01 August 2008

Mine Safety in West Virginia

West Virginia mine safety officials vented their displeasure Thursday with a federal proposal regarding emergency shelters in underground mines, The Associated Press reports.

Critics at a Charleston hearing said the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's proposal "would require chambers that are too large, too close together and stocked with too many supplies."

"I believe MSHA has missed the point," Jim Dean, former interim director of the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training, is quoted as saying. "MSHA seems to be more interested in protecting the shelter than protecting the miner."

The Charleston Gazette reports that the Manchin administration may end up suing the federal government over the proposal.

Ronald Wooten, Dean's successor, "said state officials are concerned that federal regulators may outlaw dozens of the rescue chambers approved under separate state rules," that article said.

W.Va. Moves to Increase Ranks of Insured Children

More than 700 uninsured West Virginia children could gain health coverage over the next four years under a bid to raise the income threshold for a state-federal program, The Associated Press reports.

The Children's Health Insurance Program has agreed to extend enrollment to families earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $53,000 for a family of four, the AP article said.

The Charleston Gazette also reports on the move to expand CHIP, which now covers nearly 25,000 children. So does MetroNews, which like the others notes that the Centers of Medicaid and Medicare Services must approve the change.

Bush in West Virginia

The Associated Press covered President Bush's speech to the West Virginia Coal Association, as did The Charleston Gazette.

"There is no more reliable source of electricity than coal," the latter quotes Bush as saying.

MetroNews has a report and audio from The Greenbrier appearance. MetroNews also posted a response to Thursday's speech from U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.

"If President Bush had pursued the right energy policies and made the investments in clean coal technology that he promised eight years ago, he might not be talking in West Virginia about high gasoline prices today," Byrd said.

31 July 2008

Bonus Quote of the Day

"In West Virginia, that's the beauty of community because we all tend to know each other, including the bankers, realtors and brokers. And if we don't know you, we know someone who does."

-- U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, during a congressional field hearing in Martinsburg addressing affordable housing and the ongoing mortgage mess, as reported by The Journal.

Publisher Picks MU Professor for Bush Bio

Random House has asked Jean Edward Smith, a Marshall University political science professor, to write what the publishing giant expects will "undoubtedly be the definitive biography of George W. Bush."

Smith, the author of 12 books, has previously focused on U.S. presidents. "Earlier this year the Society of American Historians awarded Smith the Francis Parkman Prize for historical literature for "FDR," a biography of President Franklin D. Roosevelt," The Associated Press reports. "His 2001 book on Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for a 2002 Pulitzer Prize in biography."

Smith has been working on a biography of President Dwight Eisenhower. Others reporting Random House's announcement include The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.

Update: Smith spoke to MetroNews' Talkline about the upcoming project. He's also previously written a book involving the president's father: George Bush's War.

Kirkus Reviews said that "in this volatile study, America's adventure in the Persian Gulf War was not a crusade for freedom but a checkpoint on the personal agenda of George Bush, who disregarded constitutional restrictions on presidential power and cynically manipulated the public, the press, Congress, and even the military."

Teacher Pension Fix Prompting Some Retirements

West Virginia has allowed thousands of teachers and school staffers to switch to a traditional pension program this year, after they voted to abandon 401(k)-style accounts amid complaints of inadequate returns and poor oversight.

A number of these transferring educators had said that insufficient earnings from their individual investment accounts had forced them to postpone planned retirements. But the executive director of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board reports no mass retirements in the wake of the pension switch.

Anne Lambright told MetroNews that "those who are planning to retire on September first, October first or November first had to notify their county leaders of those intentions by July first," but "at this point, those numbers are in the dozens. It's fewer, she says, than she anticipated."

The MetroNews item said that "Lambright estimates 1,500 additional teachers and school service workers are eligible, based on years of service and age, to retire."

They Voted For You: Tobacco

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st; Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd; and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, all helped the House pass the "Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act."

The 326-102 vote advances legislation "that for the first time would subject the tobacco industry to regulation by federal health authorities charged with promoting public well-being," The Associated Press reports.

"The bill would further tighten restrictions on tobacco advertising and impose new federal penalties for selling to minors," the article said. "But its most far-reaching provisions would give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco, from cigarettes to new kinds of smokeless products."

AP also reports that "while the bill appears to have enough support to pass this year, it's unclear whether the Senate will have time to act, and the Bush administration issued a veto threat Wednesday."

30 July 2008

Quote of the Day

"Hey, Ted... say it ain't so."

-- U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., to the recently indicted Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, according to The Associated Press.

Legal Challenge Targets Amended Election Ad Rules

The Center for Individual Freedom has made good on its vow to challenge the special session legislation that attempted to fix the state electioneering communications law targeted by the Alexandria, Va., group in a federal lawsuit.

The center has supplemented its U.S. District Court filings to object to the statutes as amended, arguing they are also constitutionally infirm, The Associated Press reports.

The development follows word that Secretary of State Betty Ireland, as the chief elections officer, plans to enforce the legislation after deeming it outside the scope of the partial preliminary injunction won earlier by the center.

Health Care a Hot Topic at Legislative Interims

Lawmakers have tackled health care issues at several different angles during this month's three-day series of interim meetings, which end Wednesday:

  • The Associated Press writes that legislators expect to revisit the debate over continuing the state's "Certificate of Need" system for regulating health care services. A state agency "issues more than two dozen of those certificates for everything from expanding heart surgery procedures to opening methadone clinics," AP health care writer Tom Breen reports. (Update: Breen has the blow-by-blow from the hearing.)
  • AP delved earlier into the interim study of data-mining, in which mountains of information reflecting such doctor-patient interactions as drugs prescribed are sold to the pharmacuetical industry and other interests for marketing purposes. The Charleston Gazette covered that hearing as well.
  • The Gazette and AP also report on the latest update provided to lawmakers on the overcrowding crisis afflicting West Virginia's state-run mental hospitals. The Charleston newspaper has a separate overview of the crowding problem as well.

Governor's Nephew Testifies at Prostitution Trial

A nephew of Gov. Joe Manchin is among several former customers of a Morgantown escort service who has testified in the federal trial of its owner, charged with prostitution-related offenses.

The Charleston Gazette reports that 33-year-old John Manchin III told the U.S. District Court jury in Clarksburg that he hired two women from Donna D. Duelley's Fascinations Escort and Entertainment Service .

"I remember one lady dancing, and another lady lap dancing, and I believe that's when the oral sex took place," he is quoted as testifying.

MetroNews also has coverage of the trial, with an audio report.

29 July 2008

Election 2008 Roundup

  • As they raise money for their re-election campaigns, West Virginia's congressional delegation has passed along some of those funds by contributing more than $1.5 million to other candidates, their parties and various causes, The Associated Press reports.
  • U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and Democratic challenger Anne Barth were both stumping in the Eastern Panhandle on Monday, the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown (Md.) reports.

28 July 2008

Finding Revenue in West Virginia

With the Legislature in Charleston for its monthly interim meetings, talk is expected to turn to a final tally of "surplus" revenue from the budget year that ended June 30.

"High demand for coal and natural gas has helped the state stay in the black while others around the country are facing budget cuts and red ink," The Associated Press reports. "Fiscal conservatives in the Legislature want to use the surplus to pay down some of the state's debts."

Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, spoke to MetroNews on the topic. "He says the Legislature would be foolish to create any new state programs," it reported. Audio here.

Lawmakers are also expected to discuss funding for the state's many volunteer fire departments. The Register-Herald of Beckley reports on one emerging suggestion on the topic: legalizing fireworks.

AP also has coverage of another proposed revenue raising measure for the state: charging up to $400 for the placement of roadside memorials, to cover the cost of the Division of Highways maintaining them.

Clocking the Legislature

The Associated Press applied a stopwatch to the daily House and Senate floor meetings during this year's 60-day regular session, to test the notion that lawmakers fritter away most of that time on ceremony and pomp.

The results: "legislators spent two-thirds of their time on the key task assigned them by voters: to craft, advance and vote on bills."