20 March 2009

Legislature 2009: Day 38

  • Those who oppose pumping coal slurry into played-out mines hope initial test results boost the chances for a proposed moratorium on the practice, The Associated Press reports.
  • The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington focuses on a Senate-passed bill "that requires cities with user fees to be more transparent with their spending," prompted by efforts in that city to hike its levy.
  • Teacher unions object to a Senate change to Gov. Joe Manchin's school calendar bill, MetroNews reports. Under the amendment, teachers would not be paid for snow days, but would be for the make-up days. With audio. The Gazette also has an item.

Lawmaker of Barbie Ban Fame Speaks Up

The West Virginia legislator who has reaped the whirlwind since proposing to bar the sale of Barbie dolls explained himself Thursday, and earned a standing ovation in the process, The Associated Press reports.

Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, said he received 3,000 e-mails and countless phone calls within 48 hours of introducing the bill. He estimated that at least 80 percent of the hateful responses were from men.

The bill "has sat idle in committee since its March 3 debut," the article said. "But news of the bill went viral, prompting comments from the likes of model Heidi Klum and a joke at West Virginia’s expense from Jay Leno of 'The Tonight Show.’"

But Eldridge said his bill, and the ensuing coverage, prompted children, parents and educators to discuss the issues of body image and self-esteem.

‘‘I personally feel that it ought to be up to the parents, what they let their kids play with,’’ Eldridge told the House. ‘‘So to me, it had nothing to do with Barbie. But it did have to do with the image that society places on our young children, on what they should look like to be able to succeed.’’

Public Broadcasting covered the speech, and has audio. MetroNews was also on hand, and offers audio as well.

Legislature 2009: Abortion

Amid the backdrop of a Capitol rally that drew several hundred supporters, abortion foes expressed hope Thursday for a measure "that would limit the types of abortion that can be paid for with Medicaid dollars," The Associated Press reports.

West Virginians for Life Executive Director Brian Louk outlined his group's strategy to The Register-Herald of Beckley: the bill, introduced Monday, "focuses entirely on the fiscal issue, meaning it goes to one committee — finance — and its chairman, Delegate Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, is a co-sponsor."

Louk also spoke about the legislation to MetroNews, which offers audio.

They Voted For You: TARP Bonuses

All three of West Virginia's U.S. House members voted "to impose an additional tax on bonuses received from certain TARP recipients."

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st; Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd; and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped the legislation pass 328-93.

"The bill would impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses given to employees with family incomes above $250,000 at American International Group and other companies that have received at least $5 billion in government bailout money," The Associated Press explains.

House GOP members split on the measure. "But the lopsided vote failed to reflect the contentious political battle that preceded it," AP reports. "Republicans took Democrats to task for rushing to tax AIG bonuses worth an estimated $165 million after the majority party stripped from last month's economic stimulus bill a provision that could have banned such payouts."

19 March 2009

W.Va. now must cut 4.6 percent from proposed budget

Gov. Joe Manchin now believes that lawmakers must cut nearly $200 million from the upcoming state budget, more than twice what he earlier estimated, The Associated Press reports.

The administration blames the recession and its impact on West Virginia jobs. "But the governor continues to rule out tax hikes, layoffs or reliance on federal stimulus dollars to close the gap," AP reports.

Quote of the Day

"While Purdue Pharma is a company that has no soul, I do."

-- Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette and a physician, explaining why she planned to vote against a bill that addresses the dispensing of pain medication. It was passed to the Senate, 75-21. (Misspelling corrected.)

The Greenbrier Files for Bankuptcy

Breaking news from The Associated Press: "The posh Greenbrier resort that has housed presidents and royalty in West Virginia has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and signed a deal to sell itself to hotel giant Marriott International."

Story developing.

Legislature 2009: Day 37

  • The Senate Finance Committee has advanced Gov. Joe Manchin's "double-dipping" bill -- but only while the committee member most opposed to the measure, Majority Leader Truman Chafin, was out of the room, The Associated Press reports.
  • But Chafin, D-Mingo, didn't miss an opportunity to liken parking meter readers to "Nazi people" during a Senate discussion of a bill to expand their powers, Public Broadcasting reports (with audio).
  • The Register-Herald of Beckley focuses on a component of the gambling regulation bill for The Greenbrier "allowing the state’s racetrack casinos and the historic hotel to give away promotional free play coupons to entice gamblers to their venues."
  • MetroNews reports on The Greenbrier bill's endorsement from the Senate Judiciary Committee, and notes the coupon provision.

Report: W.Va. Official Steered Funds to Since-Convicted Son

The Charleston Gazette alleges that "a state employment programs' administrator distributed federal grant money that was ultimately used by her son, convicted felon Martin R. Bowling, two months after he was indicted by a Kanawha County grand jury on computer fraud charges."

The newspaper cites computer and other records to trace proceeds from a $100,000 federal grant to Cross Lanes-based Comar Inc. and subsidiary Vec3, where Martin Bowling was chief technical officer "until he was sentenced to three years in prison on March 5."

The article said Mary Jane Bowling, an administrator at Workforce West Virginia, "hand-delivered at least one of the grant payments" and "also directed subordinates...to make an additional grant payment."

"What's more, Mary Jane Bowling helped to write Comar's preliminary application for the $100,000 federal grant," the article continues. "Bowling also worked closely with a Comar consultant hired to help write the federal grant request before it was submitted to Workforce West Virginia."

State ethics law "prohibits public officials and employees from using their position for private gain 'or the private gain of another,'" The Gazette notes.

18 March 2009

Manchin Pitches The Greenbrier to The Donald

Gov. Joe Manchin tells The Associated Press that he reached out to Donald Trump while seeking potential buyers for The Greenbrier, and that The Donald called him back to discuss the world-famous but troubled resort.

MetroNews spoke earlier to the governor about his pitch to Trump.

Legislature 2009: Engineering Contracts (Updated)

West Virginia's consulting engineers have come out in force against Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal to change the way they bid for and win state-funded design contracts. The Associated Press sets the stage for Wednesday's public hearing on the legislation.

Updated: As expected, engineers packed the House Chamber for the hearing and lined up to denounce the governor's proposal. Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox represented the administration. AP has details, as does The Charleston Gazette.

The Buzz About George Clutter

West Virginia's Department of Agriculture has apparently fired George Clutter, an agency veteran credited with nurturing the state's growing beekeeping industry.

As both The Associated Press and The Register-Herald report, Delegate Ray Canterbury brought Clutter's dismissal as state apiarist to the House's attention with a Tuesday floor speech.

The Greenbrier County Republican is a beekeeping enthusiast, and lauded Clutter at length to his dedication, care and service to this pursuit. Canterbury said Clutter helped the state's industry evolve "from scattered hobby clubs to more than a thousand beekeepers with 20,000 hives."

An Agriculture spokesman declined comment to AP, citing personnel policy. But the vice chairman of the House's Agriculture Committee urged lawmakers to seek both sides of the story, and not to retaliate against the department by threatening its budget.

Legislative Roundup

  • The Associated Press weighs the prospects for legislation that would allow West Virginia's state employees to bargain collectively. Gov. Joe Manchin is willing to consider such a proposal if it "promotes the best practices in government," but he "has not made a decision to support or oppose the measure yet, only to hear out its proponents and foes," his spokesman tells AP.
  • AP also notes the House's unanimous passage of the governor's legislation to provide out-of-state veterans free tuition at West Virginia colleges through the new G.I. Bill, by offering them in-state rates.
  • The House Finance Committee had endorsed a bill that offers to help both underfunded police and fire pension programs, and volunteer firefighters seeking pension-like benefits. But the resulting price tag includes an estimated $14.2 million in tax hikes, and would allow further increases on the municipal level. AP covered Tuesday's action, as did MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette.
  • A Senate committee has scuttled a bill that would regulate towing companies, after the industry argued the measure responded to a single rogue outfit. Both MetroNews and Public Broadcasting (with audio) have coverage.
  • Another bill on the ropes "would let dealers sell a vehicle without a warranty if the vehicle is at least 7 years old, or has at least 75,000 miles on it," The Gazette reports. It received a chilly reception at a Tuesday public hearing, where "opponents of the bill far outnumbered supporters," the article said.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail highlights the latest attempt to "allow licensed retailers to sell liquor on Sundays during the same hours beer can be sold - after 1 p.m."

Charleston: Tanning Capital of U.S.?

A medical journal finds that among the nation's 116 largest cities, Charleston has the most tanning salons per-capita, The Associated Press reports.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine counted 18 tanning locations in West Virginia's capital city.

"The journal says the use of tanning lamps has been linked to two types of skin cancer. It cites estimates that 20 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 have used indoor tanning booths in the last year," the article said. "A bill introduced this month in the Legislature would require parental consent for children under 18 hoping to use a tanning salon."

17 March 2009

Legislature 2009: Day 35

  • The Associated Press talks to a West Virginia University law student about the bill she researched and drafted to target repeat drunken drivers - while noting that legislators may put one of its key provisions on hold. Student Jennifer Tampoya earlier spoke to The Charleston Gazette about her effort, prompted when a chronic drunk driver "killed three children and two fathers in Monongalia County."
  • AP reports on advancing legislation spurred by the 2007 death of a Lincoln County 6-year-old, struck by a car that illegally drove past her stopped school bus. The Register-Herald also covered the bill, which would hit such offenders with felonies and prison time.
  • The Beckley newspaper reports as well on an area delegate who says his bill to toughen penalties for elder abuse is threatened by a colleague's "long-running effort to revive the death penalty."
  • Legislators are moving on a proposal to shore up municipal police and fire pensions and provide a pension-like benefit for volunteer firefighters, MetroNews The Register-Herald also has an item on the topic.
  • The Gazette highlights a Senate measure that would make "sweeping changes to how courts decide child custody."
  • The Charleston Daily Mail hears from more engineers who oppose Gov. Joe Manchin's bill to change the way they bid for certain state contracts.
  • Eastern Panhandle lawmakers and the region's horse racing industry, meanwhile, sound off to The Journal of Martinsburg about the governor's bid to place all gaming under a single agency's oversight.
  • AP highlighted legislation that would set the rules - and revenue rates - now that voters have approved a casino for The Greenbrier. A portion of any gambling proceeds would benefit a a fund that the world-famous resort "could tap that fund to recoup employee benefit costs, " the article said.
  • While money is tight, West Virginia still plans to spend $3.4 million to keep its highway rest areas running, The Gazette reports. "It's a different story in Virginia, where state government - faced with a $2.6 billion budget deficit - has proposed closing 25 of the commonwealth's 41 rest areas, to cut spending in the cash-strapped agency by about $12 million a year," that article said.
  • The State Journal profiles the "carbon capture" issue, reporting that the governor has proposed bills "that would set up a study group to research technology and build a legal framework to protect the state from liability."
  • The Gazette reports on the House passage of legislation "to redirect $2.4 million of state economic development funds to rebuild and repair housing in low-income minority neighborhoods."

16 March 2009

Recession Draining W.Va. Jobless Benefits Fund

As early as Tuesday, legislators expect to move on Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal for shoring up West Virginia's unemployment compensation trust fund by charging temporary "assessments" to both employers and workers, The Associated Press reports.

But Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler says that his committee may take the proposal a step further, by also hiking the rate on the existing employer tax that now supplies the fund with revenue.

"We're going to try to avoid what clearly is a train wreck waiting to happen," Kessler told AP. "We can avoid this, with a little bit of planning and a little bit of pain now."

Employers are hoping lawmakers take a different route, given the burden they already shoulder amid a persisting recession.

But as AP previously reported, West Virginia may not have much time to avert the fund's projected path toward insolvency.

"The fund balance dropping below $180 million would trigger those payments," Monday's article said. "But as written, the bill would not take effect until July 1. Program officials say it could fall to that level as early as this month."

MetroNews also has an item on the governor's bill, with audio from state Chamber of Commerce president Steve Roberts.

GOP's Steele Coming to W.Va.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will headline a May 22 fundraiser for West Virginia's GOP, the state party announced in a Monday release.

Steele's state counterpart, Doug McKinney, has touted how he supported the former Maryland lieutenant governor throughout his January bid to head the RNC.

But whether Steele remains chairman by the time of the scheduled May fundraiser is not completely certain, given reports on Politico, Political Wire and elsewhere.

Update: Political Wire relays a Monday article in Roll Call (subscription required) to report that "Steele doesn't look like he's planning on leaving his post anytime soon."

The Associated Press
has an item.