CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With the close of the Legislature's first regular session early Sunday morning, it appeared Charleston soon would have a difficult decision to make: either give up its 20-year-old gun ordinance or drop out of home rule.
But City Council President Tom Lane isn't ready to make that choice.
"They're both very important to Charleston. I think my fellow council members would join me in that. I know the mayor does," he said. "I would want to make sure this legislation is constitutional before we even think about eliminating our gun ordinance or forsaking home rule."
Lane said he plans to have the city's attorney review the legislation and see if Charleston could challenge the new law in court.
The home rule pilot program, which is set to end June 30, allows cities to make decisions and rules that might otherwise conflict with state laws, such as those related to taxes. This year's law extended the program through July 2019.
"It seems to me that restricting guns has nothing to do with home rule. And as I understand, there is a restriction that bills have to have single purposes. This one clearly is a dual purpose," he said.
Lane said he believed it was "completely inappropriate" for lawmakers to conflate gun control with home rule. He said gun language included in the bill was targeted at Charleston but also will restrict other cities.
"I also think it was completely inappropriate to tack a gun bill onto a home rule measure which is designed to foster economic development," he said.
"Frankly, I am appalled that members of the House of Delegates, particularly those from Charleston, would forsake public safety over fear of the NRA. I think it is a misreading both of the strength of the NRA as well as the sentiment of the public."
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones had no comment.
Late Saturday evening, House and Senate members struck a compromise on the imperiled home rule bill.
While the bill originally was intended to prolong the state's existing pilot program and open it to more cities, Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, added language to the legislation requiring participating cities to repeal any existing gun ordinances.
And while the Senate version of the bill opened the program to 14 cities, the House version opened home rule to as many of the state's 232 municipalities as want to participate.
On Friday, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, appointed a conference committee to work on the bill.
Sens. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, and Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, along with Delegates Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, and Tom Azinger, R-Wood, met three times on Saturday to hammer out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
The committee quickly agreed to limit the number of participating home rule cities to 20.
"The tax department said they couldn't do many more than that," Morgan said.
He said limiting the program to 20 cities also allowed most of the state's larger cities to participate. While smaller municipalities can still apply, Morgan said they probably would not want to participate in home rule because of the time and expense involved.
A compromise on the bill's gun control legislation took significantly longer to figure out.
The conference committee began its first meeting at 2 p.m. Saturday. Five hours later, Snyder announced the group had reached a deal: any city participating in home rule must do away with any municipal gun ordinance within 90 days of joining the program.
Senators did gain a little ground in the bill's gun language, however.
Delegate Patrick Lane's original amendment limited cities' ability to regulate the carrying of firearms to municipal buildings where official city business is conducted.
The final version of the bill, as amended by the conference committee, expanded that authority to include any city property, including parks, pools and other recreational areas . . . but only for individuals without concealed weapons permits. Anyone with a permit could still carry a gun in those areas.
"I think that's worse," Tom Lane said. "What it encourages people to do is conceal their weapons and bring them into playgrounds and city buildings."