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Cabell becomes W.Va.'s fourth firearms ‘sanctuary’ county

HUNTINGTON — Cabell County is now the fourth county in West Virginia to adopt a resolution opposing any perceived infringement on a citizen’s right to own firearms, designating itself a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”

Cabell commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Thursday reaffirming “the rights of all law-abiding citizens of Cabell County to keep and bear arms as constitutionally protected.”

The resolution was modeled after a similar one passed Jan. 15 by the Putnam County Commission. Commissions in Nicholas and Preston counties passed a version of the resolution Tuesday. On Jan. 17, Fort Gay, West Virginia, became the first town in the state to adopt the designation during a special meeting.

Cabell’s resolution is largely seen as symbolic because a citizen’s right to bear arms is already protected by both the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article III of the West Virginia Constitution, Cabell Commissioner Kelli Sobonya said.

However, the resolution is the county’s response to a movement that began in Virginia after voters there handed control of the state Legislature to Democrats in a historic shift last year. The state’s lawmakers have introduced a number of gun control bills this year.

About 400 counties, cities and towns in 20 states have passed similar resolutions since the movement began, according to Gun Rights Watch, a website that tracks gun laws across the country. All but two of Virginia’s 95 counties, Arlington and Fairfax, have passed the measures.

“I’ve always been a strong proponent of the Second Amendment as a 16-year legislator standing up for the Constitution,” Sobonya said. “I was one of the few that voted against the home rule bill because I felt like it was unconstitutional. There were other bills that I was either opposed to or in support of because of the constitutionality, so I’m a strong constitutionalist.”

Commissioner Jim Morgan said state law prevents local governments from regulating firearms and he feels the resolution is unnecessary with no means of enforcement.

Instead, he would like to see state lawmakers adopt common-sense gun legislation that also does not infringe upon people’s Second Amendment rights.

“The legislation that I believe is needed is more complete background checks, control of assault weapons and some type of ability to control weapons in possession of those who constitute a threat to the public,” Morgan said. “I also know of no credible threat to the right to bear arms.”

Morgan voted in favor of the resolution anyway to recognize people’s rights to protect themselves and use firearms for recreational use, he said. Morgan said he spoke with an attorney who recommended passing a resolution designating Cabell County as a “19th Amendment sanctuary.” That amendment to the Constitution granted women the right to vote in 1920.

“What that means is, if we put as much effort into getting out to vote as we are on this, we might be better off,” he said. “But that’s not what this is about.”

Sobonya said Morgan would be welcome to place such a resolution on a future commission agenda.

More than 40 people packed into the pews of the Cabell County Commission chamber. Before commissioners voted, several people spoke either in favor of or in opposition to the resolution.

Leonard and Judy Deutsch, both of Huntington, said they had questions and concerns about gun safety and feel gun control legislation passed in Virginia did not infringe upon the Second Amendment.

“The positions I advocate, in my opinion, are not counter to the Second Amendment, which is gun safety, adherence to red flag laws and universal background checks,” Judy Deutsch said. “I believe these are beneficial to all citizens, whether they bear arms or they do not. They are meant to protect everybody.”

Leonard Deutsch questioned if the resolution was also in support of the Second Amendment’s enshrinement of a “well-regulated militia.”

The Founding Fathers meant for members of a militia to be identifiable and for them to also receive training, he said.

“So the question I have is: Is this commission planning to allocate any money to train people to be part of this Second Amendment coalition, or rather, militia?” he asked.

Sobonya said the resolution does not seek to create new legislation, but merely expresses an opposition to any future laws undermining the right to bear arms.

Sheriff Chuck Zerkle briefly spoke in favor of the resolution.

“At the end of the day, this resolution doesn’t change law. It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “It just sends a clear and present message that our county stands on our U.S. Constitution and our West Virginia Constitution for our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

Cabell schools facilities plan takes next step with community dialogue meetings

ONA — Community members, staff, parents and students alike gave their input on the future of Cabell County schools Thursday evening through two community dialogue meetings at Cabell Midland High School and Huntington High School.

Attendees had the opportunity to view potential scenarios and options and contribute feedback, which will eventually be finalized into a Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan, coordinating funding and projects for the schools for the next decade.

Options have been developed for nine elementary schools, Huntington East Middle School, Huntington Middle School, Cabell Midland High School, Huntington High School and the Cabell County Career Technology Center by the CEFP Steering Committee and Cooperative Strategies, an information planning firm.

“This is a way for us to prioritize the projects that our facilities are going to need to remain up to date and current over the next 10 years,” Superintendent Ryan Saxe said at the HHS meeting.

Cooperative Strategies representative Scott Leopold reminded those attending the meetings that the options are not recommendations at this point, only a way to identify the community’s needs.

Some options in the realm of elementary schools included full renovations or additions, which would address nearly all structural and aging issues; deferred upgrades, which would include some necessities, but not others, like a school’s ADA compliance; replacement on site or acquisition of property; and alleviating overcrowding or low enrollment through redistricting.

Other options involved overlapping projects, such as consolidation of schools or grade configuration.

Representatives from Cox Landing Elementary School in Lesage said they were in favor of redistricting and upgrading their facility, as it is underutilized and other schools in the vicinity face overcrowding.

“We need all-new everything — heating and air system; we’re not ADA compliant; we don’t have a safe school entrance,” Kristy Winters, a third-grade teacher at Cox Landing, said at the CMHS meeting. “We want redistricting because our enrollment is down and we have some areas that are close to us that go to Milton, but we’re a closer school for some of the kids. And that wouldn’t cost any money.”

The option to replace on site or acquire new property for Cox Landing would address these issues, Winters said.

Many attending the meetings said they were against consolidation of schools, and said it would put unwarranted hardship on some students and families, instead showing their support for rezoning or replacement.

“Consolidation just wouldn’t work for this area,” said 17-year-old Brooke Powers, a senior at CMHS. “You have to think about the teachers, the students, the money and the districts. Some teachers might not have a job.”

Powers said giving each school what it needs should be the priority of the board when it comes to the finalization of the plan this spring.

“Some schools don’t really need an entire new facility,” Powers said. “Give the schools what they need, whether it’s a new HVAC system or redistricting. We just want the students to be able to grow as people.”

As both high schools are nearing their 30th anniversaries, several options were given for members of the community to help prioritize needs, including the addition of safe school entrances, CTE space, cafeteria and kitchen upgrades and an HVAC system partial upgrade.

The CCCTC’s existing issues were addressed in three options — replacing on site for around $64.2 million; renovate or add on to the existing facility for around $35.4 million; or upgrade only the facility’s most immediate structural needs, which would not address issues like program limitations and overcrowding, for around $5 million.

As for the two middle schools, an option for acquiring land to build a shared football field would cost an estimated $4.5 million.

Shelley Muth-Adkins has a child at both HEMS and HHS and said seeing a new sports complex in the works is something that is long overdue.

“For these younger kids, there is no facility for them to go to right here,” Muth-Adkins said. “Building a new complex is definitely my main agenda here tonight. These students are going to Barboursville and to Milton, and there’s no place to play.”

Muth-Adkins said an additional field or complex would fill the public’s needs as another place to host community events, such as the Special Olympics, aside from Huntington High’s field.

Thursday’s meetings were the final public event for the community to contribute feedback before a plan is finalized. However, those interested in contributing can access a questionnaire online through Feb. 2.

More information regarding the options as well as the survey can be found at www.cabellschools.com under “Latest News” or the “Facilities Planning (CEFP)” link under the “About” tab.

Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispat  

Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Huntington High's Eli Byrd, right, takes on Musselman's Zane Milburn during the WSAZ Invitational wrestling tournament on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in downtown Huntington.

Report: Youth vaping rates skyrocket in recent years

CHARLESTON — The number of West Virginia high school students who vape has increased 150% in just three years, according to a new report on youth vaping from the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The report, “West Virginia Youth and Vaping: A Dangerous Combination,” released Thursday, is in response to the rapid rise in electronic-cigarette product use among youth.

This report was also prepared in the context of DHHR’s ongoing investigation of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury.

E-cigarettes, or vapes, heat a solution of nicotine inhaled through vapor. The products were first introduced more than a decade ago when tobacco use among youth was continuing to decline in West Virginia and across the U.S.

The introduction of more flavors, including candy and fruity flavors, along with the products becoming smaller and easier to hide, has contributed to the increase of teen nicotine use.

Adult and youth tobacco use in West Virginia has historically exceeded national levels. Youth use of and exposure to nicotine-based products in West Virginia has escalated in the past two years.

More than 1 in 3, or 35.7%, of West Virginia high school students report current use of e-cigarettes. This is a 150% increase from 2017 to 2019 alone. The national average is 27%, a 135% increase from 2017.

In 2019, more than 60% of high school students, or 62.4%, reported having tried e-cigarettes. This is up from 44.4% in 2017. Since 2017, West Virginia high school students reported frequent use of vaping products (20 or more days a month), an increase by almost 440%, from 3.1% to 16.7%.

Some schools are seeing even higher usage. Scott High School student Kelsi Akers, 18, and Sherman High School student Haley Ceravolo, 17, presented to the House Committee on the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse on Thursday. The two surveyed all the high school students in Boone County’s three high schools and found 53% of the student body used vapes. The number was even higher among the student-athletes, Akers said.

“It’s huge in our school. We see it every day,” Akers said. “We know it’s not good. If you look up the chemicals, the FDA hasn’t approved them because they don’t know what’s in it. Kids are inhaling it. We see kids every day getting under their desk and smoking it, and the teacher doesn’t even know it because it smells good. We really want to bring awareness.”

Younger students are also reporting increased use. More than 1 in 6 (15.3%) West Virginia middle school students are current users of electronic vapor products. This is an increase of almost 160% since 2017. Middle schoolers reporting frequent use have also increased by more than 260%, from 0.8% to 2.9%.

Akers and Ceravolo said they rarely see anyone smoking cigarettes anymore. They said the flavors and better smell attract their peers.

“Everybody does it,” Ceravolo said.

Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, chairman of the substance abuse committee and a physician, said youth vaping is an epidemic.

“The real unknown is how many chronic illnesses will these cause in the long term,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

Rohrbach’s committee approved a bill Thursday that would require postal carriers check licenses for delivery of vape products, similar to the state’s law on wine deliveries. Rohrbach said this will help ensure teens can’t order the products online.

Bills have also been introduced to update the state’s tobacco laws to include electronic devices and to require the tobacco Quitline be posted in schools. There is also a bill to increase prevention funding, which could include bringing back Raze, the student-led tobacco prevention groups, by pulling from the tobacco settlement funds.