INDIANAPOLIS | Happy fiscal new year, Hoosiers!
Today begins Indiana's 2014 budget year and the start of a two-year period that will see state government spend $30.6 billion — with 63.6 percent of that going to elementary, high school and college education and teacher pensions.
As the budget keeps spending for nearly all state agencies below the inflation rate, taxes for most Hoosiers will remain generally steady. This is despite Republican Gov. Mike Pence's efforts to brand the tax reductions included in the 2014-15 budget as "the largest in Indiana history."
Corporate income taxes will drop 1 percent during the next two years, and the state's inheritance tax was eliminated retroactive to Jan. 1. But the 0.1 percent income tax cut for ordinary wage earners won't take effect until Jan. 1, 2015.
A family earning $50,000 a year will pay $50 less in income taxes when that tax cut kicks in 18 months from now.
Meanwhile, a bevy of new state laws — approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Pence — take effect today. They include:
• Expungement — Hoosiers with criminal pasts can obtain a once-in-a-lifetime deletion of misdemeanor and most felony records provided at least five years have passed following conviction.
• School vouchers — Students whose local public school is rated "F" by the state or have a sibling attending private school using a state voucher can obtain a voucher without first attending public school for a year, if income limits are met.
• Child care — Owners, employees and volunteers at most child-care providers must pass a national — not just Indiana — criminal background check prior to having contact with children.
• Fees — Local governments and utilities are authorized to charge a "convenience fee" of up to $3 on top of any fees collected to recoup the actual cost of accepting credit card payments.
• Veterans — Honorably discharged veterans who move to Indiana within one year of leaving the military are entitled to in-state college tuition. Colleges with more than 200 veterans on campus must provide veteran-focused assistance with registration, financial aid and other matters. Veterans with military emergency medical training and experience can obtain a state emergency medical technician license without additional testing.
• Indiana Department of Child Services — The child protection agency gets an additional $35 million to hire more staffers for the state's child abuse hotline. Three new commissions designed to improve the department, including one dedicated to investigating suspicious child deaths, are to begin meeting. Prosecutors can ask judges to intervene on behalf of an abused child if DCS doesn't want to.
• Police — Notifications via radio, television, text message and billboard may be issued when a police officer is injured or killed in the line of duty, and the perpetrator is at-large. A person convicted of injuring or killing a law enforcement animal may have to pay the owner the full costs of replacement, including training.
• Whiting — The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission can begin the process of auctioning up to six new alcohol sale permits for Whiting restaurants located near Lake Michigan.
• Boat registration — Motorboats registered in another state and moored in Indiana's portion of Lake Michigan for less than 180 days do not have to be re-registered in Indiana.
• Cold medicine — Hoosiers cannot exceed an annual purchase cap of 61.2 grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, key ingredients in the manufacture of the illegal drug methamphetamine. That's about an eight-month supply of the drugs, commonly used in cold medicines.
• Sex abuse — The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse increases to 10 years, from five years; or to four years after the child is no longer a dependent of his or her abuser.
• Parking — The minimum fine for illegal parking in a handicapped spot is $100, up from $50. Vehicles with a Purple Heart license plate are exempt from parking fees and fines when operated by the Purple Heart recipient.
• Driving age — Drivers with an out-of-state license must be at least 16 years and 180 days old to drive in Indiana.
• E-cigarettes — The sale of electronic cigarettes to minors is prohibited. The possession or use of e-cigarettes by minors also is prohibited.
• Switchblades — It is now legal to purchase and possess spring-loaded knives, commonly known as switchblades. Knives with ejectable blades remain illegal.
• Rabbit meat — Uninspected rabbit meat can be sold at farms, farmers markets or roadside stands as long as it is frozen.