CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Democrats in the House of Delegates had enough votes Monday to pass a bill that would add an additional layer of ethics requirements on the state Attorney General.
The bill passed 52-44 despite claims from House Republicans that it’s unconstitutional and will throw the state into a constitutional crisis.
Del. John Shott, R-Mercer, called the bill a “vindictive political campaign against one person,” current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Jefferson County Republican who won the statewide office in 2012.
The bill would require Morrisey and future state attorneys general to meet additional ethics requirements mainly aimed at potential conflicts of interest.
“It’s a good bill,” claimed Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Hardy. “It does two good things. It preserves the integrity of the attorney general’s office and it protects the reputation of the attorney holding the attorney general’s spot.”
Morrisey has been criticized for not disclosing some conflicts of interest in connection with companies the state has filed lawsuits against.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, criticized Morrisey for not meeting with the House Judiciary Committee about the bill and discuss the problems he has with the legislation.
“This is not vindictive. If this were vindictive at least he could come before us and tell us that, tell us why it was vindictive,” Manchin said.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, called the bill embarrassing and unconstitutional.
“This bill allows another branch of government to come in and determine rules that the judiciary has already established,” he said.
Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said Morrisey has brought this additional review on himself.
“Given the conduct and the questions—I think it’s only appropriate that we do that,” she said.
The bill also requires money won in lawsuits by the state Attorney General to be forwarded to the legislature for appropriation, an issue Morrisey has promoted since he ran for office.
Attorney General Morrisey’s office released a statement Monday evening:
“The Office of the Attorney General is deeply disappointed that the West Virginia House of Delegates today passed unconstitutional and highly partisan legislation. This bill targets one person in state government while not imposing similar standards on legislators or other Constitutional offices. House Bill 4490, as it currently stands, will cost the state many millions of dollars, jeopardize existing investigations and lawsuits, and compromises the Attorney General’s ability to fight for the Second Amendment and jobs in West Virginia. If this bill passes, it will plunge the state into a constitutional crisis.”
Del. Shott agreed.
“In many ways this is a sad situation. In many ways it’s a shameful situation and in only any way it’s simply outrageous,” Shott said.
The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.