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House Committee Approves Bill Limiting 'Extraterritorial Powers' Of Small Towns, Cities

Indiana statehouse at night

(Charlotte Tuggle, WBAA)

A bill limiting the regulatory powers of small towns and cities passed out of an Indiana House committee Tuesday. The legislation would prevent boards from halting developments within four miles of their city limits due to health and safety concerns.

Debate has centered on wind farms, particularly proposals in Montgomery and Henry counties. Wind companies argue the four-mile radius limits the amount of land they can develop, while opponents say the so-called extraterritorial powers help mitigate concerns about perceived health risks caused by turbines.

Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville) is one of the bill's authors. He says the primary goal is to allow for a more representative and simpler government. 

"That's all I'm trying to accomplish," Boots says. "To make sure we understand who has the authority and who doesn't." 

Rep. Steve Davisson (R-Salem) is a co-sponsor of the bill. He says the version approved by the House Committee on Government Reduction has something to appease both sides.

“We’ve kind of worked hard with a lot of different folks trying to come up with a nice compromise to make everyone somewhat happy,” he says. “Maybe not completely happy, but we’ve done the best we can on it.”

The committee did pass multiple amendments, including one that allows municipal airports to exercise eminent domain within four miles of the city, as long as the land is contiguous to the airport. Another amendment limits the amount of money local governments can spend on public notices to $250.

The bill would invalidate any local ordinances put in place after January 1, 2019, and prevent any ordinances under consideration from going into effect.

The Hoosier Environmental Council has issued a statement against the bill: 

“We appreciate that the committee modified some of the troubling language of SB 535 as passed by the Senate, but remain concerned that the bill still unreasonably limits cities and towns’ authority to protect their residents from land uses just outside their municipal boundaries that could pose public health risks. This authority – known as extraterritorial jurisdiction – has been used by many communities to protect the health and safety of their citizens from harmful waste facilities, surface mines and quarries, and CAFOs. [...] We urge the full House of Representatives to adopt an amendment that restores the ability of Indiana’s cities and towns to protect their safety and public health through use of extraterritorial jurisdiction, reinstating the four-mile limit and providing for coordination between cities and counties in the use of this authority."

Towns could still exercise regulatory powers within a two-mile radius of their limits, but would first need county approval.

Brock Turner contributed to this report. 

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