The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 11, 2013

Home rule pilot program in doubt in Senate

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Every city in West Virginia could seek entry into the home rule pilot program in a revised bill that easily cleared the House of Delegates but its fate is in doubt in the Senate, since its own version wanted to limit participants to 14 municipalities.

Complicating matters even more was a controversial move reviving HB2760 that would erase gun restrictions in Charleston, South Charleston, Dunbar and Martinsburg.

That original bill stalled in the Senate after Government Organization Chairman Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, disclosed he had been targeted by a death threat for holding up committee action on it.

“It’s a National Rifle Association bill, and the NRA is in the business of selling guns,” complained Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, one of two lawmakers voicing opposition to the revised home rule legislation.

Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, had successfully amended the bill only a day earlier to include provision of HB2760 but made no allusion to the Second Amendment advocates who inspired it.

Instead, Lane focused on the success of the pilot project to date, saying it has proven workable in the four cities in the five-year project — Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport.

“This is about jobs,” Lane said.

“It’s about giving municipalities the ability to structure their finances in a way that can attract jobs to our local areas. If you’re for local control, if you’re for local reorganization, it makes sense.”

House Government Organization Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, explained the retooled bill would keep the home rule program intact through July 1, 2019.

Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, applauded the bill, saying it comports well with the 2nd and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

But another critic, Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, said she heard no one complain about suspected constitutional violations when the home rule project began in the capital.

Barring participating cities from owning, buying, transferring or carrying firearms is one component of the bill, Morgan had explained.

This, however, goes against the grain of the measure’s intent, Moore complained.

“Either we trust the municipalities that we all represent to do what we trusted them to do, or we don’t,” Moore said.

“We should not be placing any additional and unnecessary rules and regulations on them.”

When HB2760 surfaced, it was met with fierce opposition from the get-go by Charleston Mayor Danny Jones. All four cities with gun restrictions were grandfathered in when West Virginia blocked future such limitations in cities.

Delegate Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, said the pilot process has demonstrated the need to make some changes in the program.

Overall, however, he said the project has proven worthwhile.

“We saw the pilot project work as we intended to,” he said.

Besides Guthrie and Moore, the bill also was opposed by Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, in a 95-3 vote.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com