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Legal Action

Business owners file lawsuits against the state

COVID-19 already has killed some businesses in West Virginia. Forced to close when state restrictions designed to keep the disease from spreading were put in place, they simply could not stand months of paying fixed costs without earning any revenue.

Even federal assistance, helping keep some employees on the payroll for a few months, has not been enough for some businesses. And easing of the state restrictions has not resulted in anywhere near the revenue streams on which some business owners planned.

A few of them, in both Wheeling and Morgantown, have banded together to file lawsuits against the state over the COVID-19 restrictions. Restaurants and bars seem to be the bulk of those involved in the suits.

In essence, they argue that state limitations violate their rights under both the state and federal constitutions. Lack of due process before the restrictions were put in place has been cited.

It is true that in West Virginia — like virtually every other state — curbs on businesses and many other activities were put in place by the governor, in consultation with public health experts. One day, the bans did not exist. The next day, they did.

One can understand the frustration of those whose livelihoods have been affected. But one can recognize, too, that state officials were acting in what they thought were the best interests of West Virginians threatened by the coronavirus.

It is the kind of dilemma — how far can the government infringe on the rights of individuals in order to protect the public as a whole — that already has been debated throughout the nation.

West Virginians need an answer to the question — and we may need it soon. Some scientists warn that COVID-19 will remain a deadly scourge well into 2021. That could mean new restrictions on businesses in our state.

Those in the judiciary who will handle the lawsuits should expedite the process of moving them through the courts. This is an issue that, one way or the other, needs to be resolved much quicker than such matters are handled normally.

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