INDIANAPOLIS -- As lawmakers return to the Statehouse for the 2010 session of the Indiana General Assembly, there are many challenges that face us in the New Year.
In the weeks to come, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on a number of questions that will be before us.
With close to 300,000 Hoosiers out of work, I will expect the Legislature to support a statewide job creation plan, making sure that Indiana residents are a priority for working on projects funded by Indiana tax dollars.
In regards to the constitutional amendment, the General Assembly will need to consider the long term impacts on taxpayers and services if the proposed 1-2-3 property tax caps are voted into the state's Constitution.
A question that has been raised in recent weeks that remains unanswered is the need for the Legislature to address the flaws in the 1-2-3 system that still allows for unchecked growth in tax bills for homesteads, farmland, and other taxing entities.
We also must consider the continued impact of these limitations on efforts by local units of government to provide basic services for you.
I am hopeful that the Legislature will slow down the Administration's efforts to privatize critical services (FSSA) for Hoosiers in need, at least until it is proven that privatization delivers those services in an efficient, cost-effective manner.
Additionally, the Legislature should take steps to improve ethics standards for lawmakers, the executive branch of state government and lobbyists who do business with our state.
Many people within my district have been very clear about the need for reform. We will see how the discussion unfolds in the next month.
Other issues that will take a significant time in the House will be alcohol sales, prohibiting texting while driving, gaming, energy savings through net metering programs, safety measures for emergency responders, environmental policies, telecommunications, professional licensing and mortgage lending programs.
This is just a sampling of the major issues that will be addressed.
Our work will be complete by mid-March.
The Legislature's short session will only allow us 30 session days to get things done. It's an abbreviated time period that means House members can only file five bills for consideration, committees will have just a few weeks to consider them, and the House must wrap up work on its own bills within a month.
While we do not have to pass a biennial state budget in this short session, financial concerns will play a huge role in our work in 2010.
Our state continues to collect far less revenue than projected, and that means cuts in programs and services funded by the state.
The impact of these cuts is now being felt in the areas that need to be a concern to all of us: K-12 education and support for our state's colleges and universities.
Higher education funding has been reduced by $150 million, and the governor intends to cut close to $300 million in support for our public schools.
Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made it clear that cutting school funding should happen only as a last resort.
Public schools already have prepared for cuts in funding in anticipation of the full enactment of the 1-2-3 property tax caps that take effect under state law in 2010.
Also remember that the State used $600 million in federal stimulus dollars that was originally intended for our schools to prop up the state's budget surplus instead.
It is very easy to say that school corporations should be able to withstand the loss of a few more dollars, but there is a point in some areas of our state where these cuts begin to affect the size of classes and the availability of programs and materials -- those educational opportunities that help provide our kids with the skills they need to get ahead in today's world.
I am concerned that the cuts could end up causing lasting damage to the future of our children.
It should be noted that cutting schools after the school year has already started has a real impact on programs and the ability for schools to adhere to terms and contracts already established by the corporation.
As the 2010 session gets under way, I want to extend an invitation for area students to come to Indianapolis to serve as a House page. This is a perfect opportunity for anyone 13 years of age or older who has an interest in following government or politics.
You will get to tour the Statehouse, spend some time with me and witness a House session as representatives debate public policy issues.
Paging opportunities are available through early March. If you are interested, a page application can be found at http://www.in.gov/legislative/house_demo....
You also can apply for the page program, or talk to me about the 2010 session by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, writing to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or sending a message to my Web site at www.in.gov/H44.
While visiting my web site, you also can sign up to receive regular e-mail updates from the Legislature.