Being a legislator is a lot like being a student. Classes, reviews and tests can be compared to our committee meetings and session where we learn new information, discuss it and then vote. Between committee and session our time as legislators is pretty busy, but we still make room for extracurricular activities.
Rural Caucus: A Learning Experience
One organization’s meeting I attended recently is the Indiana Rural Caucus, which is a bicameral, bipartisan caucus formed to discuss issues directly affecting the people who live in rural communities here in Indiana. The Rural Caucus discusses issues like health care, transportation, water availability, Internet access and other topics related to the challenges facing these areas.
A founding sponsor of the Rural Caucus summed it up nicely by saying that rural areas face many challenges related to job creation, the environment, land use, access to capital, demographic shifts and poor infrastructure – just to name a few. Fifty-five of the 92 counties in Indiana classified as “rural,” so needless to say, the General Assembly has made it a priority to make sure that those counties are not overlooked or underserved.
Last week, the Rural Caucus meeting focused on agriculture-related issues, specifically the fiscal impact of animal agriculture in Indiana. The agriculture industry is a major economic driver in Indiana, exporting more than $3.4 billion annually in primary commodities and processed food, equating to about 11 percent of the exports for the entire country.
Farmland property tax rates doubled over the past decade, even though many Hoosier farmers are facing the realities of a lower crop yield due to the historic drought of the past summer. Studies show that agriculture businesses and the value of farmland have had the largest property tax increase since 2007, increasing by about $70 million.
One piece of legislation designed specifically to help farmers in our communities combat this serious issue, Senate Bill (SB) 319, was the first bill to be signed into law this session. SB 319 states that the soil productivity factors used for the March 1, 2011 assessment of agricultural land must also be used for the March 1, 2013 assessment date, preventing an immediate 20 percent increase in property taxes on farmland.
Many other pieces of legislation are going through both the House and Senate that address problems faced by those of us in rural areas, ensuring that our concerns are heard and addressed. To learn more about those bills, you can visit www.in.gov/legislative.
As a representative of a rural area, I want you to know that the General Assembly does not take this issue lightly, and we are committed to making Indiana a great place for Hoosiers to live, work and raise a family.
Please feel free to contact me regarding any questions or concerns you may have. I am available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 317-232-9850.
State Rep. Cindy Ziemke serves as Vice Chairman of the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee. She also serves on the Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee and the Select Committee on Government Reduction. Rep. Ziemke represents portions of Rush, Fayette, Franklin, Ripley and Decatur counties.