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WV Senate passes GOP education bill

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate on Monday passed a Republican education plan that would allow the state's first charter schools, reigniting a debate that helped start a teacher strike earlier this year.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber approved the bill 18-15 as part of their special legislative session on education. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.

The wide-ranging measure includes a teacher pay raise, mental health services for students and a provision that allows county boards to fire educators who strike. Senators separately passed a measure to allow school vouchers called education saving accounts.

Democrats and teachers unions opposed the bills, saying the broad-based education plan is essentially the same proposal that launched a two-day walkout by educators in February that brought dozens of teachers to the statehouse.

"We're told that this is for students, this is for parents, this is for teachers who want change — not the overwhelming majority that I have listened to for the past couple of months," said Democratic Sen. Stephen Baldwin, rehashing a familiar critique that Republicans are serving out-of-state interests in their push for charter schools.

Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael has repeatedly pointed at West Virginia's poor test scores as proof lawmakers need to act on his education proposal. He has also said he folded several Democratic demands into the bill.

"The reason why we need this bill is because our students rank near last," he said, gesturing toward a chart he made that details West Virginia's SAT scores and other education benchmarks.

Educators again came to the Capitol to protest the bills, though their numbers dwindled as senators met over the weekend. On Saturday, they loaded both the gallery inside the chamber and the halls outside, chanting so loud that they penetrated the thick, wooden doors of the Senate and could be heard as lawmakers spoke.

On Monday, their numbers reduced to a fraction, they remained silent as lawmakers voted.

Union leaders have said that having the special session take place in the summer was a move to negate the impact of another teacher strike.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said Republican senators are ignoring the will of the people.

"All this just shows you is that this is not about what's best for West Virginia," he said.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has said it would be better if the sprawling education plan was broken up into separate proposals so lawmakers would know exactly what they were voting for.

He met with lawmakers of both parties Sunday and told reporters he took issue with a provision of the bill that would cancel school sporting events on days when teachers caused a work stoppage. Senators have left that part of the bill intact and Republicans also voted to strengthen anti-strike language in the measure, a move widely criticized as retaliation for past walkouts by educators.

Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education before the regular session ended in March. Public forums on education were held statewide, at the end of which the Department of Education released a report opposing school vouchers and questioning the formation of charter schools.

Teachers in West Virginia took to the picket line in February over a similar, complex education bill that tied their pay raise in with the formation of charter schools and school vouchers.

Educators protested outside schools and packed the state Capitol during the two-day walkout. They argued that the bill was retaliation for last year's nine-day strike over pay raises and health insurance, which kicked off a national wave of teacher unrest.

The House is scheduled to reconvene late this month and is set to take up the Senate-approved plan as well as its own proposals.

Renovation work continues on Lawrence County Courthouse

IRONTON — A renovation project continues at the Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton.

The project that began in April includes a new roof and gutters, improved lighting, a new elevator, refurbishing the copper courthouse dome, an upgrade to the heating and cooling system and repairing stonework and masonry on the courthouse building.

The main entrance to the three-story, 111-year-old courthouse on 4th Street remains closed while crews from Perfection Group of Cincinnati work on making repairs to the courthouse dome. The public will have to use the 5th Street entrance to gain entry to the courthouse while the front entrance is closed.

The main elevator portion of the project has been completed and is open to the public, a courthouse official said.

Study puts researchers in heroin users' shoes
'Secret shoppers' were turned down by clinics, faced other roadblocks

Posing as heroin users seeking help, researchers contacted hundreds of treatment clinics in U.S. states with the highest overdose death rates, including West Virginia and Ohio. The "secret shoppers" were denied appointments much of the time, especially if they said they were insured through Medicaid.

The study revealed other roadblocks: high fees and a government website riddled with wrong phone numbers.

Finding a doctor can be tough for anyone. But for those fighting addiction, motivation can be fleeting. Every day without treatment can lead to a deadly overdose, said co-author Dr. Michael Barnett of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"Think about the last time you had to make four or five phone calls in a row and how annoying that was," Barnett said. "Addiction makes doing tasks like that even harder."

Families know the problems well, said Jessica Hulsey Nickel, founder of the advocacy group Addiction Policy Forum. She called the Medicaid disparity "very concerning." Nearly 4 in 10 nonelderly adults with opioid addiction are covered by Medicaid, the federal and state insurance program for low-income patients.

Two researchers made the calls, following a script that cast them as 30-year-old heroin users.

"I found it surprising how many calls

I had to make before being offered an appointment," said graduate student Tamara Beetham who encountered both compassion and scolding from clinic staff. "Whether you have cash in your pocket can determine whether you have access to life-saving treatment." The study appears Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.

With nearly 48,000 annual U.S. deaths involving opioids, researchers wanted to understand why more people aren't treated with buprenorphine, an opioid-based medication available in doctor's offices that can fend off withdrawal, without a euphoric high.

They rejected a conventional doctor survey.

"The front desk staff are the ones working the schedule every single hour. The best way to get the information that patients would get was to call ourselves," Barnett said.

Callers tried reaching 546 prescribers with working numbers listed on a government website, which also included hundreds of outdated contacts.

They made calls during 2018 to prescribers in Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.

They were unable to reach schedulers for 77 of the prescribers after three tries.

If callers said they would pay cash, 38% were told no appointments were available. But 46% were denied appointments when they said they were on Medicaid. The callers canceled any appointments they'd made successfully by the end of each call.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants did better than doctors in the study, accepting new patients with Medicaid 70% of the time, compared with 40% of doctors with similar patient loads.

Starting buprenorphine treatment costs about $250 and went as high as $500, with some clinics charging extra fees for lab tests.

When appointments were available, the wait was less than two weeks. That suggests doctors have room in their schedules, but are shunning Medicaid because it pays less than other insurance.

Medicaid rules in some states make it harder to treat addiction, requiring counseling or forcing patients to fail other therapies before starting buprenorphine.

"Those barriers should be eliminated," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funded the study.

For now, people who want to get off opioids "have to grit their teeth and have some persistence" to make an appointment, Barnett said. "It takes a ton of patience."

"Whether you have cash in your pocket can determine whether you have access to life-saving treatment."

Tamara Beetham

Graduate student, study participant

"Think about the last time you had to make four or five phone calls in a row and how annoying that was. Addiction makes doing tasks like that even harder."

Michael Barnett

Co-author of the study

Chesapeake beating death case bound over to grand jury

CHESAPEAKE, Ohio — A Lawrence County, Ohio, judge found Monday there was enough preliminary evidence for a Chesapeake murder suspect to remain behind bars as he waits for his case to be presented to a grand jury later this year.

Kenneth J. Radimaker, 43, of Chesapeake, Ohio, is accused of murder in the May 29 beating death of roommate James A. Baker Jr., 52, also of Chesapeake. He faces 15 years to life imprisonment if found guilty.

An upset Radimaker appeared at the hearing Monday, at one point shouting that Lawrence County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Aaron Bollinger and Jeffery Smith, an assistant prosecuting attorney, were both liars during Bollinger's testimony.

Baker was found dead in his home at about 1 a.m. May 29 after police responded to a call about a fight at the residence along Private Drive 129, Township Road 287 in Union Township. Bollinger testified Monday Radimaker and Baker were tenants with separate bedrooms at home owned by the fight's only witness, who slept in the living room.

The witness told Bollinger he had been asleep in the living room when an intoxicated Radimaker was in the kitchen and being loud. A verbal altercation ensued between the two before Baker came out from his room and joined in the altercation when it turned physical between Radimaker and Baker.

Although Baker had sustained several blows to the head, a preliminary autopsy report shows he died when an artery rupture caused a brain bleed when he had been struck below the chin in an upward motion, Bollinger testified a medical examiner determined.

The witness told police he had told Radimaker to go to his room after the fight, but he left through a window before police arrived. He was found a couple hours later by police in a weeded area nearby. Near where he was found, police found Radimaker's work uniform, marijuana, tobacco products and the witness' wallet, according to a criminal complaint. Radimaker allegedly told police he had the witness's wallet because his debit card was inside of it.

Bollinger testified he had been unable to interview Radimaker until the next afternoon because he appeared to be highly intoxicated upon his arrest.

"... He was slurring his words and was very belligerent, yelling and screaming at the deputies and officers on scene," he said. "I made the decision to not speak with him at that time and (he was) transported to the Lawrence County Jail."

The detective said Radimaker later give a full statement to police, stating he did not like Baker and admitting he had "gotten the better" of the victim in the fight.

Defense Attorney Roger Smith questioned what evidence Bollinger had other than the witness statement to show his client was the aggressor in the fight, and Bollinger said he had none. Smith also questioned what evidence there was that Radimaker was not acting in self-defense, since Baker had been the one to interject himself into an argument in which he had not been involved.

Bollinger said he saw no injuries on Radimaker at the time of his arrest.

The judge found the evidence favored the prosecution Monday. Municipal Court Judge Don Capper previously set a $500,000 cash-only bond for the defendant.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at and via Twitter @HesslerHD.