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Serving: IN
Randy Kron
KEEP MOMENTUM ROLLING: Legislative backing for rural broadband expansion into rural areas continues to be a priority for Indiana Farm Bureau, says Randy Kron, INFB president.

Indiana Farm Bureau continues to push for rural broadband

Extending and upgrading broadband service is one of INFB's several legislative priorities.

Randy Kron makes it clear. Obtaining legislative changes necessary to allow Indiana Farm Bureau to offer affordable health care plans for members, many of whom are single proprietors, is the top priority for the 2020 legislative session for INFB. Kron, Evansville, is a farmer and president of Indiana Farm Bureau.

“We expect to spend about 90% of our efforts making this a reality,” adds Katrina Hall, head of public policy for INFB. “Our members believe it’s the most important issue affecting them today, and we agree. There must be a legislative change before we can put a plan together.”

That doesn’t mean Indiana Farm Bureau doesn’t have other concerns it hopes the 2020 short session of the Legislature will address. It’s not a budget year, and legislative leaders have made it clear that they don’t intend to deal with funding items.

Here are other 2020 legislative priorities for INFB:

Rural broadband. “Gov. Eric Holcomb’s grant program, which the Legislature endorsed and funded in 2019, is helping many rural utilities expand broadband,” Kron says. “Our members believe this must happen for agriculture to stay up with technology.”

Kron acknowledges that there are pockets where progress is slow. They tend to be areas like where he lives just north of Evansville — close to a large metro area but not close enough for big utilities to serve. Yet often these areas don’t have access to REMC or rural utilities, which seem to be the ones extending fiber optic cable for broadband into rural areas.

“We’re encouraged because Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch is also a big supporter of both agriculture and broadband for rural areas,” Hall says. She notes there may need to be some tweaking in laws passed earlier about broadband, such as minimum service requirements, because the technology has improved since laws were passed.    

Referendums that burden landowners. Several INFB members have expressed concern that local schools and government bodies are putting more burden back on property taxpayers by proposing referendums that increase property tax rates. Kron notes it’s a balancing act and often a local issue. Members must exercise common sense. If the request is reasonable and for the right reasons, it may be necessary.

Some referendums passed recently were for Franklin schools in Johnson County and Rising Sun schools in Ohio County. The first one resulted in a minor increase. One farmer says the latter raised his bill significantly. Referendums for schools were defeated for Center Grove schools in Johnson County and Danville schools in Hendricks County.

Part of the reason for more referendums is that many communities are hitting property tax caps set when the laws were overhauled under the Daniels administration. INFB warned at the time that this could happen, and it’s happening now, Hall says.

“We want legislators to be aware of what’s happening,” Kron says. “If referendums continue without limits and are successful, some property tax relief farmers received then will be negated, with more burden of the general fund shifted back to property taxes.”

Property rights and local control.  Maintaining property rights and keeping control of rights affecting them decided at the local level are key, Hall says. That remains a priority of INFB members and delegates in policymaking sessions.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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