West Virginia editorial roundup


Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Feb. 12

The Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail on state mental health commitments:

In 2011, the state involuntarily committed 3,299 people to a state mental institution. Many were not mentally ill per se, and only 361 remained longer than the state's required 30-day observation period.

Yet all of their names were entered into the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which will preclude them from ever legally owning a firearm.

Although it takes an order from a mental health commissioner, and though legal counsel is provided to the defendant, some people are wrongly institutionalized, said Steve Canterbury, court administrator for the state Supreme Court.

The court is pushing for a less expensive and more effective program of allowing mental health professionals — not lawyers — to make the determination.

At present, anyone can file a mental hygiene petition on anyone — even children as young as 12.

Some people are committed for 30 days because they are angry or on drugs.

Other states require only three to five days of observation. After the observation period, in other states a commissioner determines whether the person goes home. People who are sent home are not placed in a state or federal database and do not have their rights curtailed, Canterbury said.

"All of these things seem to have been handled in other states in a way that is not quite as expensive, not quite as draconian, and does not (hold) people for days and put them on a registry for the rest of their lives," he said. "By doing it that way, you have preserved that individual's rights."

Justice Menis Ketchum recently told lawmakers the state could save $3 million a year by changing the way people are committed. Changes also would protect the rights of individuals.

Canterbury said he hopes legislators will resolve the situation in legislative interim meetings, which means that absent a special session, the earliest the changes could be made is next year.

Why wait? Lawmakers have a duty to protect the rights of people from an expensive and ineffective system — now, not later.




Feb. 12

The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W. Va., on state sex-education standards:

The latest KIDS COUNT report on factors affecting the well-being of West Virginia children offers mixed results.

The assessment, done annually by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows improvement over the last several years in the child abuse and neglect rate, the teen injury/death rate and the child death rate. But among the indicators that remain a persistent challenge is the number of teenagers having children.

Teen births had been decreasing in West Virginia and nationally for decades. However, unlike the continuing decline across the country, the Mountain State's rate began rising again in 2005 and continued to do so through 2009. The statewide rate fell again slightly in 2010, the latest year for which data was available, but West Virginia's rate remains among the 10 highest, according to KIDS COUNT. The state's rate is 45 births per 1,000 teens, compared with a national rate of 34.

That gap has West Virginia KIDS COUNT Executive Director Margie Hale wondering how rigorously the state's schools are teaching a comprehensive sex-education curriculum approved by the state Department of Education in 2003 as part of the state's health education standards.

Hale contends there is no solid documentation as to how diligently the curriculum is being taught in the state's schools, and the state Department of Education doesn't appear to know either. Spokeswoman Liz Cordeiro said the agency provides a curriculum framework and health-education standards but said counties and schools decide how to implement the "services and environmental strategies" to achieve comprehensive sex education. Cordeiro could not say how many schools are using the state's curriculum.

The curriculum is part of the "content standards" approved by the department and "describe what students' knowledge and skills should be at the end of a K-12 sequence of study." It would seem that the state agency responsible for establishing such standards would have a handle on whether they are being met. ...

Hale suspects many schools "are not implementing it because the teacher's not comfortable or the community doesn't want them to or the principal doesn't want them to," she told The Associated Press. ...

The Department of Education and county boards of education should be more aggressive in ensuring that the "content standard" spelled out for sex education is being met by West Virginia schools. Failure to address sex education and help teens cope intelligently with the choices they no doubt will face is a disservice to them and their futures.




Feb. 11

The Inter-Mountain, Elkins, W.Va., on the new state purchasing directive:

All West Virginia state agencies should be required to follow a new purchasing directive all the time. If ensuring that happens requires an act of the Legislature, lawmakers should approve one.

More than 170 state agencies were notified recently the state Purchasing Division will have to review and approve statewide contracts for goods and services costing more than $250,000.

Part of the reason for the directive is the fiasco involving the Office of Technology's $24 million purchase of about 1,000 computer network routers two years ago. The routers, intended for public facilities throughout the state, were vastly more expensive than necessary.

Though some state officials continue to defend the router buy, the Purchasing Division admitted the transaction was part of the reason for the new rule.

Advance notice will be required of plans to seek bids for statewide contracts over the quarter-million-dollar threshold. Information on bidding, amounts of money involved and reasons for purchases will be needed. Then, the Purchasing Division must approve before payments can be made to vendors.

Will the requirement prevent mistakes such as the router purchase? Perhaps not, in some situations. After all, the router deal was reviewed and approved by several people in the Office of Technology.

But reviews by the Purchasing Division certainly will help.

Again, every state agency should be required to follow the procedure — and that includes the two big buyers in state government, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Resources. In the past, both agencies have been permitted to make some purchases without outside oversight.

That needs to end. There is no good reason any agency should need to bypass the Purchasing Division. Again, if ensuring that does not happen requires action by legislators, they should provide it.



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