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Williams, Elliott urge US Congress to pass $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Two West Virginia mayors are urging Congress to pass the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, with both officials warning of constraints on municipal budgets related to the pandemic and response efforts.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott participated in a press call Wednesday about the American Rescue Plan Act and how local governments have handled the virus.

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams

“We’re at a critical point right now against this pandemic, building back from the lingering effect that this health and economic crisis is going to have on our communities,” Williams said. “Our fear is that this is going to last much longer.”

The relief package comes as the United States approaches one year of responding to the pandemic. The measure includes $1,400 payments to Americans, in which the White House has agreed to phase out checks starting at $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for heads of households, and $160,000 for joint tax filers. The proposal also dedicates funding for an additional $400 unemployment payment as well as $160 billion for coronavirus response and vaccination efforts, $10 billion for manufacturing pandemic supplies, and $130 billion for reopening schools.

Local, tribal and state governments would receive $350 billion for addressing the pandemic and its effects, including lost revenue; according to the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee, West Virginia would receive nearly $1.3 billion, and the state’s municipal governments would get more than $676 million.

The West Virginia Auditor’s Office reports the state has yet to spend $660 million of federal CARES Act funding as of Tuesday.

The legislation also includes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, although the Senate Parliamentarian ruled last week keeping the provision would violate Senate rules.

The House passed the package last Saturday in a 219-212 vote; West Virginia’s representatives — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — voted against the measure as Republicans voiced concerns about spending they argue is unrelated to the pandemic.

“If Congress had focused on providing targeted relief such as individual stimulus checks, funding for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution, funding for mental health and substance abuse services, and additional funding to help safely reopen America’s schools, it would have passed with broad Republican support,” McKinley said following the vote.

Williams noted Huntington’s budget was “healthy” ahead of the pandemic. As the pandemic response continued, city officials approved a freeze on capital spending to keep essential employees and maintain city services.

“That is the greatest fear that we have is to furlough or to lay off anyone for a few weeks,” he said. “That interrupts services that we’re providing.”

Williams is a member of the United States Conference of Mayors, an organization supporting the bill. Williams cited conversations with other city leaders who have dealt with terminating employees and reducing services because of the pandemic’s financial strain.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott (File)

“These are things that individuals living in their homes in the neighborhoods can’t do without,” he said. “These are every bit as essential workers as the front-line individuals in hospitals, and that’s the very reason why local governments and state governments need to receive robust funding.”

Elliott urged Congress to approve the relief bill “as swiftly as possible.”

“This should not be a partisan debate,” he said. “This should not be something where we really don’t take every step to get this done as quickly as possible because our communities are hurting.”

Wheeling is — as Elliott described — the “prototypical Rust Belt community;” the Northern Panhandle city was dealing with declining economic activity and a decreasing population prior to the pandemic, as well as a loss of resources. Elliott noted the September 2019 closure of the Ohio Valley Medical Center during the call in addition to the related health and economic effects.

“We’ve tried to do what we can within our budgetary constraints to help, but we need more assistance right now,” he said. “This is definitely not the time you want to do anything but go big.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., opposes the measure; she has said the next round of coronavirus relief needs to be aimed at individuals and parties most in need of financial assistance, especially because Congress approved a $900 billion relief package in late December.

“We don’t disagree on the need for continued relief and resources, but it needs to be done in a targeted way,” she said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Capito and nine Republican colleagues pitched a $618 billion plan during a meeting last month with President Joe Biden; the GOP proposal features $1,000 relief payments, a $300 enhanced unemployment payment and no funding for local and state governments.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on proceeding with the American Rescue Plan Act. Lawmakers have cited March 13 as the deadline to pass a plan as extended unemployment benefits will expire that day if legislators do not act.

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WV Nursing Homes Need Protection From Pandemic Lawsuits, But How Much?

The pandemic has impacted West Virginia’s nursing homes harder than any other sector.  West Virginia AARP reports that nearly 700 of the over 2,300 deaths were long-term care residents and staff.

The West Virginia Legislature is now considering whether those nursing homes, as well as every other health care provider and business in the state, should be protected from lawsuits because of the pandemic.

The Senate has already passed SB 277.  The bill provides blanket immunity for any claim against “any person, essential business, health care facility, health care provider, first responder or volunteer for loss, damage, physical injury or death arising from COVID-19, COVID-19 care, or impacted care.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charlie Trump (R, Morgan) argued the protection is necessary.  “This is a global pandemic, and it requires extraordinary measures and responses in a lot of different ways,” Trump said.

Not everyone agrees.

AARP State Director Gaylene Miller said in a letter to House of Delegates leaders that while “many facilities performed admirably under tough conditions, it is clear other facilities endangered their residents, including some that had long-term understaffing problems and lack of infection control prior to the pandemic,” Miller wrote.  “Those facilities should not escape culpability for harming their residents.”

This debate is occurring across the country.  Most states have adopted some form of liability protection, but they often leave an option for litigation for the most serious cases.  The American Bar Association Journal reported a few months ago that courts are going to be in a difficult position.

“They will have to decide whether and how to apportion responsibility for deaths of the nation’s most medically vulnerable population among long-term care operators who were scrambling in the midst of the chaos and confusion during the worst public health emergency in the century,” ABA Journal reported.

Lawyers are already pursing COVID-19-related suits across the country. According to a litigation tracker by the law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth, over 8,800 COVID-19-related complaints have been filed, including six in West Virginia, and there will be more to come.

Successful mass litigation could devastate elder care in this country. Each death is a personal tragedy, but not every death was the result of someone’s negligence. The novel virus raged out of control for months, health advisories shifted, personal protective gear was in short supply.

SB 277 as it came out of the Senate, with its wholesale blanket immunity, is too broad. The House needs to find some way to allow for litigation where there are instances of intentional misconduct, but not create legal problems for nursing homes and other businesses that did the best they could during an unprecedented event.

 

 

 

 

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Maier’s stellar debut helps Fairmont Senior down Bridgeport, 86-59

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — It remains to be seen just how much of an impact Meredith Maier makes at Fairmont Senior.

But Maier, a transfer from Grafton, could have hardly made a better impression in her Polar Bears’ debut Tuesday against Bridgeport at the Fairmont Senior Field House.

The junior, who earned Class AA third-team all-state honors with the Bearcats last season, scored 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to key FSHS to an 86-59 win over Bridgeport on the opening night in girls basketball across the state.

“What she does is take a lot of the pressure off (returning all-state guard Marley Washenitz),” Polar Bears’ coach Corey Hines said. “Marley still handles it and she’ll do her thing, but she doesn’t have to do everything, because Meredith can really help us out.”

The Indians got off to a strong start and built a 12-6 lead, but the Polar Bears ended the opening quarter on an 8-0 run to go ahead. 

Fairmont Senior carried that momentum over into the second period, scoring the first 11 points to up its advantage to 25-12. Maier had consecutive layups during the surge, while Washenitz, a junior, accounted for five of her 21 points to help the Polar Bears lead by 13.

But Bridgeport answered with its own 9-0 run to close the deficit to four, before another Fairmont Senior surge sent the Polar Bears into halftime with a 32-22 advantage. Maier and Washentiz combined for all but eight of their team’s points through two quarters.

Marley Washenitz (11) and Meredith Maier (23) combined for 52 points in Fairmont Senior’s win over Bridgeport. Photo by Greg Carey/WVMetroNews.com

The Polar Bears picked up their defensive play to start the second half, forcing three Bridgeport turnovers in the opening minute to spark an 8-0 run. When Maier accounted for the next basket on a stickback, Senior held a commanding 42-22 lead.

Maier scored eight third-quarter points, while Washenitz added seven to help the Polar Bears take a 58-37 lead into the fourth.

The Indians never got closer than 16 in the final quarter.

“I’d be concerned if the first game was perfect, because the goal is still to improve as the season goes on,” Hines said. “But we did a lot of good things and we turned it up a notch in the second half.”

Maier made four of her team’s 10 3-pointers, while Washenitz connected on three triples. Washenitz, a West Virginia University commit, also had a game-high 11 assists.

Bekah Jenkins scored 13 points in the win and all five Polar Bear starters accounted for at least five points.

“We only have 11 girls, but this group plays hard,” Hines said. “They give great effort and that’s all you can ask for.”

Bridgeport sophomore Gabby Reep poured in 27 points in defeat. The Indians had 14 second-half turnovers, while the Polar Bears had only four.

“I don’t like to see us give up that many points,” Hines said. “We have a long way to go on defense.”

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WVU secures No. 2 seed in Big 12 Tourney with win at K-State

(Mike Carey postgame Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No. 20 West Virginia secured the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 Conference tournament with a 72-64 win at Kansas State. At 13-4 in league play with one contest at Baylor remaining, the Mountaineers have locked up their best finish in conference play since winning the co-championship in the 2013-2014 season.

“I am very proud of this team. No matter what happens from here on out, I am very proud of this team,” said WVU head coach Mike Carey.

The Mountaineers led from the third minute of the game all the way up to the opening minute of the fourth quarter. K-State took the lead on a basket from Ayoka Lee with 9:05 to play, giving the Wildcats their first lead of the game. WVU answered with a Kysre Gondrezick hoop on their next possession and they held on to the lead the rest of the way.

West Virginia allowed just four points over the final 5:30.

“We went back to man-to-man. And give Kari (Niblack) a lot of credit.  She came in with fouls, fronted and did a great job. We we getting it high-low to Kari and she drew fouls,” Carey said. “I thought Kari and Esmery (Martinez) did a good job working together.”

WVU’s Esmery Martinez (Photo by Scott Weaver/KSU Athletics)

For the second game in a row, Gondrezick delivered the shot to put the game out of reach in the final minute. Her three-pointer at Kansas Saturday with ten seconds left led the Mountaineers to a 72-68 win. Against K-State, Gondrezick hit another triple from a similar spot near the top of the key with 30 seconds left to put the Mountaineers up by eight.

“At the end, we set a pick for Kysre and went high-low. She was able to get the shot off and hit the three.”

Starting point guard Madisen Smith missed a third consecutive game with a groin injury and only seven players took the court for West Virginia. Foul trouble quickly mounted up for the Mountaineers. Niblack picked up three fouls in the first half. Blessing Ejiofor and KK Deans each finished the game with four fouls.

“We had both centers out. I had Esmery at the five and she is saying she needs a break. ‘I can’t give you a break. I have nobody to put in for you’. So finally, when one of the centers came back in, I put Jayla (Hemingway) at the four. So I had a point guard that has never played the one. I had a four that never played the four. I had a five that never played the five. Everyone was out of position. But you know what, this is what this team is made of.”

Martinez led the Mountaineers with 23 points and a dozen rebounds. Gondrezick scored 14, Deans added 13 and dished out 9 assists.

“I thought the first half (Deans) was a little out of control with turnovers but in the second half she did a terrific job. She slowed down a little bit, hit the open man. And she did a great job on (Christianna) Carr too. When KK was in there, Carr didn’t score much.”

Jasmine Carson scored 11 points off the bench on 4-for-5 shooting from the floor.

West Virginia’s 13 conference wins are their second highest total since joining the Big 12 nine years ago. They will play the winner of the 7/10 game next Friday in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

“I give all the credit to the players. We have had people leave the program because they weren’t playing. We have had injuries. We have had people play out of position. We have had to go play three straight games on the road with the fourth coming up. We haven’t had a lot of advantages going down the stretch here. But give these players a lot of credit because they have hung in there.”

Lee led KSU (8-16, 3-14 Big 12) with 26 points and 14 rebounds.

West Virginia (19-4, 13-4 Big 12) will conclude the regular season Monday at Baylor.

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Akers named to Kanawha Circuit Court vacancy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Senior Assistant Prosecutor Maryclaire Akers has been appointed to fill a circuit court vacancy in Kanawha County.

Gov. Jim Justice announced the appointment Wednesday morning.

Akers, a Charleston native, will replace the late Circuit Judge Charles King, who died in December. Akers did much of her prosecuting work in front of King.

Maryclaire Akers (File)

“I looked up to Charlie,” Akers told MetroNews. “He was very much a teacher not just to me, but a whole bunch of people. Lawyers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, trial attorneys, everybody.”

Akers said while she has experience as a prosecutor, that does not mean she will not be a just judge.

“I think my goal is to be fair to everyone and to be able to open my courtroom, have parties in front of me, hear their issues, and do the best job I can to be fair in my decisions and render them quickly,” she said.

Akers graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1999. She earned a journalism degree from WVU in 1995. She’s spent much of her 21 years practicing in the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office.

With Akers’ appointment, five of the seven circuit judges in Kanawha County are female.

The seat will be up for election in May 2022.

King, who died on Dec. 28, became a Kanawha County assistant prosecutor in 1973 and was elected as the prosecuting attorney in 1984. He was first elected as circuit judge in 1988. He served as the chief judge on several occasions, including the majority of 2020.

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House passes bill keeping flexibility for alcohol sales

Delegates passed a bill that would continue the kind of flexibility with beer, wine and liquor sales that has been allowed during the covid-19 pandemic.

The bill passed 89-10. It now goes to the state Senate.

Brandon Steele

“This is a rather large freedom bill,” said House Government Organization Committee Chairman Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh.

House Bill 2025 would make a variety of allowances, including the continued delivery or pick-up of alcoholic beverages with food orders. Another provision is continuing to allow people sit outside with their drinks in designated areas.

Those kinds of allowances started during the pandemic when people were asked to stay home and while businesses had to find new ways to operate.

Delegates today approved an amendment offered by Delegate John Paul Hott, R-Grant, allowing alcohol sales through drive-through windows.

Wayne Clark

Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, said the bill would help put businesses on equal footing with competitors across the border. He described breweries, wineries and distilleries just across the border in Loudoun County, Va., that do brisk business.

“HB 2025 will lower the barrier for new craft breweries, distilleries in our state,” Clark told delegates. “Why not keep government out of the way permanently?”

Tom Fast,

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, made a lengthy speech describing the dangers of alcohol abuse. “I might be talking to a brick wall here; I don’t know,” he said.

But, Fast said, “I think there’s a point to draw the line. This body has passed so many alcohol bills the past six years it’s unbelievable. This one here takes the cake.”

Jonathan Pinson

Delegate Jonathan Pinson, R-Mason, said he didn’t want Fast to be the only one to speak up.

“I did not come here to expand alcohol accessibility and consumption,” said Pinson, a pastor who was elected for the first time last year. “I believe the bill went too far. It’s 110 pages.”

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Constitutional officeholders support term limit resolution

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Five members of West Virginia’s Board of Public Works have come out in favor of a term limit resolution introduced this week in the state Senate.

Senate Joint Resolution 11 proposes changing the state Constitution to say that the person holding the office of Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture, or Attorney General can serve no more than three consecutive terms.

Riley Moore

If approved by the legislature, the issue would be put on a ballot for state residents to vote on.

Four of those current officeholders, all Republicans, spoke in favor of the resolution during a Thursday afternoon news conference at the state capitol.

“We come here as a collective group to say we are tired of the policies of the past of having individuals sit in these offices for decades upon decades,” new state Treasurer Riley Moore, who proposed the term limit resolution, said. “We think this is the best way forward in terms of governance, transparency and accountability.”

Moore defeated 24-year Treasurer John Perdue in last November’s election.

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey won his second term in November. He called the resolution good government.

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey

“The more of these people, everywhere in government that we can turn over, the less friction we’re going to have with change which is inherently needed with all governments at all times,” McCuskey said.

Former Auditor Glen Gainer served six terms before deciding not to run for reelection in 2016.

State Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, who is also into his second term, said Wednesday he was “perfectly comfortable” with the idea of a three term limit.

“Those of us who have replaced long-time incumbents know how difficult it is to reform an office after decades of one-person control,” Leonhardt said. “We have to spend too much time during our terms to simply right the ship. Establishing term limits will help guarantee that these offices are constantly improving, forcing politicians to be more focused and seek faster change.”

Kent Leonhardt

The longest serving West Virginia agriculture commissioner was Gus Douglass, who served a total of 44 years in office.

Secretary of State Mac Warner said he quickly learned that one term in office was not enough. He began his second term in January. He said his military career taught him the value of change.

“The movement of people between positions is highly efficient and highly helpful because you take those experiences, I’ve been deployed in South America, Germany and into Asia, and each one of those taught me a different way of tackling problems,” Warner said.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is into his third term, did not attend the news conference but is in support of the resolution.

Mac Warner

“I’m happy to support the resolution to establish term limits for the Board of Public Works,” Morrisey said in a news release. “I have pushed for a similar resolution in the past and believe it will restore more power back to the people.”

State Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, introduced the resolution on behalf of Moore. He said term limits work well with the governor’s office and county sheriffs.

“Having it with the rest of the Board of Public Works brings us in line with the same we have on the governor’s level that we can bring in somebody who has a new perspective on the office,” Weld said.

The governor and county sheriff can only serve two consecutive terms.

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Former councilman is the latest West Virginian charged in Jan. 6 Capitol mob

Another West Virginian has been charged in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol mob.

Eric Barber

Eric Barber, a former Parkersburg councilman, faces federal charges of entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct and theft. He has a preliminary hearing via video conference at 1 p.m. March 10 before the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. He was released today on $10,000 unsecured bond.

“If you were to be convicted of any of these charges you would be exposed to years in prison,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Dwane Tinsley said in an initial hearing today.

“Yes, I do your honor,” Barber responded.

Former state Delegate Derrick Evans of Wayne County, who resigned after being charged, and college senior Gracyn Courtright of Hurricane also face consequences after being accused of entering the U.S. Capitol that day.

The mob storming the U.S. Capitol disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and more than 100 police officers were injured. Capitol Police announced one police officer died after the riot, possibly from an irritant like bear spray.

Of the thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., that day, about 800 went into the Capitol, police have said.

Barber was elected to Parkersburg Council in 2016. He was charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction in 2017 when he showed up at a neighbor’s medical call. He was sued in 2018 over his social media comments, but the lawsuit was dismissed last year. And he was involved in an earlier firestorm over comments he made about abortion.

Investigators began examining Barber’s conduct in Washington, D.C., after multiple people provided tips.

The investigators examined Barber’s own livestream video and social media posts, interviews he provided to local newspaper and television reporters about being in Washington, D.C. that day, as well as video from inside the Capitol depicting a man in a green helmet who looked like Barber.

One of the interviews came in a Jan. 7 Parkersburg News & Sentinel article headlined “Parkersburg man shares experience from U.S. Capitol.” Some of Barber’s own photos of the protests outside the U.S. Capitol accompanied the story.

The article said, “While he said he looked in a window and couldn’t see much because of so many people inside, Barber said he did not enter the building.”

But shortly after that, as images spread of the people inside the Capitol, local people identified a man who looked a lot like Barber wearing a green combat-style helmet and a military-style field jacket.

In a YouTube video called “Shooting and Storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.,” the same man in a crowded doorway says “They’re giving us the building?” He then taps the helmet with both hands and begins moving toward the front as the crowd chants, “Break it down, break it down.”

FBI agent Andrew Cooper, who provided an affidavit, began examining images from Barber’s Facebook page to identify him. He also placed a call to the Parkersburg Police Department, where local officers were already aware of the claims about Barber. Through all those comparisons, Cooper concluded that the man was, in fact, Barber.

In today’s hearing before Magistrate Judge Tinsley, Barber declined an offer for a hearing to determine his identity.

Cooper also requested security footage from inside the Capitol and received six videos of the man moving through Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6.

“Of note, I observed Barber taking selfie photographs in the Rotunda and stopping at the C-SPAN media station located in Statuary Hall and searching through equipment that was on the stand.”

The agent determined the man searched through the items at the media stand and appeared to unplug an item, taking it with him. The C-SPAN field technician who had been operating the media stand when the Capitol was evacuated said he had left his personal power station used to charge an iPad there, and it wound up missing.

“Your affiant believes this confirms the video footage that Barber stole the powerstation located at the media station,” Cooper wrote.

That’s what led to the theft charge against Barber.

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After another narrow loss, WVU pivots to Thursday game vs. TCU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Four of West Virginia’s five losses in Big 12 play have come by five points or less. The Mountaineers lost by four at Oklahoma after overcoming an 18-point deficit, on a buzzer-beating three against Texas, by a point in double overtime to the Sooners and by five in overtime Tuesday to league champion Baylor.

Those are some narrow margins within a conference that will send seven of its ten teams to the NCAA Tournament, and all seven could realistically be seeded no lower than fourth.

“Everybody knew this was going to be a great game. That’s why it was heavily watched. We brought our ‘A-game’ and they brought theirs,” said WVU sophomore guard Deuce McBride. “They just executed a little bit better at the end and throughout the whole game.”

Baylor Bears guard Mark Vital (11) celebrates with teammates (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

In Tuesday’s 94-89 win over the Mountaineers, Baylor was able to score five points on their final possessions of the first and second halves. After a deadball turnover on WVU with 1.4 seconds left in the first half, Jared Butler connected on a corner three-pointer at the buzzer. Butler also sent the game to overtime with a drive to the hoop with less than three seconds remaining in regulation.

Another defensive lapse in the final minute of overtime pushed WVU’s deficit from one point to three points. Trailing 90-89 with 34 seconds left, the Mountaineers fouled guard Adam Flagler, who is an 83 percent free throw shooter.

“We fouled the wrong guy. We wanted to foul (Mark) Vital (who shoots 47% from the line). We said to let him catch it and then foul Vital. So what do we do? We fouled a guard who promptly goes down and makes two free throws. A lot of that is youth. We played today against men. Those were men,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.

The Mountaineers were also victimized by a season-high point total from Baylor junior Matthew Mayer. He entered the game averaging less than eight points per game. Mayer scored 18 against WVU on 7-for-12 shooting from the floor.

“We watched a lot of film and Mayer wasn’t making shots. They run two ghost screens and he gets two wide open shots, two threes and he makes them. We are screaming at them not to switch it. We didn’t switch it and we ran at him and he drove by us and scored. He hurt us,” Huggins said.

Four Mountaineers scored in double figures but second-leading scorer Derek Culver did not. Culver went 9-for-10 from the free throw line but was 0-for-3 from the floor.

“He is a double-double machine. I think Baylor knew that going in that they wanted to be as aggressive as they can with him,” McNeil said. “We definitely have to get him the ball more,” said WVU junior guard Sean McNeil.

“He chased the ball too much. But he chased the ball because he wasn’t getting it because they put really, really good ball pressure on our guys. Our guys were fighting the ball pressure and when they are fighting the ball pressure they are not looking to throw it into Derek. So Derek chases it, which is human nature,” Huggins said.

Baylor Bears guard Jared Butler (12) and West Virginia Mountaineers forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) fight for a loose ball (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

West Virginia’s (17-7, 10-5 Big 12) regular season-ending homestand continues Thursday against TCU. The Mountaineers defeated the Horned Frogs, 74-66 last week in Fort Worth. If WVU defeats TCU and Oklahoma State, they will secure the No. 2 seed for the Big 12 Tournament.

“24-hour rule, whether you win or you lose you can’t dwell on it for too long. (Today) we start getting ready for TCU. It is getting to crunch time. We have to get that game and move on,” McBride said.

“We can’t let one loss turn into three,” Huggins said. “We can still finish second in the league. But we have to take care of our business. We have to concentrate on TCU and then after that we have to concentrate on Oklahoma State, who is playing extremely, extremely well.”

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Delegates pass bill aiming to expand West Virginia broadband access

Delegates today passed a broad-ranging broadband bill that they hope will promote online connectivity across West Virginia.

Daniel Linville

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said the aim of the bill is to speed the deployment of broadband and reduce the overall cost. Delegates said the need for improvement has long existed in West Virginia, but the increase of remote activities during the covid-19 pandemic has underscored that demand.

“It’s the single most important thing in my opinion that we could do this year given the covid-19 pandemic, but it was important long before that,” Linville said.

House Bill 2002 passed the House 98-1. The single no vote was Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, who often describes a libertarian political philosophy.

Aspects of the bill are intended to expedite rights of way, produce a broadband availability map and compel high-speed internet providers to submit to greater legislative oversight. It also lays out some of the powers and responsibilities of the state Office of Broadband.

The bill lays out what it means to be unserved or underserved. It would require a broadband operator to credit subscribers for service interruptions of more than 24 hours

“We want people to have choice and competition and quality and the free market pressures that would be inherent,” Linville said.

Brent Boggs

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, wondered if the bill will truly help rural communities. He supported the bill, but said he’d heard that goal for a long time.

“I think sometimes our constituents think we forget it because we’ve been talking about his so long and made so little progress,” Boggs said. “Nobody sees anything changed. Shame on us for letting that happen that nothing changes.”

Boggs said he supported this bill as well as additional efforts to expand broadband availability. He said many people love aspects of live in central West Virginia, but some choose not to move there because high-speed internet is hard to come by.

“At a time when we’re hemorrhaging population I would hope this would be something that would really become a priority, not just something we’re talking about,” Boggs said.

Cody Thompson

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, also urged support for the bill.

“People would love to live in West Virginia, but right now without having access to broadband that affects our home values,” Thompson said.

Mike Pushkin

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said he supported the bill. He wondered how much of the state would currently be considered underserved.

“I sincerely hope this does move the needle,’ Pushkin said.

Linville responded that it’s unclear how many areas are considered underserved because that term was just defined by the bill, allowing it now to be measured. He said underserved areas could be mapped if the bill becomes law.

Linville said more work is to come.

“I don’t think it’s the last step we’ll take this year,” he said.

 

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