Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

March 23, 2014

Reciprocity agreement: Common sense two-state cooperation

— — It is always unfortunate to hear of unnecessary problems that are created by the state-line border that so many of us cross on a daily basis. And a good example of this was the recent challenges faced by the staff of the Pocahontas State Correctional Center, a state prison located in the Northern District of Tazewell County, Va.

On an average week the prison will transport at least three or more inmates to the hospital. But because of the state line, those inmates couldn’t be transported to neighboring Bluefield Regional Medical Center in West Virginia. Instead, the prison had to transport the inmates more than 60 miles to receive medical care in Richlands. The travel time would tie up officers for longer periods of time and result in increased transportation costs for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

That’s why a new reciprocity agreement recently introduced in the West Virginia Legislature by Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, passed by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on March 14 is so important. Senate Bill 387 also represents another welcomed step in two-state cooperation between the Mountain State and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The new law simply gives Virginia correctional officers legal custody over their prisoners while they are in West Virginia. It removes the state line stumbling block, and will allow the Pocahontas Correctional Center to save the state of Virginia both time and money by transporting inmates to Bluefield Regional Medical Center for treatment and medical care.

The change in state law came about as a result of a casual conversation by Dr. Phil Peterson of Bluefield and S.K. “Stan” Young, warden of the Pocahontas State Correctional Center. Young subsequently contacted the attorney generals of Virginia and West Virginia for help. Cole also was contacted, and he, too, spoke with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey regarding the matter. Morrisey told Cole that a reciprocity agreement would be the correct course of action, but would require legislative approval.

The plan is a win-win for both states. It will save Virginia thousands of dollars in transportation costs and lost manpower hours while also providing additional patients to a West Virginia-based hospital. The greater Pocahontas area faces many unique geographical challenges, including infrastructure and proximity to larger municipalities. That’s why it only makes common sense for the state correctional center to make use of a medical facility that is closer to the prison.

It is our hope that this new two-state agreement could serve as a catalyst to additional cooperation between the neighboring states. The governors of both West Virginia and Virginia are now members of the same political party, and there is no reason why the two and their respective administrations shouldn’t be looking at other ways to work together. Such regional cooperation is of particularly importance in areas that border the state line, as is the case in our region.

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