The 2015 “Long Session” accomplishments
The planting of corn, leaves turning green and the spring rain all herald the end of the Indiana General Assembly’s 2015 legislative session. The session, which began in early January and ended on April 29, is deemed a “long session” in contrast to the “short session” which ends mid-March. Long sessions are held in odd-numbered years and are lengthier to accommodate time to write the state’s two-year budget.
With our state’s finances up for review, the principal focus was indeed the budget. We should all be pleased that once again, Indiana has an honestly balanced projected budget and strong reserves. In fact, Indiana continues to be the envy of the nation when it comes to fiscal strength. I can assure you as a representative that this does not happen without considerable effort and should never be taken for granted.
There is seemingly no end to the many requests received to spend down the surplus in favor of a government program. Unfortunately, like all families, we have limited resources and must consider ways we can make investments in our future, rather than spend needlessly. History has shown that in even good economic times, we must be careful and ready for a sudden downturn. Along those lines, economists have informed us that reserves of approximately 11 to 13 percent are prudent, which translates to about $1.9 billion. Indiana’s budgeted reserves compare nicely at $1.8 billion.
However, projected revenue is rising. Accordingly, even while maintaining strong reserves and maintaining the various functions of government, the General Assembly was able to increase education funding by a record $474 million. Put simply, a strong Indiana in the future will require well educated citizens and this does not come cheaply.
There were many other items besides the budget that were considered this year; some of which you heard much about, others very little. To me, one of the best new laws is one which will grant immunity from lawsuits to medical professionals providing free health care at non-traditional clinics. It is unfortunate that so many doctors are willing to travel around the world to establish a clinic but decide not to in the U.S. for fear of liability. This legislation addresses this issue by making it easier to provide free health care to those in need.
Another important step in the right direction is the revamping of our criminal corrections programs. These programs will not only incorporate updated technology but also have new abilities in treating substance abuse. Approximately $60 million is being made available to counties and cities to implement new corrections techniques and procedures.
Much of what takes place in Indianapolis during session is the routine tweaking and modifying of Indiana law to keep pace with changing times. Much of these changes are not glamorous or headline grabbing. However, they are important and contribute to making Indiana a solid state in which to raise a family and maintain or start a business. This is the essence of good, constitutional government.
State Rep. Tom Washburne serves as Chairman of the Courts and Criminal Code Committee. He also serves on the Financial Institutions Committee and the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Washburne represents the entirety of Gibson County and portions of ¬Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.