CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of problems with putting numbers into legislation is that, as time passes, the numbers rarely get updated to keep up with modern economic realities.
Case in point is the bill that passed the Senate last week to raise the fines for allowing livestock to run loose on others' property (SB47). The fines of $5 to $10 in current law have not been updated since 1913.
Back then, the fine probably equaled a day's wages; today, it won't even get you to Princeton on the Turnpike.
Using similar logic, House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, is sponsoring a bill (SB2558) to remove the salary of the secretary of the Department Health and Human Resources from state code.
Naturally, there's been blowback, with critics complaining about pay raises for department heads. (Which is another argument against putting salaries in state code -- anytime they need to be adjusted, debate over pay raises is inevitable.)
Perdue said the reality is that the current salary ($95,000) is too low to attract individuals qualified to run an agency with nearly 6,000 employees and a $5 billion operating budget.
Indeed, there are 33 DHHR employees (mainly physicians and pharmacists) who make more than the secretary.
Perdue insists the legislation isn't directed at current acting Secretary Rocco Fucillo, although clearly the current situation at DHHR is far from ideal.
Fucillo rarely works out of Charleston (apparently, he didn't get Marissa Mayer's memo), and the agency is in chaos from the administrative offices (re: the Perry, Taylor and Law suspensions/firings) to the personnel grievances and patient treatment issues at Sharpe Hospital, and beyond.
Perdue said the best-case option would be to have a physician and/or hospital administrator as DHHR secretary, but the $95,000 salary is the deal-breaker.
Speaking of Fucillo, the latest update on the Susan Perry/Jennifer Taylor whistleblower suit over their extended suspensions (and Taylor's subsequent firing) is that the case is still in limbo.
There was a hearing in Kanawha Circuit Judge Jim Stucky's courtroom last week on the DHHR's motion to dismiss, and the parties are to submit findings of fact next week, according to Walt Auvil, attorney for Perry and Taylor.
Auvil said there's very little dispute over what happened during DHHR's awarding of a lucrative marketing and advertising contract. The issue is over the interpretation of whether Perry, Taylor (and former communications director John Law) were trying to interfere or intervene in the matter.
Arguably, Fucillo blew a hole in DHHR's grounds for dismissal of the whistleblower suit -- that neither Perry nor Taylor had suffered a detrimental impact -- when he fired Taylor.