Golf Courses Seek Reclassification as Farmland

Indiana golf course owners plan on asking the Legislature to classify their businesses as agricultural, rather than commercial property.

Under the new property tax cap system, agricultural land receives a 2% cap, while commercial land receives a higher 3% cap.

If successful in their efforts, golf courses stand to save on their property tax bills. One local course estimates a potential $14,000 savings. However, St. Joseph County estimates the change could cost the county around $100,000.

WSBT-TV: Should golf courses be considered farmland?

3 comments October 16th, 2008

EQSC Completes 2008 Meetings

The Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) has completed its 2008 meetings, and the final report should be available online soon.

I had the opportunity to serve as chairman of this interim study committee this year. We received some informative testimony about a range of important environmental and energy issues that the Legislature will be likely dealing with next year.

At our final meeting on October 8th, we were able to unanimously agree to the following recommendations for inclusion in the final report:

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure. The EQSC recommends that the General Assembly support an updated study on funding water and wastewater infrastructure needs through a variety of funding sources.

E-Waste. The EQSC looked at existing E-waste programs in Indiana and other states, including the distribution of costs and landfill bans. After hearing testimony, the EQSC recommends to the General Assembly expanding opportunities for E-waste recycling and looking at the roles of manufacturers, retailers, and consumers with the goal of making it more widespread and convenient.

Energy Code. The EQSC recommends that the General Assembly and the administration direct the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission to examine the Indiana Energy Code and look to updating the code with input from a broad group of stakeholders.

Green Building Standards. The EQSC recommends that the General Assembly find ways to encourage the adoption of green building standards, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globe, or an equivalent standard, in publicly funded construction projects.

CAFOs. The General Assembly should adopt the confined feeding good character disclosure and enforcement requirements contained in SB 431-2007, amended to allow IDEM to consider a permit applicant’s compliance history outside the United States.

The recommendations do not include everything I would have liked to have seen, particularly regarding CAFOs and Green Building Standards. However, I think it is important the committee be unanimous in its recommendations, and this was the consensus we were able to reach.

I will post a link to the final report, which includes summaries of the testimony from each meeting, when it becomes available.

1 comment October 15th, 2008

Courts Commission Minutes on Elected Judges in St. Joe County

On October 3, 2008, the Commission on Courts held a hearing on the issue of elected judges in St. Joseph and Lake Counties. The minutes to that meeting have now been posted, and give a good overview of how the discussion went. I am a member of the Commission again this year, and was glad to take part in a lively debate on the topic.

The Commission will not vote on it’s final report until October 24, 2008.

October 3, 2008 Courts Commission Minutes
WNDU coverage of the meeting (with video)

Add comment October 14th, 2008

Flooding in South Bend

In the ongoing flooding across the state, communities along the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers have suffered the hardest. However, the South Bend region - from Elkhart to Plymouth to downtown South Bend is partly underwater as well.

Here is a photo of Howard Park - the line down the middle of the river is actually the balustrade that runs along the river walk in normal conditions.
Howard Park flood in South Bend
(image from the South Bend Area Blog)

I took this photo on Friday night to try to show the huge volume of water going over the dam downtown.
St. Joseph River flood waters at the dam in South Bend

Our house is right on the river across from Leeper Park (which also flooded) - but luckily, on our side the bank is a good ten to fifteen feet up and remained high and dry.

The South Bend Tribune has several image galleries of local flooding online: Gallery1, Gallery2, Gallery3.

Add comment January 14th, 2008

Crawford Voter ID Case Heard By Supreme Court

The legal challenge to the much-debated Indiana “Voter ID” law has finally been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

An initial reaction from election law scholar Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog:

“If Justice Kennedy is indeed troubled by certain aspects of the Indiana law (such as the two-trip requirement for indigent voters), the best result from the point of view of discouraging election litigation is to strike down the law, pointing out the flaws with the law, and telling the Indiana legislature to pass a revised law without the objectionable portions. This is what happened, to some extent, with the Georgia voter id law. A court struck it down, pointing to its most vulnerable sections, and the Georgia legislature rewrote the law, making it somewhat less severe.

Some have called this case Bush v. Gore II because of the possible 5-4 split on the Court, with a 5 justice majority seen issuing an opinion that helps Republicans and harms Democrats. I see a different parallel: Just as Bush v. Gore has spawned a great deal of election law litigation (statistics in my earlier cited articles), Crawford too has that potential. It is not a result that would be good for the country.”

Much more commentary is appearing now that oral arguments have concluded. See SCOTUSBlog and Election Law @ Moritz.

2 comments January 9th, 2008

What is a CAFO, and why should you care?

cafoIf you aren’t sure what exactly a CAFO is, or wonder what all the fuss about factory-scale farms is about, take a few minutes to read this new piece in Rolling Stone called “Pork’s Dirty Secret: The nation’s top hog producer is also one of America’s worst polluters”:

“Smithfield’s holding ponds — the company calls them lagoons — cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.”

The article goes into graphic detail, focusing on what the factory pork industry has done to the people of North Carolina:

“It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.”

Some of the most descriptive passages focus on the unique, toxic stench associated with large operations:

“I’ve probably smelled stronger odors in my life, but nothing so insidiously and instantaneously nauseating. It takes my mind a second or two to get through the odor’s first coat. The smell at its core has a frightening, uniquely enriched putridity, both deep-sweet and high-sour. I back away from it and walk back to the car but I remain sick — it’s a shivery, retchy kind of nausea — for a good five minutes.”

It’s important to recognize that the stench, pollution, and runoff from CAFO’s and similar industrial livestock operations are not the normal “farm smells” that most Hoosiers are very familiar with:

“We are used to farm odors,” says one local farmer. “These are not farm odors.” Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house.”

Governor Daniels has made development of factory farms in Indiana the centerpiece of his agricultural policy, and many communities across the state are struggling to cope with the science and politics of permitting new operations seeking to locate in their backyards.

The Indiana Department of Agriculture, with the Indiana Land Resouces Council, is currently conducting “listening sessions”to develop model local ordinances regarding land use and zoning to apply to factory farm operations, but the Department of Agriculture’s announcement of these meetings specifically points out that the “Indiana Land Resources Council will not consider a farmland preservation program or environmental regulations” as part of their recommendations.

Several bills dealing with CAFO’s have been filed this session (inculding HB1197 and SB447 ), and the topic was raised with IDEM Commissioner Easterly at our last Environmental Affairs committee meeting. The Commissioner said IDEM would support a policy of requiring local approval of CAFOs before IDEM issues its permits. However, he also felt it was currently too difficult to discern what exactly would constitute official “local approval.” That may be an area we are able to do some work on this session.

For more information, see:
Kemplog - day-to-day coverage of CAFO issues in Indiana
Grace Factory Farm Project - anti-CAFO
Farm Bureau - generally pro-CAFO, or anti-regulation
Journal of Extension - generally neutral research into all sorts of agricultural issues

12 comments January 21st, 2007

First week finished, and a Committee update

The first week of session has ended after a typically slow start. The filing deadline for legislation in the House is next Tuesday, and many bills are still stuck in drafting or having fiscal impact statements prepared. The most up-to-date list of filed bills in both the House and Senate can be accessed here.

Since many bills have yet to be assigned to committees, legislators typically use the first week seeking co-sponsors for their bills and working to shore up support for their proposals. Once all the bills have been published, the committee schedules will rapidly fill up.

I have scheduled an organizational meeting for the Environmental Affairs Committee next Wednesday. Commissioner Tom Easterly of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has agreed to appear and update the committee members on current IDEM projects, rulemaking, and legislative requests. The meeting will be broadcast live on the internet on Wednesday, January 17, 2006 at 10:30am. You will be able to access the webcast here (click on “Watch video from House Committee Room 156c”).

Let me know if you have any questions you would like the Committee to ask Commissioner Easterly.

2 comments January 11th, 2007

Back in the saddle - the 115th General Assembly

The 115th General Assembly is now officially underway.

I know I have been bad about updating here over the interim, but will try to get back into regular posting during the session.

The first few days of session are mostly administrative. The bill filing deadline for the House is not until the fourth meeting day in January – which I believe is next Monday. So committee chairs do not have much to work with yet as far as scheduling goes.

The House committee chairs met today upon adjournment to discuss general committee policy for the session. The main point of agreement was in re-establishing an orderly business schedule. Last session got a little out of control – bills piled up on the calendar in a spectacular heap that resulted in massive backlogs at various deadline days. Many bills died due to lack of time, in spite of regular late-night session days.

At the committee level, we will likely implement a policy of scheduling committees several days ahead of time to avoid much of the last-minute rush. For example, I am Chairman of the House Environmental Affairs Committee, which meets on Wednesdays. I will be turning in my schedule request by the end of Thursday so members can be notified and bill packets can be prepared on Monday, and the meeting can be announced publicly at least 24 hours ahead of time on Tuesday morning.

The administrative side of the Legislature is not particularly exciting, but a well-run Legislature generally results in better legislation, so I hope some of the changes and tweaks we are making will be effective.

Feel free to leave a comment if there is anything in particular you would like me to post about as the session progresses.

1 comment January 8th, 2007

Taking a little hiatus

I know that things have been slow here at lately, but real-life has kept me somewhat busy and away from the computer.

Like Doug over at Masson’s Blog, Angie and I recently bought a house. It’s a 101 year-old beauty right on the St. Joseph River in downtown South Bend. Buying the house, moving in, unpacking, and generally futzing around with the place has absorbed a great deal of my spare time.

Now that we are nicely settled in, we finally have time to take our belated honeymoon. Almost eight months after the wedding, Angie and I are going on our long-planned trip to Europe for two weeks – so I will not be updating here again until August.

In the meantime, if you need any assistance, please feel free to contact my office while I am away.

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!

5 comments July 19th, 2006

Indiana Land Resources Council has been reinstated

The Muncie Star Press is reporting that Gov. Daniels will be “re-populating” the Indiana Land Resources Council sometime in August of this year:

The state will re-establish the Indiana Land Resources Council (ILRC) and take other steps to preserve Indiana’s farm land, including drafting a model zoning ordinance for local governments.

Sarah Simpson, manager of regulatory affairs for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), announced the administration’s plans to save farm land during a recent videoconference broadcast to 25 locations throughout Indiana.

The Governor effectively dissolved the board in January of 2005 by asking for the resignations of its staff and members just before it was to present recommendations on planning policy to Lt. Governor Skillman.

In 1999, the Legislature established the Council (IC 15-7-9) to study and make recommendations on land use and planning issues. After it was dissolved, I introduced legislation to establish a new “Growth and Development Task Force” (HB 1242) to re-establish a working group in this important field. HB 1242 did not pass, but its goals included making several policy recommendations that could be picked up by the ILRC:

(1) Ensuring a process for making development decisions that are predictable, fair, and cost effective.
(2) Establishing ways to direct development toward existing communities and existing infrastructure.
(3) Integrating fiscal, transportation, energy, and environmental policies with land use planning.
(4) Encouraging the preservation of farmland, open space, and critical environmental areas.

I hope the new ILRC looks to an integrated planning approach that not only creates quality development, but also helps keep taxes down by fully utilizing our existing infrastructure.

The initial comments on the goals of the new ILRC are encouraging:

“We have some exciting objectives for the council, (including) state incentives … and providing a model ordinance and land-use tools to local government,” Simpson said. “We have a very aggressive initiative for that council when they are reconvened.”

Indiana needs a land-use strategy because the rapid loss of prime agricultural land to development compromises the future ability to feed the nation; reduces open space, wildlife habitat and groundwater recharge; creates rural-suburban conflicts; and requires the costly extension of roads, sewers and other infrastructure, Simpson said.

I look forward to following the Council’s progress. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about the ILRC or land use policy in general.

5 comments June 21st, 2006

Legislative Council sets Interim Study Committees

The Legislative Council is a joint committee made up of members of both the House and Senate. It serves primarily as a basic administrative committee for the Legislative branch – addressing things like personnel, space utilization, and data processing issues. Another function of the Council is to establish the Interim Study Committees that hold hearings after the Legislature has technically adjourned.

Some of these committees are created by the Legislative Council in response to requests by members or to address pressing policy issues. Other committees have already been established by statute and vary in number from year to year.

Though it is not yet fully up to date for 2006, information on all interim committee membership and schedules can be accessed here.

This week, Legislative Council met to establish a new set of study committees and ask for recommendations from statutory committees. These committees will be meeting throughout the summer and fall this year. The resolution passed by the Council does not appear to be online yet, so I have compiled a list of new topics assigned to the various committees from the printed material that I have:

Interim Committees

Interim Study Committee on Public Health and Safety Matters
-Railroad labor camps
-Coal mine safety
-Smoke detectors and sprinklers in health facilities
-Food handling regulations for tax-exempt organizations

Interim Study Committee on Government Administration and Regulatory Matters
-Impact of privatization of non-health related services performed or administered by state agencies
-Impact of privatization on state employees who have been laid off
-License branch operations and closings
-Eminent domain issues (including the use by small, private utilities)
-Various matters involving non-profit entities

Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Matters
-Rights of “next of kin” in situations involving criminal activity
-Improvements to Indiana’s background check system
-Coroner qualification issues

Interim Study Committee on Children’s Issues
-Child labor
-Children’s health issues with emphasis on diabetes and obesity

Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Issues
-Alcoholic beverage display requirements
-Clerk licensure and training
-Other various issues that were not resolved during the last session

Statutory Committees

Code Revision Commission
-Using respectful language when referring to people with disabilities in code

Counterterrorism and Security Council
-Security at ports, freight yards, and rail yards

Commission on Courts
-Appelate issues
-Establishment of a dedicated fund for court fees
-Establishment of a court with exclusive jurisdiction over commercial driver’s license cases

Indiana Economic Development Corporation
-Whether to develop incentives to encourage film, television, and new media production

Environmental Quality Service Council
-Indiana’s impact on Lake Michigan water quality and participation in the Great Lakes Protection Fund
-Regional sewer districts

Health Finance Commission
-Cost of delivering health care to diabetics
-Health coverage systems used in other jurisdictions
-Monitor and report on the impact of the privatization of health services performed or administered by state agencies (including the impact on laid off employees)
-Advisability of a certification program for surgical technicians

Health Policy Advisory Committee
-Restraint of trade issues associated with contact lenses
-Advisability of consolidating all the various health-related study committees

Select Joint Commission on Medicaid Oversight
-Medicaid reimbursement rates

Commission on Mental Health
-Social, emotional, and behavioral health screening of children

Natural Resources Study Committee
-Park issues, including development of Rail/Trail corridors

Pension Management Oversight Commission
-Police and fire pensions
-Factors used to compute public employee pensions
-Funding sources for pension relief for municipalities
-Issues related to the 1977 Police and Fire pension and disability fund

Regulatory Flexibility Committee
-Renewable energy development

Sentencing Policy Study Committee
-Impact of sealing and expunging criminal arrest and adjudication records, including the impact on employment and recidivism rates

Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy
-Eligibility for certain military benefits
-Expanding eligibility for the property tax deduction for low-income senior citizens by removing AV criteria
-Child welfare system funding
-Issues pertaining to public transportation and commerce

For the statutory committees, the above list summarizes new issues assigned for sudy. The Interim Study Committee page (assuming it is updated at some point) has a list of all the committees, with reference to their statutory authorization which details their full scope.

1 comment June 15th, 2006

Emerald ash borer hits St. Joseph County

Back in December, I wrote about the emerging emerald ash borer infestation in Indiana, and how almost 10 million ash trees in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio had already been destroyed by the insects.

Unfortunately, the South Bend Tribune is reporting that ash borers have now shown up in St. Joseph County:

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced at a news conference Monday that the insects have been found in Granger… the preliminary estimate is the insects have been at that site for three to five years.

If you have ash trees in your area that you would like to save, make sure your neighbors are aware of the potential options for treating trees that are still healthy. The image below is linked to an aerial map of the one-mile zone around the latest infestation in Granger:

ash borer map

The Tribune article describes how preventative treatment can be an option for some trees:

Jodie Ellis, exotic insects education coordinator for Purdue University, said there is a chance that if an infestation is caught early, treatment with insecticides that contain imidacloprid can stop the damage.

“But if it (a tree) is already infested heavily, it probably will not survive,” she said.

It’s also up to homeowners to decide if they want to take their chances with a healthy ash tree, use insecticides to protect it or cut it down. Protecting a tree with insecticides can cost from about $50 to $200 a year.

To help stop the spread of this insect, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio have created a joint website to disseminate more information about the threat at:

Additional information is available below:

Indiana DNR Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology
Purdue Entomology Extension Inormation
National Invasive Species Council
The Global Invasive Species Initiative

3 comments June 13th, 2006

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