Friday marked the conclusion of my second Legislative Session as your voice in the Indiana House of Representatives. The 117th General Assembly encountered a variety of difficulties on many diverse issues, but I’m pleased to have been a part of making real progress on legislation to strengthen Indiana.
Fulfilling a long-term priority for Republicans, the legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1376 which increases funding for full-day kindergarten by an additional $80-$100 million dollars. Education is the key to success, and early childhood is a critical time to learn the basic skills needed to thrive in school. Thousands more children will now have access to full-day kindergarten programs, ensuring they have the best possible opportunity to reach their goals.
HB 1376 takes other important steps for Indiana as well. The compensation fund for the victims of the State Fair stage collapse will be bolstered to help individuals move forward from the tragedy. In addition, excess state reserves will be distributed in an automatic taxpayer refund and in paying the state’s obligations to the Retired Teacher Pension Stabilization Fund.
We also took a big step towards making Indiana a better state to live in with the phase-out of the inheritance tax. Senate Bill 293 provides for a gradual phase-out of the ‘death tax’. Many states have removed this unfair double-tax on assets a person already owns, inducing Hoosiers to leave Indiana to avoid it. The gradual elimination of the inheritance tax will expand what our state has to offer and encourage people to live out their golden years in Indiana.
The General Assembly passed HB 1005 which deals with nepotism and conflict of interest in county and local government. Going forward, officials will be prohibited from hiring a relative under their direct line of supervision. Furthermore, if a government employee wins a seat on the executive or legislative body that controls the local budget, the employee must resign from their position before taking elected office. These measures will result in more transparent, accountable government to better serve local constituents.
Our servicemen and women make great sacrifices to protect our freedoms and way of life, and they deserve our help in their times of need. HB 1059 allows members of the armed forces and their families to draw assistance from the Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF) for three years, up from one year. This legislation returns a very small portion of the debt we all owe to these brave men and women.
Finally, the Super Bowl provided a great boost to the economy and the international profile of Indiana, but large sporting events also attract individuals who engage in trafficking of women and children. In anticipation of this activity, we passed Senate Enrolled Act 4 to toughen the laws on sex trafficking, especially when a minor is involved. Sex and human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal activities in the world, lending urgency to Indiana’s need to modernize our criminal code.
Looking back on the 2012 Legislative Session, I’m encouraged by the progress we made in a number of areas. These changes will make a real difference in the lives of Hoosiers whether it is in the form of additional dollars for full-day kindergarten or protection for farmers and small business owner with the phase-out of the inheritance tax, I think Indiana continues to be a great place to work and live.