14 December 2007

They Voted For You: Intel

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for the Intelligence Authorization Act, which The Associated Press reports "would prohibit the CIA from using waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposed the measure, which passed 222-199 with only five Republicans voting in support.

"The White House threatened to veto the measure this week in a lengthy statement, highlighting more than 11 areas of disagreement with the bill," the AP article said. "The administration particularly opposes restricting the CIA to interrogation methods approved by the military in 2006."

W.Va. Track Owner Wants to Go Private

The Journal of Martinsburg reports that the parent company of Charles Town Races & Slots has "completed one hurdle in its efforts to go private."

An overwhelming majority of Penn National Gaming Inc. shareholders "have approved the sale of the company to a team of equity investment groups," the article said.

"The deal remains to be completed pending a review of the company’s license applications by state gaming boards and racing commissions in the 15 jurisdictions within which Penn National operates," company officials told the newspaper.

"The decision to go private was not linked to the company’s recent failure to bring table games to Jefferson County," The Journal reports. It cites Penn National Vice President of Public Affairs Eric Schippers, "who acknowledged the board of directors announced its intention to sell around the same time voters in Jefferson County rejected the measure in a referendum in June."

Legislature 2008: Teachers

State education officials have approved a roster of legislative proposals topped by a teacher pay raise. The Associated Press has the details.

Focusing on easing the chronic shortage of educators in key study areas, "another solution that garnered support could involve changing policies to allow retirees to work as substitute teachers without losing retirement benefits," AP's Shaya Tayefe Mohajer reports.

The AP article notes that the wish list comes on the heels of a National Education Association report that ranked West Virginia next-to-last for teacher salaries.

They Voted For You: Energy

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., each voted for the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007.

The bill passed 86-8 after the Senate amended the House-passed legislation and "after Democrats abandoned efforts to impose billions of dollars in new taxes on the biggest oil companies, unable by one vote to overcome a Republican filibuster against the new taxes," The Associated Press reports.

But the legislation would also require automakers "to achieve an industrywide average 35 mile per gallon for cars, small trucks and SUVs over the next 13 years," AP reports. It would further "boost use of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a nearly sixfold increase, and impose an array of new requirements to promote efficiency in appliances, lighting and buildings."

The House is expected to take up the Senate changes next week. "The White House issued a statement saying President Bush will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, as is expected. Bush had promised a veto if the oil industry taxes were not removed," the AP article said.

Fight Looms over State Park Drilling

A bid to drill nearly three dozen new gas wells at Chief Logan State Park has been rejected by regulators, The Associated Press reports.

But the royalty rights leased by Cabot Oil & Gas Co. for what lies beneath the popular Logan County park likely means the fight isn't over.

The state Department of Environmental Protection denied the necessary permits for the multi-phase project.

"We believe that we have offered to the DEP the documents that clearly indicate Cabot has the right to expand its operation into Chief Logan State Park. ... Our next step is to examine the avenues of appeal that the state offers," said Tom Liberatore, vice president and Eastern Region manager for Cabot.

AP earlier reported on Cabot's proposal, and the opposition raised by Gov. Joe Manchin.

12 December 2007

Election 2008 Roundup

  • Huntington lawyer and Democrat Menis Ketchum plans a Wednesday morning press conference to announce his already-begun state Supreme Court campaign (update: The Associated Press covered the event, as did the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington);
  • Ronald Moltere, an Eastern Panhandle town councilman, has launched his bid to succeed fellow Republican and state Sen. JohnYoder, The Journal of Martinsburg reports;
  • Ted Arneault Jr., a Northern Panhandle school teacher and the son of the MTR Gaming executive, has decided not to run for the Legislature, The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports. A Democrat, Arneault had filed precandidacy papers in the House district of Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock, who is running for secretary of state;
  • 2nd District congressional candidate and state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, expected to host U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., at the state Capitol on Tuesday. Bad weather scrubbed Hoyer's flight and the campaign event, an Unger staffer said.
  • Update: The Journal also reports that Jefferson County Commissioner Rusty Morgan, a Republican, is in the running to succeed Yoder.

11 December 2007

Power Line Plan Gets Some Pushback

As part of its oversight of utilities in West Virginia, the Public Service Commission asked both staff researchers and two independent consultants to weigh the multi-state power line proposal by Allegheny Energy and its subsidiary, TrailCo.

"They all came to the same conclusion: the data doesn’t justify building a new power line," Public Broadcasting reports. "They’re telling the Public Service Commission to reject the proposed power line.

The segment refers to testimony posted online in the pending petition for PSC approval.

Update: Audio of the segment is here.

The Charleston Gazette ran a series on the power line project earlier this year.

Health Care Regs Under Scrutiny in W.Va.

At least some legislators are weighing a push against the certificate of need system, West Virginia's policy "that requires doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to receive the state's permission before buying equipment or expanding services," The Associated Press reports.

They include Sen. Evan Jenkins led, D-Cabell and executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association.

"Jenkins said he's compiled a thick stack of studies that question whether requiring providers to certify need increases access, ensures quality and controls costs -- the top goals of such policies," AP reports.

The system's defenders include Health Care Authority Chairwoman Sonia Chambers, whose agency administers it.

"It serves a vital role in West Virginia. I think it continues to hold a vital role,'' AP quoted Chambers telling lawmakers. "I don't think now is the time to take away one of tools we use to stem the tide of rising costs.''

Manchin Keeps a Hand in Nurses' Strike

Gov. Joe Manchin continues his efforts to broker a settlement to the two-month-plus strike by nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare hospitals, and has been joined by Kentucky Gov.-elect Steve Beshear, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

Manchin and Beshear met with nurses and ARH officials Monday at the Capitol, though to no avail, the article said.

Still pending is their proposal that nurses return to work under the old contract for a 90-day cooling off period while negotiations are being held," the newspaper reports. "Manchin injected a new wrinkle — that each side limit its representatives at the bargaining table to five people."

Several of the striking nurses joined in a Capitol Rotunda rally that coincided with the ongoing legislative interim meetings. Public Broadcasting has an article as well as audio.

The Register-Herald covered the rally as well, focusing on one nurse who cast the strike as "
a struggle against “corporate greed,” manifested in low staffing levels and forced overtime."

10 December 2007

GOP Convention Update

The Associated Press offers a glimpse at the breakdown of delegates who are assured a seat at the Feb. 5 state GOP presidential convention.

January voting will decide contested "at-large" seats in 31 counties.

And while Mitt Romney has the largest share of them, "about 61 percent of the guaranteed delegates have yet to commit to any campaign," AP reports. "Organizers hope such a sizable wild card will help lure the candidates personally to Charleston."

Legislature 2008: Jail Costs

In the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling on the issue, lawmakers are hearing from county and local officials about the fees charged by the state for housing inmates in regional jails.

With counties straining beneath growing jail fees, some have proposed spreading some of the burden to municipalities. But Charleston Mayor Danny Jones urged against that to a legislative oversight interim committee.

“It just doesn’t make sense. It can’t be solved by shoving it off to the cities," The Register-Herald of Beckley quotes the mayor as saying.

Supreme Court Candidate Boasts FR Haul

Huntington lawyer Menis Ketchum says a Huntington fundraiser brought in more than $250,000 last week for his 2008 state Supreme Court campaign.

A release issued by Ketchum, a Democrat, lists Manchin rainmaker Bob Shell as a sponsor of the event. Other supporters include Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo and a trial lawyer, and business owner and former lawmaker Oshel Craigo.

The Charleston Gazette's Phil Kabler notes the event while also observing that "Justice Elliott 'Spike” Maynard hosted a fundraiser Thursday in Morgantown that brought in an estimated' $100,000."

Two, 12-year terms on the five seat court are up in 2008.

Defending the Poor in W.Va.

West Virginia compensates lawyers who represent poor people accused of crimes. To control such costs, the state has pushed the counties to set up offices of full-time public defenders.

Wood County remains the largest county without such an office, continuing instead to rely on court-appointed lawyers who then bill for their services.

But as The Charleston Gazette reports, this route for providing citizens with their constitutional right to counsel is producing an additional drain.

Private investigators become a key resource for defense lawyers, helping them research and present a case. They, too, are compensated and are costing the state's Public Defender Services agency about $500,000 a year, the Gazette reports.

Wood County "stands out like a sore thumb" for such costs, one legislator is quoted as saying at the ongoing interim meetings.