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‘It was always a bad bill’; Local officials are happy HB 1381 died in the statehouse

A bill designed to create statewide standards for solar and wind farms has been defeated.

The victory is more about protecting the idea of “home rule” in all 92 counties, say two local officials who personal fought House Bill 1381.

Henry County Commissioner Bobbi Plummer and County Council member Betsy Mills traveled to the Indiana Statehouse over the past couple of months to oppose the bill in person. County Council President Susan Huhn testified against HB 1381 before it originally passed out of committee.

The full House passed HB 1381 on Feb. 17, with Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) joining 37 others voting “No.”

Saunders recently told the Henry County GOP Club that this bill would take away local control for more than just solar or wind projects; it had far-reaching implications for “home rule,” the concept that local officials should have final say over local decisions.

He called it a hypocritical bill. State lawmakers had spent years telling county officials to make their own decisions, but then created this bill because they didn’t like the decisions the counties made, Saunders said.

The bill arrived to the full Senate Tuesday evening, freshly amended by Senator Mark Messmer during the previous day’s chamber session. HB 1381 died after Messmer withdrew the bill.

Commissioner Plummer was pleased to hear Tuesday that the bill was pulled from the Senate floor.

“HB 1381 is/was a bad bill not just for wind and solar but for any other amended item that could be added in the future that would take away Home Rule and local control from county government,” Plummer said. “Any legislation like this should be considered overreach.”

Plummer said a one-size-fits-all mandate from the State House does not take into consideration the individuality and uniqueness of Indiana’s 92 unique and individual counties

“Many counties that have Wind/Solar projects also opposed this bill as overreach at the state level. Over 2/3 of Indiana Counties came out in opposition to this bill,” she said. “Counties with permissive wind/solar ordinances as well as those with stricter ordinances all came together in opposition to this bill.”

Although HB 1381 had been amended to grandfather in any counties that had solar or wind ordinances in place before July 1, it would have had detrimental consequences for decades to come, no matter who is sitting in the Henry County Commissioners Office, Plummer said.

“If HB 1381 were to become law, this is just the beginning of taking away Home Rule for other issues as well. This is not a path that the state of Indiana needs to begin walking down,” she said.

Council member Mills was also pleased the bill died. She called it a massive victory for local government and officials.

“HB 1381 was a horrible bill that completely upended local control of government. The more our State Senators learned about it, the more unpopular it became – regardless of amendments or financial incentives,” she said. “There’s a reason that groups like Indiana Farm Bureau, Association of Indiana Counties (AIC), and Indiana Association of County Commissioners (IACC) – all of which are friendly to renewable energies – fought hard to defeat this bill. It was always a bad bill, subverting local control and Home Rule, which is simply wrong.”

Mills said the original motivation for Rep. Ed Soliday to draft HB 1381 was to make Indiana “more friendly” to industrial renewable energy projects. If that’s the case, the state should work directly with willing counties and corporations to make those projects happen, “not push a ridiculously inept statewide ordinance on the rest of our counties who have already set those standards,” Mills said.

She imagines that lobbyists from solar and industrial wind companies were shocked they didn’t get HB 1381 across the finish line.

“Here’s the lesson – listen to local officials,” Mills said. “The state needs to stay in its own lane and not subvert or upend the crucial governing principal of Home Rule.”

Mills said it is okay to celebrate a brief victory for home rule, but local people and their state-level lawmakers should keep an eye out for any other versions of this bill that might pop up in the future.

“Both Jean Leising and Mike Gaskill did a phenomenal job of representing their constituents in Henry County. They listened to us, took notes, asked fantastic questions in committee meetings, and demonstrated that they care about who elected them. I can’t thank them enough,” Mills said. “And in the House, Tom Saunders also did an outstanding job looking out for his constituents. We are lucky in Henry County to have that trio looking out for us.”