Creating a new office of lieutenant governor with the occupant doing nothing more than pulling down a hefty salary waiting for the chief executive to depart, is unnecessary, says Senate President Jeffrey Kessler.

Voters in West Virginia would have to decide if they want to devise the office of lieutenant governor to assume the governorship when the sitting chief executive is removed or becomes disabled. The issue is expected to be considered this week by a House of Delegates committee.

Before he was elected last fall in a special election, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin took over for Joe Manchin when he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Kessler thinks the current setup, in which the Senate president moves up to plug a vacancy, works fine.

“There was a lot of uproar over last year, but never a question of who is going to be in charge,” Kessler, D-Marshall, told reporters.

“It was always going to be the Senate president. The only issue that ever occurred was the timing of the election. That was really what the court decided.”

Kessler said he has concerns about creating a new bureaucracy with an occupant “whose chief function is to sit around, waiting for the demise of the governor.”

Kessler became acting Senate president once Tomblin left his seat to succeed Manchin as acting governor.

“I just don’t know that we need another six-figure salary, the staff and offices and the bureaucracy, when the likelihood of ever needing one has been slim and none,” he said.

In the state’s history, the occasion has arisen only twice, he pointed out.

“Frankly, I think the way it’s set up now where the president and/or speaker ascends probably works well. And it has worked well in more recent history.”

Despite some angst over the change in leadership in both the executive and legislative branches, he said, things went well — surpluses in general revenue and the Rainy Day Fund, and the tackling of major issues, such as Marcellus shale gas regulation.

“I just don’t see any reason to create another bureaucratic position that probably the majority of time would be unnecessary,” he added.

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In another issue, Kessler set in motion a revived bill from a year ago that would regulate so-called “puppy mills,” in which canines are bred for sale.

Kessler is the lead sponsor of this year’s effort, acting on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States.

The idea is to impose some standards so that animals aren’t neglected and abused.

The measure has been before the Legislature in previous sessions, proposed by Mercer County native Summer Wyatt, a former Miss West Virginia who heads the society in this state.

Under the bill, no commercial breeder may have more than 50 unsterilized dogs under a year old.

Once that ceiling is exceeded, the breeder must sell, neuter or transfer the excess dogs within 30 days.

An annual permit would be needed. For Class 1 breeders with 11 to 30 dogs, the cost is $250, and that is doubled for those keeping more than 30 pups.

“I think we need some regulations so that animals that are bred are taken care of during the time they are being raised before sold,” Kessler said.

“There have been numerous instances, I understand, throughout the state where animals have been abused and found with too many animals in a cage and things of that nature, not properly fed and nourished.”

Animal control officers or law enforcement would be obligated to inspect such businesses twice a year.

Violating any provision of the proposed act could bring a fine of up to $1,000.

“We just need to ensure that the dogs are properly raised and cared for,” Kessler added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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