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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Municipal Home Rule Board is now accepting applications for 14 new cities, towns and villages to join the 20 that have already been granted home-rule status.

The Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program was created in 2007 and began with four cities: Charleston, Huntington, Wheeling and Bridgeport. The initial pilot program lasted five years and granted those cities authority to enact ordinances, acts, resolutions, rules and regulations without regard to state law with several exceptions. Home-rule municipalities must still comply with the constitutions of the United States and West Virginia, and some state laws, such as criminal and controlled substance laws, are still off-limits.

Based on its initial success, the 2013 Legislature moved to continue and expand the program to 16 more cities. In October 2014, the Home Rule Board accepted the following cities into the pilot program: Bluefield, Buckhannon, Charles Town, Clarksburg, Dunbar, Fairmont, Martinsburg, Milton, Morgantown, Nitro, Parkersburg, Ranson, Shinnston, South Charleston, Vienna and Weirton.

On March 14, 2015, the West Virginia Legislature expanded the program for a second time when it passed Senate Bill 323, permitting the addition of 14 more municipalities. The bill specified that four of the new municipalities must be class IV, which is the designation for towns or villages with populations of fewer than 2,000 people.

Municipalities seeking home-rule authority may submit applications to the board any time, and there is no deadline to apply. The application must include a written plan outlining which state laws, policies, acts, resolutions, rules or regulations are preventing the municipality to carry out duties in the most cost-effective, efficient and timely manner, as well as specific problems created by the laws and proposed solutions.

The application as well as guidelines and a checklist are now available online at www.wvcommerce.org/homerule. More information about the program is also available there, as well as applications submitted by existing home-rule municipalities.