News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 8, 2014

Valley lawmakers assess legislative session’s trials, tribulations

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As state legislators head into the final week of the state legislative session, five of them from the Wabash Valley met with citizens Saturday at the Vigo County Public Library in downtown Terre Haute and engaged in conversation about the “ups and downs” of the recent session.

State Reps. Bob Heaton (R-Terre Haute), Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute), Alan Morrison (R-Terre Haute) and Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes) and Sen. Tim Skinner (D-IN 38th District,) along with about 50 voters, attended the third crackerbarrel session of the year.  

Kersey told the voters that the legislative session “had its ups and downs,” with a lot of debate about the proposed  constitutional amendment related to same-sex marriage and the elimination of the business personal property tax.

On the upside, legislators from both sides of the aisle acknowledged that there were bills passed this session that make an impact on people’s lives such as one establishing the Indiana Grown Initiative, which will promote Indiana-grown food and support the state’s agriculture industry.

“This is a great agriculture bill. It’s being done in 20 other states and basically it’s promoting Indiana agriculture and Indiana products to stay within the state,” Morrison said. This bill, which will be studied in the summer, could potentially help boost the economy, he said.

Indiana Grown Initiative was also mentioned by Skinner in addition to a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp in Indiana, among other bills.

“They may seem like insignificant things but we are trying to loosen up some of the archaic laws that we’ve had in the state of Indiana that would allow people to go to Farmer’s Markets, would allow farmers … to take those fresh products and allow them to do so without the fear of some of the consequences that they had before,” the senator said.

However, the legislators were divided on several issues, including Common Core and Senate Bill 229, which allows people to keep firearms locked and stored in vehicles parked on school property. It passed the Indiana state House on Monday with bipartisan support, and now moves to a conference committee.

Two of the main issues raised by Wabash Valley voters at the session were job creation and opposition to a bill that would end Terre Haute’s downtown tax increment finance (TIF) district.

Four people with ties to the city told legislators the negative impact Senate Bill 118 would have to the city’s downtown in a discussion that took up some time during the two-hour crackerbarrel session. The bill requires TIF districts established before 1995 to be dissolved by 2025. Terre Haute’s downtown district, established in 1985, was a legacy or unlimited time district.  

Those who spoke, including Cliff Lambert, executive director of the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment, emphasized the various significant downtown projects in the last 10 years that were made possible by contributions from TIF money. Lambert, city council members and others who spoke thought that Terre Haute should also get an exception just like Indianapolis did.

They also urged the legislators to fight on their behalf.

“This is really our only economic development tool at this point, its the main one that we have and if there’s any chance at all that we’re going to see this go away, I urge you, beg you to please fight for it on our behalf,” Councilman Todd Nation, who represents most of the downtown, said

 The bill was approved in the Indiana House on Monday and it advances to a conference committee of House and Senate members before the end of the legislative session on March 14.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.