West Virginia, states win COVID-19 funding lawsuit

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and a 13 state bipartisan coalition won a court case last week to protect the authority of states to lower taxes for their citizens.

The lawsuit, filed in April, argued federal U.S. Treasury officials cannot force states to relinquish control of their taxing authority in return for much-needed economic aid related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The states took specific issue with a stimulus bill provision that the coalition referred to as one of the most egregious power grabs by the federal government in the nation’s history, according to Morrisey.

 “Our lawsuit was designed to protect West Virginia from federal overreach. We have accomplished this,” Morrisey offered in a prepared statement. “This decision by the court also ensures our citizens aren’t stuck with an unforeseen bill from the feds years from now.”

Morrisey said the coalition of attorneys general argued that the mandate could be used to claw back a share of a state’s stimulus allotment if the Treasury Department concludes any part of the funds offset tax cuts, even indirectly. This would have created an impermissible chilling effect on state lawmakers’ willingness to reduce the tax burdens on their citizens, he explained.

The court explained that Congress must be clear if it intends to impose a condition on the granting of federal monies—that is, it must do so unambiguously, Morrisey stated. The court furthermore agreed with the plaintiff states that the federal tax mandate was ambiguous and violated the conditional spending doctrine, thus making it unconstitutional.

Finally, the court granted the request by the state attorneys general for a permanent injunction preventing the federal government from enforcing this provision against the 13 plaintiff states.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Read a copy of the lawsuit’s original complaint at https://bit.ly/39w2ssu.

Berkeley County sewer district settles lawsuits

MARTINSBURG – The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have settled a $864,000 settlement agreement with the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District. With ongoing environmental projects offsetting the total payment by the county sewer district, the settlement amounts to roughly $500,000.

“After years of continually modernizing the county’s sewage system, ensuring our communities have clean water and working to exceed regulatory standards, we’re relieved to finally reach this settlement,” stated Curtis Keller, Berkeley County’s sewer district general manager, said in a statement. 

The district was formed more than 40 years ago, and it has taken over several plants during that time with the majority of them being in the past 20 years.

 “In some cases, plants were dumping raw sewage and collection systems were overflowing as the county experienced tremendous growth,” Keller acknowledged in a statement. “The system is unquestionably better today.”

In 2011 the Opequon-Hedgesville Wastewater Treatment Plant was failing because the firm that designed the plant did not build properly for daily capacity. The plant was violating ammonia nitrogen limits because it couldn’t handle demand. Those violations resulted in multiple West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection lawsuits.

 After winning a lawsuit against the plant’s designer, the sewer district received $3 million in settlement money to spend on the wastewater plant. Needed plant repairs exceeded $3 million, but violations continually decreased, according to the sewer district. 

By 2018, the sewer district had reached compliance, according to Keller. By then, the sewer district had spent more than $70 million in four major plants and responded to many of the issues outlined in 2013. That year the Department of Justice filed its own lawsuit that determined more software improvements for the sewer system that were needed.

New utility scam calling around 

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Public Service Commission is warning customers about reports of a new phone call scam in West Virginia that has been seen in other areas of the country. In most instances, the callers identify themselves as Suddenlink representatives and explain the company is upgrading customers’ equipment to improve the quality of service. 

Under the scam, the caller is promised a $40 credit and free service for the months of November and December. The caller then informs the customer they must pay $200 for the new equipment and requests the customer’s banking information.

“If a caller claims to be from Suddenlink, or any utility, and makes an offer that sounds too good to be true, hang up on them and call the company at the customer service number that appears on your bill,” warned PSC Chairman Charlotte Lane. “These scammers are criminals and customers should never interact with them.”

Lane said nobody should give their banking or credit card information to anyone if it cannot be confirmed whether the caller represents a legitimate company or utility. And never share personal information, including Social Security numbers, she added. 

If you receive a call such as this, call the police and report it immediately, Lane said.

New West Virginia voting district maps available

Charleston – The website for the Secretary of State’s Office has posted new maps of the state’s congressional, state Senate and state House of Delegate election districts created by the West Virginia legislature.

Visit the website at www.GoVoteWV.com.

County Commissions have until Jan. 22 to update local precinct and magisterial boundaries ahead of the May 10 primary election.

All voters whose precincts or polling places are affected will be mailed an updated Voter Registration card before the May 2022 Primary Election. Once completed in early 2022, voters can also check their registration and polling location at www.GoVoteWV.com.

Secretary of State Mac Warner said that his office is working with all 55 of the state’s county clerks to help educate voters on the new districts and possible polling location changes.

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