Home Rule. What are we really talking about, here?
In a nutshell, Home Rule gives cities more power to make their own rules and regulations in matters of local governance, freeing them a little from the often slow-moving political machinations of law-making at the state level.
Since the West Virginia Legislature created the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program in 2007, Home Rule has spawned its impassioned supporters on both sides of the argument. And argument there has been.
In 2007, four cities were granted Home Rule authority. Today, there are 34 Home Rule communities, from the state’s biggest cities, Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown, to small communities like Shinnston, Auburn and Ranson.
Home Rule has allowed these cities to implement a wide range of local initiatives, including on-site citation programs targeting dilapidated buildings, alcohol sales in restaurants on Sundays, 1 percent sales tax increases, and a weekly “user” fee to help pay for street maintenance and police equipment.
Those in favor of Home Rule say it allows cities to be innovative and creative in applying local solutions and addressing local needs that apply distinctly to their municipality. They also cite the State Legislature’s narrow window for policy making – just 90 days each year – as being an unnecessary bottleneck for proposing and voting on new ideas.
At The Hub, we agree with these arguments in favor of Home Rule.
Those against home rule say it is unconstitutional, and undermines the authority of the State of West Virginia. Some have also voiced concern about a lack of oversight, particularly as it relates to the implementation of taxes and fees.
We felt this was a good time to take a clear-eyed look at Home Rule because this year’s legislative session features two bills that pretty concisely represent the two distinct views: Expand It v Outlaw It.
This week, those two proposals continued their uncertain passage through the Legislature. Where are they at now? And what, exactly, could they mean for West Virginia?
We’ve also provided some information for you on critical protections outlined in Home Rule fine print, and some real world example of what West Virginia’s cities are actually doing with their new Home Rule powers.
I hope you continue to pay attention to what’s happening in your city and state. Our democracy depends on it.