01 May 2009

Quote of the Day

“You can’t take it personal. That’s just the way Washington works."

-- U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, talking to Newsweek about the repeated entreaties from the Obama administration while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee works to unseat her.

They Voted For You: Banking

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., helped defeat "a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy, a proposal that President Barack Obama embraced but did little to see through," The Associated Press reports.

Byrd was among a dozen Democrat who joined with Senate Republicans to scuttle the measure in the 45-51 vote. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., did not vote.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois had championed and negotiated the proposed amendment, "which Obama had said was important to saving the economy and promised to push through Congress," AP reports. "But facing stiff opposition from banks, Obama did little to pressure lawmakers who worried it would encourage bankruptcy filings and spike interest rates."

W.Va. Teacher Groups Continue Fight over PEIA Seat

Groups representing teachers are jockeying for a seat on the influential finance board of the Public Employees Insurance Agency, The Charleston Gazette reports.

With the seat reserved for the union with the most members, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association cite their partnership agreement to claim that status.

The seat has been held by Perry Bryant, who has represented the rival West Virginia Education Association. Bryant withdrew his nomination for re-appointment to the board last month, the newspaper reports.

Bryant "will continue to serve on the PEIA Finance Board until Gov. Joe Manchin appoints somebody else," the article said.

WVEA President Dale Lee told The Gazette that "the governor's office asked for Bryant's withdraw, and proposed that both Bryant and an AFT representative could sit on the finance board," but that the Senate later pulled the necessary legislation.

They Voted For You: Federal Spending

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped President Obama mark his 100th day this week "by advancing "a $3.4 trillion federal budget for next year - a third of it borrowed - that prevents Republicans from blocking his proposed trillion-dollar expansion of government-provided health care over the next decade," The Associated Press reports.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted along with every other House GOP member against the budget bill. The 233-193 roll call also include 17 Democrats opposing the measure.

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., also voted against the bill, in a 53-43 roll call that again saw no Republican member support the legislation. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., did not vote.

"Wednesday's House and Senate votes to adopt the nonbinding budget blueprint were only a first step toward Obama's goal of providing health care coverage for all Americans," AP reports. "The budget plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 sets the parameters for subsequent tax and spending bills expected to boost clean energy programs and student aid and extend many of former President George W. Bush's tax cuts."

W.Va. Medicaid "Redesign" Takes Another Hit

Another study has come away critical of West Virginia's effort revamp its Medicaid program, The Associated Press reports.

"Mountain Health Choices makes some benefits contingent upon signing contracts that pledge recipients will regularly visit their doctor and take their medication as directed, among other things," AP's Tom Breen explains. "Recipients who don't sign those contracts are enrolled in a health plan with fewer benefits than they had received under traditional Medicaid."

"The Institute for Health Policy Research at West Virginia University conducted interviews with state officials, health-care providers, patient advocates and other groups in 2008 and 2009 to evaluate the program," the article said.

Among other conclusions, the report found that "tens of thousands of West Virginians on Medicaid are getting less medical care than they used to," Breen writes.

They Voted For You: Credit Cards

All three of West Virginia's U.S. House members voted for "a bill to restrict credit card practices and eliminate sudden increases in interest rates and late fees that have entangled millions of consumers," The Associated Press reports.

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st; Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd; and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009 in a 357-70 vote.

"The measure would prohibit so-called double-cycle billing and retroactive rate hikes and would prevent companies from giving credit cards to anyone under 18," AP report, but adds that "if they become law, the new provisions won't take effect for a year, except for a requirement that customers get 45 days' notice before their interest rates are increased. That would take effect in 90 days."

W.Va. Budget Update: April Revenues Top Estimate

West Virginia lawmakers and Gov. Joe Manchin wanted to wait until after April's tax collections came in before proceeding with a new state budget. The Associated Press reports that "the month's general tax revenues should exceed estimates by $15 million to $20 million."

"That would put state government back on track to end the current budget year June 30 balanced or with a minor surplus," the article said. "A key month for annual tax collections, April's numbers suggest the Legislature won't have to cut spending in the next budget beyond the $200 million Gov. Joe Manchin has already announced."

The House and Senate finished that 60-day session on April 11, and plan to complete a new state budget between May 26 and June 6, AP notes.

AP also reports that at least one other state, Mississippi, has delayed completing its next budget because of the troubled economy. "West Virginia is among at least 42 states that have projected gaps in their upcoming budgets," the article said. "These threatened deficits totaled $121 million at one point, though the latest tally shows states have since reduced them to a combined $67.4 million."

The Charleston Daily Mail also reports on April's figures, while The Intelligencer of Wheeling checks in with local lawmakers regarding the upcoming session work.

Berger Possible Obama Pick for Federal Bench

Citing "courthouse sources," the Charleston Daily Mail reports that federal officials have been interviewing colleagues of Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger, "a sign she will be officially appointed to the U.S. District bench in the near future."

"Berger, a circuit judge for 14 years, is expected to replace Southern District Judge David A. Faber, who assumed senior status on Dec. 31," the newspaper reports.

The article also lists several "rumored candidates" for Berger's replacement: "House of Delegates Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha; Joanna Tabit, a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson and former deputy attorney general; Fran Hughes, deputy attorney general; and John Hackney, a judge on the West Virginia Court of Claims."

Update: U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., had earlier recommended Berger, and did the same for veteran lawyer and Democratic politico Ned Rose for a opening on the state's northern federal court district.

30 April 2009

Behavioral Health Centers Keep Pressure on Manchin

Advocates of legislation that would increase state funding to community mental health centers continue to urge Gov. Joe Manchin to sign the bill, The Charleston Gazette and others report.

As MetroNews explains, "supporters of Senate Bill 672 delivered 672 letters with 672 ink pens to the governor's office Wednesday. The Mental Health Stabilization Act of 2009 would provide another $1.5 million in funding for 29 community behavioral health services."

The Charleston Daily Mail also covered Wednesday's event.

Having lobbied successfully for the legislation, the state's behavioral health centers and other funding supporters have kept up the pressure on Manchin after his administration slammed the bill on the eve of its passage during the recent regular session.

Their public relations campaign also includes radio ads calling on the governor to sign the measure.

29 April 2009

Capito Still on White House Guest List

President Obama continues to include West Virginia's sole Republican in Congress in his efforts to reach out across party lines, Politico reports.

It counts Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, among 37 House members -- and just seven from the GOP -- invited to a White House event last week with their spouses.

The Charleston Daily Mail follows up with Capito's husband, who attended both that reception and one just for spouses the following day.

Update: The social entreaties didn't prevent Capito from joining every other Republican in the House and Senate to vote against a $3.4 trillion federal budget for next year, The Associated Press reports.

28 April 2009

June reports ordered in hospital crowding case

A Kanawha Circuit judge wants to hear proposed solutions by June 1 to crowding at West Virginia's two psychiatric hospitals, The Associated Press and other report.

Judge Duke Bloom also wants to hear from a mediator that month, following two days of testimony regarding Huntington’s Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital and William R. Sharpe Hospital in Weston.

"There are on average 100 more patients than there are beds for them at the two hospitals," AP's Tom Breen reports.

"Witnesses testified Monday about comprehensive behavioral health plans, new beds being added in hospitals and $17.5 million spent since 2006 for a variety of mental health programs," Breen writes. "In the long term, though, reducing the number of involuntary commitments that have seen the state’s hospitals packed will require preventive mental health care, said Vickie Jones, deputy commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities."

The Charleston Gazette also covered the hearings, while AP has a separate report from Friday's testimony.

27 April 2009

Special Session Update

The Senate's judiciary chairman wants the upcoming special legislative session to include one of the more contentious issues debated by lawmakers in recent year, The Associated Press reports.

Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, wants to revive a failed bill from the regular session that aims to " regulate independent political advertising and corporate political spending in West Virginia," the article said.

AP reports separately on a more likely item for the special session agenda. "The governor and lawmakers all thought his proposal to promote alternative and renewable energy sources passed on the (regular) session's final night," that article said. " But legislative clerks reviewing the work of the session have found a technical error... That means the bill never actually passed."

Update: The Journal of Martinsburg reports on an area senator hoping to revive a bill "that would have increased the amount of funding that the communities housing West Virginia's four racetracks could receive from the games." The Register-Herald of Beckley reports on another lawmaker's push for a failed regular session proposal "so that West Virginians can examine every item in the state budget" online.