This year’s legislative session featured two bills that represented two very distinct views on the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program: Expand It vs. Outlaw It.
Now, we can report that one of those proposals has landed on the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 441, sponsored by Sen. Dave Sypolt (R-Preston,14), Sen. Greg Bosso (R- Nicholas, 11) and Sen. Randy Smith (R-Tucker, 14), passed out of both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s seal of approval.
The legislation establishes the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program as a permanent one, and allows all municipalities current in their payment of state fees to apply to the Municipal Home Rule Board to become a Home Rule community, effective July 1, 2017.
How To Apply
To apply for Home Rule status, a municipality must develop a written plan that describes the “specific laws, acts, resolutions, policies, rules or regulations which prevent the municipality from carrying out its duties in the most cost-efficient, effective and timely manner,” the problems created by the aforementioned laws, and the proposed solutions to the problems identified.
Communities must also obtain a written opinion by a West Virginia attorney, which states that the community’s Home Rule plan does not violate any of the provisions set forth in state legislation.
Prior to submitting the written plan, the municipality is obligated to hold a public hearing on the proposed Home Rule plan. The public hearing must be announced at least 30 days beforehand, and copies of the written plan must be accessible to any interested party.
Following the public hearing, the municipality is required to adopt an ordinance to authorize the submission of the written plan to the Municipal Home Rule Board. If the municipality cannot secure the votes for passage of the local ordinance, they may not apply for Home Rule Status.
Once a community has submitted their Home Rule application, the Municipal Home Rule Board then reviews and evaluates the plan. By a majority vote of the board, they can either approve, or reject each aspect of the written plan, or the written plan in its entirety. The board also has the authority to make recommendations. If a community opts to amend their written plan after it has been approved, they must submit all amendments to the Home Rule Board.
Encouraging Local Innovation
Today, there are 34 Home Rule communities in West Virginia that have opted 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.
Though it can take years for communities to enact their home rule ordinances, the Home Rule program enables communities to act as policy labs and experiment with innovative and creative policy measures to address local needs.
Communities then have the opportunity to demonstrate the value of specific policy initiatives to the West Virginia Legislature for statewide consideration. So, in a way, even those communities not directly enrolled in Home Rule may eventually benefit from the lessons learned by the experimenting communities.
The best example of this is the fact that three measures aimed at helping communities confront blighted properties, implemented first via Home Rule, have successfully become state law. The measures were evaluated, deemed successful in speeding up compliance, and thus, the Legislature opted to codify them in state law.
At The Hub, we’re excited to see greater flexibility in addressing local needs. We believe that giving cities more power to creatively address local issues will free them up a bit from the often slow-moving political machinations of state level law-making.