On Wednesday, Bloomington filed with the Indiana Supreme Court its response to the State of Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling made in April, which found that a 2017 law blocking Bloomington’s annexation process was unconstitutional on two separate grounds.
Bloomington’s brief uses words like “nonsense,” “preposterous,” and “outlandish” in its response to some of the State’s arguments.
The law, enacted by the state legislature in its 2017 session, was included as part of the biennial budget bill that year. The law’s inclusion in the budget bill is one reason the Monroe County Circuit Court found it to be unconstitutional. The annexation law violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule for legislation, according to the circuit court.
The circuit court found that the 2017 annexation law also violated the state constitution’s prohibition against “special legislation.” It’s a prohibition that doesn’t rule out legislation affecting just one municipality, which the 2017 annexation law does. Both sides agree that the 2017 law affected only Bloomington and was designed that way. The legal question is whether the special law falls within the definition of “permissible special legislation”—a kind of question on which courts have ruled in the past.
So the first briefs, which have now been filed by both sides with the Indiana Supreme Court, include dozens of citations to previous rulings on the question of what counts as permissible special legislation.
At a Tuesday afternoon hearing lasting around an hour, the two sides in an ongoing annexation lawsuit between the City of Bloomington and Gov. Eric Holcomb presented oral arguments.
Judge Frank Nardi did not issue a ruling from the bench. The March 26 hearing was held at the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.
The City of Bloomington filed the lawsuit in 2017 over the state legislature’s decision to build into its budget bill a change to state annexation law. It was a change that effectively singled out Bloomington and paused any annexation plans by the city for five years.
Bloomington contends that because the new annexation law was incorporated into the 2017 biennial budget bill, it violates the State Constitution’s requirement that legislation be confined to a single subject.
Bloomington’s lawsuit also states that the new annexation law violates the State Constitution’s clause prohibiting “special” legislation. The constitutional claim involving special legislation hinges not merely on the fact that the new annexation law applies only to Bloomington. The claim arises from the city’s contention that the attempted justification for the law’s unique application is not adequate.
To some extent, the two sides spent their time on Tuesday rehashing arguments they’d already submitted to the court.
In mid-January, Judge Frank Nardi requested an extra courtroom at the Monroe County Circuit Court for a half-day hearing on the afternoon of March 26, for a case filed by the City of Bloomington against the governor of Indiana.
Even though Judge Nardi is not expected to issue a decision from the bench on Tuesday, the hearing is likely to lead eventually to the first ruling on the substance of the case. It was was filed almost two years ago and deals with Bloomington’s annexation efforts.
The lawsuit stems from a 2017 action by the state’s General Assembly to build into its budget bill a change to state annexation law that effectively singled out Bloomington and paused any annexation plans by the city for five years. The court documents in the case are accessible to the public through MyCase. (Search by case for 53C06-1705-PL-001138. Or download most of the court records in a single compressed file here: City of Bloomington vs. Holcomb.)
Bloomington filed a lawsuit, contending that the General Assembly violated two different parts of the state’s constitution: One limiting bills to single subjects and another prohibiting special legislation.
In 2017, Bloomington began the process of annexing area into the city that would have increased the land area of the city by about 60 percent.
Later that year, the state’s General Assembly built into the budget bill a change to annexation law that effectively singled out Bloomington and paused any annexation plans for five years.
Bloomington filed a lawsuit, contending that the General Assembly violated two different parts of the state’s constitution: One limiting bills to single topics and another prohibiting special legislation.