As the short session of the Indiana General Assembly winds down, several key pieces of legislation that will impact farmers are in need of action. Indiana Farm Bureau is calling on its members to lobby lawmakers on two key issues: farmland assessment and inheritance taxes. The State Department of Local Government Finance has released new regulations on the assessment of farmland that take into account soil fertility factors. These new regulations were announced just a few weeks before assessment was to begin. “The bottom line is that this would increase assessment by as much as 60% in some cases,” says Bob Kraft with Indiana Farm Bureau. Legislators in both houses are upset with the last minute revisions. In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Buck Creek) offered an amendment to HB 1190 (Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville & Sen. Hershman) that will delay the effective date of the new DLGF rules by a year. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich has indicated that he expects a similar amendment on a Senate bill in his committee. Kraft is urging farmers to contact lawmakers to express support for a delay in the implementation of the new rules.
Another issue requires farmer support is efforts to eliminate the Indiana inheritance tax. On Thursday in the House Ways & Means Committee, Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) presented SB 293 rather than the author, Sen. Jim Smith (R-Charlestown). SB 293 includes changes to the exemptions in the inheritance tax law and contains phase-down language. As the bill left the Senate, it does not completely eliminate the inheritance tax. Farm Bureau’s Katrina Hall testified in favor of the bill, noting how dramatically IFB members are affected by inheritance tax and stressed preference for the complete elimination language that is included in HB 1199, authored by Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero). HB 1199 phases-out the inheritance tax over 10 years starting two years from now. HB 1199 has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate. Kraft is urging Farm Bureau members to lobby lawmakers for the elimination of the tax.
Kraft said IFB is also seeking farmer support for legislation that would prevent cities and towns from having jurisdiction over aquifers. The House Utilities Committee heard testimony on SB 132 (Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield & Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Winona Lake). The bill will require the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to collect, compile, and publicize in the aggregate data regarding water use by water utilities in Indiana. The controversial portion of the bill is a section that would exclude underground aquifers from the definition of “watercourse” as that term is used in several statutes that give cities and towns the authority to regulate “watercourses” ten miles outside their municipal boundaries. A Supreme Court decision last fall concluded that municipalities had the authority to regulate aquifers. This means that a town could require a farmer to obtain a permit to pump water from the aquifer with a well on the farmer’s property, or they could prohibit the withdrawal of water altogether. It could also set up a race among municipalities that are within ten miles of one another to claim the aquifer first. Farm Bureau is one of the strongest voices calling for the legislative reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision to include aquifers in the definition of “watercourse.” At the hearing last Wednesday, Farm Bureau’s Justin Schneider testified in support of the bill. The Indiana Association of Cities & Towns and several mayors testified against reversing the Supreme Court’s decision. Following a lengthy hearing, Committee Chair Jack Lutz (R-Anderson) decided not to take a vote on the bill but announced that a vote would be taken this week. Legislators are being asked by the mayors of the municipalities in their districts to vote against SB 132. All legislators need to hear from their constituents who support the bill.
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