While Gov. Joe Manchin touched on such topics as clean coal technology and climate change in Wednesday's State of the State, he detailed his goal to make "coal the centerpiece of national energy policy" at the 35th West Virginia Mining Symposium.
"Manchin said he envisions a plan that relies on technology to produce cleaner electricity as well as motor fuels and natural gas from coal," reports Tim Huber, business writer for The Associated Press. "Any plan also would need to include natural gas, crude oil and alternative fuels such as biomass, wind and solar."
(Huber also reports in a separate, related story that off-again, on-again federal mine safety chief Richard Stickler said at the Thursday forum in Charleston that his agency " is on track to carry out required quarterly inspections at all U.S. underground coal mines for the first time in years.")
But state environmental groups aren't buying into the governor's energy strategy, and "oppose Manchin's pursuit of coal-to-liquid technology as unproven and costly," AP reports.
The West Virginia Environmental Council unveiled its "Citizens' Energy Plan" at a Capitol event Thursday.
"Among other measures, it would make public buildings more efficient, promote conservation and link a vehicle's registration fee to its fuel efficiency instead of it value," AP reports. The plan also "would require power plants to tap renewables for 25 percent of their output, buying at least some of that from local producers, by 2025."
The Charleston Gazette focuses separate articles on the WVEC plan and Stickler's mine inspection comments. MetroNews also covered the symposium, and has audio of W.Va. Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton.
And in a coal-related issue, AP reports that Manchin has proposed a bill targeting air packs thefts. The measure "would add underground coal mines to homes, stores and other structures already protected by West Virginia's felony breaking and entering law."
11 January 2008
While Gov. Joe Manchin touched on such topics as clean coal technology and climate change in Wednesday's State of the State, he detailed his goal to make "coal the centerpiece of national energy policy" at the 35th West Virginia Mining Symposium.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes a step back from its coverage of the "Degree of Doubt" (seems snappier than DegreeGate or HeatherGate, but entries are still being accepted) with an editorial.
It seeks to keep the fire stoked through such observations as:
Although university records showed she was 22 credits short in the 48-credit-hour program, R. Stephen Sears, dean of the school's College of Business and Economics, reported that his school's records indicated (Heather) Bresch met all requirements. But on Tuesday, Provost Gerald Lang -- WVU's chief academic officer -- said those records don't even exist. Not only that, he said no other students have reported problems with their records since the Post-Gazette's first report last month.MetroNews, meanwhile, quizzed Gov. Joe Manchin on the situation.
"We're all anxious for the facts to come out and I told them bring in Scotland Yards. Do whatever you have to, investigate, do it all, do it as quickly as possible," he told Talkline Host Hoppy Kercheval. Audio here.
Update: The Post-Gazette offers yet another new wrinkle to the story: "West Virginia University President Mike Garrison's chief of staff directed the university's initial investigation into whether West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's daughter earned an M.B.A degree at the university, according to e-mails."
Update II: West Virginia Media has interviewed R. Stephen Sears, dean of WVU's business school and a key figure in the story, for its weekend Decision Makers program. Part of the Q&A has already been posted online.
TAXES: Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, tells The Journal of Martinsburg that he'll resume his push a bill "that would exempt certain aircraft from being taxed as personal property."
RULE-MAKING: As it does each session, the Legislature will approve rules the full range of state agencies and programs. The Charleston Gazette reports on a preliminary move by lawmakers, during the earlier interim meetings, that "gutted state Ethics Commission rules that would have effectively banned law enforcement associations from soliciting contributions."
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:40 AM
The Charleston Gazette weighs the prospects of Gov. Joe Manchin's bid to start an endowment with $50 million for "hiring research scientists and funding new labs at West Virginia and Marshall universities to undertake research leading to patents, products and spinoff companies."
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:35 AM
"West Virginia is one of about two dozen states that doesn't release mental health records to an FBI database used to screen prospective gun buyers," The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports, adding that Gov. Joe Manchin has a proposed a bill to change that.
"The impetus to change the law came after a shooting spree last April that left 33 dead on the Virginia Tech campus, including gunman Seung-Hui Cho," Breen explains. "He was able to buy a handgun in Virginia even though a judge had previously declared him mentally ill."
The Herald-Dispatch, which profiled efforts to tackle drug addiction and related crime, reports that "Some substance abuse prevention officials are critical of Gov. Joe Manchin's plan for spending millions of dollars that the state will receive from a settlement with the pharmaceutical company that makes OxyContin."
The newspaper also details the governor's settlement spending proposal.
The Charleston Gazette finds that the governor's proposed change to the merit-based scholarship program has precedent in West Virginia.
"Two state scholarship programs aimed at students in specific fields, the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Program and West Virginia Engineering, Science and Technology Scholarship Program, offer financial incentives to students in exchange for their agreement to work in the state for a set number of years after graduation," the newspaper reports.
The Gazette also finds more lawmakers questioning this Manchin agenda item, as does the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington.
Update: Former Gov. Bob Wise, who found funding for (corrected from "started;" sorry, my bad) PROMISE at the start of his term, weighs in on his successor's proposed changes to the Charleston Daily Mail.
"Wise said that would undermine the original intent of the Promise Scholarship program, which is to encourage students to excel in high school and go on to college, preferably in the state," the newspaper reported.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:25 AM
Lawmakers continue to weigh Gov. Joe Manchin's teacher pay proposals; he made a major pitch to fellow Democrats in the House and Senate when each caucus met behind closed doors Thursday afternoon.
But some legislators are launching their own bills as well. Associated Press education reporter Shaya Tayefe Mohajer follows up on her earlier report detailing a possible tax break for teachers with news of the bill's introduction.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:15 AM
As The Associated Press reports, lawmakers will likely act this session after the state Supreme Court declined to review a circuit judge's ruling blocking the planned merger of West Virginia's two teacher retirement programs.
The ruling allows around 19,164 teachers and school officials with 401(k)-style retirement accounts to retain direct control of them. But figures show that the average account contains $33,944.
"Of the 1,100 account holders age 60 or older, 23 had more than $100,000 last year," AP reports. "The largest of those accounts had $157,000."
Had the merger gone through, the accounts would have become part of the Teachers' Retirement System, or TRS. Though the state continues to struggle to reduce a severe funding shortfall in TRS, its retirees "can count on between $200,000 and $400,000 in total benefits."
Lawmakers have studied options that include "allowing account holders to transfer voluntarily to TRS, which also requires its enrollees to contribute a higher percentage of their pay, the AP article said. "Lawmakers have debated whether to require these transfers to pay makeup amounts to resolve the difference in contribution rates."
MetroNews talks to Jim Lees, a lawyer for account holders who opposed the merger, as part of its coverage of Thursday's decision.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 12:00 AM
10 January 2008
TEACHERS: Though largely left out of the speech, Manchin has proposed $81 million worth of pay raises, The Associated Press reports. More than half the money would go to teachers, who are also offered $20 million worth of signing bonuses.
But teachers seek more, as The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews report.
(Update: The Journal bounces the proposals off officials in the Eastern Panhandle, arguably the region most beset by teacher shortages. The story also notes Manchin's proposal to require counties to devote all free-up local share funds toward teacher salaries.)
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: Manchin's emphasis on "funding work-force training won him praise from both business and labor," The Charleston Gazette reports.
Marion County, meanwhile, wants to land "one of the two state-of-the-art technical training centers that Gov. Joe Manchin wants to fill the needs of existing and new businesses," local lawmakers told the Times-West Virginian.
GOP REAX: "Republican leaders in the House and Senate say Governor Joe Manchin made some good proposals, but he didn't go far enough to put forth ideas that will improve the state's economy," MetroNews reports (with audio).
OTHER: Local delegations also chimed in to the Parkersburg News and (updated) The Journal of Martinsburg.
The Associated Press offers highlights of the agenda.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 8:45 AM
The Herald-Dispatch and The Intelligencer both focus on Manchin's "comprehensive drug eradication program."
The governor's plan includes "prevention resource officers in schools, addiction training programs for health care professionals and drug courts," the Huntington paper reports. "The money also will be used by the State Police to hire more drug investigators and add training courses, among other things."
The Wheeling paper touts Manchin's drug court proposal, as his plan would expand a program begun in Ohio County across the state.
Update: The Charleston Daily Mail reports on the drug plan as well.
A $44 million from a U.S. Justice Department settlement with the makers of OxyContin fuels this element of Manchin's agenda.
"Several lawmakers, from both parties, withheld applause for Manchin's PROMISE proposal," The Associated Press reports.
The agenda item would require future PROMISE winners to remain in the state or pay back the scholarships as loans.
MetroNews also heard from legislators on the topic (with audio), as did Public Broadcasting (with audio as well).
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 8:20 AM
The Associated Press details the governor's State of the State address _ which contained most but not all of his legislative agenda items _ and his proposed budget for 2008-2009.
Others with overviews include The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews (with audio), the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, The Register-Herald of Beckley and The Intelligencer of Wheeling.
The governor's web site offers text of the speech, his office's budget presentation to lawmakers and details from his "Drug-Free West Virginia" plan.
09 January 2008
Those with previews of Gov. Joe Manchin's speech and latest legislative agenda include The Associated Press and The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington
House Speaker Rick Thompson and Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, meanwhile, each spoke to MetroNews about the upcoming 60-day session (Talkine audio here and here, respectively).
Others check in with local lawmakers, including The Times-West Virginian of Fairmont and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
Team Manchin plans to present streaming video, text of his State of the State and details from his proposed 2008-2009 state budget on a special section of the governor's web site.
Public Broadcasting will offer both on-air and streaming audio and video of the 7 p.m. speech as it kicks of its nightly program, "The Legislature Today."
Gov. Joe Manchin has told The Intelligencer that he "wants each county to have its own say in whether limited video lottery machines remain at the corner shop."
"The next gambling issue in the state will be the limited video lottery machines found outside racetracks and at small businesses and organizations throughout West Virginia communities," the Wheeling newspaper reports. "The 10-year licenses for these machines are set to expire in 2011."
“The counties should have a say in whether they have LVLs in their communities — just like they did with table gambling,” Manchin told the paper.
Setting the table for yet another fight during the legislative session, lawmakers Monday nearly doubled the list of West Virginia streams afforded protections under "Tier 2.5 status," The Associated Press reports.
AP's Tom Breen notes that the interim committee vote reverses a course set by Gov. Joe Manchin and his Department of Environmental Protection, who had been paring down the stream list.
"That likely means a fight with groups representing industry and property owners, who had hoped to reduce the number of protected streams to 38," Breen reports.
It had been whittled down to 156 before the successful amendment by Delegate Mike Burdiss, D-Wyoming.
But Burdiss "unfurled a huge map showing the state's more than 2,000 streams and carried it around the room to help make his point," the AP article said.
"Only 38 streams out of 2,000 and some? What are we doing?" it quotes Burdiss as asking.
The Charleston Gazette was also at the interim meeting, and recounts the multi-year battle over the stream list while predicting it could be "the biggest environmental issue of the 2008 session."
The Gazette also relays this color from the meeting:
Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, insisted that the committee allow anyone at Tuesday’s meeting who owned property along a listed stream be allowed to address lawmakers.
Minard asked if any landowners were present, and the only person who came to the podium was Roger Sherman, a lobbyist for Mead Westvaco.
Sherman said that while timber operations are exempt from the anti-degradation rules, his company might someday want to do something else on its land that required a permit that would be subject to the rules.
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, asked Sherman to identify which streams on the DEP list Mead Westvaco owned property along.
“I can’t recall that,” Sherman said. “I was not prepared to speak today. I’m not sure which list we’re talking about.”
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:43 AM
The Associated Press is among those reporting on the latest development, a press release issued Tuesday by West Virginia University outlining the scope of the recently announced review.
"Specifically, the panel is to ascertain whether Ms. Bresch earned her eMBA degree in 1998," the statement from WVU Provost Gerald Lang said. "Were the records of all students handled appropriately in 1998 and 2007? Was Ms. Bresch treated differently than other similarly situated students in the eMBA program in 1998 or in 2007?"
In detailing the scope, Lang also addresses persisting questions about the independence of the three-member investigative panel.
"Since the accuracy of a WVU degree is at issue, it is only right that WVU faculty investigate the matter at their own institution as they do for any other curricular issues," Lang says in the release. "It is the faculty who know what to look for as they have a knowledge and history of administrative processes.”
Lang later elaborated to Vicki Smith, the AP's Morgantown correspondent, while promising the probe would be "fair and honest."
"I think everyone is very comfortable with these individuals and confident that a fair and honest review will occur," he told AP. "The people that have been appointed have been appointed with the support and endorsement of Faculty Senate leadership. I think they will do what they need to do."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which first questioned Bresch's degree, follows up today regarding whether any records exist to support the retroactive award.
"When asked what records showed Ms. Bresch completed her degree, Mr. Lang replied, 'I don't know,'" the Post-Gazette reports. "School officials said the degree was awarded 'after much research' by the business school."
The article then notes that those researchers would have included Dean R. Stephen Sears, whose chair as head of the College of Business and Economics is endowed by Milan Puskar. Besides being Bresch's boss at Mylan Inc., Puskar is a longtime ally and donor of her father, Gov. Joe Manchin.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:00 AM
08 January 2008
Kanawha County students can continue to read Pat Conroy.
A panel has approved the use of "The Prince of Tides," following complaints about the book, The Charleston Gazette reports.
The panel earlier approved a second Conroy novel, “Beach Music,” after it was also targeted by parents. The tumult prompted a letter from Conroy to the Gazette in the fall.
Monday's interim legislative meetings also yielded an audit that concludes the Lottery Commission has interfered with the state's program for problem gamblers.
Lottery "sought to influence the advertising of the Problem Gamblers Help Network," The Associated Press reports, and "also tried to get the names of agency staff members who may have called the program's hot line."
The Charleston Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley also have stories on the audit.
The findings appear to validate allegations by Mia Moran-Cooper, who was ousted as the program's director last year. Lottery officials disagree with most of the audit's conclusions, and also objected to its reference to Moran-Cooper and her allegations.
Update: The Gazette article includes this tidbit from the audit: "West Virginia also is one of only three states where the group running the state lottery directly administers a publicly funded problem gambler program. That’s out of 42 states that operate lotteries, and out of 35 states that have publicly funded programs to assist compulsive gamblers."
Update II: Public Broadcasting also has a piece on the audit (with audio).
The Associated Press' Tom Breen highlights one bill destined for the upcoming regular session, which expands on a pet project of Gov. Joe Manchin.
The proposed ban on soft drinks and sugary snacks from all public schools responds to numerous reports of West Virginia's sorry state of oral health.
"About 20 counties have similar, voluntary guidelines in place, but the legislation would make it mandatory in all 55 counties.," Breen reports, "The bill would only allow the sale of water, fruit and vegetable juices, and some types of milk. It would also restrict snacks to fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, nuts and seeds in servings of 200 calories or less."
Update: MetroNews hears from Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone and a physician who supports the draft bill, and critic Clinton Giles, who raises funds with such goods as principal of Capital High.
House Republicans outlined about two-dozen goals for the 60-day session that starts Wednesday.
Tax cuts top the list, and include immediately abolishing the business franchise tax and sales tax on groceries.
As The Associated Press reports, "Other goals include requiring a two-thirds majority to pass any future tax hikes, and a law to limit government growth to the rate of inflation."
Besides taxes, agenda topics include the court system and illegal immigration. The Register-Herald of Beckley and The Charleston Gazette also covered the GOP press conference. MetroNews (with audio) spoke to House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, beforehand.
Several of the items would require amending the state constitution, such as a proposed ban on same-sex marriage. Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, called the House Committee on Constitutional Revision an "absolute failure."
Legislators smacked around Health and Human Resources Secretary Martha Walker and one of her top aides Monday.
The lawmakers were reacting to a new audit that revisits the 2005 ruckus created when Walker's agency tried to downsize the Aged & Disabled Waiver program.
The program allows folks in those categories to stay in their homes while receiving care. At the time, DHHR said it was trying to make eligibility criteria more objective. The audit cites DHHR meeting minutes that show "officials spoke of saving money if they cut the number of people served," The Associated Press reports.
The audit also concludes that some of the reports exaggerated the fallout of the downsizing, particularly the number of West Virginians forced into costlier nursing homes or hospitals.
The Charleston Gazette also reports on some of the drubbing from Monday's interim meeting.
Update: Public Broadcasting has a piece on the audit as well (with audio).
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:15 AM
07 January 2008
Gov. Joe Manchin has offered a few hints at what he will propose to the Legislature during Wednesday's State of the State address.
He mentioned locality pay for teachers and changes to the PROMISE scholarship during last week's forum hosted by The Associated Press.
MetroNews also previews possible Manchin agenda items.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington focused on Manchin's comments regarding teacher pay and other education issues. "The state's two teacher unions are calling for raises, though their proposals vary," that article notes.
Some expect little heavy lifting during the session. Manchin is up for re-election this year, as is the entire 100-seat House of Delegates and half the 34-member Senate.
AP also reports that as Manchin heads into the fourth and final session of his term, "slightly more than four out of every five bills that the former legislator has proposed since taking office in 2005 have become law."
West Virginia's doctors and hospitals may spend the upcoming session battling it out over the way the state regulates health care spending.
As The Associated Press' Tom Breen explains, the state now requires providers to obtain a "certificate of need" before they can expand services or facilities, or acquire new equipment.
The goal has been to "hold down health care costs while ensuring high quality and broad access to treatment," the article said. But some doctors argue the system unfairly favors hospitals, as in the case of the recent fight over CT scanners.
In their corner, the doctors have Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, and executive director of their medical association.
‘‘So much of what we do as legislators in general is look to see if we’re out of step,’’ Jenkins told Breen. ‘‘Right now, we are in a minority of states with a very restrictive and comprehensive regulatory environment.’’
Breen also found that "36 states and the District of Columbia have some form of certificate of need process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although they vary widely in how far they go in regulation."
Defenders of the system include the state Hospital Association. ‘‘In spite of our poor health status, we are the 44th lowest in the country in terms of hospital expenses,’’ its legislative affairs director, Tony Gregory, told AP
An ongoing push for legislation targeting asbestos lawsuits suffered a major blow Sunday when an authority on the topic called the draft bill "a mistake" and "unnecessary," The Associated Press reports.
Retired Kanawha Circuit Judge Andrew MacQueen presided over thousands of asbestos claims during his 22 years on the bench. He also helped West Virginia's court system develop a management plan for these complicated cases that has resolved tens of thousands of additional claims.
"There's no reason for it,'' MacQueen told lawmakers. "None of the players in the asbestos litigation are coming to you asking for changes to this arrangement.''
Advocates of the bill include insurers and the state Chamber of Commerce, which has included it on its 2008 agenda.
Legislators are pressing ahead with a bid to more closely scrutinize West Virginia's workers' compensation system as it rolls toward full privatization.
The state's insurance commissioner is fleshing out the rules, policies and guidelines through which this form of insurance would operate in a free market.
The Associated Press reports on the latest stab to fashion a bill that would have lawmakers ride herd during that process.
Critics include Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline, who warns of a potential "chilling effect" on privatization efforts.
And Gov. Joe Manchin wants the Legislature instead to wait a year or two before making any such changes, The Register-Herald reports.
The Beckley newspaper also covered Sunday's interim action on the topic.
A simple technology would allow West Virginians with severely impaired vision to drive safely _ if the state would consider granting them special, restricted licenses, advocates for the disabled say.
The Legislature will be asked to allow for such licenses during the regular session that begins Wednesday. Tom Breen, who covers health care issues for The Associated Press, has the details.
"Similar programs have been adopted in 39 other states, and West Virginia was actually the first in the country to try the program as a pilot in the 1980s," Breen reports. "But the program ended in 1998, and attempts to revive it in the Legislature have fallen short in the face of concerns from the Division of Motor Vehicles."
Lawmakers reviewed the issue as part of the ongoing series of interim meetings. The Register-Herald of Beckley has a story as well.
Seven GOP presidential candidates remain in the running to lock up 18 of West Virginia's delegates to the Republican National Convention.
Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have all filed final registration papers for the Feb. 5 state convention, and submitted slates of the 18 each wants to send to Minneapolis-St. Paul in September.
Of the remaining candidates who missed the Dec. 31 deadline, only Alan Keyes had state convention delegates pledged to him. All six face contested races for their at-large seats, however.
The slates, meanwhile, show that several delegates pledged to no candidate at the state convention have committed to representing one at the national convention. Mitt Romney has the most of those, at six.
Online voting has begun to resolve contested at-large seats in 30 counties, though it's unclear how many state GOP members have registered to cast ballots that way. Counties can also hold local conventions to settle their at-large slots. Five _ Berkeley, Marion, Morgan, Pleasants and Woods, have already held theirs. Conventions are scheduled in eight others: Fayette, Harrison, Jefferson, Mineral, Monongalia, Nicholas (underway), Ohio and Tucker.
The Parkersburg News and The Intelligencer of Wheeling each have stories on the local voting in those areas.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 12:30 AM
As they gear up for the 2008 regular session of the Legislature, reporters and editors from around West Virginia attended a Friday "lookahead" forum hosted by The Associated Press.
As AP reports, the conference kicked off with a panel discussion of whether the Mountain State is "Open for Business." The discussion focused on Unleashing Capitalism, the book published last year and edited by West Virginia University economics professor Russ Sobel.
Rather than debate the merits of the book, the panelists instead differed over how quickly to implement its libertarian proposals.
The book was published by the West Virginia Public Policy Foundation, one of a string of conservative, free-market think tanks begun in numerous states nationwide within the last several years. It was bankrolled by WVU donor Ken Kendrick (yes, that Ken Kendrick.)
Though the panel, selected by editors and publishers of AP's newspaper members, included no critic of the book, questions have been raised about its contents. Some have come from Sobel's colleagues at WVU's College of Business and Economics.
The CB&E's Clifford Hawley, for instance, blasted the book last year in an op-ed to The State Journal (no link available).
More recently, researchers at WVU's Institute for Public Affairs dismissed some of the book's findings in its most recent Public Affairs Reporter.
Ted Boettner, the newly minted executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, called the book into question in a 2007 opinion piece. Dim views of the book have also been expressed by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute and blogger Rick Wilson of the West Virginia Economic Justice Project.
The critics also include legislators from both parties, who took to the floor of the House of Delegates last year to denounce its chapter on West Virginia's coal mining industry as unsupported historical revisionism.
And Public Broadcasting sought to provide context to the book's allegations _ and to the argument conveyed by its contrasting cover photos _ in a piece last year that featured a testy exchange with Sobel.
Besides the editors and publishers who helped assemble Friday's panel, fans of the book includes West Virginia Media. Besides favorable coverage in its State Journal, the organization has hosted Sobel several times on its weekend morning television show.
The state Republican Party, meanwhile, has distributed free copies of the book and embraced its message as the foundation for its 2008 election strategy.
Sobel has decried allegations of partisan leanings. He has also appeared at GOP functions to declare that “The ideas put forth in my book are more consistent with those of the Republican Party than those of the Democratic party.”
The Register-Herald of Beckley also has a story on the Friday panel session.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 12:15 AM