Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

February 12, 2013

Legislators boost farmers and students

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

— Two state legislators informed 6th District U.S. Rep. Luke Messer and about a dozen other attendees of General Assembly progress during a lunch meeting at the Brau Haus in Oldenburg Feb. 8.

A bill by District 42 state Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) to prevent an estimated $57 million property tax increase on Indiana farmers may be the first piece of legislation approved by the full General Assembly.

Senate Bill 319 would delay, for an additional year, the implementation of new soil productivity factors proposed by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance used to assess farmland property taxes.

“Much to my surprise, state Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) made it the first bill heard on the agenda.” The Senate passed it 48-0 Jan. 29.

“Clearly, the governor is in support of this as well,” she reported. The fast-tracked bill was approved by the House Committee on Ways and Means Feb. 12 with a 20-0 vote and now goes to the full House of Representatives for further consideration, according to Leising’s Web site. It is moving quickly because of assessors’ timetables.

The Republican explained the soil productivity factors were set in 1979 and never changed since. A formula looks at six years of data, such as yield grain price, interest rate and terrain type, kicks out the highest year and averages the five left.

“Out of the clear blue, DLGF (officials) decided, through their rule-making authority, they would change the soil productivity factors, increasing them substantially ... an average of 25 percent.” Property tax payments for Indiana’s 62,000 farmers, depending on which counties they call home, would rise between 15-45 percent.

SB 319 would also require the DLGF and Purdue University College of Agriculture to submit a report on proposed soil productivity factors by Nov. 1 to the General Assembly. She added Purdue experts told her they don’t think soil productivity has changed much in recent years.

Leising said her legislation was developed after she led the General Assembly’s 2012 Interim Study Committee on Agriculture.

The state senator said she “never had anything that garnered so much attention” as her proposed Senate Bill 120, which would require cursive writing and reading in Indiana elementary school.

Leising created the legislation after the Indiana State Department of Education announced in 2011 that cursive writing was optional. “Nobody knew why ... it’s because the (national) Common Core standards, which will be implemented in 2014, do not include cursive writing” and state leaders want to align with those guidelines.

Eliminating the flowing, connected way of writing is a “serious concern for those of us who are old enough to think reading, writing and arithmetic might be important. Child psychologists are saying if children are not taught to write cursive,” it will make learning in general more difficult for some.

“We know that with Common Core you cannot deviate at all from the ... curriculum. But they will allow you to do an additional 15 percent,” which could include cursive.

The Senate approved the bill Feb. 5 by a 36-13 vote, so it has moved to the Indiana House for consideration.

According to District 55 state Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R-Batesville), “a great bill was passed after many hours” of debate Feb. 7. It mandates remediation for high school juniors so they can be prepared for college and the work environment. “People were falling through the cracks.” Some students who didn’t score well enough on, say, a math entrance exam had to take a low-level college math course, adding expenses.

She said Senate leaders have agreed not to hear the same sex marriage amendment this year due to the upcoming Supreme Court vote. “It will wait until next year. We are concentrating on jobs and education” instead of social issues.

Ziemke maintained Speaker of the House Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) “is doing a tremendous job in leadership this year ... he’s keeping everybody straight and doing some really great things.”