Plant talks taking place

SOUTH CHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hinted Thursday that an ethane cracker still could be built in West Virginia.

“The Commerce Department continues to talk with those interested,” Tomblin told reporters during the Associated Press Legislative Lookahead at Marshall University’s South Charleston campus. “We still have a great deal of confidence we will have one here in the future.”

Tomblin smiled broadly as he made the statement, prompting requests for more specific information about a potential cracker plant.

“I wish could tell you more,” he responded. “The talks are ongoing.”

Hopes that the Upper Ohio Valley would become home to a cracker plant were high in late 2011 and early 2012, but local sites ultimately were rejected by Royal Dutch Shell in favor of a potential location in Monaca, Pa. Shell still has not committed to building a cracker at that site, however, and other companies have expressed interest in building plants to process, or “crack,” ethane produced from natural gas wells in the Kanawha River valley.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, don’t think legislation requiring voter identification will surface in 2013, though Republican lawmakers believe such a measure is needed.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne; House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha; and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, also took part in Thursday’s event.

The Legislature convenes for its regular session Wednesday, with Tomblin set to give his State of the State address that evening.

“It’s an important issue,” Armstead said of voter identification. “It won’t keep anyone from voting. The way it is set up now, it wouldn’t deny the person the right to vote. It just should make certain the person is who they say they are. …

“How can we say it’s fine to have to show identification to cash a check, but isn’t fine to assure one of the most important rights a person has?” he added. “With the history we have here in West Virginia, we have to make sure.”

Thompson said 2,000-3,000 bills will be introduced by the 100 House members during the session, and each has to be considered on its merits.

“We have to look at each bill and think, ‘How much does it cost?’ … ” he said. “If the costs outweigh the benefits, we won’t run it.”

Kessler said if a voter identification bill comes up as a “voter suppression bill,” he will oppose it.

“If they can demonstrate fraud is happening, it’s a whole different story,” he added.

Kessler spoke of complaints he received following the state’s implementation of the “Real ID” driver’s license law requiring residents to show multiple official proof of their name and to have official documentation regarding any name changes in order to renew their licenses. People don’t want to go through such a process again to register to vote, he continued.

“We don’t know if we have a problem” with voter identification fraud, Armstead said. “We have no way of policing it … none.”

Kessler also doesn’t believe bills pertaining to abortion or drug testing for welfare recipients will move through the Legislature this session. And he said it is unlikely a gay marriage bill will be considered.

“You will likely see that resolved at the U.S. Supreme Court,” Kessler said. “We can’t get an equal rights amendment passed in this state, so I’m not sure you would ever see a gay rights amendment.”

He added he would be interested in legislation pertaining to gay rights to ensure homosexuals are not discriminated against in such areas as employment or housing.

Armstead rejected the notion that the question of gay marriage should be decided at the federal level.

“The people of West Virginia have the right to decide,” he said. “They would want the traditional definition of marriage” upheld.