Home Rule – the idea of giving West Virginia’s cities and towns more power to make their own rules and regulations in matters of local governance – has been fiercely debated for about a decade, and still carries ardent supporters on both sides of the argument.
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.
Those against home rule say it is unconstitutional, and undermines the authority of the State of West Virginia.
The legislative session taking place right now seems like a critical fork-in-the-road moment for Home Rule, because the two Home Rule-related bills that have been presented concisely represent the two wildly divergent views on the idea: Expand It v Outlaw It.
Here’s a quick summary of those two bills, and where they are at in the legislative process.
For Home Rule
When Senate Bill 441 was first introduced on Feb. 24 it proposed making Home Rule (currently still just a “pilot program”) a permanent program, and allowing all municipalities that were current in their payment of state fees to apply to become a Home Rule community.
Its sponsors – Sen. Dave Sypolt (R-Preston,14), Sen. Greg Bosso (R- Nicholas, 11) and Sen. Randy Smith (R-Tucker, 14) – also hoped to allow Home Rule municipalities that institute a sales and use tax to administer and collect the tax through their own municipal collector’s offices.
Currently, although a Home Rule community can institute a local fee or tax, that money will be collected for the Home Rule community by the State of West Virginia, and the Home Rule community is then charged a 5 percent administrative fee for the service.
Understandably, some Home Rule communities figured there had to be a better way, hence the proposal to allow Home Rule communities to collect the fee or tax themselves and so avoid the administrative fee.
However, this inclusion in SB 441 hit a hurdle when the Senate Council noted that this authority would violate the national Streamlined Sales Tax agreement the state is currently under.
So, at Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Government Organization Committee the bill was amended, leaving out this provision that communities could collect their own fees and taxes.
But there was another sticking point.
The cities of Clarksburg and Bridgeport had used Home Rule to speed up the process by which they could license code enforcement officials and inspectors, effectively bypassing the authority of the West Virginia Fire Commission, which is responsible for licensing West Virginia code enforcement officials.
Regulating authorities weren’t thrilled with granting this level of autonomy to municipalities, with some fearing it would open the door to Home Rule communities licensing municipal employees engaged in other public safety services, such as fire and police officers.
And so, this provision of SB 441 was also removed at Tuesday’s hearing.
With those two amendments, the bill passed unanimously and without debate. It now moves to the full Senate, with the blessing of the Government Organization Committee.
It is scheduled to be first read on the Senate floor today, with a final vote expected Friday.
Against Home Rule
At the other end of the scale, Del. Kelli Sobonya’s (R – Cabell, 18) House Bill 2307 proposes terminating Home Rule.
Del. Sobonya believes Home Rule is unconstitutional. And, referring to the process by which prospective Home Rule communities must apply to the Municipal Home Rule Board, Del. Sobonya told The Hub that it is ”unfair to have an unelected entity cherry pick winners and losers to delegate ‘special’ powers.”
HB 2307 was double referenced to the House Government Organization Committee and to the Judiciary Committee. It has not moved, or been put on the Government Organization Committee’s agenda since being introduced on Feb. 9.