19 December 2008

Full Ride Ending for Promise Scholarships?

A state panel is poised to recommend that West Virginia cap its annual Promise college scholarships at $4,500 a student, an amount what would no longer cover full tuition and fees at West Virginia University, Marshall and other state schools, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"The draft report from the Promise Scholarship Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee represents a complete review of the 6-year old program," the article said. "The cap would help the state control costs associated with the program."

The article also notes that "the committee also rejected adding any mandatory in-state work requirement, like the one proposed and then withdrawn earlier this year by Gov. Joe Manchin."

Ketchum Sworn in

A Supreme Court chamber packed with family, friends, legal dignitaries and other officials helped highlight Thursday's robing of Menis Ketchum as one of West Virginia's two new justices, The Associated Press and others report.

With his 12-year term beginning Jan. 1, Ketchum, 65, is "joining a court that drew national headlines in 2008," AP notes.

"Photos that surfaced last January showed Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard socializing in Monaco with Don Blankenship, the top executive at Massey Energy Co," the article said, while "Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether a second justice, Brent Benjamin, should have recused himself from a $50 million case involving Massey."

Maynard did not appear at Thursday's ceremony, while Benjamin presided over it as next year's slated chief justice.

Former Justice Margaret Workman, who with Ketchum won this year's Democratic primary and general elections, was on hand and will follow suit Dec. 29.

Others with coverage include the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington and MetroNews.

Barth Back with Byrd

Anne Barth has returned to the office of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., as its state director, following her unsuccessful challenge of U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"She had taken some time off after the election to catch up on sleep and get some rest," Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs told the newspaper. "Sen. Byrd kept bugging her to come back because he believes she's the best state director in the whole wide world."

16 December 2008

West Virginia Casts Its Five Electoral Votes for McCain

The Associated Press was on hand when West Virginia's five electors met at the state Capitol to cast their electoral college votes for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

"The Republican ticket carried West Virginia with more than 55 percent of the vote. But Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden won the White House race in a 365-vote Electoral College landslide," the article said.

AP also explains that "
each state has electors equal to its number of representatives and senators. West Virginia's electors, chosen by its GOP, are Robert Fish of Parkersburg, Zane Lawhorn of Princeton, Catherine McKinney of Bridgeport, Marti Riggall of Charleston and Theresa Waxman of Clarksburg."

MetroNews also covered the electoral vote, and has audio of Fish.

Life, Death and Health in West Virginia

Convenience to doctors and the pregnant women, particularly in rural areas, is apparently behind a steady rise in West Virginia babies "delivered prematurely by induced labor and Caesarean section," The Charleston Gazette reports.

"The rise in elective deliveries has prompted state regulators to urge hospitals to reduce such births, which cost significantly more than normal deliveries," the article said. "Numerous studies have shown babies born before the 39-week gestation period have more complications, such as respiratory distress syndrome and infections. They're also more likely to wind up in newborn intensive care units at hospitals."

West Virginia's troubling trend of overdose prescription drug deaths, meanwhile, has become the subject of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As The Associated Press reports, "overall, the study put West Virginia's unintentional prescription drug related fatal overdose rate at roughly 16 deaths per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national average."

But "among the 275 people whose death was linked to 'prescribed opioids,' 56 percent were never prescribed those medications," AP's Tom Breen reports. "The findings suggest that drug 'diversion' — acquiring the medication illegally, by lying to doctors, buying it from black market Internet pharmacies or outright theft — accounts for a significant majority of prescription drug misuse."

Breen has a separate story that finds that while "19 states have either made cuts to their Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program budgets or are considering reductions," West Virginia " still plans to move ahead with an expansion of its CHIP plan next month."

The state is "expanding coverage to children whose families earn up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $53,000 for a family of four," that article said. Three other states had planned expansions, but are putting those moves on hold "as officials calculate the effect of the economic downturn on their budgets."

The latter AP article was drawn partly from a new report from the group Families USA.

Health insurance for state children is also a topic of a lawsuit threatened by a public interest law firm against West Virginia's Medicaid program, The Gazette reports.

"Mountain State Justice says the state Medicaid office has repeatedly violated federal law and subjected families to a confusing benefits package that limits services to kids," the article said.

Rockefeller Taking over at Senate Commerce

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is stepping down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee to take the helm of the Commerce Committee, Public Broadcasting reports.

"The committee will play an important role in the upcoming Obama Administration, dealing with rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and making America more competitive in world trade," the report said. "Rockefeller says as Commerce chairman, he intends to focus on building nationwide technology infrastructure, promoting clean energy research, and protecting American consumers."

Audio here.

15 December 2008

Independent Campaigns Spent Millions in 2008

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that "third parties this election year spent more than $2 million, compared to $1.4 million in the 2006 elections," but that "the big-ticket spending pushes, just as in the 2006 elections, again failed to sway voters."

The Associated Press earlier reviewed general election campaign spending in various races.

Manchin: No Tax Hikes, Across-the-Board Budget Cuts in '09

So reports The Associated Press, after Manchin said he is instead "linking agency funding levels to performance."

While his administration had predicted an $11.7 million shortfall next year, Manchin "believes the state can balance its next budget without hurting services," the article said.

Besides "judging programs by performance," the governor told AP he has "asked tax officials to review collection rates and check for credit loopholes to close."

Manchin also continues to believe West Virginia is faring better fiscally than most other states. Offering context, the Charleston Daily Mail reports that "while West Virginia is on tap to lose nearly 5,000 jobs next year, the pending economic woes likely will pale in comparison to what happened during the early 1980s."

"The state this time is positioned to weather the storm better than most of the country, but that surely wasn't the case two decades ago," that article said. "The West Virginia job loss rate was roughly triple that of the nation's during the 1980s recession."

West Virginia 2008 Turnout Reached Nearly 736,800

Secretary of State Betty Ireland released turnout figures Monday that show nearly 736,800 ballots were cast for the general election, reflecting participation by about 60.7 percent of registered voters.

As The Associated Press reports, both the percentage and the overall number
fell below 2004 levels.

"More than 23 percent of this year's voters cast early or absentee ballots," the article said. "An estimated 24 percent voted straight party tickets. Democrats accounted for nearly 59 percent of those, but the GOP number reflects a larger margin of that party's share of the voting population."

The figures also show that not all ballots cast were counted. The difference between those two tallies exceeds 5,100 votes.

Ranking West Virginia for Corruption

The coverage of the Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal has led to talk of the storied history of corruption in Illinois, which in turn has fostered a discussion on crooked state-level politics generally.

The New York Times sought to rank the states for corruption, and sliced the numbers several different ways:

  • West Virginia ranked 32nd for the sheer number of federal public corruption convictions in the last decade, according to Justice Department figures. The state has had 74;
  • It ranked 21st for annual convictions per-capita (at 4.1 per million residents per year);
  • But it climbed all the way to 8th in a 2003 study that "asked state house reporters to assess their subjects and ranked responses on a scale of 1 (clean) to 7 (crooked)." West Virginia scored a 4.7, with Rhode Island topping the chart at 5.5.

Quote of the Day

"I've been doing all I can to tell people that this is not the year to come ask us for money."

-- State Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock, while explaining the tight fiscal times ahead to The Intelligencer of Wheeling

Pondering Judicial Selection

Just three states have change the way they pick their judiciary since 1994, but West Virginia is among more than a half-dozen debating the issue, The Associated Press reports.

"A review of the states shows no clear favorite" selection method, the article said. "More than half the states appoint their top appeals courts, but a greater number elect at least some of their trial-level judges, according to research by the American Judicature Society."

Boggs Named New House Majority Leader

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, will succeed a departing Joe DeLong as House majority leader for West Virginia's 79th Legislature, The Associated Press reports.

Delegate Tom Campebell, D-Greenbrier, will take over Boggs' post as vice chairman of the House Finance Committee. Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, announced the picks after a weekend meeting.

The Charleston Gazette
also has a story, as does MetroNews.