By Derek Tyson, The Independent Herald Editor
PINEVILLE, W.Va. – Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hosted a tour of meetings across Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer counties yesterday, bringing news of his office’s current endeavors and offering an ear to residents seeking to address issues in their daily life.
As far as the work in the Attorney General’s office, Morrisey broke it down into “three buckets of issues.”
The first was West Virginia’s Opioid Epidemic, with Morrisey saying it felt as if the state had almost taken a step back once businesses shuttered and life became more and more isolated for many struggling with addiction.
“When everything was closed and people weren’t getting the drugs they needed, the mental healthcare services they needed, a level of education and prevention, it slipped back and that concerns me,” said Morrisey. “I’m hopeful that we will see a bounce back in the right direction although the problem is very complicated. Pills were the gateway in but we’ve seen an increase in fentanyl and meth and other products over the last couple years.”
While the Attorney General Office doesn’t have original criminal jurisdiction in the drug area, Morrisey said his office has worked closely with colleagues in Prosecutor’s Offices as well as the US Attorney’s Office.
“We do have some civil opportunities and we’ve used that power to highlight the problem of fentanyl, especially since we’re finding that it is originally sourced from China and Mexico. The basic ingredient starts in China, then goes to Mexico before coming into the United States,” said Morrisey. “When I look at the immigration problem we have in our country, the way it manifests itself the most in West Virginia is through the drug problem. We don’t have as many undocumented aliens here but we do have a lot of drugs. A lot of those drugs are sourced from Mexico.”
Morrisey said his office had at first reached out the Department of Homeland Security in a letter hoping to address drugs crossing the southern border of the United States, but this morphed into a lawsuit in terms of the immigration policy not wanting to catch the fentanyl crossing the border.
Litigation against pharmaceutical companies responsible for bringing in large volumes of opioids into the State is also an ongoing issue for the Office.
“In respect to the legal pain pills, we’ve been involved a lot of litigation with the manufacturers, the pharmacies, the wholesalers. West Virginia is going to end up doing as well or better than any State in the nation. There’s still a lot of work in front of us though,” said Morrisey. “We’ve been negotiating with towns and cities to try to come up with a recovery fund, an abatement fund, that would serve all the counties and cities in West Virginia. We’re optimistic that we can get that done.”
Morrisey said he hoped to have an announcement for the cities and counties involved in the suits in the months ahead.
“We have a trial that’s set for April against some of the pharmaceutical manufacturers and we’re preparing for that. We opted out of the national settlement and we think it will work to our advantage. We believe it will work to our advantage because the national settlement was not going to treat West Virginia properly,” said Morrisey. “I want to make sure that we’re using all our leverage and we’re going to make sure West Virginia gets the resources it needs to address this problem.”
The second area of issues concerned the Attorney General’s Office work as the State’s Attorney, defending the work product of the Legislature.
“If its presumed constitutional, then we step up and defend it. We have a lot we’re working on now. There are challenges to some of the new educational laws, we have to defend the charter school bill, there’s another called the Integrity in Women’s Sports Act which is trying to preserve competition, which is where a biological male is not going to compete against biological females,” said Morrisey.
“We’re the lawyers for the State and we’re going to stand up and defend the legislature’s work product. I think a lot of these are good bills that will help the State. We’ve actually been busier doing defense of state legislature’s work than we’ve ever seen in the past. Every day, it seems like the ACLU and Mountain State Justice are suing the state of West Virginia. In most cases, all except one, we’ve been prevailing in court. But we don’t take any of that for granted. We have to make sure the right decision prevails regardless of who files,” continued Morrisey.
His third “bucket of issues” was his opposition to the Biden Administration plan to decarbonize the United States as well as vaccine mandates for the workforce.
“In this area, it’s particularly important that we preserve what limited jobs are available on the coal front. We’ve been doing that and we know for the last 8 years, we’ve been fighting off the EPA as they try to shut down our coal-fired power plants,” said Morrisey. “Well our big case has been granted by the US Supreme Court on the scope of the EPA’s authority to de-carbonize our country with very few limits. I’m a believer that when you have a good thing going, you have to keep that going while you diversify. Everyone talks about diversification, but you don’t want to lose more jobs while you diversify. That just makes the challenge all the greater.”
Morrisey said the Biden Administration wants to shut down the remaining coal-fired plants within the next 8 years, citing the hurt it would bring to West Virginia.
“We still derive 86% of our power from coal. We have to make sure that we give West Virginia an opportunity to succeed in that new world and I’m fighting like hell to do that. We’ve been able to protect jobs but we have a lot more work in front of us,” said Morrisey.
Conversation then shifted to talk of vaccine mandates imposed on the workforce across the country.
“The Biden Administration’s vaccine mandates, this is another big deal. We know there have been efforts on the part of OSHA and the Biden Administration to put a vaccine mandate in place. We worked with a team of 24 State Attorneys General and there is now an injunction against the OSHA/Biden mandate. Yesterday, a judge in Missouri adjoined the CMS mandate. A lot of healthcare workers who are unable to or are refusing to take the vaccine, they would lose their job effective December 6th. We’re trying to give people an opportunity to protect their job,” said Morrisey. “I’m very concerned in a State like West Virginia where healthcare access is such an important challenge, that we don’t have a rash of firings to make our access even more difficult.”
Morrisey said he also works hard to defend 2nd Amendment rights, as well as being involved in Mississippi’s case with the Supreme Court, seeking to give states the ability to better regulate, reduce and/or eliminate abortions.