CHARLESTON – The 2016 West Virginia Legislative session has been called one of the worst ever by media outlets and organizations statewide.
West Virginia is facing real challenges right now. Our roads are bad. We have a huge budget deficit. Millions of dollars have been cut from our schools. Coal is in decline and West Virginia workers need to be retrained for 21st century jobs. A financial crisis is looming.
Did our legislature address any of this? No.
What should be incomprehensible to most West Virginians is why Roman Stauffer and West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) are now praising our legislature and trumpeting its ability to “tackle big issues” this session.
The truth is that CALA and its corporate backers can crow about the legislative session because, while legislators ignored the serious problems facing our state, they did make an effort to pass bills pushed by CALA and its allied organization, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA). (Both groups were created by the same Washington D. C. PR firm and have the same out-of-state corporate backers.)
CALA fails, however, to tell West Virginians the truth about the legislation it is peddling. The legislation pushed by CALA and its allies isn’t going to help our state attract new businesses or improve the state’s economy.
All that legislation did was increase corporate profits for CALA’s benefactors while weakening laws that protect West Virginia’s small businesses, consumers and workers.
One of the most glaring examples of the CALA/ATRA hypocrisy is a bill that didn’t pass—SB 657 which dealt with medical monitoring.
In those cases, people have been exposed to dangerous toxins or faulty products. While in some instances disease or health problems are immediate, often it takes years for those who were exposed to become sick.
They need to have regular medical tests and receive treatment as soon as possible. The expense for these tests should be covered by the wrongdoer responsible, not by the victims. When money is awarded in these cases, it is typically put into a trust to cover only medical testing. Plaintiffs don’t receive the money to spend in whatever way they choose.
As introduced SB 657 eliminated medical monitoring claims until those who were exposed became sick. At that point, why bother? The purpose of medical monitoring is to provide regular testing to ensure that any illness is caught early enough to treat the condition. The Senate Judiciary Committee recognized this. The amended version protected claims, but required that monies awarded in these cases be put into trusts and used for medical treatment exclusively. The bill was passed by the Senate 33-0.
The amended version of SB 657 did exactly what CALA claims to want—“transparency and accountability to medical monitoring lawsuit awards.” Yet, the bill was killed by ATRA in the House. Why?
Despite Stauffer’s claims, “transparency and accountability” don’t increase corporate profits. What does increase CALA/ATRA benefactors’ corporate profits is eliminating claims. They don’t want the bill that provided transparency. They want the bill that gave corporations get immunity and everyone else a possible death sentence since cancer or other diseases wouldn’t be caught early enough for treatment.
CALA is also still pushing for an intermediate court as well, even though all the evidence shows that West Virginia doesn’t need it. Appeals are at a 30-year low, and other states our size don’t have these extra courts. More importantly, we don’t have millions of dollars to waste on it. That’s like demanding we build a swimming pool in the backyard when we can’t even make the mortgage payment on the house.
The truth is CALA and ATRA don’t care about West Virginia or West Virginians. All they want is what benefits the billion-dollar corporate special interests that fund them. They funneled millions into our state in 2014 to influence our elections and bought themselves a legislature.
This session that legislature wasted time passing bills to appease its benefactors instead of taking care of West Virginia.
The West Virginia Legislature is entrusted by West Virginia voters to do what’s in the best interest of our state, our people and our businesses. Instead, we took a backseat to the out-of-state, corporate special interests that bankrolled their elections. Voters should remember that in November. It’s time for a change. West Virginia legislators should put West Virginia first.
Flanigan is the president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.