17 April 2009

W.Va. GOP Advised to Keep Primary Open

A state Republican Party committee has concluded that the West Virginia GOP should continue to allow unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in its primary elections, "as has been the case since the 1980s," the state party announced Friday.

"The committee will present its recommendation to the next full meeting of the state committee, scheduled for June 13 in Martinsburg," the release said.

The Associated Press has an item.

Tough Session Has W.Va. Health Care Advocates Looking to D.C.

After a disappointing legislative session, those who seek to extend health care coverage in West Virginia believe that the necessary change "seems more likely to come from Washington than Charleston," The Associated Press reports.

"I'm drawn to the conclusion that we may not have the leadership in West Virginia necessary to take on the powerful special interests that dominate the health care debate," Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians For Affordable Health Care, told AP's Tom Breen.

But Breen also reports that Gov. Joe Manchin is still pursuing his pledge "to offer Medicaid coverage to families and single adults earning up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level."

"The Bureau for Medical Services has been in talks with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services about expanding Medicaid eligibility," the article said. "The poverty level is $10,830 for individuals. Currently, Medicaid coverage is only available to West Virginia families earning up to 35 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $22,050 for a family of four."

Yoder Plans 2010 Supreme Court Bid

Newly minted state circuit Judge John Yoder is the 2010 election's latest early bird, announcing he will run for the state Supreme Court, The Journal of Martinsburg and The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown each report.

Yoder, a Republican, said he intends to seek the seat held by the late Justice Joseph Albright. Gov. Joe Manchin appointed retired Justice Tom McHugh to succeed Albright earlier this month.

McHugh, a Democrat, has not ruled out running to retain the appointment in 2010, but does not plan to pursue a full, 12-year term in that seat in 2012.

Quote of the Day

"I do not mean to be disrespectful to the Office of the President, but I for one do not agree with that thinking."

Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams, West Virginia's last living Medal of Honor recipient, reacting to President Obama's "Christian nation" comments during his recent Middle East trip, as quoted by MetroNews (with audio).

Capito Weighs in on Climate Change

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, tells The Charleston Gazette that "she's 'not convinced' that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide are leading to global warming that will alter the planet's climate in ways that could be dangerous."

The article explains that "earlier this week, Capito visited a Kanawha County strip mine owned by one of her campaign contributors, Charleston businessman Andrew Jordon, to promote her view that the Obama administration's outlook on climate change and limiting the damage from mountaintop removal will destroy the coal industry."

The newspaper also reports that "along with several GOP leaders, Capito has been citing an MIT study in arguing that the legislation would cost the average household $3,100 a year." It adds that "the MIT professor who wrote the study said the GOP has mischaracterized his research, and that the true cost is closer to $300 per year."

But Capito also told The Gazette that "carbon dioxide emissions globally are undoubtedly rising, because of expanding use of automobiles, increased population and growth in the economies of emerging nations." She said that "perhaps someday the emissions growth will warm the planet and cause problems, but 'I don't think this is going to happen tomorrow,'" the article said.

The article reports that "scientists from around the world have called for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, to try to stabilize the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere within the next decade and avoid major sea level rises, widespread species extinctions and a host of other damaging impacts."

Several West Virginia officials, including other members of its congressional delegation, have issue pro-coal pronouncement in the wake of the Obama administration's increased scrutiny of mountaintop removal mining permits in the state and elsewhere.

The Times West Virginian of Fairmont reports that Gov. Joe Manchin "met Thursday with officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss concerns the organization has" about the permits.

Manchin said he has been battling for coal for some time, trying to make environmentalists understand that coal is necessary and that West Virginia cares about the environment and is making efforts to market clean-coal technology," that article said.

Rockefeller on the Mend after Fall

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has curtailed his immediate schedule and remains in a hospital after surgery to repair a tendon above his knee that tore during a visit to West Virginia University, The Associated Press reports.

The 71-year-old had been visiting WVU students when he slipped on some rain-slickened steps, the article said.

16 April 2009

Manchin Urged to Sign Mental Health Bill

Advocates of increased state payments to West Virginia's behavioral health centers have appealed to The New York Times, which reports on their support of a successful session bill "that would add $6 million in financing to what they say is a deteriorating system of care."

The Associated Press and others earlier reported on the legislation, and the resulting pushback from Gov. Joe Manchin's Department of Health and Human Resources. A DHHR official took the rate step of writing lawmakers on the eve of the bill's passage to argue against it.

The Times reports that DHHR "objects to a provision in the bill that would result in most of the money going to 13 privately run regional mental health centers in the state."

“What it amounts to is an earmark,” agency spokesman John Law told the newspaper. “I think everybody agrees we need to increase our rates... It’s just a matter of finding the money and the way to do it.”

The bill arrives at Manchin's desk "in the face of recent reports that characterized West Virginia’s system for treating the mentally ill as one of the worst in the country," the article said.

Update: Others with related coverage include the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington.

15 April 2009

Tea Parties in West Virginia (Updated)

Opponents of the Obama administration and its stimulus and budget plans intend to hold "Tea Party" protests in several West Virginia communities today to mark Tax Day, The Associated Press reports.

(Update: AP covered the event held outside the state Capitol, as did the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews. The latter two have photos.)

Similar events are expected across the country, and have been promoted by both the state GOP and national Republican Party, as well as by Fox News.

Charleston's organizers and planned participants include a perennial Republican legislative candidate, according to the Daily Mail, and at least one other attendee of last year's state GOP presidential nominating convention.

Organizers of a Huntington "Tea Party," held Tuesday, included a "former chairman of the West Virginia Young Republican Club," the Herald-Dispatch reports.

Obama lost West Virginia in November, attracting only 42.6 percent of the vote. He also lost all but two of the counties where "Tea Parties" are slated.

Others with coverage include MetroNews and The Journal of Martinsburg, which dubs these events "all-American." (Update II: The Intelligencer of Wheeling, The Journal of Martinsburg (with separate article here), the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg, The Register-Herald of Beckley and The Charleston Gazette also have reports.)

Sifting Through The Rubble

A dozen or so bills were poised for final passage but faltered in the final days and hours of the just-concluded regular legislative session, The Associated Press reports.

Lawmakers could start with these if they decide to expand their planned May extended session, AP reports. But the article notes that "the resolution they adopted to meet next month mentions only the far-from-finished budget, other funding measures, anything vetoed from the regular session and legislation relating to the federal stimulus efforts."

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, told AP that "right now, in the current extended session, we are limited to the subjects listed on the enacting resolution. I think it would be premature to predict what bills might be revisited in a special session.”

The 11th-hour casualties included" "
a much-debated proposal targeting text messaging and cell calls by motorists;" a bill "aimed to help counties regulate sex shops;" two others relating to municipalities, "with one placing limits on the fees they charge and the other expanding the ticketing powers of their parking meter readers;" and a proposal "to tweak the state’s emerging alternative sentencing efforts."

Some of the bigger items to fail included a bill to require additional jail fee refunds to counties, and a proposal meant to benefit both volunteer firefighters and municipal police and fire pension funds.

Five of (Gov. Joe) Manchin’s bills also died on Day 60," AP reports. "Besides three addressing public education, his proposals relating to after-mining land use and licensing options for liquor stores also stalled."

Those following upon on some of the derailed legislation include The Register-Herald of Beckley, The Intelligencer of Wheeling, the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg and The Journal of Martinsburg.

Update: Thompson talks to the Charleston Daily Mail about the session's final night.

Legislature 2009: Health Care

The Associated Press had previously reported that the drive to make health care a key topic of the 60-day session fell short, even before the Tudor's Biscuit fiasco.

AP's Tom Breen follows up today by assessing what Gov. Joe Manchin's might do with those few health care-related bills that passed.

"Poor health is among West Virginia's most severe problems," Breen explains. "Ranking second nationally in obesity and cigarette smoking, the state spends about three-quarters of all health-care dollars on chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart disease."

Breen reports that Manchin "held out cautious praise" for "a proposal to create a new office to oversee health care in the state." But his Health and Human Resources Department lobbied against another successful measure, which would increase state payments for behavioral health centers.

"Although the Legislature passed other health measures this session, the yield is modest despite an ambitious agenda for overhauling health care set forth in January," Breen writes. "Significant parts of that agenda, including proposals to raise the tobacco tax and require chain restaurants to post calorie counts for customers, failed to win passage."

Gearheart Comes Out Early for Rahall Rematch

"Bluefield Republican Marty Gearheart says he's going to try again to unseat Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall in the 3rd Congressional District," The Associated Press reports.

Rahall defeated Gearheart with 67 percent of the vote in November. The article notes that "Rahall raised $805,493 and spent $589,261 to gain his latest term, while Gearheart didn't raise enough to require Federal Election Commission reports."

"Gearheart, however, says his 2008 campaign established his name and credibility on issues," AP reports. "And he says starting earlier this time will allow him to raise campaign funds."

14 April 2009

Extended Session Offers Manchin, Lawmakers Chance to Up Score in OT

The 2009 regular session proved Gov. Joe Manchin's toughest yet. His fifth since taking office in 2004, just half of his 24 non-budgetary items passed before the 60 days expired on Saturday.

As The Associated Press reports, Manchin and lawmakers could rescue some stranded measures during the extended session that the Legislature has set for May 26 to finish next year's budget.

"I'll shoot straight with you as soon as we see exactly what the differences are, how far apart they are and what we can bring back," the governor is quoted as saying. "There's still an awful lot of good policy out there to be worked on."

But AP also notes that "lawmakers have the final say regarding any revisited bills. Instead of a proclamation from the governor, the upcoming extended session results from a resolution adopted by each chamber. It limits the scope to the budget, supplemental funding measures, any needed bills relating to the federal stimulus program and anything vetoed during the regular session."

Manchin "dwelt largely on his successful agenda items Monday, touting four bills he deemed the major accomplishments of the 60 days," the article also said.

Others with coverage from Manchin's post-session press conference include Public Broadcasting, The Charleston Gazette, and The Register-Herald of Beckley.

Those checking in with local lawmakers about the session include the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg, The Intelligencer of Wheeling and the Charleston Daily Mail.

13 April 2009

Legislature Ends Regular Session, Awaits Budget Work

With the House and Senate scheduled to return May 26 to finish the budget, The Associated Press offers a preview and some historical perspective for the delayed extended session.

AP was on hand when the Legislature ended its regular, 60-day session at midnight Saturday, and also offers highlights from key measures.

Others with coverage from the final night include MetroNews, The Charleston Gazette, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, the Charleston Daily Mail and The Register-Herald of Beckley.