21 February 2009

Quote of the Day

“This is a bipartisan effort. And if you don’t jump on, you’ll fall off pretty quick... Some people are not too enthusiastic, but the bottom line is something had to be done.”

-- Gov. Joe Manchin, commenting on the federal stimulus bill during a press conference at the National Governors Association weekend meeting in Washington, D.C., as quoted by Politico.

20 February 2009

Legislation 2009: Day 10

*** With the session one-sixth of the way through, legislators have introduced nearly 1,000 bills. Two have passed the House so far.

*** Lawmakers weighing Gov. Joe Manchin's school calendar bill have learned that only three of 55 counties still have a shot at the current level of 180 instructional days this year, The Charleston Gazette reports.

"And just one more snow day in those three counties - Kanawha, Berkeley and Hardy - would eliminate any chance they have," the article said.

MetroNews also has an item on the school calendar situation, with audio.

*** Legislative leaders tell The Associated Press that their members aren't talking much about the constitutional amendment on marriage sought by an evangelical Christian group. The leader of The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, meanwhile, says he believes it has been following the law in soliciting donations from state residents for the campaign.

AP and The Register-Herald also heard from Gov. Joe Manchin on the topic (he called the proposal "overkill"), while the House's GOP leader disagrees and told the Beckley newspaper that "it’s something we can do fairly quickly and put it on the ballot."

*** The Register-Herald also reports on the latest bid for a bottle deposit law in West Virginia, as does The Gazette and MetroNews.

*** MetroNews reports on the state mine safety chief's budget request, which reflects that it is "expanding its jurisdiction to include river coal loading facilities that are connected to active mining sites." The report includes audio of Director Ron Wooten.

Legislature 2009: Energy

The Register-Herald of Beckley marks the introduction of Gov. Joe Manchin's "25% by 2025" alternative and renewable energy proposal.

"Manchin told lawmakers he was setting two benchmarks for renewable and alternative sources of fuel — 10 percent of all power sold to West Virginians by 2015 and one-fourth by 2025," the article explains.

The bill rolled out with a backdrop of
West Virginia Coal Association's annual mining symposium. The Associated Press reports that Manchin told the forum that "coal producers need to help West Virginia increase renewable energy production to show its commitment to new energy policies."

The Charleston Daily Mail covered the symposium as well, checking in with National Mining Association President Hal Quinn among others.

MetroNews has an item focused on comments from the executive director of the Southern States Energy Board.

19 February 2009

Legislature 2009: Day 9

  • The Charleston Gazette finds state Auditor Glen Gainer suggesting legislation to allow temporary public employee furloughs to address the sort of financial crisis roiling states across the country.
  • The Associated Press and The Gazette relay several budget requests from state Attorney General Darrell McGraw that are in addition to the spending recommended by Gov. Joe Manchin in his budget bill.
  • MetroNews highlights this year's version of a long-sought proposal "to promote a container deposit law for West Virginia." With audio of John Ferrari, president of California recycler NexCycle.
  • The Gazette and AP report on a visiting law professor's study of West Virginia's civil justice system, and the reaction of some lawmakers.

Legislature 2009: Gay Snipers

Since The Associated Press reported earlier this week on an emerging legislative lobbying campaign seeking a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, attention has turned to an online infomercial from the group behind the push.

The nearly six-minute video posted by The Family Policy Council of West Virginia has gone viral, drawing tens of thousands of hits along with coverage from the likes of The Huffington Post and Politico.

As AP explains:

“Marriage began in the heart of God,” the narrator says as the ad starts. About a minute into the video, the crosshairs of a rifle scope appear over the image of a family blowing bubbles. The narrator warns that “same-sex marriage is a closer reality in West Virginia than you may think,” and that activists are “working tirelessly to define marriage away from God’s design.”
West Virginia Blue was the first to blog about the video.

AP reported earlier that The Family Policy Council did not initially admit ownership of the site hosting the online ad. AP's follow-up also includes questions about the council's reliance on GOP-allied groups to conduct its campaign, and notes that it "has yet to register as a charity with state officials, though it’s reported raising enough to trigger that requirement."

The council "announced Wednesday that hundreds of churches across West Virginia would take part in 'Stand4Marriage Sunday' March 1 as part of its campaign," AP reports. "The council wants the Legislature to allow a statewide vote on the amendment, similar to those passed in at least 30 states."

Mollohan Among Top Beneficiaries of Raided Lobby Firm (Updated)

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, is among the top 10 recipients of money linked to PMA Group, a Beltway mega-lobbying firm whose offices were raided by the FBI late last year, research by the Center for Responsive Politics shows.

Mollohan received $69,620 of the $3.4 million that PMA's PAC and employees have contributed to 284 current members of Congress since 1989, the nonpartisan group reports.

Once among Washington's 10-largest lobbying firms, PMA is "under investigation for funneling campaign contributions through sham donors," The Associated Press reports.

CRP's online databases of campaign contributions suggest that Mollohan received his share from PMA's PAC, and all but $12,000 of the amount before 1998. The online records show no donations from PMA-related individuals during the time period scrutinized in the report.

AP reports that at least three of PMA's 284 congressional beneficiaries have said they will return the money.

Update: Mollohan is not among the House members identified by Congressional Quarterly "who secured earmarks for clients of The PMA Group in the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations law, which was enacted in 2007."

Political Wire explains that the bill was "managed by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to exclusively help a lobbying firm with close ties to Murtha."

18 February 2009

Quote of the Day

"That is what we should do here, whether it's constitutional or not... Okay, I should not have said it like that."

-- Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, while urging support for his proposal to require drug testing of those who apply for public assistance.

Legislature 2009: Day 8

  • The West Virginia Behavioral Health Care Provider Association is urging lawmakers and other state officials to reverse years of neglect and underfunding, The Associated Press reports.
  • Some lawmakers want to repeal the power of the state insurance commissioner to craft workers' compensation rules without legislative review, AP reports.
  • MetroNews hears from Republican legislative leaders who continue to question the impact of the gradual, modest tax cuts pursued by Gov. Joe Manchin and his fellow, majority Democrats. With audio.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail reports on Manchin's proposed one-time "salary enhancement" for teachers, school service personnel and state employees "if the state has a sufficient surplus on hand at the end of the fiscal year June 30."

A Raise, Sort of , for West Virginia Public Employees

As MetroNews explains, "state workers, including teachers, may not get a pay raise out of this session of the legislature, but they may receive a break in health care premiums."

The Charleston Gazette also has an item on the $6 million and $9 million proposal "to offset pending Public Employees Insurance Agency employee premium increases."

Public Broadcasting talks to House members supportive of the measure, and offers video.

Hunting in West Virginia

West Virginia's bowhunters have come out in force to support the state's ban on firearm deer hunting in four southern counties.

Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties have been bowhunting-only since 1979, "when Division of Natural Resources officials decreed the deer population too depleted to further support" a firearms season, The Charleston Gazette reports. But the counties have since "gradually developed a reputation for producing trophy bucks" for bowhunters, the article said.

National Rifle Association officials in Virginia appear to have spurred a postcard campaign aimed at urging West Virginia to lift the firearm ban, The Gazette reports. "The postcards incensed so many bowhunters, they chartered a bus to transport them from a rallying point in Beckley" to a Flatwoods meeting of the state's Natural Resources Commission, the article said. "Other hunters drove two to three hours to attend. Their numbers swelled the midwinter meeting's attendance, which usually numbers two to three dozen, to nearly 200."

But The Register-Herald of Beckley hears from an NRA official who says the bowhunters "overreacted."

"A few months ago, the NRA decided to poll its membership in West Virginia after some had inquired about removing the firearms ban," the article said. "But so few members favored changing the status that the NRA decided to go no further with the idea."

The article quotes
Jordan Austin of the NRA's Virginia-based Institute for Legislative Action, who said the offending postcards were part of the survey.

Stimulus Funds Heading to W.Va. (Updated)

The Obama administration trotted out estimates alongside Tuesday's signing of the sprawling federal stimulus bill that suggest West Virginia will reap $1.6 billion and save or create 20,000 jobs from it, The Associated Press reports.

A separate estimate pegs the state's slice of funds at $1.38 billion, while the GOP continues to tout their alternative proposal to argue it promised 15,000 more jobs for the Mountain State.

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., provided the White House spending estimates and talked to WOWK-TV and (updated) The Charleston Gazette about his support for the bill

Among the state's three congressional districts, the White House breakdown assigns a larger share of jobs to the 2nd District, where Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito was alone among the three in opposing the stimulus (but was joined by all GOP members present in each vote).

"Capito explained her stance against the legislation during a closed-door Tuesday meeting with Republicans in the state House of Delegates, where she once served," AP reports.

AP also cites the new special committee formed by the state House "to find ways to make the most of the funding, provide for a fair and transparent spending process and identify 'those projects and sectors that provide the best opportunity for long term job creation and economic growth.'"

MetroNews also reports on the House committee (audio here), with a separate item on the Republican objections (and audio from former GOP congressman J.C. Watts). MetroNews has the White House spending estimates as well.

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington focuses on a $290 million section of West Virginia's share, while The Register-Herald of Beckley examines the highway portion.

Gov Joe Manchin, meanwhile, told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that he hopes the federal dollars can be distributed equally among the counties. He also spoke to The Intelligencer of Wheeling about the state's share.

Update II: the Charleston Daily Mail focuses on stimulus funding slated for alternative energy and "clean coal." Public Broadcasting solicits legislative reaction. With video.

17 February 2009

Legislature 2009: Day 7

  • Gov. Joe Manchin is seeing progress from his bill to bar a repeat of the pension draw-downs executed by two circuit judges last year, The Charleston Gazette reports.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail reports that "state officials are considering moving the start of buck gun season to a Saturday, a move likely to reignite the debate over Sunday hunting."
  • Both The Associated Press and The Gazette examine the budget proposal from West Virginia's higher ed system, where efforts to improve funding are likely stymied by the recession-threatened state budget.
  • MetroNews gets legislative reaction to a decision by the parent company of Charles Town Racetrack in Jefferson County not to seek a table games ballot issue this year, having lost the 2007 vote.
  • The Daily Mail also focuses on Manchin's proposal to equalize treatment of veterans in West Virginia's main retirement program for public employees.
  • The Gazette and MetroNews (with audio) each fielded Manchin's reaction to Monday's public employee rally at the Capitol. " Manchin says those workers should be thankful they have jobs," the latter reports.

Quote of the Day

"I understand that these plants require a lot of water, and would need to be along one of our rivers. Perhaps we should build one on the Kanawha [River], maybe right next door to the state Capitol.''

-- Don Garvin of the West Virginia Environmental Council, reacting to The Associated Press regarding proposed legislation that would repeal the partial ban on in-state nuclear power won by his group in 1996.

Legislature 2009: The Nuclear Option

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill this session "to repeal a 1996 partial ban on the building of nuclear power plants," The Associated Press reports.

Lead sponsor and Kanawha County Sen. Brooks McCabe tells AP "a ban is inconsistent with West Virginia's claim that it is an energy state." But "a lobbyist with the group that helped pass the limited ban questioned why energy-rich West Virginia would bother with the associated risks."

AP explains that "while not forbidding nuclear power plants, the 1996 law sets several hurdles for one. They include a requirement that the country have a dumping site for radioactive waste that has operated safely and effectively for at least two years."

McCabe said such concerns could instead be addressed during the process of developing a nuclear plant project, which he estimated would likely takes decades.

While open to options for helping the nation achieve energy independence, Gov. Joe Manchin "believes that because West Virginia has an abundance of coal that nuclear power is not as practical as the resources already at our hands," a spokesman tells AP.

Obama Adviser Has W.Va. Connection

The former investment bank and labor union aide tapped by President Obama to advise his new auto industry task force has a track record that includes helping West Virginia's steel industry, the The Associated Press (corrected cite) reports.

Ron Bloom "helped resolve a 10-month strike against the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Corp. in 1997," and "facilitate Esmark Inc.'s successful tie-up with Wheeling-Pittsburgh in 2006," while a top adviser to the president of the United Steelworkers union, the article said.

"He should be given a tremendous, tremendous amount of credit for restructuring -- and I believe saving -- the American steel industry," Mark Glyptis, president of USW Local 2911 in Weirton, told the newspaper.

As an adviser to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, "Bloom will have the day-to-day task of working with carmakers, their bondholders and labor unions to force concessions, reprising a similar role he played during the consolidation of the steel industry in the last decade," the article said.

Governor Footed Bill for Pat White Appearance

If one were to judge by the level of applause and the sustained standing ovation, the highlight of Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address last week was the surprise appearance by acclaimed West Virginia University quarterback Pat White.

Manchin tells WSAZ-TV that he flew the four-time bowl winner in from California on his dime, then put him up at the Executive Mansion afterward.

"I paid. Joe Manchin wrote a check," the governor is quoted as saying. The item also notes that Manchin's staff put the price tag for White's round-trip commercial ticket at $733.40.

16 February 2009

Day 6 Roundup

  • Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed the repeal of the state's alternative minimum tax, to help a small but growing number of West Virginia residents and also improve the state's business climate rankings, AP reports.
  • The Intelligencer of Wheeling checks in with its freshmen legislators as the 60-day session enters its first full week.
  • The Register-Herald of Beckley marks the introduction of the first of several expected bills that would allow an "In God We Trust" license plate.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail delves into the governor's proposal that his insurance commissioner help develop new, affordable health coverage plans.

Bill Sharpe: 1928 - 2009

William R. "Bill" Sharpe Jr., who was the longest-serving sitting state senator when he retired last year after 11 terms, died Sunday at age 80, The Associated Press reports.

The Lewis County Democrat was president pro tempore for 36 of those years (picking his successor caused a flap in the Senate last week). During his tenure, his district kept the state's main psychiatric hospital and the replacement facility bears his name.

An engineer by trade, he had undergone a series of surgeries since January 2007 after doctors detected a massive aneurysm.

MetroNews also has an item. Gov. Joe Manchin, who served with Sharpe in the Senate from nearby Marion County, issued a statement. A number of senators marked his passing during Monday's floor session.

Quote of the Day

“That killed him."

-- A "smiling" Massey CEO Don Blankenship to The New York Times, regarding the 2004 ads he bankrolled alleging then-Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw "released a pedophile." The Times calls the ads "rough and arguably misleading."

Group Hopes to Push Gay Marriage Ban During Session

The Family Policy Council of West Virginia believes a grass roots wave in favor of a constitutional amendment ruling out same-sex marriage will soon hit the Legislature, The Associated Press reports.

The evangelical Christian group has also solicited donations and support on a new web site, which also pastors to quiz lawmakers on the issue and then report back using an online form (the group's president was admittedly "coy" when first asked about its involvement with the site.)

"Currently, same-sex marriage is legal only in Massachusetts and Connecticut, while 30 states have added gay marriage bans to their constitutions," the article explains. "West Virginia ignores all same-sex marriages granted elsewhere, under a 2000 law that also declares marriage 'designed to be a loving and lifelong union between a woman and a man' on all license applications."

The policy council views West Virginia's statute as inadequate in the face of a potential legal challenge, and deems it "a shield, not a sword." But the article also notes that "legislative leaders from both parties question whether this or any other culture war topic will gain traction this session."

Legislature 2009: Education (Updated)

As The Associated Press reported earlier, the state's major teacher union don't see much need for Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal to lengthen the range of the annual school calendar.

MetroNews fields a similar reaction from teacher groups. Senators are giving it mixed reviews, according to The Register-Herald of Beckley.

Teachers have reacted more favorably to Manchin's proposal targeting third and eighth graders who don't meet educational standards, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports. But educators also say "it could face a lot of resistance from students and some parents."

The Charleston Daily Mail, meanwhile, finds a critic of the pending recommendation that West Virginia cap the size of the annual PROMISE college scholarship: former Gov. Bob Wise, who found the needed funding for the program during his term.

And WOWK-TV reports that Manchin plans a Monday announcement regarding Bucks for Brains, the program he secured during last year's session that aims to spur endowment funding for research at the state's two largest universities.

Update: the Daily Mail reports that "extending the school calendar by five days to give counties a little breathing room for snow days could cost the state more than $45 million in employee salaries." WOWK-TV, meanwhile, has details from the $500,000 pledged by Verizon for the Bucks for Brains program.

Blankenship-Benjamin Case Back in the News

The New York Times offered a front-page article Sunday on the pending U.S. Supreme Court appeal that faults Chief Justice Brent Benjamin for hearing a case involving a campaign benefactor's company.

"Don L. Blankenship, the chief executive of the nation’s fourth-biggest coal mining company, is not shy about putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to West Virginia politics," the lede says.

Here's the nut graph:

The case, one of the most important of the term, has the potential to change the way judicial elections are conducted and the way cases are heard in the 39 states that elect at least some of their judges. In many states, campaigns for court seats these days rival in both expense and venom what goes on in, say, a governor’s race. Yet it is commonplace in American courtrooms for judges to hear cases involving lawyers and litigants who have contributed to or spent money to support their campaigns.
The Charleston Gazette also had a Sunday story on the case, questioning some of the assertions leveled by Massey and its allies.

Massey has argued in its brief that the two men are not friends and "there is no indication that Blankenship and Justice Benjamin even knew one another, before or after the election," but the article said "Blankenship and Benjamin have met" and cites a March 2006 dinner at Charleston's Embassy Suites Hotel.

The Massey brief also contends that "Blankenship only wanted to defeat incumbent Justice Warren McGraw," the article continues, "But on several campaign spending reports, Blankenship stated his purpose was to 'support' the candidacy of Brent Benjamin."