31 August 2007

Mine Safety: Back To The Drawing Board

All 254 underground coal mines in West Virginia must rework their plans for providing miners with individual wireless communication and tracking systems, The Associated Press reports this afternoon.

The AP's Tim Huber has scored a letter from state regulators rejecting the mines' plans, after concluding that "the proposals lacked detailed descriptions on how the systems would be developed and used."

Director Ron Wooten of the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training has given the coal operators until Sept. 21 to fix their proposed plans or risk citations, AP reports.

But Wooten still hopes to have systems installed statewide by mid-2008. "Some mines have already started," he told AP.

Huber also notes that similar federal requirements don't take effect until June 2009. West Virginia _ home to more than a third of the nation's 670 underground coal mines _ "mandated two-way wireless communications equipment after last year's deadly Sago Mine explosion," the AP article said. "The state has since certified a half dozen systems that are designed to help rescuers pinpoint the location of missing miners and talk with them."

Legal Fight Looming Over Library Funding - Updated

A dispute over scarce funding that has simmered since last year may boil over as a lawsuit in West Virginia's largest county, The Charleston Gazette reports today.

Kanawha County's public library system may take the county school board to court over its decision to end annual payments from property tax revenues.

These revenues fund more than a third of the library system's budget, including $2.5 million this year. But school officials cite legislation passed during this year's session that they say gives them "discretion to decide whether schools have extra money for libraries," the Gazette reports.

(Update: the school board apparently hatched its plan to yank the funding in a secret meeting, the Charleston Daily Mail reports. "School Superintendent Ron Duerring defended the closed session, saying it was permissible under provisions of the West Virginia open meetings law," that article said. "County Commission President Kent Carper said it may have been legal, but it was certainly unnecessary. Carper said the board and Duerring had an obligation to conduct open discussions on such a controversial action.")

Property taxes are also a key source of school funding. Kanawha and eight other counties operate under special laws that have dedicated some of these revenues for libraries.

In a separate article, leaders of the state Senate and House education committees tell the Gazette that the move by Kanawha County schools "was not their intention. They believe the Kanawha school board needs to pay the library system the money collected from county taxpayers."

Some of the other counties with special library funding laws have expressed concern over the recent development, The Journal of Martinsburg reports today.

“If the Berkeley County school board interprets the law the same way, then we could have one-third of our funding cut without any advance notice,” Pam Coyle, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library, told The Journal.

The Gazette also earlier set the stage for today's meeting of library officials.

Bastress Running For Supreme Court

West Virginia University Law Professor Robert Bastress plans to seek the Democratic nomination for one of two state Supreme Court seats up in 2008.

The Associated Press has a story, drawn from an article by The Charleston Gazette. MetroNews also interviewed Bastress during an appearance this week on Talkline.

Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard earlier announced his plans to seek another 12-year term on the court.

Changing of the Guard

The end of summer also marks several departures from West Virginia's government and political scene:

* Warden Thomas McBride, who has overseen the Mount Olive Correctional Complex for six of its 12 years, is retiring, WOWK-TV reports.

* Andrew Schneider is stepping down as executive director of the oft-embattled West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, to take a similar post in Connecticut. MetroNews has a story, while The Charleston Gazette profiled Schneider earlier this month.

* The Legislature is losing two two veterans. Director Ted Shanklin of Post Audits, who has been with this office since 1978, is retiring. So is Audit Manager Nick Arvon, who started with the Legislative Auditor's Office in April 1961.

Friends and co-workers plan to fete the long-toiling duo today at the Capitol.

User Fees In West Virginia

Folks who work in the home county of West Virginia University could soon start seeing a "user fee" deducted from their paychecks, Public Broadcasting reports.

Following the lead of Charleston, Monongalia County is eying the fee to aid the burdened road system in their growing community.

The link also offers audio.

A companion piece examines the region of West Virginia seeing the biggest boom, the Eastern Panhandle, but finds that "a user fee is not the answer to their traffic problems." Also with audio.

30 August 2007

Giuliani Commits to W.Va. GOP Convention

Rudy Giuliani has added his name to the growing roster of GOP presidential candidates who have signed up for the West Virginia Republican Party's nominating convention on "Super-Duper Tuesday," Feb. 5.

The Associated Press has the story. So does The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews.

The former New York mayor is considered the front-runner among declared Republican candidates, given his performance in national polling.

Update: Mitt Romney signed up for the W.Va. GOP Convention earlier this month. The rest of the Republican field has until Saturday, Sept. 1, state party officials say.

29 August 2007

Bill Clinton Coming To West Virginia

The 42nd president will headline this year's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the annual fundraising event of West Virginia's Democratic Party, on Oct. 13, The Associated Press reports.

Recounting The Table Games Votes - UPDATED

Update: Wednesday's recount slightly changed the vote tally but not the outcome.

"Yes:" 23,196
"No:" 22,857

The Associated Press has the details.

* * *

Kanawha County began recounting ballots 7 a.m. this morning from the 44 voting precincts selected by an opponent of the table games referendum.

The Kanawha County Commission is hosting a live online video of the recount. WSAZ-TV is offering streaming coverage as well.

Earlier update: Audio is also available.

The Charleston Gazette previewed the recount, as did MetroNews.

West Virginia's four racetracks have sought table games amid competition from neighboring Pennsylvania, which began opening slot machine casinos late last year. With table games approved for three of the tracks (pending Kanawha's recount) but not yet installed, the Lottery Commission blames the Keystone State for an 8 percent drop in its racetrack-related revenue.

The Associated Press has the figures, drawn from a Gazette article that also reports on the tracks' quest to remain open around the clock, 24/7, once their table games debut.

MetroNews also hears from Lottery Director John Musgrave about the decline in revenue.

West Virginia's Uninsured Masses

Census figures released Tuesday fail to reflect the actual number of Mountain State residents lacking health coverage, local officials tell The Associated Press' Shaya Tayefe Mohajer.

"I wish it was right, I'd love it if we had achieved that, but we just haven't," Perry Bryant, executive director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told AP.

"A study from the West Virginia University Institute of Health Policy Research, expected to be released later this year, 'should be much more accurate,'" Perry said.

The Charleston Gazette also hears from critics of the U.S. Census report, and from U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller in a separate but related article. The West Virginia Democrat fears President Bush will carry out his threats to veto recent legislation that would expand the state-based Children's Health Insurance Program for low- and middle-income families.

28 August 2007

W.Va. Bush Protesters on "Hardball"

(photo courtesy of crooksandliars.com)

Since settling their lawsuit against government officials for $80,000 earlier this month, Nicole and Jeffery Rank appeared on the MSNBC program to talk about their case.

As related here earlier, the couple had refused to remove anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July 2004 rally featuring the president on the state Capitol grounds. They were arrested, though the charges were later dropped.

Crooksandliars.com has an item on their TV appearance, and also offers video in several formats.

(Thanks to West Virginia Blue, which posted about this last week.)

Also in the wake of the Ranks' settlement, The Washington Post reported on the "Presidential Advance Manual." Unearthed in the course of their lawsuit, the document "gives presidential advance staffers extensive instructions in the art of 'deterring potential protestors' from President Bush's public appearances around the country,"the Post reported.

The Associated Press also reported on the manual and its revelations last month. But credit should go to the Rocky Mountain News for first revealing the manual. It reported on the document and its contents in late June, when the Ranks joined with a Denver couple allegedly treated similarly at a Bush event to sue in Washington, D.C.

Living Large in West Virginia

Obesity remains a critical problem in the Mountain State. The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports that "West Virginia is now the second-fattest state in the country, based on federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data analyzed by the Trust For America's Health."

"The study found that nearly 30 percent of adults in West Virginia are obese, up more than a percentage point from last year and second only to Mississippi," the AP article said. "The study also found that West Virginia has the second-highest rate of overweight children between the ages of 10 and 17."

But obesity is also a national problem. Both Breen's article and a separate AP story report that "Obesity rates continued their climb in 31 states last year. No state showed a decline."

AP also offers state obesity rankings. The report from Trust for America's Health, "F as in Fat," is also online.

Update: Public Broadcasting focuses on the dance video game that West Virginia has promoted to reduce obesity among children.

27 August 2007

Maynard Makes It Official

Supreme Court Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard announced Monday that he will seek another 12-year term on West Virginia's highest court in 2008. MetroNews previewed the announcement, while WOWK-TV has the news as well.

Gambling in West Virginia

The Associated Press follows up on the vow by the West Virginia Values Coalition that this year's table games elections mark the beginning of the end of gambling in the Mountain State.

"We will make sure the voice of the social conservative and the Christian, especially, is heard," Jeremy Dys, the group's executive director and chief counsel, tells AP. "It seems that Christians in this state have been lulled into believing the lie of separation of church and state."

The AP article also previews Wednesday's recount of the Kanawha County referendum. Gambling counselor-turned-foe Mia Moran-Cooper picked 44 of 175 voting precincts for the recount.

"She estimates that the $6,000 the state Council of Churches has raised to support her bid will cover the hand recount of only that many," AP notes. "State law requires those who request a recount to pay if the result does not change."

(I earlier corrected and updated posts about the recount and about U.S. gambling figures.)

The Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston profiled Moran-Cooper over the weekend.

Novelist Denise Giardina, meanwhile, opines on the news coverage of the table games debate in today's Gazette.

W.Va. Faces Threat of Teacher Shortage

As Mountain State children head back to school, Department of Education figures show that "nearly 3,500 West Virginia teachers will be eligible for retirement, and officials worry there won't be enough new hires to replace them," The Associated Press reports.

Drawn from an article by The Intelligencer of Wheeling, the report notes that "about 2,100 education majors graduated from West Virginia schools in 2007, but not all of them are staying. The lure of higher salaries in nearby states is a source of anxiety for schools."

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington also touches on the topic, by focusing on the 1,500 reporting for the new school year in Cabell County.

Chasing Child Support In W.Va.

Single-parent families in West Virginia that rely on child support could soon face a crunch from a federal funding cut, The Associated Press reports.

"States currently receive a combination of state and federal funding for child support enforcement programs. The funding consists of a base payment and an incentive if they show improvement, as West Virginia has consistently shown in recent years," AP's Shaya Tayefe Mohajer explains. "But Congress has decided that some social programs — like the child support incentive — will be cut as part of the Deficit Reduction Act, which is set to go into effect in October at the start of the new federal fiscal year."

More than 113,000 West Virginia families received child support payments in 2006, AP reports. "Because budgets are already tight, a loss of funding would mean cuts in the West Virginia bureau’s staff, which could result in higher case backlogs and, ultimately, more children whose families would struggle to provide food, clothes and adequate shelter while waiting for their support."