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‘False Claims Act’ rejected by W.Va. Legislature

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A controversial bill to designed combat government fraud and abuse was rejected by the House by a 55-42 vote on Tuesday.

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, drafted a bill, HB 4001, to offer an incentive for reporting suspected misuse of government funds. The bill allows for whistleblowers to receive a portion of recouped funds from state lawsuits.

Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, a co-sponsor, said the legislators who voted against the bill did not consider its purpose.

“Largely, there was a pretty cohesive policy of misinformation about the bill that led to the loss,” Skinner said. “This bill was about fighting people who steal from the taxpayers, and anybody who says different is not being intellectually honest.”

Also known as the “False Claims Act” or the “Government Fraud Prevention Act,” the legislation was one of the first-and fastest-to advance in the House Judiciary Committee at the beginning of the legislative session.

The House leadership sent the bill back to the Judiciary Committee for reexamination after receiving overwhelming response about the bill’s potential to increase frivolous lawsuits.

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, a co-sponsor, said the bill then underwent substantial changes to bring it into compliance with the federal provision.

“In conservative states, billions of dollars per year have been reaped through this legislation because investigations have been made to curtail these fraudulent activities,” Lawrence said. “Taking a look back in history at ‘Lincoln’s Law,’ this would have been very similar to what was enacted in 1863.”

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said he voted against the bill because there are existing regulations that protect the taxpayers in West Virginia from fraud.

“Without evidence that additional legislation was needed, I just wasn’t willing to support this in light of the fact that the organizations representing small-business owners across the state expressed considerable concerns about the legislation-that it would make it very difficult for small businesses in particular to do business with the state.”

Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, who has spoken out against the bill, said the chamber wanted to congratulate members on both sides of the aisle who voted against the legislation.

“When all was said and done, it really amounted to an expansion of lawsuits without the ability to effectively combat fraud against the federal government,” Roberts said…

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