Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette on tobacco-smoking legislation:
Around 60 percent of West Virginians favor raising the cigarette tax to prevent teens from becoming addicted to nicotine, which eventually leads thousands of them to unnecessary illness and premature death, according to West Virginia University's 2012 Adult Tobacco Survey.
Meanwhile, the Governor's Advisory Council on Substance Abuse recommended boosting the state cigarette tax for the same reason.
But Gov. Tomblin opposes this lifesaving step, because he "doesn't think right now is a good time to be taxing families," an aide said. Presumably, his opposition will hobble chances that the 2013 Legislature will price cigarettes out of reach for teens.
However, we think both the governor and Legislature should take a sober look at the curse inflicted by West Virginia's horrible rate of nicotine addiction. The Centers for Disease Control says the Mountain State has the nation's worst smoking rate, and also the worst rate by pregnant women. That's humiliating.
The Legislature also should consider a statewide ban on smoking inside public places — a lifesaving measure already approved in 28 states, with others expected to follow. Instead, West Virginia leaves this protection to county health boards, and only 18 of 55 counties have acted, at last count. ...
Nationally, as America becomes more educated and health-aware, the smoking rate has dropped below 20 percent. Tobacco usage remains high among lower-income, less-educated people.
Law professor Richard Daynard of Northeastern University wrote recently that a 2009 federal health law gives the Food and Drug Administration power to force cigarette makers to lower nicotine content below the addiction level. If that happens, millions of Americans would cease being hooked, and smoking would fade.
We hope the Legislature raises the per-pack tax, and also imposes a statewide indoor ban. If it won't take these lifesaving steps, we hope the FDA delivers a death blow to America's worst drug addiction.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W. Va., on teen driver deaths:
For nearly a decade, it appeared that tougher requirements for teens to get their driver's licenses were making a big difference in terms of safety.
From 2000 to 2010, the number of 16-year-old drivers who were killed in traffic accidents on the nation's roads fell by nearly two-thirds and the number of 17-year-old drivers who died dropped by more than half, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Those reductions were far more sizable than the 25 percent reduction for drivers older than 17 during the same period.
A reasonable conclusion for that marked improvement was that graduated driver license programs enacted in nearly all states were having the intended effect. GDL programs phase in driving privileges for new teen drivers as they gain experience behind the wheel. They usually involve a learner stage that involves a minimum amount of supervised driving time, an intermediate stage with some expanded privileges that still might set limits on number of passengers in a car and night-time driving, and a final stage with full privileges.
Unfortunately, the improving trend from the early part of this century has been interrupted, the Governors Highway Safety Association, or GHSA, reported recently.
In 2011 the number of 16- and 17-year-old drivers who were killed rose slightly and in the first half of 2012 was on a pace to increase 19 percent more, according to preliminary data released last month. Twenty-five states reported increased fatalities, including West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, and 17 showed decreases.
The GHSA suggests that two factors may be at play for this reversal. One is that an improving economy generally means young motorists can afford to log more miles behind the wheel, thus increasing the odds that more will be killed. The other is that the benefits derived from introducing graduated driver license programs across the country in the last two decades may be leveling off. ...
The GHSA notes that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has estimated that if each state adopted all of the most stringent requirements that are in force in graduated driver license programs found sporadically across the country, the number of fatal crashes could be reduced by an average of 37 percent. ...
Police enforcement of GDL laws also remains a problem. ... The association notes that West Virginia, for example, has surveyed police about their knowledge of GDL laws to help develop a strategy for boosting enforcement.
Parents also can play a key role, by not only seeing that the driving requirements for their teen drivers are met, but also by setting an example with their own driving habits and emphasizing safe driving habits and attitudes. ...
The Journal, Martinsburg, W.Va., on new state school standardized tests:
Among the most important steps being taken toward public school accountability in West Virginia is one that won't have to wait until legislators approve an education reform package this year. Throughout the state, educators already are preparing for the change.
For many years, standardized tests used to measure the performance of both students and their schools were unique to the Mountain State. The WesTest and later, the WesTest 2 have been administered only to students within the state.
That presented a limited picture of student achievement in West Virginia, because test results could not be compared to other states. Meanwhile, the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, administered throughout the nation, showed our students lagging badly behind many others.
Beginning during the 2014-15 school year, a new tool, the Smarter Balanced Assessment test, will be administered in West Virginia. It also has been adopted in 45 other states.
Widespread use of the test means West Virginians will be able to compare performance of our public schools to those elsewhere. For example, Ohio County residents no longer will be limited to learning how well schools there compare to those in other counties and to state standardized test averages.
Once the new examinations are implemented, we will know how our schools stack up against those in California, Pennsylvania, New York and 42 other states.
The new test will represent an enormous leap forward in school reform. In effect, it will let us know whether changes made during the next few years are improvements — or merely window dressing.