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Covering all the bases on ‘home rule’; Legislators offer encouragement in defeating HB 1381

First in a series

No wind or solar energy was necessary to power discussion about this year’s Indiana General Assembly Thursday night in downtown New Castle. The energy was evident in both faces, gestures and voices.

With State Sen. Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) and State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) leading the way, the Henry County GOP meeting was both informative and animated, with perhaps no bill sparking as much interest as House Bill 1381, a measure that would take away “home rule” from local communities and perhaps open the door for major wind and solar developments.

The bill passed on third reading in the House 58-38. But, judging by comments made Thursday, the fight against it has only begun.

“It’s not about wind and solar,” Henry County Commissioner Bobbi Plummer said. “It’s about local control.”

“It’s a bad bill,” Henry County Council representative Betsy Mills said.

Gaskill offered encouraging words to those who oppose the bill.

“One of the things I’ve noticed in the Statehouse is if local officials get fired up about an issue and they start making some phone calls or coming down to the Statehouse, representatives and senators will fold up like a cheap card table,” Gaskill said. “When that bill comes up for a Senate committee hearing, you may want to come down and testify.”

Plummer and Mills said they did offer testimony at a House of Representatives hearing and planned to do so in the Senate as well.

Gaskill said they were far from alone about their concerns. In fact, he pointed to his wife, Kelly, sitting in the back of GOP headquarters. She is a Madison County commissioner and also opposes the bill.

“The Madison County Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the bill at their last meeting,” Gaskill said.

Henry County Commissioners have done the same, Plummer said. New Castle City Council will consider the resolution at its next meeting, Plummer added, while someone plans to visit the other local town councils and boards and get their support as well.

“That is probably going to be the most effective lobbying wall to knock this thing out,” Gaskill said.

Mills said the Association of Indiana Counties, Association of County Commissioners, Indiana Cities and Towns and Farm Bureau organizations all oppose HB 1381.

Saunders said there was a lot of hypocrisy in the bill.

“I said to our group my constituency came to Indianapolis for five years asking for help with setbacks on wind turbines, conflicts of interest with local communities and they were told ‘that’s a local issue,’” Saunders said. “‘Go home and take care of it yourself. And if your local officials aren’t listening to you, replace them.’

“Well, that’s exactly what you did,” Saunders continued. “And now we don’t like that, so we’re coming in and trying to take it away from you again.”

Saunders stressed he offered a couple of amendments to make the legislation less intrusive, including an effort to grandfather in communities that have already adopted ordinances.

“I think I only had 25 Republicans join me on that,” Saunders said. “Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) told me ‘Tom, on HB 1381 people in Muncie really don’t care.’ Well, on another bill which takes away siting for cell towers, the Democrats and all the urban legislators voted against it.

“I walked up to them and said ‘wait a minute guys. What’s the difference between the siting of a cell tower and a wind turbine? They’re taking away local control on both.’”

Saunders said he was working on a coalition of legislators to either water down or defeat the bill when it comes back to the House from the Senate.

“Their argument is there’s 40 good counties in the state for wind,” Saunders said. “And 32 of them have already said they don’t want it.”

HB 1381 was one of several legislative proposals discussed at Thursday’s Henry County GOP Club meeting. Watch The Courier-Times all next week for a series of stories about how things stand at halftime in this year’s Indiana General Assembly.