Legislators conduct town hall in Brownstown

BROWNSTOWN

A trio of state legislators representing Jackson County residents fielded questions along with complaints and concerns from a group of about 50 people Saturday morning.

The event was the Brownstown Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast, typically conducted after the legislative session ends each year.

The three legislators, District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, District 65 Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, and District 73 Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, first talked about some of the highlights of the recently completed short session.

Those included the elimination of ISTEP testing in 2017, a road funding package that will see Jackson County receiving $2.95 million for repairs and upkeep of roads and stiffer penalties for drug dealers.

Lucas was asked why teachers recently received materials to administer the ISTEP test if the state had decided to eliminate it.

He said the decision to eliminate ISTEP happened late in the session and came about in part because of a decision at the federal level to eliminate the No Child Left Behind program.

Lucas said the contract with the company administering the test was a two-year deal that won’t end until 2017, and it was either continue with the testing and pay the company or wind up facing a lawsuit.

A 24-member committee of educators and others will look at coming up with a replacement test this year, and the legislature will address the issue during next year’s session, Lucas said.

Davisson said legislators decided to stiffen the penalties against drug dealers in an effort to stop some of the violence communities across the state seem to experience on a daily basis.

“We’re No. 1 in the nation in meth labs for three years in a row,” he said.

The legislature did not enact a law requiring people to obtain a prescription for pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in making meth.

Lawmakers tried to compromise by making it harder for people to obtain pseudoephedrine for illicit purposes while not making it harder for those with allergies and other health reasons to get it.

People can still buy small amounts of the drug, but it also gives pharmacists a chance to further question people about their purchases.

Larry Bob Spurgeon, a Democrat, said voters in Indiana and nationwide are frustrated with the lack of cooperation between the political parties at the Statehouse and in Washington and want to see real change.

Davisson said the road funding package was a good example of compromise because when the session began, there were five separate proposals, one from each party in both the House and Senate and one from Gov. Mike Pence.

Spurgeon said that was good, but there needs to be more compromise.

He also asked the three what the legislature was doing to help small businesses.

Spurgeon said he owned a small funeral home and pays $8,000 a year in property taxes at the same time many larger businesses were receiving property tax relief.

“Nobody is helping the small businesses in Brownstown,” he said.

Lucas and Davisson both said they are small businessmen and could relate to Spurgeon’s concerns with the issues confronting small businesses.

Lucas said local government units are often the ones who grant tax abatements, not the legislature.

Davisson said with the state’s complicated property tax system, it would be rare to find too many people who believe it is fair at any given time.

Brian Wolka, who farms in the Vallonia area, asked the legislators if they could so something to help with flooding.

“It’s a serious problem here in the county,” he said.

Wolka attributed the problem to urban development, including new construction and more parking lots, which causes more storm runoff.

“A lot of people say we need to dredge the rivers, but that’s just a Band-Aid,” he said. “We need to control erosion.”

He asked if a flood control district would be established.

After the legislators portion of the event, local officials spent time talking about what’s going on in the county and town.

Sheila Reynolds of Brownstown asked the trio why a measure to ban the use of plastic bags at grocery stores failed and why local governing units weren’t allowed to make that decision.

Lucas said he was a co-author of that bill, and the feeling was if some communities could implement bans on plastic bags, it would create a hodge-podge of regulations.

“But it still takes away local control,” Reynolds said.

Spurgeon said it’s come to the point now where the state has taken away a lot of the control local governing units have had in the past.

“We don’t need anymore restrictions on us,” he said.

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.