Friday, January 20, 2012
Volume 12, Issue 3
Thanks to Knox, Owen and Wayne County Farm Bureaus for visiting the Statehouse this week.
The following county Farm Bureaus are scheduled to visit the Statehouse next week.
Tuesday, January 24: Crawford, Delaware, Fountain, Greene and Hendricks
Wednesday, January 25: Blackford
Thursday, January 26: Jefferson
Friday, January 27: State Young Farmer & Ranchers Committee
HOUSE REMAINS IN DISARRAY AS DEMOCRATS RESUME BOYCOTT After returning to work last week, the House Democrats resumed their protest of the proposed right-to-work legislation by remaining off the floor most of the week. The right-to-work bill, HB 1001 (Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel), was scheduled for second reading when the House returned to Indianapolis following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. Democrats were planning to introduce an amendment that would submit the issue to the state’s voters in a referendum rather than have the issue decided by the General Assembly itself. When advised by the Legislative Services Agency that such a referral would be unconstitutional because the state Constitution states that laws can only be enacted by the General Assembly, the Democrats, led by Rep. Pat Bauer (D-South Bend), demanded more time to consider their options. Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) indicated that he intended to proceed immediately with the consideration of HB 1001 so the Democrats left the floor to caucus and did not return to the floor the rest of the week. Following the Democrats’ walkout over the same issue last year, the House enacted new rules under which a member who is absent without an excuse may be fined $1,000 a day. These fines were not assessed in during the first week of the session, but they were this week. The Democrats have challenged the fines on procedural grounds because they are being deducted from their paychecks. On Thursday, a Marion County judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the fines against three Democratic representatives. He has scheduled a hearing to further consider the matter on January 27 and more Democratic lawmakers will probably join the suit by then. In response to the court order, Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued this statement: "The order is unfortunate and is a textbook example of why we have separate branches of government and why courts should not allow the judicial system to be used as a legislative tactic during the heat of the session." Finally, on Friday morning, Speaker Bosma agreed that he would allow the referendum amendment to be presented and discussed, and the Democrats returned.
HOUSE COMMITTEES CANCELLED The House rules require that all committee meetings must be announced from the floor of the House before it adjourns on the last day it meets before the scheduled hearing. Since the full House was never able to reconvene following the Democrats’ decision not to return on Tuesday, all the committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday were cancelled. This included the House Natural Resources Committee, which had been scheduled to hear HB 1265, a bill authored by Rep. Matt Ubelhor (R-Bloomfield) that would formally legitimize deer hunting preserves in Indiana and provide a market for farm-raised deer and elk.
Later in the week, several committees did meet and take testimony on bills. Democrats regularly showed up for these committee hearings, votes were taken and bills approved.
HOUSE AG COMMITTEE MOVES FOUR BILLS The House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee met on Tuesday and approved four bills. Farm Bureau’s Bob Kraft testified in support of all four of the bills. The committee was able to meet because its chairman, Rep. Don Lehe (R-Brookston), had announced it from the floor prior to the House’s adjourning last Friday. The committee passed three of the four bills. The four bills were:
- CORN MARKETING COUNCIL - HB 1128 (Rep. Lehe) This bill will amend the current corn checkoff law in several ways. Among its more significant provisions are that the bill will repeal the current provision that requires the Corn Marketing Council to pay $500,000 a year to the state to fund a tax credit for E85 retailers; change the way the 10 percent cap on administrative expenditures is calculated – going forward the cap will be determined by calculating the Olympic average (that is disregarded in the high and low years) of actual receipts after requested refunds for the past five years; redefine “producer” for the purpose of the checkoff to more accurately reflect the business structure of today’s farms; allow the Corn Marketing Council to hold refunds of less than $25 to a producer until that amount is reached; and change the council’s fiscal year to coincide with the crop year rather than the state’s fiscal year. Kraft stated that Farm Bureau policy supports producer-funded commodity promotion programs so long as a producer who chooses not to participate may do so and that the corn checkoff currently satisfies this standard and will continue to do so if HB 1128 is enacted.
- STATE CHEMIST ISSUES – HB 1129 (Rep. Lehe, R-Brookston) This bill was introduced at the request of the Office of the State Chemist and makes several changes to that agency’s law. Among the more significant changes are the inclusion of a provision that will allow the State Chemist to impose civil penalties on persons who are found to be in violation of the law or rules dealing with the application of ammonia. This is important because now the only options the State Chemist has are to ignore violations or suspend or revoke an individual’s license. The bill will also give the State Chemist, who regulates pet food in Indiana, specific authority to require raw milk sold as pet food be labeled as “not fit for human consumption.” This label is already being required, but there is a question as to whether the agency actually has the authority to do so.
- DRAINAGE BOARDS – HB 1349 Rep. Dick Dodge (R-Pleasant Lake) authored this at the request of the state’s county surveyors. Primarily it overrules by statute a recent appellate decision on a case from Marshall County that undid about 150 years of practice and experience dealing with drainage assessments. The court ruled that not all property in a natural drainage-shed needs to be assessed for drainage improvements, only the property that actually adjoins the drains. This bill will make it clear that all property owners in a drainage-shed have a responsibility to support the drainage infrastructure.
- SALE OF POULTRY AT FARMER’S MARKETS – HB 1312 This is an interesting bill, authored by Reps. Sue Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand) and Ed Clere (R-New Albany), that addresses the problem faced by small producers of poultry who do not have poultry inspection facilities within reasonable distance of their farms. It would exempt producers who raise poultry, either at their primary residence or at other property they own or lease, and sell at roadside stands or farmer’s markets from inspection requirements. In the discussion of the bill, it was noted that federal rules exempt producers of up to 1,000 birds a year from inspection requirements. Rep. Ellspermann indicated that she was working with the State Board of Health to find a compromise between the state and federal inspection standards. Kraft testified that Farm Bureau was concerned that small producers have access to markets but also that the public’s confidence in the integrity of the food supply not be jeopardized. He said that those who purchase poultry at farmer’s markets or roadside stands do so with the knowledge that they have been raised by a small producer and had not been inspected. It may be that as a result of this bill, the small producers’ concerns can be addressed by rule rather than legislation. This would allow more flexibility in the future and would probably be the more desirable alternative.
FARM BUREAU QUESTIONS PHONE BILLS Committees in both houses of the General Assembly have considered nearly identical bills that would allow telephone companies that have been designated the “provider of last resort” to abdicate that designation in certain circumstances. A complicated combination of both state and federal laws and rules is intended to assure that all citizens have telephone service available. The proposed changes in Indiana law would allow a telephone company to notify the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission that it would no longer accept that designation and the responsibilities that go with it because there were at least two other service providers (cell phone service, in most cases) available to customers. In a Senate Committee hearing on SB 308 (Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek), Farm Bureau’s Bob Kraft said that many Farm Bureau members and other residents of rural Indiana relied upon their land-lines for their primary telephone service because cellular service, although available, was often unreliable. He stated that Farm Bureau didn’t really care if the service was provided as a result of a state or federal requirement but that there should be some assurances that land-line service would not be terminated. Kraft said that the bill may be a good idea but that its time had not yet come. The Senate Utilities & Technology Committee did not take a vote on SB 308. Meanwhile, the House Utilities & Energy Committee did forward its version of this legislation, HB 1112 (Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne), to the full House.
REGIONAL SEWER DISTRICTS On Wednesday, the House Environmental Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on two bills addressing concerns with regional sewer districts. HB 1225, authored by Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne), received numerous comments both in support and in opposition. HB 1117, authored by Committee Chair Dave Wolkins (R-Winona Lake), received support by those who testified and will likely be the bill to move the issue in the House. HB 1117 was largely a collaborative effort between Farm Bureau and the Indiana Regional Sewer District Association based upon discussions with members of the General Assembly as well as numerous Farm Bureau members. Rep. Wolkins appointed a subcommittee of legislators and several individuals who testified at the hearing to combine the two bills. Justin Schneider who actually presented HB 1117 to the committee is representing Farm Bureau on the subcommittee.
DANIELS TO RESPOND TO STATE OF THE UNION Republican Congressional leaders have chosen the Indiana Governor to deliver their party’s reply to President Barak Obama’s State-of-the-State address next Tuesday.
LEGISLATIVE ACTION REQUESTS Indiana Farm Bureau is refreshing our legislative action request system for the 2012 legislative session. To sign-up to contact your legislator on issues important to Indiana agriculture, go to www.infarmbureau.org/PublicPolicy.aspx?id=8154. The sooner you are signed up, the quicker you will have the opportunity to get involved in the legislative process. However, we ask that you sign-up no later than February 6, 2012.
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS Indiana’s legislators listen to their constituents. Let yourself be heard on issues that are important to you. You can write to your senator or representative at the Statehouse, Indianapolis, IN 46204. Call House members at 317-232-9600 or 1-800-382-9842. Senators can be reached at 317-232-9400 or 1-800-382-9467. You can email your legislator from the Public Policy tab on the Farm Bureau website at www.infarmbureau.org. This is part of the General Assembly homepage at Access Indiana. Personal contact when legislators are home on weekends or at third-house or cracker-barrel sessions remains the most effective way to communicate your ideas to your elected representatives.