Wind energy also was addressed by the lawmakers. Saunders has written a bill that would establish a county-wide vote before any approval of wind turbines, mandate setback distances and create a code of ethics for elected officials involved in wind turbine decisions. He admitted wind turbines will be a controversial issue during this legislative session. "I don't know that we expected to live with an industrial utility in my backyard or your backyard," said Saunders, who lives in Henry County and whose district includes the northwest portion of Wayne County. "There are property rights issues, and that needs to be discussed."
State Rep. Tom Saunders sits on the Indiana House of Representatives’ Roads and Transportation Committee, the group that this week advanced a controversial bill increasing the state’s gasoline tax.
Saunders told about 30 people gathered Friday morning at Indiana University East for a breakfast with area legislators that he’s “100 percent with the bill” as long is it continues to include a $15 fee on each licensed vehicle that is “dedicated solely to local government.” The bill would increase the gasoline tax by 10 cents, raise the diesel tax 10 cents, charge $150 annually for electric vehicles and assess a $15 annual fee on gas-powered vehicles.
The legislature also is pursuing requirements that all of the tax be earmarked to pay for road maintenance.
“We’re looking for something that will address this issue 20 years down the road,” said Saunders, adding that legislators are studying tolls for users of Interstates 69, 65 and 70, including trucks. “I think you’re going to see sustainable highway funding passed this session.”
The three legislators attending Friday’s session – Saunders, R-Lewisville; State Rep. Dick Hamm, R-Richmond; and State Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville – said they hadn’t signed a pledge not to raise taxes.
Hamm said the gas tax bill as currently written is expected to cost an average individual $60 per year, but he said the bill likely won’t look the same when it’s returned to the House for a vote. It will move to the Ways and Means Committee and will be sent to the Senate, as well.
Although roads will be a controversial and important state issue, Hamm said it’s a problem that is greatly impacting Richmond already. He said his “phone rings off the hook” because of the rough condition of U.S. 40 East after an INDOT project couldn’t be completed before winter arrived. He also noted the city will deal with projects scheduled on South A and South Eighth streets and U.S. 40 East this year.
“We’re going to have to be very congenial to each other because there are going to be problems, I’m sure,” he said.
The three legislators also were asked about funding for public education and the use of taxpayer money for charter and parochial schools. Hamm pointed out taxpayer money follows students, giving parents a right to influence their student’s education by choosing a school.
“I think they should have the right to make that evaluation,” Hamm said.
Raatz said he doesn’t think funding of charter schools will change.
“Sometimes parents know better and decide to funnel their child’s education in a different direction,” he said.
Raatz said Senate members heard a bill that would fund the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs. He said he also has crafted a letter to send to Vice President Mike Pence asking for control of Head Start programs to return to the states.
“I think we’re headed down the right pathway because students who go to pre-kindergarten are ready for kindergarten,” he said.
Hamm noted a shift in society. He recalled how education was stressed to him as important to the family.
“We’ve got children raising children, and we’re not getting the platform and push-off from the parents,” he said.
Another question directed to the lawmakers concerned the state’s battle with drug addiction. They said many bills have been drafted to address the problem.
“We’re looking at it closely and working diligently to move more than just a blip on the radar screen,” Raatz said of addiction.
Two ideas discussed so far involve those who overdose and the use of Narcan, an antidote that can be used to revive them. One thought is that those who overdose be directed to a treatment program that, when completed, would eliminate criminal charges against them for the overdose. Another is that those who overdose pay a fine that would be used to supply Narcan to law enforcement officers.
Wind energy also was addressed by the lawmakers. Saunders has written a bill that would establish a county-wide vote before any approval of wind turbines, mandate setback distances and create a code of ethics for elected officials involved in wind turbine decisions. He admitted wind turbines will be a controversial issue during this legislative session.
“I don’t know that we expected to live with an industrial utility in my backyard or your backyard,” said Saunders, who lives in Henry County and whose district includes the northwest portion of Wayne County. “There are property rights issues, and that needs to be discussed.”
The legislature must balance rights of property owners wanting income from wind turbines and rights of neighbors.
“I think you have to remember the other people in your area have some rights, too,” said Hamm, who noted he’s thinking about joining the bill as a co-sponsor.
Raatz said his question is whether wind turbines last long enough to provide enough energy to pay for themselves. He said he “can’t get a straight answer” to that question.
Another legislative breakfast will take place at 8 a.m. Feb. 24 at IU East.
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