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WV's 2013 agenda should be focused on jobs

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Greg Thomas Greg Thomas

Greg Thomas is the executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

What issues should policymakers address during this year's legislative session? Some topics already receiving attention from legislators include education, prisons, drug abuse and child poverty.

None of these topics, though, address the issue voters consistently identify as their top priority: jobs. Sadly, we hear little to no discussion of how West Virginia can hold onto the insufficient number of good jobs presently located here, let alone how to help the state's economy grow and create jobs.

Given the lack of discussion about West Virginia's economy, one could be excused for thinking the state's economy is humming along nicely. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia lost nearly 13,000 jobs from December 2011 through December 2012. Our state was one of only four states in the nation to lose jobs in that time period, and it lost twice as many jobs as the other three states combined. Needless to say, West Virginia was also dead last in the nation in job creation. Worse still, fewer people in West Virginia work, as a percent of population, than any other state in the nation. While the national labor force participation rate is 64 percent, West Virginia's rate brings up the rear at 53 percent.

Clearly, our state has a great need to grow its economy and create jobs. To help accomplish these goals, one of the areas that legislators should focus on is legal reform, which would reduce the number of abusive lawsuits that hurt West Virginia businesses and discourage businesses from creating jobs here.

There is substantial room for our state to improve in this area. Every year, the American Tort Reform Association identifies the most unfair and out-of-balance legal jurisdictions in the nation, and West Virginia has made the list for 10 consecutive years. As if that weren't enough, our state has been ranked dead last every year since 2006 on the litigation fairness survey published by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

For years, concerned citizens working to improve the state's legal climate have focused on achieving a balance in the state Supreme Court of Appeals, and with the recent election of Allen Loughry, we may finally be there. Additionally, voters ousted Attorney General Darrell McGraw last November, one of the two McGraw brothers who never saw a lawsuit they didn't like.

Having seen such positive initial developments, the focus of legal reform advocates in West Virginia is turning to the Legislature.  West Virginia needs to make some serious changes, and part of the way forward has to be legislature action to bring about real legal reform.

Frivolous lawsuits, "jackpot justice," and unfair courts have all but eliminated well-paying jobs in West Virginia. Let's hope the governor includes legal reform among his list of priorities in his State of the State address and that our legislative leaders act quickly to pass legal reform. 

West Virginia families desperately need the jobs that an improved and fair legal system can bring to our state.