News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 6, 2014

Our legislators sound off

TERRE HAUTE — EDITOR’S NOTE: The Tribune-Star sought input from Wabash Valley lawmakers on their legislative priorities for the 2014 General Assembly. Three state representatives — Bob Heaton, Clyde Kersey and Alan Morrison — and state Sen. John Waterman responded. Multiple attempts to reach District 38 Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, were unsuccessful.

Now more than four decades old, Indiana State University’s Hulman Center is in need of extensive renovation, according to one former Sycamore basketball player who now serves in the Indiana Legislature.

Rep. Bob Heaton, R-Terre Haute, told the Tribune-Star that he will file a bill this session to create a sports development area, which would allow the collection of sales tax to help fund renovation of the facility built in December 1973.

It is one of several bills that will float or sink during the Indiana General Assembly’s short session, which was to have started Monday. Weather delayed the opening gavel. It’s unclear if the delay will affect the scheduled closing of the session on March 14.

Heaton said his proposed bill would create a Professional Sports Development Area (PSDA) tax, which is a combination of state income tax, local income tax and sales tax from businesses and employees in the designated PSDA area.

Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend all have PSDAs, said Heaton, who represents House District 46.

South Bend’s PSDA was formed in 1997 and expires in 2027. The PSDAs capture of state sales and income taxes ends in 2018. The Indiana Department of Revenue collects the taxes and remits them on a monthly basis to St. Joseph County, which issues a check to the city of South Bend.

The PSDA in South Bend collected $339,059 in 2002 and $409,020 in 2011, according to South Bend’s 2011 annual financial report.

The idea is to help fund refurbishment of Hulman Center, a project Heaton said could cost about $35 million. The PSDA can be used to improve a community-used facility, he said. Hulman Center would be designated as a convention center for the city.

“This could provide up to a maximum of $5 million per year,” Heaton said. A nine-member panel would be formed to oversee the funds; the state of Indiana would have a final say in any spending.

Heaton indicated he would have more details on the proposed bill once it is filed.

Legislators have until Monday to file bills for the 2014 session, unless that deadline is extended because of the delayed opening.

Heaton also plans to:

• file a resolution to honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Lee Davis, who now resides in Freedom, a small town in Owen County. Davis’ family moved to Indiana in his junior year of high school. He joined the U.S. Army in Indianapolis in 1965 and was awarded the Congressional Medal in 1968, for actions in combat the previous year. Davis gave his fellow soldiers cover fire, operating both a machine gun and artillery cannon, and rescued several soldiers as well.

The Open Door

Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, said he will file a bill to amend the state’s Open Door Law. Under Kersey’s proposal, email could no longer be used to announce a public meeting.

“This would not allow official action to be done by email,” he said. “You can’t call a meeting or take official action by email. This bill will allow more transparency.”

The issue has been sparked, he said, from conflict between the Republican-controlled Indiana State Board of Education, whose members were appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, and Glenda Ritz, a Democrat and the elected state superintendent of public instruction. A lawsuit filed by Ritz against the State Board of Education, alleging a violation of the Open Door Law for making decisions without advertising public meetings, was dismissed by a state judge in November.

“It is easy to leave someone off an email list,” said Kersey, who represents House District 43. Notification, under the proposed bill, would be done on public announcement boards and through regular mail, he said.

Another bill suggested by Kersey would require a county assessor to justify any increase in the assessment of property.

“Right now, a taxpayer has to prove why the assessor is wrong. My bill would make an assessor have to justify any increase in property assessment. The assessor has to do that now if the assessment increases more than 5 percent, but this bill would eliminate the 5 percent and make the assessor justify it for any increase in assessment,’ Kersey said.

The bill, if approved and signed by the governor, would also limit increases in assessed values of land to 5 percent a year. Currently, there is no limit to how much the assessed value of land can increase.

School safety measures

School safety is the focus of two bills Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, intends to put forth.

One Morrison bill would allow school districts to conduct a ballot referendum on creating a local property tax levy to fund school safety improvements. ”It will categorize about six different school safety-related issues that schools can spend revenue on,” he said.

“The idea behind it is an increasing need for school safety, not just school safety specialists or school protection officers, but also technology and improving buildings and entrance ways to buildings and offices. There is so much needed for the whole universe of school safety, and a lot of schools don’t have  the financial means to make that happen,” Morrison said.

So far, no set benchmarks have yet been established for the maximum rate that could be considered in a referendum, said Morrison, who represents House District 42. “It would be the same formula for operational budgets… . It will follow the same set of rules,” he said.

Morrison also intends to introduce a bill to permit a half-day — out of the 180-day instructional school days — designated for teachers and staff to take part in a simulated school attack training with law enforcement and first responders. Morrison said he has met on the issue with Ray Azar, director of student services for the Vigo County School Corp.

Morrison also plans to:

• file a resolution to re-name a portion of Indiana 59, between Indiana 42 and U.S. 40, in honor of Orville Redenbacher, whose name became synonymous with the brand of popcorn that bears his name. Redenbacher was born in Clay County and attended the former Brazil High School.

Maintaining history

Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, said that while issues such as eliminating a business personal property tax will be forefront, he hopes to undertake other important issues.

Waterman, District 39, is concerned with the preservation of historic barns. “A lot of the old mill house barns are getting torn down, because the assessment on them is so high. I will have a bill to give a tax incentive to get those barns back up into their original shape. They have to be over 50 years old to get this, but this is to preserve history. We are losing the history of many of these old barns,” Waterman said.

The legislator from Sullivan County also hopes to address a safety issue related to the Wabash River.

The issue of broken glass came to the forefront in October, when eighth-graders participated in a raft trip down the Wabash River. It was the 13th year for the river trip.

“The problem is broken glass, especially on sand bars in the river where people will camp. People will take a cooler and then start busting the bottles. This is a hazard to anyone using the river,” Waterman said. “The bill would require the use of plastic bottles if on a sand bar or along the river.

He indicated that most state parks already prohibit glass in beach areas.

Waterman said he also hopes to file a bill regulating abortion clinic billing when a woman backs out of a procedure at the last minute. “Right now, a clinic can charge for that, even if nothing is done,” he said. “This bill would prohibit any charge for anything not actually done.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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