Committees consider controversial issues

Interim study committees offer state legislators a chance to learn about issues that are likely to be addressed during session. Indiana Farm Bureau staff participated in several study committees important to members. Below are some of the key takeaways from those hearings.

Confined feeding

Issues Study_ConfinedFeeding_PigsThe Interim Study Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources met three times to discuss confined feeding operations.

The first hearing, held on Aug. 29, provided committee members the opportunity to hear testimony regarding environmental regulations, zoning and the economic impact of Confined Feeding Operations (CFOs) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Legislators also were provided information on other states’ approach to livestock regulation and zoning.

On Sept. 29, Justin Schneider, INFB director of state government relations, testified at the second meeting of the committee on behalf of agriculture organizations. Among key points, Schneider noted support for the current regulatory system managed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, maintaining existing authorities for local control, and stressed the importance of counties reviewing their zoning ordinances before construction of a livestock barn is proposed.

There was general agreement among almost all speakers that local control surrounding these operations is important. The opposition, however, wants much more local regulatory oversight on confined feeding operations. Other speakers from the agricultural community included Malcolm DeKryger of Belstra Milling Company, Josh Trenary of Indiana Pork and Matt Chapman, an INFB member and livestock farmer from Henry County.

The final meeting of the committee was held on Oct. 19 where the members heard more testimony and discussed its final report to be issued before the General Assembly convenes.

Food deserts

The Interim Study Committee on Government met at the Statehouse on Sept. 6. Shelby Swain, INFB associate policy advisor, gave testimony that detailed how food deserts affect rural areas. INFB policy supports policies and grants that help eliminate food deserts, which are areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality, fresh food based on a person’s proximity to the nearest grocery store.

INFB is part of the Indiana Healthy Food Access Coalition, which consists of a group of stakeholders working to provide solutions that aim to bring an end to food deserts. The coalition’s goal is to serve as the rural voice on the issue, highlighting that the problem is both urban and rural.

Rural broadband

The Committee on Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications held a meeting on Sept. 14 to discuss rural broadband. It was apparent that everyone agrees there is a problem regarding broadband access for citizens in rural areas.

Testimony was shared about ongoing projects on the issue, but there is still not a clear path forward. The main roadblock is finding solutions that provide a financing framework that improves the return of investment for expanding broadband to less densely populated rural areas.

Wind energy

Issues Study_WindOn Oct. 5, the Committee on Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications met on the topic of wind energy. Two main points of concern dominated the conversation of the hearing: whether there should be minimum state standards for location; and measures to protect against conflict of interest with local government officials. Statements after the committee meeting indicated that some legislators have concerns about local conflicts.