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General Assembly

Weakened ag-gag bill advances to full Senate

– The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee neutered the disputed “ag-gag” bill Tuesday when the bill’s author brought an amendment that removed the problematic provision.

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said the revised bill now focuses solely on those who trespass on agricultural property and cause damage, such as broken doors, fences or more.

The bill in previous incarnations went much farther in an attempt to stop people from taking photos and videos at these operations that later cause the farm embarrassment or loss of business.

But First Amendment issues continued to vex lawmakers wrestling with the bill.

As amended, the crime would be a low-level felony if the physical damage caused to the property is between $750 and $50,000. The felony would rise slightly for higher property damage amounts.

The Hoosier State Press Association removed its opposition to the bill, which now doesn’t address photo and video concerns at all.

Holdman said the provision helps farms slightly in that it eliminates a need to post trespassing signs all over a large agricultural facility.

Senate Bill 101 passed 8-2 and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Panel OKs tax plan

A Senate Republican plan to help reduce the business tax burden passed 7-2 out of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1 would further reduce the state corporate income tax rate and also eliminate the business personal property tax for small businesses in the state.

Gov. Mike Pence has pushed for a full elimination or phase-out of the business personal property tax, which is assessed on equipment and machinery. The tax provides about $1 billion in revenue to local governments and schools.

But lawmakers are seeking a much smaller cut. The Senate legislation would cost local units only about $30 million statewide in property tax revenue.

“Our biggest concern is the slippery slope,” said New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald, who testified before the committee.

He said lawmakers could come back in the future with more cuts and not provide any replacement revenue.

But Fort Wayne small businessman Mark Hagar testified in support, saying businesses should be using dollars to invest and hire – not complete government documents and pay taxes.

The legislation now moves to the full Senate.

Income exemptions

The House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a measure that would increase several personal income exemptions.

Indiana’s $1,000 personal income exemption and the $2,500 dependent exemption haven’t increased in decades.

House Bill 1211 would simply tie the exemption to inflation for future adjustments. But it doesn’t boost them to reflect past inflation rises.

A representative from the governor’s office read a statement from a lobbyist for the Indiana Family Institute saying “it is a modest step forward” and signals “Indiana’s desire to help families who help themselves.”

The legislation doesn’t spend any money – simply reduces revenue in the future. The initial hit to state tax collections in fiscal year 2015 is about $5 million, rising to $38.7 million in 2021.

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown conceded the bill won’t mean much to taxpayers immediately.

“It’s not going to be very much money individually,” he said. “The point is over time we’ve eroded the purchasing power of every family.”

The committee could vote on the bill in the coming days.