The 2017 legislative session will likely be remembered for addressing road funding, including funding for local roads and bridges. The session addressed several other key issues for agriculture. Justin Schneider, legislative specialist for Indiana Farm Bureau, emphasized that there were many successes. We’ve taken a look at several of those already.
However, not everything that would have been positive for agriculture passed. At least six issues either died or never saw the light of day. While passing out accolades to legislators for their support of ag, it’s also important to point out areas that weren’t fully addressed. The issues won’t go away. Perhaps they can be addressed next session.
Here are six issues that shouldn’t be forgotten. The Indiana Farm Bureau Dispatch, published after the session concluded, provided facts on the first five.
1. Confined feeding law amendment. This bill would have accomplished several things, including making permitting for existing operations making a change easier. They wouldn’t have had to go back through the entire process. Some changes would have benefited government agencies, simplifying the process.
One legislator told us the bill wasn’t meant to be controversial, but ran into problems in committee hearings. Poor wording that implied it would do more than it really did may have contributed. Groups that oppose animal agriculture in general went into action. The bill easily passed the House, but never got a vote in the Senate.
Common sense needs to prevail, especially over those with radical views prone to fearmongering. Hopefully, these changes can be addressed in the future.
2. Food desert bill. If you’ve followed Indiana Prairie Farmer closely, you’ve read several stories about so-called food deserts, even in rural areas of Indiana. They represent areas underserved with availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. All the bill wanted to do was establish a pilot program to address this issue. Farm Bureau supported it, but it died. Addressing food deserts could open up opportunities for niche producers who want to serve local markets.
3. High-tunnel greenhouses. In a related issue, Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, originally included funding for installation of high-tunnel greenhouses in urban areas to produce local, fresh vegetables. The funding was deleted and never reinserted.
4. Timber regulation. A bill that would have prohibited local governments from regulating the sale or removal of timber ready for market never got a hearing in the Senate. It’s a property rights issue that was ignored.
5. Annexation policy. A bill Farm Bureau supported which would have helped tie up remaining loopholes in annexation policy never received a hearing by a Senate committee. This bill concerned giving a county executive authority to approve or deny annexation.
6. No funding for Indiana FFA Center. Although there wasn’t officially a bill, legislators were approached to provide funding to help make improvements at the Indiana FFA Center near Trafalgar. The center is implementing a Lilly Grant to provide leadership and environmental training to school students, especially elementary and middle-school students from underprivileged areas. Indiana Farm Bureau indicated it would support its being inserted into the budget, but it never made it that far.
Despite support by several legislators and the fact that many surrounding states support similar FFA centers financially, the hang-up appears to be that the center is technically owned by a not-for-profit foundation. The Legislature has engaged in some private-public partnerships in the past, but not here. This issue deserves further consideration.