JEFFERSON CITY — After getting stymied in court, Missouri legislators are taking a new approach to try to limit local regulations that telecommunications companies claim are hindering the expansion of high-speed Internet service across the state.
A Senate commerce committee heard testimony Tuesday on five separate bills limiting city and county regulations on cellphone towers, utility poles and right-of-way rules. The changes are opposed by many communities, including Blue Springs.
All of the measures had been rolled into two similar bills that passed last year. But they were struck down in October by Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce for violating the Missouri Constitution's single-subject requirement for legislation. The case is on appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, but some lawmakers are attempting to sidestep the original ruling by re-enacting the numerous provisions piece by piece.
The new approach drew support Tuesday from lobbyists for many of the nation's leading telecommunications firms, including AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile and Google.
"We're trying to invest millions of dollars in Missouri bringing the latest technology to Missouri consumers," said Craig Unruh of AT&T.
But the package of bills was opposed Tuesday by local government leaders from across Missouri, including officials from the cities of Blue Springs, Butler, Fulton, Gladstone, Hazelwood, Kansas City, Springfield and Willow Springs.
City officials contend the state should not limit their authority to protect property values through local zoning and land use regulations on how cellphone towers and other telecommunications devises can be placed in their communities.
"Local oversight is working, and there is no need for new laws," said Richard Sheets of the Missouri Municipal League.
The legislation would set forth a lengthy list of things that cities, counties and other entities could no longer do when regulating cellphone towers. They would be barred from evaluating applications based on whether there were other possible locations for towers or whether a company could have added its equipment to an existing tower used by a competitor. They also would not be able to require companies to remove existing wireless facilities as a condition of building new ones.
One of the bills would limit the fees that could be charged to companies wanting to attach devises to municipal utility poles.
All of the measures are sponsored by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee. He said telecommunications companies "are being hamstrung" by "excessive rules" as they try to expand broadband Internet and wireless phone service.
The committee took no vote on the bills Tuesday.
In last year's court ruling, Joyce said the legislation violated the Missouri Constitution's single-subject requirement because the generic title of "relating to telecommunications" did not encompass everything included in the legislation. She noted that one of last year's bills also contained provisions related to railroad crossings and utility right-of-ways. Another bill contained provisions related to cable TV services, which she said are not legally the same as telecommunications.
Joyce also said lawmakers had changed the bills' original purpose through the amendment process last year.
Telecommunications bills are SBs649-653.