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Lawmakers give speech high marks

February 12, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin's proposals to give county school districts more flexibility with the school calendar and measures to improve academic achievement garnered praise from the Eastern Panhandle's delegation of lawmakers in the 79th Legislature.

"He said more things tonight that I agree with than his four previous speeches put together," Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said of Manchin's State of the State speech Wednesday evening.

Manchin's plan to extend the school calendar year to insure students receive 180 days instruction is a proposal that some lawmakers have been trying to get adopted for 15 years, Doyle said.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, noted the proposal came without any new pay increases for teachers, a fact that he said already has caused rumblings.

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Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, said he was particularly encouraged by Manchin's initiative to make sure students meets proficiency standards in the third and eighth grades and like Doyle, was pleased to hear the governor's support of the Troops to Teachers program, an avenue for veterans to teach in classrooms across the state.

"I don't know how we're going to achieve all of them," said Tabb, noting expected opposition to the calendar year proposal to tack on five days and add flexibility at the end.

While Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he was most happy with the governor's announcement to form a commission to study judicial system reform, he and Doyle both said they were disappointed that actual legislation was not proposed.

"It's time to quit studying and start acting," Blair said.

Blair said some issues have been studied for so long that they have become outdated by the time legislation is introduced. Blair said he believes Manchin's announcement was meant to soothe Republicans and those who favor nonpartisan election of judges and other changes, and also cater to some in his own party who want to stay the course.

"I think (Manchin) was trying to play both sides of the fence," Blair said.

State Sen. Herb Snyder said Manchin's emphasis on creation of an intermediate appellate court as part of the commission's charge was particularly exciting.

"He's definitely breathing new life into that idea," Snyder said.

Doyle and Snyder said the governor's attention on renewable energy initiatives also was notable.

Area lawmakers seemed generally in agreement with Manchin's fiscally conservative view given the economic downturn.

"We have to be very cautious," Snyder said. "You can't gamble on the rebound of the economy."

Yet, Blair said he was disappointed by the lack of any mention by the governor to spur new economic development by addressing tax reductions to improve the business climate.

Duke said he wasn't exactly sure if Manchin's comments about raising cigarette taxes would actually lead to a proposed increase, but added that the federal government already was increasing the tariff on tobacco and any more would hurt business in the state's 28 or 29 border counties.

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