23 November 2007

Manchin Remains Interested in ARH Strike

After sending administration officials to monitor talks meant to end an ongoing nurses' strike, Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed a "cooling-off period."

As The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports, "Manchin suggested that striking nurses consider returning to their jobs for 90 days under the old contract while negotiations continue. He made the suggestion when he and a representative of Kentucky Gov.-elect Steve Beshear met with union officials at the state Capitol."

The strike targets hospitals owned by Appalachian Regional Healthcare. "About 600 of the 750 registered nurses at ARH hospitals have refused to cross the picket line," AP reports. "With seven facilities in Eastern Kentucky and two in West Virginia, Lexington-based ARH is the region's largest hospital system."

Armstrong Firing Makes National News

The Library Journal has a 410-word story on this month's firing of Fred Armstrong as the state's longtime archives and history director, observing that "librarians, local history buffs, and one major elected official have stood up in his defense."

That official, West Virginia Library Association (WVLA) president Judith Duncan, wrote a letter to The Charleston Gazette calling the firing a "travesty [to] be thoroughly investigated and corrected.”

Gov. Joe Manchin told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he retains confidence in supervisors at the Department of the Education and the Arts who fired Armstrong or signed off on that decision.

Legislature 2008: Jail Costs

While West Virginia's Supreme Court has ordered Cabell County to pay past-due regional jail fees, as The Associated Press reports, the unanimous justices also urged legislative action on the issue as well.

“The Legislature has imposed upon the county courts ’greater burdens than their revenues justify,”’ this week's ruling said. “That the counties are in need of some form of relief from fully shouldering the costs of the regional jails seems clear.”

Justice Larry Starcher also focuses on possible provisions for lawmakers to consider come January, in his concurring opinion.

Ancil Ramey, a lawyer for Cabell County in the case, tells MetroNews (audio here) "the opinion leaves the door open for the legislature to make a way for Cabell County to avoid paying the amount that it hasn’t paid since 2004.

"I think ultimately everybody can be a winner if the legislature takes a serious look at this," Ramey told MetroNews.

21 November 2007

W.Va. Supreme Court KO's $76m Massey verdict

In a 3-2 decision, the state Supreme Court has overturned the $76.3 million judgment that Massey Energy Co. faced from a 2002 Boone County verdict arising from a coal contract dispute.

The majority found that Massey's "egregious" conduct justified the judgment and plunged both Harman Mining Co. and its president, Hugh Caperton (a cousin of former Gov. Gaston Caperton), into bankruptcy.

But it concluded "the law simply did not permit this case to be filed in West Virginia." To explain that finding, the opinion runs 63 pages and features 37 footnotes.

The result drew sharp dissents from Justices Larry Starcher and Joseph Albright.

The Associated Press reports on the ruling. The Charleston Gazette, WSAZ-TV and WWOWK-TV also have coverage.

Massey's lawyers had sought Starcher's removal from the case, citing his repeated public comments critical of the company and its chief, Don Blankenship.

Some of those remarks targeted Blankenship's George Soros-like spending on political activities,. In particular was his (estimated) $3.5 million campaign that helped oust Democrat Warren McGraw and elect Republican Brent Benjamin in the 2004 Supreme Court race. Much of the money went to a "527" group, "And For The Sake Of The Kids."

Lawyers for Harman and Caperton cited that 2004 spending to press for Benjamin's recusal. To support that argument, they noted that AFTSOTK was organized seven weeks after Massey lost a post-trial bid to gut the verdict.

Blankenship had also sent Massey workers a memo at that time, declaring that the verdict "will play a role in furthering impoverishing the children of our state," these lawyers argued.

Wednesday's ruling sets a number of new legal precedents. Most address the clause in contracts that governs the forums for resolving such disputes.

Lawyers for both Massey and the plaintiffs argued the case earlier in the term.

More Robocalls Target Capito

A second left-leaning group is urging 2nd District voters to contact U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in another series of automated phone calls.

American Family Voices alleges the four-term Republican has allowed China to import unsafe products by underfunding federal inspection agencies.

While it mentions such products as pet foods and children's toys, it cites no specific votes. Supporting information did not appear readily available on the web site.

The robocall also repeatedly refers to "Congresswoman Moore Capito." If it's any consolation, even President Bush has botched her name in public appearances.

Jeri Thompson Coming to Charleston

The wife of GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson is planning a Monday visit to the state capital to meet and thank supporters and volunteers, his campaign has announced.

Details are forthcoming. The Associated Press has an item, as does MetroNews.

20 November 2007

They Voted For You: Risky Mortgages

West Virginia's U.S. House delegation helped pass the "Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act" last week.

Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, all voted for the measure, which passed 291-127.

"It now goes to the Senate, where a similar bill has been stalled for weeks," The Associated Press reports, observing also that "Republicans and the White House warned that congressional meddling with mortgage markets could make things worse. Many Republicans argued the bill would make it harder for borrowers to refinance loans due to reset at higher interest rates, and make it almost impossible for poor people to get loans to buy a house."

(Capito was among 64 House Republicans to support the legislation, while the Democrats were unanimous.)

Byrd Turns 90

West Virginia's senior U.S. Senator, and history's longest-serving member of that body, celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday.

Friends, supporters and staffers threw a surprise party for Sen. Robert C. Byrd last week in Washington, D.C.

MetroNews has perhaps the biggest spread marking Byrd's milestone, with a lengthy article, sidebars featuring well-wishers and Byrd's marks on history, and a photo gallery.

Others with coverage: the Charleston Daily Mail (w/photo gallery), The Charleston Gazette, The Register-Herald of Beckley, and WSAZ-TV.

Counties Banding Together over Library Funding

Eight counties plan to petition the Supreme Court over special laws that set aside property tax revenues for libraries, with Berkeley County the latest to join the effort, The Journal of Martinsburg reports.

Nine counties have these special laws including Kanawha County, which went to the Supreme Court last year arguing that the state's school aid formula fails to compensate those counties when it parcels out education funds.

Legislature 2008: Campaign Finance

Come January, the West Virginia Council of Churches plans to resume its push for the public financing of legislative campaigns, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

“We think our legislators, or people who run for office, are so tied down by the need to get money that that becomes such an emphasis that they can’t focus on the issues and really listen to their constituents, the voters," Rev. Dennis Sparks, the group's executive director, tells the newspaper.

Roadblocks will include Delegate Kelli Sobonya. "
I don’t want my tax dollars paying for, say, Al Gore to run for president. It’s ridiculous," the Cabell County Republican said.

(While it's not exactly tax dollars, presidential candidates have had access to public funding since 1976.)

The Push for "Clean Coal" Hits a Snag

A publicly owned company trying to build power plant in southern West Virginia fueled by coal waste "missed a $100,000 payment on a $4.87 million bank loan earlier this month," The Associated Press reports.

AP Business Writer Tim Huber found that Western Greenbrier Co-Generation could have gained more time to refinance its $4.87 million loan with First National Bank of Ronceverte, had it made the payment, and that "negotiations to refinance the loan with another bank also fell through."

"Western Greenbrier is trying to build a 98 megawatt electric plant in Rainelle. The plant would serve as a demonstration project by using coal waste, or gob, for fuel<" Huber writes. "It also would make cement from coal ash and other waste, and provide heat to nearby businesses."

Western Greenbrier is owned by the Greenbrier County cities of Rainelle, Quinwood and Rupert, AP notes.

19 November 2007

The Purpose of Table Games

West Virginia's four racetracks argued they needed casino table games to one-up the competition. The tracks had long drawn gamblers from surrounding states with its video lottery slot- and poker-style machines. But then Pennsylvania got into the mix with slot casinos that began opening late last year.

As The Associated Press reports, the field is destined to become more crowded: both Kentucky and Maryland are on course toward put gambling on the ballot in November 2008. Maryland's plan would put 10,000 slot machines within 90 minutes of Charles Town Races & Slots. Kentucky's governor-elect wants to expand that state's racetracks into casinos while allowing freestanding gambling venues along its borders.

Legislature 2008

Eastern Panhandle lawmakers outline potential 2008 session issues to The Journal of Martinsburg. They include regional jail bills, raising the "sin" tax on beer and home rule.

But annexation remains a top item, both for these legislators and for one of their colleagues who pitched the topic to The Register-Herald of Beckley.

Election 2008: Republicans

The Charleston Gazette's Phil Kabler has this Monday column item on an apparent GOP brainstorming session as the party searches for candidates for key 2008 races.

The Intelligencer of Wheeling, meanwhile, talks to former Delegate Chris Wakim, R-Ohio, about a potential 2008 rematch with U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st.