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Municipal home rule expansion advances in Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia municipalities won one and lost one in the Legislature Tuesday, as a bill to extend and expand the municipal home rule pilot project and another to prevent cities and counties from enacting gun regulations advanced to their respective Senate and House floors.

The Senate's version of a bill (SB435) to continue the municipal home rule pilot project through 2019 and expand it from the current four participating cities to as many as 10 advanced to the full Senate from the Government Organization Committee.

Currently, four cities -- Bridgeport, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling -- are participating in the pilot project set to end on June 30. Home rule gives participating cities broader authority to enact ordinances, programs and revenue sources than normally allowed under state law.

Lisa Dooley, executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League, said Tuesday she was encouraged that the Senate Government Organization Committee acted quickly on the bill, advancing it on a unanimous voice vote. She said the key issue is to mesh the Senate bill with a House version also advancing (HB2761).

The key difference is that the House bill would prohibit participating cities from enacting tax ordinances, while the Senate bill would allow municipal sales taxes of up to 1 percent in cities that reduce or eliminate municipal business and occupation taxes.

Meanwhile, a bill to eliminate the power of cities or counties to impose regulations or restrictions on firearms within their jurisdictions advanced from House Judiciary Committee on a contested voice vote (HB2760).

Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha, said he is concerned the bill will pre-empt gun-carry ordinances in cities and counties, overturning ordinances prohibiting guns in city parks, playgrounds or other public areas, such as skating rinks.

Under the bill, such restrictions would have to be enacted in state law, committee attorneys advised. Current state laws prohibiting guns on school grounds, in county courthouses and at the Capitol would remain in effect.

"The idea behind the bill is, the Legislature will enact all laws regulating gun ownership," said Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha.

Another bill to repeal Charleston's ordinance limiting handgun purchases to one per person per month (HB2558) has not been taken up by the committee. However, passage of the bill advanced Tuesday would appear to nullify that ordinance, along with all other city and county regulations regarding firearms and ammunition.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones told The Associated Press that the bill that advanced Tuesday is "not good for Charleston."

He also voiced his opposition during a Monday-night meeting of Charleston City Council.

Charleston ordinances limit handgun purchases to one per month and require a buyer to wait 72 hours before receiving the weapon.

Jones told the AP that those ordinances target attempts by drug dealers to buy up firearms in regions where they are common to sell in urban areas with strict gun control laws. Jones also noted that the city's police chief can and does grant exceptions to the purchase limit, as provided by the ordinance.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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