Home rule bill stalls in W.Va. House

CHARLESTON – Local and state officials expressed dismay Monday after a proposal to continue and expand a state home rule pilot program was derailed in a House of Delegates committee by an unrelated amendment concerning gun control.

The House is considering a Senate-passed proposal to continue what has been declared a successful experiment with home rule. This pilot program has allowed four of West Virginia’s largest cities to cut red tape, reduce blight and improve their finances. The pending bill would allow additional municipalities to apply to join.

But the bill has stalled. Delegate Patrick Lane has proposed adding language to repeal local gun control ordinances. The Kanawha County Republican helped pass a stand-alone repeal bill last month. But that has since idled in the Senate.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said members of the West Virginia Municipal League, which includes government leaders from most of the state’s municipalities, were alerted to the home rule bill stalling in the House. Newell said he and other mayors have been calling state Legislators asking them to help remove the gun ordinance amendment and move the home rule bill forward.

Lane “is not a city-friendly delegate to say the least,” Newell said, pointing to a recent push by Lane to keep cities from charging Business and Occupation Tax, one of the few streams of revenue open to cities. Lane’s gun ordinance amendment “has nothing to do with home rule. It goes right against the grain of home rule. Home rule gives power to the cities, and this amendment takes power away from the cities.”

Parkersburg City Council last month approved a resolution for the city to move forward in applying to the home rule program. Council must still approve a plan to be submitted to the state, but that plan will not be finalized until after state officials open the pilot program to more cities.

Vienna’s government also is considering applying to the program.

Newell said if the bill does not pass, new applicants are not the only cities that will lose out.

“If this fails, the whole program sunsets this July,” he said. “The four cities that have been participating will have all of their work just go away.”

Lisa Dooley, executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. An official who answered the phone at the Municipal League said Dooley was at the state capital concerning the home rule bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.