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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Oil and Gas Waste
11:51 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

Listen: Voices From Frack Waste Hearing Tell A Story

The House Judiciary Committee heard thoughts and concerns during a public hearing over a piece of pending legislation: HB4411 - allowing the disposal of drill cuttings and associated drilling waste generated from fracking sites in commercial solid waste facilities.

Some History:

Some Recent History:

State-Wide Concern:

Some Science:

The Advocate:

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Privacy Concerns
9:21 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

Senator: Data Collection System Keeps Personal Information Confidential

Members of the state Senate gathered in the chamber for a floor session Monday.
Credit Ashton Marra

Senators took up Senate Bill 420 Monday to amend the state P-20W Longitudinal Data System.

The system collects statistics from K-12, colleges, universities and community colleges tracking student achievement.

The bill adds child care and workforce data to the system giving a broader view of a student’s success. It also requires the information be brought to the Legislative Oversight Committee on Education Accountability to ensure transparency.

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Prison Overcrowding
4:43 pm
Fri February 14, 2014

Should the Division of Corrections Become a Separate State Department?

Senate President Jeff Kessler presents DOC Commissioner Jim Rubenstein with a proclamation declaring Feb. 14, 2014, Division of Corrections Day at the Legislature.
Credit Janet Kunicki / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The Division of Corrections was honored in the Senate Friday with a resolution declaring February 14, 2014, Corrections day at the legislature.

Commissioner Jim Rubenstein was joined by his Cabinet Secretary Joe Thornton and other members of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety to receive the honor.

“On this day, it is important for this Legislature to remember that the starting annual salary for an entry level correctional professional in West Virginian is $22,584,” said Sen. Bill Laird.

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Bulk Water Sites
3:42 pm
Fri February 14, 2014

Water Distribution for Kanawha Co.: Saturday, Feb. 15- Monday, Feb. 17, 2014

Credit wikimedia / Wikimedia

Kanawha County and City of Charleston Bulk Water Sites for Saturday, February 15, 2014 through Monday, February 17, 2014:

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Senate
4:13 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

Senate Moving Forward on Two Major Interim Issues

Members of the Senate during a floor session.
Credit Ashton Marra

Senators unanimously passed a bill requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine through committee and will soon vote as a whole on a bill reforming state purchasing procedures. Both issues were studies during the previous interim session.

Senator Greg Tucker sponsored the prescription only bill which makes pseudoephedrine a controlled substance, requiring a prescription for its purchase. The bill made it through Senate Judiciary after three hours of debate.

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Fracking Safety
5:48 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Fire Marshal: W.Va. Firefighters Not Required to Train on Well Site Fires

Crews battle a fire at a gas well in Greene County, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.
Credit KDKA-TV

News broke Tuesday of a gas well explosion and fire in Greene County, Pennsylvania, injuring one worker while a second is still missing.

The well was just miles from the West Virginia border, close to the first Senatorial District from which Senator Jack Yost hails, a district that’s full of well sites of its own.

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Water Concerns
5:00 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Kanawha Co. Schools Pulling Brand of Bottled Water from Circulation

Credit Kanawha County Schools

Test results show bottled water provided to Kanawha County Schools do not contain coliform after a health official discontinued its use Wednesday.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department ran tests for coliform, an indicator of bacteria, after complaints that the water had a musty smell and an issue with taste.

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Chemical Leak
5:58 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

In-Home Testing After Elk River Chemical Spill Launches

Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Tuesday the West Virginia Testing Assessment Project for residents in the nine counties affected by the Jan. 9 chemical spill into Elk River.

The project, which will make use of $650,000 from the state budget according to Tomblin, will be conducted by independent scientific experts under the direction of Dr.  Andrew Whelton, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of South Alabama, and Corona Environmental Consulting.

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Senate
2:57 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Senator: Increased Sin Tax Could Help in Budget Crunch

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Cabell.
Credit WV Legislative Photography

Senate Bill 534 was introduced in the Senate Tuesday to increase the excise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The proposal would mean a $1 increase in taxes on a pack of cigarettes to $1.55 total. On all other tobacco products, the tax increases from 7 percent of the wholesale price to 50 percent.

“From a polling standpoint, people say they don’t have a problem with increasing cigarette taxes,” said Senator Bob Plymale, the bill’s lead sponsor.

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Congressional Hearing
5:24 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Congressional Committee Chair: 'Nobody Is Willing to Say the Water Is Safe'

The panel of witnesses testified Monday in the Kanawha County Courthouse.
Credit Ashton Marra

The two hour field hearing by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure began Monday with opening remarks where witnesses, recounted their company’s or agency’s response immediately following the discovery of the leak.

Lawmakers, however, were focused on the fact the Freedom Industries’ President Gary Southern, invited to testify, did attend.

“Mr. Chairman, there is an odor emanating from Freedom Industries and it’s not licorice. We cannot legislate morality into the billionaire corporate boardrooms where shell game playing abounds," said Rep. Nick Rahall.

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Chemical Leak
3:03 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Water Distribution for Kanawha Co.: Monday, Feb. 10- Friday, Feb. 14,, 2014

Credit Kanawha County Commission

Kanawha County and City of Charleston Bulk Water Sites for Monday, February 10, 2014.

Bulk Water-Bring Your Own Containers
 
Crossing Mall – Elkview
Walmart Parking Lot – Quincy
Shawnee Park – Institute
Old Big Sandy Parking Lot – Cross Lanes
Big Lots Parking Lot –Patrick Street – Charleston

The tanker at Shawnee Park will not be deployed on Tuesday, February 11 due to a mechanical problem.  It will be repaired and then filled in Huntington and redeployed on Wednesday, February 12. 

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Chemical Leak
3:46 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Lawmakers, State Official React to Latest Press Conference

Director of the WVDHSEM Jimmy Gianato testifies before the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on State Water Resources.
Credit Ashton Marra

Director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Jimmy Gianato testified before the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Water Resources Friday, answering questions about the state testing water quality in homes.

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Food Stamps
4:55 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Senator Calls on Congress to Change SNAP Benefits

Senator Ron Stollings decided against continuing his legislation relating to the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is opting for a resolution instead, calling on Congress to change the benefits nationwide.

Stollings’ bill directed the state Department of Health and Human Resources to apply for a waiver with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The waiver would prohibit the purchase of soda and junk foods with SNAP benefits, or food stamps.

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Chemical Leak
4:42 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Five Things West Virginia Heard Wednesday from CDC, EPA, & Gov. Tomblin

Credit Chuck Roberts / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was joined Wednesday by state officials as well as officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency to provide an update to the ongoing response to the January 9 chemical spill by Freedom Industries into the Elk River.

Here's what we learned from the briefing:

1. The 1 parts per million threshold for MCHM doesn't declare the water "safe."

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Pseudoephedrine Legislation
4:44 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Senate Furthers Bill to Decrease Meth Labs in W.Va.

Credit Martin Valent / WV Legislative Photography

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources was the first to take action on Senate Bill 6 Tuesday, regulating the sale of drug products used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine.

Senate Bill 6:

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Senate
4:10 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

Senate Passes Bill Requiring CPR Training for High School Students

Credit Ashton Marra

The upper chamber passed four bills Monday. They include:

Senate Bill 267

The bill ensure that state courts have jurisdiction over prosecuting unauthorized or fraudulent uses of state purchasing cards when used out of state. Penalties include 1-5 years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

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Water Crisis
12:59 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

Water Distribution Information for Kanawha Co.: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Credit Kanawha County Commission

Bulk Water Tankers – Bring Your Own Container Locations

  • Crossings Mall – Elkview
  • Walmart Parking Lot – Quincy
  • Old Big Sandy Parking Lot – Cross Lanes
  • Shawnee Park – Institute

Editor's Note: Officials with Kanawha County said Monday that winter weather has affected the ability to offer more bottled water at this time. We will update this post once again if announcements are made about bottled water distribution or if bulk water supply locations are changed.

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Chemical Leak
2:51 pm
Sat February 1, 2014

LISTEN: State Releases Freedom Industries' Spill Hotline Audio

Credit Aaron Payne / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The state Division of Homeland Security released audio Friday of Freedom Industries' employee Bob Reynolds notifying the state spill hotline that a chemical was leaking at their Charleston location. The call was received at 12:05 p.m. on January 9.

Reynolds told the operator, identified later in the call only as Laverne, the Department of Environmental Protection was already on site.

"I heard about it about 15 minutes ago," Reynolds told the operator when asked what time the leak occurred. The operator estimated the time to be about 11:40 a.m.

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Senate
6:34 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Kessler’s Future Fund Takes New Shape

Senate President Jeff Kessler discusses Senate business with staffers during the 2014 Legislative Session.
Credit Ashton Marra

Senate President Jeff Kessler introduced his Future Fund legislation into the Senate Friday. The proposal this year, however, is slightly different from years past.

Senate Bill 461 creates the statutory framework for the fund:

-Provides 25 percent of any revenues collected from oil and gas severance taxes over and above $175 million be automatically placed in Future Fund, up from $70 million baseline proposed last year

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Breaking
2:46 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Fire, Leak Reported at Martinsburg Chemical Site

Credit West Virginia Department of Commerce

Original story posted Friday, Jan. 31 at 2:46 p.m.

Emergency units in Berkeley County are responding to a reported fire at Ecolab Inc. in Martinsburg.

Ecolab is located in the 900 block of Baker Road near the V.A. Medical Center. The company manufactures industrial strength chemicals, solvents and cleaners.

911 officials said they received reports of an outside tank on fire. Nine equipment units were on scene as of 2:30 p.m. on Friday and were reporting no active fire, but a Hazmat team is checking for any possible leaks as a result.

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