CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After a heated partisan debate Monday, the House of Delegates passed a bill tightening ethical standards and monetary practices for the state attorney general.
The Attorney General Ethics and Accountability Act passed along a party-line vote: 52 Democrats were for it, 44 Republicans voted against it. Four members didn't vote.
"When you strip away personalities and politics, it comes down to the simple question: Is this good public policy?" House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said in a statement after the vote. "I truly believe this is."
There was plenty of personality and politics during the debate Monday afternoon, as Democrats and Republicans found themselves at each other's throats over ethics, taxpayer money and the state constitution.
Democrats argue the bill establishes a formal procedure for the attorney general to follow if there's a conflict of interest regarding a lawsuit. The bill also requires monies received through the office's legal actions go to the state Legislature for appropriation.
Republicans don't mind the second part.
For years, the GOP - and many Democrats - argued former longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw inappropriately used funds from settlements his office won.
The first part of the bill, however, is directly connected to allegations involving Morrisey.
The state is suing pharmaceuticals company Cardinal Health Inc. Cardinal has paid Capitol Counsel, the lobbying firm of Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, more than $1 million for lobbying services in recent years, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Morrisey and his wife have also lobbied for pharmaceutical company Sanofi, which is also the target of a 2012 lawsuit filed under McGraw.
Morrisey told the Daily Mail in August he had recused himself in a third case involving another former employer. He said he had recused himself much earlier in the year, but couldn't provide any documentation at the time to show he was off the case.
The Charleston Gazette has reported Morrisey continued to oversee the Cardinal Health lawsuit; Morrisey denies any wrongdoing.
Democrats used the allegations in their arguments for the bill.
"There are some of us who aren't sure that he is going to keep his duty of loyalty and to aggressively represent the state," said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia. "Or whether maybe he is more loyal to the company that paid his wife (and her firm) millions of dollars."
Elected in 2012, Morrisey is the only Republican holding top constitutional office in West Virginia.
Several Republican delegates on Monday called the ethics act a "vindictive ploy" and "witch hunt" that unfairly targets Morrisey. Morrisey's office echoed that in a statement issued shortly after the vote.
"(The bill), as it currently stands, will cost the state many millions of dollars, jeopardize existing investigations and lawsuits, and compromises the attorney general's ability to fight for the Second Amendment and jobs in West Virginia," Morrisey spokeswoman Beth Ryan said.
"If this bill passes, it will plunge the state into a constitutional crisis."
House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said the actions weren't vindictive. They came in direct response to Morrisey's alleged actions.
Manchin described a scenario where a family hires an attorney to sue a company only to find out the attorney's wife received large payments from it.
"Is there anybody here who would not be appalled or incensed if that happened to them?" Manchin said.