Its’ been two weeks since the conclusion of the 2012 session, and I’m glad to be getting back into the swing of things. Unlike most of my fellow legislators, and I am fortunate to live so close to the city so I can commute from home during session, keeping life as normal as I can.
Whether we are in a long or short session, it can be tiring and require adjustment no matter what your living arrangements are. This year was a short session, which gave us ten weeks to get our work done. However, we were able accomplish a great deal for the state and did so in nine weeks—ending session a whole week early.
Three of the main areas that took center stage this session were economic development, public safety and education. We kicked things off by working on Right to Work (RTW) to ensure no Hoosier would be forced to join or financially support a union as a condition of employment. Although RTW caused a stir, the legislation will help create an unprecedented increase in economic development opportunities for Indiana. As many as a third to half of the companies looking to locate and create jobs do not consider non-RTW states.
We also worked to phase out the state’s Inheritance Tax over a nine year period, starting in 2013, in order to make Indiana more attractive place to live, work and raise a family. This tax, also known as the death tax, has had a negative effect on small family businesses in Indiana. Our families work a lifetime to build a business, but are currently penalized if they want to pass the business on to their children or siblings.
The safety of all Hoosiers is equally as important as any other issue that comes up at the Statehouse. More specifically, the tragedy that occurred last year at the Indiana State Fair, which took the lives of several Hoosiers and injured hundreds, is something no one wants to see repeated. The General Assembly felt it was necessary to step in.
Not only were we able to provide additional financial support to the victims and their families, but we are able to pass measures to prevent a stage collapse of similar magnitude from reoccurring. I personally worked on this legislation, to require the Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission to set rules for outdoor stages used for concerts, dance performances, plays, films or other entertainment.
Along similar lines of safety was legislation we passed reaffirming the state’s Castle Doctrine—putting Indiana’s self defense law back to the way it was prior to last year’s Barnes v. State decision. The legislation will also provide additional protection for police officers if deadly force is used.
For more than 200 years, the United States has recognized the right of people to defend themselves against the unlawful actions of others. The Indiana Supreme Court changed this with their ruling; the legislation we passed puts it back into place.
Lastly is the topic of education. We were able to provide an additional $80million in funding for full-day kindergarten programs—the most significant investment in full-day kindergarten in state history.
We also addressed what many are calling the “credit creep.” State colleges and universities are now required to evaluate the number of credit hours necessary to graduate under each degree program and receive approval from the Commission for Higher Education if credits are above 60 for an associate’s degree and 120 for a bachelor’s degree. Controlling the “credit creep” will help bring more clarity, control to tuition costs and improve graduation rates in the state.
Finally, we found a way for political subdivisions and school districts to address debt issues that have unfortunately occurred during this trying economy. The legislation allows schools corporations to use debt restructuring statutes and/or apply for a loan from the Rainy Day Fund if the school is declared as distressed. Four school corporations are now eligible to refinance: Mount Vernon, Hanover, Franklin Township and MSD Boone Township.
As you can tell, we were busy this session especially considering this wasn’t a budget-writing year. Fortunately, we accomplished a lot for the sake of Hoosiers all over the state. But even though session is over, my job as your legislator isn’t. Please continue to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. It is never too early to get started on next year’s legislation.