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Charleston Daily Mail: Short takes, Jan. 11, 2013

Residents across the eastern United States shivered early in the week, but long-time Charleston residents can remember a January when temperatures reached that level of cold not for just a few days, but for weeks.

The winter of 1976-1977 saw Gov. Jay Rockefeller take the oath of office on the Capitol steps in a 5 degree inauguration ceremony, temperatures in the single digits or below for days at a time, snowdrifts at eye level and the surfaces of the Elk and Kanawha rivers freezing completely, and staying that way for a month.

Natural gas shortages caused by the extended period of extreme cold shut down schools in the state on alternate weeks, because there wasn't enough fuel supply to keep the buildings heated.

There was no popular discussion of global warming then. In fact, Time magazine wrote about the polar vortex in a cover story titled "Another Ice Age?"

 "Scientists have found other indications of global cooling," Time reported in 1974. "For one thing there has been a noticeable expansion of the great belt of dry, high-altitude polar winds - the so-called circumpolar vortex - that sweep from west to east around the top and bottom of the world."

Who knows when the polar vortex will make its next trip south?

***

Steve Roberts, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said most of his group's members don't oppose Democratic Party efforts to impose a higher minimum wage of $8.25 an hour on employers in the state.

"The input we're getting from all around West Virginia is, for the most part, people seem to feel comfortable with a reasonable increase in the minimum wage," Roberts told Daily Mail Business Editor Jared Hunt.

"There are those who are saying, 'Well, our business is barely, barely making it and any increase in cost is going to have some impact on our ability to continue to employ people for the number of hours that we currently employ them,'" he said.

"But we are not finding any sort of large resistance to some sort of potential increase in the minimum wage."

If true, there is a simple way to raise the minimum wage without a legislative mandate; these businesses can voluntarily pay their employees $1 an hour more than the legal limit.

But raising the minimum wage above what other states require may be another barrier to new investments in the state, and many mom-and-pop business owners simply may not be able to afford the higher wages without cutting their own pay or laying off employees.

*** 

Due to the cold weather, 55 county superintendents closed their schools on Monday and 54 did on Tuesday. They did so without having to worry about having the space on the school calendar to make up their snow days.

This is one benefit of the Legislature finally giving counties flexibility in setting their school calendars. The push to move the beginning of the school year back to August means superintendents can base snow days on weather conditions instead of whether there is enough room left in the school year to make up snow days.

That means 280,000 children won't be shivering as they wait for buses to take them to a cold school.

The primary purpose of the calendar shift was to help more schools meet the 180-day minimum of instruction the Legislature set back in the 1930s.

***

While coal industry executives complain of President Obama's "war on coal" jeopardizing the livelihood of up to 50,000 people in West Virginia, including 22,000 or so miners, another "war" by this administration has business booming in Clarksburg.

The Washington Times reported that more than 21 million people applied for permission to buy a gun from an authorized dealer in 2013, another new record. That meant the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division handled more than 21 million criminal background checks for gun purchasers alone.

To be fair to the president, gun application background checks have set new annual records for 11 consecutive years following the 9/11 attacks. That has kept more than 2,700 workers at the center busy, busy, busy.

This protection of public safety is part of West Virginia's post-coal economy. Robert C. Byrd served the nation and his home state well when he secured this facility back in the 1990s.


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