W.Va. attorney general speaks on business climate

WEIRTON – West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the Mountain State is the third largest producer of energy in the U.S., with an economically strategic location and competitive wages for its work force, but ranks among the lowest for economic growth.

Morrisey said excessive regulations by the federal government is one cause, but he’s also seeking suggestions from the public on how to improve the state’s business climate at a series of town hall meetings held throughout the state. One will be held at 5:30 p.m. today at Brooke Hills Park, with another to follow at 7:30 p.m. at the Mary H. Weir Public Library.

“We’re trying to turn some of those comments into actionable policies that can make things better for the state,” Morrisey told members of the Weirton Rotary Club on Wednesday.

The attorney general said a recurring issue at the town meetings has been prescription drug abuse.

Local law enforcement officials also have complained of an increase in residents becoming addicted to prescription medication and often turning to crime to support their habits.

Morrisey said he’s putting together a team within his office to work with law enforcement at all levels to address the problem.

Prior to his election last year, Morrisey was involved in a multi-state legal challenge to Obamacare and counseled members of Congress on ways to repeal the health care reform law.

“I’m very worried West Virginia won’t be ready for Obamacare on Oct. 1,” he said, referring to the deadline set for states to establish health insurance exchanges.

He said delays in implementing them likely will result in lower enrollment and consequently, high premiums.

A Republican, Morrisey noted concerns about Obamacare are across the board politically, with three major labor unions voicing opposition recently.

Leaders of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and UNITE-HERE, a union representing workers in several industries, have warned that businesses could, and have, cut full-time workers to part-time to avoid being required to provide health benefits required by law. But he said as attorney general, he must enforce laws he doesn’t always support.

But Morrisey said he will be a strong advocate for the state when it comes to changing federal regulations he believes are excessive and harmful to businesses.

The attorney general and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have joined officials in Kansas and Montana seeking the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion about whether the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations for greenhouse emissions from stationary sources, such as coal-fueled power plants, are in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Morrissey said other similar actions are expected in the future.

A few Weirton Rotary members are physicians who raised concerns about regulations on health care facilities.

Morrisey was asked to address the state’s procedure for issuing certificates of need for new facilities and programs, which allows health care facilities in neighboring states to file protests.

The attorney general said he’s been told such policies have hurt health care facilities in the Northern Panhandle, which compete with those in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

As a side note, Morrisey said his office has issued an alert of scams in which con artists are attempting to capitalize on confusion over Obamacare. He said the perpetrator of one scam has called residents requesting Social Security numbers and other personal information so an “Obamacare card” may be issued to them when no such card exists.

Morrissey also has advised of scams, by telephone or e-mail, in which con artists pose as Medicare employees or offer poor or non-existent health coverage while requesting bank account numbers and other information.

He urged residents not to provide such information. He said they can help the state attorney general’s office to thwart any suspected scam by reporting specific details, such as the caller’s phone number if the recipient of the call has caller ID, to his office.

Morrissey said scams may be reported by calling (304) 558-8986 or toll free at (800) 368-8808.