All session long, House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend) explained his plans to sine die, or adjourn for the summer, a week earlier than scheduled in order to save our state money. One week of session costs the state more than $120,000, so needless-to-say, we all supported ending early.
I understand the money for session is already budgeted. However, everyone else is making cuts so why not state government-we could have done that by ending early last week.
We had very little on the agenda this session, nothing as big as a state budget, so we all thought it would be reasonable to get all our business done. However, the Speaker changed his mind at the last minute and surprised us all.
The Speaker announced in the eleventh hour of session on Thursday that we would be coming back on Wednesday, March 10 to finish our business. His reasoning was to give everyone a time out to reflect on what was happening.
No one was upset, no one was getting angry; we were all ready to work and get things done. In fact, as one of ten members of the House Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee, we met several times throughout the day on Thursday in a bi-partisan and timely fashion in order to get what was needed done. We had no problems.
More than 27 conference committee reports have yet to be assigned to the House for a hearing; two include House Bill 1367 and Senate Bill 23.
Both of these bills have consumed session discussion, as they should since they have to do with education and Hoosier jobs.
House Bill 1367 has the potential to give schools the flexibility to redirect funds to offset the shortfall in funding that came as a result of declining state tax revenue. Currently, schools are restricted from transferring monies between funds.
In addition, we have been fighting to include language in the bill that will guarantee school employees will not be laid off. Having a highly qualified teacher in the classroom is the single most important factor in student success. Cuts are necessary, but reduction to teaching staff should be a last resort.
The compromise that was nearly agreed upon last Thursday included funding flexibility for schools to reallocate up ten percent of the Capital Projects levy. However, if reallocations are between six and ten percent, then no raises can be given to school employees. The only exceptions are if a teacher received an advanced degree or in the case of incremental increases.
In addition, the State Board of Education must develop a plan to improve the reading skills of Grades 1-3.
Senate Bill 23 has been the other hot-button issue surrounding this session.
As most of you remember, in 2009, House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1379 forced a $300 million tax increase on approximately 80,000 small, medium and large businesses. I chose not to support this bill last year. Senate Bill 23 was introduced this session to delay the unemployment tax increases on Hoosier employers.
However, the House majority keeps forcing "poison pills" into the legislation causing the bill to lose its positive effect. Some of the poison pills include unnecessary worker classification regulations, increases to school building project referendums and removes the requirement for unemployed individuals to show proof they have filed at least one job application per week in order to remain eligible for benefits.
On Thursday, members of the conference committee started to see what seemed like a possible agreement on the bill. The compromise included a delay on the unemployment insurance tax increase, a tax credit for business for hiring new employees and a phase in of the corporate tax credit given to new small businesses along with the employer tax credit.
Since the beginning of session my priorities have been to get unemployed Hoosiers back to work and give schools the funding flexibility that they need in order to fill gaps in depleted funds. If the legislaturecan accomplish both these goals, then the 2010 legislative session will be a victory for Hoosiers.
Legislators will be working until Wednesday to work out any loose ends so we can hit the ground running on Wednesday. Since we have been given the time, we will use it to the best of our ability. I expect everyone to come into session with a renewed energy with everyone ready to get down to work. Hopefully, we can still get done before the mandatory March 14 deadline.