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Statehouse Beat: Warner's firings cost state $3.4 million

Secretary of State Mac Warner told Senate Finance Committee members that BRIM hasn’t shared with him the amount of legal fees and other costs surrounding the 12 wrongful termination cases against him that cost the state $3.2 million.

Warner may not have the numbers, but I do, as requested from the Board of Risk and Insurance Management, and they are as follows:

Steptoe and Johnson, the defense counsel that represented Warner, $190,012; MacCorkle Lavender, a law firm that represents employers in labor disputes and employment issues, including workplace discrimination, $46,032; O’Dell Law Mediation, $10,039; Harris Reporting, $4,532; Edgewood Productions (video depositions), $4,380; Action Legal Discovery, $2,308.

Total: $257,305, bringing the total cost of Warner’s purge of longtime employees to $3,459,805.

(That’s 108.12 Loughry couches, if you’re scoring at home.)

One thing I find interesting in Warner’s testimony before the Legislature, and in deposition, is the lack of empathy for the workers he fired, allegedly for incompetence, even though testimony was that no personnel files were reviewed, and no improvement plans were proposed.

No concerns expressed for firing career state employees in the middle, or near the end of their work-lives (and some working long past retirement age), or what happened to them or their families, just the cold assertion that he has an absolute right to fire at-will employees (although, as a lawyer, he testified in deposition that he was aware that at-will employees cannot be fired for discriminatory grounds).

I also recently confirmed that Opinion Strategies CEO Bob Adams, whose Revive America PAC ran an independent expenditure campaign supporting Warner in the 2016 election, including buying more than $36,000 of air time on MetroNews, filed Ethics complaints against several of the employees while they were suing Warner, presumably in an attempt to intimidate. All complaints were dismissed for lack of cause.

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Quote of the day, 2001 edition: “I believe this bill to be unconstitutional because it does not stick to a single purpose.” — then-House Minority Leader Charlie Trump, R-Morgan, contending that a bill legalizing and regulating Limited Video Lottery in bars and clubs violated the state Constitution’s prohibition on legislation embracing more than a single object. Trump at the time argued the LVL bill was unconstitutional because it also included a provision increasing maximum wager amounts for racetrack video lottery machines. (Of course, both LVL and racetrack video lottery are licensed and regulated by the same agency, the state Lottery Commission.)Based on history, I’m eagerly awaiting Trump’s assessment of the omnibus education bill, a 144-page bill that affects 62 sections of state code, ranging from the school aid formula to creation of charter schools, to establishing educational savings accounts, includes changes to seniority rules, and provides for pay raises, differential pay, and banking of leave time, and has a bill title alone that goes on for more than three pages under the broad heading of “relating generally to comprehensive education reform.”

Using the same logic, I guess we could lump all of Gov. Jim Justice’s legislative proposals into a single omnibus bill “relating generally to bills requested by the governor.”

Challenges of the single object rule have come up infrequently. In 1993, now-retired lawyer George Carenbauer won a case before the Supreme Court overturning the practice at the time of combining all rulemaking review bills into a single omnibus bill for passage as a violation of single object.

(Since then, the rule bundles have been broken down into separate bills for each state department, for executive branch officers, and one for licensing boards.)

Two things stood out to me in a cursory review of the bill. One is that it contains a non-serverability clause — meaning that if any one portion of the legislation is overturned in court, the entire package, including teacher pay raises, is void.

Normally, bills have just the opposite, a severability clause, so if one portion of a new law is overturned, the remainder of the law stays in effect.

Clearly, this is a cynical attempt by the Senate leadership to tell teachers and union leadership that if they want their $2,120 pay raise, they’ve got to shallow a whole lot of policy that they find anathematic. I just don’t see teachers selling their birthrights for a mess of pottage.

The other provision is to increase maximum class size for elementary school classes from 25 to 28, with the potential of going as high as 31 students. How exactly does larger class size comport with the goal of improving what leadership has called a broken educational system.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker gave a vague answer about requests for flexibility, without specifying exactly who made the requests. Questioning in committee Friday by Senate Democrats established that the state Board of Education had little input on the drafting of the bill.

As of this columnist’s deadline, Rucker and Senate leadership appear intent on having the committee advance the bill over the weekend, an inexplicable notion of urgency given that the session will just hit the one-third mark on Monday.

Some are calling the omnibus bill “Mitch’s Revenge,” and that moniker just might stick.

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Understand the House Republican caucus is under significant pressure to take up legislation to lower the severance tax on coal. That includes pressure from the 1863 PAC, which has financial backing from Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, a PAC that made sizeable independent expenditures for GOP candidates last fall, including House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. In 2016, the Senate passed legislation to reduce the severance tax on coal from 5 percent to 3 percent, but the House never took it up.•••

Finally, we opened with numbers, so let’s close with some. With a few stragglers outstanding, lobbyists spent $97,745 during the September-December reporting period, according to disclosures filed with the Ethics Commission.

That’s up from $87,669 during the same reporting period in 2017, but well below the $188,266 spent in 2016, a gubernatorial election year.

As is typical with this reporting period in election years, the vast majority of spending was in the form of campaign contributions, topped by $12,500 of contributions disclosed by Christina Cameron, who lobbies for MIR, LLC, which operates 31 LVL parlors around the state under the Mimi’s, Pattys, Paula’s and Sofia’s brand names.

Others who listed sizable campaign contributions included Larry Swann, $4,750; Larry Pack, $4,050; Sarah Smith, $3,000; and uber-lobbyist turned state Sen. Paul Hardesty, $3,000.

(As I’m writing this, the astonishing news that Richard Ojeda is suspending his presidential campaign 10 days after resigning from the Senate to campaign full-time is breaking. Don’t guess that Hardesty would consider resigning, or that Justice would reappoint Ojeda to his old seat if he did.)

As is frequently the case, the big-money event of the September-December reporting period was the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Leadership Retreat, held Dec. 6-7 at The Greenbrier.

As disclosed by the President Steve Roberts, the chamber spent a total of $5,630 to provide meals and lodging for legislators and state officials (and often, spouses) attending the retreat as guest speakers.

That included Senate President Mitch Carmichael, $613; Delegates John Kelly and spouse, $796; Steve Kelly and spouse, $796; Steve Westfall and spouse, $796; Jason Harshbarger and spouse, $923; Moore Capito and spouse, $504 (Capito was also presented with a trophy award valued at $122); John Mandt and spouse, $854; Workforce West Virginia director Russell Fry, $424; and James Bailey, counsel to Gov. Justice, and spouse, $715.

Some organizations hosted a series of post-election, pre-session dinners or receptions around the state attended by legislators.

FirstEnergy hosted dinners in Parkersburg, Martinsburg, Clarksburg (twice) and Weirton between Nov. 30 and Dec. 28, according to lobbyist Sammy Gray’s disclosure.

Total cost was $7,366, while cost for the 46 legislators who attended was $3,536, at an average cost of $78.33 per meal.

The West Virginia Business and Industry Council had a reception Dec. 11 in Charleston at a total cost of $3,820, and $1,432 for the 45 legislators in attendance. A reception the following night in Huntington ran $2,740, with a cost of $843 for the 30 legislators attending, as disclosed by lobbyist Chris Hamilton.

(There’s some logic to holding dinners or receptions post election. Consider that lobbyist Phil Reale reported taking five senators to dinner on Sept. 16, at a cost of $100.16 each.

Three of those senators were re-elected, Sens. Carmichael, Craig Blair and Ryan Weld, but two, Sens. Ed Gaunch and Ryan Ferns, were voted out in November.)

Meanwhile, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney continued his holiday tradition of having fruit baskets delivered to 25 state agencies or offices, including governor, secretary of state, auditor, attorney general, Senate president, House speaker, Senate Finance, House Finance, House Government Organization, House Energy, adjutant general, Department of Environmental Protection, Miners Health, Safety and Training, among others. Total cost was $1,658, or $66.32 each.

Reach Phil Kabler at

philk@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-1220 or follow

@PhilKabler on Twitter.

Funerals for Saturday, August 24, 2019

Barron, Dennis - 11 a.m., Airborne Church, Martinsburg.
Baylor, Elizabeth - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.
Bonds Jr., Patrick - 1 p.m., King of Glory International Ministries, Charleston.
Burgess, Corey - 5 p.m., Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Burns, Helen - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Inc., Grantsville.
Caldwell, Gary - 6 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.
Casto, Carroll - 1 p.m., Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor.
Casto, Roger - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.
Duty, Fred - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.
Fisher, Bernard - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.
Gwinn, Lloyd - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Habjan, Nathan - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay. 
Hall, Daniel - Noon, Witcher Baptist Church.
Hinkle, Ethel - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Hoffman, Bruce - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.  
Kinder, Siegel - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.
Kyler, Virgil - 11 a.m., Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Reedy.
Palmer, William - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston. 
Raynes Sr., Steven - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.
Truman, James - 2 p.m., Newton Baptist Church, Newton.
Turner, Keith - Noon, Full Gospel Assembly,  Huntington. 
Webb, Antoinette - 11 a.m., SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Oak Hill.
Wilson, Greg - Noon, Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.
Withrow, James - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.