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The West Virginia Senate has unanimously passed a bill to ensure vacancies on higher education commissions, councils and boards are filled in a timely manner. Some vacancies on these higher education boards have been left empty for as long as six months in the past, and right now there are 15 people serving on boards whose terms are expired. This Senate Bill 426 went into effect Monday and gives the governor 30 days to appoint a member to fill any vacancy. The bill also prevents members whose terms have expired from serving more than 60 days after their term ends.
A legislative audit of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture has uncovered poor record keeping, questionable reimbursements and other issues with a loan program that may have cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars during the tenure of former Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass, according to findings released this week. The audit was requested by Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick shortly after he took office in 2013. The report also said poor record keeping made it impossible to track the accuracy of a $4 million outstanding balance in the Rural Rehabilitation Loan program. In a news release Monday, Helmick said many of the audit recommendations have already been addressed and the department is working to ensure full departmental compliance with policies and guidelines.
Yeager Airport has cancelled several flights scheduled for today connecting Charleston with both Charlotte and Atlanta becuase of the winter storm that's impacting much of the southeastern US. Several flights out of Huntington have also been canceled. Call ahead and check with your airline to make sure the flight is still on.
The trial continues today for a man accused of terrorizing a woman. 44-year old Joey Jeffrey is accused of beating stabbing, and torturing Leanne Quinn, and prosecutors say Jeffrey thought Quinn had stolen drugs and other items from him when it happened fourteen months ago. Quinn testified Monday she was doing drugs with Jeffrey and another woman and the torture started after that. Jeffrey is also considered a person of interested in another missing persons case. Melanie Metheny has been missing for almost eight years and the case is still unsolved. The trial continues today, and if convicted, prosecutors are aiming for life in prison.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller released a statement Monday following a hearing at the Kanawha County Courthouse. The US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held the hearing, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, and U.S. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall also attended. Sen. Rockefeller said in the statement that “Good businesses cannot thrive or even survive if they must shoulder the costs when bad actors get away with cutting corners. It’s time to acknowledge that industry is not looking out for you. Too many in industry are driven solely by maximized profits, and this cynical strategy has caused tremendous harm to West Virginians’ well-being and has shaken their sense of our state’s future.” Since the spill, Rockefeller asked the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to open an investigation into the root cause of the spill, and asked the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to work on a joint study into the long-term health risks.
Some post office cuts won't be happening after all. The U.S. Postal Service has reversed its decision to reduce window hours at two post offices in Beckley and Bluefield. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall says the Postal Service reduced the window hours at the East Beckley Post Office in mid-January. The agency also planned to reduce the window hours at the Bluefield Federal Street Post Office beginning last week. Rahall says he contacted Postal Service officials after constituents informed him about the cuts. He says he learned that the Postal Service didn't follow its full analysis and approval process. Rahall says the Beckley post office's window hours will return to their previous schedule Feb. 17. The Bluefield post office's window hours won't be reduced.
At Monday's hearing on the Freedom Industries chemical spill at the Kanawha County Courthouse, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito introduced new legislation aimed at preventing any future water emergencies. The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing included testimony by the President of West Virginia American Water, and also the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Congresswoman Capito's legislation would require oversight and inspection of chemical storage facilities and above ground storage tanks. If you missed the hearing you can still add your comments. The public comment period remains open for 30 days for anyone who wants to go on the record with thoughts.
A young girl on a school bus saw the body of 35-year old Tonya Atkinson Monday, and a short time later Dunbar Police made an arrest for Atkinson's murder. Bobby Kanode Jr. was taken into custody shortly after the body was found in the Kanawha River, and he's been charged with murder and is being held without bond. The two were reportedly in a relationship, and got into a fight late last week. Kanode's preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 19.
Protesters over the weekend took their frustrations to West Virginia American Water. More than a hundred and fifty people held a protest at the capitol, then marched through Charleston and then to the offices of West Virginia Amercian Water. Demonstrators were from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, the NAACP, and local churches, among others. The event was billed as “My Clean H2O Matters!” and the protestors asked that West Virginia American Water Company be held responsible for costs associated with the water emergency. The company released a statement saying, "Although West Virginia American Water is not responsible for the spill, we do have a process in place to receive information from customers who want to inform us of losses resulting from Freedom Industries' chemical spill." And the information collection process continues.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced a grant totaling $3.1 million to help West Virginia turn around some of its lowest-achieving schools. The so-called school improvement grants are aimed at assisting school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds, as well as a commitment to raise student achievement. Duncan said the funding represents a "tremendous opportunity" for persistently struggling schools to provide a better education for their students. West Virginia is among six states and the District of Columbia that are receiving grants. The grants total $38 million.