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Teen charged with arson after Taylor County house fire

TAYLOR COUNTY, W.Va. — A Taylor County teenager was charged with arson for allegedly starting a fire at a house in Grafton.

The fire, reported Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 on Grafton’s Robley Street, was originally called suspicious.

After further investigation, officials with the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s Office determined it was intentionally set.

The 16-year-old suspect will additionally face five counts for alleged attempted murder, according to information from the Grafton Police Department.

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School Boards’ Rejection of Charter Application Riles Advocates

The Monongalia and Preston County Boards of Education this week rejected an application for what would have been the first charter school in West Virginia.

The decisions have renewed the debate over charter schools, and motivated Republican lawmakers who want to expand charter school opportunities.

The Legislature passed a comprehensive education reform bill in 2019 that included a provision allowing for the creation of up to three charter schools over three years.  Forty-five states and Washington, D.C., allow charters.

Charters receive public funding, but they operate independent from many of the rules and regulations of traditional schools.  Advocates say charters offer parents an alternative to public schools, while opponents argue they drain resources from public education.

Nancy Walker, president of the Monongalia County Board of Education, said their decision to reject the application by the West Virginia Academy for a charter school was based on concerns about the filing.

“There still were a lot of unanswered questions about the application,” Walker told our Brad McElhinny, adding that the application did not meet seven specific standards that were reviewed by county school administrators.

John Treu, president and board member of the West Virginia Academy, said the board missed deadlines and then failed to give the Academy time to respond to issues raised by the board.

“The deficiencies were mostly inaccurate, and many had already been addressed by our board, but the committee ignored our responses and misled the public about our school to make us look bad,” Treu told me in an email.

Charter advocates, including Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, have taken notice of the rejection.  She believes it is a mistake to only give school boards authorizing authority.

“Local boards are going to want to maintain the status quo because they don’t want the competition,” Rucker said.

She plans to try to change the law in the next session to grant authorizing authority to other entities, such as colleges and universities.  “In every single successful charter school use there has always been an independent authority not tied to the school system,” she said.

House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), who is the former chairman of the House Education Committee, agrees.  “A lot of school boards don’t want to approve the competition,” he said. He expects the rejection of the charter application and possible legislative remedies to be a topic of discussion when House Republicans caucus Saturday.

Republican efforts to liberalize the charter law will meet opposition from most Democrats and the state teacher unions. They have consistently fought against allowing charters to compete with traditional public schools.

It is unclear what next year’s legislative session will look like. The pandemic may require the agenda to be pared down.  However, the decisions by the Monongalia and Preston County Boards of Education have prompted school choice advocates in the Legislature, who increased their numbers in the last election, to push that issue higher up the priority list.

 

 

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Mingo County man charged after allegedly shooting wife

MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. — A Mingo County man faces multiple charges after shooting his wife late Monday evening with their child in their home.

Jason Gillman, of Lenore, allegedly shot his wife in the back of the head. Gillman accused the woman of cheating on him, in which an altercation ensued.

The couple’s 4-year-old child was asleep at the time in a neighboring room.

Authorities found a pistol and shell casing in the residence.

Gillman is charged with malicious wounding, assault during the commission of a felony, domestic battery, wanton endangerment, and child neglect with a risk of injury.

Authorities said the victim is expected to survive.

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Manchin joins legislators to pitch bipartisan coronavirus relief package

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bipartisan, bicameral group of federal legislators on Tuesday announced a coronavirus relief framework as congressional leaders begin movement on passing a measure before the year ends.

The $908 billion proposal is the byproduct of a month of discussions between lawmakers, and would provide funding through next March.

“We’re battling COVID-19 more fiercely now than we ever have before. We recognize that,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters, “It’s inexcusable for us to leave town and not have an agreement.”

Manchin is one of nine senators to back the proposal. The House of Representatives Problem Solvers Caucus, which consists of 50 representatives from both parties, has endorsed the plan.

The framework sets aside $160 billion for state, local and tribal governments; $180 billion for unemployment insurance; $288 billion for supporting small businesses; and $45 billion for coronavirus vaccine development and distribution, as well as testing and tracing.

The compromise’s cost is between the $500 billion proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Democrats’ $2.2 trillion pitch. According to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, $560 billion of the bipartisan proposal comes from unutilized CARES Act money. Congress passed the relief measure in March.

“Now, I happen to be a deficit hawk,” Romney said. “I don’t like borrowing money. I don’t like spending money we don’t have. But the time to borrow money — maybe the only time to borrow money — is when there’s a crisis, and this is a crisis. We want to help people at this particular time.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., noted the measure is not aimed at pleasing everyone but helping people, organizations and governments struggling financially because of the pandemic.

“I came to this with the notion that I’m hearing from Virginians … that it would be stupidity on steroids if Congress left for Christmas without doing an interim package as a bridge,” he said. “I think we laid out that interim package.”

Relief programs will expire at the end of the year if Congress does not act, including expanded unemployment benefits, tax credits for businesses and a ban on certain evictions.

“We have to do something before the next few weeks,” Manchin said. “We have to.”

Manchin added he is confident congressional leaders will pass a relief package before lawmakers leave Washington, D.C. for the holidays.

“This is the only group that’s made an effort that they’ve made right now. This is the only group that has come together in such a large gathering with many more people involved,” he said.

“We know that the need’s there. We’re determined not to go home until we do something, so it’s up to them to work with us. We want to work with them. If they have other priorities, please let us know, but right now, we think we’ve covered an awful lot of the areas of concern.”

Romney said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has offered advice about spending. Manchin and Romney noted McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were aware of the discussions.

“He’s encouraged for us to continue to work in a bipartisan way, a bicameral way, to come to an agreement,” Manchin added about Schumer.

McConnell on Tuesday rejected the bipartisan framework, saying any proposal needs President Donald Trump’s support. He stressed legislators need to pass a measure this month.

“This government is in place for sure for the next month. I think the place to start is are we actually making a law, or are we just making a point,” he said. “I think the way you make a law for sure is you know you’ve got a presidential signature.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, on Tuesday spoke with Mnuchin about a coronavirus proposal. Pelosi noted in a statement Mnuchin is willing to review the bipartisan plan as well as a plan from her and Schumer. The Democratic leaders have already sent the pitch to McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Lawmakers also need to approve a spending package to avoid a government shutdown as the current funding measure will expire on Dec. 11.

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Charleston police officer shot responding to parking complaint

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston Police Department officer is recovering after being shot on Tuesday.

Patrolman Cassie Johnson was responding to a parking complaint on Garrison Avenue when someone shot her. The incident happened before 3 p.m.

Charleston Police Chief Tyke Hunt told reporters Johnson’s injury is typically a fatal wound.

“She’s not out of the woods, but she’s going to be recovering,” he said. “We hope and pray that she please makes a full recovery.”

Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin asked residents to think about Johnson as well as the first responders treating her.

“First responders are also the doctors and nurses who were there every single day in the ER and have been here helping our officer get to recovery,” she added.

A suspect was also shot. Authorities arrested the person, whose name has not been released.

“I pray that everyone pulls through. I don’t want to see any loss of life,” Hunt said. “Everybody, please thank the good Lord and ask for his healing hand.”

Johnson joined the police department in January 2019. She told MetroNews affiliate WCHS-AM she joined the police department to make her hometown a better place.

“It’s been a dream of mine for a while and I am happy to see it come to fruition,” she said. “I’ve been working extremely hard over the last year to get ready for it. I am really happy to finally getting to follow my dreams in working with Charleston PD.”

The Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation.

MetroNews’ Alex Thomas and Jake Flatley contributed to this report.

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State government $20 million ahead for November collections

West Virginia’s general revenue collections for November came in $20.1 million above estimates and 6.1 percent ahead of last year, Gov. Jim Justice announced today.

That’s despite the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the state’s economy.

West Virginia has now recorded surpluses in each of the first five months of this fiscal year, the governor pointed out in a news release. Justice reported that year-to-date general revenue collections are $131.7 million above estimates and 9.1 percent above prior year receipts.

That’s in part because the tax day deadline was moved from April to July because of the pandemic. That gave us an unexpected $192.5 million head start for the new fiscal year.

But the state’s finances have held up, so far, despite the expiration of some federal relief programs — including expanded unemployment benefits — and inaction by Congress on any additional relief package.

Justice described the revenue reports in terms of economic momentum.

Gov. Jim Justice

“All West Virginians should be incredibly proud of what we’re accomplishing, especially when you think about everything else that’s going on in this nation right now,” Justice stated.

“The pandemic, no question, has been a punch to the stomach. But we kept our economy moving and we’ve stayed on this great roll we’ve been on.”

Total General Revenue Fund collections for November were $342.5 million. Year-to-date collections have totaled $1.937 billion; nearly $162 million above prior year receipts.

“When it boils right down to it, putting together five straight months of growth in any year is pretty dadgum tough,” Gov. Justice continued. “But to do it this year is especially incredible.”

More specifics:

  • Consumer sales tax collections rose by 7.5 percent in November, as monthly collections of $133.6 million were $6.6 million above estimate. Cumulative collections of $591.6 million were $25.7 million above estimate and 6.5% above prior year receipts.
  • Personal income tax collections totaled $149.8 million in November. Collections were $14.8 million above the monthly estimate. Cumulative personal income tax collections were $45.7 million above estimate and 15.7 percent ahead of last year. The November revenue gains were largely attributable to a 10.4 percent rise in monthly wage and salary withholding tax collections in comparison with the prior year.
  • November severance tax collections totaled $21.0 million and cumulative collections totaled $54.2 million. Collections for the year-to-date were $6.9 million above estimate.
  • Corporation net income tax collections totaled $2.1 million in October. Collections were $1.6 million above estimate. Cumulative collections totaled $118.6 million as compared with $67.1 million in the prior year. Year-to-date receipts were $50.6 million above estimate.
  • November collections included $2.0 million from abandoned and unclaimed property receipts.

“As we watch over the state’s finances, we try not to get too high or too low. But we continue to be incredibly impressed and pleased with the numbers we’re seeing so far this year,” West Virginia Department of Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy stated.

A separate but related monthly report by the state Senate Finance Committee also showed the state coming in more than $20 million ahead of projections for the month.

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Snowshoe Resort braces for opening of ski season amid pandemic

SNOWSHOE, W.Va. — Excitement surrounds the opening of ski season at Snowshoe Mountain Resort following multiple delays and the prompt ending of the previous season due to COVID-19.

Snowshoe will drop the ropes on Friday for a public opening, one day after a soft opening for employees and season pass holders.

“Over the last 24 hours, we have been into the teens. That is great for some productive snowmaking,” Shawn Cassell, PR manager for Snowshoe told MetroNews.

“We are feeling really good about Friday and we are even going to give employees and season pass holders a crack at it on Thursday.”

On November 17, Snowshoe announced a delay to the opening due to the warm weather. Cassell said there are ‘large’ piles of snow after a system came through the state Monday into Tuesday.

Starting to get reports of whale sightings around the mountain…
❄🐳 pic.twitter.com/ATF53wByY1

— snowshoemtn (@snowshoemtn) November 24, 2020

Around 12 to 15 trails will be open Friday, Cassell said, but added there is no magic number when it comes to skiers allowed on the hill at once due to COVID-19.

Cassell said it would depend on the number of pass holders there and the resort would adjust per day. He warned that the largest impact on the resort because of COVID-19 is the availability of lift tickets and there is a ‘good chance’ you won’t be able to ski if you just show up without plans and tickets.

“Our skier capacity is going to have to be a lot lower than it used to be this season so we can keep social distancing. We are not going to allow as many people on the mountain at one time as we normally would,” he said.

Masks are required both inside the resort and when a person is loading and unloading the chair lift.

Cassell said the resort feels pent-up demand from the extended closure due to COVID-19. But there is also anxiety as virus cases continue to climb across the state.

“There is a spike in Pocahontas County too. It’s about as bad as it’s been right now,” he said of the virus. “That’s something that weighs heavy on us and influences the decision making as we go along.”

Timberline Mountain, Cannan Valley and Winterplace will open later in December.

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Iowa State poses different challenges to WVU’s improving defense

(Neal Brown pregame Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When the Mountaineers take the field Saturday afternoon in Ames, twenty days will have come off the calendar since their last game, a 24-6 triumph over TCU on November 14. While bye weeks can be a precious commodity late in a season, the mid-week postponement of the Oklahoma game due to COVID cases with the Sooners didn’t give WVU much of a window to make best use of the extra week.

“Our guys were obviously disappointed we didn’t get to play last weekend. Really it was a tough end to last week. Guys were away from home on Thanksgiving and then not having a game to look forward to like they normally would. I thought our players and staff handled it the best they could,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown.

West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown arrives at Milan Puskar Stadium. (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

“If we were in a situation where we knew we were going to have really three weeks in between games, then you would manage it in a different manner. We didn’t know we were going to have that. We were under the assumption we were going to play until last Wednesday afternoon. We are going to be fresh. That is the positive. I hope our timing can stay sharp.”

WVU will close out the regular season against the two likely combatants in the Big 12 Championship game, Iowa State and Oklahoma. The No. 12 Cyclones (7-2) heavily rely on multiple tight ends in the passing game. Charlie Kolar is second on the Cyclone roster with 31 receptions. He is also tied for the team-high with four touchdown catches. Dylan Soehner (15 rec., 174 yards) and Chase Allen (13 rec., 172 yards, 2 TD) are also top targets of Brock Purdy.

“They are different than other teams in our league,” Brown said. “They are going to operate with two and three tight ends. They motion and shift nearly every play. So getting lined up is going to be critical.”

Cyclones tight end Dylan Soehner (89) pulls the ball in for the first down (Ricardo B. Brazziell-USA TODAY NETWORK)

“It does present a lot of problems and when you have three really elite ones sitting in your room, it is hard not to utilize that. So hats off to those guys, they have done a nice job of spotlighting that and utilizing that type of offense,” said WVU co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae.

“You have to make sure you attack the ball when you are in the air,” said WVU cornerback Alonzo Addae. “With bigger guys, if they are able to go up and locate the ball, challenging them is going to be difficult. So you have got to make sure you are aggressive. Being technically sound, obviously they are bigger, but I have speed and quickness on them so I can use those skills to my advantage.”

West Virginia will line up against ISU quarterback Brock Purdy for a third time. In two meetings against WVU, Purdy is 2-0. He has completed 37-of-55 passes for 483 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. This season, Purdy is averaging 225 passing yards per game with 14 scores and 6 picks.

“He is a dual-threat guy, they don’t run him a ton,” Brown said. “When he does run, it is always effective on third downs and things like that. He extends plays. He has a little pump fake that he uses that gets people off their feet and is proven effective over and over throughout his career.”

The Mountaineers’ vastly improved defense will be tested by the Big 12’s leading rusher in Breece Hall. In 9 games, Hall has rushed for 1,260 yards and 16 touchdown totes. Both of those numbers are tops in the league by a wide margin.

Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) outruns Kansas State senior Defensive Back Jahron McPherson (31) (Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports)

“He is extremely patient,” said WVU co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. “He waits on his spots and cuts. And when he does make them, he has a speed and power combination to get yards after contact and then he can break the big one.”

“He is definitely a good ball player,” said WVU defensive lineman Dante Stills. “He is physical and strong. He has capabilities to break tackles so that is kind of the main goal, to wrap him up and get him down on the ground.”

After allowing 31 points to Louisiana in a season-opening loss and 34 points against TCU, the Cyclone defense is yielding just 20.2 points per game since. They shutout Kansas State two weeks ago.

“Everybody would say in old school teaching that it is a three-man front and they drop eight, so run the football,” said WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker. “Well those guys aren’t that far away so they fit the run really good out of the drop-eight looks that make it really difficult to run the football. There’s eleven pairs of eyes on the football because everybody sees it.”

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No fans will be allowed for December games at the Coliseum

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No fans will be allowed to attend basketball games at the WVU Coliseum in the month of December.

Previously, it was announced that the Coliseum would welcome 20% capacity. The university says that due to recent spikes of positive cases and for overall safety precautions from the COVID-19 pandemic for indoor events, only essential game operations personnel and families of the players and basketball staffs will be admitted in December. Expected capacity at home games in January and February will be announced in the future and determined by local public health conditions at the time.

“To say that we are disappointed is quite an understatement, but the decision not to allow spectators in December is the correct one at this time for the safety of our fans, staff and student-athletes,” Director of Athletics Shane Lyons said. “The COVID-19 pandemic keeps presenting many challenges, but like I have said in the past, we need to continue being aggressive in taking appropriate safety precautions of wearing masks and getting tested so that we can end this pandemic.

“We have two exciting basketball teams and rest assured that our goal is to have fans in the Coliseum to watch our men’s and women’s teams play. Difficult decisions like this one have to be made for the safety of all involved, and I can’t wait for the day when we can welcome fans back to the Coliseum to see all the great upgrades that were made over the summer to the building for its 50th anniversary.”

All WVU men’s and women’s home games in the month of December will be televised by an ESPN network or ESPN+.

The No. 11 WVU men’s team (3-0) is scheduled to host Robert Morris on December 9 and then No. 19 Richmond on December 13. However, Richmond suspended all team activities Tuesday due to COVID testing results and contact tracing. The men’s team is also scheduled to host Iowa State on December 18 and Buffalo on December 29.

The WVU women’s basketball team (2-0) is scheduled to open their home schedule Thursday against North Alabama.

The WVU football team played their first two home games in front of families of players and staff members only before allowing 25% capacity since October.

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Longtime W.Va. Coal Association President to Retire
Bill Raney

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One of the longtime fixtures of the West Virginia coal industry has announced he’ll retire at year’s end. Bill Raney has been the President and CEO of the West Virginia Coal Association since 1992. His ties to coal mining go all the way back to his childhood.

“It’s just one of those times and you look back on it and it’s gone by pretty quickly. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but hopefully it’s all been handled in a positive way,” Raney said in an appearance on MetroNews Talkline Tuesday.

Raney’s father operated mines in Wyoming County and he got his start working in the industry for Ben Greene as a surface mine inspector. Over the years he worked in various capacities before coming to the Coal Association in 1992 where he’s become the face of the organization for many years.

He’ll be replaced by Chris Hamilton who Raney said is ready for the job.

“With Chris and Jason (Bostic) taking over, they’ll do a fabulous job. They’ve been with me the whole time and they’ve been doing the heavy lifting of course. They know all about this stuff,” he said.

Raney admitted he had seen the best of times and the worst of times for the industry and although things were not promising now, he still believed there was a future for coal.

“It’s going to be difficult because of all the transitions that will go on. We’re still feeling the effects of the Obama Administration closing down lots of power plants which affected the steam market domestically. But the rest of the world knows West Virginia coal and they know the miners and managers here are going to produce what they want, which is the best coal in the world to make steel,” he explained.

 

Bill Raney, Outgoing President of the West Virginia Coal Association, speaks with @HoppyKercheval about his announcement to retire, and he reflects on his time with https://t.co/rn6maOBVPd. Coal Association.. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/loYLG2DaOp

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) December 1, 2020

Raney doubted production topping 160 Million tons annually would ever happen again, but believed if the industry could produce 90 to 120 Million tons annually it would help stabilize the state budget.

He said getting to go to bat for those who work in the industry was his greatest joy of the job.

“I’ve been very blessed to represent such an industry. You can’t love an industry, but you can surely love all the people in it. They are so resilient, so tough, and so optimistic.”

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