Friday, February 24, 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Thanks to Benton, Elkhart, Franklin, Hamilton, Johnson, LaGrange, Noble, Shelby, Switzerland, Warren and Whitley County Farm Bureaus for visiting the Statehouse this week.
The following county Farm Bureaus are scheduled to visit the Statehouse next week.
Tuesday, February 28: Boone, Clark and Sullivan
Wednesday, February 29: Jennings
CLARIFICATION: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR STILL LOOKING AT AGRICULTURE The article in the February 20 Hoosier Farmer may have led to some confusion about the status of the U.S. Department of Labor’s regulation of youth working in agriculture. The following should clarify.
On February 1, 2012, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it would re-propose the portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture interpreting the “parental exemption.” “Although it seems like this is a win for farmers across the country,” says Megan Ritter, national government relations for Indiana Farm Bureau, “we are not sure what the re-proposed regulation will actually say, and the regulations that were proposed this fall dealing with hazardous occupations are still moving forward.”
Farmers should continue to watch this issue. A new website, www.keepfamiliesfarming.com, allows farmers to comment on the rule and send members of Congress their personal stories. Because DOL is no longer accepting public comments, the Keep Families Farming website has been established to support the legislative effort on Capitol Hill, where this issue will almost certainly be voted on this summer.
CONTACTS ON INHERITANCE TAX PHASE-OUT NEEDED NOW On Wednesday in House Ways & Means, Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) presented SB 293 for a committee vote, and it passed out by a margin of 22-3. As amended, SB 293 phases-out Indiana’s inheritance tax over 10 years beginning July 1, 2012. The bill will help estates over the next 10 years by increasing the exemption amounts for the classification of those inheriting property for Class A (child) from $100,000 to $250,000, and for Classes B (sibling) and C (anyone not a spouse, child, or sibling) from $500 and $100 respectively to $25,000. Farm Bureau’s Katrina Hall has testified in favor of both SB 293 and a similar bill introduced in the House, HB 1199. The committee report for SB 293 was adopted by the House on Thursday, so SB 293 will be eligible for second reading as early as Monday and for a final vote the day after.
This is the most promising chance in a generation to repeal the inheritance tax. As soon as possible, Farm Bureau members are asked to contact legislators and ask for successful passage of inheritance tax reform included in SB 293 that includes complete elimination.
SOIL PRODUCTIVITY FACTORS PUT ON HOLD FOR A YEAR Earlier this month, the Department of Local Government Finance issued new soil productivity factors that were to be used in the calculation of farmland’s taxable value for March 1, 2012, payable in 2013. This coincided with the general reassessment now in progress. These changed factors came as a surprise to assessors and legislators. They also came with the surprise of a predicted $57.4 increase in farmland taxes for 2013 above normal increases associated with increases to the base rate. Both houses of the legislature reacted swiftly with amendments to delay the implementation of the new factors for one year until the issue can be reviewed. Katrina Hall thanked both Sen. Brandt Hershman and Rep. Jeff Espich who put forth those amendments, but one of the bills containing the amendments – SB 19 and HB 1190 – needs to pass. SB 19 and HB 1190 both deal with rolling reassessment practices and were supported by Farm Bureau in committee.
With just 2 weeks left in the session, members are asked to contact legislators and ask for their support of language delaying the recently issued soil productivity factors as added to SB 19 and HB 1190.
MUNICIPAL JURISDICTION OVER AQUIFERS After Committee Chair Jack Lutz (R-Anderson) delayed the vote for a week, the House Utilities Committee approved SB 132 (Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, and Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Winona Lake). As reported in last week’s Dispatch, the bill contains a provision that would exclude underground aquifers from the definition of “watercourse" as that term is used in several statutes that give cities and towns the authority to regulate “watercourses” 10 miles outside their municipal boundaries. This provision was strongly opposed by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns who had mayors and other elected officials lobby committee members. Their attention will now be to the full membership of the House in an effort to defeat it on the floor. To counter this effort by municipalities, Farm Bureau President Don Villwock wrote to each member of the House of Representatives asking them to support SB 132 as it was reported by the committee. Farm Bureau members are asked to contact their own state representatives with a similar message.
HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL TO REGULATE OUTDOOR STAGE EQUIPMENT The House Veterans Affairs & Public Safety Committee has unanimously approved SB 273 (Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, and Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield) which will require outdoor stage equipment to be approved by the State Fire Prevention & Building Safety Commission. As it was approved in the House committee, it is a temporary measure which will expire in 2014 after the General Assembly has had the opportunity to complete a comprehensive study of the issue – including the reports on the collapse of the stage during the Sugarland concert at the state fair last summer. The commission must adopt rules to implement this statute and may exempt small structures such as platforms and ramps. The temporary rules for outdoor stage equipment will apply to county fairs and stages for local festivals and outdoor concerts.
SENATE COMMITTEE AMENDS AND OKs FRIVILOUS LAWSUITS MEASURE On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended and approved HB 1091 (Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, and Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford). As it passed the House, the bill contains three separate sections: one dealing with frivolous lawsuits filed against agricultural operations; one with manufacturing methamphetamine or growing marijuana on someone else's property; and one dealing with the forum for agricultural lawsuits based on contracts that seek less than $25,000. Rep. Dale Grubb (D-Covington) suggested an amendment to HB 1091 to have it apply only to contracts dealing with GMO seed. A number of seed companies and other agricultural suppliers testified against the amendment. Bob Kraft, citing Farm Bureau policy supported Rep. Grubb's amendment. Before it could be voted on however, another amendment removed the entire section dealing with the forum for contract litigation. The section dealing with nuisance lawsuits was presented by Rep. Friend and supported by Farm Bureau's Justin Schneider. The language simply states that if a plaintiff files a nuisance lawsuit against an agricultural operation and loses, the court must consider if the lawsuit was filed frivolously or maliciously and, if so, award the costs of litigation, including attorney fees, to the defendant. This provision was amended to require the court to also consider if the defense to a nuisance lawsuit was frivolous and if so, award court costs, again including attorney fees, to the plaintiff. The final provision would require anyone convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine or growing marijuana on someone else's property to pay restitution was also presented by Rep. Friend and was not controversial. The amended bill was forwarded to the full Senate by a vote of 6-3.
EXTRATERRITORIAL WATER & SEWER RATES The Senate Utilities Committee amended and approved HB 1126, a bill that will provide an opportunity for customers of municipal utilities to petition the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for relief if the water or sewer rates charged customers outside the municipality are more than 15% higher than those for customers inside the city limit. The bill places the burden to justify the discrepancy on the municipal utility. The House passed version of the bill would have set the threshold to petition IURC at 10%. HB 1126 was authored by Rep. David Frizzell (R-Indianapolis) in response to a situation in Bargersville in Johnson County, but it will have application statewide. Its Senate sponsor is Utilities Committee Chair Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis). Farm Bureau’s Bob Kraft testified in support of the bill, saying, “Farm Bureau supports any measure that gives our members a voice in rates, fees, charges, regulations or other obligations imposed on them by public officials for whom they cannot vote.”
SEPARATE VOTES FOR COUNTY/CITY MERGERS DOES NOT RECEIVE HEARING IN THE HOUSE SB 174, authored by Sen. Connie Lawson (R-Danville), contained much needed reforms to the so-called government modernization statute including separate vote counts for those inside and outside city limits when a county and a city are merging. This is consistent with current Farm Bureau policy. The government modernization statute (IC 36-1.5) allows the merger of virtually any units of local government. As it passed the Senate, SB 174 also adds the requirement of a fiscal impact study for any proposed reorganization which is submitted to the Department of Local Government Finance for review. Under the bill, the DLGF would have provided a description of the merger for the ballot question from a neutral point of view. Farm Bureau staff and affected members were pushing for the separate vote language to be applied retroactively so that it would apply to mergers currently pending in Vanderburgh, Delaware and Hamilton counties. However, the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), decided not to press for a hearing thereby allowing SB 174 to die. Sen. Lawson, who devoted significant effort and energy to the bill, listened to the concerns and policy position of Indiana Farm Bureau. It is unfortunate for rural residents – in particular those in Vanderburgh and Delaware counties – that these much needed reforms became entangled in efforts to revive other government reforms.
BACON, KRAFT DISCUSS ELECTRIC RATES WITH VECTREN Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Boonville), Farm Bureau's Bob Kraft, and a representative of Vectren Energy met in Indianapolis this week to discuss the issue of farmers being required to pay peak electric rates all year long because of the energy demanded a few weeks a year when grain dryers are being used. Vectren's rep could make no commitments because Vectren rates require the approval of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission but the representative did promise to take the issue back to Vectren’s rate experts. This is an issue that Rep. Bacon surfaced during a third-house meeting with farmers in his legislative district a few weeks ago. Any resolution would have statewide application. Rural electric cooperatives also charge peaking rates but, for the most part, their rates are not subject to IURC approval.
PROPERTY PARTITION Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) has proposed SB 156 to expedite and simplify the property partition process that allows a co-owner of land to force a public sale of property jointly owned by joint tenants or tenants-in-common. The bill originally substituted forced public auction for the option of physically dividing disputed land among co-owners as the first option for partition. The bill adds a mandatory mediation provision to encourage the parties to settle. If an agreement is not reached by co-owners within 60 days, the court is to order the sale at auction of the disputed parcels. The House Committee on the Judiciary amended the bill this week to include a provision for a sale through a real estate professional if all parties agree on a listing price prior to forcing an auction. Physical partition of the property will potentially not be a viable option available to the court in a partition action regarding real property and mineral rights.
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS Indiana’s legislators listen to their constituents. Let yourself be heard on issues that are important to you.
OPTIONS FOR CONTACT
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.
Email legislators at http://www.in.gov/cgi-bin/legislative/contact/contact.pl.
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.
REPORT ACTION Let Indiana Farm Bureau know what you have learned from your legislator and that contact has been made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling Megan at 317-692-7833 or BJ at 317-692-7834.