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State Lawmakers Ok New Budget

West Virginia lawmakers have cleared a budget that relies on almost $23 million in reserves. The state Legislature voted Wednesday on the House-Senate budget agreement. Some votes crossed party lines.
The plan wouldn't depend on major tax or fee increases, like the cigarette tax hike that fizzled during the 60-day legislative session. In a difficult budget year, there aren't major pay increases, either. A small pocket of nationally certified teachers in low performing schools would get $2,000 raises. Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's budget calls for $15.5 million from reserves. Republican Sen. Mike Hall says Tomblin's budget depends on millions more from two bills that didn't pass. Tomblin can veto or reduce individual budget items.

East End and West Side Team Up

The East End and the West Side are teaming up. This week the East End Main Street board voted to form an administrative connections with West Side Main Street, and they'll keep individual boards and programming, but call themselves Charleston Main Streets. The Charleston Gazette reports the vote was passed 13 to three with four abstentions.

Mountaintop Removal Review Questioned

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney questioned the need for the review on studies linking mountaintop removal mining with health problems in nearby communities. Environmental groups have argued the mining method defaces the landscape and sends toxic substances into waterways, endangering human health. Tomblin told The Associated Press Tuesday that "if there's enough scientific evidence that something needs to be changed," then he's sure DEP Secretary Randy Huffman will give him recommendations.

Former Freedom Plant Manager Enters Plea

A former plant manager at Freedom Industries has pleaded guilty to a pollution charge in last year's chemical spill into a river in West Virginia. Michael Burdette entered the plea to negligent discharge of a pollutant Wednesday in federal court in Charleston. He faces up to a year in prison. Freedom Industries environmental consultant Robert Reynolds also was expected to plead guilty later Wednesday to a similar charge. Ex-owners Charles Herzing and William Tis pleaded guilty Monday to causing an unlawful discharge into the river. Ex-Freedom owner Dennis Farrell and former President Gary Southern face trial later this year in the spill. Southern also faces charges related to Freedom's bankruptcy.

Charge Dismissed Against Former Principal Giles

A misdemeanor charge against former Capital High School principal Clinton Giles has been dismissed. Giles had been charged with failing to immediately report a sexual assault at the school, but Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster granted a defense request to dismiss the charge on Wednesday and said the prosecution of Giles wasn't supported by state law. After the hearing, Giles said in a statement that he was wrongfully prosecuted and subjected to character assassination. Giles retired after he was charged on Feb. 3. He was accused of taking no action on the day a counselor reported the assault to him. A 17-year-old male student pleaded guilty on Tuesday to forcing a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him at the school on Jan. 26.

Contractor Picked to Tear Down Slack Street Recycling Center

The Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority picked a company yesterday to demolish the Slack Street Recycling Center facility. The lowest bidder will be awarded the contract for $54,900, and that's Rodney Loftis and Son. The next closest bid was $74,400, and two other bids that came in to the Solid Waste Authority were over $350,000. The county is in the process of reinventing the recycling program, and part of that process is tearing down the troubled Slack Street facility.

McDowell County Kids Offered Free Dental Care

Organizers say a new initiative will give students in McDowell County access to preventive dental services. Reconnecting McDowell says the pilot program will begin with kindergarten and pre-K students in the 2015-2016 school year. Older students will be enrolled in the following three school years. Students who say they haven't had an oral examination by the beginning of the school year will get virtual x-rays, and a mobile dental van or a regional dental provider will provide follow-up care.

Appalachian Power to Shutter Three Plants

Appalachian Power is shutting down its Kanawha River Plant in Glasgow, along with a plant in Mason County and another in Marshall County. WCHS TV reports it's part of Appalachian Power's long-range plan to abide by tougher air-quality regulations. There are concerns over the reliability of the grid with three power plants shutting down, but preparations have been in the works since 2011, and the company says it has reinforced the transmission infrastructure. The 150 employees that have been affected by the closures have all been offered either jobs at other Appalachian Power facilities, severance packages or retirement.

Unemployment Rate Edges Up

West Virginia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.1 percent in February. WorkForce West Virginia says the number of unemployed state residents increased by 1,600 last month.
Among the employment losses last month were 900 in mining and logging and 600 in leisure and hospitality. Employment gains in February included 400 in trade, transportation and utilities. Nationally, the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 5.5 percent in February.

Second Former Freedom Industries Exec Enters Plea

Former Freedom Industries owner Charles Herzing entered a guilty plea at a hearing Monday in federal court in Charleston to causing an unlawful discharge of a coal-cleaning agent into the Elk River. Each faces up to a year in prison when sentenced June 22. Former owner William Tis also pleaded guilty Monday in a separate hearing. Plea hearings are scheduled Wednesday for Freedom environmental consultant Robert Reynolds and tank farm plant manager Michael Burdette, and on March 23 for the company itself. All are charged with federal Clean Water Act violations and are expected to plead guilty.

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