Manchin silent on tort reform

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 11, 2007

CHARLESTON -- The leader of state Chamber of Commerce is quite happy with what he heard in Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address.



CHARLESTON -- The leader of state Chamber of Commerce is quite happy with what he heard in Gov. Joe Manchin's State of the State address.

"I continue to believe his level of energy, engagement and enthusiasm will help us through some of our state's challenges," said Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

In Wednesday's annual address, Manchin discussed several business-related topics, including further tax reforms, work place and mine safety initiatives and a goal of having the state independent from foreign oil by 2030.

Among the tax proposals were greater autonomy and taxing powers for local governments, long-term tax credit for high-tech businesses, an end to tax rules and policies considered problematic for businesses and a vehicle privilege tax credit for new state residents.

"I think he made very clear that economic development and job creation is what he intends to focus on and get done," Roberts said Thursday after the speech. "Like he's said many times, he's going to keep trying things until they work.

"I would expect him to keep pushing those things that will help grow jobs in West Virginia."

The leader of a statewide civil justice reform group said he was disappointed that Manchin didn't address tort reform in his speech.

"A key to job creation is fixing the venue statute so lawsuits with no connection to West Virginia won't clog our courts," said Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. He referred to a state Supreme Court decision in June that said restrictions under state law on out-of-state plaintiffs were unconstitutional.

Last month, the United States Supreme Court turned down the appeal in that case, Morris vs. Crown Equipment and Jefferds.

"Employers will be carefully looking to the governor and Legislature for action on this and other important legal reforms important to an expanding work force."

Roberts, however, said he knew Manchin wouldn't discuss civil justice reform.

"I'm not the least bit surprised," he said. "He's talked about it. He's brought it forth in other State of the State addresses. He's put himself squarely on record. He just had other things he needed to cover."

Roberts did say the oil proposal caught him by surprise.

"We are at an energy crossroads," Manchin said in his speech. "West Virginia and the entire nation is much too dependent on foreign oil, which puts all of us at risk."

"It sounded ambitious to me at first," Robert said. "But the State of the State address is a place to be ambitious. You know, if you dream it …

"The bottom line is that it is good for West Virginia coal."

Manchin also proposed the creation of a Governor's Workforce Planning Council to work with higher education.

"What it really is attempting to do is get our students and graduates prepared for the jobs that are available now or what will be the jobs of the future," Roberts said. "It's very clear that the better educated and trained our work force is, the better jobs they'll have."

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