Wireless Bill Strikes at Local Authority

By Tabin, Barrie | Nation's Cities Weekly, August 10, 1998 | Go to article overview

Wireless Bill Strikes at Local Authority


Tabin, Barrie, Nation's Cities Weekly


Congressional initiatives to preempt essential local zoning authority continued last week with the approval by the House Commerce Committee of H.R. 3844, the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1998." The bill is intended to enhance public safety through the use of 9-1-1 as the universal emergency number and the expansion of wireless emergency services. At the same time, however, the legislation creates a significant intrusion on local zoning authority.

For that reason, NLC President Brian J. O'Neill has asked local officials to let their congressional delegations know about the serious consequences this measure would have for local authority.

The House passed bill sponsored by Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and strongly supported by Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.) was drafted without any input from state and local governments. In its current form, the bill would provide a means for industry to go around traditional municipal land use and siting authority in the construction and placement of antennas and towers. Specifically, it would permit federal agencies to lease federal land to wireless carriers for the construction and placement of wireless facilities without regard to local land use or zoning ordinances or regulations.

The House Commerce Committee rejected NLC's calls to carefully review local government concerns with the bill before proceeding to full committee markup.

NLC and the National Association of Counties had urged the committee to bring all interested parties to the table to discuss and perhaps negotiate agreeable changes to the legislation before proceeding. Such a process worked well when the zoning provisions of the Telecommunications Act were being considered. Unfortunately, the committee refused to help industry and local government achieve such an agreement. It is possible that the full House will move to consider this legislation after the Summer recess.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) has expressed interest in introducing a similar bill in the Senate. However, unlike in the House, thus far his office has solicited comments from NLC and local governments on changes to ensure preservation of traditional state and local authority, as well as encouraged meeting with supporters of the legislation to help achieve acceptable amendments.

NLC's O'Neill urged all NLC members to speak with their Senator and Representatives over the Summer recess about this important issue. "It is essential to let your members know that they should not support this legislation unless the concerns of local governments and their residents about potential intrusion on local zoning authority is appropriately addressed," stated O'Neill. …

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