The 2017 long session of the Indiana General Assembly is underway. What issues will be discussed that relate directly to agriculture? What key components will determine what the state’s new two-year budget looks like?
These are just a couple of the questions Don Lehe addressed during an interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer. Lehe, Brookston, is a representative and chairman of the House Agricultural Committee. He also farms with his family in a hog and grain operation.
IPF: What issues related to agriculture will your committee likely discuss?
Lehe: Possible adjustments to the Grain Indemnity Fund is likely one of the big topics. (Editor’s note: The Grain Indemnity Fund collects a small amount per bushel sold to help cover those with losses should an elevator fail. Once a cap is reached, collections stop unless a loss lowers fund levels below the cap. Then assessment begins again.)
IPF: Why will the Grain Indemnity Fund be an issue this year?
Lehe: The cap was raised to $25 million two years ago. However, a large elevator in Putnam County failed. Payments caused funds to drop below the cap, and assessment started again. Some people feel the law needs tweaking after experience.
IPF: What other issues do you expect your committee will address?
Lehe: We’ve been asked to look at issues related primarily to manure digesters. Apparently, the industry is on board with proposed changes. Also, the Indiana State Chemist seeks clarification on certain rules regarding storage and transportation of anhydrous ammonia.
There will likely be other issues, too. However, our committee doesn’t deal with some bills related to agriculture that you might think we would. If implementing a bill would require more than a minimal amount of funding, it’s typically assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee instead. All bills which involve more than a small amount of funding must be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee first.
IPF: What is an example of a bill your committee has successfully worked on recently?
Lehe: When USDA stopped issuing comprehensive marketing reports, we saw a need. It especially affects livestock producers, because they need a reference point on prices. The Legislature created the Agricultural Marketing Service two years ago. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture is responsible for overseeing it. Information provided gives producers a feel for what livestock prices are doing at key markets.
IPF: Looking outside the House Ag Committee, what will be the major focus of the Legislature this year?
Lehe: The Legislature is required to pass a state budget for the next biennium. That will take up the majority of the Legislature’s time. How to increase funding for roads and bridges will be an important part of that discussion.
IPF: Some ag-related groups who haven’t received funding before are requesting funding. What chances do they have for success?
Lehe: It’s hard to say. They must inform legislators about who they are, why they’re seeking funding and why they need it. It’s up to them to convince key legislators why they deserve funding. One thing people should understand is that even though the state entered the session with a surplus, a large percentage of budgetary funds are already obligated. There’s a relatively small amount of money that could be considered for new projects. Many groups with a wide variety of interests will seek funding. Part of it hinges on the final revenue forecast issued in April.