Ashton Marra

Assistant News Director, Statehouse Reporter

Ashton Marra is the Assistant News Director at West Virginia Public Broadcasting, coordinating the coverage of her fellow reporters under News Director Beth Vorhees, and serves as the producer for the morning news magazine West Virginia Morning. She also serves as the fill in host of the program.

Ashton covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning with the latest statehouse news, from politics to policy and everything in between. You can keep up with her work on social media through Twitter and tumblr.

During the legislative session, Ashton focuses on the state Senate, bringing daily reports from the inner-workings of the state’s upper house on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s nightly television show The Legislature Today.  She also hosts that show, interviewing lawmakers, lobbyists and leading a roundtable discussion focused on the top stories of the week with her colleagues from the Capitol press corps.

Ashton served as the producer and host of Viewpoint, West Virginia Public Broadcasting's 10-week political talk show in the fall of 2014. The weekly hour-long program included in-depth interviews with candidates, analysis and a reporter roundtable leading up to the 2014 general election. 

Ashton has most recently received national attention for her coverage of the January 9, 2014, chemical spill in Charleston. Her work was featured on NPR's hourly newscasts, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, WBUR's Here & Now, KCRW's To The Point, the PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera America.

Ashton came to WVPBS in October of 2012 from ABC News’ morning program Good Morning America where she worked as a production associate. Ashton produced pieces for the broadcast, including the first identified victim of the Aurora, CO, movie theater shooting and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, as well as multiple entertainment news stories.

Before her time at GMA, Ashton worked as an intern on ABC’s news assignment desk, helping to organize coverage of major news stories like the Trayvon Martin case, the Jerry Sandusky trial and the 2012 Presidential election. She also spent 18 months as a weekend reporter for WDTV based in her hometown of Clarksburg, WV, breaking the story of missing Lewis County toddler Aliayah Lunsford. Ashton’s work from that story was featured on HLN’s Nancy Grace in October of 2011.

Ashton graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University in May of 2012, where she was named WVU’s Reporter of the Year. She covered government for the P.I. Reed School of Journalism’s bi-weekly newscast WVU News and also served a semester as the WVPBS bureau reporter.

When she isn’t reporting, Ashton enjoys cooking and is an avid supporter of the arts, including theater, music and dance. She is a huge fan of musicals and touts her collection of Playbills from the Broadway shows she’s attended, which grew by nearly 30 in her 9 months living in New York City.
 

Ways To Connect

Swimmerguy269 / wikimedia Commons

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has approved tuition and fee increases sought by West Virginia University, Potomac State College of WVU and West Virginia State University.

The commission voted on the increases at its regular meeting Monday.

In a news release, the commission said the board voted 5-2 to approve WVU's plan to increase in-state undergraduate tuition and fees by 9.7 percent for the 2015-2016 academic year. Out-of-state undergraduate costs will increase by 4.9 percent.

Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

The state’s top Republicans are rallying around the only Republican candidate who has announced intentions to run for Governor, Senate President Bill Cole.

Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead announced his endorsement of Cole Friday, calling him a bold and decisive leader.

Earlier this week, newly elected Republican Congressman Evan Jenkins released his official endorsement of the Senator.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

In the world of medication-assisted substance abuse treatment, there are three prescription drugs that are the most widely known: methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol.

Traditional Opioid Agonists

Methadone and Suboxone have been the most widely used drugs in addiction therapy in West Virginia. Both are synthetic opioid-based medications that react with opioid receptors in the brain just as heroin or prescription narcotics would. These drugs are often used to wean people off of illicit drugs like heroin or prescription painkillers like oxycodone.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Members of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition hosted their second annual food policy forum in Summersville Tuesday. The grassroots group is working to expand access to locally grown foods in the state while also improving the business climate for small farmers. While the discussions were preliminary, the group is beginning to identify its Legislative agenda for the 2016 session.

 

West Virginia Attorney General's Office

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says he won't run for governor next year, instead seeking re-election for his current post.

The first-term Republican made the announcement Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.

The decision could help the state's newly empowered Republican Party avoid a bruising primary fight.

 


City of Charleston

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has appointed a three judge panel to hear a petition to remove Charleston Mayor Danny Jones from office.

The petition, filed by former Charleston Mayoral candidate J.T. Thompson, says Jones committed “misconduct in office, malfeasance in office, gross immorality, neglected his duties as Mayor” and is an “incompetent person” as defined by West Virginia Code.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Some 200 miners in southern West Virginia could be back to work by the end of the summer after an announcement Monday from Bluestone Resources.

The Jim Justice owned Bluestone Resources announced in a press release they are starting the recall process for Coal Mountain mine located in Wyoming County.

Bluestone spokesman Tom Lusk said the process to notify laid-off miners of open positions began this week and is on a “fast track” to be completed in the next few days. He predicted the mine will return to full production within a month.

Lusk said the recall process at the Red Foxx mine in McDowell County will begin as soon as the Coal Mountain project is completed. The sites are expected to employ a total 200 miners.

Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

In the fifth meeting of the Joint Committee on Tax Reform, lawmakers took on a number of issues, but one included hearing from city and county governments on what they need in a reformed state tax code.

“Revenue and flexibility to address aging infrastructure, pensions, housing and all that will attract and retain citizens,” Lisa Dooley, Executive Director of the West Virginia Municipal League, told the committee.

Dooley was joined by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie for the panel discussion on municipal taxation issues. All three shared the same message: cities need revenue, but more than that, they need the flexibility to find the revenue for themselves.

Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

It was one of the most contentious issues presented during the 2015 Legislative session- a proposed repeal of West Virginia’s prevailing wage. After pressure from labor, industry and the opposite side of the aisle, the new Republican majority backed off the issue, instead approving a recalculation of the rate, but that doesn’t mean the tension has subsided.

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

The battle over Common Core continued at the statehouse Sunday during the Legislature’s June interim meetings. The national education standards were once again the topic of discussion for the Joint Education Committee.

It started with presentations by two Common Core opponents, Angie Summers, head of West Virginians Against Common Core, and Bonnie Henthorn, a member of the Tyler County Board of Education who said she was presenting her concerns as a parent.

Both Summers and Henthorn said West Virginia’s version of Common Core, called the Next Generation Content standards, weren’t rigorous enough to prepare students for college or career, but complained parents are not able to help their children with their homework. Both women also expressed concerns over data collection associated with the Smarter Balance Assessment, the standardized test aligned with the standards.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A country that has already invested more than $12 billion in the United States sent its ambassador to West Virginia Friday looking for possible future investments in the Mountain State.

Qatar Ambassador to the U.S. Mohammed Al-Kuwari was invited and escorted on the visit by Sen. Joe Manchin, making stops at the Advanced Technical Center at BridgeValley Community and Technical College, Dow Chemical, and meeting with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Al-Kuwari said his country has already made a commitment to invest more than $35 billion in the U.S. over the next several years in the energy sector as well as in technology, real estate, tourism and education, and Sen. Manchin wants at least some of those dollars to come to West Virginia.

WCHS TV

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protect has closed down a mountaintop removal mine site located near a state forest in Kanawha County and is now blocking the mine operators from receiving new permits anywhere in the country. 

West Virginia Board of Education

On Wednesday, members of the West Virginia Board of Education traveled to Frankfort, Kentucky, to meet with their education counterparts and watch as the Kentucky BOE conducted their monthly meeting. Thursday West Virginia Board President Gayle Manchin said the two states have plenty in common.

It starts with standards. Kentucky and West Virginia are just two of forty four states that have adopted the national Common Core Standards, but in West Virginia, those standards were adapted to fit the state’s needs and titled the Next Generation Standards.

Then there’s economics. In eastern Kentucky especially where coal mining is a major part of the economy, the state is suffering the same economic downturn as West Virginia in the energy sector, but there’s much more according to Manchin.

West Virginia Turnpike
Seicer / wikimedia Commons

The West Virginia Parkways Authority reported turnpike traffic stretching from the Thursday before Memorial Day to the holiday itself was up by just over 5 percent this year.

The increased traffic brought a total of 588, 739 transactions at toll plazas, totaling $1,281,926 toll revenues. That amount is up more than $65,000 from revenues collected over the Memorial Day weekend in 2014.


Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Six months after mid-term elections, the race for West Virginia’s next governor is already underway with two major announcements this week from Republican leaders.

On Monday, Republican Congressman David McKinley announced on a conference call with reporters he was setting aside personal aspirations to run for re-election to the House of Representative. His announcement was followed quickly Tuesday by a press conference where Senate President Bill Cole confirmed he would run for the office.

“I will be a candidate for governor of the great state of West Virginia,” Cole said during the short speech at his Nissan dealership near Bluefield. He followed the announcement with a second press conference in Charleston where he was surrounded by Republican members of both the House and Senate.

Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Congressman David McKinley announced his intentions Monday to run for re-election in West Virginia’s 1st District after earlier statements that he would consider leaving Washington to run for governor.

A panel of law enforcement, health and substance abuse specialists will discuss what's next in West Virginia's fight against substance abuse at the West Virginia Addiction Summit in Charleston Monday.

Hosted by Del. Chris Stansbury of Kanawha County, the panel includes:

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

In some counties in the state, deaths from heroin overdoses have tripled in the past three years, drawing the attention of both lawmakers and law enforcement looking for ways to combat the problem.

At the statehouse, lawmakers approved the Opioid Antagonist Act during the 2015 Legislative session. The bill expands access to the overdose reversing drug Naloxone, allowing police officers to carry it and also family members and friends of addicts to seek a prescription for the medication.

Naloxone, if followed by more intense medical treatment, can save a person’s life giving them a second chance, according to Joseph Garcia, Gov. Tomblin’s legislative affairs director. Tomblin backed the bill.

But members of both the House and Senate leadership say the new law alone will not decrease the number of heroin overdose fatalities. Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael said that ‘more’ should include a focus on rehabilitative services and a program to drug test those on public assistance.

A law that goes into effect on May 27 allows police officers and those close to addicts to carry the opioid overdose antidote drug Naloxone. While law enforcement officials generally agree that it’s a good idea to carry the drug, there are some questions about safety, training and exactly how the new law will be implemented.

“I totally agree with trying to address the problem at its root but there are a lot of other issues that have to be overcome along the way,” Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said. 

Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

As Republican lawmakers prepared to take the helm of both the state House of Delegates and Senate for the first time in more than 80 years this legislative session, they were questioned over and over again about their priorities. Those priorities became clear on the first day of the session when Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Bill Cole introduced the first 15 bills their party would pursue. 

Number nine of those 15: the Opioid Antagonist Act. 

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