Morrisey discusses office’s priorities during budget presentation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office has submitted a budget proposal with no changes from its previous two budgets, yet its leading officer has advised lawmakers to prepare for future funding requests.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Monday gave a presentation to the state Senate Finance Committee about the agency’s budget. The attorney general noted the previous two budgets have each been worth $4.9 million, and he expects the office will need an identical amount.

Yet Morrisey added the agency could need additional funding as it is involved in multiple legal challenges against the Biden administration.

“Right now, we’re not asking you for additional money, but we may have to come to you in upcoming months to ask again, depending on the status,” he said.

“Those are huge priorities for the citizens of this state, and I want to want sure we keep advancing those interests.”

Morrisey’s office is involved in lawsuits challenging federal vaccine mandates and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in addition to ongoing efforts addressing the misuse of opioids.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week halted the federal government’s policy requiring employees of large businesses to get vaccinated for the coronavirus or tested weekly. Justices ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule affecting businesses with at least 100 employees was an overreach. The court allowed a mandate impacting most health care facilities to continue to be enforced.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

West Virginia was a party in the lawsuit. Morrisey noted the state is involved in three other legal challenges over coronavirus-related policies.

“We expect there will be more cases coming up in the future,” he said.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Feb. 28 regarding West Virginia’s challenge against the federal government’s authority about air emissions. Petitioners are asking justices to consider reversing a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in which judges struck down a Trump administration rule providing states with flexibility on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The three-judge panel struck down the Affordable Clean Energy Rule last January, stating the Trump administration misunderstood the Clean Air Act and national air quality standards when drafting the regulation. The policy replaced the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s effort to curb emissions.

West Virginia, 19 other Republican-led states and coal mining companies are arguing Congress did not grant broad authority to the EPA to regulate carbon emissions. The parties additionally say extensive oversight would have significant economic effects.

“It’s very important for West Virginia and many of our energy jobs because this administration is trying to unilaterally decarbonize our nation,” the attorney general told state lawmakers. “Consistent with the cases that we’ve filed over a long period of time, we’re trying to ensure that any questions related to climate are addressed by the legislative bodies so that everybody has a chance to participate.”

Morrisey added, “If we lose, we’re tremendously concerned about the price of energy. We’re concerned what may happen to the job base in West Virginia,” Morrisey said. “We’re going to be putting a lot of energy and time into that matter.”

Legal efforts related to the opioid crisis continue; Morrisey expects trials involving drug manufacturers will begin in April, and additional proceedings will start in September. He has said payments to states should be based on how addiction impacted areas rather than population size.

“These are big cases for the state of West Virginia. We’re positioned very well,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work them hard.”

Morrisey also discussed his office’s efforts addressing Medicaid fraud. The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office received the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit from the state Office of Inspector General in September 2019. According to Morrisey, his office has handled 186 open fraud cases annually during his tenure, and indictments and criminal charges have increased 50% compared to the final three years of the Office of Inspector General’s work.

The Senate Finance Committee also heard presentations from the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

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