(This piece was originally published on March 8, 2017 in The Times Sentinel.)

As if keeping up with all the hullabaloo and shenanigans in D.C. weren’t enough, Hoosiers need to keep a close eye on what our legislators are doing at the Statehouse in Indy.

Many people assume that once they’ve voted, they can sit back and let the lawmakers go to work without any oversight. Not so.

Even though most legislators are quite capable, they need to hear from their constituents. If not, someone else may influence their votes; that would be lobbyists. A good legislator weighs a lot before deciding how to vote, but in truth, several things can sway a vote. The most important consideration for a politician is the voice of constituents. Honorable politicians understand that their constituents pull the lever in the voting booth, so they should listen carefully to you.

Of course, there is also the matter of lobbyists and campaign contributions. While lobbyists cannot vote, the money they hold from the industries they represent can do a lot of advertising that can sway many voters. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is the saying that comes to mind.

Moreover, there is always pressure from “the party.” Usually said political party has a general, if not specific, platform regarding any issue, and party members are expected to follow party guidelines. Only very strong and independent legislators will vary from the party position. Voters who appreciate legislators’ consideration and independence will reward them with their vote.

So it’s critical for the voter to be aware of bills and share concerns with both their senator and representative. It can be overwhelming for individuals to follow bills in both the House and Senate in both state and national Legislatures. That’s why following suggestions from like-minded groups can help a constituent know when to contact their legislator regarding specific bills.

There are two bills under discussion that both Sierra Club and Hoosier Environmental Council are watching. Both would have deleterious effects on Indiana’s environment if passed.

HB 1494 lessens protections for rural communities by drastically weakening the already loose restrictions on so-called “factory farms” or CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). The noxious air pollutants from these industrial livestock manure ponds are so strong that neighbors within miles are often forced to remain inside. The pits themselves can leak or overflow and create damage to our state waterways as well. We need state laws that protect individuals and communities, not industrial “farms,” which are often owned by absentee businessmen, many of whom never step foot on these foul-smelling agricultural industrial sites. Whether you live rural or in town, respect for fellow Hoosiers’ rights should compel you to tell your legislators to vote “no” on HB 1494. Because of gerrymandering, residents of Zionsville could be in one of four different Indiana Senate Districts. To find your senator, visit iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/ and call him to ask for a “no” on HB 1494 to protect Indiana’s environment.

The other bill of concern is SB 309, which will remove incentives for solar power in Indiana. Regardless of the chatter in the current political arena about bringing back coal jobs, coal is a dead industry. It can’t compete with natural gas or with the renewable energies. It would be wise for our legislators to look forward, instead of back in the past, for energy, jobs and a clean environment. SB 309 would be a killer of Indiana’s emerging solar energy industry. Voters with concerns about the prospects of a clean energy industry versus a dirty coal environment should learn more about this bill, and then contact your representatives with your concerns.

More information about both of these bills as well as others of concern can be found at the Bill Watch Tab on HEC’s website, hecweb.org.



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