Brakes taken off permanent Home Rule bill

Photo by Steven Allen Adams The House Government Organization Committee Monday passed Senate Bill 4, the Municipal Home Rule bill, with no discussion.

CHARLESTON — Even though the bill’s journey isn’t finished, mayors are breathing a sigh of relief now that legislation making the West Virginia’s Home Rule program permanent is on its way to the floor of the House of Delegates.

The House Government Organization Committee Monday morning by unanimous voice vote approved a committee substitute for Senate Bill 4, making the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program permanent.

“I’m thrilled it went through without any discussion, but it’s just another step forward,” said Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, president of the West Virginia Municipal League. “This is long overdue. A 12-year pilot project needs to become permanent. I’m pleased to see the committee felt that way.”

Williams watched the Monday morning committee meeting at the State Capitol Building with several majors, including Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp.

“I’m very encouraged,” Rapp said. “It obviously still needs to go through the rest of the process and be approved by the whole house, but it will allow the cities like Vienna and Parkersburg to continue with the programs we’ve started. It is a big portion of the way we do business, so we’re very happy about this. We just hope the next six days go smoothly.”

SB 4 would open up participation in the Home Rule program to cities with as few as 2,000 residents. It also would allow the Municipal Home Rule Board to approve four applications each year for cities and towns with fewer than 2,000 residents.

Among the changes made to the bill by the committee included removing language preventing municipalities from enacting rules or ordinances contrary to the state Workplace Freedom Act and Labor-Management Relations Act. A Kanawha County Circuit Court judge ruled against the 2017 right-to-work law in a decision last week.

On Jan 30, the same committee tabled the House version of the Home Rule bill, House Bill 2728, after the it adopted an amendment sponsored by a Republican and Democratic committee member affecting the right-to-work and prevailing wage language. SB 4 passed the Senate Feb. 1 in a 30-3 bipartisan vote.

The Legislature created the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program in 2007. The program was extended and expanded multiple times since 2007, with 34 cities across the state now participating.

If SB 4 is not passed, the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program would end on July 1.

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote, then back to the Senate for that body to accept or reject the House changes to the bill. While Municipal League members are hopeful the bill will sail through, they’re trying to keep their expectations low.

“I’m still holding my breath,” said Williams, a former member of the House of Delegates. “One thing I’ve learned in the process, until the governor signs it, anything can happen.”