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Page last updated on January 5, 2021 at 12:31 pm

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Mary Catherine Carmichael

Communications Director




City Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of State Legislation

Today the City of Bloomington filed a lawsuit in Monroe County challenging the constitutionality of legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly on April 22nd and signed by Governor Holcomb on April 27th.

The legislation in question, purporting to terminate Bloomington's annexation efforts and prohibit further annexation activities until 2022, was dropped into the state budget bill just hours before the end of the legislative session. The language was designed to affect only Bloomington and the state-sanctioned annexation effort underway here. No city officials were notified prior to the provision being publicly posted, and the legislature did not hold hearings or receive public testimony on it.

The lawsuit, which names Governor Holcomb as the defendant, claims the legislation is unconstitutional for two reasons. First, it targets Bloomington and only Bloomington. Article IV, Section 23 of Indiana's Constitution prohibits so-called "special legislation" that singles out individual communities for regulation. Second, the provision was inserted into the state's budget bill, which addresses state funding and administration. Article IV, Section 19 of Indiana's Constitution requires that legislation cover a single subject, while the provision on one community's annexation is unrelated to state funding or administration.

Mayor John Hamilton stated, "This gross overreach by state government we believe violates our state constitution and undermines the concept of home rule enshrined in our statutes. This lawsuit deals with annexation, but it is fundamentally a broader challenge to the constitutionality of the state's efforts to terminate a specific community's legal process. We believe the state's action is illegal and sets a dangerous precedent. Without the court's ruling in our favor, every local government in Indiana could have legal processes capriciously terminated by state level officials. We were scrupulously following the very detailed annexation procedure established by the state, when they abruptly pulled the rug out from under Bloomington. We feel compelled to pursue this relief. Special purpose legislating is certainly not in the best interests of Hoosiers -- that's why it's prohibited in our constitution."

"I have requested a meeting with Governor Holcomb to discuss our filing and the importance of local home rule. In the meantime, I intend to meet with local leaders -- elected officials, public safety providers, business leaders and others -- to continue our discussions about how the City of Bloomington can most efficiently and effectively work with the County, townships and other governmental bodies to provide services for residents of our area now and in the future."

Regarding the lawsuit, Matt Greller, CEO of AIM (Accelerate Indiana's Municipalities), which represents over 550 Hoosier cities and towns, stated, "Indiana's city and town leaders need the flexibility to govern their communities in a manner that not only comports with state law, but also allows them to build the kinds of quality places that Hoosiers want to call home. The City of Bloomington was following the state's comprehensive annexation laws when the statutory change forced them to abruptly halt their plans."

City attorneys will serve as lead counsel with pro bono advice from supportive outside experts. The City is seeking a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the legislation and an injunction against enforcement.

The City's Corporation Counsel Philippa Guthrie commented, "We considered the option of going ahead with the annexation process as planned, in the face of what we believe is a clearly unconstitutional statute. We chose instead to pause additional formal annexation action and instead challenge this improper special legislation directly. Our primary motivation is protecting our rights, and the rights of all local governments, to follow the law and decide what is in the best interests of our communities."

"We will request the court to act expeditiously, but we can't predict how long this might take to be decided."