The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

February 20, 2014

Our View: Can you hear me now?

— When last we checked, the Republican Party was the party of local control, of getting government out of people’s lives.

But increasingly we’re seeing Missouri’s Republican-led General Assembly usurping what is properly the business of communities, which is the regulation of what can go where.

A package of five bills that was fast-tracked through the Senate this month and could be out of the House soon would strip local communities of much of their authority to regulate telecommunications companies with regard to the construction, replacement and upgrading of cell towers and wireless antennas.

There would be no local zoning board input, for example, if a company decided to build a cell tower in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There would be no public hearings, nor would there be local council oversight.

According to the Carthage City Council, which sent a letter to the General Assembly protesting the plan, “The industry-written measure envisions no role for the general public, and fails to understand that citizens have a right to basic zoning protections that guarantee accountability.”

Other area cities have joined in the opposition, as have the Missouri Municipal League and the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.

The proliferation of cell towers and wireless antennas is going to be a fact of life. We are going to have to find room for them as we increasingly depend on cellphones and other wireless devices, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice a voice in where and how these things are built.

State Sen. Brad Lager, a Savannah Republican who is leading the charge on these five bills, said businesses need certainty and consistency when making decisions. But so do housing developers, homeowners and communities.

He also claims that cities are using their zoning and permit processes to hold up telecommunications companies, in some cases even resorting to outright extortion to get these big companies to submit to local needs and agendas, but that seems unlikely.

It’s a good bet that some of these cellular companies have more lawyers on the payroll than some of these concerned communities have residents. Most Missouri towns would be no match for these companies if they attempted the extortion Lager alleges.

These are bad bills. They don’t deserve to go forward.

Let’s just hope legislators are getting the signal.

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