CROWN POINT — Lake County officials are taking steps to ensure they've closed all possible loopholes that might otherwise enable ineligible bidders to attempt to acquire tax-delinquent properties at the county's tax sales.
The County Council acknowledged Tuesday that much of the needed work was completed in April when the Indiana General Assembly approved a new state law explicitly prohibiting individuals who owe tax debts from bidding on properties at county tax sales anywhere in the state.
Senate Enrolled Act 28 also bars ineligible bidders from hiding behind a business or corporate entity to acquire tax sale properties; requires tax sale bidders to acknowledge, under penalty of perjury, they are aware of the bidding eligibility standards and agree to abide by them; and provides that ineligible bidders who nevertheless make purchases at a tax sale may have their acquisitions forfeited and lose some or all of the money they paid for them.
Lake County and other Indiana local governments routinely auction properties whose owners are behind on tax payments to recoup otherwise lost revenue and potentially enable winning bidders to take ownership of the properties.
The new tax sale law, enacted by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, follows repeated instances of people who already are behind on their taxes attempting to game the system, especially in Lake County, leading to thousands of properties constantly churning through tax sale after tax sale due to still unpaid taxes.
County Councilman Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John, said he's concerned the law still might permit winning tax sale bidders to assign their tax sale certificate to an ineligible third party prior to a tax deed for the property being issued by the county auditor — potentially opening the door to the kind of behavior the county wants to stamp out.
"That's something we're going to take a look at," Jorgensen said. "My understanding is the auditor does have a responsibility, before the auditor issues that tax deed, to ensure that assignee is qualified to do that. If that's the case, then (an ordinance) would be superfluous in my eyes."
The seven-member council unanimously agreed to form a committee, led by Jorgensen, to investigate whether additional local rules are needed to preserve the integrity of Lake County's tax sales.
The two other committee members appointed by the council are Councilmen Charlie Brown, D-Gary; and David Hamm, D-Hammond.
Matt Fech, attorney for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, also plans to participate in the committee, since most county tax sales are run through the commissioners' office.
"The reason why we're attempting to stop the assignments is because of all of the — what I would deem — fraud that has occurred, here in Lake County, by the straw purchasers," Fech said.
The County Council could consider adopting additional tax sale rules as soon as its Nov. 9 meeting.
Get to know these new Indiana laws enacted in 2021
Women obtaining a pill-induced abortion in Indiana must be told by their doctor the procedure potentially can be "reversed" — despite no reputable medical evidence backing that claim. In addition, women have to be provided an ultrasound photograph of their fetus prior to an abortion, minors must get their parent’s consent to an abortion notarized, and telehealth appointments cannot be used to obtain abortion-inducing drugs.
House Enrolled Act 1577
A county council and board of commissioners may jointly seek to remove a county auditor, treasurer, recorder, surveyor or assessor who fails to be physically present in their office "for a reasonable amount of time each month," refuses to perform the duties of their office, or charges and collects illegal fees.
House Enrolled Act 1030
The time before which absentee ballots must be returned to the county election office is set at 6 p.m., instead of 12 p.m., on Election Day. Absentee voters whose signature on their returned ballot envelope is missing or does not match the signature in their voter file must sign an affidavit correcting or explaining the discrepancy within eight days of Election Day, otherwise their ballot will not be counted.
Senate Enrolled Act 398
Additional alcohol permits are authorized for lakefront restaurants in Gary and Cedar Lake. Journeyman Distillery, in Valparaiso, may have individuals under age 21 participate in non-drinking tours of the distillery if accompanied by an adult. The five-year Indiana residency requirement for alcohol retailers, dealers and brewers is eliminated.
Senate Enrolled Act 310, House Enrolled Acts 1090, 1396
A parent may call 911 to request an emergency services provider pick up a newborn baby the parent intends to permanently surrender, instead of having to find transportation to a police station, fire station, hospital, or baby box. Baby boxes also can be located at an ambulance hub or emergency medical services station that's staffed 24 hours a day.
House Enrolled Act 1230, 1032
The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs is directed to establish an online portal for Hoosiers to report if their internet service is slower than 25 megabits per second (mbps) for downloads and 3 mbps for uploads. Broadband internet companies then can use the portal to bid on the opportunity to extend service to those individuals. Companies may receive state grants if they provide connections of at least 50 mbps downstream and 5 mbps upstream.
Senate Enrolled Act 377
Business personal property tax
Businesses with total personal property that cost less than $80,000 to acquire are exempt from the business personal property tax. The prior exemption threshold was $40,000. The change is expected to save businesses $18 million statewide, shift $10 million of that tax burden onto other Hoosier taxpayers, and reduce revenue for Indiana schools and local governments by $8 million.
Senate Enrolled Act 336
Information about sudden cardiac arrest must be provided to school employees and the parents of student athletes, including how to obtain electrocardiogram testing. Student athletes identified by a coach, trainer, or other medical personnel as experiencing a symptom of sudden cardiac arrest must halt their participation in practice or a game until a parent or guardian authorizes their child’s return. The new law is named for Jake West, a 17-year-old LaPorte High School football player who died Sept. 25, 2013 of sudden cardiac arrest caused by an undetected arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which leaves the heart unable to pump blood.
House Enrolled Act 1040
COVID-19 legal immunity
Indiana businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, manufacturers, schools, the government, and nonprofit entities have civil tort immunity against legal claims alleging an entity was responsible for a person being exposed to or contracting COVID-19, as well as immunity for products, services or treatments provided in response to COVID-19, including tests and medication. The liability shield does not apply in cases where an act or omission constitutes gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct, including fraud, as proven by clear and convincing evidence.
Senate Enrolled Act 1
Public school identification cards issued to middle- and high-schoolers after July 1, 2022 must contain information about the national 988 suicide prevention hotline and similar crisis hotline phone numbers.
House Enrolled Act 1468
Members of local governing boards may participate electronically in no more than half the board’s annual meetings as long as they can engage in two-way audio and visual communication with the other members and at least 50% of the members are physically present for each meeting. When even just one board member is participating remotely all votes must be taken by roll call.
House Enrolled Act 1437
The General Assembly may, without the governor's consent, convene itself for up to 40 days whenever its 16-member Legislative Council decides action is needed to respond to a statewide emergency. A 10-member Legislative State of Emergency Advisory Group is established to tell the governor what they think of his response to an emergency, regardless of whether the General Assembly is in session, and all discretionary economic stimulus funds provided to the state by the federal government must be appropriated by the House and Senate.
House Enrolled Act 1123
State and local governments are added to the list of employers already barred by a 2020 Indiana statute from forcibly implanting a microchip in their employees’ bodies.
House Enrolled Act 1156
Eyelash extension specialists are not required to obtain an esthetician or cosmetology license to work in the field, so long as they successfully complete a training course offered by a manufacturer of eyelash extensions. Facilities where eyelash extensions are applied must meet sanitary and cleanliness standards set by the Indiana Department of Health.
Senate Enrolled Act 361
Female genital mutilation
The cultural practice of female genital mutilation is prohibited in Indiana. Any person who performs or permits the removal of the external female genitalia of child younger than 18 for a non-medical reason can be charged with a Level 3 felony, punishable by up to 16 years in prison and a fine of $10,000, as well as be subject to civil legal liability.
Senate Enrolled Act 240
First responder residency
Police officers and firefighters no longer are required to live within 50 miles of the community they serve. They may reside anywhere they choose, even outside Indiana, so long as they have adequate transportation to their job and reliable telephone service.
House Enrolled Act 1033
The Four Winds Casino in South Bend is permitted to offer patrons standard slot machines, table games and sports wagering, instead of just bingo-related gaming, following the January signing of a Tribal-State Gaming Compact by Gov. Eric Holcomb and Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Chairman Matthew Wesaw, and ratification by the Indiana General Assembly.
House Enrolled Act 1055
The local governing body overseeing a county or city health officer is required to approve any health order whose provisions go beyond state requirements during an emergency, such as continuing a face mask mandate or business capacity restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic after the governor’s directives on those issues have expired.
Senate Enrolled Act 5
High tech crimes
The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council (IPAC) is authorized to establish high tech crime units in 10 to-be-determined counties that must include every region of the state. The units are tasked with aiding prosecutors in investigating, collecting evidence and prosecuting financial, sexual and other crimes committed with, or assisted by, network or communications technology.
House Enrolled Act 1082
The state or a local government in Indiana cannot issue any kind of COVID-19 immunization "passport," or require proof of COVID-19 vaccination status for any purpose. The prohibition does not apply to a business or any other private-sector entity seeking to issue vaccine passports or planning to require proof of immunization status to enter a facility or attend an event.
House Enrolled Act 1405
Individuals younger than 18 who are charged as adults must still be housed in a secure juvenile facility, unless a court determines, and regularly affirms, it is in the best interest of justice that the juvenile be jailed alongside adults. Indiana courts also must automatically expunge most juvenile offenses from an individual’s record when the person turns 19.
Senate Enrolled Act 368
Lake County judicial selection
The nine-member Lake County Judicial Nominating Commission shrinks to seven members, with three members appointed by the governor, three by the county commissioners, and the Indiana chief justice's designate serving as chairman and a nonvoting seventh member, except in case of ties. Previously, half the commission members were selected by Lake County lawyers and judges, instead of by the governor — who also fills a judicial vacancy by selecting a candidate from the list recommended by the nominating commission.
House Enrolled Act 1453
The statutory adjournment deadline for the General Assembly is changed to Nov. 15 from April 29, for this year only, to give state lawmakers more time to complete the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative district boundaries following the U.S. Census. The Census Bureau has said the necessary population data won't be available until August or September due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Enrolled Act 1372
The Indiana State Police are directed to prioritize monument protection generally, and state troopers must be dispatched, upon request, to protect any monument at risk of vandalism anywhere in the state, and to assist in any local investigation of monument damage or destruction. State discretionary funds also may be withheld from localities that don’t protect all public and private monuments, regardless of where the monument is located.
Senate Enrolled Act 187
NWI building projects
The 2022-23 state budget appropriates $400 million to reconstruct the Westville Correctional Facility in LaPorte County, approximately $15 million for a new state police post in Lowell, and $1.2 million for the second phase of a study looking at how to turn Gary’s Buffington Harbor into an intermodal shipping hub, given its links to nearby water, air, rail and highway connections.
House Enrolled Act 1001
Out-of-state children’s hospitals
To ensure continued access to out-of-state children’s hospitals, the rates Indiana Medicaid pays children's hospitals in Illinois and elsewhere for treating sick Hoosier children must closely match the significantly higher rates Medicaid currently pays Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
House Enrolled Act 1305
Police officers must be provided de-escalation instruction in conjunction with training on the proper use of force at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. Chokeholds are permitted only to prevent the commission of a felony or while arresting a person who the officer has probable cause to believe poses a threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. Officers who intentionally turn off a body camera to conceal a criminal act by themselves or other officers can be charged with a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
House Enrolled Act 1006
Pregnant workers are entitled to ask their employers, in writing, for accommodations, and their employer is obligated to respond "within a reasonable time." Employers are not required to provide any actual pregnancy accommodations. They cannot, however, retaliate against a pregnant worker for requesting an accommodation.
House Enrolled Act 1309
Local units of government required to publish the same public notice multiple times may post any subsequent notices to their official website, so long as the first publication is in a local newspaper.
Senate Enrolled Act 332
No state or local official can restrict the right to worship, including in-person worship, during a disaster or public health emergency. Religious activities besides worship, such as Sunday School, Bible study, or charitable events, also are classified as “essential,” and any restrictions may be no more stringent than the emergency rules applying to similar essential activities in non-religious settings.
Senate Enrolled Act 263
The attorney general is empowered to monitor all school districts to ensure compliance with an existing state law requiring unused public school buildings be made available to charter schools for $1. School districts also are required to maintain unused school buildings until they’re sold or otherwise disposed of.
Senate Enrolled Act 358
Indiana elementary and high schools will receive $1.03 billion, or 9.1%, in additional student tuition support during the 2022-23 budget period, pushing school funding over $8 billion a year for the first time in state history. All Indiana schools are directed to set a $40,000 a year minimum pay rate for teachers, at least 45% of tuition support dollars should be spent on teacher salaries, and any salary savings from experienced teachers retiring must continue to go toward teacher pay.
House Enrolled Act 1001
Every public and charter school in the state by Jan. 1, 2022 must install hardware or software on all school-owned computers and mobile devices that block internet-based material deemed "harmful to minors," such as sexually explicit photos or videos. All schools must also adopt and post online an internet use policy that prohibits receiving, viewing or downloading "harmful to minors" content and provides appropriate disciplinary measures for violations.
Senate Enrolled Act 414
Small claims court
The maximum value of a civil action eligible for judgment in an Indiana small claims court is $10,000, up from $8,000.
House Enrolled Act 1110
A P-47 Thunderbolt, known as Hoosier Spirit II, completed two days before the United States and its allies achieved victory in Europe, and currently on display at the Evansville Wartime Museum is designated Indiana’s state aircraft, instead of all the 6,670 World War II-era Republic Aviation P-47 Thunderbolts produced in Evansville between 1942 and 1945.
House Enrolled Act 1197
A monument recognizing the decades of efforts to secure the right to vote for women must be placed on the Indiana Statehouse grounds by Jan. 1, 2024.
Senate Enrolled Act 6
Individuals who owe tax debts are prohibited from bidding on properties at county tax sales. Ineligible bidders also are barred from hiding behind a business or corporate entity to acquire tax sale properties at risk of forfeiting their acquisitions and the money paid for them. Every tax sale bidder is required to acknowledge, under penalty of perjury, they are aware of the new bidding eligibility standards and agree to abide by them.
Senate Enrolled Act 28
Teachers must annually re-enroll in their union and complete a multi-step process to have union dues deducted from their paychecks. Indiana schools also must provide teachers notice during the year — in bold, 14-point type — that teachers can resign their union membership at any time.
Senate Enrolled Act 251
Most state statutory restrictions on virtual doctor visits and other telehealth services that were suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s declaration of a public health emergency are permanently lifted. Health care providers are not required to offer telehealth services and telehealth cannot be used in connection with an abortion in Indiana.
Senate Enrolled Act 3
Court orders and similar legal actions issued by the tribal court of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi must be given full faith and credit in Indiana courts, provided the South Bend-based tribe enforces on its sovereign territory any judgments, orders, warrants or other judicial acts issued by Indiana courts.
House Enrolled Act 1441
Municipalities may designate urban agricultural zones that are exempt from property taxes as an incentive to attract new or low-resourced farmers to raise crops inside city limits. Municipalities are not required authorize urban agricultural zones, and a public hearing must be held before a zone is established. The tax incentives do not apply to residential gardens.
House Enrolled Act 1283
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles is directed to establish an electronic system to process vehicle titles and liens in lieu of paper processing. The electronic system must be operable on a voluntary basis by July 1, 2022, and used for all Indiana vehicle title and lien transactions after July 1, 2023.
Senate Enrolled Act 400
Recently discharged military veterans living in Illinois, or any state bordering Indiana, are entitled to pay in-state tuition rates to attend Indiana public universities, so long as they enroll at an Indiana university within three years of ending their military service.
Senate Enrolled Act 93
Hospitals and nursing homes must allow visitation by family or other individuals, even during a public health emergency, when a patient or resident is nearing the end of life, set to undergo a major medical procedure, or otherwise in need of significant assistance. Facilities can require visitors undergo intensive health screening and mandate compliance with strict disease prevention measures.
Senate Enrolled Act 202
Private property owners can drain or fill nearly all isolated wetlands in Indiana without having to obtain a state permit or being required to replace the wetlands elsewhere. The only isolated wetlands still fully protected by state regulations are the 300,000 acres of mostly Class III wetlands that remain largely undisturbed by human activities. Indiana wetlands that connect to waterways remain subject to federal regulation.
Senate Enrolled Act 389