Broadband access at top of Messmer’s priorities

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Mark Messmer

State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, will have extra duties with the Republican leadership during the Indiana General Assembly.

Along with being chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee and the Joint Rules Committee, he has a new role as majority floor leader with the Indiana Senate Republicans, which will take up more of his time.

As a result, he is scaling back on the number of bills he will file this legislative session.

“Normally, I would not worry about how many I filed,” he said. “But this time, I’m trying to be more conscious about how many I try to tackle, because there will be other time constraints that will occupy a lot of my time.”

Two bills he will submit deal with providing broadband access, especially to unserved or underserved areas. One will more clearly define rules of what utilities are protected from the Indiana Department of Transportation’s right-of-way access fees.

INDOT charges telecommunication companies to install lines in state right of ways. Those costs can be very high for companies running service to rural areas, which tend to be unserved or underserved, Messmer explained.

“That’s a big hindrance if a telecommunications company is going to have to deal with millions of extra dollars in extra installation costs in Indiana compared to other states,” he said. “Telecommunication companies are going to invest their money where they can get the most customers served for the least amount of investment.”

He hopes that changing the language in state regulations will remedy the problem. “Everywhere that says ‘telephone company,’ it will say ‘telecommunications,’” he said.

A second bill will specify how broadband grants are to be dispensed.

Last year the Indiana General Assembly passed HEA 1065, which set up the process for the state to dispense rural broadband grants. This past fall, INDOT and the governor announced plans to use $100 million of toll road money for grants “But they didn’t want to comply with the structure we set up in HEA 1065. They felt it was too restrictive on them.”

Messmer’s bill clarifies that any rural broadband grants must comply with rules the Indiana General Assembly has already put in place, no matter which agency dispenses the grants.

“We want the grants to be spent on areas that don’t have service,” he said. “We were very deliberate on that.”

Messmer has several allies in this efforts to expand broadband to unserved areas. “Mark and I have been working alongside each other as members of the utilities committee trying to get broadband access to our districts,” said State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem. “We are among some of the most unserved areas of the state in terms of broadband deployment.”

A Jasper resident brought to Messmer’s attention a matter that should be dealt with in state statute.

The person’s child was in the early stages of being groomed by a sexual predator. But “there is nothing that law enforcement or the prosecutors can do to intervene in that early stage,” Messmer said, “not until they’ve actually committed a sexual assault of some kind.”

So Messmer is filing a bill that will give parents a legal way to intercede. “It will allow a parent in that scenario to go to the court and get a protective order against the predator before they commit the felony,” he said. “This issue is probably not done being dealt with. But this will give prosecutors and parents some recourse to intervene.”

Other bills Messmer will file will specify including chiropractic therapy in pain management regulations for insurance purposes, put in place rules for conducting sports betting at casinos, and update physical therapists’ scope of practice, similar to legislation he got passed for the chiropractic field last year.




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