- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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July 16

The Charleston Daily Mail on the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee’s investigation of actions by the state Supreme Court:

If the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee’s probing of actions by the state Supreme Court and its justices can be considered a fishing expedition, all we can suggest to the committee members is: Keep fishing!

Last Thursday, members of the West Virginia Legislature began their investigation into whether they will seek the impeachment of one, some, or all of the sitting justices on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

The committee held hearings and publicly interviewed witnesses Thursday and Friday of last week, and hearings are scheduled to continue this Thursday and Friday. Committee Chairman John Shott said the hearings will continue as long as necessary.

As they should. For too long there have been too many unanswered questions about some goings on at the state Supreme Court. The most recent questions came to light in November 2017, when WCHS-TV Reporter Kennie Bass questioned justices on $3.7 million in renovations to court offices in the Capitol building.

To be fair, considerable renovations to the more than 80-year-old building were necessary in the Supreme Court’s area. But Bass wisely brought to light expensive shelving, cabinetry and furniture in Justice Robin Davis’ half-a-million-dollar office renovation, a $32,000 couch and $7,500 custom floor in Justice Allen Loughry’s office and high-dollar renovations in other offices.

Later investigations revealed court belongings being taken home by Loughry and questionable use of public funds for trips and vehicle expenses by Loughry and Justice Menis Ketchum, among other cases of potential misuse of public property.

Despite the long list of questionable activities, on just the second day of hearings, the Supreme Court tried to claim it had had enough already.

Supreme Court Administrator Barbara Allen delivered a letter to Chairman Shott on Friday:

“In short,” her letter said, “a full-fledged fishing expedition is now underway before a Committee whose members perform multiple functions: they are prosecutors, making such allegations as they deem appropriate; they are judges deciding on the relevance and materiality of the evidence for themselves and determining the standard of proof they deem sufficient; and they are jurors, deciding on whether their own charges have been established by their own evidence to their own satisfaction.”

What Allen failed to recognize is the legislators on the committee are doing their constitutionally authorized job as representatives of the people of West Virginia to investigate the court.

Chairman Shott’s response to Allen’s inappropriate letter was quick, concise and on point: “The only response I have to that is each of the justices took an oath to uphold the Constitution. The constitution provides a process for impeachment, and that process was triggered by the resolution of the House of Delegates. We’re following up on our constitutional duty to do so,” he said.

“Because the justices uphold the Constitution, I expect they will honor their duty and provide whatever cooperation we need.”

The taxpaying citizens of West Virginia - who expect and deserve a judiciary to be beyond reproach - certainly don’t want the committee to back off. This committee’s work is too important. The committee members should only back off when they uncover any and all activities by current justices that are contrary to those justices’ public oath.

Good job by Chairman Shott and the committee. Keep fishing!

Online: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/

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July 15

The Herald-Dispatch says a panel is taking the necessary step in a flood investigation:

It’s encouraging to see West Virginia lawmakers turn more aggressive in seeking answers as to why a state-run recovery program has been slow to assist residents harmed by the June 2016 floods.

The legislature’s Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding this month issued its first subpoenas as it probes the RISE West Virginia program, which was put in charge of the recovery effort to help people who lost their homes get back into housing and receive compensation for damages. But, as of the end of June, that program had only spent about $1.5 million of $150 million awarded the state by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Subpoenas were issued to Mary Jo Thompson, a former senior official with RISE West Virginia, and Andrew Mihallik, a program specialist with the initiative, to appear at the legislative committee’s meeting on Thursday. Lawmakers had expected to hear from Thompson at a June 26 committee hearing, but she didn’t show up. Committee members later learned that Thompson and the former deputy director of the Department of Commerce’s development office, Russell Tarry, no longer worked for the department, which was responsible for overseeing the flood recovery effort.

Committee members felt they were stood up at that June session, and didn’t want a repeat as they delve into why the RISE program’s response has been so slow. Therefore, subpoenas were sent, which required officials’ attendance or they would face consequences.

(…)

It’s clear that much more investigation is needed to determine how the RISE program got out of kilter.

In the meantime, steps are being taken to right the initiative and speed up its work helping the flood victims. Last month, the National Guard started overseeing the program, and 10 days ago Acting Commerce Secretary Clayton Burch recommended that West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General James Hoyer take over the board that oversees the state’s recently created flood resiliency office, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

That could be a wise move, since Hoyer already seems to have a good understanding of what needs to be done. He recently raised a good point, saying he didn’t understand why RISE was placed under the Department of Commerce when another state agency was already familiar with HUD and involved in constructing houses. Hoyer seems well-suited to the task.

Fixing RISE and helping the flood victims as soon as possible should be task one. However, lawmakers should be persistent in continuing their investigation of what went wrong with the program’s early execution.

One reason is that those responsible for the problems should be held accountable. The other is to learn lessons so the same mistakes won’t be repeated when another natural disaster occurs. As Hoyer has noted about the 2016 flooding: “… it’s not a matter of if this is going to happen again; it’s a matter of when it’s going to happen again.”

Online: http://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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July 15

The Journal on an announcement from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that it will more closely monitor the number of opioid pills manufactured annually:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced that it will more closely monitor the number of opioid pills manufactured annually.

This is welcome news in a state hit hard by the opioid crisis. The DEA should have been looking at these numbers all along.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 63,600 overdose deaths nationwide in 2016, with opioids as the main driver of such deaths.

Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016 - prescription opioids accounted for 40 percent of the total, the CDC reported.

In fact, opioid overdose deaths were more than five times higher in 2016 than in 1999, the CDC reported.

Why it took the DEA so long to take action is troubling, but the state and nation owes some gratitude to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for filing a suit against the agency, something he said spurred the DEA’s action.

According to Morrisey, the DEA’s finalized rule comes less than four months after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the DEA to review its policy - a directive he said was issued hours before a deadline in his lawsuit against the DEA, The Journal reported earlier this year.

“We must do everything to reduce the over supply of opioid painkillers,” Morrisey said in a press release. “The reforms accomplished through this rule and our lawsuit are the first steps toward changing a fundamentally flawed system that for too long placed industry wants over the legitimate medical need and contributed to increased crime, higher medical costs, strained emergency services, greater reliance on foster care and far too many senseless deaths.”

The DEA’s new rule includes steps to account for pill diversion, increases input from stakeholders in the pill production business and sets up hearings when a state requests the DEA to consider evidence of excess opioid supplies.

For those among us who are suffering from debilitating and devastating diseases, pain medication can be life-saving. But statistics reveal opioid medications were being grossly and negligently abused. The DEA, as the nation’s illegal drug enforcement agency, should’ve ramped up its efforts long ago to help squash the epidemic.

It shouldn’t have taken threats of a lawsuit.

Although opioids can be legally obtained by prescription, what was taking place in West Virginia and across the nation was, in many circumstances, no different than illicit drug sales.

According to the CDC, street prices for controlled prescription opioids are typically 5 to 10 times higher than their retail value - with steady increases with the relative strength of the drug fueling the market for prescription medications diverted into illegal channels.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail has reported that drug wholesalers shipped 780 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia from 2007 to 2012.

(…)

In a Journal story published in April it was reported that the DEA’s rule aims to strengthen controls over diversion of controlled substances and make other improvements in the quota management regulatory system for the production, manufacturing and procurement of controlled substances, according to a copy of the DEA’s rule, as then proposed.

The goal is to minimize the number of opioids being manufactured each year.

“The proposed rule change is crucial to end pill dumping in West Virginia,” Morrisey said in the April Journal article.

The epidemic has already made a lasting impact on the state. But the DEA rule could prevent future addicts from taking their first pill.

Thank Morrisey for prompting action the DEA should’ve taken in the first place.

Online: http://www.journal-news.net/


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