CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House Government Organization committee quickly passed and sent on one of the five bills creating a Mountaineer Trail Network Recreation Authority for Monongalia and neighboring counties.

And after long debate and a divisive amendment, it tabled a bill to make the Municipal Home Pilot Program permanent. Committee chair Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said the move was just to allow a pause to examine options; meanwhile, the Senate version remains alive.

The mountain bike trail bill is HB 2420. Its identical companions are 2484 and SB 15 and 132. They all would create the authority to serve Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison and Taylor counties.

The fifth is more expansive and would permit any three or more counties in the state to form a multi-county trail network authority. It’s SB 317 and has passed out of the Natural Resources committee and is awaiting an agenda slot in Judiciary.

An amended version of HB 2420 establishes a 21-member board to oversee network operations. It envisions significant portions of the network crossing private land. The board would have the power to buy or lease land or obtain easements for trail construction.

Trail users would pay a permit fee for access. They would be subject to various rules: wear helmets (at the discretion of the board), don’t bring alcohol; don’t light fires outside designated campsites; don’t operate motor vehicles on the trail.

FEOH Realty founder Jason Donahue, of Morgantown, is helping to push the effort and recently said, “The primary goal is an economic development project.” The trail network could increase the number of tourist attractions and thereby the number of tourists.

It passed without debate and goes to the House floor.

Home rule bill

Like its Senate cousin, SB 4, HB 2728 makes the home rule program permanent. It will sunset July 1 this year if it’s not continued.

The bill continues all existing plans and ordinances home rule cities have in place but requires updates to any sections affected by this bill.

Beginning July 1, the Home Rule Board will accept up to four applications per year from Class IV municipalities – population under 2,000 – that wish to join.

Starting July 1, all participants must pay a $2,000 annual assessment into a Home Rule Board Operations Fund to operation and administration of the board. Once the fund reaches $200,000, assessments will stop until such time as the board considers the fund too low.

The bill adds seven new restrictions to the list of what home rule cities can’t do. Among them, they can’t make laws governing professional licensing or certification, or enforcement of state building or fire codes. They can’t override the right to work law.

The bill allows for 30 percent of the voters in the most recent election to demand a referendum within 45 days of enactment of any city law, regulation or resolution; the item in question will not take effect until approved in the referendum.

Any bond sales funded by home rule sales tax proceeds must be approved by a majority vote of the residents.

West Virginia Municipal League Executive Director told members several of the prohibitions were drafted by a stakeholders group in response to a 2017 gubernatorial veto of a similar bill.

But a couple other measures, which the stakeholders didn’t draft, drew the most criticism and debate, as they did in the Senate.

One was the recall measure. Committee counsel told members this measure was added to give city voters some means to respond to home rule laws they don’t like instead of waiting four years for the next election.

Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, said this could pose a new financial burden on cities and counties that have to deal with unplanned special elections.

The most divisive measure was the right to work provision. Delegates Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, co-sponsored the amendment to remove it.

“I’m not sure why this is in there,” Caputo said. It’s already the law. If it’s there simply to deter litigation, as counsel said, there are thousands of other laws that should also be cited.

The right to work battle has been fought and lost, he said. “I believe it’s just a poke in the eye. You shouldn’t be dragging people through the mud again on such a controversial issue.”

The amendment narrowly passed in a roll call vote, 13-12. Vice-chair Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, then moved to table the bill, which passed in a divided voice vote.

Howell said the bill isn’t dead. But they need a coalition of 51 votes to pass it on the floor, and some supporters want the measure in there. So they’re going to talk to the various interests to see how to keep it alive – and monitor the Senate bill which is on third reading for passage today with two amendments pending.

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