Power vs. principle for House Republicans

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Indiana Republicans want to be cool.

How else are we to read their seeming enthusiasm for HB 1133, a bill that would strip local communities of the ability to determine whether or not to allow private residences to be used for short-term rentals?

Some people have called this proposal "the Airbnb bill." That's because Airbnb is considered cool, part of the so-called shared economy. Sharing (for a fee) all or parts of their homes with strangers, ala Airbnb's business model, has enabled many homeowners around the country to turn their properties into valuable income streams. More on this shortly.

And lots of folks have come to rely on Airbnb when they travel; preferring to book space in peoples' apartments or homes to hotels, motels or traditional bed and breakfasts. It can be cheaper (though not always) than more conventional accommodations. But what may be most appealing is the way renting a private residence allows travelers to get off the more beaten path, virtually embedding them in neighborhoods where tourists don't usually go. What could be cooler than that?

As far as some folks are concerned, a number of things.

All the world, it turns out, is not necessarily a stage for your vacation, bachelor party or family reunion. While most places are happy to welcome guests, many towns and neighborhoods work hard to establish and maintain a certain character. That's why there are zoning laws, permitting some activities in certain places and disallowing others. When you buy a place to live, you are also buying a set of expectations about that place. Living above an urban bodega is one thing; living in a woods probably means something else. One size does not fit all.

Where Airbnb's business model enables some homeowners — especially in increasingly high cost communities — to hold on to properties they might otherwise be unable to afford, it is also exploited by real estate investors. Wealthy outsiders buy houses in residential neighborhoods, only to turn those properties into vacation rentals. The neighbors are told to call the cops when things get too loud.

Some cities and towns are eager to embrace Airbnb's business model — and they should be able to do so. But the same should hold true for communities with rules prohibiting short-term rentals intended to preserve and promote what they consider their quality of life.

This is the essence of local control. Local control is a key to any philosophy seeking to make government smaller. It makes for greater representation and accountability at the town — and even neighborhood — level. It is a conservative principle, one that Republicans should embrace.

But since Republicans have monopolized state government, we've seen a flurry of bills like HB 1133, aimed at prohibiting local communities from making their own rules — from blocking local ordinances aimed at getting rid of plastic sacks to attempts to limit the encroachment of factory farming.

It's no wonder Republicans have stood in the way of nonpartisan redistricting: power seems more important to them than principle. There's nothing cool about that.

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