Senate productive despite distractions, Lawson says
Neither snow nor ice nor a Democrat walkout over a Right-to-Work bill could keep local lawmakers from the first Legislative Update session of 2012 Saturday morning.
District 44 State Rep. Jim Baird (R-Greencastle) and District 24 State Sen. Connie Lawson (R-Danville) interacted for more than an hour with a group of 20 area residents at the Farm Bureau Building. District 37 State Sen. Richard Bray (R-Martinsville) did not attend.
"It's been pretty tense," Sen. Lawson said, reporting on the security measures being taken this session at the statehouse with all the interest in the Right-to-Work legislation proposed in the Indiana General Assembly.
"When you pull up and there are 20 state troopers there to make sure you get in the building safely, you have to wonder," she added. "I can't say though that I have ever felt unsafe."
Rep. Baird offered his own colorful assessment.
"I didn't know we had so many BIG state troopers," he said.
Yet despite the distraction, the 2012 short session has been productive in the State Senate, Lawson said.
"It's just disappointing the Democrats are not in their seats in the House," she added, "because they are not just killing Right-to-Work, they're killing other bills that affect Putnam County."
Lawson pointed out that Right-to-Work legislation moved off second reading in the Senate on Friday after three hours of debate over amendments before being sent on for third reading.
Reports indicate Indiana has been missing out on economic opportunities for many jobs because it is not a Right-to-Work state, she added, noting that constituents are nonetheless divided over the issue.
"It's really hard," she said, "when your constituents are as polarized about an issue on one side or another as they are on this one."
The morning's most discussion evolved over Senate Bill 179, which would require an Indiana student pursuing a Core 40 high school diploma to complete one virtual instruction online course.
The recommendation is based on the idea nearly all young people will learn online after high school, whether it's in college or via corporate or military training.
The theory is that a student who learns the study habits, mechanics, and skills of learning online -- including use of management systems, email, webcasts and conferencing and other tools of online courses -- will be better equipped for life after graduation.
Senate Bill 179 requires students entering ninth grade for the first time in 2013 to complete one online course before being awarded a Core 40 diploma.
The legislation allows the school corporation to decide what courses to offer based upon local needs of the corporation's students, providing three virtual courses in which a student may choose to enroll.
Greencastle resident Bill Dory reminded the group that many areas of the state still do not have access to high-speed Internet, advising that the bill could become an Internet access issue.
"I live closer to Indianapolis than you do," Sen. Lawson said, "and I still don't have good access. I have to go in to my husband's office (in Danville) to get work done."
Eminence School Supt. Murray Pride urged the legislators to assure schools that the issue does not become another unfunded mandate (in which the state requires a program but leaves funding it up to the local level).
"As far as the schools go," Pride said, "I'd like to make sure it's (the cost) not on the schools, where we will have to reach in and fund it at the expense of something else."
The proposed bill does state that the corporation may not charge a student or student's parents or guardian a fee for the sole purpose of defraying the cost of complying with the legislation.
Also, the bill, as written, states that a school corporation is not required to pay any costs associated with a virtual instruction course taken by one of its students if the online course is not provided by the school corporation.
Farm Bureau moderator Steve Cash announced that the second Legislative Update program of 2012 is set for 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18.