April 2, 2021
The Big Issues
- There are two bills still alive this session that would give local governing bodies new options for electronic participation of its members during public meetings. These bills are being carried by Sen. Linda Rogers (R-Granger) and Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero).
- SB 369 and HB 1437 both allow governing bodies to adopt a local policy to use virtual meetings. The bills each have some state-set guardrails in place that must be met (e.g., limiting the number of meetings that any one member can attend virtually each year unless there are extenuating circumstances and requiring at least 50% of the members to be in person). A local policy can be more strict than the state law, but not less strict.
- SB 369 was heard in the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee this week and was amended to mirror HB 1437, which includes a list of seven types of actions that cannot be voted on virtually. Aim does not favor this provision, but several key House members feel strongly about it being included. We will continue working with the author and sponsor to ensure a virtual meetings framework passes this year.
- In the first half of session, a bill that would require a municipality to get approval from county commissioners in order to use eminent domain authority outside the municipality’s corporate boundaries (e.g. for water or sewer easements) passed the House, HB 1527. It would also add a new compensable category for business losses for these takings at the property owner’s request and adds other procedural hurdles. In summary, this language would make these proceedings more costly, complicated, and time intensive.
- HB 1527 is not moving in the Senate because the Senate Local Government Committee chairman declined to hear the bill. However, the language is still alive and can be added to another bill, which happened this week in the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee. SB 409, an unrelated bill dealing with various township matters, now contains significant portions of the language in HB 1527.
- This is an unfortunate setback, but there is still an opportunity for this language to be removed. We have already been having conversations on the Senate side, where there was an unwillingness to move the original bill. These conversations will likely continue for the duration of session.
WIND AND SOLAR SITING
- This session, lawmakers have been debating a wind and solar siting bill, HB 1381. The House-passed version of the bill would have established a statewide, uniform framework for siting of these projects, preempting local ordinances that were more restrictive than the state-set standards. This would have impacted many counties that had effectively banned wind development.
- This week, the Senate Utilities Committee took up the issue, where the bill was significantly amended. The bill still contains statewide standards, but it is optional for local units to adopt them. If the standards are adopted, there is a financial incentive to the local unit for doing so (up to $3,000 per megawatt capacity of a wind project). Any existing ordinances that are more restrictive than the statewide standards are also no longer automatically preempted.
- HB 1381, authored by Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), passed the Senate Utilities Committee on Thursday with a vote of 9-2. It will now be considered by the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, where it may be further amended.
PROPERTY TAX MATTERS
- This week, two bills impacting Indiana’s property tax system passed the House of Representatives – one a positive development, and the other that Aim opposed.
- SB 336 increases the business personal property tax exemption from $40,000 to $60,000, which will cause a $5.5 million revenue hit to local governments statewide. On the other hand, SB 275 would 1) require expert legal witnesses in property tax appeal cases and 2) require appealing property owners to submit the actual construction cost of their property to the county assessor during an appeal. Aim supports these efforts to give local governments more tools to evaluate the true tax value of properties that are difficult to assess and whose owners often appeal their assessments.
- SB 336, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis) and SB 275, authored by Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary), passed the House of Representatives this week with votes of 68-21 and 88-1 respectively. The Senate authors will now have an opportunity to concur or dissent to the changes made by the House.
- Each year, various bills are introduced that impact the 1977 Fund. One that is expected to pass the General Assembly this session is SB 396.
- Under current law, 1977 Fund pension contributions and expenditures are determined by a formula based on the salary of patrolmen or firefighters, with augmentations for longevity. Several communities were interpreting this statute differently or creating new patrolman/firefighter classes that are not occupied by any officer to use specifically for the purpose of calculating their pension contributions. SB 396 would more specifically define the calculation so that there is no variation among communities, and unoccupied positions can no longer be used to calculate the pension contributions. The bill also changes the maximum age for police department applicants from 35 to 39 years of age.
- SB 396, authored by Sen. Phil Boots (R-Crawfordsville), passed the House of Representatives this week unanimously. Sen. Boots has already concurred to the House amendments, so it will be voted on by the full Senate one more time.
AN AIM LEGISLATIVE MOMENT
“Everyone knows that the mask mandate will end on April 6. I have had several individuals ask whether cities or towns can extend a local mask mandate. The answer is yes, with some limitations regarding the mandate. The best thing to do here is to talk to your local attorney or talk to us on how to make that happen if that is something you want to do.”
– Matt Greller, Aim CEO
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