Bloomington files lawsuit over last-minute annexation amendment

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The city of Bloomington has filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, claiming an amendment dropped into the state’s biennial budget at 2 a.m. April 21 and approved less than 24 hours later is specifically targeting the municipality to prevent it from annexing seven unincorporated areas near the city limits.

Filed Wednesday in Monroe Circuit Court, the complaint asserts Section 161 in the 2017-1018 state budget violates the Indiana Constitution and asks the court to enjoin the state from enforcing the amendment. Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton called the provision a gross overreach by state government.

“We believe the state’s action is illegal and sets a dangerous precedent,” Hamilton said in a press release. “Without the court’s ruling in our favor, every local government in Indiana could have legal processes capriciously terminated by state level officials.”

The city argues the legislation is unconstitutional. The provision applies only to Bloomington in violation of Article 4, Section 23 of the state constitution, which prohibits special legislation that singles out individual communities for regulation. Also, the amendment was inserted into the budget bill, which violates Article 4, Section 19’s requirement that legislation cover a single subject.

In its complaint, Bloomington maintains it exceeded the requirements of the state annexation statute as it moved forward with the process to incorporate 9,848 acres that are home to just under 15,000 people. The city announced the plan publicly, established a website giving more details, solicited public comment and adopted “initiating resolutions” to consider the annexation.   

Then, in accordance with Indiana Code 36-4-3-1.7, it held six public meetings where more than 30 city officials interacted with hundreds of citizens. On March 29, the Bloomington City Council introduced a series of annexation ordinances and the next day, the city published and mailed notice of a public hearing scheduled for May 31 in the gymnasium of Bloomington High School South.

However, as the 2017 Indiana General Assembly was nearing adjournment, an amendment adding Section 161 was posted to the Legislature’s website. The language, which popped up three different times during the session but did not gain traction, narrowly targeted 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.

The provision voids the ordinance, terminates the annexation and prevents a municipality from attempting to annex the area again until July 1, 2022.

In its complaint, the city points out that less than 24 hours passed between the introduction of Section 161 and the Legislature’s passage of it. Also, the municipality charges that in addition to the General Assembly not contacting any Bloomington official prior to posting the amendment, the legislative body took no public testimony.  
The only debate took place on the House floor between Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington, and budget author, Republican Rep. Tim Brown of Crawfordsville.

 “We were scrupulously following the very detailed annexation procedure established by the state when they abruptly pulled the rug out from under Bloomington,” Hamilton said. “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.”

Corey Elliott, spokesperson for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, which will defend Holcomb in the suit, said the office has not yet received the lawsuit and did not comment further.

The case is City of Bloomington v. Eric Holcomb, 53C06-1705-PL-001138.

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