A legislative session that could have been a disaster turned out to be historic, thanks in part to an Indiana Senate that stayed on the job and focused on pro–job, pro–growth policies.
Now the question becomes: What do we do for an encore?
For both substance and drama, the 2011 Indiana General Assembly may go down in the history books as one of the most headline–making sessions in recent memory. Before we wipe off the crystal ball and try to predict what the 2012 session will bring, let's briefly look back at the highlights of this year's historic session.
In spite of the five–week disruption caused by the House Democrat walkout, so much was accomplished: a fourth–consecutive balanced budget, the drawing of new state legislative and congressional maps as well as the most sweeping education reforms in nearly 30 years.
I was pleased to vote for a budget that remained balanced and continued to provide solid support for our schools while not raising taxes on hard–working Hoosiers. That's a combination hard to find in any other state, where even cuts in education funding have not prevented increases in taxes.
While government doesn't really create jobs, it can help build an environment that promotes job creation. Lawmakers sought to improve on Indiana's employer–friendly climate this year by reducing the corporate income tax rate and establishing programs to encourage entrepreneurship.
During a time when there was so much political protest, the redistricting process was one of the smoothest in recent memory. It was the first time I had experienced the process firsthand, but Tim Storey, a national expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Indiana did very well. He praised Indiana during a recent committee meeting, saying Indiana was one of the first states in the nation to complete the redistricting process this year, one of the first to begin evaluating its efforts and one of the few states that does not have a legal challenge to its new maps.
I was also fortunate to be an author or sponsor this session of legislation to:
• Allow all Indiana counties to use convenient, cost–saving vote centers
• Promote economic development by improving the Industrial Recovery Tax Credit program to encourage the rehabilitation and re–use of empty industrial buildings
• Protect Hoosier youth by implementing a statewide ban on synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as "spice"
• Streamline the driver's education process to make it more efficient
• Establish a Great Lakes task force to protect and preserve these precious water resources.
What will 2012 bring? No one can say for sure, but I am hoping to make progress on some important issues.
I'd like to explore the possibility of changing the school funding formula format from a calendar year to a school year. I'd also like to discuss adding a second "count" date for establishing enrollment numbers at our schools so we can better ensure state education dollars follow the child.
You can bet the topic of land–based casinos will come up again. Allowing such a move could help improve revenues that can be used for local community development projects such as a teaching hospital or a trauma center for Northwest Indiana.
I also expect a statewide ban on smoking in public places to be introduced again. It's been more than 40 years since the first warnings appeared on cigarette labels advising the consumer that smoking could be a health hazard and 25 years since then–U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop cited nicotine found in cigarettes as having addictiveness similar to heroin or cocaine. Yet today, Indiana continues to have one of the highest adult smoking rates in the nation. Perhaps it's time for Indiana to follow Valparaiso's lead and implement a statewide ban on smoking in public places.
While it's anyone's guess how these and other issues will be resolved, one thing is clear: the short session of the 117th Indiana General Assembly will soon be upon us. It is scheduled to begin Jan. 4 and end no later than March 14. While the session is short, that doesn't necessarily mean it can't be long on results.
I'd love to hear what you think of these and other issues. For those who live in Senate District 5, watch for my annual legislative survey to be in your mailbox in the coming weeks. I hope you'll give me your input.