Changing the rules in middle of the game If the state can do it to Bloomington, it can do it to the rest of us, too.
The city of Bloomington wanted to annex 9,848 acres that were home to just under 15,000 people. So, in accordance with state guidelines, it held six public meetings where more than 30 city officials interacted with hundreds of citizens. On March 29, the City Council introduced a series of annexation ordinances, and the next day, the city published and mailed notice of a public hearing scheduled for Wednesdasy in the gymnasium of Bloomington High School South. It spent more than $770,000 on the annexation process.
Then, at the last minute, the Indiana House approved a budget bill that included an amendment blocking Bloomington’s annexation efforts and barring the city from revisiting the plan for five years. The measure passed less that 24 hours after it was introduced. There was no debate.
Bloomington is crying foul, with a lawsuit, and it has a point.
Article 4, Section 23, of the Indiana Constitution says “all laws shall be general” and “of uniform operation throughout the state.” In other words, the state shouldn’t pass special legislation that singles out individual communities for regulation. But that’s exactly what the House’s last-minute prohibition did. The legislation prohibited annexation of property that was “unincorporated on Jan. 17, 2017, and included in an annexation ordinance that was introduced between Dec. 31, 2016, and July 1, 2017.” Guess what that affects? Bloomington’s proposal and nothing else.
The state is trying to change the rules in the middle of the game, and that should concern us all. If the state gets away with this, no legislation passed by any city or county in the state will be safe. The state can arbitrarily and capriciously yank the rug out from under local officials, even if they were following all state rules to the letter.
This is the second time the state has pulled this stunt with Bloomington. When that city decided to prohibit plastic bags, the General Assembly enacted legislation forbidding any local government in the state from banning them That’ll teach ’em.
Now, Bloomington is a liberal city, so it enacts a lot of legislation we’re not crazy about. But we must allow residents there to live their own lives and make their own mistakes, because we insist on having the same privilege. Even if that requires hitting the state over the head with a lawsuit stick once in a while.