INDIANAPOLIS | The three children killed this month in a Hammond house fire weighed heavily on Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. on Tuesday as he urged a legislative panel not to limit the ability of local governments to inspect rental properties.
Tearing up at times, McDermott told the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee the city was just days away from a hearing that could have shuttered the 644 Sibley St. house that had been cut into two apartments and was home to 12 people living without electricity or heat.
"We were trying to get into that home for months," McDermott said. "Had we had that hearing ... we would have known there was an unsafe situation."
House Bill 1403, sponsored by state Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, would allow some apartment owners to bypass municipal inspection if their building is overseen by a professional manager or underwent a private inspection during the past 12 months.
"We want to ensure safety while minimizing government intrusion," McMillin said.
His proposal is backed by the Indiana Apartment Association, which opposes local apartment registration fees that are assessed per unit, such as Hammond's $80 annual charge. The association said a $5 per-property fee would be more appropriate.
McDermott said Hammond already spends more on apartment inspections than it takes in from registration fees. Cutting the fee would force the city to reduce the number of inspectors, making rental properties less safe.
The committee chairman, state Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, did not permit a vote on McMillin's proposal. He said the panel will consider changes to it next week and likely vote then on whether to send it to the full House.
"By no means at all are we interested in having any more of those (tragedies). I think what we're looking at is trying to find some sort of a delicate balance here," Mahan said.