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The Journal Gazette

  • L. Kesling

  • D. Kesling

Tuesday, February 06, 2018 1:00 am


Regulatory tug of war

Lawmakers cede - for now - local-control limits

One advantage of the General Assembly's short session every other year is that it reduces the opportunity to pass bad legislation. But it's important to keep an eye on unsuccessful bills to see what's likely to come around the following year.

Among this year's bumper crop of bad ideas were House Bill 1139 and Senate Bill 435 – companion measures to prohibit cities and counties from adopting ordinances that conflict with rules set by the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission, a state panel of primarily business representatives. Neither bill was heard in committee before deadlines passed to move legislation to the full House or Senate, so they should be dead for this session.

If the general intent of the bills sounds familiar – it should. It's another installment in the General Assembly's state-knows-best approach – in short-term vacation rentals, fireworks regulation, plastic-bag ordinances and more. In this case, the proposed law followed complaints from public safety officials in some northern Indiana communities. They met resistance from the state commission after adopting local carbon monoxide detector ordinances. Dot Kesling, a LaPorte resident, has become a vocal advocate for such ordinances since her daughter, Lindsey O'Brien Kesling, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2010, shortly after graduating from Indiana University.

“And now they want to squash it and say no one can come forward,” Dot Kesling told the Times of Northwest Indiana last month. “It's about freedom and democracy of every community.” 

Michigan City Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak noted just one of 11 appointees on the fire and building commission is a fire code official. He also argued the one-size-fits-all approach in the legislation is flawed.

“What works in one municipality doesn't work in another,” he told the Times.

That's the case with the ever-growing list of state limits on local government control, whether it involves noisy fireworks or life-saving safety ordinances. Business interests increasingly seem to have the upper hand over local officials.

This year, however, local government benefits from the merciful constraints of a short session.