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

Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

An argument over parliamentary procedure Tuesday has Senate Democrats up in arms, accusing the Republican majority of disregarding the chamber’s standard rules of order.

The disagreement started Monday when Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler successfully killed Senate Bill 14, a bill to create charter schools in West Virginia, during a Finance Committee meeting. Kessler, who said he simply counted during the meeting that he had a Democratic majority in attendance, made a motion to postpone the bill indefinitely.

Kessler maintained such a motion, according to the Jeffersonian Rules of Order, prevents lawmakers from taking up the bill for the remainder of the session.

Janet Kunicki / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Senators approved a bill Monday that, if fully approved by the legislature, will add four judges to the state’s circuit court system. 

Senate Bill 415 comes as a result of a study by the National Center for State Courts.

The study shows West Virginia’s circuit court system is overloaded and recommends lawmakers add more circuit judges, but Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump said the number recommended was too financially cumbersome for the state.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The study came as a companion to a bill approved during the 2013 legislative session. That bill gave pay raises to some magistrates in smaller counties.

Conducted by the National Center on State Courts, the results of the study were presented during January interim meetings, just a day before the legislative session began.

The NCSC presented three options to reduce the overall number of magistrates, keeping the current county based system, aligning it with the circuit courts, or aligning with the regional jail system.

Martin Valent / WV Legislative Photography

Senators approved House Bill 2010 Friday, creating the nonpartisan election of judges at all levels in West Virginia. The new election process would begin in 2016 and include all levels from Supreme Court Justices down to county magistrates. 

Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump said on the floor of the Senate before the vote West Virginia is one of only six states in the country that still holds partisan judicial elections and the time has come for the state to make the chance.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Senators reconsidered a bill Thursday that previously would have capped the punitive damages awarded in a civil lawsuit and also give the state a portion of the award. Wednesday, two Republican Senators voted against the measure.

The bill as originally considered would have capped the punitive damages a jury could award at three times compensatory damages won in a case or $500,000, whichever is greater.

West Virginia Legislative Photography

The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee took up a bill Wednesday that its sponsor says will create a government owned broadband interstate in West Virginia.

Senate Bill 459 calls on the state to invest $78 million in expanding broadband access to West Virginians. The money would pay for the installation of 2,600 miles of broadband fiber across West Virginia with an emphasis on expanding access in rural areas.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee took up a bill that would give Division of Natural Resources law enforcement officers a raise in the upcoming fiscal year and every year following. 

The bill raises the base salary for new officers from $31,222 in their first year to $33,994. All other officers will receive a bump in the range of two to six thousand dollars a year.

The introduced version of the bill also grants the officers a $400 a year raise for every year they remain on the force.

Kanawha County Emergency Management

After a train derailment near the Fayette- Kanawha County line Monday afternoon, residents within a half mile radius of Armstrong Creek Road are being asked to evacuate their homes, according to a press release from the West Virginia State Police. 

A representative of a West Virginia chapter of the American Red Cross says some shelters have been made available, but Red Cross workers who were attempting to set up an overnight shelter at Valley High School in Smithers were not able to reach the location as of 5 p.m. Monday.

The Red Cross will continue to try to reach the location, but Valley High is open to evacuees as a place to stay warm.

Courtesy Photo Kaitlin Coleman

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has placed Fayette and Kanawha counties under a state of emergency following a train derailment Monday afternoon in western Fayette County.

The accident, involving a 109-car CSX  train traveling from North Dakota to Yorktown, Va., occurred along Route 61, causing a fire in the small community of Armstrong Creek.

Those in the area are being asked to conserve water while intakes are shut down as a result of crude oil from the tankers having leaked into the Kanawha River. 

Residents within a half-mile radius of the derailment and fire are being evacuated by State Police. Fires caused by the derailment have taken out main power lines and created the need for longer term housing, according to a late Monday night release from the Fayette County Office of Emergency Management. 

 State Police Sgt. Bennett with the Beckley detachment confirmed one of his officers arrived on scene around 1:30 Monday afternoon to at least one CSX crude oil car off the track.  In a news release, CSX said on person was being treated for potential inhalation. They say no other injuries have been reported and the cause of the accident is under investigation. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

State Senators have approved a bill to scale back the state’s prevailing wage law and change the way it’s calculated.

A bill that would have repealed the state’s prevailing wage completely was altered and then approved by senators on a final vote of 23 to 11 Thursday with only Democrats voting against it.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A Senate committee approved an agreement Thursday that would modify the way immunization exemptions are granted in West Virginia, taking the power from the county level and centralizing it at the state Bureau for Public Health.

Members of the Senate Health Committee initially received a bill that would have allowed parents to seek religious exemptions from some immunization requirements. A committee substitute offered last week removed that exemption, but members still had concerns and asked for more time to work on a compromised version.

Ashton Marra

Members of the Senate's Transportation Committee took up a bill Wednesday that would allow ridesharing businesses to legally operate in West Virginia.

Ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, run through computer or smartphone software and allow anyone to connect with a local driver who uses a personal vehicle to provide taxi-like services.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Groups lobbying for strong regulations to protect that state’s water resources gathered at the Capitol Monday to tell lawmakers not to pass a bill they say will gut the above ground storage tank legislation passed last year.

The West Virginia Safe Water Roundtable, comprised of multiple citizen action groups and affiliated with the Our Children, Our Future Campaign, spoke out against House Bill 2574.

Martin Valent / WV Legislative Photography

Members of the West Virginia Senate approved four pieces of legislation Friday without a nay vote. They include:

SB 250- Relating to Conservation Agency financial assistance applications from district supervisors

The bill allows local conservation district supervisors to apply for West Virginia Conservation Agency financial assistance programs, but in order to avoid conflicts of interest and ethical questions, provides local agents' grants must be considered by the West Virginia Conservation Agency at the state level instead of the local districts. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In a close party-line vote, Republican state senators stymied a Democratic effort to stop a bill that would repeal the state's prevailing wage. 

Democrats failed in a 16-18 Senate vote Thursday to reject the repeal bill, which passed a committee Tuesday.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“Slow this down. Let’s find some compromise.”

That was the message the director of the Affiliated Construction Trades of West Virginia, Steve White, delivered during a gathering of union officials and members at the state Culture Center Wednesday.

White, his union and other members of the AFL-CIO gathered to speak out against a bill that’s fast tracked through the West Virginia Senate. Senate Bill 261 would repeal the state’s prevailing wage, the hourly, overtime and benefit rates contractors agree to pay their employees when bidding on publicly funded projects.

West Virginia Legislative Photography

A Senate committee removed religious exemptions from a bill allowing local physicians to exempt children from some vaccines with the approval of the state chief health officer Tuesday. The original bill would have allowed for the religious exemptions in addition to medical exceptions already contained in state law.

Three Senators removed their names from the bills as sponsors before the Senate Health Committee took up the bill Tuesday. Sen. Mike Hall said his sponsorship was a clerical error to begin with, but Senators Mark Maynard and Chris Walters removed their backing because of concerns over the religious exemption in the original bill.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Senators approved a bill Tuesday that repeals straight party voting, a ballot provision that allows a voter to vote for all candidates from one party instead of considering individual races. 

Both Democratic and Republican Senators stood to speak on behalf of Senate Bill 249, some saying the elimination of straight ticket voting requires voters to consider each race rather than voting on a partisan basis. 

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Members of the West Virginia Senate approved four bills Monday, including three related to the healthcare field.

SB 6- Relating to medical professional liability

The bill works to give healthcare administrators more protection when it comes to some hiring practices or staffing issues. The loophole has allowed administrators to face medical malpractice suits without the award cap put in place by the state’s Medical Professional Liability Act. Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump explained the definition changes in Senate Bill 6, in addition to some new sections, bring administrators back under the $250,000 cap.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Senate Finance Committee continued budget hearings Thursday with state Division of Corrections. Since the passage of the governor’s Justice Reinvestment Act in 2013, the Commissioner of Corrections told lawmakers overcrowding is becoming less and less of an issue, but the division is still asking for a budget increase.

Commissioner Jim Rubenstein presented the governor’s proposed budget for his division for the upcoming fiscal year. In it, the governor is suggesting a budget increase of about $1.8 million from general revenue funds.

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