16 February 2007

Table Games Passes the House - UPDATE

Today's vote was close, 53-40 with two absences (Frederick, D-Mercer, and Walters, R-Kanawha).

(I've clarified the vote total because two sets of "paired" votes aren't supposed to count in the official roll call: Don Perdue, D-Wayne, and Robert Schadler, R-Mineral, each paired a "yes" vote with a "nay" vote from Sam Cann, D-Harrison, and Walter Duke, R-Berkeley.)

It marks the first time the House has voted on a table games bill since the issue emerged several years ago.

Besides The Associated Press article, I've filed a roll call and a glance of the bill's highlights.

As I note, 17 Democrats voted against the bill (18 if Cann is included), while 2 Republicans broke ranks to support it (3 if you count Schadler).

Though Eustace Frederick, D-Mercer, has been ill and was absent, he ask that his vote be recorded in the negative (it is NOT counted in the tally).

Once and future Delegate Ron Thompson, D-Raleigh, meanwhile still has yet to take the oath for this term and so is not counted at all.

At least 16 delegates argued for or against the bill before its passage to the Senate.

The Legislature, Day 38

* Unexpected issues have emerged in the Senate anti-abortion bill that aims to tighten the state's parental notification law, The Charleston Gazette reports.

* Both the Gazette and MetroNews covered Thursday's changes to an anti-smoking measure that targets adults who light up in vehicles with child passengers.

* Public Broadcasting weighs the chances of legislation that would measure greenhouse gas emissions.

* The House of Delegates is scheduled to vote today on the racetrack table games bill, as I indicated in an earlier post.

Quote of the Day

‘‘The state of West Virginia is placing too much emphasis on an enterprise that’s going to come back to haunt us."

-- Delegate John Pino, D-Fayette, during Thursday's debate on amendments to the racetrack table games bill.

Table Games Vote: Setting the Stage

The House of Delegates has moved up the start of its floor session by 1 hour, to 10 a.m., with the racetrack table games bill on the agenda for a vote on passage.

This would be the first time that the full House voted on table games since the issue emerged several years ago. Its passage by the House Judiciary and Finance committees, and Thursday's floor debate, were also milestones for such legislation.

As I pointed out in The Associated Press story on Thursday's action, none of the amendments backed by the bill's opponents garnered more than 39 votes.

The bid to require a constitutional amendment -- a provision with supporters beyond the House's gambling foes -- attracted only 37 votes.

Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, walked point for the bill during much of the four-and-a-half hour debate, as her committee was one of the two that had earlier debated, amended and endorsed it.

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was the most successful among the amendment sponsors, winning 5 of 9 votes. Doyle's district includes Charles Town Races & Slots, but that does not automatically make him a bill supporter. The ongoing tension between the tracks owners and those who breed, train, care for and ride its horses was evident in the substance of his amendments.

Delegate Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, led the charge on requiring a constitutional amendment (and statewide vote).

Others who proposed failed amendments include House Minority Leader Tim Armstead and Delegate Patrick Lane, both R-Kanawha. Their district includes Tri-State Racetrack & Gaming Center, but they oppose the bill on several grounds.

Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, had sponsored four amendments but then withdrew them all before Thursday's debate ended.

Other coverage of Thursday's amendment phase comes from The Charleston Gazette, the Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews (with audio) and W.Va. Media.

15 February 2007

House Amends Table Games Bill - UPDATED

The House of Delegates adopted 6 amendments while shooting down another 17 before advancing the racetrack table games bill for a Friday vote on passage.

The debate lasted about four and half hours.

The successful amendments largely aim to placate concerns among the folks directly involved on the racing side of these tracks (as opposed to the video lottery machine and related amenities side).

As I note in The Associated Press story, the failed amendments included several from gambling opponents. As a possible foreshadowing of Friday, none of these amendments received more than 39 votes.

The House clerk's office very helpfully includes links to each amendment (including several that were withdrawn from consideration) and info on the outcomes on the bill status site.

Quote of the Day

"I'm glad that he is getting help for whatever the issue is. However, we could have been told this information sooner, and we could have avoided all this."

-- Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh on the out-then-in status of fellow 27th District member Ron Thompson.

The Legislature, Day 37

* The House resumes its attention to other matters following the latest, surprise development in the saga of once and future Delegate Ron Thompson , as The Associated Press reports. Coverage of the vote to restore the Raleigh County Democrat's seat was heavy, as one might imagine. The hometown Register-Herald of Beckley, The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews (with audio) and W. Va. Media (with video) were among those on the scene.

* The AP continues its coverage of all-terrain vehicle legislation, with a look at several measures advancing in the Senate. MetroNews has a related report.

* The Register-Herald takes a peek (sorry) at the effort to make voyeurism a crime.

* W.Va. Media covered Wednesday's hearing on legislation that aims to deter the theft of copper and other metals. With video. The AP highlighted the issue earlier this session.

* Though the House could debate amendments to the racetrack table games bill today, delegates may opt to wait until it comes up for a vote on Friday. The Register-Herald, MetroNews and Public Broadcasting all offer stories.

14 February 2007

Bonus Quote of the Day

"There's a lot of firsts happening for me this session"

-- Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, before the House
voted Wednesday to rescind last week's historic resolution that had declared vacant the seat won by Ron Thompson in November. Moye, a freshman, hails from Thompson's 27th Delegate District.

The Legislature's Lazarus: Ron Thompson Restored

The House of Delegates gave Ron Thompson his seat back today in the 27th District.

On a voice vote, the House adopted a resolution that reverses the one approved last week declaring his seat vacant.

The House had previously concluded that the long-absent Thompson had refused to take his oath of office. But a doctor has written a letter on his behalf, saying he is being treated for a condition that is keeping him from the Capitol.

But this doctor also expects a fully recovery for Thompson, and believes he will be able to resume his legislative duties, House leaders say.

The letter prompted today's action. But as with last week's vote, the House was not unanimous.

Several GOP delegates questioned whether the House has the authority to undo its prior decision. (Those who voted "nay" last week argued that the House was acting too hastily, and that not enough was known about Thompson's situation).

As I note in The Associated Press story, the clerk and a WVU law professor who has (literally) written the book on the West Virginia Constitution say the House is within its rights.

The AP story can also be found here. MetroNews has a report as well, with audio.

The Legislature, Day 36

* AARP has the makings of a victory this session with the Senate's passage of a bill that would allow consumers to "freeze" their credit reports to blunt the damage from identity thieves. But though the bill was sent to the House on a unanimous vote, The Associated Press' Tom Breen notes misgivings over one of its provisions.

* The Legislature still has yet to address last year's Supreme Court ruling that sets the state school aid formula on a collision course with special laws that mandate county funding of public libraries. Public Broadcasting is the latest to assess the situation (an earlier post on the topic here).

* As expected, the racetrack table games bill was delivered to the full House on Tuesday. As with all bills, it requires three separate readings in as many days before a vote on passage. It was not read on Tuesday, though, setting the stage for a third reading and vote on Friday.

So, How Much Ya Make?

When Fanny Seiler still wielded a pen at the state Capitol, a recurring feature of her newspaper column was public salaries. Seiler would list the pay of top officials and even entire offices within state government, with a particular focus on raises.

And just as routinely, this feature drove Statehouse folks up a wall. Phil Kabler has continued that tradition, albeit to a limited extent.

Now, state Auditor Glen Gainer has one-upped them all, and in a major way: he has posted online the 2006 gross compensation of pretty much everyone in West Virginia's employ.

There are 65,594 names listed, in a whopping 1,223-page report. As one might expect, West Virginia University football coach Rich Rodriquez has the highest pay listed, at $1.23 million (this was before the scare involving Alabama's coach hunt). WVU hoops coach John Beilein follows, at $848,983.

One Brenda Turner rounds out the roster, having received 1 cent (As a colleague put it, she must work for DHHR...). A reader correctly notes that the list reflects W2 filings, and so would cover wages as well as overtime, bonuses, etc.

All told, 640 people are listed with six-figure compensation (or better, in the case of coach Rodriguez). The payroll totals $1,454,644,764.24.

The Associated Press has a story. Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn was the first to report on Gainer's mega-list, and also offers audio.

Quote of the Day

"That's a March decision. You wait until you see what you can do here.''

American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Judy Hale, on talk of a strike if the legislative session does not yield the sort of raises sought by her group.

The Legislature: Abortion Enters the Fray

Abortion has officially emerged as an issue in the 2007 session, with legislation that aims to tighten the state's parental notification law.

Senate Bill 544 debuted this week with the bipartisan backing of half that chamber's members. As The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports, those co-sponsors include Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, and the chairmen of both committees assigned to review the bill.

With its quick passage in the Senate assured, Breen looks ahead to its fortunes in the House of Delegates. Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, is considered anti-abortion. Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, whose committee will receive the bill, is not.

But that dynamic is not new for the House. It echoes the respective stances of former Speaker Bob Kiss and Jon Amores, his Judiciary chair.

Webster, D-Kanawha, earned praise from both parties for last week's handling of the table games bill, and tells AP she will give the approaching measure due consideration.

13 February 2007

Teacher pay bill amended

The House Education Committee tacked on another percentage point to Gov. Joe Manchin's teacher pay raise proposal, kicking it up a notch to 3.5 percent today.

The committee also made permanent the bonus-like payment the governor is offering school service personnel, but removed the provision promising all full-time teachers a minimum salary of $30,000.

The bill advances to House Finance.

The major teacher groups remain unimpressed, however, and say some of their members are mulling over striking if the final bill fails to satisfy.

Manchin earlier provided lawmakers with budget projections suggesting that the raises sought by these groups would create huge deficits, and soon, when compared to his proposal.

The Legislature, Day 35

With table games clearing another hurdle and teacher pay on today's agenda, the Legislature is picking up the pace this week.

* The Associated Press reports on a bill endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee that seeks to curb lawsuits filed by non-residents. The Legislature had earlier targeted out-of-state plaintiffs, but that effort was deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

* The Senate Government Organization Committee, meanwhile, has advanced a proposed overhaul of the statewide system for resolving public and education employee grievances, according to the The Charleston Gazette.

* The Register-Herald of Beckley continues the coverage this session on follow-up legislation targeting all-terrain vehicles.

* The AP looks at one example of localized fallout from the Mark Foley scandal.

* The Charleston Daily Mail follows up on workplace drug testing, an issue pursued by the coal industry and touted by Gov. Joe Manchin in this year's State of the State address.

New Report on West Virginia Turnpike

Amid a handful of bills targeting the West Virginia Turnpike and its parent agency earlier this session, an in-depth study sought by Gov. Joe Manchin has issued findings.

The Public Resources Advisory Group recommends against dismantling the Turnpike's tolls or transferring the 88-mile road to the state Division of Highways. Some lawmakers favor both steps.

PRAG instead suggests that legislators restore the Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority's bond-selling powers, and that the Turnpike hike tolls. The detailed report also touts privatizing the Turnpike and/or adding tolls to additional roads and to bridges in the state.

PRAG also casts further doubt on the authority's economic development and tourism endeavors, and makes further recommendations regarding Tamarack.

Besides The Associated Press story, the authority's hometown Register-Herald of Beckley offers both an overview of the report and reaction from the authority. The Charleston Gazette also reports on the study.

12 February 2007

A Tale of Two (Ex-) Chairmen

Two former heads of West Virginia's Republican Party are in the news this week, for somewhat different reasons.

Rob Capehart has been approved by the Higher Education Policy Commission to be the next president of West Liberty State College. Capehart is slated to take over at the Northern Panhandle school July 1.

Capehart had chaired the West Virginia GOP for about a year when he was named a Fulbright Scholar in May. He was then dispatched to the former Soviet bloc nation of Moldova, now an emerging democracy, where he worked with its tax officials.

I had a chance to interview Capehart before his five-month overseas assignment. I hope to follow up on how things went over there and also ask about his new assignment. West Virginia Public Radio has a segment as well.

The AP also reports that Steve LeRose has filed to run for mayor of Summersville, a post he held from 1985 to 1999.

Just days after losing a June 1999 re-election bid, LeRose pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from a $3.3 million check-kiting scheme.

LeRose had been GOP chairman for about two and a half years when he resigned in December 1996, after evidence of the check fraud scheme first surfaced. LeRose's three brothers also pleaded guilty to felony charges in the case. LeRose was sentenced to 27 months.

The 57-year-old was released in November 2001. "I made a mistake and have accepted responsibility for it. I completed the punishment given,'' LeRose told the Register-Herald of Beckley. "That was the past and I am looking forward to the future."

Table Games bill rolls another 7 - Updated

The House Finance Committee endorsed and advanced the racetrack table games bill late this afternoon on a 16-9 vote.

If committee staff can prepare the latest version in time, it could be reported to the full House tomorrow for a floor vote Thursday.

House Finance retained all but one of the changes made by the House Judiciary Committee last week; Finance restored the provision that would require at least 5 percent of a county's voters to trigger a "recall" election.

Besides The Associated Press story on today's action, here's a glance with the bill's highlights as amended. MetroNews was also there, and offers audio as well. The Charleston Gazette has a story as well.

Today's vote in Finance went largely, but not entirely, along party lines.

GOP Delegates Ron Walters of Kanawha County and Allen Evans of Grant County sided with the majority.

Co-Chairman Brent Boggs of Braxton County and Delegates Tom Campbell of Greenbrier County, Richard Iaquinta of Harrison County and Doug Reynolds of Cabell County broke ranks with fellow Democrats.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead continued the tradition today of marking Abraham Lincoln's birthday during the session, with a floor speech on its 198th anniversary.

The Kanawha County Republican offered our 16th president as a role model, an ordinary man who recognized that he could change things and who became an almost mythical figure as a result.

Armstead also recalled Lincoln's pivotal role in West Virginia' statehood, and read from the opinion Lincoln issued on our admission to the Union.

"We can scarcely dispense with the aid of West Virginia in this struggle; much less can we afford to have her against us, in Congress and in the field. Her brave and good men regard her admission into the Union as a matter of life and death..." it reads in part.

West Virginia has sought to honor Lincoln in several different ways, including with the statue at the South steps of the Capitol for which this blog is named.

The Legislature, Day 34 - Updated

PAY RAISES: House Speaker Rick Thompson and his team plan to begin work on pay raise measures this week, telling The Associated Press that they could start as early as Monday (The story is also here).

Thompson, D-Wayne, told the AP last week that he hope the House would prove more generous with wage hikes and extend them to more groups than what Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed.

UPDATE: The House Finance Committee plans to take up the already-amended racetrack table games bill this afternoon, leaving House Education to address the teacher pay raise bill Tuesday.

(MetroNews earlier underscored the position of Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin on the pending legislative pay raise measure, while previewing the teacher raise and table games bills.)

RETIREES: Retired public employees plan to rally at the Capitol on Monday in support of measures that would give them a break on their income taxes. Retirees have also voiced concerns over looming changes to their state-administered health insurance plan.

ATVs (Updated): The Legislature has begun considering several bills targeting perceived loopholes in the state's all-terrain vehicles law. The Register-Herald of Beckley presents the views of Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, part of the freshman class of 2007 and one of the House's two physicians. The Daily Mail has also offered an overview of some of the session's ATV safety bills.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: New House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster earned some bipartisan applause during Friday's floor session. Committee members of both parties, including the minority chair, praised the Kanawha County Democrat for her handling of the lengthy, discussion-laden meeting that resulted in an amended table games bill advancing in the House.

OUSTED DELEGATE: Last week's vote to remove Ron Thompson from the House for refusing to take his oath made some major dailies, including the New York Times. It also received mention over the weekend in The Thicket, the blog of the National Conference of State Legislatures. I happily note that the item links to the AP's story.

NEW FEATURE: At a reader's request, I've added links atop the right hand column to the bills passed to date this session and the official summary that includes bills passed by each chamber that day.

11 February 2007

A Record Verdict, Revisited

The Sunday Gazette-Mail offers perhaps the first detailed look at the $405 million verdict reached last month in a Roane County gas royalties dispute.

Gazette business writer Joe Morris talks to several people on each side of the case, and traces the lawsuit back to the suspicions of an 89-year-old retired teacher.

As I noted when the verdict was first announced, the damage award appears to be a record for a West Virginia court. The reverberations have rocked Gov. Joe Manchin and his "Open for Business" administration, as several state media have noted.

It has also prompted Chesapeake Energy Corp. to question its earlier plans to build a regional HQ in Charleston.