Archive for September, 2005

Bipartisanship in Eminent Domain Reform

handshakeI have to give a hat-tip to the Heartland Institute. The reliably right-wing policy organization recently gave recognition to Democrats who have been working to end eminent domain abuse.

Democrats Stepping Up to Protect Private Property

Democratic lawmakers across the country are demonstrating an often-overlooked commitment to protecting private property rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London.

…In the Indiana legislature, Democrats have taken the lead in formulating legislation to protect private property rights from government takings.

State residents “want to make sure you don’t come knocking on their door because someone thinks it’s a good place to throw up a strip mall,” said Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) during August 10 hearings on the topic, as reported the following day by the Indianapolis Star.

You can read the original Indianapolis Star article here.

To be perfectly fair, my good friend Representative David Wolkins (R-Winona Lake) has actually taken the biggest lead on eminent domain reform in Indiana. It was his legislation that established the Interim Study Committee on Eminent Domain. Since then, legislators from both sides of the aisle have been working together on this important issue.

eminent domain cartoon

Add comment September 30th, 2005

Renewable Energy in Indiana

biofuelsThe Environmental Quality Service Council (EQSC) met today to discuss the development of viable renewable energy sources in Indiana.

Our first guest was Andy Miller, Director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. He discussed strategies for the development of “Bioenergy” in our state - specifically ethanol, and soy biodiesel. Of particular interest was the proposal for the state’s first “Bio-Town” - Reynolds, Indiana.

The people of Reynolds have agreed to take part in a long-term experiment that seeks to make the entire town energy self-sufficient. In cooperation with the Indiana Department of Agriculture, the US Department of Energy, and Purdue University, Reynolds will eventually be converting all of its gasoline, natural gas, and electric consumption to 100% renewable and locally-produced sources.

Another interesting group of presenters was a team of scientists from Purdue University. Representatives from the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering, the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, the Energy Modeling Research Groups, and the Department of Agronomy discussed the latest research in ethanol and soy biodiesel, biofuel additives for jet engines, clean coal technology, and methane/methanol production from waste products.

Paul Pabor from Waste Management discussed his company’s landfill gas recovery systems. Vince Griffin from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce talked to the Council about energy production from waste tires.

Eric Holdsworth from the Edison Electric Institute also made a presentation on some of the key points of the 2005 Federal Energy Act, and the impact it could have on Indiana.

The EQSC makes a point of spending a great deal of time on complicated and technical matters that effect environmental policy. My goal as a memeber of the Council is to stay up-to-date on the latest science, research, and administrative regulations that impact the quality of our state’s environment. To see past minutes and agendas, visit the EQSC web page.

Add comment September 29th, 2005

IUSB Legislative Luncheon

iusbToday I joined legislators from across the region at Indiana University South Bend’s annual Legislative Luncheon. The meeting took place in a banquet facility in the school’s impressive new Student Activities Center.

Chancellor Reck focused on the university’s accomplishments in expanding programs and enrollment, while the legislators emphasized their commitment to improving and expanding IUSB for the future.

One of the priority projects for the near future is renovating the massive Associates Building for use as new instructional and program space.

Representatives and Senators attended from as far as 50 miles away. I was glad to see the support for IUSB, and I think that speaks to the school’s importance as a regional academic center and economic growth engine.

September 26th, 2005

Sentencing Policy and Re-Entry Programs

eminent domain 2nd hearingToday’s meeting of the Sentencing Policy Study Committee focused on collecting information about the various “re-entry programs” for offenders who are entering back into society after finishing their sentences.

Last year, 14000 offenders were released from state prisons back into our communities. Re-entry programs are designed to reduce the rate of recidivism in these offenders so they are no longer a threat to public safety, and can begin productive lives.

The Indiana Department of Correction’s official “Road to Re-Entry” program, is making strides toward becoming more effective. Small changes, such as providing released offenders with valid state identification, can have a big effect by helping them find jobs and housing more easily - and keeping them off the streets.

There are still problems with overall program monitoring. It is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs when the state does not have access to data on released offenders that re-offend, but only serve time at the county level.

These are the types of problems the Committee is trying to identify, and remedy with suggestions for legislation next session.

The Committee also heard testimony from Porter County Superior Court Judge David Chidester, who requested reconsideration of HB 1055, which was introduced last session. The bill would allow judges to charge a pretrial services fee to people charged with a felony. The fee would pay for their participation in a probationary, pre-trial monitoring program.

The Sentencing Policy Study Committee is comprised of legislators, judges, and corrections and probation officials. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for October 12, 2005.

Add comment September 23rd, 2005

County Council Denies Tondu Permit

The St. Joseph County Council has voted to deny the special use permit for the proposed Tondu coal gasification plant.

The final vote was 7-2.

The two “yes” votes were from Andrew Kostielney (R - District B), and Dale Devon (R - District C).

The “no” votes were from Randy Przbysz (D - District A), Rafael Morton (D - District D), Michael Kruk (D - District E), Dennis Schafer (R - District F), Mark Catanzarite (D - District G), Joseph A. Baldoni (D - District H), and Mark Root (R - District I).

If you are intereseted, you can access the District maps here.

The folks at Michiana Quality of Life worked to put together an impressive grass-roots effort on this issue.

(update: here)

September 22nd, 2005

Eminent Domain Committee Meeting

Today was the second meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Eminent Domain, which was formed in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling in
Kelo v. New London

In that case, the Court essentially held that the use of eminent domain for economic development did not violate the public use clauses of state and federal constitutions. Essentially, if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes a depressed urban area, it can constitutionally qualify as a public use.

However, the Court also allowed states to make their own specific determinations. In other words: while Connecticut may allow local governments to seize homes with eminent domain to develop a shopping complex - Indiana could choose to not allow that.

During the first Committee meeting, we heard testimony from groups such as the Castle Coalition, which opposes the use of eminent domain, as well as from representatives of local governments who seek to maintain maximum flexibility in local redevelopment efforts. Mishawaka Mayor Jeff Rea made a very good presentation on why cities feel the need to retain eminent domain as a tool in their redevelopment efforts.

Today’s session was shorter than our first meeting. The bulk of the testimony came from Mr. Kurt Webber, an Indianapolis attorney who represents landowners fighting eminent domain in condemnation actions. The minutes for today’s meeting are not yet online, but they will become available at the main Committee site.

eminent domain 2nd hearing

The main point I feel the committee needs to focus on is re-drafting IC 36-7-1-3. This statute sets the criteria designating an “area needing redevelopment.” That designation is what allows for eminent domain to be used in a private development. Currently, the code is very vague, and could be applied to mean almost any location in our community was in need of “redevelopment” through eminent domain.

Further, I think it is important to give people’s homes more specific protection than other types of property when eminent domain is used.

The Committee will be making recommendations to the General Assembly for legislative action at the last meeting.

Feel free to let me know if you have an opinion on this issue.

September 21st, 2005

Commission on Courts - September 2005 Meeting

Last Friday, September 16th, the Commission on Courts met in the Statehouse to consider several issues.

First on the agenda was a report on the 2004 Weighted Caseload study. The Weighted Caseload Study began in 1993 as a way to measure objectively the trial court caseloads across the Indiana. The first report was generated in 1997, and annual follow-ups have been produced ever since.

This is an important tool for the Legislature to use as we consider which counties have the greatest need for new courts, balanced against the limited resources available.

The 2004 study is not yet online, but you can access past reports and more information through the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration.

Next, the Commission heard testimony from Judges and elected officials from Jackson County who were petitioning for a recommendation to the Legislature for an additional court of general jurisdiction. Jackson County ranks sixth in need on the 2004 Caseload study and made a compelling case for an additional court.

Finally, Judge Lew Gregory of the Greenwood City Court provided testimony on his proposal for legislation to allow some qualified city and town courts to become “municipal” courts of record. In support of his proposed new designation, he cited current abuses of the trial de novo rules, the potential for new “municipal” courts to relieve overly-burdened counties, and the expansion of petitions for post-conviction relief.

The Commission will vote on the cumulative recommendations from all hearings at the final meeting of the year.

For information on all Interim Study Committees, click here.

September 20th, 2005

Welcome… is currently undergoing a facelift to become more functional and interactive. Please bear with me as I get it up and running.

In the mean time, feel free to contact me or access my official web site for more recent information.

Thank you.

September 9th, 2005


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