There’s a lot happening here under the big gold dome as everyone prepares for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin‘s State of the State address on Wednesday and the start of the 2013 legislative session later this week.
Interim meetings continue today, with some officials debuting legislation they hope lawmakers will take up once the session begins.
That’s where we’ll start our lunchtime rundown today.
I’ve just returned from a meeting of the joint judiciary committee, where Joe DeLong, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority, told members that state jails are no longer collecting enough money from fees to pay back their bond debt.
Kevin Baker, a lawyer for the judiciary committee, presented one possible quick fix at Tuesday’s meeting: a bill that would offer amnesty to people with old tickets. The legislation would allow anyone with tickets issued before June 2008 to pay $100 to have one ticket wiped off their record, plus $25 for any additional ticket. Baker said the law would put drivers back in good standing with the Division of Motor Vehicles, and create a quick revenue source for jails.
You can read more about that soon on www.charlestondailymail.com.
My statehouse colleague Dave Boucher is covering the interim education committee today, where Jim Phares, the newly-selected superintendent of schools, is giving lawmakers his outlook on the current education system.
Then, at 12:30, Dave is going to attend a press conference held by state Republicans, where leaders will lay out their legislative agenda for the session. Dave told me House Republicans have previously talked about education reform, especially after the party picked up 11 seats in the November election. He said it will be interesting to see if it’s still a major priority now.
For those of you who haven’t read your newspapers yet, here’s a short round-up of the issues Dave and I covered yesterday. I attended the joint judiciary committee, where state Supreme Court officials asked lawmakers to overhaul a previously unsuccessful pilot program meant to treat mentally ill individuals before they become dangerous.
Linda Artimez, the state Supreme Court’s director of mental hygiene services, said the Legislature created a pilot program in 2010 that would allow judges in Kanawha, Boone and Lincoln counties to issue a “treatment compliance order” instead of committing someone to a mental health facility.
…The option has never been very popular with judges, however.
“It’s never worked because it’s too restrictive,” Artinez said. “Nobody uses it.”
Artimez wants legislators to loosen restrictions on treatment compliance orders, allowing judges to issue treatment orders if a psychiatrist or psychologist concludes that without treatment a person is likely to cause serious harm to themselves or others, or commit a violent crime. Click here to read the full story.
Dave covered the joint education committee, where James Skidmore, head of the Council for Community and Technical College Education, and Paul Hill, head of the state Higher Education Policy Commission, discussed strategies to shift state colleges’ focus from recruiting students to making sure they complete college.
Keeping those students in college has proven difficult: 75 percent of first-time freshmen returned to a four-year college in 2011, according to a different commission report. Fewer than half of all students at these schools earn a degree within six years, the report states.
The statistics are worse for two-year colleges. Between the 10 community and technical colleges in the state, fewer than 28 percent of students earn an associate degree or certificate within six years of entering school. Typically it takes two years to complete these programs.
Hill and Skidmore agreed the best way to improve college completion rates is to improve services for the students who need remedial education when they enter college (more than 60 percent at community and technical schools).
“I call it the quicksand of higher education. Once a student gets into (remedial) education, they never get out,” Skidmore said.
Read the full story here.
Dave also wrote about jobs being created by the state’s current shale boom. Jeff Green, director of research for WorkForce West Virginia, sang the praises of Marcellus Shale to lawmakers Monday. Thanks to the boom in demand for natural gas, jobs in the extraction sector are up almost 10 percent since 2008, Green said. And that’s not going to change for some time:
“For now, it’s growing, and it’s growing very strong,” (Green) said after the meeting. “The preliminary numbers we have for 2012, which I haven’t fully collected yet, show even more of an increase than what the report shows. The trend appears to be continuing very strongly.”
While infrastructure is built in the Morgantown-area now, Green expects the business to expand to almost every corner of West Virginia. Read that full story here: http://charlestondailymail.com/Business/201302110248.