UPDATE 4/18/13 @ 11:30 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Charleston Mayor Danny Jones sounded resigned to the changes in the city's gun laws that will be handed down from the state Legislature.
Jones protested the changes with community leaders at the State Capitol on Thursday.
As part of a compromise to extend a home rule pilot program, the Legislature stipulated that participating cities must strike down municipal gun ordinances.
There is still the unlikely possibility of a veto from the governor. But Jones said that if that happened, the city might wind up with something even worse.
The changes in gun rules would allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns in public parks.
Charleston City Councilman Andy Richardson quipped that you won't be able to smoke in public parks, but you'll be able to carry a gun.
Jones criticized the bill on Monday during a meeting of the City Council's Finance Committee.
Lawmakers voted Saturday to extend a home rule pilot program for another five years. They also kept limits on municipal gun control ordinances added by the House.
Charleston is one of four cities participating in the original home rule program.
Charleston could opt out of the program when it expires at the end of June. But Jones says he believes the Legislature would continue to target the city's gun ordinance.
He also says it's unlikely that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin would veto the bill.
“There's no room to put people, the cells are full, the beds are full,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.
The prison reform program would combat the overcrowding problem by making post-release supervision mandatory. The bill would also offer inmates drug abuse treatment and counseling.
Supporters say it would prevent inmates from re-offending and save the state hundreds of millions of dollars but critics fear inmates could be released early.
“These people get out anyway… this is a better chance to protect the public,” Carper added.
Another key bill city leaders worry endangers the public is the home rule pilot program. The program give cities more control - but it would restrict gun ordinances.
That's been cause for concern in Charleston and other cities like South Charleston that want to take part.
“I think it's very important that we be able to decide for example not letting guns into a community center,” South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said. “If we somehow lose control of that, that could affect my decision on whether we want to pursue home rule.”
Mullins said he doesn't want to waste anytime applying because under the bill 16 other cities in the state can join the home-rule pilot.
“In anticipation of this thing passing we went ahead and started some preliminary work on getting the application together,” Mullens said.
While the governor still has to sign off on the passed bills -it's the reactions of this year's legislative session that are once again sparking debate.
UPDATE: 4/14/13 @ 12:50 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- More West Virginia cities and towns will have a shot at increasing their self-governance.
Lawmakers voted Saturday to extend a home rule pilot program for another five years. They also kept limits on gun control ordinances added by the House.
Four cities taking part in the home rule experiment credit it for fee cuts, reduced blight and less red tape.
Saturday's compromise bill lets them stay in the program. It invites up to 16 more cities and towns to apply. But the bill also only allows participants to ban firearms from most municipal property except parking garages. Concealed weapon permit holders could have guns on city-owned property that have no government operations, such as parks or swimming pools.
Charleston is in the pilot but also has affected gun ordinances.
The Legislature also passed a wide-ranging prison reform bill and sent it to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature.
The bill focuses on enhanced post-release supervision and drug treatment for prisoners. It is estimated that those measures will help reduce re-offending and save the state $18 million next year.
The bill is expected to halt prison growth rates but not reduce current populations in the state's critically overcrowded prisons and jails. The Senate agreed unanimously to the House version of the bill on Saturday. The House version expands drug courts and grants early release to non-violent offenders, but only at a judge's discretion.
It is not known if the changes will be sufficient to keep the state from having to build a $200 million prison.
One of the more high profile bills, the home rule bill, has created a lot of disagreement at the Capitol but Saturday evening a special conference committee decided in favor of the amended bill.
The passage of the bill would extend the home rule pilot program until 2019 and would allow other cities across the state to also participate.
The bill was already in effect in Charleston and three other cities as a pilot program but is set to expire July 1st.
The bill gives cities and towns more control over how the municipalities are run.
The bill became controversial after a provision was added that would require certain cities like Charleston to repeal laws such as gun ordinances.
The repeal would mean more uniformity in gun regulations across the state.
The provision created disagreement at the Capitol about its purpose in the home rule bill.
“It's counterproductive to say we're going to trust you with everything else," Delegate Meshea Poore of Kanawha County said. "You can do this right, you can do that right however, when it comes to this we just don't trust you. And I think we either trust the people in our municipalities to do the right or we don't.”
Del. Patrick Lane disagreed with Poore, saying “I think most of those critics are anti-gun, anti-second amendment and haven't read the rest of the bill,” Lane said. “I think they're about 15 or 16 different provisions that have limitations that is granted to the municipalities. This provision just happens to be one of them."
A proposal targeting West Virginia's inmate crowding crisis is among other measures emerging from the Legislature as it completes the 2013 session.
A unanimous Senate gave final approval to the inmate bill, a key item from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's agenda.
The governor's proposal cutting alternative fuel vehicle tax credits also passed Saturday.
The Legislature also passed a measure to expand school meal programs, attempting to ensure students are not denied meals because of cost.
Lawmakers will spend next week in extended session completing a new state budget.
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