JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri judge blocked two new laws from taking effect Wednesday that would have limited the ability of cities and counties to regulate cellphone towers, citing the laws' potential for numerous constitutional violations.
The preliminary injunction by Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce puts an indefinite hold on the laws that had been touted by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and the Republican-led Legislature as a means of encouraging the expansion of high-speed Internet and wireless phone service throughout the state.
Six western Missouri cities sued, arguing that the laws would violate various provisions of the Missouri Constitution by imposing an unfunded mandate on local governments, applying retroactively and infringing on judicial authority, among other things. The lawsuit, which was filed last week, also alleged constitutional flaws in the way that lawmakers drafted the laws.
In a preliminary injunction order dated Tuesday, Joyce wrote that it "reasonably appears that (the laws) violate multiple provisions of the Missouri Constitution" and subject the cities to "unwarranted burdens" and "immediate and irreparable" damage. The short order didn't set a date by which the judge would consider a permanent injunction.
The laws include a lengthy list of things that cities, counties and state entities could no longer require or prohibit when regulating cellphone towers.
For example, the legislation states that they could not evaluate applications for cellphone towers based on whether there were other possible locations, nor whether a company could have added its equipment to an existing tower used by a competitor. They also could not require companies to remove existing wireless facilities as a condition of building new ones.
The legislation also set limits on how much costs governments could pass on to applicants for wireless towers. Under one of the laws, governments that hire consultants to provide technical advice about cellphone tower applications could not charge the applicants more than $500 for requests to add wireless devices to an existing tower or $1,500 to build a new tower.
The lawsuit said that was just one way in which the legislation imposed an unfunded mandate on governments. It also cited provisions that it said would require third-party appraisers to be hired to resolve disputes and prohibit governments from incorporating into their application fees the costs of attorneys involved in right-of-way permits.
A spokesman for the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, which was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, declined to comment Wednesday because the litigation is ongoing.
The attorney general's office, which defends state laws, also declined to comment about the preliminary injunction.
The other cities that joined in the lawsuit are the Kansas City suburbs of Gladstone, Lee's Summit and Independence and the rural western Missouri cities of Cameron and Butler.