Charleston, WV – West Virginia Commissioner of
Agriculture Kent Leonhardt released the following statement after Governor
Jim Justice issued vetoes for Senate Bill 322 and House Bill 4166.
“I am extremely
disappointed with the Governor’s vetoes. The Governor did not reach out to
me throughout this entire process, and his staff indicated there were no
problems with these bills. The Governor should have reviewed these bills
solely on their merits and potential savings to the tax payers of West
Virginia,” Leonhardt said.
Senate Bill 322
would have provided a similar exemption other constitutional offices have
on use of public funds toward legal services for the West Virginia
Department of Agriculture (WVDA). Under the bill, the department would have
still been required to be represented in court by the Attorney General’s
office. Currently, the WVDA pays the Attorney General’s Office for any
legal services outside of that representation. The bill passed the Senate
33-0-1 and the House of Delegates 97-0-2.
“We are the
largest and only constitutional office without a general counsel. Not
having legal assistance on staff to aid with navigating federal
regulations, human resource issues, as well as crafting sensible rules
costs the taxpayers of West Virginia thousands of dollars every year,”
House Bill 4166
would have allowed the WVDA to transfer up to $1 million at the end of each
fiscal year from the WVDA Farm Account to a newly created Capital
Improvement Fund. The department was planning to establish a revenue source
to start the process of rebuilding the laboratories at the Guthrie
location. The labs are currently housed in structures built in the 1950s.
These facilities test consumer products for food contamination and
infectious diseases, as well as regulate pesticides and fertilizers. The
bill passed the Senate 33-0-1 and the House of Delegates 96-2-2.
“The Governor has
clearly shown he is willing to kick another problem down the road. The
laboratories at Guthrie have been in disrepair for the last twenty years.
At the same time, the department has seen a cut in $4 million over the last
five years. It will take upwards of $50 million to repair the laboratories.
House Bill 4166 was a sensible solution to start the process immediately at
no cost to the tax payer. A safe, reliable food system is important to
every West Virginian. I am sad the Governor failed to recognize the
importance they provide to the people of our state,” Leonhardt said.