[r79] Legislators Back to Work (2/4/2011)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Start Date: 2/4/2011 All Day
End Date: 2/4/2011
While District 79 was getting lots and lots of snow, Indianapolis was getting lots and lots of ice.  I awoke Tuesday morning to my cell phone ringing informing me that the Statehouse would be closed. Naturally, I did what everyone else would do under these circumstances - I called my friends to see if they wanted to come over and play.  Not really.  The days that we were closed gave me time to finalize some bills, answer constituent questions and read the bills of upcoming legislation.  Almost as much fun as making snow angels. 

A few of key pieces of legislation passed out of the house this week.  The "fix" to our unemployment fund deficit, the statewide smoking ban, a ban on the sale of "spice" and a ban on texting while driving.  It looks like the theme this week was "ban it".  I will first discuss the issue that isn't a ban, unemployment insurance. 

Indiana's unemployment fund is 2 billion dollars in the hole.  We have been borrowing the money from the federal government, and it is time to pay up and make the fund solvent.  Last year, we delayed a bill that would have increases businesses' premiums.  I felt at that time the right fix was to involve all parties in the transaction.  This year we passed a bill to do just that. We tightened eligibility requirements, annualized wages so that a person making $30,000 over 4 or 5 months gets the same benefit as someone making the same wage over 12 months, and we built in some additional premiums to pay back the federal expenses. 

The Bans: The smoking ban passed 68-31 and, as I had written in last week's In Lehman's Terms, I did not support the ban.  There were several exemptions: casinos, bars/taverns that only serve persons over 21, fraternal organizations, nursing homes, and private clubs. All of these establishments have the option to be smoke-free but are not required to be smoke-free by law. The bill is now on its way to the Senate for further discussions and possible amendments.

We also passed a ban on the sale of synthetic cannabinoids and salvia divinorum.  If you are not a chemist, these are products that have been manufactured to mirror THC - the active ingredient in marijuana.  This synthetic drug is more commonly known as "K2" or "Spice" and is sold as incense. Many counties have already moved to ban these products and the state has now done the same statewide, making the sale and possession of this product a class D felony. I voted in favor of this ban. 

A ban on texting while driving was also passed this week. I have reservations with this bill, but it is in the best interest of Hoosier motorists to not text and drive.  I am amazed at the number of times I have been driving in my district or in Indianapolis when some driver, commonly a younger driver, wanders  into my lane and you can see them looking down at their phones instead of driving.  I was concerned where this bill might lead because the real issue is distracted driving.  Should we ban eating in your car or the use of your cell phone all together?  The debate on this issue showed me that while there are many things that can distract us, texting while driving completely removes eye contact from the road for a much greater period of time.  This action will save lives, and I supported this bill. 

Lastly, another issue that gained significant attention was the bill we passed last year requiring anyone purchasing alcohol to show their ID (regardless of age).  This may sound good on paper, but it flies in the face of common sense.  Previous legislation stated that not carding your grandpa held criminal consequences. We passed a bill this year to require carding of all persons who appear to be under the age of 40.  It still will allow a store that wants to card all people the ability to do so, but it removes the requirement and associated penalty for not carding everyone. If you would like any more information on these issues or those being discussed, please contact me with your questions.