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Justice: State to pay for one ACT test per high school senior

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state is going to pay for one on-campus ACT test for high school seniors.

Governor Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday that $341,000 in CARES Act funding would be used to pay for the tests.

“West Virginia is the first state in the nation to cover these testing costs for our seniors,” Justice said. “I’m really proud to do that.”

The opportunities for high school students to take an ACT have been limited during the past year because of the pandemic. The state Higher Education Policy Commission is working with the state’s colleges and universities to come up with an on-campus schedule that will be announced in the near future.

ACT exams usually cost $52.50 per exam. The state will pay for one test per high school senior, Justice said.

“If we can step up and help out just a little bit, we want to do that,” Justice said.

Justice also announced that the HEPC would be extending the filing deadline for the merit-based Promise Scholarship program. The deadline wad Monday. Applications are still down by 30% percent when compared to last year’s numbers. Successful applicants need a qualifying ACT score to get the Promise.

Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker

A Promise Scholarship covers up to $4,750 a year to help with tuition and fees.

State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker said Justice’s announcements Monday were encouraging.

“Students have faced so much in the past year, and they simply haven’t had the chance to earn the test scores needed to qualify for Promise,” Tucker said. “We encourage seniors to take full advantage of these free testing dates as they are announced – and to stay focused on continuing their education after high school.”

The on-campus testing dates will be announced on the Higher Education Policy Commission’s website.

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Stephens hopeful Pioneers can hit their stride in Wheeling

After going 18 days between games in February due to a COVID-19 related pause, the Glenville State women’s basketball team wrapped up its regular season last week by going 2-1 over a four-day span.

A two-point win at Charleston was followed by a lopsided victory at Frostburg State, before the Pioneers fell for the second time this season in their regular season finale, 97-86 at Concord.

GSC (10-2) now prepares for Thursday’s matchup with West Liberty in a Mountain East Conference Tournament quarterfinal at WesBanco Arena. Tip-off is set for 11 a.m. in the first of four games that day.

“We came out on the other side of it with two of three wins, which I was pleased with,” Pioneers’ coach Kim Stephens said Sunday on Citynet Statewide Sportsline. “I was really hoping we’d win vs. Concord and finish it out, but we were gassed by the end of it. It was a tough final three games for our kids after being cooped up for some time. Hopefully we can have a couple more days of good practice going into Wheeling and start to look like ourselves again.”

As the No. 2 seed in the MEC’s South Division, the Pioneers play the Hilltoppers (8-8), who finished third in the North Division.

The teams met back on Jan. 23 in Wheeling, with GSC prevailing 101-98.

“It’s been the longest, shortest season of all time,” Stephens said. “It’s been a rough road, especially for our program, but we’re happy there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re on the other side of the rough patch. Going into the final week, we still have some work to do, but we’re excited about it. It’s good to be back to normal a little bit now, so it’ll be interesting to see how things shake out for us this week.”

Stephens believes a key for her team going into the conference tournament is to regain their legs, with the Pioneers’ conditioning suffering during their February pause. For a team that prides itself on going deep into its bench (12 players average at least 9 minutes per game), an uptempo pace is preferred.

“We were playing really well before we got paused and we were kind of hitting our stride,” Stephens said. “When you’re an 18-to-21-year-old female and you’re stuck in your room for 10 to 14 days, you lose all of your fitness.” 

The Pioneers, as well as Charleston (14-2) and Notre Dame College (13-3), are MEC teams that could earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament based on their body of work. Come Sunday, one MEC team will automatically earn a berth in the the Atlantic Regional by winning the conference tournament — something the Pioneers have done each of the last three years in addition to their four straight regular season league crowns.

“If we go in and drop our first game, that’s the hardest part as a coach and that’s one of the hardest situations I’ve been in as a coach,” Stephens said. “‘OK, I think we may make the national tournament, our season ended early.’ What do I go tell my kids in the locker room? Do we go back and practice? Those are kind of awkward moments. Our kids are very aware that they have a chance to continue playing after this week, but we need to take care of business early.”

All games at WesBanco Arena for both the men’s and women’s tournaments will allow up to 750 spectators. Thursday’s contests will mark the first time in 362 days that fans are permitted to attend a MEC sporting event.

“When we first started playing without fans, it was a little weird and less exciting for them,” Stephens said. “All of the kids will embrace having fans. They’ll play a little bit harder. It’ll be the first time in a year that they’ve been able to play in front of other people and the first time in a year that their parents can stand up and clap for them. I think that the kids will love that. I know my kids will.”

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House Finance sends ‘Hope Scholarship’ back to consideration by all delegates

A bill allowing families to use public money for private education costs is headed back to the full House of Delegates.

The House Finance Committee passed House Bill 2013 on Monday afternoon after examining some financial concerns about the bill.

The “Hope Scholarship” would be established through funds from the state Department of Education to pay for expenses like tuition, tutoring, fees for standardized tests or educational therapies. Students would be eligible if they’re leaving public school to pursue private or homeschool education.

The bill already passed the full House once, but the bill was pulled back and sent to the Finance Committee over questions about the possible financial effects.

As originally conceived, the education savings accounts could be used by students who are transferring out of public schools to attend private schools, religious schools or being homeschooled. Also eligible would be students who are just old enough to enroll. The initial cost was estimated to be a little more than $22 million.

A fiscal note filed by the state Department of Education estimated the cost could be $126,557,939 if all students in private or homeschool are made eligible by 2027.

“The actual cost to the State will depend on the applicable student enrollment count, number of applicants, and net state aid per pupil amounts at the time of implementation and eligibility expansion,” according to the fiscal note.

An amended bill considered by the committee includes a trigger allowing eligibility for all current private and homeschool students if fewer than 5 percent of public school students have enrolled by 2024.

Delegates Jeff Pack and Marty Gearheart, both Republicans, proposed an amendment capping the amount allowed per student at $3,000. The prior amount under consideration was $4,600. The committee voted in favor of the amendment, which would lower the overall cost.

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Indictment handed up in Morgantown murder case

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A man charged in the death of his grandson’s mother has been indicted on a first-degree murder charge.

Gary Smith

A Monongalia County grand jury handed up an indictment Monday against Gary Smith, 60, of Morgantown.

Prosecutors allege Smith killed Alexa Randolph in late January.

Randolph, 32, of Morgantown, was reported missing on Jan. 28 when she failed to pick up her son. One day later her body was found in the cargo area of her Ford Escape parked in the parking lot of the Hornbeck Road Walmart.

Alexa Randolph

Smith is the paternal grandfather of Randolph’s son.

Monongalia County detectives arrested Smith Feb. 10 after they said he made suspicious statements during a police interview.

Smith is being held without bond in the North Central Regional Jail. He’ll be arraigned by a Monongalia County circuit judge in the near future.

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James Long and W.Va. Tech seek revenge against Rio Grande

— Story by Taylor Kennedy

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Tech Golden Bears will face off against the Rio Grande Red Storm Tuesday evening in the River States Conference championship. 

It will be the second meeting this season between the two schools. Rio Grande took the first game 69-68 back on February 3. The Red Storm won with a game-winning putback dunk at the buzzer.

“Rio beat us, and they took it to us there,” said WVU-Tech second-year head coach Long. “They competed and played really hard. We are in a good state of mind right now. We are in a good state of understanding of what we need to do, and how we prepare. These guys have used that loss to propel themselves forward with the season.”

West Virginia Tech has now won four of its last five following the loss to the Red Storm. The Golden Bears won those four games by an average of 20 points.

“I cannot compliment our guys enough,” said Long. “We are getting better right now at the end of the year, which is what every coach hopes for. It says everything about who they are from how they have handled everything this year to going to class, working out, lifting weights, and whether or not they will play. They have taken everything in stride. They are a resilient group.”

West Virginia Tech had nine games cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, and one was cancelled due to the ice storm a few weeks ago. 

“The way they handled it was admirable for sure,” said Long of the numerous pauses. “They were upset at times, which they should have been and that is how you want it to be. You want it to hurt. They are competitors and they care about it. It sucked and it was hard, but it was the reason we care so much right now. We are competing so much right now because we have used all of this to become resilient and that is all them.”

Rio Grande goes into Tuesday’s game riding a six-game winning streak. The Red Storm has held four of its last six opponents to under 65 points.

“You want to talk about a team that has a great understanding of who they are, it is Rio,” said Long of what he is seeing from the Red Storm. “They do a great job with who they are. They play tough and hard. They make the games physical, and they know who they are. When you watch a Rio game you are going to see the same team every time. They have dealt with injuries and other things, but they have figured out a way to get it done at the end of the year.”

Long will be finishing his second full-year in Beckley. He has produced a 34-14 record, including a 11-6 record this season. Long is still learning, despite his early success.

“I think sometimes as coaches we do a bunch of crazy things and adjustments,” said Long. “I think the beauty of the details over and over. I think this year has validated how we do things and what we believe in. Just putting in the work on a daily basis. This year has shown me how meaningful everyday is, and how meaningful monotonous work is. I am glad that we are getting back to normal. I look forward to that everyday grind, and that we are getting back to.”

Tuesday’s game will be a matchup between two West Virginia natives James Long and Ryan Arrowood. Long is from the Charleston area. Arrowood is originally from Mason County.

“I know Ryan a little bit,” said Long of the West Virginia connection. “We are not incredibly close, but we do have a relationship through being in the River States. I definitely have great respect for what they are doing there and what they have done there. What they have done there is incredible. They play hard and they have great energy. They have an understanding of who they are.”

Coaches typically prepare a pregame speech for a big game, like a championship. Other times coaches will simply speak from the heart. 

“I am not the hype-in for either pre or post game,” said Long. “It has never really been me. I am definitely not the type of guy to be rehearsed. It gets me in trouble sometimes. It makes for bad interviews sometimes because I rant and ramble because I am generally talking from the heart. When I go into the pregame it is usually from the heart. It is collected and I give a clear understanding of what needs done.”

Both West Virginia Tech and Rio Grande have received an automatic bid into the NAIA national tournament. Tipoff between the Golden Bears and Red Storm is set for 7:30pm at the Armory in Beckley.

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Hardy says state’s revenues “remarkably stable” after another solid collections month

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following a better than expected February, the state is heading into the last four months of the budget year $208 million above revenue estimates.

Dave Hardy

The state collected $321.6 million in taxes last month which was $32.4 ahead of estimates, according to state Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy.

“People are working in West Virginia and people are spending money,” Hardy said.

That’s evident from Personal Income Tax collections coming in $36.7 million above estimates while the Consumer Sales Tax topped estimates by $5.1 million.

Hardy said severance tax collections remained “sluggish.” The state collected $19.4 million for the month which was below estimates by $8.9 million. Hardy said he’s hoping for better numbers from coal and natural gas in the coming months.

“The price for natural gas is very low. Our severance tax is based on a percentage of the sales price,” Hardy said. “The volume might be there but the price of natural gas is very low now.”

Gov. Jim Justice said Monday he’s “really proud” with how his administration has handled the state’s finances during the pandemic.

“My job is always to look out for the health and safety of our people, but it is also my job to ‘mind the store’ and take care of the economics of our state,” Justice said.

Governor Jim Justice

Hardy said the state has been “remarkably stable” financially since late May and early June of last year.

Meanwhile, Hardy said April would be the most important month in the four months left in the fiscal year.

“April is just a huge month for us. The fact that taxpayers settle up with the state in April and the first estimates are made in April and it’s just a month that really, really can determine how we’re going to finish out the fiscal year,” Hardy said.

He said if Congress passes a new stimulus bill, as anticipated, new individual stimulus checks will help the state’s collections.

“Where you’ll see the impact is on the Consumer Sales Tax because people go out and buy things like large appliances, things they need and you’ll see that on the Consumer Sales Tax line,” Hardy said.

The Justice administration reported a revenue surplus of $44 million in July 2020 fueled by Justice’s move to push back the due date for state taxes from April 15 to July 15 because of the pandemic. The state’s financial status has also benefited from the $1.25 billion it’s received in federal CARES Act funding.

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West Virginia high water problems will continue into Tuesday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha River is expected to crest below flood stage Tuesday but that crest will still be the highest for the Kanawha since November 2003.

That’s an indication of the widespread river flooding in West Virginia following heavy weekend rains that began Friday and continued into Monday morning.

Tony Edwards, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Charleston Weather Bureau, said the entire state picked up significant rain from Saturday night into Monday morning.

“Anywhere from four to five inches of rain across the southern coalfields up to a little less than 2 inches in the northern part of the state and over in the eastern panhandle,” he explained.

The National Weather did cancel the Elk River flood warning in Kanawha County Monday evening.

The Pocatalico River crested in Sissonville in Kanawha County Monday evening at its highest level since 1998, the Elk River its highest since June 2016.

Highway damage widespread

Jimmy Wriston

Reports of rock slides, mudslides, and damaged roadways were widespread across a large area of West Virginia on Monday and the cleanup will take place for several days.

State Deputy Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston said 95 roads remained closed as of Monday evening.

“Our people are the best in the country when it comes to incident management,” Wriston said in a release from the DOH. “They’re always running to the fire. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night you call them, they answer, and they’re on it.”

Check out these District 1 crews cleaning up a mudslide on US Rt. 119 near I-79, Exit 1, in Kanawha County.

— WVDOT (@WVDOT) March 1, 2021

Wriston said most of the road closures were in District 1 which includes Boone, Clay, Kanawha, Mason, and Putnam counties, had 58 roads closed on Monday.

DOH Operations Division Director Jake Bumgarner said it was difficult for the agency to properly survey the damage because some larger streams were just beginning to crest Monday evening.

“We will know more in the coming days as we keep assessing the situation and the water starts to recede,” Bumgarner said.

DOH District 1 was reporting several major mudslides. District 10 reported mud and debris on state Route 80 in McDowell County. District 8 reported a detour bridge damaged on Handley Road in Pocahontas County.

Engineers in DOH District 2 were hoping to get a better idea of damage on Tuesday after water recede.

“Now what we’re dealing with is backwater,” District 2 District Manager Scott Eplin said . “The water keeps coming up.”

DOH District 2 includes Cabell, Lincoln, Logan, Mingo, and Wayne counties.

Nitro Fire Chief Casey Mathes and his crew performed several water rescues in the Poca area of Putnam County Monday. He said there were a variety of issues.

“Some of them, they can’t get out of their house, the water rose so quick. Some people are not being smart by driving through the water,” Mathes said.

He added many residents comment how quickly water from the Poca river rose.

District 3 crews placed high water signs on CR 47/17, River Road in Wood County.

— WVDOT (@WVDOT) March 1, 2021

In Clay County the Clay-Roane Public Service District reported on their Facebook page the water plant at Procious was broken down due to the flooding. Crews were unsure when they’d be able to access the pumps which were under water.

There were reports of swift water rescues by the National Guard and members of local volunteer fire departments in Boone, Kanawha, Putnam, and Wayne counties from Sunday into early Monday morning.

“Most of it was folks trying to drive through high water,” said C.W. Sigman, Emergency Manager and Fire Coordinator for Kanawha County.

Across social media pictures of mudslides and water around homes and businesses were common.

In Putnam County Emergency Management Director Frank Chapman indicated all of the low-lying areas which normally flood in his county were flooding on Monday. He did it’s unusual for all of them to flood at one time, but blamed much of it on the debris left from the February ice storms.

“A lot of the downed trees, debris, limbs and brush came from that storm and is now causing problems by clogging up culverts and bridge crossings,” Chapman said.

The next phase according to forecasters was the state’s larger rivers which are expected to slowly rise, crest, and then slowly fall as the week goes on.

“That’s going to be a problem for several days, especially on the Ohio River where the backwater flooding can last for several days. It’s going to be with us for several days if not the entire week for some areas,” said Edwards.

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The Game Within The Game (Episode 53)

Welcome to March. Brad Howe and longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Dave Sharapan debate some fun NCAA tournament prop bets, including

* Would you take Baylor/Gonzaga or the field to win a national championship?

* Over/Under NCAA tournament seeding props

* The player you think of when someone says ‘March Madness’

The guys also look at:

* Potential value on a game total in the Big 10 play (Monday, March 1)

* Two Monday night NHL first period over plays

All of that and more in the latest episode of The Game Within The Game presented by DraftKings.

New users on DraftKings Sportsbookremember  to use code METROGAME for a NO BRAINER/FREE MONEY sign up bonus offer.

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Settlement says Governor Justice will reside at the seat of government

The longstanding legal case of whether the governor abides by the state Constitution’s requirement to reside at the seat of government has been settled.

The governor intends to “reside” in Charleston, according to a settlement order filed in Kanawha Circuit Court today. “The parties agree that Respondents’ voluntary agreement to reside at the seat of government within the meaning of the Constitution renders this case moot and the case should be dismissed.”

Isaac Sponaugle

Former Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, acting as a citizen, has been challenging the governor’s residency for several years. Sponaugle received $65,000 in attorneys fees in the case, according to the settlement.

Sponaugle, in a telephone interview, said this was an acceptable outcome.

“This litigation has been ongoing almost three years,” Sponaugle said. “I failed to get him to reside at the seat of government during his first term in office, but I’ve been successful for his second term.”

The Governor’s Office agreed that the lawsuit has been settled agreeably.

“Governor Justice is pleased that the case brought by former Delegate Sponaugle has been resolved. The Governor will, of course, abide by the recent ruling of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and he and Mr. Sponaugle agree that the case is now moot,” said Jordan Damron, spokesman for the governor.

“The Governor will continue working hard every day on the issues that matter to the lives of West Virginians.”

The state Constitution says governor and other members of the Board of Public Works must live at the seat of government. But Justice has said he makes his home in Lewisburg, a couple of hours from the Capitol.

Sponaugle asked for the governor to be compelled to reside at the seat of government in accordance to the state Constitution.

The settlement came just a few months after the state Supreme Court ruled that it could continue at the circuit court level.

In the Supreme Court case, lawyers for Justice argued the word “reside” in the state Constitution is discretionary. His lawyers had cited case law suggesting residency is “slippery like an eel.”

Chief Justice Evan Jenkins wrote in November that’s not the case.

“We now hold that, for the purposes of the residency provision located in Section 1, Article VII of the West Virginia Constitution, ‘reside’ means to live, primarily, at the seat of government and requires that the executive official’s principal place of physical presence is the seat of government for the duration of his or her term in office,” Jenkins wrote.

Sponaugle called that a ruling in his favor and said that prompted the settlement.

“There was no need for discovery at that point because the governor advised his counsel that he was going to follow the law and the issued opinion by the Supreme Court and reside at the seat of government,” Sponaugle said. “So he was going to follow the Supreme Court opinion and reside there more times than not.

“Basically, I was in acknowledgment that if he was going to voluntarily follow the Constitution, I was going to dismiss the residency action.”


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Capito plans to vote no on $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package hits the floor of the U.S. Senate in the upcoming days after passing through the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) says she will be voting it down.

Appearing on Monday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline,’ Capito said the current plan features ‘extraneous expenditures’ that are not emergency relief.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

“I will not vote for it for simply the reason it has been bloated and billed up with Christmas tree items like a subway to nowhere of $100 million and other items, not taking into account money that we have not spent,” she said.

The measure, passed by the House on Friday, features $1,400 stimulus checks for an individual and extension of the federal weekly unemployment payment to $400 through August. The current unemployment assistance is set to expire March 14. There is also a renewal of the Paycheck Protection Program.

As broken down in a recent commentary by MetroNews’ Hoppy Kercheval, estimates and opinions vary on how much of the money is specifically targeted toward Covid relief. The Wall Street Journal editorial board put the number at $825 billion.

Capito said the bill should just focus on the areas of individual stimulus checks, unemployment extension, small business relief, schools, and more help for opioid/drug problems and vaccine distribution.

“I understand I’ll take the criticism of not voting for this but at the same time, I have to look at the package in the whole and the smart way to do it,” Capito said.

“We could have easily negotiated the very items we have talked about.”

Capito was among a group of 10 GOP U.S. Senators that sat down with President Joe Biden in early February in an attempt to negotiate parts of the bill.

She said she expects the current measure to pass.

“It looks as though by the very partisan direction that the bill is going that it’s probably going to pass. It’s a 50-50 Senate and it appears that all 50 Democrats will be supporting this,” Capito said.

U.S. Senator @SenCapito talks with @HoppyKercheval about the Covid-19 relief bill and how she plans to vote on it. WATCH:

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) March 1, 2021

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