Statehouse update 

The Indiana General Assembly continued its session last week at the Statehouse. Franklin College Statehouse Bureau reporters Katie Coffin, Evan Shields and Renee Estridge were on hand to take note of some of the highlights.

Environmental spotlight

The House Natural Resources Committee met Wednesday to discuss four bills dealing with water, invasive species and state land conveyance.

House Bill 1204 calls for money that goes into the Clean Water Indiana fund to not revert back to the cigarette tax fund, the source of its funding.

"There's a need for a lot of those projects," committee Chairman Bob Bischoff (D-Lawrenceburg) said of the Clean Water fund.

Another bill, HB 1203, also works to protect Indiana's natural resources by instituting the invasive species council within Purdue University. A representative from the Nature Conservancy testified that bush honeysuckle was an example of an invasive species that needs to be more carefully monitored and regulated. She said bush honeysuckle affects other resources, like reducing tree growth rate.

The committee's vice chairperson, Rep. Dave Cheatham (D-North Vernon), introduced HB 1078. This bill calls for the transfer of four acres of state property in Jefferson County to Habitat for Humanity.

Bischoff called this a "very worthy project," but due to fiscal concerns with the value of the property and taxpayer dollars, questions about the Indiana Department of Transportation's cleaning process and issues with giving state land to a nonprofit, private organization, the bill was not voted on.

HB 1032 was the final bill discussed. This bill would create a new Wabash River heritage corridor commission fund and kill the existing one to prevent reversions. It would also prevent its funding from reverting back into the general fund at the end of a fiscal year.

HB 1204, HB 1203 and HB 1032 all passed through committee.

Campus police power

The House Veteran Affairs and Public Safety Committee passed a bill Thursday that would give university police officers equal power on and off campus by an 8-0 vote.

According to Rep. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend), the author of the bill, the legislation would only apply to universities that employ police officers and not security personnel.??

Several officers from Indiana universities came to show their support for this bill, HB 1023. William Mercer, an officer from Indiana State University, was one supporter.

"Currently in the state of Indiana, university police officers are required to have the same basic training as any other municipal police officer," Mercer said. "They are also granted powers identical to municipal police."?? Mercer also said the university police train with members of the local police department.

?Ben Hunter, director of public safety at Butler University, said campus police officers weren't seeking more power.

"We're not asking for more jurisdiction ... We're asking for the same consideration as any other law enforcement officer would be trained," Hunter said.??

Indiana State, Purdue, Ball State, Butler, IUPUI, Ivy Tech, Anderson and Indiana universities all sent representatives to approve the bill. The bill also received support from the Indiana Fraternal Police and the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.?

Signs of the time

Political signage, an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, reappeared Thursday in the House Local Government Committee meeting.

Rep. Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka) said he introduced House Bill 1085 for a friend from Carmel. His friend had been kept from displaying a sign in favor of Gov. Mitch Daniels during the recent gubernatorial campaign.

"His homeowner's association was trying to limit his freedom of speech," Fry said.

The bill would prevent a homeowner's association from restricting the display of signs "advertising a political candidate or party or a ballot item for an election" 90 days before and 10 days after the election. Rep. Cherrish Pryor (D-Indianapolis) questioned not only if the time before the election was too long but also whether the bill would get in the way of existing local or municipal ordinances that have worked for years.

Pryor said that Indianapolis already has an ordinance regarding political signs and asked for an amendment "so local governments don't have to change their ordinances."

Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary), the chairman of the committee, assigned a subcommittee chaired by Pryor to fix some of the details, including lowering the number of days prior to the election that a resident can display a sign. The subcommittee was expected to report back the full committee this week before a vote on HB 1085 takes place.

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