30 October 2009

Mollohan Still Under Scrutiny?

The U.S. Justice Department has told the House ethics committee to cease its inquiry into Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, according to a confidential committee report obtained by The Washington Post.

As the article explains, federal investigators "often ask that the House and Senate ethics panels refrain from taking action against members whom the department is already investigating."

Mollohan is among more than 30 House members and several aides featured in the report, a weekly summary of committee cases issued in July and later "disclosed on a publicly accessible computer network," the article said.

Posts on the apparent federal scrutiny of Mollohan can be found here, here, here , here, here and here.

The Post reports that "there has been no public action on that inquiry for several years. But the department's request in early July to the committee suggests that the case continues to draw the attention of federal investigators."

Mollohan told the newspaper that "he was not aware of any ongoing interest by the Justice Department in his case and that he and his attorneys have not heard from federal investigators."

Mollohan's latest campaign finance report lists $3,000 spent on Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evan and Figel in July for legal services, the first such payment since October 2008. Mollohan's campaign has paid the Washington, D.C., law firm nearly $300,000 since November 2006, its reports show.

28 October 2009

The Skinny on W.Va.'s Proposed "Fat Tax"

Gov. Joe Manchin is questioning the existence of a proposed "fat tax" on West Virginia public employees, The Associated Press reports.

Manchin tells AP's Tom Breen that "talk of punishing hefty state workers who get health coverage through the Public Employees Insurance Agency is inaccurate and misleading." He instead "says he wants to look for ways to reward healthy choices, and wants to hear all the available options."

PEIA's Finance Board began discussing "phased-in personal responsibility agreements" in May, as AP reported at the time.

Agency Director Ted Cheatham "proposed linking premium breaks to blood screenings, advance end-of-life care directives, and ultimately enrollment in a preventive care-wellness plan," that article said. "Board members said they needed more time to weigh that proposal and seek public comment."

In Wednesday's article, "
Perry Bryant, a former member of the PEIA finance board, agrees that talk of premium differentials based on health choices came not from Manchin, but from within the agency."

The Charleston Gazette has articles on a proposed "fat tax" here, here, here and here.

The Art of the Deal

Gov. Joe Manchin's approach toward taxing West Virginia's natural gas industry was invoked by a recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer to contrast the lack of success by his Pennsylvania counterpart on that front.

The article reports that despite that state's recession woes and resulting budget impasse, its "natural-gas industry's leaders and lobbyists beat back (Gov. Ed) Rendell's proposal to tax gas as it is pulled to the surface from the rich black-rock reservoir known as the Marcellus Shale."

The absence of a severance tax on that resource "makes Pennsylvania unique among the 15 states that produce the most natural gas," the article notes.

While weighing a tax, Rendell said he spoke to Manchin about the Keystone State's neighbor, which "also sits atop the Marcellus Shale and has taxed natural gas for years."

"Rendell said Manchin, a fellow Democrat, had assured him that West Virginia's tax did not 'inhibit gas extraction and that it is continuing at a record pace, and it's reaping critically needed revenues so the state can provide services to its citizens,'" the article said.

Manchin also explained his approach in an interview with the newspaper. As the article recounts:

"The Marcellus Shale is a tremendous producer. A severance tax will not deter" the drillers, Manchin said. "Believe me, if we didn't have the gas, they wouldn't be here."

Manchin said he had faced industry complaints in 2005 when he proposed to expand the tax, with some companies threatening to leave.

He offered to have the state buy up their leases "so you don't lose one penny." No one took him up on his offer.

U.S. Senate Confirms Berger, 97-0

A unanimous U.S. Senate has confirmed Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger for a seat on West Virginia's southern federal court district, The Associated Press and others report.

"A former county and federal prosecutor and Legal Aid Society lawyer, Berger has been a state trial judge since 1994," the article said. "She is the first African-American confirmed for either of West Virginia's federal court districts."

Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., had jointly recommended Berger to President Obama, and each urged their colleagues to back her in advance of Tuesday's vote.

Others with coverage include The Charleston Gazette, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and MetroNews, which also offers audio of Byrd's brief floor speech.

The Charleston Daily Mail reports on the prospects for a Republican to challenge Gov. Joe Manchin's eventual appointee to Berger's circuit court seat.

27 October 2009

W.Va. Tries to Get a Grip on Its Vehicle Fleet

Following an audit that raised several concerns about vehicles owned or leased by state government, Gov. Joe Manchin has formed a task force while also touting recent efforts to address the topic, The Associated Press and others report.

"All employees with take-home vehicles must ensure, along with their agencies, that they are properly counting this fringe benefit," AP's article said. "The administration ordered mileage logs for all vehicles and surveyed all executive branch departments and agencies"

Manchin's Department of Administration also surveyed executive branch agencies, including those of other elected officials, and counted 9,312 state-titled vehicles.

That census "identified 56 percent of the total as specialty vehicles," AP reported. "Those include mine rescue and heavy-duty highway trucks, boats and boat trailers, all-terrain and emergency response vehicles, and transports for prisoners and veterans. The remaining 44 percent are 4,083 passenger vehicles."

The new task force, meanwhile, "has until Dec. 15 to improve the way the state manages its fleet. "

The Charleston Gazette also has coverage. The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on the task of gauging the size of the vehicle fleet. MetroNews spoke to state Auditor Glen Gainer about the administration's report, and has audio.

26 October 2009

Health Care in West Virginia: Drug Abuse

A new report estimates that "preventable ailments stemming from alcohol and drug abuse" increased costs for West Virginia's health care system in 2007 to the tune of $116 million, The Associated Press reports.

AP's Tom Breen delves into the study by the Prevention Resource Center for the Partnership to Promote Community Well-Being, a group created by Gov. Joe Manchin.

"By 2017, the report estimates, the cost could be more than $201 million, even as the number of patients suffering from alcohol and drug-related diseases has held steady or even declined slightly in the last decade," the article said. "The only way to bring down those costs in the future, the report says, is to spend more money now -- on early intervention, prevention, treatment and recovery."

Abortion and the Health Care Overhaul (Updated)

The Associated Press reports that U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, has written a letter that he and 29 fellow anti-abortion Democrats have signed asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to ensure that the pending health care legislation now under debate not provide any federal funding for that procedure.

"House Democrats are at an impasse over whether their remake of the nation's health care system would effectively allow federal funding of abortion," the article said. "Lawmakers on the other side say they've compromised as far as they can to address the anti-abortion lawmakers' concerns by specifying that people receiving government subsidies to buy health insurance couldn't use that money for abortions. Negotiations to find common ground have not yielded fruit."

Mollohan has also issued a release on the topic.

Update: Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, is among those who signed. The anti-abortion group that has posted the letter online identifies Mollohan as its author.