26 February 2010

House GOP Make 5th Try at Discharge Gambit (Updated)

Updated: "For the fifth time in as many days, House Republicans have tried and failed to advance proposals from their session agenda," The Associated Press reports.

"GOP delegates allege the majority Democrats have bottled up these proposals," the article said. "But their strategy of pursuing discharge motions has so far met the same fate."

Aided by Delegate Tom Louisos, D-Fayette , House Republicans previously attempted discharge motion votes on measures targeting property taxes, same-sex marriage, abortion funding and federal health care legislation.

The item up Friday would randomly drug test poor people receiving cash assistance, and lawmakers, AP reported. The motion for that bill was idled, 71-26.

The majority Democrats have sidetracked each previous motion on procedural grounds, then kicked them into legislative limbo via the agenda-setting House Rules Committee.

Three of the discharge motions has instead resulted in floor votes over whether to postpone their consideration. But the Democrats' procedural tactic removed the vote one step further from the underlying issue.

And with Thursday's attempt, stemming from the health care measure, eight Republicans joined Democrats in derailing the discharge motion.

Capito vs. Pelosi

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is among a handful of House GOP members on the receiving end of a "rare rebuke" from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was "hinting at hypocrisy in their opposition to the stimulus package, saying it provided hundreds of thousands of their constituents tax cuts," Politico reports.

"The Pelosi offensive is part of a coordinated effort between the White House, the Democratic National Committee and congressional Democrats, who say they’re tired of being on the defensive on the stimulus," article said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has seized on a March 2009 comment attributed to Capito in The Journal of Martinsburg to add her to its stimulus "Hypocrisy Hall of Fame."

Quote of the Day

"The health insurance industry is the shark that swims just below the water, and you don't feel the teeth of that shark till it bites you... This is a rapacious industry that does what it wants."

-- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., during the Blair House health care summit, as quoted by The Associated Press.

Legislature 2010: Charter Schools

With the Senate and House of Delegates at odds over charter schools, The Associated Press assesses what role their absence may play in West Virginia's quest for "Race to the Top" federal education funding.

In a 500-point application system, "charter schools count for 40 points," writes AP's Tom Breen. "Schools Superintendent Steve Paine thinks at least 15 of those points can be made up in other ways, but charter schools supporters say the lack of such institutions is holding the state back."

25 February 2010

Daschle to Headline JJ Dinner

"The man dethroned as the U.S. Senate's majority leader in 2004 will headline the year's key fundraising event for West Virginia's Democratic Party," The Associated Press reports. "With Democrats nationwide facing a difficult election climate, the state party has picked Tom Daschle as the keynote speaker for its April 17 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner."

The Democrats usually hold their marquee fundraiser in the fall.

They Voted For You: Jobs

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., voted for legislation that The Associated Press described as "blending highway funding eagerly sought by the states with tax breaks for companies that hire unemployed workers."

"The bipartisan 70-28 vote to pass the bill sends it to the House, where many Democrats say it is too puny," the article said.

AP reports that the measure contains two key provisions.

"It would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December and give them an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year," the article said. "Second, it would extend highway and mass transit programs through the end of the year and pump $20 billion into them in time for the spring construction season."

The vote on passage follows a roll call that ended a GOP-led filibuster of the bill, AP reported earlier.

Rockefeller Makes the Cut for Health Care Summit

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, is among the 38 members of Congress slated to attend the 10 a.m. Blair House health care summit convened by President Obama, The Associated Press reports.

Rockefeller is one of the lawmakers asked to attend by the 22 legislative leaders invited by the administration.

"The session will begin with an opening statement from President Barack Obama, followed by remarks from a Republican chosen by the GOP leadership and a Democrat selected by that party's leadership," AP reports. "Obama will then moderate the discussion."

AP also offers a detailed preview of the summit, which the White House plans to stream live online. The administration has also posted details about the event and the positions of the various caucuses.

Rockefeller spoke to The Charleston Gazette about health care legislation in advance of the summit.

Lawmakers Advancing Changes to W.Va. Courts

The Associated Press highlights several items moving through the Legislature that would alter West Virginia's judicial branch.

"The House of Delegates unanimously passed one bill Wednesday that would allow for special courts in the state's larger judicial circuits to handle complicated business disputes," the article said. "Speaker Richard Thompson has championed the concept as attractive to employers."

Another measure, advanced unanimously by the Senate, "would separate Supreme Court races when more than one seat is on that year's ballot," AP reports.

The House has also passed Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal for a "Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission," the article said, while its Judiciary Committee has endorsed his bid for publicly financed Supreme Court candidates.

But in one of the closest votes so far this session, by 61-37 the House sent the Senate a bill that would eventually require county magistrates to have college degrees, the article said.

AP notes the sometimes sharp criticism of that measure during the floor debate. Others with coverage of that include The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail, and MetroNews (with audio).

24 February 2010

Legislature 2010: Dropouts

West Virginia would try several different ways to curb its estimated 17 percent school dropout rate, under a bill passed to the Senate by the House of Delegates.

As The Associated Press reports, the measure proposes "new programs for students who are disruptive, struggling with drug problems or seeking help with career and technical courses."

Passed 94-4, the bill "would also raise the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 17," the article said. "But House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling told fellow delegates that the measure never would have advanced if it contained just those two steps."

As AP reports and noted earlier, the Senate has focused solely on those two provisions but critics of such an approach include Gov. Joe Manchin.

Charter Schools in West Virginia

While the state Senate appears poised to pass a bill allowing charter schools in West Virginia, House members appear skeptical on the topic, The Associated Press reports.

A key Senate supporter says "it simply frees up teachers and school districts in creating new approaches to education," the article said, while a leading delegate opines that "the Legislature should wait until a special committee studying the idea reaches its findings."

Others with coverage of the Senate bill's progress include the Charleston Daily Mail, MetroNews, The Charleston Gazette and The Register-Herald of Beckley.

Eye Surgery in West Virginia

The state Senate has voted 20-13 to send to the House the bright, shiny object of the 2010 session, a "bill that would change who can perform laser eye surgery and other procedures," The Associated Press reports.

"That a relatively obscure issue could cause the closest vote of the session so far is a testament both to the power of motivated interest groups and what can happen when senators feel the unspoken traditions in their chamber have been violated," writes AP's Tom Breen.

Optometrists seeking the legislation ran up against ophthalmologists and other medical doctors. "The two groups have aired their differences on newspaper opinion pages, on public broadcasting programs and in the halls of the Legislature, where lobbyists for both sides have vigorously pushed their case," AP reports.

The bill was also allowed to bypass the Senate's Health and Human Resources Committee, much to the consternation of its chairman.

Others with coverage include The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews, Public Broadcasting (with audio), the Charleston Daily Mail, and The Register-Herald of Beckley.

Lawmakers Taking Another Whack at Campaign Finance

The recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance has helped fuel a pair of bills advanced by the House Judiciary Committee, The Associated Press reports.

"One measure embraces the court's decision to define when individuals, groups or corporations behind ads must disclose their spending," AP explains. "Under the bill, the ad must be 'susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.'"

That provision and others in the bill also seek to salvage the Legislature's prior attempts to require disclosure of third party election ad spending. A federal judge's preliminary order continues to block parts of those previous regulatory efforts.

House Judiciary endorsed this bill on what sounded like a unanimous voice vote, with members of both parties approving of its approach. But the second measure advanced Tuesday amid concerns over its implications, AP reports.

Responding to the landmark decision's ruling on corporate political activity, this measure "would require in-state corporations that want to spend funds on political activities to obtain shareholder approval beforehand, and report on that spending to them afterward," the article said. "Several committee members questioned whether its provisions were workable, or fair given that out-of-state corporations would be exempt."

50 School Boards Sue State over OPEB

All but five of West Virginia's 55 county school boards have carried out their threat to sue the state over the way they are billed for non-pension retiree benefits, The Associated Press reports.

The Kanawha Circuit Court lawsuit alleges "the state should be responsible for paying for the benefits it promised current and retired public employees, as it sets retiree health benefits and rates," the article said. "They also object to having to list as current debt what they don't or can't pay toward their 'annual required contribution.'"

The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg first reported on the lawsuit. That article noted that "the lawsuit had been in a holding pattern for months as school officials waited to see whether state legislators could work out a plan to deal with the growing Other Post Employment Benefits debt, also known as OPEB."

But as AP recently reported, a bill on the subject failed to emerge by a Monday filing deadline. "A Senate committee could still launch a limited bill by Friday," that AP article said.

23 February 2010

2nd Discharge Motion Derailed in House

House Republicans have again been rebuffed in their attempts to kick-start a stalled item from their agenda, The Associated Press reports.

The House voted 68-30 along party lines Tuesday to postpone a motion to discharge from committee a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage.

"After the vote postponing the motion, the committee that sets the House's daily agenda removed it from the chamber's calendar," the article said. "The House Rules Committee similarly exiled a Monday GOP discharge motion into legislative limbo."

Legislature 2010: Day 42

They Voted for You: Jobs

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., helped overcome a GOP-led filibuster to allow a full Senate vote on jobs-related legislation.

The 62-30 vote advanced what The Associated Press called a "bipartisan jobs bill" that is far smaller in scope than either last year's stimulus legislation or "a rival bipartisan bill unveiled earlier this month by two senior senators."

The bill that cleared the filibuster "featured four provisions that enjoyed sweeping bipartisan support, including a measure exempting businesses hiring the unemployed from Social Security payroll taxes through December and giving them another $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year," the article said. "The legislation also would renew highway programs through December and deposit $20 billion in the highway trust fund."

Manchin, NGA Talk Health Care with Obama

Health care was a major topic of the National Governors Association at its annual winter meeting over the weekend in Washington, D.C.

Gov. Joe Manchin, the group's incoming chairman, talked to CBS News (with video) about health care legislation and the states. He later briefed West Virginia media.

Those with coverage include The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail, MetroNews, The Intelligencer of Wheeling, and Public Broadcasting.

22 February 2010

Rockefeller, Byrd Target Obama EPA over Climate Change

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., have joined six caucus colleagues from natural resource-rich states in "challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate pollution blamed for global warming," The Associated Press reports.

Rockefeller wrote the letter signed by all eight that argues "the agency lacks the power to restrict greenhouse gases," the article said, adding that "Their opposition could pose a blow to the Obama administration's anti-pollution efforts."

Rockefeller's office has posted the letter online, along with a press release.

Rocky Start for House GOP's Discharge Gambit

As previously noted, Republicans in the House of Delegates hoped to force floor votes each day this week on legislation from their agenda that appears stalled in committee

But the gambit to press a series of discharge motions did not launch as planned, The Associated Press reports.

"They tried to start Monday with a proposal to increase a property tax break for seniors and the totally disabled," the article said. "The vote on that discharge motion was sidelined. The committee that sets the House's daily agenda then voted along party lines to keep that motion off the calendar."

Spotlight Shines on Beer Tax Proposal

Lawmakers who want to hike alcohol taxes to fund substance abuse programs expect to hear from all sides on the topic at an afternoon public hearing, The Associated Press and others report.

The House Health and Human Resources Committee is weighing opinion on the first of several hoped-for bills on the subject, this one increasing beer taxes.

That hike would add three cents to the price of each 12-ounce bottle or can, AP reports. "Supporters say the measure would raise $20 million in revenue, which they want to spend on substance abuse prevention and treatment programs," the article said. "Opponents, including distributors and wholesalers, say the increase would drive West Virginia beer drinkers to other states."

The Charleston Gazette
also sets the stage for the House Chamber hearing. So does MetroNews, which previously aired arguments against the tax proposal from the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association. With audio.

Quote of the Day

"I realize the world is changing and I have to keep up with it."

-- Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, to The Associated Press. The House's senior member, the 63-year-old lawmaker was likely "the first West Virginia legislator to create a Web site, roughly 12 years ago."

Senators No Longer So Sure of an OPEB Fix (Updated)

Last-minute problems could prevent the introduction of legislation meant to address West Virginia's massive retiree health care costs, The Associated Press reports.

While hopeful just last week of crafting a bill in time for today's filing deadline, Senate leaders cite ongoing disagreements with House members assigned to study the issue.

"Sen. Brooks McCabe, a Kanawha County Democrat, believes a special legislative session is inevitable regardless of whether the bill beats Monday's deadline," AP reports.

Update: While no bill emerged Monday, McCabe told AP "a Senate committee could still launch a limited bill by Friday." A spokesman for Gov. Joe Manchin said that the governor "is not ready to convene a special session solely for this topic," but would "consider making it part of the session he may call to ensure the state qualifies for federal 'Race to the Top' education grants.

Legislature 2010: Dropouts

Add Gov. Joe Manchin to the list of those who consider raising West Virginia's mandatory school attendance age from 16 to 17 a "superficial fix," The Associated Press reports.

Manchin's stance spells trouble for the Senate's attempt to address the state's high dropout rate, which focuses only on the attendance age and unexcused absences.

But it also improves prospect for a bill unanimously endorsed Friday by the House Education Committee "that attacks the dropout rate on several fronts," AP reports.

That bill includes attendance age and absences provisions as well as a GED option to help career and technical students, special programs for disruptive students, and more juvenile drug courts, the article said.

"I think the (House) committee would have rejected the bill if the only things it did was raise the compulsory attendance age and limit unexcused absences," House Education Chair Mary Poling, D-Barbour, told AP.

Gloves Coming Off in House of Delegates

West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey believes GOP delegates will pursue "discharge motion" each day this week to force House floor votes on politically charged issues, The Associated Press reports.

Republican lawmakers have employed that legislative maneuver during prior sessions, arguing that measures popular among voters have been unfairly bottled up in committees. In a press release, Casey dismisses such attempts as political grandstanding meant to curry favor at election time.

House GOP members plan a press conference this hour to discuss their agenda for the session. Republicans hold 29 of the chamber's 100 seats.

One likely discharge motion target is a proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The minority Republicans tried without success to discharge last year's version. This session, they sought to force it onto the agenda of the House Constitutional Revision Committee, as AP noted, but failed.

The House was warned earlier this session to expect discharge motions, but by a Democrat, Delegate Tom Louisos of Fayette County. While he often votes with the GOP on certain issues, Louisos also complained that the bills he routinely sponsors are ignored with equal reqularity.

The Charleston Gazette also has an item on the discharge motion threats.

Al Haig's West Virginia Connection

While he may have had other ties to the Mountain State, the late "soldier and statesman" Alexander Haig was the brother of the Rev. Francis R. Haig, who was president of what has since become Wheeling Jesuit University from 1966 to 1972.

Legislature 2010: Property Taxes

Gov. Joe Manchin's attempt to exempt some business property from taxes may soon clear the Legislature, but would then face a major hurdle on the November ballot, The Associated Press observes.

Voters would have to agree to amend the state constitution to allow counties to keep categories of commercial inventory and equipment off their tax rolls. "Voters don't readily tinker with their constitution," the article said, and support for the measure "may be eroding."

"Some county officials question assurances that lawmakers will help replace the lost revenue that would result from the measure," the article said. "Provisions added to win them over have instead added to the worries of some."

AP also measures the revenues reaped by counties and schools from such property, and compares how West Virginia stacks up against other states regarding such taxes. It also hears from differing economic think tanks on the proposal.

The Register-Herald of Beckley talks to Manchin about his legislation, and reports separately on reactions from county officials.