[r53] Cherry Chat: What a week it was (2/17/2011)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Start Date: 2/17/2011 All Day
End Date: 2/17/2011
Saying last week was tiring is putting it lightly. The week began with a heated debate on charter schools, which brought on protestors from the teacher's union chanting outside the chamber doors. And it ended with public testimony for the state budget. And somewhere in the middle, we discussed several other pieces of legislation moving through both chambers.

So maybe saying last week was tiring and hectic is probably a more reasonable description.

Even though the charter school bill passed out of the House last week, it continues to stir up a lot of discussion.

I voted to support the charter school bill, House Bill 1002, because even though they don't directly affect our community-because our schools are performing above the state average-I thought it was important to provide other communities that are not as fortunate, the opportunity.

Charter schools are simply an additional option for Hoosier families, especially for those students who are not succeeding in their current classroom setting. Charter Schools are public schools that are held to the same accountability measures as traditional public schools. Currently over 3,500 Hoosier families want them in their communities.

A study conducted by the University of Indianapolis showed that students attending public charter schools have greater academic growth than in their traditional public school counterparts. For example, among the students that graduated from a mayor-sponsored charter high school in 2008, 94 percent are currently enrolled in a 2-or 4-year college or university.

Indiana currently has 62 charter schools that serve more than 22,000 students. Those schools serve a diverse group of children. About 66 percent of charter school students qualify for the federal free/reduced lunch program and 71 percent of the students are members of an ethnic minority.

And even though we have a vast amount of students waiting for acceptance, they are not discriminated upon during admittance. In fact, House Bill 1002 includes language to ensure no discrimination based on race, disability or language occurs.

Charter schools weren't the only thing up for discussion last week; public testimony was also taken on the budget.

State agencies, organizations and universities came from around the state to testify and discuss their budget and financial responsibilities for the next two years. These discussions are very helpful when forming a budget.

Even though we are moving along, I expect us to be working out the kinks up until the end of session. Indiana might be starting to gain back revenue, but we still have to be extremely cautious in what we do and do not include.

As it stands, the budget does not include any tax increases, gimmicks or payment delays, but does ensure Indiana's has adequate reserves by the end of the biennium and a structural balance by 2013.

The budget bill-House Bill 1001-should be available for a floor hearing this week and possibly voted on by the end of the week if not the beginning of next.

Another piece of legislation that is moving along in the House and less controversial, is a bill I filed to ensure all tobacco products are kept behind the counters of convenience stores-House Bill 1405. The only exception to this bill would be tobacco stores that all ready require a person to be at least 18 years of age to enter.

My reasoning behind filing this bill was because the tobacco industry, like most industries, is constantly evolving with additional product options for it consumers. Indiana State law doesn't have anything on the books about requiring additional tobacco products to be kept behind counters. Therefore, this is just an additional measure to ensure all tobacco products are kept out of reach of minors.

House Bill 1405 has already passed out of committee and should receive a hearing on the House floor this week.

Although Valentine's Day kicked off the week for us, I don't think it will help the week be any less eventful. I encourage you to keep in contact and stay in the conversation. If you ever want a status report on the above pieces of legislation or any other piece, you can visit www.in.gov/legislative to view the most up-to-date information. You can always call my office as well at 1-800-382-9841.