Cook: Wrapping up the 2017 session

Posted by: Devan Strebing & Shelby Seay  | Friday, April 21, 2017

The 2017 legislative session has come to an end. Policymakers supported my legislation this session, reforming school funding and protecting pets left inside of hot vehicles.

Indiana invests over half of its funds in K-12 education. However, on average only 57 percent of that school funding reaches the classroom. Under the current system, school corporations must adhere to strict budgetary guidelines, which limit the ability to transfer funds for needed expenditures. These barriers result in Indiana’s classrooms not having access to the dollars they need to provide adequate resources to Hoosier students.

My proposal creates two simple funding categories: an education fund and an operations fund. Student instructional and learning expenditures will be paid only through the education fund, while expenditures related to maintenance, capital projects, transportation, bus replacement, utilities and other operations will be paid out of the operations fund. Schools would be able to transfer money between the two funds at their discretion. As a former principal and superintendent, I understand how valuable this budgetary flexibility will be for our school corporations. This funding reform will empower administrators to direct a greater share of resources to Hoosier students and educators.

This policy also reforms school property tax levies. Currently, school corporations have at least four property tax levies and their associated funds at their disposal. This legislation consolidates the capital, transportation and school bus replacement levies into a new operations levy. Usage of the revenue generated by the new levy would no longer be constrained by the narrow budgetary restrictions applied to the current levy system.

We need to break down these barriers that silo off school funds and provide better flexibility to schools.

In addition to education, I have a passion for animals. Currently, Indiana is 1 of only 27 states that does not have any laws protecting individuals who rescue animals left in hot vehicles. Even if the outside temperature is as low as 72 degrees, the temperature inside a car can reach up to 116 degrees within an hour. If pets are exposed to this type of heat for a period of time, not only will they suffer, but these animals could also endure permanent organ damage and death.

Many people who see an animal stuck in a hot car will alert the police, who have the authority to act. But in those instances when public safety officers cannot immediately respond, citizens may step in, and these individuals deserve legal protections.

This new law will provide immunity from civil liability to citizens for property damage that may result from forcible entry into a vehicle. Before rescuing a pet from an unattended car, the person will be required to notify law enforcement and could only use a reasonable amount of force to remove the animal. Those individuals will also be responsible for waiting with the animal until an officer arrives on the scene. However, if an individual does not notify the police prior to entering a car to rescue a pet, that person could be held liable for any damages to the vehicle. This bill applies only to domestic, household pets and would not include livestock.

According to the director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, there were 269 calls received for dogs being left in vehicles from May 1 through Sept. 30, 2016. In addition, nearly half of the animal-neglect calls were in response to animals left inside a car. The average interior temperatures of these vehicles was between 90 and 130 degrees, and an officer’s average response time ranged from 5 to 20 minutes.

It is important that Hoosiers are not punished for doing the right thing when stepping in to rescue these animals. Indiana will become the 26th state to address this issue in a legal manner.

These two new laws made it through the legislative process with a great deal of discussion from the Indiana House and the Senate. The two proposals are currently waiting for the governor’s consideration as new laws.

Please contact me with any questions at H32@iga.in.gov or call 317-232-9793.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

A high-resolution photo of Cook can be downloaded by clicking here.