General Assembly update 

Indiana lawmakers debate the environment, growth hormones and sexuality

While property taxes continue to dominate this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly, Senate and House bills governing other aspects of Hoosier life are beginning to make their way through the legislative process.

If the fate of House Bill 1102 Renewable Energy Bill is any indication, it looks to be another bad year for the environment in Indiana. Last week, the Indiana House Utilities Committee voted down HB 1102, a bill that would have required the state to commit to finding 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources rather than fossil fuel by the year 2018. 

Rep. David Crooks (D-Washington) and Rep. John Ulmer (R-Goshen) sponsored the bill, one that represented the first time in the Indiana Legislature that a renewable bill without coal or coal waste had been offered for a vote in committee.

The failure of the measure to even get out of committee was disappointing news for the Indiana Coalition for Renewable Energy and Economic Development (ICREED), a diverse group of renewable energy businesses and clean energy, consumer, environmental and public health organizations. 

According to ICREED, the legislation wasn’t simply about saving natural resources; legislators also missed an opportunity to save consumers money, as the commitment to renewable energy sources would diversify the energy mix and could help to mitigate the future rate impacts from our heavy dependence on coal-fired power.

“Today was a golden opportunity for Indiana to send a strong signal to investors outside of Indiana, and to budding entrepreneurs in-state that Indiana is open for a new type of business, a business that anticipates the dramatically different energy future ahead,” said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council and a member of ICREED. “Sadly, that welcome message was not sent, and that is a missed opportunity for our state’s environment and our economy.

Environmental groups are hoping that the House of Representatives will redeem itself this week with a vote on House Bill 1090 Climate Registry Bill.

The legislation would require Indiana to become a member of the national Climate Registry, established to develop and manage a reporting system for greenhouse emissions. Supporters believe the registry will provide an accurate, complete, consistent, transparent and verified set of greenhouse gas emissions data from reporting entities, supported by a robust accounting and verification infrastructure. Currently, Indiana is one of only a handful of states that have not joined, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi.

And in the same week that the FDA approved the sale of milk and meat products from cloned animals in the United States, and will not require any labeling that identifies the product as clone-derived, Rep. Bill Friend (R-Elkhart) wants other labels banned from milk products in Indiana.

Friend introduced House Bill 1300 Milk Labeling Standards Bill last week, a measure that would make it illegal for dairy farmers to sell their products with “absence labeling.” Specifically, milk could not be labeled with the “rbGH-free” label — “no artificial growth hormones.”

While the USDA has approved the use of growth hormones, as many as 90 percent of consumers say they want milk labeled to indicate whether or not the growth hormones were used. But the increased popularity in the rbGH-free milk is not sitting well with large agri-business and farmers who use the hormones to increase productivity and profit.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Friend said dairy farmers in his rural district have been asked by Kroger and some dairies to sign affidavits pledging that they are not using growth hormones in order to receive the “no growth hormone” label, and that has them worried. “The hormone increases production by up to 25 percent,” Friend said, “but farmers could lose a market, and profits, if they don’t sign the affidavits.”

Monsanto, the producer of Posilac, the most popular dairy growth hormone, has filed a complaint with the FDA recently, claiming the growth hormone-free milk labels are damaging its sales by implying that there is something wrong with the use of the hormones. The complaint came after sales of growth hormone-free labeled milk increased nearly 10 percent last year and after large companies like Kroger and Starbucks will only offer milk from cows that have not been given Posilac. Both Canada and the European Union ban the use of growth hormones in dairy production and prohibit it from being used in consumer dairy production.

Supporters of the bill say that there is no way to determine in a laboratory if a milk product comes from an animal that received the hormones, and that there is no taste or nutritional difference. “The reason for the bill is that there is no lab test that can definitely say you are using or not because it is a naturally occurring hormone in every glass of milk regardless of its source,” Friend says.

Because the “no artificial growth hormone” label relies on dairy farmers providing sworn affidavits attesting to whether or not they use the hormones, the label would be illegal under Indiana law.

Meanwhile, the ongoing effort to label homosexuals as deviants and make same-sex marriage more illegal than it already is in Indiana has taken a small step forward. Senate Joint Resolution 007 Same-Sex Marriage Amendment moved out of committee and will go to the full Senate for a vote.

Though same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana, if passed, supporters believe the amendment to the state Constitution would be a step toward preventing future court challenges. The first part of the amendment defines marriage as between one man and one woman only; the second part of the amendment states that the rights of marriage may not be granted to unmarried couples.

SJR 7 passed the Senate and the House in 2006; last year it passed the Senate, but died in the House Rules Committee. Chair of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City), has said he does not plan to give the amendment a hearing this year either, choosing instead to focus on property tax issues this session. In the past, however, efforts to let this amendment die in committee have led to Republicans walking out of the Statehouse in the final hours of the session in protest.

Finally, advocates for women’s reproductive health are applauding the defeat of Senate Bill 003 Conscience Clause Bill. The legislation would have granted pharmacists the right to deny birth control prescriptions and emergency contraception to women based on their religious beliefs. The bill failed to move out of the Senate with a tie vote of 24-24.

“Women should be able to purchase birth control from a pharmacy without being subjected to lectures, harassment or delay,” said Betty Cockrum, Planned Parenthood of Indiana president. “When it comes to time-sensitive medications like emergency contraception, it’s even more important that women receive it in-store, without discrimination or delay.”


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