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Jim’s Promise Tour Launches

Justice: New roads, new jobs, and hope are on the way

The Free Press WV

Governor kicked off the Jim’s Promise Tour to highlight specific road construction projects that fulfill Governor Justice’s pledge to fix the state’s roads and bring tens of thousands of jobs to the Mountain State.

Justice and Transportation Secretary Tom Smith visited Hurricane, WV to discuss the new work that’s going to occur on I-64 between Hurricane and Milton, and then they went to Clarksburg to give an update on the action happening on local roads in North Central West Virginia.

Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said, “Jim’s Promise Program is historic because it’s the most significant investment West Virginia’s ever seen in its roads and will make such a difference for our state.”

“This is only the start of immediate jobs, immediate opportunity, and immediate hope,” said Governor Justice.  “These road projects that are going on now are just the beginning of West Virginia making a real comeback. It’s the first step to bringing West Virginia the greatness we deserve. Let’s roll!”

Smith added, “In just three months, we’ve already leveraged $350 million worth of work thanks to the Governor’s plan and it’s one and a half times larger than the Obama stimulus spent on West Virginia’s roads. This is just the beginning of a new chapter for West Virginia’s infrastructure. Jim’s Promise means fixing roads in every corner of our state and thousands and thousands of new jobs.”

WV Pastor Plans Hunger Strike Against Health-Care Repeal

The West Virginia minister famous for telling a senator how the Affordable Care Act saved her daughter’s life now says she plans a hunger strike to oppose the ACA’s repeal.

Reverend Janice Hill of Parkersburg met with Senator Shelley Moore Capito to testify against the Senate health-care legislation last month. Video of their meeting drew nationwide attention after Hill credited Obamacare with saving her daughter’s life by making sure she got cancer treatment.

Hill now says if and when she knows the repeal bill is to be up for a vote, she’ll start a water-only fast.

The Free Press WV
A West Virginia minister says she’ll do anything she can
- including going on a hunger strike -
to get senators such as Shelley Moore Capito to vote against healthcare legislation.


“When I know it’s going to go for a vote, then I will make my stand,“ he says. “And this isn’t a stunt for me. These are people’s lives, including my daughters.“

The Senate vote has been delayed. Capito has not clearly said if she will vote for or against the bill. If she votes no, most observers expect the repeal to fail.

The Senate bill’s supporters argue the Affordable Care Act offered too much - that it created unsustainable, generous government health-care promises. But many of the act’s insurance rules have been very popular.

Hill says her daughter has a rare form of cancer that is very expensive to treat. She says before Obamacare, her daughter’s insurance company would likely have cut off her coverage because she hit an annual cost cap or because she had a pre-existing condition.

“So the fact that there wasn’t a cap and the fact that there’s not pre-existing conditions really and truly is what’s keeping her alive,“ she explains.

Hill says Capito should vote no, and negotiate with Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin who want to fix the parts of Obamacare that aren’t working and keep what is.

“Cross that stupid aisle - to be a leader, to be working with Sen. Manchin, and be one West Virginia,“ adds Hill.

Hill and other clergy were to deliver letters and petitions to Capito’s Charleston office Tuesday.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

Justice Company Debts Damage Governor’s Credibility

The Free Press WV

When it comes to money, Jim Justice is a paradox.

He is incredibly wealthy. Forbes estimates his net worth at nearly $1.6 billion dollars. Justice is often generous with his money.  He saved the historic Greenbrier Resort from imminent closure, protecting hundreds of jobs.  Lord knows how much it cost to rebuild the Old White TPC for the PGA Tour event earlier this month.

Yet Justice can also be miserly. Stories abound of vendors and tax collectors who have had difficulty getting Justice companies to pay their bills.  National Public Radio reported last October, “His mining companies owe $15 million in six states, including property and mineral taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, federal income, excise and employment taxes, as well as mine safety penalties, according to county, state and federal records.”

Just last week, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the state Tax Department has four liens against the Justice family owned Tams Management Inc. for nearly $1 million unpaid taxes, mostly coal severance taxes. MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny also reported on the story. 

The Justice family owns and operates dozens of companies.  They employ a lot of people and no doubt write huge checks to governments and vendors.  If I was Justice and I was questioned about taxes, my first response would be, “Do you want to hear how much I do pay?” That has to be a huge number.

We probably wouldn’t hear much about the bill and tax-paying habits of some of Justice’s companies were he not Governor. The court system is kept busy with disputes over debts, while private business owners often have issues with the state tax department or the IRS over tax liabilities.

However, Justice is a public figure now, so the additional scrutiny should be expected.  But more importantly, the still-new Governor’s credibility is damaged by the tax debts.  The political juxtaposition is too obvious to ignore: How can he ask West Virginians to pay additional taxes or criticize the Legislature for not putting more money toward drug treatment when his companies have outstanding tax liabilities?

That’s a trump card too easy for his critics to play.  Just last week Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who was in a tiff with the Governor over planned upgrades to eight Capitol bathrooms, said, “Pay your taxes–$4.5 million in taxes for drug treatment.”

Ask people who know Justice why he has a history of foot-dragging on his bills and they say the same thing; they don’t know, but naturally there is speculation.

Perhaps he has cash flow problems, especially given the difficulties in the coal industry and the expense of keeping the Greenbrier open and operating. Or maybe it’s just a way of doing business; hold back on payment and then settle for a lesser amount on the dollar.

Yes, since becoming Governor Justice has turned his companies’ operations over to others, but these payment issues will continue to be linked to him, especially if they are nonpayment of state taxes or fees.  They erode his ability to ask other West Virginians to do their fair share.

U.S. Stock Market Soars While WV Sputters

The Free Press WV

Following the news that the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a new high and the stock market is surging, Governor Jim Justice issued the following statement:

“Wall Street is booming and the people of West Virginia aren’t sharing in the boom because our state Legislature refused to support the economic development tools I proposed. The Legislature said NO to the Save Our State fund to attract new businesses here, rejected any new money to promote tourism, and slashed prospects for a prepared workforce — all which would bring some of this national prosperity home to us in West Virginia.  While the rest of the country is on a tremendous rocket ride, West Virginia has hit rock bottom thanks to the Legislature.

“Until the Legislature can learn to think big, like I do, we’ll never see the economic comeback the people of West Virginia deserve. I hope and pray to the Good Lord that we all see the wisdom to vote ‘YES’ on the road bond in October to create tens of thousands of jobs as part of our road building program.

“I just got here, but the lack of progress from the Legislature and this terrible situation has been years in the making.”​

Justice Was Right, Revenue Collections Way Off Mark

June revenue numbers are $18.7 million below estimate

The Free Press WV

The Governor’s office reported final General Revenue Fund collection numbers for Fiscal Year 2017 were $120.7 million below original estimates. Several gap-filling measures, including taking $40.4 million from the Rainy Day Fund, effectively closed the revenue shortfall for the year.

The Governor’s chief of staff, Nick Casey, highlighted that the Legislature presumed there would be $11 million in surplus from FY17 to be used in the Fiscal Year 2018 which began on July 1.  There was no such surplus but this $11 million in fake money was inserted in the state budget by the Legislature. Casey noted that the $11 million in hocus pocus money has to be made up from cost cuts somewhere such as fall trout stockings, volunteer firefighters, DHHR or fairs and festivals.

“Thank goodness that Governor Justice accurately predicted that West Virginia’s severance tax revenue would continue to increase,” said Nick Casey, the Governor’s chief of staff. “Coal and gas severance taxes are the only real bright spots and have been up in March, April, May and June. Increase in severance tax is coming to pass just like the Governor said it would in his State of the State address.”

Casey continued, “The people of West Virginia are getting hurt unnecessarily due to the cuts the Legislature made in the Governor’s proposed budget. The taxpayers must know that their lawmakers could’ve stopped this pain but they turned their backs on the Governor’s budget. West Virginia is only on the move because of the Governor’s road bills and his vision on severance tax even though he has had to drag a do-nothing Legislature along for the ride.”

The anticipated revenue gap for FY17 was originally projected to be as high as $192.2 million, but the combination of one-time special revenues along with mid-year budget reductions of nearly $60 million closed that gap and a raid on the rainy day fund and the increases in severance tax the Governor predicted not only filled the gap but resulted in a year end surplus of roughly $63.2 million.  The final number will be known at the end of July when the accounting books close for state agencies.

Half of the year-end surplus will be transferred to the Rainy Day Fund and the remaining half will be available for appropriation in FY18.  The FY18 General Revenue Fund Budget is dependent on more than $41 million of available net surplus funds at the end of FY17 but that number will be roughly $11 million short.

June General Revenue Fund collections of nearly $424.7 million were $18.7 million below estimate but 6.6 percent ahead of prior year receipts.

Highlights of the major revenue components accounting for nearly all revenue collections include:

  • June General Revenue Fund Personal Income Tax collections fell short of estimate by $31.9 million.

  • Consumer Sales and Use Tax receipts, after a 6.2 percent boost in May, rose 5.7 percent above last June. Collections also exceeded the monthly estimate by $3.7 million. Cumulative adjusted collections were up from prior year receipts by just 0.1 percent with recent gains offset by significant declines occurring in the months of July (June sales) and January (December sales). The FY17 deficit in General Revenue Fund sales tax collections was $62.7 million with nearly 80 percent of the shortfall attributable to July and January collections.

  • General Revenue Fund Severance Tax collections totaled more than $321.0 million in FY17, an amount that was $58.5 million above estimate and 16 percent higher than prior year receipts. June General Revenue Fund Severance tax collections of $47 million were nearly $18.9 million above estimate. As of May, total state and local severance tax collections for the fiscal year-to-date were up more than 20 percent from last year. Coal severance tax receipts were up 6.9 percent to $209.6 million. Natural gas severance tax receipts were up 59 percent to $97.6 million and oil severance tax receipts were up nearly 48 percent to $12.6 million.

  • Tobacco Product Excise Tax collections totaled $194.6 million for the year. Collections were $1.6 million below estimate and 94 percent above prior year receipts. The revenue gain from prior year was attributable to an increase in tobacco tax rates including an increase in the cigarette excise tax rate from 55 cents per pack to $1.20 per pack, an increase in the other tobacco products tax rate from 7 percent of wholesale price to 12 percent of wholesale price and the imposition of tax on e-cigarette liquids. June collections of $16.9 million were more than $0.9 million above estimate.​

Warner: ‘No Intention’ Of Sharing WV Voter Data

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner has no intention of releasing personal information of West Virginia voters to a White House commission investigating President Donald Trump’s allegations of voter fraud, a spokesman said.

Warner’s office received a request from the commission on July 3 requesting voter information as a part of the investigation, said Michael Queen, Warner’s deputy chief of staff for external affairs and director of communications.
Warner, a Republican, has been consulting with legal counsel and Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey before responding to the commission’s request, and he’s expected to make a decision Wednesday or Thursday, Queen said Monday.

“We’re not going to do anything that would cause West Virginia voters to lose confidence in our ability to provide fair and fraud-free elections,” Queen said.

Queen said names and addresses that the office routinely releases to candidates, political parties and grassroots organizations may still have to be made available to the public.

At least 16 other states and the District of Columbia have said they will refuse to provide the information sought by the commission. The other states are undecided or will provide some of the data, according to a tally of every state by The Associated Press.

The White House commission investigating President Donald Trump’s allegations of voter fraud and heightened concern about Russian attempts to interfere in U.S. elections requested data from all 50 states starting late last month.

The Department of Homeland Security said last fall that hackers believed to be Russian agents targeted voter registration systems in more than 20 states. And a leaked National Security Agency document from May said Russian military intelligence had attempted to hack into voter registration software used in eight states.

Queen said Monday that Warner and his staff take the care of voter registration and voter files as a serious matter.
“We believe that the West Virginia State Code protects Secretary Warner from having to release Social Security numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, driver’s license numbers and other personal information,” Queen said.

Trump has repeatedly stated without proof that he believes millions of fraudulent ballots were cast in the November election, when he carried the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The commission was launched to investigate those claims and is being chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who sent the information requests.

“I do think that this is an odd time to be forming a national database of some kind if we’re so concerned about security,” said Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, a Democrat.

The U.S. does not have a federalized voting system, relying instead on 9,000 different voting jurisdictions and more than 185,000 individual precincts. Officials believe that makes it difficult for hackers to have any major effect on the vote. If Kobach succeeds in obtaining the information he seeks, it could gather voter data for the entire U.S. in one centralized place.

JUSTICE SPEAKS WITH DEVOS ABOUT FEDERAL GRANT PROBLEMS AT WVU, WVSU

Discussion centers around loss of program funding due to minor clerical errors in applications

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice spoke with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday about the loss of federal funding for scholarship programs at West Virginia University and West Virginia State University that serve low-income students in undergraduate and graduate programs at those two institutions.

Both WVU and WVSU had minor clerical errors in their applications and were denied federal dollars they both have received for several years. WVU’s oversight totaled $2 and now puts at risk more than $200,000 for its McNair Scholars program. WVSU made a $104 mistake that will cost it funding in excess of $500,000 for its Upward Bound program. Officials at both institutions have said that if the decisions stand both programs will be eliminated.

“Obviously these programs at WVU and WVSU have been successful and productive for many years and to see small mistakes on an application jeopardize these programs for our neediest students is disheartening,“ said Governor Justice. “I urged Secretary DeVos to try and work this out and I am certain she understands what is at stake here for our West Virginia students.“

“Since the State Legislature whacked our higher education institutions with significant budget cuts this just compounds the problem,“ Governor Justice said. “This irresponsibility by our State Legislators could lead to more unnecessary pain.“

“We want to make sure we do everything possible to keep these programs up and running smoothly,“ Governor Justice added. “They are far too important to be eliminated, especially due to a small, unintentional human error.“

At WVU, the McNair Scholars program has been in existence for 18 years and annually pairs 25 low-income and first generation college students, with a professor in their field of study, to assist them in pursuing graduate school and/or a doctoral degree.

WVSU has operated the Upward Bound program for more than 50 years. It assists low-income and first generation students in secondary schools by allowing them to take classes earning free college credits and establishing a pathway to attend college upon graduation from high school.

Manchin Embracing 2018 Challenge

The Free Press WV

When asked about what is expected to be a brutal 2018 re-election battle, a wide smile spread over Joe Manchin’s face.  “I love campaigning,” Manchin said, showing no hint of sarcasm or falsity.

The West Virginia Democrat is a relentless retail campaigner, perhaps the best the state has seen since Arch Moore.  Manchin can talk policy, but he’s hardly a wonk.  His strengths are personality and likeability, which still make a difference in the minds of voters.

His 2018 re-election effort, however, will provide one of the biggest tests of his political career.

Since arriving in Washington, Manchin has sought to avoid the extreme partisanship that forces elected officials into camps with hard boundaries. The middle ground is his preferred space, which he seeks to reinforce at every opportunity.

The Great Middle, once the safe zone for many politicians, is now a political no-man’s land. The country and its leaders have migrated away from each other to areas where the ideology is more rigid and, more importantly, the generous donors abound.

The middle ground leaves Manchin with problems on his flanks.  Paula Jean Swearengin, who is backed by Brand New Congress, an organization founded by former Bernie Sanders supporters, is challenging him in the Primary Election next year.

Manchin has always had issues with the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party in West Virginia, but other than his 1996 loss to Charlotte Pritt in the Democratic Primary for Governor, Manchin has been able to avoid a first round defeat.

The real challenge for Manchin will come in the General Election.  Two Republicans are already in the race—3rd District Congressman Evan Jenkins and former coal miner Bo Copley, who famously confronted Hillary Clinton to explain her comments about putting coal out of business.  West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is also expected to enter the race.

All three are part of the conservative Republican wave that has swept over West Virginia in the last generation.  The state has voted for the Republican nominee for President every election since 2000 and Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 42 points last November.

Manchin strongly supported Clinton, but he quickly embraced Trump after the election and was even briefly considered for a position within the administration. He has tried to set himself up as a potential bridge in Congress between Democrats and Republicans.

In my conversation with him last week, Manchin dismissed the expected opposition attacks linking him to Clinton, noting that opponent attempts to connect him at the hip with Barack Obama didn’t work.  Those failed efforts give him confidence that his personal brand is strong enough to withstand the hyper-partisan antagonists.

“My brand is to be Joe Manchin—common sense, centrist,” he told me on Talkline last week.

The Cook Political Report agrees, rating Manchin as “likely” to hold the seat.  But to do so, Manchin has to buck the trend in West Virginia, and that’s still new territory for Democrats here.

Consumers Are Warned to Be Wary of Ticket Scam

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warned summer travelers to be wary of a scam in which impostors send emails to collect traffic fines on behalf of a state department of motor vehicles.

Consumers receive an email demanding payment within 48 hours. The impostor threatens to revoke the license of anyone who fails to comply.

“Many people travel this time of year and explore new areas,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Sometimes this journey results in a traffic citation, however travelers must be cautious in handling any unexpected email. Just because you traveled to a particular state or received a ticket does not automatically mean you should respond to such an email.”

Such emails amount to a phishing scam. Links contained in the email, which supposedly allow the recipient to plead guilty or refute the ticket, actually contain malware that exposes the consumer’s computer to viruses.

It’s important to remember that all electronic communication should be handled carefully and attentively.

Consumers should also:

  • Confirm such emails are legitimate by contacting the agency in question.
  • Keep an eye out for signs of phishing such as poor spelling and grammar or the web address not matching the legitimate website.
  • Not open unexpected attachments. They may contain malware.
  • Never send sensitive or personal information online. Legitimate government agencies and businesses will not ask for such information via email.
  • Use strong passwords to protect personal information.

Consumers with questions can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1.800.368.8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304.267.0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

WV Treasurer’s Office Returns More Than $12 Million Through Unclaimed Property to West Virginians

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Treasurer John Perdue’s unclaimed property division returned more than $12 million to West Virginia rightful owners in fiscal 2017, preliminary records show.

Initial calculations show the division returned $12.4 million in the 2017 fiscal year ending June 30. The total came on 8,112 claims.

“Each year we strive for better ways to reunite owners with their assets,” Treasurer Perdue said. “I’m very, very proud of what we’ve done this year, particularly considering the harsh budgetary climate under which we have been working. It’s a tribute to our staff.”

Holders of unclaimed property reported $30 million on 5,104 receipts.

Examples of holders are banks, businesses and other entities which complied with the law in reporting unclaimed property to the Treasury.

Unclaimed property is any asset from which a person has been unintentionally separated, such as a left-behind utility deposit, abandoned safe deposit box contents and liquidated stock proceeds and dividends.

Unclaimed property holders must report the last known address for that person.

Upon transfer to the Treasury, thus begins the process of finding rightful owners, through the efforts of field representatives, two published newspaper inserts a year and a well-maintained website at www.wvtreasury.com.

“We use all tools at our disposal,” Treasurer Perdue said.

An additional weapon in the arsenal is an automated letter system. Many owner addresses are outdated.

Updated databases are plotted against existing names and automated letters generated.

That proactive approach netted 131 claims filed, totaling more than $100,000. “We greatly look forward to expanding that program,” the Treasurer said. “That will be a keen focus as we enter fiscal 2018.”

Technology also allowed the division to process 3,954 e-claims worth $2 million.

More people filed e-claims by far than any other method.

An e-claim may be filed by going to www.wvtreasury.com and following prompts.

The e-claim system is designed for smaller, individual claims filed by West Virginia residents.

Claimants enter identifying information such as a West Virginia driver’s license number and social security number.

Claims are transmitted electronically, with no paper required.

Leading the dollar amount category were 1,891 owner claims, amounting to $3.9 million returned.

An owner claim means the owner became apprised of the asset and filed a paper claim, often from the form contained in the website.

These are for people who like the convenience of a website form but prefer dealing in paper.

Treasury field representatives generated $3.3 million. They are often tasked with leading constituents through complicated estate closures or heirship cases.

The twice-a-year newspaper advertisements generated $722,840 on 1,008 claims, which may not be a full representation of their impact.

Some owner claims undoubtedly begin with word of mouth generated by the inserts.

Approximately $1.2 million is contained by 54 “reciprocal” claims in which the owner’s last known address is in another state.

State Treasury officials send the asset amount to the state of the person’s most recent known address and let that state’s program take over.

In the last two budget-tightened fiscal years, Treasurer Perdue’s office has returned $13.8 million and $12.4 million to rightful owners.

Both amounts of return represent more than 40 percent of what the office took in, a commendable figure in the world of unclaimed property, where people must be found before they can be paid.

The Great Healthcare Condundrum

The Free Press WV

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders brings his national tour against the Senate health care bill to Morgantown Sunday. At some point, the Vermont independent and former presidential candidate will likely say, “If you cut Medicaid by over $800 billion, there is no question but that thousands of Americans will die.”

It’s a money line that helps galvanize the opposition.  It puts the incredibly complicated system of healthcare delivery in this country into a simple life or death choice, a moral decision where one can only reasonably choose to preserve life.

Sanders, and others who make similar arguments, do have facts to back them up. For example, the 2009 study by the American Journal of Public Health concluded that “Lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year in the United States.”  The study found that people without insurance still get care at places like community health clinics, but it’s not as good as the protections provided by private insurance.

But, as I said, healthcare is more complicated than that. Few among us would disagree with the statement that all Americans should have access to quality health care.  The question then becomes how to pay for it.

Consider our predicament in West Virginia. We’re a poor state and only half of the working age population actually has a job where employer insurance might be available.   Should everyone else be on Medicaid?  Is coverage under Medicaid as good as private insurance? Should people who are working and a little better off pay for their own insurance as well as everyone else’s coverage?

The insurance exchanges were created under Obamacare to give coverage options to those who don’t have employer insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid, but they’re not working the way they were intended.  Young healthy people are opting out, and without them, the premiums and out-of-pocket costs are skyrocketing.  In some instances, people have insurance, but cannot afford to use it.

The exchanges would work a lot better if everyone who does not have coverage through another means had to participate. That would broaden the pool, spread the risk and lower the costs.  But remember the outcry when people thought Obamacare was forcing people to buy “government health insurance.”

Obamacare’s coverage of those with pre-existing conditions at an affordable rate is popular, and the only way to keep those costs down and avoid bankrupting really sick people is to have others help pay for it.  Here’s where the argument again is both moral and economic.  You have cancer and I don’t.  I’m willing to be in the pool that helps you pay for your healthcare if others will do the same if/when I get cancer.

A listener told me recently that argument made me a socialist.  I disagree.  Call me a capitalist who believes its smart to hedge his bets.

Inevitably, any debate about healthcare eventually gets to a single-payer system.  But remember that one-size fits all doesn’t actually fit all, at least not the same.

Medicare is a single-payer system, yet those who can afford it buy supplemental insurance to fill in the gaps.  And in the U.S., which already has a private/employer based insurance model, insurance companies are not going to disappear under a single-payer system; the survivors will pivot to provide boutique coverage and care for those who can afford it.

We would still have a two-tiered system, and one would undoubtedly be better than the other.  Studies would be done and politicians would glom on to the findings which, predictably, would say the inferior delivery system is associated with thousands of deaths per year.

G-OpEd™:Limiting Pay for Lawmakers

The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Legislature is in its regular session for 60 days, a time in which our elected representatives are expected to address matters of importance to the state and its citizens.

During the session, lawmakers in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates are compensated for their time. But a bill, introduced by House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, which stalled during the session, proposed limiting the amount of compensation legislators would receive during extended sessions.

In total, failure to reach a budget agreement during the regular session by Gov. Jim Justice and both chambers of the Legislature meant that there were 20 extra days our lawmakers spent in session.

Their shortcomings as a legislative body will fall back on the already-strapped taxpayers of West Virginia.

Miley’s bill would have limited their “extra session” compensation to five days. According to Miley, each extra day the Legislature is in session costs taxpayers $35,000.

For his part, Miley says he is writing a check to the State Treasury to “reimburse the taxpayers of West Virginia for this special-session nonsense.”

Good for him.

Perhaps if our elected officials knew they’d be working without pay after a certain point, they would make more of an effort to do their jobs in the time frame provided.

Really, while Miley’s move is honorable, it should be the standard.

Our local lawmakers should follow suit. We should not pay for the childish antics which have become a regular occurrence in Charleston.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison

Senate Bill to Removes Gray Wolf Protections

The Free Press WV

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, is co-sponsoring a bill designed to fund wildlife conservation in the U.S. while removing gray wolves from protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Senator John Barrasso, R-WY, introduced the Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act, and Senators Ben Cardin, D-MD, Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, John Boozman, R-AR, Tammy Baldwin, D-WI and Capito signed on as co-sponsors.

Specifically, the bill will reauthorize funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Act, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails network, and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Grants Assistance Program, all until 2023.

In a news release regarding the bill, Capito said the bill will help preserve some of the country’s natural treasures.

“We are so fortunate to live in a country as full of natural beauty and as rich in wildlife as the United States, and it’s important we take steps to preserve those resources,” she said. “This legislative package includes a number of important measures that will help protect our unique ecosystems and enable us to better enjoy our country’s natural gifts, both in wild and wonderful West Virginia and across the country.”

However, the bill also reinstates the removal of federal protections for the gray wolf in Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act, pursuant to a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

In a news release, the Center for Biological Diversity brushed aside the bill. The release states although it reauthorizes spending for the funds, it does not actually appropriate them, and the only tangible effect the bill has is removing protections from the gray wolves.

“This legislation won’t help conservation on the ground anywhere — not a single animal or plant will benefit from this horrible legislation,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the group, in the release. “Sadly, Cardin is trading killing thousands of wolves for a largely symbolic effort to help the Chesapeake Bay. This is a disaster.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, authorizations are the first step toward funding an entity before actual appropriations. However, bills regularly receive funding despite expired authorizations.

Recent research from the University of California, Los Angeles, published in Science Advances journal, finds the wolves should still be covered under the act and said the premise for their removal is incorrect. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service applauded the delisting in a news release.

Clerks, Secretary of State Clean Up Voter Rolls

The Free Press WV

West Virginia has a sordid history of election fraud.  State Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry filled 532 pages in his book “Don’t Buy Another Vote. I Won’t Pay For A Landslide” with the many tales of political scofflaws.

State elections have come a long way from the days when cash and liquor fueled the “dollar-and-a-swallow” campaigns. Still, there’s work to be done and the county clerks, along with Secretary of State Mac Warner, are making progress.

Most of their work since the last election has been focused on simple housekeeping—cleaning up the registration lists of individuals who cannot or should not be voting. For example, Warner’s office teamed with the clerks to strike 6,300 names of deceased voters from the books.

There’s no evidence the dead were actually voting, but it is still important to keep the rolls up-to-date.

The county and state election officials also cross-referenced for voters who were registered in more than one county (meaning they could potentially vote twice), had moved away or were convicted felons who had not yet had their voting rights restored.

So far, the clerks have canceled 63,346 improper or outdated voter registrations since January 16th, and there’s more to come.  Next, Warner’s office and the county clerks are going to turn their attention to individuals who may be registered in more than one state.

For example, a West Virginian retires to Florida and registers to vote there, but never cancels their registration here.  It’s not illegal to be registered in more than one state, but it is, of course, against the law to vote more than once in an election. Warner’s office is currently investigating to see if anyone has voted twice.

On the flip side, another 16,951 new voters have registered since mid-January. Warner’s office says that’s an unusually high number considering this is not an election year. Overall, however, the number of registered voters has declined from 1,276,785 last November to 1,224,623 as of last May.

The purging has hurt Democratic registration more than Republican, which is to be expected since the Democratic Party has more members. Democratic registration has fallen from 571,267 last November to 537,791 as of May 2017.  Republican registration has dropped from 398,547 to 388,703 over the same period.

Warner has heard some grumbling from a few Democratic county clerks who believe the Republican Secretary of State is trying to target Democrats, but the purge has been non-partisan.  The numbers are the numbers.

As of the end of May, 44 percent of voters were Democrats, 32 percent Republican, 21 percent independent/no party and three percent were Mountain, Libertarian or other.

Maintaining accurate voting rolls is not as easy as it might seem.  Election officials have to strike a balance between updating information while ensuring that a properly registered voter isn’t turned away at the polls, and all-the-while protecting the privacy of every voter.

The effort so far by the 55 county clerks and Warner’s office has been impressive. Keep it up!

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

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