In case you haven't heard (and who hasn't?) there's an election in November, and it's shaping up to be a big one. In the meantime, there's still plenty of legislative work to do, and we can't afford to put progress on hold because of politics.
One of the downsides of two-year terms - I'm in the second year of my first term - is that there's always an election around the next corner. It's impossible to tune out politics, but I'm determined to help turn down the volume. I was elected to get things done, and that's what I'll continue to do between now and November.
Over the next two months, I will be holding several public forums to help solve problems and listen to your ideas for possible legislation.
The first forum will focus on helping seniors. It will be 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 20 at LifeSpan Resources, which is the Area Agency on Aging for Clark, Floyd, Harrison and Scott counties. It provides information, referrals and case management for seniors and people with developmental disabilities. LifeSpan is in the YMCA building in New Albany. The address is 33 State St., and parking will be available in the YMCA lot.
All of the forums will be very informal. I won't have a lot to say. I'll be there to listen, and I'll have others there who can help with various types of individual issues. At the first forum, LifeSpan staff and representatives from several state agencies will be available to help with almost any issue relating to senior care and benefits, consumer protection and other concerns. In addition, a representative from U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's office will be there to assist with federal issues, including Social Security and Medicare.
One of the biggest frustrations for seniors, caregivers and family members is being told they need to talk with another agency. I'm hoping to minimize that frustration by having a wide variety of agencies represented. If you or a family member have questions or need help, this will be an opportunity to connect with a live person.
Helping constituents with individual issues is a big part of my job as your state representative. Another big part of my job is crafting and advancing legislation. The forums also will give me an opportunity to hear your ideas for possible bills.
At the first forum, I'll focus on issues relating to seniors. Toward the end of the month, I'll hold a forum on small business issues; I'm still working on details. Next month, I'll hold a forum on veterans' issues. In October, I'll hold two open forums to listen to your ideas on any issue that might become the subject of legislation.
By the time the November election is over, the legislative session will be fast approaching, and the time for drafting legislation will be short. That's why I want to get an early start.
Each representative may file up to 15 bills in the upcoming session. I have a lot of ideas, and I'm sure you do, too. I want to hear your ideas and concerns while there's still time to act on them.
The Indiana General Assembly - the legislature - is made up of the Senate and House of Representatives. Senate terms are four years, and House terms are two years. Half of the 50 Senate seats are up for election this year along with all 100 House seats.
Two weeks after the November election, the legislature will meet for Organization Day, which is largely ceremonial. Organization Day is the first day on which bills can be filed. The deadline for filing bills will be in January, several days after the start of the legislative session.
Next year is an odd-numbered year, which means it's a budget year. The legislature will craft the state's next two-year budget, which is expected to be an unusually difficult task because of the recession. The session is likely to continue until April 29, which is the statutory deadline for adjournment. In addition to writing the budget, the General Assembly also will draw new boundaries for all 150 state legislative districts and all nine Congressional districts. That happens once every 10 years after the census.
Between the budget and legislative redistricting, the General Assembly will have plenty to do. There's a lot of speculation over how much other legislation will be considered. Because of the state's fiscal situation, most bills that spend money won't have much of a chance. Good legislation doesn't have to spend money, however, and ideas that save money are likely to find an especially receptive audience next year. That doesn't mean I don't want to hear ideas that come with a price tag, but any new spending will have to be offset by savings somewhere else.
Bills are drafted by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, and LSA needs time to work. As a result, the deadline for bill requests will be in early December - about a month before the start of the session. That doesn't leave much time after the election. Many issues are complex and require a lot of research and discussion.
Much of that discussion will start at the local forums, and I invite you to be part of it. As additional dates and other details become available, I will write about them here, and information also will be posted on my website, www.in.gov/h72.
There will be time enough for politics between now and November. The shrill sound will become louder as November approaches, but for now, let's work to keep the volume down and focus on getting things done.