Councilman ready to sue over home rule
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Charleston City Councilman Tom Lane lashed out against state lawmakers for changes to a bill that would nullify the city's gun control ordinance and said he is willing to sue the state as a private citizen to fight the measure.
Speaking at Monday's council meeting, Lane, an at-large Republican, called the recent actions of lawmakers "hubris and arrogance" when they changed a bill extending the state's home rule program to wipe out local laws dealing with guns.
Lane was the architect of Charleston's gun ordinance that passed in the early 1990s that will be nullified if the city participates in the new home rule program. Language inserted during the recent session says any city that participates in the program must drop all gun ordinances.
"I have never been more distressed by the actions of the legislators," Lane said.
During a previous interview, Lane had stated he was willing to fight the new measure, saying it is unconstitutional for laws to have two purposes.
The new bill has two purposes -- expanding home rule and nullifying city gun ordinances, Lane said.
But after Lane's previous interview, Mayor Danny Jones pointed out that the city couldn't sue the Legislature because Charleston is a subdivision of the state. The city would essentially be suing itself, Jones said.
Though he stressed now is not the time for the fight, Lane said he would be willing to file suit against the state personally and not as a council member.
Charleston has until June 1, 2014, to decide whether to continue with the home rule program. Cities wanting to participate in the new program must repeal their gun ordinances 90 days after the June 1 date, Lane said.
Lane said it might be "premature" to file suit now because there will be another legislative session before the 2014 deadline.
"There will be plenty of time to challenge (the bill)," he said.
The ordinance prohibits people from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period. The city also requires a three-day waiting period on any handgun purchase as well as a background check.
Jones also announced at the meeting he would support using a portion of the proceeds of a half-cent city sales tax and funds from a business and occupation tax on retail to pay for Civic Center renovations and unfunded liabilities in the police and firefighter pension plans.
Jones had originally proposed a half-cent city sales tax to pay for $35 million to $60 million in renovations to the aging Civic Center. He was also proposing a reduction of the B&O tax on retail as well as an elimination of the tax on manufacturing.
However, city leaders believe the new home rule bill prohibits the city from raising a tax on B&O once it has been lowered without first eliminating the municipal sales tax.
And although Charleston council members are shooting to pass the municipal sales tax under the old home rule program, one that does not require the city to eliminate its sales tax if it again raises B&O, Jones is unwilling to take the chance that the new bill will retroactively affect the city's move.
"We're under the old home rule program, but I don't want to roll the dice," he said.
Therefore, he has backed off his plan to reduce the B&O on retail and instead plans to use the estimated $2.25 million generated annually by the tax to help pay for the Civic Center renovations and pensions, Jones said.
"Our net revenue is going to be a lot more," he said. "And if we don't do the Civic Center now, we wouldn't ever get it done."
Jones is hoping to create a true convention center for the city to attract larger events and conventions to Charleston.
City Manager David Molgaard will be tasked with finding a firm to design the renovated Civic Center, which will then give council members a cost estimate for the project.
Molgaard hopes to have a firm hired within the next few months, he said.
Bills enacting the city's half-cent sales tax and eliminating the B&O on manufacturing were introduced at Monday's meeting.
Both bills must be read a second time before passage and both were referred to the city's Finance Committee.
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