West Virginia State Gov’t News

“Your Week in the Know” July 6, 2018



WV Supreme Court


The Looming West Virginia Supreme Court Impeachment Proceedings: An Explainer
As lawmakers discuss the possible impeachment of one or more West Virginia Supreme Court Justices, the rarity of the process raises questions about procedure, its history and other potential constitutional issues.


House Judiciary to convene July 12 to continue Supreme Court impeachment proceedings

CHARLESTON – The House Judiciary Committee will resume work on Supreme Court impeachment proceedings on July 12.


House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, made the announcement July 5. He said committee members and staff have been working to identify and schedule potential witnesses since it last met June 26. He said they also are gathering evidence for the proceedings.


On June 26, the House of Delegates voted 89-0 during a special session to give the committee the power to investigate impeachment of Supreme Court justices.


House Judiciary Committee sets dates for impeachment hearings

According to Shott, the committee will meet July 12-14, recess and meet again July 19-21. Specific times, locations and agendas will be announced at a later date.


Judiciary Committee staff have been working behind-the-scenes since being convened June 26 to collect evidence and subpoena witnesses. Gov. Jim Justice called the Legislature into special session to start impeachment proceedings.


To present those articles of impeachment, Shott announced the appointment of impeachment managers. The managers will help oversee the committee’s work, present the article of impeachment to the House and help conduct the trial against whichever justices they possibly charge during the Senate trial.




The Governor / Administration


WVPB director defends ethics of airing talk radio broadcasts from The Greenbrier


A decision to air video broadcasts of a talk radio show originating from The Greenbrier resort this week on the West Virginia Channel is strictly an attempt to expand local programming, Chuck Roberts, interim executive director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, said Monday.


“It’s just trying to get a mix of what’s going on out there,” he said of the decision to rebroadcast “Talkline” from 10 am. to noon daily this week on the Public Broadcasting subchannel. “We’re trying to get more West Virginia programming.”


“Talkline,” which normally originates from MetroNews studios in Morgantown, is broadcasting this week from The Greenbrier resort to provide coverage of the PGA golf tournament now known as A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, formerly called The Greenbrier Classic.


Heavy rains cause backup problems at the Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Recent heavy rains have caused a mess at some state Capitol offices.


Downpours have wound up causing sewer systems to back up, causing damage to first floor offices in the main Capitol building.


Offices like those for the state Auditor, the Legislative Auditor, the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General have been affected.


Real Estate Division: We will cooperate with legislative probe
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Real Estate Division plans to cooperate with lawmakers who want to learn how the state kept paying for a lease nearly two years after leaving an office complex, a nearly $1 million blunder, according to a spokesperson for the agency.


“The Department of Administration plans to fully cooperate with any and all requests that it may receive from the House Government Organization Committee in regard to the Real Estate Division,” said Diane Holley-Brown, director of communication for the West Virginia Department of Administration. The department oversees 15 agencies, including the Real Estate Division



The Legislature


Legislative audit tries to figure out state Supreme Court surplus in rainy day fund

CHARLESTON — A legislative audit was performed on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in an attempt to learn why the court had a surplus of nearly $29 million in 2012 and spent it down to approximately $333,000 by 2016.


Aaron Allred, legislative manager of the West Virginia Legislature, said several events initiated the audit.


“Its origin traces back to an investigation conducted by the legislative auditor, in conjunction with the Joint Committee on Government Organization, into how state-owned vehicles were being used by the various entities of state government,” Allred said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. “It appears this inquiry in the summer of 2016 led to discussions among the Justices of the Supreme Court about their own vehicle use policy.”





Lawmakers consider effects of Justice’s higher education commission

Governor Justice announced his Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education this week. He wants it to complete its work by December, just before the next regular legislative session.


Justice named West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert and Concord University President Kendra Boggess as the co-chairs of the commission.


The executive order that names the commission indicates it will explore issues such as adequacy of current funding levels for higher education, the current governance structure and the role of the current Higher Education Policy Commission.


Justice said he wants a strategy to shore up West Virginia’s four-year system, particularly smaller colleges that are economic engines for their communities even as they might struggle financially.


Chancellor search likely to halt because of higher education size-up

This all comes as Chancellor Paul Hill moves toward retiring from his current position. The position had been advertised, with an August goal of naming a replacement.


Farrell, a Huntington lawyer who heads the HEPC, said the group will get together at 9 a.m. Monday with an agenda that will likely end the hunt for a new chancellor. “I suspect we’re going to suspend that search.”


That was in contrast to a statement by Justice, who was asked if the chancellor search would continue. “We do need a chancellor. We do need a board,” Justice had said.


Report: State needs to consolidate Concord, Bluefield State

CHARLESTON — A draft report from a national higher education consulting firm recommends that state leaders consolidate Concord University and Bluefield State College, as well as consider consolidating a handful of other colleges down the road.


The report was obtained from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, a state agency that oversees four-year schools and commissioned a consultant to complete the work.


The consultant found that “for the institutions at highest risk, Bluefield State College and Concord University, the challenges are so serious that only a major restructuring will preserve postsecondary education opportunity for students in Southern West Virginia.”


Report Urges Merging Governing Boards of 4 Colleges
A report looking at higher education in West Virginia has recommended merging the governing boards of Bluefield State College, Concord University, Glenville State College and West Virginia State University.


The report labels those four schools “medium risk to high risk” in sustainability. It says the four are “sustainable in the short-term, but their futures are uncertain.” The report recommended the move, in the short term, for Bluefield and Concord, and in the long term for Glenville and WVSU.


West Virginia State using gift to establish learning center

INSTITUTE — West Virginia State University says it will establish a learning center for students in the education department after receiving a significant financial commitment from a 1950 alumnus.


University officials say the learning center will bear the name of Fred D. Thomas Jr., who made the gift. Officials say the center will feature smart technology to support interactive online instruction as well as group activities and research tutorials.





Despite stumbles, WV finishes 2017-18 budget year with 1 percent surplus

Even though June 2018 revenue collections of $419.51 million fell short of June 2017 collections by $45.6 million, they were sufficient to allow the state to wrap up the 2017-18 budget year with a $20.2 million surplus, figures from the state Budget Office show.


Overall tax collections of $4.245 billion for the 2017-18 budget year exceeded projections by less than 1 percent, but were up $76.75 million over 2016-17, when the state missed budget estimates by $11 million.



Health Care


Cabell County’s Overdose Totals Drop in First Half of 2018

The Herald-Dispatch reports the use of naloxone — the drug first responders use to reverse an opioid-induced overdose — decreased by 49 percent in the West Virginia county compared to the first half of 2017.


Cabell County EMS director Gordon Merry says everyone is working toward a common goal in combating drug overdoses, and he thinks the effort is “headed in the right direction.”



The Courts


New Judge Appointed to Vacant Kanawha Circuit Court

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has appointed Daniel W. Greear to a vacant judicial position.


Greear fills a vacancy in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court created when Judge James Stucky retired. Greear most recently served as chief of staff for House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead. He lives in Kanawha County with his wife and two sons.


Stucky, who retired in April, spent 21 years presiding over cases in Kanawha County.

Greear will serve until a judge is chosen by special election during the Nov. 8 general election.


The special election is required because more than two years were left on Stucky’s term.





Parkways Authority clears Turnpike bonds to go to market in early August

With a final vote Thursday by the West Virginia Parkways Authority, the state is on track to sell the first $172 million in Turnpike bonds the week of Aug. 6.


Authority members adopted a Debt and Capital Planning Management Policy, the authority’s last formal action before the first of two rounds of bond sales go to market in August.


“We planned early on to do two bond issues,” Parkways General Manager Greg Barr said afterward. “We’re going to do the smaller bond issue first, $172 million, and see how everything works.”


While legislation passed in 2017 extending tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike for 30 years to fund the new bond issues envisioned a total of $500 million in bonds, traffic engineers have scaled that back to the $300 million range, anticipating lost revenue from deeply discounted E-ZPass rates and from commercial traffic opting for routes to bypass the Turnpike.





Wild & Not So Wonderful Waste Of Taxpayer Dollars On Display In West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lavish spending on the part of a few Trump cabinet officials has received a great deal of media attention. However, though it is unlikely to generate the same sort of national headlines, a more salacious example of taxpayer dollars being wasted on government office furnishings is now on display in West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice (R) and state lawmakers convened a special session this past Monday in order to hold the offenders, which includes at least one state supreme court justice, accountable.


Beware of political posturing on the state’s economy

Jim Justice campaigned with a promise of taking West Virginia on an economic rocket ship ride. Clearly, the state’s economy is on the upswing. As always, it’s debatable whether that growth is attributable to political and policy decisions, natural ebbs and flows in the economy or a combination of both.


A rocket ship ride? Not exactly, but there is positive movement.


9 LGBTQ protection bills died in WV Legislature during 2018 session

Although lawmakers introduced nine bills to establish legal protection for LGBTQ people in West Virginia in 2018, none became law or even made it to a committee for consideration.


Different pieces of legislation would have offered legal cover for LGBTQ people such as hate crime and equal employment opportunity protection. Many of them were backed by bipartisan groups of lawmakers.


One bill had 14 Senators of the 34 in the chamber from both parties signed on as sponsors. No committee ever took it up or voted on it.


Statehouse Beat: Go on vacation, show up in a federal indictment

To paraphrase Lloyd Bridges in “Airplane!”, looks like I picked the wrong week to go on vacation.

Among the many newsworthy moments I missed was the 22-count federal indictment of state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, of which Count 18 involves my communications with the court:


“Loughry caused another Supreme Court employee to send an email to a reporter that falsely and fraudulently claimed ‘the Court has a longstanding practice of providing the Justices the opportunity to establish a home office, with Court-provided technology equipment [i.e., computers] and furniture to suit their respective needs.’”


It all dates back to late November, when I put a little item in the column about the disappearance of a leather couch that had been in the office Loughry inherited when he was elected to the court.



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