26 June 2008

Special Session Continues

The Associated Press reports on the passage of the bulk of governor Joe Manchin's special session agenda, including his proposed relief from gas taxes. AP also notes the lingering, mostly partisan-line brinksmanship over the electioneering communications measure.

Those focusing on the gas tax item include The Charleston Gazette, The Register-Herald and The State Journal.

MetroNews highlights the related concerns regarding the struggling State Road Fund, with audio of Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, on the topic.

MetroNews, the Beckley newspaper, The Gazette and Public Broadcasting also report separately on the electioneering fight. The latter has audio, while MetroNews has some of its interview with House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha.

MetroNews also reports on the tapping of surplus money for the gas tax item and other measures.

AP Lawsuit Yields Evidence of Massey-Maynard E-Mails

The state Supreme Court's administrator told a Kanawha Circuit judge Wednesday of the existence of a "couple dozen e-mails between West Virginia Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard and representatives of coal giant Massey Energy Co.," The Associated Press reports.

"The documents were retrieved in January, then sealed after court officials decided to withhold records requested by The Associated Press under the state's Freedom of Information Act," the article said.

Administrator Steve Canterbury testified before Judge Duke Bloom that he "couldn't cite a specific exemption to the state's FOIA law that allows the court to withhold the records," AP reported. "Rather, Canterbury said he's relying on the constitutional separation of powers and the philosophy that the communications of judges should remain private."

Bloom has given the Supreme Court "10 days to turn over the sealed documents and any communications with Massey by Maynard's staff," AP reported. "The court also must submit a log indicating generally what the e-mails contain."

The article explains that "the information was sought as part of the AP's coverage of Maynard's July 2006 vacation rendezvous with (Massey CEO Don) Blankenship in Monaco and southern France. The coal company had several cases pending or headed toward West Virginia's sole appeals court at the time."

DaughterGate Update

  • The Associated Press reports on two of the most recent developments: the planned departure of WVU Chief of Staff Craig Walker, and the imminent appointment of former Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Charles M. Vest to WVU's Board of Governors;
  • Those lawmakers tell AP they do not foresee the sort of investigation called for in an early June letter from a group of other legislators. The Register-Herald of Beckley and MetroNews highlight that effort.

25 June 2008

Special Session Update

The 19 bills that form Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda (House and Senate versions of each) advanced from their assigned committees in at least one of the chambers late Tuesday.

The Associated Press offers an overview of the agenda and Tuesday's progress.

The Register-Herald focuses on that part of Manchin's gas tax relief proposal that would offset any loss of State Road Fund revenues with $40 million worth of surplus. The Beckley newspapers also reports separately on the bill that aims to "make it tougher for thieves to fence stolen catalytic converters."

The Charleston Gazette
also highlights the gas tax measure. It draws attention as well to the item facing the steepest climb: "
a bill to update state law on election advocacy advertising."

With a partisan-line battle shaping up over that bill, MetroNews quotes state GOP Chairman Doug McKinney blasts the measure and impugns the motives of its chief supporters. In something of an about-face from earlier this year, McKinney also attacks the 2005 law that the pending bill attempts to tweak in the wake of a federal judge's ruling.

24 June 2008

Manchin, Lawmakers To Tackle Fuel Costs

Relief at the pumps could come to West Virginia motorists in 2009, in the form of a freeze on a scheduled increase to the state's gas tax.

As The Associated Press reports, Gov. Joe Manchin plans to ask lawmakers in special session to suspend a rate hike to the per-gallon tax slated to kick in Jan. 1, and estimated a 6 cents.

"The state would offset the resulting loss of revenue to the State Road Fund with $40 million in general revenue and excess lottery surplus," AP reports.

The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews (with audio) and The Register-Herald of Beckley also have details from Manchin's gas tax proposal and other elements of the special session.

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, meanwhile, reports on current gas prices and finds that "the state's average of $4.08 ranks 14th nationally in comparison to other states and the District of Columbia."

And The Intelligencer of Wheeling asks local motorists about the gas price crunch and the dueling proposals on the topics from Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain in the race for president.

Prison Overcrowding in W.Va.

Already overcrowded with 6,124 inmates, West Virginia's prison system doesn't have the space for 1,200 convicted felons sent there as punishment, leaving them in the state's regional jails instead.

As The Charleston Gazette reports, the effects of this situation include an annual jail fee bill of $22 million while the Division of Corrections seeks other options.

Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein told lawmakers Monday while "the state is meeting federal requirements for prison space," the jails "are not being operated as prisons and do not offer the same programs for early release for good behavior," the newspaper reported.

The Register-Herald also reported on Rubenstein's presentation during the ongoing interim meetings.

Both The Gazette's article and a separate piece by the Beckley newspaper also touch on indications that "snafus in getting proper home plans before a parole board have left an unknown number of convicts behind bars, unnecessarily jacking up costs to the state."

23 June 2008

Rahall Delivers Dem Radio Address

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, tackled the topic of high gas prices and drilling for the most recent weekly radio address from the national Democratic Party (audio here or here), which followed President Bush's weekly radio address on the same topic (audio here).

Rahall has been vocal on the issue in recent days.

Special Session Call Coming

Gov. Joe Manchin is expected to call the Legislature into a special session at 5 p.m. Tuesday, once lawmakers finishes their monthly series of interim meetings that began Sunday.

The Associated Press reports that Manchin has "has discussed addressing fuel costs" with legislative leaders, beyond the $5 million proposed to help county schools with gas and diesel bills.

The session is also likely to revive six to eight bills vetoed during the regulars session, propose several supplemental funding measures and dedicate $20 million to $25 million for the successful teacher pension transfer plan.

Election 2008: Abortion

West Virginia is reporting a 22 percent rise in the number of abortions performed in the state in 2006, the latest year for available figures.

"The rise still leaves West Virginia with one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, " The Associated Press reports, and "also represents a slight blip in what has been a marked decline in abortions performed in the state since the late 1990s."

But the increase has helped bring the issue to the race for governor. Republican challenger Russ Weeks alleges the incumbent Democrat, Gov. Joe Manchin, has been paying "lip service" to anti-abortion forces since taking office in 2005. "Manchin says his record opposing abortion speaks for itself," AP's article said.

Latest Byrd Book To Debut

The latest book from U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd is slated to hit store shelves Tuesday.

In Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for Our Next Leader, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history taps his experience as well as the U.S. Constitution, the Bible and other sources.

Clocking in at 208-pages, the book "
is a plea to the next occupant of the White House, and to all of us, to care more about the future of our country, world and future generations," The Charleston Gazette said in its review.

The review suggests Byrd remains dismissive of president Bush, describing him at one point as the
"most divisive, most nakedly partisan president in my lifetime." But he also has harsh words for Ronald Reagan, and opines that Bill Clinton "was also quite arrogant during his tenure in the White House," the review said.

Manchin Joins Obama For Energy Event

Gov. Joe Manchin and 15 of his Democratic counterparts attended a meeting in Chicago last week where their party's nominee for president, Barack Obama, held forth on energy issues.

Among other stances, Obama " said he would invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to create green jobs, particularly in the automotive industry and to improve the electricity grid so people can drive plug-in hybrid vehicles," The Associated Press reported.

He also promised the governors "a plan to spend billions in taxpayer dollars to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects that could create jobs and improve transportation routes," the AP article said.

When Obama said the latter proposal could start creating jobs within three months, Manchin was quoted as responding that "I think we could put a lot of people back to work in one month. We're ready."

The Republican National Committee quoted state GOP Chairman Doug McKinney to criticize Manchin for his attendance, while also identifying the governor as "Jim." The Washington Post's "The Trail" blog also flubbed his name.

They Voted For You: FISA

U.S. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped the House pass the "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008."

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, was among 128 Democrats and one Republican to oppose the measure in the 293-129 vote.

The Associated Press describes the compromise bill as "an attempt to balance privacy rights with the government's responsibility to protect the country against attack, taking into account changes in telecommunications technologies."

But these new rules would also "effectively shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits arising from the government's terrorism-era warrantless eavesdropping on phone and computer lines in this country," AP reports.

The bill has President Bush's blessing, and "the Senate was expected to pass the bill with a large margin" perhaps this week, AP reported.