Local legislators discuss agenda with constituents

Questions from the crowd of about 75 people in attendance at a recent meeting with Dubois County legislators centered around education-related issues and the Mid-States Corridor for the most part.

Representatives Steve Bartels and Shane Lindauer as well as State Senator Mark Messmer were in attendance at the inaugural 2022 legislative breakfast to discuss bills they were championing through the legislative session as well as field questions from attendees.

Bartels, District 74 State Representative, lost the draw and opened the session discussing a few of his projects.

Unfortunately, a bill he was highly supportive of, House Bill 1057, will not be considered this session but be sent to a study committee for refinement. The bill would have allowed prescription drugs to be donated back to be reissued into the system for use by other patients rather than be destroyed.

Bartels pointed to 21 states with similar laws although only about 14 are doing anything with them at this time.

A bill to address jail overcrowding, HB 1004, was authored by Bartels and Lindauer is also moving through the House. It moves level 6 felony offenders from local jails to the Indiana Department of Corrections and into state prisons. Bartels said this assists not only with overcrowding but also to give these offenders access to mental health and substance abuse programs that aren’t available in many local jails.

Bartels authored HB 1100, requiring state government agencies to repeal a rule before adopting a new. According to Bartels, this provides some oversight over non-elected governmental officials. The bill would also reduce the length an administrative rule to being in effect only four years compared to seven now. He added this also allows the General Assembly an opportunity to review rules before they are adopted by the state agency.

Lindauer (District 63) authored a bill to address sex offenders and where they work in relation to proximity to schools. While sex offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of schools, HB 1227 will provide the same restriction to working conditions.

Lindauer filed a bill regarding critical race theory and counseling on sexual orientation. However, his bill did not move forward while another bill, HB 1134, was ultimately approved by the house to the consternation of many educators and school administrations around the state. Lindauer told the crowd that he and Bartels did not vote for HB 1134 due to the heavy load it placed on teachers regarding reporting requirements.

“It had a lot of stuff in the bill that we (Lindauer and Bartels) felt was just kind of more government. There’s a creation of another board and things like that,” Lindauer said. “So ultimately, we felt like it was just too onerous for what we were trying to accomplish.”

Lindauer said he didn’t oppose the bill addressing issues he felt were antithetical to “our founding principles.”

Senator Messmer (District 48) moved a bill forward addressing what he considers as a national security issue. According to Messmer, China is purchasing farmland across the globe. He stated that USDA has potentially identified about 192,000 acres of U.S. farmland controlled by the Chinese government with other entities potentially owning more — by comparison, Indiana has about 15 million acres of farmland as of 1017, according to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

According to the senator, this gives China some control over the food supply.

Messmer’s Senate Bill 388, would prevent a foreign business entity from acquiring agricultural acreage within the Hoosier state (unless it is designated for a non-farming use). The legislation would also prohibit a foreign business entity already owning Indiana agricultural land from transferring the land to another foreign business entity.

Senate Bill 374 (co-authored with Senator Erin Houchin) will give regional water or sewer district service areas more options regarding the issuance of bonds and how that could ultimately impact municipalities or private entities encroaching on their service territories. It also allowed for service agreements to occur between districts in underserved areas.

Another of Messmer’s bills would create uniform standards for wind and solar energy with parameters for distance from neighboring properties. It also gave counties more control in adding renewable energy sources.

A bill addressing standardization of psychology with several other states to allow telemedicine services for Hoosiers with mental health practitioners in these states. This is being done to address the shortage of mental health services in Indiana — there are only 1,300 psychologists in the entire state, according to Messmer.

After each gave a brief rundown of some of their bills, Chamber Executive Director Nancy Eckerle provided questions from the audience.

The majority of these questions addressed the anti-CRT bill, HB 1134. Bartels and Lindauer both voted against it though it did pass out of the house.

Messmer said the senate is looking at the bill and he is unsure whether he will vote for it or not. All three legislators acknowledged the bill’s reporting requirements were too onerous. “This is not feasible at all,” said Messmer said about a previous anti-CRT bill that didn’t make it out of committee that also had heavy reporting requirements.

The three agreed that the ugly parts of our nation’s history should be taught but that certain concepts regarding race and sex should not be taught.

“I think we have kinda lost our minds if we think we can erase history and create a better society,” Bartels said.

A bill regarding political affiliation being connected to school board members led to a split opinion between Bartels (yes) and Lindauer (no).

Lindauer said he didn’t think it was necessary while Bartels said he felt it would give voters the ability to vote for people that hold similar values.

Messmers noted that by including political affiliation, some board members would not be able to run due to the federal Hatch Act that precludes government employees from declaring a political party.

Questions about the Mid-States Corridor led to varied responses.

Lindauer said he supported the highway when he was on the county council and that better connectivity is needed. He mentioned his property was in the path of one of the potential routes.

Bartels noted he has heard about a 50-50 split between those for and those against. But, he also agrees more connectivity is needed for the area to prosper.

Messmer said he was ambivalent about a route but noted the General Assembly is prohibited from influencing or directing the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“So there’s no point in me taking a stance on do I support Mid-States Corridor,” Messmer said. “The process is working like the process is supposed to work. I don’t even appreciate that being the question because it’s not an issue before the General Assembly.”

Ferdinand Town Council President Ken Sicard asked about HB 1002, reducing the business personal property tax. He said the bill would equate to about $46,000 in lost income for Ferdinand — the cost of one police car or thirteenth of a new fire truck.

Lindauer said AIM (the Association of Indiana Municipalities) has weighed in on HB 1002 and the legislature is trying to make it work through tax credits.

Messmer said he didn’t feel tax credits would be a long-term fix for lowering personal property taxes. He said that he could see the tax credit being on the chopping block as fiscal issues come up.

The legislators took time at the end of the meeting to talk with any attendees in person.

Eckerle noted there will one more Legislative Breakfast before the short 2022 session ends.


One Comment

  1. Sounds like 3 politicians being politicians . Maybe a more open town hall type meeting sponsored by maybe a more neutral party than the Chamber of Commerce .

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