The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 26, 2020 1:00 am

Lawmakers put pet ideas in bills

Ban of certain animals, J-turn among issues

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – One local lawmaker is targeting those who own dangerous, exotic animals as pets while another wants to make it easier to support charity raffles. And, of course, there are also some tax-related bills.

Legislators representing northeast Indiana have filed dozens of bills that would impact Hoosiers. Some proposals are moving quickly while others could perish in the shortened session.

Here are a few to keep an eye on:

Exotic animals

Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, wrote House Bill 1200 to limit the ownership of exotic, dangerous animals by individuals. He said other states around Indiana have already curtailed the growing phenomenon. Think lions, tigers and bears.

“Indiana regulations aren't fully protecting the public and providing humane treatment of the animals,” he said.

The bill had a somewhat contentious hearing last week but no vote was taken as Abbott tries to work out some compromise language. The measure has exemptions for zoos and accredited animal sanctuaries.

Trish Brown, executive director of the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, told lawmakers that private ownership of exotic animals is a problem. She talked of a fraternity that had an alligator that outgrew the bathtub and of a bobcat found wandering a playground in South Bend.

She alleged there are exotic animal compounds in Kosciusko County and Allen County that are private and no one knows exactly what animals are there. And she alluded to an Ohio case in which an owner let all his animals loose and they had to be killed.

Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control sent a letter in support, referencing a 2004 incident in which a cougar got loose while being transported to the veterinarian. The cougar had to be shot by police and the owner had several more exotic cats in his basement. Local ordinances have since been passed to ban such activity. 

But others testified that existing state and federal laws are working fine and there is no rash of attacks or injuries.

Margaret Hosseini-Browder, of the National Animal Welfare Association, said there have been only a few dozen incidents in 30 years.

“I bet more people are injured on the icy steps of the Statehouse,” she said. “Private owners are not a contributing factor. You guys are rushing.”

Charity gambling

Sen. Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne, has a simple bill that would help nonprofit groups holding annual charity raffles or draws. Senate Bill 437 would allow Hoosiers to use debit or credit cards to participate.

Busch said the annual SCAN duck race could bring in tens of thousands more simply by letting the group sell the ducks online via credit card. Now there is a complicated process involving filling out a check and a special form if you want to do something other than pay cash, he said.

“If I can bet on the Colts on my phone why can't I do the same for charity?” Busch asked.

He said Turnstone Center For Children and Adults with Disabilities also has a Jeep raffle that could benefit.

Busch said he would have to verify the scope of the proposal, based on the language used. He isn't sure if it would allow the use of credit/debit at regular charity bingo games or other events.

The bill has a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Public Policy Committee.

Local income tax

Rep. Dave Heine, R-New Haven, is trying to give other units of government in Allen County more say when the local option income tax is raised.

Current law establishes income tax councils in each county with fiscal bodies in each municipality given weighted votes based on population. But in some counties such as Allen, the majority of the residents live in one city and ultimately that city council controls countywide tax policy. This is sometimes referred to as the “phantom” board.

Heine said his legislation – House Bill 1277 – is set to be incorporated into House Bill 1065.

He said the measure will require an actual meeting of the council.

The number of votes each entity has remains the same but by meeting together, if there are absences then other communities can have more of a say.

“Right now they aren't even at the table,” Heine said.

Voters can also see how officials in all the affected areas feel about the income tax change – not just one city council.

The change would impact six counties, including Monroe, Vanderburgh and Allen.

Road funding

Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Warsaw, is ending his legislative career by sending a message to the Indiana Department of Transportation.

He filed House Bill 1307, which would change the distribution formula for the Motor Vehicle Highway Account.

It would increase the percentage for cities and towns from about 12% to more than 13%. The county percentage would grow from 25% to 28%.

The change ultimately would reduce the amount going to the state highway fund by about $57 million.

Wolkins said he filed the bill “to send a message” and acknowledged it has no chance.

He is angry over plans by INDOT to put a J-turn intersection on U.S. 24 in Lagro.

The J-turn is an alternative to traditional road intersections on a four-lane highway.

Instead of motorists crossing fast-moving lanes of traffic to get to the opposing lanes, drivers at a J-turn intersection turn right in the same direction of traffic, merge into the left lane, and then make a U-turn in the direction they intend to travel.

Wolkins said INDOT has determined it to be a dangerous intersection even though it has had only nine crashes in five years.

Wabash County residents have universally railed against it at various public meetings.

“I want to stop the J-turn,” Wolkins said. “(INDOT) obviously has too much money.”

The project is scheduled for this year.

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