Morrisey bill appears to be dead
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Senate likely won't take up legislation that targets Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said his colleagues have shown scant interest in advancing a House bill (HB4490) that would toughen ethics rules at Morrisey's office.
"There's not been a lot of support," Palumbo said Wednesday. "There's not great interest."
The Senate Judiciary Committee didn't put the legislation on its agenda today -- the last day to get bills out of committees before the end of the legislative session Saturday night.
Senators have noted West Virginia already has laws on the books that would address potential conflicts of interest, Palumbo said. Lawyers must comply with the West Virginia Bar's "Rules of Professional Conduct," while the state Ethics Act establishes rules for public officials.
"On the conflict side, most people think there are already rules in place that govern that type of thing," Palumbo said.
On Feb. 24, House members approved the attorney general ethics bill 52-44, mostly along party lines. Democrats called the bill "good policy," while Republican House members and Morrisey said it would create a "constitutional crisis."
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 likely would have forced Morrisey to hire outside lawyers to oversee at least two pending cases against drug companies. Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, lobbies for the firms in Washington, D.C.
Palumbo said senators were wary of legislation that sets ethics rules for only one public official.
"It potentially unfairly targets one office in the state, rather than broadly applying it to everyone," he said.
The House bill also makes clear that the Legislature has the power to distribute funds recovered by the attorney general's office from lawsuit settlements and awards.
Senators support that section of the bill, Palumbo said.
A Morrisey spokeswoman said she wasn't sure when the office would comment on the Senate's lack of action on the bill.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.