Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on the juvenile justice reform:
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last week signed legislation aimed at curbing the number of youth offenders in West Virginia's judicial system.
This is a step in the right direction for multiple reasons.
It reduces the number of status offenders — kids convicted of acts deemed illegal only because of their age — keeping them out of the expensive, sometimes harsh juvenile justice system and in their own homes and communities. This also allows truly troubled children in the system better access to treatment and already limited resources.
Tomblin also signed legislation increasing the number of days children are allowed to miss school without an excuse from five days to 10. Children can't receive an education if they're not in school, but illnesses, family issues and other problems arise, necessitating days away from the classroom.
While the current law aims to keep kids in school, good, upstanding students and families get caught in the crossfire for simply allowing an ill child to miss school without a doctor's note.
Both bills provide for so-called "wraparound" services, those that work to address multiple problems in the home and community in an effort to keep kids in school or from being referred to the juvenile justice system.
As Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, told the Daily Mail, those services include investing in local Boys and Girls Clubs and placing doctors in rural communities so children and families can receive preventative health care, among other things.
Not only are these measures good for children and families, they benefit the state as a whole. According to Walters, who sat on the West Virginia Intergovernmental Task Force on Juvenile Justice, it costs $100,000 each year for every child in the juvenile justice system, and $109,000 for children placed in out-of-state facilities.
Those costs are borne by the taxpayer, and that money could be better spent on community-based services or educational programs that help at-risk youth.
Thanks to Tomblin's actions, the state also will receive training and technical assistance from the Center for Coordinated Assistance to States, a newly formed partnership between the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, the American Institutes for Research and the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators.
The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is funding the program. West Virginia is one of only five applicants selected to receive this inaugural round of funding, which will benefit key participants in the state's juvenile justice system.
The state is already seeing the benefits of passing this critical reform legislation, and children, families and taxpayers will likely continue to see positive outcomes well into the future.
The Register-Herald, Bleckley, West Virginia, on ATV riders:
After our long winter, it's one of the perks of living in West Virginia that with the arrival of spring we get to enjoy our beautiful mountains, streams and trails.
But each spring brings its own cautionary tales about safety in the outdoors.
This past weekend, it was a pair of ATV accidents in Fayette County that served as a reminder that celebrating winter's end by getting outside can end in tragedy if safety measures are cast away in celebration of warmer weather.
Law enforcement officers say the four people injured in those ATV accidents are going to be all right.
And that's good. What isn't good is that West Virginia leads the nation when it comes to per capita deaths from ATV accidents.
We ranked third in total number of deaths between 2007 and 2011, with 96, behind Kentucky (122) and Pennsylvania (97).
For our population, the death rate from ATV accidents was highest at 105 per 10 million people.
Odds being what they are, nobody expects a severe ATV wreck will happen to them.
But they do.
Why is West Virginia's ranking so high? Well, we've got a lot of ATVs, for one.
But it's also how we use them, according to law enforcement officers. They point out that ATV riders on trails seldom have significant accidents, but in West Virginia we use our ATVs differently.
Most of the fatal accidents occur, two-thirds of them, on public or private roads, not designated ATV trails.
"The locals use ATVs to run back and forth to the stores," said State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous when asked last year about why our ATV fatality rate is so high.
Under state law, all ATVs must be titled. And all riders under 18 have to complete a rider safety awareness course, as well as wear a helmet.
ATVs are also banned from operating on paved roads with a center line or more than two lanes, a law we see ignored pretty regularly.
More information about ATV safety can be found online at the ATV Safety Institute at ATVsafety.org or by calling call 800-887-2887.
ATVs are a fun way to spend time outdoors with family members, especially as the weather warms up and we can enjoy the natural wonders of West Virginia. But ATVs aren't toys.
We're the No. 1 state when it comes to the highest per capita rate of ATV deaths. That's one list where we'd like to see West Virginia rank dead last.
Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on improving mine safety:
Five years ago this month, 29 miners were killed at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia's Raleigh County, sending shock waves throughout that community as well as the mining industry and the Mountain State.
It was the deadliest mine disaster in the nation in 40 years, and it put the spotlight on a variety of factors that were believed to have contributed to the disaster. Tragically, some of those factors persist despite efforts since then to bolster safety.
Investigations have shown that the combination of excess methane gas and flammable coal dust sparked the explosion on April 5, 2010, at the Upper Big Branch mine - a set of circumstances that had brought citations for safety violations on numerous occasions before at that location owned by Massey Energy Co.
Factor in that Massey had a record of repeated mine safety violations at Upper Big Branch and at other mines it owned plus since-discovered revelations that officials at that Massey mine routinely falsified their own safety inspection records, and you have a situation where safety played a distant second fiddle to production.
Among the steps taken after the Upper Big Branch explosion were stepped-up mine inspections by federal regulators and the prosecution of several individuals involved in the mine's operations. Four former Massey Energy officials have been convicted in subsequent investigations and the company's former chief executive officer faces a trial later this month on conspiracy charges.
The more aggressive mine inspections have resulted in more citations, and officials with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration say the increased enforcement has cut serious violations that could lead to injury or death by about 60 percent in mines that MSHA has watched closely since 2010. The flip side of that number cited by MSHA is that plenty of serious mine safety violations remain and continue to expose miners to danger.
Among the violations that are still far too common are those similar to what caused the Upper Big Branch disaster. In January, inspectors discovered excess methane and coal dust in one Wise County, Virginia, mine and at another found 2-foot-deep accumulations of combustible materials and coal dust in another Wise County mine. At that second mine, it was discovered that the water supply for sprayers to suppress coal dust were turned off.
Problems also have turned up closer to home. The Camp Creek underground mine in Wayne County had been cited 64 times in the last two years for failing to follow its ventilation plan, according to MSHA, although the safety conditions there had improved during follow-up inspections, a report by The Associated Press said.
Perhaps the most significant continuing oversight is that regulators have limited authority to shut down mines that have repeated safety violations. "Pattern violators," as such mines are called, can contest that designation for months or years through appeals. That was the case with Upper Big Branch and it has been the case in more recent incidents. For example, less than a year ago, two miners were killed in another mine considered a pattern violator that had racked up 253 serious health and safety violations in the year prior to the accident.
MSHA, which can levy fines and temporarily shut down a mine, doesn't have the authority to close a mine without asking a federal judge's permission. And the agency has never taken that step.
So far, Congress has done nothing to strengthen regulators' tools in regard to mines that have shown a history of neglect or disregard for the safety rules. Until that happens, too many mines will continue to fall short of important safety standards, and miners' lives will be at undue risk.
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