29 December 2007

Questions Persist About Manchin's Daughter's WVU Degree

The Charleston Gazette is among those reporting that West Virginia University will appoint a panel "to look into a disputed master’s degree for Gov. Joe Manchin’s daughter, Mylan Pharmaceuticals executive Heather Bresch."

After breaking the story, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also examines this latest development. It observes that the three-member investigative committee will include someone from the Higher Education Policy Commission, and that Manchin appoints seven of that body's 10 members.

WBOY-TV asked WVU President Mike Garrison about the controversy during an interview earlier this week. Specific video clips are here and here. (The first clip touches on Bresch about two-thirds of the way though, just as the camera zooms in on Garrison's hands.)

Others reporting on the story include The Associated Press and Public Broadcasting, which also relays a Mylan statement in support of its chief operating officer. "Rather than relying on anonymous and unsubstantiated sources, Mylan has received confirmation from West Virginia University that Ms. Bresch received her MBA in December 1998," the statement said.

The head of the agency that gives final accreditation to the WVU program that awarded the degree, meanwhile, tells the Charleston Daily Mail that the controversy "has no affect" on its accreditation.

Update: The Sunday Gazette-Mail takes a step back to offer context to the story, by examining the role such a degree plays in the business world.

"If, for instance, Bresch lacked the skills implicit in an MBA, she would simply be at a loss to do her job as chief operating officer of a global, multibillion-dollar corporation like Mylan," the article said, citing comments from an authority on the topic.

28 December 2007

Census Estimates Slight Growth in W.Va.

The Charleston Daily Mail mines the latest Census Bureau estimates to report that "West Virginia has gained population for the sixth consecutive year."

But with a growth rate of 0.2%, the 2006-2007 increase (of 3,336 residents) "puts it among the nation's slow-growth states," the newspaper found. " Nevada is the fastest growing, with an estimated population increase of 2.9 percent this year," the article said, while " Michigan and Rhode Island lost population this year."

The article also compares the Mountain State's estimate with its neighbors, and offers a graphic as well.

Legislature 2008: Teachers

After years as the House Education Committee's vice chairman, Delegate Larry Williams outlines a proposal to The Associated Press for recruiting and keeping teachers in West Virginia.

The Preston County Democrat plans to propose a bill next month "that would exempt qualifying teachers from paying state income taxes when they work in areas of critical need," AP education writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer reports.

"Williams says he prefers the idea to college tuition rebates and loan forgiveness programs," the article continues, "because similar efforts other states, 'had the problem with people leaving. And collecting the tuition money back can be quite difficult once they’re gone.'"

27 December 2007

PETA Likes This Byrd

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has named U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., its 2007 Person of the Year "for his passionate defense of animals throughout six decades of public service."

Noting that the 90-year-old "was a meat cutter in his youth," the group said that Byrd "has evolved into a tireless advocate for improving legal protection for animals, including animals who are slaughtered for food."

PETA notes Byrd's floor speech earlier this year denouncing dogfighting, and his co-authoring of the "American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act" that recently earned him a visit from Bo Derek.

The Associated Press has a story, as does MetroNews.

"PETA does not support or oppose any candidate for public office or any political party," the group noted in its release.

25 December 2007

Margarette Leach, 1926-2007

Former longtime Cabell County legislator Margarette Leach died Sunday at age 81.

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington has an article as well as photo gallery and her obituary.

Elected to seven terms in the House of Delegates, Leach's health had been failing for some time. She relied on a motorized scooter to get around the Capitol, and fellow delegates to help her to and from her seat on the House floor. Her health sidelined her during the 2006 campaign, and she became the only incumbent Democrat to lose that November.

Gov. Joe Manchin issued a brief statement on Leach's passing.

24 December 2007

The Tancredo Factor in W.Va. (updated)

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., raised about $2,000 from seven West Virginians for his GOP presidential bid, but but had not registered for the upcoming state convention before dropping out of the race last week.

(Earlier post corrected to reflect that Tancredo's not filing as a candidate in the convention explains his lack of delegates.)

Red Flags Raised Over W.Va. E-Voting Machines

Secretary of State Betty Ireland is reviewing electronic voting machines relied upon by 34 of West Virginia's 55 counties, after Colorado officials decertified the devices there.

The Associated Press article, drawn from the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, said that the Election Systems and Software's iVotronic touch-screens "have been barred from Colorado elections unless upgrades can be made to the software."

AP also has a story out of Colorado that details the decision by election officials there.

Ireland's officials has an online roster of each county's voting system.


21 December 2007

WVU, Manchin's Daughter Under Fire Over MBA Degree

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is questioning whether a daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin earned the master's degree in business administration that West Virginia University has awarded her.

Heather Bresch, now the chief operating officer at drug maker Mylan Inc., "completed only about half the credits needed to earn the degree," the newspaper reports.

But WVU revised its records to reflect that she completed her degree in December 1998, the article said.

"An Oct. 22 letter advising the admissions and records office to award Ms. Bresch the degree retroactively was signed by R. Stephen Sears, the Milan Puskar Dean of WVU's business school," the article said. "As a result, six classes were added to her record and grades were awarded for two other classes for which she had received 'incompletes,' according to sources inside the university."

(Update: A WVU spokeswoman tells The Associated Press that "Bresch's records were corrected, but only after an investigation showed that information contained in the College of Business and Economics files was not properly recorded in WVU's admission's office a decade ago." Also, " similar problems were discovered in the records of a couple of other students," spokeswoman Amy Neil said.)

The newspaper said it began researching the school record of Bresch, 38, when she was promoted earlier that month at Mylan. It notes that the company is chaired by Puskar, considered WVU's most generous donor and a supporter of Manchin.

The research "suggests high-ranking officials revised her university records despite a lack of solid evidence to support the reconstruction," the Post-Gazette reports. "Moreover, it suggests officials did so in a way that violated WVU's internal procedures and those used by other accredited universities."

The article's cast of characters includes WVU President Mike Garrison, who took office Sept. 1 and is described as "a high school classmate of Ms. Bresch and longtime friend of the Manchin family."

Quote of the Day

"I just want West Virginia to get the $4 million. If someone is generous enough to pay it, that's fine."

- Gov. Joe Manchin, to The Associated Press regarding the buyout clause in the contract of now-former WVU head football coach (and lifelong friend) Rich Rodriguez.

School officials argue that Rodriguez triggered that clause by leaving for Michigan, but "several wealthy donors to the school have alleged WVU let down its coach," AP reports.

This Week in W.Va. Gambling

The Associated Press reports on the debut of more casino table games at West Virginia's two Northern Panhandle racetracks. Roulette and blackjack have joined the poker games that began there in October.

The Intelligencer of Wheeling marks the expansion of legalized gambling in that city, at the redubbed Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, and in nearby Hancock County with the additional games launched at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.

The tracks pursued table games to blunt the loss of gamblers to the slot machine venues opening in Pennsylvania. The poker tables at Wheeling Island and Mountaineer "brought in a better-than-expected $1.39 million of revenue in November," The Charleston Gazette reports.

The Gazette also reports that after endorsing table games for its local track (by a 2-1 vote) , the Kanawha County Commission plans to ask the Legislature next month "to put a stop to neighborhood gambling parlors."

Home Rule in the Mountain State

Huntington's city council plans to vote Friday whether to move forward under a "home rule" pilot project that would allow it greater tax-levying and other powers.

The Herald-Dispatch has the details. Among its components, the home rule plan would "overhaul the city's tax structure by implementing a sales tax and/or occupation tax and repealing the $2-a-week user fee and reducing the business and occupation tax," the newspaper reports.

Wheeling, meanwhile, submitted its plan to take part in the five-year pilot program earlier this week, The Intelligencer reports. Public Broadcasting examines that city's proposal as well (with audio).

Up to five municipalities can participate. Bridgeport has also approved a plan, Weirton's was defeated by its city council and Fairmont's foundered over constitutional concerns, the Herald-Dispatch reports.

Starcher Out in '08

Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher will not seek another 12-year term next year, the court announced Thursday.

"By the end of next year, I will have served the West Virginia judiciary for 32 years. It has been an honor to have worked for the people of our State for so long," Starcher, a former circuit judge, said in the release. "I am making this announcement because there are several very good candidates who have expressed interest in running for the Court in 2008. They need to know my intentions."

The Associated Press has coverage, as does MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette.

Starcher explained to the latter that his statement in the release meant
“Don’t elect any incumbents." Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, who like Starcher won his high court seat in 1996, is running for re-election.

20 December 2007

They Voted For You: Iraq & Federal Spending II

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted for the $555 billion spending measure that includes $70 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted against the bill, which prevailed 272-142.

The vote sends the measure to the president, and ends a failed effort by some Democrats "to use war spending legislation to force a change in Bush's Iraq policy," The Associated Press reports.

"But Bush and Republicans held a powerful hand. They knew Democrats would not let money lapse for troops overseas," the article continues. "That allowed a Bush veto in May and GOP stalling tactics to determine the outcome."

Some of that conflict was on display when the bill passed the Senate earlier this week.

Battling Tobacco in the Mountain State

While it labors with one of the highest percentage of smokers and "dippers" in the country, West Virginia reports inroads in reducing tobacco use, The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports.

"State data shows a decline in the adult smoking rate for four consecutive years, the first time such a drop has been recorded," Breen found. "The drop in underage smoking has been more dramatic. From 2000 to 2005, the smoking rate among high school students dropped from 38.5 percent to 27.8 percent."

This "despite a roughly $21 million gap between what the state spends on prevention and what the federal government recommends," Breen reports.

"Roughly 4,000 West Virginians die every year from tobacco-related causes, while direct health costs stemming from tobacco annually cost the state roughly $1 billion, according to figures from the state Department of Health and Human Resources," the AP article said.

W.Va.'s Sporting Economy

Both The Register-Herald of Beckley and the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg have takes on a new report that ranks West Virginia 16th for the hunting and fishing component of its economy.

"More than 25,000 jobs are directly supported by West Virginia hunters and anglers, the report said, which produced $491 million in paychecks," the Beckley article said. "This also results in big benefits to state and local coffers with another $172 million generated through taxes."

The Parkersburg paper noted the report's comparison that "
Sportsmen support twice as many jobs in West Virginia as the Ruby Day Surgery Center in Morgantown and the Charleston Area Medical Center combined (25,000 jobs vs. 11,000)."

State Trims Jail Fees

Counties across the state are reacting to a move by the regional jail authority to whittle down the daily per-inmate fee it charges them by two percent.

"While the difference is only 97 cents per inmate each day, it represents an estimated $100,000 annual savings for Kanawha County alone," The Associated Press reports.

Those gauging local reaction, to an issue that prompted a Supreme Court fight, include The Register-Herald of Beckley, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, the Charleston Daily Mail, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, and MetroNews.

19 December 2007

They Voted For You: Iraq & Federal Spending

In the end, Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., joined the majority in passing a massive, $555 billion spending bill Tuesday.

But the final 76-17 vote followed a series of other roll calls that focused on a provision "to provide $70 billion for U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan," as The Associated Press reports.

The final vote on that provision was 70-25, with Rockefeller in the majority by Byrd voting "nay."

The Democratic leadership's approach to Iraq war funding had required at least 60 votes to proceed, but failed 48-46 with Byrd and Rockefeller both on the losing side.

Aided by as many as 21 Democrats and by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Senate Republicans turned back several other related measures:

  • By 50-45, an amendment "to express the sense of Congress on the transition of the missions of United States Forces in Iraq to a more limited set of missions as specified by the President on September 13, 2007." Rockefeller and Byrd both supported the measure;
  • By 24-71, an amendment "to provide for the safe redeployment of United States troops from Iraq." Rockefeller and Byrd both supported the measure.

Not All is Rosy for W.Va. Tracks

With its Northern Panhandle sisters expanding their casino table game offerings this week, Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center has "hit a snag and delayed starting poker games until next year," The Associated Press reports.

"Officials had hoped to begin offering poker games at the first of the year," the article said. "But officials at the Nitro track said there have been problems with getting classes for poker dealers up and running."

Meanwhile, officials at one of the panhandle tracks tell The Intelligencer of Wheeling that an indoor smoking ban "would have as much a negative effect on the track’s bottom line as competition from Pennsylvania slot machines."

As the Kanawha County Health Department expanded its ban on smoking to include all areas of Tri-State last month, "this move has sparked some interest among Ohio County health officials to stop smoking in all areas of Wheeling Island’s track," that newspaper reported.

Sharpton Shows Up

The Rev. Al Sharpton, activist and 2004 presidential candidate, highlighted a Tuesday rally meant to drum up support for hate crimes charges in the Megan Williams case.

"If the federal government can intervene to protect dogs from Michael Vick in Virginia then they can do something to protect Megan Williams in West Virginia," Sharpton told The Associated Press' Shaya Tayefe Mohajer.

Sharpton addressed a crowd of about 100 at First Baptist Church in Charleston. "Sharpton pledged to talk about the case every day on his syndicated radio talk show, and presented Megan Williams' mother, Carmen, with a $1,000 cash gift," AP reported. "Megan Williams did not attend the event."

Others who covered the rally include The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews (with audio of Sharpton and of fellow activist Malik Shabazz).

WSAZ-TV has raw video of Sharpton's entire remarks. WOWK-TV has video as well, while WCHS-TV has a preview segment.

18 December 2007

Senate Dems Byrd Hunting?

The Politico reports today that "A group of Senate Democrats has begun quietly exploring ways to replace the venerable Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee."

But a figure in one scenario of the alleged conspiracy, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., "denied any plan to replace Byrd, adding that she has not been approached by any colleague with such a proposal," The Associated Press reports.

The Politico article said that while "Democratic insiders caution, though, that no decision has been made," there is "is broad discontent among committee members over the way Byrd has run the panel this year and the resulting problems in completing work on the fiscal 2008 spending bills."

"His physical condition has been slowly deteriorating for years, and he cannot walk now without the assistance of aides," that article continues. "Byrd has difficultly running committee hearings, and he relies heavily on staffers for guidance."

Byrd staffers told The Politico that "they had not heard any proposals to oust the senator," and "defended the job he has done under difficult circumstances."

Murray, meanwhile, told AP, "As far as I'm concerned, there is no truth to this story. I will continue to work with Chairman Byrd and other members of leadership to pass spending bills that reflect the priorities of the American people."

Questions about Byrd's age and health circulated earlier this year.

2007 has also been marked by the senior senator's denunciation of dogfighting, his quizzing of Iraq war planners, his handling of both administration officials and hecklers at a committee hearing, and his speech before President Clinton's at a Democratic Party dinner.

He also recently celebrated his 90th birthday, as well as the unveiling of his portrait on Capitol Hill. And, he met Bo Derek.

Update: Byrd gave one of several Senate floor speeches earlier this afternoon honoring a departing Sen. Trent Lott, and the Mississippi Republican returned the favor in thanking his colleagues for their kind words.

Prompt Ruling Urged in Manor Care Case

A national nursing home chain does not want to wait until January to hear whether West Virginia health care regulators will allow the sale of its Mountain State facilities to proceed.

Manor Care argues the delay is costing its investors $1 million a day, its officials told The Associated Press' Tom Breen.

Those investors include the state, which holds about 161,000 shares of Manor Care stock with funds from state pension programs, AP reports.

The Health Care Authority does not expect to rule until after New Year's Day on a request to reconsider its earlier approval of The Carlyle Group's buyout bid.

The authority has placed a stay on that earlier decision, and AP reported on Friday's rehearing in the case.

The labor union that has pushed for the reconsideration told Breen that "slowing down the process is the right way to ensure that any questions about changes to patient care and staffing levels are adequately addressed."

W.Va. Governor Weighs in on Coach's Exit

Gov. Joe Manchin wants his longtime friend, departing WVU football coach Rich Rodriguez, held to the clause that would require him to pay $4 million to get out of his contract.

The Charleston Gazette, among others, have reported on Manchin's comments in the wake of Rodriquez's decision to leave for the University of Michigan's program.

Amid its thorough coverage of the move, MetroNews has a lengthy interview with the governor on the topic (with audio).

Manchin has issued a statement on the coach's resignation, and is also urging fans to not let that loss deter them from attending the Fiesta Bowl.

17 December 2007

W.Va. as a Casino State

Nearly two months after they debuted their poker rooms, West Virginia's two Northern Panhandle tracks plan to unveil other forms of newly-legal casino table games, The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports.

"Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort will host charity events Monday and Tuesday nights to kick off their introduction of roulette, craps and blackjack games to the local community," the article said. "Pending approval by the West Virginia Lottery Commission, paying games will start at 10 a.m. Thursday."

The State of W.Va.'s Courts

Two WVU political science professors have sought to shine a light on the actual workings of the Mountain State's civil justice system by highlighting available data and the lack thereof.

As The Associated Press reports, the resulting report out of the school's Institute for Public Affairs finds "a good deal of sound and fury, but few facts to support the notion that the Mountain State is a 'judicial hellhole.'"

The report appears in the latest issue of the Public Affairs Reporter.

The report culls data from the National Center for State Courts to present what available figures say about civil filings in the state. But the researchers also found that in the absence of supporting data, "business interest groups" have nonetheless portrayed West Virginia as lawsuit-happy."

"As a social scientist, what is so troubling is looking at what they do. It's a totally unscientific, self-fulfilling cycle,'' a co-author of the report told AP. "To them, we're this hellhole without them ever trying to measure whether we are.''

Those interests include the state Chamber of Commerce, which includes the state's court system among its legislative proposals pitched to The Register-Herald of Beckley.

The Charleston Gazette focused on the researchers' survey of circuit judges. "The vast majority of circuit court judges — 77 percent — responded that there had not been an 'explosion of frivolous litigation,'" the Gazette notes.

14 December 2007

They Voted For You: Intel

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for the Intelligence Authorization Act, which The Associated Press reports "would prohibit the CIA from using waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposed the measure, which passed 222-199 with only five Republicans voting in support.

"The White House threatened to veto the measure this week in a lengthy statement, highlighting more than 11 areas of disagreement with the bill," the AP article said. "The administration particularly opposes restricting the CIA to interrogation methods approved by the military in 2006."

W.Va. Track Owner Wants to Go Private

The Journal of Martinsburg reports that the parent company of Charles Town Races & Slots has "completed one hurdle in its efforts to go private."

An overwhelming majority of Penn National Gaming Inc. shareholders "have approved the sale of the company to a team of equity investment groups," the article said.

"The deal remains to be completed pending a review of the company’s license applications by state gaming boards and racing commissions in the 15 jurisdictions within which Penn National operates," company officials told the newspaper.

"The decision to go private was not linked to the company’s recent failure to bring table games to Jefferson County," The Journal reports. It cites Penn National Vice President of Public Affairs Eric Schippers, "who acknowledged the board of directors announced its intention to sell around the same time voters in Jefferson County rejected the measure in a referendum in June."

Legislature 2008: Teachers

State education officials have approved a roster of legislative proposals topped by a teacher pay raise. The Associated Press has the details.

Focusing on easing the chronic shortage of educators in key study areas, "another solution that garnered support could involve changing policies to allow retirees to work as substitute teachers without losing retirement benefits," AP's Shaya Tayefe Mohajer reports.

The AP article notes that the wish list comes on the heels of a National Education Association report that ranked West Virginia next-to-last for teacher salaries.

They Voted For You: Energy

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., each voted for the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007.

The bill passed 86-8 after the Senate amended the House-passed legislation and "after Democrats abandoned efforts to impose billions of dollars in new taxes on the biggest oil companies, unable by one vote to overcome a Republican filibuster against the new taxes," The Associated Press reports.

But the legislation would also require automakers "to achieve an industrywide average 35 mile per gallon for cars, small trucks and SUVs over the next 13 years," AP reports. It would further "boost use of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a nearly sixfold increase, and impose an array of new requirements to promote efficiency in appliances, lighting and buildings."

The House is expected to take up the Senate changes next week. "The White House issued a statement saying President Bush will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, as is expected. Bush had promised a veto if the oil industry taxes were not removed," the AP article said.

Fight Looms over State Park Drilling

A bid to drill nearly three dozen new gas wells at Chief Logan State Park has been rejected by regulators, The Associated Press reports.

But the royalty rights leased by Cabot Oil & Gas Co. for what lies beneath the popular Logan County park likely means the fight isn't over.

The state Department of Environmental Protection denied the necessary permits for the multi-phase project.

"We believe that we have offered to the DEP the documents that clearly indicate Cabot has the right to expand its operation into Chief Logan State Park. ... Our next step is to examine the avenues of appeal that the state offers," said Tom Liberatore, vice president and Eastern Region manager for Cabot.

AP earlier reported on Cabot's proposal, and the opposition raised by Gov. Joe Manchin.

12 December 2007

Election 2008 Roundup

  • Huntington lawyer and Democrat Menis Ketchum plans a Wednesday morning press conference to announce his already-begun state Supreme Court campaign (update: The Associated Press covered the event, as did the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington);
  • Ronald Moltere, an Eastern Panhandle town councilman, has launched his bid to succeed fellow Republican and state Sen. JohnYoder, The Journal of Martinsburg reports;
  • Ted Arneault Jr., a Northern Panhandle school teacher and the son of the MTR Gaming executive, has decided not to run for the Legislature, The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports. A Democrat, Arneault had filed precandidacy papers in the House district of Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, who is running for secretary of state;
  • 2nd District congressional candidate and state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, expected to host U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Bad weather scrubbed Hoyer's flight and the campaign event, an Unger staffer said.
  • Update: The Journal also reports that Jefferson County Commissioner Rusty Morgan, a Republican, is in the running to succeed Yoder.

11 December 2007

Power Line Plan Gets Some Pushback

As part of its oversight of utilities in West Virginia, the Public Service Commission asked both staff researchers and two independent consultants to weigh the multi-state power line proposal by Allegheny Energy and its subsidiary, TrailCo.

"They all came to the same conclusion: the data doesn’t justify building a new power line," Public Broadcasting reports. "They’re telling the Public Service Commission to reject the proposed power line.

The segment refers to testimony posted online in the pending petition for PSC approval.

Update: Audio of the segment is here.

The Charleston Gazette ran a series on the power line project earlier this year.

Health Care Regs Under Scrutiny in W.Va.

At least some legislators are weighing a push against the certificate of need system, West Virginia's policy "that requires doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to receive the state's permission before buying equipment or expanding services," The Associated Press reports.

They include Sen. Evan Jenkins led, D-Cabell and executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association.

"Jenkins said he's compiled a thick stack of studies that question whether requiring providers to certify need increases access, ensures quality and controls costs -- the top goals of such policies," AP reports.

The system's defenders include Health Care Authority Chairwoman Sonia Chambers, whose agency administers it.

"It serves a vital role in West Virginia. I think it continues to hold a vital role,'' AP quoted Chambers telling lawmakers. "I don't think now is the time to take away one of tools we use to stem the tide of rising costs.''

Manchin Keeps a Hand in Nurses' Strike

Gov. Joe Manchin continues his efforts to broker a settlement to the two-month-plus strike by nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals, and has been joined by Kentucky Gov.-elect Steve Beshear, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

Manchin and Beshear met with nurses and ARH officials Monday at the Capitol, though to no avail, the article said.

"
Still pending is their proposal that nurses return to work under the old contract for a 90-day cooling off period while negotiations are being held," the newspaper reports. "Manchin injected a new wrinkle — that each side limit its representatives at the bargaining table to five people."

Several of the striking nurses joined in a Capitol Rotunda rally that coincided with the ongoing legislative interim meetings. Public Broadcasting has an article as well as audio.

The Register-Herald covered the rally as well, focusing on one nurse who cast the strike as "
a struggle against “corporate greed,” manifested in low staffing levels and forced overtime."

10 December 2007

GOP Convention Update

The Associated Press offers a glimpse at the breakdown of delegates who are assured a seat at the Feb. 5 state GOP presidential convention.

January voting will decide contested "at-large" seats in 31 counties.

And while Mitt Romney has the largest share of them, "about 61 percent of the guaranteed delegates have yet to commit to any campaign," AP reports. "Organizers hope such a sizable wild card will help lure the candidates personally to Charleston."

Legislature 2008: Jail Costs

In the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling on the issue, lawmakers are hearing from county and local officials about the fees charged by the state for housing inmates in regional jails.

With counties straining beneath growing jail fees, some have proposed spreading some of the burden to municipalities. But Charleston Mayor Danny Jones urged against that to a legislative oversight interim committee.

“It just doesn’t make sense. It can’t be solved by shoving it off to the cities," The Register-Herald of Beckley quotes the mayor as saying.

Supreme Court Candidate Boasts FR Haul

Huntington lawyer Menis Ketchum says a Huntington fundraiser brought in more than $250,000 last week for his 2008 state Supreme Court campaign.

A release issued by Ketchum, a Democrat, lists Manchin rainmaker Bob Shell as a sponsor of the event. Other supporters include Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo and a trial lawyer, and business owner and former lawmaker Oshel Craigo.

The Charleston Gazette's Phil Kabler notes the event while also observing that "Justice Elliott 'Spike” Maynard hosted a fundraiser Thursday in Morgantown that brought in an estimated' $100,000."

Two, 12-year terms on the five seat court are up in 2008.

Defending the Poor in W.Va.

West Virginia compensates lawyers who represent poor people accused of crimes. To control such costs, the state has pushed the counties to set up offices of full-time public defenders.

Wood County remains the largest county without such an office, continuing instead to rely on court-appointed lawyers who then bill for their services.

But as The Charleston Gazette reports, this route for providing citizens with their constitutional right to counsel is producing an additional drain.

Private investigators become a key resource for defense lawyers, helping them research and present a case. They, too, are compensated and are costing the state's Public Defender Services agency about $500,000 a year, the Gazette reports.

Wood County "stands out like a sore thumb" for such costs, one legislator is quoted as saying at the ongoing interim meetings.

07 December 2007

W.Va. GOP Convention: A Final Tally* - Updated

Today's roster lists 1,556 names, including 963 party members who filed for 610 at-large seats.

A net number of 1,203 delegates registered in time, putting the GOP within 250 names of its goal of filling 1,446 seats at the Feb. 5 presidential convention. January voting will whittle down the excess at-large filings.

Among the highlights from the final roster:

CANDIDATES

  • Most legislator-delegates: Fred Thompson (12);
  • Most state executive committee delegates: Mitt Romney (18);
  • Most "guaranteed" at-large delegates: Ron Paul (42);
  • Most non-chair county committee delegates: Romney (53).

COUNTIES

  • All but McDowell are sending delegates to the convention*;
  • Nine filled their automatic berths -- Barbour, Clay, Fayette, Hancock, Harrison, Summers, Tyler, Wirt, and Wood;
  • Four appear to have more county executive committee delegates than allotted spots: Berkeley, Hampshire, Nicholas and Raleigh;
  • Nicholas also appears to have more than its allotted share of state executive committee delegates;
  • 36 filled or exceeded their at-large delegate slots;
  • Besides McDowell, only Wyoming has no at-large delegates while Brooke and Calhoun also have no state or county committee members registered.
* County party committee chairs can fill vacancies, as can the state chairman after that. Organizers are also checking the roster for errors.

They Voted For You: Energy

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for the Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act late Thursday.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposed the bill, which passed 235-181. Seven Democrats voted with her, while 14 GOP members crossed party lines to support the measure.

The Associated Press described the bill as "a $21 billion tax package, much of it new taxes on oil companies," which would earmark the resulting revenue "for tax incentives for development of renewable energy sources like ethanol from grasses and wood chips and biodiesel and for energy efficiency programs and conservation."

"
But the centerpiece of the bill," the AP continues, "is a requirement to boost automobile fuel economy by 40 percent to an industry average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the first such action since 1975."

And, besides a chilly reception expected in the Senate, AP reports that "
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino called the House-passed bill 'misguided' and unacceptable, and said President Bush would veto it if the bill is not changed."

House passage of the bill follows the 11-state Energy Summit hosted by Gov. Joe Manchin in West Virginia. Manchin and other governors from energy-producing states knocked Congress for failing to move on a comprehensive energy bill -- and one that embraced the coal they provide in abundance to the nation's power plants.

Update: Public Broadcasting examines coal's role in future policy on its weekly Outlook program (airs again Sunday). The segment featured a discussion with
Roger Lilly, marketing manager for Walker Machinery, and Allan Tweddle, an environmentalist and member of the state Public Energy Authority.

Update II: The Campaign to Defend America has already launched robo-calls in the 2nd District targeting "Congresswoman Shelley Capito." Alleging she "has supported the greedy energy policies of Big Oil, George Bush and Dick Cheney," the automated calls also toss in a reference to Iraq and "preparation to bomb Iran."

Capito Quits Page Board, Vents

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd., has resigned from House Page Board, via a letter that laments that "the problems with communication between board members that plagued the program in the past have only continued under new House leadership."

The Associated Press has the details. Capito referred to the situation last year, when "page board members said they weren't informed of sexual come-ons to former male pages by ex-Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.," the article said.

A second Republican, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, also quit the board Thursday. Reproaching the House's Democratic leaders for not learning the lessons of the Foley scandal, which happened during the GOP's watch, "The Florida congresswoman said four pages have been dismissed this year 'for serious criminal acts and for inappropriate sexual indiscretions,'" AP reported.

"A House Republican official said the criminal activity involved shoplifting. The official could not be quoted by name because he wasn't authorized to comment on the issue," the article said.

MetroNews also has an item on Capito's departure from the board.

They Voted For You: AMT

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted for legislation Thursday that would temporarily limit the reach of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 passed 88-5. But as The Associated Press reports, that bill is at odd with "House passed legislation matching the AMT fix and other tax cuts with about $80 billion in new tax revenues."

"
Earlier Thursday, Senate Republicans united in stopping the Senate from moving to the House-passed bill. The vote was 48-46 against beginning debate on the House bill, 14 short of the 60 needed," the article said.

"The Finance Committee's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa, said it was time for Democrats to abandon their 'PayGo obsession,' referring to the 'pay-as-you-go' principle that tax cuts or spending increases should be paid for so as not to add to the federal deficit."

But with the Senate legislation heading to the House, AP reports that "
House Democratic leaders throughout the day Thursday reaffirmed their commitment to PayGo."

06 December 2007

W.Va. GOP Exceeds Convention Delegate Target

At least for total filings: 1,478 as of the latest list posted online.

But a whopping 915 of those filings are from party members seeking the 610 at-large seats at the Feb. 5 presidential convention. The number of registered delegates assured a spot at the "Tsunami Tuesday" event is 1,173.


(Update: Though the total number of registered delegates increased since the previous posting, the number of delegates Rudy Giuliani can count on actually declined because of the influx 0f would-be at-large delegates. This increase particularly affected the number of uncommitted delegates who have no competition for their seats. Twenty-nine counties now have more at-large filings than available seats.)

The convention plan envisions 1,446 delegates. The difference appears to be more than 200 officials from the various county party committees who were guaranteed berths but who failed to register (the deadline was Nov. 30, but the updates released since then reflect the large volume of mailed-in filings that had been postmarked in time).

More than 40 state party officials also failed to claim their seats, as did three legislators. Several lawmakers actually also hold state or county committee posts, and so have multiple seats but can only fill one.

Mezz Wants Back in the Mix

Disgraced former House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, wants his old job back as a "community specialist" for the county's school system, The Charleston Gazette reports.

Mezzatesta also seeks back pay from the $60,000-a-year post as he appeals a ruling that upheld his 2005 firing, the article said.

Mezzatesta had come under scrutiny before his downfall over whether he had used his powerful legislative post to benefit his employer, Hampshire County schools. He had previously promised the state Ethics Commission he would not.

But it was his attempts to conceal his deeds that proved his undoing, as the Gazette documented in its comprehensive series, Web of Deceit.

Mezzatesta pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor stemming from the cover-up, but was found not guilty by a federal jury earlier this year on fraud and related conspiracy charges.

Mezzatesta once described himself as "hummingbird on amphetamines" to The Associated Press. That only partly explains this line from the Gazette article: "Hampshire County Circuit Judge Donald Cookman recused himself from the case following an altercation with Mezzatesta and asked the state Supreme Court of Appeals to appoint a special judge."

Manchin to Chair Dem Govs in '08

Gov. Joe Manchin will lead the 28-state Democratic Governors Association next year, succeeding Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as chair. she announced in a release.

Manchin's goals for his term include "expanding the majority of Democratic governors by at least one – by winning states like Missouri and Indiana, who have vulnerable Republican incumbents."

Manchin also pledged "to help re-elect all Democratic incumbents running (in New Hampshire, Montana, Washington, and West Virginia) and to retain the two Democratic open seats (in Delaware and North Carolina)." He further vowed to set a new fundraising record for the group.

(The DGA web site also includes a video clip of Manchin talking about "supporting men and women in uniform.")

05 December 2007

GOP Convention Delegate Count Reaches 1,364 - UPDATED

Organizers of the state Republican Party's Feb. 5 "Super-Duper Tuesday" presidential convention are closing in on the magic number of 1,446 delegates, after processing mailed-in delegate registrations postmarked by last week's deadline.

More than 62 percent of the filings, or 852 of the total, are for at-large slots scattered among the counties. However, as there are only 610 at-large seats, the number of delegates assured a seat at the convention is 1,122.

And with more mailings still to go through, the latest breakdown shows:



(Update I: The right-hand column reflects delegates with automatic berths and those who filed for as-yet-uncontested at-large seats.)

(Update II: I've tweaked the "Minimum" column by adding at-large seats in contested counties where the candidate has sufficient would-be delegates.)

Among other points of interest:

  • 24 of the state's 55 counties have enough at-large delegate filings to ensure contested races for those slots during January's online and county convention voting;
  • Kanawha County has 151 filings for 51 at-large seats, the largest contested field;
  • Other counties with at least twice as many filings as at-large seats are Boone, Brooke, Cabell, Fayette, Harrison, Monongalia, Putnam and Raleigh;
  • Only Boone County has more would-be at-large delegates for a single candidate - Ron Paul - than there are seats;
  • In two other counties, Fayette and Randolph, are there more uncommitted at-large delegate candidates than seats;
  • Ron Paul has the most at-large delegates (170);
  • Mitt Romney has the most delegates from the state party's Executive Committee (15);
  • Romney also has at least 9 county party chairs in his corner;
  • Fred Thompson has the most legislator-delegates (12).

W.Va. Think Tank Debuts

A new group backed by some familiar names hopes to become a go-to source for research on tax legislation and other budgetary proposals.

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy describes itself as "nonpartisan, nonprofit, statewide budget and policy research organization" that "focuses on how policy decisions affect all West Virginians, including low- and moderate-income families, other vulnerable populations, and the important community programs that serve them."

The Mountain State has at least one other independent think tank devoted to such issues: the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia
. Also a nonprofit, "the Foundation's mission is to advance sound policies based on the principles of free enterprise, individual liberty, limited government, and traditional American values."

04 December 2007

Liveblogging from the W.Va. Energy Summit

Gov. Joe Manchin is hosting officials from industry and 10 other states at Stonewall Resort today for a daylong summit on U.S. energy policy, "Advancing Domestic Resources in an Era of Carbon Challenges."

Participants include: Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, the nation's leading coal producer and one of its major sources of natural gas; Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, whose state mines coal and is also a top provider of hydroelectic power; and Gov.-elect Steve Beshear of eastern coal producer Kentucky.

As The Associated Press reports, a central theme of the summit is that "as long as coal remains this country's most abundant fossil fuel, it must play a central role in U.S. policy."

To varying degrees, speakers have acknowledged the case against coal: the carbon dioxide emitted when it is burned, the toll of mountaintop removal mining. But the goal of the summit is to confront those concerns, rally coal's supporters and win over Congress.

To achieve that, several presentations have outlined ways to reduce pollution from coal, such as carbon sequestration and coal gasification. "But speakers were also candid about the costs, technological hurdles and environmental shortcomings of these options," the AP article said.

Speakers include officials from American Electric Power, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, AIG, the Southern States Energy Board and CNX Gas Corp.

Update: Others with coverage include Public Broadcasting, MetroNews (with audio) and The Charleston Gazette.

Agency Rapped over Mansion Project

The Manchin administration has knocked down part of an exterior wall of the Governor's Mansion, installing doors in its place.

Whether a major or minor alteration to the historic state-owned building, the Ethics Commission has called out the state Capitol Building Commission for failing to notify the public of the meeting where it was approved, The Charleston Gazette reports.

"The doors are intended to provide easier access to a large frame party tent that has been erected adjacent to the mansion for a series of holiday parties to be hosted by the governor and first lady, beginning Thursday," the article said.

Ex-Senator Writes Political Tell-All

Russ Weeks has a lot to say about his stint in the West Virginia Senate.

The Raleigh County Republican recently talked to The Register-Herald 0f Beckley about his new self-published book, No Strings Attached: The Big Lies of West Virginia Government and One Man's Fight for the Truth.

"
Right now, we have a two-tiered justice system in this state. One is for the ‘good ol’ boys, and one is for the not-so-good ol’ boys," Weeks told the newspaper, while also alleging that "there are just a handful of people controlling everything that’s going on."

Weeks alleges shady dealings on several specific bills during his four sessions in the Senate. He also recounts his ongoing feud with state officials over conditions at Pinecrest Hospital.

And Weeks faults Gov. Joe Manchin over his handling of the mine rescue legislation that sped through the Legislature following the Sago and Aracoma mining tragedies.

"
Weeks writes in his book the governor made sure no one stood in his way, even going inside a closed-door GOP caucus in the House," the article said. "Nor would Manchin allow any tampering with his bill that altered the requirements to serve as mine health and safety director so his intended appointee could take the job, Weeks recalled."


03 December 2007

W.Va. GOP Convention Hits Delegate Deadline

With an unknown number of filings likely still in the mail, state Republican Party officials are counting 1,175 delegates signed up for the "Tsunami Tuesday" Presidential Convention Feb. 5.

The latest breakdown*:


The deadline was Friday, though filings postmarked by midnight Nov. 30 will be counted. The convention envisions 1,446 delegates.

The latest roster is online.

The Associated Press has details. Among some of the highlights:

  • Convention planners set aside 610 seats for at-large delegates, but 707 signed up. As a result, 16 counties have enough candidates for contests during the election slated for January;
  • Only four counties failed to field any delegates - McDowell, Mingo, Tyler and Wyoming counties. Though the others are dominated by Democrats, Tyler is actually one of nine W.Va. counties where registered Republicans hold the majority;
  • All but four of the Legislature's 39 GOP members signed up for their automatic convention berths: Troy Andes of Putnam County, Allen Evans of Grant County, Mike Porter of Mercer County and Roger Romine of Tyler County;
  • The uncommitted delegates account for about 45 percent of the total;
  • Mike Huckabee perhaps saw the biggest boost among the White House hopefuls during the final surge of filings, with 113 at-large delegates now pledged to him;
  • Ron Paul continues to have the most at-large delegates, with 125;
(* I missed a name among the Romney delegates in my initial post. I've corrected the above roster and his number of state party committee members.)

Battle Brewing Over Workers' Comp

The ongoing plan to privatize workers' compensation in West Virginia became a top topic during last week's legislative interim meeting.

Several lawmakers grilled Manchin administration officials at a committee meeting, alleging the privatized insurance system for on-the-job injuries and illnesses had strayed from established policy and state law with some recent changes to benefits and the like.

As The Associated Press reports, Manchin officials say they fear the push for increased legislative oversight comes at a terrible time: other insurers are slated to begin competing for a share of this market on July. But lawmakers say the dispute instead has to do with the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

Danger in the Mines

High oil prices have proved a boon for the coal industry, both in West Virginia and the nation, as operators have revived idled mines and added workers to boost production over the last several years.

But federal mine regulators actually cut their number of inspectors during that time by 18 percent, or double the rate a which mining operations increased nationwide, The Charleston Gazette reports.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration "not only missed required inspections, but they misled agency managers — and the public — about inspection completion rates," the article said.

The Gazette also draws from an U.S. Labor Department audit of the agency that shows "the lapses were most serious in Southern West Virginia, where 85 percent of the missed inspections occurred."

29 November 2007

W.Va. GOP Convention - Thursday Update

Nearly 700 West Virginia Republicans have signed up to be delegates at the state party's Feb. 5 presidential convention, according to the latest roster.

With the deadline to register Friday, organizers have nearly hit the halfway mark in their bid to attract a maximum of 1,446 delegates.

The latest breakdown:


Other points of interest:

* Thompson continues to have the most legislator-delegates (11);

* Romney now has 8 county GOP chairs, leading that category;

* Giuliani still has the most state GOP officers (3);

* Paul has the most at-large delegates (70), followed by Romney (61);

* Fayette, Harrison and Summers have filled their delegate rosters;

* Five counties - Harrison and Fayette along with Kanawha, Pleasants and Randolph - have more at-large delegate candidates than seats, requiring elections in January.

* All but a half-dozen counties - Barbour, Clay, McDowell, Mingo, Tyler and Wyoming - have delegates registered for the convention.

* Of the 754 unfilled slots, 491 are reserved for legislators and state and county party officials. The other 263 are for at-large seats.

W.Va. Lottery Update

WEATHERING COMPETITION: "Competition from video slots parlors in Pennsylvania continues to drag down West Virginia Lottery revenues — but not as severely as Lottery officials had feared," The Charleston Gazette reports.

Officials told lawmakers Wednesday that revenues from July through October "topped $510.4 million. That’s down $18.8 million, or 3.6 percent, from the same period last year," the article said.

CREDIT CARD ATMS? The Lottery Commission has ordered "Point of Banking Terminals" removed from video lottery parlors pending a review of the machines, MetroNews reports.

Officials are concerned that they are providing cash on credit to gamblers, rather than debiting existing accounts, which is not allowed.

The terminals' distributor, Tri-Com Merchant Services, says they are just like any other ATM.

"The current Limited Video Lottery Law does not allow ATMs in the gambling room where the machines are located, but they are allowed in other parts of the building," the MetroNews article said.

LOTTERY PARLOR CITED: The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports that an Ohio County magistrate has levied $360 in fines and costs against a high-profile video lottery parlor, Wheeling Island's Tropicana Lounge, for violating the county's anti-smoking ordinance.

Owner Jeannette Wakim testified that "she thought her business had been singled out because her husband, Chris, had been very vocal in opposing the regulation and because of his political ambitions. The former state delegate also has run for Congress," the article said.

W.Va. Also Faring Poorly in Mental Health

West Virginians suffer from a higher rate of depression than any other state except Utah, and rank in the Top Ten for suicides.

Such are the findings of a new study commissioned by the nonprofit Mental Health America. At The Associated Press reports, "researchers blame the severity of depression and suicide rates on such factors as poor access to mental health care and a dearth of resources for distressed people."

"The state was joined by Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming in ranking in the top 10" the suicide and depression categories, the AP's Tom Breen writes. "Based on the report, the states ranking in the top 10 for lowest depression and suicide rates are Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey."

Political Speech in the Workplace

Some West Virginia lawmakers are backing a measure for next year's session that would target employers who seek to tell their workers how to vote...or, for that matter, how to pray.

As The Associated Press reports, "draft legislation endorsed Wednesday by the joint Judiciary Committee would forbid bosses from requiring staff to attend meetings or take part in some other setting 'when the primary purpose is to communicate the employer's opinion about religious or political matters.''"

But the measure has its critics, who consider the proposal a heavy-handed attempt at government regulation.

The Register-Herald of Beckley also reports on the draft bill.

28 November 2007

W.Va. GOP Convention Update

With two days until the deadline for registering for the Feb. 5 presidential convention, 516 West Virginia Republicans have signed up for the 1,446 delegate seats, according to the latest roster posted online.

Of the 930 unfilled slots, 576 are for legislators and county and state executive committee members who get automatic berths. The remaining 354 empty spots are for at-large delegates.

Here's the latest breakdown:


Among other interesting tidbits:

  • Thompson has the most legislator-delegates (11);
  • Giuliani has the most state executive committee officers (3);
  • Romney has the most county chairs (4);
  • Paul has the most at-large delegates (59);
  • Two counties, Fayette and Summers, have filled their delegations;
  • Fayette and two other counties, Kanawha and Pleasants, now have enough candidates for at-large delegate for contested elections slated for January;
  • By my count, 38 county GOP chairs have not yet signed up for their automatic spots at delegates (via the state executive committee);
  • Nine counties have yet to see any of its Republicans file to become delegates.

The Push for Power in W.Va.

The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports that a labor-business coalition is arguing for additional power lines in the Mountain State, amid the drive by a leading utility to erect one across its north-central counties.

"West Virginians for Reliable Power outlined their case for new power lines at a presentation Tuesday," the AP article said. "Officials said the state’s status as an energy exporter is no guarantee against power shortages and blackouts."

This alliance includes power companies and coal producers. But while it maintains it has no stance on the topic, Breen observes that "the coalition’s push comes as the state Public Service Commission is wrapping up public hearings on Allegheny Energy’s plan to build a new line between Pennsylvania and Virginia that would cross northern West Virginia. "

"Opposition to the project has come from local residents rallying around groups like the Halleck Community Association, which argues the lines would not help West Virginians," Breen continues.

Legislature 2008: Counties

Officials from West Virginia's 55 counties are looking to the Legislature for help after the Supreme Court upheld the state regional jail authority's power to charge the counties for housing their inmates.

One interim committee lawmaker suggested releasing suspects on their own recognizance when charged with misdemeanors, instead of locking them up, The Register-Herald reports.

“I don’t see why you should have people sitting in jail with misdemeanors, unless you have some aggravating factors,” said Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood.

Other lawmakers and county officials are advising the state to hike its tax on alcohol, given the number of offenses blamed on drinking, the Beckley newspaper reports.

Also covering the interim discussion, The Charleston Gazette relays another option: returning magistrates to 24/7 shifts to reduce the number of suspects jailed overnight while they await their initial arraignments.

The Gazette has a separate report with good news for counties. "
State officials registered more vehicles from new residents this summer than ever after lawmakers decided to end levying the privilege tax on the newcomers’ autos and combined it with a three-month amnesty period," that article said.

Property taxes, which are also levied on such personal property, are a key revenue source for counties.

The 2008 session is also likely to feature another county-related topic, annexations.

The state Supreme Court recently affirmed the voluntary petition method used by municipalities to expand. County officials want that method tweaked, with some seeking its abolishment. But as the Charleston Daily Mail reports, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and the state Municipal League are going to put up a fight.

Legislature 2008: Water Resources

At least some lawmakers are determined to revive and expand a short-lived program that aimed to measure the state's water supply and consumption by industry, residential systems and other users.

As The Associated Press reports, a legislative interim committee assigned to the issue is weighing proposals as other states in the region fight over drought-dwindled water supplies.

"But Lisa McClung, director of DEP’s Water and Waste Management Division, also estimated the annual cost of a sufficient effort at between $600,000 and $5 million," the article said.

The water survey program had to overcome concerns by business interests who feared it would lead to onerous regulations and even a tax on water (comments from Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, helped fan those flames).

But Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley and the interim committee's co-chair, sounded ready to lead the charge.


"If we can’t protect this resource, we’re going to be hurting," Unger, a 2008 congressional candidate, was quoted as saying. "Those who object are only on the outside, who want to eventually exploit our resource. I’m convinced of that."

A Long Ride to School

Public Broadcasting reports that the typical school day for nearly 21,000 West Virginia children includes bus rides that exceed state time standards.

The subject has been a perennial topic at legislative sessions, and again came up at this week's series of interim meetings. Public Broadcasting has audio of its segment as well as a transcript.

It also links to the 2002 series co-written by Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn, during his days at The Charleston Gazette, that examined bus ride times and other fallout from school consolidations.


Quote of the Day

"Nobody is going to run me out of the race with money."

-- Wayne County lawyer and 2008 Supreme Court pre-candidate Menis Ketchum, who told Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews' Talkline that he plans to raise $1.2 million for his race - with the help of a major rainmaker for Gov. Joe Manchin.

W.Va. Puts Hold on $6.3b Nursing Home Buyout

At the urging of a labor union, the West Virginia Health Care Authority has stayed its approval of a the state's portion of a massive buyout of a national nursing home chain by the Carlyle Group.

The regulators have also set a Dec. 14 hearing to assess the concerns and allegations raised by the Service Employees International Union District 1199, The Associated Press reports.

"We're not issuing any sort of decision on the merits. We are just granting their request for a reconsideration," authority Chairwoman Sonia Chambers told AP.

SEIU has mounted a nationwide campaign questioning the $6.3 billion deal to acquire HCR Manor Care and its more than 500 health care-related facilities. The union represents nursing home workers, including about 1,100 Manor Care employees, AP reports.

But as AP also reports, the global investment firm's bid for Manor Care is also under scrutiny in at least 30 other states.

The Charleston Gazette also has an article on the authority's decision.