HB 1381 died on the senate floor during Tuesday’s Indiana Senate chamber session.
Stop Industrial Plants in Shelby County leader Kyle Barlow, along with other anti-solar leaders, ventured to the Indianapolis statehouse yet again this legislative session to witness the bill’s fate.
The bill that arrived to the chamber Tuesday evening, freshly amended (again) by Senator Mark Messmer during the previous day’s chamber session. The bill died after Messmer withdrew the bill.
“We got there about 2 p.m., they were going through a bunch of different bills,” Barlow said. “The way it was explained to us was they suspended the rules and [Messmer] passed on it.”
This means the first time the bill was called up, Messmer passed on the bill, and it would be brought back up again after a couple other bills were discussed.
“They were lobbying that whole time,” Barlow said. “[The senators] were talking about a school bill and that took forever … but at the end of that, Messmer got up and he withdrew the bill. My thinking is that they didn’t have the votes they needed, and since they didn’t, he didn’t want to discuss it.”
The version of this bill that died attempted to set statewide siting standards for solar and wind projects, established an optional Renewable Energy District (RED) for counties to utilize in accepting renewable energy projects, provide an incentive for counties to accept these standards and REDs, and create an appeals process for renewable energy companies if a county denies a project.
The last amendment passed Monday (in less than five minutes and with a loud chorus of “nays” from opposing chamber members) “100 percent grandfathered in” all existing solar and wind ordinances, Messmer told the Senate chamber.
“If your existing ordinance is less restrictive than the state siting standards in this bill, you can modify your existing ordinance at any time without voiding the ordinance, and just not make it any stricter than the state standard,” he said. “If you have an ordinance that is more restrictive than the current siting standards in the bill, you can make it less restrictive at any time without compromising the rest of the ordinance and without having to comply with the state standards.”
It also made adopting an ordinance completely optional – the previous version required all counties to either make their own ordinance or accept the state standards on July 1, when the bill would have become effective.
And lastly, it changed modifying the RED zone process by changing it into two steps.
“As the bill was drafted, it would’ve had you do a complete design of your project before you could bring it in for approval by the commissioners,” Messmer explained. “This process now breaks it into two steps: the commissioners can either accept or reject your RED zone project. If approved, the renewable company will then do all the detailed engineering work for the final application.”
“The company would be required to submit the final application within five years of being given notice to proceed by the commissioners, or they will start over with a new request,” Messmer said.
This amendment also included some drainage requirements.
This version completely did away with mentions of home rule, which was the original big concern with the bill. It was so concerning to local officials that it caused more than 60 county governments to sign a letter in opposition of the bill.
But even with this new amendment, Barlow believes it had enough opposition thanks to people like him and his group who called their senators and asked them to vote against it.
“It was a win for us,” he said. “We stopped this House bill from moving through the way they wanted to, honestly, three different times here in the last few weeks.”
“At one point, they thought the bill was going to be tied, and if they were, the lieutenant governor was gonna have to cast the vote,” he added. “But none of us really knew what was happening.”
Barlow’s concern now is that the politicians will write these amendments into other bills, especially HB 1348 pertaining to tax assessments on solar energy projects, which did pass through the Senate chamber on Tuesday.
“They can potentially write amendments into other bills,” Barlow said. “We were told it would be political suicide if they did that.”
He added he would keep his eye on HB 1348. And other similar bills that may pop up in the next legislative session.
And while the group did not speak to the Senate chamber, they did speak to their senator, Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), and she introduced them to other senators.
“I want to applaud all of the Shelby County group was there,” Barlow said, adding that his group was professional throughout the whole battle. “We’re not radical ‘NIMBYs’ as we’ve been labeled by a lot of people.”
NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard.”
Barlow and the others who traveled to Indy celebrated their win by eating at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Indy. They even said hi to Rep. Sean Eberhart.
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