Hoosier Ag Today tracked a number of key bills that impacted farmers during the just concluded session of the Indiana General Assembly. Now that the dust has settled, HAT talked with Indiana farm leaders to look back at what actually become law. One of the most important bills delayed for another year implementation of the soil productivity formula when assessing farmland tax rates. Without this delay, farmers would have see their tax bills go up sharply. Katrina Hall, with Indiana Farm Bureau Public Policy Division, says the delay gives Purdue University more time to develop a more accurate formula, “There are adjustments that need to be made to the results that Purdue came up with last year. I know they are working on the project, but with close to 6,444 soils that are identified in our state, it will take some time.” SB 111 passed the Senate 45-0, then the bill passed the House on a 97-0 vote. This is the third session in a row that the General Assembly has recognized the need to stop the unjustified tax increases proposed by the Department of Local Government Finance based on the soil productivity factors issued in February 2012. Without this legislation, an unjustified $57.4 million in taxes would have been shifted to farmers each year.
One of highest profile bills dealt with trespassing on farms. Hall said the legislation now gives farmers the same rights as homeowners when it comes to keeping people off their property, “The amended bill adds causing property damage to an agricultural operation to the existing crime of institutional criminal mischief. Indiana farmers will not be required to post ‘no trespassing’ signs to protect the production areas of their farms.” The measure also stiffens the penalties for any vandalism that takes place on a farming operation. If a trespasser commits an intentional act that causes property damage, it could result in additional penalties depending on the amount of damage caused. The bill, authored by Sen. Travis Holdman, passed the Senate 41-5 and the House 73-25.
The so called “farmers rights” measure (SB 186) passed easily, despite opposition from environmental groups. The bill states that the Indiana Code shall be construed to protect the rights of farmers to choose among all generally accepted farming and livestock production practices, including the use of ever-changing technology. Despite misleading publicity by the measure’s opponents, it passed the Senate 40-8 and the House 67-30. According to Hall, this measure helps shape the vision and purpose of the State Department of Agriculture, “It will shape the vision of ISDA and give direction to other state agencies on how they should interact with the agricultural community.”
Not all the Farm Bureau bills were passed; more on that tomorrow.