When Hoosiers go to the polls they vote to have representation locally, at the state level and nationally. This should mean that our local city councils get to make decisions that best serve our communities. Meanwhile, the legislature makes decisions to move our state forward and the United States Congress works to advance federal laws that improve both our state and our nation. That’s how it is supposed to work. Yet, this balance has been completely upset by a rogue and power-hungry Republican supermajority at the Indiana Statehouse.
Residents of Indianapolis recently went to the polls and elected our representation to the City-County Council. Those locally-elected officials, recognizing that Indianapolis has the second highest eviction rate in the nation, passed an ordinance to get local families help with stable housing. This effort strengthened protections for renters by requiring landlords to notify tenants of their rights and responsibilities, and fining landlords up to $7,500 for retaliating against tenants for making a health or safety complaint. It was approved by the Council with bipartisan support. The same day that council members voted on this proposal, the Indiana House Republicans amended an unrelated bill to prohibit local governments from regulating landlord-tenant relationships. They also removed fines for landlords who retaliate against tenants and awarded attorney’s fees and damages to landlords but not to tenants when disputes go to court. Legislators representing Posey, Brown, Harrison, Tipton, Huntington and Johnson counties supported this language in committee. Then, over 60 Representatives from outside of Indianapolis voted for this language when the whole House voted. Indy residents were never given an opportunity by the supermajority to provide testimony on this proposal that directly affects them.
Indianapolis residents also decided we wanted progress and modernization in our public transit system. We rallied, we talked to our neighbors, we attended public meetings and we voted for a referendum to make investments to build new bus lines. More transit options mean more of our neighbors can get to jobs, school, doctors’ appointments and grocery stores to feed their families. Yet, this session, Statehouse Republicans have passed legislation to stop Indianapolis from continuing to expand transit. Over 30 senators that do not represent Indianapolis voted to undo what Indy residents voted for themselves. They did this, once again, without a single opportunity for Indy residents to share their testimony. This blatant abuse of power makes Indianapolis residents’ votes obsolete.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first year the Statehouse has tried to take over our local decisions. In 2013 Republicans from around the state voted to eliminate our four at-large City-County Council seats in a brazen effort to minimize the Democratic majority. Indianapolis isn’t the only target. Over the last nine years, there has been a full assault on local autonomy. Here are only some of the ways Statehouse Republicans have overridden decisions made by local governments:
- Communities can’t enact environmental preservation ordinances such as bans on single use plastic bags.
- Any firearm ordinance stricter than state law is banned, including cities facing an uptick in violent crime.
- No local government can mandate a minimum wage higher than the state’s $7.25 wage, despite that some cities have a higher cost of living than other areas.
- Ordinances were blocked that tried to address the blight of vacant homes by requiring banks to maintain the empty houses they own.
- A bill passed in committee aimed to stop Indianapolis from freeing up resources for violent crime by not prosecuting the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but was ultimately killed in the Senate.
When Hoosiers go to the polls, they expect their vote to count. The “big brother” state government should not be passing bills to overturn what local governments are achieving for their communities. When politicians step in and undo the will of people who did not vote for them, that is the government saying thanks for voting but we know better. Those of us who live in Indianapolis are asking the legislators who are not from here…Please, don’t tread on me.