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Bill scaling back wetlands protection is headed to Holcomb

Follow our legislative coverage at The Indiana Citizen, in partnership with TheStatehouseFile.com

A bill scaling back state regulations protecting Indiana wetlands is heading to the governor’s desk after the state Senate voted Wednesday to accept amendments made in the House.

Senate Bill 389 would repeal some of the current state law that requires a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for what can be done on wetlands.

Groups including the Hoosier Environmental Council oppose the bill. Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy at HEC, said wetlands play a vital role in storm drainage, flood storage, water purification and creating a habitat for many species.

“Senate Bill 389 puts most of Indiana’s remaining wetlands in jeopardy,” Frank said. “And wetlands are the most cost-effective stormwater management we have. Losing them means increased flooding and erosion and loss of groundwater recharge and wildlife habitat.”

Indiana has lost about 85% of its original wetlands, and of those remaining, the state controls 80-90%, according to HEC.

Objections came from Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“This has been one of the most hurtful bills of the entire session,” Tallian said, adding that SB 389 would remove protection from class 1 wetlands, which include 58% of Indiana’s wetlands. Tallian also noted that the House Environmental Affairs Committee created a compromise by amending the bill to restore some protections, but the amendment was cut when the bill returned to the House floor.

The bill’s author, Sen. Chris Garten (above), R-Scottsburg, addressed the opposition by saying the bill as amended would only affect class 1 wetlands that hold no standing water.

“All wetlands are not the same,” Garten said. The bill will now go to the governor to be vetoed or signed into law.

Taylor Dixon is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.