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Friday, May 6, 2016

Legislators don't see early end to session

Friday, March 5, 2010

(Photo)
Nancy Michael
INDIANAPOLIS -- Legislators started the week with the idea that the 2010 session of the Indiana General Assembly would be complete by March 5.

It has not quite turned out that way. Our work is not done, but we do have enough time before our session deadline of March 14 to complete negotiations.

We will return to work on Wednesday (March 10). This will give lawmakers in both the Indiana House and Senate more time to find common ground on these matters.

There are a number of bills that need to be resolved. My goals remain the same.

First and foremost, we must provide tools that will create more jobs for Hoosiers. The numbers cannot be ignored: we have 300,000 people counted as out of work.

We do have a proposal that will help-- the "Hoosiers First" is a plan that drew strong bipartisan support in the Indiana House. It is intended to put as many as 60,000 Hoosiers back to work through incentives to create new jobs, with a renewed focus on helping our state's small businesses.

With these incentives, there must be renewed commitment to accountability. A recent television report from Indianapolis (Channel 13) indicated that approximately 40 percent of the new jobs claimed to be created by the governor have not become a reality. When companies fail to live up to the commitment to our state in job creation, Indiana should have every chance to "claw back" incentives.

Shortly after our proposal for a jobs plan passed the House, leaders in the Senate decided the plan would not be considered for discussion in that chamber.

Instead, they have focused on a plan that would only delay the implementation of the new formula in the state's unemployment insurance fund without consideration for a program that would help the business environment.

The problem is simple. The fund that provides temporary benefits for Hoosiers who have lost their jobs has gone billions of dollars into the red. To date, we have relied upon the federal government to keep this fund going by almost $2 billion.

In 2009, House and Senate leaders passed a plan designed to pay back the federal loans and get the fund back into the black. Along the way, it seemed like a good idea to reform the way the system operates. The primary means to replenish this fund was an increase in premiums that businesses historically have paid to the state.

As the economy has failed to improve over the past year, the governor and some legislators have come to question the wisdom of imposing the premium increases at this time. They wonder whether it might be best to delay these increases. Of course, remember that delaying the increases means increasing the amount of our debt to the federal government.

It has been difficult to get a clear idea of what kind of delay would work best. In just the past few days, I have heard people speak out for a one-year delay, a two-year delay and a complete repeal of last year's proposal. If any change does take place, I believe it should be combined with additional reforms that protect workers from employers who try to avoid paying their health insurance and other benefits.

Schools are also challenged with the state's recent cuts of $297 million in support. We are hearing from teachers, parents and board members every day about the drastic cutbacks being made to the academic programs. As a supporter of education, I am committed to supporting language that will provide flexibility to our administrations to give them the tools they need to finish out the school year and to plan for 2010-2011.

All of these issues have led us to extend our time at the Statehouse. We still have a deadline of March 14 to complete our work, but we also have more days to sit down and see if we can settle our difference.

This session has seen the passage of good legislation including an adjustment to the assessment of farmland; provisional bills in the event a county is late with the assessment process; an ethics bill that will provide more transparency and restrict unethical behavior of legislators, the governor's office and statehouse lobbyists; and language that will improve the accommodations for persons with disabilities when voting an absentee ballot in person before the election board.

I still have hope that we can get the work done, but I also feel it is important that both sides understand the need to negotiate and reach compromises.

In these final days of the 2010 session, you can contact me in several ways. Call 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.



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