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

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.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Members of the Senate voted on Senate Bill 8 Wednesday, authorizing a performance audit of the state Division of Highways. The bill, which was welcomed by the Department of Transportation, met some opposition on the chamber floor. 

DOT Secretary Paul Mattox told members of both House and Senate committees last week he was all for the bill which authorizes an outside organization to come in and audit the ten DOH districts, looking for areas of inefficiency, better practices, and better allocation of funds, among other criteria. 

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Every year state lawmakers take an additional week after their normal legislative session to finalize the budget for the following fiscal year, but Republican lawmakers are looking to change that.

Typically, lawmakers work their way through all of the proposed pieces of legislation in 60 days and come back for an extended budget session the following week to finalize the numbers, but Republican leaders in both the House and Senate want to move away from that tradition.

Janet Kunicki / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In a Senate Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday, Senators were presented with one possible solution for the lack of funding for state roads, one that would allow counties to be more involved in the construction and maintenance process.

Senate Bill 258 is also known as the “Letting Our Counties Act Locally Act” and comes as the result of two years of work from stakeholders in Monongalia County.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Two West Virginia advocacy groups gathered outside the House of Delegates Thursday to protest a bill they say is unconstitutional. Lawmakers in the chamber have re-introduced the 20 week Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, this year with additional provisions.

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act makes it illegal for a medical professional in the state to conduct an abortion after 20 weeks except with the woman has a medical emergency.

It also sets up civil and criminal penalties for doctors who do not comply with the ban.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The chair of the Senate Committee on Labor pulled a bill from the committee's agenda Tuesday, Senate Bill 245, a bill that aims to repeal the state's prevailing wage requirement. 

Prevailing wage is a defined hourly wage, overtime and benefits used in government contracts established by regulatory agencies. Once those wage standards are set, anyone bidding on a state government contract must pay workers on their project at that level.

Senate President Bill Cole introduced similar legislation in 2014 repealing the wage requirement and said he still believes in repeal because it would be a cost savings to the taxpayers of West Virginia.

West Virginia Legislature

Senate Bill 256 was introduced to the full chamber Tuesday. Sponsored by Sen. Chris Walters of Putnam County, the bill aims at increasing the number of unexcused absences a student can have before the state court system intervenes.

“Currently, West Virginia has one of the most aggressive numbers and that’s five statewide," Walters said.  "Once a child reaches five unexcused absences then he arrives into the court system and can be placed in a facility.”

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A bill that's caused a bit of an uproar in the House and Senate progressed through both chambers at the state house Monday, but that bill is changing shape as it makes its way through both chambers. 

The Alternative and Renewable Energy Act was approved by lawmakers in 2009 under the guise of Governor Joe Manchin. Backed by the coal industry, the law requires electric utilities in the state to produce 25 percent of their energy using alternative and renewable resources, like solar or wind, by 2025.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Hundreds gathered at the Capitol Friday to remember former Arch Moore, Jr., the state's longest serving governor.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin, Arch Moore III and others shared fond memories of the state's 28th and 30th governor during a service in the Culture Center. Fitting, many remarked, because Gov. Moore worked to find the money to build the facility in the 1970s.

Cecelia Mason / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Members of both the House and Senate Energy Committees took up a bill Thursday repealing a law that’s commonly been referred to as West Virginia’s cap and trade law.

The Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act of 2009 requires electric utilities in the state to produce 25 percent of their electricity with alternative and renewable energy sources by 2025, meeting benchmarks of ten percent in 2015 and 15 percent in 2020.

West Virginia Legislature

West Virginia Republicans have named three options to replace state Sen. Clark Barnes, who has officially resigned to become Senate clerk.

The Republican candidates who will be considered for the vacancy are state Del. Allen Evans of Petersburg; West Virginia Farm Bureau President Charles Wilfong of Dunmore; and engineer Gregory Boso from Summersville.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Mercer County Sen. Bill Cole was elected to the Senate Presidency by a vote of 19-15 Wednesday with one Democrat crossing party lines to vote with the new Republican majority.

Sen. Bob Plymale of Cabell County voted for Cole instead of former Senate President and now Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, the Democratic nominee. Plymale declined to comment on the vote.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin gave his fifth State of the State Address Wednesday night in the House Chamber before a joint meeting of the legislature as well as the Supreme Court, Constitutional officers and many, many others.

Tomblin touted the financial success the state is seeing from fiscally prudent decisions made in recent years. From the strength of the state’s more than $800 million Rainy Day Fund to the accomplishments in paying off worker’s compensation debt, Tomblin said the state is in good financial health.

Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Lawmakers were presented the final recommendations Tuesday from a national group that’s been studying the state’s magistrate court system for years.

The National Center for State Courts began the study in 2013 after lawmakers approved a pay increase for a small group of magistrates across the state. The study is focused on realigning the system so the number of magistrates in each county is based on the time spent on cases instead of the county’s population.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A debate that started during the 2014 legislative session continued during interim meetings in Charleston Sunday. State lawmakers are still questioning if a 1939 law affects today’s gas prices.

Jan Vineyard, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association or OMEGA, addressed lawmakers during a Joint Government Organization and Operations meeting in the House Chamber about the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act which has been in state law for more than 70 years.

West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources

As soon as he was made aware of the Freedom Industries' chemical spill and the tap water use ban, Dr. Rahul Gupta said his main concern was the health and safety of the citizens in the affected area.

In January of 2014, Gupta was serving as the Executive Director of the Kanawha Charleston Health Department, a position he held since 2009, and was very vocal when responding to all of the possible health concerns related to the spill.

Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After the chemical leak from the Freedom Industries site was discovered, some blame was quickly placed on the state Department of Environmental Protection for not properly regulating the tanks. But soon enough, both the public and state lawmakers found out the DEP had no authority over the inspection of those tanks.

That quickly changed as the 2014 legislative session progressed, passing a law to create a registration and inspection program.

Friday marks one year since a chemical tainted the drinking water supply for 300,000 people in and around Charleston, leaving some without usable water for as many as ten days. State lawmakers immediately took action to regulate aboveground storage tanks like the one responsible for the contamination, but the regulatory effort is on going.

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