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The home rule bill should be moved along

WEST Virginia has long restricted municipal officials' power to affect the cities they are responsible for running. The result is much the same as with public schools - weakness where strength would be preferable.

A few years ago, legislators unclenched enough to give Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport  a little bit more power to make needed changes. A legislative audit judged the program a success.

This tentative experiment in what is called "home rule" is due for renewal. The pioneer participants, and as many as 10 more, would gain a few additional powers to affect their regulations, taxes and procedures.

Hallelujah.

Cities that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians desperately need more authority to direct their own affairs. This bill should pass.

Unfortunately, Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, tacked onto the bill a proposed change that could unnecessarily impede progress.

He would require cities that want to be in the program to abandon the municipal gun ordinances some have adopted.

The state's current gun law grandfathered in existing municipal gun ordinances. Charleston's law limits handgun purchases to one a month, for example.

This has not seriously eroded anyone's Second Amendment rights, but it has impeded bulk purchases by criminals.

The West Virginia Municipal League opposes Lane's attempt to force cities to abandon their ordinances if they want more home rule powers. League President Lisa Dooley contends gun control and home rule don't belong in the same piece of legislation. She's right.

There is some sense to the contention that gun laws should be uniform statewide. The state has already asserted exclusive authority, for example, to regulate gas drilling and natural resource extraction, quelling municipal attempts to ban fracking within city limits.

Law can't vary every few miles down the road.

But the home rule initiative, crabbed as it is, would free more municipalities to do what the first four cities have done - streamline business rules, reduce blight, and improve their financial condition.

Lane's insistence on throwing the dispute over municipal gun ordinances into the mix is an unnecessary complication.

The Legislature should pass the home rule measure without the gun amendment.


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