13 January 2007

The Legislature, Day 4: A Pause

The Associated Press takes a quick look at some of the changes underway in the House of Delegates as Speaker Rick Thompson begins his new role.

The Charleston Gazette weighs the potential impact of Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal to dedicate $58 million in federal funding toward cleaning up community water supplies tainted by mining.

The Register-Herald of Beckley gets Senate President Earl Ray Tombin's view of Manchin's teacher pay raise initiative. It also continues to question the absence of Delegate Ron Thompson, D-Raleigh, with a local party leader calling on Thompson to resign.

The Legislature broke for the weekend after introducing 189 bills in its first three days, with 111 emerging in the House.

12 January 2007

Mine Safety

With Gov. Joe Manchin unveiling his mine safety bill in the Senate today, The Charleston Gazette examines the industry's drive for mandatory drug testing and the resulting pushback from labor. AP Business Writer Tim Huber first reported on drug testing as a mine safety issue in several pre-session stories that can be found here and here.

And they're off...

The 78th Legislature completed its first full day Thursday, in the wake of Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address.

The Associated Press followed up on Manchin's proposed vehicle privilege tax credit, $10 million school safety grant program, and budget. That latter article also reflects a possible push to convert the governor's requested onetime payment to public employees into a permanent raise, which the Charleston Gazette focused on as well.

Mannix Porterfield of The Register-Herald of Beckley, meanwhile, continues to pursue MIA Delegate Ron Thompson. The Raleigh County Democrat has been a no-show at the Legislature since last year's session, and failed to attend Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony. The AP first reported a threatened lawsuit seeks to block any pay to Thompson should his absence persist.

The Legislature also offers its own summary of Day Two here (and will offer daily updates throughout the session).

UPDATE: The Charleston Daily Mail picked up on abortion- and video lottery-related bills from the minority Republicans, as well as one from Sen. Shirley Love, D-Fayette, targeting repeat parole violators.

11 January 2007

State of the State

I was surprised and heartened by the number of reporters on hand to cover Wednesday's State of the State address by Gov. Joe Manchin, the third of his term.

The Associated Press wrote about the proposed budget as well as the speech itself. AP coverage can also be found here, here and here.

The Charleston Gazette offered a main story on the speech, with additional coverage of Manchin's mine safety and economic development proposals. The Charleston Daily Mail will likely post a number of articles later this morning.

The Huntington Herald-Dispatch covered the speech and also focused on higher education in the governor's proposed budget.

The Register-Herald of Beckley similarly provided separate focus on the agenda outlined in the speech and the budget bill.

MetroNews offers at least five items from the State of the State, as well as commentary by Hoppy Kercheval. Public Broadcasting televised the speech, while various TV and radio stations provided coverage as well.

There is more out there, to be sure. At least one blogger also attended the legislative session's opening day, but I don't yet see a post.

You can always eliminate the middle-man and read the speech or watch it here on the governor's web site.

I counted only two standing ovations, and neither was for a Manchin legislative proposal. The crowd instead stood to cheer for the state's veterans and for Charleston firefighter/world's strongest man Phil Pfister.

The coverage above and elsewhere also reflects tepid praise and outright criticism from both lawmakers and lobbyists. Such initial reactions must be weighed, however, against Manchin's formidable record in getting his legislative agendas passed intact.

10 January 2007

The 78th Legislature, Episode I

West Virginia's Legislature has a thing about pacing. A part-time body, it performs the bulk of its work during a 60-day session (meeting on holidays but not weekends until the final day) held toward the beginning of each year. The latest session convenes today.

Last year, the 134 delegates and senators sponsored 2,301 bills (a third of which were carried over from the previous session and introduced on the first day). Of the 264 that reached the governor, only 11 passed before the final week. Nearly half the total cleared the Legislature only on Day 60.

But those numbers say nothing about the quality of the bills, or whether a session was good or bad for the state. They also don't include a particularly important bill, that of the state budget. The Legislature must routinely have the governor extend the regular session a week or so to reconcile differences and pass one.

I covered my first session in 1993, when the general revenue portion of West Virginia's budget first passed the $1 billion mark. The 2006 budget bill spent $3.6 billion in general revenue, while detailing total spending of $10 billion.

The Associated Press has posted several articles (including some
here and here) highlighting potential top issues of the 2007 session. So have The Charleston Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley - the only newspapers in West Virginia that consistently cover the Legislature. During the 1993 session, at least eight papers were represented in the Capitol press room.

I must also give props to MetroNews, which had at least seven Legislature-related stories posted overnight. MetroNews left the AP fold well before my arrival, and so I consider them the AP's biggest competitor in a pure, direct sense. And like the AP bureau here, they have a relatively small staff yet still do a lot with a little _ making the competition all the more healthy.

Together, we've identified topics expected to dominate the session's competing legislative agendas: mine safety, school safety, ATV safety, taxes, table games, highway funding, targeted pay raises, health care billing and the state's civil justice system.

But, as former House Speaker Clyde See would say, "All fat possums travel late at night." Folks should remain wary of bombshell bills that sneak through the session, typically during the waning hours. Sometimes, these bills are overlooked or underestimated. Other times, they are innocuous until 11th hour tinkering.

"Fat Possum" has also come to mean quirky bills that somehow seize the Legislature's attention while retaining enough force to propel themselves onto Jay Leno's cue cards. They include the road kill and English-only bills of recent years. Every session has at least one.