Editorial Roundup: West Virginia
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Bluefield Daily Telegraph on a backlog of items awaiting DNA testing at the state’s crime lab:
The backlog of items awaiting DNA testing at the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab in Charleston isn’t a new problem. The crime lab has been dealing with this issue for several years now, and it has been exacerbated by a lack of dedicated laboratory funding to address the backlog.
The current backlog is approximately 1,700 cases. While that is an exorbitantly high number, it is still an improvement from just four years ago when more than 4,886 criminal kits were still awaiting testing.
Temporary funding provided to the crime lab in 2016 to help address this backlog will expire in 2021.
If additional funding is not allocated by lawmakers by that time, staffing and resources dedicated toward the DNA testing will be lost, likely ensuring an even greater backlog in cases.
A policy that limits the number of items that can be submitted for DNA testing in criminal cases was enacted by the crime lab in 2017 to help with the backlog of cases.
The policy specifies that an agency can only submit five evidentiary items, plus the known sample from the suspect, for a total of six in a homicide investigation where there is one suspect and one victim.
But the policy itself became an issue in the recent murder trial of a Mercer County woman accused of decapitation.
Mercer County Sheriff’s Office Det. Logan Addair testified that he could send only six items to the lab for DNA forensic analysis, after the issue was raised by a defense attorney in the case.
The defendant in the decapitation case was ultimately found guilty, and Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler said the limitations enacted by the crime lab have not presented any problems for his office.
“It (a limit) only makes sense,” Silter told the Daily Telegraph, adding that in some cases more items can be submitted to the Crime Lab if needed.
One thing is certain. The crime lab needs additional funding, resources and manpower to clear this ever-growing backlog of criminal kits awaiting DNA testing. Lawmakers must take steps during the upcoming 2020 legislative session to address this urgent issue.
Justice is not served when a backlog at the crime lab forces a wait time of months or years for cases to be adjudicated.
The Weirton Daily Times on a tour by eight female members of the West Virginia House of Delegates:
Eight female members of the West Virginia House of Delegates spent three days recently on a whirlwind “Women in Leadership Country Roads Tour.”
Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, was among the eight.
Their goal was to hear Mountain State residents’ concerns and take new ideas back to Charleston for the annual regular session of the Legislature, beginning in January.
Zukoff put her finger on a significant obstacle to solving problems: “We all have to work together, and not just as women and, obviously, the other part of the Legislature, the men, but also in a bipartisan fashion to do what true West Virginians want us to do, not about what’s the political rhetoric … that we hear across the state and the country that’s dividing us.”
Unfortunately, the delegates were unable to squeeze in time for a visit to the Northern Panhandle. Zukoff can be relied upon to bring our special concerns to other lawmakers, both male and female.
As we have seen in national politics, many Americans are upset with partisan battles. They want to see things getting done. Let us hope Zukoff and the other women in leadership can make that clear next year at the Capitol.
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on an assistance process to help West Virginians with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities:
About 1,060 West Virginians entitled to state assistance with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities would like to receive that aid in their homes rather than institutions. Despite the fact that would save taxpayers’ money, those men, women and children have had to wait, some for years, to get waivers allowing them to make the change.
That is more than ridiculous. If the state Department of Health and Human Resources is not processing the waivers as expeditiously as possible, it is irresponsible, to put it mildly.
Gov. Jim Justice has directed the DHHR to investigate ways of eliminating the waiting list for the waiver program. He expects a report by Jan. 15
Justice’s timing is good. It provides time for him to look at the DHHR’s report and, if necessary, seek action by the Legislature if changes in the law are needed to speed up the waiver program.
Some of those on the waitlist for DHHR action on waivers have been there for four years, Justice said. “We absolutely must find a way to eliminate the waitlist so that these West Virginians can get the help and support they deserve,” he added.
And, the governor pointed out, giving more people waivers so they can get help without being institutionalized is good for the state budget. Services provided through the waiver program cost 46% less than those provided by intermediate care facilities, Justice’s office noted.
DHHR officials are right to examine requests for waivers carefully. Granting them may not be the best thing for some people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. But for those who would benefit, state government should accelerate the process instead of forcing them to wait for years.