The second half of the 2017 Legislative session is well underway and there are only a few weeks left for bills to pass out of committee. The pressure is on for many bills to stay alive. Check out this week’s tracking list of additional bills of interest or concern to municipal government to see where the bills are currently sitting.
- The Senate took testimony this week on the HB 1002, the road funding proposal. Mayor Blair Milo and Mayor Scott Fadness testified in committee in support of the current House road funding plan. Testimony was well received and Senator Hershman thanked local government for being a partner and collaborating to find a long term solution.
- We believe the bill will be amended when it returns to the Tax and Fiscal committee and there will be major changes made to the plan into what will have support in the Senate. The bill is not on the agenda for next week so it will likely be heard on March 28, the last week of committee hearings.
- Senate support for a long term plan is robust but lack of public support for the current House plan is concerning. We anticipate the Senate proposal may not be as favorable to local government as the current House plan. We strongly encourage our members make direct contact with their Senators to discuss the tremendous local need and encourage them to support the bill.
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Small Cell Tower Regulation
- Senate Bill 213 was heard in the House Utilities, Energy & Telecommunications committee on Wednesday, March 15. The committee was very receptive to the testimony presented by Aim and there were many valid questions raised by the committee members.
- The bill will be held for two weeks and will return on March 29 for an amendment and vote hearing. We will continue to work with the communication providers and legislators on compromise language that will meet the needs of the providers but limit loss of local involvement.
- Negotiations have centered on aesthetics, location of structures, fees and relocation of equipment in right of ways. There are additional concerns with liability and constituent complaints that were addressed to the committee members.
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Short Term Rentals
- HB 1133 is the “Airbnb bill” that sets a statewide framework of regulation for short term rentals in Indiana. Unfortunately, it greatly restricts local control, especially with regard to planning and zoning.
- In its current form, a homeowner could rent their home out to a non-resident for half the year and still be considered a “short term rental” that is not subject to any of the same regulations as hotels or even bed and breakfast establishments, and municipalities would have very limited ability to regulate the practice locally.
- This bill will be debated by the full Senate soon, so please contact your state senator to express your concerns about this bill.
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Tax Court Study
- We have heard many concerns about the backlog of cases in the Indiana Tax Court, which creates big problems for local governments in the jurisdictions of the disputes.
- HB 1450 contains several tax-related provisions. We think this may be a good home to include language requesting a study of the Indiana Tax Court.
- Aim has asked the sponsor of the bill in the Senate to include this study committee language in HB 1450. We are hopeful it will be prepared as a committee amendment, where it will be heard on March 28 in the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.
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Newspaper Publications & Uncollectable Sewer Debt
- HB 1272 is an Aim initiative bill for statutory clean-up. It successfully passed without amendments in the House and Senate and now will head to the Governor’s desk for signature.
- HB 1272 addresses the problem of when a newspaper fails to publish a public notice.
- HB 1272 also increases the amount of uncollectable sewer debt that can be waived up to $200.
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Road Funding Bill Heard by Joint Senate Committees
HB 1002 Transportation Infrastructure Funding (Soliday, R-Valparaiso; T. Brown, R-Crawfordsville; Steurewald, R-Avon; Sullivan, R-Evansville)
HB 1002 was heard by the Senate Tax & Fiscal committee and the members of the Homeland Security & Transportation committee this week. Mayor Scott Fadness of Fishers and Mayor Blair Milo of LaPorte provided testimony on behalf of Aim in support of the bill as currently written. They provided the committee members with an overview of recent legislation on infrastructure funding and how it has benefited communities across the state. Mayor Milo provided an in-depth review of current conditions in her city and how improvements such as increased MVH funding and the INDOT Community Crossings program have aided in slowing local road way deterioration. You can watch their testimony online.
There’s unquestionable support in the Senate to establish a long term road funding plan and there has been little debate on the $1.2 billion state need and the $775 million local need, however the conversation has focused on the proper way to fund that need.
One item of concern with the current plan is there appears to be little support in the Senate to transition all of the gas sales tax at one time. This creates a hole in the current funding plan which must be replaced by another revenue stream in order to meet the need. At this time our efforts will continue to focus on providing support for the current House funding plan and support modifications that still guarantee revenue distributions to local units of government.
The bill will likely return to the Tax and Fiscal committee on March 29, the last week of committee hearings, and will be amended to secure enough votes to pass out of committee and start in a favorable position for the full Senate.
Aim encourages all of our members to contact their Senator to show support for a plan that will meet the full road funding need.
Aim Position: Support
Small Cell Towers Thoroughly Discussed in Committee
SB 213 Support Structures for Wireless Facilities (Hershman, R-Buck Creek)
SB 213 was presented to the House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications committee on Wednesday afternoon where it was held for further discussion. Supporters of the small cell structure bill provided testimony in support of the technology and described the benefits to the state economy. While we agree this technology is desired and needed all across the state, Aim testimony focused on the impact to residential neighborhoods and downtowns by eliminating local oversight. We presented a clear explanation of exactly what this legislation will do to local government and the likely results as providers expand service into R1 zoned areas and downtowns where investments have been made to improve aesthetic standards. The committee members, both Republican and Democrat, were very receptive to this concern and agreed there is work needed on this bill before it leaves committee.
Our primary argument is that by removing local planning, zoning and right of way control the telecommunication providers will have unfettered access to place their equipment anywhere in the right of way as long as it doesn’t impact public health or safety. Local government oversight in the ROW not only protects the utilities located there but also the property owners who are adjacent to the ROW. We also believe we can find a method that will improve the process for locating and installing these structures in sensitive areas rather than creating a free for all system.
Over the next two weeks we will work with Chairman Ober, the House sponsor of the bill, to address our concerns. Our intent is to meet the needs of the providers while maintaining local oversight of these structures.
Aim Position: Oppose
Legislation to Restrict Local Control over Short Term Rentals
HB 1133 Preemption of Local Bans on Short Term Rentals (Lehman, R-Berne)
HB 1133 addresses the practice of home-sharing in Indiana through online platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, etc. In addition to pre-empting locals’ ability to ban short term renting, it also establishes a statewide framework that significantly restricts the ability of local governments to respond to this practice through planning and zoning.
In its current form, this legislation prevents local governments from regulating short term rentals except in narrowly-defined circumstances. Although we can enforce regulations on short term rentals for the protection of public health and safety, we can only enforce land use and zoning regulations related to noise, protection of welfare, property maintenance and nuisance issues. The current “cap” on the number of days that a property can be rented out and still be considered a short term rental is 180 days, which Aim also believes is far too many days.
Although Aim has actively lobbied for amendments that would provide a better balance, the leaders behind this effort have not accepted any of the language we’ve requested. The bill passed out of the Senate Local Government Committee this week, so the full Senate will be debating this issue soon. Aim will continue to advocate for amendments that make the bill better, but in the absence of substantial changes, we remain opposed.
Aim Requests Tax Court Study
HB 1450 Property Tax Matters (Leonard, R-Huntington)
Aim has heard many concerns about the backlog of cases in the Indiana Tax Court due at least in part to so many property assessments being appealed. When cases backlog at the court level, it creates big problems for local governments in the jurisdictions of the disputes – potential revenue shortages, delays and possible repayments with interest.
We think the General Assembly should take a look at this issue to evaluate whether the court’s needs for resources are being met. A standalone bill asking for this study was introduced on Aim’s behalf (HB 1160), but that bill did not move. Therefore, we started looking for a home for that language and we think we may have identified one in HB 1450.
This week, we asked the bill’s sponsor in the House whether he is willing to include the Tax Court study committee language in the bill. As he begins working on committee amendments for the March 28 hearing, we are hopeful our language will be prepared.
Local Government Clean-up Bill passes the Senate
HB 1272 Local Government Matters (Negele, R-Attica)
As a 2017 initiative, Aim put forth a local government matters clean-up bill that was authored by former clerk-treasurer Rep. Sharon Negele. The bill passed successfully passed the Senate this week, and will soon be headed to the Governor.
The language in the bill provides that if a newspaper fails to publish a notice, as an alternative, notice can be provided by posting in three prominent places in the political subdivision or on the political subdivision’s internet website. There is also language in the bill which increases the amount from $40 to $200 of debt that a municipal sewage works or sanitation department can write off as uncollectable.
Aim Position: Support