Despite the ice and snow this week we were able to make progress in the House and voted on several significant bills. The Speaker fast-tracked a bill from the Senate that would establish vote centers as an option for all counties. In addition, two other bills of public interest were discussed. The first would help Indiana pay back a major deficit and the second would amend the universal carding law created last year.
Senate Bill 32 would increase access for Hoosier voters and decrease the cost of future elections by giving counties the options to create a central voting center. This is in contrast to the traditional precinct voting process where residents are assigned to a specific polling location and on Election Day only.
Vote Centers were tested in three Indiana counties: Tippecanoe, Cass and Wayne. All three counties saved thousands of dollars by establishing Vote Centers because they were able to cut down on rental costs of the polling locations and hiring volunteers to work the polls, as well.
Senate Bill 32 passed its second reading in the House. If it passes a third reading in the House then the bill would be put in effect before elections in May so that counties may have the option by the primary election.
On Monday, House Bill 1450 was discussed at length. HB 1450 focuses on the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Currently, the fund is in a $2 billion deficit. The state of Indiana borrowed the money from the federal government, but now must pay it back and this bill would allow us to do so without hurting employers. One of our continued goals is to create jobs and put Hoosiers back to work, so putting more pressure on employers during this recession was not an option. HB 1450 would pay back the $2 billion that the state of Indiana owes while maintaining the weekly the maximum benefit of $390 per week.
Two fairness issues are also resolved by the bill. First, benefits are based on annualized wages which ensures two people making the same amount of money over a year receive the same benefit. This didn't happen in the past, as the formula favored those who worked seasonally.
The second fairness issue is in regards to who is eligible. Unemployment is intended to help those individuals who are between jobs and not receiving a paycheck. This bill closes loopholes so that an individual who takes a voluntary buy-out cannot also draw unemployment, and to make sure that severance packages are counted as weekly wages. Unemployment eligibility would begin the week after the severance package expires.
Finally, a bill that was passed last year has been reconsidered after listening to Hoosiers' concerns. House Bill 1325 would amend the law that requires everyone 21 or older to show ID before purchasing alcohol. It would now only require anyone who looks younger than 40 to be carded. The bill passed its third and final reading on the House floor this week and is being sent to the Senate for consideration.
As always, I welcome your feedback and will continue to keep you updated on our progress in the House.
Rep. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper)