- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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May 11

The Inter-Mountain on tax hikes and the state budget:

It has been a safe bet for at least two weeks that any agreement on a new state budget for West Virginia would have to wait until at least mid-May. Why? Because no one in the Legislature wants to anger voters.

It is inevitable that regardless of what lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin do about the budget, they will alienate a large number of voters. There is simply no getting around it.

The projected gap between revenue and planned expenditures for fiscal year 2017, beginning July 1, is $270 million. Some legislators believe even that is being optimistic.

There are only two ways to handle a fiscal crisis of that magnitude: Increase taxes or slash government spending. Either way, lots of people will be angry enough to take it out on incumbent legislators at the polls.

Hence, even if most lawmakers had made up their minds on the budget, no one wanted to act in time to result in an election-day massacre of incumbents.

It is likely a mixture of spending cuts, tax increases and borrowing from the emergency Rainy Day fund will be employed to balance the budget.

What legislators should remember is that the very shortfalls in revenue making a budget deal difficult indicate many West Virginians are having our own struggles with finances. General tax increases might make budget time easier on state agencies - but they would make life tougher for hundreds of thousands of Mountain State residents.

So when a budget plan finally is devised, it should go heavy on spending cuts and light on tax increases.

Online:

http://www.theintermountain.com/

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May 11

The Charleston Daily Mail on human trafficking in West Virginia:

Human trafficking might not be top of mind for many in West Virginia, but our state’s law enforcement officers are beginning to take the issue seriously.

Although the Mountain State isn’t a top target for human traffickers, residents are increasingly becoming victims. According to the A21 website, human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings, mainly for the purposes of forced labor and sex. U.S. attorneys in West Virginia are working to educate the public about the growing problem, enlisting the West Virginia Fusion Center, which monitors criminal activity, to develop a training model.

“The state of Ohio is at the forefront of this with a task force dealing with various issues they’ve had going on for a while,” Scott Pauley, deputy director of the Fusion Center, told MetroNews. “We were getting contacted by them because some of their victims were West Virginia residents.”

Law enforcement officials admit West Virginia is a little behind in its efforts to stop human trafficking. But as the Gazette-Mail’s Erin Beck reported, “The National Human Trafficking Resource Project received 48 calls referencing West Virginia in 2015, and 10 cases of human trafficking in West Virginia were reported to the organization. Of those, eight involved sex trafficking.”

That’s worrisome, but what’s even more alarming is that the number of human trafficking incidents involving West Virginians is likely higher, “and even police and victim services workers may not know they have worked with victims of trafficking,” Beck wrote.

Sex trafficking has been a problem for decades. However, the UN recently conducted a global analysis and found many governments are in denial and often neglect reporting or prosecuting human trafficking cases.

According to the report, most trafficking takes place close to home: “Data show intra-regional and domestic trafficking are the major forms of trafficking in persons.”

Emily Chittenden-Laird of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Center, which works with abuse victims, said her organization is starting to see and identify more child victims of human trafficking right here in the Mountain State.

Human trafficking isn’t just something that happens overseas or in poor areas of the inner-city. It’s also happening here, and local, state and federal leaders are joining law enforcement in efforts to raise awareness and educate the public.

Human trafficking is a complex problem that exists in the shadows. Kudos to law enforcement officers and elected officials for working to shine a light on these terrible crimes. Their efforts, and ours, can save lives.

Online:

http://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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May 4

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on West Virginia’s teen pregnancy rate:

West Virginia is still among the states with higher rates of teen pregnancy, but West Virginia Bureau for Public Health officials gave some good news last week when they announced that, slowly but surely, that rate is declining in the Mountain State.

In fact, Dr. Rahul Gupta says the rate has declined 15 percent in the past two years. The reasons for the change are encouraging, if a little surprising. First, Gupta believes young women are being taught more about the importance of staying in school, pursuing a college degree and even contemplating careers previous generations of women might have thought were out of reach.

Teenage girls in the Mountain State are being encouraged to focus on their health and wellbeing; they are being reminded of their worth - as happy, healthy young women who can look forward to getting a job and exploring a larger world.

“Families of today are having those conversations at the dinner table in their households that perhaps wasn’t happening 25-30 years ago,” Gupta said.

The teen pregnancy rate in West Virginia is still unacceptably high - 38.3 per 1,000 girls, compared with the national average of 25. But the trend is changing, and it sounds like parents and families should receive a large portion of the credit for making that happen.

Kudos to those willing to take on an awkward conversation about what has falsely been considered just the cultural norm in West Virginia, and instead give more young women the confidence and self-esteem to they deserve.

Online:

http://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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