[r44] THOMAS TALK (11/26/2007)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Start Date: 11/26/2007 All Day
End Date: 11/26/2007

Last Tuesday, Nov. 20, was Organization Day for the 115th General Assembly.  It is an annual event that is considered the first day of session but is usually ceremonial. However, this year was quite different. 

Instead of spending the day in ceremonial traditions and getting reacquainted with colleagues, we jumped right in to the No. 1 issue on homeowners' minds - property taxes.  Senators and representatives voted to suspend a rule of the state's Constitution that requires all bills to be heard three times before they are passed.  We had to do this in order to ratify many of the actions Gov. Mitch Daniels took during the summer to help homeowners who had large increases on their property tax bills. 

Next, we introduced Gov. Daniels' property tax proposal, which includes caps on government spending and actions to significantly reduce property taxes, in House Bill 1001.  By no means does this make the governor's plan final.  There will be many hard debates regarding the controversial aspects of the plan and the potential effects on Indiana businesses.  The point was to get this bill introduced so that when session formally begins on Jan. 8, we'll be ready to tackle those difficult issues. 

I was encouraged by the bipartisanship shown by House members on both sides of the aisle, and I am confident we will be able to put together a property tax reform package that is sensible, substantial and permanent.  We will all need to be open-minded and willing to compromise, because the truth is we don't have much time.

The Indiana legislature is part-time and rotates between a biennial four-month "long" session and a three month "short" session.  The 2008 session is short, giving us very little time to push through the kind of property tax reform Hoosier homeowners are demanding.  Getting a head start on the difficult work Tuesday gives us a tremendous advantage, and I am confident that if we are able to maintain this momentum, property taxpayers will not be let down.

House Bill 1001 and other bills that come before the House and Senate will have to go through a lengthy process before they can become law.  In fact, very few of the hundreds of bills authored each session are able to survive the process.  Here is a quick summary of that process:   

Each legislator will spend the next six weeks authoring and filing legislation for the 2008 session.  At the beginning of the session, proposed legislation will be introduced in the General Assembly and then assigned to a committee that specializes in that particular topic, such as transportation, education and natural resources.  This process is referred to as a bill's first reading.  Representatives present their proposed bill to the appropriate committee for hearings, testimony, debate and a vote.  Upon passage, the bill will move to the House floor, where it will receive a second reading.  At this time, legislators can submit any amendments to the bill.  Next, the legislation enters third reading, which is the final debate and vote.  The bill is then sent to the Senate, where the process is repeated. 

Upon approval from the Senate, the bill will be sent back over to the House for concurrence if there are no changes.  If there are amendments, the bill will go to a conference committee, which is made up of members of both legislative bodies.  They examine any alterations and come to an agreement before voting on the legislation again.  Once the bill is agreed upon, it will move back to its original body for a final vote before it is passed to the governor's desk for his signature so that it can become a law. 

As you can see, we still have a long way to go before we are able to pass any property tax reform package.  I encourage you to watch the legislative process over the House Internet Program, which allows you to view both the House floor or committee proceedings at www.in.gov/legislative . Click on "Watch the General Assembly session" on the right side of the screen. 

I plan to keep in touch through these columns to keep you informed on what is happening in the Statehouse.  Hopefully, I will be able to provide you with an insider's perspective.  I encourage you to contact me with your questions and concerns, especially during this important time in our state's history when we have a fantastic opportunity to impact Indiana's outdated taxation systems.