CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a debate that lasted more than an hour, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation Monday that sets strict ethics rules for Attorney General Patrick Morrissey's office.
House Democrats called the bill (HB4490) "good policy," while Republicans declared it would create a "constitutional crisis."
House members approved the legislation 52-44, mostly along party lines.
"It preserves the integrity of the attorney general's office," said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton.
Republicans described the bill as a "witch hunt" and "personal attack" against Morrisey.
"In every way, it's simply outrageous," said Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer.
The bill requires the attorney general to step aside from lawsuits his office has filed against companies or individuals that have paid him or any immediate family members within the past five years.
The legislation also makes clear that the Legislature has the power to distribute funds recovered by the attorney general's office from lawsuit settlements or awards.
"This brings the money back to the Legislature, and we appropriate the funds," Sponaugle said.
House Republicans said they support that section of the bill but oppose language that targets Morrisey and strengthens his office's ethics rules.
Several GOP House members said the Legislature didn't have the power to rein in the attorney general.
"This bill handcuffs the attorney general," said Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Merce.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said the legislation was unnecessary because the attorney general already must comply with the state Ethics Act and West Virginia Bar's "Rules of Professional Conduct" for lawyers.
"This bill is unconstitutional," Armstead said.