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County Council leading fight to preserve home rule

The Indiana General Assembly is often referred to as a “citizens’ legislature.” For years, state law has embodied a Dorothy Gale-like “no place like home” mindset, with “home rule” in place to let local governments determine their own fates whenever practical.

But there is a gale of another kind swirling at the Statehouse these days regarding jurisdiction over wind and solar projects. Last week, Henry County Council member Betsy Mills urged everyone not to take cover, but take action.

Mills led the county council in passing a resolution opposing House Bill 1381, which would take away county authority to make local decisions about industrial solar and wind projects.

“This just undermines home rule,” Mills said at last Thursday’s County Council meeting. “Counties would be bound by the same standards regardless of size. State government wants to usurp local power.”

Home rule is the power of a local city or county to set up its own system of self-government without receiving a charter from the state. Mills urged other local municipalities to pass similar resolutions against HB 1381 and to make their opposition known at the Statehouse.

“Commissioner Bobbi Plummer and I have been working with a grassroots group called ‘Hoosiers for Home Rule,’” Mills said. “It’s a non-partisan coalition of folks from across Indiana who are concerned about the erosion of Indiana’s Home Rule law.”

Mills said that over the past five years, there has been an “incredible chipping away” at Home Rule and the ability of local governments to regulate themselves.

“In 2017, Senate Bill 558 prevented local governments from fining landlords and property owners who host crime and create public nuisances,” Mills said. “Another bill that year, SB 213, prevented local governments from regulating 4G and 5G antennas.”

Of particular concern now to many county residents is not what HB 1381 would do. Rather, what it would undo – the four mile buffer zone ordinances 13 local councils and boards passed to protect citizens from wind turbine development.

“This bill shows no concern for population density, nor for the county’s ability to plan for future economic development,” Mills said. “As a young person and elected officials in Henry County, my top priority is our economic development and growth, and I see our geographic position outside of Indianapolis as incredibly advantageous. We are uniquely blessed with not one, but two interstate corridors, with I-70 running through the middle of our county and its three interchanges, and I-69 running just a half mile west of the northwest corridor.

“Indianapolis is growing our way and it must be a priority of Henry County to plan for that future now,” Mills continued. “Having Home Rule be scrapped with regard to our ability to develop reasonable regulatory standards for industrial wind and solar projects would be a nightmare scenario for our future planning.”

HB 1381 has passed the House and is now in the hands of the Indiana Senate. Mills said she intended to testify at the Statehouse along with Plummer, Commissioner Ed Tarantino and County Council President Susan Huhn in the near future.

Here is contact information for the two senators and one House member representing Henry County:

State Rep. Tom Saunders 317-232-9863

State Sen. Jean Leising 317-232-9400

State Sen. Mike Gaskill 317-232-9400