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Proposed referendum is defeated as Tourism Development Districts move toward passage

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A delegate who represents an area where a “Tourism Development District” could be established proposed a local referendum for such decisions.

But the amendment proposed by Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was defeated 12-80.

John Doyle

“If we are going to usurp the authority of the town government, better we give it to the citizens of the town than to the governor of the state,” Doyle said.

The Tourism Development Districts bill is likely to affect Hill Top House, a long-discussed hotel renovation project in Harpers Ferry.

The act would enable the state Development Office to spearhead a project under certain conditions. The Department of Transportation is required to provide support, including acquiring and developing streets and roads.

The bill would apply to Class IV municipalities of fewer than 2,000 residents. And it would apply to projects with investments of more than $25 million, in historic districts and qualifying for state tourism tax credits, which have their own requirements.

“I personally think this is an awful bill,” Doyle said. “It takes a complicated situation and comes up with a situation that is both heavy-handed and simplistic.”

Separately, in Harpers Ferry on Thursday night, town council voted to pursue both binding arbitration with the Hill Top House developer and legal action concerning the legality and constitutionality of the bill flowing through the Legislature.

The bill is lined up for passage in the House of Delegates on Monday, and it has passed the state Senate already.

The project most immediately affected would be Hill Top House, a historic property that was purchased by developers including Karen and Fred Schaufeld in 2007

The hangups on the project have been over how Hill Top House would interweave with the town’s zoning and the residential neighborhood where it is situated. For example, Hill Top House developers have wanted to buy and alter some public streets running through the hotel property.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, on Friday said there are some instances where the economic effects extend well beyond the municipal borders.

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, made reference to how long the hotel renovation has been debated.

“I’m going to oppose the gentleman’s amendment,” he said. “Harpers Ferry — they’ve been having a referendum for the past 13 years.”

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After long debate, House overwhelmingly approves investment fund

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After about two hours of explanations, questions and amendments, the House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a bill that could create a sovereign investment fund for West Virginia.

House Bill 4001, which creates a “West Virginia Impact Fund,” passed 94-4. It now goes to the state Senate.

The bill has been a priority for House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who came down from the dais to take questions about it.

“What we are talking about is a vehicle to facilitate the flow of non-tax dollars for investment here in West Virginia,” said Hanshaw, R-Clay.

Hanshaw closing remarks on #WV investment fund https://t.co/AVtSMdc0se

— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 21, 2020

The bill would establish a Mountaineer Impact Fund so West Virginia could serve as an official partner in investment deals.

As envisioned, the finances would come from private investors or other sovereign investment funds with minimal West Virginia public dollars — if any — being involved.

Major investors might include big corporations, combinations of private investors or the sovereign wealth funds of other countries.

West Virginia could be the controlling partner, essentially the sponsor of the projects. In other words, West Virginia would be endorsing the investment with the state’s name.

Guiding those decisions would be a board led by an executive director who would need to be hired. An investment committee including the governor and five appointees confirmed by the Senate would also be established. And the state Commerce Secretary would also be on board.

One issue the House of Delegates grappled with is whether that is the optimal makeup of the committee. Some delegates said that provides too much power to the governor and appointees. They wanted an investment board dominated by members of the private sector, but their proposal was voted down.

One problem the bill is aimed at solving is the effect of the federal Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. CFIUS can intervene in foreign investment deals if it believes they affect national security.

Members include the secretaries of Justice, Homeland Security, Commerce, Defense, State, and Energy, along with the U.S. Trade Representative and the head of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

As China has risen as a “strategic competitor,” the concern is that planned investments could be unraveled. 

Hanshaw said that can cause a chilling effect on investment, one that he hopes to resolve through West Virginia’s stamp of approval.

Such an investor, he said, “faces the possibility of having that investment, once made, yanked back within two years of having been made.”

West Virginia’s seal of approval as a top line investor could reassure nervous investors, state delegates have suggested.

“We can bring the free market back to the United States” by countering the possible chilling effects of CFIUS, said Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said, “I’m really intrigued by this impact fund. I think it’s something that could be very beneficial.”

Delegate Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, said the government’s involvement in the fund loses his trust.

“I don’t trust government a bit,” he said. “Even though they’re not putting money into this, they still have a hand in where it goes.”

Hanshaw, in his closing remarks, said it’s possible the fund won’t wind up doing anything. But he also said it could lure the kind of investment that would excite West Virginia economically.

“We have a chance here to do something that we’ve not done before,” Hanshaw said.

“The very worst thing that can happen if we pass this bill is that just nothing happens. We aren’t appropriating money into it. We aren’t taking money away from other programs. We’re simply using resources that are already in the Department of Commerce in a way that allows us to put in place a vehicle that allows us to do something historic.”

But, he said, “What if something does happen?”

He referred to possible investments by modern companies like Virgin Hyperloop One or Uber.

“Vote green.”

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WVU Medicine ready to ‘fill-in the gaps’ with pending changes at Fairmont hospital

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Top state, local and healthcare officials are hoping to prevent the complete closure of the Fairmont Regional Medical Center, or at least find ways to fill the gaps.

File

Albert Wright

WVU Medicine President and CEO Dr. Albert Wright said Friday the announcement wasn’t much of a surprise to those in the industry.

“When we got the news this week it wasn’t a surprise to us, we knew over the last 60 to 90 days Fairmont was trending in this direction,” Wright said during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.” “So, we started putting together our plans of what the community needs and what we can do to help. I do suspect there are some significant things we can do to help.”

Those plans are being developed and could change as the situation unfolds, Wright said.

“Long term we’re going to have to figure out a solution for, at the very least emergency room services to that population because it’s a ways to go to Bridgeport or Morgantown,” Wright said. “We have the same psychiatric patient issues that we had up in Wheeling, so we have some short term plans on that.”

Albert Wright, CEO of WVU Hospitals and WVU Health System, talks with @HoppyKercheval about what WVU may do in response to the pending shutdown of Fairmont Regional Medical Center. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/JnxKS6BMtb

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 21, 2020

Wright said in the future more services will be moving into the area.

“We’re going to have to put more physical assets in that market. Could those at the site of the existing hospital? Absolutely. I think it’s a possibility, but I don’t think it would look like a full reopening of that hospital,” he said.

Wright said because of declining populations and high numbers of chronic diseases in the state larger medical networks in the state will have to find ways to help small healthcare providers.

“It’s going to be important for our large healthcare systems in the state to find ways to work with those small hospitals,” Wright said. “I would not want to try to run a one-off small regional, or a one-off for profit hospital in West Virginia, or any other state, it’s just so complex these days with the economies of scale.”

Dr. George Pink with the Sheps Center for Health Services Research said Friday on “Talkline” he has seen smaller facilities be successful through innovation and collaboration.

“Despite the many challenges they face they’re showing a lot of creativity and innovation, coming up with new models of care, new ways of bringing providers together, new ways of sharing resources,” Pink said. “It’s not a given that just because you’re in a rural community your hospital is going to be under financial challenges, but it’s certainly a reality for many communities.”

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Big 12 Power Index: Moment of truth arrives with Kansas-Baylor

The moment of truth is here, at least in regards to determining which team is best in the Big 12 this regular season — and perhaps the entire country.

Around the time that West Virginia and TCU tip off, the showdown between No. 3 Kansas and No. 1 Baylor will be wrapping up and perhaps providing some clarity into which team will get the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s NCAA tournament.

The Bears will be favored, playing on their home floor in perhaps the most anticipated home game in the school’s men’s basketball history. Having already beaten the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse, a win would all but wrap up the program’s first regular-season conference crown since 1950.

If Kansas wins, Baylor’s regular-season finale at West Virginia may well determine whether that title drought continues.

1. Baylor (24-1, 13-0) Last week: 1

After a few scares, the Bears seem to be rounding back into top form with double-digit wins over WVU and Oklahoma. That Baylor handled the Mountaineers with ease despite missing No. 2 scorer MaCio Teague said a lot about the Bears’ depth.

2. Kansas (22-3, 12-1) Last week: 2

Four of the Jayhawks past five wins have been by double digits, with West Virginia being the lone exception. Marcus Garrett’s run of defensive wizardry has been key to the Kansas surge.

3. West Virginia (19-7, 7-6) Last week: 4

We believe the Mountaineers have bounced back from a three-game hiccup that included the misfortune of consecutive games against Kansas and Baylor. For as much as this team has struggled on the road in the Big 12, there’s no reason it should not win both of its upcoming games at TCU and Texas.

4. Texas Tech (17-9, 8-5) Last week: 3

The Red Raiders remain ahead of West Virginia in the standings, but did not impress in losing at Oklahoma State and eking out a win against Kansas State. Perhaps this is Texas Tech’s version of the lull West Virginia just went through, but against lesser competition.

5. Oklahoma (16-10, 6-7) Last week: 5

The Sooners experienced the Kansas-Baylor back-to-back this week, and fared considerably worse than WVU in the process. Oklahoma lost to Kansas by 17 and Baylor by 11.

6. Texas (15-11, 5-8) Last week: 6

The moment John Beilein’s disastrous NBA experiment came to an end, you could practically see the Bat Signal flashing in the sky from Austin. Or maybe that was due to the millions of actual bats that live in Austin.

Either way, it feels like Shaka Smart has to finish strong in order to quell the Beilein-to-Texas rumor mill that will churn for the next several weeks.

7. Oklahoma State (13-13, 3-10) Last week: 7

Last week, we warned you that the much-improved Cowboys were poised to upset someone in the Big 12 tournament. They didn’t feel like waiting, instead choosing to beat Texas Tech the very next day.

Tuesday’s game at WVU was as good a demonstration as any of this rollercoaster team — 62 percent shooting in the first half followed by 17 percent in the second.

8. Iowa State (11-15, 4-9) Last week: 8

Playing without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, the Cyclones blitzed Texas by 29 points. Granted, Texas was without starters Jericho Sims and Jase Febres, but a blowout of this proportion was unexpected.

9. TCU (14-12, 5-8) Last week: 9

The Horned Frogs beat Kansas State to snap a six-game losing streak, but got another potential skid started with a flat second-half performance at Texas. With Kansas and Baylor still looming, TCU’s chances of even reaching the NIT probably rest on beating West Virginia.

 10. Kansas State (9-17, 2-11) Last week: 10

The Wildcats are 0-for-February — an extremely troubling stat in a Leap Year.

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First published audit of Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston shows loss in cash flow

WHEELING, W.Va. — For the first time in the history of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the Catholic body has released a financial audit and it shows a significant loss.

According to the audit released to the public on Friday with a letter from Bishop Mark Brennan, the Catholic Church in West Virginia lost nearly $5 million in cash flow in the 2019 fiscal year. The audit also showed 2018 fiscal year numbers.

The $4.7 million in losses, compared to a deficit of just under $1 million in 2018, comes following a tumultuous last couple of years.

Brennan was named bishop of the diocese in July 2019, one month after the fiscal year ended.

File

Bishop Mark Brennan

He took over following an investigation into sexual harassment allegations and lavish spending by former Bishop Michael Bransfield.

The investigation cost the diocese nearly $1.5 million, according to the audit, that Brennan called “significant expenses” in his letter.

VIEW: The complete financial audit of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston

The diocese has used the method of selling off investments to make up for the deficits, the audit shows. A loss in net assets of nearly $500,000 from the Diocesan Real Estate, Inc listed under revenues and loss of $6.3 million of oil and gas properties was shown in the report.

“We’ve been forced to offset a number of costs related to operating the diocese with the selling off of investments and that’s not a wise move,” Tim Bishop, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston spokesperson told MetroNews.

Brennan said in his letter to the diocese that, “Deficits are made up by selling off investments, which if this pattern continues unchecked, will eventually eliminate any benefit to future West Virginia Catholics from the legacy which the mineral rights have provided.”

The report shows mineral rights have provided the diocese with the largest investment income and revenue. Nearly $18 million in income for the diocese last fiscal year ending on June 30, 2019 came from mineral rights royalties and lease bonus revenue.

“Without that investment income, we are a mission diocese,” Bishop said. “Clearly, the audit shows we are not bringing in enough to operate our parishes and schools, to fully fund chancery operations, to fully fund the work that Catholic Charities is doing.”

The audit showed total program expenses including Catholic Charities was just over $33 million. More than $1 million went to Wheeling University, which the report says is not expected to be paid back.

More than $5 million went to the parish and school subsidies across the state and almost $4 million to pastoral centers. $1.3 million was given to the Catholic Charities subsidies.

The audit stated that the diocese’s value on investments at the end of the fiscal year was just over $240 million. Mineral rights assets in the diocese totaled $51.5 million.

“Bishop Brennan feels that we need to do a better job of being good stewards of that money so future generations can take advantage,” Bishop said of the mineral rights assets.

The diocese plans to release an audit annually, according to Bishop. The audit done by national firm Clifton Larsen Allen, LLP, was hired in July following recommendation of the Diocesan Finance Council.

Brennan said in his letter that the roles of the finance council has and will continue to expand as well as the Sexual Abuse Review Board to be “enduring benefits for our people.”

“This is Bishop’s Brennan’s commitment to a new era of stewardship, accountability and transparency,” Bishop said.

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Marion County magistrate appointed to preside in possible Marple investigation

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Marion County Magistrate Mark Hayes has been appointed preside over any criminal proceedings involving former Harrison County Magistrate Tammy Marple, although it’s not clear what those criminal proceedings may involve.

Tammy Marple

Marple, who spent 23 years as a magistrate in Harrison County, abruptly resigned on Tuesday. Marple did not provide a reason for her sudden departure.

Harrison County Circuit Judge Thomas Bedell requested that West Virginia Chief Justice Tim Armstead appoint a magistrate as all Harrison County magistrates were disqualified. The request was for “matters involving the investigation and prosecution, including but not limited to, receiving and verifying criminal complaints, as well as issuing arrest warrants, conducting initial appearances, setting bonds, conducting preliminary hearings and all related matters, involving Tammy Marple.”

The order issued by Chief Justice Armstead did not specify any allegations pending against Marple.

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Delegates swing for fences with resolution to keep minor league baseball

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A resolution to support the continuation of minor league baseball in West Virginia circled the bases in the House of Delegates.

As representatives of the West Virginia Power baseball organization observed from the balcony, the resolution passed the House of Delegates, 98-0 with two absences.

Adopted-HR 14- Urging Major League Baseball to rescind the ill-advised proposal that threatens the future of professional baseball in West Virginia https://t.co/7qdxIr5kfB

— WV House (@wvhouse) February 21, 2020

Doug Skaff

“As an avid baseball fan and former Little League all-star, I can’t imagine a Mountain State without baseball,” said Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, who elicited laughter when he mentioned his youthful accomplishments.

“That is our pipeline to the major leagues.”

MLB and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) have been discussing an update to its working agreement, with a proposal that would cut a quarter of the country’s minor league teams.

Included in the proposal that would lose affiliations with MLB teams are the Charleston-based West Virginia Power (South Atlantic League), Bluefield Blue Jays (Appalachian League) and the Princeton Rays (Appalachian League).

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the cuts are because of poor team facilities, traveling because of relocation, poor pay for players and the retainment of players who likely will not play in MLB.

File

Eric Porterfield

Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, said he is a baseball fan who regularly listens to games on satellite radio. He said minor league games in Princeton and Bluefield bring joy to citizens.

“We have two minor league baseball teams on both sides of our county, Princeton and Bluefield,” he said. “This brings a lot of enjoyment to our constituents and has a whole lot of good things.”

That was a popular sentiment.

The House floor session had a short delay while everyone who wanted to be named on the resolution could be added.

Ed Evans

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said Boy Scouts who have come to West Virginia to participate in the Jamboree, have enjoyed side trips to minor league baseball games.

“We truly would like to do everything we can to maintain baseball in southern West Virginia.

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Drug disposal information bill defeated in House committee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee rejected a bill Friday that would have required pharmacists to provide written information with prescriptions on how the drugs are to be properly disposed of after they expire.

The committee defeated HB 4784 on a 12-12 vote. Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the measure.

Mike Pushkin

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said the bill was another example of government becoming a “nanny state.” He said unfortunately many are taking the unused drugs and selling them.

Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, said no one would read the information anyway and requiring it would be a waste of paper and ink.

But Delegate Terry Waxman, R-Harrison, voted in favor of the bill. She said knowing what to do with the drugs after they are no longer needed could prove to be valuable information, especially for the elderly.

“I think that it’s important for them to have access in some way shape or form on how to properly dispose of the massive amounts of drugs that people are taking in today’s world,” Waxman said.

Tom Fast,

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, also voted in favor of the bill. He said information is already included with prescriptions on how to take them. He said how to get rid of them properly shouldn’t take that much more effort.

“I see no harm in that. I think it’s a safety issue. People do look at these things and it could make a difference,” Fast said.

The bill had already passed the House’s health committee. It’s lead sponsor was Delegate Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas.

West Virginia participates in National Drug Take Day in the spring and fall. Since first launching in 2010, more than 11 million pounds, or almost 6,000 tons, of medications have been collected at Take Back events nationwide.

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Superintendent Paine’s retirement is effective immediately

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State schools superintendent Steve Paine is departing even sooner than expected.

The state Board of Education has announced an emergency 3 p.m. meeting today to accept Paine’s retirement, effective immediately.

The meeting announcement says the state board will also “appoint a State Superintendent of Schools.”

Paine announced his intended retirement early this month, although at the time he said his retirement would be effective June 30 or before then if the state Board of Education finds a suitable replacement.

State school board member Tom Campbell, a former delegate who was visiting on the House floor this morning, said he has been pleased by Paine’s performance and that he will be tough to replace.

“He’s done a great job,” Campbell said. “I was president of the board when we hired him, and he hit the ground running. He was great to work with from the start.”

Campbell said the three years that Paine has served is the average nationwide.

“It’s a very demanding position, so he’s met that,” Campbell said. “I wish him nothing but the best.”

Campbell said a placeholder needs to be named today but the search for a superintendent will continue. “By code, you have to have a superintendent of schools,” Campbell said, adding that the person named today could be an applicant for the role permanently.

When speaking with reporters the day Paine announced his retirement, Gov. Jim Justice said he hates to lose the superintendent and left the door open for a possible leave of absence instead.

“If he wants to have some kind of leave of absence and be able to have the option to come back because I believe he’s that good,” Justice said at the time.

Paine has  been serving his second stint as the state’s top education official. He served from 2005-2011 and then returned in March 2017. He was state superintendent during both recent teachers strikes.

When the state board most recently met Feb. 12, Paine was not present.

When Paine first announced his departure, he said he needed to tend to health problems his wife has been facing.

“Unfortunately, a member of my family is facing a health crisis and I want to be fully present for my family,” he stated then.

Paine also has faced some controversy in his superintendent role.

For example, he faces a federal lawsuit filed by lobbyist Jason Webb, who contends Paine tried to get him fired from representing the standardized testing company ACT.

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Who can challenge St. Joe’s in Class A? Take a look at top contenders

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Girls high school basketball sectional tournaments begin on Friday, February 21st. Greg Carey and Joe Brocato take a look at the teams to best, the toughest sections and the potential bracket busters in Class A hoops.

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