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Emergency Ordinance Procedure: How Municipalities Can Pass Expedited Emergency Ordinances In Response To COVID-19

On March 23, 2020, Governor Jim Justice issued an executive “Stay-at-Home” home order, officially known as Executive Order 9-20, in an attempt to further combat the spread of COVID-19 within West Virginia. Municipalities may also wish to pass their ordinances to combat the spread among their citizens but could be dismayed at the ordinance procedure outlined in the West Virginia Code. Under West Virginia Code § 8-11-4(a), municipalities must read the ordinance by title at not less than two meetings of the governing body with at least one week intervening between each meeting. For many, this is too long a timeframe to pass COVID-19-related ordinances, even with the implementation of an emergency meeting.

However, a closer look at the West Virginia Code will show that a municipality can pass an ordinance in one meeting if need be, therefore avoiding the requirement of waiting a week at the very least to pass critical safety-related ordinances. West Virginia Code § 8-11-4(d) makes it clear that a governing body of a municipality may enact an ordinance without complying with traditional procedures in the case of a pressing public emergency making procedure in accordance with the provisions of this section dangerous to the public health, safety or morals, and by affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members elected to the governing body. The nature of any such emergency must be set out in full within the ordinance. Therefore, municipalities in West Virginia can act swiftly and make laws that best protect their citizenry from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, the ordinance procedures in a municipal charter should be consulted before taking any course of action in an emergency. 

This is just one of the various provisions in the West Virginia Code that can aid a municipality in an emergency. If you have questions or concerns regarding any issue that your municipal government may be facing, Flaherty stands ready to assist you. For more information, please contact James V. Cann at 304.624.5687 jcann@flahertylegal.com or Michael Secret at 304.225.3055 msecret@flahertylegal.com.