03 March 2007

Ranking W.Va.'s congressional delegation

The National Journal has issued its annual rankings that seeks to gauge each member's ideology based on their votes. This year's ranking considered 84 Senate and 103 House votes.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV3, is the 166th most liberal member of the U.S. House, out of 429 ranked.

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-WV1, is the 172nd most liberal.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV2, is the 275th most liberal.

(Conversely, Capito, Mollohan and Rahall are the 155th, 258th and 265th most conservative House members among those ranked.)

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is the 31st most liberal senator out of 99 ranked.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was not ranked because of missed votes. (Update: chronic back problems and "very, very major surgery" kept Rockefeller out of the Senate for a good part of 2006.)

"The ratings rank lawmakers on how they vote relative to each other on a conservative-to-liberal scale in both the Senate and the House. The scores are based on the members' votes in three areas: economic issues, social issues, and foreign policy," the National Journal explains.

Interesting findings:

* Byrd is the 8th most liberal senator on foreign policy issues;

* Capito is, along with 34 other House members, more liberal on foreign policy issues than only 6 percent of the House;

* The delegation is otherwise more or less in the middle when it comes to economic, social and (except for Byrd and Capito) foreign policy issues.

The methodology is explained here. My thanks to my cyber-mentor, Taegan Goddard, who blogs about the survey on his Political Wire.

02 March 2007

Dueling Quotes of the Day

"It had to be that. If he had not resigned we would have gone to a grand jury."

-- Special Prosecutor Dwane Tinsley, on the agreement signed by outgoing Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Charnock, to MetroNews.

"There are egos in public service that are so great... You can't do anything without somebody being offended because their ego is so big. There are people in this world who are just no good. I'm not talking about defendants; I'm talking about politicians."

-- Charnock to the Charleston Daily Mail this morning on his departure.

Charnock Resigns - Updated

Bill Charnock has resigned as Kanawha County's elected prosecuting attorney, reportedly after "extensive negotiations" in the criminal probe launched more than one year ago to investigate his conduct, The Charleston Gazette reports.

UPDATE: The Associated Press also has the story.

I recently noted that a judge had extended the time and latitude for the special prosecutor in the case. This earlier post has links to the relevant legislative audits and background.

UPDATE II: Special Prosecutor Dwane Tinsley told MetroNews this morning about the deal Charnock signed Thursday night requiring him to leave office. Nothing short of resignation, Tinsley said, "would have stopped him from taking evidence against Charnock to a grand jury for consideration." Link includes audio.

The Charleston Daily Mail initially reported on Charnock's departure with an online article that did not mention the special prosecutor or the investigation until the 18th of 22 paragraphs (that article has since been removed).

The Daily Mail has since updated its story. Both versions suggest an abrupt exit:

"Charnock, 38, was announcing his resignation to the rest of the prosecutor's office this morning. Then he said he would get in his car and drive to Illinois," the paper reported.

UPDATE III: WSAZ-TV has posted Charnock's resignation letter and a press release from the county commission.

The Legislature, Day 52

* TABLE GAMES: The various interests for and against the racetrack table games bill are gearing up for next week's big showdown. The anti-gambling West Virginia Family Foundation is pressing lawmakers over their votes on the bill, as the Register-Herald of Beckley reports. And The Journal of Martinsburg finds the horsemen contingent and Eastern Panhandle lawmakers less than happy with the bill's current distribution of potential table games proceeds.

*PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: Public Broadcasting has devoted a segment of its weekly Outlook program to the pending bill, within the context of the state's recent efforts targeting drug costs. With video. The program airs again on Sunday.

* TAXES: Prompted by an interview with House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, The Charleston Gazette is discounting the chances of the House approving the Senate-passed tax cut bills.

* TEACHER PAY: Both MetroNews and W.Va. Media are reporting that some Monongalia County teachers and school workers may stage a sick-out Tuesday over the pending pay raise legislation.

* YODER ON TV: Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, is this evening's guest on the call-in version of The Legislature Today from Public Broadcasting at 6:30 p.m. Phone: 1-800-672-9672.

01 March 2007

Senate vote looms for Table Games

The Senate could vote Tuesday on the racetrack table games bill, after its Finance Committee amended and advanced the legislation 10-6 this morning.

As The Associated Press reports, the committee increased the proposed state tax on the games by 36 percent to 35 percent (the bill as introduced on the racetrack's behest had set a 24 percent rate).

Elements of the racing industry, meanwhile, are skittish about the reduced share for prize purses. I spoke with several Senate leaders who remain adamant in their support of that position.

I also spoke with gambling opponents who plan to reach out Sunday to churchgoers in the hopes that the minds _ and votes _ of enough lawmakers can be changed. These folks also seek to change the debate over percentages and cuts to the social costs and pegging so much revenue on this source.

MetroNews also has a story on today's development, as does W.Va. Media.

Quote of the Day

"If this bill passes, I may be able to go back on my parent's health insurance."

-- Delegate Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley, on a House measure that would increase the age of dependents for health insurance coverage. the twenty-something Miller is among the youngest delegates in the Legislature's history.

Manchin's Momentum

As they did during the first two regular sessions of his term, the Legislature has advanced the agenda proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin more or less intact before the Day 50 crossover deadline.

I tried to offer an overview in this story from The Associated Press. Seeking to put his success so far in some sort of context, there have been critics who have questioned whether this year's agenda involved any heavy lifting.

That would explain, these folks say, the tax cut measures that emerged from the Senate this week, or the meatier pay raise legislation passed by the House.

The Legislature: Death Toll

The House and Senate exchanged 378 bills before Wednesday's "crossover" deadline, or less than 1 out of every 5 bills introduced for the session. That's roughly comparable to the volume of bills that survived last year's deadline.

Among the notable failures this session:

* ATVs: The bill to tighten safety rules for the machines appeared doomed Tuesday when the Senate Rules Committee removed it from immediate consideration. There were numerous reports of the measure's official demise, including from The Associated Press, the Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews (with audio)

* JAIL FEE RELIEF: The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch records the death of several bills meant to help counties pay their regional jail costs.

* HPV VACCINE: The House more or less ignored a proposal to mandate that 6th-grader girls are vaccinated against a sexually-transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer. Similar measures enacted in Texas and proposed in other states sparked fierce debates over the implications of such a public policy move.

I also list some other failed bills in this AP glance marking Day 50 of the session, and hope to add to the items above later.

The Legislature: Taxes

The Senate has endorsed a package of four tax-related measures that aim to go beyond what Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed for this session. Two of the bills also take larger steps toward targeting the corporate net and business franchise taxes than what the governor requested during last year's special session on taxes. The Associated Press story is also here.

Those bills are now before the House. I reported earlier in the session that several key delegates are in favor of reducing both taxes this year, most notably House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo.

But Manchin has signaled to MetroNews (link includes audio) that the pending proposals don't fit with his timetable for overhauling the state's tax system.

The Charleston Daily Mail also notes the governor's tepid response to the bills while relaying praise for the measures from business leaders.

Update: West Virginia Media's State Journal appears somewhat behind the curve on this story, declaring in an article dated March 1 that "Legislature, Governor not advancing major tax reform in 2007 session."

Though this could reflect the downside of publishing only once a week, the tax bills reached the Senate floor Monday. The Journal apparently goes to press on Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Hall had chided The Charleston Gazette during a Wednesday floor speech, believing "the morning newspaper" had ignored the bills. The Putnam County Republican heralded them as major, positive legislation. Hall later apologized in remarks to the Senate that evening, as the Gazette had published the AP's article on the four bills.

28 February 2007

Quote of the Day

"The coal industry can take credit for George W. Bush being president... If I had to blame one state, it wouldn't be Florida, it would be West Virginia."

-- Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and a columnist for the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., in an article on The Politico.

W.Va. to figure in the 2008 mix?

West Virginia earns equal billing with Arkansas in a lengthy article on The Politico on their roles as traditionally blue states that went red in the last two presidential elections, and what that may mean in 2008.

Gov. Joe Manchin was among those interviewed for the story. Reflecting some of the recent speculation on his plans for, '08, the article includes this tidbit:

"Manchin said he has already heard from numerous Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois (Obama spoke at the state party's 2006 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner). Manchin said he is already on friendly terms with fellow New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson."

The Politico was launched last month "with the mission of covering the politics of Capitol Hill and of the presidential campaign, and the business of Washington lobbying and advocacy with enterprise, style, and impact."

The Legislature, Day 50: Crossover Deadline

All but appropriation bills must escape their house of origin by the end of today to be considered any further. This deadline spurred votes on dozens of bills in the last two days. Dozens more are on tap for today, mostly in the Senate.

While I hope to update on major bills and happenings today, here are some of the other issues afoot:

*TOURISM TAX CREDIT: With Wednesday marking Tourism Day at the Legislature, the House set the mood Tuesday by sending Gov. Joe Manchin's proposed extension of a tourism development tax credit program to the Senate. The Associated Press has the story.

* TOBACCO BOND: The dozens of bills passed by the Senate on Tuesday included Manchin's bid to get up-front cash from bonds backed by future tobacco settlement payments. But senators also upped the ante for the bill before sending it to the House. The Charleston Gazette has the story, as does MetroNews (with audio).

* WATER PROTECTION: The AP highlights the next proposed step in West Virginia's recently launched, hotly debated quest to treat its water as a valuable and finite natural resource.

* BOTTLE BILL: The many casualties of the crossover deadline include a proposal to add a return deposit to beverage containers to reduce littering. Supporters of the bill talk about its fate to the (Beckley) Register-Herald.

* CTC MERGER: Another doomed measure would have merged two Eastern Panhandle-area community colleges. The Journal of Martinsburg has bolstered the ranks of the Statehouse press corps for the session's final stretch, and has the story.

* PRIVILEGE TAX: The Journal also reports on the House's passage of Manchin's proposed vehicle tax break for new residents, a top issue for the border counties. The AP also has the story on the bill, which delegates amended to convert the privilege tax into a sales tax in July 2008.

* DENTAL BOARD: In the course of the last five (regular) sessions I've covered, I've noticed continuing tensions between dentists and dental hygienists. Their latest legislative run-in involves the size and membership of the board that governs them both. The AP has a story on a House-passed bill that would increase the hygienists' voice on that panel.

27 February 2007

Daily Mail throws Manchin's hat in the 2008 ring

The Charleston Daily Mail speculates today about the chances of Gov. Joe Manchin joining a presidential ticket in 2008.

The article cites Manchin's weekend appearance on Fox News as the chairman-elect of the Democratic Governors' Association, and his similar post with the Southern States Energy Board.

The Daily Mail also taps state aviation records to report that Manchin has flown to Washington, D.C., at least 30 times in the 28 months he's been in office, including three times so far in 2007.

Manchin recently addressed such speculation by stating "I can honestly tell you I am not in any way, shape or form pursuing that whatsoever... You never know what will happen, but I can tell you that with the job I have right now, there's so much still we have left to do in West Virginia."

I noted that comment at the time, and more recently pointed out his presence in a profile of
new Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a 2008 Democratic presidential contender.

Senate considers tax cuts

Aiming to follow up on November's slight cuts to the corporate net income and business franchise taxes, the Senate Finance Committee has proposed reducing the former further while erasing the latter over the next several years.

The committee also advanced two companion measures with those bills, to simplify the reporting of corporate net income and to offer a credit for in-state use and development of intellectual property.

The Senate is slated to vote on all four bills Wednesday.

The Associated Press offers an overview of the legislation, which was reported from the committee on Monday. As I note, the deadline for all but committee-originating Senate bills was last week, and Senate bills have until Wednesday to advance to the House.

Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn was perhaps the first with the story (audio link). The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on the two proposed tax cuts.

Drug bill passes House

Delegates have sent their version of Gov. Joe Manchin's prescription drug cost negotiation bill to the Senate. The Associated Press has the story.

The vote was 76-19 with two absences. GOP delegates raised questions about the bill during the floor debate that echo concerns from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

AP had reported earlier that Manchin had disowned the bill after the House Finance Committee amended it heavily last week. Bill supporters say they hope Manchin disagrees with only some provisions of the changed version, and not the entire measure.

The South Rising Up...Against ATV Bill - UPDATE

(UPDATE: I had not considered the agenda-setting Senate Rules Committee, where the bill has been bottled as The Associated Press reports.)

Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin has expressed misgivings about the pending all-terrain vehicle bill to both The Charleston Gazette and the Register-Herald of Beckley.

The powerful Logan County Democrat has echoed other southern lawmakers in criticizing the measure's two main goals: to ban ATVs from paved roads, and to keep passengers off machines designed for solo riders.

Tomblin and his regional peers argue that both provisions collide with popular, even cherished uses of ATVs in their part of the state. Safety advocates, in response, point to the manufacturers' own recommendations and warnings.

The southern senators lacked the numbers in the committees that have reviewed the bill to dilute or derail it. For instance, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone and one of the Senate's two physicians, tried unsuccessfully to scuttle the no-passenger provision in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Bill supporters cited the 13 ATV deaths last year involving machines carrying passengers. Stollings countered with the enjoyment so many of his friends and neighbors derive from "double heading" on ATVs.

But the contingent's chances of defeating the bill in the full Senate are different. At least 15 of the 33 members on hand for a vote are either from that region or have sided against the pending legislation in committees. What's more, besides Tomblin this faction also includes the majority and minority leaders (Chafin and Caruth), and the majority whip (Bailey).

MetroNews also set the stage for Senate vote, with audio from Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia and a bill supporter.

Turnpike Still Under Seige from Legislature

The Senate Finance Committee wants the Legislature to approve any future toll rate hikes on the West Virginia Turnpike.

Lawmakers began stripping the turnpike's parent agency of its self-governing powers last year, after it tried to raise toll rates. A lawsuit later scuttled those increases, but did not prevent the Legislature from requiring its approval for any future road financing bonds sought by the agency.

(Supporters of the Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority note that the agency approved toll hikes only after the 2005 Legislature mandated that it build the so-called Shady Spring interchange near Beckley. That mandate was repealed amid the backlash over the tolls.)

Lawmakers have proposed further limits for the agency, including taking away the turnpike and giving it to the Division of Highways. Those measures may not pass this session, however.

As for the Senate Finance bill, a recent study requested by Gov. Joe Manchin recommends that the agency seek toll hikes to raise needed revenues.

But that study also warns that by interfering with the agency's oversight of the turnpike, lawmakers threaten the credit ratings of its state-backed bonds.

I reviewed the study when it was released earlier this year. MetroNews, the (Beckley) Register-Herald and The Charleston Gazette meanwhile each has a story on the Senate Finance measure.

The Sins of the Mother

Catching signs of a national trend, The Associated Press' Tom Breen highlights a Senate-passed measure that would allow infant children to live with their inmate mothers.

The story can also be found here, here and here.

Bill supporters told Breen that with women heading to prison at record rates, giving a mother a chance to bond with her child could help them both.

Breen also looks at the five states that already offer prison nurseries -- New York, Ohio, Nebraska, California and Washington -- and finds that each boasts of reduced recidivist rates.

26 February 2007

The Legislature, Day 48 - UPDATED

The pace in the House and Senate will pick up heading into Wednesday, the deadline for bills to cross from one chamber to another. I look at the volumes and types of bills, and mention some of the lesser-known proposals, in this article from The Associated Press.

* TABLE GAMES: The Senate Finance Committee expects to dive into the racetrack table games bill after the crossover deadline. In the meantime, there are several in-depth examinations of the issue, as well as this update from MetroNews.

* STATE ROAD FUND: The House passed Manchin's proposed relief to the state's main highway account, in the form of line item transfers to general revenue. Today's vote sends the bill to the Senate. The Charleston Daily Mail reviews both that measure and a related Senate-spawned item.

* FILM IT IN W.Va.: The Daily Mail also reveals the role of Jennifer Garner, the Charleston native turned Hollywood star, in shaping the proposed West Virginia Film Industry Investment Act.

* STREAM PROTECTION: The Charleston Gazette raises a red flag over a proposed bill addressing state stream protection rules.

* LANDFILLS: The Gazette also offers this view of a push in the Legislature for a new landfill in McDowell County that would accept out-of-state garbage.

The House convened Sunday evening in an effort to reduce the Day 50 crunch.

The Charleston Gazette also set the stage for this week's activities.

Table Games Still in the Senate

The Associated Press' Vicki Smith delves deeply into the racetracks' quest for table games as "the next logical big leap for slot casinos," quoting one of several experts cited in her research.

She also examines parallels between West Virginia's situation and that of Iowa in her widely published article.

The Gazette has also launched an in-depth looks at the nuts and bolts of casino economies, while offering this AP story on the Indian Casino component of this issue.

And MetroNews hears from Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, on the issue (with audio).

Quote of the Day

"There would be more days than not when I woke up and said, you know, ‘Get dressed, go the Capitol and do your job.’"

-- Ron Thompson, D-Raleigh, on his continued absence from the House Delegates, in an exclusive interview with the (Beckley) Register-Herald.

Ron Thompson Speaks

Ron Thompson talks about crippling depression, his "macho" refusal to acknowledge his illness and a road to recovery he says will soon return him to the House of Delegates "sooner than later" in an exclusive interview with the Register-Herald of Beckley.

The Associated Press also offers a version of Mannix Porterfield's extensive article.

The Raleigh County Democrat also talks about his failure, to date, to take his oath of office despite winning a seventh legislative term in November. Thompson expresses regret for the historic tumult it created in the House.

Thompson also excludes any possible legal or substance abuse problems from his situation.

Thompson is not the first legislature figure to discuss some of his personal problems this year. Former House Majority Leader Rick Staton, talked to Public Broadcasting about his depression and other issues in January.