CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Attorney General-elect Patrick Morrisey wants to "kick start" a better business climate by reviewing and interpreting state laws and regulations.
Morrisey wants to issue more advisory opinions to "clarify how some of the regulations may be modified."
Courts can overturn these non-binding advisory opinions, but they still carry weight, particularly in matters that do not go to court. Current Democratic Attorney General Darrell McGraw issues advisory opinions infrequently.
Morrisey said state officials would have to ask him before he could issue an advisory opinion.
Asked why state officials would seek opinions clarifying laws and regulations they may have helped write, Morrisey said there's a lot of inertia in state government.
"Unless you're looking at things, people sometimes don't question whether they are in the best interests of the people," Morrisey said. "We're going to be looking at a lot of regulations that perhaps people haven't examined in a long time."
Perhaps most significantly, Morrisey suggested state legislators could ask him for his opinion. Right now, this is not done.
"The leaders in the Legislature can ask for an opinion," Morrisey said in an interview after his first post-election press conference last week. "There's been questions as to whether it only applies to the speaker and to the Senate president, and there may be interpretations that it can apply more broadly."
If these interpretations are correct and rank-and-file legislators can ask the attorney general for advisory opinions, Morrisey and other Republicans will have a freer hand to look at public policy. That's because Republican legislators would be able to ask him for opinions.
Right now, every other executive branch agency is controlled by Democrats, the House and Senate leaders are both Democrats, and the state Supreme Court has a Democratic majority.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said Morrisey's comments piqued his interest. He said being able to ask the attorney general for an advisory opinion could help legislators make sure the law was clear and help them advise constituents.
"Essentially, the attorney general is the attorney for state government - just like those who in city government would go to their prosecuting attorney, I think it's entirely reasonable and within the scope of his authority," Armstead said.
Armstead said lawmakers and constituents have had trouble getting advice from McGraw.
The Sissonville Volunteer Fire Department, for instance, asked McGraw recently if the department had to pay union-scale wages when it was building its new firehouse. The old one was destroyed in a fire.
"We were told, 'You can't get an opinion from the attorney general because you're not a government agency,'" said Tom Miller, secretary of the fire department's board of directors.
Miller said that didn't stop the state's labor department from ruling the fire department had to pay higher wages. That increased costs by several hundred thousand dollars.
Miller said he wanted to go back to McGraw's office to confirm the labor department's interpretation. Again, the fire department was turned away, Miller said.