WV Legislature votes to extend home rule pilot project - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Legislature votes to extend home rule pilot project

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Some cities and municipalities across the state may soon get to make some of their own laws and regulations.

That's because the West Virginia Legislature voted April 13 to extend the home rule pilot project, which was originally set to sunset this summer. However, Senate Bill 435 not only extends the time length of the project, but it allows more municipalities to participate.

However, passage of the bill didn't come easy. The Senate originally passed its version of the bill in March, then it went through the committee process in the House of Delegates where it was amended. Once the bill was reported to the floor of the House, more changes were made. The Senate refused to concur with some of those amendments April 13, so the bill was assigned to a conference committee.

Although both sides came to an agreement, some senators said they still couldn't support the bill.

"It has very little to do with economic, community development in municipalities," said Senator Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha. "It has very little to do with what we need to have happen to cause our cities to grow. The discussions today really did not focus on how we can help cities to help themselves. The discussion today was largely about guns and gays."

McCabe was referencing an amendment offered by Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, that remained in the bill. Lane's amendment added into the home rule bill language from a now-defunct piece of legislation that would nullify city gun ordinances in favor of a more consistent statewide law. If cities want to participate in the home rule pilot project, the city must repeal their firearms ordinances.

The city of Charleston is one of four cities currently participating in the pilot project and has its own gun ordinance that was first established in 1993. Mayor Danny Jones took issue with House Bill 2760, the bill to nullify gun ordinances, and said the Legislature is unfamiliar with the city's ordinances.

The conference committee version of the bill also does not allow cities to enact their own marriage or divorce laws. Members of the conference committee agreed that such laws are established by the state, meaning same-sex couples cannot have their marriages recognized by any city that would choose to recognize such unions.

The bill enacted a total of 19 restrictions, including those related to taxation. Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said that's not giving local control.

"I rise to support Senate Bill 435, but reluctantly," he said. "This version of home rule adds 14 other categories. This is home rule light; we trust you municipalities, but we don't trust you very much. Better than no home rule at all, but just barely."

During the final day of the session and before the vote. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the gun measures were a distraction to the home rule bill.

"I think most people in the Legislature are in favor of giving the towns and cities the additional flexibility they need to run their towns," Tomblin said. "Obviously the gun control amendment is one that's controversial, and there were many (gun) bills introduced this year -- one or two passed one house or the other -- but to tie it in with the home rule bill, it does cause a little consternation against some."

The bill also extends the number of municipalities that may participate from four to 20, meaning 16 municipalities can sign on in addition to the four that currently participate.

On the House side, delegates overwhelmingly supported the bill, with Delegates Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, and Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, casting the only nay votes. The bill passed the House 97-2 after passing the Senate 32-2, where Senators Clark Barnes, R-Randolph and McCabe, voted no.

In addition to Charleston, the cities of Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling currently participate in the home rule pilot project.