Political Notebook

  • Indiana House sets leaders for session
    The Indiana House has tapped leadership and committee chairs for the 2015 General Assembly.
  • Charity wins on Organization Day
    Area House members joined Tuesday in donating linens, gift cards and various supplies to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at the Indiana Statehouse.
  • Coats, Donnelly support pipeline
    Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., spoke Tuesday in support of legislation to complete construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Oh, Christmas tree tax: Donnelly extols farm bill

Sen. Joe Donnelly not only defended the so-called Christmas tree tax last week, he also gave a shoutout to the nursery where he buys his holiday trees.

The 5-year farm bill approved by the Senate and the House includes a 15-cent fee on the sale of Christmas trees. Growers had sought the assessment to pay for a marketing-and-promotion program, much as farmers have done for numerous other products with campaigns such as “Pork: The Other White Meat,” “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner,” “Got Milk?” and “The Incredible Edible Egg.”

“We have numerous check-off programs, and this is a check-off program,” Donnelly, a Democratic member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.

“Look, I am a great supporter of our Christmas tree farmers,” the Indiana senator said. “I go to Hensler’s in Starke County every year for Christmas. And so every year I give my 50 bucks to our Indiana Christmas tree farmers.”

Donnelly added, “I get a Fraser fir.”

Senate shenanigans

The usually staid Indiana Senate provided some comic relief last week.

During a debate on whether Indiana appellate judges should be forced to retire at age 75, someone referred to how old Gary Democrat Sen. Earline Rogers was.

She took to the microphone to proudly announce she would be 80 in December “and I will take on anyone in this chamber,” she said.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, deadpanned, “Never make momma angry.”

Also from the Democratic side of the aisle was Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, who brought props to the microphone during a debate on legalizing industrial hemp. She brought samples of products from Colorado Springs, including rope, a woven hemp bag and a granola bar.

Tallian said she had samples of lotion and soap but they were confiscated at the airport by the TSA because her items were larger than allowed in her carryon bag.

Wyss recognized

The Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police recently recognized State Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, for his 28 years of service in the General Assembly at the organization’s midwinter conference in Indianapolis.

The group awarded Wyss a lifetime membership, which is typically reserved to past presidents of the organization. He is only the second person to receive this award who has not served as a president. He also accepted the organization’s Lifetime Service Award.

This is the third time the association has honored Wyss for his work. In 2013, he received the organization’s Stand Your Ground Award, and in 2010, he accepted its Legislator of the Year Award.

“Senator Wyss’ contribution to law enforcement and public safety for all of Indiana can’t be measured in everyday terms,” said Michael F. Ward, executive director of IACP. “He has been a loyal servant to his constituents and a strong advocate for all things related to public safety.”

Wyss has spent decades advocating for public safety, including his push for tougher drunken-driving rules and more recent work on homeland security issues.

In the Senate, Wyss serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs and is co-chair of the National Conference of State Legislators’ Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Task Force.

Wyss is not seeking re-election after serving in the Senate since 1985.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.