State Sen. Jim Buck’s "cease and desist" bill was held today by the House of Representatives’ Natural Resources committee – the first stumble the emergency legislation has seen since it was filed on Jan. 9.
A date has not been set for the bill’s second hearing within the committee, but the process could take multiple weeks, said Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville.
“Since this is a Senate bill, it is not under the same deadlines,” said Eberhart. “We will hold the bill to have more discussion before we move forward. I will keep you posted about where we go from here, but there are no plans to meet next week.”
The bill, which is sponsored by Reps. Dave Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, and Greg Beumer, R-Modoc, would give the Indiana Department of Homeland Security the authority to issue cease and desist orders. The legislation is aimed at halting construction of Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
“Construction on the stadium has not stopped, and it is estimated by some accounts that it has accelerated,” said Buck during the hearing. “If there is an illegal activity going on, it is not uncommon to see a cease and desist order put in place.”
Kokomo Director of Operations Randy McKay thanked the committee before echoing Mayor Greg Goodnight’s previous political accusations.
“We thank Chairman Eberhart and the committee for tabling this redundant, unnecessary bill,” McKay said. “Sen. Buck has been using this legislation in an attempt to score political points, and as the committee’s decision to hold the bill illustrates, it is not the emergency legislation he claims it to be.”
After Buck's testimony, Kokomo city attorney Beth Garrison spoke in opposition of the bill, arguing that IDHS’ lack of action since Kokomo’s Jan. 27 deadline violation shows the bill’s insignificance.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the IDHS sent letters to Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight on Nov. 24 informing the city it had 60 days to correct violations on eight restricted parcels within the baseball stadium project.
“For two weeks, IDHS has had the power to do what SB 100 wants it to do,” said Garrison. “They have chosen to do nothing, which shows there is no emergency.”
IDHS spokesman John Erickson said the agency’s timeline will be determined by the courts since Kokomo filed a lawsuit on Jan. 26 against IDHS Executive Director David Kane and the IDHS.
“It is up to the courts,” Erickson said. “We are working on the court action that Kokomo filed. Whenever we get a court date, that is when we will move forward.”
The city hopes the lawsuit, which seeks “declarative and injunctive relief” pertaining to the construction of the baseball stadium, will not affect the stadium's future, according to McKay.
"Even though litigation is underway, we are hopeful that this issue can be resolved quickly and amicably,” McKay said.
Buck, who was questioned about IDHS’ support of SB 100, wouldn't say the agency supported the bill, rather that he hadn't been told the IDHS opposed it.
“You will have to ask them about their support,” Buck said.
Erickson, who was at the hearing but did not speak, said the agency’s policy is not to take sides.
“We are neutral on it,” Erickson said. “That is our position on nearly all legislation, simply because it is the policy of the agency. When it becomes law we will enforce the law. “
Garrison also referenced claims made by Erickson on Jan. 23, when he said that FEMA would not take action while IDHS continued to work with the city.
“There is no concern of FEMA funds being withdrawn,” Erickson said on Jan. 23. “As long as IDHS is handling the situation on FEMA’s behalf, FEMA will not withdraw funds. We are on solid ground when it comes to the whole state.”
Following the meeting, Erickson withdrew those assertions.
“That statement isn’t valid anymore,” Erickson said. “If you go on what the attorney quoted, that isn’t valid any longer.”
Buck has said SB 100 will allow the state to protect itself from FEMA, which has threatened to “seek to enforce the terms of the grant by withholding State and/or local mitigation assistance.”
“It is feasible that the stadium could be torn down or relocated if FEMA sticks to their guns,” Buck said. “What could happen to that stadium is anybody’s guess.”
Following his testimony, Buck was questioned by Eberhart and Rep. Charles Moseley, D-Portage, both of whom examined the effects the bill could have on local economic development.
“Why are we being punitive toward businessmen just going through the business of doing their job?” Mosely asked after reading portions of the bill related to project contractors and subcontractors.
The bill states that a cease and desist order may be issued against “any contractor participating in the action of the political subdivision.”
“It is still not in compliance, so how long would you suggest a city continue to pour taxpayer money into a project that FEMA has already threatened?” Buck asked the committee.