Entering the homestretch

Monday, February 22, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- As lawmakers enter the final weeks of the 2010 session of the Indiana General Assembly, members of the House have been spending most of our time recently debating bills sent to our chamber from the Indiana Senate.

From the start, I believed our attention should focus on ways to provide more jobs for Hoosiers, address the financial concerns of our schools, and create effective policies that will meet the needs of the people of our state.

The next few weeks will be hectic as members work to pass legislation that is important for our district or state.

As this process moves, I anticipate a large number of bills will end up in the conference committee, where many of these issues will be negotiated.

While some may feel that the success of this session will be on issues like property tax caps and ethics, it is clear that we have many important matters that require our attention. These include education, our obligation to adequately fund our unemployment trust fund, protecting agriculture, and our responsibility of getting the state's economy back on track in a way that will retain and create jobs.

There are "experts" who believe the economy is improving. It is difficult to feel this optimism with approximately 300,000 Hoosiers out of work. This number does not include workers whose benefits have run out or those folks who have given up hope of finding another job.

We have been advised that the 2010 session will be completed by March 5. Our work will move quickly, but I do believe there is enough time to create legislation that will help Hoosiers.

Creating jobs has been a priority for everyone. The decision before us is whether our time should be focused on attracting huge corporations that promise to put thousands of people to work, or to take a more reasonable approach by looking at ways to help our small business community.

According to the most recent figures I have seen, there are 115,000 small businesses in our state that employ around 1.3 million Hoosiers. Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce has stated that 71 percent of our workforce is employed by small business owners. To that end, I believe small businesses should be our target.

Too often, these operations get left behind when discussing economic development. There are several proposals out there that could provide some assistance to these entities. As presented, House Bill 1250 would devote more existing state dollars toward a small business loan program to make it easier for these businesses to pursue new investments. This measure passed the House with bipartisan support, but is struggling in the Indiana Senate.

Ensuring Hoosiers are employed on public works projects is also another area of interest. As of December, it was revealed that more than half the counties in Indiana carried unemployment rates at 10 percent or greater.

Through HB 1002, our state can set an example to follow by giving Hoosiers first shot at working on large-scale capital improvement projects that are financed through your tax dollars.

Many other issues remain on the table. Advocates are lining up to talk about issues like gaming, the length of the school year, starting that school year after Labor Day, reading standards for students, county drainage boards, government reform and delaying our bipartisan commitment to fixing our state's unemployment trust fund.

More than ever, I need your thoughts. In the next few days we will vote on issues that will affect all of us. Feel free to contact me about the 2010 session.

You can reach us by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842, write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204, or send 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.

Thank you for your interest in the legislative process. I look forward to hearing from you.