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Starting today, the lowest-paid workers in West Virginia will get a raise. The Mountain State's minimum wage is going up by 75 cents to $8 per hour today, January 1. It's the state's first minimum wage boost since 2008. And there will be another increase again in January 2016 to $8.75. In a May special session, the final version of the two-year wage increase passed the state House unanimously. There was one dissenting vote in the Senate. The legislation also revises maximum hour and overtime compensation standards. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that 88,000 West Virginians will get a raise because of the increase today.
If you've got the flu on this New Year's Day, you're not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that as of Tuesday, West Virginia is in the midst of a flu epidemic, and it's about two months ahead of the normal flu season. Flu cases usually peak in January or February, but the number of patients going to the doctor with flu-like symptoms has gone from 1.7 percent of the population to 6.4 percent, according to the Charleston Gazette. Along with the flu vaccine, washing hands and staying away from flu carriers are the best preventatives.
Today is the deadline to submit aboveground storage tank inspections required by a new state law to protect public water supplies. Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater says the state has already received more than 22,000 inspection certifications. The annual inspections are included in a law reacting to a January chemical spill, that sets up new a regulatory system for tanks and also addresses emergency planning for public water systems. Under a rule within the law, the tanks are grouped into three categories for inspections. Tanks that hold hazardous materials or are near public water supplies will face the most stringent requirements.
Some BASE jumpers plan to skip West Virginia's Bridge Day festival next year because of a new security requirement. The jumpers will have to undergo fingerprint scans, along with rappellers and vendors. Alan Lewis of Tennessee is organizing a visit by jumpers to the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, instead of Bridge Day. He told The Charleston Gazette that law enforcement in Twin Falls is more welcoming to BASE jumpers. BASE stands for building, antenna, span and Earth, the fixed objects from which jumpers leap with parachutes. Bridge Day is the only time that BASE jumping is allowed from the New River Gorge Bridge. Bridge Day Commission chair Sharon Cruikshank has said the scans are less intrusive than background checks, and the fingerprints won't be saved.
For several years, West Virginia has decreased its business franchise tax under a plan approved by former Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, now a U.S. senator. Today, January 1, the state will drop the tax altogether. The tax started in 1987 at 0.55 percent and grew to 0.75 percent in 1989, said Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman, but it has dwindled and been reduced since then. Tomblin has said the tax made it difficult for West Virginia to compete for new and expanding businesses.
C&H Taxi in Charleston is offering to get you home safely on New Year's Eve. It's not a new program...in fact for the past ten years, the company has offered free rides for up to fifteen miles as long as the customer lets them know they're calling about “IntoxiTaxi.” There may be long hold times tonight, and instead of waiting on the phone you an download an App on your Android or IOS phone. That will let you keep track of when the cab is ready and coming to you. The cab company will have extra drivers on the road tonight. You can reach C&H Taxi at 304-344-4902. The program runs from 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and ends at 5 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Your drive through Charleston might get a little smoother, with better timing of traffic lights over the next few weeks. Traffic engineers have been working on intersections like Virginia and Quarrier Streets, which have been problematic. The city, along with the state Division of Highways replaced over 50 traffic signals this year, and the Charleston Gazette reports engineers are working to sync up the lights to make traffic flow more smoothly. The total cost of replacing the lights ran about $4.5 million.
Federal officials say more than 12,000 West Virginians have enrolled or re-enrolled in plans sold through the health insurance marketplace. That's through the first month of open enrollment, Dec. 15. The numbers don't include automatic re-enrollment by about 19,860 West Virginians who had signed up in the last full enrollment period. Officials say 85 percent of those who selected plans during the month were eligible for federal tax credits to help them pay for coverage. The open enrollment period ends Feb. 15.
A former executive facing charges relating to a January chemical spill is opposing prosecutors' push to seize his house, car and cash. In a motion Monday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, lawyers for ex-Freedom Industries President Gary Southern say his assets neither helped commit nor were derived from his criminal allegations. Prosecutors want his Florida home seized, along with a 2012 Bentley car and almost $8 million. Southern's motion says the government already took some assets, including his Bentley. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said the reasons for the forfeiture are legally sound. Southern faces fraud charges related to Freedom's bankruptcy case, and other charges related to pollution.
A Charleston couple is accused of letting their kids live in poor conditions, and they face felony neglect charges. WCHS TV reports that police allegedly found bedding covered in dog feces and guns and knives that the kids could access in Taylor and Bonnie Ornbraun's home. Child Protective services says the guns have been removed and mattresses replaced, and the home has passed three inspections. The Ornbrauns waived their preliminary hearing Monday and more court dates are pending.