Editorial: Lawmakers jump when told, abuse cities, towns

The Indiana General Assembly is abusing city and municipal governments throughout the state. There is no other way to describe an ongoing power play at the Statehouse. Lawmakers putting the interests of a giant pet store chain ahead of Hoosier communities are jumping when told, willing to erase local ordinances regulating the sale of pets in Columbus and elsewhere.

We have long editorialized about the overreach of state government down into the workings of local government. House Bill 1412 is an egregious example. That bill purports to set state standards for dog breeders. Yet it goes much further. It voids lawfully adopted city ordinances in Columbus and about 20 other Indiana communities that were passed in response to local concerns about animal overpopulation and puppy mills.

These are unpleasant facts of life that the Indiana General Assembly neglected to address in any meaningful way, so local communities over the years have done so. Often, regulations have been responses to more cats and dogs than local shelters can handle.

Columbus passed a commonsense law. It says cats and dogs sold at pet stores in the city may come only from shelters or qualified animal rescue operations. That law has been on the books for years. If someone had a beef, the proper venue was to challenge the ordinance in court.

Instead, big interests like Petland chose to lobby state lawmakers to not just write laws benefitting them, but also to erase local laws they don’t like. This raises an honest question: Just who, exactly, do our elected officials represent?

“You’re taking away local control. You’re telling us what we can do and what we can’t do,” Columbus City Councilman Tom Dell, D-at large, testified at the Statehouse this week, Indiana Capital Chronicle reported. “Our constituents asked us to do something, we responded to them. We didn’t make it up on our own. … A lot of the things in this bill make sense as far as some of the industries that are out there, but when you take control away from us, you don’t allow the locals to even have a say.”

That, in a nutshell, is the aim of too many members of the Indiana General Assembly. They want to take away the ability of local governments to act in response to distinctly local issues. Like animal control.

To the credit of Columbus Republican Rep. Ryan Lauer and Sen. Greg Walker, they voted against this bill. We hold out faint hope that as this bill works its way through the legislative sausage-making, lawmakers will remove the offending portions that strip local control.

We see this for what it is: an abuse of power.

If the General Assembly wanted to discourage puppy mills and bad actors and reduce animal shelter overpopulation, it could do so without striking local laws that seek to do those exact same things.

Lawmakers are going too far. If this bill passes and strips cities and towns of local control over an issue as local as animal control, we urge Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto it.

And if this bill becomes law with language abusive to Columbus and the other cities and towns whose codes would be struck down, those cities and towns would have a duty to fight that law in court to preserve local autonomy and home rule.