Home Rule

Ten years is long enough for a pilot program

A decade probably is long enough to decide whether most things work or do not. Yet for 34 municipalities, one of the most important laws on the books in West Virginia remains a pilot program.

Legislators are on their way to changing that. A bill doing so may be approved by the state Senate this week.

If enacted, it would make the Home Rule Pilot Program permanent. As it stands, the initiative is a temporary experiment.

Elkins is one of the cities approved for home rule status after the law was enacted in 2007. Among the others accepted since then are Wheeling, Parkersburg and Martinsurg.

Home rule is simple: Municipalities approved for it have substantially more freedom in adopting their own rules. A state board considers and often approves their requests to diverge from state laws on a variety of subjects.

For example, home rule has allowed Elkins and other cities to adopt local sales taxes. It gives municipalities new tools to deal with dilapidated buildings.

Weirton has proposed another change, one long sought by many police departments unhappy about restrictions on how they can enforce laws in establishments that serve liquor. Weirton’s plan gives city police officers more authority in such situations.

Home rule is not loved universally. Some critics object to giving cities more taxing power.

Fair enough. But municipal council members who enact such taxes have to face the judgment of voters — who can boot them out if they feel taxing authority is being abused.

Changes adopted by some home rule cities have been in effect for about a decade. Important decisions for the future have been made in the assumption those local initiatives would remain in effect.

Scrapping home rule in such cases would be extremely difficult.

So it is time to make the program more permanent. Nothing lasts forever, of course; at some point in the future, the Legislature can amend or rescind any state law.

Senators should adopt the home rule bill, which is SB 4. Then the House of Delegates should follow suit and Gov. Jim Justice should sign the measure. A decade is long enough for a pilot program.