Gaming commission left off budget committee agenda dealing with fines and fees
Sen. Garten questions treatment of casinos
Sen. Chris Garten questions agencies about their fees and fines at a Nov. 14 State Budget Committee meeting. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Agencies critical to the ongoing operations of state government justified their fees before the State Budget Committee Tuesday but one voice was notably absent: the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC).
“I don’t know if anybody else noticed it but I did,” Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said as the meeting concluded. “I’m very concerned about it.”
One lawmaker, Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, appears to be spearheading questions regarding the gaming commission’s actions as part of his overall approach to limit agency power to impose fees, fines and penalties.
Rep. Jeff Thompson, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, told Porter there were a few lingering questions about the IGC and he expected they would be included on the December agenda.
Should the agency not be included in that, it won’t be able to impose fines, fees or penalties because it’s on a shortlist of agencies that need to have those approved by Dec. 31.
But Sen. Ryan Mishler, who helms the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it was only part of the process.
“There were just some questions that haven’t been answered that we’ve asked and so we feel we want those questions answered first before we move forward,” Mishler, R-Mishawaka, said. “.. I think they’ve very simple questions that the legislature should know. When we give an agency … the ability to create fines and fees, I think that means that they should explain to us what the process is.”
“I think people are going to make more out of it than what it is,” he continued.
Background on rule-making, fines and fees
In the 2023 session, lawmakers sharply limited the rule-making authority of the state’s agencies with the power to impose fines. Not only did such departments need to publicly post fee schedules, but they needed such fines to be approved by the State Budget Committee.
A few agencies were singled out for “expedited” review, due before Dec. 31 of this year but only the gaming commission was excluded from the November committee:
- The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM)
- The Office of Environmental Adjudication
- The Natural Resources Commission
- The Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
- The Indiana Gaming Commission, and
- The Indiana Horse Racing Commission
The rest of the agencies with the power to impose fees, roughly 30 others, have until July 1 to meet before the committee. Some of those were also on the November agenda.
The ten agencies presented nearly 50 fees, ranging from penalties for violating animal quarantines to teacher licensure exam fees, from oversize truck fees to civil penalties for air violations.
Throughout the meeting, Garten repeatedly asked agencies to justify increases and explain their process for determining amounts.
In the 2023 session, Garten sponsored the House legislation requiring the budget committee’s approval, leading a meeting earlier this month on an update of that bill’s actions.
“Our intent was to put checks and balances in place to make sure Indiana, regardless of what party is in power, never legislates like Washington (D.C.) through the level of authoritative rule-making and executive authority,” Garten said on Nov. 1.
Back to the Indiana Gaming Commission
In that vein, Garten’s office emailed major gaming players and stakeholders under the Indiana Gaming Commission asking them to share their experiences directly — and anonymously — with him.
“Senator Garten has been in regular communication with the (IGC) regarding its proposed new rules which seeks to establish a regulatory fine schedule. The Senator has repeatedly relayed his concerns, based on direct input from operators, to the IGC. In response, the IGC has said they are not hearing the same concerns from operators,” said an email from his office, obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.
The email said discussions between Garten and the IGC were “at an impasse” and hearing from stakeholders directly would be the way “to move toward a productive outcome.”
The anonymity would allow operators to speak candidly, the email said.
Garten said he was unavailable for an interview after Tuesday’s meeting.
The timing comes at an inauspicious moment for the gaming industry, as observed during the meeting by Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney, of Indianapolis.
“This is not a good time for us to have unanswered questions about the gaming commission,” DeLaney said.
Last week, former GOP Rep. Sean Eberhart agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge related to his lawmaker conduct, specifically for pushing through a lucrative gaming bill in exchange for a high-paying job.
Mishler emphasized that nothing about the exclusion of the Indiana Gaming Commission on Tuesday should be read as doubting the agency’s abilities.
“That’s not what this is; this is strictly to their process of fines and fees. We’re not restricting how they operate and we’re not questioning that,” Mishler said. “We’re only addressing the fines and fees and our questions are — strictly — to the gaming commission on that process and not anything else on how they operate.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.