Ashton Marra

Statehouse Reporter/Producer

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered.

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 on Fridays and leads a reporter roundtable discussing the top stories of the week with her colleagues from the statehouse press corps.

Ashton has most recently received national attention for her coverage of the January 9, 2014, chemical leak 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 and the PBS NewsHour.

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.
 

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Energy & Environment
7:54 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

New EPA Rules Still Unclear to W.Va. Officials

At a press conference Monday, Gov. Tomblin expressed concerns over the impact proposed EPA rules on carbon emissions would have on West Virginia.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new carbon-emission rules Monday that aim to cut carbon dioxide releases from coal fired power plants. The overall national target is a reduction of 30 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

State officials say they’re still working to understand what the 600-plus page document really means for West Virginia, but for now, many are claiming the bad outweighs the good and are pledging to do everything they can to stop it.

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Chemical Investigation
4:30 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Rafters Report Chemical on New River, WVDEP Searching Area

Looking upstream along New River at McCreery WV, just downstream from Prince, WV.
Credit newriverwv.com

A Department of Environmental Protection inspector is searching for an oily substance reported on the New River.

Update at 3:51 p.m. ET June 6, 2014 DEP determines the substance was algae

"The brown substance spotted on both the New and Kanawha rivers (it made its way downstream), we took samples and looked at them under a microscope and determined it was algae," Spokesperson Kelley Gillenwater said. "Algae blooms are common this time of year."

Update at 5:27 p.m. ET. Substance appears to be "naturally occurring substance"

From Kelley Gillenwater, with the WV DEP

"The DEP inspector looking into this has located the substance and as a precaution will continue traveling up and down the river to look for any potential spill sources. He's also been giving out his business card to everyone he's spoken to and has asked residents to contact him if they see more of this material. However, at this time, based on his observations and his conversations with residents and boaters, there is nothing to indicate this is anything other than a naturally occurring substance. The agency will continue to investigate, though, just in case it's something else."

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International Relations
4:20 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Manchin: Israel and Palastine Need to Find "Pathway to Peace"

Sen. Joe Manchin meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdullah while traveling through Israel and the West Bank.
Credit Vitor Urecki

Senator Joe Manchin is wrapping up a six day tour of Israel and the West Bank, meeting with political and spiritual leaders along the way.

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Cash Kickbacks
3:42 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Ten Charged in Logan County Extortion Scheme

U.S. Prosecuting Attorney Booth Goodwin announced the charged Friday in Charleston.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Federal charges have been filed against ten southern West Virginia men in connection with a pay-to-play scheme at a Logan County mine.

U.S. Prosecuting Attorney Booth Goodwin announced the filings in Charleston Friday which involved an elaborate extortion scheme surrounding the Mountain Laurel Mining Complex owned by Arch Coal.

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West Virginia Morning
9:49 am
Fri May 30, 2014

A Mission Against Heroin, WV's Young Entrepreneur of the Year and an Amy Ray Performance

In the final part of our series on heroin abuse in the state, a Northern Panhandle woman tries to combat the drug in her community. West Virginia's winner of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award Bridget Rowsey hopes her love for dance will help keep her small dance studio in Huntington alive, and Amy Ray performs "Duane Allman" in the Mountain Stage Song of the Week.

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West Virginia Morning
8:02 am
Thu May 29, 2014

DEP Creating Tank Rules, Solutions for Heroin Abuse in W.Va. and a Video Focused on Local Artists

The state Department of Environmental Protection has released a website that will soon house new regulations for above ground storage tanks. For now, the site contains all of the public comments the agency has received while they prepare to write those rules. As heroin use rises in the state, U.S. Prosecuting Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia William Ihlenfeld is looking for ways to treat the problem and a new video project is focused on supporting artisans in the Eastern Panhandle.

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Law & Order
3:52 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

W.Va. Supreme Court Denies Request to Suspend Prosecutor's License

Credit Marcus Constantino (@AMTino) / Charleston Daily Mail

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has denied a request to temporarily suspend the law license of Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants and has upheld a circuit court decision. That decision disqualified him from a prosecuting certain types of cases pending an outcome in criminal proceeding against him.

Plants is charged with misdemeanor domestic battery and violating a protection order after beating his son with a leather belt in February.

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Chemical Spill
11:15 am
Wed May 28, 2014

West Virginia Storage Tank Website Up and Running

Credit Department of Environmental Protection

Members of the public now have full access to comments collected by the state Department of Environmental Protection on a newly passed law. That law requires the DEP to create a regulatory program for above ground storage tanks in order to protect the state’s water.

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Higher Education
11:19 am
Tue May 27, 2014

CTCs Helping Students Get Out of Developmental 'Quicksand'

Chancellor James Skidmore explains a new approach to developmental education during the May West Virginia Board of Education meeting.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Community and technical colleges have started noticing a trend that’s consistent not just here in West Virginia, but across the country.

That trend: students who are enrolled in developmental courses when they enter a higher education institution are less likely to graduate.

“Thirteen percent of the students that go into developmental or remedial courses graduate, only 13 percent,” Chancellor of West Virginia’s CTC system James Skidmore told members of the state Board of Education during their May meeting.

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Judicial System
12:00 am
Fri May 23, 2014

Lawmakers Receive Update on Magistrate Court Study

Credit West Virginia Legislature

In between debating special session bills this week, lawmakers managed to have a few of their regularly scheduled interim meetings. During one of those meetings, legislators were updated by a national group on a study of the state's magistrate system.

The study of the state’s magistrate system started following the 2013 legislative session during which lawmakers faced some debate over magistrate pay.

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Abortion Regulations
4:42 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Tomblin: "I Will Veto Abortion Bill Again"

Credit Office of the Governor

Governor Tomblin released a statement Thursday discouraging lawmakers from calling themselves into a special session to take up previously vetoed abortion legislation.

House Bill 4588 would have created a statewide ban of abortions after 20 weeks. Both the House and Senate passed the bill, but Tomblin vetoed the legislation calling it unconstitutional. Several courts in other states have knocked down similar bans.

"Should members of the Legislature take the same action again, I will again veto the bill," Tomblin said in a release.

"I am proud of my pro-life record, and I would be happy to work with members of the Legislature during the 2015 regular session to pass a bill that is constitutional."

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Substance Abuse
12:49 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Gov. Tomblin Announces $1.3 Million in Justice Grants

Credit RayNata / wikimedia

Gov. Tomblin is announcing more than one million dollars in grants for community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery service across West Virginia.

Seven providers will receive grants through the Justice Reinvestment program. One grant will help fund a new, 60- to 100-bed Mercer County treatment facility.

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Chemical Spill
12:37 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

CDC Explains Rationale for MCHM Drinking Water Standard

Credit AP

In a letter to Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, federal health officials say they thought their drinking water standard established after the Elk River chemical spill would have protected West Virginias from other forms of contact. 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official says drinking the contaminated water was the primary exposure they were concerned with when forming their safety threshold. CDC director Thomas Frieden says consumption was associated with the most significant health effects.

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Statehouse
6:06 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Senator Questions if Reappropriation of Funds is Legal

The tally board in the Senate after members voted on a funding bill that was amended to restore social service programs that faced budget cuts.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Senator Herb Snyder of Jefferson County raised concerns with fellow members of the Senate Wednesday about funding cut from racetracks and moved to restore cuts to social programs.

Wednesday morning, members of the House amended an excess lottery appropriations bill taking money from horse and thoroughbred purse funds, monies that are used to pay bet winners at racetracks, and put them toward restoring funds cut by Governor Tomblin in March for child and family service programs.

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Government
12:24 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Legislature Restores More Than $1 Million in Funding to Child & Family Programs

Del. Brent Boggs proposed the amendment to SB 2003.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Updated on Wednesday: May 21, 2014 at 1:05 p.m.:

The State Senate has concurred with the amendment and from the House and has passed the bill. The bill now goes to Governor Tomblin and awaits his signature.

The Senate passed the bill 30-1. Sen. Herb Snyder was the lone vote against.

Original Post on Wednesday: May 21, 2014 at 12:24 p.m.:

An amendment unanimously approved by the West Virginia House of Delegates would fully restore more than $1 million in cuts to family and child service programs.

Those cuts came in March as part of a line item veto by Gov. Tomblin. Later, the governor restored about $260,000 of those cuts by taking money from a trust fund to provide future children's programs.

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Statehouse
3:44 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

House GOP: One More Day of Special Session

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead confers with House Speaker Tim Miley before Tuesday's floor session.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Lawmakers will spend one more day in a special session in part because of Republican members of the House.

Delegates returned for morning floor session Tuesday, passed all six bills forward from second to third reading and adjourned for the day, a move that was a little unexpected by both chamber leaders.

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State Budget
3:34 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

Child, Family Advocates Continue Fight Over State Budget

Stephen Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, speaking at the vigil Tuesday.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Child and family advocates are not giving up their fight to restore more than $800,000 in funding cut from service programs across the state. A vigil, spearheaded by the Our Children, Our Future campaign, took to the State Capitol Tuesday morning to have their message heard.

Executive Director for the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition Stephen Smith stood in the lower rotunda of the Capitol surround by fellow social service advocates holding signs. Some contained countless purple ribbons representing families expected to lose services if the cuts aren’t restored, others with 80 pink slips representing the number of jobs expected to be lost.

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Statehouse
9:37 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

W.Va. Senate Confirms Gubernatorial Nominations

The state Senate Monday confirmed Gov. Tomblin's nominees for various position within the administration. There were nine in total including:

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Statehouse
9:26 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Lawmakers Take More Time to Complete Special Session Work

Credit Martin Valent / WV Legislative Photography

Lawmakers will return for a second day in an extraordinary session after some called for more time to consider last minute legislation.

Senators considered and passed two bills Monday, one appropriating excess lottery funds to several state programs and a second modifying the funding mechanism for the state Courtesy Patrol, but stopped short of passing the four additional bills on the call.

Senate President Jeff Kessler attributed that to uncertainty from Republicans members of the House.

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Public Education
11:14 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

W.Va. BOE: Logan Co. Schools in Jeopardy of Takeover

Chapmanville Regional High School
Credit WV Department of Education

  The West Virginia Board of Education has put Logan County Schools on alert. The county is in jeopardy of state takeover if they can’t turn things around before January of next year.

The vote by state board members came after a detailed audit of the county school system by the state Department of Education’s Office of Education Performance Audits. In that report, the OEPA found mishandlings of personnel matters, finances and failures in curriculum.

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