The 2018 Indiana General Assembly concluded Wednesday. Rural broadband was a major focus of Indiana Farm Bureau throughout the legislative session. House Enrolled Act 1065 authorizes the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to study broadband expansion and tools that may be used to assist in its deployment. Justin Schneider, Director of State Government Relations for INFB says while this is a good first step, there’s more work to do.
“Everyone agrees it’s not the answer, but it’s a key piece. One of the key provisions in the bill was the creation of a grant program within the Office of Community and Rural Affairs that can be used to help deploy broadband to areas that are unserved. That’s critical because now we have the program in place, we have a mechanism, to be able to fund applicants. So, the service providers who come in and say, ‘Hey, we want to deploy in this area where there currently isn’t services at least 10 megabit download speed and one megabit upload speed.”
Another success for INFB this session was Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 1369 not passing. They called for tighter restrictions on livestock and poultry farmers.
“The reality is that the regulations in place on livestock and poultry farms are good and we don’t need to create a whole new regulatory scheme or much more stringent regulations. We need, though, to make sure that IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management) has enough resources. That’s the conversation, I think, did gain traction.”
Schneider says he hopes that conversation will continue to gain traction and be an issue in the next legislative session. Another issue he hopes will be up for discussion in the next session is rural revitalization.
“So, dealing with issues that need to be addressed in rural Indiana. People talk about the opioid crisis, rural economic development, business development, and insuring that broadband is sufficient to be able to do rural economic development.”
Early in the session, INFB members were instrumental in stopping HB 1005’s momentum. HB 1005 would have forced more than 300 townships with a population of less than 1,200 people to merge with a neighboring township. This would have affected nearly one-third of Indiana’s geography. INFB had numerous concerns about the bill including the likelihood that tax rates for lower rate townships would have increased when common rates were set in the restructured townships. The bill died when it was not called in the House for a final vote.
“Our members’ advocacy efforts were vital to stopping this bill, which was a priority for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the House majority caucus,” said Katrina Hall, INFB’s director of public policy. “They voiced their concerns with the bill to legislators at the Statehouse, during third house meetings and via email.”
Other key bills for agriculture which were pushed by INFB include:
- HEA 1089 – Making changes to the authority of the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, and including surveyors and Soil and Water Conservation District staff on the commission.
- HEA 1115 – Protecting landowners from liability if someone goes through or upon their property for the purposes of accessing a trail or greenway.
- HEA 1227 – Adding waterhemp, marestail, Palmer amaranth, Powell amaranth, smooth pigweed, rough pigweed and poison hemlock to the noxious weed list.
- HEA 1233 – Authorizing a study committee to review government programs and research related to non-point source impacts on water quality. Among other provisions, it also approves the use of purple marks as a way to expand the options for marking property to provide notice against trespassing.
- SEA 212 – Allowing bulk milk haulers to obtain an annual overweight milk hauling permit instead of the previous one-time use permit.
- SEA 331 – Authorizing the State Department of Health to adopt rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act produce rule.
“These great successes at the Statehouse would not be possible without our members’ time and effort. I appreciate all the hard work they put in during session to positively impact agriculture,” said Kron. “Our members’ commitment to be involved in the process by visiting the Statehouse, attending third house meetings and inviting legislators to their farms is invaluable.”
Click the play button above to hear the full interview with Schneider on the 2018 General Assembly.