Legislators hit the midpoint of their 60-day session Thursday, and The Associated Press offers an overview of the progress so far.
"The House and Senate have exchanged 47 bills so far this session, with 31 of those passed by delegates," AP reports. " Two have been sent to the governor. One addresses parking at state buildings, the other the regulatory powers of the state banking board."
Among other tidbits:
TAXES: "The state Department of Environmental Protection may ask lawmakers to double a tax on the coal industry," MetroNews reports . "DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermyer told members of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday the state's Special Mine Reclamation Fund that finances the clean-up of forfeited mining sites needs an infusion of cash."
REAL ID: State DMV officials have told legislators that a newly approved deadline extension means that "drivers born after 1964 will have to have Real ID-compliant licenses by 2014, and drivers born in 1964 or earlier will have to have the new licenses by 2017," The Charleston Gazette reports.
PAPER, NOT PLASTIC: "Plastic shopping bags have become such an eyesore and environmental bane in southern West Virginia that a group of lawmakers is attempting to ban them statewide," the Charleston Daily Mail reports.
08 February 2008
Legislators hit the midpoint of their 60-day session Thursday, and The Associated Press offers an overview of the progress so far.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 8:45 AM
U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., helped pass a scaled-back version of the "Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008."
As The Associated Press explains, "The Senate’s 81-16 vote capped more than a week of political maneuvering. The logjam broke when majority Democrats dropped their demand that rescue proposal offer jobless benefits, heating aid for the poor and tax breaks for the home building and energy industries."
The Democrats failed to advance their version earlier this week. "President Bush indicated he would sign the measure," AP reports.
Yet another Supreme Court case involving Massey Energy Co. will not be heard by Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard, after he recused himself from the third such matter Thursday.
"Maynard filed a one-paragraph notice Thursday, saying he was disqualifying himself from a case involving a coal silo Massey subsidiary Goals Coal wants to build near a Raleigh County elementary school," The Associated Press reports.
The Charleston Gazette notes that "the coal silo case marks the first time Maynard has recused himself before a party in a pending case has asked him to do so."
Both articles cite the now-infamous 2006 vacation photos showing Maynard in sunny Monaco with Massey chief executive Don Blankenship.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 8:20 AM
With three of West Virginia's four racetracks allowed to operate full-blown casinos, lawmakers from north central West Virginia want in on some of the action.
The Intelligencer of Wheeling reports on House Bill 4405, proposed by Harrison and Marion county lawmakers, to permit a "horse theme park and pari-mutuel racing facility."
The newspaper also reports that "developers have added a request for a video lottery license to their proposal."
“When they first came down here with this, I didn’t think there was any push for gambling,” House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, long part of Hancock County horse racing industry, told the newspaper. “Now that they are asking for gambling, I don’t see there being a lot of support in the Legislature."
The Senate Education Committee has launched legislation that carves a patch for West Virginia's higher education system for the next dozen years.
Senate Bill 595 would "establish a system of standards, expectations and accountability measures that ensures a seamless learning process from the public school system through post-secondary education," the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports.
Also focusing on the bill, The Journal of Martinsburg explains some of its benchmarks: "strategically raising the college-going rates of the counties sending the fewest students to higher education institutions; ensuring that 90 percent of ninth-graders graduate from high school; and using public higher education institutions to improve citizens’ employability and quality of life while increasing research, economic development and public service within the state."
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:45 AM
Chronic truancy, school-related crimes and disrupting the classroom would cost students their driver's licenses, under legislation amended and advanced by a House Education subcommittee.
But as The Register-Herald reports, "originally, the governor had proposed yanking operator’s cards from students who failed to maintain a 'C' average in school."
Opposed to that approach, the panel changed the bill so it "merely says a student must be 'making satisfactory progress' toward earning a high school diploma," the Beckley newspaper said.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:40 AM
07 February 2008
West Virginia GOP officials tell The Associated Press that the hope to stage a presidential convention in 2012, excited by Tuesday's outcome.
"They've seen how widely heard, listened to and discussed their opinions were," Bob Fish, the convention's chief executive, told AP. "That's going to make it hard to take it away from them."
AP looks back on the state convention from several angles:
* Such attendees as Robert Rupp, political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, give winner Mike Huckabee the nod for best speech. "Huckabee effectively uses words to connect," Rupp told AP. "He knew who his audience was."
* A Huckabee delegate told AP that Ron Paul supporters were indeed offered three of the 18 at-large seats won by Huckabee in exchange for their supports. Greg Smith said that Mitt Romney's camp had earlier offered Paul backers five seats, but the latter were turned off by "the nastiness, and the bitterness of the Romney people."
* "A majority of state delegates from 30 counties went for Huckabee, up from 18 during the first round. He did particularly well with those from Cabell, Raleigh and Wayne counties," the article said.
* As for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor "sported a majority in 29 counties during the first round, but lost four during the subsequent balloting. His strongest showings were among Kanawha, Marion, Ohio and Upshur county delegates."
The Charleston Gazette, meanwhile, reports that the Charleston convention "confused a lot of registered West Virginia Republicans, who believed they were supposed to go to the polls to vote."
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 8:45 AM
PRESCRIPTION DRUGS: "A bill that would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose the cost of advertising and gifts to doctors as early as March passed a key hurdle Wednesday, with no sign of the battle it caused in previous years," The Associated Press reports.
TEACHER PENSIONS: House Speaker Rick Thompson tells MetroNews that the debate over teacher pensions ranks among the biggest of the session. Some are begging lawmakers to let them transfer ailing 401(k)-style retirement accounts into the traditional pension program for teachers. "The Manchin Administration is working on a proposal that would allow those switches to happen. No bill has been introduced at the State House at this point," MetroNews notes. With audio.
MTR: Retiring state Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, "introduced a bill Wednesday that would essentially outlaw mountaintop removal mining," Public Broadcasting reports. "Hunter is promising a public hearing."
SCHOOL BULLIES: The Register-Herald of Beckley looks at "a new Senate bill aimed at dealing with disruptive students who are costing schools valuable instruction time."
Legislators have introduced 1,676 bills heading into Day 30 of their regular session. The House has sent 31 of its measures to the Senate, while that chamber has replied in kind with 16 bills.
Corrected: One has passed both: House Bill 2517 would ensure that the state Board of Banking and Financial Institutions has "the authority to approve acquisitions of out-of-state banks by West Virginia state banks." The Senate sent the measure to the governor on Wednesday.
By this point last year, the House had passed 14 bills, the Senate 34 and six had been sent to the governor. The overall bill count was also 200 higher than this session's. More than 700 of the bills that failed to make it in 2007 were carried over to this year's session.
The Herald-Dispatch examines West Virginia's process for selecting it judicial officers -- partisan elections -- as an issue during the ongoing legislative session.
"With two Supreme Court seats and a host of circuit judgeships up for election this year, the idea of nonpartisan judicial races is being revived," the Huntington newspaper reports. "Throw in a controversy involving the chief judge of the state's highest court, and the issue has become a focus of many state lawmakers."
Offering a breakdown of how the other states pick their judges, the Herald-Dispatch said the debate was renewed "when photos surfaced showing Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship and Supreme Court Justice Elliott 'Spike' Maynard together on the French Riviera during what the two said were separate vacations."
If further notes the Blankenship-related recusal requests made of Justice Brent Benjamin.
U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., each voted to bring up for passage an amended version of the House's "Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008."
The vote failed 58-41, as it needed at least 60 votes to prevail. The Associated Press explains that "Senate Republicans blocked a bid by Democrats to add $44 billion in help for the elderly, disabled veterans, the unemployed and businesses."
"In a suspenseful showdown vote that capped days of partisan infighting and procedural jockeying, eight Republicans -- four of them up for re-election this year -- joined Democrats to back the plan, bucking GOP leaders and President Bush, who objected to the costly add-ons," AP reported.
The House passed its bill last month.
"Are you choking that chicken?"
-- House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, responding to Delegate Jeff Eldridge on the House floor Wednesday. The Lincoln County Democrat had questioned whether a pending animal abuse bill would interfere with tethering fowl. Eldridge later helped pass the legislation.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 12:00 AM
06 February 2008
While continuing to stress "that the numbers are preliminary," the Lottery Commission also continues to boast that casino table games have yielded soaring revenues at West Virginia's two Northern Panhandle tracks.
So reports The Charleston Gazette. Lottery officials believe that "actual gross receipts for table games at Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino and Wheeling Island Racetrack and Casino are twice as high as expected," the article said.
The rosy figures have some lawmakers estimating that the annual loses for Charles Town Races, which was denied table games by Jefferson County voters, is $50 million instead of $25 million, the Gazette reports.
The state's fourth track, in Kanawha County, was approved for table games after a special election marred by botched vote counts. The Associated Press reports that the Secretary of State has finished auditing that balloting.
"The audit found that while the county didn't break any laws, stricter procedures could have made August's special election go more smoothly," AP reports.
Those include mandatory poll worker training, the use of counting boards, and additional notices of precinct changes.
PROPERTY TAXES: The Journal of Martinsburg highlights legislation from area lawmakers that would "place a cap on how much property taxes can increase each year," and "place a three-year moratorium on all tax increases."
ATVs: The Legislature is revisiting the debate over regulating all-terrain vehicles. Perhaps mindful of the past failures of comprehensive measures, one Senate bill focuses on keeping ATVs off of paved roads, The Register-Herald reports.
BOTTLE BILL: Both the Beckley newspaper and MetroNews report on legislation that would require "a refundable deposit of 10 cents on beer, soft drink and other beverage containers." Lawmakers heard from John Ferrari, president of California recycler NexCycle, who touted his trade as "green" as well as profitable and jobs-creating.
That's the thinking in the House of Delegates, which unanimously endorsed a resolution that embraces both "Almost Heaven" and "Wild and Wonderful" as official state mottoes.
If the Senate agrees, the pair "will replace Gov. Joe Manchin's 'Open for Business' as the state's official greeting when motorists enter the state," The Charleston Gazette (corrected attribution) reports.
As The Associated Press version of the story also notes, delegates did some editing with their measure. The motto "Wild, Wonderful" had won during last year's survey of state residents.
Manchin cited that vote to MetroNews. "It was statewide,” Manchin told them. “Over 60,000 people have been involved in this process and I would tend to honor that."
"It's estimated that it will cost $50,000 to replace the state's 107 welcome signs," the articles said.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:45 AM
05 February 2008
As noted here earlier, Mike Huckabee's win at the West Virginia Republican Party Convention was marked by allegations from Mitt Romney's campaign of "slimy" maneuverings by the John McCain camp.
Now, the Ron Paul campaign has joined the mix.
WSAZ-TV is reporting that Paul campaign spokesman Ed Burgess alleges that:
"We struck a deal with the Huckabee people. They came to us and dealt with us honorably and with respect. And so we told them that if Dr. Paul didn't make it through the first round, that we would go for their man. They pledged us three delegates to the republican national convention."Not so, Huckabee spokeswoman Alice Stewart in Little Rock told The Associated Press.
John Tate, Paul's national political director, told AP that Mike Ankrom helped broker the deal.
One of Huckabee's pledged delegates, Ankrom is also political director of the West Virginia Republican Club. Ankrom told AP that he's a Huckabee volunteer, and not authorized to speak for the national campaign. He also declined to comment on Tate's allegation.
State GOP Chairman Doug McKinney noted to AP the convention's winner-take-all format. And as each candidate had locked in their 18 proposed delegates in December, McKinney also said that "Huckabee would have to force three of his delegates to resign and replace them with Paul delegates."
The Paul campaign has posted a release on the three-delegate boast prominently on its web site. MetroNews is also reporting on the claim.
As for the Huckabee-McCain allegations, Romney campaign manager stoked those flames by stating:
"Unfortunately, this is what Sen. McCain's inside Washington ways look like: he cut a backroom deal with the tax-and-spend candidate he thought could best stop Gov. Romney's campaign of conservative change."Huckabee responded that "there wasn't even a frontroom deal," reports AP, which added that McCain later said "It's a bit insulting to Gov. Huckabee, who won that, by alleging such a thing."
The convention envisioned up to three rounds of voting, with an hour in between for negotiations and "horse-trading," as planners put it, among the competing camps.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 6:15 PM
Defecting John McCain - and Ron Paul - voters proved key for Huckabee's win -- to the consternation of the Romney campaign.
The Associated Press has the story, and remains on the convention floor.
Update: Several top McCain supporters announced plans to bolster Huckabee's numbers immediately after the first balloting ended inconclusively. They continued urging their peers to follow suit during the one-hour lunch break. As delegates re-entered the convention hall, volunteers greeted them with signs telling McCain's bloc to back Huckabee.
AP reported on what ensued during the second round of voting:
Romney campaign manager Beth Myers later issued a statement blasting the McCain tactic. "Unfortunately, this is what Sen. McCain's inside Washington ways look like: he cut a backroom deal with the tax-and-spend candidate he thought could best stop Gov. Romney's campaign of conservative change," she said.
As Huckabee's margin became clear, some Romney supporters angrily confronted McCain backers. One called McCain campaign adviser Gary Abernathy "slimy," and compared him with departed West Virginia University football coach Rich Rodriguez.
"Grow up," Abernathy replied.
But McCain's West Virginia campaign chief, Larry Swann, noted to AP that unlike Huckabee, Romney had attacked his candidate in his convention speech.
"McCain voters may have been motivated to prevent Romney from getting momentum early in the day," AP reported.
Update II: Huckabee responds, telling AP "There was no backroom deal. There wasn't even a frontroom deal. There was no deal."
The convention attracted press from West Virginia and beyond, with the ranks swelling while the candidates were on hand. Coverage can be found at The Charleston Gazette, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, MetroNews (with audio), and WSAZ-TV (with video) as well as The Politico and even The Wall Street Journal.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 2:42 PM
Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul have all told their supporters that they plan to attend West Virginia's Republican Party Convention.
As The Associated Press notes, convention planners scored a coup by convincing three of the four remaining GOP presidential candidates to start their super-busy Super Tuesday schedules in Charleston.
The convention also came close to its goal of attracting 1,446 delegates, with 1,207 certified by mid-Monday, More are possible before the event opens at 9 a.m.
Here's the latest breakdown:
Counties denotes those where the candidate has the largest share of delegates. Huckabee and Paul each have 50 percent of more of the delegates in three counties apiece. Romney enjoys such a margin in six counties.
But the the uncommitted delegates remain a huge wild card. So too are the 166 delegates that had pledged to exited candidates. Though his own delegate count is low, John McCain stands to pick up at least some of the supporters of both Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani, AP reports.
And the strong showing by McCain in most polls may explain why his opponents are increasing their push for the 18 national delegates at stake at West Virginia's convention.
McCain is sending former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer to speak on his behalf, and his campaign has planned an election night party in Charleston.
Among those with coverage, Public Broadcasting has been profiling the candidates and has segments on Huckabee, Romney and McCain.
MetroNews also previewed the convention, interviewing CEO Bob Fish.
WSAZ-TV is also providing extensive coverage that includes audio updates and live video. WOWK-TV offers a preview with video.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:15 AM
Lawmakers still aren't biting on Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal to require PROMISE scholars "to pay back at least some of their tuition if they take a job outside West Virginia upon graduation," The Associated Press reports.
AP education writer Shaya Tayefe Mohajer spoke to legislators, school officials and even students while checking on the bill's prospects at the Capitol.
"Manchin's proposal isn't exactly popular with legislators, or the state's PROMISE scholarship administrators who have seen a huge, yet immeasurable, cultural shift since the scholarship's implementation," she reports. "They say the PROMISE scholarship has helped more West Virginia high school students dream of -- and plan for -- a college education."
Tayefe Mohajer also notes that the House Education Committee voted Monday to advance a PROMISE-related rules bill -- ignoring the governor's legislation in the process.
Manchin earlier told AP that he was willing to be flexible regarding the details of a change to PROMISE, but urged lawmakers to continue the dialogue.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:00 AM
After a veto-marked battle on Capitol Hill over expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, The Associated Press reports on efforts to get the ball rolling at the Legislature.
West Virginians for Affordable Health Care "wants to expand CHIP eligibility to children in families earning 250 percent of the federal poverty limit," AP health care writer Tom Breen explains. "A family of four making 250 percent of the federal poverty limit would earn roughly $50,000 a year."
"Currently, CHIP, which covers about 39,000 children, is offered to those making 220 percent of the poverty limit, or about $44,000 a year for a family of four," the article said.
But funding remains the key stumbling block, Breen writes, with officials telling him "the state is monitoring the situation in Washington, but is committed to remaining at 220 percent for now."
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 6:45 AM
Ted Shanklin had been with the Legislature's Post Audits division since 1978, and was in charge of the watchdog agency when he retired in August.
He put up with a lot during his tenure, including shoddy record keeping by state programs and lame excuses from public officials.
He died over the weekend at age 66. The Gazette has an obituary. It reveals that Ted not only served seven years in the Army and one tour in Vietnam, "he was awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry, the Bronze Star with V for Valor and the Purple Heart."
Ted reached the rank of staff sergeant. He went to West Virginia State after his military service, "becoming the third ever African-American in West Virginia to become a CPA," the obit also said.
A memorial service will be held noon on Thursday, Feb. 7, at First Baptist Church of Charleston.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 6:30 AM
President Bush has zeroed out funding for the Byrd Honors Scholarship in his final proposed federal budget, eliciting howls of protest from the longest-serving senator in U.S. history.
Congress set up the program named for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., "in 1986 for students who demonstrated academic achievement and who had been accepted to a college or university," The Associated Press explains.
Byrd denounced the proposed funding cut in a statement Monday.
The Politico observes that "It happens every year – the president highlights dozens of federal programs he deems useless and uses his budget to try to kill them. Quite often, Congress ignores the list."
Questioning such a personal dig, Politico also links to a table of all program's on this year's White House hit list (starting on page 7).
MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval also notes Bush's gambit, while citing a Washington Post article that labels it “a symbolic shot at a fierce Bush critic.”
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 6:00 AM
04 February 2008
Mitt Romney's Mountain State campaign officials confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that the Republican presidential hopeful plans to appeal to delegates personally by appearing at the state GOP convention on Super Tuesday.
(UPDATE: Mike Huckabee is also coming, his campaign told AP.)
Ron Paul's in-state supporters earlier confirmed his decision to attend. "Front-runner John McCain is sending former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer to speak on his behalf," AP reports.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 1:45 PM
Lawmakers have started to weigh in on the Public Service Commission's 2-1 decision last week to give northern West Virginia a new area code.
A geographic split "isn't viewed as the most logical option, according to some House of Delegates members," the Charleston Daily Mail reports. "House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, prefers an overlay plan, which would leave all existing telephone numbers unchanged and assign the second area code for any new numbers in the state."
Delegate Craig Blair questioned the decision in a speech during Monday's House floor session. The Berkeley County Republican instead suggested assigning a new area code to cell phone numbers, as is already the practice elsewhere.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 1:30 PM
RETIREE TAX BREAK: West Virginia's retired teachers and state employees are lobbying lawmakers to increase their income tax exemption on retirement benefits from $2,000 to $20,000, MetroNews reports. "Retirees do not automatically receive a cost of living increase each year," its notes, adding that "Last year, a 3% increase was approved for retirees who had hit the age of 70."
TEACHER SHORTAGE: The Herald-Dispatch offers context to pending teacher pay raise and recruiting bonus proposals, by finding that "more than 10,000 out of 117,544 classes were taught by teachers without certification in that subject. That roughly equated to about one out of every dozen classes, or 8.5 percent." The Huntington newspaper also breaks it down by area high school and subject area.
KIDS DON'T FOLLOW: The Charleston Gazette reports that are high school students "disagree with Gov. Joe Manchin's plans for the merit-based Promise scholarship, but favor a move to keep classmates without a "C" grade point average off the roads."
LOCAL PENSIONS (update): Municipal officials continue to seek help from lawmakers with growing funding shortfalls in their police and file pension funds. The Charleston Daily Mail reports that city officials there remain perplexed: " In 2007, the unfunded liability for the city was $178 million for both funds. That was a sizeable increase from the $163 million total in 2006."
IDENTITY THEFT (update): AARP's West Virginia chapter surveyed its members and found that 90 percent support legislation "requiring companies to notify clients of security breaches on their personal information," the Daily Mail reports.
A dearth of Republican candidates threatens to leave 45 legislative seats in the Democratic column before the first 2008 ballot is even cast, The Associated Press reports.
"By contrast, only nine GOP incumbents are assured re-election because they have no Democratic opponent in November," the article said.
The filings underscore the departure by Republicans of trying to field a candidate in every House and Senate District.
"A silver lining for Republicans may be that 10 Democrats in the House and four in the Senate aren't in the running to keep their seats," AP reports, while also noting that " Republicans failed to file in 6 of those races, two in the Senate and four in the House. "
Mitt Romney recently invoked her in a televised argument with a reporter. Beth Myers, the Republican's national campaign manager and former gubernatorial chief-of-staff, traces her roots to parents born and raised in West Virginia.
Myers recently told The Associated Press about spending summers with her mother's family in Roane County until she was about 15.
"We'd hang out by the (Spencer city) pool, and go to the Robey Theatre and watch movies," Myers said. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:30 AM
Ron Paul is coming to West Virginia for its state GOP convention, in the wake of Federal Election Commission reports that show he outraised the other Republican presidential candidates in the Mountain State during the last three months of 2007:
Democrat Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, continues to dominate the overall campaign contribution picture in West Virginia.
The Associated Press has details. "Belying their front-runner status, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney netted only $600 from the state for the quarter, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., collected $8,715," the article said.
AP also notes that "Only North Dakotans gave less than their Mountain State counterparts during the quarter, according to the FEC filings. "
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 7:00 AM
03 February 2008
With turnout at about 27 percent, Monongalia County voters clobbered a proposed $2-a-week user fee by 2,542 to 11,048, MetroNews reports.
"None of the 72 precincts in the county approved of the fee," which "would have paid for 18 road improvement projects in the county," the article said.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 9:30 PM
Ron Paul is the first, and as yet only candidate who has committed to attending Tuesday's state Republican Party Convention for the 2008 presidential election.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has meanwhile announced that former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer will appear in West Virginia in his stead. Besides attending the convention, Roemer will also headline a delegate meet-and-greet Monday evening.
Update: Mitt Romney told MetroNews' Talkline on Friday that "representatives from his campaign will be on hand for the voting at the Charleston Civic Center." MetroNews has posted audio of the on-air interview.
Update II: The Intelligencer of Wheeling notes that "Fewer than 1 percent of West Virginia’s Republicans cast votes to nominate delegates to Tuesday’s state GOP convention," and fields both complaints and praise about the process.
Update III: Romney has also issued a videotaped message to West Virginia convention delegates.
Posted by Lawrence Messina at 9:00 AM