PRAISE&nays

PRAISE for the life led by Ranson native Whitney Burch Barrett. The 31-year-old, who passed away suddenly March 27 after a short illness, spent her career with the Jefferson County Development Authority, where she toiled as an advocate for the county and aided entrepreneurs and other business leaders. Smart, beautiful, thoughtful, friendly, capable and tireless in her devotion to job and family, Barrett was a one-of-a-kind. She will be greatly missed.

 

PRAISE for the state Senate leaders who stood strong after gun hysteria took over the House of Delegates this session.

Senate President Jeff Kessler announced last week that the Senate would not take up House Bill 2760, which would have revoked local gun safety laws passed years ago in Martinsburg, Charleston and two other West Virginia communities.

Following the bills’s astonishing 94-to-4 passage in the House, pro-gun supporters overwhelmed senators with calls and emails demanding the Senate pass the bill too. They held rallies in Charles Town and elsewhere designed to pressure lawmakers.

Jefferson County’s Herb Snyder reports he even received death threats. “You won’t go home from Charleston” if HB2760 fails, he said he was told. But Kessler and other Senate leaders held that legislation by threat has no place in our state. They also recognized that taking crime-fighting tools away from cities isn’t a smart way to fight crime – even if the ideas have the NRA’s backing.

 

NAY to trigger-happy Judith Kowaleski. Police say the Bluefield mom fatally shot another mother Thursday night after a school bus tiff between the two women’s children.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Baylous said Elizabeth Slagle, also 42, also of Bluefield, was found dead along a road in Brush Fork. Now Kowaleski faces a first-degree murder charge.

In the wake of the tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school in December, as gun rights advocates began calling for more guns as the solution to the deadly violence too often striking our homes, schools and workplaces, we would cite this incident and the thousands of others like it that happen daily across our country.

When everyone’s armed and tempers begin to rise, it becomes easy for even a minor disagreement to turn deadly in an instant. As a nation, we must aim higher.

 

PRAISE for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey for creating a new system for hiring outside lawyers to represent state agencies.

Morrisey, a Harpers Ferry Republican elected in November, last week announced a policy that requires private attorneys to bid on state legal work that’s supervised by the Attorney General’s Office. A public comment period on the new hiring policy begins this month, and the new rules are set to take effect in mid-July.

During his campaign for office, Morrisey had criticized longtime incumbent attorney general Darrell McGraw and McGraw’s hiring practices.

“While I believe the team of talented lawyers who already work in the [office] will be able to handle most issues that arise, there are cases in which the use of outside counsel may be required,” Morrisey said. “In those instances, we will use a competitive-bidding process to make sure we get high-quality services at reasonable prices.”

Morrisey’s approach is on the money. Why not wring every dollar spent by the AG’s office so that West Virginia taxpayers get the legal coverage needed without paying more than we should?

It’s also refreshing to see a government official publicly laying out a plan and explaining all the hows and whys, rather than these discussions happening in private.

 

NAY to a dream defeated. The same week the U.S. Supreme Court heard historic arguments over same-sex marriage, Jefferson County lawmaker Stephen Skinner had to signal defeat on a bid to add sexual orientation to West Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws.

Skinner, a first-term Democrat in the House of Delegates and the first openly gay member of the West Virginia Legislature, told colleagues on March 27 that he’d asked the chairman of a committee assigned to the bill not to take it up ahead of a Friday procedural deadline. His concern: the measure’s proposed exemption for religious organizations would be amended so broadly, it would make it meaningless.

“I believe that the wisest course of action today is to delay the battle in the House for another day,” said Skinner, an attorney, in a floor speech.

 

PRAISE for the life and work of Jae Spears, who in 1982 became the first woman to serve as the West Virginia Senate’s majority whip. The Kentucky native died in Elkins last month at age 90.

The Randolph County Democrat, a former radio reporter in Cincinnati, was first elected to the Senate in 1980 after serving three terms in the House of Delegates.

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