Session gets mixed reviews

by Chris Dickerson |
Mar. 17, 2011, 3:25am





CHARLESTON – As with most matters in politics, there are mixed reviews on the just-completed state legislative session and what lawmakers accomplished.

Some state legal leaders are pleased with the results, while others have just the opposite view.

Mike Romano, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, said he is glad lawmakers did not sent the bill to create an intermediate appellate court to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

"I was very happy that the Legislature took a hard look at a few bills that would've burdened the state with unnecessary costs, especially the intermediate appellate court bill," Romano said. "It would've cost in excess of $10 million a year with the costs it would've put on the prosecutors and Attorney General's office.

"It got passed for political reasons in the Senate, and then it was endorsed by others just to get a political advantage. But the House stayed true to its responsibilities and didn't want to pass a taxpayer-funded shot for criminals to get another day in court."

Others, however, were upset that the bill wasn't passed.

"Instead of addressing the meaningful legal reform measures that would make our state more attractive to investment, state lawmakers saw fit to pass out lucrative pay raises to judges already making more than $100,000 a year," said Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "With state unemployment currently at 10.3 percent, you really have to question the priorities of some lawmakers.

"It's sad to see another missed opportunity to move West Virginia's legal system and economy forward, especially when we were so close to enacting significant reform. Until a majority of state lawmakers get serious about the legal reform measures needed to move our state forward, it will be more of the same for West Virginia's workers and families."

Heath said the issue is one that most state residents want.

"Most people, including a bi-partisan majority of the state Senate and the acting Governor, are in agreement about West Virginia's need for an intermediate court of appeals, and meaningful right of appeal," Heath said. "Unfortunately, House Speaker Rick Thompson chose to place the interests of personal injury lawyers above the legal rights of all West Virginians. By obstructing the proposed intermediate court of appeals, Speaker Thompson has helped preserve our state's reputation as a 'Judicial Hellhole' and ensured that job providers will continue to overlook our state for the foreseeable future."

The president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce agreed.

"The session was characterized more by what did not get done," Steve Roberts said. "No OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) solution, no education reform and no intermediate appellate court. Too bad. We have a 10.3 percent unemployment rate and didn't enact anything that might help."

Romano said the WVAJ also was happy about the passage of the learned intermediary bill regarding drug companies.

"We were pleased to get a bill to protect domestic pharmaceutical companies protecting out of state plaintiffs from coming into West Virginia," he said. "That keeps out-of-state residents from coming to West Virginia to sue drug companies when laws in their states aren't as conducive as ours are. That bill came about from a cooperation of the House and the Senate. It was real cooperation from people on all sides of the issue."

Romano's WVAJ and unions have been under attack in recent days for support of Thompson. The WVAJ doesn't officially endorse candidates, but Romano has been vocal in his support of the Wayne County Democrat. Both state teachers unions have endorsed Thompson this week.

"Big labor and big unions have made Rick Thompson their choice for governor," state GOP Chairman Mike Stuart said. "It is the payback for all his work in the House of Delegates to deliver an Obama-style tax and spend government to West Virginia. It is the intent of the big union bosses that the real payback will begin in October.

"Even better news for Thompson, it looks like he may roll a perfect trifecta – getting the AFL-CIO endorsement too. Given Thompson's record as Speaker in the past session, it was an easy choice for the big unions. Thompson's support of more than $1 billion in new spending, a resolution in support of the public unions in Wisconsin, his blockage of an intermediate court of appeals and stopping the elimination of the food tax was more than any union boss could dream up. We commend him on his active support by the perpetrators of the Axis of Unemployment."

Stuart said the state can't survive the "tax and spend policies" or the control "union bosses" would have if Thompson is elected governor.

"Every West Virginian should be very concerned by these endorsements," he said. "We cannot let the union bosses and the far left liberals have more control than they already have over West Virginia.

"Any chance of building a better West Virginia with more jobs will only be possible by building a better business climate and by creating a more reasonable balance between organized labor and the business community. A Thompson governorship would be very big step in the wrong direction."

Romano disagreed.

"In my estimation, Speaker Thompson has shown he is a leader who considers the views of all groups and tries to consider those opinions," he said. "He doesn't cater to unions, the WVAJ, the Chamber of Commerce or anyone.

"What he does is what he believes is right for the state of West Virginia. I wouldn't be for him if he tried to take his lead from any one special interest group. We have good group of gubernatorial candidates on both sides. I think several of them would make good governors. Our citizens need to look at who's best equipped."

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