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The WV Democratic Pitch on Abortion is Strong, But Wrong.

Democratic leaders of the West Virginia Legislature want a statewide vote on abortion. They have called on Governor Justice and Republican lawmakers to “reconvene and place upon the agenda a resolution to let people vote on a constitutional amendment for reproductive freedom.”

“The Legislature had its chance to clarify the laws and failed,” said Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin (D, Greenbrier) in a release from the state Democratic Party. “The (special) session was a slow-motion train wreck that spectacularly went off the rails.  Compassion and common sense are in short supply at the Capitol right now, so let’s put it before the people to decide.”

As it stands now, there is an old law on the books that outlaws all abortions except to save the life of the mother and penalizes anyone performing an abortion with up to ten years in prison. Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Tera Salango issued an injunction last month blocking the law from being enforced, and that order is now on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Baldwin is correct that the recent special session was an exercise in futility. Governor Justice called the session to address tax cuts.  Abortion was added at the last minute and, even with supermajorities in the House and Senate, Republicans could not agree on a bill.

However, there are several problems with this Democratic challenge:

First, West Virginia has already had a statewide vote on abortion. In the November 2018 election, voters approved (52% to 48%) an amendment that makes the state Constitution neutral on abortion. The amendment read, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

Second, West Virginia’s form of government is just like the United States’ government—a republic (or a representative democracy) not a pure democracy. In a pure democracy, voters would decide the laws. In a republic, the people’s representatives are empowered to make those decisions.

Third, as a republic, legislators should not abdicate their responsibilities. Democratic House Minority Leader Doug Skaff pointed out that in the past “the legislature has approved ballot measures dealing with gambling, Sunday hunting and taxation. Why should the deeply personal issue of abortion be any different?”

But lawmakers should have made the final decisions on gambling, Sunday hunting and taxation. That is what they are elected to do; make tough decisions. Pushing votes on controversial issues to the ballot simply lets lawmakers off the hook.

The Republicans’ failure during the special session and the statewide vote in Kansas not to remove abortion rights from that state’s constitution have created an opening for West Virginia Democrats and the pro-choice forces in West Virginia. The pitch of “let the people decide” is a strong play that will resonate with many.

However, it also shifts the playing field away from where it belongs, in the hands of the people’s representatives who are obligated to act in ways they believe to be in the best interests of their constituents and state.

And the people are empowered to vote those same representatives out if they do not like their decision.

 

 

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AEW returns to Charleston on Wednesday for nationally televised show

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For the first time since 2019, the wrestlers of All Elite Wrestling are set to invade Charleston.

All Elite Wrestling (AEW) comes to the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center on Wednesday for a nationally televised show that begins at 7 p.m. TBS will pick up the coverage of AEW Dynamite/Rampage from Charleston at 8 p.m.

The announced card for Wednesday, as of the weekend before, includes AEW World Trios Tournament Tournament Match: Young Bucks & TBA vs. Andrade El Idolo, RUSH, and Dragon Lee, Two Out Three Falls Match: Bryan Danielson vs. Daniel Garcia and KiLynn King vs. Thunder Rosa.

Mark Henry, ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ and a coach and mentor to AEW talent previewed the show with MetroNews. He said it has the makings of a classic because of the rise of the organization.

“I think the excitement is here. The fact that CM Punk is back, Jon Moxley is still the champion. You have Chris Jericho performing at the highest level of his career,” Henry said.

Henry said fans in West Virginia should be excited for the women’s card and the current level of performance from Britt Baker, D.M.D., Jade Cargill, Thunder Rosa, and Toni Storm. He said AEW’s women’s division is worth the price of admission alone.

“The list goes on and on of these incredible female wrestlers that are redefining what it means to be a pro wrestler again,” Henry said.

In 2019 when AEW came to Charleston, it was the first live cable-network professional wrestling broadcast in the capital city since 2000. AEW officials were impressed with the crowd and figured out a way to return following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry said he expects the Charleston crowd to be rowdy and into the show. He said his wife was a gymnast at West Virginia University and as a Texas Longhorns fan himself, he knows how fans in the state show out.

“I have never, ever been to a show in West Virginia where the people didn’t come out in full force and want to outdo everybody. ‘Oh they had 8,000 at their show, we’re going to have 9,000,'” Henry said.

Henry, who is a two-time Olympian and WWE Hall of Famer, noted the card remains fluid from week to week because the company listens to the fans. He credits the company’s rise based on the fact that they listen to its fans.

AEW was founded on January 1, 2019 by Tony Khan, son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Kahn. The company continues to stay near the top in terms of cable ratings weekly with its two shows every week.

“At AEW, you want the fans to be loose and have a good time. It’s a real party atmosphere in the audience,” Henry said.

“If the crowd is cheering something, I want to hear it. We allow them to be heard. AEW we will allow the fans to dictate the way the show goes.”

Henry joined AEW in 2021 and works with educational programming and community involvement. He said he does not embrace titles because he will do what needs to be done for AEW.

Henry said he’s learned a lot in his 14 months with AEW including from announcers Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone, who have become his mentors. He said he’s enjoyed getting to learn from the roster.

“Wrestling is the same everywhere in the world. If you know it in one place, you know it in another,” Henry said. “But the people that perform it, the people that execute the game plan, that is what is different. I am learning from those people and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Wednesday’s Dynamite show will be presented by House of the Dragon, the upcoming Game of Thrones prequel that will premiere on August 21.

Tickets can be found at allelitewrestling.com/events or the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center website.

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WVU makes advancements in FirstGen efforts

MORGANTOWN, W.Ava. — One year after WVU joined the First Scholars Network the school has earned a national award.

The FirstGen Forward award marks the commitment to the success of first-generation students, according to WVU Assistant Provost Dr. Evan Widders.

“Recently these efforts were recognized and WVU received a status of a “FirstGen Forward” institution,” Widders said. “Institutions that are specifically noted for making these efforts to increase the success rate of first-generation students.”

Widders said WVU’s association with the group has provided a sharper focus on what first-generation students need to succeed. The designation also gives WVU access to additional professional development opportunities, community-building experiences, research and resources to improve the first-gen programm

“It’s really helped us become more intentional and scale-up resources for FirstGen students, to increase  our program offerings for these students and services to them,” Widders said.

Over the next year the university will also collaborate with peer institutions to close the first-gen student achievement gap. Widders hopes the efforts will increase retention rates for all students.

“We’ve made some progress- about a seven percent increase of our FirstGen retention rate, the number of students that stay after the first year,” Widders said.

Last year, the Office of the Provost and Office of Student Success implemented a diagnostic self-assessment test to help students understand their stengths and weaknesses. Also, a steering committee of first-gen student advocates has been formed to advance institutional projects and priorities.

“Going to college is often more complicated than we would like,”  Widders said. “So, everything from financial aid to how to register for courses and how you can drop a course because you can’t do that in high school.”

WVU now joins over 275 participating institutions that have received the FirstGen Forward designation and will take part in the 2022-2023 cohort of 53 higher education institutions.

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City of Huntington officials hopeful following bid letting on Hal Greer Blvd project

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A major renovation project to Huntington’s Hal Greer Boulevard is one step closer following the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) accepting bids on the plan in the past week.

The DOH announced the project, which stretches from Washington Boulevard to Third Avenue in Huntington, was among 20 projects included in a bid letting held on Aug. 9.

Bre Shell, Director of Planning for City of Huntington told MetroNews the plan out for bid is phase one and two of a ‘complete Hal Greer Blvd. street plan.’

Plans call for realigning intersections at 10th Avenue and Charleston Avenue, widening sidewalks, adding bicycle lanes, installing new lighting, reconfiguring traffic lights and adding greenspace along the Hal Greer corridor, all to make the area more user-friendly for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists and to make the corridor more attractive, a news release stated.

“We want people to have a good experience coming into Huntington through that roadway. Most importantly, we want people to be able to safe and connected across the roadway,” Shell said.

Shell called the road one of the main entrances and gateways into Huntington off of Interstate-64. The project will stretch nearly two miles on Hal Greer Blvd., right off of Interstate-64, into the Fairlawn neighborhood and Cabell-Huntington Hospital and end near Marshall University.

Shell said no major delays are expected once work gets underway. She said the city will be working with the DOH closely over the next 30 days to determine if the bids will be able to be utilized.

“The roadway will remain open throughout the whole construction process, although there will be implications as to how traffic may have to be managed during the construction,” she said.

The DOH worked closely with both the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission and the city of Huntington to develop the plan.

The city of Huntington will contribute 20 percent of the cost of the project.

“This is a great example of working together with local planning organizations and the city of Huntington to see this project come to fruition,” said Rob Pennington, P.E., WVDOH District 2 Engineer in a release. “This will improve the overall operation of Hal Greer Boulevard for both motorists and non-motorists.”

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Suicide lifeline number in West Virginia one month into transition to 988

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has successfully transitioned to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s new three-digit number (988), according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).

The DHHR’s Bureau for Behavioral Health (BBH) said the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live on July 16 and that 855 calls have been received since then.

988 is formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The code is operated in West Virginia by First Choice Services and funded by the BBH.

“The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline serves as a universal entry point so that no matter where you live, you can reach a trained crisis counselor who can help,” said Christina Mullins, commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Behavioral Health. “With options for using 988 through voice calls, chat, and text, individuals can receive the help they need in the way that is most convenient and comfortable.”

To learn more about 988, CLICK HERE.

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WVU Welcome Week returns at full speed

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – WVU students are settling into new homes and learning the community with Welcome Week.

For the first time since the pandemic, events are many and interactions are unrestricted, according to WVU Dean of Students Corey Farris.

Corey Farris

“I would say Welcome Week has returned with a vengeance, unlike it was since probably 2019,” Farris said. “And we’ve added programs- we have activities every single day.”

Students will have opportunities to explore campus, the outdoors and Morgantown through Aug. 21. Pool parties, cookouts, free games and game shows are among the activities.

Farris said community, conservation service projects and the lessons to be learned from giving back are also encouraged.

“It’s important for us to help them connect with their community and know the talents they can give back to support our non-profits,” Farris said.

Students come to Morgantown from all over the country and world bringing diverse background and experiences. Farris said many of the students have never had the opportunity to hike in the mountains, ride a bike on a trail, zipline or wall climb. The Adventure WV activities bring the students together and closer to the community they’ll call home during their educational journey.

“Time after time we hear our international students who have the opportunity to go swimming, kayaking or canoeing at Coopers Rock or Cheat Lake what beauty they didn’t know was just steps away,” Farris said.

This Welcome Week will feature a full “Monday Night Lights.” According to the Welcome Week webpage, it’s “the night when you’ll truly learn what it means to be a Mountaineer.” Students will hear from school leaders and be treated to a performance by the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band. Because of the pandemic pause on activities, second year students will also gather for a class picture on the field with the band.

“We have our students fill in that state of West Virginia and we take a class photo that the students absolutely love,” Farris said. “And quite frankly it’s the only time probably our entire freshman class will be together.”

One very popular activity returning is Up All Night in the Mountainlair and Farris said that will become a regular event.

“Movies, billiards, bowling, crafting, game shows and food from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and that will continue every weekend throughout fall semester and spring semester,” Farris said.

Fall semester classes begin Wednesday at WVU.

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Holiday movie filming wraps up at The Greenbrier

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — It may be mid-August, but it looks a lot like Christmas time at The Greenbrier.

Filming started in July and wrapped up earlier this month on a holiday movie that takes place at the resort in White Sulphur Springs.

Valarie Pritt, communications manager of the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau, told MetroNews there’s excitement among visitors who are already feeling festive.

“It’s been nice to see some of those Christmas decorations out in the July and August time. I think it’s been giving visitors a chance to experience The Greenbrier maybe at a time that they normally wouldn’t come,” she said.

Pritt said The Greenbrier is a perfect setting to film a Christmas movie.

“The Greenbrier has this magical air about it to begin with, so when you add in Christmas decorations, again, you walk in and even though it’s August, you feel like you’ve been whisked away to December,” she said.

Summer is typically a busy time of year for the hotel. Pritt said the filming brings The Greenbrier even more into the national spotlight and can generate more of a local economic impact to the region.

“One of our goals is always to bring people into this area, have them experience the Greenbrier Valley and The Greenbrier because it is such a hidden gem, not only in West Virginia, but in the United States as a whole, so we are loving this opportunity to share our part of West Virginia with everyone,” Pritt said.

Pritt did not reveal what the movie was for or when it will be released. She said the CVB is in talks with officials at The Greenbrier who will release more information at a later date.

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Leaders agree action is necessary to improve education proficiency

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s leaders agree improvements to the state’s schools are necessary as education proficiency continues to lag.

Paul Hardesty

The discussion about the need for action stems from the state Department of Education’s release of statewide assessment data from the 2021-2022 academic year. While students made academic progress from the prior year — when classes moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic — proficiency rates still lagged behind previous years.

“You can’t put enough lipstick on the pig. They’re terrible. Plain and simple,” state Board of Education President Paul Hardesty said last week on “MetroNews Talkline.”

Hardesty, who took over as board president in July, said no one should believe proficiency rates in the 30s are acceptable.

“I’m going to do my best over the next two years to try to bring some level of improvement,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ve got to start back to the basics. Give these teachers time to teach math, reading, language arts, core basic subjects. We’re not proficient when we get to the third grade, and look at the test data. Look at the way the trends go. When you get to the third grade, if you don’t have that basis, how in the world can you perform higher-level math functions in grades five, eight and 11?”

Hardesty said part of the issue is increased pressure on educators; teachers often face hurdles and responsibilities that take them away from providing engaging lessons.

“Let these teachers teach,” he said. “Don’t turn them into robots and give them a structured, this-is-the-way-you-have-to-do-it model. It don’t work.”

Gov. Jim Justice said the state education system “can do better,” adding during last Thursday’s coronavirus briefing that these problems are not new.

“These numbers are nothing like what we want them to be,” he said.

Fred Albert

Fred Albert, the president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said educators tell him the most recent year of the pandemic has been the worst because of educator and substitute shortages.

“Teachers were expected to cover other classes to disperse students so that their classrooms were overcrowded,” he said. “It was a pretty difficult year.”

The state Department of Education reported 1,196 teacher vacancies in West Virginia’s schools in 2021. Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, told MetroNews last week he expects the number of vacancies to surpass 1,500.

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State treasurer’s office announces anniversary SMART529 scholarship sweepstakes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — To commemorate the 20th anniversary of West Virginia’s SMART529 College Savings Plan, state Treasurer Riley Moore has announced a scholarship sweepstakes.

West Virginia families can enter their children aged 14 and younger to win one of three $20,000 SMART529 scholarships which will be randomly awarded to one lucky child each month from October through December.

Moore announced the program in the past week at Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston, where he told students he hopes the sweepstakes will get families to think about the future.

“It’s my hope that by doing this sweepstake, you and your families are going to start thinking about what you want to be when you grow up and how you can accomplish your dream,” Moore said.

Registration for the contest is now open at www.wvtreasury.com/20years.

To be eligible:

– The child must be 14 years old or younger as of Aug. 10, 2022.
– Entries must be completed by a parent or legal guardian.
– The child AND the parent/legal guardian must be a resident of West Virginia.
– Only one entry per eligible child is permitted.
– Multiple children in a household CAN be entered to win.

“Research shows that children with even a small amount of college savings are 2.5 times more likely to graduate from college, and we hope this contest inspires families to learn about the SMART529 plan and open an account today,” Moore said in a release. “We can’t say it enough: It’s never too early to start saving for your child’s future.”

In 2001, the West Virginia Legislature passed the West Virginia College Prepaid Tuition and Savings Program Act to allow the State Treasurer’s Office to begin offering college education savings plans under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.

On March 1, 2002, the program’s Board of Trustees and Hartford Funds signed a management agreement officially launching West Virginia’s SMART529 College Savings Plan to the public.

Moore said a SMART529 Plan is a great option for all West Virginia families.

“You don’t have to save a lot. You can put away as much as you can afford and we’ll help you invest in it. It keeps growing until you’re ready to go to college or other schools later in life,” the treasurer said.

Since its birth, the SMART529 College Savings Plan has grown to nearly $3 billion in assets under management, with more than 37,600 accounts held by West Virginia residents, with tens of thousands more accounts held by individuals nationwide.

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Talented skill players hope to lead East Hardy on another lengthy postseason run

BAKER, W.Va. — East Hardy has missed the postseason just once in the last eleven years and there is every expectation that the boys from Baker can go deep into the playoffs this season. Last year, the Cougars went 10-2 before falling to Class A runner-up Williamstown in the quarterfinals.

“We’re satisfied with what we got out of that group,” said East Hardy head coach Devon Orndorff. “I am disappointed by the ending, obviously. Sometimes you meet a better team and I think we did last year. I think Williamstown was a better team than us and sometimes you just have to tip your hat and go back to the drawing board.”

Senior Mason Miller is back for his second season as the Cougars’ starting quarterback. In 2021, Miller accounted for 2,818 yards and 40 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.

“I am glad he is back because he knows what he is doing. He’s a good leader and tells everyone what to do. He knows where everyone is supposed to be,” said East Hardy senior wide receiver/cornerback Dawson Price.

“He was sitting behind a good quarterback before him in Christian Dove,” Orndorff said. “He learned from Christian’s mistakes and his successes. He absorbed all that like a sponge. Day one of him being the quarterback last year, he was far more advanced than I expected to be. We just built on that. We added some wrinkles to our offense because of his football IQ.”

Miller’s top target is 6-foot-3, 205-pound wideout and fellow senior Dawson Price. He reeled in 55 passes for 1,181 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall.

“He makes my life a lot easier,” Miller said. “I throw the ball up in the air and he catches it and runs for a touchdown. He makes me look good.”

“He is just one of the most physical receivers in the state,” Orndorff said. “There are a bunch of guys like that. Receivers are a dime a dozen right now. We think he is one of the best. But there are going to be a bunch out there just as good as him. His physicality sets him apart. He loves to be jammed. He loves to go up over the top of people. He loves to come across the middle. He loves to play tight end. He loves to block. I will take him any day.”

East Hardy is one of the smallest public schools in West Virginia to field a football team. Players up and down their roster of 32 could be called upon at any time.

“Everybody is preparing with the same urgency that the starters are,” Orndorff said. “We throw them all in the fire on day one. We really try to shock them and let them know that your number might be called week one, week two, ten, eleven, twelve. It could be any time, you never know.”

The Cougars are 4-2 in three playoff appearances under Devon Orndorff. They most recently advanced to the Super Six six seasons ago.

“This is going to be the best team we have probably had since 2015 and 2016,” Orndorff said.

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