What issues will dominate in 2010?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- What will be the issues that dominate our debate in the 2010 session of the Indiana General Assembly?

It is my hope that lawmakers will work to provide a resolution to the constitutional amendment, government reform, policies that will provide a cushion to small business, and ways to get Hoosiers back to work, since the most recent state unemployment figures show that more than 300,000 people are without jobs.

Discussions will continue on a proposal to place the 1-2-3 property tax caps into the Indiana Constitution. By the time January rolls around, we will have had another 12 months to see the impact that these caps -- which already are in state law -- have had on local governments and schools.

There likely will be another attempt at reorganizing local units of government. These efforts have been alternately lauded as needed streamlining that will make government more efficient and criticized as a plan that will make government less accessible and accountable to the public.

All of these issues received attention in the 2009 session. In the past few weeks, interim study committees have raised additional subjects that could come up next January.

It remains to be seen if the work of interim study committees will result in legislation in the 2010 session. For your information I will highlight some of the conversations right now.

At the end of the 2009 session, lawmakers were asked to consider additional tax breaks for Indiana 's racinos -- horse tracks in Anderson and Shelbyville that include slot machines. Representatives of the gaming industry sought the relief to offset declining revenues brought on by the recession.

Rather than take action, legislative leaders chose to create an interim committee to undertake the first in-depth study of the state's gaming laws in more than 15 years. So far, the Gaming Study Committee has looked at the fiscal condition of racinos and the possibility of using one of Gary's riverboat licenses to build a land-based casino in that area.

At its heart, the debate on this issue has not changed since gaming first came to Indiana. The industry is our state's fifth-largest employer and provides more than $1 billion in revenue yearly. Without additional help, industry officials feel that thousands of jobs will be lost. However, many find the social implications of government-sponsored gambling distasteful, while others do not feel racinos deserve special tax breaks that are not available to other businesses.

Even if the committee makes no recommendations, you can expect that the gaming industry will be asking for legislative action in 2010.

Sunday alcohol is gaining attention from a number of folks. One lawmaker has already indicated a willingness to file legislation dealing with the issue that has generated statewide attention: allowing carry-out sales of alcohol on Sundays. This proposal is currently being examined by the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages.

Right now, you can buy alcohol on Sundays in bars, restaurants and places like Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse. Liquor stores are closed on Sundays, and you cannot buy alcohol on Sunday in groceries, convenience stores and drugstores.

Officials representing groceries and convenience stores want the Legislature to lift the ban. They also want the ability to sell cold beer. In turn, liquor store owners want to keep the current system in place.

Supporters of the change point out that Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week and that expanded sales would provide greater convenience to customers. Opponents say the change will put them at a competitive disadvantage with larger grocery chains. Expanded hours would require them to hire additional workers without any expected increase in revenue. As a result, many feel they would be forced out of business.

As I mentioned earlier, both of these proposals are still in the early stages of debate, but I am very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Mark your calendar for the upcoming session. I want to invite anyone to visit the Statehouse for a visit and a tour.

You can reach me by calling our 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, or submitting your comments 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.