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West Virginia history, geography combine with constitutional geometry in redistricting meeting

Population equality and compactness are two key constitutional requirements for any congressional district map the West Virginia Legislature adopts this redistricting cycle.

A new challenge in that process arose Friday when, among the 21 congressional maps proposed to the Senate Redistricting Committee, the map with the best population equality had the least favorable compactness measurement and one of the four maps with the best compactness measurement had the least population equality.

Friday was the last meeting of the Senate Redistricting Committee before the special legislative session to complete the redistricting process begins.

The special session, which lawmakers expect to start Monday, also will include calls for the Legislature to allocate about $1 billion in federal money from the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law in March, Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, who also is a member of the redistricting committee, said during Friday’s meeting.

The meeting in the state Capitol on Friday was the culmination of many questions committee members have asked throughout the week about the constitutionality of the proposed maps they had.

The meeting also included a bookend to historical information about state Senate district maps from Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, who said committee chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, piqued his interest with a presentation about the evolution of West Virginia’s Senate districts throughout the 20th century.

The committee did not adopt any maps Friday. Trump said he wanted to wait until the full Legislature is back in the Capitol before advancing any proposed congressional or state Senate maps.

“I’m worried, and I think we all should be worried, that, without having the whole Senate assembled to look at this, we’re not going to be able to have a fair idea of what is approvable by the whole body,” Trump said. “We have 34 members and we are but a fourth of them.”

Constitutional measurements

Liz Schindzielorz, general counsel for the Senate Redistricting Committee, reported the compactness calculations for the congressional districts to the panel Friday.

Earlier this week, committee members asked Schindzielorz whether the software the Legislature is using to draw maps could calculate the contiguity of the maps based on tests articulated in court cases in which congressional maps were at issue.

Schindzielorz reported that the congressional map labeled Trump — Congressional Map 12 on the Senate Redistricting Committee’s website, is the map with the lowest number using a perimeter test. The perimeter test is a measurement of the perimeter of each proposed district, and the smaller a perimeter is, the better it meets the compactness requirement.

The Trump 12 map, despite its preferable perimeters, had one of the highest deviations from the ideal population for each congressional district.

An ideal population for West Virginia’s congressional districts this redistricting cycle is 896,858. The Trump 12 map has a 1.76% deviation from that number, with 881,049 people in one district and 912,667 in another.

On the flipside, the map with the worst perimeter, labeled Trump — Congressional Map 1 on the redistricting site, has the lowest population deviation, deviating 0% from the ideal population.

The districts also were measured using the Reock test, which is performed by determining the area of the smallest circle that could contain the whole district. In this test, which is another acceptable measurement in congressional district court cases, the Trump 1 map, which had the worst perimeter score, was in a 4-way tie for the most compact.

“It’s just interesting to me,” Trump said. “We have two different metrics or measurements for measuring compactness, and you have one map that scores best on one and worse or near worst on the other.”

Discussion among committee members has circled around how to measure compactness, given West Virginia’s odd shape with its Eastern and Northern panhandles.

The committee did not adopt any method of measuring compactness during the meeting Friday.

Senate district history lesson

Trump told committee members Thursday that he had scoured a century’s worth of historical resources — West Virginia Blue Books — to better understand the evolution of the state’s Senate districts and how they evolved with the population.

Trump said he’d had trouble finding any information about the maps before the early 20th century.

On Friday, Weld followed up with his own research into West Virginia’s first constitution, the current constitution established in 1872, and subsequent redistricting bills the Legislature passed during the 1800s.

There were nine Senate districts written into West Virginia’s first constitution in 1863, when the state didn’t have the Eastern Panhandle, Weld said. Lincoln, Mingo and Summers counties didn’t exist at the time, he said.

“It was a much different population,” Weld said.

The requirement for at least 12 Senate districts was written into the second West Virginia Constitution in 1872, Weld said.

“By this time, we had a panhandle, as well,” Weld said.

In 1882, West Virginia adopted 13 Senate districts covering its 54 counties. Mingo County would be established in 1895.

West Virginia stayed with 13 districts until 1901, when lawmakers drew 15 Senate districts.

“We’ve historically seen [that] some of the boundaries of the state have stayed the same, with my district being one of those,” Weld said. “A lot of others have switched around.”

Weld, who represents Senate District 1 said he found it interesting that his district has remained largely unchanged throughout the years, only adding and losing part of Marshall County in the state’s 158-year history.

He noted that Marion County was grouped with Marshall and Wetzel counties early in West Virginia’s history but has been more closely associated with Monongalia County in recent district maps.

Kanawha County, early in the state’s history, tended to be in a district with Clay, Nicholas and Webster counties, but “then it kind of got away from that,” Weld said.

Weld’s research into 19th-century district maps linked with Trump’s research into the 20th-century maps that showed the state had 15 Senate districts in the early 1900s and 17 districts by 1964, when Kanawha County gained a second district.

Trump’s research showed that the boundaries of Senate districts were drawn by county lines until 1977, when the state’s population had declined and was dispersed to the point that some counties were portioned in-part in some districts.

West Virginia currently has 17 Senate districts, each with two senators.

The Senate Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Monday, Trump said Friday.

The next meeting of the House Redistricting Committee had not been announced as of Friday.

Both committees have proposed congressional maps posted to the West Virginia Legislature redistricting website. The House has a proposed House district map, and the Senate has 10 proposed Senate district maps.

Members of the public can review the maps on the website and leave comments either by using the form on the website or by emailing joint.redistricting @wvlegislature.gov.

Community members and organizers from GoodSpace of Minneapolis paint the underpainting for a permanent mural at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Charleston on Friday. The mural features three people from three generations, and will go up at the Lee Street Lounge. Working on a section of the mural on the table in foreground are (from left) Tewodros Hgeorges, Hallie Chillag and Matilda Dunlap of Charleston.

Police investigate double homicide on West Side

Charleston police are investigating what they called a double homicide after two women were found shot to death on the city’s West Side early Friday.

Police responded to a call around 1:30 a.m. Friday in the 300 block of Hunt Avenue, where they found Bria Nicole White, 26, lying with multiple gunshot wounds on a sidewalk. City medics tried to save her, but they were unsuccessful, a news release says. White was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hours later, at about 8 a.m., police say, they found White’s romantic partner, Kytiana Belcher, 22, dead from gunshot wounds a half a block away, in the backyard of a home in the 1000 block of Grant Street.

Police said White and Belcher lived together. Lt. Tony Hazelett, chief of detectives for the police department, said the women are believed to have been killed around the same time. Belcher was lying against a fence and no one saw her until daylight. A motive in the case is not known, but there was no evidence indicating the shootings were a hate crime, Hazelett said.

Jenny Woodall lives across Hunt Avenue from where White was found. Woodall said she and her daughter heard gunshots at 1:32 a.m. and looked outside to see a woman lying by a set of steps outside a neighboring machine shop. Thinking the wounded person was the machine shop’s owner, whom she knew, she ran outside.

“I ran down those steps, went across the street and was going ‘Robby, Robby,’ and when I walked around and saw her face, she’s already dead. Her eyes are already ... she was hit in the head,” Woodall said.

Around mid-morning Friday, as police continued working nearby, Woodall talked with her landlord, who had stopped by. She and her daughter moved to the West Side from Poca more than two years ago. After Friday’s crimes, Woodall said it’s time to go back. Her lease is up at the end of the year, and she’ll be out of the house soon after, she said.

“This is hitting close to home,” she said. “I’m going to go back out into the country where I came from.”

Among her frustrations is that police didn’t find the second woman’s body until hours later.

“Apparently, she’d been there since last night. But, if that’s the case, then our police officers didn’t do a good sweep of the neighborhood,” she said. “I mean, in my opinion, if that body was laying there from 1:30 a.m. this morning, they need to step it up. They really need to step it up.

“God knows, there’s enough of them out there,” she said.

For Charleston City Councilwoman Deanna McKinney, who represents Ward 6 on the West Side, Friday’s slayings are another indication of the needs in the neighborhood. McKinney’s 18-year-old son, Tymel, was shot to death on the West Side in 2014.

Just Thursday night, McKinney said, she walked in the neighborhood, noting the vacant lots and the need for street lights.

“We even came by this very spot right here, we walked all the way down and around, taking pictures of these empty lots, how dark it is, how gloomy it is over here, what we don’t have,” McKinney said. “I’ve been doing this ever since I’ve been on [the] council, asking for help, not just for my ward, but the West Side.

“It’s not an East or West Side thing, it’s a Charleston thing. We can’t keep pitting two against each other, because we’re not getting nothing done. We’re not being effective that way. It’s a Charleston thing.”

Police ask anyone with information about the homicides to contact the Criminal Investigation Division, at 304-348-6480, or Metro Communications, at 304-348-8111.

Delta variant and worker shortage keep a lid on job growth
U.S. employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, a second straight tepid gain and evidence that the pandemic has kept its grip on the economy, with many companies struggling to fill millions of open jobs

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, a second straight tepid gain and evidence that the pandemic has kept its grip on the economy, with many companies struggling to fill millions of open jobs.

Friday’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the unemployment rate sank last month from 5.2% to 4.8%. The rate fell in part because more people found jobs but also because about 180,000 fewer people looked for work in September, which meant they weren’t counted as unemployed.

September’s sluggish job gains fell shy of even the modest 336,000 that the economy had added in August and were the fewest since December, when employers actually cut jobs.

The economy is showing some signs of emerging from the drag of the delta variant of the coronavirus, with confirmed new COVID-19 infections declining, restaurant traffic picking up slightly and consumers willing to spend. But new infections remained high as September began. And employers are still struggling to find workers because many people who lost jobs in the pandemic have yet to start looking again. The persistence of that trend, with job openings at a record high, has confounded many economists.

Most of them had expected September to produce robust job growth as schools reopened, thereby freeing parents, especially working mothers, to return to jobs. Several enhanced unemployment benefit programs had expired Sept. 6, potentially providing incentives for more people to seek work. And at least before delta intensified, many companies had planned to return to working in offices, which would have revitalized still-dormant downtowns.

Instead, as a result of the delta variant, many office buildings remain vacant and fears of the disease rebounded. A Census Bureau survey found that the number of people not working because they had COVID-19 or were caring for someone with the disease doubled between July and early September. COVID-19 outbreaks have also temporarily closed some schools, making it harder for many mothers to hold down permanent jobs.

At the same time, many economists say that as COVID-19 recedes further and Americans resume traveling, eating out and seeing movies, more people will likely reenter the workforce, and hiring will strengthen.

“This report is a look in the rear-view mirror,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the jobs website Glassdoor, “and hopefully this means the worst is behind us, and the worst was just a slowdown in the recovery.”

For now, people like Sarah Neumeier have chosen to stay on the sidelines. Neumeier, 32, of Natick, Massachusetts, who has 3-year-old twin sons, said she will wait until after the winter holidays to look for work again.

She had turned down a job just as the pandemic intensified in March 2020 because, out of concern for their health, she didn’t want to place her children in daycare. Those concerns haven’t lifted.

“I was waiting for the vaccine,” she said. “My boys were preemies, and we did everything to keep them healthy. I don’t want to jeopardize that now.”

The delta variant has discouraged Neumeier in another way: Her work experience is in event planning, a field that was devastated by the pandemic and is unlikely to recover until the delta variant has faded further.

Neumeier has plenty of company. The proportion of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one — known as labor force participation — declined in September from 61.7% to 61.6%, well below the pre-pandemic level of 63.3%, Friday’s report said.

The drop in labor force participation occurred entirely among women, suggesting that many working mothers are still caring for children at home. For men, labor participation was unchanged. Some after-school programs weren’t yet in place last month to provide all-day care. And child care has become scarcer and costlier in many cases.

Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, noted in a recent speech that COVID-19 outbreaks in late September caused 2,000 schools to close for an average of six days in 39 states.

John Lai, chief executive of Mister Car Wash, with about 350 locations, said he’s seeking to hire 500 people in the next three months to add to the company’s 6,000 workers. Mister Car Wash, based in Tucson, Arizona, has raised its average hourly-worker pay to $14.50 an hour since the pandemic began and offers health and retirement benefits. Yet it’s struggling to attract applicants.

“It is certainly the most challenging labor market that I have ever experienced in my 20 years in the business,” Lai said.

Some of his female employees, he said, have had to quit to care for children. And despite the end of federal supplemental unemployment aid, Lai is seeing little increase in the number of job applicants.

“I think it’s the big mystery of the economy,” he said. “The folks that are sitting on the sidelines — why are they sitting on the sidelines?”

He suspects that one factor is lingering fear of becoming sick at work.

The enhanced unemployment aid that ended in early September included a $300-a-week federal supplement, as well as programs that for the first time covered gig workers and people who were jobless for six months or more. The expiration of those programs cutoff aid for roughly 7 million people.

Many business owners and Republican political leaders argued that the extra $300-a-week benefit was discouraging some people from seeking jobs because they could receive more money from unemployment aid. So far, though, the ending of those programs appears to have had little effect on the number of people looking for work.

Economists still think that most of the roughly 3 million people who lost jobs and stopped looking for work since the pandemic struck will resume their searches as COVID-19 wanes. It took years after the 2008-2009 recession, they note, for the proportion of people working or seeking work to return to pre-recession levels.

September’s meager job gain will likely still be enough for the Federal Reserve to proceed with its plans to pull back on its extraordinary assistance to the economy, said Lydia Boussour, an economist at Oxford Economics. The Fed is expected to announce in November that it will begin slowing its bond purchases, which are intended to lower long-term loan rates and encourage more borrowing and spending.

Tammy Browning, president of KellyOCG, a staffing agency, said she notices little urgency among some potential job-seekers. Some families have learned to live with less, she said, adapting to one income as mothers stay home. Household savings are, on average, still above pre-pandemic levels, thanks in part to stimulus checks.

“I think it’s going to be several months before people come back in full force,” Browning said.

One factor behind the weakness in hiring last month was a sharp drop in local government education jobs. The number of such jobs fell by 144,000 last month despite the reopening of schools. That decline suggested that many local school systems didn’t hire as many people as they typically do. Many have had trouble finding enough bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other support staff.

Most industries added jobs last month, though at a reduced pace. Transportation and warehousing, for example, which has been boosted by a spike in online shopping, added 47,000 jobs. Manufacturers added 26,000. Restaurants, hotels and amusement parks, though, gained just 74,000 positions, more than in August but far below the pace in the summer, when they were adding hundreds of thousands of workers a month.

Another reason workers are scarce is a surge in retirements among older, more affluent workers whose home equity and stock portfolios have surged since the pandemic struck and who have managed to build up savings. Goldman Sachs estimates that about 1.5 million people have retired who wouldn’t have before the pandemic hit.

Kanawha first county to surpass 100,000 residents fully vaxxed

As of Friday, 100,000 Kanawha County residents — 64.5% of those ages 12 and up — are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a news release from the Kanawha- Charleston Health Department.

The capital county’s vaccination rate is the highest in West Virginia, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources pandemic dashboard, with 561 per 1,000 people fully vaccinated.

“We celebrate this milestone of having 100,000 Kanawha County residents fully vaccinated against this terrible virus. From the beginning of the vaccine rollout, the Unified Health Command has made it a priority to get vaccines into arms,” said Dr. Sherri Young, interim health officer at the KCHD. “We have crisscrossed this county, covering every mile possible, to make vaccines readily available and accessible to our residents.”

Ohio is the second-most vaccinated county, with 63% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, followed by Hancock (61%) and Tucker (59%) counties. Mingo County holds the lowest vaccination rate, with only 31% of eligible residents fully vaccinated.

Kanawha County’s milestone Friday comes amid the state’s worst COVID-19 surge to date. State leaders said Thursday they believe the surge is slowing, but the number of active cases increased slightly in recent days.

Hospitalizations are down from September highs, but health officials say those rates won’t consistently slow until cases do. Deaths, of which there were 166 recorded between Monday and Friday, will be the last metric to drop when the surge ends.

As of Friday, there were 11,926 active cases and 3,935 COVID-19-related deaths.

“While we celebrate this milestone, we also cannot forget so many of our friends and neighbors who lost their lives to COVID-19,” Young said. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with them and their families as we honor their memories.”

While vaccination rates in Kanawha increase, the state is still hovering under 52% of eligible residents being fully vaccinated. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every county in the state continues to show high transmission of COVID-19.

Vaccinations are key to preventing serious illness and death in people who do contract COVID-19, health officials say.

“I am thrilled we have reached the milestone of 100,000 fully vaccinated individuals, but there is more work to be done,” Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said. “I continue to urge those that are unvaccinated to become vaccinated. This will help lessen the burden on our health care workers and allow us to save the lives of so many.”

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, in Friday’s news release, said residents in the county willing to be vaccinated are stopping “needless hospitalizations” that are bogging down the health care systems in the region and beyond.

County Commissioner Lance Wheeler, who was diagnosed with a breakthrough COVID-19 infection this week and who credited being fully vaccinated for his mild symptoms, urged more people to follow the example of the 100,000 in the county already fully vaccinated.

“The only way to stop this pandemic is to vaccinate our population and slow the spread of the virus. The vaccination helps stop the virus and lessen the symptoms of the virus, if there is a breakthrough infection,” Wheeler said. “We must do what we can to lower our hospitalizations and deaths.”

While local leaders applauded local vaccination efforts Friday, they also were clear in wanting the success to continue.

“We can’t stop there,” County Commissioner Ben Salango said. “We must continue to fight this pandemic, and I encourage more of our community to step up and get vaccinated.”

The health department offers COVID-19 testing and vaccinations from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the clinic at 108 Lee St. E. The clinic, however, will be closed Monday for Columbus Day.

For information on COVID-19 vaccines, monoclonal antibody treatment or testing, call the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, at 304-348-8080.

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee speaks during a presentation at Ball Toyota, in Charleston, on Friday. The Ball Toyota Family of Dealerships presented WVU and WVU Tech with a check for $50,000. The Ball family also gave $250,000 to West Virginia Court Appointed Special Advocates (WV CASA), which provides support for children being assisted through the court system, and WV CASA’s United Way of West Virginia partners.

PHOTO: WVU, WV CASA receive donations from Ball Toyota