[r79] In Lehman's Terms: Statehouse 101 (10/5/2009)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Start Date: 10/5/2009 All Day
End Date: 10/5/2009

My office fields all kinds of questions about our state government:  Whatever happened to that bill I read about in the newspaper last year? Whom do I call about a specific issue?  How do I know what issues are local, state or federal?  When is the Indiana General Assembly in session?  What does Rep. Lehman do when the House is not in session?

The legislative process is often long and complicated, and if you aren't directly involved in it, it's easy be perplexed by the whole system.  Beyond that, many sticky casework issues are addressed in specific government offices, and knowing which one to contact, obviously, is important. 

It's frustrating to have to call office after office in search of what you need, and many people feel they are given the runaround.  In reality, the person on the other end of the line is usually not trying to pass the buck. They are more than likely narrowing down who can help you with your specific issue. 

Knowing about the different levels of government will help cut down on time and frustration the next time you need to call a government agency. Let's use driving-related issues as examples.

  • If a traffic light is out at one of your local intersections or you want a stop sign at your corner, call City Hall. That's a local issue.
  • If you need a driver's license issued, renewed or reinstated, you would visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That's a state issue. If you think the law covering driver's licenses should be changed, you would contact my office, because that would be a state legislative issue.
  • If a new bridge is needed somewhere on U.S. 24 or U.S. 33, that would be a federal issue because those are federal highways. The money for that would come from Uncle Sam.

Another area I get a lot of questions about is property taxes.  Who sets my rate?  Who assesses the value? 

It is important to understand local government budgets determine property tax rates in your area.  The assessed value of a property combined with the tax rate determines the property tax bill, the tax levy. 

Property taxes are used by local government agencies, including counties, townships, cities and towns, school corporations, library districts and other special districts to provide services. 

If you believe your assessed value is not accurate, you have the right to appeal the current year's assessed valuation.  The first step in the appeals process begins with written notification to the local assessing official.  More information regarding the property tax assessment appeals process is available on the department's Web site, http://www.in.gov/dlgf/2508.htm.

If want to follow legislation or look up a law, visit the State of Indiana's Web site at www.in.gov/legislative. The site allows you to search bills by number, Indiana code or key words.  You can even watch a live feed of session or committee proceedings. Check it out.

Our state government's structure is similar to that of the federal government, with legislative, executive and judicial branches.

As a state representative, I am part of the legislative branch, the branch that writes the laws. We talk to constituents, listen to their concerns and ideas and search for ways to improve our state.  We file the idea as a bill and, after a process of discussion, debate and voting, it may become law. 

If you have an issue with a state agency, we are also willing to advocate on your behalf.  However, the legislator does not have the jurisdiction or authority to tell another branch of government or state agency what to do.  Issues with programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits should be directed to my state representative office.

Unlike the United States Congress, Indiana has a citizen legislature, which means that lawmaking is not a full-time profession.  Most legislators make their living at other occupations, and I am one of those.  I am part owner of an insurance agency, and my wife and I are raising three lovely daughters.

The 100 representatives and 50 senators who comprise the General Session meet for a budget-writing session from January through April in odd-numbered years and from January through mid-March in even-numbered years.

House and Senate districts are based on the federal census, which is taken every 10 years.  The populations of the district must be as consistent as possible to ensure the one-man, one-vote standard is met. Next year is a census year, so you will hear a lot about redistricting in the coming months.

An interesting side note: Other states typically have between 100 and 200 House members, but some have as few as 40 and New Hampshire has 400 representatives.

Gov. Mitch Daniels is the most visible person in the executive branch.  His office oversees all state agencies, such as the Family and Social Services Administration, the Department of Workforce Development, and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, to name a few.

The judicial branch is our court system. The courts determine if laws are constitutionally fair, help maintain law and order through criminal trials and allow citizens to settle disputes with each other.

I hope this helps you better understand your state government.  If you have any questions or concerns to share with me, I'd love to hear from you. My legislative assistant is Ted Brandt, and he is a wonderful resource.  Please contact Ted or me by e-mail at h79@in.gov, or call us at 1-800-382-9841.