The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

January 7, 2014

W.Va. House leaders plan to focus on good government

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates leadership plans to focus on government accountability and integrity during the 2014 legislative session.

House leaders unveiled a platform on Sunday that includes fraud reporting and state purchasing reforms.

“The foundation upon which every government must build is integrity, accountability, and transparency to the public,” House Speaker Tim Miley said in a news release. “Integrity in government is not a partisan issue, it’s a character issue.”

Several measures are aimed at the Attorney General’s Office, including one that would require all money received by the state through settlements to go into the General Revenue Fund to be appropriated by the Legislature.

“In recent settlement agreements drafted by the Attorney General, he allowed himself discretion as to how the monies recovered were to be spent,” House Finance Vice Chairman Doug Reynolds said in the release. “We, as members of this legislative body, are the ones held accountable for the appropriation of monies that are recovered for the benefit of the taxpayer.”

Another proposal would require a case to be assigned to outside counsel if the attorney general has a conflict of interest. Last year, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey recused himself from two lawsuits filed by the office against drug companies. Morrisey’s wife, Denise Henry, lobbies for two of the companies, Sanofi and Cardinal Health. Morrisey is a former lobbyist for Sanofi.

Both lawsuits were filed during former Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s last term.

“The public must always believe that its elected officials are acting with objectivity when undertaking official duties,” Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in the release. “We need a process to handle any potential conflict.”

Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan told media outlets that the attorney general “taken the high road and avoided any perceived conflicts of interest” since taking office.

“He voluntarily stepped aside from several cases when not required to do so, and handed oversight of the cases to other attorneys within the Office,” Ryan said. “All of the cases were still pursued by the Office and litigated by the same outside counsel firms appointed by the previous attorney general’s office. Our office did not seek to dismiss them or even change the law firm handling them. What Democrat leaders of the House fail to realize is that under the case law having a matter completely handled by outside counsel without any oversight by the Attorney General’s Office would cause the lawsuit to be dismissed.”

House leaders also plan to evaluate the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Rehabilitation Loan program and any similar programs at other state agencies.

The 60-day session begins Wednesday.

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