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Statehouse Beat: Looking forward in 2013

Questions to ponder for the new year:

  • Will Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin be able to push significant public education reform through in the regular legislative session, or will the state teachers' unions continue to be able to bottle up such measures in the House of Delegates?
  • It's an encouraging sign that House Speaker Rick Thompson appointed a bipartisan work group to review recommended changes prior to the start of the 2013 session.

    In the recent past, of course, education reform bills -- particularly bills that would change seniority as the primary force in teacher placements and promotions -- have died in the House Education Committee.

    That may no longer be possible after the 2012 election changed House dynamics, adding 11 Republicans to account for 46 of the 100 members of the House.

    ***

  • Which raises the question, will House Republicans use their newfound power in the House constructively, or use it to wreak havoc by blocking votes, forcing bills from committee, and otherwise obstructing the House majority?
  • At the committee level, it will only take the absence of a couple or three Democrats on any given day to shift control to the Republicans.

    ***

    Will this be the year that the Legislature finally addresses critical overcrowding in the state's prisons and regional jails?

    Thanks to the work of another outside body, the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments, the Legislature has clear evidence that drug or alcohol abuse accounts, directly or indirectly, for the incarceration of some four-fifths of all inmates in state facilities.

    Shifting the emphasis from incarceration to community treatment programs won't be easy, particularly when there are legislators who don't want to appear to be soft on crime.

    ***

  • How many out-of-court settlement checks will the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management end up writing?
  • As the precedent with Fred Armstrong established, there's no chance that Jorea Marple's pending lawsuit with the state Board of Education will result in her getting her job back as state superintendent of schools.

    Precedent has been that "will and pleasure" employees have little recourse no matter how flimsy the grounds for their dismissals.

    Armstrong had an exemplary career as the state archivist, but ultimately could not get his job back even though -- according to sworn testimony -- Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith fired him in 2007 simply for not being a team player and for addressing him in a disrespectful tone in an agency meeting.

    It's even less likely Marple could prove that her reputation or ability to secure future employment has been irrevocably harmed by her termination by the state board. Arguably, the whole episode has enhanced her reputation as an education professional.

    However, Marple has a "dream team" of attorneys in Tim Barber, former state Democratic Party chairmen Rudy DiTrapano and Pat Maroney and retired circuit judge Andrew McQueen.

    I'm sure they're salivating at the opportunity to get members of the Board of Education into depositions to testify under oath why -- and under whose orders -- they chose to abruptly fire Marple.

    A nice settlement check from BRIM avoids such unpleasantness for the board members.

    Ditto Department of Health and Human Resources attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor, who are suing acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo under the state's whistleblower law.

    On one level, Perry and Taylor are probably on even shakier ground, since they've continued to draw their paychecks, and perform some sort of job duties since being placed in disciplinary limbo (along with DHHR spokesman <B>John Law<P>) back in July.

    Again, there's no doubt their attorney, Walt Auvil, would like nothing better than to get Fucillo into a sworn deposition (where, one suspects, the grounds for disciplining Perry, Taylor and Law would be eerily similar to Reid-Smith's grounds for firing Armstrong).

    ***

    Speaking of DHHR, Perry and Taylor's suit contends that they were attempting to keep the agency from bungling up yet another contract award, in that case, for advertising and marketing.

    It turns out the DHHR may have yet again screwed up (on the second re-bidding) of the biggest contract of all, a $248 million deal to Molina Medicaid Solutions for the state Medicaid Management Information System, the super-computer to process Medicaid claims.

    Now comes word that one of the losing bidders, Xerox State Healthcare, has filed a formal protest of the awarding of the contract.

    It contends that, among other errors committed by the Bureau of Medical Services during the bid process, someone in the agency inadvertently sent Xerox bid documents containing trade secrets, proprietary information and confidential information to ... you guessed it ... Molina Medicaid Solutions.

    While Marple may have a dream team of attorneys, Xerox also has an A-list legal team, consisting of former U.S. Sen. Carte Goodwin and former Department of Administration general counsel Jim Kirby.

    ***

    Finally, Republican political consultant Bill Phillips sent along his list of what's in and what's out for 2013, so I'll pass along a few excerpts:

    In: No West Virginia elections. Out: Lost count.

    In: Big 12. Out:  Big East.

    In: Smaller inaugurations. Out:  Extravagant inaugurations

    In: ??? Out: Haden and Phillips.

    In: The Economist. Out: Newsweek.

    In: 14 Republican legislators. Out: 14 Democrat legislators.

    In: Pondering other's views. Out: Reading only one opinion.

    In: Bus trips to The Greenbrier. Out: Exclusiveness.

    (I hope Bill won't mind if I add one to the list)

    In: "Buckwild." Out: "Jersey Shore."

    Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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