22 May 2010

Quote of the Day

"You know he's in there... And sometimes he'll have an expression that you're used to seeing. But then sometimes it's just blank."

-- Sherry Lilly, daughter of coal miner James Woods, to The Associated Press about his slow, uncertain rehabilitation after suffering brain trauma in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

21 May 2010

He Voted for You: Wall Street Overhaul

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., helped pass that chamber's version of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., was one of two members absent for the 59-39 roll call.

The Associated Press describes the legislation as "the most far-reaching restraints on big banks since the Great Depression. In its broad sweep, the massive bill would touch Wall Street CEOs and first-time homebuyers, high-flying traders and small town lenders."

"While Republicans succeeded in amending the bill, they still objected to its sweep, claiming it represented an expansion of government power that would have unintended consequences," the article said. "Democrats argued it was a potent response to the financial abuses, regulatory weaknesses and consumer misjudgments that plunged the nation deep into recession."

20 May 2010

Congress to Hear from Blankenship (Updated)

Massey Energy CEO and Chairman Don Blankenship is scheduled to appear before a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee this afternoon for a hearing called in response to Massey's Upper Big Branch disaster.

The topic at the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies is "Investing in Mine Safety: Preventing Another Disaster."

Blankenship is slated to appear on the same panel of witnesses as Cecil Roberts, a longtime adversary and president of the United Mine Workers union.

Update: The Associated Press is covering the hearing. The subcommittee's site is hosting a live webcast of the hearing, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

2nd Update: The subcommittee has posted video of the hearing as well as prepared testimony of Blankenship, Roberts and other witnesses. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., has posted his opening statement from the hearing.

Old Habits, er, Die Hard?

A Lincoln County commissioner tells The Charleston Gazette that he suspects that "some of the absentee ballots cast in last week's primary election may have come from dead people."

Commissioner Charles Vance, a physician, said he recognized the names of several deceased residents on a roster of people listed as having voted early or absentee, including former patients, the newspaper reports.

Allegations surfaced
shortly before the primary that an unusual number of absentee ballots had been requested in Lincoln County, the scene of a federal election fraud investigation within the last several years.

The Gazette reported earlier this week that absentee ballots helped flip the results in at least two county races, and that the "totals show that absentee voting was far more one-sided than some originally thought."

19 May 2010

Taking a Break

With the House and Senate increasingly at odds over Gov. Joe Manchin's education proposals, the Legislature has halted its special session with plans to try again June 7, The Associated Press reports.

Seven days into the session, lawmakers had passed 15 other bills from the governor's agenda but none of its eight school-related measures, the article said.

"Hours before the announced pause, senators voted 9-18 to defeat that chamber's version of Manchin's proposed merit-pay boosts for educators," AP reported. "The House Education Committee had previously scuttled a separate measure addressing low-performing schools."

As a consequence of the delay, "West Virginia is dropping its bid for up to $75 million in federal Race to the Top funds," the article said. The application was due June 1.

Shott to Succeed Caruth in Senate

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, will fill the Senate seat of the late Minority Leader Don Caruth until at least the November election, The Associated Press reports.

Gov. Joe Manchin appointed Shott, a Bluefield lawyer, on Wednesday. Manchin said he had offered the seat to Caruth's widow, but that she declined and later said her late husband would have approved of the choice of Shott, the article said.

Shott was running unopposed for his House seat. A GOP committee will submit names to the governor for his replacement there.

AP notes that both the House and Senate honored Caruth with memorial resolutions Wednesday as part of the ongoing special session.

Senate Sinks Merit Pay Bill for Educators

While the Senate has largely embraced Gov. Joe Manchin's education agenda, it voted down proposed pay boost "for teachers and principals in West Virginia's high-poverty and minority public schools," The Associated Press reports.

Senators rejected the measure 9-18 after the Senate Education Committee both enhanced its key incentives and tinkered with provisions addressing the state's commitment to fund them, the article said.

The defeat comes as the two chambers grow increasingly divided over Manchin's school-focused agenda items, AP reports.

Legislative Loggerheads

With the Senate and House each taking Gov. Joe Manchin's education proposals in a different direction, their fate "remains uncertain," The Associated Press reports.

While 15 other bills have passed during the special session, scrutiny continues for the eight measures aimed at public schools.

The Senate has passed versions of nearly all of them that either embrace Manchin's intent or take it one or more steps further. The House has killed one of the measures through its Education Committee, and has gutted or scaled back several others.

"The two chambers have passed dueling versions of one measure that would reconfigure in-school oversight teams," the article said. "Similar conflicts are shaping up over bills to increase student health screenings, require annual teacher evaluations and allow alternative paths to certify educators."

18 May 2010

W.Va. Press Corps Alum Withstands Fire

The Associated Press statehouse correspondent in Nashville whose press credentials were threatened after an incident last week will keep them, Romenesko reports.

The item relays an article from the Tennessee Report that says the House speaker -- the subject of the attempted photograph at issue -- believes AP's Erik Schelzig "in fact did nothing wrong." It has also posted video of the remarks.

Schelzig, who previously helped cover the West Virginia Legislature for AP, had tried to take pictures after House Speaker Kent Williams collapsed at his desk in the chamber.

Those defending Schelzig included The Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors.

Hiring, School Committee Bills Pass Senate

West Virginia schools would revise the process for interviewing and hiring teachers and principals, under legislation unanimously passed from the Senate to the House, The Associated Press reports.

A unanimous Senate also amended and advanced a House-passed bill revamping the system of in-school, decision-making committee teams, the article said. Delegates must now decide whether to concur with that version.

But as AP reports, that chamber has taken a different stance toward Gov. Joe Manchin's school-related special session proposals.

It "had scaled back that collaborative teams legislation," while "its Education Committee has already shot down the bill, addressing low-performing schools," the article said. "That committee is poised to remove mandates from a measure proposing increased student health screenings."

Results Mixed for Manchin's Education Agenda

The House and Senate hold sharply different views of the school-related measures proposed by Gov. Joe Manchin as part of the ongoing special legislative session, The Associated Press reports.

The Senate has approved the governor's call for more frequent educator evaluations; Manchin proposed annual reviews, while the Senate amended that to make at least that often.

Senators also passed a version of the bill that would step up efforts to address low-performing schools. But the House scuttled its bill on the topic in its Education Committee, which has also gutted the House version of the evaluation bill, AP reports.

The article also observes that lawmakers in both chambers share some of the same concerns about the value, cost and effect of some of these measures.

AP follows up by focusing on the mixed results. "The Senate Education Committee has so far endorsed all but one of the eight school measures," that article said, and plans to take up the final item Tuesday.

Those advancing measures include Manchin's proposed merit pay increases for educators. "The committee on Monday doubled to $2,000 the salary boosts for teachers and principals assigned to high-poverty and high-minority schools," AP reports. "It increased tenfold, to $5,000, the pay raises for educators in those schools teaching math and science."

17 May 2010

Senate OKs Increased Education Evaluations

West Virginia's public schools would evaluate their teachers and other professional staff at least annually under legislation passed 28-4 by the state Senate to the House of Delegates, The Associated Press reports.

With educators now reviewed mostly when they start out, "supporters say evaluations would encourage good teachers while helping struggling ones improve," the article said. "Opponents question the added burden on principals and teachers."

Bad Teachers in West Virginia

The ongoing battle between West Virginia's teacher groups and their opponents has become part of the debate over Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

The West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia "question whether the governor is blaming teachers for the state's poor showing in several education categories," the article said. "They also argue he's pursuing federal funds at the expense of hiring protections and other rights."

WVEA President Dale Lee broached the topic of bad teachers during his group's pre-session press conference, meant to raise objections to the overall focus of Manchin's agenda.

"Most teachers out there are doing an exemplary job," he is quoted as saying. "But let's be clear: teachers out there and the WVEA want the best in our profession. We don't protect bad teachers, as is portrayed out there. All we protect is due process rights."

State schools Superintendent Steve Paine sought to address notion of protecting "bad" teachers during a recent appearance before the House Education Committee, the article said.

While calling it "the part that we all don't want to talk about, that I need to talk about," Paine then added, "I need to use a term other than 'bad.' Let's say, 'not as successful,'" AP reported.

School, Health Care Bills Moving in Special Session

The House of Delegates has passed the first of the education-related bills from Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

That amended proposal, which goes to the Senate, would allow schools to replace at least some of their mandatory decision making committees.

The House also sent the governor another of the measures meant to correct and revive bills vetoed during this year's regular session, AP reports.

Senators, meanwhile, advanced to an agenda item to the House "extending coverage to uninsured West Virginians with pre-existing medical conditions," the article said. That bill has become a focus of partisan debate, as it arises from the new federal health care law.

16 May 2010

Special Session: Workin' on the Weekend

While lawmakers continue to scrutinize Gov. Joe Manchin's education proposals, they've advanced most of the other items on his special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

The Senate has passed all 11 supplemental spending measures, which would add an estimated $133 million to this year's budget or the one that starts July 1, the article said.

"Beneficiaries would include the State Police, highways, work force programs, public libraries and in-home care for seniors," AP reports. "The Senate amended one bill to add $350,000 for English as a second language programs."

The article also notes that "Manchin added a road bond resolution to the agenda Saturday."