STATEWIDE — Rural Hoosiers are paying close attention to this year’s legislative session at the State Capitol in Indianapolis for many reasons.
Andy Tauer, the executive director of public policy with the Indiana Farm Bureau, tells Indy Politics there are several topics of discussion that they are keeping an eye on in hopes that some parts of their legislative agenda get addressed by state lawmakers.
He said the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package in Congress has had a lot to do with what they want to see done this year, particularly when it comes to the continued increases in people moving to more urban areas from rural parts of the state.
“How do we find those solutions to keep rural main street viable,” asked Tauer. “So this year our focus is really going to be shifted. In terms of broadband, how do we make sure those dollars that have been allocated make it to the right communities?”
The infrastructure bill has set aside billions of dollars for states to invest in rural broadband Internet access. Other parts of the package address climate conversations such as investing more in wind and solar energy. These two energy sources need rural land in order to generate enough energy.
“As wind farms continue to expand we’ve had more conversations about ‘how do we balance local control with local units of government as well as local property rights’,” Tauer said. “As we look at this overall energy strategy, I think we need to find that balance.”
Tauer said what he’d like to see is more of a conversation involving alternative liquid fuels, such as Ethanol. He says it is certainly more environmentally friendly than regular gasoline and is a viable energy source as the discussion has shifted more towards electric vehicles.
Finally, Tauer said that another priority for the legislative session will be to address a gap between urban lawmakers and rural Hoosiers. The gap appears to have widened with the recent redistricting showing that more Hoosiers are moving to urban areas of the state.
“I think there is a bridge there between those more urban legislators and agriculture,” said Tauer. “At the end of the day agriculture is all about food. So, that greater food conversation about food availability is an opportunity for us to find a bridge to some of those more urban legislators.”
The legislative session has technically started already, but lawmakers won’t start hashing out new legislation until after Jan. 1.