Manchins signs bills involving snakes, fossils, research into law
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Gov. Joe Manchin usually greets visitors to his reception room at the state Capitol with a handshake — but he kept his distance from one recent guest of honor.
The Division of Natural Resources brought in a live timber rattler Thursday for the governor's ceremonial signing of a resolution designating it as the state reptile.
Manchin spokesman Matt Turner says that even though the snake was well-contained in a 10-gallon aquarium, the governor still kept a close eye on it.
The governor jokingly told the snake's handler that he "didn't need to bring the visual aid," Turner said.
Manchin told the group gathered for the ceremony that while the timber rattler is one of West Virginia's more feared residents, the snake is important to the ecosystem and worth recognition.
The idea to give this recognition to the timber rattler came from a class at Romney Middle School in Hampshire County. Turner says about 65 of the students made the trip to the Capitol for the ceremony.
The resolution also designated the Megalonyx jeffersonii as the official state fossil. Remains of this long-extinct ground sloth were discovered in Monroe County in the 18th century.
The timber rattler and Megalonyx jeffersonii join a host of other state symbols, including the black bear as the state animal, the cardinal as the state bird and the rhododendron as the state flower.
Another measure signed by Manchin Thursday creates a $50 million research fund to fuel innovation in areas such as energy and biotechnology at the state's two largest universities.
The so-called Bucks for Jobs program, introduced during Manchin's January State of the State address, will provide $35 million to West Virginia University and $15 million to Marshall if they can both obtain matching private donations.
Marshall President Stephen Kopp says his university has already made plans to hire nine faculty members dedicated to scientific research.
Another education-related bill signed into law Thursday authorizes the Higher Education Policy Commission to issue revenue bonds for community and technical college capital improvements. Yet another bill puts limits on school bus rides. The bill is not retroactive. It applies only to schools that open after July 1 and use School Building Authority funds.
Two measures associated with veterans were also signed. One authorizes West Virginia's first state-operated veterans cemetery located in Institute on land donated by Dow Chemical and funded by lottery proceeds. The other measure allows volunteers who drive veterans to the hospital to collect per diem pay.