The Voice of West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — University leads the MetroNews Power Index for the fourth consecutive week. The Hawks (18-3) will wrap up their regular season against Preston Wednesday evening.
Morgantown (18-3) has a narrow lead on Martinsburg (17-3) for the second spot. Shady Spring (21-1) and Hedgesville (17-4) complete the top five.
Cabell Midland (18-4), Wheeling Park (16-5), George Washington (15-5), Chapmanville (20-2) and Robert C. Byrd (18-2) round out the top ten.
Greater Beckley Christian (17-4) is the leader among Class A schools in 20th. Charleston Catholic (16-5) is 22nd and Williamstown (21-1) is 26th. Unbeaten Pendleton County (19-0) is 46th.
The final edition of the Power Index will be released Monday, March 2nd.
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GRAFTON, W.Va. — A Taylor County man will spend the rest of his life in prison after killing his wife.
The 12-member jury that found John Michael Hess, 47, of Flemington, guilty of murder Tuesday decided during deliberations Wednesday that he should receive no mercy.
“Wednesday morning we had the penalty phase of the trial and they returned a no mercy verdict,” Taylor County Prosecutor John Bord said.
Hess killed his wife, Abigail Hess, 38, on New Year’s Eve 2017.
“The defendant shot his wife in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot,” Bord said.
Testimony during the trial said Hess committed the crime in a jealous rage.
The defense claimed Hess had a diminished capacity and shouldn’t be charged with first degree murder.
Hess was sentenced by Taylor County Circuit Judge Alan Moats.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Crossover Day in the state Legislature brought a crescendo of bills in the state Senate.
There were almost 60 bills up for final consideration in the Senate before moving on to the House of Delegates. Crossover Day is the annual deadline for bills originating in one chamber to be voted out and sent to the other.
The conclusion of the regular, 60-day legislative session is approaching on March 7.
Here’s a sample of what passed Wednesday morning in the Senate.
- Without discussion, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 38, requiring schools provide elective course on Hebrew Scriptures or Bible. The House of Delegates passed its own version of a bill doing roughly the same thing on Tuesday.
- Senators unanimously passed Senate Bill 120, establishing priorities for expenditures for plugging abandoned gas or oil wells.
- With one no — Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, who described his experienced as a business owner, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 513, protecting consumers against businesses using automatic renewals without consent.
- Senators passed Senate Bill 648, providing dental coverage for adult Medicaid recipients.
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Crossover Day has arrived at the Legislature, Senate Republicans fail in a quest to overhaul the state’s tax structure while in the House a bill to allow for elective Bible courses in public high schools advances. Governor Justice to follow up today with Alecto about possible alternatives to closing Fairmont Regional Medical Center and AHF Products claims the offer union workers rejected at their Randolph County plant was a fair one. In Sports, a familiar name in high school football is the new head coach at Morgantown High School. Those stories and more in today’s edition of Metronews This Morning.
The effort to phase out the state’s property taxes on machinery, equipment and inventory, and on vehicles has died in the Senate.
Proponents—all Republicans—failed to get the two-thirds vote necessary to advance the resolution to the House. It died on an 18-16 tally, with two Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition.
This was always going to be a heavy lift for a variety of reasons.
First, the approval process was difficult. Property taxes are in the State Constitution so to change that, proponents needed two-thirds majority from both chambers and approval by voters in the next election.
Second, the plan created a potential hole in county budgets. When fully phased in, counties and county school boards that receive the bulk of the property taxes would have lost an estimated $300 million in revenue.
The school systems would be kept whole through the school aid formula, but that money has to come from somewhere. Republicans promised counties would be fully funded by revenue from increases in the tobacco taxes and an increase of one-half of a percent in the sales tax, to six-and-one-half percent.
That only covered two-thirds of the lost revenue. The rest, proponents said, would be made up by natural growth in the state budget and cuts in state spending.
However, county government leaders didn’t buy that. County commissioners and assessors put a lot of pressure on their Senators to oppose the plan, and they were an effective lobbying group.
Third, Republicans focused on the decreases in the business taxes and the personal property tax on vehicles. But remember there were also tax increases. Supporters struggled to make the point that, yes, some taxes would go up, but the hated annual property tax on vehicles would disappear.
Some would go up, some would go down. It got a little confusing.
Fourth, business has benefited from tax changes in recent years—a lowering of the corporate net income tax and elimination of the business franchise tax. Those were appropriate moves, but supporters were often guilty of overselling the benefits to the state’s business climate.
Now, when the state’s economy has slowed primarily because of coal and natural gas, it’s more difficult to argue that business just needs one more tax reduction.
And finally, there were just too many moving parts; an amendment to the State Constitution, some taxes going down, some going up, uncertainty about the revenue projections, a distrust that future legislatures would treat county governments fairly, a fear that other local property taxes would rise to make up the difference.
In the end, it collapsed under its own weight.
But its failure should not change this fact; The property taxes on machinery, equipment and inventory are anti-growth. They are taxes on the value of the property, so businesses have to pay them regardless of whether they make a profit. That’s money businesses could otherwise use to invest in higher wages and new equipment.
The tax is so bad that West Virginia is one of just two states that imposes it. Frequently West Virginia’s Development Office creates a “work around” for new businesses coming to the state so they won’t have to pay the tax.
The vehicle tax is also a burden. It’s an additional expense to vehicle-intensive businesses and to every West Virginian who owns a car or truck. When they buy a vehicle they pay a sales tax, a tax on the gasoline they use, payments for the vehicle itself, insurance, as well as upkeep and maintenance.
And then every year there is a personal property tax bill on the value of the vehicle that must be paid before you can get your license renewed!
Republicans failed to get their plan out of the gate, and there were legitimate questions about the wisdom of their approach. Governor Justice was cool to the idea, so that didn’t help either.
But at least this necessary debate has begun.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate on Tuesday passed a measure ensuring insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions will be maintained even if former President Barack Obama’s health care law is struck down in federal court.
The West Virginia Health Care Continuity Act would prohibit insurance companies from limiting enrollment because of a pre-existing condition. The measure would also require the state insurance commissioner to ensure various aspects of health care are covered, and people could stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26 years old.
Tuesday’s final vote was 20-14.
The measure comes as West Virginia is part of a multi-state coalition arguing “Obamacare” is unconstitutional. A federal appeals court in December struck down the law’s individual mandate and ordered a federal Texas judge to determine what parts of “Obamacare” are separable from the provision.
A 2018 West Virginia University report notes 719,000 non-elderly West Virginians have a pre-existing condition.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has supported the measure as well as West Virginia’s involvement in the lawsuit.
“Passage of the bill will put West Virginia out in front and show the nation how West Virginia unites to ensure that everyone – including those with preexisting conditions – has the ability to purchase health insurance.”
Democratic states and the U.S. House of Representatives have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider taking up the matter amid the legal challenge. Justices are expected to continue discussions on the case this Friday.
The final verdict in the legal challenge is expected after this year’s presidential election.
GASSAWAY, W.Va. — With a decisive height advantage, it was imperative for Braxton County’s girls basketball team to impose its will on Herbert Hoover in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal.
The Eagles did just that by locking down defensively and riding another strong performance from 6-foot-3 senior Jocelyn Abraham to claim a 51-38 victory against the Huskies in Class AA Region II, Section 2 action.
“We told the girls before the game it would all start with defense,” Eagles’ head coach Keith Greene said. “We had to get out on shooters and play up on them and we did for the most part.”
With the win, Braxton County (17-6) advances to play at Lewis County on Friday in the sectional title game.
Abraham accounted for a pair of baskets in the opening quarter — the only player on either team to make more than one field goal in the period.
The Huskies (16-8) were held without a field goal in the opening quarter as they missed 11 of their attempts and fell behind, 10-2.
“We had four or five solid looks in and out the basket,” Hoover head coach John Vencill II said. “You give us two or three of those and we’re right in the game. We got the shots that we wanted.”
Not until a Taylor Ray three-pointer 1:35 into the second quarter did Herbert Hoover record a field goal. That cut Braxton’s lead to 12-5, but the Eagles responded with a 9-0 run aided by a Peyton Smith triple and back-to-back buckets from Abraham.
Trailing by 16, the Huskies got six straight points from Allison Dunbar to draw to within 23-11 at halftime. Dunbar had eight of Hoover’s 11 points at the break.
A three from Maggie Skidmore and Lacy Liston’s layup allowed the Eagles to take a 15-point lead early in the third, but Hoover answered with an 8-2 surge to pull to within 30-21 at the 3:40 mark.
Skidmore hit two more threes in the period, however, to help send the Eagles into the fourth with a 36-26 advantage.
Liston scored inside twice to start the fourth and give her team a 14-point lead, and Abraham had all nine of her second half points over the final six minutes to put to rest any thought of a Hoover rally.
“We did a better job being patient and working for the open shot,” Greene said. “We were able to get them to come out of their zone late, which we were hoping for. Then Jocelyn was really strong down the stretch.”
Abraham finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to lead the way in the win.
“She has height, but she has the skill to go with it too,” Vencill said.
Skidmore made four threes for 12 points, while Liston finished with nine points and a game-best 12 boards. Smith totaled nine rebounds to help Braxton control the glass, 44-35.
The Huskies finished just 11-of-50 for 22 percent shooting from the field.
Dunbar had 19 points and seven rebounds in her final high school game.
“Her freshman year we were 2-21 and here we are finishing 16-8,” Vencill said. “She’s a great player and a great kid.”
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ST. MARYS, W.Va. — William Steele connected on eight triples and led all scorers with 30 points as St. Marys cruised past Magnolia, 95-60 on senior night.
The Blue Devils outscored the Blue Eagles 24-9 in the second quarter to take a 45-21 halftime lead and they led by at least 18 points throughout the entire second half.
“William got us started,” said St. Marys head coach Mark Barnhart. “After he got us started, the other guys kind of got in on the act. I thought Richard (Dornan), Peyton (Auxier) and William had a senior night to remember.”
Grant Barnhart scored 16 points and Dornan added 14 points.
In the fourth quarter, senior Leon Taylor appeared in his first varsity game and drained 4 3-pointers in the final five minutes of play. He finished the game with 12 points.
“The fans said it best. They wanted him in with about five and a half minutes to go,” Barnhart said. “He has played for us some on the reserve team. He is a nice young man. He has done everything we have asked here in the program. For him to get to do that in front of a packed gym on senior night, it just put an exclamation mark on it.”
Levi Cecil led Magnolia (15-7) with 19 points and Jacob Gamble added 10. The Blue Eagles secured the top seed in their sectional earlier Tuesday, while the Blue Devils (16-5) were seeded second. St. Marys will host Ritchie County in their postseason opener. But first, they will conclude their regular season Thursday against Madonna.
“That’s a game we know in the first round of sectionals, we have to be ready to play.”
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MORGANTOWN – Morgantown High School believes it has found the man to lead its football program back to being a perennial contender in Class AAA, hiring Keyser High School Head Coach Sean Biser.
The Monongalia County Board of Education accepted the recommendation Tuesday night during its weekly meeting.
“We are very excited to welcome Sean Biser to the Mohigan family,” MHS Atheltics Director John Bowers said in a statement.
For the last 16 years, Biser has led a Keyser football team that has been a fixture in the Class AA playoffs. The Golden Tornado only missed the playoffs twice during Biser’s tenure and more often than not, Keyser was playing well into November. Keyser advanced to the quarterfinals eight times and finished runner-up in Class AA in 2012.
“Sean has led Keyser to many Thanksgiving Day practices and has coached on the Island in Wheeling in December. Our Mohigan teams will be disciplined, strong and very well coached under Biser,” said Bowers.
“We look forward to him leading our players and coaches to all be better in their roles to put Mohigan football back on the map.”
Playing and old fashioned, hard-nosed Stick-I style of offense, Keyser dominated opponents in 2019, outscoring the opposition by an average of 40 points per game.
Biser, who was an offensive lineman for WVU from 1990 to 1993, will now lead a Morgantown program that expects to be playing on the final Friday in November every year.
From 1995 to 2013, Morgantown made 19 consecutive playoff appearances, won four state championships (2000, 2002, 2005, 2006) and finished runner-up one other time (1998). The Mohigans also reached the state semifinals eight times during that run.
However, the Mohigans have not won a playoff game since the 2016 season, when it reached the semifinals, losing to eventual state champion Martinsburg. Morgantown reached the playoffs in both 2017 and 2018 but made first round exits and last season finished with a 3-7 record.
Former Head Coach Matt Lacy resigned in November, compiling a 22-23 record in three seasons on the job.
Biser will officially be introduced during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Morgantown High School.
WHEELING, W.Va. — Following a 2019 year with plenty of headline news in Wheeling, Mayor Glenn Elliott said there are plenty of opinions on the state of the city. His thoughts are the city is strong and ready for the future.
“Are we experiencing a winter of despair or a spring of hope? It depends on who you ask,” Elliott said.
“But because I am standing before you today and happen to have a microphone, I am going to state for the record that I believe the future of our city looks very bright and the state of the city looks very strong.”
In his speech, Elliott laid out the “three legs of the state of the city stool” that included the economy, people who comprise of the city and the collective feelings for the future of Wheeling.
Elliott said the economy around town is strong and the proof is in the tax revenues. He stated that at last week’s city council meeting, City Manager Bob Herron presented a report on the first seven months of the fiscal year, which began July 2019.
“By comparison to the same time last year, we saw a significant increase in revenue from the city’s B&O taxes, sales taxes, and building permit fees,” Elliott said.
When addressing the second leg of his “state of the city stool” the feelings of future of the city, he responded to an op-ed written in the Wheeling Intelligencer.
The piece asked the mayor to address the topics of the proposed Public Safety Building, redevelopment of the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Building and the downtown “streetscape” project.
The construction of a Public Safety Building to house the city’s police and fire departments was one of the most talked-about stories in the past year for the city, along with the status of Wheeling University, Ohio Valley Medical Center closing, the Suspension Bridge closed to vehicular traffic, overhaul of Interstate-70 and a new user fee.
The fee was installed at the beginning of 2020 in part to pay for the $14.5 million safety building, which was voted down in a levy in the 2018 election, and to pay for infrastructure such as roads.
Elliott said the city is waiting on the final results from a full Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment report on the property at 19th and Jacob Streets, and also see if the city is successful in its request for federal Brownsfield Assistance Center help.
“They cannot discuss Downtown without reminding you how amazing it used to be. They see the closing of OVMC as a harbinger of dark times ahead,” Elliott said of the “pessimists around the city.”
“They decry the condition of our state roads and current traffic detours. And the only thing that seems to bother them more than any of this is the notion of their City government spending their tax dollars to try to fix any of it. If the ship is sinking, after all.”
In further addressing the hot button issues, Elliott told the crowded room at the casino that the “streetscaping” project created five years ago is close to having an announcement of funding in March. Elliott said the project would be the “most significant facelift for downtown Wheeling since 1980.”
He said the work, which would replace sidewalks and streets around downtown as well as add new traffic signals and crosswalks, is now costing around three times more than the $8.7 million announced in 2015 with the idea.
Lastly, when addressing the future of Wheeling, Elliott said the city is waiting on the developer with financing in the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Building renovation. Officials want to make the skyscraper into market-rate housing, among other small ventures.
Elliott said the city is busy putting together a plan to add a parking structure to the old Chase Bank building that would support the new housing in downtown.
“This would be the largest investment in the history of downtown Wheeling,” he said. “Roughly the same size as the investments of the Health Plan and the Boury Lofts combined.
“It’s very important we do not underestimate what the significance it would be to save the only skyscraper we have in this city with an investment of that size.”
Throughout his 37-minute speech, Elliott honored several citizens of Wheeling. This was part of his final leg in the “state of the city stool,” the people of Wheeling.
Hydie Friend receieved the 4th annual Gateway Award, Wheeling 250 Committee Chairman Jay Frey was honored with the Community Spirit Award, and Elliott honored Dr. Jeannae Finstein, Gail “Boatsie” VanVranken and the late Jim Bordas for their services to the city.
Ron Scott Jr. was honored by Elliott for his work as the Cultural Diversity & Community Outreach Director for the Wheeling YWCA. Elliott spoke highly on the services of the Augusta Levy Learning Center.
Elliott filed for reelection for 2020 and faces tests from businessman Chris Hamm and Tony Domenick. Vice Mayor Chad Thalman is also seeking reelection in his Ward 1 seat.
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