- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Feb. 10

The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on nurse training critical to prosecuting rape cases:

Sexual violence is one of the most prevalent crimes in the United States.

About 20 percent of women say they have been raped sometime in their lives, according to a survey by the Center for Disease Control, almost 40 percent by someone they knew.

But for a variety of reasons — from fear to shame to a lack of confidence in the legal system — researchers estimate 60 percent of rape cases are never reported to law enforcement. Of the 40 percent that are reported, about 10 percent lead to an arrest, and 4 percent to a felony conviction, according to the advocacy group Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

So, the net result is that very few rapists — probably less than 5 percent — are ever punished, which almost certainly leads to more sexual violence.

A key step in changing that disturbing pattern is changing the way potential rape cases are handled on the front lines. Whether in a hospital ER or other clinical setting, responding properly to these cases requires a sophisticated blend of health care and forensics.

The patient must be treated for physical and emotional trauma, but there also is a crucial need to collect evidence that can hold up in a court of law. The best person for that job is a specially trained sexual assault nurse examiner.

Last week, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill to set up regulations and training for those positions on the state and county level, which should go a long way toward improving the care for rape victims and the chances of making a case.

Speaking in support of the bill, Del. Carol Miller of Cabell County stressed the importance of collecting and documenting forensic evidence correctly to protect the integrity of the DNA, The Associated Press reported. She noted that West Virginia State Police Forensics Lab estimates that currently 75 percent of rape kits have collection or documentation errors.

Marshall University also plays a special role in providing some of the training for nurses on how to conduct adult or pediatric exams. The university’s Forensic Science Center already has trained 246 SANE nurses affiliated with 40 different hospitals, Miller said.

Developing a strong force of nurse examiners to handle these cases correctly from the start is critical to reducing sexual violence in the state, and we urge the state Senate to pass the bill as well.




Feb. 11

Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph on Andrew’s Law:

We are perplexed by the apparent decision of the House Appropriations Committee to not take up the well-intended “Andrew’s Law,” a measure that seeks to strengthen the penalty for a reckless driving offense that results in death or serious injury to a law enforcement officer, emergency medical services personnel, highway worker or firefighter.

The bill is named after the late Virginia State Police Trooper Andrew Fox, a native of Tazewell, Va., who died as a result of injuries he received when a woman driving an SUV ran over him as he was directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair on Oct. 5, 2012. The woman who struck the trooper pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge, received a suspended 12-month sentence and was fined $1,000.

The measure was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, and unanimously passed the Senate on a bipartisan 40-0 vote last week. It is scheduled to be moved to the House as early as today. But we are being told by Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, that the House Appropriations Committee will not take up the House version of the bill even though it passed through three Senate committees unanimously and was then cleared by that legislative chamber on a unanimous vote.

And just why won’t the measure be taken up by the House committee? Morefield says the Commonwealth simply doesn’t have the funding available at this time to consider the proposal. What? That explanation doesn’t make sense. Puckett disputes that statement, adding the Senate did a study on the bill, and estimated associated costs at only $50,000. Puckett is vowing to fight for the measure. He says if the House committee members refuse to take up “Andrew’s Law” he, in return, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will refuse to hear any bills that come to the Senate Agriculture Committee from members of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I hate to have to do things like that, but this family deserves a fair hearing on the bill,” Puckett told the Daily Telegraph last week. My thought is that there are a lot of bills coming to the Agriculture Committee that won’t be heard.”

Clearly politics are in play here - and that is disrespectful to the Fox family. It’s no secret that Virginia has seen some pretty dramatic political changes in recent months. A Republican administration has been replaced by a Democratic administration, including a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. … And Democrats also now control the Senate. Republicans control the House.

We don’t fault Puckett for his willingness to fight for “Andrew’s Law,” as politics would appear to already be clearly in play at this point. But we would expect Morefield, now a veteran lawmaker in the Republican-controlled House, to fight for this measure - even if it means challenging his own political party.

“Andrew’s Law” is a common-sense measure that merits approval. It has cleared the Senate on a bipartisan vote. To say that weak state finances will keep it from being heard in the House is an even weaker excuse. Morefield has been one of the region’s strongest supporters of coal in the General Assembly. And we appreciate that. But we also expect him to fight equally as hard for other important measures.

“I do not understand why a committee that was voted into office by thousands of people who supported this bill would not even deem it worthy to hear,” Lauren Fox, a spokeswoman for the Fox Family, told the Daily Telegraph last week. “I especially do not understand why anyone who values the lives of men and women who are required to work in Virginia’s roads to protect and serve all the citizens of the Commonwealth would refuse to even give the bill a fair hearing.”

We agree. Puckett and the Senate have done their job. It’s now up to Morefield - as our local 3rd Delegate District representative - to fight for this measure in the House. To simply say the bill will be “denied a hearing” by the House Appropriations Committee isn’t how you fight for a measure that is also supported by the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Professional Firefighters Association, the Virginia State Police and the Virginia State Firefighter’s Association.

There is no logical, non-political reason why “Andrew’s Law” should not be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.




Feb. 10

Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on Gov. Manchin and religion:

Has Sen. Joe Manchin found religion on the issue of protecting water quality?

Since the chemical spill that contaminated the water for 300,000 people, Manchin has appeared in congressional hearings and co-sponsored legislation to require regular state inspections of above-ground chemical storage.

“I am asking all West Virginians to join me in a new and solemn pledge: I will do everything in my power as a member of the U.S. Senate, and most importantly as a proud West Virginian, to make sure that the water in West Virginia becomes the cleanest and safest in America,” Manchin said in a commentary last week.

Grateful as West Virginians must be for this solemn pledge, it is a pity that Sen. Manchin could not have had the epiphany when he was governor, when he actually ruled multiple departments already charged with protecting the public’s health and safety.

Instead, as governor, Manchin oversaw the kind of lackadaisical environmental law enforcement that begets situations like this one. Thousands of gallons of a coal-cleaning chemical leaked out of an aging storage tank on the Elk River. Freedom Industries didn’t bother to let anyone know until neighbors literally smelled trouble.

Instead, as governor, Manchin actually sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency because the EPA intended to enforce — get this — the Clean Water Act. Few mountaintop removal permit requests were expected to survive that kind of scrutiny.

Manchin’s actions at that time were good at whipping up fears and votes of people genuinely anxious for their jobs and future. That is not the same thing as serving the public interest — such as protecting clean water, necessary for both life and livelihood.

Even in the days immediately after the spill Manchin tried to distance the disaster from any connection to the coal industry and to explain it away as something that happens to West Virginians who “do the heavy lifting.”

Senator and former governor Jay Rockefeller says pollution enforcement always has been “soft” in West Virginia. Last week, an emergency petition to the state Supreme Court accused state health and safety agencies of doing nothing to protect West Virginians from the Elk River spill, even though the risk had been known in advance.

Now that so many of his constituents have been harmed or inconvenienced and the world is watching, Manchin is backing some decent ideas — more frequent inspections of chemical storage facilities near drinking water sources, minimum federal standards for chemical storage, emergency response plans, financial responsibility requirements, mandatory notification of what is being stored and testing of commercial chemicals.

West Virginia should indeed emerge from this crisis with the safest, most reputable water supply in the country.

But that will take enforcement, respect for science and diligence, long after the hearings are adjourned and the TV cameras are turned off.



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