. Webb, responding to questions, said the Division aims to be a resource rather than obstruction to agencies.




Lawmakers learn about treatment program


The Veterans Affairs Committee on Monday discussed the veterans treatment court program in Raleigh County.

Chris M. Houck, Chief Adult Probation Officer, Raleigh County, discussed how the program has four phases and focuses on stabilization, intensive treatment, reintegration, and independence. He noted the program had 10 graduates out of 22 participants.

Jacqueline Hartsog, Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator from the Beckley VA Medical Center, spoke about her role in providing VA services to support veterans who have PTSD, substance abuse treatment, and more. She said the dedicated approach has led to better outcomes for veterans by providing a supportive community and addressing their unique experiences and challenges.

Both guests emphasized the success of Raleigh County’s program and how it provides dedicated support for veterans.




Commission considers policy proposals


The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA), meeting Monday, received state Superintendent Michele Blatt’s statutorily required report about the state of public education and a review of two state Board of Education policies and other required public education reports.

LOCEA also approved seven higher education policies.

As part of her report concerning the state of public schools, Superintendent Blatt provided lawmakers with county superintendents’ recommendations for legislative considerations.

Referring to the state’s four county superintendent quadrants, which were placed in law in 2017 when the state abolished Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) to create Educational Service Cooperatives (ESCs), Blatt outlined county superintendents’ legislative priorities. She cited the “financial cliff” county boards of education face when federal pandemic funds expire, which may prompt changes in school board central office staffing.

‘Financial Cliff’ tied to federal pandemic funds

West Virginia law, bolstered by court decrees, state Grievance Board rulings, and state and county board policies, provides elaborate procedures that school districts follow to make personnel decisions, which often result in rippling staff alignments that affect entire school district staffing.

Superintendent Blatt said the state Board of Education is providing guidance to counties about pandemic fiscal issues.

Broad areas cited by county superintendents include:

·     broadband access;

·     “Funding for Student Learning & Well-Being,” including increased funding for the School Building Authority;

·     recruitment and retention of highly qualified educators; and

·     school safety.

Senate Bill 99, which the Legislature adopted in March, establishes “voluntary” frameworks for county boards to consider ways to share central office staffing positions, including suggestions for legislation to mitigate effects on smaller school districts.

Counties haven’t held the meetings, prompted by a 2021 Senate Concurrent Resolution, that established a regional approach to staffing county-level administrative services.

Public education observers conclude quadrant recommendations may replace SB99 voluntary meetings.

Public education reports reviewed

Commission members had few questions regarding the reports regarding the statutorily required Commission reports. Senate Education Chair Amy Grady of Mason County noted 41% of classroom aides serving in self-contained classrooms for special needs students moved to “lower grade” classrooms, creating shifting dynamics for filling self-contained classrooms. Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Sonya White said the positions are being filled, although not all county reports are in.

LOCEA reviews two State Board policies

Senate Education counsel Hank Hager reviewed two policies the State Board is likely to place on public comment, one of which addresses readiness standards for career technical education. The other policy is amended to conform to House Bill 3035, the “Third Grade Success Act.”

Seven higher education rules approved 

House Education counsel Melissa White reviewed seven higher education rules, which LOCEA approved, including a rule change reducing the required GPA for PROMISE Scholarship retention from 3.0 to 2.75 on a 4.0 scale. LOCEA also approved a rule for implementing provisions of dual-credit pilot projects that allow students to receive both public secondary school and higher education credits.

Unlike public education, higher education rules (policies) are subject to legislative approval.

Last year, voters rejected a constitutional amendment compelling legislative review of State Board policies.

Other higher education reports are related to the needs of students who are veterans and leveraging federal funds for higher education research.

Joint Committee visits Herbert Hoover High School

As reported by various news outlets, the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education visited Kanawha County’s newly completed Herbert Hoover High School. Click here for a report from WVMetroNews.


Economic Development


Legislators hear state success stories


Mitch Carmichael, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, updated members of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism on Sunday, noting the economic successes West Virginia has seen in recent years.

Secretary Carmichael pointed to billions of dollars in private investment and more than 125,000 new jobs. GDP and personal income growth are outpacing national averages, he said.

He discussed the key factors driving the success, such as West Virginia’s central location, low costs of doing business, workforce strengths, and business-friendly policies and tax structure.

Committee members asked follow-up questions about how to continue the momentum, what is needed to develop more industrial sites, and potential legislation regarding brownfield liability protections.




Joint committee learns about 3 programs


The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development met Monday and heard reports about the West Virginia State Farm Museum, West Virginia Grown marketing program, and the West Virginia Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture program.

West Virginia State Farm Museum

West Virginia State Farm Museum Executive Director Tim Kidwell discussed the museum’s history and facilities, which include historic buildings and working demonstrations. He talked about events, volunteers, budgets, and future plans.

West Virginia Grown

Buddy Davidson, West Virginia Grown Program Coordinator, talked about promoting locally made products through a branding program. He outlined membership benefits and sales at events, such the State Fair of West Virginia and the Winter Blues Farmers Market. Mr. Davidson said the program plans to grow.

Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture

Sierra Cox, Manager of the Veterans and Heroes to Agriculture, said the program helps veterans and first responders get into farming. The program offers grants, training, scholarships, and a pitch competition. Partnerships support mental health and getting veterans reconnected with agriculture.


Looking Ahead


Here are the dates of upcoming interim meetings:


·     October 15-17

·     November 12-14 (Wheeling)

·     December 10-12

·     January 7-9


Footnote for Readers


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