CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill aiming to rein in the state Attorney General’s use of lawsuit settlement funds has been reintroduced in the Legislature and is already moving along.

The bill would require funds won in cases by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office to be deposited to the state’s General Revenue Fund.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office is questioning the wisdom of the bill.

“We are deeply concerned that the way the bill is drafted is unconstitutional and would severely limit the Attorney General’s authority to protect the public,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement attributed to Anthony Martin, chief deputy attorney general.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill out Monday afternoon. It’s also referenced to the House Finance Committee.

The bill passed the House 95-5 last year but stalled out in the Senate Finance Committee as the regular session was coming to an end.

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Patrick Morrisey

The issue heated up again this fall after Morrisey announced his office was transferring $1 million to the State Police to hire staff for the crime lab to help clear a case backlog. Questions arose about whether the Attorney General has the authority to appropriate state funds to another agency.

There was a lot of explanation in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday afternoon but not a lot of argument over the bill.

Shawn Fluharty

A few questions came from Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, who posed them to Martin of the Attorney General’s office.

Fluharty: “Did your office request this legislation?”

Martin: “No sir, we did not.”

Fluharty: “Do you know why the AG’s office was singled out?”

Martin: “No, I do not.”

Fluharty: “Are there other agencies that receive monies similar to the Attorney General?”

Martin: “Yes, some of the agencies that we represent.”

Fluharty was a “yea” on the bill as it passed the House last March 29.

The bill directs that recovered funds and assets to be deposited into the state’s General Revenue Fund or held in trust to do so.

It prohibits agreements to settlement or agreement terms that are contrary to that.

And it requires a quarterly transfer of funds from the Consumer Protection Recovery Fund into the General Revenue Fund. It also requires quarterly reporting by the Attorney General about the status of the funds designated to be turned over.

Morrisey’s office says that as drafted the legislation would have discouraged a $160 million settlement with Frontier that required the company to establish higher speed Internet meeting promises to consumers.

The office also expressed concern that the proposal would suppress state agencies’ motivations to file suits to recover damages when they are harmed if those wouldn’t receive money from their efforts.

“The Legislature should control the power of the purse, but such power can not be exercised in a manner that impedes the Attorney General’s or the Executive Branch’s constitutional functions,” Martin stated in the remarks distributed by Morrisey’s office.

“We are hopeful that the House will alter its approach as delegates learn about the legal and policy flaws of this bill.”

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