2013 Indiana General Assembly

General Assembly wraps session distinguished by cooperative tone

2013-04-27T16:30:00Z 2013-04-28T21:09:07Z General Assembly wraps session distinguished by cooperative toneDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
April 27, 2013 4:30 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Hands were shaken, hugs were shared and state lawmakers, who spent the past four months passionately opposing each other in great and small policy debates, were all smiles Saturday morning after House Speaker Brian Bosma gaveled out the 2013 Indiana General Assembly.

It was the first session in three years that did not include a walkout or boycott stymieing legislative action, thanks in part to the 2012 election of House and Senate Republican supermajorities making such tactics futile.

At the same time, credit for the return of relative partisan cooperation, instead of outright conflict, is due also to new Democratic leadership in the Legislature.

State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, was picked to replace the cheerfully bombastic state Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, as leader of House Democrats. State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, took over in the Senate after state Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, was unsuccessful in her run for lieutenant governor.

Throughout the session, Pelath repeatedly showed a spirit of cooperation and demonstrated a willingness to work with Republicans on issues where members of the two political parties agree.

"I am pleased with the improvement of the tone of debate in the House of Representatives," Pelath said. "I think it's been better for Indiana."

Bosma, R-Indianapolis, agreed that civil disagreement among lawmakers resulted in improved outcomes for Hoosiers.

"We can focus on the policy and not the personality; on the differences in a bill and not the differences we have with others," Bosma said. "It's very positive. I thank the Democrat leadership in that regard, and I think we made, hopefully, a permanent change in the attitude of the participants here."

Lawmakers were in session for more than 15 hours Friday and Saturday striving to wrap up their work for the year before the mandatory Monday adjournment deadline.

In the final hours, they approved Indiana's 2014-15 state budget on a nearly party-line vote. State Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, was one of three Democrats to vote yes for the $30 billion spending plan.

The budget includes $1.1 billion in tax cuts, including a reduction in the personal income tax rate to 3.3 percent from 3.4 percent starting Jan. 1, 2015, immediate elimination of the inheritance tax and additional tax cuts for businesses and banks.

Schools with growing enrollments and state agencies will see their funding increase 1 to 2 percent during the two-year period, or approximately the inflation rate. More money also was budgeted for roads, health care, the Department of Child Services and to pay off state debt.

The Senate budget chief, state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, described House Bill 1001 as "an opportunity budget" that "we can be proud of."

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, agreed the budget contains many good things, but she said it is "stingy" by underfunding state services to provide "smoke and mirrors" tax cuts that will put an extra buck a week in most Hoosiers' pockets two years from now.

Beside the budget, lawmakers also approved in the waning hours Senate Bill 528, a gaming measure that allows casinos to exempt from their wagering taxes up to $5 million a year in promotional "free play."

Plans to allow the state's 10 permanently moored casino boats to move onto land adjacent to their docks and to permit live dealers at the central Indiana horse track casinos were not included in the final compromise version of that legislation.

More students will qualify for Indiana's private school voucher program under House Bill 1003, approved 55-44 in the House and 27-23 in the Senate.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, eliminates a requirement that students first attend one year of public school to qualify for a voucher if a sibling previously attended public school and now receives a voucher, if the student is in special education or if the local public school is rated F.

Lawmakers also agreed in House Bill 1544 to loan $100 million in state funds to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for improvements to the home of the Indianapolis 500 auto race.

The track is not required to directly repay the loan. Instead, the loan account will be credited the value of any increase in state sales or income tax revenue generated at the track. In addition, racegoers will be charged a new ticket fee to help pay down the loan.

Two controversial measures failed to win passage late Friday night and will not become law.

They are House Bill 1483, which would have required some welfare beneficiaries undergo drug testing to continue receiving aid, and Senate Bill 373 prohibiting photography or videotaping at businesses or agricultural operations with the intent to harm the company or farm.

The Senate adjourned for the year at 1:06 a.m. Indianapolis time, followed by the House at 1:23 a.m. Saturday.

The scene now shifts to first-year Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who must decide whether to sign into law or veto these measures and the more than 200 additional proposals that were approved by the General Assembly.

In a statement released upon adjournment, Pence praised the work of the state's lawmakers and did not indicate that he plans to veto anything.

"The work we have done together has laid a solid foundation for a more prosperous future for Indiana," Pence said. "We will attract more good-paying jobs because of the business-friendly tax climate we have produced and the strong balance sheet we have preserved. And Hoosiers will keep more of what they earn."

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