29 November 2007

W.Va. GOP Convention - Thursday Update

Nearly 700 West Virginia Republicans have signed up to be delegates at the state party's Feb. 5 presidential convention, according to the latest roster.

With the deadline to register Friday, organizers have nearly hit the halfway mark in their bid to attract a maximum of 1,446 delegates.

The latest breakdown:

Other points of interest:

* Thompson continues to have the most legislator-delegates (11);

* Romney now has 8 county GOP chairs, leading that category;

* Giuliani still has the most state GOP officers (3);

* Paul has the most at-large delegates (70), followed by Romney (61);

* Fayette, Harrison and Summers have filled their delegate rosters;

* Five counties - Harrison and Fayette along with Kanawha, Pleasants and Randolph - have more at-large delegate candidates than seats, requiring elections in January.

* All but a half-dozen counties - Barbour, Clay, McDowell, Mingo, Tyler and Wyoming - have delegates registered for the convention.

* Of the 754 unfilled slots, 491 are reserved for legislators and state and county party officials. The other 263 are for at-large seats.

W.Va. Lottery Update

WEATHERING COMPETITION: "Competition from video slots parlors in Pennsylvania continues to drag down West Virginia Lottery revenues — but not as severely as Lottery officials had feared," The Charleston Gazette reports.

Officials told lawmakers Wednesday that revenues from July through October "topped $510.4 million. That’s down $18.8 million, or 3.6 percent, from the same period last year," the article said.

CREDIT CARD ATMS? The Lottery Commission has ordered "Point of Banking Terminals" removed from video lottery parlors pending a review of the machines, MetroNews reports.

Officials are concerned that they are providing cash on credit to gamblers, rather than debiting existing accounts, which is not allowed.

The terminals' distributor, Tri-Com Merchant Services, says they are just like any other ATM.

"The current Limited Video Lottery Law does not allow ATMs in the gambling room where the machines are located, but they are allowed in other parts of the building," the MetroNews article said.

LOTTERY PARLOR CITED: The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports that an Ohio County magistrate has levied $360 in fines and costs against a high-profile video lottery parlor, Wheeling Island's Tropicana Lounge, for violating the county's anti-smoking ordinance.

Owner Jeannette Wakim testified that "she thought her business had been singled out because her husband, Chris, had been very vocal in opposing the regulation and because of his political ambitions. The former state delegate also has run for Congress," the article said.

W.Va. Also Faring Poorly in Mental Health

West Virginians suffer from a higher rate of depression than any other state except Utah, and rank in the Top Ten for suicides.

Such are the findings of a new study commissioned by the nonprofit Mental Health America. At The Associated Press reports, "researchers blame the severity of depression and suicide rates on such factors as poor access to mental health care and a dearth of resources for distressed people."

"The state was joined by Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming in ranking in the top 10" the suicide and depression categories, the AP's Tom Breen writes. "Based on the report, the states ranking in the top 10 for lowest depression and suicide rates are Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey."

Political Speech in the Workplace

Some West Virginia lawmakers are backing a measure for next year's session that would target employers who seek to tell their workers how to vote...or, for that matter, how to pray.

As The Associated Press reports, "draft legislation endorsed Wednesday by the joint Judiciary Committee would forbid bosses from requiring staff to attend meetings or take part in some other setting 'when the primary purpose is to communicate the employer's opinion about religious or political matters.''"

But the measure has its critics, who consider the proposal a heavy-handed attempt at government regulation.

The Register-Herald of Beckley also reports on the draft bill.

28 November 2007

W.Va. GOP Convention Update

With two days until the deadline for registering for the Feb. 5 presidential convention, 516 West Virginia Republicans have signed up for the 1,446 delegate seats, according to the latest roster posted online.

Of the 930 unfilled slots, 576 are for legislators and county and state executive committee members who get automatic berths. The remaining 354 empty spots are for at-large delegates.

Here's the latest breakdown:

Among other interesting tidbits:

  • Thompson has the most legislator-delegates (11);
  • Giuliani has the most state executive committee officers (3);
  • Romney has the most county chairs (4);
  • Paul has the most at-large delegates (59);
  • Two counties, Fayette and Summers, have filled their delegations;
  • Fayette and two other counties, Kanawha and Pleasants, now have enough candidates for at-large delegate for contested elections slated for January;
  • By my count, 38 county GOP chairs have not yet signed up for their automatic spots at delegates (via the state executive committee);
  • Nine counties have yet to see any of its Republicans file to become delegates.

The Push for Power in W.Va.

The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports that a labor-business coalition is arguing for additional power lines in the Mountain State, amid the drive by a leading utility to erect one across its north-central counties.

"West Virginians for Reliable Power outlined their case for new power lines at a presentation Tuesday," the AP article said. "Officials said the state’s status as an energy exporter is no guarantee against power shortages and blackouts."

This alliance includes power companies and coal producers. But while it maintains it has no stance on the topic, Breen observes that "the coalition’s push comes as the state Public Service Commission is wrapping up public hearings on Allegheny Energy’s plan to build a new line between Pennsylvania and Virginia that would cross northern West Virginia. "

"Opposition to the project has come from local residents rallying around groups like the Halleck Community Association, which argues the lines would not help West Virginians," Breen continues.

Legislature 2008: Counties

Officials from West Virginia's 55 counties are looking to the Legislature for help after the Supreme Court upheld the state regional jail authority's power to charge the counties for housing their inmates.

One interim committee lawmaker suggested releasing suspects on their own recognizance when charged with misdemeanors, instead of locking them up, The Register-Herald reports.

“I don’t see why you should have people sitting in jail with misdemeanors, unless you have some aggravating factors,” said Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood.

Other lawmakers and county officials are advising the state to hike its tax on alcohol, given the number of offenses blamed on drinking, the Beckley newspaper reports.

Also covering the interim discussion, The Charleston Gazette relays another option: returning magistrates to 24/7 shifts to reduce the number of suspects jailed overnight while they await their initial arraignments.

The Gazette has a separate report with good news for counties. "
State officials registered more vehicles from new residents this summer than ever after lawmakers decided to end levying the privilege tax on the newcomers’ autos and combined it with a three-month amnesty period," that article said.

Property taxes, which are also levied on such personal property, are a key revenue source for counties.

The 2008 session is also likely to feature another county-related topic, annexations.

The state Supreme Court recently affirmed the voluntary petition method used by municipalities to expand. County officials want that method tweaked, with some seeking its abolishment. But as the Charleston Daily Mail reports, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and the state Municipal League are going to put up a fight.

Legislature 2008: Water Resources

At least some lawmakers are determined to revive and expand a short-lived program that aimed to measure the state's water supply and consumption by industry, residential systems and other users.

As The Associated Press reports, a legislative interim committee assigned to the issue is weighing proposals as other states in the region fight over drought-dwindled water supplies.

"But Lisa McClung, director of DEP’s Water and Waste Management Division, also estimated the annual cost of a sufficient effort at between $600,000 and $5 million," the article said.

The water survey program had to overcome concerns by business interests who feared it would lead to onerous regulations and even a tax on water (comments from Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, helped fan those flames).

But Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley and the interim committee's co-chair, sounded ready to lead the charge.

"If we can’t protect this resource, we’re going to be hurting," Unger, a 2008 congressional candidate, was quoted as saying. "Those who object are only on the outside, who want to eventually exploit our resource. I’m convinced of that."

A Long Ride to School

Public Broadcasting reports that the typical school day for nearly 21,000 West Virginia children includes bus rides that exceed state time standards.

The subject has been a perennial topic at legislative sessions, and again came up at this week's series of interim meetings. Public Broadcasting has audio of its segment as well as a transcript.

It also links to the 2002 series co-written by Public Broadcasting's Scott Finn, during his days at The Charleston Gazette, that examined bus ride times and other fallout from school consolidations.

Quote of the Day

"Nobody is going to run me out of the race with money."

-- Wayne County lawyer and 2008 Supreme Court pre-candidate Menis Ketchum, who told Hoppy Kercheval of MetroNews' Talkline that he plans to raise $1.2 million for his race - with the help of a major rainmaker for Gov. Joe Manchin.

W.Va. Puts Hold on $6.3b Nursing Home Buyout

At the urging of a labor union, the West Virginia Health Care Authority has stayed its approval of a the state's portion of a massive buyout of a national nursing home chain by the Carlyle Group.

The regulators have also set a Dec. 14 hearing to assess the concerns and allegations raised by the Service Employees International Union District 1199, The Associated Press reports.

"We're not issuing any sort of decision on the merits. We are just granting their request for a reconsideration," authority Chairwoman Sonia Chambers told AP.

SEIU has mounted a nationwide campaign questioning the $6.3 billion deal to acquire HCR Manor Care and its more than 500 health care-related facilities. The union represents nursing home workers, including about 1,100 Manor Care employees, AP reports.

But as AP also reports, the global investment firm's bid for Manor Care is also under scrutiny in at least 30 other states.

The Charleston Gazette also has an article on the authority's decision.

W.Va. Drops the Ball on Elderly Funding

"West Virginia is among 13 states that received federal startup monies to establish a program in rural areas called PACE that aims to keep elderly out of nursing homes," Public Broadcasting reports. "West Virginia is also the only the state that’s failed to start the program."

Public Broadcasting spoke to
House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, about the situation.

The Charleston Gazette has also explored the issue, and has an editorial on it today.

W.Va. Ponders Demand-Side Drug Policy

In the wake of reports that "drug and alcohol abusers consume $470 million a year in West Virginia funds through such direct costs as hospitalization, treatment and incarceration," state lawmakers are considering focusing on prevention and intervention to stanch such bleeding.

Advocates of this approach met Monday with Manchin administration officials, and also outlined proposals at a legislative interim meeting in the House Chamber.

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports on an effort to build substance abuse recovery center in that city, as model for other communities in the state.

"We can continue to talk, but the next step in this process has to involve assembling a funding plan and identifying a location to build this facility," Bob Hansen said in the article.

Hansen is CEO of Prestera Center and chairman of the Four Angels Project, "the name that community members have given their effort to build a long-term substance abuse recovery center."

As part of its ongoing coverage of the prevention angle, the Herald-Dispatch also notes Thursday's planned summit of the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

The Charleston Gazette has also had a recent article on the topic.

27 November 2007

Legislature 2008: Public Schools

The Associated Press reports on draft legislation endorsed by an interim subcommittee Monday that would give greater weight to the density of student populations when funding public education.

One state school official "estimated that the legislation would increase education funding by $36.9 million between 2008 and 2011.," AP reports. "Thirteen counties would see gains of $1 million or greater during that time, led by Berkeley County at $2.6 million. Three counties would see a net decrease: Pleasants, at $85,000; Wetzel, at $118,000; and Tyler, at $183,000."

The Journal of Martinsburg, meanwhile, relays concerns and proposals voiced at a recent forum for public school administrators in the Eastern Panhandle.

"While West Virginia’s schools have closed performance gaps and raised achievement standards for all of the subgroups monitored under the No Child Left Behind law in the last four years, an international educational gap is opening ever wider and needs to be addressed," the audience learned.

Legislature 2008: Asbestos Lawsuits

The business and insurance lobbies plan to resume their push next year for restrictions on lawsuits that seek damages for alleged exposure to asbestos and silica dust.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has outlined its stance on the issue as it presents its policy positions in advance of the 2008 regular session.

Advocates for this stance also made their case Monday to lawmakers meeting for their monthly interim session. But as The Register-Herald of Beckley reports, lawyers who file such lawsuits on behalf of claimants were also on hand.

Bill Schwartz of the West Virginia Association for Justice, a trial lawyer group, "disputed the business community’s claim of a 'litigation explosion' in asbestos lawsuits, noting 123 were filed in 2005 in West Virginia, another 103 last year, and 27 to date this year."

Legislature 2008: DUI

Gov. Joe Manchin may propose legislation in January targeting drunken drivers "that raises punishment in proportion to the blood alcohol content," and also mandates breath-sensitive vehicle ignition locks for first offenders, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

Both that paper and MetroNews (with audio) also observe the push by
Mothers Against Drunk Driving for such measures.

Jeri Thompson Comes to Charleston

The wife of GOP presidential contender Fred Thompson met briefly with reporters Monday before a closed door session with state legislators.

While in town, she also picked up her husband's endorsement from West Virginians For Life, which followed the lead of National Right to Life in backing his candidacy.

MetroNews has a story, and audio from an interview with Talkine's Hoppy Kercheval earlier in the day where she offers some interesting comments about Fox News (and The New York Times, for that matter).

WSAZ-TV also offers coverage online, while The Charleston Gazette has a photo.

At least a dozen state lawmakers have endorsed Thompson, including the House and Senate minority leaders. But he was recently surpassed by Mitt Romney in the number of delegates backing candidates who have signed up for the state party's Feb. 5 convention.

The most recent count gives Romney 64 delegates to Thompson's 62. Delegate registration ends Friday.

26 November 2007

Byrd's Bacon for 2007 Topping $355 million

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., has included 101 earmarks totaling $355 million in a series of eight bills before his Committee on Appropriations:

(Click image to enlarge.)

Congress has posted a roster of the year's appropriations measures, and offers both bill text and reports that detail earmarks by state and by requesting legislator.

Totals for the first three bills reflect compromises reached by a joint House-Senate conference committee.

Byrd has co-sponsors for some of the earmarks, and he also added his name to several requests by the Bush Administration.

The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on three of the bills, though with somewhat different totals. The Daily Mail also checks in with Citizens Against Government Waste, which has long railed against such pork.

"Despite what might seem an ample amount of pork spending, an analysis from independent watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste shows that the Democratic-controlled Congress has dramatically slashed earmark spending compared to two years ago, when Republicans were at the helm," the article said.

The watchdog group previously identified $2.28 billion worth of pork earmarked for West Virginia from 2000 to 2006, nearly all of it by Byrd. The total for 2006 was $239 million, compared to $398.6 million for 2005.

W.Va. GOP Needs Delegates for Convention - Updated

The clock is ticking for West Virginia Republicans to sign up as delegates for the party's Feb. 5 "Tsunami Tuesday" presidential convention.

As The Associated Press reports, the GOP had 344 of 1,446 slot filled as of Nov. 23, and the deadline is Friday.

Among some highlights:

  • Fred Thompson has 55 delegates including: Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer; House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha; former congressman Mick Staton.
  • Mitt Romney has 49, including: National Committeewoman Donna Gosney; state school board Vice President Priscilla Haden; former state Supreme Court Justice John McCuskey; Sue McKinney, Harrison County GOP chair and wife of the state chairman.
  • Rudy Giuliani has 37, including: Wood County Commission President Rick Modesitt; Sens. Frank Deem of Wood County and Vic Sprouse of Kanawha.
  • John McCain has 7: Mason County Commissioner Miles Epling; Fayette County GOP Chairman Gary Lilly; former lawmaker and veteran lobbyist Larry Swann.
  • Mike Huckabee, 6: Ashley Stinnett, head of the state's Federation of Young Republicans.
  • Duncan Hunter, 4: Marion County GOP Chairman Andrew Sabak.
  • Ron Paul has 38, the third-most behind Thompson and Romney. Nearly all of his delegates are "at-large," instead of state or county party officials.
Update: The roster was updated this morning and lists 480 delegates, leaving convention planners with 966 unfilled spots or two-thirds of the total. Of these, 586 should be filled by county and state party officials while 380 are empty "at-large" seats.

So far, two counties, Kanawha and Pleasants, have enough "at-large" delegate candidates to require elections in January. Fourteen counties have seen anyone file yet for an at-large spot.

Here's an updated candidate list:

Candidate Delegates
Rudy Giuliani 46
Mike Huckabee 6
Duncan Hunter 4
Alan Keyes 0
John McCain 9
Ron Paul 49
Mitt Romney 63 (now 1st)
Fred Thompson 62
Gene Zarwell 0

Uncommitted: 241