Michael: Legislative work continues

Thursday, August 6, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even though the 2009 session of the Indiana General Assembly is over, our legislative work continues.

Legislators are reaching out to their districts to get feedback on issues that should be considered during the 2010 session. While January is still months away, we must begin to figure out what legislation will be on our radar screen now.

The study committees that meet in the interim between sessions are the vehicles for this work. Last week, legislative leaders chose what topics the committees would study. In the weeks to come, the members of those committees will be selected and meetings will be scheduled.

Study committees give us an opportunity to research issues, take testimony from interested parties and determine whether to proceed with actual legislation.

There are two types of study committees. Some created through state statute meet every year on general topics, such as Medicaid oversight and telecommunications. Other committees are established by legislative leaders to look at a variety of subjects under a general heading.

For example, during the next few months there are going to be committees that will study issues surrounding education, the school funding formula, alcoholic beverages, Indiana's gaming industry and Medicaid supplemental programs.

The Interim Study Committee on Education will be looking at adult education programs and early start dates for the school year. The committee on alcoholic beverage issues will discuss permitting sales on Sundays. If the study committee examining the school funding formula can find a way to make it understandable to the average person, we should be able to develop a method that will benefit students across the state.

The Gaming Study Commission will be conducting its first comprehensive review of the state's gambling laws since 1993. This study was inspired by the numerous requests for assistance that our state's gaming interests made during the 2009 legislative session. It appears that the discussion will include the relocation of riverboats, land-based gaming and some potential tax relief for the industry as a whole.

Statutory study committees include the Commission for Higher Education, which will review state-funded college scholarship programs; the Regulatory Flexibility Committee, which will look at the potential for nuclear energy in Indiana; the Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy, which will consider how to expand public involvement in the budget work by local units of government; and the Sentencing Policy Study Commission, which is charged with looking at ways to speed up payment of claims through the state's Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

I do want to mention two other committees that will be studying issues that have been in the public eye this year.

A new Unemployment Insurance Oversight Committee will be looking at the next stage of reforms in state programs that direct benefits to Hoosiers who have lost their jobs and are looking for work. With more than 345,000 Hoosiers out of work, we need to make sure they get the assistance in a timely manner. Additionally, we need to ensure that the state follows through on its duties to ensure that we are not unnecessarily paying out claims to individuals who are in the workforce.

During the 2009 session, a bipartisan coalition enacted a plan that started the process of replenishing and stabilizing the state's UI fund, which had gone bankrupt. This committee will examine ways to improve the processing and delivery of benefits by the state's Department of Workforce Development.

The State Budget Committee will study the impact of the Daniels administration's efforts to privatize welfare services. Since privatization began in 2007, there have been statewide complaints about poor service, including lengthy delays in processing applications and providing benefits.

The service provided by the agency and company has gotten so bad that the administration suspended the statewide expansion of privatized welfare services and demanded that the contractor make more than 200 changes in operations. If these changes do not improve matters, there is a real possibility that the state will cancel its contract and resume control of services.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no backup plan in place in the event the contract is stopped. The Budget Committee will consider potential alternatives as part of its study.

In the months ahead, I will keep you posted on the actions of these committees and some of the other events taking place at the Statehouse.

Summer has gone fast. Please feel free to call me any time. You can reach me by calling the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of (800) 382-9842, writing to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis IN 46204.