By VIC SPROUSE
CHARLESTON -- Is it even worth it?
Do I even waste time and effort going back down this road again?
Once again, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has jumped in to defend the trial lawyers heading up the Judiciary committees in the House and Senate.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has unloaded ads on West Virginia lawmakers for passing a weak, watered down version of the venue bill.
But, of course, this is about much more than venue. This is about changing the entire West Virginia legal climate. But ...
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce disagrees. Well, they are solely focused on the venue bill. They think it's watered down, but they feel that something is better than nothing and the bill that passed was better than no bill at all.
But, they are missing the big picture. This is about changing our entire legal system. But, they just don't get it.
They are too busy giving credit to Sen. Jeff Kessler and Delegate Carrie Webster for -- get this -- having an open door.
So, we are going to weep with happiness because they allow the Chamber at the proverbial "table" to try to find some compromise with the trial lawyers that everyone can agree to but that continues to keep us in 50th place?
Of course, months and months ago, I had a little fun with Kessler (trial lawyer and Senate Judiciary Chair) and Webster (trial lawyer and House Judiciary Chair) on this very issue.
My point then was that Kessler's advice to Webster had to have been, "Look Carrie, let's give the business community some modicum of venue reform and they will fawn all over you for the next decade."
After all, in every business forum I was in after the 2003 venue reform, all Kessler talked about was the venue bill. The answer to every question was "venue, venue, venue."
Why? Well, because that was the only legal reform bill of any meaning since Kessler's been Judiciary Chair.
So, now the battle happens again this year over venue.
The U.S. Chamber says the bill is worthless. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce says it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I guess the frustrating part for me is that our Chamber is actually bashing the U.S. Chamber for daring to call West Virginia the worst judicial hellhole in America. Kessler said the U.S. Chamber is "picking" on West Virginia.
Woe is us, those bad, bad people at the U.S. Chamber are picking on us ...
Well, wait, Mississippi used to be in last place and after their substantial reforms, they have received better rankings over the last couple of years. So, what does it benefit the U.S. Chamber to list West Virginia the worst state? They are conspiring against West Virginia? Yeah right, I can see Tom Donohoe in D.C. staying up late at night just thinking of ways to pick on West Virginia.
But, here's my overall point.
If the West Virginia Chamber is NOT the ones out there advocating for the most aggressive lawsuit reforms possible ... well, who in the hell is?
And, if you aren't advocating for the most aggressive reforms and the trial laywers are advocating for a reversal in some of the laws we have passed in the last couple of years, where do we end up?
Right. Exactly where we are today -- in 50th place.
The reason why I questioned even spending any time writing this was because it won't change anything.
The West Virginia Chamber has bought into the Mojo mania. They travel the state with him and Kenny Perdue (head of the AFL-CIO) and everyone is sitting around singing Kumbaya.
So, what do we get? 50th place?
And no matter if we think we are being "picked" on by the U.S. Chamber, their assessment matches that of other organizations.
And, if we are 50th ... why wouldn't the state's leading business organization advocate for substantial, massive changes in our lawsuit system?
It makes me scratch my head.
And why is it that only the business community feels the need to earn "credibility" in the legislative process by praising those leaders who simply open the door for them to come in… and then kick them in the ass on the way out?
I can't recall a single time in my 13 years in the Legislature I have EVER, EVER heard the trial lawyers praise someone who fought against them simply because they were allowed "at the table."
I don't recall the unions ever endorsing leaders who are outwardly hostile against them in the process simply to make sure they have "access." You know what they do with leaders who oppose them? Do their best to keep them happy and continue to gain "access" to the leader's offices? No. They go out in the next election and try to defeat the person who is against them ... access or not.
So, in exchange for the "credibility" the business community so craves -- and sharing the stage with Mojo and getting little pats on the head from the the Carrie Webster's and Kenny Perdue's of the world -- they end up supporting the people who put the brakes on the real reform.
Look, I know the West Virginia Chamber doesn't want the status quo, they do want changes.
They know what changes are needed. And, to me, that's the most frustrating part.
They know what's needed, yet they aren't willing to risk this facade called "credibility" to take on the Democratic leadership and the unions and the trial lawyers and even, if necessary, Mojo, to make the changes needed to move our business community forward.
And, if the West Virginia Chamber isn't willing to be the most aggressive business advocates in the state, who is?
Sprouse has served in the Legislature since 1995 and resides in Charleston. He graduated from Penn State University with a Chemical Engineering degree and currently owns and operates several fitness centers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.