By Mannix Porterfield
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office isn’t saying if he is quietly looking into the validity of West Virginia’s expanded municipal home rule pilot project, as two Republican legislators in Cabell County have requested.
One of them, Delegate Kelli Sobonya, says she understands the reticence of the office after a media inquiry was placed there this week in regard to SB435, recently approved by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Sobonya said Friday it is her understanding that Morrisey, also a Republican, is willing to research the history of home rule, but would be reluctant to issue a public opinion on the revised law.
“He walks a fine line,” she said.
“Because it’s a legislative initiative, he represents the state, and if anything goes before the court, he would have to stand behind the state, whether he personally supports it or not.”
Originally, only four cities were participants in home rule — Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Wheeling.
Tomblin approved legislation that expands the ceiling on home rule cities to 14, but Sobonya feels this is too restrictive, contending that all cities should be eligible to take part.
For that reason, Sobonya, one of two lawmakers who opposed it in the House of Delegates, considers the law unconstitutional.
Delegate Carol Miller, also R-Cabell, did vote for the Senate bill but likewise has called on Morrisey to issue an opinion on whether it would pass constitutional muster.
Sobonya said a number of court challenges have been made against the original four-city home rule pilot project, and one of them, in Kanawha County Circuit Court, has been unsettled for more than a year, even though all the evidence has been taken and arguments made.
“Why has this judge sat on her hands?” Sobonya asked.
“Are there no guidelines, rules in court, as to how long a judge has to render a decision?”
Sobonya said Morrisey, who became attorney general in January, wasn’t here when the original home rule project was approved.
“He wants to research the original bill and look at all the court challenges that have been filed in the past,” the lawmaker said.
Sobonya said she and Miller asked for an opinion in deference to several requests by voters in their region.
At least one mayor, Beckley’s Emmett Pugh, already has expressed an interest in becoming one of the cities eligible for the project.
Although no decision has been reached, Pugh indicated he would appoint a committee to study the feasibility of seeking permission to enter the project.
“I feel sure that if Beckley would apply, our application would be taken seriously,” the mayor said this week.
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