INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana House approved a more streamlined process for authorizing confined animal feeding operations under a bill passed 66-25 Monday.
Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw, gave an extended explanation of the bill to his colleagues because of confusion about what it does.
For example, he said, the bill eliminates use of the term "prior approval" in favor of a "permit." That has created concern by opponents of the measure, but Wolkins said all CAFOs must still receive permission to be built and operate.
One provision of House Bill 1494 allows an existing operation to expand its manure facility by 10 percent without a permit amendment or notice to neighbors.
Several legislators equated such an expansion with adding animals, but Wolkins disputed that, saying the permit specifies the maximum number of animals that can’t be exceeded without approval.
He said the increasing age of pigs being raised could change the amount of manure a CAFO produces without the number of animals changing.
Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, said he doesn’t care whether it’s called a permit or prior approval – a 10 percent increase in manure is a lot.
"We’re talking about an Olympic-sized swimming pool of cow manure," he said. "Let’s put that in your backyard and see what you think about it."
Leonard also opposed a section of the bill that reduces disclosure of past violations by operators. Right now, when someone applies for approval, they must list all alleged violations in the past, but the bill limits it to five years.
Leonard told of a bad actor in his district who has now been driven out of multiple states.
Northeast Indiana lawmakers split on the bill.
Those in support were Wolkins; Matt Lehman, R-Berne; Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn; Dave Heine, R-New Haven; and Curt Nisly, R-Goshen.
Those against were Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne; Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne; Leonard; Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne; Dave Ober, R-Albion; and Dennis Zent, R-Angola.
The Indiana Senate voted 46-3 Monday to give immunity to mothers who leave newborns in so-called baby boxes – but only at hospitals that are staffed 24 hours a day.
Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle – author of Senate Bill 246 – said there are no rules on what constitutes a newborn safety device. He said it could be installed in a hospital wall or be something as simple as a crib.
The purpose of the bill is to allow a woman to give up her baby safely but not have to face a person directly. Senate Bill 246 says the boxes must be in a conspicuous place and visible to hospital staffers.
Markle said women using the two existing newborn incubators at fire stations in Woodburn and Michigan City would not have the same legal protection, though.
The program is voluntary and funded by private donations.
Indiana’s Safe Haven law currently allows a distressed parent to give up an unwanted newborn less than 30 days old without fear of prosecution at any hospital emergency room, fire station or police station. But it doesn’t authorize a box or device.
All local senators supported the bill, which now moves to the House.
The Indiana House voted 83-12 Monday to approve a bill reinforcing a student’s right to pray and exercise religion in schools.
The measure by Democratic Rep. John Bartlett of Indianapolis directs school corporations to adopt policies allowing students to pray aloud at school events. He argues it would not mandate that students pray in school but would affirm their right to do so.
But Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, said the bill is unnecessary since 50 years of court precedent has already made it clear.
"This bill is not here because of public demand or necessity. It’s here so someone can send a message that they are pious," he said before being warned by House Speaker Brian Bosma not to attack a member’s motives.
Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Evansville, said it’s important not to overhype the bill. As a lawyer, he said what is proposed in the legislation are best practices already in place around the nation.
"I wouldn’t say it brings prayer back in schools, but it does bring common sense," he said.
The only area lawmaker to oppose the bill was Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.