INDIANAPOLIS | A leading Indiana environmental group is keeping a wary eye on legislation that could make it harder for Hoosiers to protect their properties from environmental degradation.
Leaders of the Hoosier Environmental Council told reporters Friday that proposed limits on state regulations and the possibility of so-called "loser pays" civil lawsuits could mean property owners will have a much higher hurdle to clear if they want to stop, for example, a large animal feeding operation from moving in next door.
"People of modest means who are already hesitant to bring such a lawsuit and may not have the ability to do it would now have a significant deterrent from bringing their claims, no matter how legitimate, with the threat of having to pay the other side's attorney fees," said Kim Ferraro, of Valparaiso, HEC's director of water and agriculture policy.
Ferraro said HEC is also concerned about a proposed "right to ranch and farm" constitutional amendment and Senate Bill 571, both of which would prohibit local governments from halting potentially dangerous farming practices deemed acceptable by the State Board of Animal Health.
"It's completely disarming local communities and people from protecting themselves," Ferraro said.
Tim Maloney, HEC senior policy director, said the group is pleased Republican Gov. Mike Pence's proposed budget maintains spending for the state's environment agency. But Maloney said a boost in funding could produce significant improvements in water quality and speed environmental cleanup.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, will help determine the fate of some of this legislation as chairman of the Senate's Environmental Affairs Committee.