GREENFIELD — From annexations to old barns and gay marriage to tax cuts, local lawmakers gave an update on their pet projects and statewide hot-button issues Tuesday as the legislative session comes to an end.
State Rep. Bob Cherry and state Sen. Mike Crider gave local elected officials and members of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce an update on the laws that will affect Hoosiers in the near future and the ones that fell flat.
Both said some kind of compromise will be reached on Gov. Mike Pence’s top goal, eliminating or reducing taxes on business property, before the session ends next week.
“It’s a race to stay on top, and we’ve got to keep working,” said Cherry. “We can’t stay status quo.”
Pence started the session seeking an elimination of the business equipment tax, but he later scaled back his request amid concern from local leaders who stood to lose $1 billion in revenue to run local government. Several town councils in Hancock County signed resolutions opposing the elimination of the tax, and while there has been talk about sending the issue to a summer study committee, Cherry and Crider said something is bound to be worked out before the session ends next week.
“We want to try to eliminate or cut personal property taxes, but this would mean an impact on local government, so we’re very cautious of that,” Cherry said.
House and Senate Republicans have agreed broadly on eliminating the state’s business equipment tax for small businesses and creating local “super abatements” for some manufacturers. A few key sticking points remain on both sides, including whether to allow county leaders the option of eliminating the equipment tax.
“We don’t want to get into a situation where we’re causing communities to compete against each other,” Crider said.
Crider also spoke briefly on the constitutional amendment on marriage. While 60 percent of people who took his legislative survey wanted to define marriage as between a man and a woman, many were concerned with the second sentence of the bill that would have banned civil unions. That second sentence was ultimately the sticking point in this session: The bill will have to be voted on again in the next two years before it has the possibility of making it to the general public for a statewide vote.
The legislative breakfast was held at Hancock Regional Hospital, and roughly 70 people attended. House Speaker Brian Bosma and Rep. Sean Eberhart were also invited to speak but did not attend. They represent parts of Hancock County.
Crider and Cherry gave the crowd an update on some of the bills they’ve written or sponsored.
Cherry’s bill that could help owners of certain old barns preserve their sites by eliminating property taxes is on its way to final approval, for example, as well as his bill that requires schools to give an excused absence to students who participate in events at the State Fair. Cherry was a co-sponsor of the bill that allows for alcohol sales at the fair, which is also on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.
Crider’s bill that studies how the state can help people with psychiatric needs is on its way to becoming law. The bill requires the Family and Social Services Administration to study psychiatric crisis intervention services across the state and report its findings back to lawmakers.
County Councilman Jim Shelby said he was pleased to hear that, especially because in the county’s justice system it’s hard to tell whether people are getting the help they need.
“There doesn’t seem to be capacity at the state level when we determine when somebody needs mental health help,” Shelby said.
Both Cherry and Crider worked this session on annexation issues. Crider’s bill on municipal utilities petitioning to the state on a proposed annexation area failed to make it anywhere this session, but both worked on a bill that puts a one-year moratorium on annexations while officials work out kinks in Indiana law.
Senate Bill 273 would put a pause on annexations from April 1, 2014, to July 1, 2015. Both said the large annexation in Fortville raised red flags to them; state officials need to figure out the best way to allow communities to grow, they said.
“Indiana is one of the last states that still has involuntary annexation or forced annexation,” Cherry said.
The bill still must be ironed out in a conference committee before the session ends March 14.
“Let me be clear: Annexation is not a bad thing,” Crider added. “It needs to be done in a logical way with a good business plan in place.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.