[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse: Session need not be an up-and-down time (1/21/2011)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Start Date: 1/21/2011 All Day
End Date: 1/21/2011
The first full week of the legislative session was a smooth ride, but it wasn't without talk of roller coasters.

I serve on both the House Education and House Ways and Means committees. In the Education Committee, we passed a bill that updates provisions for the selection and meetings of Indiana University trustees. Ball State University requested a similar change, and we added it to the bill. The committee includes several new members, and the noncontroversial legislation provided an opportunity to start with something simple. It will get tougher going forward. Tomorrow's committee agenda includes a bill on charter schools that is certain to draw much more attention.

In Ways and Means, we devoted the week to higher education, including presentations from the seven state colleges and universities. We were scheduled to hear a presentation yesterday on Gov. Mitch Daniels' proposed budget. State agencies will make their presentations this week and next.

Other committees also started hearing bills. A statewide smoking ban was first on the agenda for the House Public Health Committee. It will be back on the committee's agenda tomorrow for amendment and a vote. It's expected to pass out of committee with exemptions for casinos, private clubs and tobacco shops. It would then go to the full House, which has passed similar bans both of the last two years. Those bills ended up being blocked in the Senate, but this year may be different.

The deadline for filing bills in the House was Tuesday, and as of the end of the week, many bills were still being assigned to committee. We have much to do, and that's why it was important to get to work right away. We have until April 29 - the deadline for adjournment - to balance the budget, draw fair districts, turn around the state's bankrupt unemployment fund and address sweeping proposals to reform K-12 education. Hundreds of other issues will also receive attention. Along the way, our challenge will be to keep our primary focus on jobs.

Last week also included several official visits. The House and Senate met in joint session Tuesday for the governor's State of the State address and Wednesday for the State of the Judiciary address from Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who discussed a sentencing reform proposal the legislature will consider this year and reported progress in three areas - the use of settlement conferences to prevent home foreclosure, the implementation of a statewide technology system for the courts and the development of jury instructions in plain English.

We also received visits from two members of Indiana's congressional delegation, Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican, and Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat. Returning to longstanding tradition, House Speaker Brian Bosma invited both men to address the body.

We ended the week with an address from state Rep. Vernon Smith, a Democrat from Gary, who, for the 21st consecutive year, reminded the chamber of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Statehouse was closed yesterday in observance of the holiday.

Not everyone who spoke on the floor of the House last week was an elected official. In any given week, we typically hear from a number of Hoosiers from all walks of life. Before the state of the judiciary address, we heard from Pat Koch, whose family owns the Holiday World theme park. Her remarks are worth quoting:

"I usually don't ask permission to speak, but that was very kind. I am the cleaning lady at Holiday World, and I've enjoyed all of my 50 years there. Our park will celebrate its 65th year this summer, and we will do it without our firstborn, who left us in June, but we will carry on the family tradition of 65 years that Louis Koch began when he came there in 1946, that my husband, Bill Koch, who's been in this room many times, carried on and then our son Will and now our son Dan and Will's family."

Will Koch died last year at age 48, and his mother's voice wavered when she mentioned his passing.

She continued: "We know that our mission is not to be an amusement park or a theme park, but our mission is to serve people - to bring joy to people, to be a Mecca of love and respect, cleanliness, friendliness - all those good values that we keep and that we hold, and we're going to keep working at that year after year after year, and to train, mentor and to develop young people, who learn many, many skills. So we love what we do. We are very appreciative of all of you and the wonderful work you do. We are all servants, are we not? We are all here to serve. And if we do that well and make a difference, our world can be a better place. So thank you very, very much for this opportunity. Our family thanks you. Our Holiday World family thanks you. Come on down. I might give you a free pass."

With that, the chamber erupted in laughter and applause, and Mrs. Koch's son Dan, who was by her side, gestured to dismiss his mother's offer, which she quickly amended: "I promise free soft drinks." Of course, soft drinks are always free at Holiday World.

It was a light, funny conclusion to a poignant appearance by the matriarch of a great Hoosier family business.

Several representatives added their remarks. Among them was Rep. Bruce Borders, a Republican from Jasonville, a small city west of Bloomington. The House is full of colorful characters, and Rep. Borders is no exception. The insurance agent, former mayor and Elvis impersonator joked about his late friend's lobbying efforts: "Whenever he would talk to me about legislation, we were usually like 15 stories high."

I'm expecting some highflying debate this session, but after a good start, there's no reason it has to become a roller coaster. Hoosiers deserve a smoother ride.