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Click Public Policy Dispatch - Volume 13, Issue 22 to see as a webpage.

May 3, 2013
Volume 13
Issue 22

The 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly came to an end in the early morning hours on Saturday as the budget for the 2013-2015 biennium was passed by both houses. On the last day, legislation strengthening the rights of rural residents facing a hostile annexation passed, a bill requiring the state to take another look at its agreement with the developers of the Rockport Coal Gasification plant passed, and the bill that would have protected the rights of property owners against trespassers whose intent is to harm the owner’s business failed. The general tone of this year’s session was much more civil and restrained than it has been in recent years. Most Indiana lawmakers remained firm advocates for both their ideals and their constituents, but they did so in a manner that was respectful to their colleagues and appropriate for the position which they hold. 

This issue of the Dispatch will be the last to provide you with a weekly update of legislative activities this year. We will now switch to a bi-weekly publication schedule but continue to bring you timely updates on legislative, regulatory and judicial developments in both Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., that will affect agriculture and rural Indiana. In this issue we will provide an outline of some of the significant agricultural and rural legislation that was addressed this year by the General Assembly. In a future edition we will provide you with a comprehensive analysis of the session.

LEGISLATURE PASSES BUDGET THAT PLEASES GOVERNOR   The major piece of legislation in every long session of the General Assembly is the biennial budget. Revenue receipts and projections have improved over the past two years, so legislators had a little more money to work with in putting together this year’s budget bill, HEA 1001 (Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, and Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville). The fact that one party, the Republicans, had a super majority in both houses also made it easier to craft a budget that addressed their funding priorities. Throughout the session the leaders of the House and the Senate and Republican Gov. Mike Pence seemed to be at odds over whether to include the 10 percent personal income tax cut that the governor promised voters during the 2012 election in the budget. However by the end of the session, they all agreed on a 5 percent income tax cut – to be phased in through 2017 – and an immediate repeal of Indiana’s inheritance tax. The accelerated inheritance tax repeal was one of Farm Bureau’s legislative priorities for the year. The budget also includes:

  • About $6.5 billion a year public school funding, which represents a $390 million increase in over the two years.
  • $215 million per year increase for roads and highways, 47 percent of which goes to local units.
  • The removal of state police funding from the gas tax receipts.
  • $250 million for a reserve Medicaid contingency fund and authorization to allow the governor to negotiate a Medicaid expansion with the federal government.
  • Funding with slight variations for the Department of Agriculture and the various line items for the Purdue College of Agriculture.
  • An increase from $500,000 to $1 million a year for the Clean Water Indiana soil and water conservation program.
  • A $120 million surplus each year and a $2 billion reserve.

FARM BUREAU REALIZES MAJOR VICTORIES IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION   After several years of administrative and legislative pressure to consolidate units of government and restructure the way counties are governed, this year finally saw greater legislative concern expressed for the residents of rural Indiana. Three bills in particular are noteworthy in this area.

  • SEA 285 (Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, and Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo) provides that if a municipality annexes contiguous territory that is zoned agricultural, it may not collect property taxes for municipal purposes so long as the property retains that zoning classification. The law currently exempts ag property from property taxes for only 10 years. The bill also provides that the property owner must agree to any zoning change.
  • SEA 343 (Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, and Rep. Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville) provides that in the case of a proposed merger of a municipality and another political subdivision after December 31, 2013, the voters residing within the municipality shall be included only in the tally of votes for the municipality and the voters who reside outside the municipality shall be included only in the tally of votes for the township. This means that a densely populated municipal area cannot force a merger onto a less populated rural area without the consent of rural voters.
  • SEA 475 (Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne) recommends that during the summer of 2013, a legislative study committee consider a procedure to place all executive powers in a single county executive and all legislative and fiscal powers in a county council. Farm Bureau considers this to be a significant victory because the bill originally would have authorized Allen County to begin such a process.

TRANSPORTATION BILLS WILL HELP FARMERS   The additional funding included in the budget for local roads was certainly appreciated and will benefit all of rural Indiana. There were also a few other bills in the transportation area that will be welcomed by farmers as well.

  • HEA 1068 (Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, and Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport) exempts the drivers of farm-plated vehicles in Indiana from federal hours of service and medical card requirements. The comprehensive 2012 federal transportation law known as MAP-21 provides for these exemptions, but states were required to pass legislation to allow their farmers to take immediate advantage of them. This bill satisfies the federal requirement and is effective immediately.
  • HEA 1481 (Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, and Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso) authorizes INDOT or a local authority to grant permits for the transportation of overweight divisible loads. A divisible load is one that could be split between two trucks, but for economic reasons the trucker prefers not to divide it. The major beneficiaries of these permits are steel haulers who will be able to carry more than one coil at a time and bulk milk haulers and grain haulers to bring loads originating in Ohio or Michigan into northeastern Indiana. The maximum limit for divisible loads of agricultural commodities is 97,000 pounds.
  • SEA 538 (Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso) is a so-called “agency bill.” It was introduced at the request of the BMV to clean up various inconsistencies in the motor vehicle laws. The victory for farmers is that the bill does not change the law with respect to allowing unlicensed drivers to move agricultural equipment across public highways. As it was introduced, the bill would have prohibited anyone under 16½ from moving equipment on public roads. At Farm Bureau’s request the current law, which allows farm kids to move machinery, was left alone.

SYNGAS BILL SALVAGED AT LAST MINUTE   A week ago it appeared as if the effort to task the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission with reconsidering the contract between the Indiana Finance Authority and the developers of the proposed synthetic natural gas plant in Rockport, Indiana was dead. SB 510 (Sen. Doug Eckerty, R-Yorktown, and Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville), the bill that would have required such a revisit, was amended on the floor of the House to the point that Rep. Crouch chose not to call it for a vote. Since it had passed the Senate, the subject matter of SB 510 was eligible to be incorporated into another bill. Eventually supporters of the SB 510 found another bill, SB 494 (Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, and Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville), that could be stripped of its content and become a vehicle for the syngas language. This was accomplished in the conference committee and the bill eventually passed as SEA 494. As it passed, SEA 494 provides that unless the contract between the Indiana Finance Authority and the developers of the proposed synthetic natural gas plant in Rockport, Indiana, is approved in its entirety by an appellate court, the IURC must take another look at the impact that the state’s support of the proposed plant will have on ratepayers. The current arrangement requires Indiana gas retailers to purchase the synthetic gas produced at the Rockport plant and sell it to their customers. Because of recent technological developments in the extraction of natural gas, this purchase requirement will – in all probability – result in Hoosier gas customers paying a considerably higher rate for gas than they would otherwise. The higher gas prices could also increase the cost of fertilizer in Indiana. SB 494 originally dealt with several state and local tax issues that found their way into the final version of the budget.

TRESPASS BILL DIES ON LAST DAY   On the final day of the session, SB 373 (Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, and Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy) died when it was withdrawn from the floor in the House. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) determined that the conference committee report on the bill was not going to pass and withdrew it from further consideration. Sen. Holdman withdrew his dissent and considered asking his caucus to concur with House changes to the bill, but eventually thought better of that possibility. An effort to recall the conference committee report to the floor of the House for further consideration also proved fruitless. As a result the bill died. Sen. Holdman immediately pledged that he would be back again next year with another bill to address the issue of unauthorized videotaping on private property. Following the failure of the bill, Farm Bureau issued the following statement:

“Indiana Farm Bureau is disappointed that the General Assembly failed to pass legislation that would have protected the privacy of Indiana businesses and citizens. We thank Senators Holdman and Steele and Representatives Friend, Lehe and Steuerwald for their efforts to craft a passable bill. These legislators stood up for the rights of Hoosiers despite an intensive media effort to discredit the bill.

“Indiana farmers and businesses who conduct themselves according to the highest ethical and professional standards are often targets of those who seek to disparage their business activity. The proposed additions to current Indiana code would have helped keep Indiana businesses from becoming such targets.

“SB 373 would have strengthened the state’s criminal trespass code to protect businesses from persons who intentionally enter private property to commit an act, including taking photographs or videos, with the intent to harm any business on that property. It also would have provided legal protection from prospective employees who knowingly or intentionally submit fraudulent statements or conceal material facts on job applications.

“Indiana farmers wish the General Assembly would have seen the benefits of SB 373 that protected the privacy of citizens and the welfare of livestock.”

COURT OF APPEALS UPHOLDS RIGHT-TO-FARM LAW   The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the Indiana law that protects a farm from nuisance lawsuits. In the case of Parker vs. Obert Legacy Dairy, LLC, the neighbors of a dairy operation sued claiming that expansion of the dairy constituted a nuisance. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court decision that Indiana’s Right-to-Farm Act bars the Parkers’ nuisance suit and that the trial court ruled properly in granting the Obert family’s motion for summary judgment. An important holding in the decision is that the Right-to-Farm Act is meant to protect farms from claims about damage to non-agricultural uses of the neighboring properties, which clarified an earlier opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals. The Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation - which was established by Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. - filed an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals seeking clarification of the previous court decision in which the court held the law was not applicable in a lawsuit between two farms about damages to the agricultural uses of the property. 



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