By Tom Miller
For the WVPA
CHARLESTON — The minority leader of the House of Delegates promised during September’s monthly legislative interim committee meetings here that he plans to continue his efforts to get legislation approved that would restrict abortion coverage in this state’s health care exchange.
“To force individuals or companies to insure abortion as part of this coverage is just absolutely against all of what West Virginians stand for and what West Virginians want to see their government do,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said. His comments came following a news conference by the anti-abortion group West Virginians for Life.
The group handed Armstead a petition containing about 7,000 signatures collected in September. They want Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to call a special legislative session before coverage begins in January. As an alternative if he is unwilling to take that step, they want him to direct the state insurance commissioner to develop a rule change effectively allowing the state to opt out of the abortion coverage.
Meanwhile, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Karen Bowling told members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability that she disagrees with a recent study recommendation that her agency be split into separate divisions focused on health care and human services.
An audit by Public Works LLC, a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm concluded state resources would be used more efficiently if the department was split into two separate divisions.
Bowling said she didn’t think the size of the 5,700-employee department was a problem. But the chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Division, Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, had a different view.
“I’ve said before, and will not retract the statement, that we have a train wreck looming,’ Perdue responded. “We cannot spend two or three more years doing the same thing and getting the same results.”
Meanwhile, Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred told members of the joint committee on Government Operations and Government Organizations last Tuesday that state officials ignored state purchasing laws in the process of spending $38 million in federal money for communications towers.
He said it was “illegal” because state emergency services director Joe Gonzalez, homeland security director Jimmy Gianato and members of a team charged with dispersing grant funds because “they didn’t bid the contract out as required by the Government Contract Act. That’s clear. They simply broke the law.”
Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said it sounded like there was illegal activity and suggested the case should be referred to the office of Northern District U. S. .Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld. Allred said that “just because it’s illegal doesn’t make it a crime” He said he though that call is up to Ihenfeld.
In other legislative interim committee sessions in September:
— Commissioner Jim Rubenstein of the Division of Corrections told legislators that his agency could enter into a contract with out-of-state jails to house as many as 400 inmates as one of the potential steps under consideration to cope with the current overcrowded conditions in state prisons.
The state’s prisons are beyond capacity now and the Division of Corrections now pays $31 million to $34 million a year to the state’s Regional Jail Authority to house about 1,600 inmates who are supposed to be in state prisons instead of regional jails. And as long as they are in regional jails, they cannot participate in treatment programs and classes necessary to become eligible for parole.
— An audit of West Virginia State University revealed employees there misused the school’s purchase and travel cards and failed to keep track of thousands of dollars of school-owned property including computer equipment and iPads. In a presentation to a legislative committee last Tuesday, the state Legislative Auditor’s Office reported the school’s inventory records from fiscal year 2011 were “critically deficient. Auditors also found the school did not keep separate records of assets purchased with university funds and those purchased with outside money. And the school has also failed to remove assets of the Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College — which became a separate institution five years ago — from its records.
— Members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability heard from Bruce Vandal, vice president of Complete College America, about how the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission might find a way to reverse the current dismal retention and graduation rates for college freshmen.
Vandal told lawmakers that nationally about 70 percent of students placed in remedial classes never go on to enroll in core curriculum classes. He said it’s not that the students fail the remedial classes but rather that most drop out because they don’t have the time or money to remain in school.