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It was a busy Saturday on Feb. 27, as COVID-19 vaccinations were given out (by appointment) at Hurricane High School.

Ramp season underway in southern West Virginia

HUNTINGTON — As the spring season begins, those in southern West Virginia are offered a chance to get a plant considered a delicacy by many folks — the ramp.

Ramps are a wild leek found in this neck of the woods for a short growing season from mid-April to sometimes early May. The plant has been described as a combination of the onion and garlic families.

While some people dislike the ramp’s “stinky” odor, it is coveted by professional and home chefs alike.

Ramps are currently being sold at The Wild Ramp in Huntington, at farmers markets, at some roadside stands and can even be found on some seasonal restaurant menus.

“We have received many calls and messages asking about ramps,” said Jamie Leigh, marketing coordinator for The Wild Ramp. “We have some now, but we are expecting a good amount of ramps this coming Sunday.”

She said the cost is $12 a pound. You can also pre-order by telephone at 304-523-7267 and pick them up.

The Wild Ramp, located in the city’s West End in Old Central City, is well known for its annual festival, StinkFest, which has been canceled again this year due to the pandemic. Instead, it will have a Ramped Up Farmers Market on Saturday, April 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Come and meet our new chef and kitchen manager Jedediah Thornburgh while he whips up some ramp-inspired dishes,” Leigh said. “Vendors will be selling ramp goodies, and we will be debuting our new Wild & Wonderful Gift Boxes.”

There is no charge to the public for the event, Leigh said.

On Friday, April 23, the night before the Ramped Up Farmers Market, The Wild Ramp will host a five-course dinner featuring Thornburgh.

“Each dish will feature fresh ramps to tantalize your taste buds,” Leigh said.

The event is limited to 20 people. Tickets can be purchased on The Wild Ramp’s Facebook page. The cost is $75 per person.

“This is also a fundraising event for us,” Leigh said. “We want to thank the community for their continued support of local food and The Wild Ramp.”

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a meet-and-greet inside The Wild Ramp, followed by a brief presentation by a local farmer. The ramp feast will start at 6:35 p.m., Leigh said.

“If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the store at 304-523-7267,” she said.

W.Va. House panel passes syringe exchange bill

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia House Judiciary Committee passed a version of a bill to license syringe exchange programs that they hope will balance concerns on both sides of the debate after it was read for the first time Wednesday.

Health leaders have said Senate Bill 334, particularly as it left the Senate, would shutter syringe exchange programs in the state due to the restrictions it contains.

The House Judiciary Committee’s strike-and-insert amendment maintains the licensing program. Syringe exchanges would have to be part of a larger harm reduction program and offer things like referrals to substance use disorder treatment, HIV testing and birth control.

Programs will not need to have support from the county commission/city council, law enforcement or the community, and the public comment period before starting a new program was removed.

They will still need to operate toward an exchange rate goal of 1:1 and syringes must be “unique” to the syringe exchange program. A licensed health care professional must work with the program and offer services. An I.D. requirement has been removed, but syringes still can only be given to the individual — people can’t pick up syringes for a friend.

Programs will have to report data to the state annually.

An immunity provision added by the House Health Committee remains, providing protections to those operating syringe exchanges. The state may fine programs up to $10,000 for operating outside the law.

The committee accepted an amendment to prohibit state dollars from funding syringe exchanges, although existing programs do not bill Medicaid for syringe services since it’s so inexpensive to fund.

“We just spent a good amount of time on an amendment that has no real effect at all because we don’t even know how the programs work,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha. “We just want to make sure our tax dollars don’t pay for them, and they’re not. Because of that, even though I appreciate the work done on this and the balance that’s been struck, I don’t want a vehicle back to the Senate. I think this would be better taken care of in the local communities, and I don’t think the state should be dictating something like this because we have a whole bunch of people who feel strongly about something but they haven’t taken the time to learn about it.”

The goal of harm reduction programs and syringe exchanges is to prevent the spread of disease through drug use. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends harm reduction and syringe exchanges operate with as little restriction as possible.

Part of that recommendation comes from researching the 2018 Cabell County outbreak of HIV, which was caused, in part, because of restrictions placed on the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s syringe exchange. Those restrictions included a 1:1 exchange rate and requiring a Cabell County I.D.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, health officer of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, said after the Senate passed the bill that the health department could not operate an exchange under the law because of the criminal penalties and tracking requirement, but mainly because it is a model proven not to work.

The bill will be on second reading Thursday, April 8. Bills on second reading have the right to be amended.

West Virginia legislative session extended by one day

CHARLESTON — Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issued a proclamation Wednesday extending the state Legislature’s session by one day in order to pass a budget.

The Republican supermajority in the statehouse is days away from the end of its 60-day session without an agreement on its top priority, cutting the state’s income tax.

The budget hinges on lawmakers deciding how to move forward. The income tax makes up about 40% of state revenue.

Justice’s extension would allow the Legislature to run into Sunday, April 11, and to only consider matters related to the budget.

Legislative leaders and the governor made little progress on a tax reform compromise at a summit Monday.

Justice, who led the charge for tax reform with his original proposal in March, presented a revised version at the meeting, less than a week after he said Republican senators blindsided him with their own plan.

The Republican governor’s new plan would cut the income tax by 50%, rather than 60%. From his original proposal, it retains raising the sales tax from 6% to 7.9% and a new tax on luxury items. It also contains an unspecified tax rebate for those earning $35,000 or less, which did not figure into plans released by House and Senate Republicans.

Republican legislative leaders remained hesitant about the governor’s pitch to raise severance taxes on industries such as coal, oil and natural gas. But the Republican Senate president, Craig Blair, indicated that he did not have an issue with the governor’s proposed luxury tax on any purchased item of at least $5,000.

Liberal groups are rallying opposition to all of the proposals to cut the income tax, arguing that a higher sales tax will hurt the poor and working class. Republicans say they want to enact a tax overhaul this year in the hopes that lower taxes will drive residents to move into the state, where the population has been declining.