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Statehouse Beat: Make or break session for Tomblin

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This legislative session may well determine whether Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's legacy is as one of the better governors in state history -- or a placeholder between Gov. Joe Manchin and whomever is elected in 2016 (possibly, Manchin again.)Unlike traditional two-term governors, Tomblin's ability to govern has been hampered by his unusual terms of office.In the 2011 session, there were legal and constitutional questions swirling about just how much authority Tomblin could exert in his capacity acting as governor while also serving as Senate President in absentia. In the 2012 session, he was coming off the special election for governor, and gearing up for the campaign for election to a full four-year term.And, after this session, Tomblin will begin that decline in authority inevitable for all second-term governors, as his administration begins the move toward lame duck status.So, if this is Tomblin's only opportunity to pursue a notable legislative agenda, everything is aligning for a potentially historic legislative session.Tomblin enters the 2013 session with an ambitious agenda to reform public education, alleviate prison overcrowding, and address the substance abuse problems that blight the state. If he can be successful -- and that's a big if - this could shape up as a very significant session.As Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette -- who speaks from experience from many years as Fayette County sheriff -- noted, the three issues are interrelated.A student receiving a poor quality education is more likely to become truant or drop out, and in turn more likely to get into drugs or criminal activities or both.The great accomplishment of the Council of State Governments' Justice Center report on state prison overcrowding is that it sometimes takes outside observers to help us see the obvious. Considering that 8 of every 10 inmates in our state prisons are there -- directly or indirectly -- because of substance and/or alcohol abuse, it's a no-brainer, as the CSG pointed out, that it is essential there be community-based substance abuse treatment programs provided to these individuals upon their release from prison.
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  • Meanwhile, thanks to technological glitches, about half of last Monday's column was omitted. Here are those items (a few days later than originally intended):An interesting observation in the WV-11s (payroll forms) signed by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey: Of the 14, he dated one as "1-14-12" (for new assistant attorney general Christopher Dodrill). (Of course, who among us hasn't slipped up in January, putting the prior year on a check or other document?)Then, for the WV-11 for deputy attorney general Marty Wright(a good hire, by the way), Morrisey dated the form "1-15-14." (Let's hope that doesn't mean Wright has to wait two years before he can draw a paycheck ... )
    *(Neither Morrisey or new Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick have made any new hires in the past week, since no WV-11s were submitted.)
    *Speaking of Morrisey, his campaign staffers organized a GOP inaugural reception [last] Monday evening -- which some legislative lobbyists interpreted as an act of defiance toward the official gubernatorial inaugural activities.(Of course, it could be that after three straight years of campaign contributions, the lobbyists weren't keen about being hit up for sponsorships of not one, but two inaugural receptions ... )However, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, who was a speaker and co-host for the event, said it was not intended to be a slight or act of contempt toward Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin or the Democrats, but simply an opportunity to celebrate Republican gains in the Legislature, and in two statewide elected offices.The fact the GOP reception started at 5 p.m. was designed to allow participants to attend it, and go onto the inaugural ball afterward, Armstead said, noting that many guests were in tuxes and formalwear for that reason.Also, he said, several Democrats attended the GOP reception, notably Secretary of State Natalie Tennant as well as Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
    *Finally, unlike their colleague John Law, whose final day as communications director for the Department of Health and Human Resources [was] Wednesday, DHHR attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor last week got yet another 30-day extension of their paid administrative leave, which will take it out to seven months, for those keeping track.The difference? Perry and Taylor's lawsuit against acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo. They were scheduled to have a hearing Thursday in Kanawha Circuit Court to submit names for sworn depositions in the whistleblower suit, but Fucillo's attorney asked that the hearing be laid over to March 1.At seven months, this could be the longest internal investigation in state government history. (Particularly since the basic facts of the matter are not in dispute, and the "evidence" has been secured in locked offices on DHHR premises.)One theory is that as long as the investigation is ongoing, Fucillo has job security, since if Tomblin were to boot him out, he could claim his dismissal/demotion was part of some sort of a cover-up.Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.
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