Archive for November, 2005

Brief hiatus

This website will have a short break from updates for the next week or two.

I will be getting married on Saturday, November 26th, and I plan on taking a little time off after the wedding, but should be back to regular-ish postings in December.

3 comments November 23rd, 2005

Organization Day 2005

chamberOrganization Day for the 2006 Regular session of the 114th General Assembly took place in Indianapolis today. Organization day is a largely ceremonial occasion going into the “short” session because caucus leadership has already been elected and the rules, committees, and other administrative matters have already been organized and adopted.

The one substantial piece of business was the filing of HB 1001, by Representative Jeff Espich (R – Uniondale). This is likely to be the starting point for a broad fiscal package to be developed in the Committee on Ways and Means.

horseshoeOrganization Day is a good chance to catch up with fellow legislators you haven’t seen in a while, and each caucus takes the opportunity to outline its goals for the upcoming session in January. The Republican Leadership’s press release can be found here, and the Democratic Leadership’s agenda can be found here.

attendanceAs always, the first order of business after the “Pledge & Prayer” is a roll call to determine attendance (for purposes of establishing a quorum). House Speaker Brian Bosma (R – Indianapolis) then delivered an address to the assembled body, and Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer (D – South Bend) followed with a speech of his own. The tone for each was generally amicable with expressions of hope for bipartisan cooperation.

All was not entirely harmonious, however. Hundreds of state employees protested layoffs and ongoing privatization efforts down in the north atrium. Their very vocal protest could be heard all the way up on the floor of the House chamber.

The House also rolled out its new and improved internet broadcasting system. It includes different camera angles, title bars, and roll call screens. Internet coverage will even extend to committee meetings – including Ways & Means committee meetings that will take place in December. You can access video feeds for both the House and Senate here.

brothersThe video quality of the new system seems to be somewhat shaky, but I am sure that can be improved upon. You can watch the webcast of today’s events here – and if you fast forward to about 1:09:20 on the feed, you will even see the Speaker wishing me luck on my upcoming wedding.

I was also glad to have three of my brothers able to visit the chamber today. They were able to catch up with some of the members who first saw them serve as pages back when they were in grade school.

1 comment November 22nd, 2005

Jewish Federation Legislative Forum

jfsjv attendeesI recently attended a legislative forum in South Bend hosted by the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley. The discussion ranged from Daylight Saving Time to the impact of last year’s budget bill on property taxes.

While positions on political issues vary widely in the Jewish community, the St. Joseph Valley Federation teams up with the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council to advocate for issues that concern their community as a whole. Their 2005 legislative wrap-up can be found here.

I was glad to be joined by Senator John Broden (D – South Bend), Representative Jackie Walorski (R – Lakeville), Representative B. Patrick Bauer (D – South Bend), Senator Anita Bowser (D – Michigan City), and Representative Tim Neese (R – Elkhart).

jfsjv panel

If your community organization is thinking of hosting a legislative forum, feel free to let me know.

Add comment November 21st, 2005

FSSA privatisation and Buy Indiana

The Associated Press is reporting that the privatization of state operations at the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration (FSSA) will cost at least $1 billion:

“The projected cost of this opportunity is more than $1 billion,” the Indiana Department of Administration said in a newsletter sent by e-mail to vendors this week…

The work is now done by more than 2,500 state employees in 107 county offices, but FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob Jr., an appointee of Gov. Mitch Daniels, said in July he hoped to reduce the number of eligibility offices to 18 to 40 by 2009…

The state’s largest current contract is for $490.8 million to Anthem Insurance Companies of Indianapolis for a state employee health maintenance organization for the four years that began Jan. 1, 2003. The next largest is $264.4 million to St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services for prison health and mental health services over four years that began Sept. 1.”

In the 2004 session I introduced legislation (HB 1275) to implement a “Buy Indiana” program that would ensure a majority of Indiana tax dollars used for procurement and contracts were reinvested in Indiana companies. While my legislation did not pass, another version, of which I was a cosponsor (HB 1080, Representative Carolene Mays, D – Indianapolis), was eventually signed into law by Governor Kernan.

One of the key differences between the two was in the definition of “Indiana business.” HB 1275 defined one as:

(1) A business whose principal place of business is located in Indiana.
(2) A business that pays a majority of its payroll (in dollar volume) to residents of Indiana.
(3) A business that employs Indiana residents as a majority of its employees.
(4) A business that manufactures or assembles in Indiana the supplies that are the subject of the purchase.

HB 1080 deleted (4) and added the following two criteria:

(4) A business that makes significant capital investments in Indiana.
(5) A business that has a substantial positive economic impact on Indiana.

Governor Mitch Daniels issued Executive Order 05-05 in January 2005, which allowed the Department of Administration (DOA) to interpret those last two points and establish the “Buy Indiana” program criteria.

DOA Commissioner Earl Goode has since issued the policy with clarifications on the definitions of “Substantial Capital Investment” and “Substantial Indiana Impact”:

Substantial Capital Investment:
Any company that can demonstrate a minimum capital investment of $5 million or more in plant and/or equipment or annual lease payments of $2.5 million or more shall qualify as an Indiana business under category #4. If an out of state company does not meet one of these criteria, it can submit documentation/justification to the State for review for inclusion under this category.

Substantial Indiana Economic Impact:
Any company that is in the top 500 companies (adjusted) for one of the following categories: number of employees (DWD), unemployment taxes (DWD), sales tax (DOR), payroll withholding taxes (DOR), or Corporate Income Taxes (DOR); it shall qualify as an Indiana business under category #5. If an out of state company does not meet one of these criteria, it can submit documentation/justification to the State for review for inclusion under this category.

The form a company must fill out to certify their “substantial Indiana economic impact” can be found here.

With a contract as huge as the one being considered by FSSA, I certainly hope everything possible is being done to ensure that the “Buy Indiana” program will be put to use, and these tax dollars will be reinvested in Indiana businesses.

1 comment November 18th, 2005

State park fees set to increase

The Indiana Natural Resources Commission approved the Indiana Department of Natrual Resources’ request to increase fees at Indiana state parks. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reports:

The Natural Resources Commission, which oversees Department of Natural Resources policies, passed the proposal 9-1 during its monthly meeting Tuesday in Indianapolis. Fishing, hunting and trapping licenses also will increase in 2006.

“I label it a fee restructuring,” DNR Director Kyle Hupfer said of the changes park visitors will face next year…

“Whether it was Tuesday in July or Saturday over Fourth of July weekend, a particular campsite cost the same. We think that’s a very ineffective and un-businesslike way to operate what I see as one of the closest things we have in government to retail facilities.”

The specific details are available in the post I made last week discussing the proposal.

1 comment November 16th, 2005

Ethanol and Net Energy Balance

cornpumpMy last post on E85 fuel arriving in St. Joseph County prompted a reply from a reader in the great state of Wisconsin who asked me to discuss more of what he felt were the negative aspects to ethanol.

I thought I was relatively neutral in my posting, and even mentioned the poor fuel economy that E85 gave relative to gasoline. In fact, with gas prices what they are at this writing, E85 is actually a bad buy compared to gasoline.

However, his email did remind me of a familiar topic that comes up whenever ethanol is discussed. That is the common perception that ethanol takes more energy to produce than it actually produces. This is called a “negative energy balance.”

The biggest proponents of this viewpoint seem to be Prof. David Pimentel of Cornell University, and Prof. Tad Patzek of UC Berkley. Prof. Patzek’s updated paper on the issue can be found here.

The main thrust of the argument is that all of the energy that goes into biomass production, distillation, and distribution far outweighs the energy benefit that actually ends up in the tank of your car.

Criticisms of their methodology, though, do exist. For instance, they fail to give energy “credits” for co-products created in the ethanol distillation process (such as animal feed), and include the energy costs associated with the steel in the farmer’s machinery (even the farmer’s food), that would probably still be consumed regardless if the crop were used for ethanol production.

However, the U.S. Department of Energy says that ethanol – while acknowledging high energy and chemical use in its production – has a positive energy balance.

Further, a new study led by Dr. Michael Wang at Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Technology R&D Center concludes that ethanol actually generates 35% more energy than it takes to produce.

More after the jump…

ethanol plantThe Argonne report (summary available here) lays out the following:

One million BTU’s of ethanol takes .74 million BTU’s of fossil energy input, while one million BTU’s of gasoline takes 1.23 million BTU’s of fossil energy input.

In fact, the Fuel to Energy Ratio (energy contained in the fuel / fossil energy input) is even worse when considering other energy sources. Electricity comes in at .45, gasoline is .81, coal is .98, and corn ethanol is 1.36.

Real future potential lies in the development of cellulosic ethanol, derived from plants like switchgrass, which has an astounding FER of 10.31. Switchgrass is more efficient to harvest, doesn’t require re-seeding, and current R&D is focusing on ways to use the unfermentable portion of biomass to generate steam for electricity.

The policy conclusions reached by the study are also interesting. They point out that not all BTU’s are equal – in fact the energy sector routinely spends energy to convert a low-value BTU (like crude oil) into a high value BTU (like refined gasoline).

Further, it seems clear that the net energy balance of any given fuel is arbitrary when considered by itself. To be useful, net energy balances of different fuels need to be compared to each other and weighed against desired results – such as reduction in petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. When ethanol is put up against petroleum based fuels, the Argonne study says it is clearly superior in those categories.

Of course, new research will continually improve the baseline numbers. Changes in things like the cost of enzymes used in ethanol production have dropped the price per gallon recently.

Companies like General Motors are aware of these developments and build alternative fuel consumption into their market-strategies:

If you compare a vehicle using E85 to a typical hybrid vehicle, the hybrid may get better gas mileage but the E85-powered vehicle saves hundreds more gallons of petroleum per vehicle per year, because only 15 percent of what you put in the tank is petroleum-based, compared with 100 percent in the hybrid’s tank…

In the big picture, E85 is just one of what we see as a number of solutions to the energy equation, and we’re planning for all of them, so that we will be ready when the market decides which way to go. We’re not putting all of our eggs into one fuel tank.

Ethanol is not a catch-all solution to our energy problems. It is just one of the many innovative alternative fuels being developed today that will evolve over time. One of the most interesting potential fuel sources I’ve read of recently comes from Nobel prize-winner Dr. Stephen Chu, Director of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Dr. Chu sees a future in a type of biomass I had never considered:

Now, if you look in the gut of a termite, or the gut of a cow — or even in feedlot manure piles — there are bacteria that are similarly converting biomass into energy for them to live on…

Either we’ll genetically engineer the microorganisms from termite guts to produce more energy from biomass than they need, or we’ll adapt the chemistry within the microorganisms to process the biomass ourselves.

Much of our national energy policy is decided at the Federal level. But in Indiana, we can continue to invest in basic research and encourage the development of many different alternative fuels. For example, in the last legislative session I was a co-author of HB 1032 (written by Representative Steve Heim, R-Culver), which required state vehicles to use biodiesel fuel when possible.

I will continue to work on legislation that leads to a healthy alternative fuel economy and a more far-reaching energy policy in general. As always, let me know if you have any ideas you would like to share.

Add comment November 15th, 2005

E85 arrives in St. Joe County

brown countyAs reported by WNDU, St. Joseph County finally has a gas station selling E85 fuel. The Citgo at the corner of Bittersweet Rd. and McKinley Hwy. is selling the alternative fuel for (as of last night) $1.99 a gallon – almost 20 cents cheaper than gasoline.

E85 is actually 85% ethyl alcohol (ethanol), and only 15% gasoline. You can check here for a current list of E85 refueling locations in Indiana.

e85 nozzleAs my Ford Taurus is a “Flexible Fuel Vehicle” that can run on E85, I just had to give it a try. Filling up was just like using a regular pump, and the nozzle was clearly labeled to prevent people from accidentally fueling incompatible vehicles.

So far, everything is running smoothly. However, I did seem to notice a dip in fuel economy. A quick check with the Federal Fuel Economy Guide shows that ethanol actually has a slightly worse fuel economy than gasoline:

taurus stats

Just how economical that difference in fuel economy is will depend on the future of gas prices. However, if my car ran on E85 all year, it would end up emitting 2 tons less greenhouse gas than if it had burned gasoline.

For more information, feel free to consult the following resources:

Add comment November 11th, 2005

Visit to Swanson Highlands School

just a billEvery year, the National Conference of State Legislators sponsors the “America’s Legislators Back to School Program.” In an effort to help educate our students on civics and Indiana government, I participate in the program by visiting fourth-grade classrooms in my district. Indiana fourth-graders spend the year learning about Indiana history and government, so it is a good time to talk with them.

I recently visited Swanson Highlands Elementary School to talk with several classes about my job as a legislator, and how a bill becomes a law in Indiana.

swanson highlands

On this visit, I divided the group into a “House of Representatives” and a “Senate,” and let them pick a bill to move through the process. They decided on legislation requiring mandatory recess for all grade levels.

After several amendments in both chambers, and a divisive conference committee on whether recess should be mandatory for high school (or even college), the bill died in a close vote on the conference committee report in the Senate. There was a strong Senate faction that felt the whole issue was just “stupid.”

The State Legislature operates an active outreach program for students – offering tours for school groups, and an active page program. If you know of a school group that might be visiting the Capitol, or have a child who would like to serve as a page, please feel free to let me know.

Add comment November 9th, 2005

DNR fee increase proposal

brown countyThe Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director, Kyle Hupfer, recently circulated a letter to legislators informing us of his proposal to raise “user fees,” which include everything from fishing licenses to cabin rentals at state parks. In the letter he states:

In a few weeks, I am going to present to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) a fee restructuring plan. This plan will take on a market-based approach, calling for changes in rates based on the demand for DNR’s services.

I will propose fee ranges so that the DNR and its property managers can adjust fees based on the time of year, capacity, location, and demand… We intend for there to be both increases and decreases in various fees.

The proposal will come before the Indiana Natural Resources Commission at their next meeting on November 15, 2005. The Natural Resources Commission was just recently given authority to change DNR fees as a provision of HB1001 – last year’s budget bill, which passed on a party-line vote (roll call here). The relevant code section is available here.

Hupfer intends his proposal to be a “market-based approach, calling for changes in rates based on the demand for DNR’s services.” However some of the increases are quite steep and likely to be opposed by many who hunt, fish, and use our state parks.

The DNR has had some successes in land conservation, as well as some controversies, including the recent dispute over logging on public lands. This new proposal is likely to generate discussion as well.

Please let me know if you have an opinion on the proposed DNR plan to increase fees.

1 comment November 8th, 2005

Sentencing Policy and management of sex offenders

hands on barsThe Sentencing Policy Study Committee convened last Friday to hear testimony on the topic of sex offender management.

Jane Seigel of the Indiana Judicial Center discussed Indiana’s participation in the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision. The Compact allows states to keep track of registered sex offenders that move across state lines.

Last month, Massachusetts became the final state to ratify the compact - ensuring comprehensive national cooperation. Before full participation in the compact, it was difficult – if not impossible – to know when sex offenders from outside Indiana decided to take up residence in our communities. Now, officials are given notice of every individual offender moving into their jurisdiction and are able to keep them under a supervision program.

Steve Johnson of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council gave the Committee an update on the current Sex Offender Registry statutes in Indiana, and David Donahue, Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction made a presentation on the upcoming launch of a new website for the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry. The new website will provide mapping capabilities, and all data will be fully uploaded to the National Sex Offender Public Registry.

We also heard testimony on the challenges of supervising sex offenders in different types of jurisdictions. Mike Pate from the Greene County Probation Department discussed issues relating to rural communities, and Christine Kerl, of the Marion County Probation Department talked about uniquely urban issues.

Finally, the Committee made two legislative recommendations.

The first recommendation was to authorize courts to charge fees to defray the costs of individuals placed on pretrial supervision programs.

The second recommendation was to establish “re-entry” courts (similar to existing “drug courts”) that would allow judges to supervise the conditions of inmates’ release back into the community. Allen County has operated a similar program for four years, and has reduced recidivism by 50% in the offenders it has supervised.

The Committee will resume meeting after the adjournment of the next session of the Legislature next Spring. Feel free to let me know if you would like to suggest topics for the committee’s consideration.

1 comment November 3rd, 2005

Kernan Portrait contains a little hidden South Bend

unveilingI attended the unveiling ceremony for Governor Joe Kernan’s official portrait last Friday in the Statehouse. The entertaining speakers included Maggie Kernan, former Lieutenant Governor Kathy Davis, and Governor Mitch Daniels.

An interesting detail of the portrait is the small seal of the City of South Bend on the desk in the lower left-hand corner. The seal commemorates Kernan’s years as Mayor of his hometown.

portrait detail

Visitors to the Statehouse can see the portrait for themselves hanging in the public reception area of the Governor’s office.

Add comment November 2nd, 2005


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