CHARLESTON -- During this legislative session, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is making a major push for guaranteed right of appeal in the state's court system.
"If a business is sued in West Virginia, no such right exists," said Ronda Harvey, an attorney with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love and the chairwoman of the state Chamber's Civil Justice Reform Committee.
"A West Virginia litigant can petition the West Virginia Supreme Court to hear an appeal. But that isn't a guaranteed right of appeal. All other states have an appellate court to hear it."
Speaking at the state Chamber's annual Legislative Issues/Outlook Conference on Jan. 12, Harvey said most West Virginians would be stunned to know they don't have this "fundamental and necessary right" of appeal in civil and criminal cases.
"It also would provide us with a consistent body of law," she said. "It also would help the state attract and keep businesses.
"Businesses are shocked and appalled (that the right of appeal doesn't exist here), and they turn to sister states."
The governor's Independent Commission on Judicial Reform recommended the right of appeal, and Gov. Joe Manchin said in his State of the State address Wednesday that the state Supreme Court plans to introduce rules to ensure full appellate review of all final decisions on the merits issued by the circuit courts in West Virginia.
"We need to stand together with the governor's commission and show legislators that the guaranteed right of appeal is necessary," Harvey said. "West Virginians should have the same right of appeal as other Americans."
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CLIMATE CHANGE initiatives will advance even if Congress doesn't act, according to David Flannery, chair of the West Virginia Chamber's energy committee.
At the Chamber's legislative issues and outlook conference on Jan. 12, Flannery warned his audience not to be misled by a lack of action on climate change legislation.
A "cap and trade" energy tax narrowly passed the House last summer, but the Senate hasn't followed through.
Flannery said the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency will pursue regulations independent of what Congress does.
He said EPA will attack natural gas as well as coal.
He said EPA has started regional climate change initiatives in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West.
In West Virginia, he said, EPA has put 23 coal mine permits on hold.
The Obama Administration's position on coal alarms West Virginia's leaders, though they belong to the same party as the President.
"I have a big problem and they know that," Gov. Joe Manchin told the conference.
"Coal has given three hundred million of us the life we have today," he said.
He said this is a time of transition. "In thirty years, we won't be using coal the same way," he said.
He said, "If we wind up importing coal the way we import oil, then God help us."
He said West Virginia, Wyoming and Montana will lead the world in new ways to use coal.
"Not one of us in this room should play defense," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin said, "They have a whole new attack on the coal industry."
Senate Minority Whip Clark Barnes recommended investment in clean coal technology.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead proposed creation of a special legislative committee on coal.
Someone in the crowd asked what would happen to state revenues if mining stopped.
House Majority Leader Brent Boggs said, "If we don't have that revenue, we will be in a world of hurt in West Virginia."
Barnes said Boone County sends the state $60 million a year in coal severance taxes.
"A great deal of that is mountaintop mining," he said.
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin said, "If EPA will explain what the rules are, we will play by them."