2013 Legislative Session in Review

2013 Indiana General Assembly Wrap-up

I.  State Environmental Funding

a.  Funding for Environmental Agencies

After budget cuts in FY 2011 and FY 2012, the new FY 2014-FY 2015 budget maintains operating funding for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Indiana Department of Natural Resources at existing levels.

Environmental agencies work with a bare-bones staff and insufficient resources to properly inspect facilities, enforce compliance, and uphold environmental laws and regulations that protect public health.

For more details about Indiana’s state budgets, please visit the Indiana State Budget Agency.

bConservation Funding

Fact: Environmental and conservation funding represents just 1% of the Indiana state budget.

The new two year budget contains the following conservation appropriations:

i.  Indiana Heritage Trust

  • $97,000/year in general funds
  • $1.2 million/year in dedicated funds from environmental license plate proceeds

ii.  Clean Water Indiana

  • $1 million/year in general funds
  • $3 million/year in dedicated funds from the cigarette tax

Read more information about the Indiana Heritage Trust: Indiana Heritage Trust talking points — HEC–4-30-13

c.  Public transit, passenger rail, and the state budget

The new two-year state budget approved in House Bill 1001 maintained state funding for local transit agencies at the level of $42.6 million a year from the general fund.  Despite the request of transit advocates and agencies to allocate $60 million a year for public transit, and reinstate the dedicated share of sales tax revenue for this purpose, the funding level remained flat.

For the first time, the budget bill contains an authorization for the Indiana Department of Transportation to use its appropriated funds to provide support for Amtrak service in Indiana.  Read more here.

II.  Land Use

a.  Public Transportation

Indy Connect — Central Indiana Public Transit

HB 1011 as introduced would have allowed voters to decide whether to establish a metropolitan transit district in Indianapolis and nine surrounding counties, and whether to approve a local income tax of .3% dedicated to funding this new regional transit system.

HB 1011 passed out of the House Roads and Transportation committee by a vote of 11-1 on January 31, and the House Ways and Means committee by a vote of 20-2 on February 18.  The House of Representatives passed the bill by a bipartisan vote of 56-39.  In the Senate, this bill passed the Local Government committee by a vote of 7-2.

But the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy committee amended the bill to send the issue to a study committee.  Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), the bill author, dissented from the Senate’s changes.  The conference committee could not reach agreement on substantive language, and therefore Rep. Torr concurred with the study committee language adopted by the Senate.

Read the Indianapolis Star story summarizing the outcome on the transit bill: Mass_transit_expansion_paused_for_at_least_a_year(2)

This summer and fall, please take action:

  • CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS during the interim and urge them to support the Indy Connect regional transit plan.  You can find your legislators here.
  • Sign the petition!
  • Ask any organizations you support to adopt a resolution in favor of improved public transit.
  • Sign up for email action alerts!

b.  Canned hunting

House Bill 1194, which would have legalized shooting of captive-raised deer in fenced preserves, was never heard in House committee.  In response, bill author Rep. Matt Ubelhor (R-Bloomfield) added a provision to SB 487 that would have legalized the five existing deer shooting preserves which have been the target of Indiana DNR efforts to close them.

The amended SB 487 passed the House, but Senate Leader David Long (R-Ft. Wayne) would not agree to this change, and the bill died in conference committee.

HEC, along with conservation and sporting groups, oppose this practice since it violates ethical hunting guidelines and endangers the health of wild deer and the businesses that rely upon a healthy deer population.

For more information about the dangers of “canned hunting,” please view information prepared by the Indiana Conservation Alliance.

The following ten (10) bills and three (3) resolutions were introduced (and fortunately defeated) this Session which would have — in one way or another — eliminated safeguards that are essential to protecting Indiana’s rural communities, public health, and the environment from impacts of industrial agriculture.

III.  Energy and Utility Policy

SB 560, now law, is a complex energy bill with at least five distinct policy components. The policy component that had been most controversial, and about which HEC repeatedly raised concerns with legislators, had to do with changing the process by which transmission & distribution investment costs are recouped from ratepayers. The traditional process has been through the rigorous and comprehensive “rate case” and the new process is through a “tracker,” which is a highly expedited approval process by which costs are normally added to customer bills on a quarterly basis. What has been tracked has normally been costs not under the control of utilities, such as commodity costs (i.e. natural gas, coal).

HEC thinks that switching to the “tracker process” poses risks for both Hoosier businesses and Hoosier homes in terms of reduced scrutiny by the IURC of potentially large transmission investments, which in turn could mean higher electricity bills.   Amendments were, fortunately, successfully adopted to the final version of the bill that addressed many – but not all — concerns that several parties, including HEC, had of the original bill.    The new law missed a major opportunity, championed by HEC, that would have required utilities to carry out an ‘alternatives analysis’ to determine if there were cheaper, cleaner energy alternatives to adding more and more transmission and distribution investment.    HEC will continue to work constructively to try to address some of the shortcomings of SB 560 in future legislative sessions.

IV.  Industrial Livestock Agriculture Policy

a.  Right to Ranch and Farm (SJR 21/HJR 5) and the Right to Hunt and Fish (SJR 7) — a/k/a/ Creating a Constitutional “Right to Harm”

Two companion resolutions, SJR 21 and HJR 5, would have amended the Indiana Constitution to create a fundamental right (e.g., freedom of speech and religion, right to vote, etc…) to “engage in traditional and modern farming and ranching practices” such that “any law” that abridges the “right to employ traditional or modern agricultural technology, animal production or ranching practices” would be deemed unconstitutional. Despite its title, i.e. the “Right to Hunt and Fish,” SJR 7 would have created a constitutional right to “engage in the commercial production of meat, poultry and dairy products.”

Amending our State Constitution to provide a fundamental right to engage in factory farming would make it very difficult to pass new safeguards for protection of food safety, animal welfare, public health, and environment and would subject existing safeguards to constitutional challenge.

Fortunately, HJR 5 and SJR 21 died early on in the House Judiciary and Senate Ag/Natural Resources Committees. SJR 7 (which already passed both chambers in a prior legislative session) sailed out of the Senate Ag/Natural Resources committee but, due to strong public opposition generated by HEC and our supporters, the measure was not heard or voted on in the House Judiciary Committee.

Because this language will likely be revived next session, we will continue our efforts to educate lawmakers and the public about the dangerous implications of these “Right to Harm” amendments over the coming months. We call on our supporters who care about equal rights, animal welfare, worker and food safety, and the environment to do the same.

b.  Local Regulation of Farming (SB 571) a/k/a Dismantling Local Regulation of Factory Farming

The goal of SB 571 was to eliminate long standing protections for property owners who live near industrial livestock factories including undermining the ability of local governments to protect their citizens. The bill would have done this in three ways: 1) it would have allowed the livestock industry to write its own regulations for “generally accepted agriculture and management practices;” 2) it would have provided legal immunity from liability as long as a factory farm complied with those industry-written regulations; and 3) it would have prevented local health departments, plan commissions and zoning bodies from passing ordinances or other rules to govern the operations of factory farms. Fortunately, this dangerous bill died early on in the Senate Ag/Natural Resources Committee.

c.  Attorneys Fees in Civil Actions (SB 131/ SB 178) and Legal Costs (SB 88) a/k/a Protecting Polluters by Closing the Courthouse Doors to Impacted People of Modest Means

Each of these measures would have required trial courts to award attorney fees and costs to the “prevailing party” in a civil lawsuit. For good reason, no other state in the United States has this sort of an unjust “loser pays” attorney-fee system that precludes equal court access for people of modest means. Specifically, “civil lawsuits” include those brought by Hoosiers whose quality of life and property values have plummeted from exposure to extreme noxious odors and water contamination from nearby factory farms.

Most victims of factory farm pollution are rural Hoosiers of modest means who already have difficulty exercising their legal rights due to the high cost of hiring a lawyer. Moreover, people with legitimate claims may, nevertheless, lose in court for a variety of procedural and other reasons. Consequently, victims of factory farm pollution, faced with the real possibility of having to pay the defendant’s attorney fees and costs, as well as their own, would have been deterred from taking action to protect their homes and families.

Fortunately, our lawmakers declined to enact an unjust loser pays system in Indiana by allowing each of these dangerous bills to die early on in the Senate Civil Law and Judiciary Committees.

d.  Nuisance Actions (HB 1582) a/k/a Eviscerating the Few, Remaining Private Property Rights of Rural Hoosiers

Under Indiana nuisance law, we all have the right to the “free use and enjoyment” of our properties without unreasonable interference from others. Unfortunately, for rural Hoosiers who live next to factory farms, our current “Right to Farm” law greatly diminishes that right by providing the owners of animal factories with legal immunity when their operations create untenable living conditions — a nuisance — for nearby landowners.

This legal protection, not enjoyed by any other industry, is apparently not enough for big Ag which pushed for passage of HB 1582 this session. If enacted, the bill would have expanded Right to Farm protection to preclude a trial court from awarding appropriate compensation, mitigation or other relief to an injured landowner who somehow managed to bring a successful nuisance lawsuit against a polluting factory farm. In other words, even if a trial court finds that the livestock factory is a legal nuisance to its neighbors, HB 1582 would allow it to continue the harm without having to compensate injured landowners or in any way mitigate the harm.

Essentially, this unabashed favor to big Ag would have given the owners of polluting livestock factories the right to condemn neighbors’ properties for its polluting use without due process, compensation, or any way to fight back. Fortunately, this horrific measure died early this Session in the House Judiciary Committee.

e.  Criminal Trespass and Application Fraud (SB 373); Crimes Concerning Agriculture and Livestock (SB 391); Agricultural Crimes (HB 1562) – a/k/a Anti-Whistleblower and “Ag Gag” Bills

Senate Bill 373 (Sen. Holdman, R-Markle), which was legislation intended to silence critics of factory farms, industrial operations, logging and mining, died in the final hours of the 2013 session.

The original version of the bill would have created a new crime of “unlawful recording of an agricultural or industrial operation”.  After the Indiana House of Representatives dramatically altered the bill to eliminate the constitutionally-questionable unlawful recording provisions, the bill sponsors and agribusiness lobbyists sought to reinsert the objectionable language in conference committee, even broadening the language in the process.

However, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indy) withdrew the conference committee report before a vote occurred on the House floor. The Senate decided not to concur with the House changes, killing the bill for this session.

SB 391 and HB 1562 were identical measures that did not make it out of committee this session.