Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, crafted the changes last summer as a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Sentencing Policy Study Committee. It’s the same group that pushed the General Assembly to increase prison time for violent and sex offenders this year while lowering sentences for low-level drug and non-violent offenders.
Steele wanted to decriminalize even more offenses policed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources than what ended up in the final bill.
He argued that prosecutors, busy with other crimes, were refusing to take cases from DNR officers or allowing offenders to plead to lesser offenses. His solution: Use more civil infractions that don’t require a prosecutor to prove an offender’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, a first-term legislator who retired from the DNR as head of law enforcement in 2010, was wary at first. He saw strict enforcement of current laws as a deterrent — and a tool needed by the DNR’s 150-member staff who police thousands of acres of state-owned parks and lakes.
“But, candidly, some of the laws did need to be changed,” Crider said. “So the challenge was to come up with a system that’s fair. What we came up with isn’t perfect yet, but it’s workable.”
The Indiana Wildlife Federation wanted to see the bill stalled and sent to a summer study committee. It also cites concerns about diminishing the deterrent effect that Crider prizes.
“We’re concerned about the unintended consequences of the law,” said Barbara Simpson, the federation’s executive director.
Some DNR officers privately opposed the changes, as well. But DNR officials have publicly supported them, saying important penalties have been left intact and conservation officers have the discretion needed to enforce the rules with common sense.