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Home rule

Autonomy becomes a permanent option for West Virginia cities

CHARLESTON, West Virginia — A West Virginia Municipal League official predicts West Virginia will be much better off once the Home Rule pilot becomes a permanent program later this year.

Governor Jim Justice signed into law SB 4 of the 2019 Regular Legislative Session which establishes the Municipal Self-Government Agenda.

Since its launch in 2007, the previous pilot program has been extended several times.

Currently, 34 of West Virginia’s 231 towns operate under autonomy.

“Every city in West Virginia could eventually be under self-government,” said Travis Blosser, deputy executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League, of the new law’s potential for expansion.

His organization was celebrating the upcoming law change.

Overall, Blosser said local self-government allows local leaders to respond more effectively to the needs of their local communities.

“At the end of the day, it’s not empowerment of local government, it’s empowerment of the local constituency that lives in this city,” Blosser told MetroNews.

Under local self-governance, participating cities can implement changes in many areas of local governance as long as the changes do not violate the United States Constitution, the West Virginia Constitution, and federal law.

In the law, there are certain restrictions on the degree of control that house rule gives cities in specifically defined areas, including federal highway funding, firearms facilities, and firefighter certifications.

The legislation limits home rule additions for Class IV cities, the smallest in West Virginia, to four per year.

Cities of all sizes are under the scrutiny of members of the Home Rule Board with required annual assessments that will continue.

“They have the ability to reject amendments to current plans or they have the ability to reject plans that are new plans for new communities,” Blosser said.

Blosser used Huntington, one of the first pilot towns of autonomy, as an example of the potential for development under autonomy.

“Huntington is very different than it was 12 years ago,” Blosser said. “A lot of it has to do with the autonomy and flexibility that Huntington has had to make certain decisions locally.

The new home rule law comes into force on June 7.

Without action, the municipal autonomy pilot program would have ended on July 1, 2019.

Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera