THEIR VIEW: Lawmakers should look to do no harm

By The West Virginia Record | Feb 23, 2012

CHARLESTON -- As the conclusion of the 2012 legislative session draws closer, West Virginians are getting a clearer picture of what's likely to take place.

And while this year's session started with a decidedly "pro-jobs" theme — aimed at taking advantage of the state's strong natural gas prospects — the legislature's "pro-jobs" momentum seems to have tailed off as of late.

Many of the legal reform measures introduced in either chamber of the legislature have seen little movement to date. In fact, most of the legislation that would help fix problems in our state's legal system has gone nowhere.

As if that weren't bad enough, several bills working through the legislative process, if passed, would have disastrous consequences for both West Virginia's legal climate and future job prospects for state residents.

One pending disaster is a bill (H.B. 4325) that would take the extreme approach of granting prosecutorial powers to Attorney General Darrell McGraw. It is ridiculous to even consider granting the Attorney General's office such enormous responsibility given Darrell McGraw's past ethical missteps.

There's little doubt that potential job providers would pass on investing in West Virginia for fear of selective prosecution from Attorney General McGraw's office if such a bill were to become law.

Another ill-advised bill (H.B. 4268/S.B. 388) would essentially gut long-standing time limitations for lawsuit filings in West Virginia, creating a great deal of uncertainty for potential litigants while also exposing our state courts to more out-of-state lawsuit filings.

Finally, some lawmakers have sponsored legislation (H.B. 3015) which would create more lawsuits in West Virginia, with the possibility of mandatory legal fees for the lawyers bringing those suits. It should be crystal clear to both citizens and our lawmakers that we need more jobs in West Virginia, not more lawsuits.

If legislators aren't going to reform West Virginia's much-criticized legal system, the least they can do this year is not make it any worse. Perhaps our state lawmakers should adopt a theme for the remainder of the legislative session of simply, "do no harm."

Heath is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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