Attorney general gives COVID-19 pandemic statewide status update
CHARLES TOWN – In a sit-down interview with the Chronicle on July 26, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey spoke about several issues in his office and how his staff continues to provide service to the people of West Virginia in what he terms as “very diverse.”
Morrisey, who lives in Shannondale, said he travels to the Eastern Panhandle as often as possible; however, he has spent the majority of his time in his Charleston office dealing with multiple issues, many related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The diverse issues include dealing with issues involving the governor, consumer relations, debt collection, scams and price gouging,” Morrisey said.
The issue of the pandemic and local authority have raised questions not previously seen, he added.
“We are learning all the time,” Morrisey said. “Decisions we made in March or April don’t necessarily hold in June and July. Things change daily.”
A recent decision focused on whether the governor is required to call the legislature into session, as the State of Emergency in West Virginia has extended for months with no end in sight.
“Legally the governor is not required to call them into session per the West Virginia Constitution,” Morrisey said.
While Morrisey believes the authority of the office may need to be narrowed, that would be the job of the legislature once they return to regular session.
“They should look at those emergency powers,” Morrisey said. “They should revise those and clean up the statutes.”
According to Morrisey, the COVID-19 response has been a top priority, especially with regard to consumer protection. Specific areas of focus have been landlord/tenant relations and eviction policies, and scams preying on individuals and businesses.
“We have worked to identify reputable companies providing personal protective equipment loans and the equipment itself,” Morrisey said, referring to false claims for magical elixirs to cure the coronavirus, as well as scams promising equipment that, once ordered and paid for, never arrives.
“We send our investigators out to look at these complaints,” he said.
One example of price gouging he shared, involved egg producers in Virginia who have shown up to a 300-percent price increase.
In addition to directly-related pandemic issues, the ripple effect can be seen in areas such as election law, as there is an increase in absentee voting. Morrisey referenced Pendleton County and the issue with found ballots.
“This will continue to be hectic as we move toward the November election,” he said.
Morrisey confirmed his office continues to work in the area of substance abuse legislation, especially as the use of illegal drugs and overdoses continue to rise in the Mountain State.
“For September and October, we have 23 arguments before the State Supreme Court. That involves a lot of work for the number of people we have,” he said. “In addition, we handle all criminal appeals for the state.”
He encourages citizens in the state to contact his office with any concerns, because his job is to serve the people.
“We have the obligation to get it right and interpret the law because we enforce the laws,” he said. “If it’s unconstitutional, it shouldn’t be enforced. The details matter.”