Full Steam Ahead!
Monday we were pleasantly surprised as our Democrat colleagues returned to do the work that remains with the intent to complete that work by our April 29 deadline. This situation was resolved because Hoosiers said "enough is enough". It was public sentiment that brought the Democrats back and I firmly believe that same sentiment would have been addressed by Republicans had we left the state and our job for five weeks. Let's hope this is a lesson learned that will not be repeated in our lifetimes.
Since Monday, we have completed the work of the "first half". This includes finishing second readings (amendments offered on the floor of the House) and third readings (passage of bills on the floor of the House). Below is a quick summary of some of the bills which have now passed over to the Senate for their consideration:
HB 1001, the budget apportions almost $28 billion over two years with 50 percent of these funds committed to education. It is a balanced budget, that is, we spend only what we take in while leaving a modest reserve of 4 percent. As I said early, there is something in this budget for everyone to dislike. For instance, the new school funding formula corrects for spending discrepancies that allowed some schools to receive over $10,000 per student while others received just $5,000 per student. A transition will be made over the next nine years to put all schools at parity with the inclusion of just one qualifier, the complexity multiplier ensuring schools receive additional funding based on the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. Numerous studies show that it is more difficult and costly to provide education to students from low income families. Higher education was asked to operate without $100 million in maintenance funding. We were also able to secure $220,000 per year for Lincoln Amphitheatre, an important local need.
HB 1210 was the "omnibus" pro-life legislation that had over 50 pro-life authors in the House. This bill ensures the mother is well informed about the age of her child, encourages viewing an ultrasound, provides options available to her, and the negative consequences of abortion orally and in writing. It further requires physicians to determine the age of the fetus prior to performing an abortion and to have admitting privileges at the hospital and/or a relationship with a doctor with admitting privileges there. It also holds physicians legally accountable for performing abortions that violate Indiana law. Finally, it bans qualified healthcare plans as required by the new federal healthcare laws to fund abortions in Indiana. We believe this legislation will make Indiana one of the most pro-life states in the union. It should also be noted this legislation passed 72-23, a widely bipartisan bill.
HB 1216, the Public Labor Agreement bill, eliminates the use of public labor agreements on public works projects. This provides a level playing field for union and non-union building trades to bid on taxpayer funded building projects across the state such as schools, stadiums, and airports unless included specifically in a referendum. Further, this bill increases from $150,000 to $250,000 in the first year and to $350,000 in 2013 and beyond for the size of public projects which may be exempted from a practice of using "common construction wage" in placing bids. I have heard from dozens of union and non-union contractors across the district and believe this bill honors all building trades workers and companies.
HB 1003, school scholarships, provides that low income families will have the opportunity for their child to attend a public or private school. The eligibility is focused on lower income families. Families at or below the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch program can receive 90 percent of state tuition support. Families with incomes between 100 percent and 150 percent of that Free and Reduced lunch program will receive 50 percent of state tuition support. However, $4,500 is the maximum a student in grades 1-8 may receive. In order to qualify students must generally have attended a public school for at least two semesters, excluding kindergarten. Eligible schools must be accredited, fall under the state's accountability standards and administer the statewide ISTEP test. This bill also caps student participation at 7,500 for the 2011-2012 school year and 15,000 for the 2012-2013 school year.
These bills now go to the Senate for their consideration and we begin hearing Senate bills which we will either vote up, amend or vote down through April 21 with one week reserved to reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions of bills.
Thank for your support during the five week "pause". Please stay in touch as we move full steam ahead.
Rep. Sue Ellspermann (R-Ferdinand)