17 June 2009

2nd Special Session Adjourns

"West Virginia's Legislature has finished its latest special session after voting to increase state spending by $39.1 million," The Associated Press reports. "The House of Delegates on Wednesday approved all six supplemental appropriation bills proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin and unanimously passed by the Senate on Monday."

Lottery Looks at Indicted Operator (Updated)

The West Virginia Lottery Commission plans to discuss the recent federal indictment of former legislator Joe C. Ferrell and his Southern Amusement Co., The Associated Press reports.

Update: Asked by Lottery Director John Musgrave to suspend the company's license, the commission instead voted to hold off until its July meeting. In the meantime, it wants the attorney general's office to seek approval from the federal judge who ordered Ferrell's assets preserved, as they have been targeted for forfeiture by prosecutors.

As AP explains, "Southern Amusement is one of the state's largest suppliers of 'limited' video lottery machines to licensed bars and clubs. With permits for 675 devices, the most allowed any one operator, the Logan County company currently leases 640 poker- and slot-style machines to 128 retail locations...(that) rake in $2.3 million a month."

AP reported earlier that among other offenses, the 48-count indictment alleges Ferrell ran illegal gambling rackets in both West Virginia and Kentucky, and bribed a Lottery inspector to help his business.

They Voted for You: War Funding

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass funding legislation that The Associated Press described as "a major step in providing commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan the money they would need for military operations in the coming months."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the measure along with all but five of the House GOP members present for the 226-202 roll call.

AP explains that "anti-war Democrats opposed continued war spending and Republicans condemned $5 billion in the measure to secure a $108 billion U.S. line of credit to the International Monetary Fund for loans to poor countries."

"The $106 billion measure, in addition to about $80 billion for military operations, provides for an array of other spending priorities, including $7.7 billion to respond to the flu pandemic and more than $10 billion in development and security aid for Pakistan and Iraq as well as countries such as Mexico and the nation of Georgia," the article said.

16 June 2009

W.Va. Lawmakers Warned about Economy

Manchin administration budget officials have told legislators this week to "expect the recession to continue to hurt the state's economy for at least another year," The Associated Press reports.

The officials cite several general revenue taxes that serve as economic indicators. The paltry returns from one of these, levied on property transfers, "suggest the state hasn't yet hit economic bottom," the article said.

Byrd Watching

Starting physical therapy as he recovers from a serious infection, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., may leave the hospital soon but does not expect to return to Capitol Hill this week, The Associated Press and others report, citing a release from his office.

The Hill is among those with updates on the 91-year-old Byrd, history's longest-serving U.S. senator. It observes that he "was initially hospitalized on May 15 for a 'minor infection,' and later developed a staph infection while undergoing treatment."

But that Beltway newspaper is also among those citing a column item from The Charleston Gazette this weekend, which said that Byrd's health "has prompted some quiet, behind-the-scenes discussions in the event the senator is unable to return to office."

The Gazette reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., discussed "contingencies" with Gov. Joe Manchin and state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey during a conference call last week.

"Casey is generally regarded as the consensus choice to serve as a placeholder for Byrd's Senate seat in the event Byrd would have to step down prior to the 2010 elections," the column said.

Others picking up the item include Political Wire as well as Politico, which said it "set off a mini-firestorm."

But the latter also follows-up by reporting Tuesday that Reid "confirmed that he spoke to Manchin — but not about replacing Byrd."

"When asked if the possibility of Byrd having to step down was discussed, Reid replied: 'No, we’ve acknowledged he’s sick. That’s the size of it,'" that article said.

Politico also spoke to Manchin Chief of Staff Larry Puccio, who said that Manchin and Reid spoke "'eight or 10 days ago,' one on one. The pair discussed 'how Sen. Byrd was doing and matters before the Senate' that affected the state, he added."

The Gazette also has another article Tuesday. It reports on the update from Byrd's office and the physical therapy news as well as on his request to his successor as chair of Senate Appropriations, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, "to help promote the new Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which proposes a 7 percent spending increase."

15 June 2009

They're Ba-aack (Updated)

The Legislature returns for its second special session of 2009 (and its fourth overall, if you count the extended session for the budget separately), this time to consider end-of-the-fiscal-year funding measures.

As The Associated Press reports, "Gov. Joe Manchin wants the House and Senate to consider 18 supplemental appropriation proposals starting Monday, while they're already slated to hold interim study meetings."

The measures include funding for "public schools, higher education, social services and roads, among other areas," the article said. "At least some of the measure are meant to make up for spending cuts in the new budget."

Update: The Senate has unanimously passed its versions of the six bills containing Manchin's funding proposals, which total $45.3 million and include $39.1 million in new spending. AP has details.

More Fallout from SCOTUS' Benjamin Ruling (Updated)

As early as Monday, Gov. Joe Manchin is expected to announce appointees to his Independent Commission on Judicial Reform.

(Update: Manchin made his picks, AP reports, and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has agreed to serve as honorary chair.

As for the nine voting members, "appointees include Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts; former state Justice John McCuskey; retired Kanawha Circuit Judge Andy MacQueen; and former gubernatorial aides Thomas Heywood and Carte Goodwin," that article said. "Rounding out the commission are State Bar President Sandra Chapman, prominent Charleston trial lawyer Marvin Masters, and both Dean Joyce McConnell of West Virginia University's law school and Associate Dean Caprice Roberts.")

Exhibit A for this nine-member panel may be last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling. As The Associated Press reports, "t
he 5-4 decision faulting state Chief Justice Brent Benjamin for failing to recuse himself from a case speaks to several of the topics that Manchin has assigned."

The article also notes that "
as the governor has given his commission until Nov. 15 to issue a report, he is unlikely to propose or endorse any policy changes prompted by the ruling before then."

His office signaled as much after Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler urged him to pursue legislation on the topic during the special session scheduled to coincide with this week’s interim meetings," the article said.

Topics might also include the state's existing recusal standard for judges and justices. The article notes that "
the state court also released a “personal” statement from Benjamin. “I am pleased that the Supreme Court has not questioned my ethics, my integrity or my personal impartiality or propriety,” he wrote, adding that “the Supreme Court’s majority opinion recognizes that there is no ’white line’ to guide judges like me.”"

But as AP reported:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision noted that Benjamin “did undertake an extensive search for actual bias. But,” it continued, “as we have indicated, that is just one step in the judicial process; objective standards may also require recusal whether or not actual bias exists or can be proved.”

Invoking language from previous rulings, the U.S. justices concluded that the timing of Massey’s appeal and the “significant and disproportionate influence” of Chief Executive Don Blankenship’s spending “offer a possible temptation to the average ... judge to ... lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true.”

“The failure to consider objective standards requiring recusal is not consistent with the imperatives of due process,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “On these extreme facts the probability of actual bias rises to an unconstitutional level.”

The decision also said that states “may choose to adopt recusal standards more rigorous than due process requires,” but noted as well that “almost every State — West Virginia included — has adopted the American Bar Association’s objective standard: ’A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”’
The governor plans to appoint at least two lawyers, two law professors and two retired jurists to this commission, the article said.

"Manchin’s executive order, signed in April, enlists both the dean of West Virginia University’s law school and the president of its State Bar to serve on the study commission as nonvoting members," AP explains. "Manchin also suggested “a person of special expertise” as honorary chair. Retired U.S. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has been touted for that seat, but has not yet commented publicly on the offer."