Brown County leaders are happy to see the Indiana Department of Transportation investing in the highways that run through this community.
But they’d like to have more notice and more input before INDOT decides to close or detour major roads.
That’s the basis of a bill filed by Indiana Dist. 44 Sen. Eric Koch (R-Bedford). Senate Bill 269 requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to consult with a county commissioner, county executive, mayor or town executive whenever a detour, bridge or road repair “adversely affects certain local interests.”
Three Brown County residents testified in support of it last week: Brown County commissioner Diana Biddle, Nashville Town Manager Scott Rudd and Story Inn co-owner Rick Hofstetter.
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In the past two years, State Road 135 North and State Road 135 South have been closed in multiple places in Brown County due to a mixture of emergency and planned projects. Bridge and culvert replacements on 135 north of Nashville had the only north-south state access road to the county blocked in one place or another for nine months in 2017.
The point of the bill is to improve communication and coordination of projects among government units, Koch said. That, in turn, would make needed projects less disruptive for local businesses, residents and visitors.
As county historian, Biddle said she gets requests from INDOT for historical information relating to road projects as many as 10 years out from when they are actually done. She asked if the state could at least put those projects in a long-range timeline so the county government could have a better idea of what’s coming, and might be able to do some planning of its own based on that list.
“We just want to have a little bigger voice in the planning and the timing of those projects,” Biddle said.
Hofstetter also asked for INDOT to have greater consideration of what sign placement does to businesses.
His Story Inn, on State Road 135 South, is about 10 miles south of the State Road 46 East/135 South split where “road closed” and “detour” signs were placed over the summer.
He believes the placement of the signs had a lot to do with Story Inn losing $100,000 last year. Visitors didn’t know that they could still get to the inn. “That was totally avoidable,” he said.
“When somebody puts a ‘road closed’ sign 10 miles to the north of us for a project 4 miles to the south of us, it does have an impact. It absolutely has an impact,” he said.
“I think this bill goes a very long way (to fix the problem).”
INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness, a former mayor, said INDOT already does communicate with point people in local governments, and he believes that requiring every state highway project to get another approval from him after having those conversations would be inefficient. He pledged for INDOT to do more within its current structure to improve communication.
“I feel horrible for the situation with the Story Inn. Unfortunately, we do have roads and bridges … that are deficient and we have to take care of those roads and bridges, and that doesn’t include the ones that are hit and taken out of commission,” he said. He was referring to the steel bridge on State Road 135 North just south of Morgantown that had to be closed twice on an emergency basis after it was struck by a large truck.
Sen. Mike Delph (R-Carmel) said Hofstetter’s testimony showed change was needed. “When I hear constituents testify, like the gentleman from Brown County, that he can calculate the cost directly to his business … that concerns me, especially if it really can be avoided.”
Homeland Security and Transportation Committee Chair, Sen. Michael Crider (R-Greenfield), is a former conservation officer. He said he was familiar with Brown County’s roads and lack of access, and that he was most concerned with public safety. He asked Koch and INDOT to work out a compromise and come back before the committee.
SB 269 also contains language that affects regional water, sewage and solid waste districts.
Current law requires those districts to notify cities, towns or county commissioners when they first form their territories, said Rhonda Cook of Accelerate Indiana Municipalities. But there is no law now that requires those districts to notify local governing bodies when they decide they want to expand their territories, she said.
Such a situation has happened in Brown County. The Bean Blossom Regional Sewage District expanded several years ago to include all of Brown County that was not covered by the Nashville, Gnaw Bone or Helmsburg regional sewage districts.
That surrounding district is now called the Brown County Regional Sewage District. However, it has no facilities to treat any sewage yet, while the existing districts in the county do.
Rudd told the panel that increasing communication among those types of boards and local governments in other communities was also the aim of this part of the bill.
Constituents can meet and ask questions of Sen. Eric Koch and Rep. Chris May at the League of Women Voters’ Meet Your Legislators Forum in Brown County Saturday, Feb. 3. It’s planned to start at 10 a.m. in the County Office Building’s Salmon Room, with Feb. 10 as the snow date.
Requiring that old-growth areas be set aside in state forests.
Creating a new Brown County entertainment tax to help fund the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center.
These are a few of the bills that Indiana Dist. 44 Sen. Eric Koch (R-Bedford) and Indiana Dist. 65 Rep. Chris May (R-Bedford) have written or co-written with other legislators this session.
Bills can be read in their entirety at https://iga.in.gov.
SEN. ERIC KOCH
Senate Bill 8: Requires each school corporation, charter school, and accredited nonpublic elementary school to include cursive writing in its curriculum.
Senate Bill 122: Allows the executive of a county to enter into an interlocal agreement with local or state entities for the construction, maintenance or operation of a regional jail.
Senate Bill 245: Establishes a state income tax credit for employers who contribute to employees’ 529 education savings accounts and allows taxpayers to designate an income tax refund to a 529 education savings account.
Senate Bill 246: Allows a cemetery owner to withdraw all of the principal from the cemetery’s perpetual care fund each year to meet the immediate maintenance needs of the cemetery. (Under current law, only 50 percent of the appreciation may be withdrawn.) Authorizes a township trustee to provide financial assistance to maintain a cemetery that is operated by a nonprofit organization in the township.
Senate Bill 247: Makes various changes to Medicaid, probate and trust law relating to creditors’ claims, claims against nonprobate transferees, and no-contest provisions in wills and trusts.
Senate Bill 248: Prevents a person from entering another person’s biometric profile in a database without first giving the person notice, obtaining consent, or making arrangements to prevent it from being used for a commercial purpose from that database. Violation would constitute a deceptive consumer sales act, or if there was intent to harm or defraud, a felony.
Senate Bill 261: Gives a 30-day window for a waiver of remonstrance of annexation executed before, on, or after June 30, 2018 to be recorded.
Senate Bill 269: Requires the Indiana Department of Transportation to consult with a county commissioner, county executive, mayor or town executive whenever a detour, bridge or road repair “adversely affects certain local interests.” The road commissioner also would have to sign off on it. Also requires the person appointed to conduct a hearing about establishing a regional water, sewage or solid waste district to provide notice of the hearing to the executive of a city or town that has a municipal sewage works or public sanitation department in the proposed district; and requires the board of trustees of a regional sewage district, when seeking to add territory to the district, to file a copy of its motion with the executive of each governmental entity that has territory within the area.
Senate Bill 270: Requires each state agency to submit an annual report, not later than Sept. 1, to the budget agency concerning settlement agreements made to a third party for the preceding fiscal year. Provides that neither a unit nor a school corporation may, without the consent of the attorney general, settle a claim by agreeing to adopt, refuse to adopt, or refuse to enforce an ordinance or policy.
Senate Bill 275: Requires the department of natural resources, before Jan. 1, 2019, to designate at least one undivided area comprising at least 30 percent of each state forest as an old forest area. Provides that, wherever possible, the size of a designated old forest area must be at least 500 acres. Sets forth certain purposes to guide the department in designating the old forest areas. Prohibits the department from conducting or allowing timber management in the old forest areas. Requires the department to produce and keep on file maps and legal descriptions of the areas. The designation of the old forest areas may not affect hunting, fishing and other recreational uses of the state forests, the maintenance of access roads in the state forests, or rights of access through the state forests.
Senate Bill 356: Allows the office of community and rural affairs to award grants related the construction or deployment of communications services or the promotion of broadband adoption. Eligible entities include Broadband Ready communities or school corporations in Broadband Ready communities. (Brown County and Nashville are both Broadband Ready.)
Senate Bill 399: Addresses various rules concerning occupations that are subject to regulation. Also allows a person with a criminal record to petition the licensing board to determine if his record will disqualify him from getting a license or certification.
Senate Bill 404: Creates the offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing moderate bodily injury. Raises the penalties for offenses involving operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing injuries or death. Removes the minimum age requirement for a person to be convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death. Increases the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident.
Senate Bill 408: Addresses various rules concerning medical licensing.
Senate Bill 411: Requires a company that is acquiring a “distressed” water or wastewater utility to provide notice to its customers that it is filing a petition with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, and include cost figures. (Current law requires the acquiring utility company to provide notice to its customers if the proposed acquisition will increase the utility company’s rates by 1 percent of the utility company’s base annual revenue.
Senate Bill 432: Adds bailiffs and special deputies to the definition of “public safety official” for purposes of the “battery against a public safety official” statute.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 2: Urges the United States Congress to amend the Every Child Succeeds Act to remove the “preponderance of students” language from its definition of “regular high school diploma.” (This would continue to allow the number of students who earn a general diploma to be counted in a school’s graduation rate, as they are now.)
REP. CHRIS MAY
House Bill 1122: Authorizes a township trustee to provide financial help to maintain a cemetery that is operated by a nonprofit organization in the township.
House Bill 1123: Restricts caregivers from accepting gifts from a senior citizen they are caring for if the gift is a piece of real estate or is valued at over $15,000. An exception is made for immediate family members who live with the senior if “undue influence” is not used to get the gift.
House Bill 1124: Provides that if two or more school corporations consolidate or reorganize, and a school building becomes closed, unused or unoccupied, the governing body of the reorganized school corporation may ask the Indiana Department of Education to be let out of the requirement that it make the building available to a charter school before selling it.
House Bill 1125: Requires a township trustee to make a separate estimated expenditure for legal services related to a contract with a volunteer fire department; and get the approval of the township board before hiring an attorney or paying legal fees related to a contract with a volunteer fire department. Also specifies the requirements for a contract between a political subdivision and a volunteer fire department.
House Bill 1126: Authorizes Brown County to impose a $1 admissions tax to a county-owned, indoor entertainment facility. (The only facility this language relates to is the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center.) Specifies that the revenue may be used only for retiring debt related to the facility, paying lease rentals related to the facility, paying for costs to improve or construct infrastructure serving the facility, and paying for costs related to capital repairs and maintenance of the facility. Permits the county to enter into an operating lease with the tourism commission and a contract with a nonprofit organization to operate the facility.
House Bill 1074: Changes rules for the 21st Century Scholars program and primary care shortage area scholarship. Also modifies the procedures that a state educational institution must use to dispose of real estate.