[r53] Cherry Chat: Discussion and debate consume House (2/7/2011)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Start Date: 2/7/2011 All Day
End Date: 2/7/2011
Talking about education reform, texting while driving, smoking ban and crime rates-what a week.

When a legislature files more than 600 bills, you never know what is going to come across the table. You see so many ideas come with the start of session, but only a quarter of those ideas actually become laws.

It has been estimated that there are at least 13 ways to kill a bill-between committee and floor hearings in the House and Senate, then when they switch houses, then conference committees and then the governor's desk.

If legislation dies, it's not because it was a bad idea or unnecessary; many things can come into play. At times, an idea from one bill gets put into another piece of legislation.

But, fortunately, this week we were able to tackle head-on some of the most controversial topics.

Education reform was first to take stage this week, with hours of testimony and many questions surrounding charter school legislation.

Charter schools were created to give parents an additional option in regards to where their students could receive their education. For example, if your student's learning methods weren't being fulfilled at a public school, parents would have another public school option, a charter school option.

As a parent and grandparent, I can understand the need to ensure your students are receiving the best education out there.

Majority of the charter schools are currently in Indianapolis, but House Bill 1002 would help other areas obtain charter schools. Fortunately in Hancock, Rush and Shelby Counties, our schools are performing really well and we don't have the need for charter schools like many of the areas around the state do.

House Bill 1002 passed out of committee and should be scheduled for a hearing in the House this week.

Next in line was the statewide texting-while-driving-ban, which I supported. I am in full support of smaller government, but if this ban is going to prevent one more person from getting wrapped around a telephone pole on SR 9 because they were texting and driving, I will support it again and again.

We had previously passed legislation that banned drivers under the age of 18 from texting and driving, and we decided to readdress the issue this year and include all age groups.

Another ban we have discussed this week was the statewide smoking ban, which like charter schools doesn't directly affect our community. Majority of counties and communities in our district, Hancock County for example, have already adopted a smoking ban. 

The bill was discussed on the House floor but hasn't received a final vote yet-which will probably come next week.

Next on the list was Indiana's crime rate-which was, what I thought, an unexpected discussion. I say "unexpected" because I have read numerous reports on how Indiana's crime rate from 2000-2009 dropped.  However, a more recent study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center says that even though Indiana's crime rate fell, it doesn't compare to the drop our neighboring states saw.

In addition, the number prisoners in Indiana grew by 41 percent-a  rate that was three times faster than other states in our region-possibly creating an even bigger problem for Indiana.

If existing policies remain unchanged, our prison population will grow by 21 percent between 2010 and 2017-costing an estimated $1.2 billion for construction, operation and additional prison beds.

As a result, House Bill 1530 was created to address three main areas where we are lacking.

First, it would require sentences to match the severity of the crime-shifting from a one-size-fits-all sentencing policy and gives judges more options. Second, it would require probation, community corrections and parole agencies to coordinate better, and place more focus on high-risk offenders.

And finally, it would help adults under community supervision to access substance-use treatment programs to help with rehabilitation and prevent repeat offenders.

The bill is still currently being worked over to straighten out all the kinks-but should be ready for a hearing within the next two weeks. But I think it is important for Indiana to focus on what our state does right when it comes to crime, but also look at what other states are doing in order to make us even better.

As this bill and others moves forward, I will keep you posted. And if you want information on any other piece of legislation, you can also go to www.in.gov/legislative or contact my office. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to contact me. You can call 1-800-382-9841 or email H53@iga.in.gov.