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Today in the Legislature

Sunday, December 09, 2018 - 05:41 PM

Chief Technology Officer Discusses Cyber Security

Josh Spence, chief technology officer with the West Virginia Office of Technology, is proposing legislation to be drafted to address cyber security in the state.

Spence and Stan Partlow, vice president and chief security officer at American Electric Power, addressed legislators in Sunday’s Select Committee on Infrastructure.

Spence asked legislators to consider supporting the Secure West Virginia Act. This act would establish risk management methodology and a framework for assessing agencies’ risk. It would collect data and determine where areas of risk exist within state government.

 “The cyber threat is real. The cyber threat is here and the time to act is now,” Spence said.



Friday, December 07, 2018 - 04:17 PM

John Hott sworn in to West Virginia House of Delegates

John Paul Hott was sworn in Friday afternoon in the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber. House Clerk Steve Harrison swore him in.

 

Hott was accompanied by his wife Karen and children, Brooke Elizabeth, John Paul III, Sarah Ann, and Raphael Heber.

Hott, of Petersburg, is a republican member representing the 54th district, which covers Grant County and parts of Mineral and Pendleton counties.

He owns an insurance agency and a disposal service company. He has a bachelor’s in education from Fairmont State University, and his master’s in administration and supervision from Frostburg State University.



Friday, December 07, 2018 - 01:52 PM

Scott Cadle Sworn in to House of Delegates

Scott Cadle was sworn in to the West Virginia House of Delegates Friday morning.

Justice Evan Jenkins swore Cadle in and Emily Adkins, an 11th grader from Lincoln County High School held the Bible. Adkins and her class were taking a tour of the Capitol and were in the House during the ceremony.

Cadle, of Letart, is a Republican member representing the 13th district, which covers parts of Jackson, Mason and Putnam counties. He previously served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 2012-2016. He is in the trucking business.



Thursday, December 06, 2018 - 05:07 PM

Patrick Martin, Carl “Robbie” Martin, sworn in to House of Delegates

Patrick Martin and brother Carl “Robbie” Martin” were sworn in to the West Virginia House of Delegates Thursday afternoon. Judge Kurt Hall, circuit judge from the 26th district covering Upshur and Lewis counties, swore both of them in.

Patrick Martin, of Weston, is a republican member representing the 46th district, which covers Lewis County and part of Upshur County. He first was elected in 2016 to the House of Delegates. 

Carl “Robbie” Martin, of Buckhannon, is a republican member representing the 45th district, which covers part of Upshur County. He previously has served on the Upshur County Board of Education. He received his bachelor’s in business management from West Virginia Wesleyan.



Monday, December 03, 2018 - 11:31 AM

Two Sworn into West Virginia House of Delegates

Two delegates were sworn in Monday morning in the West Virginia House of Delegates Chamber.

Randy Swartzmiller, of Chester, was officially sworn in at 10 a.m. Swartzmiller is a democratic member representing District 1, which covers Hancock County and part of Brooke County.

Swartzmiller first was elected in 2000 and served until 2014. During his tenure, he served as assistant majority whip from 2005-2013 and as speaker pro tempore. He also chaired the Homeland Security Committee, which was created shortly after September 11.

Swartzmiller worked for the Department of Agriculture from 2015-2017.

Swartzmiller earned his bachelor’s degree from West Liberty State College and his master’s from Mountain State University.

“I’m certainly honored to be back. I look forward to working with everyone to move West Virginia forward,” Swartzmiller said.

Larry Kump, of Falling Waters, also was sworn in Monday morning. Kump is a republican member representing District 59, which covers part of Berkeley and Morgan counties.

His swearing-in was ceremonial because the West Virginia Secretary of State had not yet certified all votes from that district.

Kump first was elected in 2010 and served until 2014 in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

“There are still things that need to be done,” Kump said. “It’s both a sacrifice and a privilege to serve. I’m pleased and proud to do it.”

Kump earned his bachelor’s degree from Frostburg State University and an associate’s degree from Hagerstown Community College.

He also has served as the executive director of the Indiana State Employees Association and as the regional president of the Assembly of Governmental Employees.



Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - 03:06 PM

Joint Committee on Flooding updated on RISE

The Joint Committee on Flooding met Tuesday and heard an update on the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management—Federal Grant Management and an update on the RISE program.

Earlier this month, members of the Post Audits Subcommittee heard a report from the Performance Evaluation and Research Division on the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM). FEMA placed DHSEM on manual reimbursement effective Jan. 13, 2016.

FEMA notified the department in a November 2015 letter about the state's placement on manual reimbursement. The report said the action was a result of several years of the department’s inability to comply with grant requirements and failing to remedy issues-- specifically, issues regarding sub-recipient monitoring.

Manual reimbursements may add as much as 90 days of additional time for any reimbursement request exceeding $100,000.  

Only West Virginia and Puerto Rico are subject to this manual reimbursement process, according to the report.

In Tuesday’s meeting, committee members heard from Jimmy Gianato, a Homeland Security consultant. Gianato mentioned issues with sub-recipient monitoring, which he said has been a problem since 2010.

“The biggest challenge is not having enough staff to do sub-recipient monitoring and do disaster recovery,” Gianato told the committee.

The manual reimbursement penalty affects the Hazard Mitigation Grants program, Public Assistance grants, the Community Assistance program, Cooperating Technical Partners, the Emergency Management Performance grants and includes all open grants, including the 2016 flood grants, according to the PERD report. Gianato said FEMA lifted the manual reimbursement requirement during the 2016 floods but only for that event.

Michael Todorovich, director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, also addressed the committee Tuesday. Todorovich said the department is working on policies to improve oversight of the grants.

“I truly believe you will see some significant positive results,” Todorovich said.

Committee members asked about steps the department is taking to prevent manual reimbursements in the future.

Todorovich said the department has a full monitoring staff that is part of internal review.

Committee members also asked if the department is working to improve poor sub-recipient monitoring. Todorovich said there had been problems with returning phone calls expeditiously but the department is working on a system where every phone call that comes in is logged, assigned to someone and noted when it's completed.

Todorovich said he is working on a spreadsheet to give to committee members on grants, detailing the amount of money available, the amount of money spent, and the remaining amount of money.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general, said his biggest priorities are communication, management, hiring more people, and following up. He said staffing challenges have been part of the problem.

“We want to build as much capability internally for the state that we can afford to make sure that we have that capability going forward,” Hoyer said.  

“I want to build a capable staff in the state of West Virginia so when FEMA has a disaster somewhere else, they want to call on us going forward,” Hoyer said.

Committee members also heard updates on the RISE program. The Legislative Auditor previously conducted an audit of the RISE program, detailing issues with construction companies that did work for the program. 

Justin Robinson, director of the Post Audit Division, and Adam Fridley, legislative audit manager, said they anticipate releasing a report in December.

Fridley said since the time of the last report, the West Virginia Development Office has executed new contracts. He said all active cases in the system are currently under contract.

Hoyer said there are 410 cases outstanding – 171 that require total reconstruction, 153 that require some form of rehabilitation, and 86 mobile home replacement units. So far, 39 homes have been completed.

Hoyer said there are contracts in place to manage these 410 cases. However, of those 410, he said there may be other issues including environmental assessments before going into the queue to the actual contractors.

Legislators asked Hoyer about the timeframe to complete these outstanding cases.

“We’re on a good path but I still believe … we have 24 months of work to do with the goal of expediting as quickly as we can,” Hoyer said, noting weather is a factor determining how quickly work is done.

Legislators also asked Hoyer if West Virginia is still listed as a “slow spender” under the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development. West Virginia is now listed as “on pace.” “Slow spender” means spending less than 10 percent of the monthly pace required to fully use the grant by the target closeout date, which is Dec. 30, 2023. “On pace” means spending greater than 10 percent of the monthly pace.



Sunday, November 11, 2018 - 06:21 PM

Joint Committee on Government and Finance Hears October Revenue Numbers

Legislators heard an update of General Revenue figures during Sunday’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance Subcommittee meeting.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow presented October number, where collections were $359.2 million, which was about $2.3 million above estimates. Muchow said this is 1.5 percent above last year’s numbers.

Muchow said year-to-date collections totaled more than $1.478 billion, which was $122 million above estimate. He said October marks a 13.5 percent growth rate the first four months into the 2019 fiscal year.

“This is a strong growth rate,” Muchow said.

Muchow said October’s numbers were attributed to a few factors including consumer sales tax and severance tax. The state was $4.2 million above estimate in consumer sales tax and 14.4 percent ahead of last year.

Personal income tax took a pause. He said personal income tax was $6.5 million below estimate but he said the figures are still strong and were 11.7 percent ahead of last year.

Muchow said severance tax was $5.4 million above estimate and  50.4 percent ahead of last year.

 He said oil and gas had higher production numbers, representing a more stable pricing compared to last year. He said numbers are much closer to the national average this year as compared to last year. However, he said there is caution for severance tax because recently, oil prices have taken a dip. 



Sunday, November 11, 2018 - 05:59 PM

Post Audits Subcommittee Hears Three Reports

Legislators heard three reports during Sunday’s Post Audits Subcommittee meeting.

The first report was a Performance Evaluation and Research Division Report on the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – Federal Grant Management.

FEMA placed the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) on manual reimbursement effective Jan. 13, 2016.

FEMA notified the department in a November 2015 letter about the state being placed on manual reimbursement—a penalty for not following federal grant requirements dating back to 2009.  Manual reimbursements may add as much as 90 days before the state could get reimbursed for expenditures totaling more than $100,000. The penalty affected multiple grant programs.

 West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy said he was not aware of the FEMA letter. 

 “It’s disappointing to my staff and the governor’s staff that we were unaware of that letter,” Sandy said.

The Department of Homeland Emergency Management was moved under supervision of Major General James Hoyer, the Adjutant General.

The report determined deficiencies in internal control and management resulted in federal financial penalties. Preliminary recommendations include creating policies and procedures and reporting to the Legislature detailing actions taken.

Hoyer said he has created a matrix of outstanding issues, met with the FEMA Region 3 executive who provided additional fulltime support on behalf of FEMA, and is working to implement updated policies and procedures to address issues. Hoyer asked lawmakers to give him until the January Post Audits Subcommittee meeting to give an update.

***

Legislators also heard a letter report on the Bureau of Juvenile Services Inventory Management.

Back in February, Sandy requested a series of inventory audits on agencies and divisions under his purview. The Bureau of Juvenile Services is within the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It operates 17 Youth Reporting Centers and 10 Juvenile Centers statewide.

The Legislative Auditor determined Juvenile Services’ inventory management system was not operating in compliance with state code or the Department of Administration’s Surplus Property Operations Manual. The Legislative Auditor further found that the inventory management system does not reliably track the agency's assets  and does not adequately safeguard those assets from misappropriation.

The inventory record in wvOASIS included 1,880 items, which had a total original acquisition cost of about $31 million. The audit found 180 items—including riding mowers, snow blowers, printers, computers, a bandsaw and a welder—did not list serial numbers. There were 15 items that did not have asset tag numbers.

The audit found that 309 items in Juvenile Services’ inventory record did not have the correct physical locations recorded.

The Legislative Auditor recommended developing corrective action plans to ensure that the asset record in wvOASIS is complete and accurate. The Legislative Auditor also recommended Juvenile Services update its current policy on recording inventory.

***

Legislators also heard a legislative audit report on the Division of Correction’s 25-year lease of the former West Virginia Penitentiary. Nick Hamilton, senior auditor, said last September, Sandy wrote a memo to the governor's office, expressing several concerns with the Division of Correction’s lease of the penitentiary to the Moundsville Economic Development Council (MEDC).

The report found that from February 1997 to July 2013, the Division of Corrections paid an undetermined amount  electric utility costs that were MEDC's responsibility. The report further said from July 2013 to April 2018, the division paid about $204,000 for electric utility cost.

The audit further said poorly drafted language in insurance requirements in a 2004 lease agreements and a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding potentially opened the state to increased liability.

The report found MEDC lost its IRS tax-exempt status for failure to file. As a nonprofit, it was eligible for insurance under the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management (BRIM) but the revocation of its tax-exempt status left questions. BRIM requested a legal opinion, which said the statute does not preclude MEDC’s eligibility for coverage due only to its tax exempt status revocation.

The Legislative Auditor recommended the Division of Corrections comply with the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding and only pay for utilities in which it is responsible. The Legislative Auditor additionally recommended the Division of Corrections try to collect the $203,000 it paid for MEDC's electric utility service. 

Additionally, the Legislative Auditor recommended the Division of Corrections to establish a new lease agreement with MEDC and recommended the Legislature to review state code regarding the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management insuring nonprofit entities to determine if the nonprofit is required to be an IRS 501(c)(3) designated entity or a federal tax-exempt entity.

In the report, the Legislative Auditor also expressed concerns with allowing a state agency to enter into a 25-year lease agreement without requiring review of the language, terms and potential long-term effects of the agreement. The Legislative Auditor recommended the Legislature consider drafting legislation requiring any leasing of state property for a period more than 10 years to be reviewed for content to ensure duties and responsibilities are clearly defined.

Suzanne Park, director of MEDC addressed legislators Sunday. She said the organization discovered during the last legislative session that the lease had been terminated effective this year.

She also said she was not aware that the organization’s nonprofit status had been discontinued until the issue later was brought to her attention.

She said she feels it is important that if the state look at the lease, they should remodel it.



Friday, November 02, 2018 - 10:45 AM

Tom Azinger sworn in to House of Delegates 10th District

Tom Azinger was sworn in Friday in the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber to fill the seat in District 10.

Gov. Jim Justice appointed Azinger earlier this week to fill the seat vacated by Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, who passed away earlier last month at age 90. Deem served a total of 48 years in the Legislature and was first elected to the House in 1954.

Azinger, of Vienna, previously served 10 consecutive terms in the House from 1995-2015.



Tuesday, October 02, 2018 - 02:19 PM

Justice Beth Walker Acquitted in Impeachment Trial

Following roughly two hours of deliberations on Tuesday afternoon, the Senate voted 32-1 to acquit Justice Beth Walker in her impeachment trial. Senator Stephen Baldwin (D-Greenbrier), was the lone vote to impeach Walker.

After the vote, the Senate recessed for 15 minutes to consider a resolution, before returning to adopt Senate Resolution 205 . The resolution publicly reprimands Walker.

Earlier Tuesday, Mike McKown, the former state budget director who now works in the state auditor’s office, was the final witness to testify in the trial. McKown described to lawmakers how flat the state budget was over the years in question, as the Supreme Court continued to spend freely.

Delegate John Shott then gave his closing statement on behalf of the House Managers. He argued that the Supreme Court was infected with a sense of entitlement and that Walker wasted no time joining the party. He again went over the taxpayer funded lunches, the hired opinion at a cost of $10,000, and the $130,000 office renovation.

Walker's attorrney Mike Hissam argued that Walker, as a new member of the court, did her best to right the ship and change the culture of entitlement.

The Senate is adjourned until Oct. 15 at 9 a.m.



Monday, October 01, 2018 - 04:55 PM

Impeachment Trial for Justice Beth Walker Begins

The first of four scheduled impeachment trials, this one concerning Justice Beth Walker, began at 9 a.m. today in the Senate chamber.

The proceedings began with acting Chief Justice Paul T. Farrell giving the senators, who are acting as the jury in the court of impeachment, instructions. He directed them to remain impartial, stay off social media, and refrain from discussing the facts of the case among one another prior to the deliberations portion of the trial.

Farrell quickly denied Walker’s motion to dismiss the impeachment charge against her.

Walker was the first witness to testify. She fielded questions from House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, who is presenting the House’s case on behalf of the House Managers. A portion of Shott’s line of questioning focused on working lunches brought in for justices and staff on days when the court heard cases or met to discuss opinions and other court business.

Walker reiterated multiple times that she regrets participating in the lunches, but does not view them as illegal. Walker also noted that she promptly paid back one-fifth of the expenses related to the lunches for 2017, her first year on the court.

When asked about hiring outside counsel to write an opinion for her, Walker testified that she was working with two law clerks rather than the standard practice four, and that one of those two was on maternity leave. She instructed the court to hire Barbara Allen, who now is the court’s administrative director, to write the opinion for her at a cost of $10,000. Walker testified her staff costs were lower than any of the other justices.

Shott also asked Walker about the $130,000 renovation to her office that came only a few years after former Justice Brent Benjamin had spent $264,000 remodeling the same space. Walker expressed regret for the remodel, saying she should have reassessed the project.

During his opening statements, Walker’s attorney Mike Hissam, argued his client “did not engage in any conduct that would justify the extraordinary remedy of removing her from office against the will of the voters.”

Hissam also argued that Article of Impeachment XIV, the only article Walker is charged with, is confusing. He called it "everything and nothing" and referred to it as "a catch-all mishmash of all sorts of administrative practices, many of which Beth never had anything to do with."

In discussing impeachment under cross examination from Hissam, Walker said she views impeachable offenses as stealing, lying and corruption. She contends she never engaged in any of that behavior.

Other witnesses for the House Managers included: Justin Robinson, Director of the Post Audits Division for the West Virginia Legislature, Sue Racer-Troy, the CFO for the WV Supreme Court of Appeals, and JB McCuskey, State Auditor of West Virginia.

The House Managers have one additional witness scheduled to testify tomorrow at 9 a.m. Following that testimony, the defense will put on its case.

The Senate and the Impeachment Court have adjourned until tomorrow at 9 a.m.

 



Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 01:49 PM

Hoyer updates lawmakers on flood recovery efforts

West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James Hoyer updated lawmakers about the progress of flood recovery efforts and the process going forward.

In Tuesday’s Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding, Hoyer told legislators that he feels the program is moving in the right direction.

“I’ve got the sense that individuals impacted by RISE believe that the program is moving in the right direction and have confidence in the program,” Hoyer said. “They may not be happy with the speed that it’s going because of state and federal regulations … but there is a confidence that we are working exponentially to take care of issues the best we can and we are communicating effectively.”

Hoyer said there have been 25 homes –all mobile home units-- signed off as completed. He said 424 cases are still tracked through the system. Of those, 166 are total reconstruction, about 160 are rehabilitation and 98 are mobile home units.

He said those 424 individual family cases were within the original construction piece under four contracts, which were recently increased to nine contracts to meet requirements under state law.

“Those four contracts go to nine contracts primarily because of the way we have to structure to meet the requirements under state purchasing law," Hoyer said. "This is a regional approach which gave us an advantage, we thought, going into the bid process, because someone at the local level may bid.”

Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, asked Hoyer about the timeframe moving forward. Hoyer said there is still work to do.

 

 “I will tell you that we have 18-24 months-worth of work to be close to having the bulk of this closed out,” Hoyer said. “I would hate to say anything less because if we run into environmental issues on the property, that extends it out. Now, we have the appropriate framework in place. We have the right people working it but we still have a long way to go to take care of families.”



Monday, September 17, 2018 - 05:31 PM

Legislators hear update on medical marijuana banking

Legislators heard an update on banking issues with the state’s medical marijuana program and also approved sending a letter requesting a legal opinion from the West Virginia Attorney General on proposed banking solutions.

Diana Stout, general counsel with the West Virginia State Treasurer’s office addressed lawmakers during Monday’s Joint Committee on Health. Stout said the office has run into issues in crafting possible solutions. She said banking institutions relayed their concerns to the office following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo.

Stout said the office mainly deals with BB&T, which told the office it would not be willing to accept medical marijuana funds. She said U.S. Bank has mentioned similar concerns, saying both cited the rescission of the Cole Memo.

Stout said the Treasurer issued a request for information, soliciting responses from 70 different financial institutions, but only received two proposals back. She said neither had much information and wouldn’t provide more information until they were competitively bid.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, asked her if she felt the reason banks have not reached out is because they want to wait until it’s opened up to bid. Stout said she hoped that was true. She said there are some cases where a bank’s board of directors are not willing to accept money from the program.

Stout said in May, the office sent a letter to the governor outlining two options—one a state bank and another, a closed-loop system. She said North Dakota has experienced economic stimulus from its state bank. However, she said there are certain things the Bank of North Dakota does to generate money that is already handled by other agencies in West Virginia. She said a state bank would be expensive. Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, asked how much it would cost and Stout estimated without capital cost, it would be about $2-3 million to start.

Stout said the office felt the closed-loop system as the best option. To describe this system, Stout used the example of signing up for a Lowes card, which would only be usable within that system, whereas an open-loop system would allow a person to use that card at other home improvement stores. She said there were concerns that an open-loop system would be less manageable.

Stout said the governor asked for a legal opinion from the West Virginia Attorney General regarding banking solutions but she was not aware of a response as of Monday.

Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, made a motion for the committee to urge the Attorney General’s office to provide a legal opinion on banking solutions and separately request the Senate President and House Speaker to request a legal opinion of their own, which would be identical to the governor’s request. His motion was adopted in a 15-7 vote.



Monday, September 17, 2018 - 05:22 PM

Lawmakers question acting lottery director about sports wagering implementation

Lawmakers heard an update about the implementation of the sports wagering bill and also expressed concerns about whether there would be potential changes to emergency rules.

Legislators heard from Acting State Lottery Director Doug Buffington in Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on Finance. Buffington became acting lottery director earlier this month following the resignation of Alan Larrick. Buffington explained the progress of implementing Senate Bill 415, which authorized wagering on certain sports and went into effect in May. 

Buffington said the first casino operator license was issued to Hollywood Casino in Charles Town on Aug. 14. This was followed by Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras on Aug. 20 and The Greenbrier on Aug. 22.

He said Hollywood hosted a soft opening on Aug. 30 and a grand opening on Sept. 1. He said that first weekend generated about $295,000 in tax revenue.

Buffington said The Greenbrier hosted a soft opening Sept. 13 and a grand opening Sept. 14.

For Wheeling Island and Mardi Gras, the soft opening is scheduled for Sept. 27, Buffington said.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, asked about emergency rules enacted and whether the lottery was contemplating changes of those rules.

Buffington said there had been comments from leagues regarding official data, which he said uses results from a source such as Major League Baseball. He said there have also been comments on opting out from certain wagers.

Espinosa asked if the Lottery has had conversations with major sports leagues on proposed changes. Buffington said he didn’t know whether the Lottery Commission or Larrick had those conversations but said he had not personally had those conversations.

“I hope you really will consider the fact that there is virtually no support in the Legislature to require private entities to enter into contractual agreements,” Espinosa said. “I hope the commission will think long and hard before implementing any changes in the emergency rules requiring casinos to enter into those arrangements.”

House Finance Chair Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, asked if the lottery had a timeframe to act on the comments. Buffington said there is no exact date. He said the comment period ended about a week ago. In response to a question from Nelson, Buffington said the emergency rules by the Legislature are in effect and any changes to those would have to go before the Legislature.

Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkely, said he doesn’t want to see any changes to the emergency rules. 

“These tracks and casinos put their resources on the line to put in place sports gambling,” Blair said. “To come in and change the game before we come back and say it’s not the will of the Legislature, is irresponsible. … That’s telling to any industry wanting to come to West Virginia that we’re changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

The committee also heard from Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch. Crouch updated lawmakers on supplemental appropriations and expenditures to help address the opioid crisis.

Crouch said the drug problem is closely correlated with the child welfare crisis in West Virginia. He said 85 percent of kids in foster care are there because of parents dealing with substance abuse. Crouch said from 2015-2017, there was a 37.6 percent increase in overdose deaths. Over that same period of time, there was a 35.8 percent increase in foster care placement.

“We are tackling the child welfare problem at the same time we are tackling the drug problem,” Crouch told legislators.

Crouch said there has been federal legislation with the Family First Prevention Act, which would allow the DHHR to try to keep children in their homes. The law does not take effect until October 2019.

“This is a huge change in how we are able to deal with the child welfare problem,” Crouch said. “We are looking at those regulations seriously.”

Crouch said the agency is also looking at developing more partnerships with the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. He estimated there are 19,000 people who are incarcerated who need treatment. He said the agency also is working with the courts on looking into alternative sentencing guidelines.

“If we get individuals into treatment, ultimately, that’s the goal. That’s what we want to see,” Crouch said.



Sunday, September 16, 2018 - 07:42 PM

Audit examines senior status judges payments, depletion of Supreme Court funds

A recent audit delved deeper into the depletion of the West Virginia Supreme Court’s re-appropriated funds and also looked into payments of senior status judges that auditors say exceeded statutory limits. 

Adam Fridley with the Post Audit Division presented the offices’ findings to legislators at Sunday’s Post Audits Subcommittee. This audit marks the fourth in a series of reports looking into spending within the state’s highest court.

The most recent audit covered three main issues—the depletion of $29 million of re-appropriated funds over a period of four fiscal years, renovations to the court coming totaling $3.4 million, and payments of senior status judges that exceeded statutory limits.

In 2012, the court had a balance of $29 million in surplus re-appropriated funds but over the course of the four fiscal years, the balance was spent down to $333,514. A majority of all re-appropriated funds were spent within two categories-- payroll and unclassified/current expenses. The 2014 fiscal year marked the greatest decrease in the four-year period, where the balance was reduced by $13.4 million. 

Fridley said the court’s renovation costs totaled $3.4 million between 2012 and 2016. Fridley said several of the renovation projects do not contain invoice documentation with sufficient detail for analysis.  The report determined the total combined cost of renovations to justices' chambers totaled $1,943,357 but the office was only able to provide a detailed analysis for about 81 percent of the total. 

Former Justice Brent Benjamin's renovations totaled $264,836 including $25,000 in flooring and $21,000 for window treatments. The largest categories of expenditures for Benjamin’s office were fixtures and infrastructure.

Justice Beth Walker took over Benjamin’s office when she was elected. Renovations totaled $130,655 including an additional $9,000 for flooring placed over the floors installed during Benjamin’s time in the office.

The largest categories of expenditures for Walker’s office was furniture, which was 23 percent.

For former Justice Menis Ketchum, renovations totaled $188,931, including $9,000 on work done to Cass Gilbert desks. Fridley said Ketchum disputed more than $18,000 in the renovation costs. The largest expenditures were for infrastructure at 43 percent.

For Chief Justice Margaret Workman, the total cost of renovations was $112,780 including $12,000 for cabinets, $35,000 for flooring. The largest category for Workman’s renovations was flooring at 32 percent of the total cost.

For suspended Justice Allen Loughry, renovations totaled $367,915 including the purchase of a $32,000 sofa. The largest category for Loughry’s renovations was fixtures at 36 percent.

For former Justice Robin Davis, renovations totaled $503,668. The largest category was fixtures at 38 percent including glass countertops, and infrastructure at 35 percent.

The report also looked into the payment of senior status judges. Fridley said the court allowed 10 judges to exceed the compensation cap. The report found this happened 20 separate times between 2009 and 2017 for a total of $271,000. 

In 1991, statute authorized the court to empanel judges admitted to senior status. These judges serve as temporary replacements when active judges are absent from the bench. In 1991, the court entered an administrative order that held that the compensation, per diem and retirement compensation of retired judges admitted to senior status shall not exceed the salary of a sitting judge. The cap amounted to about $116,000 per year before July 1, 2011 and $126,000 for every year after that.

The report found 34 different judges were appointed from 2011-2017 and 10 senior status judges since 2009 were paid in excess of the cap—six were paid in excess on more than one occasion.

Some, Fridley said, were not greatly in excess, but many were in excess by more than $10,000.

Fridley said judges were converted from employees to independent contractors when they were approaching the cap.

An IRS audit found these judges along with other employees paid as independent contractors don’t meet the requirements of independent contractors. The court was required to pay a settlement of $227,000 for eight notices of adjustment.

Fridley said other senior status judges had unused days of eligibility while other judges were overpaid. The report found that each year, the court’s panel of judges retained 223 to 1,042 cumulative unused days of eligibility.

Barbara Allen, interim administrative director, responded to the audit at Sunday’s meeting.  Allen first addressed the issue of the re-appropriated funds. She said the court wasn’t spending money on frivolous things.

“We spent money on drug courts, employee services, law clerks, computer services—during this group of years, there were two across-the-board raises that took up some of the regular budget. One raise was 2 percent and that went to every member of the court family,” Allen said, noting that all 55 counties including circuit judges, magistrates, and probation officers were part of that raise.

Allen said the court has 25-26 senior status judges but not all of them want appointments.

“We have a number of retired judges who have health issues that prevent them from doing any work at all,” she said. “A number only take appointments in their home counties or contiguous counties. Others will only take appointments at certain times of the year. What you will find when you go through the information is that most judges are willing and able to the extent they can to take short-term appointments. … It’s very difficult to find judges who want long-term appointments, especially in areas that are hard to get to.”

Allen also said some judges went over the cap by a small amount.

Last month, the House adopted articles of impeachment against all state Supreme Court justices. The Senate met last Tuesday and scheduled trials for Walker, Workman, Davis and Loughry.

Ketchum faces a charge under a federal information and Loughry faces several charges under a federal indictment.



Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 04:27 PM

Senate Rejects Deal for Walker and Workman, Sets Trial Dates

This afternoon, the Senate rejected a deal that would have censured state Supreme Court justices Margaret Workman and Beth Walker. Senate Resolution 204 would have prevented their impeachment and allowed them to stay on the court.

Under the proposed deal, Workman and Walker would have admitted that the spending on renovations in their offices at the Capitol was excessive and that they should have been more involved in the process to control the cost. They would have agreed to establish and implement policies to prevent abuse of spending by the court in the future.

Walker and Workman face the fewest articles of impeachment among the four current and former justices who were impeached by the House of Delegates on Aug. 13.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael ruled that the compromise, proposed this morning by House of Delegates Judiciary Chairman John Shott, was out of order and not allowed under the Senate's rules.

A resolution proposed by Senator Charlie Trump, would have spared former Justice Robin Davis of an impeachment trial given that she has already resigned. That motion failed on a 15-19 vote.

The trial schedule is as follows:

Justice Beth Walker: Oct. 1 at 9 a.m.

Justice Margaret Workman: Oct. 15 at 9 a.m.

Former Justice Robin Davis: Oct. 29 at 9 a.m.

Justice Allen Loughry: Nov. 12 at 9 a.m.



Friday, September 07, 2018 - 12:48 PM

Jeffries sworn in to House of Delegates

Surrounded by friends and family, Warren “Dean” Jeffries was sworn in Friday in the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber to fill the seat in District 40.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jim Justice appointed Jeffries to the House to fill the seat vacated by Tim Armstead, who resigned last month.  Justice appointed Armstead to serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Last week, the House convened, electing Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, as the new speaker for the remainder of the 83rd Legislature.

Jeffries is an insurance agent and lives in Elkview with his wife Stacey and four children, Tyler, Alexis, Brynn, and Landon.

“I’m humbled and honored,” Jeffries said Friday. “I can’t stress this enough. I am truly humbled for this opportunity and I thank the governor for appointing me to this office. I will give my all to serve the Elk River and the state of West Virginia.”



Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 12:34 PM

Delegate Roger Hanshaw selected as Speaker

The West Virginia House of Delegates convened Wednesday morning, electing Clay County Republican Roger Hanshaw as Speaker for the remainder of the 83rd Legislature.

Republican members nominated Hanshaw and Democratic members nominated House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison. The House elected Hanshaw with 62 members voting for him and 34 members voting for Miley.

Former House Speaker Tim Armstead resigned last week. Gov. Jim Justice recently appointed Armstead to serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court.

 Hanshaw briefly addressed the House, reflecting on a few reasons why he decided to serve in the House.

 “The answer for me is my family, who I’m pleased to have with me,” Hanshaw said, later adding. “I hope we all remember that we are one of 100 members with the privilege to sit in this House and debate the futures of families like mine—families like yours.”

 Miley also spoke, wishing the best for Hanshaw.

 “I wish the best for you in what remains of the rest of the session,” Miley said. “Even if you remain speaker in the next legislative session, I look forward to working with you in a bipartisan fashion.”

Hanshaw was first elected to the House in 2014. He serves as co-chair of the House Judiciary Committee and chair of the Committee on Flooding.

 The House adjourned Sine Die.



Monday, August 20, 2018 - 02:23 PM

Senate Establishes Rules For Trial Phase of Impeachment

The Senate met for just over an hour on Monday afternoon, adopting Senate Resolution 203, which establishes the rules for the Senate to serve as the jury in the trial phase of the impeachment process against various members of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Following adoption of the resloution, the five House Managers presented the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The designated House managers that will try the case for the House are listed below. These five delegates were appointed by House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, last week.

  • House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer
  • House Judiciary Vice-Chairman Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay
  • Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt
  • Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha
  • Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone                                                                                                                                 

The Senate is adjourned until subsequently called by the President.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - 01:48 AM

House Adopts Articles of Impeachment Against State Supreme Court Justices

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to impeach all remaining West Virginia Supreme Court justices.

The House gaveled in at 10 a.m. and introduced House Resolution 202, regarding the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices. Delegates approved a motion to divide the question and debated, amended and voted on the articles separately.

In Monday’s hearings, the House adopted 11 of 14 Articles of Impeachment-- rejecting one and withdrawing two articles. Of the adopted articles, suspended Justice Allen Loughry was named in seven, Justice Robin Davis in four, Chief Justice Margaret Workman in three, and Justice Beth Walker in one— which included articles that individually focused on particular justices and some that combined them.

Former Justice Menis Ketchum resigned and was not part of impeachment proceedings. Ketchum faces a charge under a federal information and Loughry faces several charges in a federal indictment.  

In a 64-33 vote, the House adopted Article 1, regarding Loughry’s $386,000 office renovation. This included the purchase of a $32,000 couch, $1,700 throw pillows, and $33,750 on a new floor including a West Virginia county medallion.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, made an amendment to censure Loughry instead of impeach—a motion he made for similar renovations-related articles for other justices. However, Fast’s amendment was defeated.

House Judiciary Chair John Shott, R-Mercer, said there was evidence presented of a plan to spend down a $29 million reserve that the state Supreme Court had accumulated between 2007 and 2010 because of a concern that the Senate would present a constitutional amendment to take back budget control of the state’s highest court. The Legislature adopted such an amendment during the last legislative session, which will go to voters in the upcoming election.

Shott said he felt the expenditure was “an irresponsible spending of taxpayer money and certainly a betrayal of trust.”

In a 56-41 vote, the House also adopted Article 2, which focused on Davis’ renovations. The article said Davis spent a total of $500,000, which included the purchase of a $20,000 oval rug, an $8,000 desk chair and $23,000 in design services.

Shott said he was shocked by Davis’ office.

“It was shocking,” Shott said. “It was like a Star Trek set.”

Those who opposed this article and similar ones dealing with renovations, expressed concerns that spending doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

“If you go after spending, you’re going to have to start impeaching Board of Public Works members to be consistent,” Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton said, later adding. “Punishment should meet the crime. This spending makes you want to barf but there are other remedies than going down this rabbit hole.”

A few articles against Loughry passed unanimously. One, Article 3, dealt with Loughry taking home a Cass Gilbert desk, valued at around $42,000, which he kept at his home for more than four years.

The House also unanimously adopted Article 8—which said Loughry reserved state vehicles without providing destinations and used a state vehicle and state gas card to drive to book signings at The Greenbrier— and Article 9, which said Loughry used state computers for personal use at home.

In a 94-2 vote, the House also adopted Article 10, which said Loughry made false statements under oath before the House Finance Committee where he denied involvement in his renovations.

Three articles concerned the overpayment of senior status judges. Article 4, against Workman and Davis, said when both served as chief justice, they approved contracts resulting in the overpayment of senior status judges. There was debate on the clarity of the statute. Those who supported the article said state law prevents senior status judges from being paid more than a sitting judge when also taking into account retirement.

However, Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall, said the argument was flawed because Davis and Workman did not personally benefit from the action.

“The only person guilty would be the judges if they made false representations to get that,” he said, later adding. “As a prosecutor, I would have to treat this as we’ve said many times, as an indictment. This wouldn’t pass a motion to dismiss in criminal court.”

The House adopted Article 4 in a 62-34 vote.

Three other articles—Article 5-7—also focused on the overpayment of senior status judges but individually focused on Davis, Workman, and Loughry, respectively. The House adopted all three with a 61-35 vote for Article 5, 63-34 vote for Article 6, and 51-45 for Article 7.

The House withdrew Article 11, which said Loughry used state funds to pay for the framing of personal items.

The House rejected Article 12 regarding Walker’s office renovations, which totaled $131,000. Shott asked the chamber to adopt the article, saying Walker’s office was renovated over a seven-year time when former Justice Brent Benjamin was in office. This article was rejected in a 44-51 vote.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, objected to the article, saying Walker’s spending did not compare to others.

“Some of the furniture purchased—you could buy multiple pieces before you could buy the one couch in the earlier article,” Cowles said. “This is a fraction of the spending in the Davis impeachment article, which was $500,000, and it is a fraction, perhaps a third of the spending in the Loughry article of impeachment. I do have an issue if we add in Benjamin’s spending and remodeling over a seven-year period. You can’t hold Justice Walker responsible for remodeling done over seven years ago.”

Following the rejection of Article 12, Shott moved to withdraw Article 13, which focused on Workman’s renovations, which totaled $111,000. Shott’s motion to withdraw was approved.

The House adopted Article 14, against all remaining justices, saying justices failed to adopt travel policies, report taxable fringe benefits including vehicle use and regular lunches on their W-2s, provide supervision of state purchasing cards, provide supervision over record keeping with state vehicles, provide supervision of state property, and failed to provide supervision over purchasing procedures.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, made a motion to remove Walker from the article but the House rejected this motion.

After recessing until 12:15 a.m., the House took up an amendment proposed by Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley. Folk’s amendment proposed a new article against Walker for hiring outside counsel to craft a legal opinion of the court at a cost of $10,000.

During last week’s House Judiciary Committee, members rejected a similar article. Folk’s amendment was rejected in a 26-70 vote.

The House also introduced House Resolution 203, recommending public reprimand and censure of all remaining state Supreme Court justices.  This resolution was adopted in a 95-1 vote.

The House introduced House Resolution 204, which recommended censure of Ketchum and former Justice Brent Benjamin. This was referred to House Judiciary.

The House also introduced House Bill 201, which provided for the special election of state Supreme Court justices when a vacancy has occurred as the result of impeachment. Sponaugle moved to suspend the constitutional rules to take the bill up for immediate consideration. Cowles moved to table that motion, which was approved. This bill was referred to House Judiciary. 




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