MORGANTOWN – State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey spent some time with members of the Morgantown Area Partnership on Friday, talking about some of the work of his office and fielding some questions.
Three of his major focuses, he said, are defending state laws, fighting the opioid crisis and fighting federal overreach.
He said 2022 was “probably our single biggest year ever defending state laws and ultimately achieving things in the office.”
His office spent about six months working on the HOPE Scholarship challenge, ultimately prevailing in the state Supreme Court. They are currently defending charter school law and the 2021 law prohibiting biological males from participating in female sports teams in secondary schools and colleges.
On opioid litigation, he said he spends about four hours a day. “It’s a big, big deal for West Virginia.”
In mid-January, he announced an $83 million settlement with Walgreens – following prior settlements with Walmart, CVS and Rite Aid – leaving just one outstanding pharmacy case, against Kroger.
While he was criticized for not joining in broader multi-state settlements, he said, he’s been successful, achieving the highest per-capita settlements in the country.
As previously reported, the money from all opioid settlements will be distributed under the terms of the West Virginia First Memorandum of Understanding. Morrisey told the MAP members that the courts recently approved the MOU and he’s now working with the Legislature on details of the 11-member West Virginia First Foundation board, which will oversee the trust fund built from 72.5% of the settlement dollars.
Six board members, he said, will be drawn from the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ si behavioral health regions and five will be appointed by the governor.
Morrisey said he hopes all of the funds and the services they will provide – going to the state, local governments and the foundation – will make a difference on the state’s workforce participation rate, which is lowest in the nation.
On challenging federal overreach, he said, “Businesses want certainty and predictability in their business environment.”
His most recent efforts in that area deal with challenging the federal Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. “That could have a cripling effect on economic activity,” he said.
Morrisey is on the same page with West Virginia’s Congressional delegation on that topic. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on Thursday led all 48 of her Senate Republican colleagues in introducing a formal challenge to WOTUS through a Congressional Review Act joint resolution of disapproval.
Capito said the rule changes the definition of Waters of the United States in a way that will expand federal regulatory authority.
Morrisey told the MAP members his challenges to federal actions are based on principle of separation of powers: Congress makes the laws, not unelected bureaucrats.
Morrisey had a receptive and supportive audience regarding all of the topics he raised. One member said, “I think government overreach is out of control.”
Morrisey said much of the success against federal actions is founded in multi-state litigation efforts. “It helps if you go in with a team.” They can share resources and avoid duplication of work.
Arizona has been a leading state in some of this litigation, such as the recent challenge to the ending of Title 42 immigration policy and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s plan to step into the area of climate change regulation.
But Arizona has seen a change in its AG’s office, with Democrat Kris Mayes succeeding Republican AG Mark Brnovich and bringing a new agenda. The Dominion Post asked Morrisey about that.
“That’s a big loss,” he said. “I thought Mark Brnovich did a nice job.” He equated the loss to a loss of bandwidth. “It’s important to have a lot of bandwidth because we’re up against the U.S. Department of Justice and they have legions of lawyers. … That’s hard to compete against.”
Another member asked Morrisey how often he gets around the state to talk to people. He said he spends most of his time at the office, but this visit was part of a recent tour. He visited five counties last wee, five more on Thursday and Friday and will see three more next week.
He knows he doesn’t make everyone happy, he said. “Sometimes feelings get hurt, but we have a job to do and we have to make sure that people are protected from bad ideas.”
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