(01/18/2006)
HIDDEN PIRACY OPERATION DISCOVERED IN CAPITOL - The fact that its been awhile since state legislators got a pay raise, may or may not be connected to what appears to be a thriving operation hidden in the Capitol basement.

State house investigators have stumbled onto a secreted "office" where someone is makin' music for their friends, or selling the product.

It is outfitted with computers, video and audio gear, and software used to pirate movies and music recordings.

An internal memo says one hard drive contained about 400 full-length motion videos and more than 3,500 music files.

A review found that someone in General Services sidestepped state purchasing rules to buy more than $88,000 worth of computers and related equipment over the last three years, including items discovered in the basement office.

The FBI and the Legislature's Commission on Special Investigations are looking into the matter.

Certainly, if it's turned over to the Ethics Commission, they'll find the entertainment was acquired to provide relief from stress for officials.

MEDICARE DRUG PROGRAM RIDDLED WITH PROBLEMS - Senior representatives and pharmacists say the new Medicare prescription drug plan is a widespread failure that has left people throughout West Virginia with no coverage or the wrong kind of coverage.

While other states are stepping in to pay drug costs for patients caught up in problems with the new Medicare prescription program, West Virginia is adopting a wait-and-see position. Department of Health and Human Resources administrators say they will make a decision in the next few days about whether to pay drug costs for patients who aren't getting their proper Medicare benefits.

The state Bureau of Senior Services is taking 40 to 50 phone calls each day from seniors who aren't getting their benefits and are having to pay out of pocket.

LEES FILES FOR SENATE - Putnam County lawyer Jim Lees has filed to run in the 4th Senate District, which encompasses Putnam as well as Jackson, Mason and a part of Roane counties.

Lees ran for governor in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Lees is a veteran lawyer for social justice causes and was the special prosecutor in the case against Fred Zain, the disgraced former State Police chemist who died in 2002.

Lees could be running against former senator Oshel Craigo, who held the seat and was Senate Finance chairman until his 2002 defeat by Lisa Smith.

Republican Smith resigned the seat in 2004, citing illness. A federal grand jury just indicted her and her husband on tax evasion charges. She also was charged with mail fraud stemming from her 2002 campaign.

Craigo was a major power-player in the legislature, but he is yet to file.

HOLDING TO THE PROMISE? - Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed a $10.92 million budget supplement for the Promise scholarship program.

It should allow for full scholarships to all qualifying students next year.

By law, the merit-based scholarship program receives $27 million a year of video lottery profits.

Some members of the legislature are wanting to raise the scholarship standards to keep the program under budget. The costs to fully fund Promise scholarships could reach $51 million by 2010.

In November, the Promise scholarship governing board asked lawmakers to consider capping the scholarships at $3,000 per student.

Currently, high school seniors must have a 3.0 grade point average and an overall ACT test score of 21 to qualify.

MASON'S COAL PLANT LONG WAYS OFF - Widely announced as a boon to the local economy, a coal gasification plant that Appalachian Power is considering building in Mason County is still in its infancy.

The application asks for the PSC's permission to build the 600-megawatt, electric-generating unit in Mason.

The proposed plant would open until around 2011 or 2012, said Mark Dempsey, Appalachian Power's Vice President of External Affairs.

A pre-announcement by Gov. Manchin failed to mention that there is no final decision to build a plant in West Virginia.

The company has declared they are confident about building the plant in Mason.


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