[r53] Cherry Chat: Time running short as session comes to a close (4/27/2011)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Start Date: 4/27/2011 All Day
End Date: 4/27/2011
Monday marked the last week of this legislative session-and what a session it has been. We have tackled a broad spectrum of issues this session. We started with the budget, went to education reform, rounded the corner with job creation, made a stop at illegal immigration and even touched briefly on local government.

The budget, like many other pieces of legislation, has changed at every stop. It started in the House Ways and Means Committee, where it was slightly amended by our Chairman Jeff Espich.

When it arrived to the House floor, it had 349 amendments-costing more than $600 million in additional spending-waiting for it. Thankfully, only a handful of the amendments passed, and none of those required any additional spending.

After its time in the House, the budget made its way over to the Senate, where it has been for the past few weeks. The Senate members have also made some changes-some we agree with and some we have to discuss. This last week, however, will be the time we work out those changes.

Throughout this process, we have kept I mind that the reason why Indiana has been getting through this economy with more ease that our neighboring states is because of our past fiscal discipline. In addition, we have remained diligent in not raising taxes or creating any new taxes on Hoosier taxpayers. Instead, we have focused on spending only what we have.

Although our most recent revenue report showed Indiana gradually improving, we are not entirely out of the woods and shouldn't act as if we are. The report did, however, allow us to provide education with an additional $150 million to help with cuts made in years past.

The budget, House Bill 1001, will go to conference committee this week where fiscal leaders from all four caucuses will work out the differences, without putting Indiana in the red.

Majority of the legislation concerning education reform, however, has begun to see the light inside the governor's office. The only piece that has not is House Bill 1002, concerning charter schools. Like the budget, this legislation has also been changed at every stop and will be assigned to a conference committee this week to work out the details.

Job creation, even though it's equally as important, as taken a backseat to education reform and budget discussions-mainly because it's is less controversial. We have several pieces of legislation that have already been assigned to conference committees.

In order to foster job growth, we focused on enhancing incentives to help small and local businesses grow and create jobs. Additionally, we focused on promoting entrepreneurship and investments in new businesses in our state. With legislation like this, we can create an atmosphere that will encourage employers to build their business here in Indiana, the crossroads of America.

Next item up for discussion was illegal immigration-an issue that was addressed last year but was unable to get passed. It is unfortunate that we, on the state level, have to address this federal issue but Senate Bill 590 is what I consider to be a fair approach. It passed out of the House last week with substantial changes from its original language.

The bill, in its current form, would ensure someone without legal status cannot receive state unemployment or welfare benefits, but also ensures employers don't knowingly employ someone without legal status. Although we approached the issue as fair and balanced as we could, I still have concerns.  I am looking forward to seeing what changed the conference committee members make.

Finally, our last stop this past week dealt with local government reform-more specifically, preventing nepotism and addressing elected officials' removal. House Bill 1022 would ensure elected officials aren't serving on a board that makes decisions of their salary or be in a situation of personal gain.

The bill also prohibits a relative of an executive, member of the legislative body or member of the fiscal body of a county, city, town or township from being employed, nor would a relative be able to work in a direct supervisory-subordinate relationship.

These are some of the many bills that have been already assigned to conference committees this week. We had five days of session before we are scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday. It has been an interesting journey thus far, but I am sure we still have some more interesting discussions and other happenings to come.