19 January 2007

The Legislature, Day 10: Roundup

With the session hitting the one-sixth mark, The Associated Press runs through the tax-related bills from Gov. Joe Manchin introduced so far. (I count at least 51 tax- or fee-related bills overall, out of 535 introduced as of Friday).

MetroNews reports on the brain surgery that Senate President Pro Tempore Bill Sharpe, 78, must undergo on Monday. The Lewis County Democrat has spent more than 46 years in the Senate.

Public Broadcasting's The Legislature Today interviews House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, this evening.

The Legislature's Office of Reference & Information also offers its own wrap-up of the week's events.

Updating on legislative pay raises, Senate Bill 38 reflects the citizen panel's recommendations and was introduced on Jan. 10. My apologies for missing it earlier.

Advancing that story, MetroNews talks to Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, who opposes the measure. The link includes audio from Boley.

Quote of the Day

"Lane's bill is so completely flawed, that it's surprising that it comes from a lawyer."

-- Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, a critic of a proposal by Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, to bar cities and towns from charging user fees to non-residents.

Mountain State women on the move

Campaigns & Elections magazine includes Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., among "5 Women to Watch: (Who Aren't Named Nancy Pelosi... or Hillary Clinton)" in this month's issue. A subscription is required, but the Charleston Daily Mail has a story on the story.

The AP also gives Capito props for her role in a resolution aimed at protecting congressional pages from future Mark Foleys. The U.S. House unanimously adopted the resolution earlier today.

Capito's former haunt, the House of Delegates, meanwhile has welcomed Sharon Malcolm as the first woman doorkeeper in the Legislature's history. The Daily Mail previously noted the number of female lawmakers in (House) leadership posts in the 78th Legislature. Their ranks include the chairs of House Judiciary and Education.

The Legislature has 19 women out of 134 members, including two in the 34-seat Senate.

The struggle toward safer mines

It's been a busy week on the mine safety front. West Virginia's mine safety chief made his pitch to the House Finance Committee for a $4.3 million boost to his agency's salary; Ron Wooten will present his request to the Senate Finance Committee at the end of the month.

Wooten's agency, meanwhile, has cited International Coal Group over the way it has tested for deadly methane at the Sago Mine, where 12 miners died in last year's tragic blast. The citation carries an as-yet-unset fine.

The state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training also told the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety on Thursday of its proposal to require better electrical grounding to deter surges lightning.

Investigators believe lightning sparked the methane explosion at Sago. But lingering questions about the blast's cause, and other aspects of the disaster, have complicated a move to revisit state mine safety rules.

Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin offered his views on efforts in this arena to MetroNews.

UPDATE: AP Business Writer Tim Huber marks the first anniversary of the Aracoma Mine fire that killed two workers.

And a group of Republican state senators has proposed awarding tax credits to coal operators who buy top-shelf safety gear (see latter half of linked article).

18 January 2007

Paging Delegate Thompson

MIA Delegate Ron Thompson faces an ultimatum over his prolonged, widely reported absence from the Legislature.

House Speaker Rick Thompson (no relation) has given the Raleigh County Democrat until Jan. 25 to explain his failure to appear, or say whether he plans to take his oath of office.

The state constitution says lawmakers forfeit their seats when they refuse to take the oath, and the speaker says he'll treat Thompson's failure to reply as such a refusal. The speaker says he may leave the final decision with the House Rules Committee.

The speaker has also blocked Thompson's salary pending a response to a registered letter mailed to the no-show delegate.

Voters were put on notice about Thompson's continued absence before they elected him to a seventh, two-year in November. While he initially spoke to media last year, I don't believe he's responded to requests for comment since the election. I think the closest the press has gotten to him this year has been a sister.

UPDATE: Here's the story. MetroNews also has a report, along with audio from two of Thompson's less truant Raleigh County colleagues.

The Legislature, Day 9: Fun Facts

Bills introduced to date: 452 (315 in House, 137 in Senate)

Proposals from Gov. Joe Manchin presented as legislation: 11

Today is: E-Day, Press Association Day, American Institute of Architects Day.

Tonight, legislators will be partying with: West Virginians for Life, the state Dental Association and the West Virginia Auto Show (Charity Gala).

Quote of the Day

"I took an overdose, and woke up four days later, and realized I couldn't even do that right."

-- Former House Majority Leader Rick Staton, D-Wyoming, in an interview with Anna Sale on West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Outlook program.

Ex-lawmaker bares all

Former House Majority Leader Rick Staton, D-Wyoming, has had a rough decade. Flooding destroyed his Mullens law office, his marriage fell apart, he and his ex-wife each filed for bankruptcy, and he was one of only two incumbents to lose in the May 2006 primary election.

There have been other bad patches, to be sure. Staton has agreed to talk about at least one of them: a struggle with depression that led to his emergency hospitalization in 2003.

Anna Sale interviews Staton on Outlook, the weekly program from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. It airs 9 p.m. tonight, and again at noon Sunday.

17 January 2007

Legislative Pay Raises, Part II

I finally finished my closer look at the legislative pay raise proposal. The analysis I mentioned earlier had included DC and U.S. territories as well as states (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands pay their lawmakers $60,000 and $65,000 a year, respectively, according to NCSL).

Compared to other states, West Virginia now ranks 30th for overall legislative pay. Among states with a part-time Legislature with a similar schedule and workload, it ranks third but would lead that pack by nearly $10,000 a year under the pay raise proposal. Even among full-time legislatures, the new salaries would rank 20th.

Neighboring Pennsylvania offers a cautionary tale of public backlash over legislative pay hikes. Some of our lawmakers likely remember the mighty tumult caused by the 1994 raise. I also try to point out that with teachers and others already in line for pay raises, the Legislature would reap the whirlwind were it to vote itself a salary hike and leave these (large) constituent groups unsatisfied.

But, as I noted before, we've got weeks to go yet.

The Legislature, Day 8: Fun Facts

Bills introduced to date: 413 (123 in Senate, 290 in House)

Bills passed to date: 2 (from House to Senate)

Today is: McDowell County Day.

Tonight, legislators are invited to party with: McDowell County officials.

Legislative Pay Raises

A pay raise for lawmakers easily ranks alongside a tax hike as the most unpopular measure to emerge from a legislative session. The Associated Press first reported last week that the Citizens Legislative Compensation Commission has recommended salary increases as well as boosts to per-day payments.

Gov. Joe Manchin endorsed those recommendations in his State of the State address. The Charleston Gazette and Daily Mail each has a decidedly different view.

I hope to provide some context on this issue later today. For instance: West Virginia ranks 34th for overall annual salary paid to lawmakers, but offers the third-highest salary among states with the same sort of (part-time) legislative schedule and workload, according to the latest figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

UPDATE: Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews touches on the sensitive nature of legislative pay raise proposals in his column for today. He also offers other tidbits from the session thus far.

16 January 2007

A White-Lined Nightmare: UPDATED

In a rather public case of "Oops...never mind," Transportation Secretary/Highways Commissioner Paul Mattox was apparently mistaken when he warned lawmakers of a threatened loss of about $111 million in federal road funds.

News of his comments to the Legislature today spurred assurances from the offices of Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., that federal highway dollars remain forthcoming.

But West Virginia's main source of money for highway building and repairs, the State Road Fund, remains in trouble, as my updated article reflects.

The AP today also looks at a push to ensure that the state's sixth grade girls (10,235 this year) are inoculated against a virus linked to cervical cancer. West Virginia apparently suffers a high incidence of this cancer, which has a devastating mortality rate. (That article is also here.)

Because the virus is transmitted sexually, vaccinating girls has been a touchy subject. But the pending bill has a champion in First Lady Gayle Manchin.

The Legislature, Day 7: Fun Facts

Bills introduced to date: 365 (265 in House, 100 in Senate)

Bills passed to date: 0 (Two up for Wednesday vote in the House)

Today, the Legislature was invited to lunch by: Charleston Area Medical Center.

Tonight, the Legislature is invited to party with: the Huntington Chamber of Commerce.

Besides being Transportation Day, with presentations detailing the anemic State Road Fund, Tuesday is also YMCA Day at the Legislature.

Quote of the Day

"Son, talk's cheap. Show me the money."

-- What House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, said his mother told him upon greeting her as she and other teachers lobbied for higher pay raises at the Capitol.

The Legislature, Day 7: The Road Worriers

State officials and interested parties alike are expected to make the case for a better-financed highway system during Transportation Day at the Legislature.

While perhaps not the sole culprit, the State Road Fund has proved unable to stay abreast of inflation. A key revenue source, fuel taxes, also suffers as vehicle mileage improves.

AP offers an overview here, while the Charleston Daily Mail examines the option of public-private road projects.

15 January 2007

The Legislature, Day 6: A Sea of Red

As mentioned below, the West Virginia Education Association and its allies converged on the Capitol today, their numbers boosted by the school holiday. The AP has details from the morning rally on the South steps, and looks at the issues involved (the story is also here).

Wearing their traditional red, these teachers and retirees also received props during the day's floor sessions from several lawmakers in both the House and Senate chambers, where they packed the public galleries. But the session has 54 days to go...

The competing American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia produced a large, vocal contingent that demonstrated outside the House Chamber last week, before Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address.

Quote of the Day

"I'm originally from Logan County, and we can tell you that you need a whole lot more to buy the entire state. You could probably buy only a few counties for that."

-- Former Delegate Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, referring to last year's ill-fated effort by Don Blankenship to influence the 2006 legislative elections, in Monday remarks to the House of Delegates. The Massey Energy Co. president, chairman and CEO reported spending $3.7 million on his independent political campaign.

The Legislature, Day 6: Teachers rally

Scrutiny of Gov. Joe Manchin's legislative proposals continues today as The Associated Press reports on the implications of his pay increase proposals for teachers and other educators (the story can also be found here).

A less-than-thrilled West Virginia Education Association hopes a 10 a.m. Capitol rally will help persuade lawmakers to sweeten the deal.

AP also took a closer look at Manchin's electronic prescriptions proposal over the weekend. Weekend coverage included perhaps the first in-depth profile of new House Speaker Rick Thompson, in the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

Looking ahead, West Virginia Public Broadcasting plans to interview Manchin on The Legislature Today this evening.

UPDATE: Hundreds of red-clad WVEA members have descended on the Capitol this morning. The AP's Shaya Tayefe Mohajer will have the details, and perhaps a head count.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday undoubtedly helped the WVEA mount a strong showing today. Several teachers, none too pleased about what the governor has put on the table, also spoke to Hoppy Kercheval this morning on Talkline.

Speaker Rick Thompson began today's House of Delegates floor session with a prayer from former member Arley Johnson, followed by his recitation of King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The dramatic reading by Johnson has become a tradition in the House on King's holiday.

Also today, The Charleston Daily Mail marks the holiday with an article profiling the House of Delegates' three black members.

Delegate Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, recounts attending segregated school and fielding phone calls from men seeking dissuade her from running for Morgantown City County because of her race.

McDowell County Delegate Cliff Moore talks about his late father, the veteran lawmaker Ernie Moore.

If you look through the old Blue Books, you don't see very many faces of color among the pages of legislators. You also won't see any among the senators: West Virginia elected its first African-American to the Senate in 1998.

It appears that what black delegates there were back then largely hailed from McDowell County. At least one was a woman. I've always wondered how they were treated by their colleagues, and the staff.

This was news to me: Marshall was the first black member of the West Virginia Women's Bowling Association, and can boast of a high game of 260.