The 2021 General Assembly
The 2022 Indiana General Assembly begins on Tuesday, January 4, 2022. We will be putting up our Bill Watch 2022 page soon. To have a brief overview of our top legislative priorities for the 2022 session, please see this newsletter and this WFYI article.
From our 2021 Bill Watch Page:
HEC presented our legislative priorities for the 2021 Indiana General Assembly in this in-depth interview with Indiana Public Media. We described our overall agenda and calls to action at Greening the Statehouse. Our top priorities in the 2021 Indiana General Assembly are very much focused on helping Hoosiers through the pandemic and helping Indiana’s economy revive through jobs in the sustainable economy, as we summarize in this interview with Fox-59 News. The 2021 session began on January 4, 2021 and concluded on April 22, 2021. We spotlight our specific legislative priorities below; these are categorized by our three main organizational aims (i.e., water and wilderness protection; environmental health & justice; sustainable economy).
I.) Read our recap of the 2021 Legislative Session
For all of the challenges of this session (and there were many), HEC and our allies did secure victories for environmental health, endangered open spaces, mass transit, and pollinator-friendly solar. Our 2021 legislative report (from April 24, 2021) lays out both our victories and the headwinds that we faced; for more detail, please see below.
On April 29, 2021, the Governor very unfortunately signed the anti-wetlands bill, SEA 389, and the anti-climate bill, HEA 1191, into law. We are very, very grateful for all of your calls and emails. Please see more detailed updates below.
II.) Get in touch with your lawmaker, post-legislative session: Thank them and/or hold them accountable
Please be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates. We greatly encourage you to email (or schedule a Zoom meeting) with your state representative and state senator and let them know how you felt about how they voted — what you appreciated, what you were disappointed with, and what you would like to see them prioritize in the future. Build a meaningful relationship with them. Check out our new webpage where we highlight Indiana lawmakers who lead on the environment & sustainability (including those who sponsored pro-rooftop solar bills) as well as those who were notably anti-environmental (including the co-sponsors of the anti-local climate bill HEA 1191). This resource also includes voting records for legislation that were key HEC priorities in the 2021 legislative session (i.e., HEA 1191, SEA 389, SB 373, and SB 141).
Senate Bill 141 would harm transit service in Marion County by reducing funding needed to fully build out IndyGo’s two new rapid transit corridors and provide expanded local bus service to neighborhoods throughout Indianapolis. Key points are below:
- This bill would mean the loss of millions of dollars in federal transit grants and eliminate reduced fares for veterans, students, and paratransit riders.
- Effective transit is key to providing access to health care, jobs, and schools, all essential to economic recovery of our communities.
- SB 141 is an unwarranted restraint on IndyGo, conflicts with county voters' 2016 approval for expanding the IndyGo system, and puts at risk millions of dollars in federal transit grants slated for IndyGo.
- The legislature is micromanaging what is and should be a local decision -- which every community should be concerned about. This would set a precedent allowing the state legislature to go against the will of voters in local decisions.
- Efforts to give similar transit funding options to communities around the state are jeopardized when the legislature insists on controlling these local transit funding decisions.
- People across Indiana should care about this bill because it seriously undermines the long established plans of Indiana's biggest city - and capital city - to make its transit system more accessible and convenient.
After contentious debate, the bill passed the State Senate on February 23rd.
SB 141 was heard in the House Roads and Transportation Committee, but never received a vote.
Subsequently, the Senate added IndyGo language to an unrelated House bill, HB 1191. This amendment would have required IndyGo to pay for utility relocation costs resulting from construction of the three bus rapid transit corridors -- the Red Line, Blue Line and Purple Line.
The IndyGo language was removed during the conference committee process, so no harmful anti-IndyGo provisions were enacted during the 2021 session.
Indiana is going to see a number of large solar farms in several regions of Indiana over the 2020s which, collectively, could have a land footprint the size of Indiana's state parks. These farms, which will generate new tax revenues for struggling rural counties and create carbon-free electricity, use a lot of groundcover. HEC has been advocating that all such farms be pollinator friendly, for the sake of our wildlife, soil and water conservation, reduced stormwater runoff, and beauty. Such groundcover can be cost-competitive, taking into account both start-up and operating costs, with conventional groundcover approaches -- with smart seed mix design.
This issue had great relevance in the 2021 legislative session, as there was a bill, HB 1381, focused on renewable farm siting and design. That bill passed out of the Indiana House and, after a considerable amendment, passed out of the Indiana Senate Utilities Committee and Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee; both the House version of the bill and the Senate versions of the bill take away true local control over groundcover (the land underneath solar farms) from our counties.
HEC was generally supportive of HB 1381, but wanted to see this critical section of the bill - related to pollinator-friendly solar - fixed. Since that fix, despite our direct efforts at engaging the renewable energy industry, was not made, we were not able to proactively encourage our grassroots supporters to support the bill as a whole. Learn more about our position on this bill. County opposition (more than 60 of which issued statements in opposition) and Farm Bureau opposition to HB 1381 led to this bill not receiving a vote on the Senate floor, and HB 1381 did not advance this session.
HB 1436 would, in its original form, have required any state agency, which includes the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management (IDEM) and the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), to pay the attorney fees incurred by a party that successfully challenges an agency enforcement or permitting decision. This is a bad idea. Lawyers that represent industry in environmental and land use matters typically charge hourly rates up to $600/hour. Those hours rack up fast to hundreds of thousands of dollars of attorney fees in environmental litigation, including administrative appeals of agency actions. As such, IDEM and DNR may feel pressured to grant industry permits for ill-conceived projects that the agencies would otherwise deny just to avoid the financial risk to the state of having to pay those exorbitant fees. This would not only impose an unnecessary financial burden on already strapped administrative agencies but it would tip the scales of agency decision-making toward serving special industry interests rather than protecting the public interest in protecting the environment. Unfortunately, this bad bill passed the House and has moved on to the Senate where it has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure was significantly amended in that Committee to narrow its focus to requiring state agencies to pay attorney fees of an appealing party only when an agency is found to have acted frivolously or in bad faith. While HEC still opposed the bill because it is unnecessary and could still lead to harmful decisions, we are very appreciative of this improvement. This bill would not have been amended had it not been for the combined efforts of the state government agencies, HEC's policy, legal, and outreach efforts, and calls & emails from supporters like you.
SB 389 has passed the General Assembly and has been signed into law. It will drastically reduce wetland protection. The final version of the bill eliminates protection of Class I wetlands and significantly reduces protection for Class II. It allows development of a wetland that was on cropland as long as the land was used for agriculture during the last 5 years or 10 years if it has no federal wetland. It is retroactive to January 1, 2021.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) testified that Indiana has already lost 85% of its original wetlands. Of the wetlands remaining, 80 - 90% were state-protected wetlands. The other 10 - 20% are federally protected. Wetlands are vital to a healthy ecosystem, provide critical wildlife habitat. and reduce flooding. They provide a significant economic benefit. Additional wetlands information and list of organizations opposing SB 389.
- Feb 1 - SB 389 passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 19 (Senate votesheet) with bipartisan opposition.
- March 30 - 90 organizations sign a letter calling on the legislature to consider other policy options.
- April 7 - the House Environmental Affairs Committee adopted Amendment 24, which was a compromise that preserved protection of most wetlands.
- April 12 - The House voted to amend SB 389 and significantly reduce protection of wetlands.
- April 13 - The House voted 58 to 40 to pass SB 389. There was bipartisan opposition. Read the House votesheet to find out how your representative voted.**
- April 14 - The Senate voted 31 to 19 (votesheet) to concur with the House version of SB 389, so the bill has passed the Indiana General Assembly.**
- April 26 - a letter calling on the Governor to veto SEA 389, cosigned by more than 100 organizations, was delivered to the Governor's office.
- April 29 - the Governor signed SEA 389 into law, despite an unprecedented outpouring of organizational and citizen opposition.
Contact your State Rep and State Senator to express your concern about how they voted - or to express your praise. The votesheets are above (in **). You can find your senator and representative at http://iga.in.gov/legislative/find-legislators/
For years, HEC has been working to help rural communities fight back against the devastating effects of factory farms. One way we do this is by providing pro bono legal assistance to citizens so that they can stand up for their property rights and seek court relief when an irresponsibly sited factory farm creates untenable living conditions, fouls their air, contaminates drinking water, or devalues their property. The livestock industry wants to eliminate these lawsuits by prohibiting all court remedies that protect property rights and allow damages for negligent conduct. SB 411 would have done just that (to learn more, read our Fact Sheet and Full Analysis).
- TAKE ACTION:
- On February 12, 2021, we learned that SB 411 will not get a hearing and is dead for this Session.
- Thank you so much for all of your emails and calls!
If a local sewage system is not available, waste water from sinks and toilets can be treated through an on-site septic system. Unfortunately, it is common for septic systems to fail leading to contamination of groundwater, streams, or lakes. HB 1038 would ensure a septic system is inspected when a property is sold. This bill was denied a hearing in the 2021 Indiana General Assembly.
Coal ash contains toxic heavy metals that contaminate water. Indiana has millions of tons of coal ash most of which is sitting in the floodplains of Lake Michigan or the Wabash, Ohio, or White Rivers where it is contaminating groundwater and threatening the waterway. Two bills in 2021, SB 367 and HB 1469, will ensure that coal ash disposal keeps Lake Michigan, our rivers, and groundwater safe. While both bills were denied hearings, there was progress in that two Republicans joined two Democrats in sponsoring SB 367 in the Senate.
In 2021 the Indiana General Assembly will craft a new two-year state budget. Because of state revenue shortfalls resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, agency budgets -- including the budget for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust -- will be facing dramatic cuts. As a result, staff and program funding will be reduced, severely hampering the DNR's ability to perform its mission to protect and manage Indiana's precious fish and wildlife resources, state parks, state forests, fish and wildlife areas, and outdoor recreation sites. In turn, this will put at risk Indiana's annual $16 billion outdoor recreation industry and the 143,000 jobs it supports. HEC will work to defend the DNR budget and the successful Harrison Conservation Trust program.
Good news! In response to a positive revenue forecast and new funds being provided by the American Rescue Plan, the new Indiana state budget contains a $25 million appropriation for conservation land acquisition, along with $60 million in added funds for the Next Level Trails program.
Sen. Sue Glick (R-Lagrange), along with 12 co-authors, introduced Senate Bill 373 that would encourage farmers and woodland owners to participate in markets for the sale of carbon offsets, and also expand investment in new public forestland, by providing new opportunities for private investors to buy Indiana-generated carbon offsets. The bill does three things:
- Creates a new revenue source -- the sale of carbon offsets -- generated by new forestland acquisition by the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust (Indiana's leading public lands protection program that buys and protects carbon-sequestering forests and other natural lands)
- Creates a new revenue source -- the sale of carbon offsets -- for Clean Water Indiana (state program that promotes carbon-sequestering soil health practices in farming)
- Creates a climate-friendly farming and forestry practices technical assistance and verification program within the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
SB 373 passed the State Senate in a bipartisan vote on February 22nd.
SB 373 was amended in the House of Representatives, and passed 65 to 30 on April 13th, although in substantially altered form. The Senate language was replaced by a provision requiring the Indiana DNR and Indiana State Department of Agriculture to study carbon markets in coordination with stakeholders. The House added two other amendments -- one a very controversial provision providing liability protection for a carbon dioxide geologic sequestration project planned by Wabash Valley Resources at a site in Vigo County.
After bill author Sen. Glick removed the Wabash Valley provision in conference committee, the House majority refused to sign the conference report, killing the bill. Sponsors of the Wabash Valley language sought to add the amendment to another bill in the final days of session, but were unsuccessful.
Despite the bill's demise, both DNR and ISDA have committed to proceed with a study of carbon markets in Indiana.
Indiana's "Right to Farm Act" (RTFA) was enacted in 1981 with the intent of protecting existing farmers from urban sprawl. The law did this by barring nuisance lawsuits by newcomers who moved from the city next to existing farms and sued because they couldn't tolerate the smell. In 2005, the RTFA was amended at the urging of the powerful meat and dairy industries to protect newly built factory farms from lawsuits by neighbors were there first. In effect, the RTFA was transformed from a "Right to Farm" to a "Right to Harm." Now, families that have lived in their homes for decades are forced to endure the extremely noxious odors and dangerous air pollution from a newly built factory farm that makes living conditions unbearable and causes their property values to plummet without any recourse whatsoever. Due to the amended RTFA, rural families are retroactively stripped of their long-vested property rights the day a factory farm is built next door, along with their ability to obtain a legal remedy in court. This injustice is contrary to founding principles of our federal and state constitutions--namely, that there is no right without a remedy, all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law, and government cannot strip away or infringe upon the property rights of its citizens without providing just compensation. Accordingly, we are introducing bipartisan legislation that will amend the RTFA to require responsible siting of factory farms and restore the property rights of our fellow citizens so that they can protect their homes and communities from becoming a dumping ground for factory farms. This bill was denied a hearing in the 2021 Indiana General Assembly.
- TAKE ACTION:
- Still please urge your state representative to support hearing HB 1472 in the next legislative session.
- Talking Points
- Even if a factory farm complies with all regulations, that does nothing to reduce harm to neighbors because the noxious air pollution released by factory farms is not regulated under federal and state clean air laws.
- No citizen in Indiana should have to forfeit their fundamental right to live in peace and dignity in their own homes so that a powerful industry can expand and pollute with impunity.
Indiana's utilities, led by NIPSCO and Vectren, are in the middle of a serious transition away from coal towards renewables plus storage resources. Other investor-owned Indiana utilities - Duke, Indiana-Michigan Power, and Indianapolis Power & Light - are also moving towards the transition but at a much slower pace. The Indiana legislature is advancing two major bills that have to do with this transition, and we have concerns about them:
HB 1520 - this bill is about requiring a new report that electric utilities must submit to Indiana's utility regulator, the IURC, about electric reliability. There is some language in this bill that the sustainable energy community will need to monitor to make sure that there are not unintended consequences. It has become law.
SB 386 - this bill enables Vectren (now Center Point Energy), the investor-owned utility serving Southwest Indiana, to pursue securitization. Securitization is a financing tool that would allow the utility's ratepayers to pay for the utility's soon-to-be-retired coal plants at a lower interest rate, via bonding, than they currently pay for them. That's, conceptually, a good thing - the utility has a means to pay for now retired coal plants when they are no longer in operation and rate payers don't have to pay at the standard rate of return allowed by Indiana utility law. But the details of SB 386 were not, in the Senate bill, sufficiently pro-consumer nor did they explicitly allow for use of securitization funds (that are raised through a bond sale) for either worker retraining or environmental remediation, as seen in Section 6 of the bill. In advance of the Senate Utilities Committee on this bill, HEC submitted written testimony in opposition to SB 386; in the House Utilities Committee, the bill was amended to include more meaningful ratepayer protections, and we stayed neutral on the bill in the House. The bill is set to become law.
Lead can get into drinking water as the water passes through pipes or fixtures that contain lead. Lead is toxic to the nervous system, especially for young children. A bill in 2021 will require day care centers to test the water from their taps and water fountains for lead.
Free lead testing is available for child care facilities. Ask your local child care facility to participate!
Find Your Voice
HEC Advocacy Guide
HEC helps Hoosiers become successful advocates for environmental legislation in Indiana. Download the HEC Advocacy Guide
You can get involved in the legislative process by:
- Contacting your representative and senator on bills of concern and in support of strong environmental programs;
- Attending “meet your legislator” events or setting up a meeting in the district;
- Hosting a Greening Your Community House Party;
- Attending an Environmental Advocate training; and,
- Writing a letter to the editor for your local paper.
Read on for more tips on effective advocacy.
DO Go Local
Effectiveness is based on geography— legislators are most responsive to their own constituents, and want to hear your opinions as a constituent. Maintain contact with your legislators throughout the year. Best of all, meet with your legislators when they’re at home in their district. Nothing is more effective than an in-person meeting. Invite them for coffee, or for a hike in a local park or natural area. You can also find them at many community events. Don’t be intimidated – legislators are community members with daily lives not unlike yours.
Stay in touch during the legislative session. Attend “meet your legislator” events such as “Third House” meetings hosted by your Chamber of Commerce or League of Women Voters that occur in the districts during session. This is an opportunity to ask questions, encourage support or opposition for particular bills, and hear legislators’ views in a forum where citizens, other community leaders and news reporters are present and will hear your point of view and legislators’ responses.
DO Your Homework
Read the bill and related information, including policy briefs and talking points prepared by HEC.
Seek to understand your legislators and the community interests that may influence them; for example, businesses, local government officials, or civic groups. Don’t assume that a legislator supports or opposes your views based on political labels or party affiliation. In many instances, local politics and the preferences of constituents trump other considerations. Don’t feel like you have to be an expert, but make sure you can support your position. Personal experiences are the best way to express your views to your legislators; additional facts and statistics – the more locally relevant, the better – can also support your position, but the more personal the contact, the more effective you will be. Follow your legislator on Facebook and Twitter to learn about upcoming events they are attending, as well as to gain insights into their views and beliefs.
DO Write Letters and Follow Up
Letters are a very effective tool! Organize letter – writing parties with your friends and neighbors—sending letters to legislators and newspaper editors. Check out our sample letters on-line, all that you need to do is fill in the blanks!
Follow the process carefully, and let HEC know what you learn from your legislators. The more we know about legislators’ concerns and questions, the more effectively we can represent your viewpoints at the Statehouse. Also, stay in touch with your legislators to build a long-term relationship!
Critique: try to avoid partisan debate. Discuss your issue based on the merits of policy.
Go off topic: limit your advocacy to a single issue, discussing unrelated issues will not help to strengthen the support of your issue.
Forget to follow up: stay informed on your issue and track how your legislator responds.