HeathCHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's first State of the State address focused on creating jobs and economic growth.
But he didn't mention legal reform.
"It was a pro-jobs and pro-growth speech," said Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "Governor Tomblin is to be applauded for bringing so much focus to job creation and economic development."
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said he found the absence of legal reform in the speech puzzling.
"It's rather odd that the Governor talked at length about the importance of job creation in West Virginia but failed to mention a single legal reform measure in his state of the state address," Richie Heath said Thursday. "It's no secret that West Virginia's legal climate serves as a major deterrent to job creation in our state."
Heath noted that West Virginia was recently named to the American Tort Reform Foundation's annual "Judicial Hellholes" list for the 10th consecutive year because of the state's "failure to address core problems that exist in our state's legal system."
"Key job providers have cited the creation of an intermediate appeals court as critical for future investment in our state," Heath said. "And Governor Tomblin himself unequivocally supported appeals court legislation just last year, saying it 'does a very good job of minimizing costs while assuring a guaranteed right of appeal.'"
Heath said West Virginia needs to keep up with nearly half of the states that passed "meaningful" legal reforms last year.
"It is essential that Governor Tomblin provide strong leadership on this issue now," he said. "Otherwise, West Virginia will continue to fall further behind."
As for the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Roberts said they are looking at several issues related to legal reform and are meeting soon to get those ideas more in focus.
In his speech Wednesday, Tomblin did mention the state's fight against the federal "adminstration's war on coal."
"A few months ago, a federal court agreed with our lawsuit and ruled that the federal EPA had in fact overstepped its authority," he said. "I will keep fighting until Washington recognizes that one of the keys to America's future is the use and promotion of our natural resources."
Roberts applauded that.
"The standing up to the Obama attack on coal of course got a huge round of applause and so did getting drugs out of the workplace," he said. "I thought those were highlights."
Tomblin said he will implement a drug-testing plan in the coal industry and will push to require people pass a drug test before joining the state's workforce training programs.
As this year's legislative session began, House and Senate Republicans said they'd again try to push a bill creating an Intermediate Appellate Court. Last session, the Senate passed a bill to create one, but it died in the House.
Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, said a level playing field in the courts is needed to draw companies that pay good wages and offer good benefits.
"That's what this is all about," Lane said. "Laying out a level playing field so that employers who want to come here and hire West Virginians aren't afraid to."