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Monday, March 07, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "So what is the scorecard for business as lawmakers wrap up"

Another good Sunday Star read, touching on several bills the ILB has followed, was John Ketzenberger's business column, headed "Big issues go down to the wire at the Statehouse." Some quotes:

The outcome of the one issue nearly every business interest backed was decided early in the session. Senate Bill 344 attempted to extend civil rights protection to gay and lesbian Hoosiers while balancing concerns from some who thought it would conflict with religious liberties.

The bill’s author pulled the measure after a five-hour committee meeting, so the status quo is maintained after last year’s bruising compromise on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Three relatively minor bills, however, illustrate how business interests at the Statehouse are far from monolithic.

Let’s begin in Bloomington, where the City Council was considering a ban on single-use plastic bags, the kind you find at groceries and big-box retailers. The Center for Sustainable Living wanted to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags to cut down on the estimated 16 million used each year in Bloomington.

The General Assembly gives local communities latitude to determine some things — a concept known as home rule — but not others. It became clear early in the session that a ban on plastic bags fell into the “not others” category.

House Bill 1053 amended the state’s home-rule statute to forbid a ban or tax on plastic bags, which set off a tussle in the business community. It turns out those “urban tumbleweeds” provide for quite a few Hoosier jobs at several companies in Indiana, including the Polyethylene Packaging Division in Terre Haute of Oshkosh, Wis.-based Bemis Inc., and the Hilex Poly plant in North Vernon of Hartsville, S.C.-based Novolex.

The story also covers the Tesla Motors issue and the small farm-produced meat and poultry. Re the latter:
Speaking of interim study committees, let’s consider House Bill 1267. The bill was introduced after successful father-son farmers described how their midsize operation grew after an exemption in state law allowed them to expand their market.

The Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester was granted the exemption from extensive federal regulation by the State Board of Animal Health under a 20-year-old state law. It allowed the farm to slaughter chickens and sell them to consumers and restaurants with less regulation than much larger commercial operations face.

Theirs was the only farm in Indiana to operate under the exemption.

Interestingly, Jeff and Zach Hawkins were served a cease and desist order shortly after their August appearance before the study committee. The attorney general overturned the order, but by then legislation eliminating the exemption was in the legislative hopper.

The argument centered on the tension between “scale-appropriate” regulation vs. food safety, although there was no indication the food produced in the Hawkinses’ slaughterhouse, or any other like it, was unsafe.

Despite the Hawkinses’ attempts to convince lawmakers that the exemption did not compromise safety, the House of Representatives approved the bill.

Enter fellow farmers, chefs and others who made a full court press to preserve the exemption in the Senate, which prompted high-level meetings with then-Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann. A compromise was reached to give the state more oversight of exempted operations, a move that made nearly everyone happy.

The bill sailed through the Senate 48-2 and is expected to land on Pence’s desk soon.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 7, 2016 01:23 PM
Posted to Indiana Government