Many on the Carmel City Council are expressing frustration for several bills introduced this year in the Indiana State Legislature that would have an effect on local municipal actions.
There’s a law in committee that would prevent municipalities from banning room-renting sites like Airbnb. Carmel has expressed in interest in curtailing the practice by asking that any Airbnb hosts apply for a rezone as a commercial property before conducting business, but some hosts say the rezoning costs are prohibitive and not a guarantee of approval.
Another bill would allow cell phone companies to place small cell towers in public right of way, which some on the city council believe would be unsightly. As a result, Carmel is attempting to pass a small cell tower ordinance in case the state law fails.
In addition, State Rep. Donna Schaibley, who represents parts of Carmel and Zionsville, introduced a bill that would allow municipalities to, for the most part, pick their own hours for Fourth of July fireworks displays. The bill, which has been introduced several times over the years, was not heard.
City Council President Sue Finkam said she’s frustrated because she believes local governing bodies should be able to make their own decisions without state input.
“Local officials like the City of Carmel and others are frustrated when the state legislature continuously usurps any option for us to work with our constituents directly on what they want,” she said. “The state legislature says they know want our residents want more than we do. We work very hard year in and year out to control the quality of life in our city, and here’s the legislature telling us what to do. At this point, I’m wondering if Home Rule really exists.”
State Rep. Jerry Torr, who represents much of Carmel, said it’s not so simple. He remembered how Gov. Eric Holcomb was asked about Home Rule issues when a member of the public said it’s hypocritical to criticize the federal government for interference in the states but then take power away from local cities.
“I told him later, ‘Eric, when you get that Home Rule question, here’s what you need to remind people: the states created the federal government. The states also created the local governments.’” he said. “Every local government entity in the state of Indiana derives its power from legislation passed by the general assembly. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in Home Rule. I fought really hard on Home Rule when it comes to the Airbnb issue.”
Torr said he doesn’t know as much about the small cell tower legislation, but he said he’s gotten a lot of feedback about Airbnb and the need for municipal regulation there.
“There are some places where it’s appropriate for the state government to step in,” he said. “One case is when we finally dealt with the patchwork of local laws when it came to people traveling with guns.”