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Just after closures result in hundreds of layoffs, Senate Finance moves bills to scale back safety net

Over the past couple of weeks, about 1,500 West Virginians have learned they’ll lose their jobs because big companies are shutting down their workplaces.

Cleveland-Cliffs announced its tinplate production plant in Weirton will idle in April, resulting in potential job losses for 900 workers. Then, Allegheny Wood Products closed its doors and eliminated about 600 jobs at multiple locations.

Despite all those job losses, the Senate Finance Committee on Saturday took up two bills that would significantly restrict unemployment benefits in West Virginia.

The bills now go to the full Senate. Members of the committee noted that very similar bills have come up in past years but have not become law.

Josh Sword

Organized labor leaders said they will urge their members to reach out to senators and delegates and tell them to reject any attempt to take away unemployment benefits.

“This is quite possibly the most heartless act I’ve seen in my 25 years of representing working people at the Capitol,” said Josh Sword, president of West Virginia AFL-CIO.

“To take earned benefits away from nearly 2,000 hard-working people who are losing their jobs through no fault of their own is unimaginably cruel and completely unnecessary.”

Workforce West Virginia’s director testified before the committee that the overriding reason for the changes would be shoring up the state’s unemployment trust fund. Right now, the trust fund has a balance of $387,657,779.05.

State officials cited economic models showing that a prolonged unemployment rate of 10% could bankrupt the trust fund in 91 weeks. In other words, the state’s unemployment trust fund could go just short of two years during a recession considered severe before being exhausted.

Scott Adkins

“We’re trying to be proactive because we’re going in the wrong direction on that trust fund balance,” Scott Adkins, acting director of Workforce West Virginia, told senators.

“Severe recession — 18 months, and we’ll be looking to this body for funding or we’ll be looking to the feds.”

Senate Bill 840 makes a range of changes, most significantly using West Virginia’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate to determine the maximum number of weeks of benefit eligibility. So, for example, if the average unemployment rate is below 5.5 percent, the maximum duration of benefits would be 12 weeks.

The most recently released figures showed West Virginia’s unemployment rate at 4.3 percent. The current maximum duration for unemployment benefits is 26 weeks.

That bill specifies that West Virginians would only remain eligible for unemployment benefits if they conduct at least four work search activities each week. There are 10 activities that would qualify, like completing job applications or taking a civil service exam.

The bill lowers the maximum weekly benefit rate from its current 66 and two thirds of the average weekly wage in West Virginia down to 55 percent. The amount is not to exceed $550, according to the bill.

Senate Bill 841 focuses on  unemployment taxes and benefits. It’s a companion bill that reflects some of the changes proposed by SB 840.

Jack Woodrum

Lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee brought up the situations at Cleveland-Cliffs and Allegheny Wood Products, wondering how they might affect the state.

“Recently we’ve had two major employers in the state that have closed their doors. How’s that gonna impact the fund?” asked Senator Jack Woodrum, R-Summers.

Adkins said the closures will have significant effects, even as the state works to help laid off employees find other jobs as quickly as possible. “It could have a major impact on the trust fund, sure,” he said.

Mike Oliverio

Senator Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, also asked about the effects of closures like the one at Alleghany Wood Products.

“I’m just anxious about this trigger that could limit employment benefits when we have people who are pretty good wage earners. Oftentimes we think about unemployment comp for folks in lower wage classifications, but these are folks with pretty good wages and as they attempt to replace that on a temporary basis I’m a little bit anxious about us stepping in with a cap right now.”

Oliverio wanted to know if there are alternatives.

Adkins said that’s up to the Legislature.

“I mean, I don’t want to convey that the trust fund’s in dire straits. It’s not. It’s in pretty good shape,” he said. “But a major recession coming down the pike could have a pretty significant impact on the trust fund.”

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Photo gallery: Logan defeats Scott, 73-46

LOGAN, W.Va. — Photo gallery from Logan’s 73-46 win over Scott in the Class AAA Region IV, Section 2 semifinals.

(Photo gallery courtesy of Boothe Davis/Captured by the Moment Photography)

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Multiple law enforcement agencies combine for drug interdiction effort in Berkeley County

BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. — Multiple agencies teamed up on a drug interdiction effort in Berkeley County this week.

The Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, West Virginia State Police, Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department and Martinsburg City Police Department collaborated on the effort, which was conducted on Thursday, February 22 and Friday, February 23.

A successful search warrant brought various drugs and illegal firearms, leading to multiple arrests. The BCSD SWAT Team was also utilized for the high-risk search warrant.

A total of 75 traffic stops were made, followed up by nine vehicle searches.

This resulted in:
five felony arrests with eight charges
16 misdemeanors with 26 total charges
four drug related arrests
two fugitives
two guns
32 grams of marijuana
11 grams of crack cocaine
one strip of suboxone

$1,480 in cash was also seized.

“This multi-agency combined effort is an example of how cooperative efforts can have a major impact on the drug trafficking industry in the Eastern Panhandle of WV and the surrounding areas,” said Sheriff Rob Blair. “We would like to thank each officer who participated and we look forward to working with these agencies in the future.”

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West Virginia Senate votes to honor World War II hero Woody Williams with statue at U.S. Capitol

State senators today voted to give Woody Williams, the West Virginian who was America’s last World War II Medal of Honor recipient, a longstanding place of honor in the U.S. Capitol.

Hershel “Woody” Williams

Senators passed a resolution to honor Williams in the National Statuary Hall Collection, which consists of 100 status contributed by the 50 states. The vote was 32-0, and the resolution now goes to the House of Delegates.

“Those statues tell the story of your state,” said Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, in remarks on the floor Saturday morning.

West Virginia’s two statues for many years have honored Francis Pierpont, who was founding father of the state, and John Kenna, a congressman and senator in the late 1800s.

The resolution would replace the statue of Kenna with one honoring Williams. The statue of Kenna would be moved to the West Virginia Culture Center.

Williams died in 2022 at age 98.

Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor for his actions on Iwo Jima during World War II. Under constant fire, he used a flame thrower to take out seven Japanese gun emplacements, usually called “pill boxes.” That effort gave Marines a foothold to advance.

He went on to a life of public service, advocating for veterans and for Gold Star families who lost loved ones in military action.

Eric Tarr

“Woody spent his life advocating for the families who lost their loved ones in service to this country,” Tarr said.

“So in my mind, if you’re a West Virginian and somebody asks you who’s somebody you’ll recognize from West Virginia, Woody Williams is a very easy answer, and you immediately get an idea of what’s important to West Virginians.”

After his death, Williams lay in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. His contributions were celebrated by West Virginia’s congressional delegation and by national elected officials. Williams was one of few Americans and just the first West Virginian to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

The resolution passed by state senators would kick off the search for an artist to produce the statue, direct the governor to provide funding and prompt the governor to send an official request to switch the statue of Kenna with the one for Williams.

Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said “there’s nobody more deserving to be honored that I can think of than Woody Williams.”

Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said Williams was one of the most humble people he ever met. “He would want us all to remember his motto ‘The cause is greater than I.'”

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Harrison County detectives seek public help in ongoing homicide investigation

SALEM, W.Va. — Detectives in Harrison County are looking for help from the public in connection with the Wednesday murder on Jack Run Road.

Residents who may have video footage or photographs, including security or surveillance cameras, doorbell cameras, or trail cameras that show a view of Jack Run Road or Glen Falls Road between 2:16 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 21, 2024.

Around 2:30 Wednesday deputies were called to a residence on Jack Run Road where they found Dallion Lewis, 37, of Clarksburg dead of an apparent gunshot wound. Dennis High, 36, of Salem, has been charged with felony murder in the case.

People who can help are asked to call 304-423-7774 or email [email protected].

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1 dead after fiery car crash in Wheeling

WHEELING, W.Va. — One person is dead following a fiery car crash in Wheeling Friday night.

It happened at around 7:50 p.m. Friday. Firefighters were called to a house on Fairmont Avenue where a car had driven into the home and then caught fire.

Authorities said the fire spread to the wall of the home and slightly damaged the outside wall.

Part of 29th Street was also temporarily closed for some time.

Ohio County Emergency Management as well as Bethlehem, Mozart, and Wheeling Fire Departments responded to the scene.

An investigation continues.

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Second arrest made in Harrison County murder
Jennifer Kirk

SALEM, W.Va. — Detectives in Harrison County have made a second arrest in the murder of Dallion Lewis in the Salem area this week.

In addition to Dennis High, 36, of Salem, police have now charged Jennifer Kirk, 48, of Clarksburg, with felony murder as well.

Lewis was shot to death at a residence on Jack Run Road around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Harrison County Sheriff Robert Matheny said the investigation remains active.

Detectives are still looking for video footage or photographs, including security or surveillance cameras, doorbell cameras, or trail cameras that show a view of Jack Run Road or Glen Falls Road between 2:16 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

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Marshall welcomes Appalachian State for home finale

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall men’s basketball wraps up the home portion of the 2023-24 schedule Saturday evening and there will be national eyes watching the contest with the Sun Belt Conference-leading Appalachian State Mountaineers.

The game tips off at 6 p.m. and will be shown nationwide on ESPN2.

Four Marshall seniors will be honored prior to the game — guards Kamdyn Curfman and Kevon Voyles, forward Marco Sarenac and center Goran Miladinovic.

“We’re going to miss all four of them,” Herd head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “I hope they enjoyed Marshall because if they have a positive view of their time here, they help us recruit the next group.”

The Thundering Herd (12-16, 7-8) is trying to break a four-game losing streak, while Appalachian State (23-5, 13-2) hopes to maintain a one-game lead over James Madison in the Sun Belt standings.

The Mountaineers were Thursday night 82-67 winners at Old Dominion. Marshall is coming off of a Wednesday night 84-58 rout by James Madison.

D’Antoni says that Marshall’s winning problems lately are hard to pin down.

“It seems like there is a malaise over us and it’s negative,” D’Antoni said. “We’re trying to beat it the best we can in-house. We’re all pushing to get out of it.”

The Herd played just a week ago at Appalachian State, with the Mountaineers winning that game 73-58.

Marshall and the Apps have a long history, going back to days when they were both in the Southern Conference. The Herd leads the all-time series 34-19.

The Mountaineers have three players who average scoring in double-figures each game, but seven Apps players average 6.7 points or more, showing an emphasis on balanced scoring by head coach Dustin Kerns.

The top scorers are Tre’Von Spillers (13.2), Donovan Gregory (13) and Terrence Harcum (11.9). Spillers and big man Justin Abson combine for nearly 16 rebounds per game.

Marshall’s statistical leaders remain the same with Obinna Anochili-Killen, Voyles, Curman and Nate Martin averaging in double-figures for points per game. Martin remains the Herd’s and one of the Sun Belt’s rebounding leaders.

Anochili-Killen’s performance remains a concern for Marshall, as he has scored only seven points in his last three games.

Next week, Marshall wraps up the regular season with games at Georgia Southern on Wednesday and Georgia State on Friday.

— — — — —

Marshall’s women’s basketball team can claim a Sun Belt Conference regular season championship after this weekend’s games.

Coach Kim Caldwell’s team is 20-6 overall and 14-1 in the league and is able to clinch at least a tie for the title on Saturday if the Herd wins at Louisiana-Monroe (17-10, 9-6) in a game that tips off at 1 p.m.

The Herd has a two-game lead over Troy. A Marshall win and Troy loss on Saturday at South Alabama would give the championship to the Thundering Herd.

Marshall will wrap up the regular season at home next week with games vs. Georgia State on Tuesday and Georgia Southern on Friday.

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Shots fired outside Brushfork Armory after basketball game

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — Authorities said shots were fired during an altercation in the parking lot outside the Brushfork Armory after Friday night’s sectional boys basketball game between Bluefield and Summers County.

Those inside the armory were put under a shelter-in-place and were not injured.

A Summers County Schools text list message said “local police took control of the situation and everyone was and is safe.”

The teams and fans were allowed to leave once the parking lot was secured.

The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the altercation and gunfire.

Mercer County School Superintendent Ed Toman posted the following message:

“We are heartbroken and outraged by the violence and shooting that took place tonight at the Brush Fork Armory parking lot after the high school boys’ basketball sectional athletic game between Bluefield High and Summers County High Schools.  The incident had nothing to do with our school systems, our students, or tonight’s specific event; however, a group of individuals brought their issues to a facility and youth event that should always be safe for all.  
We greatly appreciate our local law enforcement, first responders and administration in their immediate response and willingness to provide help.   I am confident justice will be served on the individuals who invoked fear and harm in our community.   Please know we will do everything in our power to keep our students, staff, families and fans safe and incidents of this manner will not be tolerated.”

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Behind balanced scoring effort, Wheeling Park claims sectional championship with 20-point victory over Morgantown

WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling Park possesses two of the more feared offensive players across the state in point guard Lala Woods and wing Alexis Bordas.

When the rest of the Patriots’ roster plays how way it did Friday against Morgantown, Wheeling Park becomes as feared as any team in the state.

The Patriots had four double-figure scorers, scored 30 points on three-pointers and finished with 16 more field goals than turnovers to have their way in a 73-53 victory against the Mohigans that allows WPHS to win Class AAAA Region I, Section 1.

“We got contributions from everybody,” Patriots’ head coach Ryan Young said, “and when we get contributions from just about every player, it really helps.” 

The result keeps Wheeling Park (20-4) at home for a Region I co-final against Preston, while the Mohigans (15-7) will travel to face crosstown rival University with a state tournament spot up for grabs.

Both teams excelled offensively in the opening quarter, which MHS led 11-9 at the 4:35 mark after a running bucket from freshman guard Kayli Kellogg.

Woods made a pair of three-pointers over the final 3 minutes of the opening frame, while teammate Natalie Daugherty added one herself to reach the 1,000-point mark for her career. Four of WPHS’ eight field goals in the opening quarter were from long range, helping stake the Patriots to a 21-15 lead.

A pair of triples from Morgantown’s Sadaya Jones on successive possessions in the second quarter helped the Mohigans hang well within striking distance as they trailed 32-26 following the latter three.

However, Wheeling Park countered with 10 consecutive points to seize control of the matchup for good. That stretch began with two Bordas free throws and the southpaw followed with a trey to make it 37-26. Jillian Huffman then scored from close range and Woods made a triple to up her team’s lead to 16.

“They played a tremendous game tonight and shot lights out. I was giving Ryan a little grief that I don’t want to see him anymore,” Morgantown head coach Doug Goodwin said. “We got off to a good start defensively and got after the boards. We had a moment where the game was tied and didn’t have great possessions and they came down and hit some. That got us out of the rhythm that we started with.”

Wheeling Park, which made seven first-half threes and 16-of-31 shots overall, took a 45-30 lead into halftime.

“Our guards did what they do,” Young said.

Huffman and Daugherty each accounted for a triple in the early stages of the third, with Daugherty’s leaving the Mohigans facing a 56-35 deficit at the time.

However, Kellogg responded with a personal 7-0 run to bring the visitors to within 14, only for the Patriots to finish the third on a 6-2 spurt to enter the fourth with a commanding 62-44 lead.

The Mohigans got no closer than 16 in the final quarter.

“We had good shots in the paint that just didn’t fall for us, but our girls give great energy for four quarters,” Goodwin said. “You can never fault their energy on the floor or the effort that they give.”

Woods scored a team-high 20 points and Bordas added 18 to go with eight rebounds. While Bordas struggled through a 4-for-16 shooting night, she made all eight of her free-throw attempts.

Huffman contributed 15 points and made 7-of-11 shots and Daugherty added 12 points on four treys to go with a game-high eight assists, six of which came in the first half. She also recorded six rebounds.

“That’s a lot of pressure on a kid when they’re going for 1,000 points,” Young said. “To have six assists in the first half, that tells you how selfless she is. She’s always been that way, but she’s grown through the program from freshman year until now. She’s definitely one of our leaders and we’re very confident in her ability to hopefully lead this team to get to where we want to be in a couple weeks.”

WPHS reserve Merritt Dell made 2-of-3 shots and finished with four points and seven rebounds.
“Merritt was phenomenal from an energy standpoint and she blocked several shots,” Young said.

The Patriots had 26 field goals and 10 turnovers, including only three in the first half.

Kellogg led MHS with 20 points and Jones followed with 11, though only two came after halftime.

The Mohigans, who were without standout post player Lily Jordan due to injury, made only 21-of-60 shots in what marked their third straight loss to Wheeling Park in the fourth matchup between the two teams this season. 

Jordan is considered day-to-day.

“We miss that rebounding from her and her presence on the floor,” Goodwin said. “It makes them defend differently.”

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