[R79] An update on the 2014 legislative session (2/21/2014)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Start Date: 2/21/2014 Start Time: 12:00 AM
End Date: 2/21/2014

I want to start this column with some good news: Springtime is right around the corner! I don’t know about you, but I am ready to see my yard again. While cold temperatures linger and the snow reminds us that it is still winter outside, we in the Indiana General Assembly have been in full swing. Last week, we began the second half of the legislative session by hearing bills that were passed in the Senate.

The biggest issue that has consumed the headlines and pervaded discussions around most office water coolers is the marriage amendment, or HJR-3 as it is officially called. This amendment passed the General Assembly in 2011 and needed to pass the current Legislature with the same language to be on the ballot this fall for Hoosiers to decide if they wanted to amend the constitution. HJR-3 was amended in the House, and the Senate passed the same language. This starts the process over, and now the new language that passed this session will need to pass the next elected Legislature. If that happens, the amendment will appear on the ballot as early as 2016.

While I fully supported the amendment and will continue to support it in the future, I am glad the focus has turned to other issues facing Hoosiers. I want to touch on a few issues of interest, and as always, I invite you to call or email me with specific questions. I am delighted to say that one of my bills is moving with great excitement, and I look forward to seeing the future impact it will have on Hoosier farms, big and small.

House Bill (HB) 1039, the Indiana Grown Initiative, will put the power of the Indiana Department of Agriculture behind the promotion of Indiana farms by creating a program that advertises and promotes Indiana-grown products. When you walk into the supermarket, locally grown products will be prominently displayed. Advertisements will be featured at athletic events, over the airways, on roadway billboards and on social media. From the farmers market to the supermarket, we will move Indiana from a state that asks the farmer to promote Indiana to a state that promotes the farmer.

There has also been a lot of discussion on the elimination of the business personal property tax. HB 1001 gives counties the option to exempt new investments from being taxed under the business personal property tax. The revenue from this tax is used to fund local governments, and its elimination would need to be offset with some form of replacement revenue. While the Senate and the House have differing solutions, I feel that at the end of the day we need to have a long-term discussion about the state of our current tax structure and about the best way to draw large and small businesses, as well as families, to Indiana.

On a far less positive note, meth continues to be a problem in Indiana. Meth is a highly addictive and extremely dangerous drug that is growing in production and use. The main ingredient in meth is a chemical that can be found in products like Sudafed, a popular sinus relief medication.

For the past several years, actions have been taken to restrict the amount of Sudafed sold, but the problem still continues to grow. It is putting a large strain on law enforcement, and we have to find a way to get ahead of this problem. There have been many proposals this session, some dealing with the aftermath associated with meth lab explosions and disclosing the exposure and clean-up of meth labs in homes. Unfortunately, another option, a preventative solution, that would make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only medication is unlikely to pass this session. I guarantee that this item will move up our priority scale if the meth problem persists in Indiana and continues to cause more harm to our communities.

On the transportation front, HB 1002 authorizes the Budget Agency to transfer up to $400 million, which was already set aside in the biennial budget, to the State Highway Fund to pay for current infrastructure needs. From this amount, $25 million of it would go to a local infrastructure grant fund for local governments. This money will be used to make needed repairs to state and local roads and bridges, as well as to start new construction projects.

As we look at Senate bills, I will keep you posted on their progress. There are a lot of interesting subjects still to be debated, and I certainly look forward to those discussions. As always, it is truly an honor to serve the great people of the 79th District.

Keeping things in Lehman’s terms,

Matt Lehman